Just as He Said

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Mark 16:1–8

1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Empty Tomb 1

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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

No less than three times, Jesus had told His followers that He would be betrayed, suffer, and die. And on the third day, He would rise again.

As the sun rises, the women grab their spices and make their way to the tomb. Their hope is lost because they fell into believing the mocking they heard on Good Friday, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself.”

These women intended to do a loving but futile service to their dead friend, Jesus. Their plan is to honor Him by putting sweet smells on His stinky corpse. In their minds, God had failed them, and hope was lost.

And as they walk to the tomb, things get even worse. They realize they can’t even do what they were planning: “Who will roll away the stone?” Even this one, little thing – putting spices on a dead body – is beyond their ability.

How often does this happen to you? How often in life do you feel like you are simply wandering through a graveyard, weeping? How often does some stone get in your way so you are unable to do the smallest thing? How many times have you failed? How many times have you fallen? How many times have you been ready to give up? How many times has your sin brought you to despair?

Well, look up. The stone is rolled away for you. Go ahead, enter the tomb. No dead are inside. Your Savior is risen, and everything is just as Jesus said:

Christ was judged, and you are liberated.

Christ was spit upon, and you are washed clean.

Christ was mocked, and you are praised.

Christ was killed, and you are reborn.

Christ is risen, and death is undone.

Christ is risen, and the devil flees defeated.

Christ is risen, and mankind is restored.

Christ is risen, and you will rise too.

Jesus has gone before you. He has gone through trial and temptation, and He has come through victorious. Jesus has gone through a life of suffering, yet without sin. Jesus has come through death. He lives. So will you.

You will see Him. Everything is just as Jesus said.

You are forgiven, just as He said.

You are the recipients of His grace, just as He said.

Your Redeemer lives, just as He said.

Everything Jesus has promised is yours.

Jesus says in Him you find rest (Mt. 11:28).

Jesus says that – though you have tribulation in this world – He has overcome the world, so take heart (Jn. 16:33).

Jesus says that you who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be satisfied (Mt. 5:6).

Jesus says whoever believes in Him will have eternal life (Jn. 3:16).

Jesus says He is your resurrection and your life (Jn. 11:25).

Jesus says there is no condemnation for you who are in Him (Ro. 8:1).

Angel Sitting on the Stone of Christ's Tomb Matthew 28And now, you have angel’s work to do. Go. Tell others. Tell them that because Jesus is their brother, they are God’s children. Tell them they are forgiven because of Jesus. Tell them they are made holy because of Jesus. Tell them because everything is finished just as He told you.

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

Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Humble – Sermon for Palm Sunday on Matthew 21:1-1-9 & Matthew 27:11-54

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Our service today included the Rite of Confirmation.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Palm Sunday King of GloryThe first words of Scripture you heard in today’s service told how Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Matthew tells us that it happened this way to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey” (Zech. 9:9 quoted in Mt. 21:5). That word that gets translated as ‘humble’ means ‘of no importance.’

But then, people welcome Jesus with shouts of, “Hosanna” which means, “save us now.” The people spread their cloaks and palm branches as a royal runner. The people welcome Jesus as their King. And for the first time in His life, Jesus accepts their praises.

If Zechariah prophesized that when Jesus comes that He is considered to be of no importance, why do the crowds welcome Him the way they do?

Well, King Jesus’ humility was much lower than simply riding on a donkey. And because of that the people despise Him and reject Him. They considered Him of no importance (Is. 53:3). And that is exactly what we heard in the Gospel lesson (Mt. 27:11-54).

Jesus Cross Heaven & EarthKing Jesus didn’t come to sit as judge. Instead, He came to be judged. He didn’t have subjects who shout, “Long live the king!” Instead, they holler, “Crucify Him!” He didn’t come to command armies. Instead, He came to be beaten by soldiers. He didn’t come to be clothed in the finest garments and crowned with gold and jewels. Instead, He came to have a robe ripped from Him and be thorns pressed into His head. He didn’t come to drink fine wine from a golden chalice. Instead, He came to be offered wine mixed with gall. He didn’t come to sit in a fine hall with nobles surrounding Him. Instead, He came to hang on a splintered cross between two thieves. He didn’t come to execute justice. Instead, He came to die an unjust death.

But most importantly, He didn’t come to be blessed by God the Father. Instead, He came to be forsaken by God the Father because, there on the cross, He took all of your sin and became sin for you.

Bethany, Naomi, Siobhan, Wyatt, Gavin, Grady, Zach, Elijah, Gabriel, and all of you here: Because of the humility of Jesus, the eternal Son of God, you are made righteous. You are declared innocent, righteous, and blameless.

Yet, the world still does not recognize this. The world still sees Jesus as being of no importance. So, the world will reject you because you bear the name ‘Christian.’

The world looks at what Jesus has done and what He has given the Church, and they say it has no importance. They see the Church gathering Sunday mornings to hear the Word of God and say, “Don’t those silly Christians have anything better to do than to listen to those old-fashioned ideas?” They see Baptism and say, “What good can a little water sprinkled on a head do?” They see the Lord’s Supper and say, “What’s the big deal about a little cracker and wine?”

Word and Sacrament IconBut Christian, by God’s grace, you know better. You know that those are the very things that God has given and uses to complete the good work of faith that He began in you.

You hold fast to that Word because even though it convicts you, you know that those very Words give life. You rejoice in your Baptism because you know that God has said that it joins you to Jesus’ death and resurrection and saves you. You hunger and thirst for the Lord’s Supper because you know that God has promised that it delivers Christ’s living Body and Blood given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins.

Your King comes humbly, but He brings your salvation with Him. And He is coming again. Then, every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess that He is Lord. He is King. He is Savior, your Savior. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Devil’s Lie – Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent on John 8:42-59

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John 8:42–59

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

So, you wake up this morning. Shower (hopefully). Get dressed. Drive yourself over to church. Grab a cup of coffee. Catch up on how others’ week went and talk about the weather. Grab your bulletin. Sit down in your pew. Speak some Scripture. Sing some songs. Confess your faith. Pass the offering plate. And this is the Jesus you hear?

Combative Jesus. Intolerant Jesus. Name-calling Jesus. Rude Jesus.

Jesus is fed up because these people, like you, have believed the devil’s lie rather than the truth of God’s Word. So, Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush. The people arguing with Him are Satan’s spawn, children of the murdering devil.

Jesus says something extremely important here. Look at the last sentence of v. 44. Our translation reads, “When he (that is, the devil) lies, he speaks out of his own character.” What Jesus actually says is, “When [the devil] speaks the lie, he speaks out of his own character…” Now, it’s not that we have a bad translation, but that little nuance gets to the core of what the devil is constantly doing to you. He tells you his one lie.

The one lie that is under all of the devil’s work is simply this: God is not good and does not love you – which is the boldest, basest lie there is. But the devil doesn’t just come out and say that. Instead, the devil disguises that lie. Little by little, Satan is always pointing you away from Jesus crucified for the complete, total forgiveness of all your sins.

You don’t get that promotion, raise, or contract. The devil comes along and says, “You must have made God mad. Until you get yourself in order, God isn’t going to bless you or help you.”

Then, rather than fixing your eyes Christ crucified for you, you put every aspect of your life under a microscope. You examine your motivations and try to make them purer. But then when blessings do come your way, you pat yourself on the back and, like little Jack Horner, say, “What a good boy am I.” And the devil has you right where he wants you.

Or you keep falling into the same sin. No matter how hard you try, you can’t keep yourself from doing that one thing. So, the devil comes along and whispers his lie into your ear. “Sure, God said that He forgives sin. But You can’t expect Him to forgive it all the time. Maybe you haven’t repented enough. Sure, you believe in Jesus, but you must have not fully yielded to Him.”

And you fall for the devil’s bait. Your eyes are diverted just a little from Jesus. You go off and try this program to keep you from falling into sin. Or you go and try to make up for your sin by doing some good work. And you trust in your self-improvement rather than in Christ’s sacrifice.

Repent. Knock it off. Stop believing the devil’s lie. All your works, all your efforts, all your striving does is take the crucified Jesus, the only Jesus, out of the equation. It puts you in the driver’s seat of your salvation. And when your salvation, or even the maintenance and preservation of your salvation, rests on you, you are going to fall big time. And every time you fail, the devil’s lie is easier to believe.

That is why Jesus is so combative and abrasive in this text. Jesus in this passage shows us what God meant what He said that He is a jealous God (Ex. 20:5). God wants you for Himself. That is why Jesus came and gave Himself for you. He wants you to trust in Him for your salvation and for everything else.

Jesus, by His cross and death, has secured for you an eternal redemption and given you an eternal inheritance. His blood poured out for you on Calvary will absolutely purify your conscience (Heb. 9:11-15).

Jesus doesn’t give you credit or leave part of the job in your hands. He works repentance in you. He puts His Word of forgiveness in your ear. He turns your heart of stone into a heart of flesh. He raises you from death. He pays your debt in full by His precious blood.

That is Jesus’ word, that is His promise, to you. Keep that word. Trust that promise, and Jesus says, “You will never see death,” because Jesus will pull you through death to eternal life with Him. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

It’s Not Enough – Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent on John 6:1-15

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John 6:1-15

1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.

5 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?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. Jesus feeds the 5000 112 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

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.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Armies can’t feed a crowd this size without preparing in advance. But Jesus knew all along what He was going to do. He knew that this boy would be there with his little snack of five loaves and two fish, and what Jesus does is absolutely remarkable. This miracle shows that Jesus doesn’t need soil and seed and rain and time and combines and grain elevators and flour mills and bakers and grocers to feed people bread. It shows that Jesus doesn’t need fishing boats and bait and nets and processing plants or even water to feed people fish.

But if we come away from this text seeing only Jesus’ power, we miss the point. Now, don’t get me wrong. This miracle certainly shows His power, that He is God in the flesh. But there is much more than simply that. This text shows us who we are as sinners and how generous God is. That is why the text tells us that Jesus set this whole situation up as a test (v. 6). Because we are sinners, we always think that what God provides isn’t enough. The disciples show how we aren’t content when God gives little, and the crowd shows how we aren’t content when God gives an abundance.

Phillip is the first to say there isn’t enough. Jesus asks, “Hey, Phillip. Know any good bakeries around here where we can buy bread for all these people?” Without even checking his pockets or asking the other disciples how much they have in their wallets, Phillip answers, “Whoa there Jesus. We don’t have enough. Two hundred day’s wages wouldn’t scratch the surface.”

Andrew chimes in as well. “This kid has five loaves and two fish. But it’s not enough. It’s just his afternoon snack.” The disciples see their lack and fall into despair.

You and I do the same. We never think we have enough. We sinfully think that we need more income to pay the bills, more time to get things done, more resources at our disposal. Like the disciples, we worry when there is a lack. We forget that we have a God who has promised to be our Father and give all that we need for this body and life. Jesus has promised, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Mt. 6:33).

So, the disciples see their lack and say, “It’s not enough.” But Jesus proves the disciples to be wrong.

Christ extravagantly feeds the whole crowd. Jesus has them lie down. Our translation says ‘sit down,’ but Jesus has them lie down like lords, kings, and emperors at a feast so they can be served. When their ancestors were fed with mana in the wilderness, they had to go out each morning and gather it up themselves (Ex. 16:2-21). But Jesus makes sure they are waited upon.

Each and every last one of them gets to stuff their face with as much food as they like. No one is told, “Look fatty, slow down. You’ve had enough.” There is always more – even for the gluttons.

But even in the midst of this abundance, the crowds say, “It’s not enough; we need more.” They see this sign and want to make Jesus their bread king. They figure that if Jesus can provide food for them to eat like royalty, they can make Him their king and they won’t ever need to worry about food or clothes or homes or anything ever again. Just put Jesus on a throne in Jerusalem and they can live the rest of their lives on easy street.

But Jesus didn’t come to be their bread king. Jesus Himself says, “It’s not enough. I will not be your bread king. I will not be your king apart from the cross.”

Jesus came to give them more than bread and fish. He desired to give them more than food, clothing, homes, shelter and protection. Jesus had come to give them, and you, Himself.

Cross and CommunionJesus came to have His back torn by a whip and His forehead sliced open by the crown of thorns. Jesus came to have His body broken. Jesus came to have His hands and feet nailed to the cross, His side run through with a spear. Jesus came to give you every last drop of His forgiving blood. Jesus came to give you eternal mercy, forgiveness, and life.

So, don’t be like the disciples who see their lack and day, “It’s not enough.” Jesus wants you to believe when you have nothing because He will certainly provide.

And don’t be like the crowds who see the abundance and say, “It’s not enough; we want more.” Jesus wants you to receive what He gives. Don’t let it spoil. Use it knowing that He will always provide more than you will ever need.

Also, don’t forget about the boy. He is the picture of faith in contrast to both the disciples and the crowds. This boy generously gives everything he has. He doesn’t know what Jesus will do with it. He doesn’t give because there is a promise that he will be blessed or rewarded. The boy simply believes that what he gives to Jesus will be used for good. And it is. Jesus multiplies what the boy gives – multiplies it and satisfies the hunger of others.

The same is true when you give, no matter how much or how little. God can and will multiply it because God knows how to multiply the gifts that you bring and satisfy the needs of others. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Finger of God – Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent on Luke 11:14-28

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Luke 11:14–28

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. Jesus Rebuking Demon15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But 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. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

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.”

27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Some people will never believe. Their hearts are so hardened that, no matter how great a sign they see from the hand of God Himself, they still refuse to believe. This doesn’t mean that we should stop proclaiming the Gospel to them or stop praying for them. It is just reality. And, in fact, it is a call to further prayer because we recognize that conversion is always, always a work of the Holy Spirit chiseling away at sin-hardened hearts.

Jesus casts a mute demon out of a man. Some marveled. Some were still seeking from a sign from heaven. And some accused Jesus of casting out the demon by the power of Beelzebul (which means ‘lord of the flies’ a derogatory title for Satan stating that the devil is the lord of the dung heap).

Now, as illogical as the accusation is, we need to see how that it infinitely more blasphemous. Jesus delivers a man from a demon that made him mute. But people say, “Jesus is doing the devil’s work.”

And we need to pause here because nothing has changed. This world still calls good evil and evil good. If you are pro-life, you are sexist who just wants to control women’s bodies. If you stand for marriage as God created it or believe that men are men and women are women, you are homophobic.

Believer, this world hates God and hates Jesus, and it hates you too because you are God’s child. We live in a world that constantly stands good and evil on their heads. And the sooner you admit it, the better.

Jesus shows how ludicrous the claim that He is casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul. Instead, Jesus says it is by the finger of God that He is casting out demons which means that the kingdom, the reign, of God has come among those who scoff at wheat Jesus is doing.

This expression Jesus uses “the finger of God” is interesting. That phrase is only used four times in the Bible. You heard it in our Old Testament lesson (Ex. 8:16-24). Pharaoh’s magicians recognize that the plague of gnats is the finger of God coming in judgment against them. In Exodus 31[:18] and Deuteronomy 9[:10], Scripture talks about God’s finger writing the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets. Now here, Jesus talks about God’s finger casting out demons. The point is that Jesus casting out demons is a fulfillment of the Law and a plague on hell. Jesus tells demons to go and they have to go.

Then, Jesus tells something like a parable. He says that when a strong man [the devil] who is fully armed guards (and keep that word ‘guards’ in the back of your mind because it comes up again in a little bit) his house [the world] his goods [sinners] are safely under his lordship. But Jesus says that when one stronger than him [Jesus] is going to come and attack him, take away his armor, and divide the spoil [you].

Jesus says that He has come to rob the devil’s house and you are the spoils, the treasure, the plunder that Jesus is taking out of the devil’s cellar. He has won, redeemed, purchased, and grabbed you from the devil’s clutches. All by the power of His finger.

He has pulled you out of darkness and into His marvelous light. And notice what Jesus says, “Whoever is not with Me is against me.” There is no spiritual neutral ground. You are either rescued by Jesus and delivered into His kingdom, or you are held captive in the devil’s domain. And if you are not filled by the Holy Spirit, then the demons come back, and your last state is worst than the first.

So how do you know if you are in the kingdom of God or in the kingdom of the devil? Well, Jesus answers that. A woman says to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that nursed you.” Now, Mary was certainly blessed. She is the mother of our Lord. But Jesus says, even better than being His mother is to hear the Word of God and keep (there is that same word used about the devil ‘guard’) it.

Though you were guarded by Satan, Jesus has come and rescued you with His finger transferring you to His kingdom. Now, you guard the Word that Jesus used to deliver you from Satan.

Cross and CommunionGuard it. Keep it. Take it. Eat and drink it. Because Jesus joins that Word of deliverance and forgiveness of sins to bread and wine. With His little finger, He destroyers the stronghold and armor of the devil. He claims you as His own. And He guards and keeps you now and for all eternity. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wrestle – Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent on Genesis 32:22-32

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Genesis 32:22–32

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Eugene Delacroix c. 186122 The same night [Jacob] arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When [he] saw that he did not prevail against [him], he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But [he] said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the main event.

In this corner, we have a husband of two and father of eleven sons. But don’t let the fact that he is a family man fool you. He’s been a fighter all his life. Even in his mother’s womb, he was scrapping with his twin brother. He fights dirty and knows how to prey on weakness. He’s so ruthless that when that same brother was famished, he used food to steal a birthright. When his father was nearly blind, he covered himself with animal skins to steal a blessing. The meaning of his name says it all; I give you Jacob, the Deciever, son of Isaac.

And in this corner, we have a stranger. But don’t let his anonymity fool you either. He’s more powerful than any other being in all creation. When He looks defeated, watch out. He has finishing moves that will cripple you for the rest of your life. Before Abraham was, He is. The Alpha. The Omega. The Beginning and the End. I give you, the pre-incarnate Messiah – Jesus.

We are given front-row seats to this bout. Jacob has divided his family and sent them across the river. He is alone for the night to think about what will happen the next day when he will meet Esau, his brother. The last time Jacob saw any of his immediate family, his mother warned him that Esau was comforting himself with the thought of killing him (Gen. 27:42).

Suddenly, a man springs out of the bushes. And Jacob finds himself wrestling all night. Now, the Scripture doesn’t give us a very good play-by-play of the fight – at least not for the radio. V. 25 is full of ‘he’s’ and ‘him’s.’ But, the text makes it clear. Jacob prevails over Jesus (see also Hosea 12:3-4). But then, suddenly, the Man touches Jacob’s side. BAM! And Jacob’s hip is dislocated.

And the ‘he’s’ and ‘him’s’ continue in v. 26. He said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” Who said that? Could be Jesus, but it could be Jacob. “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Who said that? Could be Jacob, but it could be Jesus. And if it is Jesus, and I just want you to consider the possibility, Jesus is saying, “I will not let you go until you trust and believe in Me.”

Jesus asks Jacob for his name. And Jacob gives it to him, “My name is Deciever.” And Jesus says, “Your name will no longer be Deciever, but Israel,” which means ‘God fights.’

Jacob asks for the Man’s name, but he doesn’t get it. It seems as though that Jacob is still trying to be tricksy. The common thought back then was that if you knew the name of a god, you could control him. But Jacob doesn’t get the name. He doesn’t get to control Jesus.

So, what does this have to do with you? Should you be like Jacob and wrestle with God in prayer? Should you never give up until you make God answer all your prayers and bless you?

No. No, you are not stronger than God. Even though Jacob prevailed over Jesus in this wrestling match, it is clear who was in charge. At any point, Jesus could have ended the match by blasting Jacob into orbit.

For his whole life, Jacob had been relying on his own cunning and deceit. He had relied on his manipulation of others and his dirty tactics to make sure he always ended up on top. But in this wrestling match, God wanted Jacob to see that even when Jacob won, it was because of what God was doing by fighting for him. And by changing Jacob’s name to Israel, God cements that fact into Jacob’s very identity.

God fights, and He fights for you. It was God who promised our first parents that He would fight for them by sending the Seed who would crush the serpent’s head. It was God who fought against Pharaoh and delivered Israel out of bondage and slavery in Egypt. It was God who fought with the pagan nations who inhabited the Promised Land.

And it was God who took on the greatest fight of all, but in the strangest way imaginable. A Baby came to earth in a manger. That Child grew up and fought with the devil as he threw all his best moves tempting Jesus to fall into sin. Jesus beat Satan up there, but His final victory came when Jesus went to the mat of the cross facing your greatest foes.

Passion of Christ on the CrossLoaded with your sin and the sin of the whole world, He fights to the very end, to the last breath. And the fight looked lost. Jesus looked like a loser – dead, lifeless, buried. But, even in that apparent defeat, He rose victorious.

And Jesus keeps fighting. He fights for you. Jesus fights your enemies: sickness, sorrow, sin, and Satan. You may think that you face your enemies alone because God has abandoned you. He has not. You may feel like you are helpless, friendless, defenseless. You are not. You might even be tempted to believe that your worst enemy is God Himself. You would be wrong.

God is your wrestler. He is the one who fights for you. He will never leave you or forsake you. Jesus says that you are His. He has given you eternal life, and no one will snatch you from His victorious, nail-pierced hand (Jn. 10:28). Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Tempted – Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent on Matthew 4:1-11

Listen here.

Matthew 4:1–11

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written,

‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Immediately before He is tempted, Matthew tells us that Jesus was Baptized. Now, in your Baptism, God made the same statement over you that He made over Jesus in His Baptism, “You are My beloved child, in you I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:17). The Scriptures promise that God will never hold anything good back from you. If God is for you – and He is – who can be against you? God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for you. And that same God will graciously give you all things (Ro. 8:31-32).

Temptations of the world and MonastacismBut this also means that, in this life, you are in the devil’s crosshairs. Satan hates you and will tempt you to doubt that God is truly your Father who gives you all things. The devil tempts you to sin by putting God’s promises in front of you, but he wants you to lay hold of those promises in your own way and timing. But Satan’s way never brings the joy that God wants to give you.

You want justice against someone who has hurt you. God has promised to give you justice, but Satan tempts you to get that justice sooner by breaking the 5th Commandment and hurting them. You want physical pleasure and companionship. God is happy to give that to you too, but the devil tempts you to seek that pleasure outside of marriage or on websites breaking the 6th Commandment. You want your reputation to be better than it is. Well, God has promised you that you are His child. But Satan tempts you to lie or gossip about that person and break the 8th Commandment. And on and on it goes.

We see the devil doing this this in the temptation of Jesus. The first temptation Satan puts in front of Jesus is to turn stones into bread. Now, Jesus hasn’t eaten anything for forty days, so He is hungry. But Jesus will eat again, even before our text ends (v. 11). So, the devil says, “Go ahead. Eat now. Turn these stones into bread.”

Jesus resists the temptation. He resists not because He isn’t hungry or doesn’t like bread. Instead, Jesus wants more bread than Satan can provide, and Jesus wants to eat that bread in eternal fellowship with His Father and with you, His bride.

Jesus Crushes the Serpent's Head CrossThe second temptation of the devil is for Jesus to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple. The devil says, “God will protect you by sending angels to make sure you don’t even hurt your foot.”[1]

Again, Jesus resists the temptation. God will protect Jesus, but God had sent Jesus to have His heel bruised while He crushes the devil’s head. The devil knows this; he was told so. But Jesus doesn’t want God’s protection until He has extended the protection of His blood over you.

The third temptation is for Jesus to have all the kingdoms of the world if He will simply give a quick moment of worship to the devil.

Again, Jesus resists. He will have all the world’s kingdoms. But Jesus only wants those kingdoms when you have been forgiven, when you are died for and redeemed by His cross.

Now, there are two great errors we can fall into when we consider the temptation of Jesus. The first error is to think, “Jesus overcame temptation, so I need to follow His example.” And then we come up with all sorts of gimmicks, steps, and works of piety that we think will keep us from sin, but they all fail.

The other error is to think, “Jesus overcame temptation, so I don’t have to.” God forbid even the thought. Yes, your sin is forgiven, but don’t ever think it is trivial.

Rescued from DeathInstead, rejoice in Jesus’ temptation. Rejoice because Jesus has endured where you have fallen and obeyed where you rebelled. Rejoice because Jesus knows the temptations you face, and He will always provide a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13).

And rejoice that the devil left Jesus. The accuser left Jesus because there was no sin to accuse Him of. That also means that the devil will leave you who are in Jesus because, on the Last Day, Satan will have nothing to accuse you of either. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Satan even quotes Ps. 91:11-12. Interestingly, Satan stops there because Ps. 91:13 says, “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.”