Sermon Notes for 4th Sunday after Epiphany 29 January 2023 Anno Domini, the Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide
“1When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him.2 And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.3 And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.4 And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.5 And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him,6 And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.7 And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. 10When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.13 And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.” ( Matthew 8:1-13)
The two accounts of healing addressed in today’s text are both similar and diverse in some aspects. The first to come to Christ for healing in our text was a leper. He came seeking healing on his own behalf. He came with faith in the Lord’s authority and power to heal. He came as a ‘suppliant’ and as a Jew.
The second who came to Jesus seeking healing also came in faith. He came to the One whom he trusted could grant his appeal. But this centurion (a Roman officer commanding one hundred soldiers) was a Gentile. But he came not to seek healing for himself, but for another – his servant – as an ‘intercessor.’
And there were two separate kinds of physical afflictions are addressed here (leprosy and the palsy), and two different expressions of faith. Our Lord Jesus Christ has just delivered the most comprehensive and beautifully meaningful sermon in all of recorded time. He has spoken from the mountain top the pure Words of righteousness, but now He descends to the level at which most of His people live and labor, rejoice and suffer, are pained and comforted. The salient point of the last two verses of Matthew 7 preceding today’s text was revealed by the response to our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount: “28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: 29 For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Christ taught out of One whose authority was characterized in His Word, unlike the scribes and Pharisees who taught out of the traditions of men., Like every word of Scripture, the text today, also show us yet another marvelous aspect of the nature of Christ and His magnanimity.
“When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him.” Christ most often resorted to the mountain to both pray and teach. Prayer is always addressed to Heaven. Teaching of the Gospel is also performed from a higher perspective than the common speech. But after our prayers and preaching, we must always descend to the common problems of life and learn to await God’s answer to our prayers and apply the preaching of the Gospel to the practical and routine circumstances of everyday life. The air on the mountaintop may be clear and pristine, but when we go down to the valleys, we encounter the unpleasant odors of human failure and hurt.
“And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” Please note the manner in which the leper approaches Christ. The leper CAME to where Christ was. He came in great courage avoiding the prohibitions against lepers approaching healthy persons. He asked for nothing but had great expectations. He prayed that it would be God’s will to heal him. We cannot bring Christ DOWN to our place of sin and debauchery – we must rise up and go to Him for our salvation and needs. Secondly, we cannot approach Christ with impudence and irreverence – we must first worship Him in our prayers before stating our petitions. The leper came and WORSHIPPED Jesus! This is represented by the ‘Hallowed be thy Name’ phrase in the Lord’s Prayer.
“Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” The leper does not overtly ask anything of Christ but presumes upon His know compassion and grace. It was widely known of Christ that He willed all who came to Him to be made whole. The leper simply states the obvious fact and, in his statement, the leper anticipates the answer. The leper reeked of death. The odor emitted by his rotting flesh was odious and repulsive.
“Lord, if thou wilt…not truly IF, for Christ DID always will that lepers be made clean thereby unraveling the dirty works of Satan to harm and to hurt. “…….thou canst make me clean!” This is a simple statement of fact. There was no doubt in the mind of the leper that, if Christ willed, He could make the leper clean; but there was also no doubt in the leper’s mind that Jesus did, indeed, will that he be made clean. This is the essence of faith and hope.
Before proceeding further, let’s go back and review the nature of leprosy in its similitude to sin: 1) Sin, like leprosy, renders its victim helpless of improving his condition. It will inevitably lead to final death. 2) Sin, like leprosy, separates one from the pure and clean. The sinner is unfit for heaven and the society of pure and holy company. 3) Sin, like leprosy, is infectious by intimate contact. The people with whom we associate have critical impact on our hope of righteousness. 4) Sin is constitutional. The outward expressions and manifestations are but the effects of a disease which permeates the whole system. 5) The tendency to sin, like the tendency to leprosy, is hereditary. Our Federal head, the Common father in Adam, contracted this disease through disobedience in the Garden. His propensity to sin has become a part of our human condition through inheritance. 6) Sin, like leprosy, is deceitful in its working. It may not be visibly represented in the beautiful child of leprous parents, but as time advances, the beautiful child will slowly begin to incur the signs and debilities of the disease. 7) Sin, like leprosy, knows no geographic barriers. 8) Leprosy, at the time of Christ, was incurable by man. So is sin today. 9) Sin, like leprosy, does not bring immediate pain and death. Its onset is insidious. The moment Adam tasted the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he immediately BEGAN to die. In fact, his fate was sealed at that point.
The leper is characterized by deformity and a sickening odor. His features are possessed of open sores and rotting flesh. Most of us would be repelled at the very sight of a leper. This will make the following action of Christ even more amazing and noteworthy:
“And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him.” This seems a simple act at first reading, but, Reader, please remember that no healthy human being has touched this poor, wretched leper in a great deal of time since he first contracted leprosy. Many of them suffer as much from a despondency of love as from the adverse physical effects of the disease. How pitiful they are and lonely! But Jesus was the first and only man present who would deign to TOUCH this leper. Any touch at all for the leper would seem a compassionate caress.
Jesus touched him! He will touch us as well if we go forth to Him. And then, “I will; be thou clean.” Immediately the powers of heaven began to pulse through the leper’s veins vanquishing every sign and vestige of leprosy. How long did the healing take? Does the word ‘immediately’ suggest an answer? “And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” The healing occurred, not in graduated steps or interludes of minutes, but, rather, IMMEDIATELY!
“And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.” Though we may be healed in the sight of God and forgiven our sins, there yet remains a responsibility on our part to make our healing known to those with whom we associate along life’s road. So, we also comply with all provisions of law in making that healing known. In counseling the leper to “tell no man” Jesus demonstrates the impossibility of maintaining such a marvelous grace private. Imagine the reaction of family and friends when they see their loved one has been restored. Have you been silent about the forgiveness and healing you have been granted by Christ at your salvation?
“And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.” Now comes to Jesus a Gentile in the profession of arms, and one of some authority, being a Centurion. Being a Captain of War, this man was accustomed to respect and a proud countenance. But the heart of this Centurion betrays a loving and loyal heart beneath a perhaps warlike appearance. This Centurion is willing to subdue his pride and forego his standing to come begging before Christ – not for himself even – but for his servant. This suggests a noble and compassionate soul whose character seems at contrast to his profession and calling. Jesus did not distinguish between races and social standings among men.
“And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.” There were many demands put on Jesus’ time, but He always found time to respond to a need. Without hesitation, Christ immediately responded that he would go to where the servant was and heal him.
“The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth.” This is one of the greatest statements of faith in all of the Holy Bible! The Centurion realizes that the authority and power of Christ is knows no geographic limitations. He does not limit the power of Christ to heal by the physical presence of the Lord. If Christ will only speak the word, the Centurion knows that will suffice.
“When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” It is a smear on the reputation of the church that many greater acts of faith occur outside its walls than INSIDE those stone walls. The Centurion, who lacked the advantage of any prior knowledge of the law and prophets, demonstrated greater faith than those who did have that advantage.
“And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.” Christ here bears out an important truth. The accident of birth is not a bar to enjoyment of the blessings of Israel. Men and women shall come from the four corners of the earth and shall enjoy the privileges of a Godly heritage. This was spoken to the comfort of the Centurion as well as for our own.
“And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.” It was no small miracle to heal a man who may have been miles away by a simple utterance – but Christ did so. The servant, miles away, was instantly healed. This exemplifies the principle that we ought to pray for those we love. The Centurion was not afraid to ask Christ for so great a favor. The story reminds me of a king of Lyda who surrendered to the great King Cyrus, when besieged, to save his city from certain destruction. When King Cyrus asked a deposed king what favor he would like in return for his surrender, the king responded, “Ten thousand talents of silver!” A courtier of King Cyrus rebuked the deposed king for being so presumptuous in asking such a large gift, but King Cyrus scolded his courtier and said, “If I am as great a King as this fellow’s request suggests, then he has had the boldness to express his high regard for my greatness by asking a gift commensurate to it!” Is anything too great for God? I think not.