Epiphany 3 2023 (Mt 8, 1–13)

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While He was entering Capernaum, a centurion came to Him.

᛭ INI ᛭

The season of Epiphany is the season of the Church Year that’s sort of the other side of coin from Advent. Advent means “He comes,” and it’s all about Jesus coming. Whether that’s His birth, His coming now in His Word, or when He “comes again in glory to judge both the living and the dead.” Epiphany is all about what it looks like when He shows up.

An Epiphany is a revelation or a realization. It’s that “aha!” moment, when you suddenly know or understand something you didn’t before. The season of Epiphany is about Jesus revealing who He is for sinners. It may have been prophesied sometimes in the Old Testament, but it wasn’t fully known until the Son of God shows up on the scene.

**“The Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph 3:6)**

Jesus makes Himself known not only to His people Israel but as a “light to enlighten the Gentiles.” He reveals Himself to all people, to Israelite and Roman alike, to Jew or Gentile, Jewish leper or Roman centurion. That’s the “aha!” moment! Matthew 8 shows us what this epiphany of Jesus to the nations is all about.

THE LORD JESUS REVEALS HIMSELF TO THE NATIONS BY CLEANSING THEM AND GATHERING THEM TO HIS TABLE.

(I. Jesus cleanses all nations.)

First, the Lord Jesus reveals Himself to the nations by cleansing them. He cleanses them from sin and death. He delivers “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” This is revealed in our text today.

He cleanses the leper from his leprosy, which is a good metaphor for sin. (Even our Lutheran Confessions use this metaphor.) As leprosy would cause a person to be cut off from society and temple, so also our sins cause separation between us and our neighbor, between us and God. He also cleanses the Centurion’s servant from death. (Yes, Jesus saved him from dying, but even if he had died—what’s that to Jesus?)

It was prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah: 

**“My Servant shall be lifted up and exceedingly glorified. Just as many were appalled at you—thus His appearance was marred more than man, and His form from the sons of man—thus He will be sprinkle many nations. (Is 52:15)**

**He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Is 53:5)**

Really this cleansing the nations from sin and death was the entire earthly ministry of Jesus. From His name and birth to His death and His resurrection. Jesus was all about taking care of sin and death. Named Jesus, “for He will save His people from their sins.” He took on our sins as the Lamb of God at His Baptism, bore them to Calvary, bled for them, died for them, and He rose again on the third day “for our justification,” our innocent verdict, but also to bring “life and immortality to light.”

That’s His entire ministry now! To cleanse the nations from their sins and death. (You do have sins for Him to cleanse you from.) It happened in Capernaum. It happened at the “bottom of the mountain” where He preached His Sermon on the Mount. It’s wherever He’s present! (Not necessarily wherever you are.) There’s a reason the leper and centurion sought where Jesus was.

He promises to be present for us in His Holy Word. (We asked Jesus to have us see this in our hymn of the week last week.) He’s present in Baptism. He’s present in the Absolution, in Gospel Sermons, and in the Supper of His body and blood. Hebrews says that “our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb 10:22)

(Transition.)

Faith wants to be where Jesus can be found. Just look at that Centurion and that leper. He shows up to cleanse and save and forgive, and they go to exactly where Jesus is at to get it! (Where else would they go?) “I have not found such faith even in Israel,” even among the children of God. Those who should know better…

But it’s not just cleansing the Lord’s doing. Oh, no.

THE LORD JESUS REVEALS HIMSELF TO THE NATIONS BY CLEANSING THEM AND GATHERING THEM TO HIS TABLE.

(II. Jesus gathers all nations to His Table.)

Jesus reveals that He wants the nations at His table, and He promises that exact thing! Done deal with Jesus. “I tell you many will come from east and west and will be seated with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven.” That promise is fulfilled in eternal life, which the Bible calls an eternal feast or wedding banquet, “the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which as no end.”

Just like with His cleansing, that Banquet starts wherever Jesus shows and hosts a meal, … a Supper! That’s one of the things Jesus was known for in His ministry. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!” Jesus was always breaking bread and drinking wine—partying!—with sinners. “The Son of Man comes as a drunkard,” they said. (They slandered Him by saying that.)

Hosting a Supper with sinners and for them was a hallmark of Jesus’ ministry. (Even the well-known story of Zacchaeus was punctuated by a meal!) All His eating with sinners is the promise of the eternal banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A banquet that Gentiles, like the centurion, will be attending. That feast never ends because “the Lord will swallow up death forever.”

The feast for sinners just wasn’t 2,000 years ago, nor is it just a promise for eternal life. It all happens now—for you! That’s this Supper, which Jesus holds for sinners—only for sinners—to give them forgiveness in the eating and drinking of His body and blood. This meal is for sinners and for you, which means you are a sinner in need of the meal Jesus is putting on here. Otherwise Jesus would be a liar. But He says, “My body given for you; my blood shed FOR YOU for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Are we, like Jesus, known for the meal for sinners or for other things…

This meal is one of unity in the Gospel, that is, in the forgiveness of sins. Sure we can find agreement with lots of Christians on many different points, but the delivery of forgiveness through Jesus’ body and blood is the offense of the Gospel. It is the Gospel that divides us from others. (Faith knows that’s no small thing.) The Gospel saves you, Paul says. So when the Supper or Baptism or the Absolution are the point of contention, that’s to be expected. The cross of Christ is the stumbling block, not necessarily whatever other teaching points we can define or shoehorn or ignore to fake agreement… The Gospel and the Sacraments separate us, a separation that only the Spirit can fix through His Word.

All that’s besides Communion’s negative side effect of judgment for those who reject Christ’s Words, as Paul says…

(Conclusion.)

THE LORD JESUS REVEALS HIMSELF TO THE NATIONS BY CLEANSING THEM AND GATHERING THEM TO HIS TABLE.

That’s what He did 2,000 years ago and still does today. He cleansed then, and cleanses—forgives!—now. Faith goes to where Jesus is at with His cleansing. (It is not faith that ignores or prioritizes or finds excuses for not…)

But gathering sinners to His table is what Jesus did then, and that’s what He’s offering today. It’s for all nations—a preview of the heavenly banquet. “My body and blood for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” Jesus wants to be known for doing that for you and all sinners.

He reveals Himself as the One who cleanses and feeds sinners, not just for His own people but for all nations. That’s why we sing Simeon’s Song, the Nunc Dimittis, after Communion. Communion’s the place where “mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy people Israel.” (Gentiles and Israel, the musical crescendos of that canticle.) To confess again and again, especially at His Supper, that

THE LORD JESUS REVEALS HIMSELF TO THE NATIONS BY CLEANSING THEM AND GATHERING THEM TO HIS TABLE.

᛭ INI ᛭

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