What Would Drive Her Into The Desert? (Lent 2)


What Would Drive Her Into The Desert?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 “ⲗⲉⲅⲟⲩⲥⲁ” (Matthew 15:22 GNT-WAS)

3 “ⲕ̅ⲉ̅” (Matthew 15:22 GNT-WAS)

4 ⲩⲓ̈ⲟⲥⲇⲁⲩⲉⲓⲇ’

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

6 ⲕⲩⲱⲛ

7 ⲕⲩⲛⲁⲣⲓⲟⲛ

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

Jesus In The Desert

If You Have A Tempter, You Need A Savior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Much Are You Forgiven? (Ash Wednesday)


How Much Are You Forgiven?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 “ⲁⲙⲁⲣⲧⲱⲗⲟⲥ” (Luke 7:37 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲁⲫⲉⲱⲛⲧⲁⲓ” (Luke 7:48 GNT-ALEX)

People Are There For You (Transfiguration)


People Are There For You

Where would I have been? For many years when I was growing up, we used to take family vacations to National parks. And what everybody does in National Parks is take hikes. And every year, if you could stay on a busy trail long enough, you’d see parents who tried to do too much. They go out five miles on a hike, but then what do they have to do? They have to carry their children back on their shoulders because their little legs couldn’t travel that far. But where would those children be without their parents to carry them? It’s a wonderful fact that God places people in our lives who are there for us. In our words this morning from Matthew 17, we see how true it is that God provides people who are there for other people. We read: 1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”” (Matthew 17:1–4 NIV11-GKE)

God places people to be there for other people. But notice here in these words who it is who is there for whom? In these words Moses and Elijah are there for Jesus. They are there to encourage him as takes on the last and most important leg of his journey to the cross. Here is where it is good for us to remember that doctrine we learned about in our catechism days, called Jesus’ active obedience. Jesus in his active obedience keeps all the commandments we cannot. Jesus in his active obedience is tempted in every way just as we are but does not sin. And not only does he do this, he grows as a human being, so that in every age and every stage of his life, he keeps God’s commands for us, in our place. So here are Moses and Elijah commending, complimenting and even worshipping Jesus. You can just see Moses there saying, “So long ago, you commanded me to command a rock to pour forth water from a rock as a sign of your mercy, but instead, I made that preaching of gospel a preaching of law. I am not worthy, Jesus, but you are.” You can just see Elijah there saying, “So long ago Jezebel wrote me a note saying that by this time tomorrow you”ll be as dead as all the prophets of Baal who died in one day. And, instead of trusting in you, I ran as far and as fast as I could. I am not worthy, Jesus, but you are.”

Jesus received their compliments and commendations. He was built up by them. But here is where we see our sin. God provides people who are there for us. And what do our Christian family and friends do for us? Out of love for us, they correct us. And when they correct us, we face this real temptation to get angry. But just as real as that temptation is, there’s the opposite temptation. There is the temptation to disregard the compliments and commendations too. Years and years ago when I was in school, I had an english teacher who said that he went to a band concert. And after the concert was done, he went up to a young woman who had played her instrument very well. And he said to the young woman, “well done.” And, in response, she said, “It was nothing.” He got angry and said, “when I say you did well, I meant it. I know what I’m talking about.’” How much worse is it when we recognize that God is the one who gives to us our gifts.

And so, there is a temptation to sin by refusing corrections from from friends and also from refusing compliments from friends too. But look what our good and gracious God does. He provides people—people who are there for us. When we sin, especially when we sin like this, we need forgiveness. And through our Christians friends and family he forgives us. Yes, they remind us that our sins are forgiven. But they do even more, they actually forgive our sins as if God had forgiven them himself. In John 20, Jesus says: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”” (John 20:23 NIV11-GKE) And that’s how our good and gracious God provides people who are there for us. Yes, they correct and commend us. But even better than all of this, they forgive us. They point us to the Jesus we find in these words who was uplifted and commended by his friends, Moses and Elijah. But unlike us, instead of refusing their true commendations, he was encouraged by them.

Your good and gracious Lord provides people who are there for you. But as these words travel on, there is another way in which God provides people who are there for you: 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”” (Matthew 17:5–9 NIV11-GKE)

Our friends forgive us. But look who the person is that God’s word focuses in on. A voice came from heaven. And that voice was God, the Father. And so our friends forgive us. But notice what the Father does. He reminds us. He speaks from the cloud and says that Jesus is his beloved Son. And because he is his beloved son, he urgently asks us to listen to him. Peter, James and John were not able to do what the Father asked of them. Even though Jesus had spoken about what would happen to him—how he would suffer, be crucified and die, nevertheless, they did not listen to him. And so, they were completely unprepared for all the sad tragedies that were poured out on Jesus.

And can we say that we are any different? The Father says, “listen.” But how many sermons have we drifted in an out of focus in? How many times have we read God’s word as if it were a task to get done instead of God speaking to us by his Holy Spirit?

And that’s why it’s good news to learn that God provides people who are there for us. And in these words who is the one who is there for us? It’s the Father himself. And what does he do? He reminds us. All the truths in his word that lay dusty and neglected, he goes out of his way to remind us. What kind of Savior we have—one who was rightly and properly complimented and instead of refusing, Jesus received that compliment. And he did so in our place. That is what the Father reminds us of. And that is what he then urges us to listen to and gives us the ability to hear.

And so, my dear friends in Christ, rejoice. Just as Moses and Elijah were there for Jesus, so God has placed Christian friends in your life for you. But unlike with Jesus, the greatest gift they give you is the forgiveness that Jesus won for you. Your friends forgive you. And rejoice. For your Father reminds you again and again what kind of Son he has and the sort of Savior you worship. Amen.

Do Not Be Afraid (Epiphany 5)


Do Not Be Afraid

How could they not be terrified? When the Hebrews ran out of Egypt, they ran for their lives. Pharaoh’s army was behind them. And at least they had a path forward. Pharaoh and his army were behind them. But at least the way in front of them was clear. But then they came to the Red Sea. And whatever courage, strength and hope they had vanished. It’s important to start with this picture in our minds: Pharaoh and his chariots behind them and the Red Sea in front of them. For it’s only with that image burned into our brains that what comes next makes sense. In Exodus 14, God’s word tells us: 13 But Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation that he will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you must be quiet.”” (Exodus 14:13–14 CSB17)

In these words Moses tells the Hebrews who were terrified that there wsa no reason to be. And again, remember what the situation looks like: Pharaoh is waiting behind them to cut them down and the Red Seas is waiting ahead of them to drown them. He tells them to not be afraid. And you’ll notice the order in which these events happen. And it almost always follows this pattern in the bible: First, God’s people hear the message. Second, God’s people are delivered. Why doesn’t it happen the other way? Why aren’t the people delivered and then later on after that Moses says: “You see what kind of God you have?” The Lord shares his message first because he gives strength through his message. God’s word is powerful. It creates faith in our hearts to know who the true God is and trust in him. It conveys the forgiveness that Jesus won for us on the cross to us. It gives us strength to take our stand on God’s promises just as Moses told the Hebrews to so long ago.

And as we face these words today the challenge we face is that we know them here, in our minds, but we so often don’t know them here, in our hearts. And we see evidence of this in how we treat God’s word. When we encounter scary and truly frightful times in our lives, how do we deal with it? If you’re on a plane and you look out over the vast land that you’re flying over and you realize that if all those electrical devices up front gave out, you would crash into that ground, what is is ever so easy to latch onto for strength and courage? Statistics. “They say that it’s more safe to fly than it is to drive.’” You go in for a cancer screening, and you try to find solace and strength in the fact that your doctor or your hospital has a good track record in treating this type of cancer. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t do homework and find a safe airline and a safe hospital. But when fear threatens to take you over, wouldn’t it be so much better to remind yourself of what God speaks to you in his word? That’s what Moses does to his terrified congregation. He urges them to not be afraid. Then he follows that exhortation up with a promise from God’s word.

So, my dear friends in Christ, do not be afraid. For God gives strength through his message. But God also gives strength in a different way: 15 The Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to break camp. 16” (Exodus 14:15 CSB17)

God gives strength. He gives strength through his message. But he also gives strength to his messengers. The assembled thousands of Hebrews with Chariots behind them and a drowning Red Sea in front of them were not the only ones who needed strength and courage. Moses needed that strength and courage just as much as they did. So the Lord tells Moses, “Why do you keep crying out to me?”\footnote{”מַה־תִּצְעַ֖ק אֵלָ֑י“ }(Exodus 14:15 BHS-T)}} He deliberately comforts and strengthens the one who is delivering the message.

And the Lord reminds us of this because there will be a time when you will be the one who has to reach out with God’s message and give strength to others through God’s message. And you might be afraid. As a pastor it’s my calling and job to be the messenger. But there have been times it has not been easy. There have been times when I’ve been able with such strength and confidence to share God’s promises and truth to people amidst such hardships they faced in their lives. But there have been other times when I said the words but had so difficult of a time believing them. I remember visiting a shut-it my Vicar year month after month. This lady had severe health problems. And on top of that both her eye-sight and hearing were almost gone. And I would say, “The Lord has a plan and purpose for your life. Cheer up, the Lord will lift you up in his own good time.” And then I’d look at her and think to myself, “how can I believe the words I am saying”?

The Lord does not just give strength through the message. He also gives strength to the messenger. And a time will come in your life when you will have to be the messenger too. And in the words that follow we see how the Lord gives strength to us: 16 As for you, lift up your staff, stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 As for me, I am going to harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them, and I will receive glory by means of Pharaoh, all his army, and his chariots and horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I receive glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”” (Exodus 14:16–18 CSB17)

The Lord gives messengers strength by teaching them that the Lord is doing more than we can see. We can maybe do one or two tasks well at the same time. Our Lord is doing thousands of tasks at the same time. And he’s doing them all perfectly. And so we can go to the person who is fearful, grieving or even dying and tell them that there is so much going on here that we cannot see. We cannot juggle the universe and eternity. But our good and gracious Lord can. And after we are done preaching that sermon to others we can then preach the very same sermon to ourselves. So, the Lord lets us know that he is doing more than we can see. But there’s another way he gives us messengers strength: 19 Then the angel of God, who was going in front of the Israelite forces, moved and went behind them. The pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and stood behind them. 20 It came between the Egyptian and Israelite forces. There was cloud and darkness, it lit up the night, and neither group came near the other all night long. 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back with a powerful east wind all that night and turned the sea into dry land. So the waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with the waters like a wall to them on their right and their left.” (Exodus 14:19–22 CSB17)

These words are so beautiful to picture, aren’t they? The Lord goes in between the Hebrews and the Egyptians in this pillar of cloud. Then he cleaves the water in half and makes dry ground appear. And the Hebrews walk through on dry ground. But my dear friends in Christ, don’t miss the obvious and important point. What the Lord promises, he keeps. Moses tells the people at the beginning that the Egyptians they saw that day they would never see again. And the promise he made, he kept.

The Lord does the same for us today. One of the joys of being older is that you have a track record, a past to build on. You can ask yourself the question, “when I am full of fear, are there times in the past I can remember that I was terrified and then the Lord delivered me?” And the older you are, the more examples you can find where the answer is: “yes.”

So the Lord gives strength to the messengers. First, he does this by reminding us that the Lord is doing more than we can see. And second, the Lord reminds us of times he has keep his promises in the past.

And with all of this, both as ones who hear the message and as ones who share the message, instead of being afraid, we, like the Hebrews here can take our stand. For the Lord gives strength through his message. And the Lord gives strength to his messengers. Amen.