Who Will Take Jesus Down? (Good Friday)

Golgatha

Who Will Take Jesus Down?


Who gets to set the agenda? I never was one to watch presidential debates. But, years ago, I watched a presidential debate because, I was told, that was the responsible, grown-up course to follow. And what surprised me right away is how the course of the entire conversation could be guided if not even dominated by the person who got to ask the questions. The one who asked the questions was the one who got to set the agenda. Tonight, on this night of darkness we spend more time in Mark’s gospel. And so we ask the question: who will set the agenda? In Mark 15, we read: 29 Those who passed by were yelling insults at him, shaking their heads, and saying, “Ha! The one who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself by coming down from the cross!” 31 In the same way, the chief priests with the scribes were mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, so that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with him taunted him.” (Mark 15:29–32 CSB17)


Notice how these words start out. People pass by and say, “come down from the cross.” Then the Jewish leaders follow up and with scorn and derision, say, “come down from the cross.” And with those questions, they set the agenda for all the words which follow. Who will take Jesus down from the cross? And if the Jewish leaders ask the question, what follows after this makes the question all that much more important. We read: 33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lemá sabachtháni?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”” (Mark 15:33–34 CSB17)


Who will take Jesus down? Who will rescue him from this torment and torture there on the cross? With such clear please and cries of pain, Jesus lets us know that his Father abandoned him. So, if the question is “who will take Jesus down,” the answer is definitely not God above. So if Jesus cannot seem to take himself down as the Jewish leaders invite, and if God above cannot take him down, who will take him down? Let us read some more: 35 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “See, he’s calling for Elijah.” 36 Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, fixed it on a stick, offered him a drink, and said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.”” (Mark 15:35–36 CSB17)


If Jesus cannot take himself down and God will not take Jesus down, then who will take him down? The crowd concludes that maybe Elijah will. These words here that the crowds speaks are probably the most incomprehensible and non-sensical words in the entire bible. They make no sense. Earlier Jesus had made the point that John the Baptizer was the Elijah that was to come.1 They were all there waiting for Elijah to come. But Elijah already came. And they missed it.


In these words, by God’s Holy Spirit, Mark shows us the depth of their sin. God’s word never reached their heads. And since the meaning and understanding of God’s word never reached their heads, it never reached their hearts. They did not know what God’s word said. And they should have. The the result was that they cared about the wrong concerns. The question they needed to ask themselves was not whether Elijah would take Jesus down. No, instead, the question they needed to ask was who would save them from sin, death and hell?


And we find the same pattern among us today. Years ago, I used to belong to a gym. And there were two elderly gentlemen on the other side of the lockers. And they were talking about about lazy kids were now-days. And one of them said, “It’s like it says in the good book, God helps them who help themselves.’” Now, I wasn’t exactly dressed at that moment. So I didn’t address the situation. But I wanted to. I wanted to go around the corner and ask the guy, “So, just where does it say that in the bible?” God’s word never reached his head, so it never really reached his heart.


We too face this same temptation and trap. It is ever-so-tempting to not study God’s word. And there are consequences that follow and flow into our lives when we do not set aside time to study God’s word. First, we don’t care. Years ago I visited with a man who didn’t read God’s word when he was a younger man. But, when he retired and especially when he got sick and became a shut-in, he read God’s word. And he said to me, “Pastor, I hurt a whole lot more now then I used to.” That is what happens when we read and study God’s word. The Holy Spirit makes us care. He shapes our consciences so that we hurt, we mourn, we grieve over our sins. But the second consequence is just as bad. If God’s word does not reach our heads and then reach our hearts we end up caring about the wrong concerns. It is important to talk about children stealing their parents fire arms and then shooting people. It is important for us to talk about North Korea using nuclear arms against Japan. But neither of those is that important compared to what the crowds were forced to face there on the cross. For what good would it be to get rid of all fire ams and all nuclear arms and then, one by one, have each person die without a knowledge of the gravity of their sin and the sincerity flowing from their Savior? If God’s word does not reach our heads, it does not reach our hearts. Who will take Jesus down? In their stupidity, the people ask, “maybe Elijah.” But what happens next? We read: 37 Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 Then the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 When the centurion, who was standing opposite him, saw the way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”” (Mark 15:37–39 CSB17)


Who will take Jesus down? Not Jesus; not God above; not even Elijah. Who would take Jesus down? No one will take Jesus down. But when Jesus dies, because no one took Jesus down, the temple curtain was torn down. At the temple there was this massive curtain that divided the Jewish men from all the Gentiles. In fact, the Jewish Historian Josephus tells us that there were signs up that said that if you crossed over you took your life in your own hands. Imagine the sermon that preached: you cannot get to God if you are a Gentile. But then what happens? Jesus dies and the temple curtain is torn down. And this centurion is able to look up and over at the temple and conclude, “Now I can get to God. Now heaven is open to me.


And the same is true for us. When we do not allow God’s word to reach our heads and then its meaning never gets to our hearts we show and prove that we do not belong with God. Instead, we belong separated from God in hell. But no one took Jesus down. He was tortured and in torment for me. My sins of caring more about studying hobbies and habits is put to death there on the cross. My sin of not caring or just as bad, caring about the wrong concerns—those sins are dealt with by Jesus’ death. And as a result, each of us can conclude right along with the centurion: “I now have open access to God and the heaven he has prepared for me.”


Who will take Jesus down? The crowd wonders whether Elijah will take Jesus down. Jesus dies and the temple curtain is torn down. But there’s one final detail to take care of in thes words: 40 There were also women watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women followed him and took care of him. Many other women had come up with him to Jerusalem. 42 When it was already evening, because it was the day of preparation (that is, the day before the Sabbath), 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God, came and boldly went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’s body. 44 Pilate was surprised that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had already died. 45 When he found out from the centurion, he gave the corpse to Joseph. 46 After he bought some linen cloth, Joseph took him down and wrapped him in the linen. Then he laid him in a tomb cut out of the rock and rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb.” (Mark 15:40–46 CSB17)


The women watch at a distance because they cannot take Jesus’ down. But then, amidst all the fear and cowardice of this day we read that word, “boldly.” With such boldness Joseph of Arimathea dares to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. There is such urgency in these words. But there is also such confidence. For Joseph carefully cares for Jesus’ body knowing that his sins are paid for and that there will be proof that his sins are paid for when Jesus rises from the dead. And with such amazement and joy we find the answer to the question: who will take Jesus down? Not Jesus; not God above; not Elijah. No one takes him down. He dies there. And then after he dies, with boldness Joseph takes his body down to fulfill scripture and show his faith. Amen.



1 Mark 9:13

What Are You Looking For? (Midweek Lent 4)

Gethsemane

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

There Is Only One Winner (Lent 3)

Faith

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.


Jesus Will Arrive (Proper 29—The Last Sunday)

“ “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.” (Mark 13:28–29 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus Will Arrive


Can you trust the ticket? Every couple of years I have to fly on a plane. Back in the old days you reserved your flight and then they mailed you a ticket. It looked all official with borders and edges and cardboard. But then that all changed. Some years ago, after you booked your flight, they let you print out your boarding pass at home. And I have to admit, that scared me. The first time I went to the airport with a boarding pass printed out at home, when I was waiting for the flight to be boarded, I was scared. I was scared because it seemed so fake. Somehow, without having borders and edges and cardboard it didn’t seem official. But, of course, when they called my name and I presented them with the pass and they let me board, all my fears were put to rest. This is the last day of the year. This is the day when, above all, we recognize and focus in on the fact that Jesus will arrive. At any time he could come to judge the living and the dead. And as we begin these words from Mark 13 this morning, we realize that since Jesus will arrive, we can wait securely. In Mark 13, we read: 24 “But in those days, following that distress, “ ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’” (Mark 13:24–25 NIV11-GKE)


On the last day, what will happen? On the last day the universe will be dismantled. The picture Jesus gives us here is what we see above us in the sky. We are used to seeing the stars above and having them as a reliable anchor for directions and for time. But, what if suddenly, the Big Dipper no longer looked like the big dipper because all those stars in the Big Dipper winked out? If people are aware of how cold it gets in the winter and how hot it gets in the summer and the levels of the oceans and seas, what will their reaction be when the stars are shattered and creation itself collapses? And then, right after that happens, what will happen next? 26 At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” (Mark 13:26–27 NIV11-GKE)


After creation collapses, Jesus arrives. Now notice how Jesus speaks here. These are words of consolation and comfort. Jesus will send out his angels to the four corners of the world and collect the elect and carry us to heaven. That’s the “what”. But there’s another question to ask: “Now what?28 Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.” (Mark 13:28–29 NIV11-GKE)


Creation will collapse. Jesus will arrive. What should our attitude be? To answer that question Jesus tells us a story. He takes us to spring. When you see those green buds on the branches of the trees, what can you conclude? Winter is over and summer is so very close. And so, Jesus tells us when we see these things happening—stars shattering and creation collapsing, what should we conclude? We conclude that Jesus is at the door.


Again, notice how these words are words of comfort and consolation. When we see the stars shatter and creation collapse, instead of being filled with fear, we should be filled with joy. For that is the time when Christ’s angels will collected the elect and take us to heaven. But here is where we see our temptation to sin, don’t we? When creation collapses, our knee-jerk temptation might be to see our sin and conclude that we aren’t ready. Who can stand in God’s presence? What sinner doesn’t deserve to be crushed along with all the rest of God’s creation on Judgment Day? If that is our temptation—and it’s a very natural one to have, then listen to Jesus says to you: 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mark 13:30–31 NIV11-GKE)


Everything above your head will fall away and everything below your feet will pass away. But what will not? Jesus’ words will never pass away. Those sure and secure promises will not fall away. Jesus has promised to us that because we are sinners, he died for our sins—because we have no holiness in us, he bathed us in his own holiness so that when he arrives we can stand in God’s presence. So until that day comes, wait securely. For Christ has paid for your ticket with his own blood and life. But these words continue: 32 But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” (Mark 13:32–33 NIV11-GKE)


Jesus will arrive. So wait securely. But notice what Jesus teaches us in these words. We not only wait securely. We also wait soberly. No one knows when Jesus will arrive. Since this is true that no one knows when Jesus will arrive, what should our lives look like? Jesus again tells us a story to teach us: 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.” (Mark 13:34–36 NIV11-GKE)


So, in the story there’s a master of a household. He goes away for a long journey. So he tells his servants to be sober always. For the servant does not know when the master will return. And this too shows us that we have the temptation to sin, but in the opposite way as Jesus spoke before. Our first temptation is to not be secure in the fact that Jesus paid the price and now we are ready. But here the temptation is to not be sober as we wait. It’s a powerful picture, isn’t it? What happens after you eat your Thanksgiving turkey and have a couple glasses of wine? First, we can’t focus. Then, we fall asleep.


There is this real temptation to become sleepy spiritually. What does this look like? It’s worrying about work—the people there, the projects there, whether you will have your job in a week or a year if you don’t work hard enough. But what does Jesus tell us here? What good is it to make the world revolve around your work when the world can go up in flames at any time? It’s worrying about the politics between nations when at any moment there could be no nations because all of creation is collapsing in on itself. The list could go on an on, right? But the point is clear: we sin when we show by our attitudes and actions that we care more about the pursuits in this world and forget that at any time this world could end.


So, if that’s the problem and our great temptation to sin, what then is the answer from God’s word: “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ”” (Mark 13:37 NIV11-GKE) Jesus says, “watch!” More accurately, it simply means, “be sober.”1 What good is it to have your plane ticket paid for, but then miss your flight? How then do we wait soberly? Cling to what will not collapse when Jesus arrives. What then is the only thing that will remain? Jesus’ words. Why do you think Jesus and his apostles spend so much time encouraging us to read God’s word and study it with your pastor? It’s the only thing that will remain on Judgment Day. Through God’s word he forgives our sins—Even the sins we commit when we are not sober and instead quite sleepy. So we read it and dwell in it.


So Jesus encourages us to wait soberly by clinging to what will remain forever—his words. But there is one last final way we wait soberly: We pray. In verse 33, there’s a little footnote which lets us know that there are a bunch of manuscripts which add the words,
“And pray.”2 This too is how we can wait soberly. Every day we can, on the one hand, thank our Good and Gracious Lord for giving us food and family, shelter and clothing. But at the same time, we can pray that he would keep us sober so that the creation around us would not distract us from the salvation waiting for us.


So my dear friends in Christ, Jesus will arrive. Since this is true, wait securely, and wait soberly. Amen.



1 “ⲅⲣⲏⲅⲟⲣⲉⲓⲧⲉ” (Mark 13:37 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲕⲁⲓⲡⲣⲟⲥⲉⲩⲭⲉⲥⲑⲁⲓ” (Mark 13:33 GNT-ALEX)

The Time Is Coming (Proper 28)

I AM the Resurrection and the Life

The Hour Has Come


Imiss the bells. Through all of my years of school we had bells. When a class ended, there were bells to let us know. Then, after I graduated from the Seminary and went back to summer school, there were no bells. And I found that unsettling. I relied on those bells to tell me that the time had come. The hour had come for me to pack up my books and move onto the next class. That’s what Jesus is doing in these words. In his own way he is ringing a bell. He is letting us know that we need to be ready for something far more important than getting our books packed for the next class. In John 5 we read: 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” (John 5:25–27 NIV11-GKE)


The hour has come. That’s what Jesus tells us. The hour has come for the dead to be clothed with flesh and blood. Any day now, indeed, any moment now, Jesus could come for Judgment Day. And on that day Jesus will give the dead life. And they will rise with brand new, perfect bodies. Most likely, this is not the first time you have heard this. But it is easy for us to fall into temptation when it comes to this fact. First, we can fall into temptation by forgetting this fact. When a person dies—whoever it is, there is this huge push and impulse to make everything better. And so, it is very easy for us to fall into the same pattern the world does when it comes to speaking about those who have died. It is easy to say, “They have gone to a better place.” But my dear friends in Christ, we know what that better place is. That better place is heaven. But maybe what is even easier to forget is that when that loved one who believes in Jesus dies they are with Jesus, but as Jesus reminds us here, that isn’t the end of the journey. On Judgment Day every believer will live. Each believer will get their bodies back. Yes, it’s true that when we die, as Christians, our souls return to our Creator. But our great temptation to sin is to forget what will happen to our bodies. At every committal service we say those words, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We commit these earthly remains to the ground in the sure and certain hope of eternal life.” Notice the point: We get our bodies back.


What follows after this is the proof. How do we know that we will get our bodies back? What Jesus says here is a little shocking, if you think about it. We would have expected him to say that you can be sure that we will get our bodies back because the Son of God is in charge and in control. But that’s not what Jesus says. He says that God gave life to the Son. The Son gives life to whomever he wants. And the reason he can do this is that he is the Son of Man. In other words, every part of you and every particle in you Jesus will keep track of. And the reason he can keep track of humans so very well is that he is one. When you lay your loved one to rest in the ground there are those doubts and fears. But these words fill us with such comfort and hope. For that loved one who believed in Jesus will not only be with Jesus when he or she dies. That person will also be clothed with a brand new version of their body. And this is true and you can count on it because Jesus isn’t just the Son of God. He is also the son of Man.


The hour has come for us to recognize that the dead will live. We will live in heaven clothed with brand new bodies. But there’s more: 28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:28–29 NIV11-GKE)


Every year on Holy Trinity Sunday we all say these words together: Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire. I remember a lady in a congregation I was in who flat out told me that she refused to say that part of the creed. All the rest of the creed was fine. But that part obviously was wrong. And she asked me how that error was allowed to stand there in the creed. I told her that if she had a problem with those words in the Athanasian Creed, then she would really have a problem with John 5. For here in these words Jesus says that those who do good will rise and live; and those who do evil will rise and be judged. How do we make sense of this, since we know that we cannot do good works to earn our way into heaven. First of all, we take scripture in context. Jesus says that those who do good will be in heaven. But notice what he doesn’t say. He does not say, how. How is it that a sinful person who comes into the world as an enemy of God can do good works? The answer is that each of us cannot. But what happens? Jesus comes to us through his word and creates faith in our hearts. And with this gift of faith there is a new person inside of us alongside the old. And this new person does good works, not to get heaven, but instead, out of thankfulness because he already has heaven. As Jesus tells us in John 14, a good tree produces good fruit.


So, first, Christians are able to do good works. For Jesus has promised that we will be able to. But these good works don’t get us to heaven or any closer to heaven. That is Jesus’ work, not ours. But the second key to understanding these words is what Jesus says about unbelievers. Unbelievers too will rise on the last day. But they will rise to be judged, not to live in heaven. Why is this the case? They will rise to be judged because they practiced evil.1 Notice, a different word is used. It’s not “do” evil. Instead, it’s “practice” evil. They planned to sin. They wanted to sin. When they were given the opportunity to repent, they refused. Their sin had become their god, not the Son of Man.


By contrast then, this invites us to repent. This invites us to repent of the times we have forgotten that at any time Jesus could come to judge the living and the dead. This invites us to repent of the times we forgot that it’s not just our souls that will be with Jesus, but on Judgment Day, our bodies too will be reunited with our bodies forever.


The hour has come when the dead will live. We will live clothed with perfect flesh and blood. And we have proof of this because Jesus, who was and is flesh and blood, will put every part and every particle back together on Judgment Day. And not only will we live clothed with perfect bodies. We will also live clothed with perfect works. What an amazing truth, that on Judgment Day Jesus will list and itemize all of the good works we have done. He was the one who died for our sins. He was the one who gave us faith to be able to do good works. He was the one who gave us so many choices in our lives to pick between one good work and another. And on the last day he will highlight them for the world to see. For all our sins will not only be forgiven. They will also be forgotten. The hour has come when the dead will live. We will live clothed with perfect bodies. And we will live clothed with perfect works. Amen.



1 “ⲡⲣⲁⲝⲁⲛⲧⲉⲥ” (John 5:29 GNT-ALEX)

How Long Will I Put Up With You? (Proper 27)

Faith

How Long Will I Put Up With You?


Satan works slowly. Years ago, In World War II, the Nazis trained men to be torturers. But how they did this was fascinating. If they wanted a guy to be a torturer, the first step was to just put the guy in the same building as the torturing. The next step was to have him sit outside the room where the torturing happened. The third step was to have him hand the tools to the torturer. The final step was to have him actually do the torturing. There are more happy ways to begin a sermon—I admit. But I hope my point is clear. Satan often works slowly. But not always. Sometimes he works fast and forcefully. Sometimes he uses the shock and awe approach. And in these words he uses the second tactic. With sudden shock he tries to dominate this world and everyone on it. And so, in Mark 9 we read: 14 When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and scribes disputing with them. 15 When the whole crowd saw him, they were amazed and ran to greet him. 16 He asked them, “What are you arguing with them about?” 17 Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you. He has a spirit that makes him unable to speak. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they couldn’t.”” (Mark 9:14–18 CSB17)


Notice the force that Satan uses here. Mark isn’t the gospel writer to throw down one paragraph after another of details. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of all the gospels. But notice here he gives one detail after another of how forcefully and horribly Satan treated this man’s son with demons. The demon seizes him.1 It throws him down.2 It makes the boy foam at the mouth.3 It makes him grind his teeth.4 Finally then, it makes him paralyzed like a dry weed.5 Mark throws down all of these details to show us the force that Satan has and uses to intimidate people.


It was true then. It is true now. But, for us it’s perhaps and even sadder story. This man saw his son tormented by this demon for years. Today Satan often comes to us with weaker force, and we are tempted to give in. It happens in the science classroom when the teacher goes out of his way to find the kids who believe that God created the universe in 6, 24 hour days. And if the children do not give in and agree to what the teacher preaches about macro-evolution, then there is punishment. It happens at work when the boss or even co-workers say, “Do this or else you will lose your job.” Sad to say, it can even happen at Seminaries across our land. There’s a man I met who was going to a Seminary that held the name, “Lutheran”, but long ago abandoned what the bible taught. And he said that his advisor at the Seminary told him that if he held to saying that the bible was all true, then they would not let him graduate from that Seminary.


This is how Satan deals with us. Yes, he can give us the slow-boil treatment, slowly wearing us down. But, from these words, realize that he can also come at us with blunt force. How then does this father deal with the force that Satan uses? 19 He replied to them, “You unbelieving generation, how long will I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” 20 So they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, it immediately threw the boy into convulsions. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 “How long has this been happening to him?” Jesus asked his father. “From childhood,” he said. 22 “And many times it has thrown him into fire or water to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’? Everything is possible for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”” (Mark 9:19–24 CSB17)


Notice that what followed Satan’s blunt force, was this man’s fear. And what flowed from this man’s fear was truly sinful and horrible. He spoke the word, “if” to Jesus. He said, “if you are able.” Jesus gets angry and speaks some very blunt words to him: ““‘If you can’? Everything is possible for the one who believes.”” (Mark 9:23 CSB17) Notice what this man’s fear had done to him. Just as Satan paralyzed the boy, this man’s fear paralyzed himself—even to the point that he would blame God for his own doubt. We don’t get to do that, do we? We don’t get to blame God for our own weak faith, do we? But it shows how Satan works. If we are strong in an area, all he does is shifts his attack to another area. If we are not afraid of what can happen to us, Satan makes us fear what can happen to us in the next life. If we are content about what will happen to us when we die, he plagues us with fears about this life. If we are content that God will take care of us when it comes to our role at work, then what does he do? He comes at us and after us, making us fear what happens at home while we are gone. And if we were strong and had an unfailing and unfaltering faith in all these areas today, all Satan would do is just wait till tomorrow comes. And so the father finally cries out in desperation the words of a true believer. He says: ““I do believe; help my unbelief!”” (Mark 9:24 CSB17) Each of us has a new person in us and an old person as a Christian. We believe in Jesus even though there are times we will not act like it.


Can you see now why Jesus with such sadness and sighing asks those two questions: How long will I be with you; How long will I put up with you? And he says that question not just to the father of that boy. He says those words to us today. How long will I put up with you? For there are times our trust in Jesus breaks with far less pressure than was put on this man. How long? In these final words, look at how Jesus answers that question: 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was quickly gathering, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you: Come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 Then it came out, shrieking and throwing him into terrible convulsions. The boy became like a corpse, so that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus, taking him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up.” (Mark 9:25–27 CSB17)


Jesus asks the question. And the logical, common sense reaction Jesus should have had was to just walk away. They were acting like unbelievers. But Jesus doesn’t walk away. Instead he stays and heals the boy. And the reason he stays is that Jesus stays as long as Satan’s force is disarmed. Every now and then I watch old country western movies. And the old gun-slinger is fearful and terrifying as long as has enough ammo. But what happens when that fifth and final bullet leaves the chamber? Nobody’s afraid of the man anymore because he’s now a target, not a terror. The same is true with Satan. Jesus was aware of Satan’s power. But Jesus never gave into fear. And especially, he never gave into fear in the very specific way that this father and we are tempted to: we give into fear, doubt, and then blame God for it. No, Jesus always trusted in his Father’s promises.
But even more than that, Jesus died for our sins. Jesus died for the times we doubted when we knew better—and even those times when we might have blamed God for our doubting.


How long? That’s the question Jesus asks. How long will Jesus put up with us? The first answer is: as long as Satan is disarmed. But there is a second answer: as long as we cry out to Jesus in faith. My dear friends, look at this man. He flat-out says that he has unbelief. But then what does he do? He cries out to Jesus in faith. Learn from this man. When there are those times we are tested and tempted by Satan’s blunt force, cry out to Jesus for strength. But should our strength fail, and we give in to fear, even more so, cry out to Jesus. For just as he forgave this man, he will do so with you. And just as he strengthened this man’s faith, so he will do with you.


How long will I put up with you? As long as Satan’s force is disarmed. And as long as we cry out to him in faith. Amen.



1 “ⲕⲁⲧⲁⲗⲁⲃⲏ” (Mark 9:18 GNT-ALEX)

2 ⲣⲏⲥⲥⲉⲓ

3 ⲁⲫⲣⲓⲍⲉⲓ

4 “ⲧⲣⲓⲍⲉⲓⲧⲟⲩⲥⲟⲇⲟⲛⲧⲁⲥ” (Mark 9:18 GNT-ALEX)

5 “ⲝⲏⲣⲉⲛⲉⲧⲁⲓ” (Mark 9:18 GNT-ALEX)

Proper 26—All Saints

I AM the Resurrection and the Life

Hold Onto The First Resurrection


Stand back a little. If ever you go to New York, it would be good to go the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And, if you look in the right place, you’ll find the impressionist art collection. And there you’ll see the paintings of Degas, Renoir and others. And what is amazing about their paintings is that, when you see them you’ll realize they aren’t made with brush strokes. No, instead, every face and every flower is made with little tiny dots. That’s impressive. In fact, it’s so impressive you can get pulled in to looking at the dots. But the problem with this is that when you look so close that all you see is dots you miss the picture and the point the painter was making. Reading this last book of Revelation is much like that. By God’s Holy Spirit, John speaks in beautiful word pictures. But the key to understanding these words is by keeping these words in context. So, in Revelation 20, we read: 1 And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.” (Revelation 20:1–3 NIV11-GKE)


The Holy Spirit gives John a vision. And what does he see? He sees and angel chaining Satan for a thousand years. Now, notice how John speaks. First he says that there’s this angel who chains a dragon. Then John goes out of his way to tell us that he’s speaking figuratively. This is not a literal dragon with scales and wings. No, John tells us that this angel is Satan. John goes out of his way to tell us that he is speaking figuratively, painting word pictures to fill our imaginations. This is important to know because right after he says that there is this angel that ties and binds Satan we learn that the time-frame for Satan’s imprisonment is 1000 years. This is not a literal 1000 years. In Revelation 10 is the number for completeness. 10 x 10 x 10 then is super-duper completeness. What is this complete amount of time? It is the New Testament Age. It spans from Jesus’ ascension to Jesus return on Judgment Day.


I mention this because, if you look at these words like me looking at that painting too close you see dots, but not the meaning in context. There are many who get this wrong today. There are many who conclude that these words are speaking about Jesus coming down to earth and ruling here for a thousand years. But the words here are speaking are a word picture, speaking about the complete amount of time that Satan is tied up and tied down, under Jesus’ complete control.


But the other reason I mention this is what Jesus mentions at the end of verse three: 4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.)” (Revelation 20:4–5 NIV11-GKE)


At first John sees and angel chaining Satan. Next John sees souls sitting on thrones. Now here I’m going to do what I have never done before. I would like you to go home today and where is says, “Came to life”, instead, write the word, “lived.”1 You see, the point God is making here is not that Jesus is going to come down to earth and reign here and along with him disembodied souls are going to rise up like zombies in a bad Halloween movie. No, instead, John sees souls living and reigning with Jesus in heaven for 1000 years. And remember what that 1000 years is: the entire New Testament age.


What the Holy Spirit wants us to see in these words is the loved ones we had in this life who knew Jesus and died trusting in him. The Holy Spirit wants us to know that their faith was not in vain. For they live with Jesus in heaven. And even more than that, they rule with him in heaven. They are safe from all of this world’s harm and Satan’s lies.


These words are worthy especially on this day of thinking about and pondering. But as we do so we see that we face two real temptations in lives as Christians. First, There is the temptation to obsess over what we can see. Satan wants us to go to hell. And one of the ways he does this is by taking the good gifts that God gives to us and then make them into idols. You drive through the country side and you think to yourself, “it’d be nice to have a home on the lake.” The challenge and temptation though is that Satan wants us to absorb ourselves in that home on the lake so much that we forget that, at any moment, that home and the lake could go up in flames on Judgment Day. We could say the same about our bodies. God wants us to care for them. But if we spend so much time counting lbs and calories that we forget that, at any moment, like these souls that John sees, we could have our souls ripped from our bodies in death, then we are sinning by losing sight of our heavenly goal.


But the same is true on the opposite side. Just as there is the temptation to obsess over what we can see, there is the temptation to obsess over what we cannot. This happens when we lose a loved one through death. That person was a part of our life. They worshipped with us, maybe even here in our church. But then what happened? They died and they are now with the Lord. And when that happens, it can be ever so tempting to ask the question, “Why am I still here?” And if that is given room in your heart you can easily end up saying “there’s no point in me living anymore.” And so, one temptation is idolatry. but this temptation is despair. Since our loved one is not with us anymore we want to give up running our race here with perseverance.


And so, Satan that ancient dragon really exists. And he really tempts us to sin. What is the solution to this ancient enemy? In our closing words, we read: 5 This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:5–6 NIV11-GKE)


If Satan is so good at tempting us either to idolatry or to despair, then who can stand up to him? Not you. Not me. No, instead, the one who stood up to him is Jesus. Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are, but never gave into Satan’s lies. And Jesus paid for our sins of idolatry and despair on the cross. But he did still more. He gave us the promise that if you have the first resurrection then you will have the second too. What is he talking about? The first resurrection is unbelief.2 God raised you from the dead in those waters of baptism and gave you the gift of faith. And if you have this gift of faith (and you do), then the second death (physical death) will have no hold on you when you die.


And so, my dear friends in Christ, you have this first resurrection, faith in Christ. Now what should you do with it? Hold onto it. Read your bibles. Come to bible study here after our worship time. Grow in your faith. And as you do this the most wondrous change will happen. When you’re doing those sit-ups at the gym or you’re taking the dock out of the lake you can appreciate the gifts God has given you now, but yearn—yearn for the better life God has waiting for you—a life where you will see those who have gone before you in to heaven. And even more, you will see Jesus face to face. Hold onto the first resurrection. Amen.



1 “ⲉⲍⲏⲥⲁⲛ” (Revelation 20:4 GNT-ALEX)

2 cf. Ephesians 2

Proper 24

10 Commandments

What If You Tested The Teacher?


Let’s test the teacher. Years ago, when I was at Martin Luther College, we had to learn our languages by memorizing them. And let’s face it, it’s not easy to make memorization fun. Sometimes memorization is just plain hard work. Our greek professor told us that the key to making it easier was to memorize all the time. He told us, “I should be able to call you on the phone at 2 AM and ask you what the principal parts of ⲃⲁⲗⲗⲱ are, and yo u should be able to rattle them off without thinking and then go back to sleep.” Well one night, one of my classmates had an idea. He thought to himself: let’s test the teacher. So he waited till ab0ut 2 or 3 in the morning on a Friday night and then called our Greek professor on the phone. The professor answered. And the student said, “Give me the principal parts of ⲃⲁⲗⲗⲱ, now!” The professor laughed and, from memory, rattled off the proper answer. Then he said, “Peter, I will find you and get you back.” (His name wasn’t Peter.) There are those times we wonder, what if I tested the teacher. That’s the context we find ourselves in this morning. These words are spoken on Holy Week. Jesus has just been tested by the Pharisees about marriage and divorce. And he told them, “Give to Cæsar what is Cæsar’s.” He is tested by the Sadducees letting them know that marriage is for this life and our resurrections are in the next life. And there’s this expert in the law who sees all of this and is amazed. And he is so amazed that he can’t help himself from testing Jesus. And so, in Mark 12, we read: 28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”” (Mark 12:28–33 NIV11-GKE)


After all the testing and trapping is done, a man, an expert in God’s word steps forward. And he asks him the simple, but extremely important question, “out of all the commandments, which one is the first, the most important?” And notice what happens. When a teacher tests the Teacher, The teacher, Jesus, answers his question. The heart and soul; the height and depth of the commandments is love—for your neighbor beside you, for you Lord above you. And the man essentially repeats what Jesus said. He tells Jesus that loving your neighbor and your God is better than piling up sacrifices to the Lord.


This man was amazing. Because as he studied and studied God’s word he avoided the traps that others fell into. He avoided the trap that says that God doesn’t care about the commandments. That’s the trap the Sadducees fell into. That’s the view of the commandments that God is nice, and God is good. So then we can do as much bad as we want. He avoided that trap. He avoided the trap of carelessness with the commandments. He also avoided the trap of being coerced by the commandments. This is the trap that says, “I’ll do it, but I won’t like it. And as soon as you’re gone, I’ll stop doing it.” He avoided the trap of carelessness and the trap of coercion. And finally, he avoided the trap of being consumed by the commandments. This is the view of the commandments that says, “You say, ‘jump’, I say, ‘how high?’” There’s a reason our church body has been against the Boy Scouts for more than 50 years now. The first reason is that it blobs all religions and all denominations into the same category and says they all go to heaven. But the second reason is found here. They teach about the commandments in such a way that a person is consumed with them. They teach a boy to be kind and nice to his neighbor not because that person is a person, but instead, as a tool to please God and earn their way into heaven.


This man avoided all these traps. He avoided carelessness with the commandments, being coerced by them and also being consumed by them. And, after all of his continual studying, what he found was that the heart of the commandments was love—first for God, then for the neighbor. And you have to look at him and realize how alone he was. He got it. He understood that the heart of the commandments was love. But, on the one side, he had the Sadducees who didn’t care about the commandments. And on the other side, he had the Pharisees, who were consumed by them. And then he heard Jesus speak the beautiful truth that the heart of the commandments was love. Oh how refreshing and amazing it was to hear this from Jesus. So he had to test Jesus. And how thankful he must have been to have Jesus answer his question. But, my friends in Christ, Jesus didn’t stop here. He didn’t just answer the question. He also then, right after that, questioned this man’s answer. We read: “When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.” (Mark 12:34 NIV11-GKE)


There’s the old saying, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.” There is a difference between being “close” to the kingdom of God and actually being “in” the kingdom. This expert avoided so many traps. And yet he fell into a trap that was just as bad as all the others. Yes, it’s true that the heart and soul of the commandments is love. But he never stopped to ask another important question: Can I actually keep these commandments? You see, the problem isn’t with the commandments. The problem is with us. WE cannot keep them. And so this man might have been expecting a pat on the back, a “Well done” comment from Jesus. But instead, he let the expert know that he still was not in the kingdom of God.


So what if you tested the teacher…what would happen? The teacher would answer your question. Then he would question your answer. But finally, he would give the only answer to the real question. Love is what God commands and demands in the commandments. And Jesus is the only one who not just knew what the heart and soul of the commandments was but actually did it. Jesus was not careless with the commandments. He kept them. Jesus was not coerced to do the commandments. He did them freely. Jesus was not consumed by the commandments, making his fellow humans tools to please his Father in heaven. No, he actually, really and truly loved those around him. And the hugest example of this is what happened only a few days after the expert in the law tested the teacher. Jesus died. He died to pay for all bad traps we fall into today and they did in Jesus’ day. He loved perfectly both us and his Father in our place.


And with that fact we know our sins are forgiven—even all the lies and traps we tell ourselves about the commandments. But he does so much more than that. The perfect and complete love that he had for his Father and his fellow humans he gives to us. Through his word he created faith in our hearts. And with this gift of faith he gave us another, new nature to wage war against the old one. And this new nature is actually able to love without carelessness and without being coerced and without being consumed by the law, making people into tools. In short, what John says elsewhere is so very true: “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 NIV)


So what if…? What if you tested the teacher? What would he do? He would answer your question. Then he would question your answer. Finally, he would give you the real answer to the real question. Amen.


Proper 23

Faith

What Do You Want Me To Do For You?


What do you want? There once was a teacher who had a classroom. And she cared. She cared about the topic she was teaching. She cared about her students. But, early on in the class, there was a student that whenever she would say something, he would lean over talk to the person beside him. Hour after hour, week after week this would happen. While she was teaching, he was talking. Finally she couldn’t take it anymore. And she told the young man, What do you want? He looked up at her and said, “I want to hear what you’re saying. And with this loud heating vent right beside me I can’t hear anything.” Very quickly she realized that he was not speaking out of disrespect, but instead, just the opposite, a hunger to learn and pay attention. This morning we meet a man who is talking. And he’s talking at the very same time Jesus is teaching. In Mark 10, we read: 46 They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting by the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”” (Mark 10:46–47 CSB17)


This morning, in your brains, walk with Jesus. There you are walking with Jesus and what is he doing? He is teaching and teaching and teaching. And then, off in the distance, what happens? There’s this guy on the side of the road who keeps crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” If you were the teacher, how long would you put up with this? There that guy is, shouting those words, and he won’t shut up. Well, since Jesus didn’t tell the man to shut up, the people took the matter into their own hands. We read: “Many warned him to keep quiet, but he was crying out all the more, “Have mercy on me, Son of David!”” (Mark 10:48 CSB17)


He is told to shut up by many people, but instead of shutting up, he shouts the same words over and over again. So what happens next? 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man and said to him, “Have courage! Get up; he’s calling for you.” 50 He threw off his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus answered him, “What do you want me to do for you?”” (Mark 10:49–51 CSB17)


Jesus is still a little ways away. So he tells those who are near the man to summon him over. Here too, this is something to picture. Picture the blind man stand up, throw off his outer cloak and stumble toward Jesus. And when he gets close to Jesus, Jesus asks him that question, ““What do you want me to do for you?”” (Mark 10:51 CSB17) Now, my dear friends in Christ, we might ask the question, ‘why did Jesus ask such a foolish question?’ The guy has been sitting there shouting for a long time what he wanted. Everybody knows what the blind man wants. But you’re forgetting one simple fact: this man cannot see. Facial expression, body language—all of that is useless to this man. So Jesus asks him the simple, but all-important question: What do you want me to do for you? Bartimaeus answers: ““Rabboni,” the blind man said to him, “I want to see.”” (Mark 10:51 CSB17)


Now notice what happens next. Jesus does not say, “I am good and gracious, so I can’t stop myself from healing you.” Instead, this is what he says: ““Go, your faith has saved you.”” (Mark 10:52 CSB17) Now my dear friends in Christ, these are some very important and impressive words that Jesus speaks. Jesus did not have to heal this man that day. In fact, there were times when Jesus did not heal people at all. Earlier on in Mark’s Gospel Jesus preaches in his hometown. And at the end of the day, we read these words: 4 Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:4–6 NIV)


Jesus did not have to heal blind Bartimaeus. But he did. He tells Bartimaeus that his faith is what counted. All false teaching is a confusion of cause and effect. In other words, Jesus does not perform miracles so that people might have faith in him. Instead, he gives them faith so that they would know him and then appreciate the miracle. Jesus could have said “no.” But this man was given a living, active, powerful faith. And we see it by the names that he calls Jesus. If you’re going to play it safe, what do you call Jesus? You call him, “teacher.” Everyone else did. But this man didn’t. He cried out and shouted out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” The title, “Son of David” was a very powerful one. It was one of those parts of the Old Testament that shouted out and cried out that the savior and messiah would be both God and man.


What if, my dear friends, what if you were blind and could no longer see? What if Jesus asked you that simple question, what would you say? What would you like me to do for you? I don’t know about you, but I might say, “What took you so long?” I might pray “O Lord, heal my body, but who really cares about my soul?” But look at blind Bartimaeus. He calls Jesus who he is, both God and man. Here is a man who knows that Jesus is his Savior. So when he says, “I want to see,” there’s more going on. As one pastor once said, even though he has no eyesight, he has so very much insight.


And what Jesus says about us, we pray for ourselves. Jesus asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?” And first of all, our prayer is that, like this blind man, he would give us faith to find him in the darkness. How many long months and years did this man wait for the Son of David to arrive? And when the Son of David came he neither hurled rocks nor insults at him. My dear friends, there will be those times when the waiting will wear you down. When you get hurt, you need time to heal. And the same is true not just for our bodies, but also for our souls. And we sin when we either give up on the Son of David or even worse, blame him. But Jesus does the same for us as he does for this man. First, he does not assume anything. How thankful we are that we do not have to trust in facial expressions, hand gestures or body language when it comes to our Savior. He is just as clear with us as he was with this man. Second, he forgives us. He forgives us by being perfectly patient in our place. He forgives us by being treated like the son of hell in our place instead of the Son of David. He does all this so that, like this Bartimaeus, we would know that our sins are forgiven and then find him in the darkness.


That, my friends, is our prayer, that we too would find the Son of David in the darkness. But if Jesus asks us that question, let us also have another prayer. Let us pray that he would also give us such a strong faith as this blind man so that would follow Jesus in the light. In the final words of this part of the bible, we read: “Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has saved you.” Immediately he could see and began to follow Jesus on the road.” (Mark 10:52 CSB17)


Do you remember what happened at a different time, when Jesus healed the ten lepers? We read those words on every Thanksgiving Eve. Jesus heals ten lepers and then how many come back to thank him? There was only one—one! This man is healed. And does he run home to his missed friends and treasured family? No, in joyous faith, he follows. That is our prayer too. There will be those times when the Lord answers our prayer—when he takes away a pain, pressure or disease. And our knee-jerk reaction will be to forget him. But the Son of David doesn’t just forgive our sins. He also gives us the Holy Spirit to follow him and live for him. And with that new person placed in us through water and word instead of forgetting Jesus, we follow him.


What do you want me to do for you? That is the question that the Son of David asked blind Bartimaeus. He still asks that same question of all of us today. And our prayer is that he would give us the same strong faith as Bartimaeus. We pray that he would give us faith to find Jesus in the darkness and follow him in the light. That is our prayer. And the Son of David will answer it. Amen.


Proper 22

Children

God Made Them Male And Female


Simple truths are often the best truths. Years ago there was a new pastor. He was an intelligent man. And he had gone to school for years to become a pastor. One day, a member in his congregation had him over to his house. He told him, “You’re preaching way up here; you need to bring it way down here.” Often the simple truths are the best truths. When we go back and look at Jesus teaching and preaching, so very often he shuts down his opposition not with huge five-syllable words, but instead with simple statements. In Mark 10, we read: 2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied. 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.” (Mark 10:2–6 NIV11-GKE)


The Pharisees came and asked Jesus a question—but not to learn from him. Instead, they asked the question to test him and tear him down. The question was about divorce. Notice Jesus’ answer. It was not a long theological lecture. It was with quick, simple statements that Jesus answered. He told them that at the beginning God made them male and female. Before anyone speaks about marriage, divorce and remarriage and all the other issues one could bring up, there is the simple, solid truth we need to understand and build on: God made them male and female. For ever since the fall into sin, every human being has been busy denying that basic truth. 50 years ago the sinful world abused that truth by overemphasizing it. On the internet now, there are massive archives of advertisements from that time. And, if you read them, you’ll see that you aren’t really a man unless you can rebuilt your car from scratch and do 100 push-ups. And you aren’t really a woman unless you can bake a cake from scratch while wearing a pretty dress and keeping it spotless at the same time. And there are worse examples of this. But today the pendulum has swung the entire opposite direction today. If there was an over-emphasis on male and female (in an often abusive way), then today, there is an under-emphasis. Consider this guideline from the Minneapolis public school website:


Gender is often used as a classification for dividing classes, prerequisites for participation, or access to facilities such as locker rooms and bathrooms. Advoid using gender as a characteristic for division whenever possible. Create an all gender option for facilities and allow student to self-select to the group they would feel most comfortable in.1


Notice the point that they are making on the site: First, there are more than two genders. There is not just male and female. There are more options out there. Second, according to them, you choose your gender. If you choose to be a boy for a while, everyone has to endorse that. If you then choose to go back to being a girl, then the world has to recognize and affirm that choice. But these words are so very clear, aren’t they? God made them male and female.


Why can’t people get this straight? Why 50 years ago did people over-emphasize male and female to the point of abuse? And why today do people under-emphasize this simple truth to the point of absurdity? The answer is simple: People often listen to what is popular.


We too face the same temptation. It is popular today to conclude that you can choose to be either male or female or even a third self-defined category. And it’s easy for us to conclude that that’s the truth for one simple reason: that conclusion is popular. But it’s not the truth. Jesus says it so simply and clearly. At the beginning, God made them male and female.


And what follows is the answer to the question, why: 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”” (Mark 10:7–12 NIV11-GKE)


Why did God make them male and female? He made us male and female so that they would be one. The general path laid out for us is that boys and girls grow up to be men and women. And one man and one woman marries each other. They become one. Now notice what Jesus is not saying in these words. My spouse is not my soulmate. And my spouse is not my savior. Instead, my spouse is a gift to me as a treasured friend and companion for this life and for this life alone.


My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, look at all the traps—all the ways we can sin by not getting this straight in our own minds. We can abusively over-emphasize this truth. We can under-estimate this truth along with the rest of so many today, denying that God is the one who made us male and female. And even when we get married we can sin by making our spouse our soul-mate and even worse, our Savior.


But look what Jesus does. First, Jesus understands perfectly what male and female means. And then he treats them perfectly as they are, male and female. And he does this in our place. Second, he dies and pays for those sins on the cross. For those times I abusively over-emphasize or absurdly under-emphasize them, Jesus pays for them. For the times I forget that my spouse is a companion, not a soul-mate and savior, Jesus paid for those sins.


So Jesus made us male and female first of all, so that male and female would be one in marriage. But, as we read these words we see there is another reason he made us male and female: 13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13–16 NIV11-GKE)


He made us male and female so that we would be one. But he also made us male and female so that in marriage we would bring many into this world. Now here is where we need to be careful. For here is where I have people usually throw down objections. So let’s deal with them right here. On the one hand, there possibly some proper objections to having children. If financially, you have severe problems supporting two people, adding more into the family might be a real reason. If you biologically cannot have children, that too is a real reason. And there might be others.


But there other improper objections. And let me speak about two this morning: Selfishness and fearfulness. It is an ever-present temptation to not have children because life would not be as comfortable as it is now. Children take away your money. Children take away your time. And so, if you look at so many cities across our nation what you will find is young married men and women who choose to have a dog instead of children. But there is another reason too: fearfullness. The idea of starting a family is terrifying. There is the real fear of messing up. What happens if the child dies, either at our hand or by others? What happens if that child grows up and leaves the Christian church? I had all of these fears and I had a good, solid example of what marriage should look like since I had a mom and dad all my life. How much worse and more fearful this is if a husband and wife were missing a mom or dad as they grew up.


Look at what our Savior does. First, he speaks a command: Let them come to me. Second, he speaks a promise: The kingdom of God belongs to such as these. If Jesus goes out of his way with both a command and promise to tell you how much he cares for children, won’t he also take care of you as you take care of them? When you mess up and sin (and you will!), won’t he forgive you? Won’t he teach you what it is to be a father and mother through his word? And won’t he remind you that, at the end of the day, these children are cared for by you but they don’t belong to you. They belong to our Lord and Savior Jesus.


And so, always remember the foundation: God made us male and female. He made us male and female to be one and to bring many. Amen.



1 Policies Supporting ALL Genders