Proper 20

coins

This Is Impossible


I cannot do this. One of the great strengths of playing sports is that we very quickly see that there are people out there who have skills and abilities that are impossible for us to have. Years ago I remember watching a football with a guy. And that guy was angry at the quarterback. For the quarterback was having a bad day. And, in a moment of anger, the guy said, “Give me that football; put me on that field. I could do better than that.” So picture a guy with a beer in one hand and a bowl of popcorn in the other who hadn’t exercised in years. he said the words. But he wasn’t convincing anyone in that room that he could have done better than that professional quarterback. But that’s the difference between watching sports and playing them. When you play sports, you have to acknowledge that there are some abilities you do not have. You have to say, “This is impossible for me.” And that truth can be useful. This morning we see the importance of admitting the impossible. In Mark 10, we read: 17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not defraud; honor your father and mother.” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these from my youth.”” (Mark 10:17–20 CSB17)


It’s hard to hear these words without laughing, isn’t it? So, here you have to picture an earnest, sincere rich young man. He runs up to Jesus. He falls at Jesus’ feet. He asks Jesus what he can do to earn his way into heaven. So Jesus repeats for him part of the ten commandments so that he could remind this young man how impossible it was to keep these commandments. But, instead of admitting his failure, the young man parades his pride. Without a hint of doubt or sarcasm he tells Jesus that he has zealously kept all these commandments all the way from when he was a little boy.


It’s hard to read this and not laugh, is it? But don’t be too quick to laugh. For we too fall to the same sin. Our sin is to underestimate the depth of our sin and how unable and incapable it makes so many parts of our lives. We, just like this young man, might think to ourselves that we have kept the 5th commandment because we haven’t beat up our neighbor with a 2 x 4. But Jesus says, “whoever hates his brother is a murderer.” We might conclude that we have kept the 6th commandment. But then Jesus comes along and says, “I tell you the truth, whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her.” Don’t laugh too quickly. For just as it was impossible for this man to see the depth of his own sin, it is impossible for us to see the depth of our own sin too. And if we want to see the depth of our sin, all we have to do is read these words and see where this sin leads to: 21 Looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 But he was dismayed by this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.” (Mark 10:21–22 CSB17)


Because this man lost sight of the depth of his sin he lost sight of important and necessary wisdom about money. He lost sight of where money came from. He did not have money because he was better than other people. His money did not come from himself. It came from God above. He also lost sight of what you can do with money and what you cannot do with money. You can buy food, shelter, and clothing with it. But that’s about all it’s good for. It was impossible for this man to not trust in money. And in so many ways, we see the same fault and sin in our own hearts. From here, these words take a fascinating turn: 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were astonished at his words. Again Jesus said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were even more astonished, saying to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God, because all things are possible with God.”” (Mark 10:23–27 CSB17)


Jesus looks at the man and loves him1 This word for love is a very beautiful word in the bible. It’s the sort of love which shows itself by doing what is best for the person you love. And so, because he loves this rich young man, he destroys this man’s love for and trust in money. He tells him, “you’re only missing one little detail. Sell all your stuff, give it to the poor, and follow me.” And with this, he shows this man that his trust in and love for money is far greater than his love for God above.


After that, then notice what happens. The man goes away sad. And then what does Jesus do? He destroys his disciples’ trust in and love of money. In Jesus’ day there was this common opinion that those who were rich were specially chosen to have money and that they were somehow better than the rest. If anyone had a fast-track into heaven, it was the rich people. And Jesus destroys this opinion.


But Jesus isn’t done there. He also destroys our own trust in and love of money. Money cannot buy you true friends. Money cannot buy you true love. Money cannot buy you health now. And money cannot buy heaven later. It is impossible for money to do this. And yet, like this rich young man and like these disciples, we fall into the same trap.


But notice how these words close. What is impossible for us, is possible for God. And it’s not just possible, it’s provided in Christ. Where was Jesus’ mansion here on this earth? He slept most night under the open sky. Where was Jesus 401k for his “golden years?” Where was his “Cadillac insurance policy?” As you read God’s word what do you find as you read about Jesus? You see our substitute and Savior who trusted not in money, but instead in his Father to provide for him. And he did this perfectly in our place.


What was impossible for us, was possible for God and provided in Christ. This is true when it came to his obedience in our place. But it’s also true when it comes to his punishment in our place. On the cross Jesus did what was impossible for sinful humans like us. Jesus predicted that he would die and then pick up his body on the third day, proving that he paid for our sins. And he did it. Not just his obedience was provided for us; his punishment in our place was impossible too, but it was provided for us, in our place.


These words then invite us not just to ponder what we cannot do with money. They also invite us to ponder what we can do with money. Jesus did what was impossible for us to do. He was perfectly obedient in our place. He was punished in our place. And that leaves us with the question: How can we remind ourselves what it is impossible for our money to give? How can we use our money to remind ourselves what it is good for and not good for? Have you ever wondered why God’s work encourages us to give an offering regularly? Sure, your pastor is paid every couple of weeks and we pay bills every month. But that’s not the biggest and best reason we give offerings every week. Every week and every day our sinful nature lies to us and tells us that money can give us protection that it cannot give and joy that it cannot deliver. And so, as a way of reminding us where deliverance and joy comes from, what do we do? We put a part of our money in the offering plate. And when you put that money in the offering plate, there is that sinful nature saying to you, “You need that money; you can have real and true fun with that money.” And week after week, you prove that sinful voice to be a liar. For God gives you so much joy; so much contentment and every other gift even though you give that money away every week.


This is impossible. That is where we began. It is impossible for us to see the depth of our sin. It is impossible for us to not trust in and love our money. How thankful we are that what is impossible for us is promised and provided in Christ. His trust in his Father was perfect. His payment was impossible for us, but provided by him. Let us, week by week, remind ourselves of this fact in our offerings. Amen.



1 “ⲏⲅⲁⲡⲏⲥⲉⲛ” (Mark 10:21 GNT-ALEX)

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