In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Everyone was astonished by the sermon on the mount. Jesus didn’t teach them like one of their own scribes, it says (7:28-29), but He taught “as one who had authority.” The crowds were right to be amazed – not only His teaching, but also His actions demonstrated His authority. When Jesus spoke, even the elemental things of creation obeyed His Word of command (c.f. the authority delegated in Matt 10:1). By this authority Jesus accomplished many signs, such as calming storms or healing disease or casting out demons or turning water into wine. Why, He could give a word of command and turn pebbles into food, or call down an army of angels on his enemies! The question is not “is it possible for Jesus to do this” but rather: “What will Jesus do?”
That’s the assumption the leper makes. “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27). So he says: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
What does that mean, “if you will”? Here, to will something means to make the determination, and then take action. Human willpower works like that. It takes a will to make a way. On the other hand, you may have noticed that human willpower is itself fairly limited – no matter how great your willpower, you will not be able to walk to the moon. We cannot free ourselves of our own poor miserable sinful condition, no matter how grand our intentions or great our willpower. There’s no shame in that, in being honest, in admitting our weakness or limits. In many ways, we need those limits to keep us grounded, and we need the humility in order to understand ourselves rightly.
God’s will though, is different. He is unlimited. Infinite. Perfectly righteous and holy and good. Just as God the Father is almighty, so also is Jesus Christ His Son. If Jesus wills for something to happen, it will happen, and it will be very good. The question is: What does He will? That makes a world of difference.
God’s will for us is revealed in the work of Christ Jesus. He sent His only begotten Son, Who joined Himself to our human flesh, to suffer in our place under all the judgment of the Law against our fallen human race. If it’s a question of whether God is favorable to you or not, then look no further than Christ Jesus. On account of Christ crucified and risen, God is favorable toward you. This is the steady center of our hope. Jesus paid the price to redeem you, His life for yours, to reconcile you to the Father almighty, to restore you to the kingdom, to guarantee the certain hope of resurrection to the high feast of heaven. Instead of looking to our material conditions as a measure of God’s favor towards us, look to the it-is-finished guarantee of His cross and resurrection. It counts for you.
As a token and foreshadowing of the resurrection of believers on the last day, Jesus heals the sick and restores their conditions in the body. Like we heard about in today’s gospel reading. He was, and is, willing to provide for the needs of this body and life. In His wisdom, He knows what is best for us: it may be that our aches and annoyances are given as opportunities to rely even more fully on the Lord’s providence until He raises up the believers on the last day. It may be that we receive some benefits or relief in this poor miserable life so that we can praise God’s name for others to hear.
Whatever the case, God who created our bodies has not abandoned us. Jesus healed the leper, the centurion’s servant; God even restored the flesh of Naaman the Syrian in the Old Testament reading. These miracles weren’t necessary for the cross and resurrection to occur, but it shows us something about God’s abundant mercy, it’s an epiphany, a revelation of something. He has not forgotten His creation. Soldiers too can be saved. He bears with us in our weaknesses and infirmities.
All three of those who were healed in today’s readings were outsiders. Either they were outcasts because some sickness kept them away, or because they were from the wrong tribe, language, or nation. And yet God is willing to restore those who are cast out, and bring near those who have been separated. His Word of authority is more than enough to reconcile those who are lost. The Leper was able to go be welcomed to the church again, because Jesus had cleansed him. Naaman was able to go home clean, because He had received God’s mighty word of promise combined with water.
So too you. You who have been baptized are welcomed to God’s kingdom, cleansed of the shame and sin that clings so close. In Holy Baptism, God gives us new birth from above, a re-generation in the holy humanity of Jesus. Even though we are not ourselves worthy that He would come under our roof, He is willing. In the Holy Communion, we have a guarantee of His favor, of His willingness to raise up you who are in Christ Jesus on the last day.
Because we know God wills our salvation, we can learn to pray from the leper in today’s gospel reading, or learn from the Centurion who asked Jesus for help. Instead of commanding God how we think He ought to do things, as if we should micromanage God, we can have confidence when you pray, because confidence in God is well placed. A confident prayer lets God know what we need, and then says to Him “let it be unto me as You will, O Lord.” This is more or less what we do in the Lord’s Prayer, when we say “Thy will be done.” … We express our lament and our needs and our desires to the Lord, and then in humble faith leave it up to His gracious will for how all of this will be accomplished. We know He can do it. All He needs do is say the Word.
For all this, we have abundant reminders. Consider the expression of Jesus’ royal authority in the introit today: “97:1 The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” That Royal authority bespeaks favor to you even today. When the pastor speaks Christ’s word of absolution in the divine service, you are made clean in and by the authority of Jesus Himself. Whatever shameful sin or weight of guilt clings to you, know that Jesus is willing and able to forgive, to cleanse, to restore, to provide. You who believe Christ’s word of Law and Gospel, let it be done for you as you believe. In the name of + Jesus. Amen.