The Finger of God
August 30, 2020 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross
Trinity 12 THE FINGER OF GOD Matthew 8:3
Consider your hand, how amazing is its construction. There's that opposing thumb, that gives us the ability to hold a pen, or play the violin. There are sinews that act in concert following your will. They grasp and release, point and push, or hold a ribbon down so a bow can be tied. With your fingers you can play a keyboard instrument. Or type, or pull a trigger. God designed our hands to do these things whenever we want. And like all creation, hands tell us something about God. They are an image of His absolute capability, His detailed thoroughness, His artistic subtlety. Beyond that, hands say something about God's loving heart. Consider the gesture of the upturned palm. Doesn't this ask, How can I help? So when Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Finger of God, the Finger that casts demons out of people, this is not just teaching, not just pointing. Jesus came to fight for us. The Holy Spirit is God's Trigger Finger. Christ's incarnation will never end, but there was a phase of it we might call His earthborne days. During that time He was visibly present in terrestrial society. Since the Ascension, He continues to work with us through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus had been teaching a crowd of people in Galilee when a leper pushed his way through and begged Jesus to make him clean. That was against all the rules. All lepers in the first century were quarantined because their disease was so contagious. People were horrified at the thought of catching it. They were not acquainted with microbes, but suspected that evil spirits were everywhere, waiting to infect whoever stepped over the line. By contrast, Jesus touched the leper. He might have healed him by remote control, but Jesus had His reasons. Right there, in front of all those cringing people, Jesus touched that leper. The leper then said, Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. The Savior's reply was brief: I will; be clean. There were no negotiations about the price, no prescriptions for medication, no insurance forms, no conditions about the leper's subsequent life, in short, there were no strings attached.
Picture for a moment how the leper's face lit up when he realized that the impossible had happened. His life was no longer wasted. His exile was over. Do you appreciate your forgiveness like that? Is it harder to thank God for spiritual cleansing than for physical? The Finger of God has made you clean. It is just as much a miracle. We come here every week to remember the Incarnation, especially its climax in the cross and resurrection. No matter how serious, how degrading, how harmful your sins might have been, Jesus forgives all! If the consequences of sin have you struggling in poverty, in sickness, in disappointment, perhaps even in public punishment, Jesus is your Wealth, your Physician, your Companion. He can do whatever He has done before. He can also help you through the regular channels now as before. And since He has placed His Holy Spirit in you, He can touch others with your hand.
That experience of cleansing was certainly wonderful for that leper, but Matthew did not record it for his benefit but for ours. We have been afflicted by something far worse than leprosy, exiled from God's life-giving presence, quarantined from the fullness of joy, outcast from heaven. The only cure is forgiveness. To forgive you, the Finger of God has to touch you. He sent His Son in human form, who let His merciful hand rest on those Palestinian people. After His Ascension, God's Finger came through the Holy Spirit. The incarnate Jesus took a break from saving the world to embrace some kids. Today the Finger of God touches the little ones through Holy Baptism, and calls upon the Church to embrace her little, spiritual sons and daughters, for they must be to us as our own flesh and blood. By the Holy Spirit's power, we are the hands that touch these children today, to give them the very best that we can provide. The Lamb has cleansed His flock; He has brought righteousness to all from the oldest to the youngest.
For the ultimate cleansing of our souls, Jesus has given us the washing of regeneration. He preached that we must be born again of water and the Spirit. Ananias once urged Paul to be baptized, saying Arise, be baptized, and wash away your sins. That is the greatest cleansing of all, the Holy Spirit's own chosen vehicle to ride into the human soul, to drive away the power of the devil. The blood of the Lamb has become the healing Fountain of Grace. In that flood our sinful nature drowns. That part of ourselves which is our own worst enemy cannot escape this deluge, cannot chase us across this Red Sea. Emerging from that flood, the pardoned and renewed saint begins the journey with his Lord, to the Sinai of Christian instruction, the Kadesh of earthly life, and finally across the Jordan of death.
Are we afraid of what we might meet on that journey? What sort of Amalekites and Balaams are waiting to strike us and curse us? What, to be specific, is coming over our society through ignorance and deception? Should we be worried about better schools and colleges? Perhaps, but these will do us no good unless we first have better homes and churches. Don't think the answer is to be more spiritual. That's a trap. Satan is just as spiritual as God, powerful, super-intelligent, and extremely subtle. Morality is good, but it must come from love, and love must come from faith.
The Finger of God keeps the devil in his place. While God offers an upturned palm to us, He shows a clenched fist to our spiritual enemies. Yes, a hand can do that, too. It can clench and strike. And Jesus' hands clenched and struck when they were nailed to the cross. Do not trust in moralizers or educators, in management seminars or self-help groups. Forget the rich and famous, for they have more problems than you have. None of those have any defense against the devil. But you are a child of God and of His Bride, the Church. You have been cleansed from the leprosy of sin by Jesus' forgiving hand, nailed to the cross and liberated by the resurrection. He leads you through the minefield of this present life. When your own cross becomes heavy, His hand comforts you. Let me leave you here with the lyrics of Countess Julia von Hautzmann:
Oh, take my hand, dear Savior, and lead Thou me,
Till at my journey's ending I dwell with Thee.
Alone I dare not journey one single day,
So do Thou guide my footsteps on life's rough way. AMEN.