Sunday, March 28, 2021

After the Parade


 Matthew 21:1-9

And when they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage,
to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into
the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and
a colt with her; untie them, and bring them to Me.  And if anyone says
something to you, you shall say,  The Lord has need of them,' and immediately
he will send them."  Now this took place that what was spoken through the
prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "SAY TO THE DAUGHTER OF ZION,
 BEHOLD YOUR KING IS COMING TO YOU, GENTLE, AND MOUNTED ON A
DONKEY, EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A BEAST OF BURDEN.'"


And the disciples went and did just as Jesus had directed them, and
brought the donkey and the colt, and laid on them their garments, on which He
sat.  And most of the multitude spread their garments in the road, and others
were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them in the road. And the
multitudes going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out,
saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of
the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!"


Sermon for Palm Sunday                             03/28/21

After the Parade

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

We have all heard of Palm Sunday.  Most of us have heard it preached
about time and time again.  The modern church has designated it "the Sunday
of the Passion," because many churches have stopped observing Good Friday
with a worship service, and in many of those that do, most of the members stay
away.

Generally, we know the story.  What we often miss is why the story is
significant.  We do pageantry and wave palm leaves and, when there is a large
Sunday School, we think it is cute to have the children's parade during the
service, usually during the first hymn.  What we want to consider this morning
is that what makes Palm Sunday significant and the Palm Sunday ride
important is really what happens after the parade.  So our theme this morning
is, After the Parade.

Of course, we want to refresh ourselves on the details of the Palm
Sunday ride.  It happened during the holy season.  Palm Sunday occurred just
before the Passover.  They didn't call it Palm Sunday then, of course, that is the
Christian designation for the day.  It simply happened at the beginning of the
week which would, that year, conclude with the Passover.  Crowds were
descending on Jerusalem for this holiest of all holidays in the Jewish church.
Passover was the day of salvation.  They celebrated God's rescue from the
bondage of slavery in Egypt.   They commemorated by word and deed   and by
the holy Passover Seder   the miraculous deeds of God.  In the Passover, God
sent the Angel of Death to strike down the firstborn of Egypt   and He caused
the Angel of Death to pass over the Children of Israel who trusted in the
promise of God and marked their doors with the blood of the lamb, and shared
the bread of haste and the bitter herbs and the meat of the lamb itself for the
first time.

For the Jews in those days, the Passover was Maundy Thursday and
Good Friday and Easter all rolled up into one   except that they had lost the
sense of wonder at it all and had lost any awareness of the spiritual dimension
of it, and they and let it become a day of obligation rather than the day of utter
joy that it was intended to be.  But observing it filled Jerusalem, and so the
crowds who had come to the holy city to join in the ancient celebration were
gathered.

And they were primed by the modern sense   modern for those days   of
the nearness of the Messiah, and the longing for freedom from foreign
domination, and a religious fervor which cried out not so much in hope as in
desperation.  They were looking for the Messiah, even though they did not often
understand what the Messiah was really about.  They pictured another political
rescue by another purely earthly leader.  They imagined Israel would rise as a
political power and crush her enemies and every lust of the flesh would be
granted to Israel to demonstrate their favored relationship with the Almighty.

And strange things were happening in their day.  There seemed to be an
awful lot of demonic signs and possessions.  Then there were new preachers
and prophets   first John, now Jesus   and there were other prophets and
Messianic pretenders about whom history tells us, even if they are only hinted
at in the Bible.  The time was right, the crowds were gathered, the religious
atmosphere was primed, and Jesus got up on that donkey and rode into
Jerusalem like a king of ancient Israel on a coronation ride   and suddenly
everything came together, just as God planned, to form the coronation ride of
Jesus.

The leaders of the Temple complained.  Jesus told them that it couldn't
be helped.  If the crowds were silenced, the very stones along the path would
have to cry out.  This was not a natural event, but God's work.  He arranged
the coronation ride of the King, the Messiah whom no one would recognize and
no one would claim, but who was true King and Savior nonetheless.  The cry
was the coronation cry of Israel, Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He
who comes in the name of the Lord!

Although the crowd cried it out in glee and in religious fervor, seemingly
without understanding the true meaning of the words, they really said a great
deal.  "Hosanna"   "Hoshia - ah - na" means "Grant salvation now!" or simply
"save us now!"  And that is what Jesus had come to do, more fully than they
could have anticipated, more completely than they had desired.  They called
Him "the son of David."  They understood that the title was a royal title.  They
were calling Him the rightful King of Israel, a title for which He would be
crucified in less than an week.  But they probably overlooked the Messianic
meaning of the words.  They were probably not thinking about the Old
Testament promises of the one who would be called "Immanuel", who would
take on their sins and die in their place.  But those things are the things that
happened after the parade.

They didn't think about the Suffering Servant, come to be Messiah,
Savior, and King, but that is who He was   and is.  And this parade was the
coronation ride of Jesus.  It was not of earthly, political value.  It was not valid
in the eyes of the governments of the time.  But it was of eternal and heavenly
significance.  For a moment in time, God's people heralded God's Anointed
Messiah and proclaimed Him King of Israel and Savior of the World.  They
threw their cloaks in His path and formed a spontaneous parade to welcome
Him into the holy city.  After the parade, He would ascend His throne.

But it would not be a throne of gold and cushions and comfort and
power, it would be a throne of pain and suffering and sorrow and death.  It
would the throne of the cross.  And His crown would be a crown of thorns
pressed brutally into His scalp.  His royal robes would be torn from Him and
offered as the prize in a game of chance, and His scepter would be a sprig of
hyssop with a sponge soaked in soured wine mixed with a common pain-killer
from which He would not even permit Himself to drink.  His royal court would
be mockers and mourners and two convicted felons, and He would be firmly
fastened hand and foot to His throne of agony with large nails.

This series of events actually began in Bethlehem, and would not be
finished until the King ascended His throne and conquered all His enemies, as
all the prophets and so many of the Psalms predicted.  And the last enemy to
be utterly defeated, the Bible tells us, is death.  His resurrection showed us His
victory over sin and death and Satan.  And the good news for us is that He
wants to share His victory with us.  He has conquered death.  He has redeemed
us from sin.  He had paid the penalty and borne the wrath of God in our place.
His resurrection is the evidence that it is complete and sufficient.

That is why it is so horrible when those who would call themselves
Christian teachers try to suggest   or say boldly   that Jesus did not actually
rise physically from the grave.  Without the resurrection, there is no Gospel.
That is why the unbelieving world always attacks this foundation truth.
Without the resurrection, there is no forgiveness of sins.  Without the
resurrection, there is no hope of heaven.  Without Jesus rising from the grave,
we have no reason to expect that we will either and no demonstration of His
power to make it happen for us.

But now Jesus has risen from the dead.  It happened after the parade.
Now it is our turn to pick up the palm branches and cry aloud the coronation
praise of our King.  He approaches His throne in our lessons once again.  We
will celebrate again the events of that holy week so long ago that worked our
salvation.  Your sins and mine paid for and forgiven.  The promises are for us
as well   forgiveness and resurrection from our graves and life everlasting in
glory with Jesus.  He that believes and is baptized shall be saved!  

And to think, the best part happened after the parade!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Humble: He Washed Their Feet


 

Isaiah 1:16-17

16"Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, 17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless; Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.

The Sixth Wednesday in Lent 3/24/21

Jesus Servant of Us All
Humble: He Washed Their Feet

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Jesus, Servant of Us All has been our theme throughout this Lenten season. We have looked at the suffering servant passages of the prophet Isaiah and considered the many ways that Jesus served us in His time here on earth and since besides the suffering and death which is the focus of this season. Tonight is our final mid-week Lenten service. We finally look at Jesus as foot-washer, the Servant as a humble servant.

The foot washing is described in John 13: Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God, and was going back to God, rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself about. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. And so He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you shall understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” And so when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master; neither is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

What Peter was objecting to was that Jesus was performing the most menial and humble of tasks. The least important among servants did this for guests. But here was the Master, stooping and acting like a common slave. On the other hand, the one whose feet was washed was declared to be the more important person. So Peter naturally refused. He did not want Jesus to humble Himself, and he did not want Jesus to declare him and the others as masters.

In modern society, we figure everyone is equal. We live under the idea that anyone can go anywhere with equal freedom. Most of humanity has not lived by those rules for most of history. Keeping one’s place, filling one’s niche, and not getting out of line and out of the order of things has been vitally important – often a matter of life and death. Peter saw Jesus’ behavior as an enormous breach of etiquette and decency. That is why he tried to refuse Jesus.

But Jesus would not let him refuse. “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me.” We can see the double entendre – washing the feet or washing away one’s sins. But the threat was the same, refuse to let Me be the Servant and cleanse you, and you shall not participate in Me and in My things.

Peter then swung to the opposite extreme – “Then don’t just stop at my feet! Wash me all over!” Jesus also cautioned against the other extreme. It was unnecessary. Only washing the feet was needed now. Jesus needed it to make the point of His lesson.

The point of His lesson was that if He who was Lord and Teacher could humbly and willingly stoop down to the most abject and humble of service for his followers, they could imitate Him and stoop to the most abject humility for the sake of one another. It is important to note that Jesus did this, as John reports, knowing that God had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was soon to return to God. He did this fully conscious that He is God and had all authority on earth, and that everyone everywhere owed Him worship and service and praise.

Jesus knew who He was and still did this. And He did it to make the point that we can and we are also to serve one another. Not one of us possesses anything like such great glory from which to humble ourselves and stoop down. Very few of us need to stoop to such abject humility, nor does life ask us to make that self-humbling often. Still, we are to serve one another, just as Jesus served us. If we refuse to be humble toward one another, we are not His. He said we are to do the same toward one another, and that we were blessed if we both understood and acted upon these things. Those two comments together mean do it, imitate Me.

Jesus, who is servant of us all, is Lord and King. He taught us that the proper use of authority and power are not to serve or profit the self or to control and dominate others. God gives us authority and power only so that we may serve. Consider: He used His power to save us, and His authority to bless us. It is the sin in us which switches that order around in our minds. Only sin takes power to serve the self and authority to force one’s own preferences and opinions. Sin twists the true nature of power and authority into something manipulative and coercive.

By tying the towel around His waist, and telling us to do the same toward one another, Jesus contradicted everything we have been taught by life in this world of sin. Might does not make right. Might does right – and enables others to also do right. Authority does not make us able to dominate or manipulate others, it makes one able to help and rescue others. Power does not give one the ability to get what they want accomplished, it gives them the ability to do what needs to be done.

Jesus, Servant of us all, taught us that. We are to serve one another. We are to use the freedom and power of the gospel to do the things we have been shown are needed. What are these things? Our text in Isaiah gives us a shopping list of things that the Gospel gives us the power to do.

Isaiah writes, “Wash yourself, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from my sight.” These things are accomplished by the forgiveness which Christ won for us. Washing, of course, puts us in mind of our baptism. We wash ourselves by believing the Word of God, and by making daily use of our baptism as Luther teaches us in the Small Catechism:

What does this baptizing with water mean?

It means that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and, on the other hand, a new man emerge daily, and take his stand, who shall live in righteousness and purity before God forever.
Jesus said to Peter, “You are already clean.” Our sins have been punished. The guilt has been expiated and taken away. We have been cleansed in the waters of baptism and we are forgiven.

Again, Isaiah writes, “Cease to do evil, learn to do good.” We have that power by the Holy Spirit in us. We can put to death the deeds of the body, as St. Paul described it. We were made God’s children in order to do the good works God has planned for us. These good works of service are what the authority and the power which Jesus shares with us is about. Just as He washed feet humbly, we are to use our power and gospel authority to cease to do evil and learn to do good.

Seek justice; reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” These things are the proper uses of power. These are what God has given us new life to do in this world. We are to reflect Him, His love, His priorities, and attitudes. Jesus stooped to wash the feet of those who should have served Him. He came to rescue us and plead our cause with His suffering and death on the cross. We follow His example and bring His activity into our world when we live in society in this manner. These things are not the mission of the Church, as Church, but are the will of God for His people as His people. The Church doesn’t seek justice – Christians do. The Church doesn’t defend the orphan, but the individual believers who are in and of the church can and should and must.

“Social ministry,” as our church calls it, is not rightly the primary goal of the congregation – or of the Synod. But it is the necessary and beneficial expression of the love of God by the people who have experienced His grace and goodness. These are the kinds of things that show our neighbors who God is and what He is like, and what a difference He makes in the lives of His people.

And the peace, and the harmony, which the serving of one another within the church promotes, are all part of what Jesus was teaching His disciples, that night when He humbled Himself and washed their feet.

For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” Jesus said, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” Jesus, Servant of us all, got down on His knees before His disciples, and humble, He washed their feet. We can do no other than love and serve one another, following His example.

Meditate on Jesus’ final days before Holy Week, and see the King of kings, humble, serving us all – and learn humility from Him.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,
(Let the people say “Amen”.)


Sunday, March 21, 2021

What Are You Hearing?

 

John 8:46-47

"Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God."

Sermon for Judica Sunday 03/21/21
 
 

What Are You Hearing?

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Let me present you with a conundrum, this morning. One truth that we have observed is that your perception determines reality for you. A second truth is that reality shapes your perceptions. The conundrum, or puzzle, is which truth is most persuasive in your life?
 
First, we observe that who you are and what your prejudices and values are can shape what you perceive. A situation may be seen as a failure, or an opportunity. A helping hand may be perceived as a kind thing, or condescension, a ‘leg-up or an attempt to weaken and disable. How often does it happen that something you think is good is described by someone else as a bad thing? This power of perception to change reality for you is at least partially responsible for the animosity of the radical racists in America. They see the comfort and living as "white privilege," as an evil thing, a fundamentally immoral condition that must be eradicated. Clearly, how you look at things changes the reality of what they are for you, and how they function in your life.

The attitudes of radical Muslims also demonstrate how reality shapes your perceptions. It is his poverty and his commitment to a certain kind of Islamic thought that causes Him to think of liberty as dangerous. Other examples might include how a woman might perceive certain things differently than a man simply because she is a woman, or how the reality that something has never been accomplished before causes people to perceive it to be impossible, or beyond their reach. I point to the example of Roger Bannister, the first man to ever run a mile in less than four minutes. It was May 6th, 1954. He ran the mile in just six-tenths of a second less than four minutes, but he was the first man to accomplish it in well over a century of people trying. His record was broken in less than three months, and the current record is three minutes forty-three point thirteen seconds. Until Roger Bannister did it, everyone thought it was impossible, and once he did it, they all knew they could, and they did.

Our text is another example of the conundrum. It is also a deeper mystery that amazes us, and gives us cause to praise God, and totally disallows decision theology, and finally asks us to ask ourselves a question, the question that is our theme this morning, "What do you hear?"

"He who is of God hears the words of God." Here is the conundrum presented. Who you are, the reality, shapes what you can perceive - the Word of God. Everyone who was listening to Jesus was hearing the same words, weren't they? Yet they were not all believing what Jesus said - in other words, they were not perceiving what they heard to be the Word of God, nor "hearing" it in the sense that they believed it and understood the truth of His words. Jesus said that the reason they could not perceive it was the reality of who they were - or, more precisely, who they were not. They were not "of God."

Before our text, in John, chapter 8, Jesus preached that unless they came to know Him and trust in Him they would die in their sins. He explained that He was the Savior, the Messiah who was prophesied. Then He said, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." It was that passage that caused them to rebel. They said [they] were Abraham's children and that they had never been enslaved! How dare He say such a thing!

Jesus explained that He was talking about sin, and being a slave to sin. He told them that He knew the evil in their hearts, their desire to kill Him, and that they were doing the will of their father - meaning Satan. They challenged Jesus and He responded with the truth of who He was and who they were, and finally came to the passage we have chosen as our text. And Jesus explained that because they did not believe in God, or know Him, they could not believe what Jesus said, either. Their reality, as unbelievers, and therefore servants of the devil, made it impossible for them to understand correctly or believe the Word of God. Their reality informed their perception, and their perception changed the nature of the reality of what they were hearing from the precious and life-giving Word of God to something confusing and obnoxious, and unbelievable.

First, let me show you how this answers decision theology so decisively. Since no one who is not "of God" can hear, that is properly understand, or believe the Word of God, so, obviously, no unbeliever can hear, properly understand, nor believe the Word of God, either the law or the Gospel. So how would anyone find the wisdom to choose to be a Christian, and decide for Christ, when they cannot understand the Gospel or believe it because they cannot "hear" the Word of God until they are "of God"? Decision theology calls God a liar, which is kind of what Jesus was talking about when He asked them which of them convicts Him of sin, and why don't they believe His words - which obviously the Arminian (the ones who believe that being and becoming a Christian is accomplished by an exercise of their free wills) is also doing. They deny Christ's honesty and truth by claiming to be able to decide for Christ.

Anyhow, the question the text raises for you is "what are you hearing?"

When God's Word is preached, what do you hear? "He that is of God hears the words of God." As it was back then, so today, it is often difficult to listen to, and sometimes is not inviting to believe.

We are happy to hear good things, which is why every television evangelist rips the promises of God out of their context and waves them about to impress the crowd. They tell the people what they want to hear, instead of telling them the truth. When they hear the truth, they violently reject it. Oddly, they don't mind the law so much as the Gospel. The promises of God are disconnected from the context in which they are spoken, and severed from the context of faith and salvation, and made to sound like God wants everyone to be rich, or God is going to make everyone eternally blessed, without regard to their life, or their relationship to Him.

The people who preach these things do not hear the Word of God, and so they preach the doctrines of demons, designed to lead the flock before them astray. The crowd that listens, and raises their hands in a fit of "spiritual ecstasy" at these distortions of God's Word are denied the truth, and find their satisfaction in the false teachings of their preachers, to their destruction.

You, however, know better. You have heard the truth. Sometimes the Law is hard to listen to - but it is the Word of God. The Jews that Jesus spoke to could not listen to the law either. They wanted a law they could keep. They wanted the honor and respect of being the chosen people and the children of Abraham, and they would reject anything, including the Gospel, that denied them the respect and glory they felt that they deserved. We sometimes find the law too demanding, and discover that it does not fit into our lives here in Bartlett Township. It asks - no, . . . it demands too much from us. It seems to want our time and our money and then, we are supposed to feel all guilty and ashamed - and that is just not comfortable with us.

But the truth is that you spend your money on yourselves far more freely than you spend it on the Word of God. You take your time, and your trips and your family get-togethers and your entertainments far more seriously - and sometimes more frequently, than you take worship, or fellowship with the saints around Word and Sacrament. Your time and your energy are focused on yourselves much more religiously than on your faith, or on the work which God has set before you as an individual member of His body, or before the body of Christ to which you belong, right here. And when I say those sorts of things, it makes you mad - or at least really uncomfortable. So, when that happens, what are you hearing?

Are you hearing the Word of God?

How is your reality shaping your perceptions?

How are your perceptions shaping your reality around you?

You should feel guilty, and ashamed at times. You should be prodded by the Law into self-examination. And you will find sin. I know that you will because when I hear the same words that I preach to you, I am accused, and I must wrestle with my own sins and selfishness, and the coldness of my devotions and prayers.
But I also hear the Gospel. I hear it because I preach it. Jesus knew what a rotter I am, and how I could not turn away from my sins because I am a slave of sin in my flesh. So He redeemed me - and redeemed you. He traded His holiness and righteousness for your sins and mine and took the judgment of God against us on His shoulders, bore the sentence of the wrath of God against us on the cross. "He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The whipping that wins peace for us was laid upon His back, and with His stripes, we are healed." "He was made sin for us, He who knew no sin of His own, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him!"

His death on the cross was ours, taken for us. And we have been given His righteousness and holiness and the love of God which He has merited, and the everlasting life which He has earned is now ours by His gift!

Are you a sinner? Not in Him! Should you feel guilty and ashamed? NO! Not if you believe that in Jesus Christ you are cleansed, redeemed, forgiven, and beloved of God. He has declared you "Not guilty!" "‘Come now, and let us reason together,' Says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.'" Those words are the Gospel - God's Word. What are you hearing?

The Gospel is forgiveness and life - but only for sinners. People who cannot hear the Law, that Word of God, cannot hear the Gospel rightly either. They hear the words, they just don't receive them as God's Words. And why is that? "He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them," – if it may be said about you that you cannot find your comfort in Christ – "because you are not of God."

You should never feel really pleased about who you are apart from Christ, or how you handle things on your own wisdom and power. You should find that peace only in Jesus Christ, who has reconciled you with the Father, and redeemed you from your sins, and counts you as perfectly holy, with His own righteousness. The things of daily life, they will always be something short of right and good. Our sinful flesh will see to that. It doesn't mean we don't try to be good, it means we know the truth. We try, and we fall short of perfection. But our hope is built on Jesus Christ, and His perfect righteousness, and His atoning, propitiatory, redemptive death on our behalf. And His resurrection, of course, where the Heavenly Father proclaims that this sacrifice for sin was sufficient and paid the price of our corruption completely by raising Jesus from the dead.

What are you hearing? It is life, and peace, and forgiveness, and joy. It is the Word of God, and it is meant for your ears, and your hearts, and your consciences. To doubt either the law or the gospel is to call Jesus a liar, and I know that none of you would want to do that. Jesus said, in our Gospel this morning, "Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death."

So, what are you hearing?

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Friday, March 19, 2021

Serving Our Bodily Needs

 


Isaiah 55:1-3

1 "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost. 2 "Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. 3 "Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David.

The Fifth Wednesday in Lent                    3/17/21

Jesus Servant of Us All

Serving Our Bodily Needs

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our society tends to make a distinction between the "sacred" and the "secular." The distinction should properly be between that which is holy, and that which is profane, but our culture chooses to view them in terms of sacred and secular – which means something like "holy and connected to the church" on the one hand, and "of the world" on the other. There are words, for example, that you can use on the street that you would never think of using in the church.

This distinction is a wonderful distinction. It unfortunately flies in the face of what Scriptures teach and of what is real. There is no such distinction in the Bible. That is because there is no place in one's life that God does not see or care about.

The Bible does speak about "holy" and "profane," but it uses these words in a very technical way. "Holy" is used to describe something set apart for God and by God. "Profane" is something different, completely lacking in the ‘holy' distinction of dealing with God or His things. At times, "profane" is even disrespectful or contemptuous of the things of God and religion. The biblical perspective says that everything in life is sacred, something God cares about or as something God watches and blesses – except sin, in which case He punishes. Part of the reason that Jesus showed Himself to be our Provider, the One who gives all blessings, is to reveal this total intimacy, where God is in and concerned with every moment of our lives. Tonight we will look at Jesus, Servant of us all, providing for our bodily needs.

The clearest image of Jesus as our Provider may well be the feeding of the 5,000, last Sunday's gospel. The feeding of the 5,000 was a tour-de-force. Here was Jesus, alone, no supplies, and so many hungry people around Him that more than half an average year's income (that is what 200 denarii was back then) would not suffice to give each of them just a little, let alone enough. Then a little boy comes with a lunch – five small loaves of bread and two small fish. Then Jesus gives thanks, and gives the disciples each some food to distribute.

Somehow all of these hungry people were fed. They not only each had a little, but they each had all they wanted and were, according to Scriptures, full, and there were leftovers, more leftovers than they started with in the first place.

Jesus had no obligation to feed these people. They did not come to the wilderness expecting to be fed. Jesus was simply showing His own nature – a nature of love and goodness and service. Jesus had compassion on them, not wanting to see them suffer. When the people saw the miracle, they understood what they were seeing. Jesus was acting as Provider, as only God can do – providing in abundance, without apparent regard for who it is He is providing for. They knew it was a miracle which revealed the coming Messiah. It revealed His power to provide.

What looks so fantastic to us, was just a small sample for Jesus. He is our Servant as Provider. Jesus does the same thing every day, only more so, and He does it for far more than just 5,000 people. He gives all of us each our daily bread, just as He multiplied the bread for those thousands that day. But by daily bread I mean to suggest more than just food. I mean to speak of daily bread as Luther did in the Small Catechism: "Everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as food, drinking, clothing, shoes, house, home, fields, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like."

Jesus provides all of humanity each day with everything we need to live, and to enjoy this life. He not only provides the immediate needs, but He establishes the needed conditions for those needs to be met every day. He owes it to us no more than He did to those who followed Him out into the wilderness to hear Him preach or be healed by Him. But He faithfully provides. He fed the 5,000 in this instance, He fed the 4,000 at another time. He did these miracles so that we could see that He could provide, and that He was willing to provide. But every day, Jesus is providing. He gives us what we need.

Lest we be confused and think that the world goes on and does what it does without any attention, and things exist by momentum, we can look at the fall of the Soviet Union. It looked so strong and so permanent. But one day it fell. There was no more business as usual. Or look at the war-torn and famine-ridden places of the world. Our daily bread comes to us by the deliberate act of God. It is not just naturally there, but the daily gift of God and lasting sign of His love toward us – He does all that we need and more.

He provided the wine at the wedding of Cana. He did it not because it was a necessity, but to increase and continue the joy of the moment. He does those kinds of things, too, providing the unnecessary for the joy of the moment, or gives blessings to those who clearly do not deserve it. He does such things for one purpose – to demonstrate what God is like. God gives and blesses. God doesn't let a sparrow die without His notice. Jesus provides for us and tells us that the basis for all this faithful giving and abundance is the love of God for us. And Jesus also tells us that when we focus on the more important things, the less important stuff will be taken care of as well. "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you."

When men preach about the providence of God, it is always a temptation to focus on these delightful worldly blessings to the exclusion of everything else, particularly everything more spiritual. It is a strange phenomenon, almost paradoxical, the way many people approach faith in God. They tend to think of God as out there somewhere, good only for eternity in heaven and "spiritual" things that seem to most people so disconnected from real life. At the same time they tend to blame God personally if things are not just precisely the way the individual wants them to be. The temptation to preachers, then, is to deal with God as though the majority of His value to us is this-worldly, in order to get people to understand that God is real here and real now and that He loves them in ways that are felt in this world, and that He helps them in real ways they can identify by looking around. And He does provide for us. He serves us so well here and blesses us so richly, that we can see and sense these blessings.

But these blessings here are to teach us to know His love, and encourage us to trust in Him, and, of course, to supply our temporary needs while we are here, on earth. The danger is dealing with God as only a roller-skated waitress at the drive-in of life – here to provide for our physical needs and forgetting the most important part. That is, that the truth is that our first and final purpose here is to know Him and to trust Him and to come to spend eternity with Jesus.

Isaiah 55 says: "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without costs. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David."

God isn't calling through the prophet just to announce a bargain-basement food store. He is inviting us in prophetic language to wallow in His love and goodness by faith and in heaven by living with Him. He means to invite you to know that which really satisfies – enticing you gently by providing the temporary satisfactions. He invites you to quench your thirst for salvation, by reminding you of how He has quenched your physical thirst in the past. And He wants you to invest yourselves in that which has real value, real power to meet your needs, real abundance and real satisfaction. That is what He means by asking, "Why do you spend your money on that which is not food?" Every miracle of provision is just Jesus showing you that He is the one to whom you should come, especially for those eternal provisions. Every miracle of providing is just Jesus making what He always does on a much larger scale visible on a smaller, individual scale, so you can understand that He is the provider who provides every day.

Jesus is our Servant, not by nature but by His love and His grace and His choice. He richly and daily provides all that we need so that we may know His love and learn to trust in Him. He also promises that when we trust in Him, he will not let us down, but will take care of every aspect of our lives.

"Whatsoever you ask the Father in my name, He will give it you." That's the promise of Jesus. He will provide. He provides for us as He did for those back then: unexpectedly, without apparent resources, and abundantly – so that we might see His nature and His goodness and trust in Him. Jesus is our Servant, Servant of us all, providing all of our needs.

Ponder Jesus as we approach the day we celebrate Jesus providing for our deepest need and our greatest hunger – forgiveness and life everlasting.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,
(Let the people say "Amen".)

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

More than You Will Ever Need

 


John 6:1-15


After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias).  And a great multitude was following Him, because they were seeing the signs which He was performing on those who were sick.  And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.  Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.  Jesus therefore lifting up His eyes, and seeing that a great multitude was coming to Him, said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?"  And this He was saying to test him; for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.  Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little."


One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?"  Jesus said, "Have the people sit down."  Now there was much grass in the place.  So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.


Jesus therefore took the loaves; and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted.  And when they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost."  And so they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten.  When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, "This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world." 

 Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.

Sermon for Laetare Sunday                                         03/14/21

More Than You Will Ever Need

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

One of the challenges of this time in history is that, as a Christian, we have trouble understanding what we can trust in God for, and how much we dare to trust in Him.  It has always been a challenge, I suppose, but, in our day and age, we are far removed from the magical and mystical and miraculous.  We have centuries of "modern" men telling us that the miraculous is not possible and cannot touch our lives.  When people talk earnestly about trusting God they usually mean something ephemeral and distant, like salvation.  Most of the time, we tend to make that shift in meaning in our own minds too.

Our Gospel lesson stands as a testimony against such thinking.  It means to tell us what we can trust God of and how much we can trust God.  The answer is, of course, everything - we can trust God for everything He has promised which is everything we need.  Add to that thought that we can trust Him absolutely – as long as we are trusting Him and not trying to make Him be our concierge.   When you trust in God, our text illustrates for us that you will have more than you will ever need.  And that is our theme this morning.

The Gospel tells us that Jesus was healing - and we might presume teaching, as well.  A great crowd was following Him.  Some probably wanted to be healed, or have a relative healed.  Some probably came to see Jesus do miracles.  Others followed Him to hear Him teach, and believed that He was someone worth listening to.  

Our text tells us that it was the season of the Passover, not so much to tell us what time of year it was but to connect the events of this account to the Passover theologically.  Passover was, of course, the great rescue by God from slavery in Egypt.  He rescued His people with signs and miracles and great power.  God brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness and provided for them - for forty years, but that time factor isn't significant here.  God fed His people with Manna - and He demonstrated Himself to the nation, Israel, as their God, the One whom they could trust.  He made a covenant with them in the wilderness, and it all began with the Passover.  And it is this connection with caring for the people and feeding them miraculously, and showing Himself to be their God and giving evidence that they could trust Him and depend on Him, that probably warranted mentioning that "the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand."

Anyway, Jesus feeds the crowd, much to everyone's amazement, with five loaves and two fish.  The loaves were probably about the size of a small tortilla, and about an inch or less thick.  Matthew gives us no information on the size of the fish, but I am guessing that the young boy was not carrying a pair of twenty-pound Northern Pike or eighty-pound Sturgeon with him.  Even if he had been, they would have been woefully insufficient to feed the roughly five thousand people who were fed that day.

Jesus probably began with less food than it would have taken to satisfy the Twelve disciples.  And when they were all done, the disciple gathered up the leftover pieces - the ones big enough to bother saving, and they ended up with twelve full baskets of bread pieces.  The baskets were somewhere between the size of a five-quart ice-cream pail and a five-gallon bucket, but the point is that when everyone had eaten all that they wanted and were satisfied, they had several times more in leftovers than when they started in the first place.

The people there were so impressed by what Jesus did, that they decided to seize Jesus and force Him to be their king.   They knew a good thing when they saw it, and they reacted to free food the same way we do - get it while the getting's good.  Jesus perceived that they were planning this action, and He slipped away without them noticing His departure, and went up on the mountain alone to pray.

Now we know the details, we have to ask ourselves, what does this tell us?  I imagine that depends on how much you want  to see.  Jesus was facing an insurmountable task.  He was going to feed five thousand people with little or no food.  The situation was huge and the resources for it were extremely limited, and yet Jesus did it.  He fed those five thousand people and He had more left over - many times more - than He had when He started.

What needs or troubles can we imagine that Jesus cannot handle for us?  

What tasks are we facing that we feel we lack the resources to accomplish?  

How much of our doing what Jesus gives us to do actually depends on us?

Now we know the details, we have to ask ourselves, what does this tell us?  I imagine that depends on how much you want to see.  Jesus was facing an insurmountable task.  He was going to feed five thousand people with little or no food.  The situation was huge and the resources for it were extremely limited, and yet Jesus did it.  He fed those five thousand people and He had more left over - many times more - than He had when He started.n piously say that this is the thing that the Lord has made while thinking that we actually did it.

The truth is that we tend not to start anything even as a congregation we don't think we can finish.  It isn't that we don't think we should do it, it is just that we want to be confident we have the resources to do it before we begin.  Well, with Jesus, we have the resources.  We have more than you will ever need.  If Jesus gives us the task, He will see it through to completion.

Does that mean that we don't count the cost, or plan, or try to be wise about what we do and how we do it?  No.  We have to think, and Jesus calls on us to act - you know, do the things that need to be done.  We are to do what we believe we have been given to do, and approach it with confidence that Jesus will bring us through to success if what we are doing is what He wants done.  The disciples were asked to prepare the people for food.  They did not have food, nor did they know how they would feed all those people - and yet Jesus did it.

This miracle is not the only time Jesus did the impossible.  It is surely not the most impressive time.  The most impressive example of that is when He rescued us from our own sins.  The verdict of God from the very beginning was that when one sinned, that one died.  "The soul that sins, it shall die."  That was the judgment of God.  Sin simply earned death - and that death was more than just physical.  It included eternal torment and suffering.  That was what God wanted to rescue us from.  He couldn't just ignore our sins and pretend that they did not happen, however.  That would have made God unjust and an accessory to our sins.  He had to punish them, and punish them with death, as stipulated originally.  But His goal was to preserve us alive and rescue us from our condemnation.

He did that by sending Jesus.  He sent the Second Person of the Trinity, true God and yet, not the Father.  He was incarnate - that is He took on flesh and blood, and became a man as Mary heard the Word of God with faith and bowed her head and said, "Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord, Let it happen to me just as you have said it would."  With that, Mary became pregnant, conceiving in her womb the child who would be born nine months later and be named "Savior", or literally "God is Salvation" - Jesus.

He kept the Law which man failed and refused to keep.  He lived without sin, just as God required of Adam and Eve and all of their children.  They did not obey, but Jesus did.  He obeyed God, as Scripture puts it, even to the point of death on a cross.  Having fulfilled all righteousness, He deliberately gave up what He had earned and now deserved - life without end in the favor of God the Father - and took in exchange our guilt, our shame, and our condemnation, and our death.  

Every step of the way He endured the taunting and tempting of the devil and resisted.  When a word would have set Him free He kept silent.  When silence would have served Him, He spoke.  Everything He said was true, but it was also spoken with the full consciousness that it would ignite their anger and cause them to continue to march Him to the cross.

He died deliberately for us.  Because He is God He is of greater value than all of us combined, so His one death redeemed us all.  Because He has taken our death, He now has the right to give to us the life eternal which He has earned.  And He pours that treasure out upon all people everywhere, without consideration of their worthiness or holiness.  He has appointed faith as the means by which we receive and hang onto this treasure of grace.  He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.

Further, He knows that we are, by nature, not able to trust Him or love Him by virtue of our own corruption in sin, so He sends His Holy Spirit out through the preaching of His Word to work faith in the hearts of those that hear the good news of this Gospel.  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.  Now, all who hear have the Holy Spirit at work in them.  Many reject that work and deny God's goodness, grace, and mercy.  They are those represented in the Parable of the Sower by the soil of the hard-trodden path upon which the seed falls, and the birds of the air eat the seed up.  They had the treasure delivered to them, but they rejected it for something or someone else.  But anyone that believes, which is accomplished only by the very work of the Holy Spirit within them, has life everlasting, and resurrection from their graves to come, and God is with them even now, day by day.

The feeding of the five thousand reminds us that we can trust God in Jesus Christ in all things, and that He will provide abundantly.  That provision isn't just for in the sky, bye and bye.  He provides for us now, each according to His good plan for our service for Him.  He provides food and clothing and the needs of this life, and lots of our wants as well.  He feeds us with His holy body and precious blood in this Sacrament, to strengthen us, and to cleanse us, and to teach us to trust in Him and in His love for us individually, personally.

The feeding of the five thousand reminds us that we can trust God in Jesus Christ in all things and that He will provide abundantly.  That provision isn't just for in the sky, bye and bye.  He provides for us now, each according to His good plan for our service for Him.  He provides food and clothing and the needs of this life, and lots of our wants as well.  He feeds us with His holy body and precious blood in this Sacrament, to strengthen us, and to cleanse us, and to teach us to trust in Him and in His love for us individually, personally.

So, let us look to the future and work while it is still day, as we say in that old prayer, "before the night comes when no man can work."  Let us do what we believe the Lord would have us do with faith and confidence and trusting that we will have more than you will ever need.  As it is true for salvation, it is true for all that God would have us to do in Jesus Christ.  He is our Source and He is our Shepherd.  He feeds us, and He will guide us and grant us everything we need to serve Him faithfully, and more than you will ever need.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Intercessor: He Prays for Us

 


Isaiah 5O:4-1O

The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of disciples, That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.   He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.   The Lord GOD has opened My ear; And I was not disobedient, Nor did I turn back.   I gave My back to those who strike Me, And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting.   For the Lord GOD helps Me, Therefore, I am not disgraced; Therefore, I have set My face like flint, And I know that I shall not be ashamed.   He who vindicates Me is near; Who will contend with Me?  Let us stand up to each other; Who has a case against Me?  Let him draw near to Me.   Behold, the Lord GOD helps Me; Who is he who condemns Me?  Behold, they will all wear out like a garment; The moth will eat them.   Who is among you that fears the LORD, That obeys the voice of His servant, That walks in darkness and has no light?  Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.

The Fourth Wednesday in Lent                    3/10/21

Jesus Servant of Us All

"Intercessor  --  He Prays for Us"

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

In this series of sermons we are looking at the Suffering Servant.  We cannot look at the vision of Isaiah without seeing Jesus.  That is for two reasons; first, Isaiah himself was seeing Jesus and prophesying about Him, although Isaiah never heard the name, and secondly because we do know Jesus and we can see more clearly than Isaiah the One of whom he was speaking.

Now as you consider this passage, you might wonder where the Intercessor comes in.  We see something about a disciple, and a description of some of the passion of our Lord, but the intercessor doesn't seem to appear.  When He comes into view is in the words about the tongue of the disciples and the open ear.  Those images are the images of us praying to Him.  And what does He do but call upon His Father to bless us and help us.  The message of this text is that God does help.

But we really want to have more than just the generic hope of the help of God.  We find we need an intercessor.  And we have one!  Jesus prays for us.  He is God, and worthy of our prayers, and yet He prays for us.  Many times when we get to thinking about God, I think we picture Him as some sort of cosmic C.E.O..  He is ruling and He is to be obeyed.  Those things are, of course, true.  But there is more to the story here.  Jesus said Himself that He had not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.  In many ways nothing has changed.  Just because Jesus has accomplished all for our salvation, that doesn't mean that now He is done serving us.  Thank God!

Surely we have not changed.  We still are weak and sinful, and we need the help of God.  Our enemies are still the same -- sin, death, and hell.  Satan still storms about.  The world still lures us with the false and empty promise of pleasure that will make it all worthwhile.  Our flesh still craves and lusts and would lead us into many and various dangers and sins.  Our need for His help has not changed

Jesus hasn't changed either.  He is still True God and True Man -- our Savior.  His love which brought Him to do so much and bear so much for us those long years ago is still bright and powerful.  He still holds out the same sweet professions of love and promises to bless and aid and rescue us.  His will is still to seek and to save the lost.  He still has the heart and compassion of the Good Shepherd.  He has laid down His life, and now He would complete His work by doing all that we need done, even now, that we might be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as Luther teaches in His Catechism.

He has the lips of the disciples.  When we pray according to His will, He is praying through us.  Our intercessions for one another are also His.  One of the delightful mysteries of the faith is that we are given the high, holy privilege of sharing in the work of Christ.  He lives in us and works in us and through us in the world.  We give voice to His love and prayer, just as we give voice to His Word in preaching and witnessing, and as we give flesh to His love by serving one another in love for Christ s sake.

Intercession seems almost to be the life of Jesus.  It certainly was a powerful focus of His life and ministry.  Prayer is one of His most frequently mentioned activities in Scripture.  Luke 5:16 even tells us, But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.  He taught about prayer often -- the Lords Prayer, the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge, and many other teachings.  And He prayed for us and others.

For example, look into the High Priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17.  He prays there for the disciples and - explicitly - not just for them but for us--John 17:20, "I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for Those also who believe in Me through their word." He prayed for the disciples as He faced the hour of His suffering, both before the agony of the cross, and from the throne of the cross itself.  We see the Intercessor's heart in Jesus as He approaches Jerusalem, grieving over its coming destruction, and recalling how often He would have gathered them, the people of Jerusalem, and healed them, and saved them, but they were unwilling.

We also have the promise of the Intercessor.  Hebrews 7:25 speaks about the High Priest s Office of intercession, speaking directly of Jesus, "Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them."  Think about that.  He lives to make intercession for those who draw near to God through Him!  Sometimes we chafe because we are told that our lives are meant to be lives of service to Him and to one another - and we want to take time and energy and resources for ourselves.  Yet our Lord still lives in order to serve us - Jesus, Servant of us all!  He lives to make intercession, even in glory!  And of course we have that most comforting and delightful passage in Romans 8 about how God, who cares for us and serves us, turns all things to our blessing.  In the midst of the wonderful words of reassurance of Romans 8, we have these comforting words.  "Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us."

We also have the promise of Jesus that God the Father will listen to us.  In the Gospels He repeatedly reassures us that God will listen to us, but even here in the prophecy, He tells us that "the Lord God has opened [His] ear", and a verse later the Prophets speaks the Word of the Suffering Servant that "God Helps [Him]."

Finally, in this text we have the reason why God will listen to Jesus on our behalf.  It is His obedience to the Father, obedience even to death.  It is that which establishes the certainty that the Lord God will listen to Him.  I was not disobedient, Nor did I turn back.  I gave My back to those who strike Me, And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting.  It was the service of Jesus on Good Friday, specifically, that assures us that the prayers of our Intercessor are heard.  For the Lord GOD helps Me, Therefore, I am not disgraced; Therefore, I have set My face like flint.  And I know that I shall not be ashamed.  He who vindicates Me is near; Who will contend with Me? Let us stand up to each other; Who has a case against Mel Let him draw near to Me.  Behold, the Lord God helps me; who is he who condemns me?  The words of Paul in Romans 8:32 even echo the words of the prophet here.

Jesus served us throughout His earthly life, and He still serves us even today.  He served us with His life and prayers then.  He served with His death and words from the cross.  And even now He serves us with intercessions at the right hand of the Father.  We can pray with complete confidence that God is listening to us, and answering our every prayer, because we know that Jesus is praying with us.  God will hear and answer, because Jesus - His only-begotten and beloved Son is the Servant of us all, even as He is truly Lord of all.

Our text ends with words of comfort and assurance that we need in our times of need.  Who is among you That fears the LORD, That obeys the voice of His servant, That walks In darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.  These are words of comfort because they carry that familiar and always welcome promise - Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

And He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your judgment as the noonday.

Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.

Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret, it leads only to evildoing.

For evildoers will be cut off, But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land.

Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; And you will look carefully for his place, and he will not be there.

But the humble will inherit the land, And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.


We need to pause in this busy world, and in this busy season of Lent, and consider Jesus in all that He has done for us.  The Servant, suffering, and dying, and glorified, and yet He continues to serve us by praying for us and assuring us that His Father will hear us and answer every prayer.  Jesus is not simply high and mighty and reigning -- although He is every bit of that.  He is also listening, and praying for us - and with us - and through us.  He is Lord of all and King above all kings, and yet, and this is the glory of Lent and the most profound comfort we can have in our times of need and trial, He is still Jesus, Servant of Us All, our Intercessor.  He still prays for us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,
(Let the people say "Amen".)

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Christus Victor

 Luke 11:14-28

And He was casting out a demon, and it was


dumb; and it came about that when the demon had gone out, the dumb man spoke; and the multitudes marveled.  But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons."  And others, to test Him, were demanding of Him a sign from heaven.  But He knew their thoughts, and said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls.  And if Satan also is divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul.  And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Consequently they shall be your judges.  But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
                    

"When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own homestead, his possessions are undisturbed; but when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied, and distributes his plunder.  He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.

"When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.'  And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order.  Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first."

And it came about while He said these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice, and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed."  But He said, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God, and observe it."

Sermon for Oculi Sunday                                                       03/07/21

Christus Victor

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Sometimes following Jesus – even just believing in Jesus – is a difficult thing.  He says things that don't mesh with our world-view.  He does things that are unexpected.  Oh we expect the things He does in the Bible, because the Bible has been there all of our lives and so it seems to make sense to us.  It didn't make sense to everyone back then, any more than the things that God is doing today - or putting us through - make sense to us today, at times.  Even when it did make sense, it wasn't what they wanted to hear or wanted to see and so they chafed against it and rebelled against it.  Jesus called them on it, and explained the truth to them so that we would see it today.  

Our theme this morning is "Christus Victor", which means "Christ the Victor" or "Christ is the Victor".   I chose those words because of Jesus' words in our text, "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters."  Let us consider the words of Jesus today and see what it means in our lives day-to-day that Christ is the Victor.

Our Gospel opens with Jesus casting out a demon.  You would think that would be a good thing, wouldn't you?  His adversaries found fault with Him anyhow.  They said that He was in league with the devil, and that was how He was casting out demons.  The truth of the matter was that everyone who saw it was impressed.  The text says that "the crowds marveled."  They all knew that such a thing came from God - but to the Pharisees and Sadducees and Scribes of the Temple, it was an awful blow.  This Jesus was just getting out of hand.  How do you compete with a man who can do the things Jesus could do?  And it was so clearly from God that they felt compelled to try to diminish Jesus' authority and stature with the people before they lost all influence with the people themselves.

So they made up the "in league with the devil" thing.  They didn't think it through, they just said what they thought would hurt Jesus in the eyes of the people.  Others of their number were demanding that Jesus do something really impressive, something clearly ‘a sign from heaven' to prove Himself to them.  Think about it – He was doing things only God can do, and He was so clearly God's man that the religious leaders felt the only way to diminish Him in the eyes of the people was to pretend that either He was in league with Satan or that He had done nothing special, and so they needed proof before they could believe what was painfully obvious to them in the first place.  Makes sense, eh?

Jesus pointed out their illogic - if the devil is working against himself, how could he possibly succeed?  Then He confronted them with the question of why they accused only Him of being in league with the devil.  When others did these sorts of things, they never challenged them.  But, as we say today, ‘what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.'  If Jesus was in league with Satan [they even used the spooky sounding name Beelzebul (or Beelzebub) for the devil - the Lord of the Flies, or the God of the Demons.  They were working on the creep-em-out factor, not unlike the style of modern politics aimed at our former President] then, Jesus said, who are the others in league with, you know the ones of which you approve - and the ones everyone else believes are good, godly men?  Consequently, Jesus said, they shall be your judges.

Then He made the point out loud that His adversaries wanted to avoid the people making in their heads - if Jesus was doing this by the power of God, then the Kingdom of God has come among them - the Savior is here.  Their plot to discredit Jesus backfired, and opened the door for Jesus to make explicit what had been only implicit before.  Jesus was the Victor there.

We are often tempted to do something like those adversaries of Jesus did.  If we don't like the direction the Lord is leading us, we try to cast it into terms that favor our preferences and deny the leading of the Lord.  I am talking about when, where God seems to be taking us is going to take too much of our time, or too much of our attention, or too much of our energy, or too much of our money.  You know, when being the kind of Christian that Jesus talks about, and the Apostles taught us about, is not compatible with our modern individualism.  It is the sort of situation in which our rights and our liberties stand at odds to the sort of commitment that faithfulness to Christ seems to demand.  We want to believe that lukewarm Christianity is better than no Christianity at all - in open denial of what Jesus said in Revelation 3:16, in the letter to the church at Laodicea, "'So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth."

Our vacations and our family visits and our other ditherings seem to be challenged by the concept of faithfulness to Christ and His people.  Our hobbies and our toys and our entertainments seem to be threatened by the demands of genuine Christian faith and commitment.  When we feel that tug of conscience, we want to make the preacher back up a little and lighten up - sort of like the Pharisees wanted Jesus to back off and shrink in the estimation of the people.  Note that no one has said anything to me - so I am not talking about complaints spoken to me, here.

Jesus answered them with a couple of parables: the Parable of the Strong Man Guarding His Home, and the Parable of the Unclean Spirit.  These are different answers than you might expect in the heat of conflict.  Jesus tells a parable on the devil - Satan is the strong man who guards his house until a stronger man than he comes and takes everything away.  Jesus is the stronger man.  Consequently, those who try to prop up the devil, even inadvertently, are working against Jesus.  The only way to work with Jesus is to be affirmatively on His side.  Neutrality, lukewarm-ness, and just not being involved, all serve the devil - He who is not with me is against me - and He who does not gather with me scatters.

Then Jesus describes First Century Israel as the house of the unclean spirit that has been driven out.  He was driven out by the coming of Jesus Himself.  But when Jesus has gone, the devil will return, and since Israel rejects Jesus, the last state is worse than the first, and the evil of the last state is far deeper than the first.  That worsened condition is described as the first spirit bringing seven more spirits, more foul than himself, to live with him.  And look at Israel, the people.  They no longer hope for the Messiah.  They actively oppose Him.  They were once at least the people of the covenant before Jesus came, even if they failed to keep it, and they once had the Word and the prophets.  Today they are empty, and the religion of the covenant is now a pagan and idolatrous religion, because their Savior - their God - has come, and they rejected Him.  They chose the familiar, and the personally preferable to the true and the saving.

He who is not with me is against me' is Jesus' way of saying Solo Christo - in Christ alone - to the Jews of His day.  If we are not pulling on the oars with Him, we are dragging the anchor.  If we are not working together with one another faithfully in the church, we stand guilty of working against Jesus Himself.

One of the women there that day was so impressed with the wisdom and truth of what Jesus said that she cried out, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed."  She meant to praise Him for His wisdom and holiness - good things, but Jesus answered her, and answered those who had been made to feel foolish by His response.  He indicated that the really significant thing was not how impressed they might be with Him, but how they dealt with God's Word.  He said, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God, and keep it."  The true blessedness is in believing the Word of God both with your mind and with your life - not just thinking it is true, but living as though it is true.

That Word says that your sins are forgiven.  Jesus took the wrath of God against you and your sins and suffered on the cross what you have earned including death itself.  He died that you might live.  He bore your sins that you might be forgiven and live in holiness before Him.  Believe that Word!  What a wonderful gift - and what a wonderful Gospel.  Believe it with your mind and believe it with your actions.

Do we dare to behave like the Pharisees were behaving, as though this wondrous good news is not so special as it seems?  Can it be that faithfulness and holiness can take a back seat in the life of a true believer to the pleasures and priorities of modern American life, with all its wealth and possibilities?  Jesus and His obvious God-connections were getting in the way of the plans and priorities of the leaders of the Temple religion, and, although they saw the truth, they thought that they could cool it down and re-prioritize things safely.

Faith in Christ and true faithfulness will call us to changing our behaviors, re-aligning our priorities, doing things first which we would rather leave for later.  You probably feel the tug-of-war in yourself between what you kind-sorta think you ought to be doing as a faithful child of God, and member of this body here (or at your home church), on the one hand, and the tug to enjoy what is yours, take the time for yourself, do what is every American's right to do, and call Christ unreasonable for suggesting (even though it is your own mind doing all the talking) that you live sacrificially as a deliberate Christian rather than self-indulgently as one who has every right to own, to do, or to go as you please.

Blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it.  The strong man in your life has been destroyed, and Jesus has taken his place - by taking yours on the cross.  He has set you free - from sin, and from the slavery to yourself and your flesh - to serve Him.  "Sin shall not be master over you, for you are no longer under law, but under grace."

So, what should you do?

I'm not going to tell you.  I cannot.  

Believe the Word of God, of course.  Walk in faith.  Live every moment in the presence of God, and in the light of His love for you and the marvelous gift of your forgiveness and salvation.

 And remember the principle, "The Lord loves a cheerful giver."  That applies to your time.  It applies to your morals.  It applies to your energy.  It applies to your talents.  It applies to your entertainments, and it applies, finally, also to your money.  

You have the Word of God, now how you respond, by the power of God within you, is up to you.  Blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it.  And here, too Christ is victor!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)