A sermon based on Mark 1:40-45
Sunday, February 12, 2017 – Epiphany 6b
I'd never heard of this until I came to Kenai. But in Mr. Holper's classroom, an A is not the highest grade you can get. You can get an A+. That part's normal enough. But what was usual to me when I first heard it is that an F is not the lowest grade you can get. He doesn't go down to G or H (and why do teachers all just skip over the letter E altogether?). Instead, the grade lower than an F is (for some reason I've never bothered to ask Mr. Holper for) is what he calls an F2.
Of course you have to do really well to get an A+, like get none wrong at all. And, inversely, you have to do pretty poorly to get an F2, like don't study or prepare at all.
This morning we hear the account of a man who initially scored an A+. He got the highest marks as he put his trust in Jesus and believed that Jesus was both willing and able to help him in his great need. But then he went and got an F2 when instead of obeying Jesus in thanks, he did the very opposite of what Jesus told him to do.
And as we look at the life of this unnamed man who got an A+ and then an F2, we'll also consider what grade we would get on our report card if God should give us one. Our text for this morning is recorded in Mark 1:40-45…
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean."
41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 "See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
What a strong faith this leper displayed! Give him an A+! There was no cure for leprosy—that disease that slowly ate away at your body causing the nerves to fail and flesh to rot, causing parts to fall off and friends to flee. The diagnosis of leprosy was not only a death sentence, but a condemnation to die alone—away from family and friends, banished to live among the other lepers also condemned to die.
And yet, this man had more than just a lingering hope. He was certain that Jesus could heal him if he were willing. There was no question at all about Jesus' ability to cure the incurable. A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean."
And he believed that Jesus was both willing and able to help him in his desperate situation. And after all, if Jesus were willing, but not able, he was powerless to help. And, on the other hand, if he were able, but unwilling, the man still would receive no aid. But Jesus was both willing and able. And this man believed.
Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
What a great faith! A+!
Ah… but, alas! He didn't keep the grade…
Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: "See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news.
Jesus gave this former leper a very specific command. Don't tell anyone what I just did. And what a relatively easy assignment to keep it was, when you consider that he didn't have to do anything to keep it. Can you imagine how happy the students would be if Mr. Holper told them, "For tomorrow's homework, do nothing. If you do nothing, you will get an A."? Literally this man's assignment was to just "say nothing." If he just kept quiet, he would obey Jesus' command.
But does that command seem confusing to you? After all, doesn't Jesus want us to talk about him? Doesn't he want us to spread the news about him?
Well, apparently it was a confusing command to this former leper too. He thought he knew better than Jesus. And so he disobeyed a direct command from the Son of God who had just healed him. Instead of keeping quiet, he blabbed to everyone he saw.
But Jesus didn't want people talking about his miracles just yet. He knew that people would flock to him all right, but he also knew that they would flock to him for the wrong reasons. They would view him only as a miracle worker who would multiply their bread and give them lots of fish, who would cure their diseases and give them money from the mouth of a fish. They would look for him to cure the symptoms without concern for the real disease of sin.
Yes, surprise, surprise, Jesus knew best. But this man thought he knew better than his teacher. So he disobeyed the direct command of Jesus himself: "Don't tell this to anyone." Give him an F2.
Ah… but before we look down on him too much, perhaps we should evaluate what grade we deserve. Let's face it, it doesn't take much examination to see how often we too have disobeyed a direct command of Jesus. We don't do what he tells us to do. We do do what he tells us not to do. And we, too often thinking we know better than Jesus, go against what he says. And then, on top of it all, we have the audacity to get angry with him when he isn't the kind of Savior we want him to be.
"Save me from my back pain. Save me from my emotional pain. Save me from my financial pain. Save me from problems and suffering and boredom and unhappiness. And if you were willing and able to help this leper, then why aren't you willing to help me? Why won't you take away my pain?!"
He promises that he's somehow working all things for our good. But we don't understand. We're confused by his insistence that must endure suffering. And we think we know better than him. So we look for our own solution, in a bottle, in self-serving laziness, in ungodly entertainment. And we disobey the direct commands of Jesus.
Can you see all the red ink all over the pages of our lives? Checkmark after checkmark go behind each one of God's commandments. And we've botched not just one or two assignments, but every day of life. We have failed. Worse, we have earned an F2. Fail the driver's test and you don't get a license. Fail the entrance exam and you can't get in. And you know the consequences of failing this life: expulsion from God's heaven.
But Jesus, the very best student, and teacher, and master, is willing and able to help us. Perhaps not always in the way we wish he would help us, since he may not always be willing to take away our pain, but he is always willing to work it for our good. He is always willing to use the consequences and circumstances that we face to draw us back to him and back to his Word.
But he's more than just an expert teacher, showing us how to do better. In his Word he shows us again that he's a Savior! And he shows us what kind of Savior he is: A savior from sin, our Savior from sin, a Savior from our mistakes, a Savior from our disobedience to his very clear commands, a Savior from our rebellion against God, a Savior from death, a Savior from the hell we have all earned by the F2 of our sinful lives.
There is no doubt that he is able to help us. He revealed clearly who he is by his miracles—the very Son of God from heaven, come to help us in our need, the sinless Son of God who aced God's test with a perfect A+ every moment of his life. And there is no doubt that he is willing to help us. He revealed that clearly on the cross—that he is willing to go to hell and back to save us from it, to take the punishment our F2 deserves and to give us the A+ he's earned.
And so, now, you and I pass the test with flying colors! We get the credit for his A+! We are perfect and sinless in God's sight! That is what God has declared us to be! And you know that God does not and cannot lie! This is who you are—an A+ student in Christ.
Now, go be what God has declared you to be: that straight-A student! Have an A+ trust in him as you trust him above all things. Trust in him who was willing and able to pay for your sin. Trust in him who is willing and able to work all things for your good.
And be the straight-A student he has declared you to be as you obey him and do what he says to express your thanks to him! Do what he says even if you don't fully understand why he says it. Trust that he knows best and obey.
And for us, he no longer says, "Don't tell anyone," but "Tell everyone!" So don't keep quiet, but speak up! Share the Jesus and his A+ solution with others. When they're hurting, remind them that while he never promised to take away all pain in this life, he did promise to take away their sin, their guilt, and their shame. He promised to take away their F2 and the punishment and the hell they deserve for it. He promised to work all things—even their pain—for their eternal good. He promised to be with them always and to give them the strength they need to endure to the end.
So talk about your faith. Invite a friend to join us some Wednesday night or Sunday morning. Invite them to lunch or to a cup of coffee to share what you know of Jesus. Or, simply share this sermon with them: forward the email when you get it, like it on Facebook, or repost to your page to share your Savior.