Who Will Take Jesus Down? (Good Friday)

Golgatha

Who Will Take Jesus Down? (Good Friday)

 
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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? (Midweek Lent 4)
Year B

 
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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 (Lent 3)
Year B

 
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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 (Proper 29—The Last Sunday)
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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 Time Is Coming (Proper 28)
Year B

 
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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? (Proper 27)
Year B

 
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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

Proper 26—All Saints
Year B

 
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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

Proper 24
Year B

 
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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

Proper 23
Year B

 
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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

Proper 22
Year B

 
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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

Proper 21

Lamb of God

Proper 21
Year B

 
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Why This Waste?


What does waste look like? Several weeks ago, I saw a mom walking down the street with her little boy. It was a busy street. And, as you might expect, there were objects that people dropped along the way on the ground. As they were walking down the road the boy stopped, reached down and picked up a piece of candy and ate it. The mom had to stop what she was doing and evaluate what was going on when there was a tug on her arm when the boy stopped. And before she could stop him the candy went into his mouth—dirt and all. This then began the lecture and lesson on why it was bad and wrong to put food that was on the ground in your mouth. And after a very clear, logical presentation of the facts, she said, “So don’t put candy that is on the ground into your mouth.” But I looked at his face. And every detail of his face cried out, “what a waste!” There’s this perfectly good piece of candy on the ground that was just going to waste if he didn’t eat it. And this makes us ask the question: what does waste look like? That’s the context we find ourselves in this morning. In Mark 14, we read: 3 While he was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured it on his head. 4 But some were expressing indignation to one another: “Why has this perfume been wasted? 5 For this perfume might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they began to scold her.” (Mark 14:3–5 CSB17)


What a waste! That’s what all the people said. How much of a waste was this? Perfume—good perfume was expensive. This little jar of perfume was a little less then a year’s wages. Think of one bottle of perfume that was worth a year of your wages. And what does this woman do? She breaks it. With an item that precious you want to make it last and stretch it out. That’s not what this woman did. She broke the container and let the perfume flow over Jesus’ head and the fragrance fill the room. And so the people cry 0ut: “why this waste?” She could have stretched this perfume out. She could have sold it and given the money to the poor. But Jesus’ reaction to what she had done was totally different. They say, “look at the waste.” Jesus, instead, has us look at this woman: 6 Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me. 7 You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”” (Mark 14:6–9 CSB17)


The first detail that Jesus tells us about this woman is that what she as done was noble and beautiful.1 What she did was noble and beautiful for two reasons: first, they would always be able to worship Jesus by helping out the poor, but they wouldn’t always have Jesus around, face to face, as he was at that time. Second, What she was doing was driven by why she was doing this. She was pouring perfume over his head to prepare for his burial.2 she was pouring perfume over his head to show that she understood what all the others in this room didn’t, that Jesus was going to die. The fact that Jesus was going to die drove her to consider many other details before she walked into that room with that jar of perfume. First, she considered her sin, how real and true her sin was. Second, she saw her own inability to pay for her sins. Third, she saw that, in order to pay for her sin, Jesus could not just dump a large pot of money into the temple treasury to pay for her sin. Her sin was so bad that the only price that could pay for her sin was the death of the sinless Son of God. All of that then drove her to ask the question: why this waste? But she did not ask this question in her soul about the perfume. No, instead she asked this question about herself. What a waste it would be to pay with your own life to redeem a person who would sin after you paid for her life just as much as before. And yet that’s exactly what Jesus did for her.


My dear friends in Christ, look at this woman. For we too could ask the same question: not ‘why this waste’ when it comes to perfume poured on Jesus’ head; no instead, we ask ‘why this waste’ when it comes to us and Jesus paying for us. The people in that room had an excuse. They had not seen Jesus die on Good Friday and rise on Easter. But, through God’s word, we have. And yet our great sin is that we so easily forget the price that Jesus paid. And we show it by going out and doing the very sins that Jesus paid to free us from. And so we lie, we cheat, we steal, we lust, we hate. Look at this woman for she saw a Savior’s love that filled her with awe and appreciation enough to break this jar and pour out this perfume on his head. And her Savior’s death on the cross wasn’t just enough to pay for her sins. That price was big enough to pay the world’s sins. That means your sins and my sins too.


Why this waste? From every true and realistic point of view the price that Jesus paid for us was a waste. But Jesus did it anyway, making it valid, true, and full of worth. And so, we might start out asking, ‘why this waste?’ But this morning we end up asking, ‘why this act of worship?’ It was not enough for her to use cheap perfume to prepare for Jesus’ burial. And it was not enough to use a little perfume. She gave Jesus her best in worship purely out of thanks. And the same is true for us. Today Christians give their best to their Savior purely out of thanks.


Now, for the time that remains here this morning, please let me give you two examples of what this looks like. The first is an example of what giving our best does not look like. Years ago there was a grandma. She had a piano in her house. Her children and their children had learned to play the piano on that piano. But now some keys would not depress and some strings were broken. She called Goodwill to see if they would come over and take it. They told her that unless it was in good, working condition, they would not take it. So what did she do? She called her sons and had them come over, put the piano in the back of the truck and then dump it off over at church. That, my dear friends in Christ, is junk for Jesus. That is not our best.


The second example is just the opposite. In my last congregation we wanted to have a processional cross. The processional cross is what we use at Palm Sunday and Good Friday. It is a way of picturing our Savior, who he is and what he has done for us. So I asked one of my elders to look into getting us a processional cross. In the worship books it gave this description: you could take the Christmas tree, and cut it up and then strap together two branches, making a processional cross. Months later, he showed up with this large, beautiful cross I had never seen before made of oak. And he told me, “Pastor, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t tie together two branches and pretend that that was worthy of our Lord. I wanted to give my best.” And so he did. And it still stands there in that church as an example of giving our best to our Savior Jesus, purely out of thanks.


I use both of these as examples for each of you. Each of you has gifts, skill, talents and abilities that God has given to you. And like this woman, we give our best to Jesus to worship him and thank him.


And so, we start out asking, “why this waste?” Why would Jesus waste his life to pay for my sins? And when we see his great and undeserved love for us we begin to ask a different question: “why this worship?” We give our best to Jesus purely out of thanks to him. Amen.



1 “ⲕⲁⲗⲟⲛ” (Mark 14:6 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲉⲓⲥⲧⲟ ̄ ⲉⲛⲧⲁⲫⲓⲁⲥⲙⲟⲛ” (Mark 14:8 GNT-ALEX)

Proper 19

denarius

Proper 19
Year B

 
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What Drives Our Giving?


People are fascinating. When I first started High School, we had to take fine arts classes. So I signed up for drama classes. And one of the first homework assignments I had was to go out somewhere and study someone so that we could act and pretend to be that person for a minute or two. So that’s what I did. I went across the street from our home to the grade school. I took out a notebook and a pen and studied the children. And there was this boy who began to tie his shoes. But half way through he realized that it was work to tie his shoes. So he put on the saddest face—the sort of face that makes mom’s sigh and dads act. And then he said, “Teacher, I need help.” And as the teacher kneeled down and tied his shoe for him, this smug, self-contented smile spread across his face, as if to say, “Life is good. My mom makes me tie my shoes at home. But I just successfully trained my teacher to tie my shoes at school. Life is good.” I walked home after that thinking to myself one thought: people are fascinating. But I was not the only one who thought that people were fascinating. Jesus too thought that people were fascinating too. And they were so fascinating that they were worthy of time to observe and study. And in our gospel for this morning that’s exactly what Jesus does. In Mark 12, we read: “Sitting across from the temple treasury, he watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury.” (Mark 12:41 CSB17)


As we read these words, it’s important to see the setting. It’s Holy Week. Jesus is in the temple area. He has just answered every tough question brought to him. And now no one is coming forward to test and challenge him. And so, for a rare moment in time, he has spare time. But he doesn’t let it go to waste. He sits down. Then he stares at and studies the people in the temple because they are fascinating to him.1 And as he does this, what is it that he sees? 41 Many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little.” (Mark 12:41–42 CSB17)


What Jesus sees first is crowds of people coming up and dropping their offering into the temple treasury. But then, as time goes by, he sees more. He sees how there were many rich people who stopped by and dropped large sums of money into the treasury. This is a reminder for us that in those days there was no such thing as a check or credit card. If you had masses of money you had to carry it. One of the parts of the Old Testament that I thought was funny when I first read it was the description of Abraham. In our english versions it just says that Abraham was “rich” in gold and silver. But in the Hebrew it says that he was weighed down with gold and silver.2(Genesis 13:2 BHS-T)}} If you were rich, it was hard to hide it. Everyone could see the masses of money that these rich people brought because they had to carry them. Or, to be more specific, they had people to carry them. And as all of this happens, Jesus is just sitting there. But then there is this change in Jesus. And we hear about this in the verses which follow: “Summoning his disciples, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” (Mark 12:43 CSB17)


So Jesus is sitting there watching one person after another. But then he sees someone get in line. And what he sees fascinates him. He sees one woman. He does not see teams and groups of people, as with the rich people. And he sees that she is a widow. There is no husband to go with her and support her. And then the final detail we learn about her is that she is poor. There was no trust-fund for her or life insurance. Her income died with her husband. Jesus sees her and studies her. In fact she is so fascinating to him that he calls his disciples over to him. And he tells them all that this one woman gave more than all the others who showed up that day. And then he tells them why this was true: “For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had—all she had to live on.”” (Mark 12:44 CSB17)


Notice the contrast Jesus sees. On the one hand, what drove all these people to give was the fact that they had enough if not even more than enough. And because they had enough, they could give some to the Lord. But just the opposite was true with this poor, lonely widow. What drove her to give was her lack. She did not have a husband. She did not have and income. And with that lack she arrived at a conclusion: “I can do no nothing because I have nothing.” And that was what fascinated Jesus. For from that conclusion she arrived at an even more important conclusion: “Since I can do nothing, the Lord will have to do everything. He will have to be the one who will save me from sin and from starvation.” And from this conclusion she arrived at a final conclusion: “since the Lord will provide for me, I can give freely and joyfully to him.” And so she did.


Joy in Christ—that’s what drove her giving. But for us here today, what is it that drives our giving? Here is where we face two temptations: first, our temptation is to give out of apathy and peer-pressure. After the sermon ends and it’s time for the offering we look around and all the other people are giving. I guess I should. And so, without much thinking and pondering we put our money in the plate. That’s one temptation. But the other temptation is just as bad. The second temptation is to give out of panic and desperation. We publish these numbers in our bulletin every week. And if we don’t understand them properly, we they can lead us to sin. If I see a negative number here in the bulletin, it’s so easy to conclude, “I have to give because if I don’t this church might close down.” And that’s not true at all. I’ve been in many congregations over the years and what causes churches to close down is a lack of love for God’s word, not a lack of money. The lack of money is an effect, not a cause. In one of the churches I served in, there was a guy who bought into a false teaching. And when our congregation refused to give into that false teaching he left. And he left with a strange sort of glee. You see, he was a very generous giver to the church—and everyone knew it. And, with glee, he left the church, expecting it to fold because he was no longer there. But the church didn’t collapse. In fact, it grew. It was a powerful reminder that that church belonged to Jesus. He died for those people. He gave them faith. He gave them their daily bread. And our great trap is to either care too little about our offerings (apathy) or to care too much (panic and desperation).


Those are our temptations. But what is the truth we see in these words? Just look at that widow. Did Jesus rescue her from her sin? And there’s the amazing part: we find no hint that she even knew he was there. But she knew her good and gracious Lord would forgive her sins. And the same is true for us. And did Jesus rescue her from her starvation? Year after year we walk through these words in catechism class. And I ask the kids: “So, do you think that this widow put her coins in the box and then went home and died of starvation.” And, in all my years of asking that question, they all had the same answer: “no.” They knew that the same Savior, Jesus, who died for us will also provide for us.


So where does that leave us this morning? That leaves us in the same place as this one poor widow. What drives us to give is our great joy in Christ. And what this joy in Christ drives us to do is to give freely. So when we get to that part when I say, “We continue with our thank-offering,” care about that money that you put in that offering plate. But do not let your care be driven by pressure or panic. Give freely, out of joy in Christ. Amen.



1 “ⲉⲑⲉⲱⲣⲉⲓ” (Mark 12:41 GNT-ALEX)

2 ”וְאַבְרָ֖ם כָּבֵ֣ד מְאֹ֑ד בַּמִּקְנֶ֕ה בַּכֶּ֖סֶף וּבַזָּהָֽב׃“

Proper 17

Moses

Proper 17
Year B

 
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Take Away The Weight


It’s out of my hands. Part of being a doctor—especially an ER doctor, is that it’s your job to save lives. And the situation you can get yourself in if you are that kind of a doctor is that you get good at your job and you begin to conclude that you can save all people. But then there are those times you cannot save them. There are those times where you realize that both the problem and the solution are out of your hands. In Numbers 11, Moses faced the same situation, that both the problem and the solution are out of his hands: 4 The riffraff among them had a strong craving for other food. The Israelites wept again and said, “Who will feed us meat? 5 We remember the free fish we ate in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. 6 But now our appetite is gone; there’s nothing to look at but this manna!”” (Numbers 11:4–6 CSB17)


Here we are again in the desert, just as we were several weeks ago. And here we are reminded that there was this “mixed-multitude” coming up out of Egypt along with the Hebrews—or to use the word here, the “riffraff.” These many people who fled from Egypt continually tried to lead the Hebrews astray. But, sad to say, as we look at these words, we see that the Hebrews wanted to be led astray. So what happens next? 10 Moses heard the people, family after family, weeping at the entrance of their tents. The Lord was very angry; Moses was also provoked. 11 So Moses asked the Lord, “Why have you brought such trouble on your servant? Why are you angry with me, and why do you burden me with all these people? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth so you should tell me, ‘Carry them at your breast, as a nanny carries a baby,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? 13 Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are weeping to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I can’t carry all these people by myself. They are too much for me. 15 If you are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now if I have found favor with you, and don’t let me see my misery anymore.”” (Numbers 11:10–15 CSB17)


Week after week, month after month, the people complained about their food. And look at Moses. The Moses here is a different man than the one we saw months earlier. He is worn down. He he demoralized. Moses wasn’t the one who created these people. It wasn’t Moses’ plan to take them out of Egypt. And he wasn’t the one who was providing food for them in the desert—It was the Lord who was doing that. And yet, he felt the weight of a problem that was out of his control. So, in a low and lonely moment, he prays to the Lord that the Lord might murder him.1 And he prays that the Lord would just take the weight away.


Now, before we move on in these words, realize that nothing at all has changed from Moses’ time to our own. Christian congregations often have a habit of blaming a pastor for issues that are out of his control. Years ago there was a pastor who was called to a congregation after a long vacancy. And there were people who had left that church and weren’t coming back. But yet, when he got there, the leaders in the congregation made sure he knew that his job was to get those families who weren’t coming to church back into church. That was an issue that was out of his control. But the congregation was more than happy to pile on the weight. So the ancient Hebrews weren’t the only ones who face this temptation. Today Christians face the same temptation.


Now, if you were in the Lord’s shoes, what would you do with these problems? Notice then what the Lord does: “The Lord answered Moses, “Bring me seventy men from Israel known to you as elders and officers of the people. Take them to the tent of meeting and have them stand there with you.” (Numbers 11:16 CSB17)


Moses cries out, “Take away the weight.” But is this what the Lord does? The answer is “yes” and “no.” He still leaves the weight of caring for souls on Moses’ shoulders. But, notice what he also does. He spreads the weight. He chooses 70 elders to help Moses out in his ministry to the people. And there are some important details to learn about these men. We read: 24 Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. He brought seventy men from the elders of the people and had them stand around the tent. 25 Then the Lord descended in the cloud and spoke to him. He took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and placed the Spirit on the seventy elders. As the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they never did it again. 26 Two men had remained in the camp, one named Eldad and the other Medad; the Spirit rested on them—they were among those listed, but had not gone out to the tent—and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 Joshua son of Nun, assistant to Moses since his youth, responded, “Moses, my Lord, stop them!” 29 But Moses asked him, “Are you jealous on my account? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets and the Lord would place his Spirit on them!”” (Numbers 11:24–29 CSB17)


Notice the two points these words teach us: First, elders are called servants of the word. But they only have a part of that ministry. Elders are not pastors. But they carry out pastoral work in a very limited way. Second, Moses says, “If only all the Lord’s people were prophets” (Numbers 11:29 CSB17) Moses says this because only a very small number of men will have the gifts to serve as an elder. I know of congregations of more than 500 members and they have no elders. And the reason for this is very clear: there will be few men who will have the maturity in God’s word to serve in this ministry. Notice what it is to be an elder. An elder is a man who loves God’s word and loves God’s people. And from this fact there arises two temptations. The first temptation comes from the congregation. The call, work and role of an elder is to spend time in God’s word. He needs to be reading God’s word at home. He needs to be sharing that word with his family. He needs to be coming to bible study class at church for one simple reason: Elders are asked pastor-level questions. But they do not have a pastor-level education. So they need to be in bible study class, immersed in God’s word. And the temptation the congregation faces is to take this man whose call has to do with God’s word and then divert him to other service in the church. So, instead of spending time reading God’s word, praying and studying God’s word with the pastor, the congregation has the elder fix door knobs and faucets. That is a real sin. But there is a second temptation. That is the temptation for the elder to divert himself. I have no desire to clean my office. I don’t. But when Saturday morning rolls around, all of a sudden I have this deep yearning to tidy up my office. Why is that? That is the time when I write my sermon. And my sinful nature wants me to do anything rather than get the sermon done. Since the fall into sin in the Garden it has always been this way. And it’s the same for elders in the church. Their work is carrying your weight. Their work is to pray for you. Their work is to grow in God’s word so that they can share that with you. And it is a sad and shameful thing when we divert them from that work.


And what do we do with this shocking realization that our energy and efforts are diverted? We repent of it. We turn to the God we see here in these pages. We turn to this God who has such amazing patience. If God was patient with his people and prophets in the Old Testament, won’t he be the same with us? And hasn’t he already been in Christ? Look at our Savior, Jesus. He was continually and constantly being invited to divert himself from the ministry of the word. But, in every example, he said, “no.” And he did this as our substitute, so that in the times we divert ourselves or others divert us—those sins are forgiven in Christ. And they are paid for on the cross.


With all of this in mind, how should we treat our elders in our congregation? Treat them as tremendous gifts. For there are congregations who do not have any. Thank God for them. But also help them. An elder’s primary role is to be in God’s word. So then, my dear friends in Christ, help him in that. If there is an elder who gets caught up in fixing doorknobs and dishwashers in this church, what should you do? Make sure that he is reading God’s word. Make sure that he is coming to bible class, for again, elders are asked pastor-level questions without a pastor-level training. And so that they can spend time in growing in God’s word, take that work away from them. Fix the doorknobs and dishwashers for them. Do this so that the weight of caring for you can rest on their shoulders once again. For each of us as pastors and elders at some point in time cries out, “take the weight away.” But our Lord, in is mercy toward us spreads the weight out among pastors and elders. Amen.



1 הָרְגֵ֤נִי נָא֙ הָרֹ֔ג Numbers 11:15

Proper 16

Faith

Proper 16
Year B

 
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Faith Chooses Us


You do not want to leave too, do you? In the words we just read, that was the question that Jesus asked his disciples. And the fascinating part of that question is the word, “too.” They could see multitudes and masses of people walking away from Jesus because, to them, he was speaking above their level of comprehension. And Jesus, no doubt, with sadness in his voice, tells them, “All the rest are walking away? Are you?” Peter lifts up his voice and says those words, ““Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68 NIV) And the question we ask is “how?” How is it that Peter stood with Jesus when all the rest walked away? The answer is that Peter’s confidence came by faith. Peter did not choose to have faith in Jesus. No, instead, God the Father gave Peter faith so that he could choose to stay with Jesus. Or, to put it differently, Peter did not choose faith. Instead, faith chose him. And notice that this amazing gift of faith that God gave to him was not frail and faltering. No, instead, it was fierce and forceful. All of this we look at this morning because we see the same pattern and example 1400 years before Peter. We find the same example in Moses. In the book of Hebrews we read: 24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter 25 and chose to suffer with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasure of sin. 26 For he considered reproach for the sake of Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, since he was looking ahead to the reward.” (Hebrews 11:24–26 CSB17)


Faith chose Moses. But notice that this gift of faith was not frail. It was strong and forceful. And it needed to be. For Moses was caught and ensnared in a powerful web. Moses was a Hebrew baby. And Pharaoh had commanded that all the Hebrew boys be put to death. But Pharaoh’s daughter found a Hebrew baby in the Nile. She adopted the child and made him her own. But this makes Moses’ life weird, strange and dysfunctional. Today, they talk about Stockholm syndrome. It’s this condition where a person is kidnapped and then abused and then, after a while, bonds with the person who kidnapped them. And that’s nothing compared to what Moses grows up in. His adopted grandpa went out of his way to kill all the Hebrew males he could get his hands on. And yet, there in his own household is a grown-up Hebrew male that he calls his own. And what is it that keeps Moses there, living in denial of his family and his faith? All the wealth of Egypt is his.


And this is a warning to us. We are citizens of two kingdoms. The bed where you lay your head at night is your earthly home. But the promise of heaven is where you lay your heart. Worldly wealth is the tool this sinful world and our sinful hearts use to rob us of our earthly promised kingdom. Earthly wealth wants to give us such joy that we forget about the joy promised to us in heaven. Earthly wealth wants us to put our trust in it. And even worse, we can look around us and see so many people being enticed by it.


What was it then that led Moses out of that trap, and us too today? The answer is faith. This gift of faith that our Father in heaven gives to us is forceful. This faith chooses us. And it chooses us to say, “No!” And that’s exactly what Moses did. He had every ability to stay with his mother and have every benefit of worldly wealth. But his soul cried out, “no!” His faith in Christ led him to say, “no” and suffer with his fellow believers because the treasures he was promised in Christ were far bigger and far better. The wealth of Egypt gave him fame and power. But it did not give him forgiveness. It did not give him the truth. And the same is true for us. This gift of faith chooses us to say “no” to worldly wealth. And what moves us to do this is the promise of forgiveness promised to us in Christ. And what a great, amazing promise that is! For all those times we, in such a dysfunctional way loved our worldly wealth more than our Savior—that sin is forgiven in Jesus who loved us enough to lay down his life to pay for our sins.


Faith chooses us. This gift of faith chooses us to say, “no” to the enticement of worldly wealth. But as these words continue, we see that faith chooses us in another way: 27 By faith he left Egypt behind, not being afraid of the king’s anger, for Moses persevered as one who sees him who is invisible. 28 By faith he instituted the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn might not touch the Israelites.” (Hebrews 11:27–28 CSB17)


Here we bump into some of the strangest words you could possibly bump into as you read the bible. God tells us that Moses was not afraid. But that’s the exact opposite of what we read in the book of Exodus. And we know why Moses is so afraid. He’s afraid because he just got done murdering and Egyptian and burying him in the sand. How do we make sense of this? The answer is that in between verse 26 and 27 in these words 40 years has passed. Moses was a different man 40 years later. And in this too we see a huge temptation to sin. Moses’ faith was forceful. It was not frail and faltering. But what was the problem? His faith was not formed and informed by God’s word. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. But Moses took vengeance in his own hands, without a call and without a command from God. We too can fall into the same trap. There are those times we are put on the spot and put to the test. And then, when that time of testing comes, we take our stand with Jesus and shout out, “no!” But then we fall into another trap. We might do so without love and compassion for the person we are speaking to. We might do so like Moses, not just showing sin, but also bringing divine wrath and punishment. And all of this happens, because, just like Moses, instead of having our faith formed and informed by God’s word, we choose to live in ignorance. And so we have a faith that is forceful; but it is also foolish.


The Moses that we see in these closing verses was a different man. He wasn’t different in that, somehow, he stopped sinning or even that he sinned less than before. No, instead, he was a different man in that, for 40 years, he was one who kept continually seeing the One who was Unseen. The Lord hid himself and spoke to him out of that burning bush. But that’s not all he had. He also had God’s word shared with him through his Father in law, Jethro, who was a high priest of Midian. Moses had God’s word and grew in it. And that same invitation is here for you today. The faith that God has given to each and everyone of you is forceful. But what is it that moves us to actually open up our bibles and read them? Just like Moses, there in those pages of the bible, the Jesus that is unseen, we see. We see his great love for us in forgiving the times we have been cowards. We see his great love for us in the times we found how forceful our faith was and then became fools by going in directions God’s word didn’t—how he forgives our foolishness. And if you want an example of that, just look at Moses. Such shame he had for decades at murdering an Egyptian. But why was he so unafraid of Pharaoh and so unafraid to have Pharaoh call him a murderer? In God’s word he saw Christ, the Savior from his sins. That’s why we read God’s word. Our sinful natures have every reason and right to call us, “adulterer, slanderer, lier, and even murderer.” But in God’s word we see the Jesus who is unseen. And he calls us, “forgiven.” And in God’s word, he calls us, “friend.”


And so, my dear friends in Christ, don’t let your bible be this dry and dusty book on your shelf. Open it. Read it. And as you read it you will find your faith grow and be stronger. It will lead you to say “no.” But right along with that, I will also form and inform you as you see Jesus, who is unseen. Amen.


Proper 14

Bread

Proper 14
Year B

 
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Flee From Idolatry


How did this happen? Years ago, in the town we used to live in, there was a bridge over the river. And the bridge had become so worn down that vehicles, especially trucks, weren’t able to cross it safely. So they shut the bridge down. Then people asked the question, “how did this happen?” You would expect the answer to that question to be, “time and rust.” But no, the question was getting to a different answer. The question says, “how,” But what it really means is “who?” Who did this? And how incompetent can they be so as to let this happen? When we see tragedies like this, it’s hard to not ask that question, “how did this happen?” And we aren’t alone. In the apostle Paul’s day, it was the same. In 1 Corinthians 10, we read: 1 Now I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless God was not pleased with most of them, since they were struck down in the wilderness.” (1 Corinthians 10:1–5 CSB17)


The Lord God led thousands of Hebrews up out of Egypt. They were rescued from Pharaoh’s army as it was drowned in the Red Sea. They drank water from a rock. And even more amazing, Paul tells us that that rock that watered them was Jesus. Well, if they were so blessed by God, then how did this happen? How is it that other than two men, that entire generation’s bodies died one by one and never made it into the promised land? How did this happen? They concluded that they were saved for their sins instead of from their sins. This is a warning for us too. We have been baptized into Christ. Through water and word he has delivered the forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross to us. But it is possible to throw that gift of salvation away and not make it into the promised land of heaven. How is that possible? In the words that follow, Paul tells us: 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, so that we will not desire evil things as they did. 7 Don’t become idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and got up to party. 8 Let us not commit sexual immorality as some of them did, and in a single day twenty-three thousand people died. 9 Let us not test Christ as some of them did and were destroyed by snakes. 10 And don’t complain as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer.” (1 Corinthians 10:6–10 CSB17)


How is it possible to throw heaven away? The answer is idolatry. That’s not a word we use very often. So we need to ask the question, what is it? Luther, in his large catechism puts it this way:


What does “to have a god” mean, or what is God?
Answer: A “god” is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need.1


Where do you go to find fulfillment and joy? And where do you go when things fall apart? Where you go is your god. If we go to any other place than to our Triune God, either when things fall apart, or to get fulfillment, that is idolatry. And Paul gives two example of idolatry from the Old Testament. First, There is the example of sexual immorality. Second, Paul gives the example of grumbling. And notice what Paul says about these sins: “These things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11 CSB17)


Why does the bible record the fact that many Hebrews committed sexual immorality and then were put to death? Why do we read that thousands of them grumbled and then were bit with burning poison until they died? Were these events written down for them? No, they died. They were written down for us. And so we take these words to heart. When the bible warns us against the idolatry of sexual immorality, we listen. Guard your eyes. There are places on the internet that should never be seen by anyone. But now they are easily accessible to all. Guard your eyes so that you don’t go there. And if you go there by accident, quickly run away. Also, guard your hearts. For those of you who are married, be very careful what you think and say about your spouse. Infidelity starts in our hearts. It starts when we begin to conclude that someone else has better assets and attributes than the person God gave to us as a husband or wife.


Idolatry is like a salty spring. You go to it expecting to have your thirst quenched. But you end up worse after than before. It’s true when it comes to sexual immorality. But it’s just as true with grumbling and complaining. I hear it as a pastor. Some hymns are too short. Some are too long. And the difficulty with this grumbling and complaining is that its thirst is never quenched. If the number of verses isn’t enough, then the next target is the style of music isn’t enough. And if it’s true here in the worship setting, then it’s also true out there in the world. It’s shocking that now, on Facebook, you can post a shocking, eighth commandment-breaking insult to hundreds of people. And you never have to actually speak to that person. Grumbling is a salty spring and an empty well. That’s the sort of idolatry that it is. And that brings us to the final words of this section of scripture. Paul urges us to flee from idolatry. But what does that look like? Paul tells us: 12 So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall. 13 No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12–13 CSB17)


Paul brings up two important points. First, sin is common to humanity. Every sin is common to humanity. God’s word wants us to hear these words because each of us is capable of the worst sins. The people in prison are no different than you are. If put in the right circumstances each of us is able to do horrible sins. And even though we might conclude that gossipping and grumbling isn’t as sinful as sexual immorality, God says just the opposite. And shockingly, there is a very real comfort in that fact. How so? When there are those times when we fall into sin, and we feel guilty because we are guilty, Satan will be there to tell us that some sins are forgivable—but not yours. And when that times comes, we can remember this verse: “No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 CSB17) That heinous, horrible sin I committed is able to be forgiven by Jesus. And that’s exactly what he did. Each one of us can say that, for all the times I thought impure thoughts or took impure actions; for all the times I gossiped and grumbled—those sins are paid for. They are paid for by a perfect Savior who never sinned even once. They are paid for by Jesus who as true God and true man died to pay for them.


So no temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But notice what he says in these closing words: “But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 CSB17)


Now, notice what these words do not say. These words do not say that God will magically take away the temptation. No, he says that along side the temptation there is a way out. God has placed his Holy Spirit in us. He has given us a new person, born of water and word, to combat that old person. There is a way out. There is a way to say, “no.” There is a way to flee from idolatry.


So, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, flee from idolatry. Do not give into sexual immorality or into gossipping and grumbling. Flee from it. Do so by remembering that no temptation has come on you except that which is common to humans. Do so by remembering that your Savior Jesus forgives these sins and promises to give you a way out—a way to say, “no” to them. Amen.



1 Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 386.

Proper 13

Anchor

Proper 13
Year B

 
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Jesus, Free Us From Our Fears


What scares you? Years ago, when I was a child, there was a movie on TV. And it was scary. It was edited for television. But even after the editing, it was scary. And, looking back, what made it so scary was that it took not just one scary, but several and put them together in a movie. The movie was called, “IT.” And in the movie was one of the most scary creatures that could exist: the clown. But even more scary than this, there was this scene where the the scary clown was in a sewer grate. And, as the children passed by, it was there, ready to grab them. What scares you? Well, if there is one area of your life that you are scared in, how much more scary is it when there are several added? In our gospel for this morning, we find the same pattern. There are several sources of fear that are put together. We read: 45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After he said good-bye to them, he went away to the mountain to pray. 47 Well into the night, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 He saw them straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.” (Mark 6:45–48 CSB17)


Jesus goes off on his own to pray. But then what happens next? Stress is what happens next. The real stress of real physical danger piles up. The disciples begin to go across the lake, but then a storm begins and builds. And the only way for them to survive is to row against the wind and waves. The daylight turns to night time. The hours move onto the third and fourth watch of the night, about 3 or 4 in the morning. And as each minute and hour passes by their fear grows. They become terrified and afraid for their bodies. They don’t want to die. And who could blame them? But physical dangers aren’t the only dangers they face: 48 Very early in the morning he came toward them walking on the sea and wanted to pass by them. 49 When they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.” (Mark 6:48–50 CSB17)


Not only did these disciples face physical danger. They face spiritual danger. Jesus walks out to them on top of the sea. And he is intending to walk by them. And you would think that that would bring them comfort. But instead, it makes the situation worse. They conclude that he is a ghost. They conclude that he is a dead spirit that is out to get them. And how is it then, that Jesus deals with their fears? We read: 50 Immediately he spoke with them and said, “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.” (Mark 6:50–51 CSB17)


They had real fears. They were afraid of physical danger. They were afraid of spiritual danger. So what does Jesus do for them? First, he prays for them. They are there by themselves straining at the oars and stressing over the wind and waves. But Jesus is on a mountain praying for them. Second, Jesus speaks with them. Jesus gives them real faith and confidence with his powerful word. And Third, Jesus deals with the source of their fear. They were afraid of real wind and real waves. So Jesus really calms down the wind and waves. Compare this, my dear friends in Christ, with how the world deals with fear. You watch a movie, for example. And in that movie there’s a danger that is threatening to destroy people. And there’s that scene where the child asks the parent, “Will everything be allright?” And what does the mom say? She says, “I promise that everything will be all right.” Then later, when she’s talking to the grown-ups she confesses that she just lied to her child because it was necessary. Jesus frees them from their fear by actually dealing with the source and cause of their fear. And he does the same for us today. Jesus prays for you. Jesus shares his word with you. And Jesus deals with the source and cause of your fear. We live in fear that we won’t have enough food and he gives us our daily bread. We live in fear that a slow cancer or sudden tragedy will take us. And he promises to watch over us. We live in fear of Satan’s power with his evil spirits just like these disciples on the sea and in his word Jesus reminds us that he has conquered Satan in the desert and on the cross. And he will continue to conquer him. We live in fear of death itself. And Jesus then dies for us in our place paving a path for us so that if we die we will be with him. Jesus frees us from our fears. He frees us from our fears by praying for us, sharing his word with us, and dealing with the source of our fear. But there’s more to these words. Mark tells us: 51 They were completely astounded, 52 because they had not understood about the loaves. Instead, their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6:51–52 CSB17)


Notice, how in these words, Jesus shows them the sort of Savior he is. Why? Why is it that they were so afraid? Mark tells us why. They hadn’t learned their lesson from the loaves of bread. What is the “loaves of bread” Jesus is speaking about? He’s speaking about the feeding of the 5000. They had not learned that the Savior that provides food also protects from danger. And what else does he teach them? 53 When they had crossed over, they came to shore at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As they got out of the boat, people immediately recognized him. 55 They hurried throughout that region and began to carry the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 Wherever he went, into villages, towns, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch just the end of his robe. And everyone who touched it was healed.” (Mark 6:53–56 CSB17)


What sort of Savior did they have? They had one who provides. They had one who protects. They had one who was powerful. There these disciples were. They had been with Jesus for many weeks and months. They had heard Jesus teach them so much from God’s word. But then they go on dry land and what do they see? They see people who have almost no instruction in God’s word who have a stronger faith than they have. The disciples need signs. They need speeches. They need to not be separated from Jesus or their heart falls apart. But then they see crowds of people who only hear about Jesus. And then they trust in his promises.


What did they learn from all of this? Yes, Jesus freed them from their fear by dealing with the source of their fear. But Jesus did more. He reminded them to turn to and trust in him because he was powerful—all-powerful. And the same is true for us. When you are afraid, what should you do? Where should you go? Turn to Jesus. Trust in him. For all the times our fear threatens to drive away our faith, know that Jesus forgave that sin. He paid for it on the cross. He gave you faith in him through his word. Now, whenever you are afraid, turn to him. For he is powerful—all-powerful.


I’ve always wondered why people love to be scared. Why would anyone like to watch “IT”? People love to be scared to deaden themselves to the fear. If I watch a scary movie about disasters and demons and then tell myself that I am immune to both eventually I will believe it. And outside of Christ they have no shelter for and solution to their fear. We, on the other hand, speak about our fears because Jesus is the one who frees us from them. He frees us from them by dealing with their source and by encouraging us to trust in him, because he is all-powerful. Amen.


Proper 12

Bread

Proper 12
Year B

 
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Why Does The Lord Test Us?


Heat and hunger. If you want to see people at their worst, all you have to do is add heat and hunger. For the past several weeks we were on vacation. And going out too and coming home from Montana we went across highway 200. On that stretch of road there is nothing. There is heat. There is dry, dusty air. There is sagebrush and rattlesnakes. But there is not water and food around for many miles. It’s the sort of place where you stop at the side of the road and read the historical marker and then get back into the minivan and enjoy air-conditioning. And we all know why. If you were there in that area it’s hot and dry. And that’s bad enough. But if you add hunger to the situation, it will bring out the worst in you. That fact is important for us to understand as we tackle these words here in Exodus 16. The Lord sent the ten plagues. The Lord drowned Pharaoh’s army in the Red sea. And they’ve been on their own for a month. They are hot. They are hungry. Oh, and they’re running out of food. With that in mind, we read these opening verses: 1 The entire Israelite community departed from Elim and came to the Wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left the land of Egypt. 2 The entire Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate all the bread we wanted. Instead, you brought us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of hunger!”” (Exodus 16:1–3 CSB17)


The heat and the hunger bring out the worst in the Hebrews. They act out and lash out. Notice the ways in which they sin. First, they revise history. They say to Moses, “Oh, if only we were back in Egypt where we had big pots of meat to eat.” Now, my friends in Christ, what was the occupation of the Hebrews when they were in Egypt? They were slaves. The Egyptians gave them barely enough to survive on. And you don’t give slaves meat. Only the rich people get meat. But they also committed a second sin. They rebel against God’s representatives. The Lord was the one who commanded the Hebrews to leave Egypt. The Lord was the one who sent Moses and Aaron. This was the Lord’s command and the Lord’s work. But the people blamed God’s representatives instead of taking up the issue with God himself.


These are words for us to take to heart. For we too fall into the same traps. There is a temptation for us to revise history. Years ago, I remember talking to a mom. And the mom was complaining about how hard it was to handle her daughter now that her daughter had gotten into the teen years. The mom said, “My daughter says and does the worst things—things I never did when I was her age.” And it was hard to hear her and keep a straight face because I knew her mom. I had heard the grandma tell me how sinful the daughter had been when she was a teenager. All of us can fall into the same trap. We face this real temptation to conclude that we were better in the past than we really were. But just like the Hebrews, not only do we face the temptation to revise history. We face the temptation to rebel against God’s representatives. In his own wisdom God chose to put people over us in our lives for our good. But when they tell us the truth that we do not want to hear, just like the Hebrews, instead of taking the issue up with the Lord who commanded those representatives to say and share his word—instead, we are tempted to tear down God’s representatives. And so, when the child is told by the parent, “You aren’t going to the movies with your friends because you lied to me, “ the child lashes out against the parent. When the teacher hands back a bad grade to the student to didn’t study, the student says horrible things about the teacher behind her back. The pastor preaches against sin, but not the sin that others commit, no, the sin that I commit, and then what do I do? I speak against him. We face these real temptations not just to revise history but also to rebel against God’s representatives.


And so, if we ask the question, “Why does the \textsc{Lord test us,”} here is your answer: To show you your sin. But there is another answer we find in these words: 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. This way I will test them to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites: “This evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the Lord’s glory because he has heard your complaints about him. For who are we that you complain about us?” 8 Moses continued, “The Lord will give you meat to eat this evening and all the bread you want in the morning, for he has heard the complaints that you are raising against him. Who are we? Your complaints are not against us but against the Lord.”” (Exodus 16:4–8 CSB17)


As we read these words, what we find amazing is first of all not what God says, but instead what he didn’t say. I don’t know about you, but if I were God for a day and my people revised history and rebelled against the people I had set up for them for their good, I would be tempted to punish them and pound them into the dust. That’s what I would have done. But look what the Lord does. Instead of pounding them into the dust he sets aside the time to teach them so that they would know that he is the Lord. The Lord is the one who doesn’t just test them to show them their sin. He is also the Lord who shows them his salvation. And what does that look like? We read: 9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your complaints.’” 10 As Aaron was speaking to the entire Israelite community, they turned toward the wilderness, and there in a cloud the Lord’s glory appeared.” (Exodus 16:9–10 CSB17)


The Lord goes out of his way to test them so that they will see that he is the one who gives them salvation from their sin. He allows them to see the Lord’s glory. My dear friends in Christ, this is not a small, trivial detail worth throwing away and forgetting. In the book of Exodus, the Lord would lead them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. And wherever they were, they could look out, see that cloud, and know that the Lord was there in that cloud to lead them, guide them, and above all, forgive them. The Lord cannot tolerate sin. And the only way that the Lord could be with them was if their sins were forgiven—The times they revised history and rebelled against his representatives—those are the ones that needed to be forgiven. He reveals himself to them in the cloud to show them that their sins are forgiven.


Today the Lord does not appear in clouds, does he? Instead he shows his salvation in his word. Here in God’s word we hear about our Savior Jesus who was absolutely true to all of history, never twisting it ever. And Jesus was treated as if he were the biggest rebel and revolutionary ever. And all of this he did to pay for the times we revised history and rebelled against him. There in his word you will find him—his glory and his salvation. But there’s more: 11 The Lord spoke to Moses, 12 “I have heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them: At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will eat bread until you are full. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.” 13 So at evening quail came and covered the camp. In the morning there was a layer of dew all around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew evaporated, there were fine flakes on the desert surface, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they asked one another, “What is it?” because they didn’t know what it was. Moses told them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.” (Exodus 16:11–15 CSB17)


Why does the Lord test us? He tests us to show us our sin. But he also tests us to show us his salvation—shown to our souls and also shown to our bodies. He gives to us our daily bread every day.


My dear friends, what is our response to all of this? Let us, with joy in our hearts, thank him. And what does that thanks look like? We thank him by remembering that he has forgiven our sin, so we don’t need to revise history. We don’t need to go back and pretend that we never sinned or that our sins weren’t as bad as they were. Why? Those sins are forgiven by Jesus. We thank him by following those in authority for one simple reason: God chose them. And we worship God by following them. And finally, we thank God by thanking him for our daily bread. We can say along with Luther, “God surely gives daily bread without our asking, even to all the wicked, but we pray in this petition that he would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”


Why does the Lord test us? He tests us to show us that it is a sin to revise history and to rebel against his representatives. He tests us to show us his salvation—salvation both for our souls and also for our bodies. Amen.




Proper 11

Anchor

Proper 11
Year B

 
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I Need Rest


Thorns and thistles. So long ago Adam and Eve went their own way away from the Lord. And the consequences of their sin we share today. Work used to be fun. But after they sinned, work is work. And yet, because it is work and because it wears us down and makes us weary, we need rest. That’s the context to understand as we begin to walk through this part of God’s word in Mark 6. The twelve disciples had been busy. They had worked. They had toiled. They went out two by two. Their legs were worn down as they walked from town to town. Their hearts were worn down as they preached God’s word again and again not knowing if the people would receive them into their homes or drive them out of their town. They needed rest—for both their legs and hearts. And so, we read: 30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”” (Mark 6:30–31 NIV11-GKE)


They need rest. They know it. Jesus sees it. So he tells them, “Let’s get a little rest.”1 Now, notice, Jesus does not tell them to get an overwhelming amount of rest. Instead, he tells them to get a little rest. So what happens next? 32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” (Mark 6:32–34 NIV11-GKE)


They get on a boat to get away from the crowds and get some rest. But the crowds see them and they travel by foot.2 They run around the sea while Jesus and his disciples sail across the sea.3 And then, what happens next is shocking and surprising. What we would have expected is that Jesus would have sent the crowd away or sailed to a different place. Because he had just invited them to get some rest with him. But when he sees the crowds he has compassion on them.4 There are times that you can’t find a perfect word in english to bring out what is going on in the Greek or Hebrew. The word here describes something that disturbs you so much that your guts feel twisted within yourself. It’s that feeling you have when your teenager goes driving for the first time. It’s that feeling you have when your high-schooler graduates and then they leave—on their own. Jesus heart was in turmoil over these crowds. They were sheep without a shepherd. They had wolves—false teachers. But they didn’t have shepherds.


But just for a moment, put yourself in the shoes of those twelve. Jesus invited them to get some rest with him. But then what happens? The crowd comes and Jesus seemingly forgets about them. And here is where they learned a powerful lesson. It is true that those disciples needed rest. But what about those crowds? What about their need for rest? These were people who were so desperate that they traveled on foot, even running ahead of their boat for one reason—to hear God’s word. For they needed rest for their souls. From this, no doubt, they saw their sin. For it is a sin to lift up our own needs and then forget about the needs of others. And the same is true for us. The new mom loses so much sleep because of the little child. And there is the temptation to hate the child because of its needs. You go to work. And at the end of the day you have your keys in one hand and your jacket in the other. And then your boss comes around the corner with some extra work that needs to get done before you leave. And there hangs over you the temptation to hate him because, after all, you need your rest. When we were in school I remember a professor telling us, “When you get that phone call at 2 AM, letting you know that your member is in the hospital, there will be that temptation to ignore it because you need your rest. But when that phone call comes, you answer it, and you get to the hospital. Because they need rest from God’s word.”


This a real temptation to sin, isn’t it? It is a real temptation to conclude that my need for rest is more important than others. And so we see this sin and repent of it. And, as we do for all of our other sins, we turn to Jesus. Jesus had compassion on them. His heart was in turmoil over them. And his guts are twisted in care and concern today for us too. Look at your Savior. Look at the many times and ways that your needs came before his own. There were times that he should have eaten. But he didn’t so that he could teach the people. There were times he should have slept. But he didn’t so that he could teach the people. There were times that he needed privacy, but he didn’t have it, so that he could teach the people.


Jesus went without all these so that you would know that your needs went before his own. And with that perfect obedience in our place he won forgiveness for us. And with his perfect payment on the cross he payed for all the times we made our need for rest a ruthless right.


He has compassion on us to forgive us. But he also has compassion on us to give us shepherds. When we began vacation, we got out to MT in just enough time to arrive there for the installation of a new pastor at my parents’ church. They had been without a pastor for a little less than a year. And you see how much they needed a shepherd. They needed a fellow sinner as they were that God chose to share his word with them. And by sharing God’s forgiveness to them, again and again, they received rest.


Now my dear friends in Christ, this is an important point. Notice what Jesus did not do. Jesus did not show his compassion on the crowds by buying then a timeshare on the Mediterranean coast for a year. Jesus showed his compassion on them by sharing God’s word with them. For God’s word is what gives us rest. What good is it to have time for rest without a soul at rest? All you’ve gained is time. But you have no rest in that time. Every day off and every vacation should be a brief glimpse into our life in heaven, where we will have complete and perfect rest. But without God’s word, all you have is a fearful expectation of hell. Time off should be a time to relax and recharge. But what good is it to have that time off and then be all stressed out because you’re worrying about what will fall apart when you’re gone. Only in Christ, in his word, do you hear and receive these promises that Jesus will watch over all the details while you are away. And with that time off you actually get rest—both for your body and for your soul.


I need rest. There will be those times we say those words. Your Savior and Shepherd, Jesus knows this. And so he has compassion on you by forgiving you and by giving you a shepherd to share God’s word with you. Amen.



1 “ⲁⲛⲁⲡⲁⲩⲥⲁⲥⲑⲉⲟⲗⲓⲅⲟ̅” (Mark 6:31 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲡⲉⲍⲏ” (Mark 6:33 GNT-ALEX)

3 “ⲉⲇⲣⲁⲙⲟⲛ” (Mark 6:33 GNT-ALEX)

4 “ⲉⲥⲡⲗⲁⲅⲭⲛⲓⲥⲑⲏ” (Mark 6:34 GNT-ALEX)

Holy Trinity

Trinity

Holy Trinity
Year B

 
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We Are Children Of The Triune God


Ididn’t see it. One of the difficulties of being in MN is that there are deer around—but you don’t see them. You can be driving along, and not even too fast. And you only notice these huge eyes staring back at you as you look to the side. And that deer was there all that time. But you didn’t see it. As Christians, we have a God that is not seen. And this morning in God’s word we see so very clearly that we are his children—but not with our eyes. We are children of the Triune God. But like that deer at the side of the road, it’s not something we can see with our eyes or smell with our noses. So it’s easy to forget what it really means that we are children of the Triune God. So, in Romans 8, we read: 12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. 14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (Romans 8:12–14 NIV11-GKE)


We are children of the Triune God. And that means that the Holy Spirit leads us. Look at how God’s word describes the sin in our lives and in our hearts. Either sin puts us to death, or we put sin to death. We are in a death-struggle against our sin. And in this context it is so vitally important for us to realize that we are children of the Triune God. For the Holy Spirit is the one who leads us. As we came into this world, we did not know who God was, so the Holy Spirit revealed the Triune God to us. We did not trust in him, so he gave us faith in him. And, as Paul points out here, we don’t just need the Holy Spirit to make us Christians, we also need him to keep us in the faith. We need him to lead us to carry on this fight against our sin. And day by day, that’s exactly what the Holy Spirit does. He leads us to put to death our sins, repent of them and wage war against them every day.


But, my dear friends in Christ, there too is where we see our sins. One of the traps and temptations we can so easily fall into is that we forget. We forget that the Holy Spirit is the one who gave us the ability to hate sin and wage war against it. And where there are those times we resist the sins that confront us, there is the temptation to conclude that we were the ones, by our own power, who were able to get this work done on our own. Or, to put it differently, we forget that we are Children of the Triune God and that the Holy Spirit is the one who leads us every day to put sin to death. And that’s why what Paul says next is so important: 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15–16 NIV11-GKE)


We are children of the Triune God. The Spirit leads us. But here in these words we learn that the Father adopts us. And that’s a very beautiful and interesting picture. We are not God’s children by essence and genetics. We are adopted children. Last summer we stayed for a little while with some friends in Texas. They have three children—all of whom are girls. But one of them is adopted from China. All you have to do is take one look at them and see that as far as blood and genes go, that little girl born in China doesn’t have much in common with that family. But also, all you have to do is take one look to realize that she is part of that family. She is treated with the same love and dignity as the other two daughters.


We are like that. We are not children of God by blood and genes. But we are still children of the Triune God. We are his children because the Holy Spirit leads us. We are his children because the Father adopts us, declaring that all our sins are forgiven—even those sins we commit when we take credit for ourselves for putting sin to death, when that credit should to to God alone. And because the Father adopts us, we are able to call the Father those small, little, precious words: “my father.”1 And that leads us to the final words of this section: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17 NIV11-GKE)


We are children of the Triune God. The Spirit leads us. The Father adopts us. And Jesus, the Son of God—what does he do? He forged friendship with us through his own suffering. Jesus is the one who died on the cross, suffering miserably and mercilessly for us. And because he did this, our sins are paid for and we have every right to call ourselves children of God.


But notice the point that Paul makes with this. We share in Christ’s suffering. We do not share in his sufferings so as to somehow pay a little bit for our sins. For Jesus paid for them all. Why do we suffer now, since are we children of the Triune God? One of the reasons we suffer is so that we can find proof that we are Children of our Heavenly Father. How so? If your Father cares for you, he disciplines you. One saddest things you see when you grow up is that there are Fathers out there who do not care for their children. And they show it by doing nothing. When their children need to be corrected, they ignore them and let their children continue to do what is wrong. Your Father in heaven is just the opposite. He disciplines you. He shows you what is wrong and how wrong it is in his word. And he even allows you to suffer. Why?—So that you would have proof that you are children of the Heavenly Father.


And so, my dear friends in Christ, you are children of the Triune God. The Holy Spirit leads you. The Father adopts you. And the Son suffers for you. But, like that dear on the side of the road, it’s not something you can see with your eyes. So all that much more so, on this day I’m not asking you to go home and do works of service with your hands. No instead, I’m inviting you to go home and ponder this in your heart. If you look at our hymns, there are so many of them that end with a final verse praising the Trinity. And these are the verses, that when we cut down the hymns to save time, are the first verses that are cut. But they are there for a reason. They are there so that the people singing these words would stop and ponder this amazing fact that they are children of the Triune God—not by blood, but by faith. The Holy Spirit led them. The Father adopted them. The Son suffered for them. They took these words, sung them and then throughout the week and throughout their lives, they pondered them. That is what these words invite you to do this morning. For you are children of the Triune God. The Spirit leads you. The Father adopts you. The Son suffers for you. Amen.



1 “ⲁⲃⲃⲁⲟⲡⲏ̅ⲣ” (Romans 8:15 GNT-ALEX)

The Coming of the Holy Spirit—The Day of Pentecost

Pentecost

The Coming of the Holy Spirit—The Day of Pentecost
Year B

 
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What Does This Mean


There’s something you don’t see everyday. Every day I travel to the church along Bavaria road. And, over the weeks, there are certain sights I have gotten used to seeing. I’ve gotten used to seeing people walking their dogs, people biking, and people jogging. One day though, I was on my way to church, and there on the sidewalk was a guy riding a unicycle. It was such a jarring, shocking sight that I had to slow down and have a look. Finally then, the only conclusion I could reach was, “Well, there’s something you don’t see everyday.” This morning, in these words here in Acts 2 we very quickly arrive at the same conclusion. We read: 1 When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. 3 They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and rested on each one of them. 4 Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were Jews staying in Jerusalem, devout people from every nation under heaven.” (Acts 2:1–5 CSB17)


Every year it was commanded in God’s word that every male present himself to the Lord at the temple three times a year. On of those holy days was the feast of unleavened bread. And so, Jerusalem mushroomed and ballooned into a place where there were hundreds of thousands of men. And I deliberately mention the word, ‘men’ because it was the men that God’s word commanded to present themselves at the temple. And they weren’t just men. They were devout men.1 You don’t travel all the way across the Mediterranean Sea because you don’t care. These were devout men who knew their Lord and they knew their bible.


But what did these devout men see? They saw flames of fire resting on the heads of the apostles. They saw the apostles speaking in languages that they knew. So that’s what they saw. But what then did they say? 6 When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 They were astounded and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 How is it that each of us can hear them in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the magnificent acts of God in our own tongues.” 12 They were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But some sneered and said, “They’re drunk on new wine.”” (Acts 2:6–13 CSB17)


They see fire on the apostle’s heads. They see the apostles speaking in their own dialects. So then, what do they say? “what does this mean?” Peter then stands up and lifts up his voice. And first he tells them what all of this does not mean: 14 Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them: “Fellow Jews and all you residents of Jerusalem, let me explain this to you and pay attention to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it’s only nine in the morning.” (Acts 2:14–15 CSB17)


The flames on their heads and the dialects coming out of their mouths did not mean that they were drunk. Now here is where we need to pause for a minute. What kind of men were these? These were devout men. These were men who learned, cared for and studied God’s word. And without knowing it they ended up despising the Holy Spirit fulfilling God’s word. That was their sin. But we too sin when it comes to the question, “what does this mean?” One of the huge temptations we face is to make the one-time event of Pentecost into an everyday event. It is ever-so tempting to say to ourselves, “I want proof that I’m a Christian inside of myself.” We can say that we can proof that we are Christians by what we say or by what we do. And indeed, we are not alone. Sad to say, there are entire church bodies out there, who if they are asked the question, “how do you know that you are a Christian” they have an answer: They do what Christians do. They conclude that they are Christians because they have earned Jesus with their hands—they have done good works that everybody can see. Or they have earned Jesus with their hearts—they have decided to become Christians. And when they made that decision they felt different. Or even worse, there are those who conclude that they are Christians because of what comes out of their tongues. They can speak in unknown languages.


But what’s the problem? The problem is that both that these were known languages, not unknown one. And the other problem is that this was a one-time event. Or to put it differently, For all those people who say that they have proof that they are Christians because they babble in weird, unknown languages, how many of them can make real, true fire rest on their heads whenever they want? But we too can fall into the same trap and temptation—every time we want to find proof for our faith inside of us, by what we say or do.


So Peter gives a “not” answer. This does not mean. But then he tells us what these signs did mean: 16 On the contrary, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all people; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 I will even pour out my Spirit on my servants in those days, both men and women and they will prophesy. 19 I will display wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below: blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:16–21 CSB17)


What does this mean? The Holy Spirit provides a one-time event to prove an every-day fact. The one-time event is the flames of fire and the many known languages. And the everyday fact is that whoever and whenever a person calls on the name of the Lord, that person will be saved. Look at the amazing work the Holy Spirit does. First, because we could not know God, he reveals God. Because we could not choose God, the Holy Spirit chooses us. Because we could not come to God, the Holy Spirit comes to us. He gives us this amazing gift of faith. Second, he brings salvation to us. Jesus died for our sins. Jesus rose to prove that they are forgiven. And whenever anyone repents of his or her sin, again and again, the Lord forgives them. What good news that was for these devout men—that they forgot what they should have known, and they are forgiven. What great news that is for us—for those times we try to find proof that we are saved with proof inside of us instead of promises from God’s word on the outside. And not only is that sin forgiven. But again and again, throughout our lives we continue to call on him. And he forgives us and gives us even more promises of his forgiveness in his word.


Now there’s something you don’t see everyday. They saw fire resting on the apostle’s head. They saw them speaking in their own dialects. So they asked, “what does this mean?” And now you know the answer: The Holy Spirit provides a one-time event to prove an everyday truth. What is that truth? Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Since the Holy Spirit has done his wondrous work in you to give you faith, call on him. Every day we sin. So let us call on him to forgive us. And he will. Amen.



1 “ⲁⲛⲇⲣⲉⲥⲉⲩⲗⲁⲃⲉⲓⲥ” (Acts 2:5 GNT-ALEX)