Midweek Lent 1: Sustained In Sickness

Lessons: Psalm 41, Passion History, Psalm 103:1-14, James 5:7-18, Matthew 8:14-17
Hymns: LSB 424, 421, 433

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      While King David wrote Psalm 41 under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is the One speaking in Psalm 41. Jesus spoke a beatitude concerning those who consider Him as the Poor One. When St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about godly stewardship, he wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Even though he was writing to encourage generous giving, St. Paul spoke of Christ as the One who became poor for us, that we may be exalted by Him. He became poor by being made a curse for us (Gal. 3:13) and He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7-8).

      Today we will focus on Psalm 41:3, in which Jesus says of those who consider Him as the Poor One, “The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health.” You see, the hand of God is at work in His creation. He did not just get things started thousands of years ago and then carried on with other matters. Instead, His very hand is at work in our lives even to this day. He sustains the sick and He restores the ill to health.

      In our reading tonight from Matthew 8:14-17, Jesus miraculously healed St. Peter’s mother-in-law. Also, Jesus cast out demons and healed all who were sick. This work of Christ fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases” (Isaiah 53:4).

      When speaking of healing, the order is set straight by God the Holy Spirit through our reading by King David and our reading by James, the Lord’s brother. We heard in Psalm 103:2-3, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases.” Forgiveness. Healing. Same with James: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:17). Again, forgiveness and healing.

      I think many get this all turned around. They want to see healing for their loved ones but forget about forgiveness. They look at forgiveness as secondary—something only needed right before death—but they look at healing as primary—something that is needed right now to receive immediate relief. It seems to me that many spend far more time praying for the sick than they do for those who are spiritually sick or do not have the faith. I think this happens because it is easier to see the distress of an individual in sickness than to see their spiritual distress. It can also happen when we do not realize that God will truly judge to Hell those who do not believe in Christ. When we don’t want to believe the upcoming judgment, we won’t think much about forgiveness and will instead focus on those who are sick, injured, or recovering.

      But God teaches us the right way. We certainly know how blessed we are when we receive temporal relief through healing. We are glad when our illnesses are restored to health. We don’t want to have to suffer. But compare temporal illness or temporal health with what we will receive for an eternity. “Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” When we have forgiveness from Christ, we have something that lasts beyond our temporal lives. We have something sweeter than good health. We have the promise of an eternity with Christ in the new creation. Remember the words of St. Paul, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).

      But thankfully, God does not force us to choose just one or the other. He can bring about healing—and He forgives! Regardless of the faith of individuals, the Lord can sustain those on their sickbed and restore them to full health. However, not all are received into Heaven. When God works faith in the sinner through His Word, that person is forgiven of His sin and cleansed of all unrighteousness.

      You see, Jesus paid for the sins of the entire world through His substitutionary atonement on the cross. He died to set sinners free. When He declared, “It is finished,” Jesus truly earned forgiveness for all people. He justified the world, acquitting it. But this forgiveness must be received individually by faith. God works this faith through His Word. This is what we need the most. Consider those who spend their entire lives blind, lame, deaf, in pain, or in constant sickness. If they are baptized children of God who continue in the faith, they will be fully restored at the Resurrection, just like the rest of us Christians. But those who spend their lives chasing after healing and relief without considering Christ and His forgiveness, they will not receive the eternal relief Jesus came into this world to earn and offer.

      Of course, Jesus works His healing hand upon all people. Christians and non-Christians alike can and are healed of scrapes and bruises, injuries and illnesses, surgeries and severe sicknesses. Just as God sends rain upon the just and unjust, so does He send healing to all people, whether they are personally forgiven or not. Yet, Jesus in today’s psalm teaches us how blessed the sick are who consider Him, for He sustains them in sickness and in illness He restores them—if not in this life, then in the life to come.

      In our reading from James, the faithful are urged to pray. God’s people are instructed to ask their pastors to come and pray for the sick. James wrote, “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders [that is, pastors] of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). I’ve always found it curious that people will call on doctors to provide help, but then they won’t call on their pastor to pray; they just figure the pastor will somehow find out and show up. But pastors are not omniscient. They need to be told. Even the sick were brought to Jesus and word was given to Jesus about the sickness of others.

      The reference to oil in James is not the introduction of some sacramental action. The use of olive oil to anoint the sick is an apostolic custom—not a command. There’s a rite anoint oil in the Pastoral Care Companion. It rightly occurs with the sick after Confession and the Absolution. A portion of today’s reading from James is read. Then the Pastor says, “[Name], you have confessed your sins and received Holy Absolution. In remembrance of the grace of God given by the Holy Spirit in the waters of Holy Baptism, I will anoint you with oil. Confident in our Lord and in love for you, we also pray for you that you will not lose faith. Know that in godly patience the Church endures with you and supports you during this affliction. We firmly believe that this illness is for the glory of God and that the Lord will both hear our prayer and work according to His good and gracious will.” Then using his right thumb, the pastor anoints the sick person on the forehead while saying, “Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and the Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life + everlasting.” The context for this rite is forgiveness, the Word of God, and prayer. Following these (as desired by the sick person) comes Holy Communion.

      Tonight’s Passion reading took place on Maundy Thursday as our Savior instituted the Lord’s Supper. This Sacrament is intended to strengthen our faith, unite us with Christ, and forgive our sins. Our souls are the primary beneficiaries. Yet, our bodies also benefit as we are united to Christ and prepared to live with Jesus eternally. And so we believe, teach, and confess in the Large Catechism, “We must never think of the Sacrament as something harmful from which we had better flee, but as a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy that grants salvation and comfort. It will cure you and give you life both in soul and body. For where the soul has recovered, the body also is relieved” (LC V 68).

      Jesus declares that those who eat His Body and drink His Blood in faith will live forever—body and soul. Luther put it this way: “The mouth, the throat, the body, which eats Christ’s body, will also have its benefit in that it will live forever and arise on the last day to eternal salvation. This is the secret power and benefit that flows from the body of Christ in the Supper in our body, for it must be useful, and cannot be present in vain,” (AE 37:134). Jesus sustains you in the Sacrament.

      So whether we have good health or poor health, whether we have pain or not, sickness or not, we can be confident of who we are. We belong to Christ. He will sustain us—ultimately until that time He raises our bodies to perfection. So we carry on in faith, knowing that God is for us and nothing can separate us from His love (Rom. 8:34-39). God will use all things for our good, even crosses and trials, as we sang in Jesus, Grant That Balm and Healing,

Ev’ry wound that pains or grieves me

    By Your wounds, Lord, is made whole;

When I’m faint, Your cross revives me,

    Granting new life to my soul.

Yes, Your comfort renders sweet

Ev’ry bitter cup I meet;

    For Your all-atoning passion

    Has procured my soul’s salvation. Amen. (LSB 421:4)   

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen