The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Being the authorities on Scripture that we are, it’s easy to look at these texts and recognize that they’re all about authority, particularly the authority of God’s Word. We see it with Naaman’s miraculous healing. We see it with the healing of the leper who knelt before Jesus. We see it in spades with the Roman centurion seeking healing for his servant. We know this account like the back of our hand. “Just say the Word, Jesus. You have the authority. I know all about authority. I speak, and it happens. Men obey. Just say the Word, Jesus, and I know that the deadly sickness will obey Your almighty authority.” We know this story. It’s all about authority.
Well, my Scriptural authorities, what if we’re missing the point? What if we’re not the authorities we think we are? What if all of this really isn’t all about authority? Don’t get me wrong: Authority is clearly a major topic in all these texts, but it’s not the only topic/issue. What about humility? Hmm… there’s a topic nobody likes to discuss (unless it involves the other guy humbling himself to our authority). Consider this: Naaman humbled himself under the authority of God’s Word. He didn’t go easily at first. In fact, his ego, his pride and his over-inflated sense of importance made him only want to pack up and go home in a huff. “I’ll show you. I’ll go somewhere else!” His humble servants are the ones who spoke up, encouraging him to take it down a few pegs; lower himself to at least listen to the words this great prophet was speaking. You know how it all worked out. Naaman humbled himself… and Almighty God worked a miracle; a miracle of healing/restoration; a miracle of faith and everlasting life.
The same goes for the leprous man coming to Jesus. “Lord, if you will.” The guy doesn’t demand a healing, as if he’s the authority over Jesus. He doesn’t try to swing a deal. “You do this for me, and I’ll do something for you in return.” He doesn’t play the whole pity-party card, trying to manipulate Jesus through guilt into healing him and giving him what he wants. Nope. He humbles himself to God’s will. He leaves it entirely in God’s hands. And as for the Roman centurion, talk about humility of faith! This guy is a big-shot commander of men. He’s a Roman centurion. He could make Jesus do whatever he wanted. And yet this guy lowers himself to the point of not even wanting Jesus to make the trip and come into his house. “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Just say the Word, and I know it will be so.” That’s the humility of faith; faith in the authority of almighty God and His Word/will and His mysterious ways! That’s a humility of faith that even causes Jesus to marvel and praise.
Now, ask yourself: What’s changed? God’s desire that all men be saved hasn’t changed. The power, efficacy, and authority of God’s Word hasn’t ever changed. It accomplishes all that He purposes, and never returns to Him void or empty. That’s never changed. Sadly, like leprous Naaman, our self-centered, self-serving pride (that really does believe that we know better than God sometimes) hasn’t changed either. “You’ve heard it said… but Amen I say to you (authority), if you even look at a woman with lust in your heart, you’ve committed adultery. If you call your brother ‘fool,’ you’ve committed murder.” “Well… that’s not what that means. I look, but I don’t touch. There’s no harm. Everybody else is doing it. It’s not a sin I really need to repent for. It’s no big deal.” Umm… who is in charge here? Jesus died for that sin! No big deal?! Believe it or not, but those are the easy ones when it comes to showing the problem with true and faithful humility to the authority of God.
What about all those statements about submitting? What about all that stuff about rendering unto Caesar and honoring the emperor and obeying the government authorities because they’ve been instituted by God? Jesus, Peter, and Paul all have things to say on this. I know we’re also told to fear/obey God rather than man. This is true… when it involves obeying God rather than committing sin commanded by man. God’s authority trumps government authority in matters such as abortion (aka “murder”). But… it’s not an “either/or” when it comes to the (non-sinful) things you simply don’t like; e.g., paying taxes or buying a hunting license or requiring health/car insurance. Your likes/dislikes don’t have authority over the authorities God has put into place over you. In those instances, you honor God by honoring the authorities (which includes mom and dad at the top of the list). I say that with the full authority of God, so any argument you may have is with Him, not me.
See what I mean about humility? It’s not so easy. In fact, it’s impossible. It takes a miracle; the miracle of humble, repentant faith, wrought by the Holy Spirit Himself. Folks: We could play this game all day. We won’t. Instead, let’s focus on humility; the humility of repentant faith that holds fast to God’s merciful and gracious authority.
We’ll start by putting all the focus on the origin and terminus of humble, repentant faith: our humiliated God-in-the-flesh. If this [the crucifix] isn’t at the center, nothing else will make sense. Though He was fully God, He did not count equality with His Father as something to be grasped or argued over. Instead, He humbled Himself; not just to the Father, but to all creation. “If anyone would be first in the kingdom of heaven, he must be last of all and servant of all.” The Lord of heaven and earth; the holy Word of God, by whom all things were created, lowered Himself to lower than the lowest of sinful humanity. He made Himself servant to the least and lowest, all for their sake; for the sake of their salvation. He didn’t worry about clothes or money or food. “Look at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Gentile unbelievers worry about such things. Seek first the kingdom of God.” Jesus didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the walk, all the way to the very bottom. Jesus served little children and washed nasty undeserving feet and touched/healed the untouchables and fellowshipped with the dregs of society (prostitutes, tax collectors, and gentiles). He even comforted a condemned criminal with His Gospel, even as He Himself hung from His own cross, paying the wage for our sins; for our salvation. Even in incomprehensible turmoil and sorrow, knowing that the fullness of His Father’s righteous fiery wrath against sin—our sin—was about to crush Him…“Not my will, but Thy will be done.”
Now, with this humility of the Savior’s perfect faith and selfless love properly centered up, think of what your Lord says regarding Holy Baptism. Sts. Peter and Paul both attest: “Be baptized for the forgiveness of all your sin. This promise is for you, for your household, and for all those who are far off. It’s for everyone!” “Baptism now saves you.” “Do you not know that all who are baptized are baptized into Christ; baptized into His death and resurrection?” “That’s not what that means. Baptism doesn’t save you.” The Author of salvation has the sole authority to say what His sacrament does, and He does so three different times through two different witnesses. That’s pretty authoritative, don’t you think? “Take and eat. Take and drink. This is My Body/Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin. As often as you do this, remember what I have said.” “Yeah, but, that’s not really what you mean, Jesus. This is only a symbol.” Umm… who is in charge here? Who is the authority?
Guys: Look and listen to all that your Lord is saying and doing for you, in your midst, for you and even in spite of you. Almighty God comes to you! He brings heaven to you. Angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven join you in worship as He feeds and nourishes you. How can all this not humble you? “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” That’s the authoritative Word and promise of God. Here He is, right where He says He is, doing exactly what He says He does. Here is your restoration, your salvation, your absolution, your peace that surpasses all understanding. Here is your reason to rejoice in all times and all circumstances. Here is Christ for you. Again, I say all this with the full authority of God and His Word. May all that you say, think, and do in response to this Good News redound to Him and His glory.
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