Epiphany 3 January 21, 2024
1 Corinthians 12:12-21,26-27
512, 134, 106, 119
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) (TLH) unless otherwise noted
Prayer of the Day: Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities and stretch forth the hand of Your majesty to heal and defend us. We pray this through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”… And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.
I’m guessing that especially over the past couple of years the “Why, God?” question has entered into your heart and mind—perhaps as a result of the pandemic that we are still enduring, or after some other tragic event or difficulty in your life. If so, how did you answer that question? Did you turn to the wisdom and opinions of other people? Do you share the doubt of skeptics who view tragedies, disease, and suffering as proof that there is no God, and if there is He certainly can’t be all-loving if He allows these things? Do you shrug off Biblical answers like the fact that God’s ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours and simply beyond our comprehension (Isaiah 55:8-9), and that despite all the “bad” that there is in this world and in this life, He has promised to work it out “for the good of those who love [Him]” (Romans 8:28)? Did you listen to the last verse of our sermon text and hear how “Jesus went about all Galilee… healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people” (v.23) and wonder where is Jesus now? Where is He when our country and our world face sicknesses, disease, and tragedy?
Or do you instead look to Jesus and trust His Words and promises? Do you find your emotional and spiritual comfort and solace in the fact that He is still here and always will be till the end of time (Matthew 28:20)? The verses we read from Matthew’s Gospel describe the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, a ministry which reached out to all people, both Jew and Gentile. It is a ministry that Jesus still continues today with His 1. teaching, 2. preaching, and yes, with His 3. healing.
Our text tells us that Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues (v.23). What did Jesus teach during His ministry? He taught the teachings of God and His Word, which at that time would have been the Old Testament (the books of the New Testament had not yet been written). Jesus’ life and teachings were to be a fulfillment of God’s Scriptures. In fact, the very start of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee was the fulfillment of the prophecy that Matthew quotes from the Old Testament, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles’” (v.14-15). Since Jesus was teaching and fulfilling God’s Word, Jesus’ ministry was the Truth. God’s Word taught “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever”. (Isaiah 40:8) Therefore, Jesus taught, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)
Jesus’ ministry still teaches the Truth today. He may use different servants of His Word to teach it to us—pastors, teachers, parents, fellow Christians—yet the fact remains His Holy Words still stand as the eternal, unchangeable truth. When we see calamities, disasters, diseases and destruction around us Jesus still teaches us God’s truth, “Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling.” (Psalm 46:2-3)
The occurrence of natural disasters, sickness, war, and death in the world does not disprove God’s existence or His goodness. It does prove the truth of sin and its effects on human beings and all of creation, which “groans” for deliverance from its “bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21-22). These things teach us the truth that Jesus taught His disciples, “But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows.” (Mark 13:8-9) These disasters should be reminders to us that this world will not last forever, that Jesus is coming again, and that all people should prepare for His coming. Jesus’ instructions and encouragement to His followers is this: “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.” (Mark 13:33)
Jesus’ preaching also called the hearts of His hearers to repentance. Our text tells us, From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (v.17) This was the same message preached by John the Baptist as he proclaimed the coming Messiah to the people (Matthew 3:1-2). The difference was Jesus was preaching about Himself! He wanted the people to turn from, or “repent,” of their sins and turn to Him in faith as their Savior from sin. We learn from the Bible that God’s “kingdom of heaven” comes whenever the Gospel is preached. Verse 23 of our text tells us that Jesus went about all Galilee…preaching the gospel of the kingdom. The Gospel is the Good News of salvation through Jesus. This is the “Light” that shined in the darkness of sin and unbelief that covered the region of Galilee. Jesus’ preaching of the Gospel, the Good News about Himself, that He had come to die to save all people was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy quoted in v. 16 of our text, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.”
That “Light” still shines in the darkness of sin and unbelief in our world today. The “kingdom of heaven,” or the “kingdom of God,” comes whenever the Gospel is preached. We still hear Jesus’ words of repentance, forgiveness, and faith preached from this pulpit every Sunday—whether you hear it here in person or online. We still hear the Good News of Jesus’ salvation won for us sinners in the pages of our Bibles in our own homes. This Good News tells us that we are not just “gnats” in the midst of an indifferent universe, but rather that we are by faith the special, chosen children of the God who created and still controls this universe. We are loved, cared for, and saved individually by our Creator, as are all Christians—including those Christians who lose their lives in tragedies, wars, and diseases all over the world.
The Bible also tells us that God knows, loves and provides for all people and above all wants “all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4 EHV). That is why Jesus preached the Gospel in His ministry and that is why Jesus still preaches it through His Word and through the mouths of His believers.
In this message of the Gospel, that is where all people find true healing—healing for their souls. Now it’s true, our text tells us that Jesus went about all Galilee… healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people (v.23). Jesus showed His love and compassion for people and proved Himself to be true God by physically healing people of their sicknesses and diseases. Throughout His ministry Jesus did a lot of healing. Mark tells us in His Gospel that one evening after the Sabbath in this same town of Capernaum “they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” (Mark 1:32-34)
Well, we might ask the question then, “With all the rampant sickness and disease all over our country and all around the world, why doesn’t Jesus heal all of them like He healed all those people in Capernaum?” Well, then we might as well also ask, “Why didn’t Jesus also heal all the sick people in Jerusalem, or Bethlehem as well, or any of the other cities of that time?” We simply have to leave the answer to that question in the hands of our Savior and trust His perfect wisdom and His good and gracious will. Besides, who are we to say how many people Jesus has, or hasn’t healed from sickness or prevented from getting diseases in our community, in our country, and around the world? He most often chooses to heal us and protect us through natural means—He did so even in His day—but ask anyone who’s a doctor or worked in a hospital for a number of years and you’d probably be surprised at how many times they’ve seen people “unexplainably” healed.
Think also of the miracle of healing Jesus works in the aftermath of tragedies and loss. Who do you think is responsible for bringing about the “healing” that takes place? Who do you think is responsible for the great outpourings that you always see of compassion from people—even from strangers—to victims of tragedy and loss? Who is it who moves our hearts to love, to give, and to have compassion on others who are sick or going through tragedies in their lives? Most importantly, how many hearts has the Lord drawn closer to Himself through the healing power of His Gospel during tragedies? Jesus is the one bringing good—eternal good—from every tragedy.
The darkness of sin and unbelief is much greater than the darkness of sickness, poverty and tragedy. Sin and unbelief have eternal consequences. No amount of money or medicine can “cure” those diseases. Jesus’ ministry was all about being a Light to cure that darkness, to bring eternal joy and life to the souls of men, women, and children everywhere. His TEACHING, PREACHING, and yes, even His HEALING were all focused on rescuing us from the death that we deserved.
When Jesus reached out His compassionate hands to heal His purpose was more than just to give physical relief. Remember His words to the paralytic who had been lowered down through the roof by his friends to see Jesus? His first words to Him reminded Him of His greatest need—which would also be His greatest joy—[Jesus] said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you” (Matthew 9:2). Jesus proved His love and compassion for all people by reaching out His hands once again on Calvary to take the nails of the cross for your sins and mine. He experienced the tragedy of the world’s sins being dumped on Him and He endured hell itself so that we would never have to.
But death and hell could not hold Him. He lives! He lives and He promises us eternal life with Him! He gives us new life through His Spirit to live in His love and His compassion and to continue His ministry: Shining the Light of Christ on the darkness of those who sit in the shadow of death with His TEACHING, PREACHING, and yes, even His HEALING. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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