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)
Which Path Are You On?
Which path are you on? Aidan, Camille, and Hannah, imagine a wreck at the side of the road. It’s one of those big semi-trucks. And its trailer is one of those huge tankers. And all around that huge tanker is a massive spill of something that looks like oil or gas. What would you do if you were driving by that? I hope that you would drive by that as far and as fast as you possibly could. You don’t want to be the guy who slows down, stops and then gets caught in the blast-radius, right?
This morning God’s word starts out with the same sort of picture: “How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers!” (Psalms 1:1 CSB17) Notice here that there is a progression from bad to worse. There’s a guy walking down a road. But instead of a turned-over tanker at the side of the road there’s a group of God-hating, Christ-despising unbelievers. When you see them at the side of the road, what should you do? You should keep going and not stop. But notice what the guy does here in these words. First, he slows down and walks. Then he stands around and talks with them. Finally then he sits down and joins them and becomes one of them.
That, my students, is the bad path. And that is the path you need to avoid at all costs. But just how is it that today you can end up on the same path as the stupid guy pictured here in God’s word? It happens in a slow progression. First, you say the words to yourself, “I don’t have to.” You say to yourself, “I’m confirmed. I don’t have to come every Wednesday night to class. I don’t have to memorize parts of the bible anymore. I don’t have to.” After that, you end up saying, “I don’t want to.” This middle stage is a sneaky one because it you can so easily replace God’s word with something fun. So, for example, some of the fun parts of being a confirmed member of a church replace the fun you have found in God’s word. You the bell choir or the voice choir. You sign up to mow the lawn or care for the flowers. But very quickly your joy turns to sadness and anger. Why? You replaced the fun of growing in God’s word with the fun of service. And the same can happen at home. it is not a sin to have games to play at home. But when the fun at home is more fun that the fun you have in reading God’s word by yourself and for yourself—that is a problem. So, “I don’t have to” becomes “I don’t want to.” And finally where does it lead to? “Don’t tell me to.” You end up mocking and despising those who invite you to receive the Lord’s Supper often and grow in God’s word often.
Which path are you on? That, is the bad path. What then is the good path? We read: “2 Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. 4 The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand up in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.” (Psalms 1:2–6 CSB17)
The good path is meditating on God’s word. The word here describes something that is so much a part of you that you talk about it under your breath.1 It’s like that song you can’t get out of your brain that you heard on the radio. You spend so much time in God’s word that it flows off of you and oozes out of you.
And know that right now you are on that good path. For so many years you have been drenched and saturated with God’s word. It started when you were tiny children. And your parents carried you forward to a baptismal font where Jesus performed an amazing good work. He washed away your sin and made you his child. It continued when, week after week, your parents brought you to church to hear God’s word so that you could sink your roots into that deep, rich soil of God’s word and grow. And it continued in these last two years as you have had the opportunity to move from milk to meat in catechism class.
That is the good path. And that good path leads to good fruit. Being drenched and saturated with God’s word leads to trust. These years that you’re going through are years of working and waiting. You do your homework year after year and then what do you do? You wait. And through God’s word, God causes you to trust that he is good and kind and that he knows what is best for you.
God’s word bears the fruit of trust. But it also bears the fruit of joy. One of the saddest rotten fruit I’ve seen over the years is the anger and panic I’ve seen in leaders of the church over many years. There’s this great irony. They are doing fun activities. They sing in choirs. They mow the lawn. They plant flowers and bring yummy food to church. What fun this is. But very quickly they become sad or mad. Why? The promises they made when they were confirmed, they forgot. They forgot that the source of their joy was not serving Jesus, but instead Jesus serving them. They forgot to receive the Lord’s Supper often. They forgot to read their bibles at home and come to bible study at church often. But you, right now, are on the good path. You have the great joy of seeing your Savior, Jesus so clearly because you were brought to those waters of baptism and taught in these years of catechism.
God’s word bears fruit. It gives you trust and joy. But finally, it gives you defiance. Who would have thought that saying, “no” would be a good fruit? But it is. And being drenched in God’s word gives you the anger against the Devil enough to say “no” when death comes to you. When you die the Devil will be there to say, “See, Jesus doesn’t love you. And here’s proof: you’re dying.” And now, being drenched and saturated in God’s word, you can sing out and cry out, “No.” You can say, “I may die, but Jesus died for me. I may die, but I will never die because Jesus rose for me.”
Aidan, Camille, and Hannah, you are on the good path. Now stay on it. Amen.
Love One Another
Why can’t we be like them? Years ago I was in a congregation where the basic group of people who did the major amount of work in the congregation was a bunch of newly-wed couples. And what was fascinating was seeing how, when given tasks, each couple worked at that task. When given a task, in one couple, the husband quickly diagnosed the problem and then divided up the work between himself and his wife. In another couple, each of them would study the situation, talk about it, and then each of them would divide up the work and get it done separately. But then there was a third couple. That third couple immediately started working on the problem together. And what was shocking was that they actually did work better together than apart. They weren’t in each other’s way at all. After seeing this, the wife in one of the other couples said to her husband, “why can’t we be like that?” And the husband shouted across the room, “stop making me look bad.” There are those times in our lives when we see a relationship that two people have and we yearn to have what they have. This morning, in John’s gospel, we have that sort of example. In John 15, starting at verse 9, we read: ““As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9 NIV11-GKE)
Our Father and his Son, Jesus have a unique, beautiful and perfect relationship. The Father has a perfect love for his Son. The Son has a perfect love for his Father. And as we read these words, we end up asking the question, “why can’t I have that too?” And what is amazing in these words is that Jesus tells us that that is exactly what Jesus does for us. Just as the Father loves the son, in that same exact way the Son has shown his love for us. But then, right after Jesus says that the Father loves the Son and the Son loves us, what does Jesus tell us? “Now remain in my love.” (John 15:9 NIV11-GKE)
The same love that the Father has toward the Son, the Son has toward us. And now that you have that love, Jesus tells you to remain in it and to not mess it up. What follows then is an answer to a question. If we ask the question, how—how can we remain in that love, here is the answer Jesus tells us: “10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:10–12 NIV11-GKE)
How can we remain in the love that Jesus has for us? We keep Jesus’ commands. And Jesus even narrows the focus down to just one command: love one another. Notice how here is a really good place to talk about what love actually is. In english we have one word, “love” to describe many different types of love. I can use the same word in many contexts. I can say I love my wife, my children, good movies and good pizza. And if you can use the same word to describe your bond with your spouse or children and also use it to describe food, you have to realize that the word runs the risk of becoming worthless. The word that Jesus uses here is a very special and specific word. In greek the word is, ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ. It’s the sort of love that brings out the best in what it loves. There is no cost, no extreme, no limit that this love goes to to do what is best for its object. And Jesus gives an example of this in the words which follow: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NIV11-GKE)
If you want to see true ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ love, then look at someone laying down his life for another person. That is the fullest extent of what it looks like to do what is best for the other person. Notice how in these words Jesus is the model for what this love looks like. When Jesus says these words he’s only a few hours away from being captured and crucified for the sins of the world.
But even as we read these words we see how far away we are from them. For in our lives the types of love we show are often the opposite of this ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ love. Agape love does what is best for the person it loves. Our sort of love does what is best for us. One of the ways I see this more and more is when I see parents. More and more today I hear moms and daughters referring to each other as “besties” and “bff”s. And while the bond between a mother and daughter is strong, making it into a “besties” sort of love is not natural. And it’s not natural for one simple reason: Your mom has to do what is best for you. And for many years of your life that means that your mom has to say “no.” When you want to stay up too late at night, she says, “no.” When you want what your family can’t afford, she says, “no.” When you say something stupid or do something selfish, she lashes out in anger. And, again, she does this for one simple reason: she is doing what is best for you. This naturally creates a relationship that is not “besties.” But it’s a good, healthy relationship. I use this as an example. But there are so many others, aren’t there? Every time our knee-jerk reaction is to think and say to ourselves, “what do I want or need” instead of saying, “what does the person next to me want or need” I show the lack of this ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ sort of love.
Jesus tells us to show this sort of love to others. Then he holds himself up as the model for this sort of love. But he’s not just the model for this sort of love. He is also the motivation for this sort of love. He is our motivation because the love we are unable to show he did. When is it that Jesus speaks these words? He says that he will lay down his life for them even though he knows that Judas will betray them and the rest will abandon him. And we find the result of this in the words that follow: “14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John 15:14–16 NIV11-GKE)
Not only are our sins of self-love forgiven. But by laying down his life for us, Jesus makes us his friends. And here too, that word, “friend” needs some explanation. The word that Jesus uses describes the love of equals. It is a love based on what is shared. For example, if you’re a Vikings fan you can go into so many bars and especially if the game is playing, you have instant friends. But if you don’t know anything about the Vikings or football, but instead you know so very much about curling, don’t expect to find any friends. We are friends with Jesus. We are friends with him because we share with him what is so important to him. Because he laid down his own life for us, now we are clothed with his perfect. But even more than that, we are his friends because we know his Father’s will just as Jesus does. We know the Father who created the universe, cares for it, and cares for us. We know him and his plan for us.
All of this then motivates us then to do the one thing Jesus asks. In our final words, we read: “This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:17 NIV11-GKE) Notice how simple and wonderful these words are in their own way. How can you repay Jesus for laying down his life to win your life for him? What do you have that would balance out Jesus’ life poured out for you? The simple answer is; nothing. We cannot repay Jesus. But Jesus does give us the opportunity to thank him. And we worship and thank him by showing this true Christian ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ sort of love toward each other.
Now, if you hear these words, and instead of being filled with joy at hearing them, you are filled with sadness, because you see how powerful your sinful nature is to lead you to only care for yourself—if that’s the case, then travel with me back to these words yet again. Jesus laid down his life for you. Those sins you commit when you care for and worship yourself are forgiven. And with thankfulness, pure thankfulness, he moves and motivates us to show this ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ sort of love to others. So my dear friends in Christ, Love on anther. For Jesus is the model of love. And he is also the motivation for love. Amen.
Jesus Is The Vine
ILike Marigolds. I like marigolds because they are hearty and dependable. You plant them. You water them. They grow. And they stink so much they drive away bugs. What could be better than that? But there are people out there who, for some strange reason, don’t like easy plants. They like the ones that ones that require labor. I think of my Father in law. At one time, he planted leeks. And he told me how he had to keep building up the dirt around the leeks as they would grow. But if you were to make a list of some of the most labor-intensive plants to grow, grapes would be somewhere at the top of the list. All the preparing, planting and pruning that is involved with grapes is amazing. And yet, that is exactly what Jesus compares himself to in these words this morning. We read: ““I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (John 15:1 CSB17) Jesus compares himself to a grape vine. And then he uses this to teach his disciples what that means for us in our everyday life. First, he says: “Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes,” (John 15:2 CSB17)
Jesus is the vine. And what does he do first? First, he cuts. Specifically, he cuts every branch that does not bear fruit. There’s a picture in these words. A farmer would come along, and if he saw that there was this branch that was dead, and there was no hope of it coming back to life, what did he do? He cut it off. He cut it off so that it wouldn’t draw nutrients away from the vine. Here in these words we find a warning. He cuts off every person from him that does not bear fruit. Now here is where we have to look at these words carefully. First, What is “fruit?” Here Jesus is not speaking about grapes or olives. He is speaking about that which is morally good. Good thoughts and intentions leading to good actions. That’s what fruit is in this context here. And second, Why does Jesus point to the fruit? Jesus points to fruit as proof of faith. This is an extremely important point to understand. Jesus looks for that which is morally good in us not because good works are what get us into heaven. No, faith is what connects us to Jesus. Instead, he looks to fruit inside of us as proof of faith. If you go down the bad road, not understanding these words, you’re going to get to the Athanasian creed in a couple of weeks and read this part of the creed and come to the wrong conclusion: At his coming all people will rise with their own bodies to answer for their personal deeds. Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire.1 All those who do good will go into heaven. That is a true statement. But what those words do not address is the question, why? Why is it that those who do good will go into heaven—not because good works are how we get to heaven. No, instead, as Jesus points out here, good fruit is proof of real faith.
Jesus is the vine. He cuts. And these words carry with them the warning for us to look closely at our lives and compare them to God’s word. For if there is no fruit and desire to have good fruit in our lives, that can choke off our faith. So Jesus cuts. But what also does Jesus do? We read: “and he prunes every branch that produces fruit” (John 15:2 CSB17)
As I mentioned before, grape vines take a tremendous amount of care. And one of the ways they need to be cared for is that they need to be cleaned up and pruned. They can grow in the wrong direction. They can have too many shoots when you want just a few and you want the trunk to grow. So the good gardener cleans and prunes them. And that’s why what Jesus says here is a little shocking. The good gardener cuts off the dead branch. But he cuts down the branch growing in the wrong way—even if it is producing fruit! For us as Christians who are wrestling and struggling to do what is good and right, Jesus comes along and causes us pain. Here I’m not talking about the pain that comes as a consequence of sin—if, for example, I lie, and then I get caught. No, here, Jesus is speaking about the fact that he brings toil and trouble into our lives simply because he wants to. Your classmate makes fun of you at school—for no reason. You get sick—for no reason. You get stuck in a traffic jam—for no reason. All of these troubles great and small Jesus allows to come into our lives. And in these words we have the answer to the question, why: “and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.” (John 15:2 CSB17)
He brings these into our lives so that we will produce even more fruit. Think of whatever good desire there is there in your heart. Those good desires for what is good and right don’t do a whole lot until they are tested. The farmer doesn’t learn to trust if every year he has more than enough rain for his crops. But when there’s a drought, then he is forced to trust that God will provide rain. The office worker doesn’t worry too much about trusting when everyone has their job. But when he sees the guy next to him get ‘let go’, then he is forced to trust in and remember who it is that provides food, shelter and clothing.
And here, my dear friends, is where we see our sin, don’t we? So often in our lives we desire rotten fruit instead of good fruit. We desire our lies, our laziness, our self-focused worship like a person biting into a worm-filled apple and then gladly, willingly eating the rest of it. And not only do we desire bad fruit, we also despise the cleaning that Jesus does in our lives. When there are troubles, be they great or small, we despise them and despise our Savior who sent them for our good.
We see these sins and repent of them. And Jesus, in his undeserved love toward us forgives our sins. Or, to use Jesus’ words here: “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3 CSB17) The very same word that created faith in our hearts to know and trust in Jesus so long ago he uses to convey forgiveness to us. Through God’s word we see the Savior who was made fun of—for no reason. And people tried to put him to death—for no reason. And he was abandoned by his Father for a short while on Good Friday—for no reason. He did not deserve any of this hardship. But what happened to him for no reason he made his own reason, so that he could save us. And through God’s word he conveys this forgiveness to us. For all the times we desired rotten fruit—they are forgiven. For all the times we despised the cleaning and pruning that Jesus brings in our lives—they are forgiven too.
Jesus is the one who cuts and cleans. But there is one last detail to take care of this morning. Jesus tells us: “4 Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:4–8 CSB17)
Jesus not only cuts and cleans; he also creates. He creates good fruit inside of us. Alongside the old person inside of us, he gives us a new person. And this new person sees what is good, wants it, then asks for it. And out of his undeserved love toward us, Jesus gives it to us. And so, there is this amazing invitation in these words. Pray for fruit. Pray that inside of you the Holy Spirit would give you every good yearning and desire—not to earn heaven. No Jesus won that for you on the cross and conveys it to you in his word. Instead, ask for it because Jesus, the vine creates good fruit inside of you. This is what he promises. For Jesus is the Vine. He cuts, he cleanses, and he creates good fruit inside of us. Amen.
1 CW, p. 133
Be On Guard
What does your dad do? Years ago they used to have an annual “take your kid to work” day. I don’t think they do that much anymore. But maybe they should. I remember when my dad brought me to work with him. Dad worked for the railroad. And so he showed me the computer where he did his work. He explained to me how it was his job to make sure that the grain got on the cars here and then traveled to there. And I thought to myself, “how boring.” Then, as he was explaining this, a train went by the yard office. The ground began to shake. And a guy, without thinking, picked up his coffee cup from the desk so that it didn’t spill. The ground shook. The horn blasted. And a few minutes later everyone went on with work as if nothing had just happened. And I thought to myself, “who would work here. This is a scary place to work.” I look back and appreciate that day because, for one day in my life, I got to walk in my dad’s shoes and look at the world through his eyes. And this morning God’s word give us the same opportunity. In these words here in the book of Acts one shepherd of God’s flock gives real and true wisdom to other pastors. And so today, we have the privilege of walking in their shoes. In our opening verses we read: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28 CSB17)
If you want to understand what it is to be a pastor, read these words. A pastor is a man who is “on guard.” For his own sake and for his own flock that he shepherds, he is a man that is continually on guard. And what exactly is he on guard against? “29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Men will rise up even from your own number and distort the truth to lure the disciples into following them.” (Acts 20:29–30 CSB17)
As we read these words we need to understand that in them Paul is saying goodbye. He is saying goodbye to a group of people he had gotten to know for about two years. And that was a long time for Paul. So he urged the pastors he was saying goodbye to to be on their guard. Why? Savage wolves would come in and not spare anyone. And they will tear apart the flock—not from the outside, but from the inside. This is an important part of God’s word to understand. For there are people on the outside of God’s church who want to tear apart God’s church. Take for example Bill Nye. Bill Nye is a science teacher who has a TV show for children. And he has publicly said that Christianity and science cannot go together. He has even gone so far as to say that if you parents teach your children God’s word, you are committing child abuse. But what Paul mentions here is much, much worse. For worse than the wolves that are on the outside of the church are the ones that are on the inside. And Paul gives us the reason: They will not spare anyone. Bears, for example, will kill some of the flock, but not all of them. For they are smart enough to realize that if they eat them all, there won’t be any next year to eat. False teachers within the church have no restraint.
So it should not shock or surprise you that your pastor is guy who is constantly on guard. Whenever theres someone who twists God’s word, there your pastor is to warn you about it. Whenever there’s someone who says that it’s our work to earn our forgiveness, where the bible says that it’s God’s work, there your pastor is to warn you. Whenever there’s someone who says that getting faith is your work, when the bible says that it’s God’s work, there your pastor is to warn you.
But what’s the problem with all of this? The problem is that a pastor might warn his flock about a wolf who twists God’s word. But what does the flock do? The flock concludes, “Yeah, not everything that other pastor preaches is good, but there’s so much that’s good.” And slowly, over time, their understanding changes from the truth of God’s word to the twisted teachings of people.
So if you ask the question, what is it like to be a pastor, there’s your answer. A pastor is a guy who is constantly on guard. He’s on guard against wolves. But he’s also on guard in another way: “31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I never stopped warning each one of you with tears. 32 “And now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:31–32 CSB17)
Paul encourages these pastors to be on guard. First, against the wolves. But here he changes the verb. This word carries with it the idea of being completely awake and aware.1 Your pastor is awake and aware so that he can find and use every opportunity to share God’s word. Notice already, in these words you can see what your pastor is not. Your pastor is not your life-coach, your cheerleader, your manager, and your magician. He is the man that the Holy Spirit chose to share God’s word with you.
And just why is it so important for us to understand that this is the work that a pastor does? Paul gives us two reasons: First, God’s word is able to build us up in our faith. Second, God’s word is able to give us forgiveness. Notice that God’s word is not truth that you need to work on. No, instead, it is truth that works on you.
And here too we see our sin. How often do we treat God’s word as if it’s homework. I need to go to church to learn some stuff from God’s word—or at least not forget the stuff I already learned. It’s homework to us. And, like all homework, the only value in homework is the value we put into it and get out of it.
And that’s why you have a pastor. He is the one who is on guard to share God’s word with you. And what is the main point and preaching of God’s word. We find that answer here in these words: God bought you with his own blood. And when your pastor shares that message with you, God’s word does something. The Holy Spirit uses that powerful word to build you up in the faith so that you believe it. And the Holy Spirit uses that word to give you forgiveness. And so, for those times our pastor warned us to watch out for false teaching and teachers and we ignored him, that sin is forgiven by God’s blood. And for the times we thought that the only power that there was in God’s word was the power we brought to God’s word, that sin is forgiven by God’s blood.
Be on your Guard. That is what Paul says to the pastors he is saying goodbye to. And he says it twice. So if you want to understand what it is to be a pastor for a day, start here in these words. He is the man who is constantly on guard against the wolves within the church. He is the man who is constantly on guard to share God’s powerful word. Amen.
1 “ⲅⲣⲏⲅⲟⲣⲉⲓⲧⲉ” (Acts 20:31 GNT-ALEX)
Walk In The Light
Sunrise and sunset. One of the facts I’ve been reminded of now that I’ve moved to Minnesota is that it’s hard to be a good sunrise and good sunset. They are so beautiful that you want to stop what you’re doing and just stand there looking at the beautiful colors. It’s so beautiful that you want to buy some property on a lake, put up a chair or a dock, and just sit there watching it. It draws you in with its beauty. That’s where John starts this morning. He invites us to walk in the light. We read: “5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5–7 NIV11-GKE)
Walk in the light. That is the main point that John is making in these words. But, notice that he does not mean that literally. He does not want us to build a rocket and launch ourselves into the sun. If we ask the question, ‘what is the light,’ John answers our question. God is light. And just as important as that thought is, the second thought is just as important: There is no darkness at all in him. And so, walking with God, in the light, means walking out of darkness. It means resisting our sin and wrestling against it. There’s a great warning here in these words. Day by day, in every way, we need to be wrestling against sin. We need to be walking out of it. Why? Because if we don’t, the darkness will consume us. If we live for our sin, then our sin will be our God. And those who have sin as their God will end up in the place of eternal darkness when they die: hell. These words show us our sin, don’t they? They shine the light on the fact that there have been times when we have been friends with our sin instead of waging war against it. We have loved the darkness and not wanted to come into the light and leave our sins behind. And that’s a saddening and sickening thought. How wonderful these words here are, when John says, “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7 NIV11-GKE) Our sin—even those sins we commit when we love to be friends with the darkness—those sins are forgiven too. And with all the strength in us we spend our lives wrestling against our sins and walking out of the darkness.
So we walk in the light. We walk in the light by walking out of the darkness. But John writes more: “7
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:7–10 NIV11-GKE)
Satan is sneaky. And we see that in these words. Who would have thought that there would have been anything wrong with wrestling against our sin and walking away from the darkness of sin inside of us. But it can be. It can be wrong to walk away from sin if it sets off a chain reaction: First, We walk out of darkness by wrestling against sin. Second, if we begin to have some success in this area we begin to conclude that we don’t need to confess our sins. We can begin to conclude that we have our sins under control. And this leads then to the third stage. We look down on others who cannot hide their sins like we can. What a tragedy it is to conclude that just because you don’t call people bad names to their faces that those thoughts aren’t there in your heart. They are. You’ve just become better at hiding them than newer Christians.
Years ago I met a man who was new to Christianity. He was a brand new member of his church. And he invited the vicar over to his house after Easter. Everything about this guy was rough around the edges. But he made the point of letting all of his family members know who I was. He told them all, “this is the vicar.” He did this because he wanted them to come to church with him—his church. I remember how after the family members left, he asked me if I played chess. And I told him that I hadn’t played for years. But I could play if he wanted. So he took out his board. He won the first game. But the second game was not so easy for him. And the more difficult it was the more he smoked and filled the room up with smoke. And then, by a miracle I won the second game and there was a chain of foul language that streamed out of his mouth. He was so frustrated because he didn’t see it coming. And what he did was amazing. Now, let me be clear: what was amazing was not his over-smoking and his foul language. No, my friends in Christ, what was amazing is what happened after. He confessed his sins and I could see that even then he was fighting with everything inside of him to walk out of the darkness.
I mention all of this because we can be Christians for so long that we begin to fool ourselves and conclude either that we don’t really sin as much as others or that sin is conquerable on this side of heaven. That’s why what John says here is just as important as what says before. We walk in the light by walking out of the darkness. But we also walk in the light by confessing the darkness inside of us. Notice that that is the solution. Yes, we wrestle against sin and walk out of it all the days of our life. But take to heart what John says here: To your very last day, to your very last breath, you will sin. And the solution to that is confessing them. We cannot take those sins away. But Jesus can and does.
Notice then where these words finish: “1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1–2 NIV11-GKE)
I love what John says here because sometimes we end up asking the question, “why are your saying this?” And here he answers the question with two answers. First, John is writing this so that we would not sin. Every day we wrestle to walk out of the darkness so that the darkness doesn’t enslave us and consume us. And second, so that we would know Jesus who atones for our sin.
There are two beautiful thoughts in that statement. First, the word here describes what happens in the Old Testament sacrifices. When the blood of animals was connected with God’s holy word it covered up sin. It buried it so far and so deep that it will never come back again. As we confess our sins, our Savior Jesus buries them. Those around us might remember some times we said and did what was wrong, the selfish, sinful, self-seeking words and actions. Others might remember them. But because of Jesus covers them with his own blood. And so they are forgiven and forgotten in the eyes of his Father in heaven.
And just to make sure that we know this forgiveness is ours John adds two massive, momentous words. He could have just said, “us.” But instead he says “the world.” And he also says “All” the world. He does this so that we would know that because Jesus died on the cross the entire world is forgiven in God’s eyes. Now, there are many that despise this fact and will end up in the darkness on hell on the last day. But this double emphasis of “all” and “world” gives us double comfort. Because if Jesus died for the entire world, then I can conclude that Jesus died for me.
So my dear friends in Christ, walk in the light. Continue to walk out of the darkness of sin. And continue to confess the darkness inside of you. Amen.
What They Saw, They Shared
You missed it. Every child lives in fear of those words. For in so many schools there is a cherished class trip that they go on. When I was a child we would go to a swimming pool at the end of the year. And you lived in fear of being sick on that day. You lived in fear of being at home sick in bed and having someone say those words, “you missed it” the next day at school. This morning that’s how these words from 1 John start. We read: “1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared” (1 John 1:1–2 NIV11-GKE)
What is John doing in these words? As an old man, most likely in his 90’s, he is answering a very basic, but important question: who is Jesus? Who is Jesus? He is the word. He is perfect communication itself. He knew all things perfectly. He knew how to communicate them perfectly. Who is Jesus? He is the life. In other words, he is the one who is eternal life and gives eternal life.
That’s who Jesus was. But then John answers the next question: how did they interact with Jesus? They heard this perfect teacher share God’s word. They saw Jesus on the cross. And they saw Jesus after he rose from the dead with their own eyes. And even more than that, they touched him—putting their hands in his side and in the nail marks in his hands.
So John, in these opening words answers those two questions: Who is Jesus and how did they interact with Jesus? But what is the problem? The people who John was speaking and writing to could so very easily say to themselves, “We missed it.” They could say, “All the people who saw Jesus with their own eyes and put their hands in his side—they’re dead. And John is in his 90’s and he’s going to die.” And from that fact they faced two great temptations to sin: First, they faced the temptation to give into envy. They could ask the question, “why can’t I see Jesus with my own eyes and have him speak to me with his own mouth?” And the other temptation is to give into fear. They could say to themselves, “John will die. And when he dies, our church will die because we have no one to answer that question, “who is Jesus” anymore.
And now, so many hundreds of years later, we too face the same temptations. We face the temptation to give into envy, thinking to ourselves, “why can’t I be the one who was there to see Jesus in his resurrected body.” We face the temptation to doubt, concluding that since John has died and now we are so many generations away from Jesus’ resurrection, we cannot be sure of what happened.
How does John deal with these temptations? We read: “2 we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4” (1 John 1:2–3 NIV11-GKE)
What theys saw, they shared. First, What they saw, they spoke about. John and the rest of the evangelists wrote their gospels so that you would know…who created you, who cares for you, who was crucified for you, who crushes death for you. All of these important facts you know for one simple reason. The apostles spoke about them. And with that comes the truth that your sins are forgiven—even those sins you commit when you either give into envy or give into fear. They are forgiven. And what is the result of this? We have fellowship with them. Nobody wants to be on the outside looking in. I remember when I was in high school and the movie Dancing With Wolves came out. And the kids in school were going around saying “Tatonka!” And, since I hadn’t seen the movie I was on the outside looking in. Or, to use John’s words, I didn’t have fellowship with them. But because what John saw and heard he spoke, we today, even hundreds of years later, have fellowship with them.
So what they saw, they spoke. But just as important what they spoke is the fact that what they saw they also wrote: “We write this to make our joy complete.” (1 John 1:4 NIV11-GKE) Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and others they wrote down what they saw and heard. They wrote it down and the Holy Spirit carefully preserved what they wrote so that we have it today. And what is the amazing result of this? John tells us that we are filled with joy.1 And we have an example of that joy this morning in the gospel. Look at Thomas. We find so much joy in him because we are just like him. Don’t you, like Thomas, want to reach out and not just see that Jesus has risen from the dead, but also touch those wounds? Doesn’t it make you laugh to hear Thomas ‘double-down’ and say that unless he sees and touches Jesus, he will never, ever believe? Doesn’t it fill you with such joy to hear Jesus say those words, ““Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”” (John 20:29 NIV11-GKE) Jesus is talking about us. We are the ones that have not seen Jesus. But God’s word has performed a miracle. The Holy Spirit has created faith in our hearts so that even though we do not see Jesus, we believe in him.
That is the sort of joy that John promises we are filled with for one simple reason: They wrote it down. Notice then what our attitude towards God’s word will be then: We read it. What will our attitude be? We will learn it by going to bible study with our pastor. In December you formally and officially told me that that is what you wanted me to do for you. You wanted me to teach you God’s word. So now, taking you at your word, please allow me to do just that. Come to bible study classes. And there I promise that you will find fellowship with those early Christians and joy in Christ. And I can promise that because that is exactly what John promises here. For what they saw they shared. They spoke about it. They wrote about it. And that great treasure is ours. Amen.
1 “ⲓ̈ⲛⲁⲏⲭⲁⲣⲁⲩ̈ⲙⲱⲛⲏⲡⲉⲡⲗⲏⲣⲱⲙⲉⲛⲏ” (1 John 1:4 GNT-ALEX)
Our Baptism Connects Us to Jesus’ Resurrection
It was killing me. I can’t speak for all of you, but I spend much of my day just trying to stay awake. So years ago, I started drinking tea. Then I found that you could buy bags of loose-leaf tea. And so, every morning, I’d fill up the tea ball with earl grey tea. And then just keep pouring water in that cup throughout the day. And I’d go into the doctor and the doctor would tell me that my liver and kidney numbers were off. I did my research and found out that a little tea was fine. But the oil of Bergamot in earl grey in higher doses was toxic. It was slowly killing me. So when I found that out, what did I do? I kept drinking tea? No, I stopped. If there is something out there that murders you, would you love it? Would you live for it? That’s where Paul starts off this Easter morning. We read: “1 What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1–2 CSB17)
Sin is toxic. Sin is poisonous. Sin put us to death when Adam and Eve first sinned and now that sin is passed down to us. Sin did all this evil. We died because of sin. Why would we love it? Why would we live for it? Well if sin is so toxic and so poisonous, what is the solution to it? Paul tells us: “Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3 CSB17)
One of my professors used to say that one of the proofs that the bible is true and inspired by God is that, if we were writing the bible, it would never turn out the way it is written in the bible. And here’s a good example. If sin the toxic, poisonous problem, then what is the solution? Baptism is the solution. And what I love is how Paul explains this. He tells them that this is something they should know already.1 And what should we already know? Baptism connects us to Christ’s death.
Now, as we read these words, there are two vital truths that we need to understand as we read them. First, this is not picture language. Jesus really, truly died. And our baptisms really truly unite us with his death. And second, baptism is not our work. It is God’s. In every passage in the bible speaking about baptism, this sacrament is not our gift of obedience that we offer up to God. Instead it is God’s gift to us and work in us. Baptism connects us to Christ’s death. And because of that it does much more. We read: “Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4 CSB17)
Notice the clear progression of thought: Jesus died → Jesus rose. If in baptism God connects us to Jesus’ death, → he also connects us to Jesus’ new life. And, my dear friends in Christ, both of those thoughts are vitally important. God delivers resurrection forgiveness through our baptisms. Sin is put to death with Jesus’ death on Good Friday. But what good is that payment if that forgiveness doesn’t come to us? We need a delivery system to get that forgiveness from the cross to us. And our desires and decisions will not get the job done. What is the tool that God uses to deliver that forgiveness to us? His word. And here in baptism, that word is connected with water and tied to Jesus’ death so that the forgiveness that Jesus wins will be ours. But there’s more happening here in baptism. Paul tells us: “5 For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, 7 since a person who has died is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:5–7 CSB17)
If in baptism we share in Jesus death (and we do!), then also in baptism we share in Jesus resurrection strength. So, up to this point, we have been building some beautiful theology. But, as our professors used to tell us, theology is practical. We need to ask the question, ‘why should I care that baptism connects me to Jesus’ death and new life?’ And here’s your answer: In baptism sin’s addiction is forgiven. I can give up tea because I’m not really that connected to and addicted to it. But can I say the same about sin? Years ago I knew a man who smoked. And he had smoked often over the course of decades. He went to the hospital because of the damage he had done to himself. The doctor said that if he didn’t quit he’d be driving himself to an early death. So he tried again and again to quit, but was unable. “ Can I be forgiven?” That was the question he asked. For it was one thing to fall into sin. It’s another thing entirely to be addicted to it. And all of us have these addictions because that what sin does. It connects us and addicts us to what is evil. Some are drawn to bad pictures and videos on the internet. Others are drawn to gossipping in the internet. Some eat and drink too much. Others eat and drink too little. So very many addictions—and what will rescue us from them? Notice how clear Paul is. Your baptism connects you to Jesus’ death. In that empty tomb your addictions are put to death. On that bloody cross your addictions are crushed along with Jesus’ body.
Oh, but there’s more to it than that. In baptism sin’s addiction is forgiven. But also in baptism Christ’s strength is given. As we pile up so many sins over our lives we want and yearn to be done with them. But they defy us and defile us. And we can easily end up in a place where we simply give up and say to ourselves, “why bother?” That’s where these words are so full meaning and hope. In baptism Christ’s strength is given. In baptism we are connected to all the strength, might and power Jesus showed in his resurrection. And he connects us to his strength so that we would no longer be enslaved to our addictive sins, but instead, willingly, gladly and freely follow Jesus.
So my dear friends in Christ, year after year, when you return to this day don’t just think of the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on this day. Also ponder the fact that in your baptisms God connects you to this day. For in baptism sin’s addiction is forgiven. And in baptism Christ’s strength is given. Amen.
1 “Ⲏⲁⲅⲛⲟⲉⲓⲧⲉ” (Romans 6:3 GNT-ALEX)
We Need A Permanent Priest
When it matters most, you take an oath. Have you ever noticed that? The big moments in a person’s life—they are all accompanied by an oath: Weddings, confirmations, ordinations. We do this because they matter and we want them to last. Our Lord above does the same. Our Father in heaven makes an oath that Jesus is a priest forever. In Hebrews 7 we read these words: “20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’ ” 22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.” (Hebrews 7:20–22 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus is better. Jesus is better than all the priests in the Old Testament. How do we know? His priesthood was confirmed with an oath. It was confirmed with an oath because it needed to last. It needed to be permanent. And what follows in these words are two huge reasons why the priesthood that Jesus had needed to be permanent. We read: “23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:23–25 NIV11-GKE)
We need a permanent priest. Why? We need a permanent priest because we need a priest who can pray continually…for us. One of the ways we clearly see our sin is in our prayer-life. There are times when we forget to pray—those times when we know we should pray but then don’t. And then, when we have a problem worthy of taking to our Father in heaven in prayer, what happens? Instead of a long prayer offered up to our Father who can help us, we end up complaining to a friend or a family member who most likely cannot help us. And finally then, when we do pray, the first person we pray for and about is ourself. We can spend long minutes and even hours praying for ourselves. But how often do we remember others in our prayers?
My dear friends in Christ, that’s why you need a permanent priest. You need a High Priest who prays continually for you. And here on Good Friday we find such an amazing example of this. As Jesus is there dying on the cross, he says these words: ““Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”” (Luke 23:34 NIV) You would think he would have other priorities on his mind: His anger against the Jews who voted to put him there; his sadness over his disciples who betrayed him. If anything, you’d expect him to pray against the people gathered there. But instead he prays for them.
And the same is true today. We need a permanent priest—one who continually prays for us. And we need this because we continually sin. For all the times we speak careless words and think selfish thoughts, Jesus is there, interceding for us, saying to his Father, “Father forgive him.”
And so, what we need, we have. We need a permanent priest. And we have that in Jesus he prays continually for us. But there’s more. We read: “26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” (Hebrews 7:26–27 NIV11-GKE)
We have a permanent priest. He prays continually. But he pays once. Look at the price for your sin. Here in these words, as we look back into the Old Testament, we see that price. The price was blood, millions and millions of gallons of blood. We find this echoed in the hymn we just sang earlier:
Not all the blood of beast
But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
Countless animals had to die because of their sins. When the people saw how many animals had to die because of their own sin, they could never say that their sin was small. For living creatures had to die because of their sin. And all those countless, continual sacrifices pointed ahead to one final sacrifice that would make them all valid. And that one sacrifice would pay for all their sins.
When you look at Jesus on the cross, you don’t get to say, “My sin isn’t a big deal.” And when it comes to your sin, Our Father does not say, “Aww, don’t worry about it.” Instead he pays for it. He sends his own Son to pay for your sin. We need a permanent priest. And here in these words we see why we need a permanent priest. Yes, it’s true that only a permanent priest could pray continually. But it’s also true that only a permanent priest could pay once for the sins of the entire world.
So this evening go home with this truth in your heart: Your Father has made and oath to you. He has promised that his Son is a permanent priest. Because of this he prays for you continually. And because of this he pays once for the sins of the entire world—and that means your sins and mine too.
1 CW 128:1-2
What We Share In We Care About
“You do that too?” Years ago I got into using fountain pens. And what I found out by using fountain pens, is that, if you have fountain pens, you need special paper for those fountain pens. And that’s expensive. And even worse, books full of paper are even more expensive. So I got into the habit and hoppy of binding my own books. And so, one day, I went into Michael’s to get some supplies. And the lady who was cutting the cloth was asking me what I was using the cloth for and I told her. And you would have thought that she rediscovered her long-lost best friend. She said, “You do that too?” And instantly we had this common bond. It was a reminder to me that what we share in we care about. But, we, as Christians, have so much more and so much better that we share in. And this evening God’s word reminds us of that fact. In 1 Corinthians we read: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16 CSB17)
In the Lord’s Supper we share in Jesus’ body. In the Lord’s Supper we share in Jesus’ blood. Notice what Paul is so clearly explaining to us. The Lord’s supper is not just a remembering of or picturing of Jesus’ body and blood. It is Jesus’ body and blood. Along with bread and wine there is Jesus’ body and blood. And in that body and blood Jesus delivers to us the forgiveness of sins. Because of this, the ancient theologian, Augustine, called baptism and the Lord’s supper the visible gospel. On Sunday morning we hear the gospel in our sermons and readings. But in the Lord’s supper we see, taste, touch and feel the gospel.
I was reminded how special and important that fact was years ago. About at decade ago I visited an elderly lady named Catherine. She couldn’t see very well. She couldn’t hear very well. So, when I visited her I would park myself next to her ear and share last week’s sermon with her. And she would take it in without any sign of either disagreement. But, after that, I gave her the Lord’s Supper. Much of what I preached in her ear was lost because of her hearing damage. But, when it came time for the Lord’s Supper, she sat up. Her hand trembled with reverence. And after she received Jesus’ body and blood along with that bread and wine there were tears that stained her cheeks—tears of joy. There was such reverence in her because she knew that the gospel she couldn’t hear she could taste and touch.
And it’s my fear that we can be tempted to not care in the forgiveness that we share in the Lord’s Supper. And we can be tempted in this way by simply being too hasty in the Lord’s Supper. Today, we are way-too-time-conscious. We face this temptation to streamline the Lord’s Supper. We can do this by removing the parts of the liturgy that prepare us for the Lord’s Supper. We can do this by creating an atmosphere of rushing the distribution, as if we are some sort of assembly line for Jesus’ body and blood. There’s a reason that some of those communion hymns are so long. And it’s not just because there’s a lot of people to commune. It’s because people long ago didn’t want to rush what they shared in. They wanted to savor it. How sad it is when two Packer or Vikings fans meet on the street they can savor that time together. But here we share something so much more important, and we are tempted to rush it.
Our sin is showing that we do not care about what we share in. And that’s what what we are about do share in is so important and cherished. For in that bread and wine along with Jesus’ body and blood we receive forgiveness—even for that sin.
What we share in we care about. We share in Jesus’ body and blood. But we also share a common confession. We read: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, since all of us share the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:17 CSB17)
There is one loaf of bread. There is one body of Christ, his church. And because of this, we have one, shared understanding and confession. This is why the Christian Church spends months and months teaching and training people before they join a church and before they share in the Lord’s Supper. For when you come forward to this table you are saying that you believe the same thing with the person beside you. That’s why what will happen at the end of next month on Confirmation day is so special. For these young ladies will be saying with their actions, “I believe what this church teaches. And now I get to share Jesus’ body and blood with the rest of them.”
But here too we face the temptation to sin. For if there is great joy in seeing people join our church and say and show that they believe what we believe, there is also fear. What about visitors to our church? Will they get angry when they hear that we aren’t completely on the same page with them yet? Will they come once and never come again? And with that fear comes the temptation to not care as much about the common confession we share.
But that too is why we receive the Lord’s Supper, so that we can be forgiven for that sin too. Jesus’ body and blood forgives our unfounded fears. But there’s more. Jesus’ body and blood here along with this bread and wine strengthens and guards our sharing. Years ago I took a class on Church Fellowship with professor Brug at our Seminary. And he mentioned how our practice of close communion is a great blessing to our church. First, it’s the Holy Spirit’s way of weeding out those who really don’t care about what we teach. Think about that for a minute. If a person gets angry at you because they cannot commune here with us at this table, what they are really saying is that they care so very little about what’s going on here that they don’t want to learn what the bible says. And second, it’s a blessing because it nudges fence-sitters off the fence. Professor Brug told this story about a kindly lady who was a member of his church. Her husband’s church had some huge theological problems. So he started coming to her church. And he really appreciated the truth of God’s word that he heard. But he great frustration was that he couldn’t commune with his wife. And this went on month after month. Finally then, the pastor sat down with the husband and said, “I can see that you appreciate what you are learning and hearing here week after week. If not being able to commune with your wife is the stumbling block, then just go through class. And if you agree with what we teach, then join our church.” So the guy finally gave up and came to class. And he was a faithful member of that church for many years.
I mention both of these blessings because we so very often are tempted to conclude that close-communion is something we have to endure. But it is a great gift that God has given his church both to ‘weed-out’ those who really don’t care enough about his word to learn it and to ‘nudge’ people into a church where they belong and can be pastored and fed with God’s word.
And so, my dear friends in Christ, what we share in we care about. We share in Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Hold his supper in holy awe and in holy joy. We share in a common confession. Care for it by practicing close communion. Amen.
See Who The Son Of David Is
How do you tell someone who you are? If you wanted to teach and show someone who you are—who you really are, how would you do this? When I think of this question, I think of jobs and resumés. It’s been years since I’ve had to fill out a resumé. But it has to be a frustrating task. You have to condense your life down to one or two pages. You have to simply and succinctly communicate to a company who you are in one or two pages. How do you do that? How do you communicate to someone who you are? In the words we look at this morning that’s what Jesus is doing. He is introducing himself to his own city and teaching them who he actually is. In Mark 11, we read: “1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ ” 4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.” (Mark 11:1–6 NIV11-GKE)
We read these words and we ask the question, “Why does Mark spend so much time speaking about a donkey?” Jesus here in these words is teaching the people of Jerusalem who the Son of David is. The Son of David was a humble human. Every other king on the face of the planet would come into his own city with an honor guard. He would come into his city with a body guard and a chariot. So, with an example they can see, he teaches them that the Son of David is a humble human. But there’s more to it. It’s not just any donkey. It’s a donkey that no one has ever ridden on. It’s a sign and a hint that there’s more going on here. He is a humble human. But he is also so much more. So Jesus shows the people of Jerusalem that he is the Son of David by allowing himself to be treated as the Son of David. But Jesus teaches them in yet another way: “7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”” (Mark 11:7–10 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus shows that he is the Son of David by allowing himself to be treated as a humble human and also a holy God. But here we see that he isn’t just treated as a humble human and holy God, he is called both of those. He is called the name, the “Son of David.” It’s hard to find a name for Jesus that better teaches who he is. He is the human descendent of David. But he is also, at the same time, over David and greater than David. Jesus does all of this to teach to them who he really, truly is. He is a humble human and holy God. But there’s another way we see that he is the Son of David: “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” (Mark 11:11 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus shows us that he is the Son of David by letting us see that he is treated as the Son of David, called the Son of David, and here, he has the attributes and qualities of the Son of David. Or, to put it differently, he does the things that only the Son of David can do. As a humble human he looks around with his own eyes. But as the holy God he sees everything.1
We wrestle and struggle to show people who we really, truly are. But look at Jesus. There Jesus is wrestling and struggling to teach us who he really, truly is. And he does this by having people treat him as the Son of David, name him the Son of David, and show the attributes and qualities of the Son of David. He does all of this to show what it means to be the Son of David, that he is both a humble human and holy God. Jesus works so hard to teach the people. But who learns the lesson? So very few understand who the Son of David is.
And it might be tempting to be harsh and mean to those who cut down palm branches and laid down their clothes to pave Jesus’ way in to Jerusalem. But we too face the same temptation. We face the temptation to forget what it means that Jesus is the Son of David. Jesus is the Son of David. And that means that he is a humble human. And we can forget this. I remember when I was a child in Sunday School, my teacher once said, “Don’t forget, Jesus needed his diapers to be changed too.” Jesus was a humble human. I remember this when I think of that time when Jesus was invited to go into a Pharisee’s house and have dinner with him. The Pharisee, by his actions, shows Jesus that he despises him. He does not have anyone there to wash Jesus’ feet. But a woman who had led a sinful life shows up. And with her tears she stains Jesus feet. And what the Pharisee did not do, she did. She wiped off the sweat, the stink, the sand with her own hair. It’s so easy for us to forget how human Jesus is. And if we fall to that temptation we can fall into an even worse trap. We can begin to conclude that Jesus came not to save us from our sin, but instead, from our humanity. Being human is not sinful. No, instead, being sinful is sinful. God made us with these bodies. Jesus took on a human body. And just as he rose with a human body, so too will we.
Now, what I don’t want to have happen in all this is all you teenagers going home and saying to your parents, “Jesus’ feet stank, so it’s fine if my feet stink.” That’s not the point to walk away with this morning. No, instead, the point is that Jesus wants to show us who he really, truly is. He is the Son of David. And that Son of David was a humble human for us. And by being a human perfectly in our place he paid for all the times we used our bodies for sin or thought there was shame in just simply having human bodies themselves.
But there’s more. When Jesus shows them that he’s the Son of David, he’s also showing them that he is our Holy God. These are words you have to picture. Jesus gets up the hill to the temple. And the sun is just barely going down. The sky is mixed with orange, red and yellow. But is Jesus staring at the sunset? No. Instead, Jesus is looking around at everything. The Son of David sees everything. In Catechism class I ask the children this question: “Is it good or bad news that God sees everything?” Then I tell them, “God sees every thought that travels through your brain and every desire in your heart. Is that good news or bad news?” And then they say that it’s bad news. We forget this don’t we? Just as we can forget that the Son of David was a humble human, we can also forget that Jesus is our Holy God too. And that too is a sin. For we, as Christians, have no excuse. For we have been taught from little on up that God can see all. But the Son of David doesn’t just see our sin. He also sees our need for salvation. And since he is the one and only Holy God he does we could never do. He dies and pays for all our sins. He pays for the sin we commit when we forget Jesus’ humble humanity and holy divinity.
So my dear friends in Christ, if you wrestle to show people who you are, look at Jesus here on Palm Sunday. For here he wrestles and struggles to show the people and us today that he is the Son of David. He does this by showing them that he is treated as the Son of David, called the Son of David, and does the things that only the Son of David can do. And he does all of this for you. Amen.
1 “ⲡⲉⲣⲓⲃⲗⲉⲯⲁⲙⲉⲛⲟⲥⲡⲁⲛⲧⲁ” (Mark 11:11 GNT-ALEX)
Trust Jesus, Your High Priest
You need to trust instantly and completely. There are those times in our lives when you are told to trust someone instantly and completely. I think of what happens in hospital rooms. A person goes into the E.R. The doctor takes one action after another to keep the person from dying. And the loved ones are there in the waiting room with nothing to do with their time but simply trust that the doctor knows what he is doing. The same was true in the Old Testament when it came to the high priest. The high priest was the one man who on one day was allowed to go into the one place—the most holy place. He went into the most holy place with a bowl full of the blood of animals. He sprayed blood everywhere in the most holy place. And then if he came out and sprinkled that blood on the people, then they knew their sins were forgiven. They had to trust instantly and completely. In the New Testament we learn that Jesus is our Great High Priest. And in these words here in Hebrews we learn why it is that we should trust him: “1 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed in matters pertaining to God for the people, to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he is also clothed with weakness. 3 Because of this, he must make an offering for his own sins as well as for the people.” (Hebrews 5:1–3 CSB17)
Sometimes you have to wait to figure out the point to a certain part of God’s word. Not here. The writer to the Hebrews right away tells you why you should trust Jesus your High Priest. Notice the two reasons: First, He was chosen by God. Second, he suffered perfectly for you. The writer to the Hebrews works so very hard to encourage us that we have every reason to trust Jesus as our Great High Priest. First, he was chosen by God. And he elaborates and explains that point in the words which follow: “4 No one takes this honor on himself; instead, a person is called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 In the same way, Christ did not exalt himself to become a high priest, but God who said to him, You are my Son; today I have become your Father, 6 also says in another place, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:4–6 CSB17)
How do you know you can trust this man? He did not choose to glorify himself. Instead God is the one who chose him. The High Priest was chosen from among the people, but by God himself. The same is true today. One of the reasons you can trust the pastors you have had in this congregation is that they didn’t choose themselves. Oh sure, each of the men who has preached in this pulpit as your pastor chose to study to be a pastor. But from there others chose. At the end of eight years (or nine in my case) of studying, our Seminary officially said, “We chose this man as a pastoral candidate.” Then what happened? Then you chose that man to be your pastor. Pastor Monday didn’t have a clue about this church until he was called here. And the same is true for me. You can trust them because they didn’t choose and glorify themselves. No, God chose them through you. How much more so is that true of Jesus. God chose Jesus to be the Great High Priest.
What’s the problem though? How do you trust someone you can’t even see? As Jesus speaks to us from his word he tells us to trust him many times and in many different ways. And our great sin is shown when we trust him in the easy ways, but doubt him or trust ourselves in the more difficult ways. Jesus says, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 NIV) But in our lives we so very often do the opposite. We get our ducks in a row when it comes to the financial, earthly details, then, when we think those are figured out, we then move onto the churchly issues. The high school student chooses the college that will pay the best paycheck and get the best job, but doesn’t consider how he or she will remain a Christian and even grow as a Christian. The grown-up is offered a pay-raise and the first thing he or she thinks about is the money. Then he thinks about traffic and travel. What is the last detail to consider: where is a WELS church? When we think like this we show that we do not trust Jesus as our High Priest.
And that’s where these words are so important for us to hear. All the other high priests had to offer up something else. They had to sacrifice an animal to take away first their own sins and second, the sins of the people. Jesus was different. First, he was perfect. So he didn’t have to sacrifice for himself. Second, since he was the perfect human and son of God, he could offer up himself to pay for our sins—all the times we should have trusted Jesus but didn’t. And with that then he gives us every reason to trust him. For he was chosen by God. He didn’t choose this work himself. But he did it perfectly for us. But there’s also another reason we should trust Jesus. We trust him because he was chosen by God. But we also trust him because he suffered for us. We read: “7 During his earthly life, he offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was the Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. 9 After he was perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 and he was declared by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:7–10 CSB17)
You probably haven’t thought about it, but every person in the pew expects the impossible of their pastor. You want a pastor who has lived enough and maybe even made enough mistakes that he knows what you’re going through. And yet, if he’s made too many mistakes, then he’s not qualified to be a pastor. The same paradox is true in the Old Testament. They wanted and needed a high priest who could sympathize with them because he would be the one praying for them. If he didn’t have a clue what their lives were like, how could he offer up any prayers that dealt with what they were going through? Here, we read some absolutely beautiful words. First, Jesus cried and prayed to God because he knew that God would save him. You think of the cries and prayers Jesus offered up for us in the darkness of the garden of Gethsemane and the darkness on Good Friday. Why was Jesus so willing and faithful to continually cry out to God? Jesus knew that his Father would be with him at the end, on Good Friday, because he was with him all the way from the beginning. The Father taught the Son to trust him through suffering. And he learned that lesson perfectly in our place.
Take, for example, when you were a child. You fell down and skinned your knee. You came running inside and yelled and cried for your mommy to help. Now, I don’t know about you, but my mommy used to take out this reddish-orange liquid. And she said, “This is going to hurt. But then it will feel better—I promise.” And what do you think I did? I ran away. All I heard was, “This will hurt.” And we as adults do the same thing. How many of us avoid seeing the doctor for one simple reason: we think it might hurt. But Jesus, our Great High Priest did the opposite. Throughout all the pain Jesus endured, he clung to the promise his Father spoke to him. And how do we know we can trust that Jesus will get the job done on Good Friday and take away our sin? We know this is true and can trust him because of hundreds and thousands of times Jesus endured pain because he trusted the promise from his Father that he would not abandon him. What comfort this gives us to know that when we run away from any kind of pain, Jesus didn’t. Jesus trusted his Father throughout all the pain. And he did this for us, so that his obedience would cover and smother our cowardice.
So my dear friends in Christ, trust Jesus, your High Priest. For he was chosen by God. And he suffered for you. Amen.
Look To Jesus And Live
Heat leads to stress. Last summer our family visited a number of national parks. One of those parks was Petrified Forest National Park. It was a very pretty and amazing park. But what was the problem? It was hot—really, really hot. Heat has a way of making the most pleasant place stressful and horrible. This morning we are in the book of Numbers. And this part of God’s word begins this way: “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;” (Numbers 21:4 NIV11-GKE)
In these words the Israelites are coming up out of Egypt. But when they want to go into the promised land the Edomites tell them, “no, you cannot come into our land.” So the Hebrews have to go down and then go around through the lowest, hottest parts of the desert. That is where we need to start in these words. It’s the stress of not being able to go into the Promised land right away. It’s the heat of the hottest part of the desert. And in that setting what happens? “they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”” (Numbers 21:5 NIV11-GKE)
The heat and stress leads the Hebrews to complaining and despising. And what’s the object of their complaining? Bread. Firstthey say, “there is no bread.”1 Next, they say, “We are disgusted by this horrible bread.”2 It’s hard to find a more hypocritical complaint in the bible, isn’t it. Out of his goodness, God provides them bread. And what is the target of their complaining and despising?: God’s good gifts.
And this, my dear friends in Christ, is a trap we can fall into. God, out of his goodness gives us one good gift after another. And our response is to complain about them and despise them. And it happens in so many ways. I’m working my way through different congregations during Lent. And last night there was a family with the grandma in one pew. And the daughter was in the pew on the other side. And what happened? There was a little girl who spent most of the time running between the two…during the sermon. I thought to myself: “Can’t they get some control of that kid?” And then, as I watched longer I realized that they were trying. It’s not easy to have little, tiny children in church for an hour. And they were trying to teach these children to stay. And I realized that it was so easy to complain. It was so easy to despise the good gift of having children in our churches. For which would you rather have, children that sometimes move around, or no children at all?
And the same is true not just with children, but also with the elderly. It is ever-so-easy to conclude that our elderly are dead-weight. They can’t mow the lawn anymore. They don’t have the energy to serve on Church Council anymore. And some of them are a real drain on our resources when the pastor has to go out to their houses because they cannot come here. But, my dear fellow Christians, A congregation without grey hair is a congregation without maturity and without wisdom. It is so easy to despise the good gifts God has given to us.
And finally, another gift God gives to us is music. I have been to many, many churches over the years and there is no congregation of this size that has had the musical gifts this one has. That is a good gift from God. But it is so very easy to despise it. It is so easy to say, “uccckhh, we have to hear those bells…again. We have to hear that choir….again. We have to sing all the verses of that hymn. My dear friends, look around you. There are many churches out there in our country that have a guy singing for 10 minutes on a stage followed by a 10 minute guitar solo. And they do this to hide the fact that neither the pastor nor the people in the padded seats can sing.
It is a sin to despise the good gifts God has given to us. But what does the Lord do about those sins? “6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.” (Numbers 21:6–7 NIV11-GKE)
What did the Lord do about their sin of despising the good gifts the Hebrews were given? He sent burning snakes to bite them.3 In what way were these snakes ‘burning?’ Either their color was burning red, or their venom burned. Probably both. The Lord was not afraid to discipline his people then. And he is not afraid to do the same with us today. He does this by showing us our own hypocrisy. He does this how wicked it is to despise the good gifts he has given to us. But that then drives us to ask the question, why? Why does he hurt us and show us our own sins even with pain and misery? We read: “8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.” (Numbers 21:8–9 NIV11-GKE)
The Lord hurt them with burning venom not because he hated them, but because he wanted to show them how evil their despising of his good gifts was and because he wanted to show them how much he loved them. And the same is true today. These sinful Hebrews looked to that snake lifted above the earth and lived. Jesus forgave their sins. And not only did he forgive their sins, he did so continually. As often as they repented and turned to their Lord by turning to that snake, their sins were forgiven and the venom healed.
And the same is true for us, isn’t it? How many times and in how many ways have we complained against and despised God’s good gifts? And yet, as often as we look to Jesus and repent, we live. And the reason we are forgiven is that God loved the world so much that he gave to us the most amazing gift—his very own Son. That son Jesus was the one who was punished in our place. The burning venom those Israelites felt was nothing to the burning hell our Savior endured. And that is his costly and priceless gift to you. And because he paid this price and because you can look to Jesus continually throughout your life you can be sure that your sins are forgiven—yes, even the sins we commit when we despise God’s good gifts.
So look to Jesus. He is the one who continually forgives our sin. But he does even more. He also continually gives us contentment. The Holy Spirit has given to you this great amazing gift of faith in Jesus. And my dear friends, that is not a small gift. That gift gives us the ability to be content enough with God’s good gifts to see these gifts and thank our Triune God for them. But even more, the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to use these gifts.
So, if children are a gift that God gives to us, what do we do? We teach them. If the elderly are a gift that God gives to us, what do we do? We listen to them and learn from them. And if music is a gift God has given to us, we grow in it and give it to those after us. Every week we print out this big bulletin. And in this bulletin whenever there are parts that are sung, there are notes set above the words. Let me tell you why. When I was a child we had this hymnal called, The Lutheran Hymnal. And when I was a little child I could follow along. I noticed that when the notes went up, people’s voices did. And when there was space between the notes, people took those parts slower. But then what happened? I got older and my voice got lower and I couldn’t sing the notes on the top anymore. But I noticed the notes at the bottom. Those were low enough. It took time, but I was able to sing those notes.
But my dear friends, none of that would have been possible if there weren’t large notes, clearly written on the page. You see, the Holy Spirit doesn’t just give us the gift of seeing what gifts are, he also gives us the joy of using those gifts. And we need to ask ourselves the question, “how are we teaching those around us and after us to appreciate these gifts?” What you see in this bulletin is the result of 14 years of pastoring. Big, large and clear notes aren’t just in the bulletin so that when visitors come who can read music it helps them. It’s also to teach those who cannot sing. And that takes toil. That takes effort. And that drives us back once again to Jesus. That’s why we look to Jesus and live. He is the one who continually forgives our sin. And he is the one who continually gives us contentment. Amen.
1 ”אֵ֥ין לֶ֙חֶם֙“ (Numbers 21:5 BHS-T)
2 ”קָ֔צָה בַּלֶּ֖חֶם הַקְּלֹקֵֽל“ (Numbers 21:5 BHS-T)
3 ”הַשְּׂרָפִ֔ים“ (Numbers 21:6 BHS-T)
What Do We Do With These Words?
This doesn’t apply to you. Hospitals are places that are full of rules. I remember one of the first times I had to visit a hospital as a pastor. One of my members was in the ICU. So I got to the door just outside of the ICU. And it was closed. And there were no knobs or latches to get in. And beside the doors was a large poster. And on that poster was a massive lists of commands. You cannot come in here if… And even when if you can come in here, you can only come in during these hours. After reading the huge list I was beginning to conclude that no one could come into the ICU. Then a guy wearing scrubs walked past me, swiped a hidden box on the wall and the doors opened. And of course, when the doors opened, I snuck in after him. But notice, my friends in Christ, that the rules didn’t apply to him. He could come and go as he pleased. This morning we look at these ten “words” that the Lord speaks to his people. But the first lesson to learn is what applies to us and what doesn’t. And so, In Exodus 20, we read: “1 Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. 3 Do not have other gods besides me. 4 Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. 5 Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ iniquity, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, 6 but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commands. 7 Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:1–7 CSB17)
The first lesson we need to learn as we approach these words is that much of this does not apply to you. In these words God commands his people to not make any carved images.1 Yet look around you. You see pictures and images all around you in this church. Even more than that, you have pictures of God put right here on your altar. And so, there are parts of the second commandment that do not apply to you. And the same is true with the third. Moses tells us: “8 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: 9 You are to labor six days and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, your livestock, or the resident alien who is within your city gates. 11 For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.” (Exodus 20:8–11 CSB17)
What day of the week do we usually worship on? And yet here we see the command to worship on the Sabbath—on Saturday. Part of the third commandment does not apply to you. But here’s the question we need to ask: why? Jesus fulfills all the commandments in our place—all of them. And so, there are parts of these ten commandments that do not apply to us. The apostle Paul uses a beautiful picture for this: “16 Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is Christ.” (Colossians 2:16–17 CSB17) The illustration I use is this: If there’s a person walking around a corner, you see the shadow. You focus in on it because the closer the person gets the more details you find out. But when the substance (the person) comes, you don’t look at the shadow anymore. So there are parts of even the ten commandments that are shadow. And Jesus is the substance that fulfills them in our place.
This might be a strange topic to plow through on Sunday morning. But, my friends in Christ, this is important. This seems like irrelevant data until…until your friend who goes to a Calvinist church tells you that you’re sinning because you have pictures and sculptures of Jesus in your church. It seems irrelevant until the neighborhood Seventh Day Adventist tells you that you’re sinning because you don’t worship on Saturday. There are parts of these commandments which do not apply to you. And just as it’s a sin to ignore the parts of the commandments that do apply to you, it’s just as bad to feel guilty over the parts of these commandments that do not apply to you.
So then, understanding this, we can begin to answer that question, “What do we do with these words?” First, recognize that each of these commandments has a heart and core, a foundation that applies to you. Recognize that these commandments—all of them—are commandments you cannot keep. These words are not rungs of a ladder that we can use to climb up to heaven. No, these words are commandments that show us how really, truly sinful we are. And the most piercing way we see this is by looking at our gospel this morning. As we compare ourselves to Jesus in the temple it’s not pretty, is it. Somewhere along the line we learned that anger is a sin. But, what these words here in the gospel for this morning show us is that Jesus was perfectly angry and zealous for his Father’s house and there have been times where we should have been angry and zealous but were not. It should make me angry when there are times that I do not treat this place at a holy place where people worship. It should make us angry when other people do not treat this as the holy place it is. I still remember the one of the worst spankings I ever got when I was a child. I was a little child and my parents were taking forever talking after church was done. I was running through the church like a wild-child. They told me to stop and I ignored them. Then, out of nowhere, was a spanking. But why was it so swift and so severe? My mom said, “You are in the Lord’s house. This isn’t a playground.” She was angry—and properly so. But how many times have we should have been zealous and even angry, but we weren’t?
Recognize that these words are commands that we cannot keep. But isn’t is wonderful and amazing that Jesus was perfectly angry in our place. Look at your lives. There are times that we are angry when we should not be. And there are times when we should have been angry but weren’t. Then look at Jesus. Look at the Savior who shows such burning anger and keeps the third commandment in your place. Recognize that these words are commandments that you cannot keep. But also recognize and rejoice that Jesus could keep them and did. And the perfection and forgiveness that Jesus has in your place he gives to you through his word.
So what do we do with these words? We recognize that they are commands that we cannot keep, but Jesus kept in our place. but notice then, that when we recognize this, it changes how we look at the commandments. When we see that Jesus freely and completely kept these commandments in our place, we naturally want to keep these commandments. We don’t want to keep these commandments to earn heaven. That’s impossible. No instead, God has given to us a new person alongside that old person. This new person thanks and praises our Savior and looks for ways to thank him. And what is so beautiful about these words is that these words are not just commands. They are also promises. Listen to what the Lord tells us: “12 Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 Do not murder. 14 Do not commit adultery. 15 Do not steal. 16 Do not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:12–17 CSB17)
Look at the fourth commandment here: Honor you father and mother. But there’s more to it. There’s also a promise. God promises to lengthen life so that, out of thanks, we would thank him in the way he would like to be thanked. And that’s the key thought. If we ask the question, “how can I thank God,” there’s your answer. If he really wants us to follow the commandments and really likes it when we do so, we can humbly follow down that path. Think of the promises in these words as the opposite of fruitcake. Now, if you like fruitcake, then you can forgive me for beating up on fruitcake. But, let’s face it, fruitcake is pretty much the universal anti-gift. You can’t eat it. You can’t use it for a book-stop. It doesn’t decompose. You didn’t want it. But someone gave it to you anyway. These promises here in these words are the opposite of fruitcake. What a great joy it is to know that the promises in these words are what our Lord actually wants and likes.
And so, what do we do with these words? We recognize that they are commands that are only kept by Jesus. And we recognize that they are promises given to us. Amen.
1 ”פֶ֣֙סֶל֙“ (Exodus 20:4 BHS-T)
Do You Want To Follow Jesus?
There is a time to be silent and a time to speak. This is a proverb that the bible speaks to us. And one of the areas in which this is true is when you’re a student. If you don’t know the answer to the question the teacher is asking, then is the time to be silent and learn. But when you do know the answer, then that might be the time to speak. That is the context we find ourselves in as we walk through the end of Mark 8. We read: “29 “But you,” he asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he strictly warned them to tell no one about him.” (Mark 8:29–30 CSB17)
Jesus the master teacher had asked the disciples who they thought he was. Peter spoke up for them all and said that Jesus was the Christ. But then notice what happens. Jesus warns them to not tell others about Jesus. Now was the time for Peter to be silent and to learn. But what happens next? “31 Then he began to teach them that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and rise after three days. 32 He spoke openly about this.” (Mark 8:31–32 CSB17)
What is the difference between a teenager and a toddler? The teenager will find your inconsistencies and hypocrisies and challenge you. A toddler will not. Peter here in these words is growing as a follower of Jesus and he is beginning to show it. Peter is told to be silent and private with what he knows about Jesus. But look at Jesus. Jesus is doing the opposite of what he says. Jesus is not practicing what he preaches. Jesus is boldly, loudly and publicly laying out his future in front of everyone. So Peter has to act. We read: “32 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning around and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns.”” (Mark 8:32–33 CSB17)
Jesus is not practicing what he preaches. Jesus tells them to be silent, but he blabs out as much as he wants. So Peter takes Jesus aside and tells Jesus to stop. And if Jesus was preaching boldly and loudly before, he gets twice as blunt and twice as loud. He shouts out to the crowd as he is speaking to Peter and he says, “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter does not get to be the professor. Peter has a lot to learn. And Jesus will not stand for Peter pretending to be a professor when he still had a childish understanding of the bible. But notice what Jesus does then. He uses this as an opportunity to teach everyone. We read: “34 Calling the crowd along with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me and the gospel will save it. 36 For what does it benefit someone to gain the whole world and yet lose his life? 37 What can anyone give in exchange for his life?” (Mark 8:34–37 CSB17)
Jesus reaches out to the crowd and through them to us today asking that amazing and important question: Do you want to follow Jesus? And so, let me ask you, do you want to follow Jesus? If so, then learn what following Jesus looks like. Following Jesus is saying “no” to yourself. Well, what does that mean? Jesus answers that question. But he answers that question with a figure of speech we don’t use today. It’s called a Chiasm. In Greek the letter Ⲭ was shaped like a big “X.” And it was shaped like a big ‘X” because when you follow the pattern of thought, if you were to draw it out on paper it would make an ‘x’ shape. For example, in the Old Testament we hear the proverb, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” (Genesis 9:6 NIV) It makes an ‘x’ shape. And the Holy Spirit does this to make a very important point. We find the same pattern here in these words: Whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life because me and the gospel will save it.
Now here, too, we need to define this word, life. In english versions this word is either translated as “life” or “soul.”1 And here in this context it is what matters most to you. What is the foundation of your life? What is your heart and soul? If all the time and treasures God gives to you revolve around you and you cling to them with a death grip, then what will happen to you when you die? If you love your time and your treasures more than your Savior, that is idolatry. And when you die you will lose all your earthly time and all your earthly treasures and then burn in hell forever. However, if you willingly, gladly, joyfully give up your earthly time and treasures because God promises to you in his word that there is so much better waiting in heaven for you, well then, when you die, you receive time…forever and you receive treasures that are uncountable.
But, my dear friends in Christ, it’s hard to look at these verses and not see our sin. We see our sins so closely when we focus in on those few words, “because of the gospel.” It is only when we treasure God’s word and grow in it that we are ready—both to share our faith and die for that faith. Look at Peter. He was so ready to be Jesus’ professor. He was so ready to rebuke Jesus for his inconsistency. But on Maundy Thursday night when a little servant girl asked if he knew Jesus, he denied Jesus. That’s why Jesus says to him and us today, “deny yourself!”
In these words Jesus asks and invites us to lose some of our life here so that we will be ready hereafter. Or, to put it differently, each of us has a sinful nature that loves the things of this world. And that same sinful nature absolutely hates learning about Jesus in his word. If you ask one Christian guy about the baseball stats for the Twins, he can tell you every detail. You ask another Christian lady about her favorite cooking show, and she’ll go on forever. But if you ask either of them how many psalms were written by king David, both of them will stare at you like a cow staring at a new gate. There’s nothing wrong with hobbies and habits. But when we show that we know more about them that we do about God’s word, that proves that we care more about them than God’s word. Jesus doesn’t ask us to lose our life because of hobbies and habits. No, he asks us to lose our life because of the gospel.
Isn’t is wonderful, my dear friends in Christ, to know that what cling to so closely and dearly, Jesus gave up. Jesus grew up as the son of a carpenter. He knew his woodworking better than anyone who ever existed. But that wasn’t his life. God’s word was his life. Doing his Father’s will was his life. Jesus gave up what we cling to so closely and dearly to earn forgiveness for us. Yes and that even meant giving up his perfect life itself on Good Friday. He did this so that our sins of knowing more details about our hobbies and habits than we do about God’s word are forgiven along with all the other sins.
So do you want follow Jesus? Well then, my dear friends, learn your faith. Ready God’s word at home. And come to bible study here. But there’s more. We read: “For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”” (Mark 8:38 CSB17)
Do you want to follow Jesus? Then learn your faith. But also live your faith. You see, as Jesus speaks these word, that was not the time for Peter to speak boldly and publicly. But that time would come. The book of Acts proves that to us in detail. And the same is true for us. There is also a time for us to speak. But my dear friends, how we live our lives shapes how we speak about Jesus. The more we are in God’s word the less ashamed we are of Jesus and his word. And then we are able to speak. And we don’t have to make up weird, contrived ways to share our faith. We don’t have to go out and buy T-shirts that say, “Ask me about my faith!” No, we simply live our faith and then be ready to speak about our faith. A guy I used to know put it this way. He said that the answer to anything his co-workers would ask him was always the same: “church.” What are you doing Wednesday night? I’m going to church. You see, he simply lived out his Christian life and let people know he was a Christian. But, as you know, this is only the first step. The next step is a conversation. And usually the conversation starts wth the words, “I don’t agree with that.” People challenge us an confront us when they learn about our faith. What is the solution to that? Bible study. It drives us back to God’s word. Do you want to follow Jesus. Learn your faith. Live your faith.
1 “ⲯⲩⲭⲏⲛ” (Mark 8:35 GNT-ALEX)
Put Me To The Test
Put it to the test. When I was a child there were a bunch of ads on TV about crash-test dummies. They made me laugh. There were two of them. And they were smashed and crashed. They were exploded and torn apart. And it was a really effective ad because today, more than 20 years later I remember the point of the ad. Since they were smashed and crushed, you will not be. Crash test dummies need to be put to the test. Cars need to be put to the test. But this morning God’s word shows us that it’s not just possessions that need to be put to the test. People need to be put to the test too. In Genesis 22, we read: “1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”” (Genesis 22:1–2 NIV11-GKE)
One day the Lord appears to Abraham. And, without any warning ahead of time he tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son whom he loves. Now, before we start off on the wrong road, it’s important to understand what kind of sacrifice this was. The Hebrew word here is not the one used for a sin offering. This important to understand. For the Lord was not telling Abraham to earn forgiveness and earn salvation by killing his only son. No, the offering here was the ‘whole burnt offering.’1 When you brought an animal forward as a whole burnt offering, you killed it and then burned it. And neither you nor the priest got any of that back. It all belonged to the Lord. It was a way of showing absolute, complete trust and dedication to the Lord. With this offering the Lord was telling Abraham, “Prove to me that you are devoted to me.”
But what happens next is fascinating. Abraham gets up early the next morning. Who of us, if we were in Abraham’s shoes would do that? I might spend one last week with my child before I put him to death. But Abraham didn’t. For this was an urgent, important matter to him. For his Lord asked it of him. But the words continue: “3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.” (Genesis 22:3–8 NIV11-GKE)
In these words the Lord puts Abraham to the test. But notice who he puts to the test. He also puts Isaac to the test. On the list of awkward conversations to have, this is pretty much at the top of the list. Isaac here is what we would call a ‘young man.’ Maybe he was 10. Maybe he was 16. No matter how you look at it, he was not stupid. He realized that if you’re going to offer up a sacrifice, you actually have a sacrifice.
And notice then Abraham’s response. He tactfully says that the Lord would provide. And notice the other detail. Abraham leaves the two servants at the foot of the mountain and then he speaks that amazing word, “we.” He does not say, “we will go up and I will come back.” He says “we will go up and we will come back.”
Notice what is going on here in these words. The Lord puts Abraham to the test. The Lord puts Isaac to the test too. And he makes them wrestle with seemingly contradictory truths. The Lord told Abraham that the Messiah would come from his son. Then the Lord told him to kill his son. These were absolutely contradictory truths that he expected Abraham and Isaac to obey without question. And doesn’t he do the same today? He says he will give us daily bread, then we get fired. He promises to preserve us, then we get cancer. He promises to watch over us, then we get into a car accident. Two absolutely contradictory truths. And today, the Lord still expects us to trust and obey him. And here is where we see our sin. When the Lord puts us to the test with two seemingly contradictory truths We are tempted to doubt is promises. And even worse could happen. After we doubt, we can blame God. And so one bad sin is followed by and even worse one.
But look at Abraham. He says, “We.” How can he say “we” will go up and “we” will come back? In the New Testament we read these words: “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead” (Hebrews 11:19 NIV) Abraham concluded that somehow the God who does not lie would make it right. So he concluded that if he put his son to death, then God would raise him from the dead so that through Isaac the Messiah would eventually be born.
So the Lord puts us to the test. And through us the Lord puts others to the test. But where do these words lead to? “9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”” (Genesis 22:9–14 NIV11-GKE)
Look at these words. For here in these words we see a man who was ready to be tested. But who would save him him from all the many other times he was tested and then doubted and then blamed God? I tell you the truth, it wasn’t a ram caught by its horns in a bush. No, instead, it was what that ram pictured and pointed to: Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. For all the times Abraham and Isaac were tested and then doubted and blamed God, Jesus’ death paid for there sins. And we see that in even more clarity in our gospel this morning. For every time that Abraham and Isaac, and you and I were tested and then failed, look at Jesus our substitute. For 4o days Jesus was continually and constantly put to the test by Satan. And not once did he give in or give up. And so, Jesus saves us from our sins of doubt and blame. But there’s more in these words: “15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”” (Genesis 22:15–18 NIV11-GKE)
Not only does Jesus save us, but he also blesses us. Jesus is the one who rescues us from our sins. Jesus is the one who gives us this great gift of faith to trust him. Jesus is the one who strengthens that faith through testing. And even though he is the one who did all the heavy-lifting, when we do trust and cling to him, he gives us the credit and blesses us just as he did Abraham.
Where does that leave us here this morning? If the Lord saved Abraham and Isaac from their sins of doubt and blame, and then he blessed them, then we are left in this wonderful place where we can silently, or not-so-silently pray to our Triune God, “put me to the test.” Words you would never say out there in the world, you can say boldly and confidently here: O Lord, put me to the test. For if you crush, you will rebuild. If you take away, in your own good time, you will give. If you remove your caring hand, you will bring it back. And so, my dear friends in Christ, let that always be your prayer that you speak without any hesitation: O Lord, put me to the test. Amen.
1 ”עֹלָ֔ה“(Genesis 22:2 BHS-T)
Turn To Jesus
Some conversations are uncomfortable. There are sins that the bible speaks about that we don’t usually like to speak about. But the Holy Spirit reserves the right to preach against not just the sins we are familiar and comfortable speaking about, but also the ones we are not comfortable speaking about. And this evening we see that so very clearly as the Holy Spirit reminds us about Judas. And so, in Matthew 27, we read: “1 When daybreak came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put him to death. 2 After tying him up, they led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. 3 Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. 4 “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he said. “What’s that to us?” they said. “See to it yourself!”” (Matthew 27:1–4 CSB17)
In these words we see the end of human hope for Jesus. If there were a chance of Jesus getting through Friday without being murdered, as we read these words, we realize that hope is gone. And we aren’t the only ones who realize that it’s gone. Judas realizes that, humanly speaking, all hope of Jesus not being murdered is gone. And it affects him deeply and profoundly. Judas is filled with regret and remorse. Judas feels such shame and pain over the fact that he is the one who stabbed Jesus in the back. He is the one who paved the way for Jesus to be murdered.
But, my dear friends in Christ, notice what word is not used in these words. All the english translations use words like “regret” and “remorse” for the word, accurately reflecting the greek word.1 But what word should we have expected to be there but is not? It’s another “R” word. Where is Repentance? You see, there is a huge difference between Regret and Repentance. Regret and remorse is suffering the shame of your sin. It is feeling absolutely horrible over the sin you have committed because of the shame and embarrassment you have brought on yourself. But what is it not? It is not repentance. Repentance has two parts: first, repentance is terror. It is a recognition that your sins rightly cause you shame and earn hell for you. But there is also a second part. Repentance is not just terror. It is also trust. It is trust that when Jesus promises that his blood covers your sin, he means it. Judas had so much regret and so much remorse. But he didn’t have repentance. And where did that lead to? “So he threw the silver into the temple and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5 CSB17)
The regret and remorse that Judas had drove him to suicide. As I mentioned at the beginning, there are topics that uncomfortable to speak about. So there stands in front of us the temptation to sidestep this issue. Why not have Pastor Lindner take up this issue in bible study instead of having it addressed in the pulpit? I suppose, if on a given Sunday the vast majority of people who showed up to worship also came for bible study, we could do that. But what’s the problem? Across our synod, on any given Sunday about 15\% of our members are in bible study. So if we wait to speak about this in bible study, most people will never hear about it. And out of all the parts of God we preach on, this is the only section of scripture that speaks about suicide. And so, tonight, even though it may make us uncomfortable, we speak about because it’s where these words in scripture drive to: Judas went out and hanged himself.
So, my dear friends in Christ, in what context does suicide happen? There are two answers to that question. First, there are suicides that happen despite our faith. One of the effects of the fall into sin is that our bodies can be corrupted and diseased. It happens in ways we can see, (e.g. cancer). But it also happens in ways we might be able to see. In mental illness a person’s brain doesn’t work the way it does for others. And the chemistry in the brain misfires. The result is that a person with mental illness may take his or her own life. And the same can happen with heavy medication. I have ministered to people who, due to the pain they were experiencing were prescribed heavy-duty-medications. And, over time, it changed them. And if there are Christians in these circumstances who take their own lives we give them a Christian burial. For just as a condition like cancer can change their bodies on the outside, so also, a condition caused by mental illness or harsh medication can change them on the inside. Jesus died for their sins. And they now rest with Jesus.
They committed suicide despite their faith. But their faith in Jesus was intact and the Lord took them home to heaven. That is one context in which suicide happens. But my dear friends there is another. There are times that suicide happens because of unbelief. And here, in these words, we see how Satan likes to have this happen. There is a progression. First, a Christian commits a shameful sin. Second, instead of turning away from that sin and to Jesus, the person clings to it. The young man who is addicted to porn refuses to confess the sin and turn to Jesus and instead absorbs himself in that sin. The young woman goes to three years of college and realizes that her major is nothing she could ever do as a job, let alone a career. She flunks out of her classes. And then, with thousands of dollars of debt, she refuses to tell her family. Instead of confessing her sin and turning to Jesus, she turns to herself and wallows in her shame.
So it starts with a shameful sin. It leads then to despair. And here, when I say, ‘despair’, I don’t mean ‘feeling bad.’ I mean the Christian without any mental illness and without any heavy medication clings to his or her sin instead of their Savior. And eventually that leads them to commit suicide. And if they do this as an expression of and result of unbelief, they end up in hell for one reason: their faith in Jesus is gone.
So there are two contexts in which suicide happens. There are some Christians who commit suicide despite their faith. Their faith in Christ is intact. Their illness takes their life. But their Savior preserves their souls. And there are also those who commit suicide because of unbelief. What then is our reaction to all of this? These words here in Matthew lead us to turn away from our shameful sins and turn to Jesus. Just like Judas, Peter betrayed his Savior too. What is the difference between the two? Peter repented. And Judas had deep regret and remorse. Turn to Jesus. For there will be those times in your life when you will commit shameful sins—the sorts of sins you don’t want to talk about to anyone. And when those days come Satan holds out two temptations. First, he says, “what you did is so bad it cannot be forgiven.” Second, he says, “No one has done what you have done. You are alone and you deserve to be alone.”
But, my dear friends in Christ, what does your suffering Savior say? Jesus says, “I died for embezzlers, porn-addicts, drug-addicts and murderers. The sins you could never confess to anyone, confess to me, for I have paid for them and forgiven them with my own life.” And when Satan says we are alone, Jesus says, “Never will I leave you; Never will I forsake you.”
That it the message we need to preach—to ourselves and to others. The teenagers who are tempted to commit suicide—they need to hear those words of Jesus. Years ago, in Columbine CO, two teenage boys killed many people and then themselves. And in the locker of one of those boys was a journal in which he wrote that he was a product of evolution; his horrible urges were parts of his animal ancestors left over in him. If only he had heard and believed those words of Jesus, “I forgive your sin and I will never leave you.” Grown-ups need to hear these words. The highest growing age category of suicides today is white males in their 50’s. They lose their jobs and then can’t find new ones for months and even years. If only they knew the Father in Heaven who promises to give them their daily bread and forgive their daily sin. The Elderly need to hear this too. Every elderly person who has lost their spouse and home and then ends up in a nursing home ends up at one point saying, “I am useless and alone.” Then euthanasia begins to seem like a good idea. If only they would hear these words here about a Savior who promises to raise their lowly bodies to be like his glorious body. If only they heard once more those words, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
And so, these words in Matthew drive us to confront an uncomfortable sin. But these amazing promises drive us to a Savior who is full of comfort. He has promised that he takes away the sin of the world and he will never leave us. Turn to him. Amen.
1 “ⲙⲉⲧⲁⲙⲉⲗⲏⲑⲉⲓⲥ” (Matthew 27:3 GNT-ALEX)
Listen to Jesus.