The season of Epiphany is bookended by the Baptism of our Lord at the beginning and the Transfiguration of our Lord. In both of these episodes, the heavens open and we hear the voice of God the Father confirm that this Jesus is His Son and that all that He does pleases Him. That’s what this season of Epiphany is all about. God has come into this world in the person of Jesus Christ and therefore He is the will of God to man, then we’ve got it.
The appointed gospel readings in between these two Epiphany bookends act as evidence presented by the Holy Spirit to convince you, the jury that “this is most certainly true.” It’s not that we, the jury need to be convinced that this testimony concerning Jesus is true so that we may rule in His favor. He is not the one on trial here.
Rather, this evidence is put forward so that we one day stand before the judge and give our testimony as to whom we say Jesus really is. “Who do you say that I am?” But why wait for that last day? Why not give your testimony today and everyday.
I know that through these ‘Green Sundays’ of Epiphany, the Sunday’s in between the two ‘White Sundays,’ we’ve been concentrating our attention the epistle readings, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Let me offer a quick review of what we have heard in the Gospel readings so far.
First, Jesus called Philip and Nathanael to be His disciples and they followed Him and Nathanael confesses, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!” (John 1:49). They got it.
Second, Jesus called Peter and Andrew to be His disciples and they left everything and immediately followed Him. They got it.
Third, Jesus went into the Synagogue in Capernaum where there was a man with a demon. Jesus ordered the demon, “Be quite, come out of him,” and it did and all the people in the Synagogue were amazed, “What is this, a new teaching with authority.” They got it.
Fourth, Jesus went from the Synagogue to Peter and Andrew’s house where He healed Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever and the whole city of Capernaum gathered at the door of the house and Jesus healed all who were sick and demon possessed. They got it.
Get it? The evidence is piling up. And it all points to the same conclusion. This Jesus is none other than the Son of God.
Now today’s gospel reading. “AND,” as in, one piece of evidence to add to all the others. “And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Here’s a man who has all the evidence he needs. He’s ready to testify that this Jesus is the Son of God. And how does he make his testimony? By doing something for Jesus? No, but by asking Jesus to do something for him.
“If you will you can make me clean.” He had no doubt that Jesus was able to cure him of this dreadful disease. The only question in his mind was whether He was willing. You see, it’s one thing to know that Jesus has the power of God. Even the Greeks believed that about their gods.
It’s another thing altogether to know what the will of God is. Is it His will to be good and gracious towards me. That is, does He desire to use His power to help me, even to save me? Or is it His will to punish me and give me the justice that is due my sinful life?
This is a different lesson to be learned. What does the evidence tell us, not just about Jesus’ power, but what does it tell us about His heart?
“Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said, ‘I will, be clean.’” “Moved with pity.” There’s that word that keeps popping up all throughout the gospels. “Splagnidzo.” Literally, it’s a word about a person’s spleen, his intestines, his guts. Jesus had a ‘pain in his spleen’ for this man. His felt this man’s pain and misery in His gut. Or as we say, “moved with pity.”
“He stretched out his hand and touched him.” Lepers were the ultimate ‘untouchables.’ If a leper touched you, you became unclean, and were ‘untouchable.’ If you touched something, say a book, that a leper had touched, you became unclean. Therefore lepers were quarantined from society, confined to colonies of lepers. Lepers were certainly forbidden to attend the Synagogue or enter into the Temple. God is CLEAN, HOLY, PURE. Nothing UNCLEAN can get close to God. Who knows, the leper might come into contact with God and that would make God UNCLEAN.
“He stretched out his hand and touched him. And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.” The divine reversal is taking place in Jesus Christ.
If Jesus is ‘the temple of God’ as He says He is, “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” then this leper came to the true temple. And the holy one of God “stretched out his hand and touched him.” What’s that tell you about the will of Jesus? “And he was made clean.” What’s that tell you about the power of Jesus?
I must admit that it’s tempting at this point to turn this evidence in a ‘spiritual’ direction and make a case for how Jesus cleanses us of our spiritual leprosy, our sin. And there’s nothing wrong with that and it is certainly true and certainly something that we should be convinced is true.
But that’s not what Jesus does here. When four friends brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus by lowering him down through the roof, Jesus forgave the man his sins even before He healed his legs. But here, there’s no mention of the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is moved with pity for this man and heals his physical disease.
It’s not that Jesus isn’t interested in this man’s spirit and the sin that is in his heart. It’s just that that’s not what this piece of evidence is pointing us to. I’ve watched enough CSI shows by now to know that you follow the evidence to where it leads and not to where you want it to lead.
This evidence that the Holy Spirit is presenting to us this morning testifies to the fact that Jesus is concerned for the body of this man.
There’s an idea that’s been going around for a long, long time now that God isn’t that interested in our body, He’s only interested in our soul. That idea has had a huge impact on how we think about and treat our body. If God doesn’t much care about the body, then why should we? Therefore what I do with my body and the way that I treat it testifies to what I believe about God.
What testimony do we make about God with our body, both while we are alive in the body and when we are dead? How do we treat the body in life and at death? If God doesn’t care, then neither should we and that is our testimony to God.
But if, as we have just seen, God does care about our body and even WILLS to make it clean, even “stretches out His hand to touch” it, then our body must important to God and it should be important to us, both in the way treat our body in life and in death. It is our testimony to God.
Ultimately, there may be no greater, more convincing evidence of God’s will for the physical body than the fact that God “BECAME FLESH and dwelt among us.” If God cared nothing for our body then He may have come to us in the Spirit, but surely not the flesh.
If God cared nothing for the body, then He would have surely raised Jesus’ spirit from the dead and the body would still be in the tomb. But God raised Jesus in body and spirit. Jesus makes the point for His disciples that He has been raised BODILY from the dead, “touch me and see, a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
So, what are we to make of the evidence before us this morning? What does this mean that Jesus reached out his hand and touched this leper and he was clean? It means that the Kingdom of God is among us in the person of Jesus Christ and that He is among us with the power and the will to make our physical body well.
But the evidence points beyond this one man. This is just a sign. Signs point to something beyond themselves. Signs point to a destination. A sign is not the end in itself. This sign points to what Jesus can and wills to do with our body, even when it is decomposed and turned to dust in the grave. “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:53).
Our problem is, we tend to see no further than the sign itself. We think that the sign is the destination. We think that the evidence before us this morning means that we should expect Jesus to heal our body now just as He did this man’s body then.
But this is not the end. It is not yet “finished.” This was just a foretaste of the feast to come, not the final banquet.
Isn’t that why Jesus “sternly charged him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone…”? “They’ll never see beyond the sign. And sure enough, in humble gratitude for all that His Savior had done for him, this man disobeys His Savior, He thinks he knows better than Jesus, and “he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news.”
And what was the result? Did anyone say, “Jesus did this for you. Well then thanks be to God. Even though I suffer with this terrible disease, I know that in the end, Jesus will raise my body from the grave and it will be clean and I will be well. Therefore I rejoice in my sufferings because suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not put us to shame. For I know that my Redeemer lives end He will make me well.”
Yea, right. They saw no further than the sign and they all wanted Jesus to do it again, do it for me, “so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places and people were coming to him from every quarter.”
The Son of God came into this world to do much more than heal the crowds and the possessed and the lepers in the region of Galilee and Judea for a couple of years. These are examples of what He has the power and the will to do and what He intends to do for all who believe in Him.
He came to make ALL THINGS NEW. Not just for a while or even a lifetime but FOREVER. Not just for some or for many but for all.
And for that He must go to the cross and give HIS BODY over to the flogging and the nails and the spear. He must be pronounced dead and His body must be buried in a tomb so that it may be raised from the dead and ascend into heaven.
Only then will we have the final, convincing evidence of God’s will towards us. Only then will be ready to submit ourselves, our bodies and our souls and all things, to Him. Only then will we be confident and glad to pray, ‘thy will be done.’