In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“And He arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to Him on her behalf. And He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them. Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him, and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them” (Lk 4:38–40). If you or a loved one have been dealing with pain or a fever, you may well have opened a bottle like this and taken some of what’s in it. What does it say on this bottle of aspirin, and on bottles of similar substances? “Pain Remover & Fever Rebuker.” No, of course it doesn’t say that. It says, “Pain Reliever & Fever Reducer.” Over the last several days, I have been dealing with back spasms and pain that are most likely a new flare-up of osteoarthritis in my spine. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this or another medicine could be a “Pain Remover & Fever Rebuker” the way Jesus is in today’s Gospel reading? This is not “Jesus in a bottle.” No natural substance has such power. Jesus showed His healing power both as the Son of God and as the Man of Faith, as signs of His identity as Savior and His mission of salvation.
Last Sunday, we heard Luke’s account of Jesus’ attendance on the Sabbath at the synagogue in Nazareth, His hometown, and how the people there were eager to see Him perform the wonders of healing and casting out of demons which they heard He had done at Capernaum. He doesn’t rebuke any fever, heal any diseases, or rebuke and cast out any demons in Nazareth. His Word to them is a refusal, because of their stubborn hearts and stiff necks. “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah … and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian” (Lk 4:24–27). Instead of rebuking fevers and demons, Jesus rebukes the people of Nazareth, and they cast Him out of the synagogue and the city. Instead of His healing the sick and raising them up, the Nazarenes, filled with wrath, want to cast Him down the cliff and kill Him.
Jesus is again in the synagogue on the Sabbath, this time in Capernaum, His home base. There they received His Word as having authority, the very authority of God. Their faith in Him showed in their love for Him and for His Word. There in Capernaum Jesus did rebuke and cast out demons; there He did rebuke a fever, and it left Simon’s mother-in-law immediately; and there in Capernaum He did lay hands on every sick and diseased person brought to Him and He did heal them. Jesus would also do signs of the ultimate healing which He brings, the resurrection of the dead, by raising the dead: the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7); the daughter of a synagogue ruler (Lk 8; Mk 5); and His friend Lazarus (Jn 11). Through these signs and wonders, Jesus shows His power and compassion. Jesus healed many, and He raised some from the dead. Do you notice, though, what Jesus did not do in His earthly ministry? Did He heal all who were sick and diseased? Did He raise all the dead? No, He did neither. Those whom He healed may well have got sick again, and those whom He raised no doubt died again. For these were signs of the Resurrection of the dead, and the full and final healing therein, on the Last Day; but they were not the Resurrection itself. That is still to come, when Jesus returns in His glory on the Last Day.
Jesus’ compassionate works of healing, as well as His Word of teaching, would indeed divide Israel and cause the thoughts of many to be revealed, just as Simeon had prophesied to Mary in the temple at her purification and Jesus’ presentation (Lk 2:35). All those healings would pass away, as those individuals “die and return to their dust” (Ps 104:29). Yet His Word endures: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Lk 21:33). His Word of Law is holy and good, yet His Word of the Gospel, the Good News of God’s love toward us in Christ, His Word of mercy, grace, and forgiveness, is holy and greater. For as St. Paul says, “The Gospel … is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). Thus, Jesus says to the people of Capernaum, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (Lk 4:43). In the Gospel “the Righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” (Rom 1:17). The Righteousness of God is not a what so much as it is a Who, “the LORD Our Righteousness” (Jer 23:6), Christ Jesus.
He has come to be the Righteousness of God for us unrighteous; the Salvation of God for us fallen; the Freedom of God for us captives; the Peace of God for us enemies; the healing and wholeness of God for us sin-sick; the Life of God for us dead; the Grace of God for us undeserving; the Mercy of God for us needy; and over all, He is the Love of God for us unlovely, unlovable, and unloving. We know—or rather, think we know—1 Corinthians 13 so well, the “Love chapter.” Many couples ask for this to be one of the readings at their wedding. In the past, I have sometimes discouraged this, because Paul is most definitely not writing about romantic love. This is self-giving love, the love that God has for us, the love which compelled Jesus to take up His cross and suffer and die for us. By the way, the word agapē did not originally mean this; rather, Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, chose it because it was a little-used Greek word in his time, and other words for “love” had other connotations. Earlier English versions translate Paul’s Greek word agapē as “charity,” after the Latin caritas. Caritas is a good word; charity is the giving of oneself, or of one’s goods, for the sake and well-being of another. Unfortunately, [for what we do] we have confused the meaning of charity with alms, gifts of mercy for the poor. But when we speak of what God has done, is doing, and will do for us in Christ Jesus, charity and alms become one. Out of His great agapē, charity, love for us, us who were poor in the sight of God, unworthy and worthless in terms of righteousness, He “shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). The “most excellent way” which St. Paul shows us is the Way of the Cross. The Love chapter is a portrait of Christ Jesus. So this chapter is also a good picture of God’s intention for marriage, in which husband and wife are to give themselves to each other, reflecting the love between Christ and His Bride, the Church.
Verses 6–7 are the center of this portrait. Agapē, God’s Love, “rejoices not at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the Truth. Love bears all things, has faith through all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” The Apostle knew full well the many problems that plagued the churches at Corinth. Those and other problems still infect churches today, ours included. How much does the Love of God Incarnate bear all things? He bore the cross, even unto death, and He still bears with us in all our faults and shortcomings. How much faith does the Love of God Incarnate have through all things? Even as He hung on the cross for the sin of the world, He cried that cry of faith, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Forsaken in our stead, He still calls God His God! How much does the Love of God Incarnate hope all things? On the rock of this confession, that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, He still builds His Church, incorporating you and me as living stones in its walls. He entrusts us with His holy and saving Gospel for the life of the world! The Love of God Incarnate endured the mocking and pains of crucifixion, and He still endures the mocking and unbelief of the world. Jesus calls us into His Love, to bear our crosses daily as we follow Him, and forgive as we have been forgiven; to have faith and trust in His presence through every trial, even in the dark night of the soul; to hope patiently as we await His deliverance out of our troubles, especially the final deliverance of the Last Day; and to endure all adversities, which the enemy intends for our destruction, but which our heavenly Father sends for our training and growth, that as His adopted sons we grow by the power of the Spirit to resemble more and more His only-begotten Son.
Paul’s finishing touch on this portrait of Christ has been called the three Christian virtues. “So now Faith, Hope, Love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is Love.” Are Faith and Hope not as important as Love? Indeed, they are. Christ is the content and focus of our faith. Christ is the hope of the world and our anchor in life’s storms. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). Hope is what the prophets of old spoke as they saw what was to come in the Messiah and His kingdom, the promise of the restoration of all creation: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. … And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8:21, 23–25). In Christ we walk by faith and we wait in hope. In Christ we think, speak, and act from love. When He comes again in glory and ushers in the fullness of His eternal kingdom, we shall see Him as He is, and the glory we have awaited will be here. Faith will give way to sight, and hope will be fulfilled. He is Love, shown above all on the cross, and we shall ever behold those glorious scars! Here on earth we do not see Him now. Even as He comes to us in love, in His body given and His blood shed in the Holy Supper, we confess His real presence by faith, and we look forward to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb with hope. Here, He calls us to love one another [now] as He first loved us, to forgive one another [now] as He has first forgiven us. So come die to yourself, that He may live in you and love through you, [now and] unto all eternity.
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.