Archive for the ‘Mark 1:40-45’ Category

There is a Prophet Among Us!

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

6th Sunday in Epiphany B, February 12, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
2 Kings 5:1-14, Mark 1:40-45

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“Why have you torn your clothes?  Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” [2 Kings 5:8b]

What if we were to advertise throughout our community that next week, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was having a healing service?   What if we told people that all that was required of them was that they come with great faith to believe that God was going to heal them of  any and all illnesses and diseases?  What do you think would happen?  I think we’d have a packed house!  Why?  Because people are  desperate for healing and wholeness in their lives, but not necessarily the kind they really need!  But if they weren’t healed, who’s fault  would that be; theirs or ours?

In or readings today we are given two examples of healing.  One happened to a mighty man of war named Naaman, and the other was given  to a simple leper who remains nameless to this day.  Each was healed.  One lacked faith and the other had great faith, but both were obedient  to the Word and command of God.

Consider Naaman.  Not only was he a great military man, but he was admired and respected by his king, the King of Syria.  At the height of  his military career, he was diagnosed with an always deadly disease, leprosy.  It is a slow and painful death.  The symptoms start with specks  on the eyelids and then onto the palms of the hands as the flesh eating disease slowly spreads throughout the body.  The hair of the sufferer  turns white wherever the leprosy pops up next, and then crusty and foul smelling sores appear.  At first the sores are only on the surface of  the skin, but then they begin to penetrate deep into the muscles and tendons, then into the bone, which causes the diseased part of the body to fall away at the joints.  Ultimately, the disease ends up in the heart, and death is always the final outcome.

Such was the bleak future that Naaman was guaranteed.  That is, until a faithful Jewish girl who was his servant shared the news about the true and living God and His prophet, who still worked miracles in Israel!  So off went Naaman into a foreign land, the land of his enemy in search of a cure.  And when he arrived at the house of Elisha, the prophet of God, he’s told to go to the Jordan river and bathe.  And what was Naaman’s response?  He was infuriated, and he stormed away screaming: “(Can you believe it!) I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the (disease) and cure (me). Aren’t (our) rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?”

Now here is a case of a man expecting a healing according to his desire, and never once pausing to consider what God wants.  “Why couldn’t he just wave his hand over my sores and speak some mumbo-jumbo like the other faith healers?  Why does he tell me to jump into this little river in the middle of my enemies land?  I’m out of here!”  But God wasn’t not done with Naaman; you see, He didn’t just want to just heal him of leprosy, he wanted to give Him faith to believe that God knows him and loves him; He wanted Naaman to know that there really is only one God who controls not just sickness and disease but even men and their sinful hearts!

So Naaman allowed cooler heads to prevail, and he listened to the Words of faith repeated again by his servants.  Naaman was obedient to the will of God, and through the Word of God He was healed immediately and given faith!

Now let’s consider the leper in our gospel reading (Mark 1:40-45).  Somehow, he has heard about Jesus.  Yes, he knows about the rumored healing miracles, but he also knows who Jesus is, the holy one of God… the Messiah!

The other gospel accounts of this incident make it clear that there were great crowds surrounding Jesus, and crowds are the last place you would ever find a Jewish leper, because God’s Word in Leviticus made it clear that all lepers were to steer clear of crowds.  They were told that wherever they went, they had to declare that they were unclean, so that no one would have contact with them.  And now this leper pushes his way through the crowd with only one desire, to get to Jesus.  Why?  To be healed?  Well yes, but only if it is Jesus will; only if it is God’s will!  So kneeling at the feet of Jesus in an act of worship, he calls out: “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, (Jesus) stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.”  Make note of that; Jesus had pity for this lowly leper.

The leper believed that Jesus had the ability to heal his leprosy with a single word: “You can make me clean” but then he added “if it’s your will.” In those words, there’s no attempt to manipulate Jesus’ will, but only his humble acceptance to whatever Jesus’s will is! He leaves everything up to Jesus.  He knows that if Jesus wants Him to be healed, then he’ll be healed.  He left it all in the loving counsel and will of God!

You see, the leper knew that all he was asked to do was give his request to God and then trust that all things would work together for his good, because he obediently followed God’s call to turn to Jesus for help. This is the kind of faith that expects God to do great things; greater than it can imagine!  This poor leper demonstrated the kind faith that is willing to completely trust Jesus, even if it means death.  The Leper trusted that God would do what is best for him!

Do we still see examples of these two people today?  Yes!  In regards to Naaman, consider modern day cancer patients who have been told that their cancer is terminal.  They will travel to the ends of the earth for a cure.  They pack the sanctuaries of self-proclaimed faith healers, with the promise of a healing, if only they can find enough faith!  And when their healing doesn’t come they are told that the fault lies within them, because they lacked faith.  The result is always the same… anger.  Anger with God and anger against the church, because it couldn’t provide the hoped for result!

A boy once asked, “Dad, how do wars begin?”  The father thought for a moment and said, “Well, take the Korean War, for example.” said his father. “That got started when North Korea invaded South Korea.”  Immediately his wife interrupted him: “Tell the boy the truth. It began because somebody was murdered.” The husband drew himself up with an air of superiority and snapped back, “Are you answering the question, or am I?” Turning her back to her husband, she took off in a huff, and stormed out of the room slamming the door behind her as hard as she could.  After an uneasy silence followed, the son said, “Never mind Daddy, you don’t have to tell me anymore; I know now how wars start!”

Anger not only starts wars, but it can also prevent us from hearing God’s Word of peace; a Word that can bring not just temporary healing, but eternal healing.  In the case of Naaman, there was a clear Word from God that promised healing from his disease.  Is there such a Word for those who are sick today?  Yes, but to hear that Word we have to turn to our second case study, that of the leper in our gospel reading!

Like the leper, we are told to take our cares and our concerns to God’s loving heart, His Son, Jesus Christ!  “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” [Psalm 55:22]  “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” [1 Peter 5:7]  “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.” [Psalm 37:5]  And to keep all of this in the correct context Jesus adds, (When you pray) “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name… Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Like the leper, we are given faith to obediently make our way to Jesus, to lay our petitions down at His feet, and trust that what is best for us has already been decided and is already being done!  This heart of faith makes no demands of God, but simply cries out to Him for help and then it worships Him, regardless of what He decides.

But what about the scripture that speaks of healing?  You know, by His wounds (or stripes) you are healed!  Surely that is God’s declaration concerning His desire to heal us, isn’t it?  Yes, but like the leper, we must place our request at the feet of Jesus and receive God’s will according to His desire and time.  Let’s look at that piece of scripture in its correct context, and then let God speak: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” [1 Peter 2:24, 25]  Remember the pity or compassion that Jesus had when the leper approached Him?  Well it was that same compassion for us that led Him to the cross to die for your sin!

Healing, true healing always comes according to God’s compassion, means, and will.  In our old testament reading Naaman wanted to know why he couldn’t have just bathed in the rivers in his own country, and why the prophet didn’t just wave his hand over the disease.  The answer is because those things did not have God’s Word of command attached to them.  While the leprosy that Naaman wanted taken away, was in fact cured, there was something else God, according to His compassion, wanted to take away; He wanted to take Naaman’s sin away from Him.  Sin was and still is a disease that is always terminal and can only be remedied by a God who chooses to take it from us, and in it’s place, give us faith to believe He’s done it!

God’s Word gave Naaman that gift of faith; He gave it to Him so that He would know Him and have a blessed life on earth and also in heaven.  After Naaman was healed, he returned to Elisha and proclaimed his faith with these words: “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel”!  And so Naaman was cured of his sin by trusting in God’s Word!  The same is true of the leper in our gospel reading.  Both men’s stories are recorded for us, so that we will know the true meaning of “by His wounds you are healed.”

Jesus bore our sins in His body upon the cross, so that we would die to sin and live a life that God calls righteous.  By Jesus’ suffering and death upon the cross God provides a cure for our spiritual leprosy, and in your baptism He applies that cure to you.   In your baptism you are washed clean of death and you are healed and returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul; you are returned holy, perfect, and righteous!  And because of God’s work within you, you are now able to testify like Naaman, that you know that there is no other God in all the earth!

Through the cross, God defeated sin, death, and devil.  He made all things new.  In your baptism, God gave you this gift of forgiveness.  It is what He did that saves us and it is how He gives it to us, which is the only way we can receive it.  Through His Word He gives you faith to trust Him and place all of your worries and concerns into His loving will.  God always works according to His means!  His primary work is always to take away our sins.  His secondary work is to bless us in this life as a foretaste of the blessing in the life to come.

What is God up to this morning?  He is speaking faith, even now into our heats.  He doesn’t want us to “Tear our clothes” or tear out our hair in worry.  He wants you to trust Him and obediently follow Him through whatever circumstance you find yourself in.

Does God still hear and answer our prayers for healing today?  Yes!  Will he heal you today or tomorrow of whatever sickness or disease you may have, because you have asked in faith?  Maybe, but then again maybe not.  You see all of us will one day die of some disease or another; that is just the reality of living in this sinful world.  But because we have been saved, healed by the suffering and death of Jesus, because we have been washed clean in the waters of our baptism; because we are daily given the gift of faith through His Word and the care and power of the Holy Spirit, we shall one day, soon enough be eternally cured from all suffering and death.  Then on that great day we will know, not by faith but experience, that there is a Prophet who is great among us!  We shall call Him Jesus; not just our Prophet, but our Priest, and King; our brother and friend; our Lord and our God!