Second Sunday in Lent

Readings: Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16 | Romans 5:1-11 | Mark  8:27-38

Text: Mark 8:27-33

During this season of Lent, the faithful follow Jesus year after year to the cross.  It’s a devotional practice which spans centuries and connects us with that great cloud of witnesses who “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1-2)

For as often as some of us have “done” Lent, you’d think we’d be experts at it.  But today’s Gospel reading shows us that the journey to the cross was a bumpy one, even for the disciples who followed Jesus face-to-face.  Today, we sometimes live under the assumption that if we just had more information, we would be more convinced and more sure of something.  If we just had more time devoted to God, read, sang, and prayed more, we would automatically better know Jesus. While that’s true in the sense that we ought to make these a priority, the foundation to that is that our maturing in the faith is God’s working in us.

29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

Peter had all the right information, and he even said the right words.  We commemorated his confession of faith with this text a little over a month ago (January 18th), and while what he said was true, that wasn’t the be-all-end all of following Jesus.  Peter, years later, will teach that, throughout one’s life, everyone who follows Jesus must “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).

Mark’s Gospel especially highlights this by comparing it to the change from blindness to sight.  But it’s as easy as, “I once was blind; but now I see”—and never look back. Today’s reading comes just after the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida (vv. 22-26):

22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

The Lord heals the man’s eyes, but they aren’t altogether well at first.  Isn’t Jesus Almighty?  Yes, of course. But the lesson in this healing isn’t Jesus’ omnipotence, but rather His bearing with our present lingering blindness and gradually maturing our faith so that we see Him for Who He is, and His cross for what it truly is.  This is the point where our Lord takes us from saying the right words, to truly understanding what those words mean.

31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Ignorance of Jesus as the Christ who bears the sins of the world is more than a matter of opinion.  On this hangs whether death for us will bring release from toil and eternal joy, or eternal torment of as enemies of God.  This is the number one thing for every soul to know, but where do you hear about it?  Not in the world.  It isn’t being shared with the same urgency we hear news of earthly things.  The President vowed, “There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face,”[1] and what he defines as crises are “COVID-19, the economy, racial justice and climate change”[2]  Nowhere in such lists will you hear the crisis of sinners dying apart from the world’s Savior.

This is something which the Holy Spirit must enlighten us to.  Over the past couple years, it’s become an ideal that people become “woke” to the injustice and oppression that is allegedly all around.  This is the enlightenment of the social justice warrior, who seeks to open the eyes of others.

But Jesus deals with a blindness that is literally diabolical.  The words of Jesus make us “woke,” or rather, enlightened to the plan of Satan to keep in the blindness of sin people of all colors, nationalities, and especially those confused about “gender identities.”  In this blindness, he and his demonic host do much more damage than the wild behavior of demoniacs in the Gospels.  He shrouds people in ignorance of God’s Word, which shows us not to be victims of oppression by other men, but under the dominion of Satan and we ourselves to be lost and condemned because of sin.  And only in His Word will we come to believe Jesus’ atoning sacrifice to be the only way to everlasting peace with God.

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

God has saved us from the blindness and darkness of this present world.  Yet being delivered from sin and from death, we have also been delivered from the futility of the world and our own sinful flesh.  This is the part of following Jesus that’s especially hard, because it means continually being reminded that we are not masters and experts of our own lives.

The image of a Christian who has been liberated by God isn’t one who stands tall, but following  our Lord Himself, bearing the cross.  The world will mock and call you backward, closed-minded, and foolish.  The devil will tempt you by saying your suffering means God has forgotten you.  Your sinful flesh will hate what God says must happen.  “Let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” As much as the mockery, beatings, rejection, and drinking the cup of wrath hurt Jesus, it was by these that He has delivered you from the destruction of the world, the devil, and your own sin.  It is the Lord who works in you to will and do what is good [Phil. 2:13], and He helps you to let go of your ways, flee Satan’s ways, and the world’s ways.

When the world passes away, there won’t be anything you can give to save your soul, but what the Lord has already given for you.  And standing in His redemption, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels, we will be able to stand tall, not in ourselves, but confidently in our Lord and Savior who has gone before us and prepared the way. Amen.



Lent I Midweek

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Readings: Psalm 81:1-16 | Exodus 32:1-35 | John 8:31-59

Text: Exodus 32:1-35

At Mount Sinai, as recorded in Exodus 20, God Himself spoke to the people of Israel, saying, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves. You shall have no other gods before me.” The Lord prefaces the First Commandment (and all the commandments) with the Gospel: He is the one who has plagued Satan and his host, who has redeemed us with an outstretched arm, who has promised us an inheritance and given Himself to be our God. When we hear the Lord’s preface to the First Commandment and then hear, “You shall have no other gods,” it seems to follow so obviously. Why would I need other gods? This one God is over all and has done everything for me: given me life and breath and redemption, bound himself to me with an oath, provided for all my needs of body and soul. No other gods, indeed! What good would they be? What could they add that’s not already ours in the Lord?

And then we come to tonight’s reading. The Lord had summoned Moses onto the mountain, and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. It says in Exodus 24, “Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.” The Lord was still very clearly with His people and had not abandoned them. Yet what did we hear? “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, ‘Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’” (v. 1)

It is notable that they don’t demand one god, but gods, plural. Polytheism, belief in multiple gods, seems native to our corrupt nature. This is likely due to the devil’s initial temptation, (literally translated) “and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5) which was the first suggestion that there could be more than one deity. Man acted on that temptation, and has been inclined toward faith in multiple gods ever since.

Over the course of human history this has often manifested itself in various pantheons, that is, various sets of gods. But I caution you not to think of polytheism as some quaint doctrine of the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Canaanites, or Norsemen. This inclination toward other gods, plural, infects all human hearts. In our day, pagans often trust some combination of mammon, good works, science, and luck. For Christians, it’s more often a trust in God AND. God AND money. God AND my mostly moral life. God AND fate. God AND the medical establishment.  God AND my own powers and abilities. For God’s people, the blasphemous pantheon includes the Lord, but as one among others. So we heard that after Aaron made the golden calf, he proclaimed, “Tomorrow shall be a feast” – to whom? – “to the Lord.” “See, we still have the Lord,” the people could say. “We’ve merely supplemented and filled in some gaps.”

How quickly we forget that the Lord is the only God we need. He is the Lord our God who brought us out of the domain of darkness, out of the house of slaves [Col. 1:13-14]. We shall have no other gods, because we don’t need any other gods. But what is the consequence when people break the First Commandment? The Lord spells it out in the First Commandment itself: “You shall have no other gods before me,” that is, “You shall have no other gods in front of my face.” The consequence for having other gods is that the Lord turns away His face, or consumes people from before His face, or sends people away from His face, as we see throughout the Scriptures, and as the Lord intended in tonight’s reading. When we hear the Lord’s verdict against Israel’s idolatry, we hear His judgment against us as well: “Let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them.”

But then “Moses implored the Lord His God.” Notice, he didn’t argue that the Lord had misjudged the people. They really had turned aside quickly. Nor does Moses argue that the punishment is too severe. We deserve no less than what the Lord has threatened. To what, then, can Moses appeal? To several things, and they’re the same sorts of things to which Christ appeals on your behalf when you have committed idolatry.

First, Moses appeals to the Exodus, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” The Lord delivered His people. No one made him do it. He chose to do it, and He chose to take the people as His own. Likewise Christ has come in the flesh, borne your sin, crucified it in His own body on the cross, and left it for dead, while He rose from death. The Lord has baptized you and said in Isaiah 43:1, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” And the Name by which He has called you is His own. You have been baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Jesus intercedes, “Dear Father, do not be angry with them, not after We took such pains to deliver them and have taken them to be Our own.” And the Father is pleased to grant such a petition for the sake of His Son.

Second, Moses appeals to the Lord’s reputation, “Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’?” The Lord has concern for His Name and reputation, that His Name be hallowed on the earth—and that Name is hallowed when it glorifies God as the Savior of man. And so Christ prays, “Father, do not destroy them, lest the devil have reason to boast against Us, saying, ‘He only saved them so that He could do them harm.’” And the Father is pleased to grant this petition as well for the sake of His Son.

Third, Moses appeals to the Lord’s promises, “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven.’” So Christ appeals to the Lord’s promises on our behalf, “Father, we have sworn to do our Christians good and not harm [Jer. 29:11], so let us be gracious to them and forgive their sin.” Again, the Father grants this petition for the sake of His Son.

Now I don’t want to give the impression that God the Father is an angry god of justice and Jesus His Son is some other god of grace, and the two balance each other out like yin and yang. The Father and Son are one, together with the Holy Spirit. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit desire the same things; their will is one. So the point of these prayers of intercession on our behalf is not to say that God is changeable or at odds with himself, but to show that our entire hope for life and salvation rests in the Lord alone. Apart from God Himself taking up our cause, what can we plead but guilty and face our justly deserved punishment? But Jesus has done as Moses did and said, “Blot me out of your book, that they may have forgiveness.” [cf. verse 32] Jesus died on the cross and suffered for man’s idolatry, and at the same time showed just how great a God the true God is. He holds nothing back, but gives himself to us fully, even His very life for ours.

“I am the Lord your God,” Jesus says, “who brought you out of the devil’s kingdom, out of the house of slaves. You shall have no other gods.” And we say, “Amen, God help us, for why would we need any other gods than You?” To the only true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be praise and thanks, now and forever. Amen.

First Sunday in Lent

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Readings: Genesis 22:1-18 | James 1:12-18 | Mark 1:9-15

Text: Genesis 22:1-18

One of the sad realities of life is that people only get woken up to a problem when it affects them personally.  In war, they’re willing to send other sons into war, but hate to send their own.  Slave labor is an atrocity, but when China does it, people turn a blind eye because it saves them money at the store.[1]  We remain armchair theologians until evil and death come knocking on our door and we have to come face-to-face with them and beg God to help us.

In the Old Testament lesson today, God desired to test Abraham.  And it’s not that waiting until his nineties to have a promised son wasn’t a test, but that didn’t really plumb the depths of his heart.  Regrettably, with Sarah giving him Hagar, he had another solution.  If even in name only, Abraham did have an offspring to inherit his household [cf. Gen. 15:1-3].  Rather, when God wanted to test Abraham, He knew where to look to see what was in Abraham’s heart: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”  Your son…no, not the son of the slave woman…your beloved son.  The one I promised and delivered to you.  The son of your old age, the one whom Sarah bore you.  Give him back to Me.

If faith toward God were just a matter of information, He knows the hearts of all and doesn’t need our words.  But believing God, as Abraham did, cannot be separated from how we take His Word to heart in the priorities we set, the choices we make, and the way we treat others.  God wanted to know Abraham’s true devotion, so He asked for that most treasured part of His life.

Each of us has those nerves which are tied to what we consider precious to us above all things.  They are the things for which we fight, the things we move heaven and earth to keep: our reputation, our spouse, our children, our way of life.  Sometimes the things we fight for are not so honorable: our alcohol, our affair, our unhealthy diet, our toys big and small, our laziness.  All the while, we might say we believe in God, and convince others.

But God tests what’s in our heart in a similar way: He asks for or takes that precious thing away.  And in doing that, He strikes a nerve.  Then, feelings of betrayal and anger are aroused in us.  We try reason our way out of it, and figure there must be some way to have our God and eat our cake too.  But like Abraham with Hagar, our half-baked human solution won’t do.  God really is asking for that, because whichever you give up is not really your god.

Too often, however, we choose our precious thing over God.  The work schedule says Sunday, and we roll over without so much as requesting a different schedule for religious reasons.  Our days are filled with so much to do and worry about, who has time to stop, read a little of the Bible and pray?  It’s enough to make ends meet, how could I possibly spare anything to give to the Church or to my neighbor in need? 

The point is that what is precious to us shows us where our heart is.  As Jesus Himself says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21)

But the same is true for God!  Where His treasure is, there His heart must be also.

The test of Abraham was but a foreshadow of another sacrifice.  “And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

What is precious in God’s eyes?  What would He give anything to obtain?  What fills Him with a longing that never ceases and postpones the close of the age century after century?  Some might say that it’s an obedient humanity.  Whenever at last we get our act together and achieve the end of injustice, oppression, and violence, then we will make our Creator proud.  But that’s not it.

Perhaps we can learn what this is by what price He’s willing to pay to obtain it:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. (Mark 1:9-11)

It is no messenger, but God’s own beloved Son.  No cheap substitute would do.  No more rams, or goats, or bulls.  The wood was laid upon His Son’s back as He carried it up the mountain.  The knife would not be held back this time, but “nails, spear shall pierce him through; the cross be borne for me, for you.”[2] 

This is what is in God’s heart, and how you know what the treasure of His Kingdom is: 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matt. 13:44-46)

The precious treasure God seeks is you.  You, saved from sin, death, and hell.  And not just you, but every person in the world—”He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2 NIV)  He yearns for His Word to take root in your heart and bear fruit in your life here and there in eternity.  He covets your soul and is aflame with jealousy over whatever else captivates you and draws your devotion away from Him.  He will not settle for part of you or share you with the world, and this we know because He held nothing back from your ransom payment: “the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6)

By this treasure, we know what’s in God’s heart.  By this treasure, given for you, He forgives you for all of your sin, including the ways you have worshipped and treasured the things of this life over Him.  Praise to Him because He is so faithful, so dedicated, and so persistent!  Abraham, together with us, have times when we are doing well, but even that’s not enough.

15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

It was not Abraham himself, but the offspring or seed God promised, who has brought that blessing to all nations.  And with such a received by us, we are the children of Abraham, who confidently live in and share the precious treasure God sees in saving all the families of the earth.  And in Abraham’s children of faith, He creates in us a new heart, a clean heart, which treasures God our Redeemer above everything else this world has.  The Holy Spirit teaches us the true value of God over the things of this life, and He teaches us to know God as our loving, almighty Father.  With that renewed heart, we’re able to see that whatever our life has now is just for a time, to enjoy and thank God for it while we have it, and to be able to let it go when God says it’s time.  We are, with Job, able to say, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)

Will we be able to live with such abandon into God’s care in this life?  Perhaps, but even when you still see the treasures of the flesh deceiving you, know that the Lord has treasured you, and He has made you His own possession.  Despite the weakness of your heart, His gracious purpose will be done, through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen.


[2] What Child is This (LSB 370, st. 2)

Ash Wednesday

Readings: Joel 2:12-19 | 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 | Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Text: Joel 2:12-19; Job 13:23

Our forefather Job asked the Lord in the midst of his suffering, “How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin” (Job 13:23). This seems like a dangerous question and request. Don’t we know enough of our sins without seeking to know more of them? What would we learn about ourselves if the Lord made us know our transgression and sin? Certainly there is more to know, more than we can fathom. David prays in Psalm 19, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.” The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4, “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted.” The prophet Jeremiah speaks the Word of the Lord, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can know it?” From such passages we learn that we only know some of our sins. Indeed, we cannot fully grasp the depth of our depravity. We have a load of iniquity of which we are not even aware.

Now one might ask, “Why would I want to know it? I’ll simply pray like David, ‘Declare me innocent from hidden faults,’ and leave it at that. I’ll pray the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer in which we plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of. Ignorance is bliss.” It is good generally to confess that you’re a sinner, and it is perhaps understandable on a human level that we wouldn’t want to feel the pain of knowing just how bad we are. But we must pray with Job, “How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin.”

Why must we pray this? Because it is all too easy to let our confession of sin turn into the gentle sentiment which states, “No one’s perfect.” The world readily grants this. Saying that no one’s perfect may confess that we’re all in the same boat, and none of us lives up to his own ideal. But if our confession of sin becomes nothing more than that, it will leads to two dire consequences for Christians.

First, when we do not purposefully examine ourselves according to God’s Law, we end up with an inaccurate picture of ourselves. This is dangerous business, and can lead into outright unbelief from which we would need to be reconverted. David, for instance, in the midst of his affair with Bathsheba, was not judging himself by God’s Law, but by what he could or couldn’t get away with. Once he had sufficiently covered things up in the eyes of man, he supposed that he had nothing further to worry about. He thought he was righteous when he was not. (2 Samuel 11)

And this is where an inaccurate picture of ourselves will always lead us: into self-righteousness. We may then be free from pangs of conscience, but we would not be free from the pangs of hell. It is far better that we hear God’s judgment against our sin now while there is time to repent than to hear his judgment on the Last Day when the door has been shut. Thanks be to God, He sent Nathan the prophet to David to preach the Law to him and confront him with his sin. It was through that Law that David regained an accurate picture of himself, saw his unrighteousness, and recognized his need for salvation. (2 Samuel 12:1-14) May the Lord show such love to us as well.

Second, when we purposefully remain ignorant of our sins by gazing into the Law of God as little as possible, we also devalue Christ. He who is forgiven much loves much, and he who is forgiven little loves little [Luke 7:41-48]. Everyone has much to be forgiven, it’s merely a question of whether we recognize it or not. If we think we’re not that sick, we won’t be very diligent in seeking a cure. If my sins aren’t bothering me, and I reason that I should let sleeping dogs lie, what importance will I place on coming to church to hear the Gospel and receive the Sacrament? He who will not feel his wounds will learn to scorn the wounds of Christ. But he who will feel his wounds will sing for joy in Christ, as David does in Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.”

You see that there is much danger to be avoided by praying with Job, “How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin.” But someone might say, “If I stare deeply into the mirror of God’s Law, I’m not going to like what I see. Not only is it going to cause me pain when I realize how grievously I have offended against God, but I have a suspicion that my condition is so horribly beyond cure that I would lose all hope of salvation.”

It is true that our condition is a miserable one. Even a quick glance at the Ten Commandments reveals this. Going in order, you see that your heart has trusted things that are not God and doubted the love of him who died for you. You have neglected prayer and been thankless after receiving God’s good gifts. You have regarded God’s Word with less interest than you pay to your favorite book or show. You have dishonored those whom God has placed in authority over you. You have been angry and had bloody thoughts against those who have wronged you. You have regarded marriage according to its troubles instead of according to God’s institution, and have desired those whom God has not given you. You have not been content with the possessions that God has given you. You have delighted in hearing bad things about others and spread gossip. You have craved things that belong to other people as if God didn’t know how to take care of you.

Well, there it is. You are in a wretched state, as as far as man is concerned you are beyond cure. Yet what did you hear in the reading from Joel? “Return to the Lord your God.” Why? Because you’re not that bad, we caught it early, it’s only stage 1 sin? No. You are that bad, and we all have been from conception. But return to the Lord your God. Why? Because it’s your only option and there’s a million in one chance that God might actually do something for you? It’s true that the Lord is our only option, but there’s no doubt about what He will do. So return to the Lord your God. Why? “Because He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” Don’t turn to the Lord because of any merit in you. Don’t turn to the Lord with a faint wish that He might do something. Turn to the Lord because of who He is and what He has done for you in Christ, and with full confidence that since He is gracious, He will be gracious to you.

And so we lament with Saint Paul, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” but we confidently confess with him as well, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” We may be wretched, so wretched that we are like Lazarus shut up stinking in the tomb, who cannot even weep over his own sins rightly but only reap the wages of sin which is death. [John 11] We may be wretched and entombed, but Jesus comes to our tomb, and weeps for us, and breaks the doors of death with his death, and resurrects us with the call of his resurrected voice. “Live!” He says, “I forgive you all your sins. Come forth!” And He removes the bandages, and your flesh is clean, and the stink is gone, and you are alive in him.

So do not fear to pray, “How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin.” During the season of Lent we will study the Ten Commandments, and this prayer will be answered. But Lent will not end in despair, rather, we will come to Christ the mercy seat, to the grace of God hanging on the cross, to whom be glory and honor forever. Amen.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Readings: 2 Kings 2:1-12 | 2 Corinthians 3:23-18; 4:1-6 | Mark 2:2-9

Text: Mark 9:2-9

Have you ever stared at the sun?  I hope not, because it would burn your corneas and you’d be blind.  Have you ever handled molten rock?  If you did, it would burn your skin irreparably.  Have you ever eaten highly radioactive material?  It would destroy your cells and probably trigger cancer.  In all these cases, there are things which our bodies cannot handle.

There’s one more thing which is too much for us to endure: The glory of God.  The glory of the Triune God outshines the sun and should we find ourselves near it, it would consume us in body and in soul.  This is so serious that even if any of the five senses is exposed, it would destroy us.  Consider these events:

The ears of the Israelites:

18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:18-19)

The eyes of Moses:

18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And [the Lord] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:18-20)

The hands of Uzzah:

5David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacón, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:5-7)

All of these examples show us what the hymnwriter captured so well: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Though the darkness hide Thee, Though the eye of sinful man, Thy glory may not see, Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee. Perfect in power, in love, and purity.”[1] 

But while God’s glory shines brighter than we can bear, in the face of Jesus we find His glory to save.  Both of these realities meet on the mount of Transfiguration.

The holy, Triune God does not want us to be consumed by His glory.  He did not want the Israelites to die, so He warned them not to touch Mount Sinai.  He did not want Moses to die, so the Lord covered him with His hand.  He did not want the Levites, like Uzzah, to die, so He gave them certain duties, vestments to wear, and the daily sacrifices.  To sum up His intentions toward us, He says through Ezekiel, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”[2]  His desire is not to destroy, but to save.[3]

So since it’s a fact that His glory consumes sinners, God hides Himself.  For Israel, when the glory of the Lord appeared, it was always with a covering:

“God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

“The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud.”

“[The high priest shall] put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die.”[4] 

In the burning bush, the cloud of fire, and the cloud of incense, God hides Himself so that He is able to dwell among sinners and they are not destroyed.  Actually, out of Scriptures like these, we learn that God dwells among man by two things: covering and sacrifice.

Then comes the Son of God.  He’s no less holy or divine.  His glory is the same as His Father and the Holy Spirit.[5]  And yet, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.”[6]  How can this be?  Through covering and sacrifice.

He covers Himself with human flesh.  “In Him, the fullness of deity dwells bodily.”[7]  Most of the time, we hear how Jesus walked among the people, touched the sick, spoke to them in parables, and embraced little children.  But at the Transfiguration, we’re reminded that Jesus is indeed the same God of the Old Testament.  He is the God who “dwells in inapproachable light” and is “a consuming fire”[8] for those who hate Him.  The Son of God revealed His glory, veiled as it was within human flesh.  At this, Peter, James, and John hit the floor like the Prophet Isaiah.  But like Isaiah, whose lips were cleansed by what was taken from the altar, the three Apostles do not die.[9]

And that’s because of the sacrifice.  “This is My beloved Son,” the Father’s voice declared out of the cloud.  The fulfillment of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, God the Father will sacrifice His Son, His only Son, Jesus, on the mount of Calvary.[10]  The flogging, the thorns, and the spear will not be held back at the last minute, but God will offer up His beloved Son for the sins of the world—for all of your sins.  There on that mountain, the Lord provided salvation.

In Jesus Christ, God dwells among us through a new and perfect covering and sacrifice.  More than veiling His glory through a passing mist or smoke of incense, the covering Jesus brings lasts for eternity: All who believe in Him are covered with His perfect and pure life: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.”[11]  This is the better and perfect covering!  And He has made a better sacrifice—one that doesn’t need to be offered day after day and year after year.  The holy and precious blood of God’s Son is shed for you and for all, and it washes away every impurity.[12]

And through this, the Triune God has made His dwelling more intimately than even the Garden of Eden when He walked among His people.[13]  Our Lord promises, “Where two or three are gathered in My Name there I am among them” and “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”[14]—not based on your obedience but upon His calling you to believe, and because He dwells not just next to us, but shares human flesh with us!

So we gather here in His Name and God is with us—Immanuel.  While we are gathered here, we hear, see, and touch His glory.  We hear God speak from the Scriptures through which He creates and strengthens faith.  We hear the absolution, but it’s not merely the pastor’s forgiveness; but God’s.   We see and touch—and even taste—His glory in His Supper.  “Take, eat; This is My Body…take, drink; This is My blood.”  Make no mistake, the bread we take is God’s body and the wine we drink is God’s blood.  Far from being consumed in wrath, He says, “This is for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”  So the Scripture is fulfilled which says, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.”

So Christians are covered in Christ, cleansed from all impurity before God.  That brings up a question in our modern context.  Since the last part of the 20th century, there has been a push toward making worship more casual.  “Worship with a relaxed fit” is the motto of one Baptist church I’ve seen.[15]  Now let me make it clear that there is nothing condemnable about orders of worship or what congregants decide to wear.  Christ our Lord has fulfilled the time of divinely mandated details for worship, and He has saved us from being consumed and condemned by Law and sin.  Having fulfilled them, He has changed the approach to festivals, seasons, and types of clothing, from condemnation for getting it wrong to freedom to bask in Christ’s all-sufficient work.[16]  Through Him and what He has done, we are freed to worship the Father in the Holy Spirit and truth.[17]

Now, that also means that we are freed to fully appreciate our great God and Savior.  The God in whose presence no wicked person may dwell, has given Himself for us.  His Son, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”[18]  So those who worship are opened to acknowledge Him with reverent awe and holy joy. 

That’s why we stand at the Name of the Holy Trinity at the beginning of service and on hymn stanzas marked with the triangle.  We are delight in the Triune God who has redeemed us and mark ourselves with the sign of the precious mark of salvation—the cross and His Name.  Filled with awe at our heavenly King who has come to dwell in our lowly midst, when He speaks to us in the Gospel, we stand and sing Hallelujah and confidently speak our faith in what our God has done.  We are free to stand or kneel as we choose during the prayers, and free to kneel or stand when our Lord uses His servant to give us His holy Body and Blood.  We are free to joyfully sing the Scriptures and songs of praise to the Lord.

And all of this is pleasing to God not because of our voices or our clothes, or anything in us.  It is pleasing to Him through a faith which believes in God’s beloved Son and listens to Him.  Through Him, God has made His glory to shine brighter than anything in this creation ever could.  In Christ Jesus, we have the hope of glory,[19] not mediated by a covering, but seeing Him face-to-face, free from sin and freed from death.  To God alone be the glory: In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] “Holy, Holy, Holy” (LSB 507:3)

[2] Ezekiel 33:11

[3] see John 3:17

[4] Exodus 3:4-5; Exodus 24:16; Leviticus 16:13

[5] John 17:5

[6] John 1:14

[7] Colossians 2:9

[8] 1 Timothy 6:16, Hebrews 12:29

[9] Isaiah 6:1-6

[10] Genesis 22

[11] Galatians 3:27

[12] Hebrews 10:1-14

[13] Genesis 3:8

[14] Matthew 18:20, 28:20

[15] Highland Baptist Church, Clovis, NM

[16] Colossians 2:16-23

[17] John 4:23-24

[18] Philippians 2:6-8

[19] Colossians 1:26-27