The Lord Is My Shepherd (Easter 4—Good Shepherd Sunday)

Good Shepherd

The Lord Is My Shepherd

If it weren’t so tragic, it might be humorous. In our gospel this morning Jesus tells us of shepherds who were really not good shepherds at all. When the wolf comes, what do the shepherds do? Do they stay and stand against the wolf? No, they run. It’s the sort of picture that you find in comedy movies and cartoons. And it would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. In God’s word this morning, in Psalm 23, King David tells us how the Lord is the opposite of that. He is good, kind, faithful and reliable. In the opening words of Psalm 23, we read: 0 A psalm of David. 1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” (Psalms 23:0–1 NIV11-GKE)

Who is our shepherd? Is our shepherd and incompetent hired-hand? No, instead, our shepherd is the Lord. And David gives us much food to chew on in that statement. The Lord is our shepherd. And because he is our shepherd, there is this natural and necessary result that follows: We lack nothing. Since the Lord is our shepherd, we lack nothing. And to drive this point home, David gives us a picture to anchor that point to: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,” (Psalms 23:2 NIV11-GKE)

Notice the picture that David gives us. The shepherd leads the sheep down by the river where there is grass by the side of the river. And what happens? They are so calm, so at peace, that they lie down and rest there. But what do they not do? They do not eat. I grew up with sheep. And I can tell you that when we lead the sheep from one area to another area, they would stop eating and then, when we got to the other area, what would they start doing again? They would begin grazing yet again. Here the picture is that of sheep who are so at ease and so content, they don’t even bother to eat. They just rest beside the beautiful waters. The Lord is their shepherd. And so, they lack nothing.

And that picture drives us to ask ourselves a question: why don’t we act like that? We know that the Lord is our Shepherd. So why is it that we don’t have that peace and calmness that David speaks about here? You can see this in how different generations treat money. I have met more than one person who grew up in the depression era. They grew up in fear, wondering where their next meal would come from. So when they grew up, what did they do? They saved. And they did not throw out. And, when they died, you’d find cupbords and closets full of Reynold’s wrap. And yet, I’ve spoken to people in the generation younger than mine who are in the opposite category. When it comes to money, instead of saving it, they make it a point to spend it. Why? They are the generation that grew up and bought homes in the mid-2000’s. And in those years they found out that the money you put in homes can fall away and the money we put into Social Security can fly away. And so, instead of saving, they started spending. And in both of these groups, we ask a simple, but important question: why did they do this? The answer is not out there. The answer is in here—in our hearts. Each of us has a sinful nature that refuses to trust that the Lord is our Shepherd, and because he is our Shepherd we will lack nothing. So what does the Lord do with our untrusting hearts? We read: “he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” (Psalms 23:3 NIV11-GKE)

The Lord guides us in paths of righteousness. Righteousness the word for perfection and holiness. And here in this Easter season we have every reason to speak about this righteousness. For there on the cross on Good Friday our hearts that want to save too much or spend too much are covered by Jesus’ righteousness. When we were unwilling and unable to depend on our Lord, Jesus depended on his Father completely in our place.

And that fact fills us with peace and contentment. For faithless and careless shepherds are not over us. Instead, the \textsc{Lord is our shepherd}. And because of that we lack nothing. But these words continue: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalms 23:4 NIV11-GKE)

The Lord is my shepherd. Because of this I will lack nothing. But notice the point that David makes in these words. Because the Lord is my shepherd, I will also fear nothing. There are consequences to sin. As we read in the New Testament: “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NIV11-GKE). And David preaches to us an amazing truth. Because the Lord is our Shepherd, we do not need to fear death. That consequence of our sin is paid for and dealt with. But notice where David goes to in these words after this: 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalms 23:5–6 NIV11-GKE)

David makes the clear and important point that God’s goodness and kindness will be with us all the days of our life—not just on the day of our death. And that is the amazing fact that David preaches to us during this Easter time. Jesus rose from the dead. If he dealt with that consequence of our sin, won’t he then be there to deal with the consequences of our sin, as David says here, “all the days of our life?”

And so, for example, the Christian young man, completely underestimates how much time it would take to study for a test. It’s 2 in the morning and he still is not ready for the test the next morning. So, he takes the tragic step of deciding to cheat on the test. The next morning he gets caught. Who will be there to help him with the consequence of that sin—not on his last day, when he dies—but on that day that he cheats? Who will be there for the young woman who is not invited to a party along with all the rest of her friends. And so, she spreads a horrible rumor about the other girl who didn’t invite her to the party—and then gets caught? When she sees her sin and repents, who will save her from the consequence of that sin? Yes, Jesus will rescue these Christians from the consequence of sin on their last day—death itself. But who will save them from the consequence of their sin today? Who will save them from their well-earned status of “cheater” and “gossiper?”

What would you say to the young Christian who might cheat or gossip? What do you say to them after they have confessed their sin? What does David say? David says, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I will fear nothing.” And David knew what it was to live with the consequences of his own sin. There was that time in his own life when he had idle hands and wandering eyes, when he committed adultery with Bathsheba. But he confessed his sin. And not only did the Lord deal with his sin by forgiving it, but he also dealt with the consequence of his sin by dealing with it. It might sound strange. But in the years after that sin David was closer to the Lord rather than farther away. For he could see how the Lord not only forgave his sin, but also dealt with the consequence of his sin and used it for good to discipline him and strengthen his faith.

The Lord is David’s shepherd. And If you were to speak to the cheating and gossiping teenager who came to you in repentance to ask for forgiveness, that is what you will say to that person. You will teach them to say, “The Lord is my shepherd; I will fear nothing.” And in your soul and in your heart you know how true these words are. For the Lord is your shepherd. How many times in your own life has the Lord not only forgiven your sin, but then also, kindly and graciously, dealt with the consequence of your sin.

It might be amusing when the wolf comes and the hired-hand runs away. But in our own lives, the very thought can be terrifying. How thankful we are that each of us can say, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Because of this, I lack nothing. Because of this I fear nothing. Amen.

I Will See You Again (Easter 3)


I Will See You Again

We panic when we miss the point. One of the places which inspires panic so very easily is the DMV. You go there to get a new license and it’s filled with one arena after another which, if you miss one small detail, you are filled with panic. You have to get in the proper line. Because if you don’t, you have to go to the back of the line. You have to bring the proper papers, otherwise, you have to come back. You have to answer questions about “turnabouts” on the exam. And if you get those details wrong, you have to take the test again. When we miss the point, when we miss vital details, we begin to panic. That’s the context we find ourselves in in these words in John 16. It’s Maundy Thursday night. Jesus is only hours away from being taken away from them. And he’s telling them and teaching them as much as he possibly can so that, after it’s all done, they eventually would begin to understand. In John 16, we read: 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” 16 Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” 17 At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”” (John 16:15–18 NIV11-GKE)

In these words Jesus tells them their future. What did their future hold? Their future held fears and tears because, for a little while, Jesus would be taken away from them. And then, later on, Jesus tells them, “I will see you again.” And the more the disciples talk about this, the more filled with fear and panic they become. And who can blame them? Other than short periods away from Jesus, day in and day out, for the past several years he has been there with them as their friend, prophet, Savior and King. And now in clear language he lets them know that they will not see him. So, Jesus steps in and calms their panic with these words: 19 Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? 20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” (John 16:19–20 NIV11-GKE)

Here Jesus tells them a bitter and beautiful irony. Very shortly they will mourn and grieve because Jesus will be taken from them and they will not see him. And when that happens, the sinful, hostile world around them will rejoice. But it will not stay that way. The situation will be flip-flopped. Later on, they will rejoice while the sinful, hostile world around them grieves. And after saying this, they still don’t understand. So he gives them a concrete illustration to help them: “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” (John 16:21 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus uses the illustration of a mom and her child. I remember when I was a teenager. And one Sunday a mom brought her newborn child into church so that the child could be baptized. And after the service a bunch of women gathered around the mom with joy and smiles on their faces. And then, one by one, they talked about how harsh and horrible their labor and delivery was. And was thoroughly confused. They were saying that their labor and deliver was harsh and horrible. But the entire time they were speaking they were smiling. It made no sense at that time. But here in these words Jesus tells us why that happens. When another human, her own child, is brought into the world, her view of that pain changes. So Jesus tells the story. Then after that, Jesus tells the point of the story: 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (John 16:22–23 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus lets them know that they will not see him. But, later on they will see him. And when they see him it will not flip-flop again. They will have joy and no one will take away that joy. And if you travel through time after that, you see that what Jesus said was true. Jesus died, but he rose from the dead, giving them joy in being able to see him again and knowing that their sins were paid for. But he also left them again, didn’t he? He ascended into heaven. But, one by one, each of them died. And the moment each of them died, they saw their Savior face to face. And their joy has not been taken away from them. And it never will be.

Jesus promised them, “I will never leave you.” He made them that promise. And today he says the same promise to us. He says to each and every one of us, “I will see you again.” This is the great joy and promise of Easter. Jesus has been taken away from us. None of us can see Jesus face to face. But what does Jesus do for us? First, The Holy Spirit gives us faith to know our Triune God and cling to him. Second, he promises to us that because he rose from the dead, we will see Jesus. And no one—not anyone ever will take that joy from us.

“I will see you again.” This is the promise that Jesus speaks to us. But because this promise is real and true, this is also a promise we can speak to others. The apostle Paul spent many months in Ephesus preaching and teaching his fellow Christians there. But then he had to say, ‘good-bye’. And at the end of his farewell sermon, this was the people’s reaction to his good-bye sermon: 37 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38 What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.” (Acts 20:37–38 NIV11-GKE)

They had pain, real and true pain, because they knew it would be the last time they saw Paul. But, my dear friends in Christ, was it the last time they saw his face? No, Paul died and saw his Savior’s face in heaven. And then, one by one, each of them died. And then they saw Jesus face to face in heaven. But they also saw Paul. That is the great joy and confidence we have as Christians. When pastors take calls to new congregations, usually after they take their call, what falls on them like a mountain of bricks is the realization that there are people in that congregation they will never see again. And pastors have real pain because of this. But because Jesus says, “I will see you again,”, we can say to each other, “I will see you again.” And so, on the final Sunday I was there in PA, as an extra final hymn, we sang “God be with you till we meet again.”1 And with this, they reminded me that, sure, there is pain. But along with that pain Jesus gives to us a promise: Because he rose from the dead, he will see us face to face, and we will see our fellow Christians face to face.

And so, my dear fellow Christians, when you say good-bye to your children when they grow up and graduate, and you know that you will not see them nearly as often as you used to, speak this promise to them and to yourselves: “I will see you again.” When your cherished Christian friends move away, say good-bye. But also say to them, “I will see you again.” When you no longer see your fellow Christians and loved ones because the Lord called them home through death, you can whisper those soft but true words at their casket, “I will see you again.” You can say those words with every confidence of joy to come. And you can do this because Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus says, “I will see you again.” This is a promise Jesus speaks to us. And because he rose from the dead, this is a promise we can speak to others. Amen.

1 CW 327

The Lord Is Our Shield (Easter 2)


The Lord Is Our Shield

I‘ll wait. One of the scary parts about being a human is how patient Satan is. Last week, on Easter Sunday, we feasted in the Lord’s Supper without fear and sang alleluias with such strength. But then what happened? Time traveled on. And throughout the week the confidence we should have had in the Lord we gave up on. If we trusted in the Lord—if he was our source of strength and hope, then there would have been no need to curse, swear, lie, lust, or be lazy. And this is a powerful reminder to us that Satan is both sneaky and strong. And if there is a day or an area that we are strong in, so very often, he just waits until we are week. That is the context we find here in these words in Genesis 15. In Genesis 14 there was a battle. The kings from far away came and fought with the kings in Abram’s land. The kings in Abram’s land lost. And normally that wouldn’t have been too huge of a concern. But when they lost they carried away the people living in Sodom and Gomorrah. Who was living in Sodom at that time? Abram’s nephew, Lot, was living there. So Abram got his trained men and traveled way up north. He beat up the kings and took back Lot and his family. And, as we read those words in the previous chapter, we do not find a hint that his faith faltered or collapsed. But you turn the page to chapter 15, and this is what you read: 1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. ” 2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”” (Genesis 15:1–3 NIV11-GKE)

When Abram was busy in battle, he was fearless. But when he was alone, by himself, at night, with too much time on his hands, his fears rose and threatened to destroy him. So, in response to this, what does the Lord do? He speaks to Abram. He appears to Abram when he is in his home in a vision. And he gives him two beautiful picture-promises. First, he tells Abram that he is Abram’s shield. A shield is what you need in battle. It keeps both the piercing arrows and the slashing swords away. And notice how the Lord speaks. He says that Abram’s courage and creativity was not his shield and protection. No, instead, the Lord was the one who protected him. Second, he tells Abram that he was Abram’s reward. If the shield is what you need in battle, the reward is what you look forward to after the battle. He lets Abram know that far better than diamonds and rubies, silver and gold, was his great God.

Ahh, but the context has shifted, hasn’t it? It’s not the battlefield anymore. It’s the middle of the long, cold night. And a different fear rises in Abram’s heart. He is childless. Abram has been waiting for almost 20 years. And even though the Lord promised to give him a son, he still remains without a son. And this is no small concern. There are consequences if the Lord does not deliver. And the consequences are far worse than being denied the the joy of having a son. If there is no son, then there is no Easter. You won’t need to worry about Jesus rising from the dead because there will never ever be a Jesus born at all. The stakes are high because the world will remain in its sin if Abram doesn’t have a son. Listen then to how the Lord responds to Abram’s very real objection: 4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”” (Genesis 15:4–5 NIV11-GKE)

The Lord took Abram outside and showed him the stars. Then he told Abram to count them. How long do you think it took before Abram gave up counting? Then the Lord piles another promise on top of all the other promises: So shall your offspring be. What an amazing statement to make. But, by dear friends in Christ, words mean nothing unless they contain power. It was not the number of stars in the sky that calmed Abram’s fears. Instead, it was the power of God’s word.

The same was happening to the disciples in the upper room. Their way of guiding their own faith and getting through this world was now shaken and shattered. Jesus rose. And he promised to go to his Father and no longer be with them face to face. Instead, he promised to be with him through his word. And his word contained power.

How easily we forget this. When the context and circumstances in our lives changes, how easily it is to forget the power contained in the promises of God’s word. We are someone else loses a job, gets sick or even dies, and what do we say to those who are grieving? We share statistics. We say, “These problems tend to work out on their own.” Or even worse, we change the subject. We could be sharing God’s powerful word, like the Lord did with Abram, like Jesus did with his disciples. But we don’t. And the reason we act like this is either because we forget that God’s word is that powerful or we don’t believe that it is that powerful. But look how our gracious Lord responds to our selfish sins: He sends his word not just to fearful Abram, but also to us. And God’s word carefully and powerfully calms the fears in our heart and crushes the lies in our heads.

And so, the Lord is our shield. And he shows this by sending his word that contains power. But there’s one more detail to look at in these words: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6 NIV11-GKE)

At first, when we read these words, it is ever-so-tempting to conclude that these words are not that important. Abram believed God. So what? But these words are some of the most important words in the entire bible. After the Lord came and spoke to Abram, he could go to bed at peace. But, my dear friends in Christ, know where that peace came from. That peace that Abram had and Jesus gave to his disciples in the upper room did not come from them. It came from the power of God’s word. And from God’s word, the Lord created faith. You see, one of the traps we can fall into is that when we are confronted with the amazing news, we can then conclude that it’s our job to earn the good instead of simply receiving it. On facebook people shared a bunch of beautiful pictures with trees and lakes in the background and word in the foreground last week. And in more than one there was this main point and message: Jesus has risen: what are you going to do about it? Notice the very blatant and blunt point it was making. Jesus has risen. So you have to earn that fact with your hands—good works done for others around you. Or you have to respond and earn Jesus with your heart—a good work done deep down in our hearts where we somehow get ourselves to feel the right and perfect way about Jesus’ resurrection and decide that we believe it. It is ever-so-tempting, but ever-so-unbiblical. Jesus did not put the burden on them to do a good work for him either with their hands or with their hearts to earn his favor. And we see the same here in Genesis on this dark, starry night. Abram was filled with doubt and was on the verge of despair. And the Lord did not appear to him and push him in his weakness of faith over the edge by making him earn the Lord’s favor with a decision made in his heart or effort shown by his hands. Instead he shared his powerful word with Abram and strengthened his faith. For faith is not an act of the will where we decide to earn the Lord and follow him, nor is it a driving force of emotion. Instead, it is confidence and trust. And this trust does not come from us. It comes from the Lord, created by his word.

And just look at what this faith did for Abram: He believed the Lord. He received this status of forgiven and perfect in God’s sight because of the sacrifice one of his male descendents would offer up. The shifting situations where Satan says, “I’ll just wait’” are dealt with as this faith that Abram had washed away all his fear and replaced it with peace. This faith so much cal amidst so much stress. And all of this is true for us today. The Lord is our Shield. He is our great joy and our very great reward. For his word contains power. And our faith gives us peace. Amen.

Have Hope Forever (Easter Festival Service)


Have Hope Forever

It’s hard to not be short-sighted. Those of you out here this morning who have children, how do you teach your children what money is and how best to use it? I ask this because one of the challenges we all had when we were children is that we are unable to not be short-sighted. I remember when I was a tiny child I got some money as a gift from one of my relatives. We went to the store. And I had the option to spend none of that money, some of that money or all of it. So, naturally, what did I do? I spent all of that money. And, by the end of that day my stomach was happy and filled with candy. But then the next day came. My brother had not eaten all of his candy. And he taunted me the entire rest of the day with the knowledge that he could eat his candy any time he wanted. It’s hard to not be short-sighted. It’s a challenge we face when we are young. And it’s a challenge we face when we are all grown-up. That is the thought that God’s word brings to our attention this morning: Where is your hope? And how long will that hope last? In 1 Corinthians 15, we read: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19 NIV11-GKE)

Where is your hope and how long does it last? Paul makes this ever-so-important statement, that if we have hope for now alone, we are to be pitied more than all the humans on the face of the planet. And that’s an important point to ponder. If this bible is just a giant book full of fictitious fun stories whose only purpose is to give us good feelings, then how sad is our life here right now. No, this book if full of promises. This collection of books that we call the bible is full of so very many promises that there would be a Savior who would die and then on the third day after he died, his body and soul would be raised back to life. And because of this we can have hope—hope now and hope forever. And what follows after this is a number of answers to the question, why? Paul writes: 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–22 NIV11-GKE)

Through one man death came into existence. So very long ago Adam sinned at the same time Eve did. And through his act of unbelief and rebellion every human being after him was born into unbelief and rebellion. And because each one of us are sinners, each one of us dies. But, just as death came into existence through one man, so also, through one man, Jesus, resurrection from death came to all of us who belong to Christ. This bible is not full of flattering lies and empty promises. Jesus in his body and soul rose from the dead, proving that Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection. But, even as we say this, God knows that we have difficulties with this fact. For Paul writes: 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” (1 Corinthians 15:23–24 NIV11-GKE)

Because Jesus rose we have hope for now and forever. But what’s the problem? We mess up and we sin. We are used to speaking about the fact that Adam and Eve rebelled in the garden and because of that each of us has a sinful nature that entices and seduces us to think about and carry out sin. That is true. But look at what the Holy Spirit brings to our attention: Dominion, Authority and Power also lead us to sin. What is “Dominion, Authority, and Power?” It’s Paul’s way of speaking about demons. It’s like the deck is stacked against us. It’s bad enough that we have a sinful nature that attacks us and entices us to sin. But it gets even worse: God’s word tells us that there are evil angels out there that we cannot see. And they too entice us to sin. How then can we have hope—any hope at all for now or forever if these two powerful allies are stacked against us? Paul answers that question with these words: “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:25 NIV11-GKE)

Our sinful nature and demons entice us. That is true. But what also is true? Jesus rules over them. And there’s a beautiful picture. It’s the preaching and picture of an orderly progression of events. Years ago, when I was a child, I watched a show about a chicken inspector. One person would put one little chick onto a table after another. And then the inspector of the chicks would pick them up, look them over, and make sure that they were healthy. But that wasn’t the interesting part. What was interesting was that he did that at the same time he kept the other little chicks from falling off the table. When you looked at the table at first, it seemed like there was chaos and no control. But then, when you looked a little longer, you realized that that inspector was in complete control. That’s the picture that Paul gives us here. There are all these enemies that Jesus has. And he deal with them one after another, each in their proper time. The first enemy he deals with is demons. And he gives to us this amazing promise: We have hope for now, but also forever. Because Jesus rules over the demons. And as we walk through our lives, wrestle against our sins and repent of our sins, Jesus promises to us that our hope is not in vain. So the first enemy that Jesus rules over is demons. But what is the final enemy that Jesus rules over? 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.”” (1 Corinthians 15:26–27 NIV11-GKE)

We have hope for now and forever. But what about death? The biggest and hugest problem we face is death. It is a huge problem because, first of all, it was never meant to be at all. God did not create and intend for us to die. He created us to be with him and live with him forever in joyful perfection. But through sin death came. And so, now there is this unnatural end to our lives. That’s the first frustration we have. But there’s a second. Because death is unnatural, we fear it. But the other extreme is that we envy it. As a pastor who has had his fair share of funerals over the years, one of the strange temptations that happens to us who remain after a funeral is missing not just our loved one who died, but also the joy, bliss and perfection that that loved one is enjoying now. And when those thoughts—whether thoughts of fear or thoughts of envy, come into our minds and hearts, we cling to these words. For the first enemy deals with in our lives is the demons that affect and afflict us. But then, at the end of our lives here, the final enemy is death. But, Jesus rules over death itself too, so that whether you die soon or decades down the road, we can have hope because Jesus rose from the dead. And since he rose from the dead all his enemies are under his feet. And he can deal and dispose of them whenever he wants.

And so, my dear friends in Christ, the joy of having ham, bacon and donuts from our Easter breakfast is already fading, isn’t it? And all the possessions we have in this life we will someday have to say ‘good bye’ to. But on this day we celebrate the fact that Jesus in his body and in his soul rose from the dead. And day by day, he is putting all his enemies under his feet, first the demons who affect and afflict us, and finally death itself. With that fact have hope for now, and forever. Amen.

Give Us Time (Easter Sunrise)


Give Us Time

It is permissible to be beaten, but not surprised. Many years ago the French emperor, Napoleon, said that. You see, if your army is about to be beaten on the field of battle, you can withdraw a large chunk of your troops. And they can fight on another day. But if you are surprised, those are the times when you can lose your entire army. When you read any of the gospels, you very quickly realize that Jesus knows that he will die. But everyone else does not. So he goes out of his way to prepare them and teach them. And the women we meet here in the darkness of Easter morning were some of the few who had a decent grasp on the fact that Jesus would die and that he did die. In Mark 16, we read: 1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”” (Mark 16:1–3 NIV11-GKE)

It is permissible to be beaten, but not surprised. These women had more than two years of teaching to be prepared for the fact that Jesus would die. But when the time came for Jesus to die, how could they really ever be fully prepared? And, in the midst of dealing with Jesus’ death, they aren’t even able to focus on it as much as they would like because they have to deal with a funeral. They buy spices to prepare Jesus body in his tomb on Friday and then now, on Sunday they can finally use them. One of the shocking and frustrating situations I’ve had to deal with is funerals. A person loses their loved one through death. And more than anything the family members just simply want time to deal with the death. But instead, they have to prepare and attend a funeral service. It doesn’t seem fair. But these women went through the same situation as we do today. But if they had a problem dealing with Jesus’ shocking and surprising death, they were even more unprepared for what followed: 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”” (Mark 16:4–7 NIV11-GKE)

If they were shocked and surprised at having to deal with Jesus’ death then they were even more shocked and surprised in having to deal with Jesus’ life. The angel in the tomb tells them simple, plain and eloquent words. Jesus is raised. He is not here. This would be the part where they’re supposed to take out their “alleluia” banners and wave them around while they sing, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” But they don’t. Instead, this is what happens: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8 NIV11-GKE)

They were not ready. They were not really ready to deal with Jesus’ death. And even more so, they were not ready to deal with Jesus’ life. And so their minds collapsed and their hearts gave way and they ran away in fear. And so, what is their Savior’s solution to their inability to deal with his death and with his life? He gives them time. Over the next 40 days he appears to many people revealing that he had risen from the dead.

He gave them time—both to deal with his death and with his life. And today he does the same for us. Every year our Savior gives us this 40 days of lent to prepare for his death, so that by the time Good Friday arrives, we’re ready. But what he also does is that he gives us time to prepare for his life. In the first congregation I served in we had an Easter Sunrise service like this one. And after it was done there was a lady who came and spoke with me. She told me that she was frustrated and angry with me because she expected to come to church and sing “alleluia” instead of diving back into darkness. And she said, “You took Easter away from me.” I was really shocked by what she had said. But what it showed me is that she had never really grappled with the words we have in front of us today. These poor women were not ready. They were not ready for Jesus’ death and they were not ready for his life. What they needed was time. And that’s what our Lord and Savior gave them. And that’s what the Easter vigil gives us—time.

For many centuries what would happen is that Christians would gather around midnight on Saturday night and then read God’s word, hear sermons, have bible studies and sing hymns to prepare themselves not as much for Jesus’ death, but instead, for Jesus life. And then, when the sun came up in the morning they rejoiced in their Savior’s resurrection and then went home and got some sleep. They needed time to adjust to Jesus’ life. And so they set aside the time. Do realize that if Christians saw what we do on Easter Sunday they would think that it’s strange. Where’s the time to adjust from Jesus’ death to his life? We slowly walk through lent and slowly work through Jesus’ death on Good Friday, and then what do we do? With no time for transition we suddenly show up and shout “alleluia” at each other. That would have been weird for the ancient Christians.

And that then is what this order of service is: time to deal with Jesus’ life’. The light outside that slowly fades away on Good Friday we slowly allow to come back. The candles that we put out on Good Friday, we slowly light back up on Easter morning to give us time to deal with Jesus’ death and his life.

And so, out of love for us, Jesus gives us time—time to deal with his death and time to deal with his life. And this is not just important to speak about on Easter. It’s also important to speak about on our last day. Sunday after Sunday, year after year, y0u have the great privilege to hear, study and grow in God’s word. And through this what does Jesus do? He makes us ready for our own death. Because Jesus died, we are able to look at our own death with faith and confidence even amidst our own fear. But Jesus also gives us time to deal with our life. They had the privilege to see a resurrected Savior. And that showed them a glimpse of what their resurrected life would be. And through God’s word we have the same privilige.

And so, my dear friends in Christ, I encourage you to look at this hour of worship this morning as a great gift of time. Here in these words this morning we have one last time to deal with Jesus’ death. And we have time to deal with Jesus’ life. And that gives us every reason to be ready for our own future death and our own future life. Amen.

Have This Mindset (Palm Sunday)

Palm Sunday Cross

Have This Mindset

How do you find the right mindset? When you watch the Olympics it’s good not to just watch the event. Instead, it’s good to also watch the athlete before the event. I like watching the athletes before the luge or bobsled. You can see man or woman sitting there with their eyes closed. And what are they doing? They are picturing every turn and texture of the pipe they are about to slide down. But along with that, they are getting their mind in the right place. What about us? How do we accomplish the same goal? How do we have the right mindset? The apostle Paul answers that question here in Philippians 2: 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5–8 NIV11-GKE)

Paul says, “Have this mindset.” Then notice where Paul directs our focus. He invites us to look at Jesus. Jesus had all the same divine atributes that his Father had. But how did he treat them? He did not use those attributes for his own advantage.1 And what follows is one staggering, amazing detail showing just how much he did not use his attributes for his own advantage. First, he becomes like a slave. And what does a slave do? He humbles himself and becomes obedient to his master. Jesus did this for his Father. And Jesus did this so perfectly and completely for his Father that when his Father said, “Obey me by putting yourself to death,” Jesus willingly obeyed that command all the way to the cross. And that word, cross, is not a word to read and then forget. It’s hard to consider a person choosing to be a slave and then throwing themselves on a grenade for someone else. But what happened on a cross was not a quick death. It was torture.

Paul says, “have this mindset.” When we look at Jesus, that’s the sort of mindset we see. But what do we see when we look in our own hearts? We see the opposite. We have attributes too. They are not the same as God. But we do have attributes. We have physical attributes, the ability to see, think, ponder, consider and work. But what do we do with these attributes? We use these attributes for ourselves.. And when people acknowledge that we have these attributes, we give credit for these attributes to ourselves. And if there should be a time when God takes some of these gifts, blessings, and benefits away, we blame God and get angry.

Paul says, “have this mindset,” but who actually has it? We don’t see this mindset in ourselves. And we don’t see it out there in the world. Everyone remembers the quarterback who throws the touchdown pass and the receiver who catches it. But who remembers the guy on the scrimmage line who gets hammered, play after play, so that nobody tackles the quarterback? Who remembers the mediocre guy on the bike taking the brunt of all the wind so that his teammate who is a better athlete overall can win for the team? What award is there for the mom who selflessly raises her children and then they grow up in just enough time for her to take care of her parents? What award is there for the guy who stays in the job that doesn’t fit him for one simple reason: He has a family to support? We do not have this mindset because each of us has a sinful nature that serves and worships itself to tell its own story and gain its own glory.

So, my dear friends in Christ, to have the right mindset, do not look at Jesus as your mentor and cheerleader. Look at him as your Savior. Look at the Jesus here we see slowly riding as your humble king up the hill to Jerusalem. See him preaching to people who didn’t understand who he was or even worse, wanted him dead because of who he was. See him humbly preaching to them and just a few days later on Good Friday, dying for them—yes even a torturous death on a cross. See that Jesus. For that humble king pays for our sins of wanting to tell our own story and gain our own glory by following his Father’s will all the way to the cross.

Look at Jesus your Savior. Then you will have the right mindset. Look at Jesus as the only one who was obedient to his Father. But, as Paul invites us to, we can also look to Jesus in another way too. We can look to him as the one who gives us a new mindset. First, he gives us the ability to see that humility is good. Second, he gives us the ability to have the mindset that we see is actually good. He gives us the ability to reach out and humbly serve others in this life even though it might mean that people might take advantage of us. And why is that that we are able to do this? Paul tells us: 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11 NIV11-GKE)

The Father did not forget his Son. He kept his promise to him that he would not abandon him. He raised him from the dead and then raised him above every place and every name in heaven. And if in a much, much greater way God can lift Jesus up, he can do the same with us. The mom who cares for her children and then her parents until the lines under the eyes come and the hair fades from color to grey can say, “that’s ok.’” She can say this because she knows that her Father in heaven will take care of her. And the guy toiling away at a job where they take advantage of his time and gifts and yet he doesn’t get the bonus or the raise he might deserve—that’s ok. It’s ok because he knows that his Father in heaven will watch over him.

You see, it’s impossible for our old, sinful nature to hear these words of Paul, that we are to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Because we need to tell our story and gain our glory. But with this promise of forgiveness for our sins and protection for our weakness, our sinful self is put to shame and silence. And God then gives to our new nature true humility and true contentment in serving others.

And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, have this mindset. Hold onto it. Do not ever be ashamed of serving others—especially when there is no flashlight or spotlight on your service. When others do not acknowledge your attributes and abilities, be content. For the God who gave you these abilities and attributes acknowledges them. And his opinion is worth far more than the world around you. Have the same mindset as Christ because in obedience to his Father Jesus first showed this mindset toward you. Amen.

1 “ⲟⲩⲭⲁⲣⲡⲁⲅⲙⲟⲛ” (Philippians 2:6 GNT-ALEX)

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 Would Drive Her Into The Desert? (Lent 2)


What Would Drive Her Into The Desert?

Nike has always had the best ads. When I was in the 8th grade I got a Nike calendar. And there was a dusty sunset. And in the middle of all this orange and red there was a road. And in the middle of the dirty and dusty road was a woman kicking up dust as she ran up the hill. And at the bottom of the picture were the words, “When the road calls, it screams.” Day after day I would pass by that picture. And I asked myself the question, “what would drive that woman to run so far in the middle of the desert?” So I looked closer. And on the back of the poster there was a biography answering my question. The woman was a smoker. And she had smoked so much that the doctor told her that she needed to stop smoking and started exercising. Otherwise she would die. So she started running and eventually ran marathons. But I had my answer. At least at the beginning, to avoid dying, she began running. This morning we meet a woman. And we ask the same question about her: What would drive her out into the desert? In Matthew 15, we read, 21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”” (Matthew 15:21–23 NIV11-GKE)

In these words Jesus goes way up north into the land of Tyre and Sidon. And we meet a woman who seeks Jesus out. And first of all, we notice the words that are used to describe her. She is called a Canaanite. You remember from Old Testament history that the Canaanites were so bad that the Lord sent the Hebrews up from Egypt to put all of them to death. What is strange about these words is that by the time Jesus speaks these words the Canaanites had been dead and gone for hundreds of years. Nonetheless, she is called a Canaanite. That’s like calling a person in Germany today a Nazi. So also, Sidon didn’t have a shining history as well. Chemosh was the god of the Sidonians. And you worshipped Chemosh by burning your children in the flames. This was a sinful woman from a long line of sinful people.

But what does she do? She seeks Jesus out. And when she finds him, in such desperation, she cries out. The word here isn’t a normal sort of cry. It’s an animal-like cry.1 She is not calm and composed. She was desperate and almost despairing. And you could hear it in her voice. But when she speaks everyone listens. Sure they listen because she won’t go away and just keeps crying out to Jesus.2 But they also listen to her because she does not speak like a Canaanite and a Sidonian. She uses Jewish words to speak to Jesus. She calls him, “Lord.”3 She even calls him that ever-so-important title, “Son of David.”4 That’s like someone showing up at our church from out of nowhere and then reciting from memory Luther’s Small Catechism.

So my dear friends in Christ, what drives her? What drives her away from her home to cry out for mercy? And, yes, part of the answer is her determination and desperation. Her daughter is being wickedly tortured by a demon.5 But there’s more going on here. She keeps following after Jesus, begging for mercy. And Jesus keeps walking and doesn’t even say one word to her. What happens next? 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” 25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. 26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” 27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”” (Matthew 15:24–27 NIV11-GKE)

Finally, he turns around and speaks to her. he challenges he. He says that he was sent first and foremost to the lost sheep of Israel. What right does she have to ask for what belongs to someone else? Now here is where it gets amazing. I don’t know about you, but if I were there, that would be the part where, embarrassed and demoralized, I would just go back home. But she doesn’t. And what is it then that drives her to do so? She stays. And even more so, she responds to Jesus. She says, “Yes, that’s true. But even the little dogs get the crumbs.” Notice what she does. First she cries out for mercy. Second, she describes and even defends what God’s mercy is. For there’s some word-play going on here. There are two words for dogs in the New Testament. There’s the normal word for dogs.6 Those are the wild, feral, mangy dogs outside. That’s not the word Jesus uses here. He uses the word for “little dog.”7 That’s the word for the dogs that are inside the house, not outside. They are pets. Pets get to stay in the house. Pets get to even have crumbs that fall from the table. Pets may not be children. But they are still loved by the Father. This woman knows what mercy is. Mercy is this undeserved love that God has for us based on his love toward our pitiable, tragic, sad condition. And she doesn’t just know what it is, she takes her stand on it and even defends it. The little dog has no right to sit in the chair where the child sits. But it has every right to be in the house and get the scraps. But even that right does not come from the dog. It comes from the gracious master of the house.

We look at this woman and we ask that question: What drives her? What drives her not only to cry out for mercy but then to also defend that mercy? Finally then, at the end of these words we have our answer. We read: “Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.” (Matthew 15:28 NIV11-GKE)

Faith—this massive and amazing gift of faith that Jesus gave to her. That is what drove her to cry out for mercy and then when that mercy was questioned she defended that mercy in front of the very one who was extending that mercy to her.

What an amazing faith. And yet, as we look into our own lives, we see that there have been times when we have been such spectacular failures. For we face such temptations and fail. We face tragedies and hardships and instead of crying out for and trusting in Jesus’ mercy, we don’t pray. We don’t pursue Jesus like this woman in the dusty desert. And if we do cry out for mercy and then receive it, when we are put in a place to stand on that mercy and even defend it, we fail. Years ago, I was at a gym on a treadmill running. And there was this guy who liked to find Christians and try to wear them down. He’d complain that God would be so evil as to send good people who had never ever done anything wrong to hell. Then he’d complain that God would allow such evil people into heaven. So finally, a little cranky and a lot out of breath, I said, “So God sends sinners to hell and he’s not kind; and God sends sinners to heaven and he’s not fair; if only [Bob] God had you up there in heaven to tell him what to do with all these sinners.” I was ready that day. And the reason I was ready that day was because there many other days before that when I was not. There will be those times in your life when God expects you not just to cry out for mercy but also to ready to defend that mercy. And we sin when we are not ready.

But look what our Savior Jesus does. Just as he gave a massive and mighty faith to this woman, he does the same to us. Through God’s word by itself or through God’s word combined with water in baptism, he created faith in our hearts. And through this gift of faith we cry out, “Lord, have mercy; Son of David, have mercy.” We cry out those words and trust in them for we know who it is that we’re crying out to. Through this faith we are content that we are in God’s house at all, not crying out for a better place as if we deserved one. But instead, through this gift of faith he gives us contentment to be in God’s house at all. And through this gift of faith he gives us the ability to not only take our stand on God’s mercy, but also to defend it. We defend it against our own sinful nature that is so offended that God would forgive us. And we defend God’s mercy against people out there who are so offended that God would led sinners into heaven. And at the end of the day, it’s not just this woman in the desert who is driven. Out of joy, the Holy Spirit drives us. He drives us to cry out to him for mercy. He drives us to defend that mercy. Amen.

1 “ⲉⲕⲣⲁⲩⲅⲁⲥⲉⲛ” (Matthew 15:22 GNT-WAS)

2 “ⲗⲉⲅⲟⲩⲥⲁ” (Matthew 15:22 GNT-WAS)

3 “ⲕ̅ⲉ̅” (Matthew 15:22 GNT-WAS)

4 ⲩⲓ̈ⲟⲥⲇⲁⲩⲉⲓⲇ’

5 22 ⲕⲁⲕⲱⲥⲇⲁⲓⲙⲟⲛⲓⲍⲉⲧⲁⲓ 23” (Matthew 15:22 GNT-WAS)

6 ⲕⲩⲱⲛ

7 ⲕⲩⲛⲁⲣⲓⲟⲛ

If You Have A Tempter, You Need A Savior (Lent 1)

Jesus In The Desert

If You Have A Tempter, You Need A Savior

It happened so quickly. Year after year I walk our catechism class through the book of Genesis. And, every year, what shocks me, is how quickly Adam and Eve fall and fail. You’re at day six. And everything is good—and not just good; they are very good. And so soon, so shortly after that everything falls apart. Adam and Eve sin and then are enslaved by sin. Why did it happen so soon and so quickly? One of the answers to that question is that every moment and every second, Satan was there to tempt Adam and Eve. And Satan has amazing skills and strength in that area. And so, as we look back at Genesis, chapter 3, what we learn is that if you have a tempter, you need a Savior. And here, this morning, in these words in Matthew 4, we see what that Savior looks like: 1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”” (Matthew 4:1–3 NIV11-GKE)

Moment after moment, from the time we are conceived we have a sinful nature and Satan to tempt us. Since we have a Tempter, we need a Savior. And look at the Savior our Father in heaven gives to us. He gives to us a human to be tempted and tested in our place. These words take us to the beginning to Jesus’ earthly ministry. He is anointed in the Jordan River to be our Prophet, Priest and King. And then what happens? Jesus is brought up into the desert by the Holy Spirit.1 And there he goes without food for 40 days. And so, it should not surprise us then when we hear that Jesus was hungry. And look then at how the Tempter works and acts. He goes after Jesus where he is weak. Human beings have bodies. We have hunger. We have hormones. Before the fall into sin, God made Adam and Eve with yearnings and desires. But what’s the problem? At the fall and now after, the Tempter uses these yearnings and desires against us. And very often it’s not that difficult for the Tempter to tempt us because, as humans with sinful natures, we want to be tempted. And there’s a horrible progression that we find our lives. A person wants and desires something good and natural. Then the Tempter goes to work. We then cross the bridge from yearning to coveting. Then, finally, we end up hating our bodies instead of sin. So, for example, a person is hungry. So he puts a frozen pizza into the oven. Instead of eating a healthy amount, he eats the whole pizza. And afterwards, when his stomach is letting him know that he went too far, he hates what he has done. And instead of hating the Tempter and his own sinful nature, he hates the body that God gave him. It’s true when it comes to hunger. And it’s true when it comes to hormones too. Jesus says, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28 NIV) And so, a guy sees a woman. What happens first is that he notices her beauty and appreciates it. But then what happens? He crosses the border. Appreciation turns to lust. And finally, what happens. Instead of hating the Tempter and his own sinful nature, he hates the body that God gave him.

If you have a Tempter, then you need a Savior. And look at the Savior you have: “Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”” (Matthew 4:4 NIV11-GKE) For 40 days Jesus was hungry. But notice how Jesus was different than we are. Jesus was tempted and tested by the Tempter. But his hunger didn’t enslave himself. And he didn’t hate his own body. Instead he clung to the promises of God’s word completely. And that, my friends is such amazing news. Where Eve stretched out her hand and took the fruit because the hunger got the best of her, Jesus did not. And he did this continually, for 40 days, in our place.

If you have a Tempter, you need a Savior. First, you need a Savior from weakness. But, second, you need a Savior from false worship. We read: 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”” (Matthew 4:5–9 NIV11-GKE)

In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther asked the question, “What does it mean to have a god?” His answer was: Having a god is “who do you thank when times are good” and “who do you trust when times are bad.” It’s that second category that Satan tempts Jesus in in these words. The Tempter invites Jesus to recklessly and carelessly throw himself off the highest point of the temple, because, after all, there are angels. Then the Tempter invites Jesus to bow down to him. Now, from the outside, that might seem as if it’s the weakest temptation. But, most likely, it’s the worst. Before Jesus is lifted up he needs to harmed and humiliated. Before he rises from death he needs to descend into it. How easy it would have been to bow to the Tempter and not have to worry about the cross and Calvary.

Again, see very quickly and clearly the temptation that the Tempter throws in front of Jesus. Whom will Jesus trust? Will Jesus trust his Father to keep him safe from harm with his angels. And even when there are those times will Jesus trust that his Father will keep his word? When Jesus is perfectly aware of his life draining from him and dripping out of him, will his Father be there for him when he dies? Or will he abandon him?

And each of us faces the same temptation. We face the temptation to abuse God’s care and concern for us or to abandon it. Danger is a part of our every day life. But it’s so easy to abuse it, isn’t it? God has sent his angels to watch over us, so we don’t need to worry. We don’t need to worry about how fast we drive. We don’t need to worry about how much we drink. We don’t need to worry, because, after all, the angels need to do something. And then, on the other side, there are those times that God does allow danger to come to us and affect us. And when that happen, we are ever-so-tempted to conclude that if there’s danger at all, even though God has promised to watch over us, we do not trust him.

And so, if you have a Tempter, you need a Savior. And look at the Savior our Father gives us: 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Matthew 4:10–11 NIV11-GKE)

There is such beauty in that word, “alone.” Worship and serve the Lordalone. That is what our Father commands and demands of us. But, on the one hand, we abuse his protection of us. And on the other hand, we abandon his promises to us. Here in these words we see a perfect human being worship and serve our Father perfectly in our place. And the result is that all the times we have abused the Father’s protection and abandoned his promises are paid for by both the obedience of this perfect Savior in our place. And they are paid for on a cross where Jesus died on Good Friday.

So if you have a Tempter, you need a Savior. And Jesus is your perfect Savior. Our entire lives are a time of being tested by God and tempted by Satan. During this time of the year and throughout your entire life, cling to Jesus. For since you you have a Tempter, know that you also have a Savior. Amen.

1 “ⲁⲛⲏⲭⲑⲏ…ⲩ̇ⲡⲟⲧⲟⲩⲡ̅ⲛ̅ⲥ̅ⲡⲓⲣⲁⲥⲑⲏⲛⲁⲓ” (Matthew 4:1 GNT-WAS)

How Much Are You Forgiven? (Ash Wednesday)


How Much Are You Forgiven?

The lack of politeness is frustrating. There are times you expect people to be polite. And when they are not, it’s frustrating, if not even offensive. You pay good money to go to a movie. And there, right in front of you, is a group of people giving a loud, minute-by-minute commentary on the movie. Don’t they see how impolite that is? Or you go to a restaurant with your family. And in the booth right next to yours is a group of people who seem to be having a contest to see who can the most inappropriate joke. Don’t they know that that is not polite at all? It’s frustrating when people are not polite, isn’t it? In the words we look at this evening we see just how frustrating and even offensive the lack of politeness is. In Luke 7, we read: 36 Then one of the Pharisees invited him to eat with him. He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of perfume 38 and stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to wash his feet with her tears. She wiped his feet with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with the perfume.” (Luke 7:36–38 CSB17)

In these words we see how offensive the lack of politeness is. Jesus is invited to a Pharisee’s house. And in the middle of the dinner there is a woman who shows up. And as we work into these words we see that there is one layer and level of impoliteness after another. First, in Jesus’ day it was customary for the men to eat by themselves. So, it was very impolite for a woman to barge her way into a meal where men were gathered. Second, notice the type or kind of woman this was. Luke tells us that she was a “sinner.”1 That word is a very specific word here. It’s a word that describes a professional sinner. A professional sinner is one who makes a living to survive on by sinning. And, for women, that occupation was prostitution. Oh, how impolite it was for her to show up there at the dinner—especially considering what kind of woman she was. But it gets even more offensive. She stands behind Jesus, at his feet. And she begins to cry. And her tears keep falling all over Jesus’ feet. Then what does she do? She lets down her hair. That too would have been very impolite and offensive. But then what does she do with her hair? By this time the tears have mixed with the sand and the sweat on Jesus’ feet. And it stinks. She wipes away the sand and some of the sweat. And what does she do next? She begins to kiss his feet. And notice when she does this. She does not kiss his feet after she pours out the perfume on his feet. No, instead she first kisses his sweaty, stinky feet again and again. Then she pours the perfume on his feet. Then what happens? In verse 39, we read: “When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “This man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—she’s a sinner!”” (Luke 7:39 CSB17)

The Pharisee is offended at her extreme impoliteness. But then he’s offended that Jesus isn’t offended. And he concludes to himself that Jesus must not be a prophet. Because if he were, he would get rid of this woman who has shattered politeness in every way. So Jesus responds to the man’s secret, inner thoughts: 40 Jesus replied to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He said, “Say it, teacher.” 41 “A creditor had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more.” “You have judged correctly,” he told him.” (Luke 7:40–43 CSB17)

As Jesus so often did, here he tells a story. It’s the story of two men who both owed a debt. One owed vastly much more of a debt than the other. Both were forgiven. And the question Jesus asks this Pharisee, Simon, is this: Which one will be more loving toward the one who forgave the debt. And in cold, heartless way, the Pharisee, Simon, says, “I suppose, the one he forgave more.” Then, for the first time that night, he acknowledges the presence of the woman. He looks at her. But he speaks to him: 44 Turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she, with her tears, has washed my feet and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in. 46 You didn’t anoint my head with olive oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfume. 47 Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48” (Luke 7:44–47 CSB17)

Notice how Jesus piles up the contrasts here. He says, “You provided no water for my feet, but this woman provides tears and wiped them with her hair.” This would been a shocking statement for the Pharisee to hear. For what was expected of a host in Jesus’ day, was that if you had a guest, you’d have the youngest child or lowest slave wash the feet of the guests. At the very least you’d provide a bowl with water so the guest could wash his own feet. And so he says, “you provided, no water, this woman provided tears.”

Then he says, “You gave no kiss, but this woman has not stopped kissing.” In Jesus’ day, when you saw a friend, you would kiss the friend on the cheek. The Pharisee didn’t treat Jesus even like a temporary friend. But the woman humbly kept kissing his feet.

Jesus says to Simon the Pharisee, “You gave me no oil for my head, bu this woman poured out oil on my feet.” If you had a friend over for dinner you kissed their cheek. If you had a rare honored guest, you’d provide perfumed oil for his hair. That thought of providing oil for Jesus probably didn’t even enter the Pharisee’s mind.

In all of this, notice the point that Jesus is making: There is a far, far worse sin than having no politeness. Having no repentance is far, far worse than having no politeness. Simon saw how much and how many her sins were. But he refused to see how much and how many his own sins were. And when, out of love for him, Jesus sets aside time to tell this Pharisee the truth and correct him, the Pharisee is more concerned about propriety and politeness instead of repentance.

And my dear friends, that is the same trap and temptation we can all fall into. The first temptation is to conclude that, yes, we sin, but our sins are not as bad as the other people. The drug dealers, the prostitutes, the embezzlers, the bribers—all those professional sinners—they are so much worse than me. How horribly wrong we are. For the same question that Jesus asked the Pharisee, he asks us tonight: how much are you forgiven? How many sins have you committed? And how bad are they? If you are concluding in such a cold and calloused way that you’re a little sinner with little sins that need a little help, then you’ve completely missed the point Jesus’ words here. Oh, but it gets worse. The first sin is concluding that our sins really aren’t that bad. But the second sin is concluding, just like this Pharisee, that no one gets to accuse you of sin or correct you unless they, in the most proper and polite way, speak to you about your sin. If they are urgent and sincere, we are offended that there wasn’t enough small talk before they corrected us. But what Jesus says here is so very vital: a lack of repentance is so much worse than a lack of politeness.

So my dear friends, how much? How much are you forgiven? The sincerity of Jesus’ words here move us to confess both the weight and the number of our sins. For the lack of repentance is so much worse than the lack of politeness. And then what does our sincere Savior do? He forgives us. And notice how beautifully Jesus does this. We read: 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”” (Luke 7:48–50 CSB17)

Finally, at the end of all these events, Jesus looks right at her. And with such sincerity he tells her, “Your sins are and remain forgiven.”2 And this evening he says the same to us. We did not come here this evening with little sins for a little Savior to take hold of and forgive. No, our sins are many and they are much. And Jesus looks at each and every single one of us and says, “Your sins are and remain forgiven.” So tonight, rejoice in that forgiveness. And as Jesus said to the woman, so I say to you: “Go in peace. The faith that Jesus has given to you has saved you.”

1 “ⲁⲙⲁⲣⲧⲱⲗⲟⲥ” (Luke 7:37 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲁⲫⲉⲱⲛⲧⲁⲓ” (Luke 7:48 GNT-ALEX)