What is making you anxious? As you sit here this morning, what is pulling your mind away from giving your full attention? Every one of us has something that bothers us, that captures our attention. Maybe it’s aches and pains. Maybe you have a diagnosis of cancer or some other disease and you haven’t had the strength to open up about it yet. Maybe you spent a few hours last night looking at your bills and the balance of your bank account, and seeing that one had a higher number, and it certainly wasn’t the bank account balance. Maybe it’s school—you don’t know how you’re going to get through tomorrow, having to sit through another class with him, or how you’re so far behind in your work even though school has only been back in for a few weeks. Whatever your age, occupation, or gender, anxiety is something we all deal with. Something that has to do with this body and life captures our attention, and the devil uses it to turn our eyes from God and His protection and providing to what is going wrong in our life. Whatever the cause of your anxiety, Jesus has a message of joy and peace for you: “Do not be anxious.”
Leprosy is a terrible disease. We hear about it regularly in the Bible. The disease begins with specks on the eyelids and on the palms, gradually spreading over the body, bleaching the hair white wherever they appear, crusting the affected parts with white scales, and causing terrible sores and swellings. From the skin the disease eats inward into the bones, rotting the whole body piecemeal. Wherever the leper went he was required to have his outer garment torn as a sign of deep grief, he was also required to shave his whole head and cover his head with his clothing, a sign of lamentation at death—his own death. Furthermore, he had to warn passersby of his condition by crying out “unclean, unclean!” wherever he went. He couldn’t greet anyone or receive a greeting, because in the middle east in the first century, you didn’t greet someone without embracing them, which would also make that person unclean. If you were blessed enough to have your leprosy go away, you didn’t just go home. You had to show yourself to the priest, who examined you and quarantined you for seven days, just to make sure you really were healed. On the eighth day you had to make offerings and sacrifices and be involved in a very lengthy and elaborate ritual to declare you clean and fit to return to society. Leprosy was no joking matter. (Easton’s Bible Dictionary; Leviticus 13-14)
Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.” What are those things of which Jesus speaks? What did the prophets and kings, all of the faithful of the Old Testament long to see? They longed for the Messiah! And now Jesus tells them, You’re looking at Him! You are face-to-face with the One whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord, whom the voices of the Prophets promised in their faithful Word! And how does Jesus explain that to them? He reveals this to those who have ears to hear by way of a Parable to a lawyer who wanted to justify himself. To that lawyer and to all of us was explained that the only hope for salvation is not your own action, but the action of a merciful God in His promised Messiah.
As Jesus heals the deaf-mute man, He sighs. This is an intriguing action by Our Lord, and through the centuries has been the object of a great deal of analysis and guesses as to why and what it means. If you follow the word “sigh,” or “groan”—the other way the Greek word is translated—throughout Scripture you begin to see that Jesus’ sighing is not a small thing. As Jesus sighs, He expresses His anger over sin and the destruction it brought in His once good creation. He reveals His compassion for His children, His desire that they be free of sin and experience the new heaven and new earth. And by His sigh He intercedes for the deaf-mute man, indeed, for all of creation, praying for him and us all in ways which we cannot because sin keeps us from praying for what we ought. The sigh of Jesus reveals the love which He has for us, the love which sent Him to the cross and now preserves His Church for the salvation of the world.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.