Lent 3 Midweek (Jeremiah 15:19–21)

Return to the Lord, Who Will Restore You

Jeremiah 15:19–21

 

Sermon Outline

You Get Back Up When There Is the Certainty of Restoration.

  1. Jeremiah and you know the frustration of those who will not listen.
  2. For Jeremiah and you, frustration gives way to hope­less­ness.

III. The promises of the Lord grant hope to the hopeless.

Sermon

Life will knock the wind out of your sails so that you struggle just to keep going. At times, you’re ready to throw in the towel. It’s the daily grind of a parent with a special needs child. No matter how hard you try, no matter how persistent and consistent you are, no matter how much love and effort you pour into the child, he just will not heed your voice. It’s little solace to know that it’s not your fault. You know it’s the result of neurological injury and that you’re remaining faithful in the face of a challenge that you didn’t create. But that doesn’t make it easy.

And it’s not easy for the one whose spouse refuses to reconcile. Instead of listening to the one person who’s not only made vows of loving fidelity, but has also been faithful to live by those vows, the wavering spouse listens to the voices of others. Those others call them to infidelity. They normalize divorce as no big deal; they say that vows taken in youth suddenly don’t matter when you’ve grown older; they see a love grown cold as something to be discarded rather than rekindled.

Speaking of growing cold, the wind is out of your sails when a friendship has grown cold. Kindred souls are now alien. The ear that would listen is now deaf, and the mouth that would console is now mute. It’s as if you’re dead to one who once enriched your life.

There are reasons aplenty that life knocks you down, but

You Get Back Up When There Is the Certainty of Restoration.

I.

Jeremiah had had enough! He was a true prophet, faithful not to tell people what they wanted to hear, but only what he’d been given to proclaim by the Lord. His message was simple, and it was the same message we’ve been hearing throughout Lent. Repent! Jeremiah warned Jerusalem that she would fall because of her sin. If only she would repent and trust in the Lord, then she would be spared.

In walks the false prophets. They say that Jeremiah has no idea what he’s talking about. Jerusalem will not fall. Why listen to Jeremiah when he’s but one prophet and they are many? Why listen to Jeremiah when Jerusalem has the temple as a divine insurance policy? Jerusalem can’t be touched so long as the temple’s in place. Why listen to Jeremiah when he gives you a hard message that’s difficult to swallow and there are others whose message is Cream of Wheat® that goes down so smoothly?

You can see why Jeremiah is rejected by others, and so he is personally dejected. He knows what’s coming. Judgment for sin cannot be avoided. The temple is no insurance policy. The Lord had proclaimed that he would remove himself from the temple because of the people’s idolatry, and then it would be nothing but a building that can offer no protection against the likes of the coming Babylonian army. But that’s not what the people want to hear, so they not only turn a deaf ear to Jeremiah; they even throw him into a pit so he can’t make such a fuss.

You can understand Jeremiah’s frustration. He loves his brothers and sisters dwelling in Jerusalem. In love, Jeremiah calls them to repentance. Yet the more he cries, the more they ignore him. He sees their coming destruction on the horizon, and he can’t stop it. You know that frustration. You warn others against the false prophets of today. You tell them that it’s a false, misleading dream that their gift of $100 to a televangelist will become $1,000 in their bank account. You tell them that it demeans Christ and robs them of certainty to base their salvation on a decision they made rather than on what Christ has done for them in Baptism and through his Word. You tell them that prayer is not a means to strong-arm God to get what you want, but that God is bound only to his Word and not your demands. His Word delivers far better promises—forgiveness, eternal life, salvation, peace with God, and more—than what’s often demanded in prayer. Yet they’re still crushed when they don’t get what they want and are certain that their faith must be too weak.

II.

You also fall for the lie. It may be subtler, but it’s just as deadly. Trouble comes—perhaps it’s the special needs child, the unfaithful spouse, or the friend who’s abandoned you—and Satan’s lie is in your ear. “You’re being punished. God doesn’t love you. You must have done something to really upset him. He’s full of wrath against you or you wouldn’t be going through all this. God most certainly is not pleased with you, or your life would be more pleasant.”

When the satanic lie takes hold, it’s natural to give up hope. You’ve had enough! So you throw in the towel not just on the part of life where the original trouble was located, but in every realm. You’re ready to walk away from that child, that spouse, that friend. You add to it so that you’re ready to throw in the towel on your job—what’s the point of working so hard when there’s no one to appreciate it? You throw in the towel on your marriage—pride says you deserve better than this, so let that spouse get some of the same medicine. You throw in the towel on society—the whole thing is falling apart, so stop wasting your energy to right a sinking ship. You throw in the towel on your church—they’re a bunch of hypocrites anyway, and the pastor can’t expect anyone to be that great when he talks so much about sin. Why can’t the pastor and the church fix my problem? You throw in the towel on God—if he isn’t willing to come to your aid when you ask, then what good is he?

That is sin. It’s dealing in hopelessness. It doesn’t matter who you are—Jerusalem, Jeremiah, or little old you—hopelessness is sin because it’s giving up on God and his grace. There are certainly reasons for hopelessness. The deaf ear of those who won’t listen, endless investment of truth with no return at all, a wealth of time and energy given with nothing to show for it. The harder you try, the worse it seems to get. Why wouldn’t you be hopeless?

III.

Because there is reason for hope. Hope is grounded on promise. Greater than the frustration of being surrounded by those who won’t listen is the certainty of the Lord who speaks his hope into you. Listen to the Lord’s promise to Jeremiah: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me” (v 19). The Lord comes to his dejected prophet. He knows that Jeremiah is spent and ready to give up. Here’s the reason to keep going. When Jeremiah returns, the Lord will restore him. He even promises that Jeremiah will stand before him. To stand in the presence of the Lord is no small thing, especially for Jeremiah. He’s been standing in the presence of those who refused to listen to the Word of the Lord that he’d been sent to proclaim. That’s why Jeremiah is so hopeless. But now he’s promised that he will stand before the Lord himself. That is hope!

The Lord promises more to Jeremiah: “I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you” (v 20). There is strength. Jeremiah stands alone among the false prophets; he alone speaks the truth. But the Lord is with him, so he will not fail. Andrew Jackson famously quipped that one man with conviction is a majority. Jeremiah has it even better than that. One prophet who stands with the Lord is a fortified wall of bronze that cannot be overcome. This doesn’t mean Jeremiah’s life became a rose garden. Far from it. But Jeremiah stood through the coming years of rejection and destruction with the strength of the Lord.

Two promises are not enough for the Lord, so he gives a third promise to Jeremiah: “I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless” (v 21). Jeremiah will be saved. Those who would destroy Jeremiah will not succeed because he is in the grip of the Lord. And so are you.

In a world full of false promises, you nevertheless have hope because the promises given to you are from one who is good for his word. A promise is only as good as the one who makes it. So you have hope because you know who has promised to deliver you.

The Lord calls you to return just like Jeremiah. And just like Jeremiah, he promises that he will restore you. Your restoration is bound up in Christ. All others may turn a deaf ear to you, but Christ does not. He hears, and he intercedes for you before the Father. All others may lose hope, but you will not. Christ promises that you, like Jeremiah, stand before the Lord. That is the place of his pleasure. He is pleased with you even when your life is full of trouble and rejection. The Lord’s pleasure is yours because Christ has restored you to his pleasure. Amen.

Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere) (Genesis 32:22-32)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere) + February 25, 2018

Text: Genesis 32:22-32

When you pray, do you ever wish you had some extra influence, something that would help God see things your way?  I know I do, when I’m praying for someone I love to make it through surgery, or for a difficult circumstance to turn around, or for a friend who’s wandered from the faith.

 

24And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.” (Genesis 32:24–29)

 

Prayer is like this wrestling match which Jacob had with God.  But with respect to God, we are not working with an equal, another man.  And this encounter teaches us the differences.

 

First, God comes to us; we don’t start the contact.  Jacob did not say to himself, “Tonight, I will get in touch with the God of my fathers.”  God is the Creator, we are His creatures. He is the Potter, we are the clay.  He wants that connection with us, but He is the one who initiates.

 

When God appears to His own, it’s always passive on our part.  Genesis 12:7, God appears to Abram, would better be translated “He showed Himself to Abram.”

 

How much more is this the case since sin severed our spiritual ties with Him!  Because of sin, our spiritual condition is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), but God, who is rich in mercy “made us alive together with Christ” (v. 5).

 

Second, God gives us a position with Him by giving us a name.  A name change is a big deal.  You only do it at great turning points in life—when your marital status changes or when a child is adopted.  When your name is changed, it’s because you have a new identity. Jacob received a new identity before God.  That name change happened because God was adopting him as His own.

 

When God comes to us, He gives us a new name by which we are known to Him.  That’s what Baptism is: God gives you His own name by which He calls you—the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19).  That name change comes with a new identity when we become adopted children of God through Jesus Christ.

 

Finally, God blesses those He has come to and adopted.  We started out with God coming to us, dead in our sins and He made first contact.  In love, He adopts us as His beloved children and gives us a place with Him.  Now come the blessings, because we have God Almighty as our Father, we have all that we need.  He freely provides for the need of our bodies, defends us against danger, and guards us against evil.

 

 

33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

 

 

Why is this? Because we wrestled better than others?  Certainly not!  God is the greater, and He comes down to us in love.  We don’t need to “strong arm” God to see things our way. Instead, He teaches us what is truly best by caring for all our needs for this life and into eternity. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Jacob likewise tries to get the upper hand on God: What is your name?  Tell me a secret by which I might leverage you.  God’s name is not evoked like Beetlejuice; it is given. Jacob asks his name, seeking the upper hand (the winning pin).  He refuses, and it is enough that He is the God of Israel.  To us He has revealed His Name in Christ, but He maintains the upper hand and He is our God by grace. God has the upper hand, and yet the life of Jacob/Israel is saved (NTSL, passive).

 

Lent 2 Midweek (Isaiah 44:21–28)

Return to the Lord, Who Has Redeemed You

Isaiah 44:21–28

 

Sermon Outline

Return to the Lord, For He Alone Redeems You from Slavery.

  1. You are a slave to sin and its consequences.
  2. You have been redeemed by the Lord; you are free.

III. You are free, so rejoice with singing.

Sermon

It’s one of the permanent blights on our nation’s conscience—slavery. It’s a universal human phenomenon. Every generation and culture has seized other people and treated them as property. We’re not alone in such deplorable behavior, but that doesn’t diminish our collective shame for our nation’s history. It is nothing short of sin.

Do not think it a mere coincidence that slavery has been undone in the West because of the tireless and faithful work of Christians. Whether it was William Wilberforce in England or the abolitionist movement here in the United States, faith in Christ was the driving force that prompted many to say they could not look the other direction as those whom Christ created and for whom he died were held in slavery. When you know Christ has deemed someone worthy of his blood being shed, you cannot put a price on them. Christ has declared them to be priceless. So, our brothers and sisters in Christ mobilized against slavery and subjugation.

Let us rejoice in what the faithful accomplished in previous generations. And let us continue in their train, because slavery is not something isolated to the past; it is very much a present reality. Today, we speak of it as human trafficking. The statistics will make you shudder. Here’s just a sampling: According to the FBI, human trafficking is the third largest criminal activity in the world today. While prostitution may be the first thing that comes to mind with human trafficking, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service reports that 22 percent of the victims of human trafficking are forced into prostitution, while the remaining 78 percent are used for other forms of forced labor. It’s estimated that 20–30 million are enslaved today by means of human trafficking. The U.S. State Department reports that 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into our country each year. It’s sobering to know that so many are sold into slavery and brought into our nation. Even more troubling is the estimate that 100,000 American children are trafficked without crossing the border; they’re born here and enslaved here. Human trafficking is not isolated to adults, as 26 percent of all those trafficked worldwide are children (http://lirs.org/mythbusters/).

Slavery is still very real, and it’s right next door. It calls us to action. And it opens our eyes to see our own role in slavery. So here’s the harsh reality: you are a slave. That’s why the Lord speaks to you today through his prophet Isaiah, calling you to

Return to the Lord,
For He Alone Redeems You from Slavery.

I.

You are a slave. Let that sink in. Your first reaction to such news may be like those who refused to listen to Christ in John 8. They said, “We . . . have never been enslaved to anyone” (Jn 8:33). To which Jesus responds, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (8:34). Jesus will not let us dodge and deny reality. He calls us to attention. “Truly, truly, I say to you.” That is Jesus’ way not only to get our attention, but to let us know the ironclad reality of the words he speaks. Whoever sins is a slave to sin.

You are a slave. That is never clearer than when it comes to those sins that you repeat time and again. You hate it. You don’t like that you scream at your family, but you are enslaved by rage. You loathe yourself that as soon as everyone else is out of eyeshot, you make two quick clicks with a mouse and you’re viewing pornography. It may even involve someone who’s been trafficked. But you are every bit as much a slave; you are enslaved by addiction to porn.

And then there are all the other addictions that take hold. Alcoholism and substance abuse—they wreak havoc in homes throughout our community. The victims come from every socioeconomic demographic. The victims include the alcoholic and drug addict, their parents, their spouses, their children, their employers, their employees, their fellow congregational members, and more. Even when they hit rock bottom and they want nothing more than to be free of their addiction, they struggle to change their behavior because they are enslaved by their sin.

Each of us has sold ourselves into slavery. Whatever sin you cannot escape, the one that you repeat daily even though you hate it—that sin is your master. And it chains you to the natural consequence of the sin. Isaiah speaks to Jerusalem regarding their sin of idolatry. They trust in anything and everything other than in the Lord himself. The natural consequence of their idolatry is coming. When you do not trust in the only one who can protect and defend you, then you are vulnerable to invasion and defeat. That’s what Jerusalem faces—invasion and defeat at the hands of the Babylonians.

You stand with Jerusalem; you are chained to the natural consequences of the sin to which you are enslaved. Your family is alienated, your body is crushed, and your mind is warped by addiction. Your job is forfeited and your finances are eradicated. And you are powerless to do anything about it. You are enslaved, controlled by an unforgiving master, chained to the horrific consequences of your sin.

II.

You need a redeemer. You need someone who will pay the price for you. You have sold yourself into slavery; you cannot redeem yourself. Someone else must come to pay your redemption to set you free. The Lord sends his prophet Isaiah to you this very day to proclaim to you that you have a redeemer who has made the payment for you. The Lord says, “Return to me, for I have redeemed you” (v 22). That you might not doubt him, the Lord repeats the promise of redemption: “The Lord has redeemed Jacob” (v 23). And if that weren’t enough, he gives you a third proclamation: “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer” (v 24). The Lord delights to be your Redeemer who pays the price in full to set you free from captivity to sin.

And there’s more. He lets you know how the redemption takes place. He says that it happens through a shepherd. “He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose” (v 28). When Isaiah first carries this promise from the Lord, he’s speaking of Cyrus, who would be the Persian ruler more than two centuries later. The Lord would use Cyrus to set his people free from their exile in Babylon. What happens beautifully through Cyrus finds greater fulfillment, full fulfillment, in another shepherd. The Good Shepherd, our Savior, Jesus Christ, does even more than redeem us from physical slavery. He pays the price to set us free from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

That is the wonderful language of the Small Catechism as it confesses what your Good Shepherd has done for you. What does this mean? “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own” (explanation of the Second Article).

He has redeemed you by paying a price. Not just anything can purchase you that you might be free of your slavery to sin, death, and the power of the devil. Only one price is sufficient; only one payment will satisfy—the blood of Christ shed for you, his suffering and death. He does it all so that you may belong to him. No longer will you be chained to your sin and its consequences. No longer will you be a slave. No longer will you live in bondage.

His redemption is all about removing your sin, the very thing that has enslaved you. Listen to the Word of the Lord, your Redeemer, in Is 44:22, “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” That is why we return to him. Slavery to sin causes us constantly to return to our sin, committing it over and over even though we abhor it. We keep returning to sin because we are enslaved. But when Christ sets you free, you are free indeed. You return to him not because you are bound by chains, but because you are free. You live in the joy and freedom of one who has been purchased and set you free.

III.

You live in joy and freedom. Listen one more time to the Word of the Lord spoken by his prophet Isaiah: “Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel” (v 23). You are free, so sing. Sing with joy before the Lord, for he has done it. Join with all creation—the heavens above, the depths of the earth, the mountains, the forest, and all its trees. Sing because you are free. Your slavery is over. Your redemption is complete. Amen.

Christian Memorial for Thomas Henry Standley (John 3:14-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Christian Memorial for Thomas Henry Standley – February 19, 2018

Text: John 3:14-18

 

Tom’s story is a story of the Gospel of Jesus at work.  He came to Bethlehem knowing a little about the Lord, but it was here that he was confirmed at the age of 26 on May 7, 1950 by Pastor Herbert F. Koehlinger.  He quickly grew in his faith, as he was soon asked to serve as Sunday School Superintendent.  He told the story of how he was honest with the pastor, and said he didn’t know enough to teach Sunday School, but the pastor and his wife gave him instruction.

 

Tom’s love for is Lord Jesus was evident in his life.  He led the Sunday School for over 40 years.  Many people fondly remember his humble leadership and dedication for children to know Jesus.  Out of love for the Lord, he and Winnie would drive their van around to pick up children for Sunday School.  He and his wife exuded their faith to their family, this congregation, and our community.

 

Although all this was done by Tom, it was truly evidence of Jesus at work in his life and in our midst here at Bethlehem.  Ninety-four years of stories richly show God’s hand in Tom’s life.  But even though we talk about these things in the past tense, this is certainly not the end.

 

I’d like to direct your attention to the Gospel reading again, which contains, as Tom used to call it “the Gospel in a nutshell”:

 

14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already,

because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:14–18 ESV)

 

Death is not the end for Tom.  “Ridiculous!” you may say, because obviously he’s not with us anymore.  But this is the good news which the Lord gave to Tom and to everyone who believes: death is not the end.  Jesus was lifted high upon the cross for this very purpose!  Whoever believes does not perish, but has eternal life!  If you believe that God does not lie, then you have this promise also!

 

Many people believe that Jesus was a historical person, that he taught love and left us a humble example.  But, that’s not the whole story.  How tragic it would be if Jesus just gave us a better way to live our short lives.  If that were true, what would it matter how good or bad our life was, if we’re all going to a bleak nothingness when we die?  That sort of supposed faith in Jesus doesn’t help at a time like this.

 

 

 

But to believe in Jesus is something more.  To believe in Jesus is to believe that His suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection are for you.  Why must Jesus, the Son of Man, be lifted up?  Because we are all under condemnation.  No matter how good our lives are on the outside, they fall short of what God has made us to be.  Our hearts were meant to be pure, but they entertain all kinds of evil thoughts.  Our minds are meant to be holy, but we scheme how we can get the better share of the deal.  Our actions are to be blameless and help and serve those around us, but there are so many ways that we hurt and fail to help the people God puts right in front of us.  Without Jesus, we are all under condemnation.

 

For God’s part, He loves us still.  He loves in this way: To save us from perishing, condemned and in hell for our wickedness, He gave His only-begotten Son.  This is who Jesus was and what He was about: saving sinners.  The cross was lifted high with the Son of God nailed to it, and everyone who looks upon Him and puts their trust in Him is justified—“just if I’d” never sinned.  Jesus was lifted up and those who are baptized and believe in His death and resurrection, are not under condemnation.  You are forgiven, and you have life that even the grave cannot steal away.

 

It is this good news, this Gospel, to which Tom devoted his life—whether in Sunday School, or singing in the choir, or helping build this sanctuary, or even mowing the grass.  It was all done to the glory of God who “so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV)

 

Even though Tom’s course in this world is complete, the Gospel of Jesus continues.  It’s easy for us to remember what once was and set our hope in the past.  Oh, when the Sunday School was full!  Oh, when the choir was bustling and many voices joined together!  Oh, when the pews were packed!  Even though the visual reminders are there—the large sanctuary, the three-tiered choir loft, the accordion dividers downstairs—God calls us to trust in His Gospel and what He is still doing here today.  We should not dwell on what used to be or pine after what isn’t here anymore.  That is idolatry of the first degree, because it’s done supposedly in the name of God.  Repent and believe in Jesus, not in His congregation.

 

Instead, remember why Bethlehem Lutheran Church is here: To preach and share the Gospel, to call sinners to repentance, to shepherding all ages into eternal life, and to serve our neighbors with God’s love.  The Gospel never changes and God’s Word never stops working.  This is true, even if what we see today is different from what happened at another time.

 

I know this to be true personally, because I came to the Lord as an adult.  It wasn’t anyone’s strategic planning that brought me to faith, but a series of events that God orchestrated and a friend he put in my life who told me about Jesus and invited me to church.  You see that God is at work today just as strongly as He has ever been.  God teaches us that His Holy Spirit calls men by the Gospel [John 3:8] to know Jesus Christ and be saved.  There is nothing about America in 2018, or Lebanon today that is too much for God to handle.  He created our hearts, and He’s in the business of saving sinners.

 

God was at work throughout Tom’s life, and now Tom has reached God’s intended goal: freedom from sin, death, and an eternal Sabbath rest.  He will surely do the same for all who believe the Gospel today.  Amen.

First Sunday in Lent (Invocabit) (Genesis 3:1-21; Matthew 4:1-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

First Sunday in Lent (Invocabit) + February 18, 2018

Text: Genesis 3:1-21; Matthew 4:1-11

The Apostle Peter warns us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)

 

In this text from Genesis 3, we can learn a great deal about the devil both in his works and his ways.  And why we as Christians should be concerned with the devil is also taught by God here.

 

On the first Sabbath Day, before the day is even over, the devil comes to corrupt the only other creatures with free will—man.  The way he chooses to entice them is notable too—he possesses a serpent.  Why a serpent?  Precisely because it is crafty, stealthy, and shrewd: The serpent slips in where others are blocked, it stalks its food and lays in wait to strike, and it knows how to slip out of the scene before it is detected.  All of these qualities fit the devil’s ways, as we see in how he interacts with the woman.  God uses a turn of these traits when it comes to punishing the devil, however.  “On your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the day of your life.”  Just as Satan used the craftiness of the snake, now God uses the fact that the snake is a “creeping thing” to show that God will keep him in submission until the Lord’s ultimate victory: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

 

Later in history the devil would be manifest in other creatures, such as Leviathan the great sea beast, as lions, as a dragon (Psalm 74:12-14, Daniel 6:16-24, Isaiah 27:1).  In the New Testament, the legion of demons in Mark 5 ends up possessing a herd of unclean swine and being destroyed in a mock baptism.  Each of these possessions teach us about the devil and his host.  But, the point here isn’t the mechanics of how the devil possessed the serpent, or how an ordinarily dumb animal spoke, but that we learn that the devil is a wily foe both of God and us.

 

Then what this crafty devil does first of all—irrespective of God’s order that the husband is the spiritual head of the household, without a shred of caring what misery will be wrought for all humanity by this temptation, and with a boldness that flies in the face of his Creator and Master—attacks their faith in God’s Word.

 

“He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1b-5)

 

The devil questions God’s truthfulness and he questions God’s good intentions for His creatures.  Our first parents, formed in innocence by the hand of God Himself, were tempted and sinned.  They sinned, not merely by breaking God’s rule (for God is not a capricious dictator), but by breaking faith with Him through disbelieving His Word.  Even from this primordial world, “man has lived by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)  The very definition of a right relationship between Creator and creature is on the basis of taking God at His Word.

 

But sin changed all of that.  When the first doubt was planted in the heart of Adam and Eve, they now had another authority—themselves.  The question of what was good had a new answer: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

 

That is what humanity has been wrestling with ever since.  Do we take God at His Word, or look for another authority that tells us what our corrupt hearts want to hear?

 

The devil consistently attacks the truthfulness of God’s will and His goodness toward us.  This is the root of why immorality persists and increases.  This is why there are so many religions in the world and even divisions within the Christian Church on earth.  This is why so few of the world’s population cares about God and what He says (this generation is really just revealing what having a “Christian society” covered up in the past).  The devil’s work is to cause people to doubt and disbelieve God’s powerful, all-creating, life-giving Word.

 

Do we take God at His Word or not?  Alas, it’s not really a choice so simple.  Every natural born offspring of Adam and Eve is born with this deafness and aversion to God’s Word.  So, the story of temptation with man is a story of failings.  The serpent was craftier than Adam and Eve, and deceived them so easily.  Now he exercises authority over us, their children.

 

When we think of temptation as Christians…as human beings, it isn’t about trying to overcome the devil and make personal triumphs.  If our sinless parents fell, how much worse is it for us?  “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”  “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.”  “The [highest powers of man[1] which are of the] flesh is hostile to God.” (1 Cor. 2:14, Gal. 5:17, Rom. 8:7)

 

Who is able to save us from this wretched condition?  Our only way out from under the devil’s thumb completely depends on this Man, facing the devil.  The sole overcomer is Jesus Christ.

 

(Read Matthew 4:1-11)

 

Here the devil is called “the tempter” because his purpose is to lead men consistently to put God to the test (same word as “tempt”) without faith.  The devil does his worst to this man, Jesus, but He consistently replies with God’s Word rightly believed.

 

These are the works and ways of the devil: to subtly slip in and break our faith.  But turn to page 268 of the hymnal.  This is the rite of Holy Baptism.  Now turn ahead to 270  Look at the first two questions asked of the candidate for Baptism: Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways?  If it were up to you and your strength, you would not be able to accomplish what these questions ask.  It is only by your Baptism into Christ, the Victor over the devil and His works and ways, that you gain the victory.

 

That brings us back to the passage I read at the beginning: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”  The only power we have to resist and overcome the devil comes through baptismal grace.  Baptized into Christ, who is the Son of God, we have forgiveness and spiritual victory which lasts to eternal life. Amen.

[1] Usually translated “mind” but includes “thought, purpose, will, resolution, aspiration” (Liddell Scott Jones Lexicon of Classical Greek, φρόνημα)

Ash Wednesday (Amos 4:6–13)

Lenten Midweek Service: Return to the Lord, Who Does Not Tire of Calling You

Text: Amos 4:6–13

 

3.

“Prepare to meet your God.” Those words hit you like a sledgehammer. It’s what you hear a movie villain say before he ends his victim’s life. But it’s no villain that speaks those words to you. The shepherd-prophet Amos delivers the Word of the Lord who says, “Prepare to meet your God” (v 12). The Lord is no villain, but message is clear: Judgment!  Judgment is coming quickly.   We don’t want it to happen because it will expose all those things we thought we could sweep under the rug.  You know, those sins you won’t tell the pastor about, the ones you try to hide from your spouse, the ones you swear you can take care of privately.  God is not so easily fooled.

 

The tragedy is that it didn’t have to be this way. If only God’s people would listen and take His Word to heart, things would turn out so much differently. But what does the Lord do?  He will not keep silent and allow us to go the path of destruction, simply because we plug our ears. He is incessant in his seeking after us. The Lord longs to forgive you, so he is tireless in calling you to repentance.

 

2.

Amos chronicles five ways by which the Lord calls his people to repentance. And just as many times, His people do not listen. Each time the Lord ends with the same phrase, “yet you did not return to me.” You can hear the exasperation in the Lord’s voice.  He simply will not give up on you. He has been wronged, but instead of pouting, instead of plotting his just vengeance, he instead works to win back his people. He so longs for his people to be forgiven and reunited with him that he will not stop.

 

First, you hear him say, “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me” (v 6). Teeth are clean when they have no food to get stuck between them. While the Lord taking food from his people should get their attention so that they repent, it is also a reminder of the Lord’s provision. He graciously provides for all his people’s needs. When the people abandon him, it is just and right for them to lose the benefits that come from the Lord. Even more, his people should remember what a privilege and joy it is to have such a Lord. With the Lord, there is a bounty of his goodness; apart from him there is an absence of that goodness—and that should naturally drive his people back to him. But even hunger does not drive God’s people either to remember him or to repent.

 

Because his people will not listen, the Lord calls again. “I also withheld the rain from you . . . yet you did not return to me” (vv 7, 8). Drought not only cuts off crops but also strikes at them economically.  So again, the Lord is calling his people to remember how he supplies life. He does not do it begrudgingly. It flows naturally from his love as he provides rain that his creation might drink from his goodness.

 

Yet throughout Israel’s history, there was a constant temptation to trust in a false lord, Baal. Baal was the false god of Israel’s neighbors, supposedly the god of the sky, of lightning, and of rain. Supposedly this Baal was the one who caused ground and womb to be fertile.  If you were on Baal’s good side, then you were supposed to receive rain aplenty. The Lord is not shy to tell his people that if they want to trust in Baal, they should see just how much rain he provides. None. It’s insanity to trust in Baal, who is nothing more than a figment of the imagination.

 

But . . . we do it all the time too. Our idols don’t go by the name of Baal. We bank our security not upon Baal’s rain, but on a bull market. And when our financial prospects go from bullish to bearish, we should be able to see the foolishness of these idols of ours. But in our sin, we are blind to this. We double-down on our idol even as the Lord is calling us to return to him, for in him alone is there life.

 

Two calls did not work, so perhaps his people will listen if the Lord calls them a third time. “I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me” (v 9). When God brought his people to the Promised Land, he told them that they would eat from vineyards that they did not plant. Such is the abundance that the Lord delivers. Look at how tremendously generous He is! The Lord delights to provide for his people. But our heart is far from him and we set our hopes and dreams in the tangible—in degrees and jobs, in cars or clothes, and in houses and buildings.  But when our heart withdraws from the God who richly supplies, why should he not withhold from us?

 

Since they have forsaken him, the Lord tries to get his people with yet one more physical loss. Leaving him means leaving his good gifts. His people of old needed to learn this lesson; so do we. It is not blight and mildew that worries you; nor is it the locust. It’s other disasters that cause us worry. When a hurricane brings devastation, it’s not our place to figure out if God is mad with those who are displaced. It is a call for us to repent. In the disasters that happen in your life and to your family, God is calling you to repentance knowing that apart from his providential care, something far worse would befall you.

 

Still the Lord’s people will not listen! The Lord so loves his people that he will not give up, so he tries a different tactic. He’ll remind them of his history of salvation, how he’s worked mightily with an outstretched arm to deliver them. Surely, then they’ll listen and recall how blessed it is to live under the Lord’s care. So he says, “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me” (v 10). Remember everything the Lord did to Egypt that his people might be saved? Not only did he send the ten plagues, including pestilence, but Pharaoh’s army was swept away in the sea. All this that the people of the Lord might be delivered. There’s no doubting his love, his dedication, the salvation He works for his people. So when their abandonment of the Lord causes those very acts of judgment to be visited upon them, certainly they’ll listen. They’ll remember that it’s good to live in the shadow of his grace. You remember, don’t you? So why do you return to slavery? Slavery to sin.

 

Still there’s no repentance, so the Lord utilizes a second historical reminder of how he’s acted for his people’s salvation. Maybe, just maybe, this will finally be enough to get through to their hard hearts. He says, “I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me” (v 11). Sodom and Gomorrah were overthrown because of the depth of their evil. Their evil was so pervasive that when Abraham bartered with God to spare them, he could not even find ten righteous persons in Sodom to justify sparing it. He’s saying that’s now the same case with Amos’ contemporaries.

 

And he calls us to repent as well, because it’s true among us also. What justification can we give for God to spare us? Are we righteous and pure? Or will you find bickering and quarreling among us? Are there evil thoughts that pit one believer against another? The Lord is justified not in sparing us but in condemning us. Yet he speaks of his people being a brand plucked out of the burning. The Lord works to pluck us out of disaster. Though we don’t deserve to be spared, the Lord does spare us, because that’s the kind of God he is. He delights to withhold just punishment. His fervent desire is that you not receive the just reward of your sin, but grace upon grace. Still, in spite of such grace being extended, the Lord says, “yet you did not return to me.”

 

1.

How could they be so obtuse? Five times that struck directly at their physical needs and that recalled God’s actions in history for their salvation, each reminding them of God’s goodness and grace for which it’s well worth returning, and still they refuse. What’s wrong with them? What’s wrong with us? How can we be so obtuse? We pass off our sin as inconsequential, but all sin is an abandonment of God. All sin leads him to his tireless call that we return to him and his goodness. Yet we continue to sin. We deserve to be judged. He gave us every chance. He did not tire to call us to repentance, but we have not given an ounce of energy to leave our sinful ways.

As much of an obstacle as our cold, sinful hearts are, the Lord is all the more acute in his actions to save us. Even when you tire of returning to the Lord, he does not tire of calling you.  Compared to human desire to forgive the erring, the Lord says, “I do not say to you, [that you should forgive] up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  That’s just how dedicated the Lord is to saving sinners.  That’s why it’s called “steadfast love.”

 

Judgment does loom on the horizon, but it comes differently than you have a right to expect. The same tireless zeal of the Lord to call you will drive him to spare you the coming judgment. There is no undoing judgment for your sin. The only thing that can be done is to take the judgment away from you and place it upon another.

 

Judgment looms on the horizon. This is what happens as we journey ever closer to Jerusalem. There will be judgment for your sin. Yet the judgment will not be meted out upon you. It will be visited upon the Lord himself. In one last effort to call you to return, the Lord takes your punishment and puts it on full display as he pours it out upon his Son. This one will be effective to bring you back home. Now, you will return. The Holy Spirit will call, gather, and enlighten your darkened heart.  All because you meet your God as he hangs on a cross for you. How could it come to this?

Because he does not tire of calling you, the lord will not rest until he has delivered you. Amen.

Quinquagesima (Luke 18:31-43)

Bethlehem and Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon and Sweet Home, OR

Quinquagesima + February 11, 2018

Text: Luke 18:31-43

These two accounts in St. Luke’s Gospel are arranged very intentionally.  Side by side, the disciples are placed next to a blind beggar.  The disciples are sighted, but blind to see who Jesus is.  The beggar is blind, but has faithful eyes which see who Jesus is.  So we have the comparison of the blind man’s sight, and the sighted men’s blindness.

There are two names of Jesus which are featured in the Gospel: Son of Man and Son of David.  Jesus speaks of Himself as the Son of Man.  The title, “son of man” is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to a human being.  It is “ben Adam,” a descendent of the first man, Adam.  And that carries with it a lot of baggage: the first man sinned and died, bringing sin to all his descendants, and “death spread to all men because all sinned.”[1]  The sons of man are dishonest and corrupt in their loyalties, so that God must point out, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.”[2]  And the sons of Adam—all of them—return to the dust from which they were taken, as Moses says in Psalm 90, “You return man to dust, and say ‘Return, O sons of man!’”[3]

But when Jesus uses this term, He chooses to identify with these sons of Adam.  He truly shares in the mortal existence of the sons of man.  It’s precisely what He does as a son of Adam that’s important: Jesus, Son of Man, is born without sin and He does not sin.  He loves the Lord His God with all His heart, soul, and strength, and does not worship any idols.  And even though He is without sin, He suffers to be “delivered over to the Gentiles…[to] be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon”…flogged and killed.  This Son of Man dies, but “on the third day” rises again.

Therefore, as Jesus, the Son of Man, goes, so do the sons of man with Him.  The sinless Son of Man knew no sin, so that the sons of Adam would be reckoned free from sin.[4]  He suffers, bleeds, and goes down to the grave with the sons of man.  But on the third day, He rises from the dead, “never to die again.”[5]  And He brings the sons of man with Him, out of their graves.  He ascends into heaven with the Father, and the sons of Adam follow Him and return to the presence of God.

The blind man, on the other hand, uses another name for Jesus: Son of David.  And this is more than Solomon, or Rehoboam, or any of David’s other descendants.  This is He of whom David wrote in Psalm 110, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’[6]  This is the Anointed One, the Messiah, of whom Isaiah spoke: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[7]

So the blind man cries out after Jesus saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  And who he thinks this Son of David is comes out when Jesus asks him what he wants done for him.  The blind man asks for a remarkable thing: “Lord, let me recover my sight.”  It may seem obvious that he wants to see again, but nowhere among any of the prophets, was a blind man ever given his sight.[8]  There had been healings, resurrections, and miraculous feedings, but none had ever opened the eyes of the blind.  That was reserved for the Son of David, God in the flesh.  Through a faith granted from above, this blind man understood better than the disciples who Jesus really is.

On the way up to Jerusalem, Jesus had taken the twelve aside.  He spelled out why “His face is turned to Jerusalem.”[9]  In plain language, Jesus speaks to these twelve men and says, “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

What He says is no breaking news: Everything that is written is all of the Scriptures, from Moses to Malachi.  Abraham took his son up the mountain to sacrifice him, but the true sacrifice would be God’s own Son.  Samuel (in today’s Old Testament reading) anointed David, the man after God’s heart.[10]  This David later sang of His sufferings and how evildoers would pierce his hands and feet.  Isaiah foretold the Lord’s servant who would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.[11]  All the Scriptures were to be fulfilled, as Jesus was handed over, suffered, died, and rose on the third day.

But the disciples understood none of this.  In fact for the time being, “this saying was hidden from them.”  They knew in part who this Jesus they were following was.  They heard Him teach many things, heal many diseases, and challenge the status quo both in society and the synagogue.

Actually, it’s not unlike what many people take Jesus to be today.  They follow Him because they regard Him as a teacher of love.  Like a good rabbi or guru, Jesus gives direction on how we can be better people.  They proudly ask, “What would Jesus do?” and then adopt Him as sponsor of whatever their cause is—tolerance, social justice, or a convenient addition to a political speech.

But such a view of Jesus, even though it comes from people with supposed sight, is spiritually blind.  Why was Jesus going up to Jerusalem?  To make atonement for the world’s sin—for your sin.  If we’ve been a Christian for long enough, we mouth the words, I, a poor, miserable sinner, but we make a half-hearted confession.  The old Adam in us thinks our sins aren’t that bad, because there are other people who are worse.  I only fudge the numbers on my taxes, but I’m not Charles Ponzi!  Sure I called the President an idiot, but it’s not like I plotted to kill him!  Sure I occasionally check out women, but I’m not as bad as Larry Nassar whose sexual sins make the headlines.  As another pastor put it, “We damn ourselves by our faint confession.”[12]  We are blind men and women who really only want a Savior who only saves us from socially acceptable sins.

Repent.

If your sins aren’t that bad, or aren’t that condemnable, why must the Son of Man be “delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him.”  If your sin is not that bad, then God paid too high a price for your life.  Maybe He should ask for a refund.

But indeed we are poor and miserable, and would that the Lord would give us spiritual eyes to recognize that!  Martin Luther’s dying words were, “We are all beggars. This is true.”  The blind beggar is us, chasing after the Lord for mercy.  And casting aside every voice that says, “You’re a good person” and “Just believe in yourself,” we fall down on our knees before the Son of David and say, “Oh Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.”[13]  And He asks us what we want Him to do for us.  He already knows what we need, but He listens to us as we say,

…I pray you of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.

We ask Him for the forgiveness which flows from His betrayal and mocking and shameful treatment and being spat upon and flogged and killed.  And He hears and answers each of us: “Your faith has made you well” (v. 42).  Your faith in His innocent suffering and death has saved you.

We, the 12 disciples, and the blind beggar are all the same.  We all need God the Father, by the Holy Spirit, to open our eyes to see Jesus for who He is.  He is the Son of David, who came, not only open the eyes of the blind, but also to bestow the Lord’s favor and raise the dead to eternal life.

And He comes to you here, today.  He came in the waters of your Baptism to nail your sins to His cross, and raise you to new life.  By His mercy, you, son of Adam, will follow the Son of Man where He has gone, to be with your God forever.  Amen.

[1] Romans 5:12

[2] Numbers 23:19

[3] Psalm 90:2

[4] Genesis 15:6; 2 Corinthians 5:21

[5] Romans 6:9

[6] Psalm 110:1, cited in Luke 20:42-43

[7] Luke 4:18-19, citing Isaiah 61:1-2 and 42:7

[8] cf. John 9:32

[9] Luke 9:51, 53

[10] 1 Samuel 16:7

[11] Deuteronomy 18; Joshua 5:13-15; 1 Sam 13:14; Psalm 22; Isaiah 52-53

[12] Pastor David Peterson, Sermon for Quinquagesima, March 10, 2013

[13] Cf. Luke 18:13

Sexagesima (Second Sunday before Lent)( 2 Corinthians 11:19—12:9)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon and Sweet Home, OR

Sexagesima (Second Sunday before Lent) + February 4, 2018

Text: 2 Corinthians 11:19—12:9

The marks of success that we’re accustomed to look for are external: being popular, well-spoken of, and attractive.  Indeed, if you owned a business, this is what you would want for your establishment because that’s what it takes to have your venture succeed.  If your business is not successful, you won’t make money.  When it comes to judging if something is successful, we’re comfortable with these kinds of measurements.  They’re easy to identify and easy to quantify, and—most important—easy to brag about before others.

 

What St. Paul was dealing with at Corinth were teachers who came in after his first labors, and challenged the Gospel he had taught them on the basis of visible signs of success.  They said Paul was unreliable and that he vacillated between yes and no (2 Cor. 1:15-21).  They accused him of not being persuasive and his message not getting the results it could have if he would just do a little to spice it up (2 Cor. 4:1-6).  These opponents even went to the point of despising Paul because he was meek in person but wrote boldly (2 Cor. 10:1-12).

 

In contrast, they were more than happy to boast of their ancestry and their boldness to proclaim a message that got “results”!  It was attractive in person and packed a house.  It sure seemed to be better than that message Paul was peddling.  Paul called them “super apostles” because they seemed in every way more powerful, effective, and attractive than himself.

 

But the more important question is not whether the message “got results.”  It’s whether it is the Word of the Lord or not.

 

While we’re accustomed to looking for outward marks of success, St. Paul reminds us what kind of marks are often associated with the true preaching of the Word:

 

23Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one…with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23–28)

 

Any reasonable (worldly) person would tell St. Paul he’s in the wrong line of work or that he’s playing for the wrong team.  But in fact Paul is a true apostle of the Lord, and the message he preached was God’s Word.  So why all this trouble?

 

That’s a question we often ask ourselves when things go sideways.  From the Word of God, we’ve come to know the Lord.  We’ve taken our faith seriously and passed it down to our children.  We have sought out true teaching, and we worship where we do because of that, even though our friends might go to other churches.  We’ve even given faithfully from what the Lord has gifted us.  Why then, after all that, does God seem to send calamity to our lives?

 

Why do our grown children forsake the faith we gave them?  Why do deadly diseases and long, drawn-out ailments fall upon us while God-haters live a long, carefree life?  Why do the dollars seem to pour into other causes and congregations while those where the Word of God is taught truly are making hard choices?

 

It’s never a safe thing to claim that we know the exact reasons why God in His infinite wisdom allows evil to happen.  But this much we know: God does not want our faith to be in the wrong things—namely, to trust in ourselves and to be proud of the choices we’ve made.  The Apostle tells us,

 

7So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7–9)

 

To keep us from becoming proud of anything in us, God allows Satan to harass us.  But remember that our God and Savior has Satan on a leash.[1]  These sufferings remind us that we are not lords of our own life.  When we are emptied of the strength we thought we had and all that’s left is weakness, that’s when the Lord Jesus comes to us and says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 

Your Lord is the Crucified One.  All the people of his day—even his own disciples—wanted Him to show His saving power with fire in heaven and a splendid earthly kingdom.  They wanted His glory and success to be outward, something they could touch and see.  But at His first coming, Christ’s power to save was made perfect in His suffering.

 

3He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3–5)

 

 

 

Jesus saves the weak by being made weak Himself, by sorrow and grief, by piercing and crushing, by chastisement and wounds.  But what a glorious mystery this is!  It is by this weakness—even to the point of death on a cross—that the Lord triumphed over evil and Satan and even death itself.

 

The mystery of suffering for the Christian is that it is confirmation that you have followed the right Christ.  The Crucified One—your Lord—says, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” (Matthew 10:25) and 11“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11–12) This is proof positive that you are bearing the cross while following Him, and in that you can actually have joy.

 

This is what it means at the beginning of James’ epistle: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

 

If it is out of Jesus’ cross that God brings you salvation, do not doubt that He is able to support you in your mortal weakness!  Do you suppose He was talking only to other believers in other circumstances when He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you”?[2]  Was it only to Paul that He promises His grace in weakness?  No, His grace is enough for you, and it is in your weakness that you see His power.  Jesus is not Savior of the strong and capable, but of the weak and needy.  Be weak and needy and have nothing to say you can handle it on your own, but boast in your Lord.  Let your marriage and your family give all glory to Him.  Let your health—whether it’s good or bad—give all glory to Him.  Let our congregation give glory only to Him.

 

St. Paul concludes in verse 10, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Amen.

[1] Mark 1:27; Revelation 20:1-2

[2] Joshua 1:5