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
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.
Romans 12:3-21 (There are ‘pops’ in the recording. I apologize for this. I’ll see what I can do to resolve this by next week.)
Wisdom Is Hidden In A Mystery
Betty always hid her bones. When I was growing up, we had a dog named, “Betty.” And she used to find animal carcasses and drag them home. But when you found them she would take the strangest course of action. If you found her treasured bones, she would drag them someplace else and bury them. They were her treasures. And she didn’t want you to have them or even know about them. So what did she do? She hid them from you. I mention that because in God’s word this morning we find the same pattern. In these words we see that this treasure of wisdom is hidden in a mystery. And first of all, it’s hidden in a mystery from the world. We read: “6 We do, however, speak a wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age, or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 On the contrary, we speak God’s hidden wisdom in a mystery, a wisdom God predestined before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age knew this wisdom, because if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written, What no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human heart has conceived— God has prepared these things for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:6–9 CSB17)
Betty used to bury her bones. That was her treasure. What does God hide? What is his treasure? Wisdom—true wisdom is what he hides. And he hides it from the world. And if you look around you in the world you see how true this is. The unbelieving world, for as much as it wants to be wise, has no wisdom. The unbelieving world wants love and stability. But they want this without marriage, the foundation of both. The world wants a version of morality—they want right and wrong to exist. But then they deny that there’s any truth out there in the world.
Wisdom, true wisdom is hidden from the world. And Paul proves it here in these words. If you were in a knife-fight with someone else, would you hand them a gun? But that’s exactly what the world did. They crucified the Lord of Glory. In that statement we find an amazing mystery. How is it that God was able to die? And yet, in Christ, we see that God died. These words are so very clear in what they say. They killed God in the person of Jesus. They would have not done that if they had any wisdom at all.
This wisdom is hidden from the world. But it is revealed to us. What an amazing mystery it is for us to ponder that in Christ, God died. If just a human died on the cross then the sins of the entire world could not have been paid for. But since the Lord of Glory died and rose, then the sins of the entire world were paid for. And that means so much to us. For we are sinners too. And one of the ways we sin is by concluding that God has to unveil and reveal all of his mysteries. Why did God allow me to lose my job? Why did he give me cancer or failing eyes? Why did he allow this tragedy to happen in the life of someone I love? So very often these questions remain mysteries. And we should know it is this way. We believe that there’s one God and three persons—a mystery. We believe that there’s one person of Christ, but two different and distinct natures, divine and human. It’s a mystery. We are used to mysteries. But when those mysteries affect us and our lives then we speak out and lash out. But how amazing it is that God reveals this mystery to us: The Lord of Glory was crucified. Since Jesus, both true God and true human died, our sins, even those sins we commit by not tolerating his mysteries, are forgiven.
This wisdom is hidden from the world. But it is revealed to us in a mystery so that we would know our sins are forgiven. But this wisdom is revealed in a mystery also so that we would know who it was who revealed this wisdom to us. Paul tells us: “10 Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, since the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except his spirit within him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10–12 CSB17)
Notice the example Paul gives. Who knows you? Who knows what you think from moment to moment and feel instant by instant? You are the one—and the only one who knows. Who is the only one who knows what God wants and feels? God is the only one. And the only way you can understand what is godly and spiritual is if God explains it to you. And he emphasizes this in the words which follow: “13 We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. 14 But the person without the Spirit does not receive what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually. 15 The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything, and yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone. 16 For who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:13–16 CSB17)
Unbelievers cannot understand spiritual issues. Here too is where we face a massive temptation to sin. We know Jesus. We know the Holy Spirit. We know and have the wisdom from God’s word. So what do we do? We go to our unbelieving friends and family members and try to argue them into heaven. With human thoughts and human reasoning we try to wrestle them into choosing Jesus and understanding him. But they don’t get it. And here in these words we hear why that is. The person without the Holy Spirit cannot understand any wisdom from God because they are unable to. They are unable to choose Jesus. Our great temptation to sin is to argue people into heaven. But what is the solution? The solution is simply to share God’s word. For through God’s word he is able to perform miracles. With God’s word the Holy Spirit is able to break down unbelief. He is able to reveal his wisdom. He is able to forgiven sin and strengthen faith. And if you want proof that God’s word is so powerful, just look at yourself. When you came into this world you were an unbeliever. But by his grace, his undeserved love, he chose you. He forgave you. He taught you. And by his Spirit he still does all of these through his word. And he teaches you to embrace and rejoice in all these mysteries in the bible, even though you really don’t understand them completely. And if he can do that with you, he can do the same with others.
And so, my dear friends in Christ, wisdom is hidden in a mystery. It is hidden in a mystery so that we would know that our sins are forgiven. And it is hidden in a mystery so that we would know who it was who revealed this wisdom to us: The Holy Spirit. Amen.
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.
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.