The pastor who confirmed me likes to call Christmas “The Jewish Christmas.” Now you might scratch your head at first and wonder why he says that. After all, doesn’t the Christmas angel say “Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people”? Doesn’t that mean Christ The Lord is born for you and me?
Yes it does, but it doesn’t mean that dawned on the shepherds. Even though The Prophets talked about The Gentiles coming to Christ, and even though Gentiles converted to Judaism, like the centurion in our Gospel today, The Jews primarily thought Messiah would be for them alone. Remember, they were thinking His job would be to save them from Rome! Why, Jesus even once said something about being sent only to Israel’s lost sheep! He’s obviously for The Jews, since He’s a Jew.
But you will learn on The Second Sunday in Lent that Israel’s lost sheep are all those who confess their sins and believe in Him, both Jew and Gentile. That gets us back to the pastor who confirmed me. He calls Epiphany “The Gentile Christmas.” If you want to know Messiah is for us Gentiles, people of German, English, Irish, Slovak, and many more ancestral heritages, look no further than those Persian wise men kneeling before The King of Israel. He is not Savior of Jews only, but “Savior of the Nations.”
We’re getting deep into the Epiphany season, this time in which The Man Jesus reveals His Divine glory to us. Today The Church shows us that Jesus is definitely for us. The Boy Who taught the teachers of The Law, The Son of Mary Who turned water into wine, is for you. We see this in two ways: in the leper who was cleansed, and in the centurion.
How do we see it in the leper who was cleansed? After all, he was a Jew. He’d heard Jesus is The Messiah. That’s why he calls Him Lord. He’s not talking about a master or a member of England’s House of Lords. He’s talking about Israel’s God, named Yahveh in Hebrew, but since the people stopped saying His Name, they called Him Adonai, “The LORD,” instead.
How else do we know he knew Who he was talking to? He says “If You will.” Not “if God wills.” He knows that if Jesus wants to heal him, He will. If God wants to heal him, He will. Jesus is God. That’s exactly what the man was saying. And Jesus showed he was right. “I will” He says. He willed that the man be cleansed. And what God wills happens. He was cleansed immediately.
How does this show us that Jesus is Savior of the nations? After Jesus healed him, He told him to go show himself to the priest and offer the sacrifice Moses commanded. Now there’s nothing odd about that. God gave Moses all these rules for just such a situation. But I don’t know if anybody was ever cleansed back then without a miracle. Miriam and Naaman were cleansed via miracles. Jesus does say to do this to testify to the priests that Messiah is come. Perhaps Moses gave the rule for this very day so the priests could have no doubt that Messiah is come, and if they rejected Him, they would have no excuse on the last day. Certainly Jesus used this law to show them this. And since they rejected Him, they can’t be surprised that He turned His face to The Gentiles. For “The heathen shall fear The Name of The LORD, and all the kings of the earth Thy glory!”
It just so happens that in our Gospel He does turn His face to a Gentile! A centurion who had converted to Judaism comes to Him. Luke mentions he’d built Capernaum’s synagogue. He asked Jesus to heal his child. He was a centurion, leader of 100 men in the Roman army. He was a man under authority. He would tell somebody to do something and it got done. The way he saw it, his word was doing the work. It happened because he said it was going to happen, not because somebody else did it.
He saw Jesus in kinda the same way. He knew Jesus can say something and it happens. So when Jesus said He’d be happy to come right over and heal the child, the man said it would be enough if He just did it right then and there with a word. He was right. He too called Jesus Lord, and he meant it the exact same way the leper did. He was right. Jesus is able to heal his child from a distance, and He did just that.
Jesus turned this into an opportunity to talk to The Jews about what they thought about Him. He turned to those following Him and said He most certainly had never found such faith in all Israel as this centurion had. His disciples didn’t have it, which they proved when they ran away from Him on Maundy Thursday. Those following Him around must not have had it either since He directed this major zinger right at them.
Then He tells The Jews what Isaiah had said long before, what Simeon had sung 30 years before. He is not just Israel’s glory, but also The Light that lightens The Gentiles, that draws them to the kingdom of heaven, to sit down to eat with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For that light shines forth from The Cross. It looks like a very dark place, a place of extreme suffering and sorrow. But it is a place of joy and delight for you, dear Christian.
For at that Cross the kingdom of Satan is crushed. There the one who enslaved your Gentile ancestors, the one who enslaved you when you were conceived, the one who enslaved Adam and Eve in Eden, there his head is crushed. There all his power is ripped out of his hands. He wants you to serve sin. He wants you to desire to go after all the wicked desires our flesh has. He wants you to be conceited, to take revenge, never be honorable and charitable. He wants you to serve death, not life. Yes, he loves death, for it brings the unbeliever to eternity with him; that’s why he brought sin into the world.
But God loves life. So Jesus died. He died to kill death dead. He rose to rescue you from the serpent. He rose to usher you into His kingdom, to His table. So here you are today, O Gentile. You are here, gathered with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. You are here to dine on The Lamb of God Who took away the sins of the world. You are here to dine in faith on His holy Word and Sacrament. He shall come under your roof, though you are most unworthy. He shall come and forgive your sins for you believe in Him.
For faith alone receives Him. Unbelief has no part with Him. The sons of the kingdom, those who had received His promises but rejected Him, were cast out and their city was destroyed. They were cast out into outer darkness, into the eternal domain of the devil, never to escape. So it goes with all those who prefer not Christ but this world and sin and any god that is not God’s Son, who do not worship Him with all His angels. So let yourself be seated here, that you may not be seated there. For here you are preparing to be seated in paradise of the blessed. Here you are being served by The Savior of the nations. “Savior of the Nations, Come!”