Vocation Is Serving
( Acts 16:11-15 )
Jesus’ Resurrection Is My Resurrection (Easter)
Jesus’ Resurrection Is My Resurrection
What is a mystery? A mystery is two things that don’t seem to go together, but yet do. Right before high school we moved to a new town. And in this new town there were kids who drove in from their ranches. And they wore cowboy clothing. And I always thought that was the greatest mystery. They wore cowboy boots, for example. Cowboy boots were initially made for riding on horses and walking on the plains and grasslands. And there my classmates were, getting out of their Ford F-350 ranch-rigs for class. That was a mystery. A few weeks ago I discovered another mystery. Years ago there were these clothing companies that got their name and their start by making high quality clothing for the outdoors. But now these clothing companies have become fashionable. So, on their discussion boards they talk more about whether this new shirt will match their sand-colored pants instead of talking about whether the shirt will last when it has days of backpack straps rubbing against it. A mystery is where you have two details that don’t seem to go together, but they do. This morning God’s word draws us into a massive mystery. At the end of 1 Corinthians 15, we read these words: “51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:51–53 NIV11-GKE)
In these words Paul tells us that there will be an amazing exchange. The decaying will be exchanged for the imperishable. The dying will be exchanged for the immortal. What is Paul speaking about? He’s speaking about our bodies. And there’s your mystery. God gave us our bodies. We get used to them. We learn to care for them and take care of them. We get attached to them. And yet, as Christians, what do we at the very same time learn to do? We learn to be willing to say “goodbye” to them. And Paul here gives us the reason why: The decaying gives way to the imperishable. The dying gives way to the immortal.
What good news this is. For when you begin to get a little older you realize that your body begins to decay. You go out for a jog and you can’t catch your breath like those in their 20’s. You get done running and it takes your body days, not hours to recover. You decay. But even more, you are able to die. On more than one occasion I’ve been at the bedside of someone who is dying as they said, “how did the years go by so fast and I got this old?” But the great mystery is that we can say, “goodbye” to the bodies we are so used to because Jesus will exchange our old decaying and dying bodies for new ones. And all of this is true because Jesus’ resurrection is now my resurrection. But God’s word has more to tell us: “54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54–57 NIV11-GKE)
In these words Paul gives us encouragements. Since Jesus’ resurrection is my resurrection, what is my reaction to this? Paul invites us to sing. Sing. Rejoice. Jesus resurrection is now your resurrection. But Paul goes into more detail, answering the question, why should I sing? The sting of death is sin. One of the challenges of preaching on Easter Sunday is that Easter preaching is built on top of Lenten Preaching. For this last entire season of Lent we have been preparing for this day by speaking about the real problem in our lives. The real problem in our lives is not too much snow. It’s not the high cost of housing or even renting a house. The real problem is my own sin. The real problem is that when I come into this world I don’t know who God is and I don’t want to know who God is. And I show God what I think of him all throughout my life. I lie. I cheat. I steal, or at least really want to. I hate. I think that I’m better than others. All of these sins I have and I commit, if not with my hands, then with my heart. And those sins demand payment and judgment. Who will right the wrongs I have committed? Our consciences tells us that what we have done is wrong and that we deserve the punishment of death and hell. But then Paul comes along in these words and tells us that death no longer has any sting. Why? Jesus’ resurrection is now my resurrection.
So my dear friends in Christ, on this day of victory, sing! Your voice may be rusty. And your voice may be out of tune. That’s ok. That’s why we have a beautiful organ and trumpet. They help. But sing. And sing with joy. For Christ’s resurrection is now your resurrection. Paul then ends with these words: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV11-GKE)
Christ’s resurrection is your resurrection. So sing. But here Paul adds this detail: Don’t just sing, also stand. The fact that Jesus’ resurrection is now my own shapes and structures every day of my life. When Paul says, “where O Death is your victory” that shapes and structures every day of our lives. It addresses all the “what ifs” that crush our hearts and keep us up at night. What if I don’t have any friends? Jesus is your friend and he proves it by rising from the dead. What if I don’t find a spouse? Jesus has risen from the dead, and even if you fly solo throughout this life, know both that Jesus is here with you now, and this life here now is just a blink of an eye to having our brand new bodies in heaven. What if I don’t get the right job? Jesus’ resurrection is now your own. If he has taken care of the greatest problem of your life: death and hell, won’t he also give you work for your hands and shelter for your head? It may not always be fun and fulfilling work. But just think of the work waiting for you in heaven. Why? Because Jesus’ resurrection is now your resurrection. What if—what if I grow sick, or frail, or get old, or die? Then Jesus will take you to be with him and when the time is right he will exchange your decaying and dying body with an upgraded version of your own body.
My dear friends in faith, Jesus’ resurrection is your resurrection. Sing this truth. But don’t just sing this truth here on this day. Also, take your stand on that truth every day. Then, what Pauls says here will be true for you and already is. Then your labor out there in every day life is not in vain. But notice the context in which it is not in vain. Our english versions say, “your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV11-GKE). A better translation would be, that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.1 Your Lord Jesus has risen from the dead. So sing on this day. And take your stand on the fact that Jesus’ resurrection is your resurrection every day. Amen.
1 “58 ⲟ ⲕⲟⲡⲟⲥ ⲩ̈ⲙⲱⲛ ⲟⲩⲕ ⲉⲥⲧⲓⲛ ⲕⲁⲛⲟⲥ ⲉⲛ ⲕ̅ⲱ̅·” (1 Corinthians 15:58 GNT-ALEX)
Jesus Prepares A Feast For You (Maundy Thursday)
Jesus Prepares A Feast For You
If you care, you prepare. When we used to live in Pennsylvania, Karin and the girls would travel over to visit her parents a number of times throughout the year—especially during the summer. I was left then to hold down the fort at home. But when I would be able to come over and visit, Karin’s mom would make Rouladen for me. Let me describe what Rouladen is. Rouladen is a meal made in southern Germany. It is braised beef wrapped around choice cuts of bacon, surrounding a dill pickle spear. And at the end, there is generous portions of gravy to go along with the Rouladen and dumplings. And, with so much goodness packed together at the same time, as you can well imagine, it tastes amazing. But to me, that’s not the most amazing part. The most amazing part is that I know that my Mother-in-law cares for me because of the extravagant amount of time it takes to prepare such a feast. If you care, you prepare. For a number of verses here in Luke 22, that is what we see in Jesus. We see how much he cares for his disciples and for us today in the extravagant planning and preparation he goes through for his disciples to prepare a feast for them. In Luke 22, we read: “7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” 9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. 10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.” 13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.” (Luke 22:7–13 NIV11-GKE)
Look at the extravagant planning and preparation Jesus goes through to provide this feast for them. And, as we read these words we see why he went through this extravant planning. Jesus says that he thoroughly desired and really wanted this feast.1 But then we have the next question, don’t we: Why does he want this feast with them? And in the words that follow, we find answers to that question: “14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”” (Luke 22:14–18 NIV11-GKE)
Twice in these words what does Jesus emphasize? This Holy Supper that Jesus has with them will be finally fulfilled in heaven. This very earthly feast he was having with them connected them with a perfect feast he promised to have with them in heaven. Jesus wanted them to know that what made this feast special and meaningful was not the quality of wine they drank or the stories they told around the table. It wasn’t the texture of the bread or even the emotions in their hearts. What made it meaningful is the fact that this supper connected them to a perfect feast in heaven when the time was right.
And if we think about it even a little, that’s the problem with feasts. We can plan and prepare. But the taste of the food lasts a little while and we have to move onto with our lives or onto the couch to take a nap. The great problem we face and temptation to sin we have when it comes to this feast of the Lord’s Supper is that we try to make it meaningful instead of letting Jesus make it meaningful. And we face temptations to do this in so many ways: Did we buy the right bread or wine to use in the Lord’s Supper? When the wafer drops to the floor or the chalice drips down the side of the cup and we panic; when the pastor says, “take, drink” when you’re standing there with the wafer in your hand; When the feast is done and the pastor can’t get the fancy white cloth to cover all the silverware; When you leave and go to your seat and you think to yourself, “was I sad enough” or “was I happy enough?” All of these are examples of ways we can be tempted to sin for one simple reason: In all of these ways we are the ones who are trying to bring meaning and forge fulfillment in this feast. But, my friends in Christ, Jesus is the one who brings fulfillment to you in this feast. And when we do this we turn the amazing gospel of this sacrament into law. For it is no longer Jesus’ work that he does here. Instead, we face this huge temptation to make it our work.
And that’s why Jesus prepares this feast for you. He wants you to know that this feast is a premise and a promise of fulfillment to come in heaven. There we will be joined with him and all his apostles and disciples. There the wine will taste perfect. And there might even be Rouladen there too. Jesus prepares this feast for you. And it’s a feast finally fulfilled in heaven. But there’s more. We read: “19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:19–20 NIV11-GKE)
There, waiting for us in heaven is the fulfilled feast. But what is there right here and now in this feast? Jesus says it so clearly. Here in the Lord’s Supper there really, truly is Jesus’ body and blood along with that bread and wine. And that makes us as a very important question. Martin Luther, in our small catechism, asks the question:
What blessing do we receive through this eating and drinking?
That is shown us by these words, “Given” and “poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Through these words we receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in this sacrament. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
If you get Jesus’ body and blood, what then do you also get? You also get forgiveness, life, and salvation. What amazing thought! What an amazing promise. For all the times we tried to force meaning where there wasn’t and forge fulfillment where Jesus alone only could, there Jesus is to give us his own body and blood to deliver forgiveness to us. Every time we were overly picky about the kind of bread or wine; every time we gasped with grief when a wafer dropped or the wine dripped; every time the pastor spoke the words for the wine when he was giving the bread; every time the pastor couldn’t cover all the silverware at all or soon enough—all those times we tried to forge fulfillment in the Lord’s Supper instead of letting Jesus do that word, here in our hands and here in our mouths Jesus gives to us his own body and blood. And since he promises to us that there is not just bread and wine here, and that there is also his body and blood, we also have forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
And so, my friends, from here on out, Jesus invites you to be just as eager to receive this supper as he is to prepare and provide it for you. For in this supper is a feast. It is a feast that is finally fulfilled in heaven. It is a feast full of forgiveness now. Amen.
1 “ⲉⲡⲓⲑⲩⲙⲓⲁⲉⲡⲉⲑⲩⲙⲏⲥⲁ” (Luke 22:15 GNT-ALEX)
Cry Out (Lent 6—Palm Sunday)
Processions need preparation. Many months ago I thought it would be a good idea—it would be fun to expand our processions in our congregation to not just include the children, but also us adults. But then the joy was quickly replaced by the work of preparing. There was first of all the planning to answer the question, “why?” And so, with sermons, bible studies, emails, and other avenues, we talked about how processions are nothing new to our society and nothing new to the Christian Church. Christians have joined together in processions on special Sundays for thousands of years. And on Palm Sunday we have the privilege to not just picture Jesus riding into Jerusalem in our minds. But we also can picture that by walking with our own two feet. So there’s the preparation of teaching. But there’s also the preparation of the logistics—All the what and what if sorts of questions. And I thank you all for your willingness to spend the time learning a way of worship that is both very old and common throughout Christian Churches, but very new to our own church. Processions need preparation. But, as we look back to the first Palm Sunday, our procession here this morning was far less involved than Jesus’ own procession. Luke gives us the details in the 19th chapter of his gospel: “28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.” (Luke 19:28–36 NIV11-GKE)
Look at all the details. What we need to see here are promises and prophecies. The Lord had made many promises about what would happen on this day. And he also made many promises on how these events would happen. And here we see the amazing care Jesus has in arranging and preparing this procession. And Luke carefully records this to let us know that, even if we do not have control of every situation, Jesus does. But, as these words travel on we see that there are more reasons why Jesus carefully plans and prepares this procession: “37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”” (Luke 19:37–38 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus prepares this procession so that God’s people would cry out in praise. The first way that they cry out in praise is to the Christ, the anointed one. Notice the two amazing titles they use for Jesus. They call him “the King.” Jesus was the son, the descendent of David. Jesus was the true King of Jerusalem. This was his city. This was his home. The second title they call him is the “Coming One”. This is a title we are not as used to. But it was one they knew very well. And all of these were powerful titles that these disciples cried out.
So they cried out to the Christ. But they also cried out to the heights and heavens. Why is it that they are crying out to the heights and heavens? There is where God was. Praise has a direction. Hands are lifted up to heaven. Here voices are lifted up as the people cry out in praise.
And here is where we ask the important question, “why is this so important?” This event is so important because there is nothing better or more beautiful in the ears of our Father in heaven than to hear his people praising him. For the fact that that has happened shows that a miracle has taken place. People do not naturally praise God. By nature, as we all come into this world, we all do not know who the true God is. And the little we do know about God, we hate. And so, when the Holy Spirit creates faith in us through is word, a miracle happens. And when we cry out in praise, our Father sees this and rejoices in this. And so, on this day, sing your “hosannas.” On this day, call Jesus by the names and titles he likes to be called by. Cry out in praise. But, my friends, that’s not the end of these words. In our final few verses, we read: “39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”” (Luke 19:39–40 NIV11-GKE)
These words take a strange turn in these last two verses. In the beginning words the people cry out in praise. But in these words, Jesus threatens to have the stones cry out. Now, my dear friends, here is where I invite you to listen closely so that you will know what these words mean and what they do not mean. When I was a child I thought that these words meant that God does not like to be alone. And so, if we didn’t exist, he would make stones alive so that they could praise him. That’s not what is going on here. Here in these words Jesus is reaching out to the Pharisees to call them to repentance. Here we are taken back to a very Old Testament way of speaking. You remember back to the very beginning when Cain killed Abel. Do your remember what the Lord said? He said these words: “9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:9–10 NIV11-GKE)
Notice the point of these words. Cain had committed murder. The preaching in this passage is that there are some sins that are so grievous that they demand justice and punishment. And these sins are so violent and so grievous that if there is no one there to act as a witness, then the lifeless parts of creation will then be called on as witnesses to testify against the sin so that there can be vengeance. So, in Genesis, the Lord calls on blood as a witness against murder. Here on Palm Sunday Jesus calls on stones as witnesses against unbelief. The Pharisees who had more of God’s word at their fingertips and in their hearts and minds than so many others should have known that Jesus was the Christ. They should have been there with palm branches in their hands and praise on their lips. But instead, the only thing they had to offer was unbelief. And the heartless way they treated Jesus demands justice and vengeance.
What a strange place to end. Why couldn’t we have just said our “hosannas” and gone home in joy? Why do we need to hear of stones crying out for judgment? These words are a present and powerful reminder to us that all the days we are on this earth we will need to hear both law and gospel, both sin and grace. There will always be this need to crush our sinful nature with threats of vengeance and punishment. And my dear friends, there will always be the need to comfort our souls with the reminder of why Jesus came to Jerusalem at all. In one of our hymns, we sing:
Abel’s blood for vengeance Pleaded to the skies.
But the blood of Jesus For our pardon cries.1
And so, my dear friends in Christ, in humility be ever so willing to loudly and joyously cry out in praise to Jesus. But also, in humility, be ever so willing to let even the stones cry out in punishment against your sinful nature. For there will be a day when we are in heaven where there will be no stones to cry out against us. Instead, there will only be people to praise our King Jesus along with us. Amen.
1 CW 103:4
What If You Don’t Know? (Lent 5)
What If You Don’t Know?
They needed to know. During the Civil War it was well-known that one of the brightest and most brilliant generals was Robert E. Lee. He was a commander of the armies of the South. He was brilliant because he could gather data and then quickly go into action. But his strength was also his weakness. For, towards the end of the war he ended up sending his troops into battle without enough data. And, in one battle, the soldiers wrote their names on their backs. They wrote their names on their backs because they knew more than their general did. They knew that, as bravely as they fought, they wouldn’t be coming home. So, they put their names on their backs so that, the people the next day would know who they were, and their family members would eventually know what happened. All of this they did because they needed to know. These are the sort of actions people take to communicate when there are no GPS devices and no cell phones. Communication was slow and it wasn’t always reliable. But my friends, what if you don’t know? What if you don’t know all the details and all the context? What do you do then? This morning Jesus teaches us a parable and a lesson. And the parable is about one who does not know. In Luke 20, we read: “9 He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out. 13 “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 “But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?” (Luke 20:9–15 NIV11-GKE)
I these words Jesus introduces us to an owner of a vineyard. He rents out the vineyard to tenants. And when it’s time to get some proof that the tenants are actually doing their work, he sends a servant to get proof that they have been faithful in taking care of the vineyard. And here is where the parable gets interesting. The servants beat the first servant. The owner is many miles away. There are no cell phones. There’s no facebook updates. There’s nothing. He does not know why they beat his servant. So what does he do? He puts the best construction on the situtation. And he sends another servant. They reject him and send him away. The owner is frustrated. But he works hard to be optimistic. So he sends a third servant. The tenants beat the servant up and threw him out.1
Now, here at this point, you would think that the owner would begin to realize that he can be as optimistic as he wants, but it will not change reality. These tenants are bad people. But does he? No. He is still optimistic. And he makes the final, tragic mistake. He sends his own son because he’s convinced that they will respect him. And to no surprise to any of the people who were listening to Jesus, when the tenants see the son, they kill him so that they get his inheritance. And Jesus ends the parable with the question, “What will the owner do?” The fancy word for this sort of a question is a “deliberative subjunctive.” In other words, this is not a passing question, a rhetorical question that is said for emphasis. No, instead, this is a question that Jesus wants the people of Jerusalem and us to today to really think about and think through.
What do you do if you do not know? The owner of the vineyard did not know, so he went way beyond the call of duty. He concluded that wicked people were actually good. Isn’t our temptation that, when we do not know, we put the worst construction on it? Martin Luther in our catechisms puts it this way:
THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him or give him a bad name, but defend him, speak well of him, and take his words and actions in the kindest possible way.
Our temptation to sin is that, when we do not know, we arrive at the worst conclusion. When we do not know because we do not talk to people, we fill in the gaps and our sinful nature gets the best of us. And sometimes even when we do talk to people this happens when we misunderstand the words that people use. Years and years ago there was a man who had been a member for years. The man was quite wealthy. But every Sunday he would come to church and put a very small amount of money in the offering plate. This happened week after week and year after year. And finally there was an elder who told the pastor that it was wrong that the man came year after year and gave so little when God had blessed him with so much. The pastor asked the elder if he had ever met the man’s wife. The elder confessed that he hadn’t. So he went and visited the man and his wife. And then he understood. The wife hated Jesus and the church that her husband went to. She said that all the church wanted was their money. So the man came to church, Sunday after Sunday, wanting to give more. But because of his wife’s hatred of the church, he was only able to give what he could get away with. The elder came back to the pastor and told him that now he understood.
What do you do when you don’t know? There is a huge irony in these words that Jesus speaks. In all the other parables Jesus speaks, the people don’t know where Jesus is going because they haven’t heard the parable before. This parable is different. And we see that from the words that follow: “16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!” 17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: “ ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” 19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.” (Luke 20:16–19 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus asks that question he wants them to think about and think through: What should the owner do? And when Jesus gives the answer, that he will come and kill the tenants in righteous judgment, their response makes no sense. The say, “May this never be!”2 Their response seems strange, at least, until we realize that they have already heard this parable. This parable was 800 years old by this point. We read this parable already in our first lesson. They said, “May this never be,” because they knew that they were the tenants. They were the ones deserving of judgment. Jerusalem was ripe to be punished. And Jesus was the stone that would crush them.
What do you do when you do not know? The people of Jerusalem did know. They knew the point of the parable. But as we close these words, what amazes us is that Jesus too knew. Jesus knew that every hour he spent in his own city of Jerusalem brought him closer to being put to death outside the walls just like the son in the parable. And what amazes us is that he knows all of this and yet does it anyway. He does this to prove their worthiness of being punished. But he also does this to pay for their sins and our today too. Jesus keeps coming back to Jerusalem so that he can die outside of Jerusalem. And that sacrifice pays for all the times we thought we knew the truth when we didn’t even speak to people. That sacrifice pays for all the times we went so far as to actually speak to someone and then completely misunderstood what they were saying. His sacrifice pays for that too. And his sacrifice paves the way for the Holy Spirit to teach us through his word the good and proper path.
So, my dear friends in Christ, what do you do when you don’t know? Cling to Christ who knew it all and was sacrificed for you. And, day by day, wrestle and struggle by the power of God’s Holy Spirit to take people’s words and actions in the kindest possible way.
1 “ⲧⲣⲁⲩⲙⲁⲧⲓⲥⲁⲛⲧⲉⲥⲉⲝⲉⲃⲁⲗⲟⲛ·” (Luke 20:12 GNT-ALEX)
2 “ⲙⲏⲅⲉⲛⲟⲓⲧⲟ·” (Luke 20:16 GNT-ALEX)
Jesus Is Used For Us (Midweek Lent 5)
Jesus Is Used For Us
Oh, one more thing. I haven’t worked in a normal office setting for many years. But I remember Fridays. I remember those few hours from noon to quitting time, waiting patiently or not so patiently till it was time to punch out and go home. But I also remember living in fear of the boss stopping by about an hour before quitting time. And he’d say those ever-fearful words, “Oh, one more thing.” And with those words we knew we were delayed from going home. Or even worse, it was one of those times when we’d have to come in over the weekend. When we would hear those words, “Oh, one more thing,” we would wonder when use became abuse. Nobody likes to be used. And yet that’s what we see in these words this evening. We see people who have power using people to keep their power and, if they possibly can, gain more power. In Luke 23, we read: “1 Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.” 3 So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. 4 Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” 5 But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”” (Luke 23:1–5 NIV11-GKE)
It embarrassing to see someone being used. How much more is this true when it is our Savior being used. In these words we see Jesus as a sort of hot potato that no one wants to actually treat as he actually is. The leaders of the Jews condemn Jesus and dump him into Pilate’s lap. And Pilate has no idea what to do with Jesus. And he says to Jesus, “You are the king of the Jews.”1 And Jesus doesn’t help him very much—at least in the way Pilate wanted to be helped. So Jesus says in response, “Says you.”2 Pilate has a problem with Jesus because he refuses to look at Jesus as a person. Instead, to Pilate, Jesus was just a problem. And what do you do with problems? You solve them. You only spend as much time as you need to get rid of the problem. And to give him incentive, he’s trying to figure out how to keep these angry Jews from punishing Pilate. So Pilate uses Jesus. He uses Jesus so that he can escape the anger and punishment of the Jews. But Pilate isn’t the only one. We read: “6 On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7 When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12 That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.” (Luke 23:6–12 NIV11-GKE)
Herod too wanted to use Jesus. But instead of using Jesus as a way of dodging the punishment of the Jews, Herod wanted to use Jesus as if he were a side-show act at a carnival. He had heard that Jesus had performed many miracles. So he wanted to see a miracle. He didn’t want to listen to Jesus speaking about who he truly, actually was. All he wanted was to be entertained. And maybe, just maybe he would see a little of God’s glory coming out of this powerful prophet. But he didn’t want to listen to the prophet. And he didn’t want to worship Jesus as God even if he saw his glory. This is important for us to recognize. For this is not the only time that we meet Herod. In the book of Acts there was a time when Herod put on a royal robe and made a speech to a large crowd. The crowd said that this was not the voice of a man, but instead the voice of God.3 There, at that moment, the Lord sent an angel and struck Herod down and he died. The Lord took this sudden and severe action because Herod did not give glory to God.
Jesus’ enemies used Jesus. And that is shameful and embarrassing. But even worse, we are willing to use Jesus too. How often, like Pilate have we been willing to use Jesus to avoid punishment. Each of us has this sinful nature and this sinful voice inside of us that likes to be forgiven, but not so that we can run away from sin. Instead, we like to be forgiven so that we can run back to that sin. And are we really any different than Herod. How many times have there been people who have complimented us. And instead of giving glory to God, we inside of our hearts and brains pat ourselves on the shoulder and say to ourselves, “Yes, indeed, I’m pretty awesome, aren’t I?”
Jesus’ enemies aren’t the only ones who use Jesus. We do as well. But what about Jesus? How does Jesus feel about all of this using of him? First, Jesus sees the sinful ways we have used him. And in silence he carries all those sins all the way to the cross and dies for them. And with that death our sins are paid for. But there’s even more to speak of here. Not only is Jesus used for us, but he also invites us to use him. No, he does not invite us to use and abuse him by choosing, loving, and living in sin. Instead, he invites us to make use of him. Think of all the beautiful invitations Jesus speaks to you in his word to make use of him still to this day. Jesus gives to us this invitation: “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.” (1 John 1:8–9 NIV11-GKE) Jesus openly and freely invites us to make us of him by confessing our sins to him and he will purify us. What about this invitation: “6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6–7 NIV11-GKE) Make use of him. Don’t just throw all your sins on Jesus, also throw all your cares, concerns, and anxieties on him. For he cares for you.
Nobody wants to be used—for bad. But my dear friends in Christ, Jesus wants to be used. He wants to be used as the one and only one who can take away your sin. Jesus wants to be used as the one who can give grace to the humle and lift away our burdens. So then, take him up on that invitation. Make use of him. Amen.
1 “ⲥⲩⲉⲓⲟⲃⲁⲥⲓⲗⲉⲩⲥⲧⲱⲛⲓ̈ⲟⲩⲇⲁⲓⲱ̅” (Luke 23:3 GNT-ALEX)
2 “ⲥⲩⲗⲉⲅⲉⲓⲥ·” (Luke 23:3 GNT-ALEX)
3 Acts 12:21-23
I Will Praise You, Lord (Lent 4—Lætare)
I Will Praise You, Lord
You can’t take it back. As humans grow, how they act changes. When we were in Psychology class in college we learned about this concept called, “object permanence.” When a child is tiny “peek-a-boo” is a great game. The parent disappears from reality and ceases to exist. And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, the parent comes back. But eventually the child thinks to himself or herself, “wait a minute. What if the person continues to exist but I just can’t see mommy or daddy.’” And when the child figures this out, “peek-a-boo” is no longer a fun game anymore. At every stage of life of a person’s growth there are these changes. At the Junior High stage, the child begins to figure out that authority figures don’t always practice what they preach. Years ago there was a young man in the eighth grade who was at this stage. And on that day his teacher told him that his habit of not paying attention was getting in the way of his grades. The teacher said this in front of everyone. And the young man, without thinking, said in front of the other students, “It could be worse. I could be a teacher.” And as soon as he said it, he realized he could not take those words back. The teacher was so angry that he took the young man outside the class into a separate room and asked him one question: “why?” Why would you say words those only purpose was to hurt and harm? The young man was silent for a while. But finally he apologized for what he said and was ashamed of what he said. The teacher accepted his apology. And in the next days, the young man discovered that the teacher was not at all angry with him at all. The teacher even went out during recess and played basketball with him and his friends. Who would have thought that words that demanded anger in response could be forgiven and finally forgotten? But it happened. That’s the picture that Isaiah paints for us this morning. In Isaiah 12, we read, “In that day you will say: “I will praise you, Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me.” (Isaiah 12:1 NIV11-GKE)
The people of Israel had, as a people, abandoned the Lord. They had followed other gods. They had abandoned the real and true God they had, the Lord. They could not take back their actions. And the results of their actions were so real that they as a people went off into exile. But yet, these words begin with praise. The Lord invites Israel to praise the Lord. The Lord invites every one of them to use that first person pronoun, “I.” I will praise, you Lord. And what follows it two reasons why they are invited to praise the Lord. First, each of them can say, “I will praise you, Lord” because the Lord pays for their salvation. We read: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.”” (Isaiah 12:2 NIV11-GKE)
Notice how strong these words are. The Lord doesn’t just have salvation. The Lord is salvation. But my dear friends in Christ, salvation is not this empty idea and a word without meaning. They had committed real sins against their real God. How can God so suddenly go from extreme anger to real comfort and compassion? The answer to that question is the word, “context.” The Lord doesn’t want us to read Isaiah 12 by itself. We read Isaiah 12 in the full context of Isaiah 53. The Lord can say, “I am not angry anymore.” The Lord can say, “I am your salvation” for one real reason: the Lord pays for our salvation. When we read, “Surely God is my salvation;” (Isaiah 12:2 NIV11-GKE), we should understand, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4 NIV) The Israelites could know that their rebellions were paid for because blood, innocent blood was spilled. Every sacrifice pointed forward to that once sacrifice that would pay for sin forever. Salvation was not just an idea. It was also an action.
The same is true for us. Each of us, whether it’s our terrible two’s or our Junior High years, each of us has not just questioned authority, but even rebelled against it. And if this is true about our earthly authorities, how much more is it true for our God above? And yet, each of us can say “Surely God is my salvation;” (Isaiah 12:2 NIV11-GKE) because all those Old Testament sacrifices pointed ahead to Jesus who would bleed and die for me. Salvation isn’t just an idea. It’s also an action. And with that action God’s anger is taken away. And for that reason, God invites us to say, “I will praise you, Lord.” But he also gives us another reason: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:3 NIV11-GKE)
Salvation isn’t just an idea. It’s also an action. Good Friday is all about action. There, on that cross, we see the tears in Jesus’ body. And we see the tears that stain his face. That’s where salvation is paid. But how is it provided? In other words, what good is Jesus’ salvation if it stays there on the cross? The tool, the vehicle that the Lord uses to deliver this forgiveness to us is his word. And there’s this beautiful picture in these words. It’s the picture of a well. How often do we need water? The answer is: “a number of times each day.” And to have a well right next to you in the Old Testament where there is no indoor plumbing—that’s an amazing picture. But my dear friends in Christ, the Lord is not speaking about water here. He’s talking about salvation. He’s talking about the Holy Spirit working through God’s word.1 He’s talking about the fact that when you were two years old or twelve years old was not the only time you have rebelled against the Lord. We continue to do this. And as we sin, see our sin, and repent, there is God’s word, like a well. And we go to it again and again to receive forgiveness and salvation.
And now we see how real this invitation is. The Lord invites us to say, “I will praise you, Lord.” For the Lord pays for my salvation. And the Lord also provides my salvation every day in his word. But how these words end is very beautiful: “4 In that day you will say: “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. 5 Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. 6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”” (Isaiah 12:4–6 NIV11-GKE)
This chapter starts out with the word, “I.” The words end with the words, “us” and “You” (plural). I remember years ago I was on vacation and went to a busy church. And there was a mom with her little boy. And the boy had this book that he loved. And in the middle of the service he would walk around and turn around, letting everyone know how amazing this book was. The mom tried to calm him down, especially during the sermon. But this book was just that awesome, he had to share it with all those around him.
We find the same picture in these words in Isaiah. The Lord invites us to share this with the world. He invites us to invite others to praise the Lord. But the why is the real issue. We invite all those around us to say, “I will praise the Lord” because he pays for my salvation on the cross and because he provides my salvation in his word. Amen.
1 John 7:37-39
Jesus Is Disowned For Me (Midweek Lent 4)
Jesus Is Disowned For Me
There once was a group of guys who went camping. And, since it was cold outside they wanted to start a fire. So each of them went out into the darkness in the forest to find wood. There were for guys who went to find wood. And three came back. And the three were wondering what happened to the one gut who was not there with them. Well, the fourth guy had stumbled through a bunch of bushes in the darkness. The bushes scraped up his clothing and his face. But finally he gathered enough sticks and came back to the campsite. When he got there there was already a fire blazing. So he got close to the fire and set down his branches. And when he came into the light the three guys began to laugh at him. They asked him if the reason he was so late was because he was putting make up on his face. He didn’t know what they were talking about until he put his hand up to his face and realize that he must have walked through some berries as he was making his way through the bushes. And his cheeks were extra red. There is a risk in coming into the light. If you come into the light the people see the stains on your skin. Tonight in this part of God’s word, we see Peter come into the light. But what is exposed is not the stains on his skin, but instead, the stains on his soul. In Luke 22, we read: “54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” 57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. 58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. 59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” 60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” ” (Luke 22:54–60 NIV11-GKE)
In these words Peter wants, needs to follow Jesus. And so he follows from a distance. But he’s not close enough to see what is going on. So he gets closer and closer. And he would have been safe if only he stayed in the darkness. But he was cold. So he wanted to warm up. So he made the choice to get close to the fire. But where there is a fire there isn’t just heat. There’s also light. And when he came into the light, people could see him. And even worse, they could see the stain on his soul. And what follows is an interrogation. There’s a small group of people there gathered around the fire. And after a little while, there’s a servant girl, probably a teenager there. She accuses Peter of being one of the ones who was with Jesus. Peter is afraid of what she says because he wants to find out what it going on with Jesus. But he doesn’t want to be put on trial and then be put to death like Jesus is. So, the fear inside of him is replaced by anger. He lashes out against the girl and says, “no!” He denies knowing Jesus. He, with his words, disowns Jesus. And, sadly, this same event happens three times in a row. One man repeats what the servant girl said. Then another man asserts the same accusation with even more severity. And, if the accusations against Peter were more and more severe, Peters denials were more and more severe.
As we look at what Peter did, so many hundreds of years later, we are ashamed of what Peter did. Not once, but three times he denied even knowing Jesus, let alone following him. But, my dear friends in Christ, these words are not written just for Peter. These words are written for us too. For Peter isn’t the only one who has denied Jesus’ name and disowned him. We too have done the same—even thousands of times in our lives. Sure, the ways we denied Jesus are more subtle. But they are real sins. Martin Luther in his description of the second commandments writes these words:
THE SECOND COMMANDMENT
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God that we do not use his name to curse, swear, lie or deceive, or use witchcraft, but call upon God’s name in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.
How many times have we used God’s name to curse, to swear, to lie, and deceive others? Each of those times we denied Jesus. How many times should we have called on God’s name in whatever trouble we were in, but instead calling on God’s name to ask for help is what we did when every other plot and plan inside of us fell apart. Peter had three massive betrayals. But we have had thousands of betrayals where we misused God’s name or didn’t use his name at all when we should have. Peter denies Jesus three times. But what happens next: “60 Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:60–62 NIV11-GKE)
Martin Luther once said that most amazing display of the gospel is found in the garden of Eden after Adam and Eve disown the Lord. In Genesis 3, does what is shocking and astounding. It’s amazing that the Lord appears in the garden at all. He could have destroyed Adam and Eve and started over. He had every right to. We see the same care and compassion here in Jesus. Jesus has his hands full when he is on trial. But, out of love for Peter, he looks over to him across the courtyard precisely when the rooster is crowing.
But these words are even more amazing than that. For Jesus doesn’t just look at Peter. Jesus also look into Peter.1 When Jesus looked at Peter his gaze bored and borrowed deep into his heart and soul. His gaze asked one question, “I have only been kind to you. So why did you deny me and disown me?” That’s what drove Peter to leave and weep bitterly.
And my friends, doesn’t Jesus do the same with us? Jesus approaches us with his word. And that word seizes our consciences. It shows us where we should have trusted in God’s name and used God’s name for good and not for bad. But we did the opposite. And that same word creates inside us true hatred of our sin and true repentance in us.
But my friends, Jesus did not leave Peter there weeping in the darkness of the night. And does not abandon us either. Jesus was disowned by us. But if we look ahead just a few hours we see just the opposite. The rooster crows and a new day begins. Good Friday arrived. And that was the day on which, instead of Jesus being disowned by us, Jesus was disowned for us. On the cross Jesus said those amazing words, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).” (Matthew 27:46 NIV11-GKE) Jesus was disowned by us. But Jesus was disowned by his Father above. And he was disowned for us. Because of this we can know and trust that all the thousands of times we used, abused, and abandoned God’s name are forgiven. Because Jesus was disowned for us, instead of hiding in the dark, we can step into the light and confess our sins. Because he was disowned for us, we know our sins are forgiven. Amen.
1 “ⲉⲛⲉⲃⲗⲉⲯⲉⲛⲧⲱⲡⲉⲧⲣⲱ·” (Luke 22:61 GNT-ALEX)
Who Repents? (Lent 3)
Beware of “Gapers Block.” About a decade ago I heard a phrase I had never heard before. The phrase was “gapers block.” Gaper’s block is when you see an accident on the side of the road. And what is your reaction? You slow down. Well, on an interstate where people are used to going 70 or 80 mph, when people slow down to 40, the traffic can back up. And when that happens, we tell ourselves that we’re slowing down to be safe. But let’s face it, there’s also that curious part of us that wants to know what’s going on. The problem with gaper’s block, of course, is that if you’re looking off to the side of the road, where are you supposed to be looking? As they told us in driver’s ed. class: “keep your eyes on the road.” These words this morning start out with a sort of gaper’s block. They start out with a distraction from the main point that Jesus wants them to focus on. In Luke 13, we read: “1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”” (Luke 13:1–5 NIV11-GKE)
So there were people who came to Jesus with this odd and cruel story. Pontus Pilate, the governor of that area had done something shocking and stunning. There were people bringing animals up to the altar to sacrifice them. In some way that we aren’t told human blood got mixed in with the animal blood. Did Pilate’s soldiers cut down someone else and then that blood spattered onto the animals? Did Pilate’s soldiers cut down people as they were offering up their animals so that, there on the altar, was animal blood and the blood of those who were offering up those animals? We aren’t told those details. But we do know that is was bloody and it was wrong. And isn’t the same true today? If you buy a newspaper today or turn on the news, do you hear headlines like this: “Woman comes home after hard day of work” or “Dad finally learns how to change diaper?” No, instead you hear about that which is bloody and wrong. And when we hear about it, we can obsess over it.
Notice where Jesus takes the conversation. They had already decided that they knew the answer to the why question. Why did they suffer like this? They had done something worthy of dying this way. So, to them, Jesus says, “Unless all of you repent, you all will perish.”1 And just to make sure that they understood him correctly, he makes the same point with a different example. There was a tower people were building. And the tower fell on them. And the people concluded that it fell on them because they had done something worthy of being punished. And again, Jesus told them that unless they all repent, they will perish.
Now, my friends in Christ, there are two points to take home and ponder here. The first is that tragedies happen. And when they do, God and God alone is the only one who knows all the reasons why it happened and what he is going to do with the situation. And the second is this: Tragedies out there do not give me the right to ignore what is happening here in my heart. For each one of us has this real temptation to conclude that I have the right to not repent. We can say in our hearts that there are those people out there. Those tragedies happened to them because they are so bad. And we say this to avoid the bad that is in our own hearts. Or a little closer to home, we can say to ourselves that we do not need to repent because what that other person did to me is so much worse than what I did to them. To all of these made-up-rights Jesus says, “repent or perish.”
But my dear friends, see where Jesus goes from here: “6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ 8 “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”” (Luke 13:6–9 NIV11-GKE)
Who is the one who repents? I am the one who repents. And in these words, if we ask the question, “why do I repent,” we find the answer. Jesus tells a parable. And here is where, whether you know it or not, each of us automatically chooses which character we are in the story. So who are you in this story? Are you the owner that hates waste and yearns for justice and fairness? Are you the gardener who loves his plants? No, my dear friends, each of us is the fruitless fig tree. What we see in these words is the heart of God and the struggle in his own heart over each one of us. He sees our sin and out of justice and fairness wants to cut it out like it’s a cancer. But he also, out of mercy for us, loves us and cares for us. And so what does he do for each of us? He is patient with us. He cuts digs away the excuses and made-up-reasons why we do not need to repent. He gives us the nourishing promise of forgiveness that Jesus died for our sins. And then a miracle happens: we repent. And Jesus tells us this parable so that we could go back into our memories and find examples where we were stubborn sticks in the mud and God still gave us repentance. God still forgave us. And that memory of the past gives us every reason to repent now.
And so, my dear friends in Christ, the main point in these words is not that we are supposed to pry open God’s hidden will with a crow bar to find out how God deals with tragedies. No, instead, the real issue he wants us to focus on is the answer to the question: “who repents?” He urges each one of us to say to our Triune God above, “I repent.” And, my good friends, here is where it is good to remember what repentance is. In the words of our catechisms we memorize these words:
First: What is Confession?
Confession has two parts. The one is that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution or forgiveness from the pastor as from God himself, not doubting but firmly believing that our sins are thus forgiven before God in heaven.
We focus in on the fact that repentance is seeing and admitting our sins. And this is important. But there is that other part to repentance. That other part of forgiveness is rejoicing that our sins are forgiven. There is such joy in knowing that when we confess our sins, God really, truly, and actually forgives them. He forgives them and forgets them. He gives us peace and joy, where before there was anger and bitterness. And so, my dear friends in Christ, in your own soul whenever you ask the question, “who repents,” knowing the promises of forgiveness Jesus speaks here, let your answer always be, “I repent.” Amen.
1 “ⲉⲁⲛ ⲙⲏ ⲙⲉⲧⲁⲛⲟⲏⲥⲏⲧⲉ ⲡⲁⲛⲧⲉⲥ ⲟⲙⲟⲓⲱⲥ ⲁⲡⲟⲗⲉⲓⲥⲑⲉ” (Luke 13:5 GNT-ALEX)
Jesus Prays For Me (Midweek Lent 3)
Jesus Prays For Me
Prayer is powerful When I was a child we had catechism class at 8 AM on Saturday mornings. And let’s just say, that at that time of the day, I wasn’t always at my best. So there weren’t too many thought-provoking questions I asked our pastor. But others did. I remember a fellow student ask this question once, “If God knows everything we are going to say and has it all planned out, then why should we pray?” And I thought to myself, “oooh, good question.” The pastor said that it was true that God knows every word you are going to say even before you open your mouth to say it. But he promises that he will hear your words. He promises that he will listen. He promises that he will answer your prayer according to his good and kind will. He told us that it ends up being a mystery. On the one hand, God has all events all planned out. On the other hand, in prayer, out of kindness to us, God bends his own will to meet our own. On that day, maybe for the first time, we began to see how powerful prayer actually is. This evening we see how powerful prayer is too. Only in these words the emphasis is not as much our prayers. The emphasis is Jesus’ prayers. In Luke 22, we read: “39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”” (Luke 22:39–42 NIV11-GKE)
These words take place on Holy Thursday night. They have had a large feast. They have had wine. It’s really late at night. And they have already had a long day. The only item on Jesus’ disciples is to get some sleep. But Jesus give them this invitation: “Pray that you will not fall into temptation” (Luke 22:40 NIV11-GKE) Then, in what follows we see a very clear and specific way that they and we too today can fall into temptation. Jesus offers up a prayer. He has a two part prayer. First, he says, “take this cup away from me.” Often in the bible, the phrase “drinking a cup,” simply means “to finish what you start.” Jesus knows that in a short amount of time he will be betrayed. And when that begins he needs to faithfully follow that path all the way to the end—all the way to crucifixion on Calvary. But isn’t what he asks for strange? He’s been telling his disciples that that is what he came here for, to suffer and die for them. It almost seems as if it’s a sinful prayer, against his Father’s plan and Jesus’ own purpose. But that is precisely why this prayer is so amazing. He prays and pours out his thoughts to his Father even though they are messy. Here Jesus is being tempted in every way as we are. But where we sin, Jesus did not. And that is shown by the words in the second part of this prayer. He says, “yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NIV11-GKE). Jesus put his Father’s will and work above his own.
And this is where we pause and compare Jesus’ prayers with our own. How often could we say of our prayers that instead of saying, “thy will be done, “ we say, “My will, not thy will be done?” For example, when the Lord chooses to bring suffering into our lives in all its various forms. We pray that God would take it away, and he doesn’t. We get frustrated and angry and say, even if it’s in our own heart and never reaches our lips, “My will, not thy will.” Or we could say the same when it comes to silence. We pray and it seems like nobody up there is listening. If only God would do what we want, right?
That’s where the prayer that Jesus offers up tonight is so powerful and precious. For Jesus’ prayers cover up all those prayers I prayed when I said or meant “my will, not thy will be done.” But these words continue: “45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” 47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”” (Luke 22:45–48 NIV11-GKE)
Notice how these words continue. Again Jesus begins with an invitation. Jesus invites his disciples to not fall into temptation. In the first part the temptation was to fall into the temptation of not letting God’s will be his will. Here the temptation is to not pray at all. And isn’t this such a temptation for us? Think in your life of all the opportunities you had to pray but didn’t. You were too busy. You had other priorities. You forgot. You thought you could do with your own hands only what God could do with his own will. I had a professor once who invited us to go to our church council and say, “I want 10 hours a week off to do nothing but pray so that our church would grow.” And when the church council says, “You need to get out there, do more visits, fill out more reports and attend more meetings,” then remind them of the book of Acts, where the apostles appointed deacons so that the disciples could devote themselves to prayer. That is our great sin sometimes, isn’t it? Sometimes we don’t pray because we overlook and forget it. Other times we don’t pray because we conclude that it might not really work.
And that’s why what Jesus does here is so important. Jesus prays for me not just when I do pray. Jesus also prays for me for all those times when I don’t pray. For all those times when I concluded that prayer was something I could forget or something that didn’t actually do a whole lot—those sins are forgiven by Christ and covered up by his own prayer.
The last detail to add here is to mention here at the end of the sermon the promise that the Holy Spirit gives to us in prayer. Jesus prays for us. And that means that all our sins of either mis-praying or not praying at all are forgiven. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t just deliver that forgiveness to us through his word. No, he also teaches us to pray properly. He teaches us to continually pray that his will would be done. He teaches us to take advantage of prayer, trusting that it is powerful. And so, my dear friends in Christ, Jesus prays for us. Jesus prays for us when we do pray. And Jesus prays for us when we do not pray. Amen.
I Must Press On (Lent 2)
I Must Press On
Take this cup away. It’s the season of Lent. And as a boy, year after year, during our midweek lent services we would hear about Jesus praying alone in the garden of Gethsemane. And one of the strangest expressions Jesus used was when he told his Father, “take this cup away.” I always thought it was weird, since from everything I could tell, he wasn’t even holding any cup. It was only years later, when I had grown up, that I realized that the expression of “drinking a cup” basically meant, You finish what you start. There are some tasks or projects that you take on and there’s no looking back. There is no pit stop. There is no pull off lane. You have to press on. And that’s precisely the point that God’s word makes to us this morning. In Luke 13, we read: “At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”” (Luke 13:31 NIV11-GKE)
Notice here in these words how Jesus is opposed. He is opposed sneakily and yet forcefully. The Pharisees do not say that they want to put Jesus to death. Instead, they say that Herod wants to put Jesus to death. It reminds me of when I was a child in 7th grade science class. My public school science teacher knew that I was a Christian. So he aske me once, “Steve, how do you know? How do you know that when it says that God created the world in 6 days a day wasn’t longer than 24 hours? We all know that one day is a rotation of the earth on its axis. What if it took millions of years for the world to rotate. That could be one day, right?’” At that time I didn’t know what to say in response. But I knew two things. First, it was sneaky. Second, it was very forceful. The same is going on with Jesus in these words. How then does Jesus respond to these words? “32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! 34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”” (Luke 13:32–35 NIV11-GKE)
Notice how Jesus responds. Jesus presses on. Jesus does not give into fear. He does not lash out. Also, he does not give out. Instead, he patiently presses on. And that makes us ask the vital question: Do we press on? When each of us faces attacks either from the outside of the church or even from within those that call themselves, Christian, do we press on? Do we patiently, pleasantly, and persistently answer them, speaking the truth in love as the bible asks us to? Sadly, if your Christian life is anything like mine, you face the temptation to stop. Instead of pressing on, you stop. First of all, you stop to lash out. Many years ago there was a vicar—a pastor in training. And as part of his vicar duties he would visit the hospital to see if any of his members where there. When he got there the lady at the front desk introduced him to the pastor from the other Lutheran church in town. The pastor was a lady and definitely held to views of the bible that were different than that vicar’s. So what did he do? He panicked. He lashed out against her, accusing her of being a false teacher. And many of the words that the vicar said were true. But what was the problem? He didn’t speak the truth in love. Or to put it in the context of these words, instead of pressing on, he stopped to lash out.
But the opposite can also happen. Instead of pressing on, we are tempted to stop and give out. For a year, I was a resident assistant at our WELS campus ministry house at Mankato State. And there I had the great privilege of getting to know many WELS students from around the US. But, as part of my work, I had to call the students on campus, letting them know what opportunities to grow in God’s word were there for them at the campus ministry center. On any given week there were about a dozen students who came to the campus house. But there were over 200 people on my calling list. And it makes you wonder how many of them grew up in good strong Christian families and churches. And then they went to classes at MSU and for the first time had their faith challenged so that it might be crushed. And it makes you wonder how many of them gave in. Instead of pressing on, staying in God’s word, they gave out.
Each of us faces the same sorts of temptations, don’t we? We face the temptation to lash out and the temptation to give out. And that’s why these words here are so meaningful to us. Jesus doesn’t fall into either trap. Jesus presses on. For all the times we lashed out and gave out, Jesus spoke the truth in love. Jesus presses on. And notice where pressing on led to. Jesus says, “surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” (Luke 13:33 NIV11-GKE) Jesus knew what lay at the end of this trail. His own death was what lay at the end. And he did this all for us, to pay for the sins of the entire world. Jesus presses on.
But my dear friends, Jesus isn’t the only one who presses on. He invites us too to press on. For, as the bible says in our second reading from this morning, “For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” (Philippians 3:18 NIV11-GKE) And since there are many who live as enemies of Christ, we face opposition throughout our lives. And with that fact firmly set in our minds, Jesus invites us to press on. But he invites us to press on with the following facts in our minds too:
- Jesus promises to us that our sins are forgiven. There is this fear that comes from failure. When we face opposition, we can lash out or give out. And that demoralizes us when we face the same opposition again. Know that your are forgiven. Jesus perfectly pressed on in your place.
- But my dear friends, also know what happens when you do press on. God gives unity, true unity. How wonderful it is to know that any one of us can go down to the road to one of our neighboring sister congregations and there receive the Lord’s Supper, knowing that you confess the same faith as your brothers and sisters in Christ down the road. That’s why we press on. For that is a unity to hold onto.
So my dear friends in Christ, continue to press on. When you face obstacles and opposition, press on. Jesus forgives the times we lash out and give out. And he gives us every reason to continue to press on. Amen.
Jesus Is The Least And Last For Me (Midweek Lent 2)
Jesus Is The Least And Last For Me
That should never have happened. Many years ago I remember seeing two little boys get into a fight on a playground. They were pushing. They were shoving. They were hitting. The mom quickly came up. And she held them apart and said, “You two are brothers. You are brothers. You are family. No one gets you like your brother. And no one understands you like your brother.” I sat there looking at the boys. And the look of hatred was quickly replaced with shock and then shame. They could see that that fight should never have happened. This evening we see a similar fight the disciples had with each other. In Luke’s gospel, in chapter 22, we read these words: “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” (Luke 22:24 NIV11-GKE)
When we read this we wonder how in the world this conversation happened at all. Did they compare their sermons, their miracles, how many demons they drove out? Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t give our minds enough time to ponder the possibilities. Instead, he gets us right to the point. We read: “Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles Lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.” (Luke 22:25 NIV11-GKE)
There is no more crushing correction than to be compared to the bad guy. Gentile kings were legendary for their power, their selfishness, and their cruelty. And here we have an example. Step 1: The Gentile kings would take your money by force. Step 2: By force then those same kings would misuse your money and then make you call them “benefactors.”1 What does “benefactor” mean? It means, “do-gooder.” Listen then what Jesus tells them next: “26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?” (Luke 22:26–27 NIV11-GKE)
Not so with you! That’s the statement of fact that Jesus tells his disciples. What does being a grown-up look like? What does being a leader look like? It means continually being willing to be at the end of the line instead of the front. It means serving those at the table instead of sitting at the table. It reminds me of the Supreme Court. Whenever there’s a new member of the Supreme Court, that person then has to do service tasks for the rest—buying donuts, getting coffee. And whoever is the newest yearns for the day when he or she is done serving others like that. Jesus says to each of us, “not so with you.” Jesus puts us on this world to serve others. And he lets us grow up and even become leaders not so that we would go to the front of the line, but instead, that we would continually, voluntarily go to the end of the line. And here is where we see our own sin, don’t we? We are sinners who continually absorb the sinful world around us. We want to be at the front of the line. We want to sit at the table, not serve those at it. And, no doubt, when Jesus said this to his disciples, they saw their own sin and repented of it. But listen to what Jesus says next: “Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:27 NIV11-GKE)
If you could boil down Jesus’ life to one word, this would be a good choice, wouldn’t it? Jesus’ entire earthly life was service. Jesus took on human flesh and blood to serve his parents and his God above. Jesus grew up not to be freed from service, but to take on even more service. Jesus became least. Look at Good Friday. There is no lower position than a criminal crucified. Jesus became the least. But he did so for me. Jesus became the last too. When it came to sleep, Jesus was the last one to sleep. When it came to food, he was the last one to eat. All of this he did for me. That’s what each of those disciples could say. That’s what each of us can say today. Jesus became the least and the last for me. And that’s why this time of Lent is filled with pain. For a little more than normal we see our own sin and its cost. But it is also filled with such joy, isn’t it? For here we see how Jesus became the least and last for me. These words conclude this way: “28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:28–30 NIV11-GKE)
Look at the amazing grace displayed. Grace is God’s undeserved love toward us who don’t deserve it. The same disciples who didn’t want to serve those at the table now get to sit at Jesus’ table in heaven. The same disciples who yearned to push themselves to the front of the line, now by grace, are placed there. And isn’t the same true for us? The Christian student who despises her teacher then grows up and, by God’s grace, gets to serve others by becoming a teacher. The boy who falls asleep during the sermons and resists reading God’s word at home then, only by God’s grace, gets to preach sermons and read God’s word at home. The children who resists their parents so mightily in their teenage years grow up. And by God’s grace, that amazing undeserved love, get to have the undeserved privilege of having their own children. And finally, at the end of all their lives as Christians, Jesus then, in an unexpected act of grace, gathers us all believers to him in heaven, but not to serve at the table. Instead, we get to sit at the table. All of this is ours for one simple reason: Jesus is the least and last for me. Amen.
1 “ⲉⲩⲉⲣⲅⲉⲧⲉ” (Luke 22:25 GNT-ALEX)
But For Us Fights The Valiant One (Lent 1)
But For Us Fights The Valiant One
There is a need for justice. When someone cuts you off in traffic; When someone bullies you on the playground; and most of all, when the name of our Lord God is dragged into the mud—for all of these times that hurts our souls and cause us pain, there needs to be justice. This morning we hear about justice. And we hear about what Godly people do about justice. In 1 Samuel 17, we read, “4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him. 8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.” (1 Samuel 17:4–11 NIV11-GKE)
The context in these words is war. In ancient battle they would gather all their troops against each other. Often there would be a valley in the middle. And on the high ground on one side and on the high ground on the other the troops would assemble. And there they would stay since each side did not want to fight up hill. What you need in these circumstances is someone to pick a fight. In these words you meet that man. His name is Goliath. The man is almost 10 feet tall. He is a champion among champions. He was the one who, day after day, started to pick a fight. And when he stood up in the middle of the valley, the Israelites on the other side would tremble. What they needed was a valiant one. They needed a valiant soldier to stand up to this 10 foot tall enemy. And, as we follow these words, we soon meet one. His name is David. He goes out to visit his brothers at the battle line. And one by one, he invites the soldiers to go out against the Philistine and fight him. And one by one, they decline. Finally David is brought before king Saul. And so, we read the words which follow: “32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” 33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.” 38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine. 45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” 48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.” (1 Samuel 17:32–40, 45–49 NIV11-GKE)
Finally then, justice is served. Everyone that day was looking for a warrior, a champion, who would be valiant for them. And finally on that day they found one. David became for them what everyone deep down wanted to be, but could not. These words make us want to pray to be David. They make us want to stand up to all the Goliaths in our own lives—the times people cut us off, bully us, and even insult our Lord God.
What if, my friends, I told you that there is more going on in these words? I mention this because, for years I would go to Sunday School as a child and the conclusion I reached was this: David trusted in the Lord, therefore you, little Stevie, go out and trust the Lord too. But my dear friends, David isn’t the valiant one in these words. The Lord was the Valiant One. And if we go back and read these words a little closer we see this. David talks to Saul and he says the Lord delivered him from the jaws and paws of bears and lions. And when he stands up against the Philistine what he says sounds like no movie that I’ve ever watched. Instead of talking about how amazing he was, he talks about the Lord—how he goes against this Philistine in the name of the Lord. And before it began, it was over.
As we look back at these words, it’s hard not to see our own sin and weakness. For there are so many areas in our lives where Jesus is the one who has to stand for us, in our place. And instead of trusting him, we trust in ourselves. We cannot convert ourselves to faith. We cannot take away our own sin. We cannot change our thoughts, words, and attitudes. We cannot change anything in our lives—at least for good. All this is in the hands of Jesus. Jesus is the real and true Valiant One.
And in our gospel for this morning we see such and amazing example of this don’t we? Again and again and again, Satan is hurling one lie, one trap, one deception after another at Jesus. But Jesus neither gets too hot nor too cold. Jesus never says too little nor too much. He perfectly quotes God’s word and perfectly applies God’s word.
And all of this is such good news for us. For all the times we thought we had to have the perfect word or response—and failed. For all the times we thought we could get through this world by raw power or pretty persuasion. For all the times we thought we were the ones who needed to be in control; For all the times we tried to be the Valiant one, Jesus is the Valiant one in our place. He is the one who fights for us.
So my dear friends in Christ, when you read these familiar words of David and Goliath, they are not written for perfect people who never mess up. They are written for us; for all the times we have not let Jesus be our Valiant One in our place. When you go home tonight, go home content. Go home content knowing that because Jesus is the Valiant One, when God looks at you he does not see the times you should have stood up and didn’t. He does not see the times you pushed your Savior out of the way to take control, only to mess it up. God sees his sinless Son in your place. For for us fights the Valiant One. Amen.
Who Is The Dreamer? (Epiphany 7)
Who Is The Dreamer?
Joseph’s dreams were different. Each of us have dreams. But how many of us can say that our dreams carry the wonder and weight of God’s will? We can joke sometimes, pretending that our dreams are God’s will. But we know it’s not true. We might say, “My dear wife, I had the dream last night that I had a brand new BMW motorcycle. I think we both know what this means, don’t we? It’s God’s will for me to have one.’” We can laugh at this and joke about it because we know our dreams are nothing more than dreams. But Josheph’s dreams were different. Joseph’s dreams carried all the weight and wonder of God’s will. God gave to Joseph this amazing gift to have dreams that were far more than dreams.
And so, from early on, Joseph was the dreamer. And those in his family knew it. His brothers hated him not because his dreams were just dreams, but instead because there was more to his dreams. And deep down inside they knew it. And they hated him for it. His brothers hated him for it. And deep down, his father feared him for it.
His dreams carried the weight and wonder of God’s will. And as a result, he was The Dreamer. And very soon he learned a powerful lesson. His dreams brought him disaster. His brothers hated him so very much that they sold him off into slavery, wanting to put him to death, but not wanting to get their hands dirty. That’s what happens when your dreams carry the weight and wonder of God’s will.
But his dreams didn’t just bring disaster for himself. His dreams brought disaster for others too. Joseph is in Pharaoh’s prison. And there he meets two men. He meets the cupbearer and the head-baker of Pharaoh. He tells these men the meaning of their dreams. He tells the cupbearer that the meaning of his dream is that Pharaoh would “lift up his head.”1 and he would serve Pharaoh again. Then the baker says, “ooh, it’s my turn,” expecting some good news. Instead, Joseph tells the baker that Pharaoh would lift the bakers head up too—yes, indeed, he would lift his head up off his body when he is beheaded. And what shocks us is that there is no hesitation at all when Joseph says this.
This drives us to ask the question, why. There was no hesitation when Joseph spoke of his dreams because in the months and years in the cold darkness of prison a powerful truth: His brothers accused him of being the “great dreamer.”2 But really, truly, Joseph realized that he wasn’t the dreamer at all. God was the dreamer. God had a dream for Joseph. God’s dream was to give Joseph this great amazing gift of sharing his own dreams and then to have him use that gift. But instead of using the gift, Joseph abused that gift. The selfish teenager had a dream or two and went around telling everyone he could that all of them would bow down to him. How selfish and childish he was! But God had more dreams for Joseph. His dream was to bring Joseph to forgiveness. In that cold prison Joseph had time to see his sinful abuse of his gift. And he had time to see that he was forgiven for that sin. God brought him to forgiveness. And with that then he was able to forgive his hateful, murdering brothers. We see that in these words. We read: “3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” (Genesis 45:3–5 NIV11-GKE)
My dear friends in Christ, where’s the pain and punishment? Oh my dear friends in Christ, if this were a movie there would be a long section where Joseph gets back and gets even with his evil brothers. And then there would be a long speech about how they got what was coming to them. But look here at these words. There is not even a hint of revenge and retribution. How can that be? God had long before this brought Joseph to forgiveness for abusing his own gifts. And as a result, long ago Joseph had forgiven his brothers. God brought Joseph to forgiveness. But there’s even more in these words: “6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, Lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. 9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me Lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’ 12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.” 14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.” (Genesis 45:6–15 NIV11-GKE)
God brings Joseph to forgiveness. Then he brings him through forgiveness. And on the other side is thankful service. Joseph zealously and faithfully uses his gift of dreams to serve his God and save his brothers.
There is so much more we could say this morning about what is going on here in these words. But, for this morning and for this time, let’s pause and apply these words to us in our lives. Who is the real dreamer? It wasn’t Joseph. It was his God. And the same is true for us. God is the real dreamer in your life. And just as he had dreams for Joseph, he has dreams for you. And it follows the same path for you as it did for Joseph. He gives you gifts, and sadly, instead of using those gifts, you abuse those gifts—and so do I. A little boy and his sister grow up together. And like it is with so many families, they get into fights. But the boy grows bigger and stronger. And when they are fighting he pushes her and hurts her. Then that there is that fear-filled moment when he realizes that that he used the gift of strength as an abuse of strength. A little girl grows older and she realizes that she guide a conversation and even gain friends by telling jokes. Then, without thinking about it, she makes fun of her friend, and from then on she loses that friend. God gave her a gift. And she abused that gift.
But then after that, what is God’s dream and desire? He brings us to forgiveness. That descendent of Joseph was born in Bethlehem. Jesus grew up and became strong in all of our gifts. But instead of abusing those gifts, he used them perfectly in our place. And then the gift of his own life he gave up to pay for our sins on Good Friday. God brings us to that forgiveness and convinces us that that forgiveness is ours.
But he goes even farther. He doesn’t just bring us to forgiveness. He also brings us through forgiveness to service. With joy in our hearts at knowing that the times I have abused the gifts given to me are forgiven, we then pick up those gifts and use them. We use them just as Joseph did, with zeal and joy.
That, my dear friends in Christ, is why God is the dreamer. For he doesn’t just dream. His dreams carry all the weight and wonder of his own will. What he dreams he is able to get done. So this morning go home in peace. Go home in peace knowing that we might dream. But God is the real dreamer. And his dream for each of us is to bring us to forgiveness and then bring us through forgiveness to service. Amen.
1 ”יִשָּׂ֤א“ (Genesis 40:13 BHS-T)
2 ”בַּ֛עַל הַחֲלֹמ֥וֹת“ (Genesis 37:19 BHS-T)
Jesus Speaks An Unnatural Truth (Epiphany 6)
Jesus Speaks An Unnatural Truth
Sometimes the truth is unnatural. And there are truths in our lives like that, aren’t there? Take, for example skiing. If you’re looking down a steep slope, common sense and gravity would teach you that you need to stand up straight, or else you’ll fall down the mountain. But when you’re skiing, the opposite is true. When you’re skiing down that mountainside your balance and focus is down the hill. And if your balance and focus is not down the mountain, then you’ll fall. It’s the truth. But at first, is seems unnatural to us. And the same is true in our every day life. Jesus speaks to us the truth. But often it is an unnatural truth. We have an amazing example of this in Luke 6: “17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. 20 Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” (Luke 6:17–21 NIV11-GKE)
Look at what we see here in these words. This is what life looks like after the fall into sin. People are poor. People pine away for food. People are sad. People are diseased. And all of those are effects of the fall into sin. And if we ask the question, “how does Jesus speak to us,” notice the first answer: Jesus comforts the afflicted. But how he does this is amazing. For he speaks to us truths that seem unnatural to us. When it comes to pain, hunger, sadness, and disease, one of the conclusions that we can so very easily reach is that, if Jesus loves us, he will give us joy instead of pain. But here, in these words, notice how he speaks. Jesus promises to give us joy amidst pain, not joy instead of pain. Our life right here and right now is not ‘your best life now.’ Instead, it’s your best life in heaven. What hope these words give to us. When we are sad or sick, diseased or despairing, we know that Jesus is in control and the same Savior who saved us from our sins will also preserve our lives.
Jesus comforts the afflicted with an un-natural truth. He gives us the promise of joy amidst pain instead of joy instead of pain. But he also gives us another promise. As soon as Jesus creates faith in our hearts, we yearn to speak the truth of what God’s word says. But what happens when we do this is that we speak the truth in love, and then the world around us shuts us down and condemns us. They make fun of us, insult us, and get angry at us. And we make the common sense conclusion that what we are doing is wrong. Instead of sharing our joy, we shut it in and keep it secret. But then Jesus comforts us with this amazing unnatural truth. We might conclude that it’s better to say nothing than to say something and be persecuted. But what does Jesus say? We read: ““Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.” (Luke 6:23 NIV11-GKE)
What an unnatural way to speak. Rejoice? Leap for joy? Look at the pictures that Jesus uses. Look at that phrase, “leap for joy.” I’ve married a sizable number of couples over the years. And I remember years ago a wedding I had. And the bride had invited her sister to be a bridesmaid. And the sister whom she had not seen in a long time showed up. And the proper bride with proper decorum lost all of that. She leaped for joy and ran out and gave her sister a huge hug. That’s the word that Jesus uses her. But notice how unnatural the context. When we speak the truth in love and are persecuted, they we leap in joy. Why is it that we are able to do this? For that’s the same way they treated the Godly prophets in the past. Ahah! There’s the joy. When we face persecutions because of our faith we recognize and realize that there’s nothing new under the sun. We stand in a long line of people who were persecuted because of the truth.
So my friends, when you say that you believe in the Triune God and are persecuted, then rejoice. When you say that you believe that all of God’s word is true and are persecuted, then laugh. When you say that God created us as male and female and are despised, then be content. When you say that baptism saves and are made fun of, then jump for joy. For they treated the prophets the same way.
Jesus speaks an unnatural truth. He comforts us with the unnatural promises of joy amidst pain and joy amidst persecution. But, as these words continue, Jesus speaks in an entirely different way. We read: “24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24–26 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus speaks an unnatural truth. First, he comforts the afflicted. But second, he afflicts the comfortable. A good friend of mine has a dog. And when the snow came down in the winter night, what did the dog want to do? More than anything, the dog wanted to go out and play in the back yard in the snow. So my friend let the dog out. And after about 5 minutes there was the dog, staring in the patio door window. So he let the dog in. And then, as soon as the dog is inside, what does the dog want to do? The dog wants to go back outside into the darkness. Isn’t the same true with us. Jesus frees us from pain and persecution, and what do we do? We forget about him. Jesus frees from our sin. And what do we conclude? We conclude that he freed us for our sins. And Jesus shares with un an unnatural truth. He afflicts the comfortable. If you think that your full belly and full bank account gives you the right to forget Jesus and reading, learning, studying and growing in God’s word, then you can have your joy here on earth, but not hereafter in heaven.
So, my dear friends in Christ, what do we do with all this? First, we confess our sins. We confess the times we wanted to find joy instead of pain, instead of how Jesus says our life here is going to be: joy amidst pain. We confess the times we wanted to be let into the light and then, just as soon as we were brought into the light, we ran out into the darkness. And our Savior Jesus is faithful and forgiving. He forgives us and watches over us. He shares with us this unnatural truth: He gives us joy amidst pain. And he gives us joy amidst persecution. Amen.
Whom Shall I Send? (Epiphany 5)
Whom Shall I Send?
Power is impressive. One of the privileges of working in the garden is that, after dad was done tilling the soil, we got to go out and play in the dirt. We got to take out our Tonka trucks. One day, instead of toy dump trucks, we saw real ones. They were paving the road in front of our house. So what do you do when that happens and there’s nothing else to do? You go out and watch. I just sat there for many minutes watching the big machines at work. But then, there was the back-hoe. I remember seeing it dig a trench. And that huge arm swung out and around. And even though it was a safe distance away, for the first time, I could imagine what that machine could do if it swung out to me. Power is impressive. But when you begin to see that that power can be used against you, it becomes terrifying. In our gospel this morning Peter came in contact with true power as Jesus performed a miracle and it was terrifying. This morning in our first lesson we see much the same pattern. In Isaiah 6, we read: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1 NIV11-GKE)
All of God’s word deserves our attention. But there are some that deserve our imagination. Here in these words Isaiah sees the Lord. The real and true God that we worship—the same God that we all have wanted to see with our own eyes—that is the God that revealed himself to Isaiah in this amazing imagery. Isaiah saw heaven itself and God seated there in heaven. But then what happens? “Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.” (Isaiah 6:2 NIV11-GKE)
Isaiah sees angels. And these unique kind of angels, called Seraphim, were flying around the throne with two of their wings. But what were doing with the others? With two pairs of wings they covered their faces. And with two others they covered their feet. There’s a visual sermon there. Even though these angels are powerful and without any sin, nevertheless, when it comes to the Triune God, there are facets of their God they are not allowed to see and there are places they are not allowed to go. And as Isaiah sees this he begins to put the pieces together. If holy sinless angels cannot see some facets of God and if there are places they cannot go, then what about me? And as this thought is swirling around in his mind, he sees and hears what happens next: “3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:3–4 NIV11-GKE)
The angels continued to sing this triple song of praise to the Triune God. And as they sang, the temple began to come apart. It’s important if a wall shakes and shatters. But when a load-bearing wall begins to fall apart, it begins to be scary. Bit by bit, moment by moment, Isaiah begins to stack all these details up and they add up to a very scary and fearful conclusion. There are facets of God that even angels cannot see. There are places that even angels cannot go. If they are holy and cannot go there, then what about a guy like me who is not holy? And God’s power is truly powerful. He could destroy anything he wants to. And that drove Isaiah’s mind and heart into a very specific direction. We read: ““Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”” (Isaiah 6:5 NIV11-GKE)
Isaiah shouts out that he is a man of unclean lips.1(Isaiah 6:5 BHS-T)}} Here there’s so much that needs more time and attention in explaining. When Isaiah says, “unclean,” he does not mean “a little dirty.” Today we’d use words like viral, infectious, contagious. Notice how he speaks. He says that his people have infected him with their sins and he has infected them with his own sins. And my dear friends in Christ, what do you do with infectious diseases? First, you have to quarantine them. Second, you need to eradicate them. That’s why Isaiah says, “I am ruined.”2 (Isaiah 6:5 BHS-T)}} That is Isaiah saying, “I am as good as dead; I am as destroyed.” Because the God that his holy three-times-over cannot be in contact with infectious sin.
Now, my dear friends in Christ, before we look back at Isaiah and make fun of him concluding that he was over-reacting and being melodramatic, realize that he saw every detail clearly. And where he was is where we need to be this morning. Years ago I met a young woman who was terrified of being married. She was terrified because she knew that along with marriage usually comes children. And there was the terror of having a child and not knowing what to do with the child. But there was more to it than that. She was terrified that her son or daughter would catch her sins. She knew herself well. And she knew that if she had a child she would teach that child her own sins. Whether actively or passively, directly or indirectly, she would teach her child how to sin. She saw how infectious and contagious sin actually was. She saw clearly what Isaiah saw here. And what she saw and what Isaiah saw, we too need to see this morning. We need to shout out with Isaiah, “Woe to me! I have infectious words that flow from contaminated lips.” But what happens next? “6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”” (Isaiah 6:6–7 NIV11-GKE)
What do you do with contagion and contamination? First, you quarantine it. Second, you burn it away. And usually that means burning the person along with the contagion. That imagery of burning is precisely and exactly what the Lord uses for Isaiah’s benefit. One of these powerful angels goes to the fire and takes one of these burning coals. And the same infectious, contagious lips that deserve to be destroyed are now burned and cleansed. In a miraculous way, instead of destroying both the person and the contagion, just the contagion of sin is taken away.
And my dear friends, what happened to Isaiah has happened to you. You deserved to be thrown into hell forever where both your body and your sin would burn forever. For what has come out of your lips has infected others. And you have allowed what others have said to infest your heart. But instead Jesus suffered the punishment and torments of hell in your place. But that salvation didn’t just stay there on Good Friday on the cross. No, instead, God came to you with his word, delivering that forgiveness to you, so that just the sin is removed and atoned for. And after that you are left standing. These words end in a very beautiful way: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”” (Isaiah 6:8 NIV11-GKE)
The Triune God burns away Isaiah’s sin. And then what happens? The persons within the Trinity speak to each other. There is this great and glad task they have. They want someone to go out and share this forgiveness with others. To begin with Isaiah would have shouted, “do not ever send me!” Now he says, “send me, send me!” He does this for one simple reason: those who are forgiven are glad to share that forgiveness with others.
Let’s travel back in a sermon a little. What would you say to the young woman who was terrified to have children because she was terrified of handing those sins down to her children? You would tell her what the Lord told Isaiah: Your sins are forgiven. Your contagious words are burned away and you are left still standing, forgiven. You would tell her that there is no person better qualified to raise children than her. But that worthiness does not come from her. It comes from pointing her children again and again to the cross where salvation was won and to the word where that forgiveness is delivered to us. You’d tell her that every day her child will see you, a mom, who is full of contagious and infectious sins, who takes those sins to Jesus. There can be no better parent than that.
So we too, can and should start out by saying, “Don’t dare send me.’” Because our sins are infectious and contagious. But, let us end this morning by speaking just as Isaiah did: “Send me, send me!”
The Lord Sends Us To Speak (Epiphany 4)
The Lord Sends Us To Speak
It’s your turn to speak. When I was a child we had “show and tell” in school. Just like you would expect, we would take something that was very important to us and precious to school. Then, one by one, each of us would show what we liked. Then we would tell our classmates what we liked. And the teacher would says those words, “It’s your turn to speak.’” And when the teacher said those words, there was nothing holding us back. But then what happened? We got a little older and, sadly, we realized that not everyone likes the same toys we like. And they aren’t afraid to let us know. For us as Christians, our Lord has invited us to show and tell this great gift, this great treasure of God’s word with those in our lives. But we soon learn the powerful lesson that that invitation is easier said than done. There is nothing new under the sun. In God’s word this morning we see that it was the same in Jeremiah’s time. In Jeremiah 1, we read: “4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”” (Jeremiah 1:4–5 NIV11-GKE)
In these words the Lord approaches Jeremiah and gives him an amazing invitation. He invites him to speak God’s word. But even more than that, he invites him to speak God’s word as a full-time work and calling as a prophet. But, instead of the pure joy we might expect, we find a different reaction in Jeremiah: ““Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”” (Jeremiah 1:6 NIV11-GKE)
Jeremiah responds to this joyous invitation with an objection. He says that he is too young.1(Jeremiah 1:6 BHS-T)}} It’s easy to look at Jeremiah and say, “what’s wrong with you? Don’t you see the great calling the Lord is offering you?” But my friends in Christ, there’s a little more that you need to learn. Jeremiah would be sent to share God’s word with God’s people. The problem was that some of God’s people hated God’s word and the messengers who shared God’s word. Later on in this book Jeremiah is thrown into a muddy cistern with slimy walls so that they get rid of him and put him to death.2(Jeremiah 38:6 BHS-T)}} The sort of opposition we face today is not the same. But yet we still throw up objections for not speaking God’s word, don’t we? Who will listen to me? I am too young. Who will listen to me? I am too old. Who will listen to me? I don’t know enough of God’s word. Or, if you’re in my shoes: Who will listen to me? I know too much. How many times have I had to answer the question, “why do bad things happen to good people? Will my answer come across as something more than memorized, treating the person as a person? And, if given more time, we could come up with even more objections, couldn’t we? But what does the Lord do with these excuses? We read: “But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.” (Jeremiah 1:7 NIV11-GKE)
Notice how there were no excuses for Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a teenager when he was sent to be a prophet. Yet the Lord still sent him. And today the Lord has sent us too, as a congregation, and also individually, as Christians to speak God’s word. Your situation is a little different than Jeremiah’s. He was sent officially as a prophet of God. Your situation is more personal and private. You and Jeremiah each have different calls. But both you and Jeremiah have the same invitation to speak and share God’s word. So the Lord speaks law to Jeremiah, letting him know that his excuses don’t hold any weight. And he does the same with us. But then where does the Lord go? We read: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1:8 NIV11-GKE)
The Lord sends Jeremiah out to speak with real promises. And what are these real promises? He gives Jeremiah a real promise of real protection. Now, step back and think about this a moment. Our promises of protection are always conditional and temporary. For there are elements of this world that are out of our control. But this is not the case with our Lord. He can protect us from harm. And whatever harm he does allow to come to us, he allows to come into our lives for our good. So the Lord gives him a real promise of real protection. But the Lord has even more promises to give: “Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:9 NIV11-GKE)
After a real promise of real protection, the Lord gives Jeremiah a real promise of his real presence. The Lord reaches out and physically and actually touches Jeremiah’s mouth. It would have been enough to say, “you have my word.” But the Lord goes the extra step. He reaches out and actually touches Jeremiah’s mouth. Why does he do this? He does this because Jeremiah is flesh and blood with real doubts and real temptations to despair. And aren’t we the same? Aren’t we flesh and blood with real doubts and real temptations to despair? So the Lord reaches out to us with his own body and blood, along with that bread and wine, and touches us too. He forgives our sins. He covers up and atones for our excuses and objections. He covers up all our objections to speaking God’s word with all the perfect examples of Jesus going out and reaching out so that he could tirelessly speak the gospel. So the Lord sends us out to speak. He sends us out to speak with real promises: Real protection and Real presence. But he sends us out with one more gift. We read: “See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”” (Jeremiah 1:10 NIV11-GKE)
How sad it is that we face the temptation to be not just afraid of people, but also of God’s word itself. The Lord sends us out to speak with power. There is power in God’s word. Our role is not to apologize for it or protect it. Our role is to speak it. C. H. Spurgeon, the famous revivalist preacher once said that you don’t need to treat the gospel like it’s a pet in a cage, as if you need to protect it. No, instead, the gospel is like a lion. It can defend itself just fine. You just let it out of the cage.3 And yet, what do we do? We apologize for the gospel and guard it. When our friend at work our child riding with us in the car asks us a theological question, what do we say. We say, “I think…” We say, “I feel that…” Instead, let us say what the bible says. Let us say, “God’s word says.’” The lion needs no defender. The Holy Spirit needs no nanny. Such power the Holy Spirit gives his word. God’s word alone can create life. God’s word alone can create faith. God’s word alone can deliver forgiveness. God’s word alone can strengthen our faith and give us freedom from our fears of other people and fear of God’s word itself.
So my friends in Christ, the Lord sends you out to speak. Do just that. But speak with the entire context and encouragement found here in these words. Speak God’s word with God’s promises of real protection and real presence. Speak God’s word with all the power contained in it. And after that, leave all the results in God’s lap. Amen.
1 ”כִּי־נַ֖עַר אָנֹֽכִי“
2 ”יְשַׁלְּח֥וּ אֶֽת־יִרְמְיָ֖הוּ בַּחֲבָלִ֑ים וּבַבּ֤וֹר“
3 Spurgeon said this at the British and Foreign Bible Society meeting, 5 May 1875.
This morning we walk through Mark 7:5-23
That’s not what I ordered (Epiphany 3)
That’s not what I ordered
This is not what I ordered. Years ago, I went to a restaurant. And there was table next to mine. And at that table one by one, the waiter took each person’s order. Minutes passed by and the food came. And the waiter put in front of one of the women at that table a big steak. And as soon as she saw it, those were the words she spoke: “You need to take this back. That’s not what I ordered.” There is this frustrating offense each of us goes through when we order and ask for one thing, but get another. That’s what we have in front of us this morning. In Luke’s gospel, we read these words: “16 He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. As usual, he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him, and unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written: 18 The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. 20 He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.”” (Luke 4:16–21 CSB17)
Here, in these words, Jesus shares with the people of own town and his own people good news. About 800 years before this the prophet Isaiah was writing to the Jewish people. The Jewish people had rebelled against the Lord so powerfully and persistently that he allowed the Babylonians to come down, conquer them, and then lead them away as captive slaves. But the Lord had good news for them. First, their captivity under the Babylonians would one day come to an end. But, second, there was even better news. The captivity they had to death would be conquered. The spiritual darkness inside of them would be forgiven. And they would be brought into the light. Their slavery to sin would not exist anymore because they would be set free. That is what Jesus said to them. And it was a good message. But what he said right after that was even more good news. Jesus doesn’t just tell them that the Lord would free them. Jesus also tells them when. Right then, in their hearing, these words are fulfilled. There can be no greater or more joyous message than what Jesus shared with them. But what happened next was definitely not what Jesus ordered. We read: “They were all testifying against him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from his mouth; yet they said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”” (Luke 4:22 CSB17)
Jesus shares this amazing message of forgiveness with them. And we would expect “amens” and invitations to preach some more to flow from their lips. Instead, they begin to testify against Jesus.1. Instead, they were shocked at his words of grace.2 These precious words of undeserved love towards them that Jesus was sharing with them—that’s what they were offended at. They were offended at Jesus’ words of gracious love towards them because in their own hearts they had concluded that they had no need for God’s grace or mercy. Jesus didn’t order this. Jesus did not ask for or plan for them to reject such amazing good news. But, in what follows, we can be sure that they did not order what Jesus spoke next: “23 Then he said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Doctor, heal yourself. What we’ve heard that took place in Capernaum, do here in your hometown also.’” 24 He also said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 But I say to you, there were certainly many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months while a great famine came over all the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them except a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 And in the prophet Elisha’s time, there were many in Israel who had leprosy, and yet not one of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”” (Luke 4:23–27 CSB17)
What Jesus says here in these words are some of the harshest words that Jesus ever spoke. But, my dear friends in Christ, he spoke them in love. And, as we begin to look at them, what amazes us is how Jesus lets us know what we would not have learned if we read these parts of the Old Testament by themselves. There were many widows in Elijah’s day in Israel. But the Lord did not send Elijah to perform a miracle for any of those widows. Instead, he sent Elijah to the Gentile widow. And there were many people with leprosy in Israel in Elisha’s day. But the Lord did not send Elisha there. Instead, he sent him to the enemy of the Israelites, to Naaman the Syrian. Why did the Lord do this? Why did he send Elijah and Elisha outside of Israel to perform miracles. The answer is this: in order to appreciate the good news, you first need to see that it is good news. And in our final words for this section, we ask the question: How did the fellow members of Jesus’ church receive his message? “28 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. 29 They got up, drove him out of town, and brought him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl him over the cliff. 30 But he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Luke 4:28–30 CSB17)
They excommunicated Jesus. Then they tried to execute Jesus. Now, for us here this morning, what do we do with all of this? Here in these words your Savior invites you Embrace what Jesus orders for you so that this good message has meaning. Jesus came to his own congregation in his day preaching such amazing good news, asking, ordering, expecting that they would embrace this message with joy. Instead, he got the opposite. We too face the same temptation. When we hear these words of forgiveness there should be joy in our hearts, but instead we face this real temptation to say, “I didn’t order this.’” We have this real temptation towards apathy. Apathy is where you should feel something—either good or bad. But instead, you feel nothing. Or, instead of apathy, you feel antipathy. Antipathy is intense and immense hatred. What does this look like? It looks like this: A pastor prepares a solid sermon, exposing sin and expressing God’s love for them in Christ. And the person says, “yeah, that just didn’t speak to me.’” It’s looks like this: Making the melody of the hymn more important than the content of the hymn. It’s when Jesus becomes our mentor instead of our Messiah, our cheerleader instead of our life-bringer.
And so, out of love for us, just has he had love for those in his own congregation, he exposes our apathy and antipathy. And we say, “I didn’t order this.’” But what follows is even more amazing. After he has prepared our hearts, he takes us back to the good news. He sends his Holy Spirit into our hearts. And our new person inside of us says, “I didn’t order that gospel message.’” Just as the gentile widow and Naaman the Syrian could not have every said, “I ordered and asked for salvation,” we too can say the same. The widow told Elijah that he could eat with her one last meal before they all died. And then they had many months of mini-miracles with food that did not run out. Naaman was looking for a cure to the disease in his body—that’s what he ordered. But instead, he received a miracle for both his body and his soul. He found the true God, the Lord. And the Lord does the same for us. None of us asked Jesus to be our Savior. None of us were able to save ourselves. None of us ordered this. But what we did not order, Jesus gave us. Jesus gave us a new heart to appreciate this good news. Then he shows us that he is our Savior.
And so, my friends in Christ. None of us can say, “I ordered this.” But let us all praise God for it. Let us praise and thank him for this good news that he gives to us. And let us praise him that he prepares us for this good news. Amen.
1 “Ⲕⲁⲓⲡⲁⲛⲧⲉⲥⲉⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲟⲩⲛⲁⲩⲧⲱ” (Luke 4:22 GNT-ALEX)
2 “ⲉⲑⲁⲩⲙⲁⲍⲟⲛⲉⲡⲓⲧⲟⲓⲥⲗⲟⲅⲟⲓⲥⲧⲏⲥⲭⲁⲣⲓⲧⲟⲥ” (Luke 4:22 GNT-ALEX)