Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Readings: 2 Kings 5:1–15a | Romans 12:16–21 | Matthew 8:1–13

Text: Matthew 8:1-13

“Our Father, who art in heaven” – The Small Catechism tells us, “With these words, God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence, we may ask Him as dear children as their dear father.” 

Well, that’s fine for children, but when the rubber hits the road, you need more.  It’s too simple, isn’t it?  Actually no, it isn’t.  Faith believes God’s Word.  “Abram believed the Lord, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6)  “So it depends on faith, in order that the promise may be guaranteed” (Rom. 4:16).  Faith trusts in God and asks Him.  Faith believes what the Lord says, when He promises, “Call on Me in the day of trouble.  I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me.” (Ps. 50:15)  Our God tells us He is eager to hear and answer the prayers of His children!

But I don’t want to bother God with my problems.  Surely, He has more important things than my needs to tend to.  We equate God with the pastor’s busy schedule, and we downplay our need or downplay God’s willingness to help.  But God is not a man that He can only be in one place at a time.  He isn’t overwhelmed by how big or how many challenges we bring to Him.  “He who keeps you will not slumber” and “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Psalm 121:3 and Num. 23:19)

We ask because of Who God is, and because of Who His Son is.  Putting this in the context of Matthew’s Gospel, we’ve heard of His birth as the promised son of Abraham, the adoration of the Magi, His Baptism and identity as God’s beloved Son, His temptation and the beginning of His ministry.  But this is the first thing that happens after His great Sermon on the Mount.  He is met immediately with the needs of the poor in spirit, with those who mourn seeking comfort.   Hasn’t He just taught us, ? “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matt. 7:7-8) for you are coming before the Father in heaven who has opened His heart wide by sending His Son.

These two encounters are presented to us as examples to emulate.  The first comes to Jesus and expresses his faith in a statement: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”  Perhaps he was inspired by Naaman, who was the only leper who was miraculously cleansed of his leprosy.  Leprosy was not just any other disease, but one which excluded a person from the Temple worship.  So, by being cleansed, this leper is also restored to worship the God who shows mercy to the unclean.

The second example of the Centurion comes to Jesus with an exhortation, or as the ESV says, an “appeal”: “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” But when Jesus offers to come to his servant, this man responds, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word.”  Perhaps, he too, has heard of Naaman, how it was by a powerful word that this Gentile received healing.  Nonetheless, he confesses faith in Jesus as commander-in-chief of all creation, of life and death.  That makes us the subordinates.  Yet, unlike human authorities who may err or be prone to tyrrany, our Master is perfect and His way is perfect.  “If you will…say only the word [and it will be]” As some of us heard at the funeral sang this week, “What pleases God, that pleases me.” (LSB 716, refrain)

We too are children of God, and as children, we should follow their examples.  When we come before God in the Divine Service, when we are at home in our devotions—whether alone or with our family—we long for the Lord to hear what we ask and answer our pleading.  This leper and centurion came with urgent, heartfelt needs.  They were driven to prayer by their circumstance.  This isn’t a bad thing.  Things got desperate for them, which drove them to the Lord as the only One who could help!

But there are those times when we don’t feel that longing.  We doubt God’s promise to hear every prayer.  We doubt that He is able to help, like our request is too big, or not statistically likely.  In these times, we allow our flesh and the world around us to silence our prayers.  What about those many times we’ve told ourselves we’re too busy to pray?  Or found that we’ve given in to worry and our own remedies instead of asking God for His help?

Jesus’ words to St. Peter in Gethsemane are true: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38).  These are times for us to repent of lame excuses and our inattention to prayer.  He commands us to pray, and promises to hear us, and we should be ashamed by the example of this leper and this Gentile.

Enter the Devil with His accusation, and it only gets worse.  He wants us to buy into the failings, the distresses you and your family face.  His desire is for you, to sift you like wheat [Luke 22:31-32], so that you are swayed from asking for the Lord’s help, and falling back to your plan B, since obviously God won’t come through for you.  Any “reasonable” person knows that.

Satan is a liar and a murderer.  He wants to cut you off from God your Father, and Jesus, your Great High Priest.  The truth is that God has given Him as the Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). 

Incredibly, your Father in heaven cares about you more than you do.  He cares more about your needs than you do.  Not only did the Son of God come into our world to take on our flesh, suffer, and die for our redemption, but He came to be our mediator between God and men, He ascended to the right hand of God. He is our High Priest offering petitions on our behalf to the Father. And as if this weren’t enough, He sent the Holy Spirit, the comforter, to each of us, descending upon us in Holy Baptism, remaining in us, strengthening our faith through Word and the mysteries of Christ, so that the Holy Spirit may “fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Rom. 15:13).

Filled with the Holy Spirit, He prays for us in our stead. Listen to how St. Paul expresses it, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Rom. 8:26). This is how the Scripture is fulfilled that says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). It is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all who believe that Jesus is Lord. So even in those times when you might feel that your faith is weak and your prayers falter, wherever there is faith, the Spirit is interceding for you.

In whatever circumstance you find yourself, whether mourning or rejoicing, your heavenly Father knows, cares, and is with you. You are a child of God through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. He invites you to be bold in your prayer and confident in your faith. And the invitation comes with power to strengthen you for the task. The accounts of the Leper and the Centurion serve as an encouragement to you, showing you what your Father wants. He wants you to ask. He stands ready to hear and to give you the things that are good for this world and for the world to come. This manifestation of Jesus in miracles gives you hope that He cares about you in this world. He cares about your every need. For Jesus is the right hand of majesty that the Father has stretched out to help and defend you in all circumstances.

This is the invitation which your Father in heaven extends to you.  May His Holy Spirit daily keep you in this faith and kindle in you a trust and yearning for His help every moment of your passing life.  This is your God who cares for you day and night, and who is your keeper unto eternal life, which is yours in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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