Proper 7

Lake

Teacher, Don’t You Care?


You know who to listen to. Imagine, this morning, that you’re running a 10 mile race. And as you’re running you encounter two people. There’s one guy. He has to stop every 100 feet or so to catch his breath. And then there’s guy two. He passes you like you are a rock on the side of the road. And then he effortlessly finishes the race minutes ahead of you. You get to the finish line. And each of the guys says, “That was a tough race.” Which one are you going to believe—The guy who stopped every 100 feet, or the guy who was fast and didn’t stop. You know who you would listen to. Keep that thought in your brain as we begin these words here in Mark, chapter 4: 35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”” (Mark 4:35–38 NIV11-GKE)


In these words we see Jesus as human as he could possibly be. He is exhausted. He needs sleep. So they get him on the boat. And as soon as his head hits the pillow he is in deep sleep. But then what happens? A storm, a squall falls on them. The boat gets filled with water. And what is Jesus doing? he’s just there sleeping—Amidst all the water and rain, he’s just there sleeping. And as the minutes go by, finally they can’t take it anymore. They get Jesus up.1 Now, before we go any further, before we begin to speak against these disciples for their stupidity, remember there were those in that boat who were experts. There were those who were in that boat who were professional fishermen. They knew the difference between a small sprinkling and furious squall. They knew it, so they cried out, “Don’t you care about us?” So then, what happens next? “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” (Mark 4:39 NIV11-GKE)


Jesus gets up. And he does shocking and surprising. He talks to the wind. He talks to the sea. He rebukes the wind. He muzzles the sea. Jesus has complete, perfect, absolute power over creation. And he has this power even when he’s asleep.


There are times in our lives when we find ourselves in the same soaked sandals as Jesus’ disciples. When we see the power of God’s creation, our great temptation, like them, is to panic. I remember when I was a kid, fishing with my dad. We found a fishing hole beside a river. And so we stayed there. But then the rain came. So we packed everything up and went back to our campsite—or at least we tried to. The motor on the boat was chugging as we went, foot by foot, upstream. The wind churned up the waves. And the current made us drift from one side to another. I can tell you, that when you see the power there in God’s creation, you panic. And the wind and waves on that river were nothing compared with this furious squall on the sea of Galilee.


We face the temptation to panic when we see the power of God’s creation. But we face a huge temptation on the complete opposite side too. We face the temptation to exploit God’s promise of protection. Instead of going through life thinking, “safety first.” We think, “Safety…never.” It’s the kid riding down the huge hill with no thought of a helmet and no thought of braking.


So we sin. We either panic at God’s power in creation, as these disciples did. Or we exploit God’s promises, thinking that he’ll protect us despite our stupidity. How is then that Jesus deals with their sin? “He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”” (Mark 4:40 NIV11-GKE)


In their panic they accuse Jesus of not caring. But look at what Jesus does: He shows how much he cares for their souls. He makes them ask themselves a question, “Why am I acting as if I have no faith here inside myself?” Jesus had given to them a promise that they would be fishers of men. It’s kind of hard to do that when their drowned bodies are there at the bottom of the sea, isn’t it? He shows how much he cares for them by strengthening their souls by strengthening their faith. He forgives their sins by trusting his Father completely, perfectly in their place. He forgives them by having his breath crushed out of him, not by cold water, but instead by the burning gravity of the cross as he slowly died for the world.


Jesus shows how much he cares. He does this by caring for their souls. But he also does this by caring for their bodies. In our final verse, we read: “They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”” (Mark 4:41 NIV11-GKE)


Jesus has absolute control over all of his creation. And he uses this for you, to protect your bodies. Whenever I read these I can’t help thinking of the words of our final hymn. The writer of that hymn is Horatio Spafford. He was a man that God had blessed financially. He planned on helping an evangelism effort in England. But he was delayed because of his work. So he put his wife and four daughters on a boat. And he planned on getting on another boat and following later. The ship his wife and four daughters were on was hit by another ship. The wife survived. The four daughters did not. When he found out, he sat down and wrote these words:


When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll—
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.


Don’t you care? That’s the question that crushes the disciples just as much as the waves did. And in these words we see that our Savior does. He cares for our souls by forgiving our sins and preserving our faith. He cares for our bodies by preserving them. But my dear friends in Christ, If he delays in coming, he will care for us in this world in one final way. He will care for us by taking us from this world of panic and pain. And he will do this through death.


With all of this in mind, be at peace. Be content. For your Savior who is in absolute control of every sprinkling of rain and every furious squall will watch over you. And he will care for you finally by taking you from this world into the next. Amen.



1 “ⲇⲓⲉⲅⲉⲓⲣⲟⲩⲥⲓⲛ” (Mark 4:38 GNT-ALEX)

Proper 6

Wheat

Listen To How God’s Kingdom Grows


Blessings and curses. All around you are blessings and curses. If you do take the right action, you will be rewarded. If you do what is wrong, you will be punished. You are a child in school, and all you have to do is look at the wall. And there in so many classrooms are the rules. Do these rules, and you will be rewarded. Don’t do them, you will be punished. You walk into a hospital and the same is true. There on the wall is a list of actions you can take and actions you can’t take. Have you ever stopped and asked yourself, why? Why are there blessings and curses all around us? They are there to emphasize an important point. These words this morning begin with blessings and curses: 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. By the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and more will be added to you. 25 For whoever has, more will be given to him, and whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”” (Mark 4:23–25 CSB17)


Jesus starts our saying, “if anyone has ears.” That’s his way of speaking about faith. Unbelievers do not understand the heart and soul of what the bible is about. But you do. God has given to you the gift of faith to understand what is in the bible. So listen! And he attaches a blessing and a curse to make sure you realize how important this is. If you listen, you will be given more wisdom. If you do not, the wisdom you have will leave you. And so then, just what is it that we are supposed to listen to with all of our attention? Jesus says: ““The kingdom of God is like this,”” (Mark 4:26 CSB17)


Jesus want us to know what the kingdom of God is like. When Jesus uses the phrase, ‘the kingdom of God’ he is not speaking about brick and mortar, boundaries and borders. He is speaking about how he gets his work done here, in our hearts, and here, in God’s word. And with the words that follow, Jesus invites us to listen to how God’s kingdom grows: 26 he said. “A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day; the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how. 28 The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the full grain on the head. 29 As soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.”” (Mark 4:26–29 CSB17)


If you understand where Jesus is coming from, this is actually a very funny story—but a true one. It’s the picture of the farmer throwing down seed onto the field. The farmer doesn’t know when the plants grow because he’s asleep. And even more important, he doesn’t know how they grow. All he knows is that when they are ready, the time for the harvest has come.


Listen then to the point that Jesus is making: the Holy Spirit gets his work done through his word secretly, silently, stealthily. God’s kingdom grows invisibly. And here is where we come face to face with our very own sin. God’s kingdom grows invisibly.
But our great temptation to sin is when we expect the invisible growth to happen visibly. When God’s word is shared with you, you have the great temptation to say, “I’m not getting anything out of this.” You hear a sermon. And at the end of it you say, “I guess there was nothing wrong with it. But it didn’t move me as much as the other guy’s sermon did.” You didn’t see the growth, so you concluded that it didn’t exist. You go to a bible study and, after one class, you have this temptation to say to yourself, “I’m not getting anything out of this.” I’m not gaining and gleaning knowledge that I can use. Again, notice the sin: God’s word isn’t a manual to fix your car. If you go to this page, you’ll learn this thing and you can fix this problem. No, God’s word is our Triune God causing growth in you. All of this growth happens invisibly. And our great sin is that we expect this invisible growth to happen visibly.


We see this as the sin it is. And we repent of it. And our good and kind Savior does what we don’t deserve. He gives us a harvest—and it’s a visible harvest. We hear one sermon after another throughout our long lives and what does our Triune God give to us: forgiveness. Yes, even forgiveness for the times we expect the invisible growth to be visible. And through that forgiveness we receive peace and confidence. And as we come to bible study class, what do we receive: wisdom. And there will be those times when a tough question or problem comes to us and then, right there, we will remember an answer from God’s word. Just like that farmer who doesn’t have a clue when and how the plants grow, but then sees and receives a harvest, the same is true for us.


But Jesus continues with a second parable: 30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use to describe it? 31 It’s like a mustard seed that, when sown upon the soil, is the smallest of all the seeds on the ground. 32 And when sown, it comes up and grows taller than all the garden plants, and produces large branches, so that the birds of the sky can nest in its shade.”” (Mark 4:30–32 CSB17)


Listen to how God’s kingdom grows. It grows invisibly. But here what do we learn? God’s kingdom grows visibly. How so? Look at the picture: There’s this small mustard seed. And what happens to it? It goes into the ground. It grows and peaks above the ground. It grows a stalk, a stem, and branches. And its growth is big and visible that birds can make their home in the branches. Yes, God’s kingdom grows invisibly. But it also grows visibly.


Think of the history of this congregation. There was a time when this church was not here. But the Lord caused Christians to want this plot of dirt and want to worship here. And as they shared God’s word, he caused this church to grow visibly. And still to this day, as you gather together around God’s word, it still grows, even as people pass away and move away.


What a beautiful lesson to listen to. But also, what a great temptation to sin lies in front of each of us. There is this great temptation to conclude people don’t need to see you and that you don’t need to see other people here in these pews and there in those seats in bible study. You need each other. Visitors need to see you. What good is it for new people to show up on Easter Sunday, hear the truth of God’s word, and then yearn to come next week. And then what happens? The next week, the same people who were there on Easter are not there the week after. And it’s not just visitors who need this, older, more veteran Christians need this too. I remember a couple in my last congregation. They were in their 80’s. They had severe health problems. And every week they would show up early and pew by pew climb their way to their spots. What great encouragement this gave to the other members. The teenager complains that he has to come to church because he stayed up too late on Saturday. But when he sees this elderly couple that didn’t get any sleep because they have chronic pain—and yet they are still there in those pews, all those complaints are washed away. What a great sin it is to conclude that the visible growth that God gives us in a Christian congregation is something we can ignore and neglect. You need each other—you need to see each other.


This is a sin we repent of too. And look how kind and caring our Lord is to us. Just as the Lord gives rest to birds in the branches of a mustard bush, so also he gives rest to us. And he gives this rest to us through what is visible. Baptism is visible. All the invisible power contained in God’s word he connects to something earthly and visible so that you would know your sins are forgiven. The \textsc{Lord’s Supper is visible}. For the times you have ignored the visible growth in your congregation, God gives you visible forgiveness there in Jesus’ body and blood along with that bread and wine. And through all of this, like birds on branches, he gives you rest.


These words conclude where they began: 33 He was speaking the word to them with many parables like these, as they were able to understand. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable. Privately, however, he explained everything to his own disciples.” (Mark 4:33–34 CSB17)


They had ears to hear. They were able to understand. So do you. Now listen, ponder, and take to heart the point of these two parables: God’s kingdom grows. It grows invisibly. And it grows visibly. Amen.


First Sunday after the Epiphany – The Baptism of Our Lord

Who Are You Living For?


Why would you fight for your enemy? Years ago there was a woman who was being beaten up and abused by her husband. So she called the cops. The cops showed up. They heard him beating her up so they burst through the door and both of them subdued the husband. Then something happened that you would not expect. The woman took a frying pan and hit one of the police men over the back of the head. The police officers and everyone who has a brain would say and shout one clear question: why? Why would you fight for your enemy? Even worse, why would you live for him? In the words we look at this morning from Romans 6, that is the point that Paul is making. We read: 1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1–2 NIV11-GKE)


The husband was the woman’s enemy. Why would she fight—why would she live for him? Who is the enemy in the words that Paul says here? Sin is our enemy. And sin showed that it is our enemy by putting us to death. It put us to death spiritually when we were conceived and born with hatred toward God in our hearts. And it proves it is our enemy when we face physical death at the end of our lives. Sin is your enemy. Why would you live for it? These words are a great reminder to us that we hate the sins we commit. We hate the lies we willingly believe about ourselves and others. We hate our laziness. We hate how easily we live for ourselves and ourselves alone. We know that this is how we act and we hate it. And that then drives us as Christians to ask the next question: how. How then will we be able to live for God instead of living for sin? Paul answers that question in these words which follow: 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:3–5 NIV11-GKE)


If we ask the question, ‘how do we live for God,’ look what answer God’s word gives us. The answer is our baptisms. There are many Christians who, sadly, conclude that baptism is a good work that we provide for God to prove that we are his. Bur notice here how Paul says just the opposite. Baptism is a great and wonderful gift that God gives to us. For if we want to live for God and not for our sin, baptism is the answer. Baptism is what gives us the power to ‘carry out a new life.’1 There is a progression in these words. What happened to Jesus? He died, was buried, but then what happened? He lived. And God’s word so clearly tells us that the same progression happens to us when we are baptized. In our baptisms we died, we were buried and now we live a new life.


So there is a progression that we find in baptism. We die, get buried and rise from death living a new life. And to make sure the point is so very clear, Paul also tells us that there is a promise in baptism too: 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.” (Romans 6:6–9 NIV11-GKE)


What does baptism do to our bodies that are so contaminated by sin? What does baptism do to our sinful selves? Baptism nullifies them. Notice what baptism does not do. Baptism does not eradicate and destroy our sinful natures. You sin now. And you will sin all the way to your last day and your last breath. But your sins domination over you is destroyed. Sin is no longer your master. And Paul even illustrates this fact with a beautiful picture. a person who dies and then goes to heaven is freed from sin’s influence and power in his or her life. In your baptism your sinful nature’s power is put to death. Jesus is your Lord and master. Sin no longer enslaves you.


So if you ask the question, ‘how do I live for God,’ where will you look for your answer? Look to your baptism. There in your baptism you find an amazing progression: Just as Jesus died, was buried and then returned to life, so also you died, were buried and now live for him. Now you are able to carry out a new life. And you also find a promise: You are not enslaved to sin—not anymore. You are forgiven. And you are given a new master to serve. He is not the abusive, coercive, destructive master you used to have. Now you have a good, kind and caring master, your Savior, Jesus. Paul then concludes this part of scripture with these words: 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:10–11 NIV11-GKE)


As Paul closes off these words, he gives us two encouragements. First, consider yourself dead when it comes to sin. Sin is your enemy. It put you to death spiritually. If Jesus delays in coming it will put you to death physically. And in these words we find an amazing irony: Sin put us to death. But through this amazing gift of baptism, we now put sin to death. We put it to death every time we see our sin and hate it, resist it, and repent of it. And second, consider yourselves as ones who now live for God. Notice how beautiful these words are. In your baptisms you can live for God. In your baptisms you do live for God. But notice where that power to live for God comes from. It does not come from you. It comes to God. And it is give to you in those waters of baptism. So when you sin—and you will, do not return to yourself, trying with your own power and your own effort to fight against sin. Instead, return to your baptisms. For baptism is what gives us the ability to live for God. Amen.



1 “ⲉⲛⲕⲁⲓⲛⲟⲧⲏⲧⲓⲍⲱⲏⲥⲡⲉⲣⲓⲡⲁⲧⲏⲥⲱⲙⲉⲛ” (Romans 6:4 GNT-ALEX)

The Epiphany of Our Lord

Epiphany

We See Him Clearly


It’s all about me. Have you ever met anyone who, from everything you could see on the outside, that was the theme of their life? Years ago I met an elderly woman who had serious health problems. She was in pain, real, chronic pain every day of her life. And when I would go over to visit her, I usually just spent time letting her speak about her pain because that’s what she needed. But one day her daughter came over. And her daughter only talked about herself—how hard her job was, how difficult her life was. And the only conclusion I could reach was that in this woman’s life it was all about her. But, I have to admit, at least she showed up. There are many people out there who show that it’s all about them by not even caring enough to show up. This evening we hear the words of a man who had that as the theme of his life. This man is named Balaam. Balaam was a godless, wicked man whom the Lord used to share his truth to people of his time and to us today. The theme of Balaam’s life was, “it’s all about me.” And we keep that in mind as we read these opening words in Numbers 24: 15 Then he proclaimed his poem: The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eyes are opened; 16 the oracle of one who hears the sayings of God and has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls into a trance with his eyes uncovered:” (Numbers 24:15–16 HCSB)


Notice how Balaam speaks about himself. He says, ‘Look at me, I’m the one who sees.1 I’m the one who hears the word of God.2 I’m the one who understands God’s knowledge.’3 And as if we didn’t hear him the first time, he finishes by reminding us that he is the one with open eyes.4 And what is it that he sees, hears, knows and sees? In verse 17 we read: “I see him, but not now; I perceive him, but not near. A star will come from Jacob,” (Numbers 24:17 HCSB)


Balaam tells us that he sees a “him” in the future and far away. And what is this he? He is a star that rises and shines. What Balaam saw dimly and darkly the Magi saw clearly. From God’s word they saw the truth so clearly that they traveled for months to see this shining star. And if that wasn’t amazing enough we see him even more clearly than the Magi do. They saw Jesus at about two years old. But we, as we look at the pages of scripture, see him at every age. We see him fulfill thousands of prophecies. We see him shine out for Jews. And even more amazing, we see him shine out to us Gentiles.


And yet there is this powerful irony in these words. For the Magi traveled hundreds of miles over many months to see this light shining out of Jacob. And all we have to do is travel to our desk, our bed, our couch and see him even more clearly. And very often we don’t. We know it would be easy to read our bibles. But there are times that we don’t. Work, hobbies and habits get in the way. Or just plain laziness gets in the way. How horribly sinful it is to not have to travel at all to see this light shining in God’s word and yet we don’t. We like to think that we act like godly wisemen. But so very often we act like godless Balaam.


When the light shines on our sin, we see it and mourn over it. We repent of our sin. We repent of our laziness. We repent of our lack of zeal. But where will we find that zeal once again? Find that joy and zeal to read God’s word on your own here in these sacred pages. Find it here in what we learn about these Wisemen. These Magi were not Jews. And neither are you. But this Christ-child forgave their sins and gave them joy and zeal both to travel home and to share what they had learned. And so I ask you: are you a Gentile? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then know that this Savior is for you too. And he grew up, lived and died to take away your sins—even the sins you commit when you should have joy and zeal at reading his word and seeing his light shine.


We seem him clearly. We see a star that shines. But through Balaam we see even more. We read: 17 and a scepter will arise from Israel. He will smash the forehead of Moab and strike down all the Shethites. 18 Edom will become a possession; Seir will become a possession of its enemies, but Israel will be triumphant. 19 One who comes from Jacob will rule; he will destroy the city’s survivors.” (Numbers 24:17–19 HCSB)


The context behind these words is important. The king of Edom is named Balak. Balak paid Balaam to curse the Hebrews. But instead, Balaam prophecies that an Israelite King would crush Edom. This happened in the Old Testament. But this prophecy is both a picture and a promise of what happens to all those who oppose our Lord Jesus. The enemies of Jesus both fight and bite against him. But Jesus is the one who triumphs.


And this is precisely why we return to these ancient words. Because these words were true then. And they are always true now. When you look out there in the world and you see less and less people coming to church, or when you look in here and you see people dying off and seemingly there are none to replace them it is ever-so-tempting to conclude that Satan has won. But return to these words. For we see the truth clearly. When the Israelites looked up to the hills and saw the Edomites there it looked dark and bleak, but Jesus triumphed over the Edomites in battle. When Mary and Joseph had to run for their lives right after the Magi visited all things looked dark and bleak. But they clung to the promises of God’s word. When Jesus was dying, naked on a criminal’s cross the day turned to night as if to preach how bleak and dark all hope was. But Jesus had promised that even this was part of his plan.


We see him clearly. We see a star that shines out even to us Gentiles. We see a scepter to triumph over all his enemies. So, in this new year, if you’ve gotten out of the habit, open up your bibles once again and read it. And unlike Balaam who thought the the world revolved around himself, you will see this start shine and you will see this scepter triumph. Amen.



1 הַגֶּ֖בֶר שְׁתֻ֥ם הָעָֽיִן

2 שֹׁמֵ֙עַ֙ אִמְרֵי־אֵ֔ל

3 וְיֹדֵ֖עַ דַּ֣עַת עֶלְי֑וֹן

4 וּגְל֥וּי עֵינָֽיִם

Christmas 1

Christmas

Lord Bless Us With Your Name


W e all make assumptions. Years ago I watched a movie. And in that move one of the characters said to the other, “Do you remember that one time we went to that one place and did that thing.” And the joke, of course, was that they knew each other so well that they didn’t even have to give details. They could make assumptions. But very often we make assumptions and we realize later that maybe we should not have. Days ago in bible study we talked about the heavenly host that surrounded the shepherds, announcing that Jesus was about to be born. And I asked the question, “what is a host?” And nobody knew. A host is an army. You see, one of the areas we make assumptions is biblical language. So, if I asked two questions, what answer would you give? First, what is a blessing? Second, what is a name? Both of these words we hear and read in a church setting all the time. But what do they mean? Some might say that a blessing is to think kind thoughts toward someone. Others might say that to have a name is to have an identity. But there’s more, so much more to those words than that. In these words that we hear at the end of most of our worship times, the Lord blesses us with his name. And we have the privilige of looking at that in detail. And so, in Numbers 6, we read: 22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: 24 “ ‘ “The Lord bless you and keep you;” (Numbers 6:22–24 NIV11-GKE)


In these words the Lord commands the priests to bless the Israelites. To bless is more than to think good thoughts toward someone. In ancient societies they wouldn’t do much of anything without seeking and securing the blessing of their pagan god. So, for every agreement, whether big or small, animals had to die to get on their god’s good side. They really, sincerely thought that unless Molech or Baal blessed them and was on their side, then everything would fail. The irony is that we fail in the completely opposite way. They prayed to pagan non-existent gods for blessing that would never come. We forget that blessing only comes from our Lord, The Triune God. And that’s exactly the point that the Lord is making in these words. In these words three times the Lord blesses his people. The first is the blessing from God the Father for protection. Notice here how blessing isn’t some vague, worthless emotion. Instead, it’s a concrete reality. If God the Father blesses us, then we have his protection. And and this is so vitally important for us to understand when we realize that there are so many dangers out there. When you drive out there on the snowy, icy road what is it that keeps you on the road and not in the ditch? Our knee-jerk answer might be to say, “good tires.” But really, truly, the first and biggest answer to that question is God our Father. He blesses us and gives us good things by protecting us.


And how he does this is important too. The Lord’s name is on us. We belong to the Lord. And since we belong to him he sends his angels to watch over us and protect us.


So the Lord blesses us with his name by protecting us. In the next verse we find another way that the Lord blesses us: “the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;” (Numbers 6:25 NIV11-GKE)


In these words Jesus forgives us with his name. The Lord is gracious to us.1 Grace is this undeserved love that God showers on us in Jesus. He forgives the sins we commit that we cannot erase and get rid of. Notice again how blessing is not some vague, wispy abstract thought. The Father protects us. The Son forgives us.


And again, how does he do this? He protects us with his name. We read these words from Luke 2 and conclude that not much is being done. Jesus is just being named, right? No, there’s more to it than that. Jesus is named as the one and only one who could and will obey God’s commandments in our place. For all the times we should have called on God’s name for protection and forgiveness, Jesus did that in our place. We are forgiven with Jesus’ name. And that forgiveness comes to us through Jesus’ name too. For in our baptisms God places his own name, the name of the Triune God on us. And so, the forgiveness that is won there on the cross is hand-delivered to us in baptism.


The Father protects us with his name. The Son forgives us with his name. Maybe you can guess who we’re going to be speaking about next. We read: “the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” ’” (Numbers 6:26 NIV11-GKE)


The Holy Spirit gives us peace with his name. In Christ your sins are forgiven. All those times you were worse than a pagan godless unbeliever because at least they prayed to some made-up God for blessing and you went down your own path forgetting to pray at all—those sins are forgiven by Jesus. But here is where the Holy Spirit gets to work. Because if a person, indeed, if the entire world is forgiven and yet doesn’t believe that fact, then what good is Jesus’ work? So the Holy Spirit gives and brings to us peace. First, he tells us that we are forgiven. Then, he gives us faith to believe that we are forgiven. And through that we have peace. We have peace with God above. And we have real concrete and complete peace in our hearts too.


The Lord blesses us with his name. The Father protects us. The Son forgives us. The Holy Spirit gives us peace. Now then, my brothers and sisters, what do we do with all of this? In our final verse, we read: ““So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”” (Numbers 6:27 NIV11-GKE)


The Lord blesses us with his name. First, I invite and encourage you to sit back and appreciate this fact. God blesses you with his name. That’s the sort of fact that is good to chew on when you’re falling asleep at night and driving through the snow. And second, call on the Lord’s name. When you need protection, forgiveness, and peace, call on him. And out of his grace he will give you all these blessings. Amen.



1 וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ

Midweek Advent 1

Why Was Jesus Born?


We deliberately make mistakes. In our catechism class we are walking through the gospel of Matthew. And there’s this part when Jesus is speaking to the crowds where he asks them about John the baptizer. What did you go out to see? And sometimes teachers face that. They ask a simple, direct question and what is the answer they receive? Silence—pure and absolute silence. So he helps them along. He says, “did you find a guy in fine linen?” That would have made them laugh. For they all knew that John wore a robe made of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. Jesus makes a ‘mistake’ to teach them. Tonight I’m doing the same. Tonight we are reading the wrong words at the wrong time. We are supposed to be preparing for Jesus’ birth. But here in these words in John 18, we see Jesus on trial before Pontus Pilate. And you might be asking yourself, ‘Why is Pastor Bauer making this mistake?’ We find the answer to that question in these words: 33 Then Pilate went back into the headquarters, summoned Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you asking this on your own, or have others told you about Me?” 35 “I’m not a Jew, am I?” Pilate replied. “Your own nation and the chief priests handed You over to me. What have You done?” 36 “My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.”” (John 18:33–36 HCSB)


Notice what the context is in these words. Jesus is on trial. And the question that Pilate is asking himself and Jesus is: who are you? But notice that Jesus doesn’t really answer that question. Instead he makes Pilate deal with a different question: why am i here? In verse 37, we read: ““You are a king then?” Pilate asked. “You say that I’m a king,” Jesus replied. “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. ”” (John 18:37 HCSB)


The question is not, “who are you?” No, instead, the real question is “why am I here?” And what is the answer Jesus gives? He tells Pilate that he was born for this reason: to testify to the truth. Notice how in a very beautiful and amazing way, Jesus takes Pilate back to Christmas. People might ask themselves the question, “why was I born.” And they might never be able to answer that question in a way that satisfies their curiosity. But Jesus knew. He was born to testify to the truth. Jesus came to testify to the truth that we are all liars. You see, during this time of the year we think warm and happy thoughts because God comes to earth. But before we go there we should stand in the sandals of the shepherds. When the angels appeared and the Glory of God filled the sky, did they sing and dance in joy? No. They fell down in fear. You see, they recognized that they were sinners. They mourned over the fact that they were liars. Liars don’t get to be in the presence of holy angels. And even more so, liars don’t get to be in the presence of God.


But it’s not just the shepherds who need to recognize that they are sinners. We too need to do the same. God came to earth. And we see our sins by contrast. In the same way that you really don’t see the moon in the day, even though it’s there sometimes, so also, the sinless Son of God comes down to earth. And in the burning bright light of his truth we see our lies. We see the times we have lied to get an advantage. We see the times we have lied to avoid embarrassment. We see the times we have said the truth and proven ourselves liars with our actions. And how much worse is this for us as Christians? For we call ourselves ‘followers of God.’ But in our every day lives we show those around us that we are really just followers of lies.


Jesus was born to testify to the truth that we are all liars. And when we see this real fact then we are ready to see the next truth. Jesus was born to testify to the truth that we are liars. But he was also born to testify to his Father’s love. These words drive us to ask an important question: how do you know that your Father in heaven loves you? The Father loved you so much that he sent his eternal son to take on the same flesh and blood as you. How do you know that Jesus loves you? Jesus came to do his Father’s work and will. And he did so joyfully, willingly and perfectly…in your place. And the result of this is very clear. Since Jesus was born to speak the truth in your place. And since Jesus was faithful to that work all the way till his death, your sins are forgiven. The times we lie to get ahead—they are forgiven. The times we lie to avoid embarrassment—they are forgiven. The times we speak the truth and then prove ourselves to be liars by our actions—those too are forgiven.


And so, Jesus testifies to the truth to show his great love for us. But there is one last reason why Jesus testifies to the truth. We read: “Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.”” (John 18:37 HCSB)


This is a tough verse to translate. What does it mean to be “of the truth?” It means that who we are, our essence, our being, is tied to the truth. If a person is ‘of the truth’ that person belongs to the truth and the truth is now in that person. And in these words is this amazing truth that Jesus was born for yet another reason. Jesus was born so that we would belong to the truth. Jesus was born so that we would be born again. And through water and word that is exactly what has happened. Through this great gift of faith now we both know the truth and follow it.


My dear friends in Christ, that is not a small gift. Years ago there was a dear lady, who at 80 years of age, went through instruction class and joined our church. Then a year or two later she got cancer and then eventually died. Out of all the people in her family she alone was the Christian. And on her death bed in one way after another they showed that they were not ‘of the truth.’ For they were absolutely unable to acknowledge the fact that their mom, grandmother, and great grandmother was about to die. And I tried to gently but truly lead them to this truth. But they refused to listen.


You, my brothers and sisters in Christ, are the opposite of that. Through this gift of faith Jesus loved you so much to give you a new person alongside the old. And this new person faces the truth with courage and hope. This new person doesn’t just know the truth. This new person in us takes its stand on the truth. That is what Jesus means when he says that everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.


And so, tonight we make a deliberate mistake. But it’s a mistake that Jesus deliberately draws us into. Hours before Jesus dies, he speaks about his birth. And with these few, small statement we are reminded once again why Jesus was born. He was born to testify to the truth that we are all liars and the truth that out of love for us Jesus was truth in our place and gave us his truth. Amen.