The Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter Day)

Readings: Job 19:23-27 | 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 | Mark 16:1-8

Text: Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Easter mornings are always the best for Church. We sing louder than any other day. We sing, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today, Alleluia!” We shout for joy. We tell each other He is risen! We celebrate with more friends and family than usual beside us. We feast at the Lord’s table with the whole Church throughout time and eternity. And we always hear the story. The Gospel story, that Jesus is risen from the dead. And we get to see Him appear to those very first eye-witnesses.

Oh, wait, did we somehow miss that last part? That can’t be right. Today’s Gospel lesson doesn’t quite get to seeing Jesus risen from the dead. You have to come to the early service to see Jesus appear to Mary in John 20! Here in Mark 16, we’ve got the women at the tomb. We’ve got the stone rolled away. We’ve even got the angel proclaiming the good news that Jesus is no longer in the grave. And then the women run off. “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

In fact, that’s where the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end. Actually, it might even end in the middle of a sentence. It ends with a word that in Greek can never begin or end a sentence. The last words in Mark are “εφοβουντο γαρ.” They were afraid, therefore…. And it stops. The ESV cleans it up by assuming γαρ was before and means “because.” Nonetheless, no one sees Jesus.

Now, later manuscripts add an ending to Mark. And we don’t exactly know what to do with them. The longer ending seems to draw on the other Gospels, and Acts. It gives us the resurrection of Jesus we’re looking for. But they really don’t seem to be originally from the Evangelist Mark. So still biblical. Just not exactly part of Mark’s story. But you can see how they got put there.

However, this shorter ending actually can be the exact ending Mark has been building to throughout his entire Gospel. For Mark, seeing is not believing. Remember also that Mark’s first audience were Gentile believers living in Rome—those who had never seen Jesus or the places He walked. Consider how in Mark’s Gospel, the disciples see many miracles throughout Jesus’ ministry, and yet not a one will stand by him from the moment He is arrested. Jesus’ enemies see what he does, too. In chapter 3, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand in the sight of all (3:1-6). And yet the Pharisees use that moment to plan Jesus’ destruction. Hanging on the cross, those Pharisees would taunt Jesus with the words, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.

In chapter 8, the Pharisees came to Jesus demanding a sign right after Jesus had just fed four thousand people. Even with the sign in front of their eyes, they demanded to see more before they would believe. And Jesus replied with these words, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say no sign will be given to this generation.” Seeing is not believing.

Hearing, however, is. In Mark’s Gospel, the disciples followed Jesus before they ever saw Him do anything. Blind Bartimaeus in chapter 10 calls out “Lord, have mercy!” without having seen at all. It was the loud shout on the cross when Jesus died that convinced the centurion that, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Three times we hear Jesus tell us exactly how the cross and resurrection are going to go down. And the cross happened exactly as He said. Now, here at the tomb, there sits an angel with the words, “He has risen. He is not here… Just as He told you.” We hear the Good News, well before we could ever see.

But maybe we should ask whether or not the women at the tomb believed when they heard the good news from the angel. We know they heard. But with that news, “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone.” If there was anyone that should have expected an empty tomb, it was them. We heard of the women just earlier at the end of chapter 15, after Jesus died on the cross, that, “When He was in Galilee, they followed Him and ministered to Him.” They heard Jesus tell the disciples on three different occasions how He was going to die and how He would rise from the dead. But that’s why Mark ends his Gospel the way he does. With that half sentence that just begs to be completed. They were afraid, for indeed…. Where their story ends, yours begins. We start afraid. We start trembling. We start astounded.

I don’t know your fears. But there are fears that are common to all people. Perhaps you’re afraid that you don’t measure up. That you’re not doing a good enough job. Maybe you’re afraid that if you had done better in the past, today’s pains wouldn’t be as sharp as they are. It could be that you’re afraid that you can’t do enough to make right what you did wrong. Or it could be that you’re afraid to ever be wrong, lest everything come crumbling down. Today, you might be afraid of losing one you love. You could be afraid for yourself, of failing health and not being able to take care of what you used to. Then again, maybe waiting for tomorrow will be too much to bear. It could be that there’s so much, that you can’t do it all, and are afraid of disappointing those you love. Or maybe there’s nothing to be done, and you’re desperately lonely. Perhaps death is knocking at your door. And your sin is more than you can bear. Whatever it is, Satan does not let you go unscathed. Whatever it is, it’s not something you can fix.

I don’t know your fears, what makes you tremble. I don’t know what astounds so much that you can’t say anything to anyone. But Jesus has put someone here for you. A young man. Well, youngish man in a white robe who is telling you that Jesus is risen. He is not in the grave. Look here at the place where He was. He has gone ahead of you.

No matter what your fears are, Jesus is risen. Everything you fear is overcome by the Lord Jesus whom even death couldn’t conquer. That is the news we have been waiting to hear. Even if we didn’t know that’s what we needed. For indeed Jesus has taken every fear and carried it Himself. Jesus has taken the things that make us tremble, and nailed them to His cross. Jesus has taken even the most astounding sins, and buried them in His tomb. Look at the place where He was. All our sins lie dead. But Jesus has gone ahead of us into life. We were afraid, for indeed our sin was great. Our fears are overcome, for indeed our Savior is greater. Greater than even death itself. And this is the best thing we could ever hear.

Therefore, Easter is for hearing. Our fears are overcome. Our sins are forgiven. Our griefs, He has shouldered. Our doubts, He has carried. Our worst failures are made right. During, our loneliest hour, Jesus is with us. Death has been defeated. And life is given out to all. This is where the Gospel of Jesus Christ continues. This is where the good news reaches our ears and we hear who we are in Christ. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of God. And so we shout the Easter message so that all may hear.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

Vigil of Easter

Readings: Genesis 1:1-2:3 | Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13

Exodus 14:10-15:1 | Mark 16:1-8

Text: Jonah 3

  • In the sophisticated thinking of higher critics, Jonah is not to be thought of as historically accurate. After all, how often has a fish been large enough to swallow a man? They doubt it because it seems too fantastical to be true.
  • The view of self that holds sway today says that we are more powerful, more masters over nature and the future. After all, every intelligent person knows that these times are more advanced and different from the past. We’ve evolved, don’t you know, you Neanderthal?
  • Jonah himself suffered for his own idolatry. He put his ways above God’s. When he did, how did that work out for him? Could he not find respite because of his own tormented god-consciousness? Or was there indeed a God of heaven who had chosen him to preach a small but powerful Word?
  • Consider these verses:
    • 7The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. 8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.” (Psalm 29:7–8)
    • 6The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.” (Psalm 46:6)
      • 6By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” (Psalm 33:6)

In our reserved, sterile minds, we might take these words figuratively. That doesn’t really mean that God’s voice comes out in fire or earthquakes. I’ve never seen the earth melt! Because it’s so far removed from our daily experience, we accept only intellectually that God created by His Word, the same as people intellectually assent to the theory that all things came from a “big bang.”

  • May the Word of God preached topple the idols we have today and put us in sackcloth and ashes, just as it did in Nineveh. There is a piece making the rounds in churches by Eric Metaxas, called A Letter to American Churches. I agree with him that Christians need to wake up from their suburban, comfortable and culturally acceptable Christianity. This is truly a time for us to wake up from the denial that our world is not Sodom and Gomorrah, and that we are not living in proud Tyre and Sidon, against which the Lord will bring disaster. I disagree with Metaxas, however, that the tipping point will be in the number of Christians who speak up.
  • One lone Hebrew went into the great city of Nineveh, and preached eight words to strangers. Before you know it, even the king is proclaiming a fast. Proud pagans to cowering sinners, asking, “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” (Jonah 3:9)
  • We are the church on earth, given that same all-powerful Word to confess before men. And confess we must, lest we be like salt that is bound to be trampled by men’s feet. For as many individual cases of apathy or rebellion, it is not the Word which has failed. God has not granted them repentance yet. On we believe, teach, and confess that God’s Word is living and active.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

Palm Sunday

Readings: Philippians 2:5-11 | Matthew 27:11-54

Text: Matthew 27:11-26

It is a blessing to our faith that we meditate on our Lord’s passion yearly. A Christian faith that has a fuzzy view of the historical, fleshly sufferings of Jesus Christ will easily fall for suggestions that the Christian life is just the best of the methods for self-improvement. Such Christians may intellectually understand themselves to be sinners, but it remains abstract. “Jesus died for my sins,” they say, but they cannot or will not conjure an image in their minds that the bruised and bloody Savior was not a victim of a cruel world. He was standing where I deserve to be, and so do you.

So, I would like to consider three aspects of our Lord’s passion from when He stood before Pontius Pilate.

1. Righteous Judge

Pontius Pilate was a government official. He was chosen to govern the province of Judea (Luke 3:1)

He was familiar with the ways of the Jews. He had both a familiarity with the ways of the Jews and the edict to keep the peace in Caesar’s name. (Luke 13:1)

The chief priest and scribes brought Jesus to the governor not because they wanted a fair decision. They wanted to get rid of Jesus with a veneer of justice.

What they got was exactly what they wanted—a judge who was acting unjustly. Slyer than a lawyer who knows how to manipulate a certain justice, they used the very tactics that spoke to Governor Pilate. Despite the warning of his wife (v. 19), despite his own judgment (v. 23), Pilate perverted justice.

In a last ditch effort to do what is right, he offered to the crowd to free either a known insurrectionist or Jesus. To emphasize this even more, he called Jesus the Christ. Nevertheless, they called for His death. They had the Christ, and would they had known it—but they did not understand.

Neither did Pilate. He did not understand at this point God’s narrative that the Righteous One must be condemned in order for the unrighteous sinner to be made free. Barabbas was a placeholder for you and me. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18)

2. What profit is it to me?

24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’”

Pontius Pilate was a selfish coward. He was no William Wilberforce who would rather face slander than drop his righteous cause. When the first round of resistance came to him, he remembered what his superiors had sent him to this backwater province for: keep the Jews in line. There had been incidences of radial Jews who had led the crowds awry. His job was to quell the nonsense.

So, despite his wife’s warning of this man’s innocence, despite the final question to the crowds, “Why? What evil has he done?” A riot was beginning, and he could not have that on his watch. His reputation was more important than doing what was true and good and right.

Who are we to point a finger at him? When it’s become difficult for us, how have we not caved to family or social pressures? What do we gain from standing for what is true? A lost job? Ridicule? Being alienated from our own children? When we see that it profits us nothing in this world, we are just as quick as Pilate to cave to the pressures.

3. Washing in water, washed in blood

What was Pilate’s response to this? He took water and washed his hands of the matter. What good was this? It has no power to absolve him.

What did the people respond? 25 And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.”

Water and blood—both thing which God highly prizes, but without faith they are blind to its true importance! Pilate wanted to wash himself of the sin of condemning the innocent to death. If only we could simply wash ourselves of the sins which we have done. If only there were some cosmic “undo” button that would take back the past! But just like Pilate, we can find none, no matter how earnestly or publicly we renounce it.

“His blood be on us and on our children!” The crowd shouted this as they murderously sought the death of this Jesus of Nazareth. Likely, they didn’t know the significance of what they were shouting. This wish was heard in the cry of the Lord, who prayed for them, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) And what they meant for evil—the lust for his blood and to be rid of him in the moment—God was working for good. For it was not their bloodlust, their will to “crucify the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8) that had the last say.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36) Through their evil acts, their utmost rejection of the preaching of the Kingdom of God and rebellion against it, God worked a salvation that is for every one of us. No matter how we have rebelled, it is a full forgiveness.

That water which Pilate desired to absolve himself? It’s fulfilled in the water of Holy Baptism, which cleanses not just hands and one’s own wounded conscience, but the whole person and truly is “an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21)

The blood for which the mob cried? It was exactly what they needed: The blood of Christ, the spotless Lamb, who shed His blood for the rebellion and wickedness of all of us. His blood be on us and on our children was answered by a heavenly messenger: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)

And all we can offer to God is thanksgiving for the true and heavenly washing given us in the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Fifth Sunday in Lent (Judica)

Holy Baptism of Mathilda Goehring

Readings: Genesis 22:1-14 | Hebrews 9:11-15 | John 8:46-59

Text: Genesis 22:1-14

“God, what in the world are You doing?  I can’t handle this!  I just got done with the last wrench You threw in the works!”  There are times like this, where honestly, we have no idea what our God is at work doing—only that it’s hard and we can’t see how it’s going to work out.  But in these times, He doesn’t tell us what He’s thinking, except the familiar words of Jeremiah 29:11: “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Yet, there is a time where we are given a glimpse into the Lord’s thoughts.  That is the passion of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  There, God tells us so much of Himself, that the Father speaks directly from heaven three times: at Jesus’ Baptism, at the Transfiguration, and in John 12 when Jesus prays, “’Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’”[1]

But when it comes to the Passion of Christ, perhaps we’ve heard it so many times and seen different depictions, that its full weight doesn’t always hit us.  That’s why we turn to Abraham, so that we can learn what cost and pain God bore to gain our salvation.  The testing of Abraham puts flesh on the Father’s offering, in terms that we can appreciate and feel ourselves.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son…”[2]

Abraham had waited for his son Isaac.  In fact, he had waited an entire lifetime; Isaac was born to him at one hundred years old.  Isaac was quite possibly the most special child ever given in answer to prayer.  He meant everything to Abraham, and he was the fulfillment of God’s promised mercy. His very name, which meant ‘laughter’ was a constant reminder of how exceedingly overjoyed Abraham and Sarah had been at his birth, and God’s supreme faithfulness.

But then God gives the command: “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.”  Is this some kind of perverse humor on the part of God?  This sounds more like something out of pagan mythology.  The thought must have crossed Abraham’s mind, “God, what are you thinking?”  God demands the life of Abraham’s promised son.  This is the same son God had said, “The son of your own loins will be your heir.”[3]  And Abraham believed God and “saddled his donkey” with Isaac.

Abraham did not know the outcome of this.  On the way, Isaac noticed that something wasn’t right about their sacrifice, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  Abraham knew, but didn’t want it to be true.  Yet, he knew that this is how it must be.  His God of promise had given the command.  So, prophesied unknowingly to Isaac, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

St. Paul would later call Abraham the “man of faith”[4] because he obeyed God’s Word even though it meant terrible loss to himself.  God had given Him Isaac and now it seemed the Lord would once again take away.  When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.”  Abraham remained completely faithful to God’s command, “not turning to the left hand or to the right.”[5]  His upraised hand held the knife that would put his own son to death.  It wasn’t like Job, who lost his family to natural disaster.  It wasn’t even like Adam who lost one son to the evil of his firstborn.[6]  No, Abraham had to do the slaying because God had commanded it.

11But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 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.” 

Abraham’s faith in God was justified because he offered up his son, his only son.  But God did not take Isaac’s life.  The Lord provided a substitute for the life of Abraham’s son: a male lamb for a burnt offering.  And that is how it continued for Israel all their days under the Law of Moses—the lives of bulls, sheep, goats, and birds for the life of the Israelites.[7]

Years later, God’s people, Israel, would live near people who were so perverse they did offer their sons to get an answer from heaven. The worship of the god Molech, involved sacrificing your children, burning them alive to garner the god’s favor. At that, we ought to wretch. So desperate is our desire to have some control over what happens to us.

The last plague of Egypt was something unthinkable: “every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill.” (Exodus 11:5) God would put to death the firstborn of every Egyptian. Why be so inhumane, we might ask the Lord?

God was not beyond showing that sin is so serious that it deserves the death of the firstborn son. But just as He did for Isaac on Mount Moriah, He did for the Israelites:

11 “When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, 12 you shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb…Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. (Exodus 13:11-13)

Sin’s deadly poison infects even the youngest child. But just as with Isaac, God provides a substitute, a redeemer. He does not ask for the life of you or your child. Even though sin is very serious, deadly even. Instead, He provides a Lamb for the sacrifice.

"God…gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish.”

God provided for Himself the Lamb, and because of Him, your life is saved. God gave up His Son into death so that you are His child and call on Him as Father.  And He tells you no lie: You are truly His children because He adopted you in the waters of Baptism. From Galatians 3,  “You are all sons of God, through faith, for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ…And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”[8]

That has made Mathilda an heir of that promise. God has not demanded her life, but provided for her a Lamb, who has died in her place. Simon and Corinne brought her to these saving waters because they believe in the Lord, who says through St. Paul, “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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom. 6:3-5)

This is why we treasure Baptism so much and call it holy. It is God’s salvation delivered. The substitute Abraham believed the Lord would provide, nailed to the cross of Calvary, so that everyone who clings to Him in faith shall not perish, but have everlasting life. Mathilda may not be able to display and articulate her faith today, but she has received an eternal gift. And it is now your duty, Simon and Corrine, to teach her about that gift she has from God as she grows, so that she would live all her days as an heir of eternal life.

And should any Christian ever doubt God’s love for them, look back and see what price He paid for your salvation.  The Father suffered His only-begotten Son to be betrayed, mocked, flogged, crucified, dead, and buried.  Faith will tell you all of this was for you, so that you would be His child.  St. John tells us, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are.”[9] 

  In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

[1] John 12:28

[2] John 3:16

[3] Genesis 15:4

[4] Galatians 3:9

[5] Deuteronomy 5:34

[6] Job 1:18-19; Genesis 4:8

[7] Leviticus 1:1-17

[8] Galatians 3:26-27

[9] 1 John 3:1

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Readings: Exodus 16:2-21 | Galatians 4:21-31 | John 6:1-15

Text: John 6:1-15

We began Lent in the wilderness. Jesus is alone and hungry. Then, the Devil comes along and tempts him. Hunger is evil, he seems to say: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread to feed you in this wilderness”. The feeding of the five thousand echoes this temptation of Jesus. In the first wilderness, Jesus was starving in the wilderness, on the verge of death. To Satan, He quoted Moses: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4)

The wilderness is known as a place of testing. When that testing is in the hands of the devil, it becomes a place of temptation. Satan is influential in this wilderness by tempting the disciples to despair and the people to love bread and the stuff of creation above the Word. “Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little’…[Jesus said,] Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” (John 6:7, 26)

As far as temptation goes, just like our first parents and unlike Jesus, they fail. They sin. They don’t want a Savior from sin, they want a bread king. 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” If they have full bellies, they feel no hunger for the Word.

Jesus has come for the sake of these failures. The Word made Flesh [John 1:14] provides bread not from stones or manna, but by an abundant multiplication of the boy’s gift distributed by the apostles. This foreshadows how He will give His own risen Body through bread.

This all brings together the providence, patience, and grace of God, which comes for the unworthy through means.

Vulnerability and Need:

1. Like the people in the wilderness—both Israel of Old and those people who came out to hear—we often don’t recognize how weak we are, that our every breath comes from God, and that we are easily killed. We wander about without a plan, stumble into spiritually harmful situations, while thinking we have it all under control. We will do well to identify with the Israelites and those crowds in the wilderness. It’s only to our detriment when we think we’re a higher caliber of human being than them.

Our trouble today is that we have an arrogance which calls itself “common sense,” (how pragmatic!) thinking it is actually superior to others. Related to that, we think that most people, unlike ourselves, are stupid. We suffer from incredible biases and pride.

This bias and this pride mislead us and deceive us by false comfort and cause great harm to ourselves and to others.

2. Unbelievers simply call this ignorance, but they find no serious fault in it. Not so with us Christians. We should know the Creator and His mercy. Therefore, our guilt is greater. Our vanity comes from a hardness of heart against God’s revealed will which we know.

What this looks like is when ee ignore or hush His Word and then assume it will always be there when we want it. “Of course,” we say, “God will always rescue us!” When we take God’s providence and patience for granted, we commit blasphemy and idolatry.

3. Worst of all is our abuse of grace. When we behave as though God’s mercy and grace is deserved, that He will forgive us no matter what. That is, when we commit premeditated sin willfully, repeatedly, without true remorse or any effort to amend our ways, we mock God and the gifts that He gives. This is highest blasphemy. It is anything but “walk[ing] in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness” (Ephesians 4:1-2) Such abuse is poisonous, and I warn you, if left untreated it will destroy faith.

4. Therefore, we rightly learn to see ourselves in the wilderness in our present day, on the cusp of destruction. We have foolishly paid no attention to spiritual matters. We have been misled by our pride and wicked men. We are starving for what God gives, in desperate need of His grace. There is nowhere else to turn. Without you, we perish, Lord. Save us. As we prayed last week in the hymn, “Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die.” (LSB 761:3)

God’s providence, patience, and mercy revealed is in the miracle of feeding the five thousand.

1. What do we do with the historical events that happened there for these 5,000+ people in the wilderness? So far removed from these eyewitnesses, and with “common sense” as their guide, liberal scholars teach people to view this miracle as an inspiration to share with the needy.

2. This is not completely wrong. Jesus did use the means of the boy’s bread for the miracle. The boy’s generosity was inspired by the teaching and love of Jesus. We ought to be careful not to despise the smallness of any gift. This boy gave to the need that was presented to him. That is, he gave it to the Church, in love and what he gave away is no longer his. That is okay because he gave it in love.

3. But the idea that Jesus is simply teaching us how to share is blasphemy, because it treats Jesus as simply a moral teacher, not true God. Yes, He is an example worth emulating. Yet, if that’s all we take way, how sad our state! What’s more, He is the Giver not the sharer. He is the Almighty and His miracles are real. He works through means, but it is He alone who multiplies loaves and fish.

What was it that moved Jesus to act that day? Consider the heart of God first of all. It was His compassion: Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”  Not simply that they needed a meal for a day. They needed life-long spiritual care. In another place, Jesus also looks at the crowds and this is what He sees: 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36). What does He do, but rescue the people from their helpless and ignorant condition? He gave them what they needed, more than nourishment: He gave them, “the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

This is to say He showed them that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” Not only did He resist Satan in his temptations, but He also steers us against the dangers of faith-destroying unbelief. Unbelief will steal everything from us. We will lose everything—the temporal gifts of God that our bodies enjoy, but also the eternal gifts of His grace and a place in His eternal Kingdom. May He preserve us from such a dreadful condition! In the Naem of Jesus Himself, who overcame in the wilderness, and showed His willingness to save us in our own need.


Third Sunday in Lent (Oculi)

Readings: Exodus 8:16-24 | Ephesians 5:1-9 | Luke 11:14-28

Text: Luke 11:14-28

This time of year, many of us are looking at spring cleaning. As more light comes in the window, the grime on the windows and the dust in the air is harder to turn a blind eye to.

The first part of spring cleaning involves moving things out of the way to uncover what you haven’t been dealing with: dead leaves, fur, dust, long lost items that fell off behind the table. There’s an excitement about making visible progress.

As the job wears on, you may reach a point where you say, I never want to have to do this ever again! Let’s just do a massive purge! If we just didn’t amass all the stuff, it wouldn’t be so much trouble. Your stories of cleaning may vary…or it might be an unpleasant reminder of how you haven’t or can’t seem to get to it.

Of course, our Lord is not concerned whether our houses are tidy or messy, just as it doesn’t put Him off if the clothes you’re wearing today are up to cultural snuff. He is concerned with saving us from things far more insidious than dust mites.

If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. (Luke 11:20-22)

Satan is no friend to people. From the beginning, he has shown what sort of deceitful “friend” he is. Those who today claim to be Satanists, and who dabble in taboo practices like tarot and Ouija boards are embracing the sweet poison of the lies that Satan dispenses. C.S. Lewis was wise to depict Satan as a woman in white who invites the unsuspecting in with Turkish delight (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe).

The difference between the devil and dust mites is that the clutter simply accumulates due to inattention, but this Satanic strong man and his demons are an active danger: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) The dust and daddy longlegs do not target you as Satan does. His aim is your eternal destruction with him. He would like to see you and your family, as well as every human being ripped away from God eternally because of spiritual death and proud rebellion (like him).

~ Demonic Possession ~

In the past, overt displays of violence and a show of strength to make people cower and avoid the demoniac. [Mark 5:1-20]

Today, it manifests itself in what Jesus says today: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather [together, that is, synagogue] with me scatters.”

What demonic lies have won over your friends, your children, and grandchildren that keep them from being gathered with the faithful?

23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Whoever is not with Christ is actually against Him. The lip service people pay to being a Christian (that is, one who follows Christ) is proved to be false by their way of life, and it will not escape the Judgment Day. Whoever does not synagogue with Him scatters. What this means is that the chief work of Satan we see today, and even more so after the COVID revolution, is when the victims of Satan are kept from the congregation.

The satanic way is to put the proverbial rock in your shoe: be it what you think of the other people at church, some supposed failing in the music or the manner in which the service is conducted, and perhaps Satan will even tempt your spouse so that they incite you and drive you away.

23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. For the one who has been rescued by the Lord, there is comfort and safety in the congregation. It’s not merely a matter of “church attendance,” but of the ground upon which our life is built: beginning with Baptism.

~ Living in Baptism ~

Baptism of Christ by Cima da Conegliano

We have to clean multiple times. It’s never truly complete until we move out of a house and lock the door for the last time. Then we can set down our mop. What are the sort of things we only have to do once? Get a social security card? Usually just take the driver’s test once.

We do confess in the Nicene Creed, “I believe in…one Baptism for the remission of sins.” But whenever we treat it like a past event as if it were a lifetime membership, a ticket to heaven, that is a lie out of hell. That is the work of Satan and his demons in our day.

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

In Holy Baptism, it begins with an exorcism. Not the Hollywood pea-soup kind, but a warning against the devil and all his host: This one being baptized now belongs to a new Lord and Master.

“Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways?” (Rite of Holy Baptism, LSB 270)

  • Who is the devil, but a fallen angel who masquerades as an angel of God [2 Corinthians 11:14].
  • What are his works? He is a liar and a murderer from the beginning [John 8:44]. He twists God’s Word into exactly what He wants it to say, seeking spiritual and eternal death of men and women.
  • What are his ways? To appear as a pious friend, who tells you that you are right, and “the church” or people in it are wrong. [1 John 2:18-20]

The alternative rite for Holy Baptism, authored by Martin Luther puts it very frankly, “Depart, O unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit!” And in our dull awareness of the spiritual realm, we think it can’t be all that bad away from Christ. I mean, they’re not shrieking and cursing Christ vocally. But that is not where the unclean spirits show themselves today in America.

They want to keep the baptized away from Baptism. There they lurk, in waterless places. That is, places away from the waters of Baptism. Listen to these wise words from the church father, Tertullian, speaking to us from the 3rd century:

“Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life! A treatise on this matter will not be superfluous; instructing not only such as are just becoming formed [in the faith], but them who, content with having simply believed, without full examination of the grounds of the traditions, carry (in mind), through ignorance, an untried though probable faith. The consequence is, that a viper of the Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism. Which is quite in accordance with nature; for vipers and asps and basilisks themselves generally do affect arid and waterless places. But we, little fishes, after the example of our ΙΧΘΥΣ [ichthus, an acronym for ‘Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior’], Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water; so that most monstrous creature, who had no right to teach even sound doctrine, knew full well how to kill the little fishes, by taking them away from the water!” (Tertullian, On Baptism, 1)

Beloved little fishes at Bethlehem, Beelzebul is no friend and inert danger that we can steer clear of by our own wits. The Stronger Man, the Lord Jesus, has cast him out and away from you. He has saved you in the waters of Holy Baptism. Live in it every day. Begin every day in the sacred Name He places on you.

You have been cleaned out of the devil’s works and ways, in order to be filled with Him and the Word He speaks. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. By the Word which speaks to each of us in our lives—as husbands and wives, parents and children, leaders and followers, rulers and citizens—He shines the bright truth that we may recognize and flee from the craft of our enemy.

11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you…14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:11-14)