Palm Sunday

Readings: Zechariah 9:9–12 | Philippians 2:5–11 | Mark 14-15

Text: Mark 14-15

The Passion of our Lord is stark and cruel.  There’s no painting it with a nice gloss to make it more attractive.  It forces us to gaze deeply and uncomfortably at something grotesque: an innocent Man arrested and falsely accused, with no one to come to His aid either in heaven or on earth, who had nothing but love for all people beaten and mocked and killed.

As we have just faced this again, it is helpful for us to deeply examine what is happening as the Lord Jesus gives up His life.  Words are important, but often we use them carelessly and without thinking very deeply about what they mean.  Here are a few examples:

Godforsaken, as in, “Who would want to live in this godforsaken place?”  We call something godforsaken when it’s desolate and undesirable.  But has God in fact forsaken a place because its condition is adverse?  Has God forsaken you because your days are unpleasant toil, your marriage is a painful mess, or you can’t seem to catch a break no matter how hard you pray?

If you want to see what godforsaken looks like, look to Jesus, who is betrayed by His friends.  He is said to be God’s Son, yet God does not come to His aid.  He is falsely accused in the name of God, and yet nothing silences those mouths.  He is innocent, and yet injustice prevails, the Roman judge saves his own hide and releases a murder.

With His dying breaths, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk. 15:34) because He truly was forsaken, despised and rejected, cut off from His people.  The answer to His cry, “Why have you forsaken me?” is so that no other believing child of God would ever have to wonder—He hasn’t!  And you can be sure of this because God has set His seal on His beloved, Jesus. That way, we can confidently believe what He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5 citing Joshua 1:5)

Damn – “Damn it, them, those…”  Oh how we love to fix our problems in the utmost!  Yes, we might try to soften it and supposedly make it kid-safe with darn or dang, but the force is the same: We want whatever it is gone from our life (and the earth for that matter)—the group we see as harmful, the implement that doesn’t work right, the person who’s hurt and angered us.  But we don’t have that kind of authority, to go condemning him or her or this or that.  Only God does.

And what is God doing, He who does indeed have that power and authority?  He doesn’t condemn the sinner; He damns His Son. He condemns Him as the singular worst sinner.  For all the lies, cheating, murders, fornication, slander, idolatry—Jesus is damned.  It was so that He would not damn you who believe.  “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) 

“Why won’t God answer me?!”  When you pray and pray, and the answer doesn’t seem to come, you might ask this.  And while those who mock God and put Him to the test shouldn’t think they’ll have an answer, the Passion points us to our Lord Jesus’ experience.  Throughout His passion in Mark, heaven is silent.  “He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’”  But there is no answer; only the snores of His disciples.  He faced abuse before the Council, and when He declared Himself to be the Christ, the Son of the Blessed who will come on the clouds of heaven (Mk. 14:62), God allowed Him to be abused.  As He hung between heaven and earth, with passersby wagging their head and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself,” there was only darkness.  All on earth appeared to abandon Him, and heaven seemed not to care.

But when He uttered a loud cry and breathed His last, heaven declared with certainty that His suffering and the despair He endured were not in vain: “The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”  God spoke with actions that the sacrifice of His Son was acceptable in His sight, now more than all whole burnt offerings and incense.  Heaven may have been silent during that hour, but the Father and His holy angels were keeping eager watch, to give the pronouncement that access to God is opened by Christ—“God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:4-6) In the Passion, behold what God has done for each one of us.  Repent of your blasphemous thoughts of God’s way toward you, and see in His Son delivered up that He will never leave or forsake you, that you who believe have passed out of judgment, and that He now delights to hear you call Him Father in prayer.  Amen.

Lent Midweek V

Text: 1 Kings 21

Every one of the Ten Commandments protects a gift that God has given, as we’ve been hearing through the season of Lent. The Eighth Commandment protects God’s gift of a good name and reputation, which is a very precious thing, as it says in Proverbs 22, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” So God doesn’t allow people to testify falsely about each other, slander one another, or gossip about another. Now, if someone casts aside his own good name by public sin, that’s his business, and he can bear the consequences. But we aren’t allowed to take a good name away from anyone, whether by spreading gossip or by telling lies.

The Ninth and Tenth Commandments both protect God’s gift of the right to keep what he has given us. In order to understand these commandments, we must understood what is meant by the word “covet.” The Hebrew word (חָמֵד)that gets translated as “covet” simply means “desire,” and can refer to good or bad desire. Even in paradise there were desirable things, as it says in Genesis 2, “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is desirable to the sight and good for food.” The same word is used here as in the Ninth and Tenth Commandments. So desire can be good, and the Ninth and Tenth Commandments don’t prohibit desire entirely. They simply prohibit us from desiring the wrong things.

The first instance of desiring the wrong thing happened at the Fall. “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 desirable to make one wise…” and you know the rest. What made this a bad desire? It was a desire for something that God had not given, and that distinguishes between good and bad desire. It’s good to desire the things that God has given you, that is, to delight in them and find them pleasant. It is good to desire the things which are good for you, as it says in Psalm 19, “the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” (Ps. 19:9-10)  It’s a sin to desire things that God has not given you or that are harmful to you, and it’s this bad desire that we call coveting.

The account of Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21 began with Ahab coveting. Ahab saw that plot of ground next to his palace and thought, “Oh, it would be such a nice place for an herb garden! I could grow mint and cumin and dill, and look out my window, and see the pleasant little plants growing, and smell the spices blending together in the air and wafting up to my bedroom.” Now Ahab had a palace. He was the king of Israel. What’s one vineyard compared to all the land he already owned and all the wealth he had already accumulated? Yet our sinful nature always desires more and is never content, and when once it fixates on something it is difficult to turn away from it. And so Ahab pines away in his bedroom, moping and refusing to eat, as if Naboth’s vineyard were the only thing in the world that could satisfy him.

Jezebel came to Ahab and couldn’t fathom why Ahab didn’t just take the vineyard: “Do you now govern Israel?” In other words, might makes right. If it’s in your power, then do it. The people of the world hold to this adage, at least while they have the upper hand. Yet the Lord says in Micah 2, “Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance. Therefore thus says the Lord: behold, against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks.” Just because you can acquire something does not mean it’s yours to acquire.

It’s important to note how upright Jezebel seemed as she went about her dirty work. Certainly we know she was scheming, but in the eyes of the people Ahab’s acquisition of Naboth’s vineyard seemed entirely legitimate. Jezebel had a fast proclaimed in Naboth’s city, and thus this whole event has a ring of religiosity about it. The elders and leaders of the city, who had to be part of the scheme, could find a false comfort in the Fourth Commandment, that they were just obeying the authorities that God had instituted. How pious of them. Two men are to bear witness against Naboth. Jezebel arranges things according to God’s Word, as it says in Deuteronomy 19, “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” The witnesses are to charge him with cursing God and the king. The punishment for blaspheming God’s name was being stoned to death, as it says in Leviticus 24, “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him.”

“We were just acting according to God’s Word,” the people could say. Now they knew Naboth. He didn’t give up his vineyard because he actually was a pious man, and everyone knew it. God had made provision in Deuteronomy 19 for when a false charge was suspected. A charge could be appealed to the priests and judges and diligent inquiry be made. The people should have defended Naboth’s reputation, but their silence killed him. Likewise, when people gossip to you about others, you shouldn’t listen to it or believe it or act on it or repeat it. You should rebuke gossipers to their faces and make them blush, “What are you saying that for? It’s none of your business.”

Yet, as Luther writes in the Large Catechism about the Eighth Commandment, “It is a common, pernicious plague that everyone would rather hear evil than good about their neighbors. Even though we ourselves are evil, we cannot tolerate it when anyone speaks evil of us; instead, we want to hear the whole world say golden things of us. Yet we cannot bear it when someone says the best things about others” (I.264). And knowing this about human nature, it’s no surprise that the people are perfectly willing to listen to evil things about Naboth and stone him to death.

So Naboth was out of the way. But why should the vineyard fall to Ahab as opposed to someone else? Because not only did Naboth supposedly curse God; he also cursed the king. It would only be right and just that the king should get the goods of the man who dared to curse him. That would set a fine precedent so that others would not engage in such disrespect, and it would be a fine restitution for Ahab, whose precious reputation had been so slandered by that rogue and scoundrel Naboth. And so you see that in the eyes of Israel, Ahab was perfectly within his right to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard.

Yet this was far from being “right.” We recognize it in Ahab’s case. But we will only be wise if we recognize it in our own. Consider these lines from the Large Catechism, “Such is nature that no one wants someone else to have as much as he does. Everyone tries to accumulate as much as he can, and lets others look out for themselves. Yet we all consider ourselves upright people, and put up a fine front to conceal our villainy. We hunt for and think up clever tricks and shrewd tactics―better and better ones are being devised daily―under the guise of justice. We brazenly dare to boast of it and defiantly insist that it should not be called rascality but shrewdness and foresight” (I.297-298). But understand that no matter how “right” it may seem in the eyes of man, if you desire that which God has rightfully given to another, it is never right.

We see this in Ahab’s case, who, though he appeared to get away with it, was nevertheless convicted by God. The judgment was not a light one: the same thing that happened to Naboth would happen to Ahab. Now there’s comfort in this for us in that no one can truly get away with anything evil against us, no matter how right it looks in the eyes of man. God sees the heart, and knows which desires are right and which are covetous, and he avenges very severely the wrongs that receive no justice from man. Yet this is also a terror for us, for the same reasons. God sees our heart, and he knows which desires are right and which are covetous, and though man may reckon you to be innocent, God will not be fooled.

How shall we escape the wrath of God? Consider the end of the reading. If the Lord showed some amount of compassion to Ahab, who was not sincerely repentant and had no faith, then the Lord will certainly have compassion on those whom his law has made contrite and who do have faith in Christ. You have a greater Naboth, who was slandered and falsely condemned for your salvation, who refused to give up his inheritance and was willing to die for it. His blood does not call out for your blood, but He is risen and His blood calls out for your pardon.

He covets, or desires, what is good: Your sincere repentance and to clothe you in His own righteousness.  It occupies Him day and night, and in that you are saved.  In Jesus Christ alone is forgiveness of sins and the fulfillment of the Law, and to His saving work we turn our attention in the coming Holy Week. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31–34 | Hebrews 5:1–10 | Mark 10:35-45

Text: Mark 10:35-45

In Jeremiah 31, the Lord says in coming days that He will make a new covenant with His people.  He says that in this new covenant, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.” (Jer. 31:33-34)

So, that begs the question, how does the Lord write His Law on our hearts?  We know from secular studies about teaching that there are different kinds of learners: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing.  Some have an ear that will remember what was said or have a keen memory for things that are sung.  For others, it may be having a picture to illustrate or associate with the lesson.  Kinesthetic learners absorb by interacting hands-on.  Read/writing learners retain what they read and can cement it by writing notes. 

As a side note, the Christian Church throughout the centuries has employed these different modes—singing our faith; using the visual arts; making use of labyrinths and rosaries; and meditating on the heard and written Word of God. 

But back to the question of how God writes His Law onto our hearts.  He tried the spoken and written form from Sinai, and the problem was that sin in us only rebelled when God exposed it.  He’s given tactile examples of His work through signs like circumcision and leading His people through the Red Sea, yet somehow those illustrations often don’t make it to the heart.  He gave visuals like the serpent lifted up on a pole, and the people turned it into an object of worship, called it Nehushtan, and made offerings to it (2 Kings 18:4).  And as Jesus so aptly points out, God sent many prophets to speak into the ears of the people, but their hearts were hard and unwilling to listen (Matt. 23:29-35).

Now that all the typical methods of learning are exhausted, what remains?  From the Epistle reading, we hear:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

It isn’t simply a matter of how to make a righteous, obedient people, but a question of Whom.  Jesus appeared, not as another Law-giver like Moses, because the Law Peter calls a “yoke…that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear, but we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:10-11).  Jesus came to intercede for sinners, stiff-necked and spiritually dead as we are.  He came to bring life and immortality to light by His work, which we call the Gospel.  In the “days of His flesh,” He manifested that the way to God is not simply taught through words or kept by threats of punishment.  The way to God is through suffering, as it says, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” (v. 8-9)

We hear this, and we think God must be some kind of sadist, who delights in squeezing the evil out of people by making the do without, bearing agony in their soul and body, and then hiding His face from them in their greatest time of need.  That is what suffering is without Christ.  It leads people to cry out, “If God is good, why does He allow evil to happen?”  But you will never receive a satisfactory answer to a question like this.

The way to God doesn’t come in answer to our questioning the suffering (and accusing God of causing it or being unjust to us).  It comes through the suffering which God did inflict on His own Son, Jesus Christ.  Suffering is evil. Death is evil.  Sin is evil.  But when they meet in God’s Holy One, they all become holy.  It’s in Him that suffering is given meaning and purpose.

In the Gospel, James and John asked the Lord Jesus, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”  To which, He asked them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?…The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.”

To have a share in the Kingdom of God is to be trained by suffering before we enter into glory, just as our Savior was.  You and I share in that through Baptism: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” 

In Christ our Lord, our suffering and death are made holy and good.  Wait!  Did the pastor just say that?  Yes, for the child of God, who lives in the One who “learned obedience…and was made perfect by what He suffered”  These things are good in God’s sight.  Consider these passages:

From King David, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Ps. 116:15

From Elihu teaching Job, “He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity.” (Job 36:15)

James is so bold to say, 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)

And as St. Peter wrote to us, 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:21-25)

The way in which God teaches and plants His instruction home in us, is after the image of Jesus, the Crucified One.  But He was not only crucified, dead, and buried.  On the Third Day, God raised Him from the dead, to live victorious over the sin and death of this world.  That’s the victory which He gives to you while you are suffering.  God is not a sadist, but a Savior, because “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

For this, His good and gracious purpose, may He strengthen and keep you now and unto eternity.  Amen.

Lent IV Midweek

Text: 2 Samuel 11

Additional Reading: Luke 19:1-10

The Sixth and Seventh Commandments protect gifts of God. The Sixth Commandment protects the gift of chastity. The Seventh Commandment protects the gift of possessions. Neither chastity nor earthly goods come from ourselves. Both come from the Lord.

Concerning chastity, it says in Proverbs 19:14, “House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.” Spouses are a gift of God. Or alternatively, some have a special ability to remain unmarried and yet not burn with lust. This also is a gift from the Lord, as we hear in Matthew 19: the disciples are reflecting on certain advantages of remaining unmarried and Jesus says, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.” The Sixth Commandment protects the gift of chastity, both for the married and the unmarried. For the married, chastity means being faithful to one’s spouse and not seeking others. For the unmarried, chastity means celibacy. The Sixth Commandment protects this chastity by forbidding people to take for themselves those whom God has not given them.

Concerning possessions, we may be inclined to think that through our work, we determine how much we have. It certainly says in Proverbs 20:4, “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.” God grants us no license to be lazy. However, David prays to the Lord in 1 Chronicles 29, “Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all.” And we have this paradox in Proverbs 11:24, “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.” Or as we sing in the Magnificat, “he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.” (LSB 231, Luke 1:53)  These all show that possessions are a gift of God, not something that we acquire. The Seventh Commandment protects the possessions that God has distributed in His wisdom by forbidding people to take for themselves things that God has not given them.

Now it is God’s nature to be giving and gracious and wise. He is our Father in heaven who has all His creations at His disposal and apportions them according to His good pleasure and our need. God is not a socialist. He’s not interested in everyone having an equal share. One man has a beautiful wife, one man has a homely wife, another man has no wife. One man has millions of dollars, one man has no more than his daily bread. God doesn’t care about appearing “fair” in man’s eyes; He cares about being a good Father. And for this we can be glad. Since God is a good and gracious Father, we can be content with what He has given us, knowing that it is exactly what we need, and—more importantly—knowing it is from Him. Nothing makes chastity or possessions more precious than knowing our Father in heaven is the One who has given them.

Yet it is our nature, sinful as we are, to be discontent with what God has given us and to think we could distribute things better. We would much rather take than wait for God to give, or be content with what God has already given. Let’s see how that played out with David: He saw Bathsheba and wanted her. He inquired about her and found out, “Is this not Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, wife of Uriah the Hittite?” She is not available for marriage. She is already married. And she’s certainly not available for the mutual violating of chastity. Yet he took her to himself, and it doesn’t seem that she resisted.[1] When she conceived, David didn’t show any remorse for his action. Perhaps he figured he was entitled to her as king, or entitled to her because she consented, or entitled to her simply because he wanted her. Man is very skilled at justifying himself, except that in the end he can never justify himself.

David thought that he had successfully covered up the affair. “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” That was all too far from both of their minds.  The Lord sent the prophet Nathan to David to confront him about his sin, and Nathan did so through a parable:

“There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

It’s an unfortunate flaw of our fallen nature that we’re able to see clearly in situations that don’t involve us but are often blinded by our own desires in the situations that do. Fortunately, the Lord provides the preaching of his Word to bring us to our senses. David sees very clearly that the rich man in the parable did wrong. He took from someone else, as if God had not already given him so much. And David pronounces his own sentence, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan responds, “You are the man!” and then speaks on behalf of the Lord: “I gave to you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and I gave to you the house of Israel and Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.” The Lord’s emphasizes his gracious and giving nature, to which David had become blind until this rebuke. The Lord continues by identifying David’s sin, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in my sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and you have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and you have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.” There’s the sin. David took for himself what the Lord had not given. In doing so, he despised the Word of the Lord and he despised the Lord himself. And as for the consequence of David’s sin, the Lord is going to teach him anew who has the right to take and who has the right to give: “I will take your wives before your eyes and I will give them to your neighbor.” This is a just consequence, and useful for man. It is good for us to receive reminders that God is the giver and taker, even if those reminders sting.

We’ve seen that God is a good Father, that He gives graciously, that He justly chastens us for our good when we need correcting. We also see that our Father forgives our trespasses. David has now been brought to a knowledge of his sin and his heart is contrite. As David would later sing in Psalm 51, reflecting on this event, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” He heard a gracious Word from the Lord: “Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.’”

David heard the Absolution. His sin has been forgiven. There will still be consequences. Those don’t negate the forgiveness of sins; that’s important to remember. And while the consequence of David’s sin was hard to bear, the death of his child pointed to God’s greatest gift of all. The Lord said in Ezekiel 18, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son.” So why did David’s son die for David’s sin? Because the Son of David would die for David’s sin and for the sin of the whole world. Our Lord Jesus Christ is descended from David according to the flesh. And as it says in that very well-known passage of Scripture, which we heard again this past sunday, “God loved the world, so that He gave his only-begotten Son.” That’s the sort of giving God you have. Paul expands on this in Romans 8, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

Thus we see that in Christ we learn to be content. What more could we want than him? And God has freely given him to us. And he has freely given us himself. If we should lose all we have on earth, nevertheless in Christ we can boldly say with Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” That’s because the Lord will never take himself away from us. He has given Himself to us forever. And if we have Him, then we can be content with all else, come what may. Amen.

[1] Deuteronomy 22:23-24

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Readings: Numbers 21:4–9 | Ephesians 2:1–10 | John 3:14–21

Text: John 3:14-21

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16—it’s one of the best loved passages in all of Scripture.  It appears everywhere from signs in the background at baseball games to the bottom of soda cups at the Christian-owned In-N-Out Burger chain.[1]  Christians love this passage because it is the whole Gospel of Jesus in a nutshell.

            But let’s think more deeply about what this verse really means: “God loved the world.”  Yes, the same world that built the Tower of Babel to make a name for themselves,[2] the same world that builds temples to demons and worships the creature rather than the Creator,[3] the world which today writes off belief in God as obsolete superstition, and the same world that persecutes Christians because they refuse to acquiesce to the progressive values of the day.   God loves the world of people like Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler, Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi, abortionist Kermit Gosnell and every unborn baby who loses his or her life.  God loves the world, despite the evils people commit against each other.

            God loves the world, including those who slander the president or governor, complain behind a person’s back, are prone to outbursts of anger and cursing, divorcees, the resentful or greedy, those cheat on their spouse in heart or in fact, and the unforgiving.  That’s when it amazes us that God even loved us, though we’re guilty of breaking Hs holy Law, and completely unworthy of His kindness.  “God so loved the world”—including you and me—“that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

There’s a problem in this world with the word “love.”  It’s widely believed that love is purely emotional and self-serving.  But this kind of love can’t make it through “for better or for worse, for rich or for poor, in sickness and in health.”  No wonder so many marriages end in divorce with this idea of love.  At best, it’s not much more than infatuation that doesn’t look much deeper than a handsome face or pretty hair.  At worst, love is just a synonym for lust and used as a means to get one’s own way.

Yet even as we condemn the world for being so wayward, we need to take a look in the mirror.  We also have this self-serving idea of love in our relationship with God.  When we hear that God loves us, we want that to mean God will provide everything our hearts desire, no questions asked.  God loves me, so He gives approval and affirmation to our lifestyle.  He should be proud of how I’ve lived my life, and He should know that every time I sinned, I was justified in doing it.  That’s the kind of love the sinful flesh seeks from God.

But here in the Gospel, God’s Son shows us how much greater the true love of God is.  First of all, love is always directed outward, never in on self.  Love looks for what the other needs, and then strives with all its might to make that happen.  So, when love sees poor, sinful creatures, it must act to rescue them.  Love also doesn’t wait for the beloved to ask, but it acts spontaneously and willingly.  As the Epistle makes clear, sin hasn’t just made human beings weak; it’s made them dead.  Dead people can’t ask for anything, or seek anything in God.  “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” (Eph. 2:4-5).  Love counts the other’s gain as the highest good and never balks at the cost.  Hear the words of the God who loves: “The Son of Man came not be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[4]

The world’s version of love is deadly, because it’s equated with acceptance of whatever another person chooses.  That’s not true!  Silence and indifference is more evidence of hatred rather than love.  God’s hatred lets the rebellious go their own way: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity…those who exchanged the truth of God for a lie.”[5]   God’s love has not let the rebellious and dying world go its own way, and the very fact He speaks against the sin of man is evidence that He has compassion on us.

This was true in the Old Testament reading from Numbers 21.  God was leading and providing for the people He chose for Himself to be His treasured possession.[6]  But they got impatient and grumbled against God and Moses, the man God had given them.  Then, the Lord sent fiery serpents that bit the people so that they died. 

God was not overreacting.  The people had fallen into unbelief, and in their unbelief, they had no share in the inheritance He promised to Abraham.  To bring it into New Testament wording, if they rejected the gifts of God, they would perish in their sins.  And God would not have that.  It was the love of God that sent those fiery serpents among the people to wake them up and warn them!  When the people cried out that they had sinned, God then commanded Moses to lift up the bronze serpent, “and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”[7]  If God had not loved them—if He had hated them, as the people complained—they really would have died in the wilderness, without food and water…or salvation.

This is God’s love at work, which our Lord Jesus reveals in the Gospel. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For in this way[8] God loved the world…”  That little word “for” connects the bronze serpent to the cross, and the cross as the emblem and seal of God’s love.  This is the manner in which God loves the world: “I am He…I kill and I make alive” [9]  He kills the Old Adam, the sinful flesh in us. He disarms and destroys the devil’s work.  And then He makes alive through Jesus, the Crucified and Risen One. But it’s all moved by His love for the lost and rebellious people of the world.

The cross demonstrates God’s love for every person—especially you.  God’s love might seem strange as it did to the Israelites, but rest assured that His chastisement is meant to bring each of us to the cross.  When you consider your life and say that it should have gone or be going a different way, remember God’s love.  When you grow impatient with the trials He puts you through and you envy those around you, repent of your unbelief!  Repent of worshiping the temporal stuff of this life—be it food or drink, a nice house, a new car, the perfect job, or a dream vacation.

The thing God treasures above all things for you is that you have fellowship with Him, believing in His Son.  If you find yourself arguing with Him that He’s mismanaging your circumstances or putting unbearable people in your path, remember anew His eternal plans for you.  God is your Almighty Father in heaven, who rules over all and gracious works all things for your good.  You, who believe in His Son, have been called according to His good purpose, and He will not fail to save you from destruction and keep you in eternal life. If that means suffering for a time in this vale of tears, so be it.  It is God’s good will for you.  He is preparing you for much more than broken life in this world; He has a new heavens and new earth stored up for you. 

Now we see what love the Father has for every person in the world.  It is a selfless, self-giving love, that pours out the life of His Son on the cross, that a world of dying sinners may live.  This is the love He has for all people—even the ones we despise.  God’s love is not content to see any person perish.  He desires that everyone would believe and behold Jesus,[10] lifted up on the cross for them, so that they receive the eternal life prepared in full for them. Amen.


[2] Genesis 11:1-9

[3] Romans 1:19-25

[4] Matthew 20:28

[5] Romans 1:24-25

[6] Deuteronomy 7:6

[7] Numbers 21:8

[8] What is often understood as “God so loved” is not a matter of degree, like God loved the world so much.  Rather, it’s indicates the manner in which God demonstrates His love.

[9] Deuteronomy 32:39

[10] 1 Timothy 2:3-4

Lent III Midweek

Text: 2 Samuel 15:1-14

Additional Reading: Luke 10:25–37

The Fourth Commandment concerns God’s authority on earth. Through father and mother God rules households. Through president, emperor, king, and other civil offices God rules the nations of the world. The authority of father or president is not the authority of a mere man, but it is the authority of God himself. Now if a parent or civil authority commands us to do something contrary to God’s Word, then of course we say, as Peter did in Acts 5, “We must obey God rather than men.” However, such a command does not excuse us from showing honor and respect to the one in authority over us. If God wishes to remove a scoundrel from having charge of a family or a nation, that’s His business to set up and depose and He sees fit. We, for our part, don’t get to act like we’re no longer under authority. We may have to disobey one command because of God’s Word, but anything that’s not a sin, we should gladly do. And even a bad father or ruler is worthy of respect, if not according to his person then at least according to the Fourth Commandment.

But seldom do we even need to say, “We must obey God rather than men.” When’s the last time your parents or the government commanded you to sin?

The 2017 Explanation to the Small Catechism makes a distinction we ought to consider: “We must distinguish between what a government permits people to do and what it compels them to do. When it compels us to act contrary to God’s Word, then we must disobey and live as God intends. When government permits activities contrary to God’s Word (for example, abortion, no-fault divorce, and same-sex marriage), we bear witness by living as God intended.” (Note on Q. 57)

More often, we’re disobedient toward authority because we think the one in authority is doing a bad job and we know better than he or she does. Then we justify rebellion by fixating on the failure of the one in authority to do his duty, while at the same time turning a blind eye to our own duty.

This is how Absalom ended up forming a conspiracy again David, who was both his father and his king. Here’s how it began: Absalom had an older half-brother named Amnon, who was David’s firstborn son. Amnon violated Absalom’s sister Tamar, and David didn’t do anything about it [2 Sam. 13:1-22]. Was it not David’s duty, both as father and as king, to uphold justice and mete out punishment against the evildoer? But no consequence came against Amnon.

So Absalom took matters into his own hands and murdered Amnon. It’s astounding how often breaking the Fourth Commandment goes hand in hand with breaking the Fifth. A child is displeased with mom and dad’s sense of justice, and so takes matters into his own hands and hits a sibling. A group of disgruntled citizens rebel against the civil authorities and start a murderous uprising (case in point with this past year’s protests turned riots). Children despise their parents, and so don’t care for them physically in their old age. So it’s not surprising that Absalom quickly went from breaking the Fourth Commandment to breaking the Fifth.

Absalom fled Jerusalem to another country and was there for three years. Eventually David brought him back to Jerusalem. And two years after arriving back to Jeruslaem, Absalom appeared before his father and king. “He came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom.” A fine outward show of honor. But immediately after this comes the reading we heard tonight. Absalom does not honor his father and king. He has it out for him. He sneaks around and cleverly wins the hearts of the people, and soothes his conscience by saying, “See, all the people are discontent with my father and they like me and want me to be judge over them.” When you disobey authority don’t you like to talk about your disobedience with others and get them on your side, as if they could erase the Fourth Commandment and justify your disobedience? It’s been three thousand years since Absalom did this, and human nature hasn’t changed a bit.

You heard Absalom’s conspiracy, and how he dragged God’s name into it, pretending he had to repay a vow that he had made to the Lord, when he really just wanted to go public in full rebellion against father and government. Sin begets sin, and knocking over one commandment often knocks other commandments down with it. Absalom misused God’s name, misused the sacrifices that God had instituted in his Word, dishonored his father, murdered his brother, slandered the king’s reputation, coveted his neighbor’s house. And he would go on to commit adultery and take things that didn’t belong to him. And of course in all of this he broke the First Commandment, thinking that he would make a better god than the real one, that he could do a better job with authority and justice and distribution of kingdoms and power.

David and his servants fled for their lives, and after setting himself up in Jerusalem, Absalom went out hunting for his father. David had troops with him, Absalom had troops with him, and there was a great battle in the forest of Ephraim. Before the fighting started, David ordered the commanders of his army, Joab and Abishai and Ittai, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” David wanted his son to have a good life, and what parent doesn’t desire that for his child? But if David wanted his son to have a good life, he should have kept order and discipline in his family and upheld the Fourth Commandment. The Fourth Commandment says, “Honor your father and your mother, that it may go well with you.” Absalom devoted himself to breaking the Fourth Commandment, and so even though David tried to protect him, the Word of God would stand true and it could not go well for Absalom.

Absalom was riding through the forest on the back of a mule, and as he was passing under a great tree, his thick, luscious hair became caught in the branches. The mule went on, and Absalom was left suspended from the tree. A certain man saw him there and reported it to Joab, “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” “And [Joab] took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak. And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him… And they took Absalom and threw him into a great pit in the forest and raised over him a very great heap of stones.” (2 Sam. 18:1-18) That was the end of Absalom. His life was cut short, he had no son, he received no proper burial, it did not go well with him. And David paid for his own negligence in upholding the Fourth Commandment in that he never got to see his son again, not even his corpse.

Does God forgive sins against the Fourth Commandment? Of course. His Son has hung on a better tree that that of Absalom, and Jesus hung there because of obedience, not disobedience. His blood covers all your sins, and he does not lie buried in stone, but has risen from the dead and exercises authority on earth through his Word. So yes, God forgives sins against the Fourth Commandment.  In fact, it was by our Lord Jesus’ keeping the Fourth Commandment, that we are saved.  As the hymnist Paul Gerhardt writes, “’Yes, Father, yes, most willingly/ I’ll bear what You command Me./ My will conforms to Your decree, I’ll do what You have asked Me.’ O wondrous Love, what have You done!/ The Father offers up His Son, / Desiring our salvation.” (LSB 438, st. 3) We should be warned, however, that sinning against the Fourth Commandment does not bring light consequences. God will uphold his authority by making examples of those who persist in disregarding it. And we should see this as a gracious thing on God’s part. If we learn to disregard the words of those whom God has put in authority over us and don’t see any harm in doing so, we will learn to disregard God’s Word as well and will suffer eternal harm for doing so. Obeying earthly authority certainly does not earn eternal life, but despising earthly authority can quickly turn into despising Christ’s authority and despising His words of eternal life. So, we can be glad that God has set before us the example of Absalom. By warning us with such an example, the Lord is saving our lives and teaching us to respect His authority. The fear of God opens our ears and makes us attentive. And then when the Lord speaks in His authority, He speaks all things for our good, and we learn what a fine thing his authority is, to him be honor forever. And the recipients of His lovingkindness respond: Amen.

Third Sunday in Lent

Readings: Exodus 20:1–17 | 1 Corinthians 1:18–31 | John 2:13–22

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

St. Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians, who were a gathering of people from largely Greek backgrounds, yet they were called together to belong to God through Jesus Christ.  But in being called to belong to Him, they often found themselves at odds with the world around them.

They were at odds with their pagan neighbors whose values were based on the stories of the gods, the direction of Fate, the moral lessons of poets and philosophers, and often what was deemed acceptable by their position in society.

They were at odds with those who believed that reason was the way to better mankind, and that we could unlock the mysteries of life by contemplating and arguing for the right way to “walk” (Peripatetic tradition).

And though outsiders may have classified them as members of a Jewish sect, they were at odds with mainline Jews because they believed that Jesus was the Christ.

So, Paul traces the lines which divide them from their fellow man: “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  The thing which separates Christians from both the religious and the reasonable is the cross. 

19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles

By the cross, God exposes the human folly of self-made salvation.  Many will seek assurance from religious rites, tradition, miracles, and mystical experiences.  When the Apostle says “Jews,” [1] he’s not only talking about the Semitic people; but all who are tracing a partly-true, but man-made religious path to God.

Many also, especially today, tout the wisdom of reason, the certainty of empirical evidence, and avoiding the ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and superstition of the past.  These are today’s “Greeks,” who may be willing to dip a toe in the supernatural, but are ready at the slightest sign of weirdness to flee to the safety of a closed, material universe.

And both of these paths will give a person a kind of peace. A temporal peace, at least.  God is spirit, and the way to know Him is through the spiritual realm.  God has also given us our reason, abilities, an ordered universe, and He has revealed Himself through human language.  But neither of these have ever been meant to be a do-it-yourself solution. 

The cross crushes both of these, because it’s in Jesus Christ that all human striving comes to a dead stop.  It shows that man’s use of religion results in the debacle where they crucified the Lord of Glory in order to preserve worship on their terms.  The reasoned pagans like Pontius Pilate stood dumbfounded at Jesus’ unwillingness to save His own life.  The battalion of soldiers stripped and mocked Him as a king with no army.  Then they publicly humiliated Him, gloated at His mortality, and wrote Him off as a criminal.

It’s not just about seeing the right signs, or hearing a bulletproof argument.  The Apostle says further in chapter 2, “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.” (1 Cor. 2:14)

But this is confused for us, because in our day, we live on the other side of hundreds of years of Christendom.  Starting with the days of Constantine in the 300’s AD, society was so intertwined with the Christian Church that it was difficult to distinguish Church from civilization.  Baptism and citizenship were nearly synonymous in most places.  Biblical morals became the good morals of society.  The Church thrived as an institution that normed and united people over vast regions.  However, it wasn’t that there were necessarily more people in the Kingdom of God because of this outward influence. People then, as now, still fall into these two classes: the natural person, and the person in whom the Holy Spirit dwells.  Both so-called “Jews” and “Greeks” fall into the natural category, even though they outwardly might blend in with the latter.  That’s one of the pitfalls of the idea of Christendom in the world.

Even in our country, we are a nation with roots in Christendom, but increasingly it’s clear that people’s heart is not with Christ.  Even still, there’s a confusion between the genuine people of God and moral agnostics.  In the Ten Commandments (actually, “The Ten Words”[2]), given from Mt. Sinai, the bulk of what we hear is do’s and don’ts.  The natural man who lives on—even in believers—is convinced that the right set of rules will make a people who please God.

We like that, because if people will just keep these rules, life is easier for everyone.  It isn’t just the honoring of father and mother that leads to long life in the land (Ex. 20:12).  If people would just worship the true God, invoke His Name, join together in worship, submit to authority, protect life, uphold marriage, respect property and income, speak about others with dignity and respect, and not lust after what belongs to another—then we’d all be a lot happier.  This was expressed in the popular song by Canadian rock group, Nickelback, “If everyone cared and nobody cried/ If everyone loved and nobody lied/ If everyone shared and swallowed their pride/ Then we’d see the day when nobody died… Amen. Amen. I am alive.”[3]

It’s true that human society thrives on principled people, stable families, justice, and equity.  History has shown this to be true, and many skilled philosophers have affirmed good ethical systems.  But this is not the same thing as the Christian Church.

Today, in the Name of Christ, people campaign to keep monuments of the Ten Commandments in front of courthouses, fight to end abortion, bring prayer back in school, and resist the tide of transgenderism.  While all of this helps curb the perverse human will, these things can never save.  They have their place, and in that way the children of God are a blessing to an increasingly lost humanity.  Paul commands us in Philippians 2, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”  But the only light that can save is the light of Christ Himself, who was offered up for all people.

The Church is “the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.” (Augsburg Confession, VII) You can have a group of like-minded, conservative people whose values align with God’s Word, but that doesn’t make them the Church.  “We preach Christ crucified,” Paul says, because this is what we need—us, who have sinned against God and neighbor in thought, word, and deed.  So there’s us, who are of little account, not powerful or many, sometimes able to influence but often not heard: God has elected you.  Sinners of all different backgrounds, classes, political opinions are gathered to Christ because His Spirit has taught them not the trust in their abilities, or values, or anything else under the sun to save, but hold fast to Jesus who can and does.

We live in times that are more and more like that of our first-century brethren in Corinth.  History shows that the Christian ethic did eventually win over the “bread and circuses”[4] of Roman hedonism.  And to have that again would be nice from a temporal standpoint, but what’s really key is that the Church is here to uphold God’s holy Law and declare the precious forgiveness in Christ to as many as are called with us out of the world.  May God grant this in our age, with a fruit that lasts for ages to come.  Amen.

[1] These verses don’t use the definite article, “the” which leaves it open to a variety of religious paths to God.

[2] Exodus 34:28, see ESV footnote

[3] “If Everyone Cared” written by Chad Kroeger, Michael Kroeger, Ryan Peake, and Daniel Adair

[4] Juvenal, Romans 2nd century satirist (Latin: panem et circenses)

Lent II Midweek

Text: 1 Kings 18:20-40

Additional Reading: John 5:1-18

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Second and Third Commandments flow from the First. In the First Commandment the Lord indicates that he is giving us himself. He says, “You shall have no other gods,” which certainly is a prohibition against trusting in any other. But included in the commandment is God’s pledge, “You don’t need any other. For everything you need, look to me, trust in me; I will be your God.” And since God gives us himself, he gives two corresponding gifts which he protects and preserves for our use with the Second and Third Commandments.

In the Second Commandment God says, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” Again, this is certainly a prohibition, but it points to the gift of God’s Name. It wouldn’t be possible to misuse God’s name if he were not giving it to us to use in the first place. Because God has given us his name, we have the gift of prayer, in which we call upon God’s name and he rescues us from all harm. As he says in Psalm 50, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

While the Second Commandment preserves the gift of communicating to God, the Third Commandment preserves the gift of God’s communication to us. In other words, the Second Commandment has to do with God’s ear; the Third Commandment has to do with God’s mouth. God says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” For the Jews this was a very strict command to rest on Saturday, and in that sense it doesn’t apply to us. Even for the Jews, mere idleness was not the point of the commandment, since human idleness doesn’t make anything holy. A day can only be made holy by the holy things of God, namely, his Holy Word. The purpose of the day of rest has always been for occupation with God’s Word. This Word of God is the gift that God preserves for our use with the Third Commandment. In essence, the Third Commandment means, “I, your God, am going to speak to you, and you shall listen.” And since our God speaks things for our good, both his righteous commands and his glorious Gospel, we see that it is a privilege to hear him as the Scriptures are read and preached.

Yet, as much as God’s name and God’s Word are great gifts of which we are not worthy, we find it all too easy to neglect them. Have you ever become bored with God’s Word? Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’ve heard this a hundred times before; I don’t need to hear it again”? The answer is yes. In spite of the fact that God’s Word is our greatest treasure on earth, we have treated it lightly.

The same goes for God’s name. God’s name is a very precious treasure. The Lord of heaven and earth turns his ear toward us, his unworthy creatures, and not only tolerates, but cherishes our petitions and promises to answer us. For our part, we may get tired of someone—even our own children—needing something from us, but not so with God. He can’t wait for us to call upon Him for help.  But how often do you give yourself over to worry instead of taking up God’s name in prayer? How often do you trust your own plans instead of entrusting yourself to your Father in heaven? And then when life doesn’t go according to your plans, how often do you despair as if all were lost and God’s name had perished?  Or even perhaps the Lord’s Name is on your lips, but your heart and mind are far from Him?

If the Second and Third Commandments flow from the First, then neglect of the Second and Third Commandments will lead to neglect of the First. Neglecting God’s Word and God’s name leads to a weakening of faith in God and opens the door for false gods. We have an example of that from Israel’s history. How did the people go from devoting themselves to the Lord before entering the promised land to worshiping the false god Baal? Well, they neglected the Word of God. They stopped calling upon God. Then they set God aside entirely and turned to another god. At one point they even completely lost the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22:8-13).

But as we heard in the reading, the Lord upholds his name and his Word, and thus shows himself to be the true God. By so doing, he also shows the greatness of his gifts: how His Name is powerful, how His Word is powerful. And by demonstrating the greatness of His Word and his name, the Lord strengthens our faith in him and turns us away from false gods.

Through the prophet Elijah, the Lord proposed a contest on Mount Carmel. Elijah told the wicked king Ahab to gather all Israel and the prophets of Baal. Elijah started with a sermon, calling the people to repentance, “How long will you go on limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people were convicted, and they didn’t make any reply to this.

Then Elijah set forth the contest. Ultimately this contest would not be between him and the false prophets, but between the Lord and Baal. The prophets would call upon the name of their respective gods, according to the word of their respective gods, “and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” Note that the Lord’s plan is to use the Second and Third Commandments to uphold and prove the First. Invoking the Lord’s name according his Word of God will show him to be the true God.

The prophets of Baal go first, “O Baal, answer us!” Nothing happened. From morning until midday they carried on and received no response. Eventually, they “cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances.” This is what the word of their god demands: that they harm themselves in order to get his favor. False gods cause nothing but pain. Whether it’s Baal, money, political leaders, your own plans, or the work of your hands, if you trust it, you’ll only end up hurt.

Then at “the time of the offering of the oblation” Elijah prepares to call upon the Lord. “The time of the offering of the oblation” refers to the evening sacrifice that the Lord appointed to be offered daily in the temple. Elijah builds an altar of twelve unhewn stones, “according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob,” but also according to the Lord’s instruction for building altars in Exodus 20. In short, Elijah proceeds with his sacrifice according to the Word of God. God’s Word does not harm him, but guides him and gives him access to God. Such is the difference between God’s Word and whatever harmful revelation false gods claim to offer.

Then Elijah prays, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Elijah calls upon the name of the Lord, according to the Word of the Lord. Elijah upholds the Second and Third Commandments before the eyes of the people. And the Lord himself upholds the First. “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.”

What does this teach us? This contest does not mean that we can stage similar contests. Elijah was specifically appointed by the Lord to do this; as Elijah says in his prayer, he did this at the Lord’s Word. This event is not something that is in our power to repeat. But the winner of the contest still stands, and thus we can join the people in declaring the outcome in a confession of faith, “The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!”

The Lord has given us his name, and we can call upon it with certainty that he will answer and repent with the people, “Lord, forgive us our neglect of your precious gifts.” The Lord has given us his Word, and we can hear it with certainty that it is true. The Word of the Lord says that his Son has borne your sins, defeated them in his death, given you peace with God by his blood. Our Father in heaven has accepted Christ’s sacrifice as certainly as he accepted Elijah’s and pardons you as certainly as he pardoned the people of Israel. The contest on Mount Carmel has shown the true God, and shown that the true God is gracious to his people. He has given himself to us. And along with himself, he has given the great gifts of his name and his Word. Make use of these gifts as God commands, knowing that they do not come from some Baal who only means harm for you, but from your Father in heaven who delights to hear your prayers and deliver you, who delights to reveal himself to you in his Word for your good. By the name of God you will receive an answer to your cries, and by the Word of God you will receive divine wisdom and eternal life. So thanks be to God for the gift of his name, and thanks be to God for the gift of his Word. Amen.