Third Sunday in Lent

Lent

What Do We Do With These Words?


This doesn’t apply to you. Hospitals are places that are full of rules. I remember one of the first times I had to visit a hospital as a pastor. One of my members was in the ICU. So I got to the door just outside of the ICU. And it was closed. And there were no knobs or latches to get in. And beside the doors was a large poster. And on that poster was a massive lists of commands. You cannot come in here if… And even when if you can come in here, you can only come in during these hours. After reading the huge list I was beginning to conclude that no one could come into the ICU. Then a guy wearing scrubs walked past me, swiped a hidden box on the wall and the doors opened. And of course, when the doors opened, I snuck in after him. But notice, my friends in Christ, that the rules didn’t apply to him. He could come and go as he pleased. This morning we look at these ten “words” that the Lord speaks to his people. But the first lesson to learn is what applies to us and what doesn’t. And so, In Exodus 20, we read: 1 Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. 3 Do not have other gods besides me. 4 Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. 5 Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ iniquity, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, 6 but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commands. 7 Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:1–7 CSB17)


The first lesson we need to learn as we approach these words is that much of this does not apply to you. In these words God commands his people to not make any carved images.1 Yet look around you. You see pictures and images all around you in this church. Even more than that, you have pictures of God put right here on your altar. And so, there are parts of the second commandment that do not apply to you. And the same is true with the third. Moses tells us: 8 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: 9 You are to labor six days and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, your livestock, or the resident alien who is within your city gates. 11 For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.” (Exodus 20:8–11 CSB17)


What day of the week do we usually worship on? And yet here we see the command to worship on the Sabbath—on Saturday. Part of the third commandment does not apply to you. But here’s the question we need to ask: why? Jesus fulfills all the commandments in our place—all of them. And so, there are parts of these ten commandments that do not apply to us. The apostle Paul uses a beautiful picture for this: 16 Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is Christ.” (Colossians 2:16–17 CSB17) The illustration I use is this: If there’s a person walking around a corner, you see the shadow. You focus in on it because the closer the person gets the more details you find out. But when the substance (the person) comes, you don’t look at the shadow anymore. So there are parts of even the ten commandments that are shadow. And Jesus is the substance that fulfills them in our place.


This might be a strange topic to plow through on Sunday morning. But, my friends in Christ, this is important. This seems like irrelevant data until…until your friend who goes to a Calvinist church tells you that you’re sinning because you have pictures and sculptures of Jesus in your church. It seems irrelevant until the neighborhood Seventh Day Adventist tells you that you’re sinning because you don’t worship on Saturday. There are parts of these commandments which do not apply to you. And just as it’s a sin to ignore the parts of the commandments that do apply to you, it’s just as bad to feel guilty over the parts of these commandments that do not apply to you.


So then, understanding this, we can begin to answer that question, “What do we do with these words?” First, recognize that each of these commandments has a heart and core, a foundation that applies to you. Recognize that these commandments—all of them—are commandments you cannot keep. These words are not rungs of a ladder that we can use to climb up to heaven. No, these words are commandments that show us how really, truly sinful we are. And the most piercing way we see this is by looking at our gospel this morning. As we compare ourselves to Jesus in the temple it’s not pretty, is it. Somewhere along the line we learned that anger is a sin. But, what these words here in the gospel for this morning show us is that Jesus was perfectly angry and zealous for his Father’s house and there have been times where we should have been angry and zealous but were not. It should make me angry when there are times that I do not treat this place at a holy place where people worship. It should make us angry when other people do not treat this as the holy place it is. I still remember the one of the worst spankings I ever got when I was a child. I was a little child and my parents were taking forever talking after church was done. I was running through the church like a wild-child. They told me to stop and I ignored them. Then, out of nowhere, was a spanking. But why was it so swift and so severe? My mom said, “You are in the Lord’s house. This isn’t a playground.” She was angry—and properly so. But how many times have we should have been zealous and even angry, but we weren’t?


Recognize that these words are commands that we cannot keep. But isn’t is wonderful and amazing that Jesus was perfectly angry in our place. Look at your lives. There are times that we are angry when we should not be. And there are times when we should have been angry but weren’t. Then look at Jesus. Look at the Savior who shows such burning anger and keeps the third commandment in your place. Recognize that these words are commandments that you cannot keep. But also recognize and rejoice that Jesus could keep them and did. And the perfection and forgiveness that Jesus has in your place he gives to you through his word.


So what do we do with these words? We recognize that they are commands that we cannot keep, but Jesus kept in our place. but notice then, that when we recognize this, it changes how we look at the commandments. When we see that Jesus freely and completely kept these commandments in our place, we naturally want to keep these commandments. We don’t want to keep these commandments to earn heaven. That’s impossible. No instead, God has given to us a new person alongside that old person. This new person thanks and praises our Savior and looks for ways to thank him. And what is so beautiful about these words is that these words are not just commands. They are also promises. Listen to what the Lord tells us: 12 Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 Do not murder. 14 Do not commit adultery. 15 Do not steal. 16 Do not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:12–17 CSB17)


Look at the fourth commandment here: Honor you father and mother. But there’s more to it. There’s also a promise. God promises to lengthen life so that, out of thanks, we would thank him in the way he would like to be thanked. And that’s the key thought. If we ask the question, “how can I thank God,” there’s your answer. If he really wants us to follow the commandments and really likes it when we do so, we can humbly follow down that path. Think of the promises in these words as the opposite of fruitcake. Now, if you like fruitcake, then you can forgive me for beating up on fruitcake. But, let’s face it, fruitcake is pretty much the universal anti-gift. You can’t eat it. You can’t use it for a book-stop. It doesn’t decompose. You didn’t want it. But someone gave it to you anyway. These promises here in these words are the opposite of fruitcake. What a great joy it is to know that the promises in these words are what our Lord actually wants and likes.


And so, what do we do with these words? We recognize that they are commands that are only kept by Jesus. And we recognize that they are promises given to us. Amen.



1פֶ֣֙סֶל֙“ (Exodus 20:4 BHS-T)

Second Sunday in Lent

Cross

Do You Want To Follow Jesus?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



1 “ⲯⲩⲭⲏⲛ” (Mark 8:35 GNT-ALEX)

First Sunday in Lent

Abraham and Isaac
Abraham and Isaac

Put Me To The Test


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



1 ”עֹלָ֔ה“(Genesis 22:2 BHS-T)

Ash Wednesday

Lent

Turn To Jesus


Some sins are uncomfortable. Now, when I make that statement, I am not talking about the fact that there are sins that we do that are uncomfortable. What I’m speaking about is the fact that there are sins that the bible speaks about that we don’t usually like to speak about. It seems safe and allright to speak about gossipping and greed. But what if it’s a different topic? Then it just doesn’t seem right or permissible. What if we start talking about websites that no one should visit—and yet we do? What if I jumped into the role of your doctor for a moment and told you to stop eating all those big macs, bacon and brownies. Oh, you can talk about some topics, pastor. But don’t go there. What I eat is my business. What I watch is my business. But the Holy Spirit reserves the right to preach against not just the sins we are familiar and comfortable speaking about, but also the ones we are not comfortable speaking about. And this evening we see that so very clearly as the Holy Spirit reminds us about Judas. And so, in Matthew 27, we read: 1 When daybreak came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put him to death. 2 After tying him up, they led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. 3 Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. 4 “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he said. “What’s that to us?” they said. “See to it yourself!”” (Matthew 27:1–4 CSB17)


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


But, my dear friends in Christ, notice what word is not used in these words. All the english translations use words like “regret” and “remorse” for the word, accurately reflecting the greek word.1 But what word should we have expected to be there but is not? It’s another “R” word. Where is Repentance? You see, there is a huge difference between Regret and Repentance. Regret and remorse is suffering the shame of your sin. It is feeling absolutely horrible over the sin you have committed because of the shame and embarrassment you have brought on yourself. But what is it not? It is not repentance. Repentance has two parts: first, repentance is terror. It is a recognition that your sins rightly cause you shame and earn hell for you. But there is also a second part. Repentance is not just terror. It is also trust. It is trust that when Jesus promises that his blood covers your sin, he means it.


Now, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, look at Judas. And when you do you see that there really is not a whole lot of difference between pride and despair. Pride is the arrogance to think that you are so good that you don’t need forgiveness. Despair is the arrogance to think that you are so bad that there is not way that Jesus’ blood could cover your sin. Both of these attitudes bluntly and boldly call Jesus a liar. Pride calls Jesus a liar when he says that we are sinners. Despair calls Jesus a liar when he proclaims that there is forgiveness for sin.


So what do we learn from all this? Though it may not be comfortable for us or even acceptable for the sinful society around us, we look at Judas and repent. We repent both of our pride and of our despair. We turn to Jesus. And instead of wallowing in our sin, we trust Jesus’ promise that all our sins are forgiven there on that cross. And yes, that means the sins that we don’t talk about because they are so sinful and so shameful. They are forgiven.


And so, we turn away from shame to Jesus. But in our final verse we turn yet again. We read: “So he threw the silver into the temple and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5 CSB17)


We turn away from shame. And we also turn away from suicide. In our churches, in almost every instance, we do not bury those who have committed suicide. And we follow this practice for a very real and important reason. But it might not be what you expect. For we do not avoid burying people because suicide might be an unforgivable sin. Take, for example, a Christian who drives home drunk. That is a sin. Let’s say that the scenario gets even worse though. Let’s say that he swerves across the line and kills both the people in the car he hits and himself. Will he go to heaven after committing such a grievous sin? Since he believes in Jesus, his Savior, the answer is, “Yes.” For whether we know it or not, we are continually and constantly sinning in our hearts. No, instead, we do not bury people who have murdered themselves because they preached with their actions. By killing themselves, which only God reserves the right to do, they preached a sermon of despair. With their last act they preached that as many promises of forgiveness as Jesus has preached to them, the don’t believe them.


And so, what do we do with all of this? We turn to Jesus. We turn to Jesus by turning away from our shame. But we also turn away from suicide. And we do that by preaching against it. In my ministry as a pastor suicide has only brought pain and misery to the survivors who are left. When people contemplate suicide they pretend that they are doing this for their family. But really, truly, they are doing it for themselves. It only brings pain, not peace, to those who survive. It does this because the loved ones who survive cannot ask the person that most important question, why. And they also do not know the answer to that question, where. They do not know if that person is in heaven or hell. If that person died in despair they are not in “a better place.” No, they are in a worse place. They are in hell. And so, in the same way you would yell and scream and plead to the child who wanders into the busy road to get out of the road, do the same with the person thinking about suicide.


And if you, yourself, have thoughts to just end it all, preach the same sermon to yourself. Suicide makes nothing better. Instead, it makes everything worse. But also turn to Jesus. For Jesus has said, “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Whatever sickness or tragedy you face, Jesus is there with you. And not only is he with you but his is also there for you. Jesus perfectly trusted in his Father for you in your place. Look to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was being pressured by Satan to dive into despair that he sweated drops as thick as blood. He did that for you because you could not. And he died for you so that whatever sinful, shameful, painful sin you have committed, it is dead and conquered there on that cross along with all the other sins the world has committed.


So, my dear friends in Christ, turn to Jesus. Turn away from shame. Turn away from suicide. And Turn to Jesus. Amen.



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

Epiphany 7

Epiphany

The Son of Man Cares


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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

Epiphany 5

Epiphany

Trust in the Lord


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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