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)

Jesus Saves The Best (Epiphany 3)


Jesus Saves The Best

There are times when you give your best. I don’t follow football. But I managed to watch that last play from the game on Sunday. And I can’t say this for every football game. But I admit that I wish I had watched all of that game. But above all, what impressed me most about watching it was seeing two teams giving their absolute best. And on that day, one team won and another didn’t. But both came to that field to give their best. And all of this I mention because there are times in our lives when we have to give our best. But what about Jesus? Jesus too gives his best. But what does that look like? In John 2, we see what the best that Jesus has to give looks like: 1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”” (John 2:1–5 NIV11-GKE)

Here in John chapter 2, we learn that it’s the third day. It’s the third day since John the Baptizer baptized Jesus in the Jordan river. And as we spoke about last week, Jesus was baptized to go out and take action. He was supposed to give sight to the blind, heal those with diseases and even raise the dead. All of this was promised and pictured in the Old Testament. So Jesus is baptized and what happens? Nothing. Nothing amazing, nothing miraculous happens. So then, a couple of days pass and Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding. Now, in those days weddings were a little different than today. On the first day the couple would be married and begin their married life together. But the wedding banquet would last for entire week. With that in mind we can begin to see the problem and even panic if they ran out of wine and other provisions. And so Mary, the mother of Jesus mentions this problem to Jesus.

Now, we’re going to come back to these words in a little bit. But first we need to pause for a little while and speak about what these words do not mention. Here in these words we find one man and one woman getting married. Here we find a good, wondrous and beautiful picture of what marriage should look like: one man, one woman, for life. But what’s the problem with this picture? The problem is that even though Jesus was there at the beginning to make Adam and Eve for each other, nevertheless each of them and both of them fell into sin and destroyed their faith in God as well as their marriage with each other. And ever since that day the path to marriage is not easy and persevering in marriage is not easy either. And there are so many traps and pitfalls we can fall into. From the moment that boys and girls stop thinking that the other gender is weird and instead find them wondrous in their own way and are attracted to them—from that moment, they have about ten years to wait till they get married (at least!). And if you think about it, that’s ten years to get derailed. That’s ten years to follow sermons the world around them preaches to them that either marriage is stupid or pretending to be married is good enough. And then if they manage to make it to marriage they soon realize that persevering in marriage is not so easy too. The bride and groom realize that they have married a sinner. And sinners can destroy. And then, if they manage to make it all the way to their later, elder years, then there are new temptations to face in those years. It’s not easy to stay married when you spend all your time caring for someone seems to need more than you can give. It’s not easy to stay married when dementia descends and your beloved spouse of so many decades doesn’t remember you, or worse, is even scared of you.

It’s not easy. The path to marriage is not easy. And persevering in marriage is not easy either. And the temptation we face is to conclude that marriage is easy. It’s easy to attain and easy to maintain. And that’s why these words here are so important for us to see. For this example here is an exception. The bible is filled with adulterers and divorcers. It’s filled with people who pretended to be married when they weren’t and destroyed their marriages when they were. But look, my dear friends, at the amazing love and forgiveness that Jesus shows here. For Jesus doesn’t just forgive the times we break the 6th commandment. He does so much more. He saves his best for massive problems. And I’ve been a pastor long enough to see this. If you want to see how Jesus uses his best, just look at the power of his word. Look at the young adult who has the confidence to listen to the promises of Jesus and continually pray for a faithful spouse despite all the false promises in the world around them. Look at the newly-wed person who gets married in just enough time to see their parents get divorced. And yet, with faith mixed with fear, they trust in Jesus’ promise to bless their promises they made on their wedding day. If you want to see Jesus saving his best for massive problems, look at the elderly couple when their spouse’s body or mind fails, and they love that person just as much after 60 years as 6 months. All of this is what Jesus does over and above what he does to forgive us. He doesn’t only forgive, he also gives us faith to cling to his promises.

Jesus saves the best for massive problems. But he also saves his best for another area of our lives. We read: 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” 11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:6–11 NIV11-GKE)

What was Jesus’ first miracle? Was it healing a blind person? Was it driving out a demon? Was it raising a person from death? No, it was turning water into so much wine. The worst that would have happened if he didn’t perform that miracle is that they would have been embarrassed. But time would travel on. And years later the embarrassment might turn into a good story to tell. It was such a small problem that would eventually pass. But this preaches and proves to us a very important truth. Yes, Jesus saves his best for massive problems. But he also saves his best for minúte problems. One of the temptations we face is to conclude that Jesus has bigger issues and bigger problems than the ones we face. It’s as if he deals with the big problems, but we’re supposed to deal with the little problems in our lives. And so, if we give into this we stop praying because, after all, we shouldn’t bother Jesus. And if we don’t want to bother Jesus, then most definitely we shouldn’t bother him with several prayers about the same, small concern in our lives. And what these words preach and prove to us is that just the opposite is true. Jesus saves his best not just for the massive problems. He also saves his best for the minúte problems too.

So, my dear friends in Christ, in your prayers take all your massive problems to Jesus your Savior: all the weight of your past, all the pressure of the future—take them all those massive concerns to him in prayer. For he saves his best for the massive problems. Oh, but don’t forget about the small problems too. The small test you have to take; the short car ride you have to make; the lost keys you cannot find—all these and more, take to your Savior in prayer. For Jesus saves the best for you. He saves his best for the massive problems and also for the minúte problems too. Amen.

The Father Is Interested In Us Growing (Epiphany 2)

Jesus in the Temple

The Father Is Interested In Us Growing

Some lessons are shocking. Years and years ago, we went on vacation to New York. We were getting onto the Subway. And, like any of you know, if you have children, if you have Children, you also have so many other things to carry with you. And so, you have to picture me throwing one thing after another into the subway car before the door closed. And you also have to picture our little girl there on outside the subway car—all by herself. So, I worked hard and got all the stuff into the car. And the door began to close. But there was our little girl outside. And I rushed to put my foot in the door, but I was way too far away. And I knew it. Thankfully, there was a dad who saw my problem. And he put his foot in the door ahead of me. And all of us ended up on the subway car together. Some lessons are shocking. But the lesson I learned wasn’t nearly as shocking as the lesson Mary and Joseph learned: 41 Every year his parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up according to the custom of the festival. 43 After those days were over, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming he was in the traveling party, they went a day’s journey. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.” (Luke 2:41–45 CSB17)

Josephs and Mary and their entire family went up to Jerusalem for the Passover. And they thought that after the Passover was over, they were all going back home. But when all of the rest of them left and went home, Luke here tells us that Jesus remained. And what follows is fear, terror and shock. Joseph and Mary get about a day’s journey away from Jerusalem and they ask around and realize that Jesus isn’t there. What a grievous and horrible sin to commit. It was their God-given role to watch over the Christ-child. And they forgot him. So they travel back to Jerusalem. And they search for him for three days! Can you imagine how frustrated and fearful they were? With that in mind we can begin to understand what happens in the words that follow: 46 After three days, they found him in the temple sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all those who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:46–47 CSB17)

Three days later they find him. And where do they find him? They find him in the temple. And what is he doing? He is listening to the teachers of teachers and professors of professors. And even more than that he is asking them one pointed question after another. Finally then, they make their way up to the front of the group and they ask their son the question they needed to ask: “When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”” (Luke 2:48 CSB17)

There you are as parents. You are full of fear. You are full of frustration. You need answers as to why your son didn’t obey you. And the answer Jesus gives is amazing. We read: 49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked them. “Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them.” (Luke 2:49–50 CSB17)

He tells them that he absolutely had to be where he was.1 And there’s a translation issue here. And you’ll see this in the footnote in any decent english version. In these words Jesus says that he needed to be in his Father’s……..2 And context has to fill in the proper word. Is it his Father’s rooms? His Father’s work? His Father’s interests? The best answer is probably all of these. This is Jesus’ way of letting his parent’s know that he wasn’t the one in the wrong. They were. He had to remain there in Jerusalem because Jesus’ interests were the Father’s interests.

And just what exactly was their Father in heaven interested in? He was interested in them growing by asking. Notice the huge contrast we see in these words. Mary and Joseph were convinced that what was most important was that they rush back home and get back to work. But Jesus deliberately stays in Jerusalem to teach them that, no, that was not correct. What was absolutely necessary is that he grow by asking. And Jesus had to be there in that temple asking questions for one simple reason: Because we fail so miserably at it. Our Father wants us to ask questions. But it is so easy to not do this. It is so easy to rush out of church after our service is done and not stay to ask questions in our bible study class. It is so easy to sit down at home and read our bibles so that we can check that off of our mental list of things to do instead of reading in such a way that we ask questions. He wants us to listen to sermons like Jesus did: like one who was asking questions in his soul and mind all the time he was hearing the sermons. That’s what our Father wants—that’s what he is interested in. But that’s exactly and precisely what we fail at. And that’s why it was so absolutely necessary that Jesus not go home—why he would stay and ask questions. We needed a Savior who would ask questions when we, in our sin, do not want to. We needed a Savior who would ask questions of God’s holy word when we didn’t have the energy to. We need a Savior to ask questions of God’s word when we didn’t even know what to ask. And in this boy of twelve years old that’s exactly what we find.

The Father is interested in us growing through asking. But our Father is interested in much more. We read: 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. His mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people.” (Luke 2:51–52 CSB17)

The Father is interested in us growing through asking. But he is also interested in us growing through obeying. The other huge area that we find a temptation to sin is that our Father in heaven asks us to station ourselves under other people in our lives—not because they are better than we are, but this is what he is interested in. This is his plan for us. So parishioners obey pastors, wives obey husbands, children obey parents, students obey teachers, and workers obey bosses. The problem is that there are times we don’t want to do this. And this is understandable when the person over us asks us to sin. Indeed, we must obey God rather than men. But most of the time, we get angry with them simply because we want to do what we want, not what they want.

And for this sin too, we need a Savior. We need someone who will not just ask in our place, but also obey in our place. We find that Savior in this twelve year old boy. Jesus was not the one who messed that week. His parents were. Jesus was the one knew what his Father was interested in. Jesus was the one who made his Father’s interests his own need. And we see that here so beautifully in these words. For not only did he ask when we do not, he also obeyed when we so often do not. He humbled himself and went down the mountain and back to Nazareth. And he did this not because his parents were equal to or better than he was. He did this because this is what his Father was interested in.

And so, what the Father was interested in, Jesus was to—perfectly and obediently in our place, so that our failings would be replaced by his faithfulness. And with that amazing fact, the Holy Spirit encourages and gives us a new person to grow in the very areas we fail in. And so, my dear forgiven friends in Christ, ask. When you hear God’s word read, ask. When you read it at home, ask questions. When you come to bible study class, ask questions in your own heart, if not even out loud. And I will do my best to answer those questions. And not just ask. Also obey those whom God has put in your life to lead you. For both of these are what your Father in heaven is interested in. And as you struggle to do these your Father in heaven promises to bless you. Amen.

1 “ⲇⲉⲓⲉⲓⲛⲁⲓⲙⲉ” (Luke 2:49 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲉⲛⲧⲟⲓⲥⲧⲟⲩⲡⲣ̅ⲥⲙⲟⲩ” (Luke 2:49 GNT-ALEX)

Why Was Jesus Baptized? (Epiphany 1)


Why Was Jesus Baptized?

Wax on—wax off. Years ago, when I was a child, we watched this movie called, “The Karate Kid.” And in the movie there’s a teenage young man. And he is learning Karate from a neighbor who is an expert in Karate. The only problem is that it doesn’t really look like he’s learning Karate at all. For days, if not weeks, all the elderly man has him do is wax his deck and fence by hand. Finally, the teenager can’t take it anymore. And he says that he came to learn Karate, not to be a slave. Then the teacher shows him that the same movements involved in waxing the deck are the ones used in blocking in Karate. Life is like that, isn’t it? There are times we are told to carry out a task. But even as we are doing it, we wonder why we are doing it at all. That’s how our words start out this morning in Matthew’s gospel. In Matthew 3, we read: 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.” (Matthew 3:13–15 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus came down from Galilee to the River Jordan to John to be baptized. And that, right there, is the problem. Jesus asks John to baptize him. But John, in response, tells Jesus how strange and unfitting it is for John to baptize Jesus. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That’s what John’s baptism delivered to the person who was being baptized: forgiveness for their sins. The huge, massive problem here that John points out is that Jesus has no sins to be forgiven. Why does Jesus need to be baptized?

Notice the answer that Jesus gives: To fulfill all righteousness. There were perfect pronouncements and promises given in the Old Testament. In fact, there were thousands of them. And it was the Messiah’s job to both know of them all and to keep them. And one of these pronouncements and promises is that Messiah would be anointed with the Holy Spirit. In these words we see how different Jesus’ baptism was to our very own. If you were told that you had to keep 1000 promises, how many would you be able to keep? How many would you even be able to remember? One of the great sadnesses we face as humans is that there have been good and proper promises we have made, but then have broken. In these words we see how different Jesus’ baptism was than our very own. For Jesus was baptized so that he could fill all righteousness. And this is good news for us. For in our baptisms then all these pronouncements and promises that Jesus kept are then given to us, so that when the Father looks at us, he doesn’t not see our broken and forgotten promises. Instead he sees his Son’s fulfillment of them.

So, why was Jesus baptized? He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. But there’s another reason he was baptized. We read: “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” (Matthew 3:16 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus was also baptized to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Part of the work the Holy Spirit does is to lead people to live out a godly life. And we see what that looks like in Jesus’ life. Right after this we see Jesus going out and with such constant zeal and determination he opposes Satan. In this way the baptism that Jesus receives and the one we receive are the same. Both of them give to us the gift of the Holy Spirit. And with the Holy Spirit we have the ability to wrestle and struggle against sin. And so, what was impossible for us to do before we were Christians, we now have the ability to carry out and get done.

But in this too we find a real temptation to sin. There is this temptation we face to pretend that in certain areas of our lives we are unable to wrestle against sin and do what is right. And even worse, when we are urged to wrestle and struggle against our sins and do what is right, we then move onto the next stage where we stubbornly lash out against those who urge us to do what is right. And in every congregation I’ve served in I’ve seen this. And so I say, “Please stop cursing, gossipping, and being hostile with people,” and the person says in response: “Pastor, I am not able to do that—and stop asking me to do that.” I say to my members, “Set aside time to pray, read your bibles, come to bible class,” and the person says, “I cannot do that—and stop asking me to do that.”

When we give into those sins, notice what we’re doing. We are pretending that one of the most amazing gifts the Holy Spirit gives to us in our baptisms didn’t exist. And so, for those times we have pretended that we weren’t able to do what was right, we repent of those sins too. And when we repent of those sins, these final words that Jesus speaks to us are so filled with comfort, strength and joy: “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”” (Matthew 3:17 NIV11-GKE)

Everything Jesus did perfectly pleased his Father. And my friends in Christ, that is good news to us. For Jesus wins the Father’s approval for us in our place. His perfection replaces our stubbornness. His perfection replaces all the times we made promises and couldn’t keep them or didn’t even want to keep them. And where does baptism fit into all of this? Through baptism Jesus delivers this forgiveness to us. So that now, our Father does not see all the times we stubbornly clung to sin or the times we made and then broke our promises. Instead, he sees his Son’s perfection—perfection showed and offered up in our place. But do remember there is one final gift given to us in baptism. In baptism we have the ability to live out a godly life. We have the ability to oppose Satan and his seducing lies. We have the ability to see what is good and right and carry it out.

In all of this then we find an answer to the question: why was Jesus baptized? He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness because we could not. And he was baptized to be filled with the Holy Spirit, just as we are in our baptisms. Amen.

We Have Come To Worship The King (Epiphany)


We Have Come To Worship The King

What is beyond the next mountain? Years and years ago, President Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to explore the land to the west to see if there was a way to the ocean. And they went up the Missouri river deep into Montana. But then the river thinned out and the mountains stood there in front of them. And they thought to themselves: “All we have to do is climb to the top of those mountains, then it’s all downhill to the other side.’” So they climbed with all their strength and determination to the top of the mountains through feet of snow. And then, when they got to the top, what did they see? They saw more mountains. For the mountains in the west were nothing like the mountains in the east. This evening in Matthew’s gospel we meet men who traveled so very far to get to Israel. But, much like Lewis and Clark, when they thought they were so close to the end of their journey, they realized that there were more difficulties in front of them. In Matthew 2, we read: 1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”” (Matthew 2:1–2 NIV11-GKE)

The Magi were close—so close to arriving at their goal: worshipping their King. But they faced an obstacle. It was an obstacle that actually we have no hint that they stumbled on. But it’s one we wrestle with in our every day life. What guided them from the East to Bethlehem? The Lord provided a star for them. How amazing this star must have been—How bright, how brilliant. There was the real temptation to be distracted by the star instead of be guided by it. And we face the same temptation today. We use earthly aids to help us focus on our King, Jesus. But the problem is when these earthly aids replace our worship of the king. If you remember singing Silent Night with lit candles more than the content of the readings and the sermon, you’re not worshiping the king. If you get frustrated that the pastor didn’t pick out your favorite hymn on Christmas Eve or Day and you miss the opportunity to see through God’s word yet again your king born and placed in the manger, you are not worshipping the king. The magi had a start to guide them. And again, we have no hint that they were led astray by that earthly aid. But if we look into our hearts, we have to admit that we have faced that temptation to find more joy and meaning in lit candles and sung songs than in the hearing of God’s word.

And so, signs are an obstacle to worshipping the king. But there was another obstacle: 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”” (Matthew 2:3–6 NIV11-GKE)

We have come here to worship the king. One obstacle we face is signs that should help us and instead distract us. Another obstacle is what we find here in these verses: earthly stress. When the magi came to Herod and started throwing around the name, “king,” everyone was shaken and stirred up. They were terrified because all of them knew that Herod the Great had one solution to whatever problem he faced: he killed it. When one of his sons threatened to take over his throne, he killed him. When he heard rumors that his wife—the wife he really, truly loved, was plotting to overthrow him, he killed her. And all the elders and priests gathered there knew this. And so, there was pressure, there was stress to stay away from this little king born in Bethlehem. And we see how real this stress was. For when the Magi asked where the king was to be born, the teachers and priests knew exactly the passage in the Old Testament to go to. They went right to Micah 5. But when the Magi left to worship the true king of Israel, did they follow? What good is it to know the truth of who the king is, but then to give into earthly stress and pressure and then not worship him? This too is a temptation we face today. If you refuse to hand over your artistic expression to endorse same-sex marriage today don’t be surprised if you will be condemned by the world around you and then fined by the government. And this too is an obstacle in front of us that gets in the way of our worship: earthly stress. But there’s one more obstacle to speak about: 6 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”” (Matthew 2:6–8 NIV11-GKE)

Look at all these roadblocks and obstacle that get in the way of us worshipping our king: earthly signs that might allure and entice us away from our Savior and King, earthly stresses that threaten to make us cowards. And here we see our final one: God’s silence. Every year when I preach on these words I am amazed at how blind the Magi are. You can just see Herod standing there, saying to the Magi, “Show me where the king is so that I may stab—urr, I man see him.” And we find no hint that they could see through his lies. In fact, it takes a vision from God to warn them to not turn back to Jerusalem.

And that too is a stumbling block in our way too, isn’t it? God gives us promises. But then he leaves us in the dark. He does not tell us where, when and how he will keep his promises and answer our prayers. He just simply promises that he will. And the Magi showed that they were wise not by seeing through Herod’s lies, but instead by humbly and thoroughly trusting the words that the Lord spoke to them.

Look at all these obstacles: signs, stresses from the world, silence from God. Who will clear away all these obstacle? How great it is that we have a king like the one we have. Look at how Jesus deals with these obstacles. First, he reminds us that his power and forgiveness does not come to us through stars in the sky or candles in the sanctuary, but instead, through God’s word. Second, just like he did with the Magi, he gives us so strong of a faith that we follow him even amidst all the stress the world puts on us to not worship him. Third, he gives us one promise after another in his word and then asks us one simple question: “how many have I broken?” Indeed, he has kept all his promises. So if he keeps all his promises we don’t need to know the when and how. It is enough for us to know that he will keep these promises.

And where does that leave us tonight? Let’s read our concluding words: 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (Matthew 2:9–12 NIV11-GKE)

With all these obstacles removed, we, just like these Wise Men have the privilege of bowing down and worshipping Jesus, our king. And what I love about these words is how simply they end. There are parts of God’s word that call on us to act. But notice here, in these words God’s word does not call on us to take action, but instead to do just the opposite. The Holy Spirit on this beautiful night calls on us to fall down in humble worship. For Jesus is our king. He is the one who has cleared away all the obstacles. He takes moves our focus away from the signs that might distract us and places them on his word. He gives us focus and courage to worship him despite the earthly stresses that surround us. And he reminds us that even though he is silent so much of the time, nevertheless, he has spoken to us in his word. And the promises he makes, he keeps. Amen.