Epiphany 6b

Preached: February 12, 2012

Faith Pleads with Jesus for All Our Needs
Mark 1:40-42

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit testifies to our hearts about Jesus is Mark 1.

A leper came to Jesus imploring him as he fell to his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Deeply moved, Jesus reached out his hand and touched him. “I am willing. Be clean,” he said. At once the leprosy left him, and he was clean. (Mark 1:40-42).

This is the word of our Lord.

There are many kinds of prayers. To give one list:

1 )Prayers of adoration, when we praise God for who is, glorifying him as the holy One, the mighty God, the faithful Lord, the Savior, full of grace and truth, from whom and through whom comes all that is good -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

2) Prayers of confession as we lay before him our sins, both those we know of and those we are unaware of, admitting how sinful we are and how deserving of punishment. We look to his mercy alone, trusting the blood of Jesus for full and free forgiveness.

3) Prayers of unburdening as we pour out our hearts to him, our cares and complaints, our worries and struggles, our delights and sorrows, our fears and joys, our disappointments and hopes. We rely on him to shepherd us through the dark valleys of our souls.

4) Prayers of thanks as we rejoice in the goodness of our God who opens his hand to bless us in so many ways. He works even the troubles of life for our good, transforming us to be more and more like his Son. Look at the great good he worked for you out of the darkness of Christ’s cross.

5) Prayers of intercession as we go to God on behalf of someone else, praying for them.

6) And, where we want to focus today, prayers of supplication in which we bring a specific request. We plead with Jesus for our needs.

May the Holy Spirit move our hearts with God’s promises so that we keep on going to Jesus in prayer. The theme today is: Faith pleads with Jesus for all our needs, humbly submitting to his will and firmly trusting his compassion.

A. Humbly submitting to his will

A man comes toward Jesus. He’s covered with leprosy (Luke 5:12). Can you see the crowd scurrying to get out of the way? No one wants to get too close. No one wants to touch him. Leprosy was contagious and deadly. But he is resolved to get to Jesus. He knows Jesus can help.

He reaches him and falls to the ground, bowing low, a beggar before a mighty monarch. “If you are willing, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40 NIV1984), he pleads. This leper does not impose his will or demand that his needs be met, no matter how much he longed to be healed. He submits to Jesus’ will -- even if that meant the increasing pain of the late stages of his disease, even if that meant continual scorn and rejection by society and separation from his family, even if that meant an untimely and horrid death. His faith, though confident that Jesus can help, humbly submits to Jesus’ will.

Dear Christian, no matter what your need or want, Jesus has the power. No petition is too small. None is too great. For he is God over all at the right hand of the Father. The powers of death and hell could not hold him. He is the firstborn from among the dead. No enemy can withstand him. Even Satan fell before him. Countless angels speed to do his bidding. He holds the universe in his hand and calls all the stars by name. Yet even the smallest detail of your life, like the number of hairs on your head, is important to him. So like this leper, run to Jesus no matter what your need, fall before him and plead for his help, for Jesus is able to do much more than you or I could ever imagine.

Now just as his power goes so far beyond us, so also his wisdom far surpasses us. You know those words of the Lord from Isaiah: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9 NIV1984). Or think of the Apostle Paul’s doxology in Romans 11: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:33, 34 NIV1984). So even as your faith runs to him confident that he can help, so also we humbly submit to his will, knowing that what God ordains is always good. Like the leper we say to Jesus, “If you are willing, you can grant my request. But you know best. Your will be done, your good and gracious will.”

How hard that is! How much this leper longed to be healed of this dread disease! Yet he knew that God in his wisdom might have had a different plan. Was he to continue suffering so that God’s strength could be seen through his weakness? Was this the way God would usher him through death into the glory of heaven? Was the disease beneficial for keeping his soul close to the Lord? Was this training him as a child of the heavenly Father? Might others benefit from his example? Was God’s timing different so that for now he’d have to wait or perhaps learn to keep on praying? The man didn’t know, but Jesus did. So the leper humbly submits to whatever Jesus’ will might be.

What have you pleaded for, dear friend? Have you struggled with pains or sickness, begging for relief? Have you prayed for the healing of a loved one only to have them taken away? Have you prayed about your hopes and dreams only to see them disappear like the morning mist? Have you struggled with relationships seeking the Lord’s help only to be disappointed? Have you taken family heartaches to him but healing seems so slow in coming? Do you wonder why your budget is so tight despite your asking of the Lord? Have you prayed about making it day by day but the emotional weight seems too much, just way too much?

Whatever your need or want or care, take it to the Lord in prayer, humbly submitting to his will. For if he answers differently from what you ask, he will give you the strength to bear up as you rely on his Word. He promises: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you … you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (Isaiah 43:1, 2 NIV1984). Rely on his strength. Even when you do not understand his ways and your prayers seem unanswered, rely on his strength.

Yet our fallen reason figures: “Since Jesus is able to give what I ask but doesn’t want to, he mustn’t care about me.” How do we combat that wrong thinking? That brings us to part two.

B. Firmly trusting his compassion

Witness Jesus’ great compassion toward this leper. His heart goes out to him. In the pit of his stomach he feels that sympathy that has to take action. He reaches out to touch this leper. Consider how remarkable that is. In order to prevent the spread of the disease, lepers were not to be touched. How long had it been since this man felt the touch of a healthy human being? How long without human contact? But Jesus meets that need. He reaches out his hand. Then Jesus speaks those words the man longed to hear: “I am willing … Be clean!” (Mark 1:41). And immediately he was healed, completely clean of the leprosy.

But what about you and me? Jesus hasn’t appeared by our bedside to touch us. He doesn’t verbally respond to our pleas like he did to the leper’s. So how can you know that he cares? Why trust his compassion?

Here’s why, dear friends. Here’s why. The Apostle John writes, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10 NIV1984). Apostle Paul writes, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV1984). Or ponder that American folk hymn: “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul! What wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this That caused the Lord of bliss To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!” (“What Wondrous Love Is This,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 120:1). How could we have any greater proof than the cross? Jesus does care for you. He does love you. Look at what he did for you. Firmly trust his compassion.

And even though we have not physically felt his touch us as the leper did, meditate on the mystery of the Lord’s Supper. His real body and blood -- just as real as his hand that touched the leper -- his real body and blood touch your lips and enter your mouth for you to eat and to drink. I realize he does it in way far beyond our physical senses. But doesn’t the miracle of it make it even more wonderful? Anyone could touch you with their hands, but only Jesus can touch your lips with his body and blood in this supernatural way. What a testimony of his love! He cares for you. Firmly trust his compassion.

And as you ponder his cross and meditate on his Supper, know and believe that he has made you clean of something far worse than leprosy. “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 NIV1984), the Apostle John writes. How much greater that is than any cleansing from leprosy! Firmly trust his compassion.

This Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, overcomes our doubts and strengthens our faith. Tell yourself: “If Jesus does not give what I’m asking for, he nevertheless is acting in my best interest. For he certainly cares for me, and he certainly is able to do what he wants. And what he wants certainly includes what is eternally good for me. For God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not along with him graciously give us all things -- all things that draw us closer to our Father, that transform us to be like his Son, that fill us with his Holy Spirit.”

With such firm trust in his compassion, doesn’t that lead us to humbly submit to his will? How could we ever be in better hands, those nail-pierced hands? Why would we not follow his voice, submitting to our Shepherd rather than imagining we know which pastures are greener? So go to Jesus with all your needs, your wants, your pleas, your supplications. Faith pleads with Jesus for all our needs. Faith pleads, humbly submitting to his will and firmly trusting his compassion. For the Shepherd laid down his life for you, dear friend, and took it up again. Follow him. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313