Cleansed to Talk
There's no doubt the cleansed leper talked about Jesus in the text contrary to Jesus' will. And there's no doubt that David in the Introit, cleansed of his sins of adultery and murder, talks about being forgiven in accordance with God's will. This sermon will relate these two to our situation.
The text puts before us two facts leading to one condemnation. There is no doubt that Jesus strongly orders the cleansed leper not to talk. "See that you don't tell this to anyone." Our insert styled it "a strong warning." The Greek means "to snort as a spirited horse." It denotes strong emotion shading toward anger and indignation. And Jesus didn't just make His point with words and then send the cleansed man on his way. No, the Greek says, "Jesus cast him out at once with a strong warning."
There is no doubt Jesus told him not to talk, and there's no doubt that "he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news." From this account, there are two facts that apply to us. If we had been cleansed physically of something as hideous as leprosy, we wouldn't keep our mouths shut either. That's a fact; isn't it? I'll go one better. If at this Communion rail a disfiguring wart or even a noticeable age spot vanished as soon as the Body or Blood of Jesus touched your lips, you would tell somebody, wouldn't you? You'd tell everybody who had ever known about your skin problem. Now imagine if you came away from this altar cleansed of a terminal illness whose physical signs had instantly vanished. Could you stop yourself from talking about iteven if Jesus Himself ordered you to? I couldn't.
Whether or not we have or will ever come away from the Body and Blood cleansed of a physical ailment, we do come away cleansed spiritually of something far uglier, dirtier, and more defiling. And yet we keep our mouths shut. It's like eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ gives us lockjaw. There are several instances where Jesus forbids someone to talk about a physical miracle He did for them, and I could go over the reasons for this, but the fact that Jesus sometimes prohibited people talking about a physical miracle is not the point of this sermon. The point is that nowhere at anytime does Jesus forbid a forgiven sinner speaking about forgiveness.
The truth is that Jesus rose from the dead and commanded that repentance and forgiveness be preached to all nations. Now don't think you know what I'm going to say next. The command to go to strangers and preach and to preach everywhere was given only to the apostles says Luther. "'But after them," Luther goes on to say, "no one has such a general apostolic command'" (by Walther, Church and Ministry, 164). So, I am not faulting you for not obeying the so called Great Commission; I'm faulting you for not living from the great reality of the forgiveness of your own sins. When you do talk of Jesus it's not about the one thing you know He has done for you: cleansed your sins; it's more along the lines of health and wealth theology. Jesus helps me when I'm down; Jesus assures me of His presence. Jesus works everything out.
These two facts: that we would certainly talk about being physically cleansed and we don't talk about being certainly cleansed spiritually leads to one condemnation. Perhaps it's best to say these facts lead to one conclusion that condemns us. This conclusion is that we're half-way cleansed; half-way forgiven. Not that Jesus does anything in halves, but that's how we regard our cleansing, our forgiving. You know what you call someone half way cleansed spiritually? The same thing you call a half-way cleansed leper: dirty, defiled, unclean. A halfway cleansed leper is still a leper; a halfway forgiven person is still guilty, still condemned, still separated from God.
You've seen a Frankenstein movie. In Dr. Frankenstein's lab, there are usually a number of halfway successful experiments. These halfway successes which means they are halfway failures too are even more hideous than complete failures because they have a hint of what might have been, could have been. We turn more quickly a way from marred beauty than we do complete ugliness. In any event, Dr. Frankenstein doesn't talk about his halfway successes even as no one who thinks of themselves as halfway cleansed of sin, halfway free of condemnation, halfway forgiven talks about that either.
There's our problem. We think Jesus has only met us halfway, forgiven half our sins, cleansed half our guilty filth, and as Crystal Gale sings half of His love is not what we need. The answer is to see He gives us all of it. Thankfully, our text doesn't just have 2 facts leading to one condemnation. It has 3 "savings" leading to one complete cleansing.
You have to be careful speaking of multiple "savings." I have savings in quotes to show I don't mean there are levels of being saved. That in fact is the problem I'm trying to address. When we think Jesus only takes us half the way we are thinking in terms of levels. Jesus would bring home His total cleansing to the leper physically and to us spiritually. With the leper Jesus says He wills him to be cleansed; He speaks it, "Be clean," and He touches him. By anyone of these Jesus could've completely cleansed the leper, but Jesus did all 3. It's God's rule that every fact is to be established by two or three witnesses and God Himself always uses three. Jesus takes three disciples to witness the raising of a dead girl, the Transfiguration, and His agony in the Garden. And 1 John reports "For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement."
God has said to you that He wills the cleansing, saving, and forgiving of sinners. From Genesis 3:15 to John 3:16, God says that He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance and salvation. You don't know, can't know, no one can know if God wills them to be healed of this or that disease. You can't know if God wills you to die at 40 or live to 100. You can't know if God wills you to prosper wildly in this life or struggle daily. But you can know, indeed, you are to know that God wills to save you for all eternity. The fact that you are a sinner proves it. Paul says to Timothy, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."
God didn't will for His only beloved Son to save people without sins but people with sins; He didn't will to save those who can deal with their sins but those who can't. God didn't will that His Son meet sinners halfway and have them come the rest of the way by a choice, by a decision, by asking Jesus to come into their heart. No, God the Father willed that the Son go all the way into the womb, under the Law, into Hell, and under the dirt to save sinners.
In this regard, you can say you know the very mind of God. He wills to save you, to cleanse you completely from your sins. But God isn't satisfied that you just know His will, He speaks this forgiveness, this cleansing to you. God doesn't leave the matter of your forgiveness in the ethereal realm of His will; He brings it down to earth into your very ears.
"I forgive you," God says in His Word and by the mouth of a man. And remember God does nothing halfway. His Son went all the way to the cross offering up a perfect life unblemished by one single sin in thought, word, or deed, in your place. He didn't die just for some sins, just for the ones you think He would die for, just the ones others will let you put on Him. No, Jesus died for all sins, of all people, so when I forgive you, there go all your sins.
This secret fear, this hideous doubt, this disfigured dread that maybe just maybe this one sin remains behind is a lie, is false, is to be rejected, and here's why. You know what happens in sci-fi movies when they miss just one of the aliens? The one multiplies into a gazillion. So it is with a sin if you think my forgiveness which is nothing less than God's can or has left one of your sins behind. That one sin will multiply into a gazillion doubts, fears, and dreads till they fill your mouth and you're unable to speak.
God wills you to be completely forgiven of all your sins for Jesus' sake. And God says to you, "Be forgiven," but does He touch you the way He touched that leper? Sure He does. If you come to Private Confession, when I speak His forgiveness into your ears, I will touch your head with my hand. If you are to regard my forgiveness as His forgiveness, and you are, then you are to regard my touch as His. But there's more and better. Paul promises that "as many of you who have been baptized have put on Christ." It wasn't just water that touched your skin at Baptism; it was Jesus. And in Holy Communion Jesus touches you with His Body and Blood no less than He touched the leper. Based on Jesus' words of promise we are to believe that what is on our altar, in our mouths, over our sins is the very same Body and blood Jesus gave and shed on the cross and touched the leper with.
That's the reality; and the reality of the Body and Blood of our God present in our time and space today, not only informs our worship leading us to bow, kneel, and cross ourselves; it also opens our lips. A person who slips into clean sheets naturally remarks how good it feels. A person who gets into a new car and smells that new car smell naturally speaks of it. A person sweaty and dirty from yard work naturally speaks of how clean they feel after the shower.
For brief moments in time clean sheets, a new car, or a hot shower can fill your life to the extent that you are moved to mention it. The reality visible here - that God wills to forgive you, speaks you forgiven, and touches you with forgiveness - is our life, and therefore it moves are lips. How many people can say, "I saw God on Sunday and He forgave me for all I had ever done wrong?" You can. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (20090215); Mark 1: 40-45