If You Have A Tempter, You Need A Savior (Lent 1)

Jesus In The Desert

If You Have A Tempter, You Need A Savior

It happened so quickly. Year after year I walk our catechism class through the book of Genesis. And, every year, what shocks me, is how quickly Adam and Eve fall and fail. You’re at day six. And everything is good—and not just good; they are very good. And so soon, so shortly after that everything falls apart. Adam and Eve sin and then are enslaved by sin. Why did it happen so soon and so quickly? One of the answers to that question is that every moment and every second, Satan was there to tempt Adam and Eve. And Satan has amazing skills and strength in that area. And so, as we look back at Genesis, chapter 3, what we learn is that if you have a tempter, you need a Savior. And here, this morning, in these words in Matthew 4, we see what that Savior looks like: 1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”” (Matthew 4:1–3 NIV11-GKE)

Moment after moment, from the time we are conceived we have a sinful nature and Satan to tempt us. Since we have a Tempter, we need a Savior. And look at the Savior our Father in heaven gives to us. He gives to us a human to be tempted and tested in our place. These words take us to the beginning to Jesus’ earthly ministry. He is anointed in the Jordan River to be our Prophet, Priest and King. And then what happens? Jesus is brought up into the desert by the Holy Spirit.1 And there he goes without food for 40 days. And so, it should not surprise us then when we hear that Jesus was hungry. And look then at how the Tempter works and acts. He goes after Jesus where he is weak. Human beings have bodies. We have hunger. We have hormones. Before the fall into sin, God made Adam and Eve with yearnings and desires. But what’s the problem? At the fall and now after, the Tempter uses these yearnings and desires against us. And very often it’s not that difficult for the Tempter to tempt us because, as humans with sinful natures, we want to be tempted. And there’s a horrible progression that we find our lives. A person wants and desires something good and natural. Then the Tempter goes to work. We then cross the bridge from yearning to coveting. Then, finally, we end up hating our bodies instead of sin. So, for example, a person is hungry. So he puts a frozen pizza into the oven. Instead of eating a healthy amount, he eats the whole pizza. And afterwards, when his stomach is letting him know that he went too far, he hates what he has done. And instead of hating the Tempter and his own sinful nature, he hates the body that God gave him. It’s true when it comes to hunger. And it’s true when it comes to hormones too. Jesus says, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28 NIV) And so, a guy sees a woman. What happens first is that he notices her beauty and appreciates it. But then what happens? He crosses the border. Appreciation turns to lust. And finally, what happens. Instead of hating the Tempter and his own sinful nature, he hates the body that God gave him.

If you have a Tempter, then you need a Savior. And look at the Savior you have: “Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”” (Matthew 4:4 NIV11-GKE) For 40 days Jesus was hungry. But notice how Jesus was different than we are. Jesus was tempted and tested by the Tempter. But his hunger didn’t enslave himself. And he didn’t hate his own body. Instead he clung to the promises of God’s word completely. And that, my friends is such amazing news. Where Eve stretched out her hand and took the fruit because the hunger got the best of her, Jesus did not. And he did this continually, for 40 days, in our place.

If you have a Tempter, you need a Savior. First, you need a Savior from weakness. But, second, you need a Savior from false worship. We read: 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”” (Matthew 4:5–9 NIV11-GKE)

In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther asked the question, “What does it mean to have a god?” His answer was: Having a god is “who do you thank when times are good” and “who do you trust when times are bad.” It’s that second category that Satan tempts Jesus in in these words. The Tempter invites Jesus to recklessly and carelessly throw himself off the highest point of the temple, because, after all, there are angels. Then the Tempter invites Jesus to bow down to him. Now, from the outside, that might seem as if it’s the weakest temptation. But, most likely, it’s the worst. Before Jesus is lifted up he needs to harmed and humiliated. Before he rises from death he needs to descend into it. How easy it would have been to bow to the Tempter and not have to worry about the cross and Calvary.

Again, see very quickly and clearly the temptation that the Tempter throws in front of Jesus. Whom will Jesus trust? Will Jesus trust his Father to keep him safe from harm with his angels. And even when there are those times will Jesus trust that his Father will keep his word? When Jesus is perfectly aware of his life draining from him and dripping out of him, will his Father be there for him when he dies? Or will he abandon him?

And each of us faces the same temptation. We face the temptation to abuse God’s care and concern for us or to abandon it. Danger is a part of our every day life. But it’s so easy to abuse it, isn’t it? God has sent his angels to watch over us, so we don’t need to worry. We don’t need to worry about how fast we drive. We don’t need to worry about how much we drink. We don’t need to worry, because, after all, the angels need to do something. And then, on the other side, there are those times that God does allow danger to come to us and affect us. And when that happen, we are ever-so-tempted to conclude that if there’s danger at all, even though God has promised to watch over us, we do not trust him.

And so, if you have a Tempter, you need a Savior. And look at the Savior our Father gives us: 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Matthew 4:10–11 NIV11-GKE)

There is such beauty in that word, “alone.” Worship and serve the Lordalone. That is what our Father commands and demands of us. But, on the one hand, we abuse his protection of us. And on the other hand, we abandon his promises to us. Here in these words we see a perfect human being worship and serve our Father perfectly in our place. And the result is that all the times we have abused the Father’s protection and abandoned his promises are paid for by both the obedience of this perfect Savior in our place. And they are paid for on a cross where Jesus died on Good Friday.

So if you have a Tempter, you need a Savior. And Jesus is your perfect Savior. Our entire lives are a time of being tested by God and tempted by Satan. During this time of the year and throughout your entire life, cling to Jesus. For since you you have a Tempter, know that you also have a Savior. Amen.

1 “ⲁⲛⲏⲭⲑⲏ…ⲩ̇ⲡⲟⲧⲟⲩⲡ̅ⲛ̅ⲥ̅ⲡⲓⲣⲁⲥⲑⲏⲛⲁⲓ” (Matthew 4:1 GNT-WAS)

How Much Are You Forgiven? (Ash Wednesday)


How Much Are You Forgiven?

The lack of politeness is frustrating. There are times you expect people to be polite. And when they are not, it’s frustrating, if not even offensive. You pay good money to go to a movie. And there, right in front of you, is a group of people giving a loud, minute-by-minute commentary on the movie. Don’t they see how impolite that is? Or you go to a restaurant with your family. And in the booth right next to yours is a group of people who seem to be having a contest to see who can the most inappropriate joke. Don’t they know that that is not polite at all? It’s frustrating when people are not polite, isn’t it? In the words we look at this evening we see just how frustrating and even offensive the lack of politeness is. In Luke 7, we read: 36 Then one of the Pharisees invited him to eat with him. He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of perfume 38 and stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to wash his feet with her tears. She wiped his feet with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with the perfume.” (Luke 7:36–38 CSB17)

In these words we see how offensive the lack of politeness is. Jesus is invited to a Pharisee’s house. And in the middle of the dinner there is a woman who shows up. And as we work into these words we see that there is one layer and level of impoliteness after another. First, in Jesus’ day it was customary for the men to eat by themselves. So, it was very impolite for a woman to barge her way into a meal where men were gathered. Second, notice the type or kind of woman this was. Luke tells us that she was a “sinner.”1 That word is a very specific word here. It’s a word that describes a professional sinner. A professional sinner is one who makes a living to survive on by sinning. And, for women, that occupation was prostitution. Oh, how impolite it was for her to show up there at the dinner—especially considering what kind of woman she was. But it gets even more offensive. She stands behind Jesus, at his feet. And she begins to cry. And her tears keep falling all over Jesus’ feet. Then what does she do? She lets down her hair. That too would have been very impolite and offensive. But then what does she do with her hair? By this time the tears have mixed with the sand and the sweat on Jesus’ feet. And it stinks. She wipes away the sand and some of the sweat. And what does she do next? She begins to kiss his feet. And notice when she does this. She does not kiss his feet after she pours out the perfume on his feet. No, instead she first kisses his sweaty, stinky feet again and again. Then she pours the perfume on his feet. Then what happens? In verse 39, we read: “When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “This man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—she’s a sinner!”” (Luke 7:39 CSB17)

The Pharisee is offended at her extreme impoliteness. But then he’s offended that Jesus isn’t offended. And he concludes to himself that Jesus must not be a prophet. Because if he were, he would get rid of this woman who has shattered politeness in every way. So Jesus responds to the man’s secret, inner thoughts: 40 Jesus replied to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He said, “Say it, teacher.” 41 “A creditor had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more.” “You have judged correctly,” he told him.” (Luke 7:40–43 CSB17)

As Jesus so often did, here he tells a story. It’s the story of two men who both owed a debt. One owed vastly much more of a debt than the other. Both were forgiven. And the question Jesus asks this Pharisee, Simon, is this: Which one will be more loving toward the one who forgave the debt. And in cold, heartless way, the Pharisee, Simon, says, “I suppose, the one he forgave more.” Then, for the first time that night, he acknowledges the presence of the woman. He looks at her. But he speaks to him: 44 Turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she, with her tears, has washed my feet and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in. 46 You didn’t anoint my head with olive oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfume. 47 Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48” (Luke 7:44–47 CSB17)

Notice how Jesus piles up the contrasts here. He says, “You provided no water for my feet, but this woman provides tears and wiped them with her hair.” This would been a shocking statement for the Pharisee to hear. For what was expected of a host in Jesus’ day, was that if you had a guest, you’d have the youngest child or lowest slave wash the feet of the guests. At the very least you’d provide a bowl with water so the guest could wash his own feet. And so he says, “you provided, no water, this woman provided tears.”

Then he says, “You gave no kiss, but this woman has not stopped kissing.” In Jesus’ day, when you saw a friend, you would kiss the friend on the cheek. The Pharisee didn’t treat Jesus even like a temporary friend. But the woman humbly kept kissing his feet.

Jesus says to Simon the Pharisee, “You gave me no oil for my head, bu this woman poured out oil on my feet.” If you had a friend over for dinner you kissed their cheek. If you had a rare honored guest, you’d provide perfumed oil for his hair. That thought of providing oil for Jesus probably didn’t even enter the Pharisee’s mind.

In all of this, notice the point that Jesus is making: There is a far, far worse sin than having no politeness. Having no repentance is far, far worse than having no politeness. Simon saw how much and how many her sins were. But he refused to see how much and how many his own sins were. And when, out of love for him, Jesus sets aside time to tell this Pharisee the truth and correct him, the Pharisee is more concerned about propriety and politeness instead of repentance.

And my dear friends, that is the same trap and temptation we can all fall into. The first temptation is to conclude that, yes, we sin, but our sins are not as bad as the other people. The drug dealers, the prostitutes, the embezzlers, the bribers—all those professional sinners—they are so much worse than me. How horribly wrong we are. For the same question that Jesus asked the Pharisee, he asks us tonight: how much are you forgiven? How many sins have you committed? And how bad are they? If you are concluding in such a cold and calloused way that you’re a little sinner with little sins that need a little help, then you’ve completely missed the point Jesus’ words here. Oh, but it gets worse. The first sin is concluding that our sins really aren’t that bad. But the second sin is concluding, just like this Pharisee, that no one gets to accuse you of sin or correct you unless they, in the most proper and polite way, speak to you about your sin. If they are urgent and sincere, we are offended that there wasn’t enough small talk before they corrected us. But what Jesus says here is so very vital: a lack of repentance is so much worse than a lack of politeness.

So my dear friends, how much? How much are you forgiven? The sincerity of Jesus’ words here move us to confess both the weight and the number of our sins. For the lack of repentance is so much worse than the lack of politeness. And then what does our sincere Savior do? He forgives us. And notice how beautifully Jesus does this. We read: 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”” (Luke 7:48–50 CSB17)

Finally, at the end of all these events, Jesus looks right at her. And with such sincerity he tells her, “Your sins are and remain forgiven.”2 And this evening he says the same to us. We did not come here this evening with little sins for a little Savior to take hold of and forgive. No, our sins are many and they are much. And Jesus looks at each and every single one of us and says, “Your sins are and remain forgiven.” So tonight, rejoice in that forgiveness. And as Jesus said to the woman, so I say to you: “Go in peace. The faith that Jesus has given to you has saved you.”

1 “ⲁⲙⲁⲣⲧⲱⲗⲟⲥ” (Luke 7:37 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲁⲫⲉⲱⲛⲧⲁⲓ” (Luke 7:48 GNT-ALEX)

People Are There For You (Transfiguration)


People Are There For You

Where would I have been? For many years when I was growing up, we used to take family vacations to National parks. And what everybody does in National Parks is take hikes. And every year, if you could stay on a busy trail long enough, you’d see parents who tried to do too much. They go out five miles on a hike, but then what do they have to do? They have to carry their children back on their shoulders because their little legs couldn’t travel that far. But where would those children be without their parents to carry them? It’s a wonderful fact that God places people in our lives who are there for us. In our words this morning from Matthew 17, we see how true it is that God provides people who are there for other people. We read: 1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”” (Matthew 17:1–4 NIV11-GKE)

God places people to be there for other people. But notice here in these words who it is who is there for whom? In these words Moses and Elijah are there for Jesus. They are there to encourage him as takes on the last and most important leg of his journey to the cross. Here is where it is good for us to remember that doctrine we learned about in our catechism days, called Jesus’ active obedience. Jesus in his active obedience keeps all the commandments we cannot. Jesus in his active obedience is tempted in every way just as we are but does not sin. And not only does he do this, he grows as a human being, so that in every age and every stage of his life, he keeps God’s commands for us, in our place. So here are Moses and Elijah commending, complimenting and even worshipping Jesus. You can just see Moses there saying, “So long ago, you commanded me to command a rock to pour forth water from a rock as a sign of your mercy, but instead, I made that preaching of gospel a preaching of law. I am not worthy, Jesus, but you are.” You can just see Elijah there saying, “So long ago Jezebel wrote me a note saying that by this time tomorrow you”ll be as dead as all the prophets of Baal who died in one day. And, instead of trusting in you, I ran as far and as fast as I could. I am not worthy, Jesus, but you are.”

Jesus received their compliments and commendations. He was built up by them. But here is where we see our sin. God provides people who are there for us. And what do our Christian family and friends do for us? Out of love for us, they correct us. And when they correct us, we face this real temptation to get angry. But just as real as that temptation is, there’s the opposite temptation. There is the temptation to disregard the compliments and commendations too. Years and years ago when I was in school, I had an english teacher who said that he went to a band concert. And after the concert was done, he went up to a young woman who had played her instrument very well. And he said to the young woman, “well done.” And, in response, she said, “It was nothing.” He got angry and said, “when I say you did well, I meant it. I know what I’m talking about.’” How much worse is it when we recognize that God is the one who gives to us our gifts.

And so, there is a temptation to sin by refusing corrections from from friends and also from refusing compliments from friends too. But look what our good and gracious God does. He provides people—people who are there for us. When we sin, especially when we sin like this, we need forgiveness. And through our Christians friends and family he forgives us. Yes, they remind us that our sins are forgiven. But they do even more, they actually forgive our sins as if God had forgiven them himself. In John 20, Jesus says: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”” (John 20:23 NIV11-GKE) And that’s how our good and gracious God provides people who are there for us. Yes, they correct and commend us. But even better than all of this, they forgive us. They point us to the Jesus we find in these words who was uplifted and commended by his friends, Moses and Elijah. But unlike us, instead of refusing their true commendations, he was encouraged by them.

Your good and gracious Lord provides people who are there for you. But as these words travel on, there is another way in which God provides people who are there for you: 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”” (Matthew 17:5–9 NIV11-GKE)

Our friends forgive us. But look who the person is that God’s word focuses in on. A voice came from heaven. And that voice was God, the Father. And so our friends forgive us. But notice what the Father does. He reminds us. He speaks from the cloud and says that Jesus is his beloved Son. And because he is his beloved son, he urgently asks us to listen to him. Peter, James and John were not able to do what the Father asked of them. Even though Jesus had spoken about what would happen to him—how he would suffer, be crucified and die, nevertheless, they did not listen to him. And so, they were completely unprepared for all the sad tragedies that were poured out on Jesus.

And can we say that we are any different? The Father says, “listen.” But how many sermons have we drifted in an out of focus in? How many times have we read God’s word as if it were a task to get done instead of God speaking to us by his Holy Spirit?

And that’s why it’s good news to learn that God provides people who are there for us. And in these words who is the one who is there for us? It’s the Father himself. And what does he do? He reminds us. All the truths in his word that lay dusty and neglected, he goes out of his way to remind us. What kind of Savior we have—one who was rightly and properly complimented and instead of refusing, Jesus received that compliment. And he did so in our place. That is what the Father reminds us of. And that is what he then urges us to listen to and gives us the ability to hear.

And so, my dear friends in Christ, rejoice. Just as Moses and Elijah were there for Jesus, so God has placed Christian friends in your life for you. But unlike with Jesus, the greatest gift they give you is the forgiveness that Jesus won for you. Your friends forgive you. And rejoice. For your Father reminds you again and again what kind of Son he has and the sort of Savior you worship. Amen.

Do Not Be Afraid (Epiphany 5)


Do Not Be Afraid

How could they not be terrified? When the Hebrews ran out of Egypt, they ran for their lives. Pharaoh’s army was behind them. And at least they had a path forward. Pharaoh and his army were behind them. But at least the way in front of them was clear. But then they came to the Red Sea. And whatever courage, strength and hope they had vanished. It’s important to start with this picture in our minds: Pharaoh and his chariots behind them and the Red Sea in front of them. For it’s only with that image burned into our brains that what comes next makes sense. In Exodus 14, God’s word tells us: 13 But Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation that he will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you must be quiet.”” (Exodus 14:13–14 CSB17)

In these words Moses tells the Hebrews who were terrified that there wsa no reason to be. And again, remember what the situation looks like: Pharaoh is waiting behind them to cut them down and the Red Seas is waiting ahead of them to drown them. He tells them to not be afraid. And you’ll notice the order in which these events happen. And it almost always follows this pattern in the bible: First, God’s people hear the message. Second, God’s people are delivered. Why doesn’t it happen the other way? Why aren’t the people delivered and then later on after that Moses says: “You see what kind of God you have?” The Lord shares his message first because he gives strength through his message. God’s word is powerful. It creates faith in our hearts to know who the true God is and trust in him. It conveys the forgiveness that Jesus won for us on the cross to us. It gives us strength to take our stand on God’s promises just as Moses told the Hebrews to so long ago.

And as we face these words today the challenge we face is that we know them here, in our minds, but we so often don’t know them here, in our hearts. And we see evidence of this in how we treat God’s word. When we encounter scary and truly frightful times in our lives, how do we deal with it? If you’re on a plane and you look out over the vast land that you’re flying over and you realize that if all those electrical devices up front gave out, you would crash into that ground, what is is ever so easy to latch onto for strength and courage? Statistics. “They say that it’s more safe to fly than it is to drive.’” You go in for a cancer screening, and you try to find solace and strength in the fact that your doctor or your hospital has a good track record in treating this type of cancer. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t do homework and find a safe airline and a safe hospital. But when fear threatens to take you over, wouldn’t it be so much better to remind yourself of what God speaks to you in his word? That’s what Moses does to his terrified congregation. He urges them to not be afraid. Then he follows that exhortation up with a promise from God’s word.

So, my dear friends in Christ, do not be afraid. For God gives strength through his message. But God also gives strength in a different way: 15 The Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to break camp. 16” (Exodus 14:15 CSB17)

God gives strength. He gives strength through his message. But he also gives strength to his messengers. The assembled thousands of Hebrews with Chariots behind them and a drowning Red Sea in front of them were not the only ones who needed strength and courage. Moses needed that strength and courage just as much as they did. So the Lord tells Moses, “Why do you keep crying out to me?”\footnote{”מַה־תִּצְעַ֖ק אֵלָ֑י“ }(Exodus 14:15 BHS-T)}} He deliberately comforts and strengthens the one who is delivering the message.

And the Lord reminds us of this because there will be a time when you will be the one who has to reach out with God’s message and give strength to others through God’s message. And you might be afraid. As a pastor it’s my calling and job to be the messenger. But there have been times it has not been easy. There have been times when I’ve been able with such strength and confidence to share God’s promises and truth to people amidst such hardships they faced in their lives. But there have been other times when I said the words but had so difficult of a time believing them. I remember visiting a shut-it my Vicar year month after month. This lady had severe health problems. And on top of that both her eye-sight and hearing were almost gone. And I would say, “The Lord has a plan and purpose for your life. Cheer up, the Lord will lift you up in his own good time.” And then I’d look at her and think to myself, “how can I believe the words I am saying”?

The Lord does not just give strength through the message. He also gives strength to the messenger. And a time will come in your life when you will have to be the messenger too. And in the words that follow we see how the Lord gives strength to us: 16 As for you, lift up your staff, stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 As for me, I am going to harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them, and I will receive glory by means of Pharaoh, all his army, and his chariots and horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I receive glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”” (Exodus 14:16–18 CSB17)

The Lord gives messengers strength by teaching them that the Lord is doing more than we can see. We can maybe do one or two tasks well at the same time. Our Lord is doing thousands of tasks at the same time. And he’s doing them all perfectly. And so we can go to the person who is fearful, grieving or even dying and tell them that there is so much going on here that we cannot see. We cannot juggle the universe and eternity. But our good and gracious Lord can. And after we are done preaching that sermon to others we can then preach the very same sermon to ourselves. So, the Lord lets us know that he is doing more than we can see. But there’s another way he gives us messengers strength: 19 Then the angel of God, who was going in front of the Israelite forces, moved and went behind them. The pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and stood behind them. 20 It came between the Egyptian and Israelite forces. There was cloud and darkness, it lit up the night, and neither group came near the other all night long. 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back with a powerful east wind all that night and turned the sea into dry land. So the waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with the waters like a wall to them on their right and their left.” (Exodus 14:19–22 CSB17)

These words are so beautiful to picture, aren’t they? The Lord goes in between the Hebrews and the Egyptians in this pillar of cloud. Then he cleaves the water in half and makes dry ground appear. And the Hebrews walk through on dry ground. But my dear friends in Christ, don’t miss the obvious and important point. What the Lord promises, he keeps. Moses tells the people at the beginning that the Egyptians they saw that day they would never see again. And the promise he made, he kept.

The Lord does the same for us today. One of the joys of being older is that you have a track record, a past to build on. You can ask yourself the question, “when I am full of fear, are there times in the past I can remember that I was terrified and then the Lord delivered me?” And the older you are, the more examples you can find where the answer is: “yes.”

So the Lord gives strength to the messengers. First, he does this by reminding us that the Lord is doing more than we can see. And second, the Lord reminds us of times he has keep his promises in the past.

And with all of this, both as ones who hear the message and as ones who share the message, instead of being afraid, we, like the Hebrews here can take our stand. For the Lord gives strength through his message. And the Lord gives strength to his messengers. Amen.

Caring is Surprising (Epiphany 4)


Caring Is Surprising

Caring is acting. From little on up, we are taught that if we care about someone, we don’t just say that we care, we show we care. The problem is that, as you grow up, you realize that sometimes, despite how much you care, you aren’t able to help. You can go with your friend or family member to the hospital to be there for them. But when the doctor comes out and says the name of the condition that your friend has, you cannot take that condition away. There have been times when I couldn’t even pronounce the name of the health condition that the person had, let alone cure it. Caring is acting. But what if you can’t act, what do you do? That is the context we find ourselves in in Matthew 8: 1 When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. 4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”” (Matthew 8:1–4 NIV11-GKE)

Here in these words we see one surprising event after another. First, we find a leper who kneels at Jesus’ feet. This might not seem like a huge, masive event. After all, when people had diseases not just some, but many people found themselves at Jesus’ feet, asking, begging for help. But what was different here? This man at Jesus’ feet had leprosy. He wasn’t allowed to be there at Jesus’ feet. If anyone had a contagious skin disease he was supposed to be outside the camp, shouting distance away from Jesus, not at his feet.

And if that’s surprising, what happens next is even more so. Jesus heals the man. But before he does so, what does he do? He reaches out and touches the man. That was an action people did not take. The man was contagious. And on top of that, it was forbidden according to the Old Testament law for anyone to reach out and touch a leper. And yet Jesus did so.

That brings us to the important question: why? Why did Jesus reach out and touch the man? Notice the words that man used. The man said, “if you are willing”.1 And he said, “If you are able.”2  Jesus was both. He was willing to care for this man. But even more amazing he was able. He was able to do for this man what no one else could. Yes, he could heal the man of his leprosy. But there’s even more going on here than that. He could reach out and touch him without breaking the law and catching a disease. He could show that he cared for him as a human being when others were not able to—even if they wanted to. How long? How long was it that this man went without his family members hugging him or even putting their hand on his shoulder? How many people could he look at from a distance enjoying their lives putting their hands on each other, showing how much they cared for each other. But he could not.

And so, the caring we see here in these words is surprising. It is so very surprising that Jesus cared enough to reach out and touch this man before he healed him. And these words serve as a powerful reminder to us that there will be times in our lives when we are not able to take action. We are not able to care for others in the way we would like. We cannot solve their problems or take away their pains. And this too shows us our sins, doesn’t it? For there are times we want to be the big problem solvers that we cannot be. A person comes to us seeking a shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen, but we dive in, trying to solve problems that we cannot. Or, we make the opposite mistake. Since we cannot do anything to help, we do nothing. We do not even pray to Jesus on behalf of others when we know that Jesus can help. I was stranded in New Orleans a few days ago. They had rare, record-breaking freezing temperatures. And I was riding to the airport with and UBER driver. And he gave me the full story. Their politicians are corrupt. Their infrastructure is old and failing. So when this freeze came, the only thing they could do is shut down the entire area. That is a problem I cannot solve. That was a problem he could not solve. And it’s so easy to react to that by saying to yourself: “I’m glad I don’t live in New Orleans.” But instead, I could have prayed to my Savior Jesus. He is the only one who could actually do anything for them. But, I have to admit, I forgot to.

Our sin is either to try to solve problems we cannot, or to forget to pray to the one who is actually able to help. And that’s why these words are so wondrous to hear this morning. For Jesus doesn’t just care about bodies, he also cares about souls. He doesn’t just care about bodily health, he also cares about spiritual salvation. He cares for us too. And he forgives our sins because he is the only one who cannot be corrupted by sin.

Caring is surprising. It is surprising how Jesus is able to care for us. But these words travel on to show us another way that caring is surprising: 5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” 7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” 8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.” (Matthew 8:5–13 NIV11-GKE)

It is surprising how Jesus is able to care for us. But in these words here we see that it is surprising to Jesus for him to see how much we care for him. In Caparnaum a centurion asks for Jesus. A centurion is a Roman commander who is charge of anywhere from 300 – 3000 soldiers. He asks that Jesus would heal his child.3 Jesus begins to follow. But then the centurion stops him. He tells Jesus that he is a man of authority. He tells a guy to go, and he goes. He tells another guy to ‘get over here’, and he obeys. If he can say the word and give the command and it gets done, how much more can Jesus give the command and drive away what is harming the man’s servant.

And Jesus is surprised.4 And so, in the previous section, we are the ones who are surprised. For Jesus is able to help when we cannot. But here Jesus is the one who is surprised. He is surprised at a man who had such a strong faith that he took Jesus at his word and trusted in him.

And the same happens today. Every time without signs in the sky or leadings in our hearts we simply trust in the power and promises in God’s word, Jesus is surprised and overjoyed. Every time we repent of our sins and trust that just as Jesus cleansed the leprosy from that man, so also in our baptisms he cleanses us from our sins, Jesus is surprised. Every time we take Jesus at his word that along with bread and wine, he is there in his body and bread in the Lord’s Supper to forgive our sins, he is surprised. Every time we pray to him when tragedies strike others because we know this is beyond our control, he is surprised. Every time we trust in him when hardships and trials flood into our own lives, he is surprised. In all these he is surprised and overjoyed. For he is the one who gave us faith in him. And he is the one who preserves that faith in us. And yet, every time we take him at his word and trust in him, in a surprising way he is surprised and overjoyed.

So, my dear friends in Christ, with all this in mind, pray. Pray to Jesus for when you cannot, he is able to and he wants to help. And also continue to trust in him. For he will keep his promises and he is surprised and overjoyed when we do so.

Caring is surprising. It is surprising how Jesus is able to care for us. And it is surprising to Jesus how we are able to show our care for him by trusting in him. Amen.

1 “ⲕⲉ̄ⲉⲁⲛⲑⲉⲗⲏⲥ” (Matthew 8:2 GNT-VAT)

2 “ⲇⲩⲛⲁⲥⲁⲓ” (Matthew 8:2 GNT-VAT)

3 “ⲡⲁⲓⲥⲙⲟⲩ” (Matthew 8:6 GNT-VAT)

4 “ⲉⲑⲁⲩⲙⲁⲥⲉⲛ” (Matthew 8:10 GNT-VAT)