Note: The following sermon transcription is about faith and its application in the midst of a trial. I first preached this sermon to a congregation I pastored in Thornton, Colorado. I shared this teaching at our RiverLakes Men’s retreat this last spring.
I have split this sermon into two parts. The first part concerning the leper’s faith will follow in this teachable moment. The second part of the sermon, the Centurion’s faith will be in the next teachable moment. I think you will find this sermon on faith timely, because it seems many of you are going through trials of late.
“When life tumbles in, what then?”
This morning I would like to share a passage that has been particularly helpful to me, especially when I have encountered trials and tribulations in my life. It is a passage about two men, a leper and a Roman soldier. The passage is from Matthew 8, and if you would like to turn there, this is where we will stay for the remainder of the morning. This passage is also recorded in Luke 5 which gives more detail. I will attempt to bring in that detail as we go.
There are two people in this passage that were struggling and there are two types of people out in the congregation this morning. The first person is the one who is going through a tremendous struggle or trial in their life and the other person is the one who is not. Now the one, who is not, should have the availability and the potential to help the one who is struggling. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. How many of you have gone through a very deep struggle in your life, perhaps the death of a close friend or loved one, perhaps the loss of a job, perhaps an illness? And even though you know that the answer was to have faith in God, you simply could not claim it because of the length of the trial or the severity of the trial. You simply could not claim victory. And how many of you during one of these periods of struggle, have come up to a well meaning friend or fellow Christian who, upon hearing of your struggle, says, “Well, you just have to have faith. Why don’t you just trust in God?” In your heart you know that’s the right answer, but you can’t always find the strength to have that kind of faith.
I had an experience like this after about ten years in the ministry. I was going through a real test, when a well meaning fellow pastor told me to just have faith. Months later he wrote me of some trials he was going through with his church. But I did not have the heart to tell him to just have faith, but promised instead to pray with him over the issues he was facing. Telling someone to just have faith is not always the best answer, but helping them with their struggle encourages them to achieve the faith they need.
There are some great Scriptures on faith and they are the foundational solutions to our problems. Hebrews 11:1, ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ But what if we have lost our assurance and conviction? Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith we cannot please God”. But what if we feel guilty because we are not pleasing God? 2 Corinthians 7:5 says that we are to walk by faith not by sight. But what if we have fallen and are not even walking? And then in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus concludes His sermon by telling us, “Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door shall be opened. For what man is there that his son asks for a loaf of bread will he give him a stone? If he asks him for a fish, will he give him a snake? If being evil you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more your heavenly Father gives those who ask of Him.” But what if it seems we are getting nothing but a stone or snake in response to our faith, especially when our circumstances don’t change?
Matthew 8 is a great chapter to answer some of these questions because it gives us a real definition of faith. It also gives us a step-by-step approach of how to achieve a faith that is victorious in the midst of a trial. Now this is the great news! This is great news especially if you have struggled for a long time and it is great news if you want to minister to those who are hurting.
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. But I’ve found that if you follow the directions going step-by-step, and use the right tools, you will find the task possible. That’s what Matthew 8 does for us. It brings us to a faith that is a step-by-step example of what two men did to achieve their victorious faith.
Let’s read Matthew 8: 1-13.
Matthew 8:1-13 1 When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. 2 And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” 3 Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 5 And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, 6 and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.” 7 Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 “For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” 10 Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. 11 “I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; 12 but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very moment.
The Leper’s Faith
(Faith Part II will discuss the Centurion’s faith)
Now the account with the leper took place a long time before The Sermon on the Mount and it took place somewhere in the area of Capernaum, which was Jesus’ home ground; a place where He focused a great deal of His ministry. He always seemed to return to Capernaum, and use it as his resting place. Capernaum was a place that responded to Christ, much differently than that of His hometown in Nazareth. Some of the previous events leading to the cleansing of the leper were: His ministry at Cana, His ministry in Jerusalem (where He cast out some of the money changers) He ministry in Samaria (where the woman at the well received salvation and many of the Samaritans from Sychar believed in Jesus), and His return to Capernaum where He asked four disciples to follow Him.
I don’t think there was any disease or affliction, even demon possession that was more repulsive to and rejected by the people of Israel and all the people who lived during that time, than the disease of leprosy. Many commentators make mention of its repulsiveness. The historian Masterman writes, “No other disease reduced a human being for so many years to such a hideous wreck.” Josephus, the Jewish Historian said, “Lepers were treated as if they were dead men. They were banished from society.” In the Middle Ages, if a man contracted leprosy, the priest brought him to the church, and then performed a funeral service for him because he was considered dead.
The condition of the leper was quite ugly to look upon. He was filled with puss, his body was numb, his skin lost coloration and there were thickened spots all over his body which became bloody open sores or ulcers. His fingers, eyelashes, toes, lips, eyebrows, ears and nose rotted away day by day. He had a terrible odor; an odor of death they called it. His voice lost recognition; it was like that of an animal. This was the condition of a leper; a very repulsive human being.
Now, what was the response of the leper’s fellow Jews, the people of God who were commissioned to share God’s love to the entire earth? What was the response from Israel’s religious leaders? Was it with grace and compassion and sorrow that they approached their fellow man? No! They instead flung stones at him and yelled “Unclean!” in order to keep him out of their presence. And what’s worse is that the religious leaders, whom the Jews looked up to for spiritual guidance, bragged that they were able to keep lepers from their presence. That’s right the spiritual leaders themselves threw stones. One even refused to eat prepared food where a leper had walked the street. These were the men with the supposed spiritual wisdom of the day. The same ones who would see to Jesus crucifixion. It is no wonder so many turned to Jesus when he came to minister to them. They not only flocked to see His miracles but to see His example and listen to His Words.
No other disease was so outwardly gross to look at than leprosy, therefore, I conclude that may be the best picture of what sin must look like on the inside of each of us. Let me explain. Leprosy is progressively slow, so is sin. Leprosy affects the total man, so does sin. Leprosy is loathsome, and isolating, so is sin. Leprosy causes the body to be numb and insensitive, so does sin. Leprosy has an odor of death, so does sin.
Perhaps the trials you are facing right now are not physical or even emotional like the leper, but trials due to your own sin. It does not matter what your trials are; what happened in Matthew 8:1-4 works in every trial. So here is what the leper did and here is what Jesus did.
The first thing we read is that the leper put himself in the presence of God. He came to Jesus and bowed down to Him saying, “Lord, if you are willing, make me clean.” This is the first principle we should apply when going through a trial; we must put ourselves in the presence of the Lord. We can begin this by praying. Luke’s passage on the leper adds that the Leper actually cast himself down in the presence of Jesus. Therefore our prayers should be open for others to hear. It is very appropriate to demonstrate our needs before others, as well as our proclaimed dependence in God. The Greek word in Matthew 8:2 “bowed down” is pposKuvEc (prosekoonay), which literally means to humbly throw oneself down in the presence of another. When the leper bowed down before Jesus He was not just acting in humility he was also worshipping Jesus in the presence of others. Such an act gives honor and glory to the one being bowed down to and that is what He did when he threw himself at the feet of Jesus. If you cannot do this with the trial God has given you, then you will never attain the faith to get through. You will end up in defeat, and never know what it would have been to have victory.
Now there was a great risk taken by the leper when he put himself humbly in the presence of Jesus. The risk was not so much from Jesus not healing him, but from his fellow Israelites stoning him for being in public. But the leper was willing to take the risk and any act of faith we take will always involve risk of some kind. .
What did the leper do next? He called Jesus “Lord, Master” KuRcos (Kureos); better said, “You are my master.” Sometimes this word was used as a greeting, like the use of sir, but not in this context. In the midst of a crowd, the leper called Jesus “Lord.” He recognized Jesus as Lord; he recognized His authority. In the struggles that we have, we must always recognize Jesus as the Lord of our circumstance. We need to realize that He alone has authority over our lives and the trials it draws. He is the master and if He decides something should end, it ends. And if He decides something continues, it continues.
In the midst of the Leper’s recognition of Jesus as Lord, the greatest part of his request was the humility he demonstrated. The leper was very direct with his request, but he did it in a humble way. He did not demand that Jesus heal him. He didn’t say, “You’ve done all these great things for other people, now heal me.” “I deserve it.” He said, “Lord, if you are willing, heal me.” He recognized that Jesus could do it, but made no demand that He do so. Another way of expressing it: “If you are willing, I will accept the consequences, whether You do it or not.” He made his need public; everybody knew that this was his request. He was not ashamed to request it of Jesus, his Lord. He did not hide anything and he was not willing to hide his dependence on Jesus. He had abandoned all efforts to deal with his own condition and I think this is what keeps many of us from having a great faith. Perhaps we go to the point of putting ourselves in the presence of Christ, but we do it silently. We are unwilling to make our need known to others; we are unwilling to make our need public before the world; we are unwilling to have others see our faith fail or to see us struggle. But that is a necessity to building a great faith. We must come humbly before the Lord saying, “If you are willing, heal me.” And make it public just as the leper did.
There are many great passages that help us when we go through trials. One of my favorites is II Corinthians 3:5 because it beautifully describes the humble heart of the leper in this passage, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves that we can do anything of ourselves, but our adequacy is in God.” The bottom line is that in every situation, especially in the circumstances that challenge us most is that our sufficiency is in Him.
Now what is the last step of the leper’s faith? He waited. He waited for Jesus to act. He had hoped over the years that God would reach down and heal his broken body; he was ready to wait a little longer to see what Jesus would do. In response, Jesus, unlike the surrounding religious leaders, bent down and touched this man. He could have just put his hand out to heal him, but He opted to touch this diseased man. And for the first time in many years, this man of living death experienced life in his body, more so in his soul. The ugliness that had consumed his body dissipated. The leper could feel things again; his body was no longer numb to the feel of another. The leper’s skin regained coloration and returned to normal; the bloody open sores that dominated his entire body were gone; his rotting fingers and eyelashes began to rejuvenate; his smell of death was gone; his voice became human again. All this occurred because of the power and love of Jesus and because the lepers’ faith was real. He had put himself in the presence of Jesus. He publicly announced his faith; he called Him Lord; he recognized Jesus’ authority; he waited patiently and quietly for Jesus to do His work.
The account ends with Jesus instructing him to go to the priests and to go through the ceremony which was apropos for a man healed of leprosy. It is in the Jewish Law to do this, and I believe Jesus did this as an act of open war against false righteousness. A false righteousness that rejects a poor leper in need of help. When the leper arrived at the temple to be officially cleansed, the very leaders who threw stones at the leper would be called on to perform the offerings that proclaimed him healed. As they sacrificed three lambs in this leper cleansing ceremony and blended the oil with the flour, what were they thinking? It did not matter, to the leper he was cleansed both inside and out. Jesus was His Lord.