Third Sunday of Easter (Misericordias Domini)

Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-16 | 1 Peter 2:21-25 | John 10:11-16

Text: John 10:11-16

The name for this second Sunday after Easter is a mouthful: Misericordias Domini.  It’s also a strange name, unless you’re a Spanish-speaker.  Misericordias in both Latin and Spanish means “mercy.”  It’s from Psalm 33:5, which we heard in the introit as, “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.”  But what is this “steadfast love” and “mercy”?  What does it look like, and how can we lay hold of it?  On this “Good Shepherd Sunday,” we have a picture of the Lord’s steadfast love and mercy.  He is the Good Shepherd, who calls and gathers His flock around Him.

But they are not just pristine, innocent lambs that He takes in His bosom.  They wandered into thorn bushes and thickets.  Without a shepherd, they have vied for power and shouldered the weak aside.  Some have been torn by wolves and left for dead.  Others have grown “fat and strong” on pastures they took for granted.  These are what the Lord’s sheep look like.  So, to look at the mercy of the Lord is to see how the Lord gathers His wandering sheep.

The reading from Ezekiel 34 tells how the Lord Himself will “seek out [His] sheep and rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”[1]  This refers to the time when the Lord’s flock was gathered at the base of Mount Sinai:

16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled… 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain.[2]

From Mount Sinai, the Lord gave His Law.  To that frightful sight, the people swore, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”[3]  But they didn’t, and they weren’t.  And they couldn’t.[4]  Just 40 days later, they were fashioning a golden calf, calling it the Lord, and bowing down to it.[5]  The only thing that saved them that day was Moses’ intercession, where he implored the Lord to remember the promise made to their fathers.

            But there was another mountain.  It was a mountain in the Promised Land, just outside Jerusalem.  The glory of the Lord once again appeared over this mountain.  Thick darkness covered it, and the Lord was at the top of this mountain.  But this time the threats were not against the people.  The darkness lasted for just three hours, and the voice of God did not thunder, but choked out His dying words:

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”… 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.[6]

On this mountain, the wrath of God against all human sin was satisfied.  “I am the good shepherd…I lay down my life for the sheep.”  God’s only-begotten Son laid down His life to redeem the flock of God.[7]

            Later in chapter 12 of John’s Gospel, Jesus would speak of the cross in this way: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”[8]  This is center point of the Good Shepherd’s call.  He calls the wandering sheep of Israel—and truly of all nations—to the cross.  There, as Zechariah wrote, the shepherd is struck.  For a time, the sheep are scattered, but soon, the Lord says, “They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God’.”[9]  The Good Shepherd’s call to the wandering sheep is to where He washes them from all their filthy sin and makes them His very own.  “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”

            In clouds and thick darkness, when God’s holy Law brings death and hell, sinful sheep are scattered and frightened.  They are helpless and hopeless until the Lord, their Shepherd, gathers them to His cross.  Only there, can the terrors of God be silenced.  Only the precious blood of Jesus can wash sins away.  “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”[10]  The Lord Himself restores His stained and diseased sheep, so that they live before Him in righteousness and purity forever.[11]

            This is the economy of God: those sheep who were stubborn, who were lost, who even scoffed at the Shepherd, who longed to rescue them—are absolved. No more are their pushing and shoving counted against them!.  The Good Shepherd has “laid down His life so that He may take it up again.”[12]  He laid down His life so that they might rise with Him.  They now hear their Shepherd’s voice and follow only Him.  “They will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”  Only the Good Shepherd can guide them to “good pasture, grazing on the mountain heights of Israel.”[13]  Only He can lead them has His redeemed flock, protected from the wolves and well-tended both in body and soul.

            But, the Lord also tells us, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”  His call from the cross continues to go out!  Now, He rules in heaven, the Lamb whom all the heavenly host adore, but His voice is still heard on earth.  It’s heard among His flock every time they gather for worship.  The Lord says, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”  This sets things straight when it comes to missions. It’s all too easily to manipulate people by the fear that people are going to hell if you don’t do _______. This is dishonest, and does not allow God to be the author of faith.  In the Word preached, in the Word washing, in the Word binding and loosing from sin, and in the Word eaten and drunk for the forgiveness of sins, the Good Shepherd cares for His flock.

            Ultimately, there will be one flock, even as there is one Shepherd.  All of us together hear His voice and listen—the flock of old in Israel, the flock in Lebanon, and the flock that will be.  What unites this flock is not the name of a church body like “Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.”  It’s not the citizenry of a certain country.  It’s not in outward appearance and personality.  The Church is those who hear their Shepherd’s voice.  To put it another way, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”[14]  They do not refuse Him who speaks,[15] but follow where He leads.  He calls His sheep, He cleanses them from their iniquities, He renews them, and He leads them to green pastures.

            At the Last, the one Good Shepherd will gather His flock all around Him.  They will be delivered from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation,[16] and they will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.

[1] Ezekiel 34:12

[2] Exodus 19:16-20

[3] Exodus 24:7

[4] Romans 8:7

[5] Exodus 32

[6] Matthew 27:45-46, 50

[7] Acts 20:28

[8] John 12:32

[9] Zechariah 13:7, 9

[10] Isaiah 1:18

[11] Small Catechism, IV, “What does such baptizing with water indicate?”

[12] John 10:18

[13] Ezekiel 34:14

[14] Luke 11:28

[15] Hebrews 12:25

[16] Small Catechism, III, 7th Petition

Second Sunday after Easter (Quasimodo Geniti)

Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14 | 1 John 5:4-10 | John 20:19-31

Text: John 20:19-31

On the evening of the Resurrection, the disciples—at least ten of them—saw the risen Lord! Sometimes we get to thinking the disciples must have had an easier time because they had Jesus in the flesh. After all, what quality of teaching! What a strengthening of faith to see the healings being done, the demons cast out, even the dead raised. On Palm Sunday, John comments that many of the crowd had come because Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead.

Many times, Christians have thought of the time of the Apostles as the “glory days” of the Church. They were so close in time and space to the events which we only get to hear about over the centuries and miles! Even the book of Acts has a certain luster about it, because the eyewitnesses were proclaiming—and sometimes thousands became believers at once. It’s so appealing that many times movements start in the more modern Church that want to get back to those “glory days”—ones like the Pentecostals, the Church of Christ, and communist utopian colonies.

And so in these “gray and latter days,” we can hope that we had a confession that was more visually convincing. If only we too had Jesus physically present with us, then perhaps people would believe and be saved. If only our own congregation had something more appealing, then we could reach more people, worship with more, sing more vibrantly…

However, the truth is that the apostles and the disciples afterward experienced the same amount of resistance to the ministry of Jesus. As was mentioned last week on Easter itself, some of those who saw were the harshest critics. At Nazareth, “[Jesus] could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them” (Mk. 6:5).

Even His own disciples proved to be an obstacle when, “they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them” (Lk. 18:15). This should bring even more clarity to the truth that God’s ways are higher than our ways [Isa. 55:9].  Last Sunday, too, the women saw the empty tomb and heard the message of the angel, but at first “they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid” (Mk. 16:8).

So also, here in today’s Gospel, we find the disciples locked up as if man had prevailed.  Thomas, who had once boldly said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn. 11:16) and saw Lazarus raised from the grave now refuses to believe that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life [Jn. 11:25].  These are the “glory days” of those closest to the Lord?

In fact, they remained timid even with the Resurrected Lord with them, going about their daily business as if not much had changed with His Resurrection.  You would think that this great ordination of the apostles to be “sent as the Father has sent Me” combined with Thomas’ awe-struck “My Lord and my God!” would yield some transformation. But, immediately after this climax, the disciples are right back to going fishing, as if it were “Monday morning” and time to get back to work.

So, if those who saw the Lord were still so darkened in their understanding, why would we long for that? Hear the Word of the Lord Jesus: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

We are those who hear the Lord. The disciples saw the Lord (v. 20), but ever since the Ascension, the Church hears Him speak (v. 21).  We are a Church that is built firmly and solely on the Word of God.  By the Word, the heavens and the earth were created [2 Pe. 3:5], and by that same Word the peop0le of God now live and breathe.

He has given us the reliable eyewitness of the apostles.  They did see the Lord, and they were witnesses from the beginning, as Peter said when Matthias was appointed: “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22)  In their preaching and their writings—which are the New Testament—they made repeated reference to the fact that they were first-hand witnesses of what the Lord had done,[1] and they were appointed by Him to write these things “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (v. 31).

This Word is no ordinary babble of man. We’re surrounded by words—even listening to words this moment—but the Word of God is living and active. The Risen Lord, to whom “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” (Matt. 28:18) imbues His Word with His power to make disciples and teaching them, and keeping them steadfast in this faith unto the end.

He has given us His Spirit: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (Jn. 14:26), which is better for us, because the Lord also says, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn. 16:7).  It was by the power of the Spirit with the Word that “more than ever believers were added to the Lord” (Acts 5:14).

But just because we don’t see Him with our eyes does not in any way mean He isn’t present with us. Often, people get into trouble when they look for an assurance of the Lord’s presence outside of His Word. Consider these dead ends:

  • Looking for the Lord’s presence in circumstances—when things are going well, the Lord must be with us.  When they aren’t, He must not care. Not so for the Lord, whose “steadfast love endures forever” (Ps. 136:1)
  • Looking for the Lord in emotions or experience, when we have a certain feeling that we equate with His presence. So many of our fellow Christians are led to believe that by the popular and shallow events which are called “times of worship.” But feelings are always changing. Rather, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24-25) And that foundation of Rock comes from the Word, not from our fickle feelings.

The promise and the promise is with the Word of the Lord: “Peace be with you” v. 19: By these words, the Lord opens the gates of heaven and slams the pit shut on Satan and all of your sins.  His death and resurrection to eternal life have freed you.

“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” He still sends His Holy Spirit by speaking in our midst here.  As He speaks to us and through us, that peace which looses sins comes to those who hear and believe—here in corporate worship, at home with your family, with strangers you meet.  He lavishes the forgiveness He won through us.

You are blessed because it is completely by His work that you believe.  It wasn’t because He took away all your problems; it wasn’t because you had a feeling He was with you; and it wasn’t because the lighting was just right. It is because the Holy Spirit has given you faith that your sins are forgiven and you are in His Kingdom forever.

But if you believe His Word, believe also the signs He gives: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  His Baptism saves and His Supper truly is what He says.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Acts 2:32, 5:32, 10:39, etc.

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.

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)


Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere)

Readings: Genesis 32:22-32 | 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7 | Matthew 15:21-28

Text: Genesis 32:22-32

One of our world’s favorite questions is to ask, “Where is God?” When the floods rage, where is your God? When the tornadoes touch down, where is your God? When tidal waves destroy, when earthquakes level cities, or people die, where is your God? “I thought He was good. I thought He was all-powerful. I thought He loved you.”

In fact, why wait for the big things. What about when it happens in your life? When a loved one dies, where is your God? When you find out you have cancer, where is your God? When you can’t make ends meet, when everything goes wrong, when you hurt most of all, where is your God?

It’s a good question to ask, really. Because we don’t bother with where God is until something terrible comes up. Everyday routine stuff, what’s God have to do with that? I don’t go looking for God every time I write a check, or wash my hair. I don’t go looking for God when I put on my pajamas or watch an evening sitcom. I don’t go looking for God when the 49ers take the field…except when they lose the Super Bowl. Well, maybe then. But that’s different. For the most part, we can handle it on our own.

Jacob was also pretty good at handling things on his own. He skillfully negotiated Esau’s birthright out from under him for a bowl of stew without any help. Jacob and his Mom got Dad to give him the blessing instead of Esau without a single prayer. He convinced his future father-in-law to let him marry his daughter just on his own skills. He convinced his father-in-law to let him marry his other daughter after his father-in-law conned him into the ugly one—poor, unloved Leah. He came up with that plan all by himself. When he was only allowed to keep the defective sheep for his flock, he managed to breed them all to look  defective. When He heard his brothers-in-law were jealous enough to hurt him, He got his family the heck out of Dodge. And as we see in this text, when Esau’s on his way, he’s got an escape route all planned out, just in case things go south.

Jacob talks a big game about God. He’ll say that God blessed him with this. That God was looking out for him in that. That God is a really great guy. But you know? It’s been the Jacob show all along. And now, Esau has small army. And Esau was looking to kill him not that long ago. And Esau isn’t going to be bribed out of his anger. And even just sending the women and children across the river is only buying time. So Jacob, where is your God now?

Right in front of him, trying to pop him in the teeth. It’s funny, the word for wrestle in Hebrew: אבק. It literally means to kick up dust. And I think both meanings are intended here. Jacob has a history of turning tail. But God’s not going to let him go this time.

But now? Can’t you go wrestle Esau instead? This is the worst possible time, God. And God does come at the worst possible time. For Jacob, and for us. Can’t you wait until I’m ready? Can’t you wait until I’ve got time to deal with you? Our moment might not be a life and death showdown with Esau. But it’s often not far from that. It’s when there’s too much going on. Too much to handle. And we need to be completely on top of our game if we’re going to get through it.

It’s then that God gets up in our faces. Wrenches our hip out of socket. Breaks us in such a way that we just can’t do it anymore. Why?! And why now, God?! To teach us some divine object lesson? To show us that we need Him for everything? To knock us off our high horse? Humiliate us into bowing our heads? Perhaps. He’s there to tell Jacob, and tell you that, “you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Prevailed? Let me get this straight. God comes down, puts Jacob in a headlock, breaks his hip, all to tell Jacob that Jacob wins? God makes a trainwreck of my life, turns everything upside down, hurts me badly, all to tell me I win? How does that make any sense? I could understand it if he wanted to show me that I need Him. I could understand if He wanted to me to keep my eyes on Him at all times. I could understand if He wanted me to pray more, get Him more involved in my life, and stop doing it alone. True, He exercises our faith to that goal. But God uses that place and that time to give Jacob a message: You have already prevailed. It’s a message to us: You have already prevailed.

When you’re used to doing it on your own, it can be overwhelming when you can’t. When you’ve relied on only yourself and your own means, it’s frightening when there’s nothing left. When you’ve pulled yourself up by your bootstraps all your life, it’s absolutely crushing when there’s nowhere left to pull. You cannot win. You cannot prevail. So God has to tell you that you already have…yet not in a way that you can rest in your hard work.

Because Jesus died on your behalf. Jesus rose again for you. Jesus won. Jesus prevailed. Yes, He did. Sin, death and Hell, He conquered them all. Sin is overcome, because He carried all that sin with Him when He died. Death is undone, because it couldn’t hold Him when He rose on the third day. Hell is beaten, because He unlocked its gates and set the captives free. Satan is vanquished, all because of Jesus. Not us. Jesus.

So how can God tell us that we’ve already prevailed? Because Jesus has already given all this to you. It’s certainly not because you were always there. Not because you leaned on Him at the right time. (that would be a lie) Not because you had a good relationship with Him. You have overcome because God gives. He gives even to those who aren’t really good at doing the right thing–even to those like Jacob the swindler in our text.

That’s an incredible comfort for us. In a world that is so geared toward one’s own getting ahead. We see this in the wrestling of the Canaanite woman in the Gospel (Matt. 15:21-28). She comes to Jesus, and it seems like He’s her enemy. What’s up with Jesus’ responses? Saying He hasn’t been sent to her, implying that she’s a dog, and pushing her off these three times?

But in her responses, we see faith—the gift of God—at work. Look at them:

  • “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
  • But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
  • “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.

As strange as this sounds, this is the work of faith. Faith doesn’t come to God boasting about how much we’ve done for God. It doesn’t count the hours we’ve agonized for those for whom we’ve kept vigil. Faith doesn’t expect that God should move heaven and earth because of something in us. No, faith comes in humility before God-in-the-flesh.

There’s a song that’s making the rounds right now that goes,

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And You say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours…
What You say of me, I believe” [1]

What if God were to say to you, “You don’t deserve His goodness”? “You are of no account, and ‘I have mercy on whom I have mercy’?” [Exodus 33:19] What if God calls you a dog, begging from the table? What faith says is, Yes and Amen. And in that confession, as weak as it sounds, you have the victory.

Jesus has given you His death and resurrection, and because you have that, God is right. You have already prevailed. Whatever you face in life, whatever the world does to you, and whatever Satan would use against you. You have already prevailed. In faith, you have faced off with God, and God has declared you the winner. What can anything else do to take that away?

None of the things that matter before God can be taken forever. The resurrection is coming. And we look forward to that with all our hearts. To our eyes, and to the eyes of those around us, it doesn’t look like victory. Does it ever look like defeat and Pollyannaism! Faith looks foolish to the unbelieving. But to the faithful, we trust that God has the victory; that God is true and we will say Amen to Him even though all others scoff. In the meantime, when the world asks, “Where is your God.” You have an answer. He’s right here, giving me Jesus.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Lauren Daigle – “You Say”


First Sunday in Lent (Invocavit)

Readings: Genesis 3:1-21 | 2 Corinthians 6:1-10 | Matthew 4:1-11

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

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

In the first reading from Genesis 3, we learn a great deal about the devil both in his works and his ways, as well as why we as Christians should be concerned with the devil. 

It doesn’t say exactly how long it was between Genesis 2 and 3, but it’s a stretch to imagine it was very long before the devil came to corrupt the only other creatures with a free will: man and woman.  He entices them by possessing a serpent.  Why a serpent?  Because it is crafty, stealthy, and shrewd: The serpent slips in where others are blocked, it stalks its food and lays in wait to strike, and it knows how to slip out of the scene before it is detected.  All of these qualities fit the devil’s ways, as we see in how he interacts with the woman.  God uses a turn of these traits when it comes to punishing the devil, however.  “On your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the day of your life.”  Just as Satan used the craftiness of the snake, now God uses the fact that the snake is a “creeping thing” to show that God will keep him in submission until the Lord’s ultimate victory: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15

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

Then what this crafty devil does first of all is attack their trust in God’s Word. He tramples on God’s order that the husband is the spiritual head of the household. He is apathetic to what misery will be wrought for all humanity. The devil’s boldness flies in the face of his Creator and Master

“He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1b-5)

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

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

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

The devil consistently attacks the truthfulness of God’s will and His goodness toward us.  This is the root of why immorality persists and increases.  This is why there are so many religions in the world and even divisions within the Christian Church on earth.  This is why so few of the world’s population cares about God and what He says.  The devil’s work is to cause people to doubt and disbelieve God’s powerful, all-creating, life-giving Word. 

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

When we think of temptation as Christians…as human beings, it isn’t about trying to overcome the devil and make personal triumphs.  If our sinless parents fell, how much worse is it for us?  Listen to the diagnosis of our condition:

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.”
“The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.” (1 Cor. 2:14, Gal. 5:17, Rom. 8:7)

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

(Read Matthew 4:1-11

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

These are the works and ways of the devil: to subtly slip in and break our faith.  In Holy Baptism, and again at Confirmation, we are asked: Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways?  If it were up to you and your strength, you would say yes, but not be able to accomplish what these questions ask.  It is only by your Baptism into Christ, the Victor over the devil, that you gain the victory. 

That brings us back to the passage that we started out with: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”  The only power we have to resist and overcome the devil comes through baptismal grace.  Baptized into Christ, the Son of God, we have forgiveness and spiritual victory which lasts to eternal life.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Quinquagesima (About 50 days until Easter)

Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-13 | 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 | Luke 18:31-43

Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

First Corinthians 13 is one of the most beloved passages of all Scripture. It is a favorite passage for weddings. It is written on knickknacks and tchotchkes we decorate our houses with. Pardon the pun, but we love this chapter of the Bible. And rightly so. It puts front and center what is essential to living in Christ. Without it, none of our good works, or even great works have any value whatsoever. But love covers all that we cannot do. 

But by today, these words—faith, hope, and love—have become disembodied slogans. They are no more than an allegory to a lost and forgotten past, the same way the works of Homer or Virgil used to be referenced as common knowledge. Faith, hope, and love are just decals to adorn your Hobby Lobby-inspired décor.

Meanwhile, our actual lives have become whatever we want them to be. By nature and by practice, our lives are the product of philosophies and peers. And because there is nothing new under the sun, it was not much different for the Christians in Corinth.

The Stoics believed only the spiritual mattered, so they denied the body everything of meaning. The Epicureans believed only the spiritual mattered, so the indulged the body in everything, no matter how degenerate. False teachers then and now emphasized that things like tongues, prophesies, healings, and powers were how to know you were spiritual. And Paul had to correct them all, while bringing them together.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” “Love never ends.”

There was nothing wrong with tongues, prophecies, knowledge, or powers. In fact, they could be good. But only so far as they loved one another. Without that divine love, none of those other things mattered. Without love, they were even a hindrance.

But what does it mean to love one another? The world alienated from God defines love differently than God and His people do. They show us that it’s a feeling you fall into. It’s a sense of comfort, of happiness. It’s your source of joy when you get what you want, and a source of sorrow when you don’t. It’s the emotion that drives people to do great things…or even terrible things. “They did it for love,” and that makes it all worth it. But love for our world is found inside you. There’s a selfishness to the world’s love. It can motivate one to do a lot, but always for one’s own sake. We want our feeling validated by others. We want to be loved in return. And when we don’t get what we want, when our feelings fade, so does our effort, our work. This “love” is a passing mist.

That’s not the kind of love that God has for us. His love is an action, not a feeling. God loves because that’s who He is, not because we have something He wants. In fact, when we do not do what He desires, He acts in love all the more, because we are in need. God’s love is selfless, self-sacrificial. And it never fades or fails. 

But such a love doesn’t look like we expect it to. Love is demonstrated for us in the Gospels. In Luke 4:16-30, Jesus does not give the people in His hometown of Nazareth the signs and miracles He did in Capernaum. They wanted them, and they would have loved Him for it (at least the way the world loves). Instead, He gave them something better: His Word which declared that the Lord’s Christ was in their midst. But they would not have heard His Word if He had given them miracles.

At other times, like when He met the rich man in Mark 10, we hear,

21  Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:21-22)

To us, it sounds like that love doesn’t get desirable results.

More importantly, do we love one another as Christ has loved us? I dare say we have not measured up too well. We have been impatient and mean to those who are not on our side. We have been envious, wishing we had what others seem to get. We have boasted about ourselves, how we know better than the rest. We have been arrogant enough to think we are better than others. Sometimes, we’re rude enough to tell that to their faces. We have insisted on our own way in all things. We have been irritable and resentful to all. We have rejoiced at wrongdoings, calling it justice, or comeuppance, or karma. We have borne little, believed little, hoped little, endured little. And had the audacity to say that we did it all in love. That kind of love cannot end soon enough.

Therefore we are to repent. We are to renounce such things. We must see all people as ones for whom Christ died, because He has—even those who irritate us the most. After all God loved us when we not only irritated Him, but openly rebelled against Him with our sin. Our neighbor needs our love. Not our feelings. Not our self-centered attempts to get what we want out of them. But self-sacrificial service. Jesus has done no less than that for us. 

Christian love is Christ’s love. Christ’s love is patient, bearing with our sin, like when He was betrayed by one of His closest friends. His love is kind, caring for us though we made ourselves His enemy, like he healed the ear of the high priest’s servant as they arrested Him. HIs love does not envy, like when Jesus was falsely accused before the Sanhedrin. His love does not boast, as He remained silent before His accusers. Jesus’ love it is not arrogant. He did not elevate Himself above others—even though He is truly the Son of God—but He was humiliated before all Jerusalem for our sake as He was carried before Pilate. His love is not rude, telling even Pilate, a gentile polytheist, of the truth. 

Jesus’ love, It does not insist on its own way, letting the soldiers put a reed in His hand to later be struck with, and a crown thorns upon His head in mockery. His love is not irritable, patiently bearing the blasphemous call from the chief priests and Pharisees to come down from the cross. His love is not resentful, as He even promised paradise to the repentant thief who earlier had mocked Him.

His love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. So at the last, He says it is finished, and gives up His Spirit. There He finished His great work of love. The ultimate self-sacrifice for every sinner. To pay for our sin, even the sin of failing to love as we ought. He gladly laid down His life for your sake and for mine. His love truly bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And the cross is the place He has loved you. By action, not by feeling. Jesus died for your sake. And has purchased you out of your slavery to your sin. 

The love of God never ends—not even death can snuff it out. After Jesus gave His life for your sake, He took it back up again. On the third Day Jesus rose from the dead. Another work accomplished for you, and a promise given to you. Since He died your death in your place, His resurrection is also made yours. A promise coming on the last day for you and for every believer.

 “The Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever.” (Ps. 100:5) This love is so intertwined with the cross, that Christians have made a practice of tracing the cross on themselves. That tradition is still preserved to this day, by the little Latin cross in the hymnal. Notice the places where it is:

  1. When we invoke His saving Name, remembering Holy Baptism where Jesus’ death becomes our death, and His resurrection our hope of the same (Romans 6:3-11)
  2. At the end of the Creed, where we confess our certain hope in the life of the world to come, which is made ours through the cross (Luke 18:29-30)
  3. Although it’s not printed, some choose to cross themselves at the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from evil,” because it is by the cross that “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame.” (Colossians 2:15)

This is what love actually is, by which He loved the world and us, so that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). This is what He teaches us, and in Him, we grow daily in Christian love for those same people God has loved. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.