Sunday, October 31, 2010

Today Salvation Has Come to This House

Reformation Day
Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
October 31, 2010
Luke 19:1-10

Today is a great day. Going on 500 years after Martin Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg on October 31 Lutherans continue celebrate the Reformation. This sparked what people have called the ‘re-discovery’ of the Gospel. So of course it’s a great day, an important celebration.

But that’s not primarily why it’s a great day. You could pick any day of the calendar year and celebrate it as a great day for the same reason today is. The reason it’s a great day is that today salvation has come to this house. We may be Lutherans but we don’t follow Luther. We may attach special significance to Reformation Day but our reason for celebration is not in what a man named Luther did.

What we celebrate today and every day is that salvation has come to this house. In a sense there was a re-discovery of the Gospel in the Sixteenth Century. For too many years peoples’ consciences were being burdened with the Law rather than their consciences being convicted by the Law to drive them to the Gospel. But the Gospel, through the providence of God, has always been made known. So any re-discovery has more to do with us than it does with Jesus. It’s not like He has refrained from making Himself known during certain times in history. We are so much like Zacchaeus, needing Jesus to come to our house to discover us. Jesus is always present. The Gospel always remains. We’re the ones who are in need of reform, and thus the name Reformation.

We can seek Jesus all we want but it’s not until He comes into our life that salvation comes to us. We can seek Jesus apart from the way He comes to us but it’s not until we seek Him in repentance that we can be reformed.

It would be easy to celebrate this day and go away grateful for the action of a young monk. It would be gratifying to go away from the Lord’s House today satisfied with our great churchly and theological heritage. But that is not what this day is about. That’s the same with what every day is about. Every time we enter into this, our Lord’s House, it’s about salvation coming to this house. Jesus said to Zacchaeus that He must stay at his house today. By entering it He made it a holy place. And He did something else. He brought righteousness to Zacchaeus, a man who, in the words of the religious leaders, was a sinner. That’s what that day was about. Jesus said it: Today salvation has come to this house. It came to that house because Jesus came to that house. Where Jesus is, there is salvation.

And that’s why we come here. Jesus comes to us with His salvation. He walked into Zacchaeus’ house, He comes to us here through words that are proclaimed and bread and wine that is given to us to eat and drink.

Even though it’s great that there are a lot of people and a lot of churches that celebrate the Reformation, there’s often a misunderstanding of it. Too many think of it as the festival of the Protestant Church. But the Reformation was not about protesting anything. It was and always is about declaration. The Church through the ages has always declared the Gospel so that all may hear it. There’s nothing to protest, but everything to declare. That is what Jesus did when He saw Zacchaeus. Sure, you could think of His declaration of Zacchaeus and many others’ sin as protesting against sin. But it’s really not protesting. It’s calling sinners to repentance. It’s the declaration of the Law that paves the way for the Gospel. Without the Law there is no Gospel. Without repentance there is no forgiveness.

There is no true celebration of the Reformation if it’s a celebration of a monk who made a declaration of the Gospel. There is a celebration of the Reformation every day if it is a celebration that today salvation has come to this house. That, as Jesus said, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” That’s really why we come here. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus but Jesus said, I’m going to come to you. That’s what continues to happen today. Salvation comes to this house when our Lord comes to us in His Word proclaimed and His Body and Blood given in His Holy Supper.

There is no celebration of the Reformation if all we’re doing is celebrating some sort of protest. We don’t protest, we repent. We confess our sins as ones who are not worthy to enter the holy ground of our Lord’s righteousness. But we repent as Zacchaeus did, seeing that new life—reformed life, renewed life—comes out of the salvation that comes to this house. We see as he did that our Lord gives us an opportunity to live in the freedom of being forgiven by making restitution with those we’ve sinned against. If we are unwilling to forgive others we are bound in our sin. But if we look to Christ who was raised up on the cross for the salvation of the world we will see the world in a different light. We will see that others are just as we are, sinners who fall short of the glory of God. We will see that Christ suffered on the cross so that we may be free: free from sin, free to live in selfless, generous, merciful, forgiving love.

If we were to raise up Luther on this day as our reason for celebrating we would miss the point of his posting of the Ninety-Five Theses. We raise up Christ alone. We look to Him alone, just as Zacchaeus did. Just as Luther did, for that matter. If we were to celebrate some sort of protest, we would miss the point of the Reformation. If anything, our protest should be against our own wretchedness, our utter sinfulness. That’s what Zacchaeus saw in himself. For that matter, it’s what Luther saw in himself. That’s why Christ comes to us with His declaration of the Law which brings us to repentance. That’s why He then declares the Good News: Today salvation has come to this house.

He comes to us in this way, granting sinners salvation. Proclaiming His Gospel through his called and ordained servants. Giving often His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins in His Holy Supper. If you ever wonder what the big deal about the Reformation is, just take a look at today and what is going on here, what we’re celebrating. What’s going on is Christ coming to us for salvation. What we’re celebrating is that. Our constant need for reform, for repentance. And our unworthy prayer of thanks to a Lord who comes to us with His forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amen.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Parable of the Two Gods

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
October 24, 2010
Luke 18:9-17

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector…

And you thought Jesus was telling a parable of two men. Nope, His parable was of the Two Gods. There’s the god who will make you feel good about yourself and the God who will actually do you some good.

Two men went to the temple to pray and each one prayed to a different god. The Pharisee was praying to the god he felt very comfortable with. This was the god who made himself feel good, told him what he wanted to hear, gave him comfort when he needed a lift in his spirits. This god was always around. The Pharisee could look up and not fear because his god would love him as he was. And why not? There was a lot to love. He was not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like that tax collector over in the corner. In case there was any forgetfulness on the part of his god, there was this helpful reminder: “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”

With a god like that, it’s smooth sailing. You can keep comparing yourself to others who aren’t nearly as righteous as you are, if at all. Is there any reason not to have contempt on them? After all, they are not living as God would have them live. If only there were more people in this world like the Pharisee, the world would be a better place. And God would be so pleased. It’s the way God wants it, but sadly so many do not live as He has commanded.

This god is the god you’ll hear about the most. He’s the god that does a lot of good, if by good you mean that you will be able to feel good about yourself and stand in the comfort of knowing that you really are a good person. This is the god of every religion but one, Christianity. It’s even the god of every religion that people don’t want to think of as a religion. Even atheism, the religion that supposedly doesn’t believe in God, even atheism has this god that the Pharisee was praying to.

One of the basic things we learn as we grow in the faith is that there is only one God. In terms of how many gods being truly God, there’s only one, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All other gods are not the true God, they are false gods. The Large Catechism says that your god is whoever or whatever you look to for all good. If you believe in the Triune God you believe in the true God. If you don’t, you believe in a false god. The Pharisee went to the temple but prayed to the wrong god. He prayed to a god in his own image, a god he could count on to make him feel good.

Who was this god? It was himself. Luke says that Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” He was telling a parable to those whose god was themselves. They look at themselves and are pleased. Look how good they are! Who needs God, I’m very capable of myself in being a good person. But to make themselves feel even better they set the true God up as their god. The only problem is that they don’t look to him for all good but to themselves. You know the great thing about this god? You can always count on him. Because you will always be able to find someone who is worse than you. Someone who certainly isn’t as good as a person as you. Someone God certainly isn’t as pleased with as He is with you. And there’s great comfort in that. It makes you feel good. If you got inside the mind of the most wicked person you could think of I’ll bet you’d see a person who has convinced himself that he’s a really good person. So how can you go wrong with a god like that? When you’re your own god you call the shots. You get to determine how you need to be in order to be in good standing. And there’s always the added bonus that you get to look down on others who aren’t at your level.

So if this is what you want, there’s really nothing you need to do. You’re already doing everything necessary, you’re just being yourself. Looking at yourself in the mirror and being satisfied that, overall, there’s a lot to be pleased with. And when the doubts come, you can turn your gaze from the mirror onto other people—and you will never run out of people you can plainly see are worse people than you are. What comfort this sweet rationalization gives! Just by being you you have excluded the Triune God—the true God—because you have all you need in yourself, the god you really want.

It’s always one of the hardest things to come to terms with when it comes to evangelism. When you want to tell someone the Good News of salvation, when you share with them what a great opportunity we have at our church for worshiping the true God and receiving His many blessings, and when they show up they hear words that we are poor miserable sinners. We are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. We are unworthy and deserve only eternal and temporal punishment. That’s not quite the uplifting, feel-good message a lot of people want to hear. They want to hear good things about themselves. They want to hear things that will make them feel good about themselves. Imagine that. And that explains why there’s a lot of people who go to other religions or to Christian churches that tell them what they want to hear, that say things that make them feel good about themselves. It brings in the people, but it’s not evangelism.

The thing Jesus really wants to tell us about in His Parable of the Two Gods is the second God, the true God, the Triune God, the God who doesn’t make us feel good, but does us a world of good, even an eternity of good. He’s the God the second guy prayed to. The one the miserable tax collector couldn’t even lift his eyes up to, he was so ashamed. The God that that guy couldn’t even bring himself to go forward to the altar to, he was so aware of his sinfulness, his unrighteousness. The God to whom the guy tried to show some way of communicating his unworthiness that he beat his breast.

The Pharisee prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” The tax collector prayed: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The Pharisee prayed to the god who was himself, because he put his trust in himself. The tax collector prayed to the true God because he knew that there was nothing within himself that was of any eternal worth or value or goodness. He might be able to convince himself he was a pretty good person, but where would that really get him? How far would it really take him? His life was already consumed with himself, was that really the kind of life he wanted to live? Not thinking of others, not helping them in their need, not serving them for the simple joy of serving them, not putting others before himself, so that he could see that without that he really would be left with only himself and all of his wretchedness, the stain of his sin, the pride that was bringing about his downfall.

Jesus says that one man was justified—declared righteous, right with God—and that one man was not. The one who put his trust in himself felt good in his own mind, the one who cried out for mercy to One who was outside of himself actually received something good, something that lasts. Something that gives true comfort when all you can see in your life and your heart and your thoughts is selfish desires and sin. So you could think of this parable as the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, in which case you’d be focusing on two men. Which one are you more like? Which one should you be like? And you would be missing the point. If you hear Jesus’ words, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” and think that the lesson you need to learn is that you shouldn’t be like that Pharisee and exalt yourself but be more like that tax collector and humble yourself, you will not have heard Jesus’ parable. It is about God, not about the two men.

Jesus really wants you to see the true God, the one who does you real good. When you see the tax collector you should see a picture of Jesus. I’m not saying that Jesus was saying He was the tax collector in the parable. But I am saying that He is giving us a picture of Himself in the tax collector. Jesus Christ came to us as a man and suffered in our place. He took upon Himself our sin. He hung on the cross as a sinner before God, not receiving mercy from Him but wrath. This is not some cosmic injustice but Jesus willingly bearing our guilt in our place. It is because of this that our cry to God can be, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” He is the one who is exalted and yet has humbled Himself so that we who are poor miserable sinners may in the mercy of God be exalted to eternal glory.

Unfortunately, those who exalt themselves are not easily brought down. Those who look to themselves for all good are not easily convinced that it’s all about God and not at all about them. So Jesus took the lowly among them to drive home the point. If an adult can point out to others, but especially himself, how good he is and all the good he has done, an infant can’t do any of that. We can’t point to an infant and say, Look at what a good person that is, for all the good they have done. We can say babies are cute. And we can say they bring joy to our lives. But we can’t say that they are able to determine good things to do and then actually do them. And yet, these are the ones who were being brought to Jesus. These are the ones Jesus lifts up as He did the tax collector. These are the ones we are to look to so that we can see who Jesus really wants us to see, and that is the true God. Jesus does not say that it is to children belongs the Kingdom of God, but “to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” And He doesn’t say that they attain it by anything they do, even by anything good they do. He says they simply receive it. It is given them. Whoever receives the Kingdom of God as one in whom there is nothing one can point to within himself for any worthiness, merit, or hope, will enter the Kingdom of God.

Pray all you like how God should respond to your invented worthiness. But you will be setting yourself up as your god, ultimately pleasing yourself. God is pleased in His Son Jesus Christ who alone has done all things well. But God is also pleased in placing your unrighteousness on His Son so that you may live as it pleases Him. This is life now and forever. Amen.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

When God Wrestles with You

Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
Ignatius of Antioch, Pastor and Martyr
October 17, 2010
Luke 18:1-8

Usually when Jesus tells a parable He just tells it. There might be some explanation afterward but usually He just goes into a story and then you can think about what it means. Here we alerted at the outset of the purpose of this parable. Jesus tells us the story to make us aware that as we live out our lives as Christians, God will be wrestling with us.

I know, that’s not what the words say. But what is Jesus communicating to us when Luke tells us that Jesus told a parable so that we Christians would be persistent in our prayers and not lose heart? Well, He’s communicating that being a Christian is not going to be easy. There are many difficulties, as we know. Satan is constantly battling us, the world is continually trying to sway us to its side, and our own sinful flesh is persistent in its own selfish desires. But there’s more. Jesus tells us as much in giving us this parable. God is not going to be always seeming to be on our side. He will at times, and perhaps oftentimes, seeming to be going against us.

Why did Luke say what he did about Jesus’ parable? “[Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Why would Jesus need to direct us to be persistent in prayer? If it were a simple matter of us praying for what we need and God in His love and grace simply gave those things to us, there’d be no need for this parable. But we need to be persistent, is what He says. We need to not lose heart. That’s because God is not our buddy. Sometimes He comes from out of nowhere and wrestles with us. Jacob was just trying to protect his family and out of nowhere God shows up and wrestles with him.

God is not a vending machine where you punch in the number of what you want and it’s delivered to you. God comes to you often at times seeming to be against you. Wrestling with you. Challenging you, not giving you what you want, or even what you think you need. What kind of a God do we have where Jesus so matter-of-factly can compare Him to a pagan judge? Does Jesus really want us to view God that way, that He’s just like that judge in the parable who neither believes in God nor has any respect for others? Evidently, yes, since that’s exactly what He did in the parable. And what He said afterward, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says.”

Recently, two sociologists from Baylor researched people’s conceptions of God. They found that Americans have four different views about what God is like. There is The Authoritative God, that God is involved in history and meting out harsh punishment to those who reject Him. Some believe in the Benevolent God, where He is engaged in our world and loves us when we love and care for others. A third conception of God is the Critical God, in which those who suffer in this world often believe in a god who keeps an eye on this world but reserves justice in the next. Finally, there is the Distant God. Here, God started the universe but then left humanity alone.

There is some truth to all of these. God certainly is authoritative, as well as benevolent, and even critical and distant. People have to come to terms with God whether they believe in Him or not and so often our view of Him is pigeon-holed according to our limited understanding. While these four views of God accurately reflect how many people view God, they do anything but accurately reflect who God really is. These four views tell us what people think of God but not much of what God tells us about Himself.

I wonder what those sociologists would do with the Old Testament reading today where God wrestles with Jacob? How would they come to terms with the Gospel reading today which compares God to a pagan and forces His beloved children to wait for His perfect justice? But actually, I really don’t wonder at all about what they think of it. What I really wonder is what you and I do. We really believe in God. Not some Authoritative Supreme Being who calls down rules and regulations and zaps you if you don’t toe the line. Not some Lovey-Dovey Grandfatherly type who loves to see people being kind whether they believe in Him or not. Not some God who sits around checking on the progress in the world but gives only good things in the life to come. And not some God who got the ball rolling only to leave us to our own devices.

There are plenty of religions and non-religions that believe in some form of those kinds of gods. There are plenty Christians who fall into the trap of pigeon-holing God in such a way. Maybe that’s why He wrestles with us. He knows we too easily put Him in a box. He is far greater than we could ever imagine Him. He’s not afraid to give Jacob a challenge that is directly from Him, not just the difficulties in everyday life. Jesus has a twinkle in His eye when He gets to talk about God in terms of a judge that none of us would want to stand before.

And Jesus is nothing if not persistent. He will keep coming at us with the truth about God, even if it causes us to step back and wonder if that’s the kind of God we want. We may want to retreat to the security of the Authoritative God or the comfort of the Benevolent God or the vindication of the Critical God or the easy way out of the Distant God. God Himself will keep coming at you as He is, wrestling with you, challenging your notions of Him, calling you on your sin, going head on with you and your self-righteousness. He will not cater to your needs. He won’t make you feel good just because that’s what you’d like from Him. He will call upon you to call upon Him. He will call you to a life of prayer. That’s a life of prayer. Persistent prayer. Prayer that is not based on whether you think God has answered your prayer, but on simply praying to the God who is your God and Father, your Lord and Savior. He calls upon you to pray for what you need, not what you want. You are invited, of course, to pray to Him for what you want, as He has given you the green light for doing so, praying according to His will.

But mostly we need to see what our real need is. As much as I might not want for God to wrestle with me and bring me through struggles, I am more haunted by Jesus’ words of conclusion to His parable: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” We know that the Christian Church will remain forever. God is clear about that in His Word. So why the speculation of Jesus when He returns in glory on the Last Day of whether or not He will find faith on the earth? This is the wrestling of God with us. It is never easy. You are a Christian, but that doesn’t mean you float easily through life taking God’s grace for granted, what has been described of as cheap grace. You are saved by grace, it’s a gift, it’s free, there’s no strings attached, it’s by nothing you do—but it’s not cheap. It comes at a cost. It’s not cheap grace, it’s the grace of God in which He not only saves you but He engages with you. He even wrestles with you.

Jacob wasn’t the only who wrestled with God. The woman in Jesus’ parable is a picture of each one of us Christians, or at least who we are to be as Christians. One example is Ignatius. Today in the Church Year we observe the Commemoration of Ignatius who was the bishop of Antioch at the beginning of the second century. His life ended in martyrdom, something that may seem distant and irrelevant to us Christians today, or at least we Christians who are American. Nobody’s banging down our door and dragging us off to the electric chair. But 1900 years ago, near the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan, Ignatius was arrested, taken in chains to Rome, and eventually thrown to the wild beasts in the arena.

On the way to Rome, he wrote letters to the Christians at cities such as Ephesus, Rome, and Smyrna. His letters were those of a pastor to his people warning them of false teachings that would lead them astray. In these letters he constantly drew people back to the true doctrine of Christ and His salvation in His suffering, death, and resurrection. How’s that for a God? Not distant or authoritative or critical, but humble and serving. How was Ignatius able to write in this way as he was led off to certain, and agonizing, death? Because he was persistent. His prayer to His Heavenly Father was not that of escape from murder at the hands of those who persecuted Christians. His prayer was that of the woman in Jesus’ parable. He prayed for God’s justice. In His time. In His way. We may not face imminent martyrdom as Ignatius did and countless Christians down through the ages have. But haven’t we all cried out to God as that woman did in the parable? That is the way of life as a disciple of Christ. The reason we need to be persistent is because God keeps wrestling with us.

But if you say, Yes, but why does Jesus say that the whole reason for giving us this parable is so that we may be confident that, in His own words, “will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.” Adults usually learn to be more patient than when they were kids. When they want ice cream, they want it now. As we grow older and gain in wisdom and perspective, we’re better able to see that not everything we need comes to us immediately. So why does Jesus say that God will not delay when we lift our prayers to Him? How is it true that He says God will give us justice speedily?

It’s true because the more we’re in the Word of God, the more we pray, the more our prayers will be conformed to His will and not ours. When we’re praying in conformity with what He knows we need rather than what we would like to see be the case then we will see that God’s answer is always the best answer and His timing is always the perfect timing. We often get so caught up in the here and now, in the day to day, that we lose sight of our eternal existence. Do you live in such a way that Jesus will return at any moment? I specifically worded it as ‘will’ return at any moment, not ‘may’ return at any moment. The truth is, most of us think that way. Yes, He may, but then we go on about our day to day stuff giving it no more thought. That’s because we don’t think He will return at any moment, just that He may.

What Jesus is getting at here is that He will. Will He find faith on the earth? Will He find those who are wrestling with God and driven further and further into His Word in order to receive a blessing? Will He find those are persistently, faithfully praying to Him for justice, what they truly need, instead of just those things that they’d like? The world and your sinful flesh will persuade you to take your pick from the list of four different gods the sociologists can tell you all about. God Himself will simply show you who He is by directing your gaze upon the cross where justice is meted out on His only-begotten Son.

Salvation is accomplished. And if you see your end like Ignatius did, not in the arena where his flesh was torn to bits, but in the eternal glory of heaven, you will see exactly what that woman was praying about and what we have the invitation and privilege to pray about every day of our lives. Amen.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

God Gives So Much More

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 10, 2010
Luke 17:11-19

Nine were healed. Only one was made well.

Ten walked away from Jesus having been cleansed of their leprosy. You can safely assume they were glad of their new lease on life. One of them returned to actually express his gratitude. They all had been healed. It is this one who was made well. He was like all the rest in that he was no longer shrouded in a disease that had consumed his body. We was distinct from the rest in that he had been given something else.

The others, nine of them, could show themselves to the priests and be declared clean. They could now go about in normal society and do the everyday things normal people do. But they we were not well. That’s because they had not been made well by the one they had cried out to for mercy. Was it that Jesus didn’t want to give them more than just what they had asked for? Maybe they didn’t want more than that. Perhaps they didn’t realize there was more than that. When you are defined by a disease that rots away your skin and your are barred from society, being cleansed of that is all you could really ask for.

As it happens, the one who returned to Jesus didn’t want more. He had asked for mercy and had received exactly that. He walked away in recognition that he didn’t deserve it for a moment. The priests would have to wait. Jesus needed to hear his confession. No, Luke doesn’t tell us he confessed his sins to Jesus. But it’s there in what this man did when he is now before Jesus. His falling on his face, his giving thanks, these were signs that he was unworthy. He could ask nothing more of Jesus, he had received more than he could have ever imagined.

And that’s when he now saw that he was receiving exactly that. More than he could ever have imagined. Your faith has made you well. Go on your way. Isn’t it interesting that this time He doesn’t tell him to go to the priests? He had already been cleansed. He has now been made well.

Is it because he was more thankful than those other nine ungrateful slobs? Was it because he had more, or better, faith? Could it have been because he was a Samaritan and therefore unencumbered with all the religious baggage of the other nine?

No, it wasn’t because of himself. That’s why he went back to Jesus and fell on his face before Jesus. He knew he was unworthy, he knew he was sinful, he knew that he could do nothing but simply give thanks and praise God. He was made well because his faith was in one who was not himself. It was in one who was another. And his faith was not just in some other person. Say, for example, in the priests he had been sent to. No, it was faith in the one who is the only one in whom you can be made well.

You probably have known people who do not believe in Jesus who have been healed of illness or injury. But you will not find anyone who does not trust solely in Christ for their salvation who has been made well. We see this here in these ten men. Nine were healed. Only one was made well. The account of the Ten Lepers isn’t so much about the one leper as compared with the other nine. Of course we should be more like the one leper who was grateful. But mostly we should see the one in whom we have our wholeness, our being made well, our salvation. Things start off with eleven people, Jesus and ten lepers. Nine are out of the picture quickly and we’re left with two. But almost as quickly, he’s out of the picture as well and we’re left with only Jesus. We’re left with His words to the man: “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And even as He says those words to the man He Himself will continue on His way He had already been going on. Luke tells us that at the beginning. He was on His way to Jerusalem.

He was going there because it was the place where He would accomplish the act that would make people well. Jesus could have been born, grow up, set up shop in Nazareth, or perhaps Jerusalem, and accomplish all day long every day what He had done for those ten lepers. There’s lots of sick people. Lots of people who need help. Many people cry out to God for help. Jesus could have been more than busy just taking care of all these needs.

But what did He do? He made His way toward Jerusalem. He didn’t buy a permit and set up a clinic. He entered Jerusalem and got Himself killed. He proclaimed a message that was blasphemy to the religion in power: salvation is in the one whom God has sent. Oh, and by the way, that’s Me. If all you do is help people you’ll probably get government funding. But if you’re telling people that they are lost forever apart from you, you’ll get yourself killed. This is why Jesus was heading to Jerusalem. He didn’t come to help people, He came to save them.

I looked at twenty-nine English versions of the last verse of the Gospel reading, and all but five of them gave the words of Jesus as “your faith had made you well,” or something similar. Only five gave His words as “your faith has saved you.” Languages usually allow words to be used in several different ways. If you say, “God saved me,” you’re referring to the fact that you are a sinner but God has saved you from your sin and its punishment. You could also say, “I was out in the hot sun all day and working hard, drinking that water really saved me.” No one is going to think that you believe that drinking that water is your literal salvation from your sins and hell. You are using the word ‘saved’ in a figurative way: without it, things would have been much worse for you, but with the water you were able to make it through.

On one particular day ten men were lepers but walked away from Jesus no longer as lepers. They walked away cleansed, healed. But one walked away from Jesus a second time, because he had returned to Him. He walked away having been made well. Or perhaps we could use the literal word Jesus used in the Greek: saved. So did Jesus make him well, or save him?

Ten men asked Jesus for mercy and received exactly that. One man received something more: he was made well. Ten lepers asked for mercy on their condition and received that. Their lives were consumed with leprosy, but now no more. They were cleansed, free. But one man received more than that. His faith was in this man who had freed him from his leprosy. Could he do anything to repay Jesus? No, he could only prostrate himself and express his gratitude. A new life had been opened up to him when he looked upon his clean healthy skin. But now he saw deeper within himself. A disease that infected his heart, that went to the core of his very soul. If the outside of me looked like that, what must I be like in my innermost thoughts? He didn’t need a priest, he needed the one who could make him well, save him from the illness that infected his soul.

When God’s people in the Old Testament, and still in Jesus’ day, were healed of their leprosy they were declared clean by the priests. Today we go to the doctor. But God was showing His people that the outward infections of our body are signs of our inward illness. Jesus is the High Priest. He is the only one who can declare you clean from the illness you carry with you from your birth and to the grave. He does it by His Word. He declares it in the speaking of it. “Go your way, your faith had made you well.” You are cleansed, healed, saved.

This particular man realized it. Often when you do, you’re speechless. Or at least in a way where you’re not able to give a cogent analysis of your unworthiness, amazement, and gratitude. So your actions usually speak louder than your words and your words are often simple. The man fell on his face and simply gave thanks and praise. From his perspective, Jesus had just happened to be passing his way. He didn’t know Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. And if he did, he didn’t know that Jesus was on His way to take on Himself the man’s sins. He just saw Jesus and cried out for mercy. Jesus healed Him and continued on His way to the cross. The priests could still declare lepers clean, but they couldn’t take on themselves the lepers’ disease. They couldn’t do that anymore than they could take on themselves another man’s sins. But Jesus could, that’s why He was on His way to Jerusalem, to take on Himself the sin of every person. Every person has been born into this illness. It doesn’t eat away at their skin, but their soul. You may not know the words to say to describe your unworthiness. You may not be able to formulate your thankfulness for your Lord making you well, saving you from your sin. But He doesn’t come down on you for that, He simply says to you: “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you.”

So what did the man do? He went his way. He went having been made well to live out the new life His Lord had given him. There’s a big difference between having the blessings God showers down on everyone and living a life of gratitude in the particular gifts of salvation God has granted in His Son’s suffering and death. Do you see that your Lord has not just simply blessed you with the gifts He showers down on all people but has delivered to you the particular gift of salvation in your Baptism and that He gives to you often in His Holy Supper?

You could go from here and try to be more like that one man, as opposed to the other nine. You could resolve to be more thankful, to express your gratitude, and try to give God more praise in your life.

Or you could realize that nothing you can give back to God would ever be enough. No thanksgiving, no praise, no dedication of your life to Him could ever compare to what He has given you. He desires not simply to give you blessings in this life but so much more. He gives you salvation. Don’t be content with just enough to get by. God has in store for you the very vault of heaven. You may go in peace. Your faith has made you well. The leper was the recipient of Christ’s words even as you are when He says to you, “Take and eat, this is My body; Take and drink, this is My blood, for you.” You go forgiven, restored, cleansed, renewed. If you want to express your thanks to God, live as one who has been made well, forgiven and redeemed. Read and study His Word. Share with others what Christ has done for them by suffering and dying and rising for all of their sins. Don’t just go, don’t just live, rest and rejoice in His giving you a whole new life, even to eternity. Amen.