Who Do You Think You Are? (Lent 5)


Who Do You Think You Are?

How do you answer someone who disagrees with you? Actually, let’s make the question even more challenging: How do you answer someone when it’s as plain as day that the other person is wrong? In the Old Testament it says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.” (Proverbs 26:4 NIV) And what’s fascinating, is that in the very next verse, God’s word says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:5 NIV) So which do you do? When someone is wrong, and you know it, do you correct that person, or not? Sometimes there is no way out. Sometimes God puts you in the situation where you have to correct that other person. And that’s the situation that we see Jesus in this morning. In John 8, we read: 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” 48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” 49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”” (John 8:46–51 NIV11-GKE)

In these words Jesus is at the very end of a long conversation with the Jewish Leaders in Jerusalem. And there’s no way around it. He, out of love for them, is going out of his way to correct them. But what is fascinating in these words is how he does this. At the end of the day, he wants them to know that he is their Savior from sin. So, first of all he needs to let them know that they are sinners. And so he tells them that whoever keeps his word will never see death. Now it’s very important for us to see where Jesus starts. Years ago I had a professor who said that when you are speaking to people about their sin and their Savior, what you should not do is tell them that they cannot get into heaven by themselves. No, instead, you should help them discover what it takes to get into heaven if they want to go alone. Let them know, he said, that if they want to get into heaven what they need to do is to never, ever say, think or take any selfish, sinful action towards anyone else. All you have to do is perfectly obey God…always…till your very last breath. For when you do this you let people know that if they want to jump over a bar to get into heaven, the bar is above the skies and way out of their reach. They cannot be perfect. That is what Jesus is doing here. He lets them know that if anyone of them is able to keep Jesus’ words perfectly and completely that person will never ever see death. These are words that are supposed to drive them to give up on their own ability to get to heaven by themselves. But these are also words that are supposed to show Christ’s great love for them.

All this is important for us to see. For when we see Jesus here we see someone who is so very often the opposite of who we are. Jesus reaches out and corrects these Jewish leaders who hated him when it would have been so much easier to simply ignore them. And by reflection and contrast it reminds us of the times we should have corrected those around us who were wrong—especially wrong about their conclusions about the bible. But instead of correcting them, we became embarrassed and ignored the problem. Or, on the opposite extreme, instead of ignoring the problem we corrected them like a hammar corrects a nail. Without love and without compassion we rejoiced at the opportunity to tell them when they were wrong. Well then, when Jesus reaches out to correct them, what is their response to him?: 52 At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” 54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55 Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word.” (John 8:52–55 NIV11-GKE)

The Jews in this part of God’s word ask the right question, don’t they? They say, “Who do you think you are?” Jesus is the only one. Jesus is the only one who can keep God’s word. He is the only one who is able to correct with perfect faithfulness and patience. And his faithfulness paves over our cowardice and arrogance all the way to the cross where he pays for these sins. Who do you think you are? Jesus is the only one who can keep God’s word. But as these words travel on we find a different answer to that question: 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” 58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” (John 8:56–59 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus is the only one. He is the only one who can keep God’s word.’ But notice here what Jesus says. Jesus is the only one who can carry God’s name.’ In these words we find two amazing and shocking statements. First, Abraham saw Jesus’ day. In a very wondrous way Jesus lets us know that he was there. He was there at the beginning and creation of the world. And he has been there every day up until he spoke these words. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father. And the Jews pick up on how shocking this statement was. And they ask him in a disgusted and condescending way, “You saw Abraham?”1 From there then, Jesus says a second, even more shocking statement: “Before Abraham existed, I Am.” Now, there’s more going on in these words than we might pick up on at first glance. These words take us back to Exodus 3 where Moses asks God what his name is. And in a shocking and surprising turn of events, God tells him. He says, “I am that which I am.”2(Exodus 3:14 BHS-T)}} Then he tells Moses, “I Am has sent me.”3(Exodus 3:14 BHS-T)}} So when Jesus says, “Before Abraham existed, I Am”, the Jews perfectly understood what he was doing and what he was saying. He was saying that he was a human who could carry God’s true and divine name. And we know this is exactly how they understood this. For they picked up stones to stone him. That was a punishment for blasphemy.

When they asked him the question, “who do you think you are?”, out of love for them, he gave them two answers. Jesus is the only only one who can keep God’s word. And Jesus is the only one who can carry God’s name. And that is a fact that we ponder this morning. For there have been times where we have not corrected people in a patient and caring way. But out of love for us Jesus gives us the opportunity to correct people. And the way we can do that in this context, in these words, is to correct and clarify who Jesus is. When our co-worker stubs his or her toe and says, “Jesus Christ”, with patience and care you can say, “I know those words slipped out because you were in pain, but those are words worthy of divine dignity and worship.” And, even worse, when someone says, “Jesus Christ,” as a punchline to a joke or a curse, even more, with patience and love you can say, “Maybe you think that I will listen to you more when you use the name of God like that. But I am convinced that that is the name of the one true God. And on the last day he will send people to heaven and send others to hell. That is not a name you want to play games with.” And when the person says the same question the Jewish leaders speak here, “who do you think you are?”, you can respond by saying, “That’s not the real issue. The real issue is “who do you think Jesus is.”’” For Jesus is the only one. He is the only one who keeps God’s word. And he is the only one who carries God’s name. With this in mind, let us ever praise him for saving us from our sin. And let us ever worship him for who he is. Amen.

1 “ⲁⲃⲣⲁⲁⲙⲉⲱⲣⲁⲕⲁⲥ” (John 8:57 GNT-ALEX)

2 ”אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה“

3 ”אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה שְׁלָחַ֥נִי“

What Are You Looking For? (Midweek Lent 4)


What Are You Looking For?

January is a difficult month. At the beginning of each year people make New Year’s resolutions. They flood into gyms. And, for years, when I used to go to a gym like that, that was a frustrating month. That was the month there was no open spaces in the exercise classes. That was the month there was no open showers. But by this time of the year most of those people were gone. And they were gone ever year. And it made me ask the question: Is it possible to be a part-time member of a club? And the answer is: yes. It’s not the wisest use of money. But you can pay for a gym membership and then only go occasionally. But does it work the same way as a Christian? Can you be a part-time Christian that is not attached and not entangled? That’s the question that Mark makes us ask this evening. In Mark 14, we read: 53 They led Jesus away to the high priest, and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes assembled. 54 Peter followed him at a distance, right into the high priest’s courtyard. He was sitting with the servants, warming himself by the fire.” (Mark 14:53–54 CSB17)

Can you follow Jesus from afar? Can you be a disciple from a distance? That’s the question that Mark makes us ask. He lets us see Peter trying to straddle the fence. And he wants us to stop and ponder that question: Can I be a disciple from a distance? Then, as is his habit, he takes us away to another person. We read: 55 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they could not find any. 56 For many were giving false testimony against him, and the testimonies did not agree. 57 Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, stating, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands, and in three days I will build another not made by hands.’” 59 Yet their testimony did not agree even on this. 60 Then the high priest stood up before them all and questioned Jesus, “Don’t you have an answer to what these men are testifying against you?” 61 But he kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest questioned him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 “I am,” said Jesus, “and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard the blasphemy. What is your decision?” They all condemned him as deserving death. 65 Then some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to beat him, saying, “Prophesy!” The temple servants also took him and slapped him.” (Mark 14:55–65 CSB17)

After making us ponder the question, can I be a disciple from a distance, he takes us to Jesus who is on trial. Here in these words it’s deep into the night, Maybe 2 or 3 AM. And in these words Jesus is waiting and looking for a way and a time to speak the truth. So all the priests and all the Sanhedrin were there. And they make up one lie to accuse Jesus of. And accusation after accusation, lie after lie, Jesus is silent. And finally then the chief priest stands up and accuses Jesus. And Jesus is still silent. Then, finally he asks Jesus the right question. He says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One, aren’t you?” And here, finally, Jesus answers. Here is where Jesus takes his stand. Here is where Jesus is willing to lay his life on the line for us. He is not willing to be condemned made up lies. But he is willing to be condemned for who he actually is, the Son of Man.

Now, notice that Jesus tells the high priest, “yes.” But he does so in a very interesting way. Early on in Jesus’ ministry he called himself the Son of God, and they hated him for it. From that time on he would call himself the Son of Man. This was a way of emphasizing his humanity and frailty as a human. But in a very interesting way, he would refer to himself as the Son of Man at the very same time he did something only God could do. Here in these words he is doing much the same. When he is asked if he is the “Christ” he says that he is the “Son of Man.” But then notice what where he goes. He takes us way back into the Old Testament to the book of Daniel.1 In the book of Daniel God the Father is pictured, sitting on this throne. And there is one who looks “like a son of man.” But this Son of Man will come on the last day to judge the living and the dead. Notice what Jesus was doing with these words. He was both admitting that he was the Son of God without saying the words and urging them to repent of their sins. But instead of repenting, they began to persecute Jesus.

All of this then drives us to ask a very important question: why? Why did Jesus wait for this exact and precise moment to say that he was the Son of Man and true God in front of them all? We find the answer that question in the words that follow: 66 While Peter was in the courtyard below, one of the high priest’s maidservants came. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” 68 But he denied it: “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about.” Then he went out to the entryway, and a rooster crowed. 69 When the maidservant saw him again, she began to tell those standing nearby, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. After a little while those standing there said to Peter again, “You certainly are one of them, since you’re also a Galilean.” 71 Then he started to curse and swear, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about!” 72 Immediately a rooster crowed a second time, and Peter remembered when Jesus had spoken the word to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.” (Mark 14:66–72 CSB17)

Just as Mark begins this part of God’s word with Peter, so also, he ends with him too. Can you follow from a distance? Can you follow from afar? Peter tries to and then fails. For there’s this servant girl who recognizes him. She asks whether he was with Jesus. And he denies being a follower of Jesus. And what’s interesting here is that he can’t deal with her the way he dealt with Malchus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He cannot deal with this situation with violence. You can’t beat up a teenage girl with feisty questions. So he takes the only course of action that he can: he denies that he is a follower of Jesus. Then he walks out of the courtyard. She sees him again and asks him the same question in front of other people. He denies Jesus a second time. Then, after a little while, the people standing there question Peter. And, with curses and oaths he denies that he even remotely knows who Jesus is. And these words are sadder than they appear. For in Hebrew, oaths like this were negative oaths. Peter was cursing himself if he knew who Jesus even was—let along follow him. Peter was saying, “May I burn in hell forever if I even know who this guy is.”

Can you be a disciple from a distance? Can you follow from afar? The clear answer is: no. It was true for Peter. It is true for us too. The world sees you. The world sees if you follow Jesus or not. If you follow Jesus closely, they see it. If you try to follow Jesus from afar, they see it. And either direction you take, they will condemn you. That’s the bitter irony that Peter learned. If I take my stand with Jesus in front of the entire world, the entire world will condemn me. And if I try to hide my faith and pretent that I can follow Jesus from afar, the world will properly and rightly accuse me of hypocrisy and then condemn me. You cannot be a half-way Christian. Either you follow Jesus completely, or you deny Jesus completely. Peter denied Jesus completely to avoid the condemnation of the world. And his example condemns us too for the times we have done the same.

But even though these words start with a question and end in bitterness, there is hope in them. For Peter denied Jesus in front of them all. And we can find times and examples in our lives when we have done the same. But look at Jesus. Even as Jesus was being condemned, he reached out with words of repentance, letting them know he would come to judge the living and the dead. And those words even still today move us to repent. And they don’t just move us to repent. They also move us to praise Jesus. For Jesus was the one who was willing to speak the truth in front of them all for us. And then he was willing to die for that truth. With that faithfulness he wins our redemption and covers our sins of following from a distance. Amen.

1 Daniel 7:13

Let Us Borrow A Prayer (Lent 4)


Let Us Borrow A Prayer

Some prayers are impressive. Years ago, when I was a vicar, my bishop was asked to give the blessing before the potluck dinner. And after everyone quieted down, he spoke these words:

The eyes of all look to you, O Lord, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. Amen. Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us through these gifts which we receive from your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

I was really impressed. I was so impressed that I thought about asking him where he got that prayer from. And of all the questions I asked my bishop and he patiently answered, I’m glad that I did not ask that question. And the reason is that the prayer he spoke was from Luther’s Small Catechism. That, evidently, was a part of the catechism that I didn’t have to memorize. So I didn’t. But since then I’ve borrowed that prayer because it was so good. This morning we borrow a prayer. But it’s not a prayer from Martin Luther. Instead, it’s a prayer from the Apostle Paul. In Ephesians 3, we read: 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” (Ephesians 3:14–16 NIV11-GKE)

In these words Paul was just amazed over the fact that we Gentile would be included in God’s family with the same status as our fellow Jewish believers. And with that fact in mind he gets down on his knees and prays. That right there is an important detail. Normally, when people prayed in those days they stood up and lifted their hands up. But when people were overwhelmed with such amazement as Paul was standing wasn’t good enough. Instead he kneeled down in worship of our our Triune God. And then he prayed. His first prayer is that we would know that our inner self would be powerful. Now, there are some questions to ask and answer in these words. What is an “inner-self?”1 When God creates faith in our hearts, alongside our old, sinful nature, he gives to us a new nature. This new nature knows who God is and both trust in and follows him. When Paul speaks about the inner self or inner being or hearts, that’s what he’s talking about. And what detail does he want us to know about our inner self? He wants us to know that it’s powerful.

One of the temptations to sin we face is to forget that we have an inner self and that it’s powerful. Sin is often described as addiction. And the problem with addiction is that it works so hard to intimidate and dominate every part of our lives. But what has Christ done for us? He has given to us an inner self. So when we are tempted to sin, we should not conclude that we are powerless. For there is this inner self in us born of water and the word. You can pick whatever sins you want: lusting, lying, laziness, pride, greed, envy. And the huge temptation is to conclude that our sinful nature is so powerful that we can’t confront and refuse it. And the reason why it’s so easy to conclude that our sinful nature is so powerful is that so very often what it does, it does on the outside. We can hear the sinful thoughts that so often flow through our hearts and minds. We can hear the words that come out of our lips. We remember the sinful actions we have taken to obey our sinful nature. But, when it comes to our inner self, it’s on the inside. Just as faith and the Holy Spirit are invisible, so also is this inner self inside us. But make no mistake. Just because it’s unseen on the inside, that doesn’t mean that it’s powerless. And what follows is an answer to the question, “How do we know that that inner self is powerful?”: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,” (Ephesians 3:17 NIV11-GKE)

This inner self is powerful because when the Holy Spirit gives us this gift of faith, Christ takes up residence in our hearts. And if Jesus dwells in you then he is the one who will fight for you.

That’s what Paul prays for. And here this morning that’s what we pray for. Even though we cannot see this inner self, we thank our Triune God that he has given to us this inner self. And we ask that it would be powerful. But that’s not the only prayer that Paul speaks. What follows is his second prayer: 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18–19 NIV11-GKE)

Paul prays that we would know that our inner self is powerful. But here, notice what he prays for. He prays that we would know that Christ’s love would be plentiful. And how he explains this is wonderful. First, Paul mentions the phrase, “the love of Christ.” Whenever you bump into a phrase with an “of” in the middle, you have to make a decision which direction it goes. Does this mean the love that we have for Christ? or does it mean the love that Christ has for us? It’s the second. It’s Christ’s love for us. And Paul then pictures this amazing love that Christ has for us with dimensions. He wants them to know how wide and how long; how deep and how high Christ’s love for them is. And if that picture isn’t enough, he gives them the picture that Christ’s love “goes beyond.” It’s the picture of throwing a baseball and it goes way over the head of the person you are throwing to—by a lot.

That’s what Christ’s love for you looks like. That’s how much Christ loves you. And there’s a reason Paul goes out of his way to emphasize this fact twice. This too is so very easy to forget. The problem we face is that it’s ever-so-easy to live down to expectations. I know that the popular proverb is that people can rise to the challenge and live up to expectations. But the opposite is true too. We can live down to expectations. If we look at the sin inside of us we can reach this conclusion because we lose so very many battles to sin. And when we lose them day after day we can give up trying to not sin. And we can reach the conclusion that, if people really knew us, they would have no reason to love us.

But look what Paul prays that you would know. Know the full breadth and depth of Christ’s love for you. Know that it’s real and true for one simple reason: The reason it is true is that it didn’t come from you or depend on you. This love that Chist has for you came from Christ and depends on what he did to forgive you. The best words I can use to describe this come from Martin Luther. He says: “God’s love does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. Human love comes into being through that which is pleasing to it. ““ 2 We can live down the expectations placed on us. We reach this conclusion from the inside. But we can also conclude this from the outside. You picture the child at school who is picked on and bullied by his or her classmates. What can so easily happen, if given enough time and enough repetition, is that the victim believes the bully. And when that happens it’s only a very short distance until the victim gives up and becomes what the bully preaches to the person.

When we reach this conclusion from the outside, what is the prayer that we need to know and have others know? Know that Christ’s love for you goes way beyond the sort of human love you find here. And if Christ loved me enough to live for me and die for me then that means that the answer to the question of who I am and what I am is not answered by the pack of bullies on the playground. No, it’s answered on the battleground of Golgatha where Christ died for my sins.

Those are the two prayers that Paul prays for you: that we would know both that our inner self is powerful and that Christ’s love for us is plentiful. But look at how Paul closes these words: 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20–21 NIV11-GKE)

We borrow Paul’s prayer. And out of Chist’s love for us, he answers our prayer. For he can do far more than we can ask or imagine. So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, borrow this prayer. Pray that you would continue to know both that your inner self in powerful and that your Christ’s love for you is plentiful. Amen.

1 “ⲉⲥⲱⲁⲛⲟ̅ⲛ” (Ephesians 3:16 GNT-ALEX)

2 The Roots of Reform, The Annotated Luther 1; ed. Timothy J. Wengert; Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 104.

What Are You Looking For? (Midweek Lent 3)


What Are You Looking For?

He stood his ground. One of the joys of re-reading God’s word is walking through all the parts and details that you missed. Slowly, bit by bit, I’m reading through the Old Testament. And at the end of David’s life there is a list of King David’s “mighty men.” In those words we meet Eleazar, son of Dodo. And he’s in that list of mighty men because when there was a battle with the Philistines all the rest of the Israelites ran away. But he stood his ground. And he attacked so many Philistines that his hand seized up and was stuck to his sword handle. At the end of that paragraph, we hear how the Israelites came back, but only to plunder the dead…because there were no more Philistines left to fight.1 On that day Eleazar stayed. And that’s why he was their hero. This evening it’s not Eleazar who stays. Instead, it’s Jesus. And because he stays, he is our Savior. In Mark 14, we read: 32 Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and he told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 He said to them, “I am deeply grieved to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake.” 35 He went a little farther, fell to the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.”” (Mark 14:32–36 CSB17)

In these words we see what those forty days in the wilderness led to. All those forty days of temptation led to this one hour of temptation. And in these words we see why Jesus is our Savior and not a human hero. Satan is bringing all his pressure against Jesus. And he asks that the hour would go away.2 In minutes from that point in time he would be betrayed. But the calm before the storm can be the worst part. When you run in a race or play in a game, it’s not the game that’s the hard part. It’s the waiting before hand. It’s not the surgery that’s can be the hard part, instead, it’s the waiting. That’s when all the bad and fearful thoughts rise up. And here we see the same and so much more with Jesus. And so he asks that the hour would be taken away. But notice what follows right after this: He says those amazing words, “but not what I want, instead, what you want.” This is why Jesus is our Savior. He stays up to fulfill his Father’s will. But these words quickly shift and change focus to Jesus’ disciples: 37 Then he came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you stay awake one hour? 38 Stay awake and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 Once again he went away and prayed, saying the same thing. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, because they could not keep their eyes open. They did not know what to say to him. 41 Then he came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?” (Mark 14:37–41 CSB17)

Are you sleeping? That’s the question that Jesus asks them. Jesus is weighed down with sadness to the point of death. And their eyes are weighed down with weariness, so they sleep. And in these disciples we see our own sin too. Jesus could ask the same question of each of us too: “are you sleeping?” Our sinful nature is powerful. And it gets to us and at us when we are weakest. There is this unique set of temptations that come to us when we don’t get enough sleep. When we are sleepy—that’s when our patience runs out when others are speaking to us. When we are sleepy—that’s when we are tempted to pass off “C” work as if it were “A” work. When we are sleepy—that’s when we might have seen Satan’s temptations coming and take our stand. But our sinful natures get us at our weakest. That’s why we look at this bitter hour with such joy in our hearts. Satan poured out all the pain and sadness he could at the very moment when Jesus was most tired. He had eaten a passover feast. He had drunk wine. And he had stayed up so very far past his bed time. And that weighed his eyes down. But that was nothing compared to the pressure Satan was pouring out on him. And for all the times we sleep, Jesus proves that he is our Savior by staying up. He stays up to fulfill his Father’s will. And, as if that’s not enough of a reason to worship and praise Jesus, Mark gives us even more reasons to praise and worship him. We read: 41 Enough! The time has come. See, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up; let’s go. See, my betrayer is near.” 43 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, suddenly arrived. With him was a mob, with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. 44 His betrayer had given them a signal. “The one I kiss,” he said, “he’s the one; arrest him and take him away under guard.” 45 So when he came, immediately he went up to Jesus and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 They took hold of him and arrested him. 47 One of those who stood by drew his sword, struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his ear. 48 Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs, as if I were a criminal, to capture me? 49 Every day I was among you, teaching in the temple, and you didn’t arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” 50 Then they all deserted him and ran away. 51 Now a certain young man, wearing nothing but a linen cloth, was following him. They caught hold of him, 52 but he left the linen cloth behind and ran away naked.” (Mark 14:41–52 CSB17)

Jesus stays to fulfill his Father’s will. But notice here the other reason why Jesus stays. Jesus stays to fulfill his Father’s word. Jesus says, “the scriptures must be fulfilled.” So long ago Our Father in Heaven promised that there would be a betrayer. And this betrayer would be the one who would hand Jesus over to be tortured and murdered. The Father’s prophecy and plan was to save us by surrendering his Son. And how amazing this is that Jesus doesn’t only allow this, but he helps them betray him.

And these words are so poignant and important for us to hear this evening. For Jesus stays up. But there are times that we stay up. There are times when we have slept either physically or spiritually. And that failing keeps up at night unable to sleep. The times that through our own sleepiness our sinful nature got to us. We were not patient when we should have been. We were indulgent when we should not have been. Through our sleepiness our sinful nature gets to us and later on, when our consciences catch up to us we loose sleep.

With these words we read here, Jesus comes to us and says, “Rest and be at peace. I stayed up to fulfill my Father’s will for you. I stayed up to fulfill Our Father’s word for you. Rest and be at peace for those sins are forgiven.”” And if that isn’t enough, look at what he also does. He gives us a new nature to wage war alongside the old sinful nature. Jesus says, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And we need to focus in on how willingly weak our sinful nature is. For he is always ready to wait for those times we are weak and tempt us. But, my dear friends in Christ, don’t forget about the first part of that statement. The spirit is willing. This new person placed in us through water and word in baptism is ready, willing and able to see these traps and temptations and stand up against them. And so, just as Jesus stays up, so also, you too stay up. Be awake. Be aware. Pray to your Father who hears every prayer and is there for you. For Jesus stayed up to fulfill his Father’s will. And Jesus stayed up to fulfill his Father’s word. Amen.

1 2 Samuel 23:10

2 “ⲓ̈ⲛⲁⲡⲁⲣⲉⲗⲑⲏⲁⲡⲁⲩⲧⲟⲩⲏⲱⲣⲁ” (Mark 14:35 GNT-WAS)

There Is Only One Winner (Lent 3)


There Is Only One Winner

What do you watch in the Olympics? Some people like to see the competition between the one who will get first place and the one who will get second place. Sometimes that struggle is interesting to watch. But if you really want to see a struggle, see the struggle between third and fourth place. Because, with third place, you get to be up there, standing on that podium with a smile on your face and with a medal around your neck. With fourth place, you get to go home. And so, very often the mose intense struggles are for third place, not first. But at the end of the day, the Olympics are just games. The struggle between first and second, or third and fourth is nothing compared to the struggle that happens in war. And that’s what Jesus works so hard this morning to let us see. There is a war going on every day around us. It’s a war between Jesus and Satan. And there can be only one winner. In Luke 11, we read: 14 Now he was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon came out, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. 15 But some of them said, “He drives out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” 16 And others, as a test, were demanding of him a sign from heaven.” (Luke 11:14–16 CSB17)

In these words Jesus is working a miracle. None of the people gathered there could do what Jesus just did. Jesus had just driven out a demon from a man. And instead of standing there in awe and appreciation, they accused him of being on the side of Satan. In the words which follow notice how Jesus goes out of his way to show them what is going on. In war there is only one winner: 17 Knowing their thoughts, he told them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction, and a house divided against itself falls. 18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say I drive out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons drive them out? For this reason they will be your judges. 20 If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his estate, his possessions are secure. 22 But when one stronger than he attacks and overpowers him, he takes from him all his weapons he trusted in, and divides up his plunder.” (Luke 11:17–22 CSB17)

In war, the most stupid thing a person could do is help the enemy. What motivation or reason would Satan have for getting rid of one of his soldiers? It’s complete nonsense to conclude that this makes sense. Then Jesus illustrates his point with a story. There’s a strong man. And he has and enjoys what he has because he is strong and well-armed. But what happens? A stronger man comes along. He beats the strong man up, takes his weapons and armor. Then does he give anything to the strong man? No, the stronger man takes every item for himself and gives it to whomever he wants. What’s the point? There is warfare going on between Jesus and Satan. And there is no middle ground. Either Satan wins entirely and does entirely what he wants with people, or Jesus does. He then concludes with these words: “Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not gather with me scatters.” (Luke 11:23 CSB17)

There are those times when we hear sermons and ask the question, “so what” or “now what?” This is Jesus answering that question. There is no middle ground. In the battle for your soul either Jesus wins or Satan wins. There is only one winner. There is only one winner in conversion. When we are speaking about conversion, what we mean is that instant and moment when you used to be an unbeliever and then in an instant you became a believer in Jesus. Jesus has converted your hearts and your souls to him. But with that fact comes the temptation to sin. The temptation to sin comes from forgetting what Jesus speaks of here. There is warfare for each person’s soul. And either Satan wins or Jesus does. And I can speak of how I have sinned against this fact. There have been people I have known—friends and family members who were not Christians. And I wanted them to be Christians. But I forgot these words and failed. Instead of bringing this warfare to them, I sold them salvation. I thought that if I were nice enough and showed them that my church was nice enough, then they would be Christians. I thought if I showed them with unshakable, unbreakable logic that God’s word was true, they would become Christians. But it never worked because I forget what Jesus preaches here: People either belong to Jesus, or to Satan. And if they belong to Satan they don’t care. They don’t care how nice your church is or how clear or true your logic is. They belong to Satan and they love to belong to him. What has to happen instead is warfare. Jesus has to enter in as the stronger man and defeat Satan so that they belong to him and not to Satan anymore.

There is only one winner in conversion. But the same is true when it comes to sanctification too. Sanctification is what happens after you are a Christian. It’s the daily struggling and wrestling against sin. And the point is the same: there is only one winner. Every day you wage war against your sinful nature and Satan. And not just every day, but many times within each day. And we need to wage this continual war because, day after day, there is this powerful sinful nature in us that loves sin instead of having a Savior. It’s that sinful influence and voice inside of us that loves being forgiven but yet also loves sin: the places on the internet we should not visit, the greed we should not gather, the gossip and slander we should not spread, and the list goes on. Do not think that there is some middle ground where you can love your sin and also love your Savior at the same time. There is only one winner when it comes to your soul: either Jesus or Satan. And in the words which follow Jesus lets us know that if we continue to love sin and our Savior at the same time, there are horrible consequences which follow: 24 “When an unclean spirit comes out of a person, it roams through waterless places looking for rest, and not finding rest, it then says, ‘I’ll go back to my house that I came from.’ 25 Returning, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and settle down there. As a result, that person’s last condition is worse than the first.”” (Luke 11:24–26 CSB17)

So Satan’s soldier, a demon, is driven out of a person. It goes away for a time. But then what happens? It sees that where it used to live is unguarded. So what does it do? It invites seven other demons. It says, “I will go back to my house.” And since the house is swept up and prettied-up, it can’t wait to trash the place again. What is the house in these words? You are the house. If we love our sin and pretend that we can also love our Savior, eventually all we will have is our sin. There is only one winner in your soul: either Satan or Jesus. Jesus is so focused and so determined. Then, out of nowhere, we hear these words: 27 As he was saying these things, a woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the one who nursed you!” 28 He said, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”” (Luke 11:27–28 CSB17)

A woman in the crowd raises her voice. And she blesses Jesus. And from her interruption and interjection, we see that she really doesn’t get the seriousness of what Jesus is saying. It was not the time or occasion to bless Jesus. So what does Jesus do? He puts her back on track. The ones who are blessed are those who hear the word of God and guard it!

There is only one winner. In your every day life, who will that be? Satan or Jesus. These are the sorts of questions which drive us to despair. For this is a battle we cannot win. We are powerless to stand up against Satan, aren’t we? How many times have we been tempted and failed? The victor on this battle field has to be someone else than us. And that victor is Jesus. When you came into this world you belonged to Satan. And you loved to belong to him. But what did Jesus do? He poured water on you and put his name on you in your baptism. From that point on you no longer belong to Satan, but instead, to Jesus. And there have been so many times even as Christians we have thought we can play both sides, loving sin and loving our Savior. So what does Jesus do? Through those waters of baptism he takes the forgiveness that he won on the cross and delivers it to you, individually and personally. And day by day we have to carry out this warfare against Satan and our sinful nature. So what does he do? In these waters of baptism he gives us the Holy Spirit to combat Satan. And in these waters of baptism he gives us a new nature to fight the old sinful nature.

There is only one winner. In conversion and in sanctification, there is only one winner. Give thanks and glory to God for in your souls that victor is Jesus. And out of pure thanks listen to his words and keep them. Amen.

What Are You Looking For? (Midweek Lent 2)


What Are You Looking For?

How am i supposed to feel? When I was a child I used to sit in the pew as other people came up for communion. And as they went up there I wondered what it was like to receive the Lord’s Supper? And so I would study their faces. As I looked at most of their faces as they were coming back to their seats I concluded that the Lord’s Supper was a very serious event. And most likely, it was a very sad event too. But then one day, the organist walked down the aisle with this bright, blazing, smiling face. And that threw off all my data-collecting. So which is it? Should I be sad or joyful? Is the Lord’s Supper a funeral or a festival? That is the question to ponder as we begin these words in Mark 14. We read: 17 When evening came, he arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one by one, “Surely not I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the Twelve—the one who is dipping bread in the bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man will go just as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for him if he had not been born.”” (Mark 14:17–21 CSB17)

Jesus and his disciples sit down to celebrate the Passover together. This was one of the three high festivals of the Jewish church year. It was one of the most cherished times of the year. And in the middle of that night Jesus says, “One of you will betray me.” When Jesus speaks those words, he forever changes the context of what happens on this Thursday night. That Thursday night will always be a night of betrayal. And as a result, the Lord’s Supper will always have an element of sadness because if we ask the question, “what was Judas looking for”, the answer is: a Savior to betray. And how this happens is so sad to think of. They are all there eating and feasting. And Jesus destroys the joy by saying one of you will betray me. Then each of them, one after another, says, “not me.” And Judas is there. He too says, “not me.” And Jesus makes the secret hypocrisy in his heart public. He dips his hand in the bowl along with Judas. And he ends this part of God’s word with the word, “woe.” It’s a word of immense sadness. It’s a word that makes us stop and ponder how horrible it is to betray the sinless Son of God. It’s the sort of word that if you were reading these words at home, instead of reading on, you’d stop here and ponder the fact of how horrible it is to betray the sinless Son of God all day long.

What are you looking for in Jesus? Judas was looking for a Savior to betray. But what was Jesus looking for? We read: 22 As they were eating, he took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Mark 14:22–26 CSB17)

Judas was looking for a Savior to betray. What was Jesus looking for? He was looking for forgiveness that he could bring. What is it that you receive in the Lord’s Supper? Jesus says, “this is my body.” Jesus says, “this is my blood.” Now, notice, in these words we do not find a context in which we can conclude that when Jesus is saying “this is”, what he really means is “this is a picture of.” And we definitely don’t find any indication that what he means is that Jesus is giving them his body and blood so that they then can in turn re-sacrifice them to take away the sins of the living and the dead. This is the night on which our Savior was betrayed. It is a night of sincere sadness. It is the night in which he gives to us his very own real and true body and blood along with bread and wine.

But what does that bring to us? What Jesus’ body and blood bring to us is forgiveness. The first and most important gift that Jesus gives to us in this sacrament is forgiveness. For the body that was crushed to pay for our sins on Good Friday is given to us here in the Lord’s Supper. The blood of the sinless lamb of God that could pay for sin is given to us. And so, the first and most important gift that is given in the Lord’s Supper is forgiveness.

So Judas looks for a Savior to betray. Jesus looks for forgiveness that he can bring. What do Jesus’ disciples look for? 26 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will fall away, because it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered. 28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 29 Peter told him, “Even if everyone falls away, I will not.” 30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to him, “today, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he kept insisting, “If I have to die with you, I will never deny you.” And they all said the same thing.” (Mark 14:26–31 CSB17)

Right before Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, he lets them know that one of them would betray him. Now he lets them know that all of them would betray him. Now, to be clear, the word that Jesus uses here is not the same word as before. There would be one of them who would “hand Jesus over.”1 But all would be shocked and ashamed of Jesus and then abandon him.2 All will betray him. Jesus says these words to his disciples in the upper room. And this evening he says these words to us tonight. We, like Judas, might not have plotted, planned and then progressed through a way to murder Jesus. But we have betrayed him. Every time you sing “holy, holy, holy” here in these halls and then go home and curse, you betray Jesus. Every time you say, “Your will be done” here, and then go home and in your heart say, “my way or the highway,” you betray Jesus. Every time you are emboldened to speak and sing about your Savior here and then go out there in the world and are embarrassed of him, you betray him. And if you ever wondered why Jesus would start out before the Lord’s Supper by saying, “woe to the person who betrays the Son of man,” and then after the Lord’s Supper tell them all that they would betray him, now you know. It’s easy to look at the Lord’s Supper as if it’s some sort of magical meal that simply and only strengthens our faith if you never see and find any betrayal in your heart. But if, like Peter and the rest, you find a sinful heart inside yourself that has cursed instead of praised, been stubborn instead of yielding, been embarrassed instead of emboldened, then the forgiveness that Jesus brings to you makes sense and gives you joy and hope.

So, my dear friends in Christ, how are you supposed to feel? When you come up here and receive the Lord’s Supper, how should you feel? There in the upper room was the place that Jesus spoke about betrayal. How could the Lord’s supper not be an occasion for sadness. But it’s also an occasion for joy. For the forgiveness that Jesus wins with his broken body and dripping blood on Good Friday, Jesus brings to you in the Lord’s Supper.

What are you looking for in Jesus? Judas looked for a Savior to betray. Jesus looked forgivness that he would bring. We look for forgiveness for our betrayals. And in Jesus’ body and blood along with that bread and wine we find it. Amen.

1 “ⲡⲁⲣⲁⲇⲱⲥⲉⲓⲙⲉ” (Mark 14:18 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲡⲁⲛⲧⲉⲥⲥⲕⲁⲛⲇⲁⲗⲓⲥⲑⲏⲥⲉⲥⲑⲁⲓ” (Mark 14:27 GNT-ALEX)