Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Faith That Makes Us Well

[This was shared during worship with the people and guests of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio yesterday.]

Luke 17:11-19
Our Gospel lesson for this morning ends with Jesus telling a man Jesus has cured of leprosy, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

Passages of Scripture like this one have often been misconstrued by people. What does Jesus mean by these words? Is He saying that if you and I have enough faith, bad things won’t happen to us?

I hope that the answer to that question is obvious. After all, Jesus Himself, sinless, completely trusting in the other two persons of the Holy Trinity--God the Father and God the Son--nonetheless suffered more than any of us ever has or ever will. Completely innocent of sin, He suffered and died for the sins of the world.

In Matthew 5:45, Jesus says: “[God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust...” You and I have all known faithful people--people who trusted their whole lives to Jesus Christ as their God and Lord--who suffered, some dying at young ages despite their uncompromising belief in Jesus.

And often people encounter suffering--persecution, shunning, and death--because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ is no insurance policy against suffering in this imperfect world.

To understand what Jesus means in the final verse of our lesson--”Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”--we need to look at the entire incident recounted in the lesson. As Lutheran Christians, we believe that we can't understand a single passage of Scripture by looking at it in isolation. Martin Luther talked about letting Scripture interpret Scripture, understanding an individual passage in light of what all of Scripture teaches and looking at passages within the contexts in which they appear.

So, please go to our Gospel lesson, Luke 17:11-19. We’re told: “Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off.”

Jesus is heading for Jerusalem. Today's lesson is part of a section of Luke's gospel that scholars call "the great interpolation." It begins at Luke 9:51 and ends at Luke 18:18, opening with Jesus setting His face toward Jerusalem, intent on His mission of dying on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for our sins and rising from the dead to open the gates of eternity to all who turn from sin and trust Him as their only God and Savior. In the midst of rising opposition, Jesus continued in His mission on earth. As His people, we are called to be similarly steadfast, counting on the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us.

In the midst of this journey, Jesus passes between His native Galilee and the country of Samaria. The Samaritans were a half-breed people hated by the Jews. They had once been a full part of God’s people. But after the split of ancient Israel into two separate nations, the Samaritans mingled with other peoples, worshiping false gods, adulterating their faith in the one true God of creation.

Galilee, the region in which Jesus was raised, was next to Samaria and was regarded by the others in His homeland as "the wrong side of the tracks."

Jesus approaches a Samaritan village. On the outskirts of town, He is encountered by ten lepers. In those days, when people had leprosy, they were forced to live in isolation from family, friends, and neighbors in colonies on the edge of town. No one touched them. They were forbidden to touch anyone else. That’s why the lepers had to call Jesus from afar.

Go to verse 13, please: “And they lifted up their voices and said, 'Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!'"

In desperation, the lepers called out to Jesus. They seek something no one else is giving to them: mercy.

You know, we who have received the undeserved mercy, grace, and forgiveness of God, given only in Jesus Christ, need to be willing to hear the cries of those around us for mercy. That's why things like our involvement with the Inspire Shelter, the CHAP emergency food bank, and Lutheran World Relief is so important. One reason that so many people are turned off to the Christian faith these days is that, unlike Jesus, Christians often fail to give the mercy and compassion that they themselves have received from Christ.

Verse 14: “So when [Jesus] saw them, He said to them, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.” Old Testament law said that once a priest certified that a person had been cleansed of their leprosy, they could return to their homes. Jesus instructs the ten lepers to see priests. Even as they went, their leprosy disappeared. It’s hard to imagine how the ten of them felt at that moment. Their earthly lives had been changed by the compassion of God, given in Jesus Christ.

But look at what happens next. Verses 15 and 16: “And one of them [the cleansed lepers], when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at [Jesus’] feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.”

Not every beneficiary of God’s mercy acknowledges all that God has done for them. They just go on with their lives as though goodness and blessings from God are things to which they’re entitled.  Listen: None of us is entitled to anything from God. Life itself is an undeserved gift! Every good thing added to it is gravy. God’s Word says that “every good and perfect gift” you and I have comes from God.

Often though, I’ve seen that people who have been helped by God through extraordinary circumstances, evidence no gratitude to God. It’s as though they can’t admit their vulnerability or their need of God’s help. Maybe this is why only one of the ten cleansed lepers returned to give Jesus thanks. The other nine didn’t want to even think about how weak and helpless they had been.

But the fact is, we are all weak and helpless. We all need God’s help. We all need to acknowledge that. It’s only when we own our helplessness and our weakness that the strength and power of God can flood our lives and help us to live with the confidence and hope God has in mind for us.

To paraphrase what the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians, when we are weak, then we are strong; God’s power is made perfect, complete, in our lives when we let God take control of our lives...and not a moment before. It’s only when we’re weak enough to lean on Christ that God gives us the strength to face and conquer all that keeps us from being the people God made us to be!

Verses 17 and 18: “So Jesus answered and said, 'Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?'"

You never can tell who is going to respond to Jesus Christ. Nor can you know when or how they will respond.

That’s why the Church--it’s why Saint Matthew Lutheran Church--must remain resolute in sharing the good news of new, everlasting life for all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

The one and only mission of the Church is the Great Commission. Jesus is quoted giving this mission statement to believers like you and me in five different places in the New Testament. One place we see it is in Acts 1:8, where the risen Jesus, just before His ascension tells us: “...you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you [the Holy Spirit Who came upon each of us when we were baptized in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit]; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Jesus doesn’t say, “You shall be My witnesses as long as people are willing to accept that I am the way, and the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Nor does He say, “You will be My witnesses as long as God and the Bible are popular.”

Nor does He say, "You will be My witnesses as long as it's politically correct."

He says that we are to be His witnesses. Period.

And if nine out of ten people with whom we share the Gospel reject Christ, the Gospel message, and God’s Word in the Bible, so be it.

Our call is to simply keep on sharing Christ, keep making disciples. And we are to fulfill this Great Commission, as Paul puts it, “in season and out of season.” [For help in playing your part in fulfilling this commission given by Christ to every Christian, see here.]

Then, Jesus says to the one thankful man in verse 19, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well."

Now, you and I know that ten people had been made physically well. But Jesus isn’t talking about people being physically well here. Jesus didn’t suddenly revoke the healing He had given the other nine because only one man displayed gratitude. So, here’s the key fact in this passage: All ten were physically healed, but only one was made well.

A person can be physically healed, but still not be well.

And a person can physically or psychologically or emotionally broken down, but still be well!

The New Testament, of course, was written in Greek. And the root verb of the word translated as “has made you well” is, in Greek, sozo. It literally means saved.

The grateful man was well because he had been saved.

The person dying on a hospital gurney can, even as they die, know: “It is well with my soul!” They know that they are just as saved as the healed leper was at the moment Jesus declared that his faith had made him well!

Even at the point of death, it’s possible for us to live in the certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God given in Jesus Christ. We are saved.

How? How can we know that?

By faith!

By faith, the healed man acknowledged God’s blessing.

By faith, he fell to his feet and worshiped God.

And Jesus declared that, no matter what suffering may await that man through the balance of his life, for there is nothing more certain than suffering and death on this dying planet, the healed man had nonetheless been saved for all eternity because He believed in Jesus Christ!

By God’s grace, he had been saved by his faith in Jesus Christ.

He could live his life on earth in confidence and hope and joy; through Christ, he was saved--eternally saved--for a life with God that never ends.

We can live our lives with the same confidence, hope, and joy as we yield our whole lives in faith in Jesus Christ!

On this Sunday that we end our partnership as congregation and pastor, I urge you to never forget that our hope is built on faith in Jesus Christ alone.

It is Jesus Christ alone Who can save us--not denominational affiliations, not church rituals or traditions, not liturgies, though each of these things can play constructive roles in the lives of God's people.

We cannot be saved by habits, nor political correctness nor political action, not by caving into the warped values of a world out of sync with God, not by our personally preferred interpretations of Scripture, not by love, nor morality, nor being good, nor obeying the rules

It is Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone who saves us from sin, death, and futility. He does that as, in response to His grace, we believe in Him as our only God, Lord, and Savior.

Paul writes in our second lesson for this morning: “If we endure [in faith], we shall also reign with [Christ]. If we deny Him, He also will deny us..”

Stick with Christ.

Refuse to let the lies told to you by the world, the devil, or your sinful self to tear you from Christ, the only Way, the only truth.

Have faith in Christ alone.

And one day, all who trust in Christ, giving their sins, their past and their future to Him, will--despite our faults and sins and backsliding--gather around the throne of God together and hear the words of our Lord: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into your Master’s joy!”

And, on hearing those words, all who have been made well by the grace of God given through faith in Jesus Christ will join the celebration with all God’s saints that never ends.

If not before that moment, we will, I am sure, if we remain steadfast in letting Christ love and grace and guide us, see one another then.

And, by the way, you’ll know me when we get there; I’ll be the guy sitting in the last row shaking my head in wonder that, in Christ, God’s grace even saved a wretch like me. Amen

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