Second Sunday in Lent

Cross

Do You Want To Follow Jesus?


There is a time to be silent and a time to speak. This is a proverb that the bible speaks to us. And one of the areas in which this is true is when you’re a student. If you don’t know the answer to the question the teacher is asking, then is the time to be silent and learn. But when you do know the answer, then that might be the time to speak. That is the context we find ourselves in as we walk through the end of Mark 8. We read: 29 “But you,” he asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he strictly warned them to tell no one about him.” (Mark 8:29–30 CSB17)


Jesus the master teacher had asked the disciples who they thought he was. Peter spoke up for them all and said that Jesus was the Christ. But then notice what happens. Jesus warns them to not tell others about Jesus. Now was the time for Peter to be silent and to learn. But what happens next? 31 Then he began to teach them that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and rise after three days. 32 He spoke openly about this.” (Mark 8:31–32 CSB17)


What is the difference between a teenager and a toddler? The teenager will find your inconsistencies and hypocrisies and challenge you. A toddler will not. Peter here in these words is growing as a follower of Jesus and he is beginning to show it. Peter is told to be silent and private with what he knows about Jesus. But look at Jesus. Jesus is doing the opposite of what he says. Jesus is not practicing what he preaches. Jesus is boldly, loudly and publicly laying out his future in front of everyone. So Peter has to act. We read: 32 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning around and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns.”” (Mark 8:32–33 CSB17)


Jesus is not practicing what he preaches. Jesus tells them to be silent, but he blabs out as much as he wants. So Peter takes Jesus aside and tells Jesus to stop. And if Jesus was preaching boldly and loudly before, he gets twice as blunt and twice as loud. He shouts out to the crowd as he is speaking to Peter and he says, “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter does not get to be the professor. Peter has a lot to learn. And Jesus will not stand for Peter pretending to be a professor when he still had a childish understanding of the bible. But notice what Jesus does then. He uses this as an opportunity to teach everyone. We read: 34 Calling the crowd along with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me and the gospel will save it. 36 For what does it benefit someone to gain the whole world and yet lose his life? 37 What can anyone give in exchange for his life?” (Mark 8:34–37 CSB17)


Jesus reaches out to the crowd and through them to us today asking that amazing and important question: Do you want to follow Jesus? And so, let me ask you, do you want to follow Jesus? If so, then learn what following Jesus looks like. Following Jesus is saying “no” to yourself. Well, what does that mean? Jesus answers that question. But he answers that question with a figure of speech we don’t use today. It’s called a Chiasm. In Greek the letter was shaped like a big “X.” And it was shaped like a big ‘X” because when you follow the pattern of thought, if you were to draw it out on paper it would make an ‘x’ shape. For example, in the Old Testament we hear the proverb, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” (Genesis 9:6 NIV) It makes an ‘x’ shape. And the Holy Spirit does this to make a very important point. We find the same pattern here in these words: Whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life because me and the gospel will save it.


Now here, too, we need to define this word, life. In english versions this word is either translated as “life” or “soul.”1 And here in this context it is what matters most to you. What is the foundation of your life? What is your heart and soul? If all the time and treasures God gives to you revolve around you and you cling to them with a death grip, then what will happen to you when you die? If you love your time and your treasures more than your Savior, that is idolatry. And when you die you will lose all your earthly time and all your earthly treasures and then burn in hell forever. However, if you willingly, gladly, joyfully give up your earthly time and treasures because God promises to you in his word that there is so much better waiting in heaven for you, well then, when you die, you receive time…forever and you receive treasures that are uncountable.


But, my dear friends in Christ, it’s hard to look at these verses and not see our sin. We see our sins so closely when we focus in on those few words, “because of the gospel.” It is only when we treasure God’s word and grow in it that we are ready—both to share our faith and die for that faith. Look at Peter. He was so ready to be Jesus’ professor. He was so ready to rebuke Jesus for his inconsistency. But on Maundy Thursday night when a little servant girl asked if he knew Jesus, he denied Jesus. That’s why Jesus says to him and us today, “deny yourself!”


In these words Jesus asks and invites us to lose some of our life here so that we will be ready hereafter. Or, to put it differently, each of us has a sinful nature that loves the things of this world. And that same sinful nature absolutely hates learning about Jesus in his word. If you ask one Christian guy about the baseball stats for the Twins, he can tell you every detail. You ask another Christian lady about her favorite cooking show, and she’ll go on forever. But if you ask either of them how many psalms were written by king David, both of them will stare at you like a cow staring at a new gate. There’s nothing wrong with hobbies and habits. But when we show that we know more about them that we do about God’s word, that proves that we care more about them than God’s word. Jesus doesn’t ask us to lose our life because of hobbies and habits. No, he asks us to lose our life because of the gospel.


Isn’t is wonderful, my dear friends in Christ, to know that what cling to so closely and dearly, Jesus gave up. Jesus grew up as the son of a carpenter. He knew his woodworking better than anyone who ever existed. But that wasn’t his life. God’s word was his life. Doing his Father’s will was his life. Jesus gave up what we cling to so closely and dearly to earn forgiveness for us. Yes and that even meant giving up his perfect life itself on Good Friday. He did this so that our sins of knowing more details about our hobbies and habits than we do about God’s word are forgiven along with all the other sins.


So do you want follow Jesus? Well then, my dear friends, learn your faith. Ready God’s word at home. And come to bible study here. But there’s more. We read: “For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”” (Mark 8:38 CSB17)


Do you want to follow Jesus? Then learn your faith. But also live your faith. You see, as Jesus speaks these word, that was not the time for Peter to speak boldly and publicly. But that time would come. The book of Acts proves that to us in detail. And the same is true for us. There is also a time for us to speak. But my dear friends, how we live our lives shapes how we speak about Jesus. The more we are in God’s word the less ashamed we are of Jesus and his word. And then we are able to speak. And we don’t have to make up weird, contrived ways to share our faith. We don’t have to go out and buy T-shirts that say, “Ask me about my faith!” No, we simply live our faith and then be ready to speak about our faith. A guy I used to know put it this way. He said that the answer to anything his co-workers would ask him was always the same: “church.” What are you doing Wednesday night? I’m going to church. You see, he simply lived out his Christian life and let people know he was a Christian. But, as you know, this is only the first step. The next step is a conversation. And usually the conversation starts wth the words, “I don’t agree with that.” People challenge us an confront us when they learn about our faith. What is the solution to that? Bible study. It drives us back to God’s word. Do you want to follow Jesus. Learn your faith. Live your faith.



1 “ⲯⲩⲭⲏⲛ” (Mark 8:35 GNT-ALEX)

First Sunday in Lent

Abraham and Isaac
Abraham and Isaac

Put Me To The Test


Put it to the test. When I was a child there were a bunch of ads on TV about crash-test dummies. They made me laugh. There were two of them. And they were smashed and crashed. They were exploded and torn apart. And it was a really effective ad because today, more than 20 years later I remember the point of the ad. Since they were smashed and crushed, you will not be. Crash test dummies need to be put to the test. Cars need to be put to the test. But this morning God’s word shows us that it’s not just possessions that need to be put to the test. People need to be put to the test too. In Genesis 22, we read: 1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”” (Genesis 22:1–2 NIV11-GKE)


One day the Lord appears to Abraham. And, without any warning ahead of time he tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son whom he loves. Now, before we start off on the wrong road, it’s important to understand what kind of sacrifice this was. The Hebrew word here is not the one used for a sin offering. This important to understand. For the Lord was not telling Abraham to earn forgiveness and earn salvation by killing his only son. No, the offering here was the ‘whole burnt offering.’1 When you brought an animal forward as a whole burnt offering, you killed it and then burned it. And neither you nor the priest got any of that back. It all belonged to the Lord. It was a way of showing absolute, complete trust and dedication to the Lord. With this offering the Lord was telling Abraham, “Prove to me that you are devoted to me.”


But what happens next is fascinating. Abraham gets up early the next morning. Who of us, if we were in Abraham’s shoes would do that? I might spend one last week with my child before I put him to death. But Abraham didn’t. For this was an urgent, important matter to him. For his Lord asked it of him. But the words continue: 3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.” (Genesis 22:3–8 NIV11-GKE)


In these words the Lord puts Abraham to the test. But notice who he puts to the test. He also puts Isaac to the test. On the list of awkward conversations to have, this is pretty much at the top of the list. Isaac here is what we would call a ‘young man.’ Maybe he was 10. Maybe he was 16. No matter how you look at it, he was not stupid. He realized that if you’re going to offer up a sacrifice, you actually have a sacrifice.


And notice then Abraham’s response. He tactfully says that the Lord would provide. And notice the other detail. Abraham leaves the two servants at the foot of the mountain and then he speaks that amazing word, “we.” He does not say, “we will go up and I will come back.” He says “we will go up and we will come back.”


Notice what is going on here in these words. The Lord puts Abraham to the test. The Lord puts Isaac to the test too. And he makes them wrestle with seemingly contradictory truths. The Lord told Abraham that the Messiah would come from his son. Then the Lord told him to kill his son. These were absolutely contradictory truths that he expected Abraham and Isaac to obey without question. And doesn’t he do the same today? He says he will give us daily bread, then we get fired. He promises to preserve us, then we get cancer. He promises to watch over us, then we get into a car accident. Two absolutely contradictory truths. And today, the Lord still expects us to trust and obey him. And here is where we see our sin. When the Lord puts us to the test with two seemingly contradictory truths We are tempted to doubt is promises. And even worse could happen. After we doubt, we can blame God. And so one bad sin is followed by and even worse one.


But look at Abraham. He says, “We.” How can he say “we” will go up and “we” will come back? In the New Testament we read these words: “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead” (Hebrews 11:19 NIV) Abraham concluded that somehow the God who does not lie would make it right. So he concluded that if he put his son to death, then God would raise him from the dead so that through Isaac the Messiah would eventually be born.


So the Lord puts us to the test. And through us the Lord puts others to the test. But where do these words lead to? 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”” (Genesis 22:9–14 NIV11-GKE)


Look at these words. For here in these words we see a man who was ready to be tested. But who would save him him from all the many other times he was tested and then doubted and then blamed God? I tell you the truth, it wasn’t a ram caught by its horns in a bush. No, instead, it was what that ram pictured and pointed to: Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. For all the times Abraham and Isaac were tested and then doubted and blamed God, Jesus’ death paid for there sins. And we see that in even more clarity in our gospel this morning. For every time that Abraham and Isaac, and you and I were tested and then failed, look at Jesus our substitute. For 4o days Jesus was continually and constantly put to the test by Satan. And not once did he give in or give up. And so, Jesus saves us from our sins of doubt and blame. But there’s more in these words: 15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”” (Genesis 22:15–18 NIV11-GKE)


Not only does Jesus save us, but he also blesses us. Jesus is the one who rescues us from our sins. Jesus is the one who gives us this great gift of faith to trust him. Jesus is the one who strengthens that faith through testing. And even though he is the one who did all the heavy-lifting, when we do trust and cling to him, he gives us the credit and blesses us just as he did Abraham.


Where does that leave us here this morning? If the Lord saved Abraham and Isaac from their sins of doubt and blame, and then he blessed them, then we are left in this wonderful place where we can silently, or not-so-silently pray to our Triune God, “put me to the test.” Words you would never say out there in the world, you can say boldly and confidently here: O Lord, put me to the test. For if you crush, you will rebuild. If you take away, in your own good time, you will give. If you remove your caring hand, you will bring it back. And so, my dear friends in Christ, let that always be your prayer that you speak without any hesitation: O Lord, put me to the test. Amen.



1 ”עֹלָ֔ה“(Genesis 22:2 BHS-T)

Ash Wednesday

Lent

Turn To Jesus


Some conversations are uncomfortable. There are sins that the bible speaks about that we don’t usually like to speak about. But the Holy Spirit reserves the right to preach against not just the sins we are familiar and comfortable speaking about, but also the ones we are not comfortable speaking about. And this evening we see that so very clearly as the Holy Spirit reminds us about Judas. And so, in Matthew 27, we read: 1 When daybreak came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put him to death. 2 After tying him up, they led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. 3 Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. 4 “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he said. “What’s that to us?” they said. “See to it yourself!”” (Matthew 27:1–4 CSB17)


In these words we see the end of human hope for Jesus. If there were a chance of Jesus getting through Friday without being murdered, as we read these words, we realize that hope is gone. And we aren’t the only ones who realize that it’s gone. Judas realizes that, humanly speaking, all hope of Jesus not being murdered is gone. And it affects him deeply and profoundly. Judas is filled with regret and remorse. Judas feels such shame and pain over the fact that he is the one who stabbed Jesus in the back. He is the one who paved the way for Jesus to be murdered.


But, my dear friends in Christ, notice what word is not used in these words. All the english translations use words like “regret” and “remorse” for the word, accurately reflecting the greek word.1 But what word should we have expected to be there but is not? It’s another “R” word. Where is Repentance? You see, there is a huge difference between Regret and Repentance. Regret and remorse is suffering the shame of your sin. It is feeling absolutely horrible over the sin you have committed because of the shame and embarrassment you have brought on yourself. But what is it not? It is not repentance. Repentance has two parts: first, repentance is terror. It is a recognition that your sins rightly cause you shame and earn hell for you. But there is also a second part. Repentance is not just terror. It is also trust. It is trust that when Jesus promises that his blood covers your sin, he means it. Judas had so much regret and so much remorse. But he didn’t have repentance. And where did that lead to? “So he threw the silver into the temple and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5 CSB17)


The regret and remorse that Judas had drove him to suicide. As I mentioned at the beginning, there are topics that uncomfortable to speak about. So there stands in front of us the temptation to sidestep this issue. Why not have Pastor Lindner take up this issue in bible study instead of having it addressed in the pulpit? I suppose, if on a given Sunday the vast majority of people who showed up to worship also came for bible study, we could do that. But what’s the problem? Across our synod, on any given Sunday about 15\% of our members are in bible study. So if we wait to speak about this in bible study, most people will never hear about it. And out of all the parts of God we preach on, this is the only section of scripture that speaks about suicide. And so, tonight, even though it may make us uncomfortable, we speak about because it’s where these words in scripture drive to: Judas went out and hanged himself.


So, my dear friends in Christ, in what context does suicide happen? There are two answers to that question. First, there are suicides that happen despite our faith. One of the effects of the fall into sin is that our bodies can be corrupted and diseased. It happens in ways we can see, (e.g. cancer). But it also happens in ways we might be able to see. In mental illness a person’s brain doesn’t work the way it does for others. And the chemistry in the brain misfires. The result is that a person with mental illness may take his or her own life. And the same can happen with heavy medication. I have ministered to people who, due to the pain they were experiencing were prescribed heavy-duty-medications. And, over time, it changed them. And if there are Christians in these circumstances who take their own lives we give them a Christian burial. For just as a condition like cancer can change their bodies on the outside, so also, a condition caused by mental illness or harsh medication can change them on the inside. Jesus died for their sins. And they now rest with Jesus.


They committed suicide despite their faith. But their faith in Jesus was intact and the Lord took them home to heaven. That is one context in which suicide happens. But my dear friends there is another. There are times that suicide happens because of unbelief. And here, in these words, we see how Satan likes to have this happen. There is a progression. First, a Christian commits a shameful sin. Second, instead of turning away from that sin and to Jesus, the person clings to it. The young man who is addicted to porn refuses to confess the sin and turn to Jesus and instead absorbs himself in that sin. The young woman goes to three years of college and realizes that her major is nothing she could ever do as a job, let alone a career. She flunks out of her classes. And then, with thousands of dollars of debt, she refuses to tell her family. Instead of confessing her sin and turning to Jesus, she turns to herself and wallows in her shame.


So it starts with a shameful sin. It leads then to despair. And here, when I say, ‘despair’, I don’t mean ‘feeling bad.’ I mean the Christian without any mental illness and without any heavy medication clings to his or her sin instead of their Savior. And eventually that leads them to commit suicide. And if they do this as an expression of and result of unbelief, they end up in hell for one reason: their faith in Jesus is gone.


So there are two contexts in which suicide happens. There are some Christians who commit suicide despite their faith. Their faith in Christ is intact. Their illness takes their life. But their Savior preserves their souls. And there are also those who commit suicide because of unbelief. What then is our reaction to all of this? These words here in Matthew lead us to turn away from our shameful sins and turn to Jesus. Just like Judas, Peter betrayed his Savior too. What is the difference between the two? Peter repented. And Judas had deep regret and remorse. Turn to Jesus. For there will be those times in your life when you will commit shameful sins—the sorts of sins you don’t want to talk about to anyone. And when those days come Satan holds out two temptations. First, he says, “what you did is so bad it cannot be forgiven.” Second, he says, “No one has done what you have done. You are alone and you deserve to be alone.”


But, my dear friends in Christ, what does your suffering Savior say? Jesus says, “I died for embezzlers, porn-addicts, drug-addicts and murderers. The sins you could never confess to anyone, confess to me, for I have paid for them and forgiven them with my own life.” And when Satan says we are alone, Jesus says, “Never will I leave you; Never will I forsake you.”


That it the message we need to preach—to ourselves and to others. The teenagers who are tempted to commit suicide—they need to hear those words of Jesus. Years ago, in Columbine CO, two teenage boys killed many people and then themselves. And in the locker of one of those boys was a journal in which he wrote that he was a product of evolution; his horrible urges were parts of his animal ancestors left over in him. If only he had heard and believed those words of Jesus, “I forgive your sin and I will never leave you.” Grown-ups need to hear these words. The highest growing age category of suicides today is white males in their 50’s. They lose their jobs and then can’t find new ones for months and even years. If only they knew the Father in Heaven who promises to give them their daily bread and forgive their daily sin. The Elderly need to hear this too. Every elderly person who has lost their spouse and home and then ends up in a nursing home ends up at one point saying, “I am useless and alone.” Then euthanasia begins to seem like a good idea. If only they would hear these words here about a Savior who promises to raise their lowly bodies to be like his glorious body. If only they heard once more those words, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”


And so, these words in Matthew drive us to confront an uncomfortable sin. But these amazing promises drive us to a Savior who is full of comfort. He has promised that he takes away the sin of the world and he will never leave us. Turn to him. Amen.



1 “ⲙⲉⲧⲁⲙⲉⲗⲏⲑⲉⲓⲥ” (Matthew 27:3 GNT-ALEX)

Epiphany 7

Epiphany

The Son of Man Cares


When I think of Grandma, I think of cinnamon roles. What you have to understand about me is that I am the youngest of four sibling. And my dad was the youngest of seven children. So three out of four of my grandparents were dead before I was born. And, by the time I came along there were so many grandchildren that I was more of a number than a name. But when we went to grandma’s house I could tell that Grandma cared for me. I could tell because I could smell it. As soon as I came in the front door of Grandma’s house I could smell fresh cinnamon roles. Grandma had arthritis. And Grandma had a hard time at 80+ years old talking to a little child. But I could tell she cared for me because I could smell it and taste it. In your life, what are the ways that the people around you show that they care for you? In the words we look at this morning we see so very clearly that Jesus, the Son of Man cares. But even more importantly, we see how he cares for us. In Mark 2 we read: 1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.” (Mark 2:1–4 NIV11-GKE)


As we read these word we see that these four men cared for their friend because they showed it. They cared for their friend so much that when they got to the house where Jesus was at, instead of turning home, they lifted their paralyzed friend to the top of the roof. They dug and tore the roof away. And then they lowered the man to lay at Jesus’ feet. But what’s interesting here is what Jesus sees. We read: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”” (Mark 2:5 NIV11-GKE)


What does Jesus see? Jesus doesn’t as much see their effort as their faith. And what follows is fascinating. They go through all this effort to lay their friend at Jesus’ feet so that he would heal him. But Jesus doesn’t do that. Instead Jesus cares enough to see what they do not. Jesus cares enough to see that the most important thing this paralyzed man needed was not healing for his body, but instead healing for his soul. He needed forgiveness. So he says to the man, “Child, your sins are forgiven you.”1 These words begin to make sense to us when we have chronic, continual pain and sickness. When you have chronic pain and continual sickness. I came from a congregation where the people were much older than they are here overall. And when a person deals with cancer, COPD, and arthritis over the course of decades your body begins to wage war against your soul. You pray for relief, but there is none. And where you end up is asking the question, “Jesus, don’t you care?” You conclude that you are not saved from your sins. Why? Because you are sick every day. You conclude that you are not forgiven. Why? Because you are so frail everyday. But Jesus shows that he cares. He shows that he cares by seeing what no one else saw that day. He made sure that that man knew before his body was healed that his sins were forgiven.


And Jesus does the same for us today. When I first moved to Pennsylvania, I would get a flu every Advent. Every December I would get this horrible flu. And I would pray for the Lord to take that horrible sickness and weakness away. But, finally, after several days, what did I get around to praying for? Forgiveness. That should have been the first thing I prayed for. But it was not because our sinful natures train us to think that we don’t need forgiveness. Instead, what we need is earthly health and earthly happiness.


But my dear friends in Christ. Jesus cares for us. He cares so much that he addresses what is most important: our forgiveness. Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins. And yes, even that sin of forgetting how much we need forgiveness is paid for there on the cross. And not only does he pay for our sin on the cross, but he also delivers that forgiveness through his word. And that is why this time we have in God’s word is so precious and valuable. For when God’s word is read, sung, and preached here in church Jesus is showing how much he cares for you. He cares for you enough to deliver forgiveness to you through his word. And the same happens at home. Whenever you open you bibles you are growing in faith. But don’t lose sight of the fact of what else is going on. As you read God’s word Jesus is delivering forgiveness to you.


So, with all the crowds around Jesus, squeezing him in, what he shows and preaches to his people is how much he cares. He cares enough to see and give what we need: forgiveness. But there’s more in these words: 6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”” (Mark 2:6–7 NIV11-GKE)


Jesus cares for us. And he shows this not just by seeing that we need forgiveness. He shows us by fighting for that forgiveness. In that great crowd of people gathered around Jesus there were scholars and professors of God’s word. They did not like Jesus. And they were looking for anything they could find against Jesus. And when Jesus forgives this man’s sin they remember a key teaching in God’s word. They remember that the only one who can properly and rightly forgive sin is God.


Now, my dear friends in Christ, Jesus knows this. He knows that the moment he addresses what this paralyzed man needs most, forgiveness, that is the moment the scholars and experts in the law will hate him. That is the moment they will begin to plot and plan to kill him. That is the moment they will begin to make his life miserable then and torturous as Jesus dies on the cross. Jesus knows all of this and yet he does it anyway. Jesus fights for this man’s forgiveness. For what good is it for Jesus to win this man’s forgiveness on the cross and deliver it through his word and then lose later on? So Jesus protects this man’s forgiveness and preserves it. He fights for it even though it means his own persecution and death.


And isn’t it sad to know that Jesus fights for us, but there have been times in our lives that we didn’t fight for him. There have been times in our lives when we know we should have taken our stand. We should have shared our faith. We should have said something to stand up for our Savior—but we didn’t. What a shameful sin that is. But that’s why these words are so precious to us. For what Jesus did for this man, he also does for you. Jesus wins your salvation there on the cross. He delivers it to you through his word. And he fights for it every day. The apostle Paul tells us: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5 NIV)


Jesus cares. He cares enough to see what is most important to us. Jesus cares enough to fight for what is important to us. But where do these words end? 8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:8–12 NIV11-GKE)


Is there any god that has ever been preached that is as wise as your God, the Triune God? Is there any Savior who has cared enough as your Savior, Jesus who sees the forgiveness that you forget and then fights for it? Well then, if this is true, then let our reaction to these words be the same as the crowds was. Let us praise God in our hearts and with our voices. This morning speak your praises to God and even sing them. For in these words you see how much Jesus cares for you. Amen.



1 “ⲧⲉⲕⲛⲟⲛⲁⲫⲉⲱ̅ ⲧⲁⲓⲥⲟⲓⲁⲓⲁⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲓⲁⲓⲥⲟⲩ” (Mark 2:5 GNT-ALEX)

Epiphany 5

Epiphany

Trust in the Lord


Do the bible and sports belong together? Every now and then at a football game you see someone holding a big sign that reads, “John 3:16.” And I suppose, there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course it assumes that a person who is not a Christian has a clue what “John” is and what “3:16” is. But there are worse signs you can hold up at a football game. But there is a context in which sports and the bible do not belong together. Every now and then you hear of an athlete who either memorizes or even worse, tattoos the words, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13 NIV11-GKE) When you see a guy do that, take note of him. Because, most likely, if he’s a quarterback, he’s going to get sacked. If he’s a running back, he’s probably going to be the one to fumble the ball. Why? When Paul wrote those words the game football didn’t exist. And it’s wrong to take those words out of context and make them into our own image. All of this I mention because, if there’s any part of the bible in which we need to understand the context, it’s the book of Isaiah. In the opening words of this part of the bible we read: “Jacob, why do you say, and, Israel, why do you assert: “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my claim is ignored by my God”?” (Isaiah 40:27 CSB17)


God does not hear me. That is what the Israelites are saying in these words. That is their complaint. But again, what is the context. As you read the book of Isaiah, recognize that there is one author, Isaiah. But there are two distinctly different parts. In the first part Isaiah speaks to Israelites who despised God’s word. And so, through Isaiah the Lord invites the Israelites to repent. And then threatens them that the Babylonians will come and destroy them if they don’t. Those Israelites did not listen to the Lord. So the Lord brought down the Babylonians against them and they were carried off into exile. Then Isaiah writes to the second group of people. He writes to a despairing group. You see, the children of that rebellious generation grew up, not in Israel, but instead, in Babylon. And they gave up trusting and hoping in the Lord. And from a human perspective they had every right to do so. For the Lord had promised that the Messiah was to be born in Israel—and in Israel alone! And if the Jewish people were not in Israel then there was no Savior for their sins. So the Lord promised to this despairing group of people that the Messiah would be born of a virgin in Israel. And this Messiah would be both God and human.


The context in Isaiah 40 is despair. It is despair over sin and the consequences of sin. And that, my dear friends in Christ, is a context we know all too well today, don’t we? A guy begins smoking in high school. And decades later he sees how horrible of a habit that is as his lungs are destroyed. And he even, with every ounce of strength in him stops. But the consequences of his sin remain. His lungs remain damaged. The young man grows up and gets married. He has his first child. And for the first time in his life he ‘mans up.’ He gets a job. He works hard. He works long hours over many years. But then what happens? The years go by, and with pain in his heart he realizes that his children are almost grown up and he was so busy working he didn’t really know them. And the consequences of sin remain. A girl is born. She grows up in a very non-Christian household. And she gets married to a Christian man. And through him she hears about Jesus and God’s word creates faith in her heart. She has children. And she wants more than anything to share God’s word with her children. But she fails to because she isn’t in the habit and because she has no idea how to accomplish this. And the consequences of sin remain. It is in that context that we too can cry out with complaints, saying, “My way is hidden from the Lord, My case is ignored by my God” When will my sin be forgiven? When will I be given strength to fight against that sin?


The Lord answers our complaint in a very fascinating way. Through Isaiah the Lord says, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never becomes faint or weary; there is no limit to his understanding.” (Isaiah 40:28 CSB17)


We are not eternal. We are not omnipotent. We are not omniscient. But the Lord is all of these and more. Now this might seem like a very stupid response for the Lord to speak. We all know this, don’t we? We memorize these atributes of God in catechism. But what good are they to us? Well, Isaiah tells us: 29 He gives strength to the faint and strengthens the powerless. 30 Youths may become faint and weary, and young men stumble and fall, 31 but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength;” (Isaiah 40:29–31 CSB17)


When I was a child my oldest brother used to get bored. And when he got bored that’s when everything fell apart. He would sometimes take whatever toy I was playing with and hold it high above my head. And I would jump and not be able to grap that toy. But, to make the situation even worse, he would lower the toy down to where I could reach it. And when I jumped he would quickly lift it out of my grasp. And the more frustrated I got, the more entertained he was.


We have to admit, that in our lives, there are times that it seems like that’s what God is doing to us. He is omniscient, omnipotent and eternal. But what good does that do us? Here in these words is where we see the truth. The Lord is omniscient, omnipotent and eternal. And what does he do? He gives to us his strength. But again, there is a context behind these words. Isaiah is not saying that because we are Christians we can become little gods will little sparks of the divine inside of all of us. No, instead, he is giving to us two important promises. first, despite what we might conclude in our everyday lives, Jesus has paid for our sin and we are forgiven. It is true that we can look in the past and see so many times and ways we have sinned. And we can see in our every day lives the consequences of those sins. And those consequences scream out to us, “You are not forgiven.” But these words are so beautiful. For they promise to us that our sins are forgiven. Christ’s strength is our strength. He is the one who lived for us and died for us.


But there’s also a second promise. The Lord gives us his strength so that we can persevere. Now notice the word I used. I did not say, “conquer” or become “perfect.” The Lord gives us his strength so that we can endure and persevere. We may have our daily load of sin and its consequences. But in Christ, they don’t seem as light. For he gives to us his very own strength. And the consequences of our sins may remain with us to the day we die. But with the knowledge that Christ’s strength is our own to forgive us and to cause us to persevere, we can carry on—even with joy in our hearts.


And as these words close, Isaiah paints a picture for us. What does this daily life of trusting in the Lord look like? We read: “they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not become weary, they will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 CSB17)


Notice the point that Isaiah is making here. Those attributes of God that seemed to be against us, now, as Christians who trust in the Lord, are now for us. Now, to drive home this point, I could speak about any of these three attributes, his omniscience, omnipotence or eternal nature. But, because my time is coming to a close, let me just speak about one of them. Just take a look at the Lord’s eternal nature. As sinful human beings, time is our enemy. Have you ever thought about that? I’ve been here ten years. But it flew by like a dream. I’ve baptized people’s children. I’ve buried their parents. And it all flew by. And in two days I’m going to get in a car and drive away. And I do not know when I will see you all again. For some other man will have the call and joy to be your pastor. What does it mean then when the Lord here says that he will give to us his strength? What it means is this: All of us who continue to trust in the Lord will see each other again. It’s OK to say goodbye if you know you are going to see a person again.


And that’s why, my dear, treasured brothers and sisters in Christ, let me leave you where I began. Parents, bring your children to Sunday School and read to them at home. When you call a pastor to teach you God’s word, actually come to bible class. When you rejoice at having a pastor once again in this pulpit, listen to him. Humble yourself when he preaches law, and rejoice when he preaches gospel to you. And treat him with the same care and compassion as you poured out on me and my family. Continue to trust in the Lord. For he will give your his strength. Amen.


Epiphany 4

Epiphany

Jesus Teaches With Authority


Beware of big words. Over the decade that I’ve been your pastor I’ve been teaching you that the danger in learning big words is that we think we know them, but the danger is this: that we either don’t know what the word means, or we aren’t able to actually tell others what the word means. And one is just as bad as another. This morning we bump into one of those words: authority. What does it mean to speak with authority? We might conclude that speaking with authority means that the person is really sincere and truly believes what he or she is saying. But that’s not how the word was used 2000 years ago. In the words we are just about to look at, we hear that the people were amazed that Jesus taught with authority. And I’ll give you a hint. That word does not mean that Jesus was just speaking authentically and sincerely. So what does it mean that Jesus taught with authority? Let’s read these words and find out: 21 They went into Capernaum, and right away he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and began to teach. 22 They were astonished at his teaching because he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not like the scribes.” (Mark 1:21–22 CSB17)


Here in these words we begin to understand what it means that Jesus taught with authority. We learn what authority is by contrast. Jesus did not teach like the teachers they were used to. You see, Jesus said the simple and clear words, “This is what the Lord says.”1 But the teachers of their own time would says words like, “I think, I feel, Some say…others say, I suppose.” Jesus would leave his hearers with a clear understanding of the truth. Their own teachers left them with a mountain of doubt.


So Jesus speaks with authority against the teacher’s doubt. And in this we see what authority is. Authority is simply saying what the truth is and taking your stand is. That is what authority looked like during Jesus’ day. And the same is true today. For forty years the Lord has blessed this congregation with faithful teachers who taught with authority. And you could tell that they taught with authority because, instead of saying , “I think, I feel, some say, others say,” they said, “This is what the Lord says.”


My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this is something to rejoice in. But it brings up a real question. And that question is: why. Why is it that a pastor would change from saying “thus saith the Lord” to saying “I think, I feel, I suppose”? A pastor can very easily change from speaking with authority to thinking his own opinion when he speaks with authority and his own people don’t like it. It sounds good to have a pastor who speaks with authority…until he speaks with authority against me. When your pastor condemns your own laziness, lustfulness, gossipping, lovelessness, then, all of a sudden, having a pastor who speaks with authority becomes a bad thing. And when the people push back, sad to say, there are many pastors who change from “this is what the Lord says” to “I think and I feel.”


As Christians we receive what God’s word says not just when it speaks comforting words to us, but also when it crushes us by exposing our sickening sin. We repent. But if God’s word is true when it comes to our sin, then it is also true when it comes to all the comforting promises contained in it. When it speaks about my forgiveness in Christ, my Salvation won by him, my resurrection from the dead paved by him—in all these areas God’s word speaks with authority. And because it speaks with authority, I know that my sins are forgiven.


Jesus speaks with authority. He speaks with authority against the teachers doubt. But he speaks with authority in another area too: 23 Just then a man with an unclean spirit was in their synagogue. He cried out, 24 “What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 25 Jesus rebuked him saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit threw him into convulsions, shouted with a loud voice, and came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and so they began to ask each other: “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once the news about him spread throughout the entire vicinity of Galilee.” (Mark 1:23–28 CSB17)


Jesus speaks with authority against the teachers’ doubt. But he also speaks with authority against the Devil’s Dominion. When Jesus spoke with authority people heard it and embraced that truth that Jesus spoke. But there was someone else listening to what Jesus was preaching. The Devil was there. And so the Devil pushed back. There was a man who was possessed by a Demon. And through this demon the Devil pushed back in two ways. First, he tried to discredit Jesus. Having a known-liar say that you are trustworthy is probably not what you would like to have happen to you. Even more so, a demon endorsing Jesus as the Holy One of God is the opposite of what Jesus would want.


So the Devil tries to discredit Jesus. But there is a second way he pushes back. He resists Jesus’ command. Jesus tells him to ‘shut up’ and ‘come out’ and the demon doesn’t. And even more so, he throws the man down to the ground trying to do as much damage as he can to the man. And look what happened. The Devil at every turn planned so much evil. But, at the end of the day, every evil the Devil planned and actually carried proved Jesus’ authority. Because authority doesn’t just speak the truth. It also produces results.


It’s somewhat funny to put yourselves in the shoes of the people gathered there. The man says all his demon-possessed crazy words. Jesus tells him to shut up. The demon doesn’t. Oooh, what is Jesus going to do? He commands the demon to come out. But the demon doesn’t. Hmmm, what is Jesus going to do now? The demon even throws the man to the ground. But at the end of the day Jesus is the one who has authority, not the Devil—and everyone knows it.


And my dear friends in Christ, the same is true today. But do you have the patience to wait till the end of the day? Do you have the tenacity and strength to cling to Jesus’ promises until he fulfills them? About a hundred years ago people went over to Israel and dug up almost everything. And they found Jericho. And when they found Jericho they also started reading the bible and they found out that the bible mentions not one, but two Jerichos. They used what they discovered to try and prove that the bible was full of lies. And the people lived the rest of their lives without archaeological proof that God’s word was true and they died that way. But then, years later, people did more digging and found that there were actually two Jerichos near each other. So the bible was true.


Do you have the patience and diligence to wait till the end of the day? Here is where it is so beautiful to consider the fact that Jesus speaks with authority. For Satan so powerfully and forcefully drives us to despair when we don’t see obvious, tangible proof that what he says is true. How wonderful and amazing it is that Jesus forgives that sin. And he does even more. He strengthens our faith. Satan is powerful. And he exerts that strength powerfully. I’ve been here serving as your pastor for almost 10 years. And I’ve been there to bury so many of you. And I can tell you that some of you went to your graves confidently. And others went to their graves trembling and doubting. And my dear friends, that should not shock or surprise you. If Satan is there lashing out with his demons as Jesus preaches, you have to know he will be there when you are just moments and minutes away from heaven. But here is where we see Jesus speaking with authority. Jesus didn’t get rid of the demon in the synagogue. And most likely he won’t get rid of every doubt as you face your death. But at the end of the day, you will know that he spoke with authority. For he will strengthen this gift of faith he gave to you so that alongside the doubt and despair there is confidence, strength and trust in his promises.


That, my dear friends, is what it looks like to speak with authority. And that’s what we have in our Savior Jesus. Jesus speaks with authority against the teacher’s doubts and against the Devil’s dominion.



1 כֹּה אָמַ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה