August 23, 2020

"Following Jesus: The Leper"

Scripture Reading: Matthew 8:1-4

Throughout the gospel accounts we read about the people who were following Jesus. As we enter the gospel of Matthew we too are being invited to follow him. This is not as easy as we might think. “Following” Jesus in the way he calls is more than just having a passing interest in him. We need to hear what Jesus says about himself, about life, and about being a Kingdom citizen. Our text for today says “great crowds” were following him. This is an evangelical carnival moment. Imagine all the “souls” being “saved”! Is this what the story is all about? No. We should not be too impressed by the numbers. Too often the Church is fixated on increasing
the numbers and not on making real, fully devoted disciples of Jesus. The healing of the leper reveals something more about who Jesus is and what it means to follow him.

Why did Jesus have to come down from a mountain? What was he doing up there? What is the sermon called that he preached up there?
How did the crowd react to Jesus’ sermon? (See the end of Matthew 7)

From out of the crowd comes one person in Matthew 8:2. He is a “leper” which means he has an infectious skin disease that makes him unclean and unable to be an active member of society. The leper says to Jesus, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” With great reverence and in a posture of adoration – while probably keeping a proper social distance – the man asks Jesus to restore him, to make him “clean”.

Do you think the leper had faith when he approached Jesus? Is it great faith? What is faith?

When the leper asks, Jesus responds and it says, “And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” With that we see this is the person, this is the time, and this is the miracle through which the crowd will see a glimpse of the glory of God and of his Son. Miracles are not about the subverting of science, the so-called magic of faith, or the popularity of the One who brings healing. Jesus is restoring the normal, God-given, order of the universe. He is restoring this man’s life back into the rhythms of grace. This is a restoration to the way things are supposed to be and it is a revelation of the Kingdom – the New Creation – that Jesus comes to bring. To make the matter complete, Jesus sends him to the priest and tells him to offer the gift, the sacrifice that Moses commanded. On the way he is told not to say anything to anyone about what has happened. This always seems a little strange. Why doesn’t Jesus want the cleansed person to shout it from the rooftops about what has been done for him? Why wouldn’t Jesus want everyone to know that he has the power to heal the sick? Why not cash in on his popularity? Because this is not what his ministry is all about. It’s not about the crowds and their desire for wonders and miracles. Jesus is not proclaiming a circus show. He’s proclaiming the Kingdom of God which announces that the all-powerful, Creator of heaven and earth has come to this world to heal and restore all things.

Why does Jesus send the leper to show himself to the priest? (see Matthew 5:17)
What is the difference between being “cured” and “cleansed”?
Is the Church today engaged in following Jesus? How might we be showing ourselves frivolous in this calling?

The Conclusion:
To follow Jesus is to follow him into the Kingdom of grace and truth. The Church in 2020 does not need to reinvent this gospel but we do need to hear it and live it out. To be a fan of Jesus in a crowd of miracle enthusiasts is easy. To follow Christ to the cross and the empty tomb is much harder. If you’re really following Jesus all truth will be revealed and grace will be experienced in New Life in a New Creation. Amen.