Don't Be Satisfied
St. Paul tells us to be content with the things that we have. Contentment is a good thing, a thing to be desired. But there is one thing the Lord would not have us content with. He does not want us to be satisfied with false theology, bad theology, or even fuzzy theology. The short text before us makes several key Christian doctrines crystal clear by calling upon us not to be satisfied with three things.
The first thing we're called on to not be satisfied with is a Jesus who is less than God. This is a popular error. People say such things as, "Jesus is the Son of God," emphasizing the word son. Jesus is in second place below the real God. He sits on the right hand of God. His throne is thought of as being smaller than the throne in the center. People pray in Jesus' name but they don't think of themselves as praying to Jesus but to God making a distinction between Jesus and God.
Errors like these have been around ever since all the fullness of the Godhead took up residence bodily in Christ, as St. Paul puts it, ever since Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary as the Apostle's Creed puts it. The human mind cannot grasp a human body containing all the fulness of the Godhead, the Creator being in the womb of One of His own creatures. This doesn't make any sense. This doesn't seem possible. So the Church has, throughout Her history, been plagued with the error that Jesus is less than God.
This little text was said by St. Ambrose in the 4th century to refute two such heresies popular at that time. Actually, he didn't say that the text did this, but the 2 Greek words translated, "I will, be clean." The words "I will" show that Jesus is God in flesh and blood because He didn't say, "God wills" or "We will." No, Jesus and Him alone without any permission, help, or support from God the Father wills to make this leper clean.
St. Ambrose went on to say that the words "be clean" show that Jesus is no mere man because they are in the imperative. They are a command. We could translate them, "You must be cleansed." Jesus didn't wish that the leper would be cleansed. He didn't pray that leper might be cleansed. He didn't say he might be, could be, or will be. Jesus said, "You must be cleansed." Only God in flesh and blood can say that. I take that back. Anyone at all can say that, only God can say it and it happens.
Here too deity shines through the flesh and blood of the Man Jesus because, "Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured." These words show how completely the leper was restored. From a medical standpoint the disease completely left his body. This was something only God could do. The medicine of that day didn't know anyway to cure leprosy. Even the medicine of our day doesn't. But a medical cure is not all that happened. A religious cleansing did too. The insert translates "cured," but it is really, "cleansed." The point is that the man who had been made religiously unclean by his leprosy was not anymore. Only God can make the religiously defiled clean again.
Don't be satisfied with a Jesus who is less than God. Don't be satisfied with a Jesus who is less than all the fullness of the Godhead. Don't be satisfied with a Jesus who takes a back seat, a subordinate position to God. When you hear the word, "God" think of Jesus. When you picture God, see Jesus. When you think of God in heaven, picture Jesus. Don't be satisfied with a Jesus who is less than God, and don't be satisfied with a God who is not fully human in Jesus.
The truth is like a country road. It always lies between two ditches. One ditch to avoid is that Jesus is in some sense less than God. The other ditch to avoid is that Jesus is not fully human. This sort of error also popped up in the early Church. Jesus only looked human. Jesus only took on a human body to die on the cross, but when He rose, He rose without the body. Jesus didn't take a flesh and blood body into heaven when He ascended. Jesus wasn't tempted in every way we are because as God temptation was no big deal. Jesus being God doesn't know what it's like to be a fallen sinner living in a flesh and blood body in a fallen world.
This text makes a lie out of statements like these. When the leper asks to be made clean, the texts says that Jesus was filled with compassion. This is a graphic word in Greek, a flesh and blood Word. It literally means "to be moved in the inward parts." We would say it was "gut-wrenching" to Jesus. Jesus is so human, so fully man, that His stomach gets butterflies, does somersaults, and gets upset. Moreover, it does this in response to human suffering, pain, trouble, anguish. Like we sing in a Good Friday hymn: "No pain that we can share/ But He has felt its smart;/ All forms of human grief and care/ Have pierced that tender heart."
What's more the text emphasizes Jesus touching the man. The insert makes into several actions what is really one. Literally the text reads, "Being filled with compassion, stretching out His hand, Jesus did touch." Being filled with compassion and the stretching out the hand aren't the main action. These are attending circumstances to the main action of touching. And what really shows the full humanity of Jesus is the Greek form of that verb. It conveys the thought that Jesus touched the man not just for the man's sake but for His own sake. You know how that is. You see someone in misery, pain, suffering and not only does your heart go out to them but your hand does too. You want to touch them.
How human Jesus is! He knows what you're feeling. He sympathizes with you when you're scared, worried, heartbroken. He knows exactly what temptation feels like to you. He knows you feel hounded and chased by the devil at times. He knows the shame you feel when you sin the same way you were determined never to do again. He knows the biological, spiritual and emotional aspects of guilt that you do. In fact, Jesus knows something humanly speaking that you don't.
Jesus knows what it is to be punished for your sins. He knows physically and spiritually what it means to have all of God's wrath wash over Him; what it means to be damned for your sins; what it means to be burned by hell's fires and chewed on by hell's worms. While you and I know what it means to sin, Jesus alone knows what it means to pay for sins. While you and I know in some sense the wrath of God, only Jesus had to drink dry the cup of God's wrath. While you and I know what it means to suffer, Jesus alone knows suffering that pays for sins.
What a wonderful God and Savior Jesus is. He is so fully God that He has the power to help, to protect, to save us from sin, from death, and even from the power of the devil. He is so fully human that not only does He know what it's like to be under the Law and to suffer for sins, He could take our place under the Law and suffer in our place. What a wonderful God in flesh and blood. You would think every sinner under the sun would run to this God, would fall down and worship this God, but that's not what happens. You see when God wraps Himself in human flesh and blood, when God veils His divine nature under the weak flesh and blood of a carpenter from Nazareth, people can easily stumble over Him.
There will come a time when every knee bows before the God-Man Jesus, but that time is not now. And that's why it's so tempting to bypass Jesus. Go straight to God in His majesty and might. Jesus could not be all that great, or powerful, or wonderful if the majority of people stumble over Him. But don't you be satisfied with that. Don't you be satisfied with a direct pipeline to God. Don't you be satisfied with a God who dwells in a light you can't approach or is a Fire that can only burn you. Don't be satisfied with trying to deal with God in His glory and majesty. Even though all the world talks about the power and wonder of the invisible God, don't you be satisfied with that. You embrace God in flesh and blood.
The almighty God wills to work through physical means. He first wrapped Himself in Words to reveal Himself to mankind. Then He wrapped Himself in flesh and blood that He took from a virgin's womb. And in these last days He has wrapped Himself in Water, in Words spoken by men, in Bread and Wine. The almighty, invisible true God has always worked by physical means. He heals Naaman of leprosy by sending him to the man Elisha who in turn sends him to the Jordan River. Jesus heals the leper with the simple Words spoken into the man's ears, but then sends him back to the visible Church. In the Old Testament, He dealt with His Church through goats and bulls, through their blood poured out on altars and their bodies offered up by fire.
The holy, invisible God dealing with mankind by means of the flesh and blood of Jesus and through things that touch our flesh and blood is offensive to people. You heard how Naaman pitched a fit over going to the muddy, stinking, fever-laden waters of the Jordan. You heard how the leper did the direct opposite of what Jesus sternly commanded him to do. He went and told everyone and didn't go to the priest to be received back into the Church.
People are no less offended today at the God who works through means. How can the waters of Baptism forgive sins? How can Bread and Wine be the Body and Blood of Christ? How can Words spoken by a man on earth forgive my sins before God in heaven? People would rather speak about their believing, their praying, their feeling than about these physical means of grace. They want to base their connection to the invisible God on something going on invisibly inside of them. But that is neither sure or certain. The human heart is plagued by all manner of doubts, uncertainties, and fears. At best it can only say, "I believe; help my unbelief."
However, when God wraps Himself in physical things there He is accessible to physical people and there what He does is sure. God the Son wrapped Himself in flesh and blood and walked this earth. We have a physical record of Him living, dying, rising. Then Jesus our God in flesh and blood wrapped His forgiveness and salvation in the Waters of Baptism, in the Words of Absolution, and in the Bread and Wine of Communion. In these visible, physical things the redemption and everlasting life that only God can provide are present enough to dip your hands in, to reverberate your ear drums with, to sink your teeth into. As sure as the Waters of Baptism have run off your head, so sure have you been reborn to life everlasting. As sure as the Words of Absolution have sounded in your ears, so sure have your sins been sent away from you. As sure as you have eaten and drank this Bread and Wine so sure have you eaten and drank the Body and Blood of the God who went to the cross for you.
Don't be satisfied with anything less than the fullness the true God has provided for you. In the flesh and blood of Jesus, you touch, handle and have all the fullness of the Godhead. In Jesus, you have a God who knows all that it means to be a fallen human being. And in Baptism, Absolution and Communion you have all the treasurers of heaven - forgiveness, life and salvation - right here on earth for you to eat, drink, use, and trust in. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany VI (2-16-03), Mark 1:40-45