Do You Really Think the Will of God is Always Best?
How easy it is to say, "The will of God is always best!" How easy it is to tell people disappointed in love or work that the will of God is always best! But how cold those words sound at deathbeds. How hollow they sound when spoken to the chronically ill and to those with problems not easily solved. So do you really think the will of God is always best? Wait! Don't answer that! Don't speculate about the will of God apart from Jesus.
In Epiphany we are directed to see God in Christ, God in Man made manifest. Our text today is a wonderful revelation. We see in Jesus that God has compassion to help poor, miserable sinners like us. A leper, Dr. Luke tells us that he was full of leprosy which means he had an advanced case of this horribly disfiguring disease, came begging, kneeling and saying to Jesus, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." The text says Jesus was "filled with compassion."
The Greek word for compassion is a beautiful, noble, descriptive word. It literally refers to the inward parts of the body, particularly the heart, lungs, liver, and spleen moving. Why is an anatomical word used for compassion? You know why. We say our "heart goes out" to a person in trouble. When compassion or pity overwhelms us, where do we feel it? In our stomach. We have "a gut reaction." The Greek word for compassion is based on the physical reactions the person having compassion feels.
But wait a minute. The Gospels use this word only of Jesus. The word is never used of the sympathy of Christians towards other people. O yes, we can sympathize with others, but we can't have compassion in the sense that Christ did. You see when the text says Jesus was "filled with compassion," it wasn't just an emotional response. When Christ has compassion on a person, His heart doesn't just "go out to him." No, the trouble, the problem of the individual comes into Jesus. This is the fulfilment of the prophesy, "The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." Not just our sins but all the sicknesses, illnesses, troubles, and problems that are the consequences of our sinfulness fell on Jesus. "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows," Isaiah says. The word translated griefs could be translated "sicknesses." Christ has borne our sickness and carried all the sorrows that our sins deserve.
For those of you who like science fiction, the people called "empaths" in the original "Star Trek" series are a good illustration. Empaths healed people by taking on their illnesses. They touched cut and bruised people and the cuts and bruises showed up on their bodies. Lest you think this is too far fetched, consider the fact that Scripture reports Jesus groaning in the spirit when He came in contact with the sick. It notes that Jesus could feel power draining from Him when He healed.
Our burdens, our sorrows, our sins became His not in some abstract way, but in a real tangible, physical way. He willingly took them on. In our text, the man is disgustingly disfigured by his disease, yet Jesus willingly took his disease in to Himself even reaching out His hand to touch him. Jesus has just such compassion for us in our sicknesses, in our sinfulness, in our troubles even the ones our own sins bring on us. He is like the mother whose child was ill with the plaque. The doctors told the mother to stay away from the child lest she get it too. But when the child cried out to be held, the mother without a thought rushed in to hold the child. Reaching out to touch this leper, reaching out to touch our sinfulness, reaching out to touch our troubles, meant certain death for Jesus. Yet He did it anyway.
In this text we see that in Jesus God has the compassion to help sinners, but there is more. God's compassion is not only shown in Jesus, so is His power. This terribly mangled leper falls at Jesus' feet saying, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." There was no question of ability or power here. Jesus has the power to heal the unhealable, to save the unsaveable, to help the unhelpable. Leprosy was the AIDS of first century society. There were no medical suggestions for treating it. There weren't even any magical ones. People who contracted the disease were regarded as the living dead. It was only a matter of time before they died a dreaded death. Yet, Jesus stands toe to toe with this disease and doesn't flinch.
Jesus tells us in John 5 that His flesh is life giving. Other places speak of "power going out of His body." This is the body born of a ordinary woman named Mary, but it is also the body of the only begotten of the Father from all eternity. His flesh is holy; His flesh is perfectly healthy. His flesh is Divine. More than that; what comes in contact with this flesh and blood becomes holy and healthy. In the Old Testament Church if you came in contact with a leper, you became unclean. With Jesus it works the opposite way. Jesus coming in contact with the leper makes the leper clean.
Dear friends, this is the Body and Blood with which we have to do. Doesn't Paul tell us in Galatians 3, "as many of you who have been baptized have put on Christ?" Doesn't Paul in Titus call Baptism "a washing of regeneration and a renewal of the Holy Spirit." Who comes in contact with Baptism is regenerated and renewed; he or she is a new creation. And what of Communion? Doesn't Scripture call it a sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ? Isn't this where we actually touch His Body and Blood? He is not less present in this Sacrament than He was before the leper. The leper kneeled for the same reason we do because Christ is really present. And doesn't our catechism teach us that in this Sacrament is not only forgiveness and salvation, but also life? That is not a reference to life everlasting but to physical life.
Okay, then, what I'm saying is that right here, right now at this altar, where the Body and Blood of Christ is for sinners, you could not only be forgiven of all you sins and given life everlasting, but you could be healed of all your diseases. Most certainly. You don't think the Body and Blood of Christ present in the Holy Communion is less powerful than the Body and Blood of Christ that stood before the leper, do you? Now we've come to the question of the will of God.
The poor, mangled, miserable leper kneeled before the Body and Blood of Christ, and said those heart-wrenching words, "If you will..." The leper was admitting that it could be the will of the compassionate, powerful God-Man, Jesus Christ, to leave him in the living death of leprosy. He didn't presume to tell his Lord how and when to help him. The leper knew Jesus was able to help, but he didn't know if He was willing.
Friend, I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is willing to forgive your sins, whatever or how many they might be, because He carried them to the cross, paid for them, and commissioned me to preach the forgiveness of sins to you. I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt, because your sins are forgiven, you will live forever and ever. But I cannot tell you if God wills for you to be healed of this or that disease in this life. I cannot tell you if God wills for your loved one to live. I cannot tell you if God wills for this or that complicated problem of yours to work out soon or ever. I can only tell you what God Himself has told us in His Holy Word.
Paul tells us in I Corinthians 13 that we see in a glass dimly; we know only in part. O I think and feel sometimes that I see clearly and know fully, but the truth of the matter is I can only know for certain what God explicitly tells me. When we go running off with our dim eyesight as if we can see clearly, we end up running into things. For example, the healed leper couldn't see why in the world he should not be shouting it from the mountain tops that Christ had healed him. He couldn't see that this would actually hinder the ministry of Jesus keeping Him out of the villages and towns He had intended to enter. Mary thought she knew what Jesus needed to do and when He needed to do it when they ran out of wine at a wedding, but she didn't. She didn't know the timing of God. Likewise, Peter thought he knew what was best for Jesus; there was no way He should go to Jerusalem be rejected by the church there and be crucified. Peter thought He was speaking for God, but it turned out he was really speaking for Satan!
Friends, we see as poorly and know as little as these folks did. That's why we come to this altar full of death, disease, decay and say, "If you will." That's why we come to this altar hounded by problems, confused by troubles and say, "If you will." There are so many factors, so many issues, so many ramifications, we simply do not know what God should do when.
You've seen these movies where a bomb has to be disarmed. The bomb disposal crew opens up the control box, and it is looks like a mass of colored spaghetti. There are red, blue, green, yellow, white and black wires twisting and curling every which way. There is only one right wire to cut to disarm the bomb. Cut any of the hundreds of wrong ones and KABOOM! A human life is a million times more complex than that. We may think we know which diseases need healing and which problems need fixing, but we don't. Only our Jesus does. May His will be done.
Here, though is what happens. Here is what the devil does with the situation. The will of God, apart from what God expresses in the Bible is unknowable. The devil uses the deep, dark inscrutable will of God to try and nullify the compassion and power of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. He says because Jesus doesn't solve most problems speedily, He really doesn't care about us. He's far away in heaven like some Greek god unconcerned with the troubles of mere mortals on earth. And because most of the time Jesus leaves us in our diseases even to the point of them killing us, the devil whispers, "You see how powerless Jesus really is."
As usual the devil turns everything around. Why did the leper go to Jesus? Not because he knew Jesus would help him because he didn't know that. He says, "If you will." He went to Jesus because he was drawn by Jesus' compassion for sinners in their lost condition and by Jesus' power over life, death, illness and suffering. The compassion and power of Jesus gave the Leper great confidence that the will of Jesus would always be best.
This is how it can be for us. Friend, when the Lord leaves us in our diseases and with our difficult troubles, it cannot be because He doesn't care or is not able to help. Far from it. He has infinite compassion for sinners having already borne their sicknesses and carried their sorrows, and He has infinite power; all power in heaven and on earth has been given to Him.
Therefore, when Jesus doesn't heal our diseases or solve our problems, it is only His will that is lacking. So, the only answer can be it must not be good for us for Him to act. Since He has all compassion and all power, it must be for our sakes that He doesn't will it.
Is the will of God really best? Ask those in heaven. All they sing about in heaven, as recorded in the Book of Revelation, is about how Christ Jesus succeeded in delivering them from sin, death and the devil. They are thankful that His will in heaven was indeed done on earth. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany VI (2-13-00) Mark 1:40-45