Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 8, and we're going to read the Scriptures, we're going to read from verse 1 through to verse 17. I know it's to verse 13, supposedly, today - but I have strayed a little bit, and went over, but I'm on next week so I'll only be finishing it off myself anyway! Matthew chapter 8 - but before we read, let's have a brief prayer. I want to invite you, please, to pray for yourself, that God would speak to you now. That's what we've been singing, but we want to experience God speaking to us. So, I don't know if you're here and maybe you don't come to church, or you're not familiar with this type of setup or surroundings, but that's OK - we're very glad to have you here, we hope that you feel welcome, but why don't you pray now and say: 'Lord, would You speak to me, would You come to me, would You reveal Yourself to me now'. I believe the Lord will do that, so let's come and pray for one another - but do pray for yourself, even if you are a Christian on the road for many years, God has always got something to say to us, and we've always got more to learn and experience.
So let's ask Him as we pray together: Blessed God and Abba Father, we come to You in the mighty name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we thank You for everything that He has done for us, and everything that He means to us. Lord, what You've already allowed us to experience of His love and His grace in our lives, and even being here in the freedom, and what we have received already - we thank You for what You are doing right across the globe, and we thank You for our brothers and sisters from every nation, every tongue, and every tribe and people - that You're saving through what Jesus did at the cross. Lord, we come to You now, and we ask You to do something again in this place, in this moment, and for those who are lost, for those who have no hope in this world, who don't have the assurance of knowing You as Father and Jesus Christ as Saviour - that just now, Lord, You would come and, by the Holy Spirit, that You would reveal Yourself to them. So Lord, we wait upon You, and we ask that You will speak and say the word that needs to be spoken, in Jesus' name, Amen.
Now let's read, and it's quite a long passage, but there is a theme right throughout it all, I believe, that I feel the Lord would have me bring to you just now. Reading from the New King James Version, Matthew chapter 8 verse 1: "When He", that is, Jesus, "had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, 'Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean'. Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, 'I am willing; be cleansed'. Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, 'See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them'. Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, 'Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented'. And Jesus said to him, 'I will come and heal him'. The centurion answered and said, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, 'Go', and he goes; and to another, 'Come', and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this', and he does it'. When Jesus heard it, He marvelled, and said to those who followed, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth'. Then Jesus said to the centurion, 'Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you'. And his servant was healed that same hour. Now when Jesus had come into Peter's house, He saw his wife's mother lying sick with a fever. So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them. When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demonpossessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 'He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses'".
There's a great deal of confusion around today in general concerning what God is like. That is for various reasons, not least the plethora of religious systems, beliefs that there are, and portrayals of deity - what God, they believe, is like. Maybe that's a question that you've been asking yourself: what is God really like? Is He good? You know, there's a lot of stuff going on around the world, and maybe there are things that are happening to you personally, and you're actually questioning the goodness of God. What does He think about me? Well Jesus, very simply put, the message in the New Testament is: Jesus came to reveal God. Jesus came to reveal God as the ultimate Father, Heavenly Father. So, if you want to know what God is like, just look at Jesus.
In Isaiah chapter 61 we have a prophecy from Isaiah, and later on in Luke chapter 4 Jesus, in the synagogue, opens the scroll of Isaiah's prophecy to chapter 61 of Isaiah - and He basically claims to be the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ of God, the Saviour who would come into the world. He gives there His mandate, or His mission statement, what He would come to do: 'To preach good tidings to the poor, He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, freedom, and opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord'. To summarise that, it's simply that Jesus is claiming: 'I am coming into the world to undo what sin and Satan have done'. Sin impoverishes, sin breaks hearts, sin enslaves, captivates, imprisons and binds - but Jesus says: 'I have come to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to those who are bound and in captivity, to open prison doors, to give sight to the blind. I have come to proclaim the acceptable year of God's favour'. He was announcing: 'I'm going to usher in God's year of Jubilee'.
Now that probably doesn't mean much to many of you here - but every seven years in Israel they observed a sabbatical year, a Sabbath year. They allowed the land to rest during that year. But every seven sabbaticals, that's every 49 years, they celebrated the 50th year as a year of 'Jubilee'. That was a time of the releasing of all slaves, it was a time when land that had been taken away from your family for whatever reason - maybe you owed money and you had to relinquish land - that land would be returned to the original owners. All debts, during the year of Jubilee, would be cancelled. Jesus is saying: 'I have come to proclaim God's year of Jubilee. If you're enslaved with sin, God is going to set you free. If you've been disenfranchised by wickedness, by evil, by your own wrong choices or that which others have inflicted upon you by their wills, I'm going to return to you what the enemy has thieved. I'm going to cancel out your debts - what you owe to God because of your sin and lawbreaking - I'm going to wipe the slate clean!'. Now surely that's worthy of an 'Amen!' somewhere here in the building? Is that not good?
This is the acceptable year of the Lord, a time of new beginnings. Some translations render it differently, 'the acceptable year of the Lord', or 'the year of God's good pleasure'. This is what I'm getting to: 'The year of God's good pleasure' simply means, God wills this, God wants this. So if you're sitting there thinking 'What is God like? Is He good? What does He think about me? What does He want from me?', this is your answer! This is what God wants, this is what God wills. The first story here in Matthew 8 is teaching us that Jesus is willing. Now it's interesting on many levels, not least because lepers at this particular time - we see they are still with us today in the world - but in the Judaic context of the nation where Jesus was born into, lepers were not only to be pitied but they were religiously unclean, they were untouchable! They were spiritually defiled, and not only were they themselves that way, but they were seen as contaminants - so if you came into contact with them, you would become unclean. Jesus should not have been touching a leper - alright? Period! He would become defiled by touching a leper - but here's what you need to know about Jesus: when Jesus touches unclean things, He makes them clean! He doesn't become defiled, but His goodness emanates out of Him, changing and transforming the most defiled things around Him. That's really the Christian message here in a nutshell, this is the message of the cross! Paul put it like this: 'He became sin, He was made sin for us, He who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him'. It is the great exchange, whereby He takes our fallenness, our sinfulness, and He dispels it. He is able now to give us His righteousness and cleanse us! It's amazing!
This leper comes to Jesus, verse 2, with this question: 'Lord, if You are willing' - and in verse 3 Jesus' answer comes straight back, 'I am willing'. The cross of Jesus demonstrates the willingness of God to cleanse us of our sin, and to release us and set us free from captivity, and heal our broken hearts. Romans 5:8: 'God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us'. You know, sometimes even Christians doubt God's goodness. If you're honest, sometimes we question God's willingness to help - and it's usually because of predicaments that we find ourselves in. But listen to Romans 8 verse 32: 'He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?'. That's what the cross of Jesus tells us: if God was willing to go to these lengths, what is He not willing to do for you?
Now just imagine this: Jesus reaching out, saying to this man 'I am willing', and touching this leper. Now we just read over that - I mean, those of us who are Christians, we just read over these stories and we miss half the stuff that's there. When was the last time this man had been touched? Was he estranged from his family? Lepers were actually thrown out of the community and put away into the wilderness, and they weren't to come into contact. Obviously he probably had a family circle, did he have a wife? Did he have kids? I don't know - but when was the last time he knew a wife's embrace? When was the last time his kids, if he had them, jumped up on his knee and kissed him on the cheek? Here was a man who was completely rejected by all and sundry, and even those being tactile and exhibiting affection by touch, something that is basic to our human nature, this man had been deprived of. Jesus, the compassionate, gracious, loving Son of God comes and touches him. You know, we preachers, we're guilty of a lot, we complicate things a great deal. We talk about 'leprosy is a picture of sin' - well, it is a picture of sin in the Bible, but it's also a picture of leprosy. Here's a man who is a leper, and on a basic human level Jesus touches him and heals him - let's not miss that. He says, 'I am willing, I'm willing to fix what has cut you off from your community, what has effectively estranged you from coming to worship God. I'm willing to change that and transform it'. So He spoke the word of willingness, 'I am willing'. I believe there are people here - and you may not be a Christian, or you might be a Christian - and you need to hear that the Lord is willing, He is good and He is willing.
Secondly, see from the next story, He is not only willing but He is able. You've got the centurion coming and asking the Lord to help his paralysed servant at home. Jesus in verse 7, look at the words: 'I will', there it is again, 'I will come', or 'I will go and heal him'. Now of course again there are many lessons that I'm just skirting over here. I mean there is the humility of this centurion, his great faith that Jesus said was greater than any of the faith He had encountered in all of Israel. This soldier felt unworthy of Jesus even coming under the roof of his house, and yet he believed that because Jesus operated under the authority of His Heavenly Father, that He therefore - because He was under God's authority - had a delegated authority to Him, and was able to heal. This soldier understood the chain of command, and he got this. It's amazing how sometimes people outside the community of God's elect, how they can get stuff that we don't get! He got it, and Jesus saw that he got it. So Jesus rewarded his faith, and He showed him His authority. Jesus was showing him that all heaven was behind what Jesus was going to speak, and Jesus not only had authority but He had the power to heal his servant - and all He had to do was say the word of authority.
Look at verse 9, the centurion said: 'I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, 'Go', and he goes; and to another, 'Come', and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this', and he does it'. Look at how Jesus responds, verse 13: 'Then Jesus said to the centurion, 'Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you''. Distance wasn't even an obstacle, because this man had the faith to recognise that Jesus has authority to speak a word - and it doesn't matter if you're the other side of the globe, He can effect that. Now, do you believe that? I mean that's very helpful to people when you have got friends and relatives the other side of the globe, and you would love to be putting your arm around them, and you would love to be ministering into their lives, into crises or even just bringing them to Christ - but it's not happening, it's not happening the way you want. Do you understand the authority that Jesus has? He can effect change the other side of the planet just right now, if we have the faith to believe and engage with Him and His power in that regard.
Let me ask you more personally just now: do you believe Jesus is able to fix you? Do you? Do you believe He is able to heal you? I know there's a huge discussion around things like healing and deliverance and so on, but you know: whatever you believe, it amazes me - and I encountered somebody like this just last night - whereby they've got a problem (and it doesn't matter whether it's mental, or emotional, or physical, or spiritual), and you just say 'Well, would you like me to pray with you?', and this is comment I made, 'I'm sure you've prayed about this a hundred times' - and the answer came back, 'I actually haven't prayed about this once'. That's a whole other subject, but do we believe Jesus is able? Some of us have to even get to the stage of believing that He is willing, believing He wants us to be touched and transformed and changed. But if you get that step, and you say: 'Well, I think He is good, and He is willing' - is He able to change you? Maybe you're here and you're not a Christian, do you know that He is able to save you, no matter what you're into, whatever your lifestyle has been, whatever choices or other choices for you have brought into your life? You are what you are, and you are where you are right now - do you believe He is able? He hasn't changed, He's still willing, He's still able!
Just before going into heaven, after He had risen again from the dead, He said to His disciples: 'Now, go into all the world and preach the good news' - that good news, to heal the brokenhearted, to set prisoners free, all of that - 'go and preach that good news, put into practice the things that I have taught you, and I will be with you always'. Jesus is the same - but this is what I want you to see that He also said to His disciples, when He told them to go and preach this message and put into practice the things that He had shown them, He said: 'All authority is given unto Me in heaven and on earth; go therefore, and make disciples'. Do you get the delegated authority? I'm not going to preach on this, but do you get that? Is the penny dropping, like it did for the centurion? Jesus was under that authority, and it was delegated to Him, and He has delegated authority to His disciples - you - to go in His name with good news, to proclaim that He is willing and He is able.
The third story here tells us He is willing and able because of the cross. I'm not being specific to this story of Peter's mother-in-law, but there is a general description here in verse 16 - picture this scene please: 'When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demonpossessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word' - there is that 'word', if you go through this passage and look at Jesus 'speaking a word', and the power of His word when He says a word - 'and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 'He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses', quoting Isaiah 53 and verse 4. You see at the cross, very simply, Jesus took upon Himself not only our sin, but what it means to live in a fallen universe, all the consequences of being sinful human beings - Jesus took it all! He bore our shame, He bore our guilt, He bore our bentness, He bore our iniquity, He bore our brokenness, He tasted death - the payment that we will have to give for our sin, He tasted that. It says He took the curse of the broken law upon Himself on the cross. He was judged - in fact every consequence of sin, Jesus bore on the cross, period! That's why He cried: 'It is finished!' - there is nothing left out of the equation of Calvary.
So now answer the question: what is God like? He is good. He is holy and He is just, but He is love. What does He think about me? Well, He thinks an awful lot about you, because He sent His Son to die for you - and if He's willing to do that, what is He not willing to do to meet you here today? What is He not willing to do to change your life to reflect the glory of what Jesus did at the cross? Jesus is just the same as He always was, He ever shall be. He still wants to touch lives, He wants to communicate the love of God the Father to humanity through the good news of His lovingkindness to you today. He wants to touch your life, even if you're classed as an untouchable in our society, or if religious bodies look down their noses at you - it doesn't matter! Jesus is willing, He is able, and He wants to restore you!
Maybe you're a Christian, and you need to hear that Jesus is willing and able to fix your brokenness. Maybe you need to hear that He is able to deliver you from evil, very deep evil. He says 'Yes', isn't that brilliant? 'If You are willing, You can make me clean' - do you see the picture of this leper? Jesus says 'I am willing'. As Jesus was reaching out - I'm just picturing this now - what do you think was the reaction and the response of the leper? What do you think he would do? Do you not think he'd be going like this [flinching backwards] - 'Don't do that!'? Did Jesus know what He was doing? Maybe you're backing off a bit this morning - does He know what He's doing? He knows He's willing, and He knows He's able, and He knows that at the cross He has purchased the power to change your life, and He says 'Yes!' to you today - He says 'Yes!'.
Thomas Jefferson - I love this story, I tell it all the time, maybe you've heard it - he was crossing a swollen river, the President of the United States, with his troops. A guy fell off his horse and was bobbing about in the water for a while trying to hitch a lift. He let a lot of soldiers go past him, and all of a sudden he hitched this particular lift, and when he got to the other side of the river his comrades asked him: 'Why on earth, with everybody crossing the river on horseback, did you hitch a lift with the President?'. He said: 'I didn't know he was the President, all I knew was that on certain people's faces is written the word 'No', and on others is written the word 'Yes' - and his face said 'Yes''.
Jesus says 'Yes' to you today. Religion may even have said 'No' to you, but Jesus says 'Yes'. If you will come to Him, He is willing and able because of the cross to say the word - and where the word of a King is, there is power. If He speaks over your life just now as you come to Him, you will be changed forever. Let's pray.
Just in this moment or two we want to give an opportunity for you to respond to what God has been saying. Right throughout this whole chapter you read of 'and He spoke the word', the centurion said 'If You just speak the word', and with a word He healed the sick, with a word He cast out demons, with a word He raised the dead. Stuart Townend, we've been singing some of his songs already this morning, he wrote a song called 'Say The Word', and it goes like this:
'Say the word, I will be healed;
You are the Great Physician,
You meet every need.
Say the word, I will be free;
Where chains have held me captive,
Come sing Your songs to me,
Say the word.
Say the word, I will be filled;
My hands reach out to heaven,
Where striving is stilled.
Say the word, I will be changed;
Where I am dry and thirsty,
Send cool, refreshing rain,
Say the word'.
I believe Jesus is more than willing to say the word to you today - but you must, like the leper, like the centurion, you must come to Him and He will speak over your life. You say: 'David, I want to come to Jesus just now, and I want to bring my brokenness, I want to bring my sin and my guilt, I want to partake of the benefits of the cross, and I want that exchange where He takes my sin and gives me life'. Well, it has to be you now - it's not about just saying words and praying a prayer in an empty way - but if you enter into it by faith, put your heart and yourself into it, and mean it, you can pray this prayer that I'm about to recite - and God will meet you. If you need a little help, we will be waiting around afterwards and we can give you that help. But here in this moment, where God is present with us, will you just come to Him now and say these words: 'O God' - just from your heart say them quietly to the Lord after me - 'O God, I come to You in the name of Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. I acknowledge that He is the Son of God and the only way to God; that He died on the cross for my sins and rose again that I might receive eternal life. I confess all my sins before You, I hold nothing back, and I repent, I turn from them and turn to You. I ask You to forgive me, because Jesus died for me. Cleanse me, save me, make me Your child. I confess You as Lord of my life. I renounce Satan and all his works. I ask You, now, to fill me, speak the word and fill me with Your power. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen'.
Father, we thank You for being with us this morning, and we thank You for the power of Your Son, the Lord Jesus. We thank You that He is still the same as He has always been, and we thank You that right across the globe He is touching people. We thank You, Lord, that He is reaching out here, now, with His nail-pierced hand, having purchased our redemption and all that is necessary for our lives to be made whole. Father, I pray that, by Your grace and the influence of the Holy Spirit, that You will help people to just stand still a while, and just surrender - not back off, but allow Jesus to touch them, to listen for Him saying the word 'I am willing, I am able, look at My cross, look how willing I am, look how able I am' - and that He may speak that quickening word over their life today. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at Scrabo Hall in Newtownards, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "Willing And Able" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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