3rd after Epiphany

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Epistle Romans 12:16b-21
Gospel S. Matthew 8:1-13

The Collect is typical of many that begin by acknowledging the greatness of God and the weakness of man. The believer then recognises his danger and need and that his only hope is to call out to God for help. Though the Christian leaves everything in God’s hands, he only does so through true evangelical faith and fervent prayer. This vital combination of leaving and doing is seen in both the Epistle and the Gospel readings.

It is not meant to sound like a recipe for laziness but the Christian is in a unique position to be able to “leave things in God’s hands”. In fact it is an essential recipe for a good night’s sleep because while “there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isaiah 57:21), he “giveth his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2).

The Epistle. In this portion of Paul’s letter the reader is exhorted not to retaliate when evil is done to him. We could sum up the teaching as, “Leave it all in God’s hands: He will sort out those who are getting at you.”

Of course this teaching is directed at individuals and at the church, not at governments. The state must not neglect its duty to maintain law and order and protect its people from enemies.

Having dealt with important practical matters regarding church life and particularly the behaviour between Christians, who, while having differing gifts and status in the world, are all, in an important sense, equal; the apostle now goes on to deal with behaviour towards those who are outside the church.

From what he writes, he clearly implies that it is inevitable that the Christian will have difficulties with those outside the church. However, learning to relate properly within the church may well help us learn to deal wisely with those outside, especially when they are hostile towards us.

The particular problem is that of self sufficiency, or thinking we are “wise” in our selves. Ironically, this may arise as a result of the great benefits of salvation but the Christian should remember that it is only by the grace of God that he is what he is, and even then he still has a sinful nature at work within himself. The danger is that with all his knowledge, the Christian will be tempted to take the law into his own hands. “Evil” is what the world will throw at him and he might be tempted, like the disciples James and John once were, to request that his enemies be struck down.

Revengeful attitudes and behaviour are forbidden by the apostle just as they were forbidden by Christ.

However the Lord God will repay the wicked. Of course, today, the whole idea that there is a day of judgement, when God will send some to heaven and the rest to hell, is mocked. This attitude has affected Christians too, who also are unafraid to sin and bring down the chastisement of God upon themselves. A real fear of God’s chastisement would do a lot for the Christian’s practical holiness. Love is a great motive, but sometimes as children some fear is not bad for us. It is certainly much better than the consequences of sin … and I am saying that to believers who know they are saved!

Nevertheless, the Christian can sleep well even when his enemies are at his door. He is instructed here to pop outside and offer him something to eat and drink! Strangely the effect of this is described in a way that sounds like revenge, “in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head!” This means that the enemy is shamed because of his cruelty toward the Christian. Some think this is not so because the enemy does not immediately apologise. This is because of pride. However, God knows all the things that we cannot see. He knows that the man who is unkind but is repaid with kindness is really being shown up and that even if no one else knows, the enemy will know he is wrong. Of course repentance and faith may yet be some while off and perhaps the enemy will not come to faith if his heart will become hardened.

However, in many cases the evil will be overcome by this method. Even if the enemy is not converted, the anger of the believer will be assuaged and his confidence and happiness in the Lord will have increased. In that sense at least he will have overcome evil with good. He will certainly be a good witness and encouragement to others.

The Gospel. Leaving it to God here is again shown to be the best policy. How many people are running round trying to cure this and that and are in such a fret. The stress of illness and trying to cure it may be causing them more disease than the original disease itself!

However here we have a good centurion who shows that faith is all you need. If you have faith then you will trust God to do what is right.

You will encounter many things in life that you just do not have the power to bring about. However, with faith in God, you can commit things to the Lord Jesus Christ. Like the centurion, you do not need Jesus to actually appear in front of you to do what He promises. It is sufficient for you to take Him at His word. The evil that is overcome in such a way is quite marvellous and includes things even more serious than escaping from the evil enemy who is chasing after you.

The sort of things that are overcome by this “leaving it to God” are things such as having a severe handicap or losing a close relative. Other things concern the future and the anxiety that most would have over what they see going wrong. The Christian leaves himself praying and believing, not that he will get the outcome that he thinks best, but that he will get the outcome that God says is best. In Morning and Evening Prayer we ask that our prayers may be answered, “as may be most expedient for us” and that is how we can depend on God to answer them, according to His will.

Conclusion. So whether we are suffering in sickness or from persecution, if we are born again, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Our great hope is not that we will get a Bible believing Archbishop to turn around the Church of England. Our hope is not that we will get a Conservative Government to turn around the morality of our economy if not of our society as a whole. Our only hope is that we put our entire trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. We rejoice that though He bled and died, he did so to save miserable wretches like ourselves. We rejoice that whatever we ask the Father in His name He will do. Yet we don’t know how to pray! We just cry out to him in all our infirmities that He might reach out His hand to us and have mercy upon us. And so it is that He most graciously does!