II Kings 5:1-15, Matthew 8:1-13

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord…  In today’s reading Jesus performs two healing miracles.  He heals a man of his leprosy and He heals a centurion’s servant of his disease which caused him to be paralyzed.  In both of these miracles our Lord’s glory is showing forth.  And that, of course, is the general theme of the Epiphany season – that we would see our Lord for who He is, not just a man, but fully God and fully man.  But we also see other themes at work in these healings.

We see the theme of Jesus’ will regarding the exercise of His power; and we see the theme of His authority to use His power however He chooses.  In the first healing, the leper comes to Jesus and says: “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”  This is a beautiful confession of faith.  He addresses Jesus with the title “Lord” and confesses that Jesus has the power to heal him of an incurable disease.

But the beauty of this confession of faith is in the phrase “if you are willing.”  With those words the man submits himself to the will of Christ.  Not only does he trust that Jesus can heal him, but he also submits himself to the fact that the Lord knows whether or not healing would be good for him.  He is basically praying “Thy will be done.”  And of course whatever Jesus wills comes to pass.

The leper did not know ahead of time the Lord’s will in regard to him, for Jesus had not yet revealed it.  But when He does reveal it, the leper believes, receives, and is healed.  Jesus puts his hand on him and says: “I am willing; be cleansed” and Matthew tells us “immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”

Whatever Jesus wills He can make happen; He has authority and power to do it.   That authority is shown even more clearly in the second healing.  A Roman centurion comes to Jesus His hometown of Capernaum, to beg His help for his ailing servant.  And Jesus tells him that He will come down to his house and heal the man.  Listen again to the beautiful confession of faith the man gives.  He says: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof.  But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed…”  And then he goes on to explain that he understands that the Lord has authority to perform His will even at a distance without coming to the house or touching the paralyzed man.

This man understands that Jesus has the authority simply to say the word, and it is done.  And as did the leper, this man recognizes the Divinity of Jesus, and trusts His power and authority; he trusts Him to work however He chooses, even if He chooses only so speak a word.

The issue before us today is how we can know the will of Jesus toward us and how we can know how Jesus will perform it.  What has He, by His divine authority, said He will do?

Well, let’s start with the first question: How can we know the will of Jesus?  Well, how did the leper discover the will of Jesus?  He asked Him.  Now I don’t mean to say that if you pray to God He will mystically reveal His will to you.  He doesn’t need to do that.  The Lord’s holy will is already revealed to us in His holy Word; that is the place where we are to inquire of Jesus.  For the Scriptures are His Word to us and they express His will clearly.  Here the Christian can, with faith like the leper, seek answers to the question of what God wills for him.

Of course, not every question we may have is answered, but certainly the most important ones are.  You may not find out if the Lord is willing to heal you of cancer, for example; but you will discover the Lord’s will to heal you of a far greater illness – your sins.  And you will discover the promise that, having healed you, you will one day also be relieved of all physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual illnesses and struggles when you enter heaven.  After all, this is what the healings Jesus performed on earth were meant to signify.  Those healings were foreshadowings of His good will toward us all, as well as His desire to restore us to wholeness of body, mind and soul – all of which flows from the forgiveness of sins, which, again, Christ clearly wills to give to you.

But that begs the second question: How is Jesus’ will toward us performed?  We cannot walk up to Jesus like the leper did and receive His healing touch directly.  So what are we to do?  Here we follow the example of the centurion: we must trust that Jesus has authority to heal us without a direct, face-to-face, encounter.  He has such authority that He does not need to come to us to heal us but rather can simply speak the Word.  His Word bears His authority; and by His Word the thing is done.

The question is, what Word has Jesus spoken to us?  What has He, in His divine authority, established so that we can know and trust that His power is at work in it?

Again, we look to the Scriptures and find that there several Words to which Jesus has attached His authority and power.  The first Words are the words of Holy Baptism.  Our Lord commanded that His ministers should baptize people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and through His apostles has explained that this baptism, by the power of His Word, will forgive our sins, transfer us from spiritual death into spiritual life, will make us citizens of His kingdom, and make us sons in His household.

A second authoritative Word is given to us when our Lord instructs His ministers to forgive sins in His name.  He promises that when a called and ordained minister absolves you of your sins before God, that that absolution is not just an earthly word, not just a general statement of God’s love and intention toward you; it is an authoritative heavenly statement that is binding on earth and in heaven.  It is a declaration that bears the authority of Christ Himself, and delivers exactly what His Word says: forgives of sins.

A third authoritative Word is given to us in Holy Communion.  Here Jesus commands us to eat His body and drink His blood so that we might be renewed and strengthened by His own lifeblood and Spirit.  Here again our Lord has promised – and delivers – His forgiveness, and with that, everlasting life.

So there should be no question of Jesus’ will toward us, or of the ways in which He performs that will for us.  The Scriptures make these things plain.  Sadly there are many Christians who do not exhibit the faith of the leper or of the centurion.  Some doubt the Lord’s will to heal them.  They think they are too wicked or too pitiful to qualify for forgiveness or to be loved by Jesus.  They do not believe that a just God can have a good will toward them, but only that He must damn them in His wrath.

Still others doubt the Lord’s word concerning the way in which He heals.  They say that things like Baptism and Holy Communion are just symbolic rituals and really don’t give any spiritual blessings from God.  Some even advocate that they be replaced by more meaningful rituals drawn from other un-Christian religions.  After all, washing, eating, and drinking are not all that impressive or awe-inspiring.  How could such simple, earthly things deliver God’s grace?

To answer both forms of unbelief, we look to the story of Naaman and Elisha that we heard in today’s Old Testament reading.  Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army and the enemy of the Israelites.  The writer of II Kings tells us that Yahweh had actually used Naaman to defeat Israel and put them to shame.  Namaan is a powerful man, and probably not a very nice guy by today’s standards.  He turns his captives into slaves, and even kept a young slave girl from Israel to work in his own household.  In spite of all his sins and animosity toward God’s people, Yahweh heals him of his leprosy.

If God will heal a man like Namaan, will He not also have compassion on you and forgive your sins?  Of course He will, and He has promised to do so.  And look at the manner in which the God heals Namaan: He doesn’t do anything fantastic or awe-inspiring.  Elisha, the prophet, doesn’t even come out to see Namaan or speak with him directly.

And Namaan is outraged!  He expected a big show for such an important man as he was!  When told that he would be healed if he went and washed in the Jordan seven times, he erupts in anger: “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of Yahweh his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’  Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?”

But Yahweh had not attached His promise or authority to the rivers of Damascus, nor had He willed to accompany the miraculous healing with theatrics.  He had chosen a simple, ordinary washing in the Jordan River.  And when Namaan is finally convinced to follow the prophet’s word and dip himself in the Jordan seven times, he is completely healed of his leprosy.  It was the word of God in and with the water that healed him.

Will not God also work through the waters of Baptism today, which are pointed to in this healing?  Will He not work through the absolution of a pastor as he worked before through the word of the prophet?  Will He not give His grace through a simple meal of bread and wine?  Of course He will, because He has promised to do so.

And that promise is sealed in the blood of Jesus shed for the forgiveness of your sins.  Jesus willingly and lovingly went to the cross to pay for your sins; He suffered the torture of hell for you, He died for you, and He rose again from the dead for you to give you and all who believe in Him the sure and certain hope of eternal life.

Dear friends, do not follow the example of Namaan at the beginning of this story, but rather the one at the end, when at last in faith, having received God’s grace through the means God established, He declares: “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.”  And we say, having been baptized, having been absolved, and having dined at Jesus’ own table, that we know there is no God in all the earth apart from Christ Jesus, and that God is not found in heathen, home-spun spirituality, or in other religions, but only in the Holy Christian Church, where He is actively bestowing His love and exercising His good will toward us, healing us of our diseases of sin and death, and opening to us the kingdom of Heaven.  Our trust is in Him alone.  To God be the glory.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.