Saturday, September 06, 2014

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

II Cor 3:4-9 * Mark 7:31-37
Many years ago, back in the 1970s, some of the notable figures of the Charismatic movement- the popular “neo-Pentecostal” movement that spread across all denominational lines- would address the burning question “why does God not heal everybody?” The truth is, miracles of healing can and do happen every once in a while, but, to be honest, not most of the time. The reverse question that ought to have been obvious, but that no one seemed to ask, was: “Why, considering that ‘all have sinned,’ has God ever healed anybody?”

In popular religious movements it is all too easy for false doctrine to arise. Furthermore, one of the insidious results of false doctrine is to hide true doctrine from view. People become obsessed with the demands of false teaching. In the case of the healing and faith emphasis of certain popular ministers, the concept was introduced that people can receive healing for any and all ailments (as if they could never die) if only they would embrace methods to work their faith up to such a level that all things would be possible on demand. This mistaken notion of faith carried with it no moral implications, and this kind of faith itself was the substitute for all of the virtues. In this whole mess of confusion, the truth that was lost was the Gospel itself. I am not saying that everyone in that movement was guilty of this; however, the right question was not asked: Why has God ever healed anybody?

Indeed, why did Jesus heal this man in this portion of the Gospel of Mark? Why does He give to him ears that hear and a tongue that speaks? Why did the Lord heal people? Why did he show compassion? If He had handed out what was due, he would have slain everybody; “for all have sinned.” But, instead we see His ministry described in the words of St. Peter: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. (Acts 10:38).” The purpose of the Incarnation includes this fact: He does not deal with us as our sins deserve. If we repent, He forgives us.

Some people misread the Lord’s words: “Thy faith hath made thee whole." All too often, this is presented as if faith worked like some kind of magic charm, or, as if faith becomes the one work that brings salvation. Such an idea would invert the great teaching of St. Paul that faith does for us what our own works cannot do. It is not the one human merit that earns either healing, blessing or salvation, but instead is the doorway by which we may receive God’s gifts.

In today’s Epistle reading we see two curious phrases: “the letter” and “the Spirit.” We learn that the letter, which refers to the Law, kills; but the Spirit, which is the life of Christ given to us in the New Covenant, gives life. The letter, the Law that God gave in the Covenant of Sinai when He revealed His commandments to Israel in the days of Moses, is “holy and just and good," as St. Paul tells us in another Epistle, the one to the Church in Rome. The glorious ministry of the Law is condemnation, and the severity of that condemnation justifies no one. Our Lord is the one who brought this fact out most clearly. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount each of us learns that he has received the sentence of death, utter condemnation- damnation. The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican that we looked at only last week demonstrates the folly of anyone pleading for life by the letter that kills. Only a self-deceived man living in a fantasy of self-inflicted and extraordinary delusion, pleads the Law of God, expecting to be justified by it. The Pharisee deceived himself into believing that he was not a sinner “like this Publican.”

The glorious ministry of that Old Covenant revelation of the Law is that it slays each of us; it condemns each of us. “All have sinned, and come short of the gory of God.” So, then, why did Jesus go about and do good to sinners? Why did he heal anybody ever? Because the glory of the ministry of the New Covenant is even greater than the glorious ministry of condemnation.  In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord spoke of the blood that would be shed from his own body as “the blood of the New Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The disciples understood this from the prophecy of Jeremiah, in which the greater glory of the ministry of the Spirit of life was foretold:

“Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (
Jer. 31:31-34)

Israel looked ahead to the time when this covenant would produce the new man who has the Spirit of God within him writing the commandments of God on his heart. The forgiveness of sins and the promise that each person would know God, was the promise of the new Covenant.

The promise of forgiveness was demonstrated by the works of Jesus, and only by way of the cross. Not one person that Jesus healed deserved that healing. None of them deserved healing; but by healing Jesus showed that he forgives sins. Every time he healed someone, and every time he spoke the words of forgiveness to a repentant sinner, he knew that it was all due to the pain he would endure as he would pour our his soul unto death, with the nails through his hands and feet, and the thorns piercing his brow. It was not free of charge, for he would pay the price. The burning question “why does God not heal everybody?” can only be answered by saying, in terms of God's perfect will, "but he does"- if only because all who believe in the Son of God, all who eat the Bread of Life, all who live by the Food and Drink of eternal life, will be raised up on the Last Day, when he comes again in glory.

We need the ministry of condemnation in order to appreciate and understand the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus never approved of sin; he was far more condemning than Moses, speaking of Hell in a way no other preacher ever did. Forgiveness requires condemnation. Churches that approve of sin cannot meet the greatest need of the human heart; and they cannot bring healing. For, there is no acknowledgment of the wound among them. Forgiveness itself is very condemning, for what is approved cannot be forgiven. Jesus condemned all sin on the cross in the most powerful way possible. Justice and mercy met where the cross intersected, where he hung beneath the charge of the Roman governor. But, St. Paul, in another place, tells us that the real charge that hung over the Lord was the Law of God (Colossians 2:14). There He paid the full price of sin for you and me. Then He rose the third day, and overcame death. So, the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

And that my friends, is why God has ever healed anybody.

1 comment:

Jack Miller said...

Excellent, edifying, and true. Wonderful expostion of the two words of God's holy Scripture, Law and Gospel. More than a few Lutheran and Reformed ministers woould do well to read and reflect on this sermon. Thanks, FRH.