Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Matthew 8:1-13 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
This Gospel teaches us two examples of faith and love; one in the leper and the other in the centurion. First, let’s look at the leper.
The leper walked right up to Jesus in the middle of the crowds. What boldness! What presumption! The leper was breaking the law by coming near to others, but there he is, in the middle of great crowds, walking right up to Jesus. No, this is not presumption, it is faith. He would not have been so bold to seek the Lord had he not had great faith. He had no presumptions about having merits or worthiness. Being a leper he had every reason to be afraid. But, he fully expected to be made clean. So he pressed forward in faith, expecting only grace and mercy, not regarding the law or the people or how good and holy Christ was. He fully expected to be made clean. He had every confidence in Jesus Christ that he would be received with open arms and treated with kindness and grace and that in his mercy Jesus would heal him.
This is indeed great faith. In spite of his leprosy, he expected only kindness and mercy from Christ. The leper’s faith was fixed on Christ’s grace and kindness. But you ask, “Did his faith not waver when he said, ‘If you will you can make me clean’?” Did he not doubt that Christ would have mercy upon him? But, this is not a statement of doubt, rather of the greatest faith. This is the greatest prayer of faith one can pray. For He did not doubt Christ’s pure grace and mercy, but was putting his entire self in Jesus’ hands and trusting that the will of Christ was nothing other than compassion and grace. He was saying, “Not my will, but yours be done,” as we are taught to pray in the Lord’s Prayer. Such a great faith is willing to place oneself in God’s hands, and receive from Him whatever he wills even if it is not what you are wishing for.
This is the way true Christian faith is. It does not look at our own sins, or our lack of merits, or failures. Nor does it wallow in self-incrimination or self-condemnation. It does not fear God’s anger or retribution. It does not hesitate at the holiness of God. True faith looks only to Christ’s cross and the love and compassion he has for mankind. It trusts in his forgiveness and does not regard the law or our own failures and unworthiness. Nor does it regard our works or even our desires and will, but only regards and sees the will of God and it sees that his will is only for our good. For only Christ is worthy, and faith seeks worthiness in Christ alone; righteousness in Christ alone; mercy in Christ alone.
The heart that does not do that does not believe correctly. They are the ones who do not keep their eyes only on God’s kindness, but first look around for their own good works in order to be worthy or meriting his kindness. They never become bold enough to invoke God in all seriousness or to come to him. They are those of whom Jesus said, “They will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
However, this confidence or faith in the kindness of Christ would not have arisen in this leper from his own reason. His reason would have told him, “I am a leper. I have no status amongst men or before God. I am unclean. I am not even allowed to enter into the temple.” He had first to hear about Jesus, namely how kind, gracious and merciful he is. How he helps and gives, comforts and aids everyone who comes to him. Such a proclamation must have come to his ears for such faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God alone. When he heard that report about Jesus, be believed and applied it to himself. From that faith, he took courage and sought Jesus without having any merits, even ignoring the laws and customs of the people. If this leper came to Jesus and said, “Look, Lord, I have prayed and tithed so much; you should look at that and make me clean because of it,” then Christ would never have cleansed him, since such a person does not rely on God’s grace but on his own merit. Instead, he said to himself, “Though I am unworthy to come to him or to ask anything of him, though I am unclean, a leper, and it is against the law for me to come near to any man, he will be so kind to me as the report says about him.” So, his faith did not grow out of his own reason, but from the word spoken about Jesus. It came from the proclamation about Christ. This is enough about the leper.
The second example is like it. The centurion also has a wholehearted trust in Christ and pictures before his eyes nothing but the kindness and grace of Christ; otherwise he would not have come to him or had such firm confidence, unless he had first heard about Christ’s kindness and grace and believed it true for himself. So also, here the gospel is the beginning and incentive of his confidence and faith.
He did not consider his own merits or good works, and in fact stated, “I am not worthy.” Here we learn again that we must begin with the gospel and believe it and not look at any merit or works, just as this centurion did not look at any merit or work, but only his confidence in Christ’s kindness.
Here also, we have the example of love; that Christ does good to both the leper and the centurion without any seeking for a gift or payment in return. Neither man brought money or gifts to Jesus. Neither offered works or service to Jesus. But to both, Jesus give his love and mercy. We clearly see that love makes Jesus into a servant, so that he helps the poor men freely and seeks neither profit, advantage, nor glory from them, but only the good of the poor men and the glory of God the Father. Christ had everything: glory, honor, power, authority in the heavens and on earth, but he put it all aside to become a man, serve the poor, and die on a cross for us all, suffering the punishment of hell in order to release us from such torment.
It is so for us also. As Luther said, “by faith we become Lords, and by love we become servants.” By faith we are God’s children, heirs of his kingdom, lacking nothing, possessing all things. But through love, we become equal to the poorest of all. According to faith we have everything, we lack nothing; according to love we serve everyone. Through faith we receive treasures from above; through love we pass those treasures below to our neighbors. In the same way, Christ, according to his deity, lacked nothing, but according to his humanity he served everyone who needed him.
Through faith we are born God’s children and are gods, lords, and kings, just as Christ was born as true God in eternity from the Father. On the other hand, in love we burst forth and help our neighbors with good deeds, just as Christ became man to help us all. We do not deserve to be adopted by God as his children and to have our sins forgiven so that death and hell do not harm us, but we received all that through faith in the gospel, by grace, without any works and even before we had love for our neighbor. We do good and love our neighbor only after we have faith, are made godly by faith, purified from sins, saved and made God’s children through faith.
This demonstrates that faith comes before works. The centurion is an example of this as he first had faith, then works. It was his faith that impelled him to do a good work unto his servant. He cared for his servant as for himself, just as Christ cared for us. The centurion did that good deed on behalf of his servant gratuitously, only for the benefit of the servant. It is as if he said, “The love and delight I have for this servant compelled me to see his need and to come.” Let us also do this, and not think that now we have the gospel, and then pay no attention to our neighbor in his need.
So it is, two men, a leper and a centurion. Examples of faith and the love the springs forth from faith. Faith that sees only goodness, grace and mercy in Christ and love that passes that goodness and mercy from Christ down to the men in need. As we see two men, let us see only these two things: the kindness of Christ, and the need of our neighbor. Amen.