“The Ten Lepers”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… At the end of the Gospel reading for today our Lord spoke these words to the one leper who returned to thank Him: “Your faith has made you well.” What does this mean?
Well, I can tell you what it does NOT mean. It does NOT mean that there was something special in that man that qualified him for Jesus’ healing. It does NOT mean that the power to be healed came from inside of that man. And it certainly does NOT mean that by virtue of the man’s praying – in other words, by his own action – he was healed. It wasn’t even the man’s own spirituality that caused him to be made well. And the reason those explanations are incorrect – and must be incorrect – is simply this: those reasons focus the ability to save and the ability to be healed on what man is doing rather than on what God is doing. That kind of thinking places the emphasis and the credit and the glory on man rather than on Christ. It is a First Commandment issue, straight up.
Dear friends: faith, all by itself, is nothing. And that is true because the power and effectiveness of faith comes from its source. And that source, of course, is Christ, who, as Scripture says, is the “author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). Faith, therefore, is defined by what it relies on. Hebrews 11:1 says it this way: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And in the realm of Christianity, faith relies on Christ alone. That is nothing new, and it is absolutely true.
How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, I have faith.” And that’s a very nice thing to say; it sounds nice, it sounds like something a Christian would say; and many do. But if that is all someone says, it really doesn’t say all that much. The bare statement, “I have faith,” is totally disconnected from any source; it doesn’t say anything about the source or object of the faith. To be totally honest, and to be totally clear, when we speak of faith we must not be afraid to say that our faith is IN CHRIST.
And that is how it is with faith. The focus is not on the faith itself but on what the faith holds to – what or who you believe in, that’s what really matters. It is the content of your faith – what it contains and what it embraces – that is most important. The essential thing is not your trust, not your action, but where your trust is directed. That point cannot possibly be over-emphasized.
Now Jesus’ words to the leper should be much clearer. When Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well,” He was not saying that the leper had worked up this thing called “faith” within himself that had earned God’s blessing. Rather, Jesus was saying that by God’s Word and Spirit this leper connected his faith to the right place, the only place that could bring true and lasting healing and deliverance from the deteriorating power of sin. It is as if Jesus said, “Your faith is the correct kind. You believed that I could help you, and rightly so, for I alone have the power to save – and not only from bodily ailments, but even from eternal death. By the Father’s grace you have trusted in Me. And so you have been made well.”
Clearly then, faith is not just some personal characteristic. Nor is it merely a general belief that God exists; even the devil believes that God exists. Rather, true faith actively and specifically desires Christ, trusting in Him and in all that He has done. It constantly seeks after Christ where He is to be found: in His words, in His preaching, in His Baptism, in His Supper. It calls upon the Lord in time of need and looks to Him for all good things.
The ten lepers in the beginning of the Gospel are a good example of this. They stood afar off because they knew of their uncleanness, even as all of us should know of the uncleanness of our hearts. Yet they still were bold to cry for help, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So also, we should all be bold to do the same, letting our cries of “Lord, have mercy” be full of faith and trust in Christ. The lepers firmly trusted in Christ; they were confident He would heal them; they did not falter or hesitate.
Dear friends, do not waver, but wait and endure; trust in Christ and His work for you. Trust and believe that Christ, out of great love suffered and died for you. He took your punishment on the cross. He took your sins – sins for which you deserve to suffer eternally – and paid for them in His own body and in His cruel death. He alone delivered the death blow to death once and for all when He died to sin and rose again from the dead in order to give all who trust in Him the sure and certain hope of everlasting life in Him.
In our text ten men with flesh eroding from their bodies came to Jesus. The Law
called men like that unclean. Their disease was contagious. They could infect the whole community, and so they were told to stay away.
But these men came to Jesus. And they lifted up their voices, and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” And He did!
This, dear friends, is a picture of the church. You are unclean because of your sinful nature. Sin is what separates you from God. And it does so even more when the devil convinces you that you are so rotten, so unclean, so unworthy that you shouldn’t even come anywhere near the church!
Way too many people stay away from the church because they believe one of two things. Either they consider themselves “too sinful” for even the Lord to care for them, or they consider others in the church too sinful and rotten to be around. Both of those attitudes are ultimately lies from the pit of hell. Satan has deluded them into placing their faith in something other than Jesus.
If a person believes he is too sinful to be in church, he fails to realize that church is exactly where he needs to be. If a person believes he is too sinful to be here, then he also states that God is too weak, too puny to do anything about his sins. Dear friends, here in this place you receive the very medicine that your sin-sick soul so desperately needs: acceptance by the Lord, as well as forgiveness, life, and salvation which is for all.
If a person stays away from the church because he believes the people in the church are too sinful or rotten to be around, then he has made himself judge and arbiter; he has determined what God alone is to determine. He has placed himself above God and His word; he has made himself God. And therefore, he has no need for the true God at all.
But there is only one God. And this God, the God of the Holy Scriptures, has made Himself known in and through His Son Jesus Christ. We know the true God by knowing and believing in Jesus.
And it is this Jesus who invites you today and every Lord’s Day to receive Him as He comes to you in His Gospel Word and in His Sacramental gifts. Jesus invites you today to cry out in faith, “Lord, have mercy!” and then to receive that very mercy for which you cry delivered to you here in this place.
Here is where Jesus heals you. Here is where Jesus declares you to be clean in the absolving forgiveness of Holy Absolution – the word of forgiveness spoken and delivered into your ears by your pastor. Here is where you were brought to faith through Holy Baptism, where God made you His own, forgave your sins, and gave you His Holy Spirit. Here is where you come to receive Christ’s real and true body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.
Yes, here, dear friends, is where your leprosy of sin is dealt with constantly in the sin-removing, death-defying, eternal life-giving word and gifts from your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His death has set you free; He, the Great High Priest has declared you to be clean in Him. Not your work, but His. Not your power, but His. Not your glory, but His.
And now you know what it means when you hear, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.