The Merciful Master – Sermon on Luke 16:1-13 for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

Luke 16:1-13

1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Today, we are going to start with three questions to help us wrap our minds around this difficult parable: First, what is the rich master commending his manager for? Second, what is the context of the parable? And, third, where does the parable end?

First question first. What is the rich master praising the wasteful, dishonest manager for? It isn’t for his dishonesty when the manager illegally lowers the bills of the debtors. Instead, the master praises the manager’s shrewdness. And this is actually in line with God’s character.

Think back to Jacob. Jacob was certainly dishonest (in fact, ‘Jacob’ means ‘deceiver’ or ‘cheater’), but Jacob was also an extremely shrewd man who took advantage of all sorts of situations to benefit himself – which is what shrewd means. When Jacob’s exhausted brother Esau came in from the field, Jacob shrewdly took advantage of the situation by selling Esau a bit of soup at the cost of Esau’s birthright. When Jacob’s father Isaac was old and blind, Jacob shrewdly took advantage of the situation by dressing up like Esau and receiving their father’s blessing. When Jacob’s father-in-law Laban was distracted, Jacob shrewdly fled with his wives and children to move back to Canaan.

While we might think that God would want to disassociate Himself with as shrewd a man as Jacob, God doesn’t. God calls Himself the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. In fact, twenty-three times in Scripture God calls Himself ‘the God of Jacob.’ God isn’t ashamed to be associated with the shrewd. So, again, the rich master doesn’t praise the dishonesty of the manager; he praises his shrewdness.

To the second question: What is the context of the parable? Well the first verse gives us a little bit of the context. Jesus tells this parable to the disciples. Jesus isn’t giving this parable to the masses, but only to those who have left everything to follow Him. Unbelievers might take this parable to mean that Jesus doesn’t mind if you are a scoundrel who only does things for your own benefit. That’s not the point of the parable! This parable is told to believers so that they would shrewdly know to expect, count, and bank on God’s mercy and grace.

Also, the context of this parable is all of Luke 15. In the opening of Luke 15, the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling that Jesus is receiving and eating with sinners. So, Jesus tells them the parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son. Notice, please, I said ‘the parable’ not ‘the parables.’ The three are, in my opinion, best understood as one parable and taken together as a single unit.

Also, each of them is terribly named. Instead of the name ‘the Lost Sheep,’ it should be called the ‘the Good Shepherd.’ Instead of the name ‘the Lost Coin,’ it should be called ‘the Persnickety Woman.’ Instead of the calling it ‘the Prodigal Son,’ it should be called ‘the Wasteful Father.’ The sheep, the coin, and the younger son are not the focal point of the parable, and they are damaged when we make them the center. Instead, it’s the goodness of the shepherd, the persistence of the woman, and the mercy of the father that should draw our attention. The same is true of this parable before us, the central point of the parable is not the dishonesty and shrewdness of the manager but the mercy of the master.

Think back for just a moment to the misnamed parable of the Prodigal Son: The father mercifully gives his younger son his share of the inheritance early, and that little brat wastefully squanders it (Lk. 15:13). We need to realize that inheritance included money, but it mainly included land. The merciful father had to sell off at least one-third of his land to give that little imp his inheritance. That means the kid frittered away several generations worth of blood, toil, and sweat while ruining his family’s name and reputation in the community. And when the funds run out, the little churl saunters back home to beg for a job from his father so he doesn’t have to eat pig slop. But the father won’t have it, not because he wants the kid eating swine slop, but because he wants his son back. The father mercifully runs to him, embraces him, dresses him up in the best cloths, and throws a party because he has welcomed his son back into the family.

That’s the context of this parable which is tied to that one. The mercy of the father there and the mercy of the master in this parable are meant to be seen together. In other words, with this parable Jesus is saying to the disciples, “Listen guys, God’s mercy really is something you can bank on. Check this out…”

Finally, and briefly, the third question to help us understand the parable: Where does it end? It’s probably best to see the parable ending with Jesus saying, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” Which means that the next sentence (the second half of v. 8) is the beginning of the lesson that Jesus wants to teach us. “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”

So now, with all of that in mind, let’s quickly consider the parable:

The rich man finds out that his manager is wasting his possessions, so the rich man fires the manager on the spot, but throws him a bone of mercy. The rich man could have tossed his manager straight into prison. But, instead, the merciful master sends the manager back to his office to collect the books before he turns them in. The fired manager realizes he’s in a bad spot. He’s too weak to dig and too ashamed to beg. So, the manager formulates a plan. The rich man’s debtors have no idea that the manager has been canned, so he has a small window of opportunity. He calls the debtors in “one by one” (v. 5) and lowers each person’s debt. It is interesting to note that he reduces each debt an equal amount of denarii which shows how hastily his plan was formulated. The reduction of fifty measures of oil and reduction of twenty measures of wheat both equal 500 denarii (or days’ wages).

Two other things are important here. Notice, that the manager has each debtor take the pen and write with their own hand and in their own penmanship the reduced amount (more on that in a minute). The other important thing is that the debtors go along with the reduction in their bills which indicates their suspicions aren’t raised. The manager likely told them that he had convinced the master to reduce their debts. The debtors know the master, and he isn’t a hard, unforgiving man. Instead, he has a reputation of being merciful.

So, the manager arranges the books, saunters back to headquarters, and walks straight into the master’s office blowing on the wet ink of the newly reduced debts with a wry smile on his face. The master can see that the books have been changed and realizes that the debtors know about it. He hears the whole town out in the streets singing his praises for the merciful reduction of their debts.

Luke 16 1-9 - Riojas the Shrewd ManagerThe master had every right to reinstate the debts, but he doesn’t want his reputation of being merciful to be tainted. The master would rather eat the loss than have his mercy put into doubt. So, the merciful master praises and commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.

By cutting the large bills of the master’s debtors, the shrewd manager went ‘all in’ on the mercy of the master, and it paid off. The manager is forever associated with the master’s mercy and the debtors will always deal kindly with him so he won’t have to dig or beg.

Again, the merciful master praises the manager for his shrewdness. The manager knew which way to fall, and he fell on the mercy of the master.

Here’s the point, dear saints. You too can always fall on the mercy of your Heavenly Father, the truest Merciful Master of all. But too often we are hesitant to do so.

God repeatedly gives you opportunities to reveal His goodness and mercy to others, but you’ve blown it. God puts you in the midst of your family with parents, siblings, cousins, and in-laws who fight, hold grudges, and speak the worst about each other. God puts you there so that you can imitate Him and be merciful and forgiving like He is, but you’ve blown those opportunities.

God puts you among children and grandchildren who aren’t grateful. Instead, they are rude, selfish, and self-absorbed. God gives you all sorts of opportunities to show unconditional love while making God your Father look good. But you’ve blown it.

God places you in a workplace or classroom where you are treated unfairly, taken advantage of, bullied, and receive all sorts of nasty behavior. God wants you to act shrewdly and do what no one else would – turn the other cheek and return all that evil for kindness and love. But you’ve blown it. Dear saints, we have all failed to use what our Merciful Master has given us to serve our neighbor because we don’t trust His mercy. Repent.

Repent, but also rejoice because you have a Savior who is just like the shrewd manager (minus the dishonesty). Jesus is the supreme Shrewd Savior, the Ultimate Trickster who took advantage of every situation to save you from sin and hell.

Satan was hungry, but not for a bowl of soup. The devil wanted to swallow all of humanity in his jaws. But Jesus, the Shrewd Savior inserted Himself into those jaws with all your sin laid upon Him (Is. 53:6). When Jesus died on that cross, all of your sins died with Him. While Satan and his minions celebrated the death and burial of Christ, Jesus strolled out of the tomb on the third day bursting the jaws of death and giving you an eternal victory.

Jesus even dealt shrewdly with God and His wrath against sinners. Christ went to the cross, covering Himself with all your sins. He managed your debt not just by reducing it, He eliminated it.

Dear saints of God, your Shrewd Savior doesn’t ask you how much oil you owe, He anoints your head with the oil of His mercy (Ps. 23:5). He doesn’t check to see how much wheat you owe. Instead, He gives you Himself as the Bread of Life (Jn. 6:51).

Christ does all of this because He is your Merciful Master and Shrewd Savior. Put your trust there, in His mercy. Amen.

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

Slave Wages & Gifts – Sermon on Romans 6:19-23 for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

Romans 6:19-23

19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The wages of sin is death. Scripture teaches that sin pays when you work for it, and the wages it pays is death. Probably, many of you have that passage memorized. After John 3:16, this is probably on the second tier of passages that most Christians have stored in their noggins, and most of the time we understand it in a certain way. Normally, the way we interpret this verse is that the payment we earn for committing a sin is death. And that is true. When I go out and do sin-type work, the payment I get for that is death.

But that interpretation can have some serious and even dangerous drawbacks. It can easily lead us to the wrong notion that certain sins are more serious and pay more than other, less significant sins. When people say that they are basically a good person, they make that claim because they figure their sins aren’t as bad as the sins of others. In the end, this kind of interpretation ends up with us making distinctions between this sin and that sin in an effort to self-justify ourselves. “I’m not as bad as that guy over there.”

Here, in this context, Paul is saying something more devastating than that the payment you get for doing the work of sin is death. Instead, Paul is saying that sin is not just the type of work you do, rather sin is your slave master whom you submit yourself to. The picture Paul is giving us is that your employer, your boss, your master is sin. And with Master Sin as your as your master, employer, boss, there is a particular currency that he uses to pay you and that is the currency of death.

So, let’s try this analogy: Let’s say you are looking for your first job, and you are going to be flipping burgers. It’s a respectable first job. You go to Burger King, and they will pay you $8.00/hour. During your interview at Dairy Queen, you learn that they will pay you $8.15/hour. Then you go check at McDonald’s, and they will pay you $8.50/hour. You go to Five Guys, and they will pay you $9.50/hour. (At this point, you can probably tell where I prefer to get burgers if I’m not making them myself.)

But let’s say you go to one more burger establishment, and it’s probably safest for me to make up an imaginary restaurant for this. Let’s say you go apply at Sin Burger. Sin Burger is a nice establishment. They have a clean restaurant and friendly employees. Your responsibilities are going to be the same as at any of the other locations, and the hours are just as flexible. At the end of the interview, the manager says, “If you work here, you will be killed. Your wages will be paid out with death.” The manager notices the shocked look on your face, and says, “Yes, here at Sin Burger, we don’t deal with dollars or pounds or rubles or pesos. Sin Burger only pays with the currency of death. It doesn’t matter the type of work you do – you could be a burger flipper, a fry fryer, the head of accounting, or the CEO – Sin Burger still pays only with death.”

So, would you take the job at Sin Burger? Of course not! And yet, that is what we all do. But why? Why do all humans work for a master who pays out with the currency of death?

It’s because Master Sin is so deceptive, so insidious. When sin is your master, it makes demand after demand after demand. But all of these demands seem so pleasant. Master Sin makes working for him appear to be so appealing, so satisfying. When we are obeying Master Sin, it feels free. It seems nice and natural. It doesn’t feel like work. And it doesn’t seem like the wages we will be paid with really matter all that much.

Nobody sins out of duty. You don’t sin because you feel like you have to. Serving Master Sin means you just do what comes naturally, and what is convenient. You do it because it feels good or because it seems to make your life easier. For those outside of Christ, serving Master Sin feels like freedom.

We hear, “the wages of sin is death,” but, when we think of sin as the type of work we do, we think we can simply make a change in our lives before payday rolls around. But that is not the picture that Scripture is giving here. Sin is not simply the type of work you do. Sin is your employer, your boss, your master, and even your owner.

Every moment, Master Sin is draining your blood, sucking the life from you. But while he does that, Master Sin likes to inject good feelings and energy into you every time he takes more blood. He’s sucking your life away while you are enjoying it. But eventually, Master Sin will leave you dead at his feet, sucked completely dry and eternally lifeless. You see the difference?

Repent.

Christian, we ought to hate Master Sin and his slave wages. But remember, as you heard last week, you have been Baptized. You don’t belong to Master Sin anymore; you are no longer a slave to Master Sin (Ro. 6:1-11). Identify Master Sin for who he is and hate him. You have been bought and freed by the death and resurrection of Christ. So now, every time Master Sin calls to you from across the plantation lines, you ought to hate him and his wages and his chains and his whip even more. Plug your ears to him, and run back to your new Master, your true Master, Christ your Savior.

Look at v. 22, but “now you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God.” Yes, the slave wages of Master Sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Consider your new Master and how Christ is toward you. What does He pay?

He doesn’t. God doesn’t pay you. Only those who need you and your work pay you, and God doesn’t need anything you could ever give Him. God Himself says, “Who has first given to Me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine” (Job 41:11).

So, God can’t pay you wages, but He can and does give you gifts. And the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus your Lord. Consider Eph. 2:6-7 (it’s in your insert), “[Christ] raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

Think about this for a minute. God has endured the death of His Own Son to remove you from your slavery to Master Sin. And He has done that for a reason – to demonstrate and show you something. He wants to show you for all eternity the immeasurable riches of His grace in Christ Jesus. God wants to show you His riches, and these riches are incalculable. They are infinite.

In this life, riches are always measurable. Even if you owned the whole world, you could count the number of mansions you have. Your account would have a certain amount in it. Your net worth would still be finite. It might take several lifetimes to account for it all, but it would still have a limit. But God’s gifts and riches are immeasurable. His mercies are new and fresh every morning.

Think of that! For all eternity God would never have to show you a mercy or a treasure that He freely gives to you a second time. Every one of them is new and one that you haven’t seen before. God is infinite, and his mercies are infinite. it will take an eternity of eternity’s for God to show you His love and mercy toward you.

That’s what ‘infinite’ means. It means you could go on for trillions of trillions of years and yet there is still all of infinity before you and nothing is exhausted. There is as much left as when you started. God’s gifts for you are infinite. That is your life now in Christ Jesus, and that is your future.

So, when Master Sin comes and knocks on your door whispering to you about his slave wages, he wants to take away from you the gifts that Jesus would freely give to you. Send Master Sin away and rejoice and hope in the gifts God has for you.

Your God desires to give you an Infinity of riches and mercies delivered to you on account of the death and resurrection of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and all of it is His free gift for you. Amen.

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

Anger, Law, & Righteousness – Sermon on Matthew 5:20-26 for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

Matthew 5:20-26

20 “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Why did You have to pick the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus? Why does our righteousness have to exceed theirs to enter the kingdom of heaven? Why couldn’t You pick the righteousness of the sinners and tax collectors that You were eating with?

The scribes and Pharisees were the good guys. They had dedicated their lives to keeping God’s law. They made up extra commandments – more than six-hundred of them. When you looked at them, you would see good and holy people who would put our lives and good works to shame. Their lives were the supreme example of the outward keeping of God’s Law. But that’s exactly where the problem lies, and that is precisely what Jesus is getting at.

The scribes and Pharisees understood the Commandments to be attainable, keep-able, obey-able. They looked at the Commandments and saw them simply on the external. They would look at a particular Commandment and think, “I’ve done that. I’ve honored God in that way.”

In some ways they had. They hadn’t murdered anyone. They kept their bodies pure from adultery. They hadn’t stolen what was someone else’s. They had an external righteousness and life, but with that external righteousness came the most dangerous thing – pride. They figured they had done well and that God should be pleased with them. But here Jesus sits at the top of the mountain (Mt. 5:1) and preaches that their external works are not enough.

Jesus shows the righteousness that is required – a righteousness that exceeds the external righteousness of the Pharisees. And here, Jesus starts with the 5th Commandment about murder. He will go on to several of the other Commandments in the verses that follow, which you can read later today and this week for your homework. But Jesus probably starts with the 5th Commandment because, of all the Commandments, this one probably seems easiest for us to keep. Most of us can say, “I’ve never killed anybody, so I’m good concerning this Commandment.” But Jesus says, “Easy there partner. Not so fast. You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Jesus says that there is more to the Law than you realize. It isn’t enough to keep your hands from taking someone’s life. Jesus teaches that the 5th Commandment has instructions for our lips and what we say, for our minds and what we think, even for our hearts, what we feel. If you call your neighbor a ‘fool,’ if you have insulted him or her, if you’ve been angry with anyone, you’ve broken the 5th Commandment and have guilty blood on your soul. And with all the anger in our culture and society, it is a good time for us to consider this topic of anger so that we have a right mindset about it.

The Scriptures do teach us that there is a godly use of anger. Psalm 4:4 and Ephesians 4:26 both say, “Be angry and do not sin,” which means that it is possible to be angry without sinning. And Jesus is our example. He cleansed the temple, taught against the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, and endured the disciples’ repeated unbelief. All of those things did make Him angry, and the Scriptures certainly use that terminology. Jesus was angry at times, but without sin.

To understand this, it is important to make a distinction. Some will try to say, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” But you run into problems with that phrase when you come across verses like Psalm 11:5b which says, “[The Lord’s] … soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” So, a better distinction is the difference between the anger of office and the anger of the person. I’ll explain.

Anger of office has to do with your vocation or your station in life and your calling. Think of a judge in a courtroom. To be a judge is to have an office of anger – to sentence someone to jail or give them a fine is an act of anger. But the most common example of the office of anger is what we see in parents. Parents are called to sit in an office of anger at times. When their children break the 4th Commandment to honor their parents, it is the parent’s God-given duty to be angry and discipline their children.

Parents are supposed to punish their kids when they do things that put their kids or other people in danger. If your kid runs into the street without looking for cars, you have to punish them by not letting them be outside by themselves or by restricting where they can go on their bike. That punishment is serving in an office of anger, but all of this is an anger of office not of person. In other words, you aren’t punishing your kids because you don’t like them or are angry with them; you are punishing your kids because you love them, want to protect them, and desire that they grow up to be responsible people.

In fact, disciplining your kids is one of the most loving things you can do. Listen to a few Scriptures here: Proverbs 12:1, says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” Or Hebrews 12:6 which says, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” Good parents will follow the example of their heavenly Father in disciplining their children. And in Revelation 3:19, Jesus says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.” Even though discipline is unpleasant at the time for the one being disciplined, later “it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).

As our culture continues to wander farther and farther from God and seeks to be free from His authority, we see other God-ordained institutions of authority are being rejected as well. As this takes place, the biblical concept of discipline and love is dangerously fading and absent, and we are seeing the evil fruits of that. Sinful and evil actions are spoken of as good and right, and anyone who calls out that sin and evil is labeled ‘intolerant,’ ‘unenlightened,’ and ‘old-fashioned.’ But we cannot give up or retreat.

We must continue to love our neighbor by calling sin ‘sin’ and evil ‘evil.’ And we must do so in loving ways that show how that sin hurts the person committing that sin and how it harms their neighbor. We need to do this in a way that encourages repentance and faith in Christ who cleanses us from every sin through His death and resurrection.

Back to the example of the office of parent, if your kids keep repeatedly breaking your rules, it can be hard to separate the anger of the office as parent and anger toward the person of your child. But, do you get the idea? I hope you do. And I hope that as you parent your children, you are able to discipline them in a way that is not being angry toward the person of your child and instead having a righteous anger of office as parent.

In this text, Jesus is talking about the anger of a person, not about the anger of office. When someone speaks poorly against us or sins against us, we get angry toward that person and our heart gets hardened toward that neighbor. When we get angry toward another person, we try to wiggle our way out of our obligation to love that person, wrongly thinking that we are exempt from the command to love them as our neighbor because we think they are our enemies. It happens to all of us, and we all need to repent because Jesus goes on, just a few verses after this text, He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:43-45). Jesus does not authorize you to be angry with the people who sin against you. Instead, He has told and explicitly commanded you to love them, pray for them, do good to them, and serve them.

When Jesus talks about a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, He isn’t talking about an external keeping of the Law. Jesus demands that everything you think, say, do, and feel conforms to God’s Commandments. To have a heart completely free of anger, lust, greed, rebellion, bitterness, strife, and idolatry. A heart that is full of love for God and your neighbor. This is the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. And this means that when the Law speaks to you, you do not go to a place of pride. Instead, the Law speaks to you and you fall into despair because you know that without this exceeding righteousness, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

We cannot attain to this righteousness. We cannot achieve it. And the more we try – which we should – the more we know we fail and feel in our hearts our own great sinfulness and the wrath of God that we deserve. We cannot achieve this righteousness that Jesus says is required. We have to look for this righteousness outside of ourselves.

This righteousness is not found in good works and obedience to the Law. It is Jesus’ righteousness and His perfect obedience to the Law and His heavenly Father which is given to us as a gift. Christian, Scripture says that you are in Christ who “has become [for you] wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).

Dear saints, there is one person in the entire history of the world who could stand under the judgment of the Law and not be condemned by it – Jesus, your Lord and Savior. Yet, Jesus, who kept the Law perfectly and filled up the Law, He Himself bore the curse and condemnation of the Law, and suffered for sins He did not commit so that He could give you His righteousness and the reward it deserved. For our sake God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). Your anger, your insults, your lust, your disobedience, your theft, your lying, your idolatry – Jesus became all of that. He took all of that upon Himself and suffered for your sins so He could give to you His keeping of the Law, His perfect obedience to God.

Through faith in Christ, you have the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. You have the perfection and righteousness that defines God’s only Son. Your sins have been erased, and you are now in Christ. All of God’s commands are fulfilled for you.

Jesus has brought you out of your slavery to the Law. You have been united to Christ’s death and resurrection. Sin no longer has dominion over you. So, consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Ro. 6:11). Amen.

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

Called to Peace – Sermon on 1 Peter 3:8-15 for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

1 Peter 3:8-15

8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For

“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

It should come as no surprise, but the Bible cares about how you treat other people. God has called you to peace. He wants you to be united, compassionate, kind, and tenderhearted to other people. Even when, and especially when, they are not kind or tenderhearted to you.

And this is not just some abstract thing where you have to figure out who deserves your kindness. This is text is specifically about how Christians are to treat one another. Peter is writing to a group of churches, so this text is about how Christians are to interact and deal with one another. Now, yes, of course, Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. We need to do that too. But this text, this unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, tender heart, humble mind, not repaying evil for evil or reviling for reviling, all of this is what Christians are to do and how they are to act toward other Christians.

And I need to be clear here: Yes, be good to everyone you meet. But the New Testament repeatedly would have us focus our time and attention of being good and kind and generous to our fellow believers. Galatians 6:10 puts it as plainly as possible, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” How Christians treat each other is one of the ways that those outside the church become curious about what makes us different (see Act. 2:42-47). Christians showing love to other Christians is, in fact, a very important component of evangelism.

Christian, you have a biblical responsibility to be kind to one another. You know how many people baulk at the idea of coming to church. So often, people will say, “I don’t want to go to church because those Christians are so….” and you can fill in the blank ‘hypocritical’ or ‘fake’ or ‘selfish’ or ‘weird’ or ‘self-absorbed.’ And a lot of times, Christians will even say that about their brothers and sisters in Christ. Sadly, those criticisms are too often accurate, but the God does not want it to be this way.

Maybe you have been to a church where they have a sign over the exit doors that says, “You are now entering the mission field.” That can be a good reminder. However, don’t forget that you have a mission field sitting all around you, right here in this sanctuary and some watching online. Yes, share Jesus with the people you meet. That is a mission field, but according to Scripture, you are to prioritize being kind and sympathetic and tender hearted towards your brothers and sisters here.

Whatever frustrating traits your brothers and sisters in Christ have, they’re not hurdles or impediments to Christian love – they are the occasion for you to display and exhibit that love and friendship towards them. No, Christians aren’t perfect. But how are you going to be patient and kind and tenderhearted towards others not returning evil for evil if the people at church were already perfect?

When a fellow Christian is being unkind or not speaking very friendly to you, that isn’t the time to get frustrated and drift away. That is the time for you to realize, “Ah ha! God is giving me an opportunity to show Christian love toward that person like the Bible instructs me. Here’s a chance for me to be kind and forgiving.”

Sometimes we have the temptation to think that this is much more glamorous or difficult then it needs to be or than God intends it to be, but this is very basic stuff. Notice how simple these things are. Have sympathy. Show brotherly love. Be tenderhearted. And have a humble mind. All of these are things that you simply do when you are around other people and having a normal conversation. You listen. You hear how people’s week has gone. You learn what’s going on in their lives. To do all of this, you simply need to be around other Christians.

So, may I suggest that you come a bit early to church or stay a little bit after the service and talk with others. Now, it’s not as though we are trying to hold you hostage here. You don’t need to spend hours and hours here before or after the service every week. But, if you have a tendency to come right as the service is starting or to quickly slip out to your car after the service, make a small change. Plan on spending just a few minutes here talking with your spiritual family. Hear about their vacation, their dog, their garden, what’s going on with them at work. Rejoice with them when things are going well and sympathize with them when they tell you about their troubles and stresses.

One of the worst impediments to showing this love and sharing this peace that you are called to is that we sinners like play a game that I’ll just call, “Betcha I’ve got it worse.” I’ve seen people play it, and I’m guilty of playing it myself. Someone comes to us and tells us how bad things are with their family or their job or their stress level, and we jump in and try to one up them. “You think that’s bad, one time…” Stop it! Just listen.

Or, maybe, you like to play doctor and solve all the world’s problems. You don’t need to do that. Sure, maybe you do have some experience in a similar situation and can give fantastic advice. But if you aren’t absolutely positive they are looking for advice, all you have to do is ask them, “Can I offer you a suggestion?” Otherwise, just do what this text wants you to do and have sympathy. It is as simple as saying, “I’m sorry you are going through this. I’ll be praying for you.” Then, actually pray for them that week and follow up when you see that person again. Tell them how you have been praying and ask how you can continue to pray for them and their situation.

And bless them. Say to them, “In the name of Jesus, God bless you.” Doing those little things – talking with others, listening, sympathizing, blessing – all of those things will make it much easier to be kind to others when they haven’t been kind to you so that you don’t repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling.

I’m going to change gears here for just a minute to highlight how important this is: God doesn’t short us, He isn’t skimpy, when He gives us His grace in Christ. God is superabundant in the ways He delivers His grace. God has sent His only Son to die and rise again for you. God has given you His Word which gives you faith (Ro. 1:16, 10:17). God has poured out His grace in the waters of your Baptism. Christ gives you His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins in the Lord’s Supper. And God still wasn’t done; He delivers His forgiveness to you each time you hear the Absolution. We know all of those are the ways God delivers His grace to us.

But here’s the point. God also wants to give you His grace through the mutual consolation that comes when you have fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ (Ro. 1:12). Remember, Jesus promises (Mt. 18:20), “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.” Think of that! The same Jesus who died and rose again is right there with you and your fellow believer to bless you and those around you.

I know that doing this is a little more difficult while we are social distancing and all of that. It might mean making a phone call or shooting off a quick message to let others know that you are there for and care about them. But doing these things for your brothers and sisters here will go a long way for you, for them, and for our community.

People are hurting, and they need to find the comfort and peace that only Christ can give. Christian, you have been given that peace. Share that peace with your brothers and sisters here, so they and you can be refreshed and strengthened each time you come here. And when you are encouraged with that peace, you can go back out into the world and share that peace with others. Amen.

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

Lost & Found – Sermon on Luke 15:1-10 for the Third Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

Luke 15:1-10

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Our text shows one scene and that is Jesus sitting with the lowlifes, the riff-raff, the notorious sinners. Not only is Jesus sitting and talking with them, He is eating with them. In the Jewish mind, eating with someone was like putting a rubber stamp with big, red letters “APPROVED” upon their behavior and life. Our text reveals this one scene, but there are two very different reactions to it.

The first reaction is from the Pharisees and scribes. So just imagine the worst of the worst – the burn-outs, the promiscuous, the hoodlums, the rioters, you name it – Jesus is right in there with them. He’s not even shy about it. The scribes and Pharisees see this, and they are triggered. They grumble and murmur. That’s the first reaction.

The second reaction is not something that we see. It isn’t part of Luke’s narration which is only the first three verses. But we know this second reaction is going on because of the parables. The reaction is in heaven. The angels look down on this same scene, and they throw a party. When heaven sees Jesus receiving lost sinners, it sees God keeping His Word and promise. Heaven looks down and sees the holy, eternal, almighty Son of God in the flesh eating with the most despicable people you could imagine, and heaven rejoices.

Now, it is easy to get mad at the scribes and Pharisees. Our tendency is to point the finger at them and say, “They shouldn’t be so hard-nosed. They think they are so good and holy and better than everyone. They should understand no one’s perfect.”

Repent. As soon as you say that, you’ve become just like them. Because when Jesus tells these parables to the scribes and Pharisees, heaven continues to rejoice because He is still doing what God always does. He is seeking after His lost sheep, and in this case the lost sheep are the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus wants to save them as well. He wants to rescue them, bind them up, bring them into the fold, and be their Shepherd. With these two parables Jesus is doing that very seeking.

Now, these parables make sense, but only to a certain point. After that, they become extremely odd. A shepherd certainly might leave 99 sheep to search for the one that is lost. The shepherd has a connection to the sheep and doesn’t want it to die. Even thinking strictly in a business sense, a 1% loss isn’t a huge deal, but it hurts. We’ve probably all looked for something longer than is reasonable. But there comes a point where you have to just cut your losses and move on. Spending all the time and effort just isn’t worth it.

Notice the language Jesus uses in the parable. The shepherd goes after the one that is lost “until he finds it.” That’s a good translation. This is an exhaustive, continual, unending search. The shepherd doesn’t go out for a while, return to make sure the other 99 are cared for, and head back out again. No. The shepherd doesn’t stop, doesn’t rest, doesn’t take a break until he finds that one lost, wandering sheep.

And when he finds the silly animal, the hard work really begins. The shepherd hefts that sheep up onto his shoulders. But he isn’t grunting and complaining, “Dumb sheep.” No! The shepherd is rejoicing while he lugs the 60-pound, wooly, hairy beast back home. Can you imagine how hot that would be around your neck? And instead of collapsing in exhaustion, putting up his feet in his recliner, and complaining to his buddies about the stupid animal, he invites the whole town over for a party that he’s going to have to do more work to prepare.

Think about that. What is it going to take to have a party? Food. What do shepherds serve for food? Sheep.

The same thing is true in the parable of the lost coin. The woman loses one coin and begins her search. To put this in perspective, imagine you had a bunch of errands to run. Your first stop is the bank to get ten $5 bills to send out in birthday cards. You head over to Target to get the cards. You make a trip the Sam’s Club, then run to Hugo’s, and finally buy stamps at the post office. When you get back home, you realize that you only have 9 $5’s. It doesn’t make any sense because you used your debit card at all the other stops. It’s not in your purse or wallet and not in your car. You must have lost that $5 somewhere in your running around. It’s frustrating, but it doesn’t make a lick of sense to drive all around town to go and find a single $5 bill. Once you’ve driven a handful of miles from your home, the IRS says that you’ve spent more in mileage than it’s worth, and someone has probably already found it and put it in their wallet. It makes a lot more sense to just get another $5 later. But not to the woman in this parable.

She lights a lamp. And, you have to understand, this is a costly endeavor. We take light for granted today. In Jesus’ day, you didn’t just light a lamp whenever the sun went down. When it gets dark, you go to bed. The phrase “burning the midnight oil” is economically costly. The olive oil used in those lamps was expensive. Every minute of light is money out the window. Why didn’t she just wait until the morning and start her search again? But she doesn’t do that. She burns that oil and sweeps the house, again, “until she finds” that one lost coin.

And, just like the shepherd, what does she do when she finds it? She throws a party. And her party, just like the shepherd’s party, is going to cost her. That party is going to cost more than the value of the coin that had been lost.

Here is the point: When God seeks after lost sinners, He is spending and sacrificing more than what the prize is worth. It cost God the Father more than you or I are worth to redeem you and me. But God spares no expense to find you lost sinners. Jesus goes to the cross and suffers in your place. He goes to death and the grave. Jesus pays the heavy price for you.

It’s easy to say, “Well, this is what God does. Should we really be surprised at this?” Yes, we should! That’s the point!

Jesus drives it home in the third parable which we didn’t read today. God goes after lost children who tell Him to drop dead, which is what the younger son basically says when he asks for his inheritance.

Today, please, please, please don’t see these parables about others. Many people online and on social media have taken the parable about the lost sheep and turned it to mean things it doesn’t mean. The parables are about you who are lost and Christ who finds you.

After both of these parables, Jesus says, “There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” That word ‘repents’ is in a specific form. It is a present active participle, and if you aren’t a grammar nut like I, I’ll explain it. A participle sounds like a verb but doesn’t function as a verb. In English, you can put ‘ing’ after it. You could translate Jesus here as saying, “There is joy in heaven over one repenting sinner.”

The fact that this is in the present tense is important because it means that this repenting is continual. No matter how many times you wander from the 99, no matter how many times you get lost in a dusty crack in the floor, no matter how many times you say to God, “I wish you were dead,” all of heaven rejoices with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who finds you, with God who is like the persnickety woman, when your heavenly Father restores you.

With these parables, Jesus is redefining repentance. Too often, we think that repentance is the least we can do to earn God’s forgiveness. We think repentance is our trump card that we play and say to God, “Here is my repentance. You have to be good to me now because of this repentance.” That’s not how repentance works.

Instead, Jesus pictures repentance in these parables as being found. What did the sheep contribute to its being found? All it did was wander off and get lost. Same with the coin. All it did was lay in a dark crack gathering dust. But both are found and restored. And the restoration of both is cause for rejoicing.

Again, Jesus says, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who is repenting than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” You know what? There aren’t ninety-nine who need no repentance. But there is One who needs no repentance.

Remember how the multitude of angels came down the night Jesus was born and rejoiced? Do you hear what Jesus is saying when He says, “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who is repenting than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance”? Jesus is saying that heaven rejoices more over you when Jesus finds you than if ninety-nine Jesuses came who needed no repentance. Jesus finding a lost sinner causes heaven to rejoice more than it did at the birth of Jesus because you are the fruit of Jesus’ labor.

Dear sinner, there is joy in heaven over you. You lost have been found. You have been brought to repentance, back into the fold, by your Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Room for You – Sermon on Luke 14:15-23 for the Second Sunday after Trinity & Father’s Day

Listen here.

Luke 14:15-23

15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Last week, we heard the parable of poor, hungry Lazarus who wanted to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table (Lk. 16:19-31). What Lazarus lacked in life made him trust in and long for God’s eternal promises. Now, this week, we hear a parable of people who are not hungry and don’t desire food. They have been invited to a great banquet that is ready, but they are full of excuses.

Those who make excuses to escape going to the banquet treat the invitation like it isn’t a big deal. They simply aren’t interested in going to the banquet because they each thought they had something better to do. And they don’t care about the repercussions if they are absent. They are comfortable insulting the invitation, the feast, and the master because they have treasures on earth. They don’t realize that, unlike the feast, the invitation is not eternal.

Because it ends on such a depressing note, the point of the parable is easy to see. Hell and eternal damnation are real things. Not everyone goes to heaven. Those who do not think they need God’s grace will find that, outside of His grace, there is only eternal loneliness and torment. As we just sang in our hymn:

But they who have … resisted His grace
and on their own virtue depended,
Shall then be condemned and cast out from His face,
eternally lost and unfriended.
Have mercy upon us, O Jesus![1]

At the time of death or when Jesus returns, the invitation to the feast will be withdrawn. Those who have rejected the invitation will get exactly what they want. They won’t have to offer any more excuses to the master and his messengers. Those who persist in their rejection of God’s invitation will one day be free of God, but they will find that they are eternal prisoners of themselves and their sin.

What we want to notice today is that the people who make excuses aren’t ‘big’ sinners. The guy who had to look at his field, the guy who had to stare at his ox, and the guy who had just gotten married, none of them are skipping the banquet because they had to be murderous, rebellious, thieving hedons. They aren’t skipping the banquet to go commit a lot of sins. Instead, they were skipping the feast because they had too much work to do. They were more interested in their blessings. In the end, they missed the feast because of their earthly goodness, and they didn’t properly estimate the eternal greatness of the banquet. The master had invited them, but they weren’t looking for a banquet because they figured they could get enough for themselves in this world.

I’m going to slightly change gears because today is Father’s Day. Fathers, you have important tasks. God has placed you in your role as a father so that you can take time to teach your child how to throw a ball, bait a hook, shoot a gun, clean a deer, mow the lawn, and drive a car. All those things are important to teach your children. Those skills need to be passed on to the next generation. But if you haven’t taught your child about Jesus, teaching your children all those other things is not enough.

Fathers, you need to provide for your family – economically, emotionally, and most importantly spiritually. Yes, you need to teach your children (both sons and daughters) how to buy and manage fields and property. You need to teach your children how to work and take care of the blessings God has given you. You need to teach your children how to properly evaluate relationships and spend time with your wife. Your kids need to see you do all of that.

But on this Father’s Day, we need to be reminded that this world needs men – real men. We need fathers, husbands, grandfathers, brothers, and sons to be men. Our society desperately needs men to model and teach their sons, daughters, wives, and grandchildren what the essence of being a man is. And here is the essence of being a man – to give.

Real men see themselves as instruments for the good of others. Real men sacrifice themselves to love others in a Christ-like way.

Jesus loves us as the perfect Man. He held nothing back and gave everything for us as He shed His holy and precious blood on the cross so that we can be His guests at God’s banquet.

So, men, be the Christ figure in your family. Be givers. Lay down your personal pursuits, and put your family first. Yes, provide for your family and teach your kids the skills and abilities they will need in this life. But make sure that everything is in the correct order of importance. Fostering faith, establishing the importance of God’s invitation, in your wife and children comes first. Everything, and I mean everything, everything else comes second.

Dads, you can become a great Christian father. You can point your children to the Savior. You can, by the Spirit’s power, keep your promises to your family even when it is inconvenient for you. You can be a great Christian father by bringing your family to church and having daily time in God’s Word and prayer as a family with Your Savior.

You should know there is no job you will ever tackle, no position you will ever fill, that is more important or more eternal than pointing your children to Jesus and bringing them with you to the eternal banquet because you have been invited. You have been invited to God’s feast, and there is room for you, for your family, and for all.

And, dear saints, here is the good news. You aren’t waiting for the feast to come sometime in the distant future. You have come to it. Right here, right now, God prepares a table for you in the presence of your enemies in this world. Here God anoints your head with oil and pours His forgiveness into your cup so that it overflows. God invites you to turn in here to come eat of His bread and drink of the wine He has mixed. Come and receive, leave your simple ways and live, and walk in the way of insight (Prov. 9:4-6). There is room for you now at the table of God’s feast. Amen.

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

[1] There Many Shall Come v. 2. Magnus Brostrup Landstad.

Differences – Sermon on Luke 16:19-31 for the First Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

Luke 16:19–31

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.Lazarus and the Rich Man Graphic 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

We’re all familiar with the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, the same could be said about characters in a parable. Jesus tells this parable with two main characters. On the one hand there is a rich man who is clothed in royal purple linens and ate the best food and on the other hand is the beggar Lazarus who was poor and had dogs licking his sores. The two men die. The rich man ends up tormented in Hades while Lazarus is comforted in heaven. The only thing these two men have in common is that they both die, so the differences between the two couldn’t be more stark. But we run into a danger if we only focus on the different economic statuses of these two. Does the rich man end up in hell because he got to enjoy blessings during his earthly life and Lazarus end up in heaven because he didn’t? Nope!

In the parable, Abraham says to the suffering rich man, “Remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” With this parable, is Jesus trying to teach us that blessings in this life mean torment for eternity? Are people saved because of their poor status in this life? Na ah.

So, we have to dig a little further to find the real difference between these two. And if we pay attention to the whole parable, the difference is as clear as the air in this sanctuary.

Nothing in the parable says the rich man is an evil, greedy glutton. There is no indication that he is a jerk who fires people all the time and is always looking for a way to maximize his profits without any consideration for others. The parable doesn’t say that. Jesus doesn’t say that that the rich man is selfish or uncharitable.

And, on the same note, nothing in the parable says that poor Lazarus was humble and virtuous. The text just says that he is poor. There are plenty of causes of poverty. Some people are poor because of an addiction. And, yes, of course, sometimes people are poor because of things outside of their control like sickness, disease, or disability. But none of those things earn eternal life for a person.

lazarus-dogsNow in the parable, Jesus does say that Lazarus is there at the man’s gate begging and desiring to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Absolutely, I’ll give you that. Maybe, the rich man should be helping more and being more generous. But, why do you think Lazarus chooses to beg at this man’s gate? Could it be that Lazarus knows he has a better chance to receive something at that gate than if he went to a different gate? And let’s be brutally honest here. If you had a Lazarus camped outside your house begging day after day wouldn’t you find a way to make them move on? How long before you’d be embarrassed about that poor person asking for money when visitors came to your house?

The main point is simply this: Don’t be deceived into thinking that the reason the rich man ends up in hell and poor Lazarus in heaven is economic status. Don’t ignore your sin of coveting by thinking, “That rich jerk got what he deserved.” Being rich, having blessings, and enjoying the good things God has given you is not a sin. Whatever you have is a gift from God, and God wants you to have it. That is why God gave the 7thCommandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” God gave that commandment to protect the blessings that He has given to you.

Yes, of course, some people get rich because they are evil and wicked and greedy. But being rich is not in and of itself a sin. Don’t fall into the trap – which is so common today – don’t fall into the trap of condemning the rich simply because they are rich and praising the poor simply because they are poor. Remember, Abraham was one of, if not the, wealthiest man in the world in his day. And where does he end up in the parable? In heaven.

Now, I’ve spent a significant amount of time on this today because we are all quick to make decisions about a person by looking only at the outward aspects of individuals. The social unrest and problems we are currently seeing in our society and country are exacerbated (and please note I’m saying ‘exacerbated’) because we will look at a person outwardly – their wealth, their poverty, their skin color, their job – we look at those external things and decide what that person is worth and how we should interact with them. That needs to stop.

How we treat someone should not depend on our perception of that person. No one’s virtue or worth or value is based on their economic status, their race, their occupation, or anything like that.

Listen carefully. Everything has a price – even people. All of us are slaves to sin. In John 8:34, Jesus says, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin,” and Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned.” Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the wolrdSo, put two and two together and that means everyone is a slave to sin. But you and every person that you will ever meet, every person that has been or ever will be, every individual has been bought from slavery to sin. Every individual has been deemed and valued by God to be worth the blood of His own Son, Jesus. So, whether someone is rich or poor; whether someone is white, black, yellow, or brown; whether someone is a police officer or a rioter; whether someone is a capitalist or a Marxist; whether someone is conservative, liberal, Republican, or Democrat, remember God has paid the blood of Jesus to redeem that person from his or her slavery to sin. Amen?

I’ve taken this angle on the parable to make that point, and it is an important point for all of us to remember. But that is not the most important point for us today – not even close.

The most important point is to see the real difference between the rich man and Lazarus. The real difference is only revealed after they have both died. The rich man is over there in hell and Lazarus is over there in heaven. The rich man asks Abraham to have Lazarus raised from the dead to warn his five brothers. And Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.” In other words, Abraham says, “Listen rich dude, your brothers have the Bible. They don’t need someone to rise from the dead to warn them about the pain and torment you are suffering.”

And here is where the difference, the real difference between the rich man and Lazarus, comes out. The rich man says, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” In other words, the rich man is saying, “The active, effective, powerful, living, life-giving, life-creating Word of God isn’t good enough.”

The rich man rejected the Scriptures. He did it during his earthly life, and he continues to reject the Scriptures in eternal damnation. Even in hell, he has no remorse or repentance. By rejecting the Scriptures, the rich man had rejected and continued to reject the Savior who is revealed in the Scriptures.

The rich man had a lot of things in his earthly life, but the one thing he didn’t have was Jesus. So, please reconsider, who was more blessed in their earthly life? Was it the rich man or Lazarus? When Abraham says that all the five brothers need is the Bible, by default, what does that mean that Lazarus had in his poor, miserable life? Lazarus had the Word of God. Lazarus had true riches because he has faith if Christ. It doesn’t matter what things he did or didn’t have on earth because Lazarus had Jesus.

That is the real difference between these two.

Dear saints, you have the Scriptures. You have the true, eternal treasure that cannot be taken from you. If you have more than that (and all of us do), we can, of course, be generous with those things because we already have what is most important. We have Jesus.

In light of that, because you have Jesus, dear saints, go and be different. In a world full of fear because of pandemic, racism, riots, and anarchy, be different. Have no fear. No one and nothing can take from you what is most important.

So, live without fear. Live generously. Live with outrageous love, gratuitous generosity, and reckless compassion for those around you. Because neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate you from God’s love for you in Christ Jesus your Lord (Ro. 8:38-39). Amen.

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

When You Want to Know the Unknowable God – Sermon on Romans 11:33-35 for Trinity Sunday

Listen here.

Romans 11:33–36

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”

35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

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

If someone asked you to summarize who God is, how would you do that? How long would it take; how many words would you need? Maybe you would answer with one of the three Creeds. Hopefully you have at least one (the Apostles’) or two (the Nicene) of them memorized. The Athanasian Creed, which we just confessed, is probably the best summarization of who God is according the Scriptures, but I don’t know anyone who has that beast memorized. To answer the question, “Who is God?” with one of the three Creeds is probably the most concise way, and still, to be honest, it is only arrogance that says, “I can tell you exactly who God is.”

God’s judgements are unsearchable and His ways are inscrutable, or, as one of my favorite characters from The Princess Bride would say, “Inconceivable.” Thanks, Vizzini. 1 Timothy 6:16 says that God dwells in unapproachable light. So, to say we have a handle on Him is nothing short of arrogance.

We heard in our Old Testament text (Is. 6:1-7) when Isaiah saw God in the Temple the day he was called to be God’s prophet. Later, in Isaiah 40[:22], Isaiah gives us another image of what God is like. In that text, God isn’t high on the throne surrounded by seraphim and glorious in His holiness. No, there Isaiah tells us that God sits on the circle of the earth, and all the inhabitants are like grasshoppers.

As a kid, I remember catching many grasshoppers during recess on the playground at Rickard Elementary in Williston. Back then, my fourth-grade mind wasn’t very philosophical, but I wonder what those grasshoppers knew about me. At best, they knew two things. First, that I was strong and powerful enough to hold them, and second, that I could – if I wanted to – crush and destroy them. No, I didn’t do that. How much more can we, who are like grasshoppers before the triune God, know about the nature of God?

Isaiah continues on about us grasshoppers in ch 40, “Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created [everything; God has] brought out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of His might and because He is strong in power, not one is missing” (Is. 40:26).

The God who spoke into the void and created the universe bringing light and life is much more vast and powerful and complex than we could possibly imagine. One glance at the night sky shows God’s power; one peer at a blade of grass shows His intricacy. It’s no wonder that Isaiah concluded about God, “The nations are like a drop from a bucket and are accounted as dust in the scales…. All nations are as nothing before Him, they are accounted by Him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Is. 40:15, 17).

If this is true of all the powerful nations, vast kingdoms, and mighty empires of history, how much less significant are we singular individuals who get pushed and pulled along in the crowds and throngs of people throughout history? For most of us, the past three months have been the biggest reminder that our lives are constantly threatened. We have always guarded ourselves against things that would overwhelm us. When the threats of war, a global pandemic, murder hornets, riots, and random, violent acts are part of the daily and hourly news, we are reminded that our times are not in our own hands. Our times are in God’s hands.

Every person knows that there is a higher power (Ro. 1:20-21), and that we will have to give an account to our Creator. Our conscience constantly reminds us that we are answerable to our Maker, and before Him we all stand guilty. We rightly have every reason to be afraid of God because He expects more from us than we can ever give. God calls us to be holy as He is holy (Lev. 19:2). When we hear that, we, like Isaiah, cry out, “Woe is me; for I am lost!” Repent. Repent, but do not despair.

My fellow grasshoppers, God became a grasshopper just like you. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, shows you who God is and how God is. He came claiming to be God. He said things only God can say, did things only God can do, and accepted worship that belongs only to God. The Son of God came and confronted you as a Man. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). The eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere-present God was seen and heard and touched (1 Jn. 1:1-2).

So, fellow grasshoppers, to know Jesus is to know God and to know what God is like – at least as best as we can possibly know Him. God became a man, went to the cross, and took the wrath and punishment that you deserve. Jesus died for the ungodly; He died for you.

In Jesus, we see best what God is like. He loves you. Even though there was nothing lovable in you and me as sinners, He loved you so that He gave His only-begotten Son. That is love. God loves the sinful and unlovable who could do nothing in return is the truest and purest form of love. God died so that your sin, which separated you from Him would be set aside and forgiven so that you could be His own children.

Through Jesus, and through Him alone, God is your Father. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to God the Father except through Christ (Jn. 14:6). God is not your Father because He is your Creator. Even though atheists reject Him as Father and Creator, they still have Him as their Creator.

The good news for us grasshoppers is that God only has forgiven children. And through Jesus, the Son of God, we have forgiveness. To reveal this knowledge to us, God the Father and God the Son have given and sent God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t point you to Himself. He gets behind you and swings you around to behold Jesus in faith. As 1 Cor. 12:3 says, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit does His work through the Scriptures. Through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is always active, getting hold of you, pointing you to Jesus, and making you the children of the Father.

So, to know God and know what the Holy Trinity is like is to see what God does. If you want to know the unknowable God, look to His actions. That’s the best way to get to know Him. See His actions, and most importantly see His action of redeeming you through Christ.

God is bigger than our understanding and bigger than His revelation of Himself to us. We understand Him even less than grasshoppers understand the fourth grader who holds them. Even though we are often confused and baffled by God, we are not in complete and fearful ignorance. Even though God has not shown us all of Himself – how could He? – He has shown us enough of Himself to show us that there is mercy and forgiveness for us sinners.

God makes Himself known to us through His Word and delivers Himself to us in His Sacrament. There He shows us what He is like and gives to us what we need because He gives us what Christ won and purchased for us.

Even though we cannot fathom all that He is, He has shows us enough of Himself and His nature that we can know that we have been saved through and by Him. God has shown us that in Him is mercy and forgiveness for us sinners. God is only found by His revealing of Himself. We cannot go to Him, but He comes to us – to you. He shows us what He is like and gives us what Christ has achieved. And we receive Him with thankful and faithful hearts. From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

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

Illusions & Safety – Sermon on Genesis 11:1-9 for the Day of Pentecost

The audio for this sermon will be available ASAP.

Genesis 11:1–9

1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In the midst of fear and anxiety over a virus, when we see a man unjustly killed in the streets of Minneapolis by an officer who is supposed to serve and protect the public, when we see a police officer killed in the line of duty in our community, when we see violent riots and evil thugs destroying property and livelihoods, it is easy to be scared and afraid. It is easy to wonder what is going to happen next. All of these things constantly remind us of our frailty and mortality. Where do we go to find refuge and safety?

We need to remember that the only safety, the only refuge, the only shelter we have is found in the arms of the God who died and rose again to deliver us from sin, death, and the devil. Our safety lies only in the God whose hands still bear the scars that set us free. Only one tower of safety exists, and that is the unshakable, unwavering, impenetrable fortress of the Christian Church.

Today is Pentecost, and we have heard how God gathers those whom He had scattered in the ruins of Babel to welcome them into the tower of the Church where they will be safe forever.

Today, we rejoice that we have been gathered together as the Body of Christ after our time of exile. It has been seventy-seven days since we last gathered together as a congregation (if Siri was correct when I asked her how many days it has been since March 15th which is when we last gathered here). The account of the Tower of Babel is a very fitting reminder that our only safety is found in the Christian Church. Every other thing that we consider safe is nothing more than an illusion. To get at why the account of the Tower of Babel teaches this, we have to go back a couple chapters before this text.

Back in Genesis 9[:18-29], Noah and his family have survived the flood and are off the ark. Scripture tells us that Noah became a man of the soil, planted a vineyard, got drunk on his wine, and fell asleep naked in a cave. Noah’s son Ham saw Noah’s nakedness and joked about it with his brothers Shem and Japheth. After learning about this, Noah curses Ham’s son, Canaan. And Ham was furious about this. Now, Ham had another son named Cush, and Cush bore Noah’s great-grandson named Nimrod. He was named Nimrod before it was an insult. Scripture tells us, that Nimrod “was the first on earth to be a mighty man” (Gen. 10:8), and Nimrod’s kingdom was Babel which we hear about in this text.

Most of the time when we hear the people of Babel talk about their plan, we think their final statement about trying to avoid being spread over the face of the earth is the singular point of rebellion against God’s command for them to fill the earth. But it appears as though there was even more defiance and hatred of God going on. Scripture also tells us that the people were building this city and tower to make a name for themselves, and they wanted their tower to have its top in the heavens.

The ancient Jewish historian Josephus has an interesting theory about what the people of Babel were trying to do. He draws this theory from other commentaries on Genesis that are much more ancient than him. The theory goes like this:

Ham hated his father, Noah, for cursing him. But even more so Ham hated God because God was really the one judging him for his sin against Noah. And Ham was angry that God would judge the world for their sin through the Flood. Ham hated the idea that he and all people should be accountable to God and have to answer for their sins. Ham passed this hatred down to his son Cush who passed this hatred down to Nimrod.

So, the theory about what is going on at Babel is not that a bunch of people have decided to live together in a big tower. Instead, the mighty man, Nimrod, has gathered people together and said that together they can be greater than God. Their desire is to be stronger than and overcome the God who would judge them. In other words, they want to be their own little ‘g’ god. They figured they could build a tower so high that the true God could not drown them like the generations before them. Even though God had promised that He would never do that again. But they didn’t trust God’s promise, so they are going to try and make themselves safe from God’s wrath.

Now, the Holy Spirit didn’t inspire this theory, and Scripture doesn’t give us these details. But still, it is a very good theory. First, it clearly explains what the people were trying to accomplish. They weren’t trying to build a tower to get closer to God; instead, they were trying to protect themselves from God and His anger over their sin. It explains why God saw their plan with such hostility and put a swift end to their work. The theory is also consistent with how sinners repeatedly respond to the judgment of God.

All sinners attempt to carry on the legacy of Nimrod. Kings and leaders of every generation do the same thing. Think of Nebuchadnezzar who built his idol and demanded that everyone bow down to it. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down and worship it, Nebuchadnezzar threatened them with the burning fiery furnace and boasted, “Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (Dan. 3:15). Nebuchadnezzar thought that he was stronger and more fearful than any other god. Of course, the true God came down and delivered them, so they came out of the furnace without even the smell of fire and smoke on them. But this pattern of leaders setting themselves up as greater than God still continues today.

Throughout history, communist dictators have declared that that the state is god who will provide everything for their people. They try to build a tower of government to their own glory and gather everyone as one. These communists burn and destroy churches and cathedrals in a futile attempt to remove Christ from His throne and usurp His claim to have all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18). They insist that their rule is stronger than the God who can destroy them. But the illusion of their glory always falls. Their towers crumble and their leaders are buried.

Even now, governors and heads of departments of health say they are doing things to keep people safe. But safety is not something they can offer. And we are tragically being reminded of that. Despite their executive orders and guidelines and restrictions, people contract the virus and die. People are killed in the streets by evil men who are supposed to protect them. And even the police officers aren’t safe.

Of course much of the time, our leaders have the best interest of the people they govern in mind with protocols and protections. But we see – we clearly see – that safety is not something the earthly authorities can offer. They can offer protection, but those protections have limits. Nothing in this fallen, sinful earth can offer you safety. Earthly safety is always an illusion in a fallen, broken world like ours.

Dear saints, remember that in Christ alone is your safety. I’ve been talking to many people lately who mention they have trouble sleeping. They wake up with worries and doubts about their future – physically, economically, socially, etc. The best thing to do when you are filled with fear and sense the lack of security is to go to the Scriptures. And Psalm 4:8 is the best verse I can think of in those times of uncertainty. It is a comforting reminder, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

Every generation since Babel has seen how God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts and brings down the mighty from their thrones (Lk. 2:51-52).

So, dear saints, even as you see God tearing down today’s towers that seem to offer safety, have no fear. The God who is to be feared, and the God who tears down our illusions of safety is the same God who has sent His own Son to deliver you. The God who would pull down the mightiest kingdoms and empires of this world has Himself established a fortress and tower that cannot be overcome. The safety He offers often doesn’t look like much, but look around you. Here is that tower. From the rubble of earthly Towers of Babel and from the scattered peoples, God has established His holy Christian Church.

Built upon the Rock of Jesus Christ, the Church is the impenetrable fortress of safety which not even the gates of hell can overcome (Mt. 16:18). Wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, the very sinners who have been scattered throughout the world are gathered together not to overcome God, but to be overcome by His love and mercy.

On this day of Pentecost, God comes to those who are standing in the ruins of the Tower of Babel and puts something taller and higher before your eyes. He sets the cross of Christ before and gathers you here, and at the cross you see the judgment of God against sin that you could not take. Looking in faith to the cross, you see that God’s anger is no more because God has poured out every last bit of His anger against your sin upon Jesus. The God who had the right to condemn you for your cruelty and foolishness condemns His Son in your place. At the cross you see God’s judgment has not been poured out on you but on Christ. At the cross, you see that all your pride is of no value because Jesus’ blood has been poured over you and has erased it. At the foot of the cross you see that God’s love has found you and taken away your sin.

As you stand in the rubble of the towers that you would build to protect yourself from God’s wrath, look to the cross of Christ and see that Jesus has finished building the only tower that can hide you from the wrath of God. And, now that there is no anger of God left to consume you, see the empty tomb. See that because Christ has walked out of the grave triumphant over death see that there is now a room in that tower reserved with your name, and know that you have a place in the fortress of God’s love.

Dear saints, don’t ever settle for any illusions of safety. Find your refuge in your Savior. For you who believe, the tower of Christ will never fall because you have permanent and eternal shelter in Jesus’ forgiveness. And, in Christ, you will be safe forever. Amen.

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

Parting Joys – Sermon on Luke 24:44-53 for the observation of the Ascension of our Lord

Listen here.

Luke 24:44-53

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

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

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

I vividly remember many times as a child packing up the car to leave after a visit to my grandparents. We would say our goodbyes, wave as we pulled out of the driveway, and hit the road. I would only last about half an hour before my quivering lips would turn into total waterworks. I would burst into tears because I missed my grandparents so much. I’m sure the Steve Green album my parents would play in the car added to my volatile emotional state. Anyway… I’d cry for however long as my parents reassured me that, no matter what, we see my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins again because we all believed in Jesus and Christians can only be parted for a brief time.

In Romeo & Juliet, when Juliet says goodnight to Romeo, she has the famous line, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” The line basically means that there is sorrow that the lovely Juliet has to be parted from her beloved Romeo, but there is a sweetness to saying goodbye because it makes them think about the next time they will see each other.

Time to get to the point of all this: Thursday marked forty days after Jesus’ resurrection which means that was the anniversary of Christ’s ascension into heaven where He is seated “on (or ‘at’) the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” I’ve said it many times, but Jesus’ ascension is a big deal. Now, everything that Jesus did is significant, but the ascension is right up there in importance with His birth, death, and resurrection.

In our Gospel text, the disciples don’t seem to think that Jesus’ ascension meant they should have any sorrow because Jesus has departed. Instead, they have joy.

In our Epistle text from Acts [1:1-11], Luke tells us that the disciples stood in wonder and awe and amazement as they watched Jesus ascend and get taken from their sight by the cloud. There they are staring up into heaven – and I’ve always imagined they are so filled with wonder that at least one of them is drooling – they are gaping at the skies until the angel appears to them and says, “Why are you standing around looking into heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”

In this text, Luke tells us that after Jesus ascended, the disciples worshiped Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy – great joy – and were continually in the Temple blessing God. When Jesus left the disciples, they had joy because Jesus had opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. They knew what Jesus’ ascension meant. So, let’s get to it, what does Jesus ascension mean?

The disciples knew that Jesus had ascended to the Father’s right hand. The first thing to know about this is that the Father’s right hand is not a place. Instead, it is an office. We often use the phrase “right hand man.” It doesn’t mean that that person is always standing at someone’s right hand; it means that the authority of one person is given to another.

When Jesus sits down at God the Father’s right hand, it means that He takes an office and all the functions of that office. All the things that belong to God belong to Jesus – all rule, authority, and power. It means that Jesus is everywhere, all-powerful, all-knowing. Now because He is God, Jesus, the Son of God, had all of those things all along. But when Jesus took on flesh, He didn’t use those attributes until His ascension. The ascension is how Jesus can promise, “Behold I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). You see, Jesus still has His body, and if He had remained on earth, we here in East Grand Forks couldn’t know if Jesus was with us if He was down in Melbourne Australia. But because Jesus is at the Father’s right hand, we can know that He is with us.

The Bible continually mentions this. In fact, there are some pastors and theologians who say that Jesus’ ascension is mentioned more in the Epistles than Jesus’ resurrection. I haven’t counted, but it would be an interesting study.

Think back, just for a minute, how the book of Acts begins (you heard it earlier). Luke the Evangelist wrote the Gospel of Luke to a guy named Theophilus. And Luke starts the book of Acts saying, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Act. 1:1) and the whole book of Acts is the record of how Jesus continues to serve, rule, grow, and reign over His Church.

The same Jesus who right now sits on the throne of the universe is the One who suffered, bled, died, and rose again for you. The Jesus who loves you in this way is the One who governs and rules over all things.

Dear Christians, while it appears that this world is full of chaos, sickness, pandemic, death, discord, and strife, the Scriptures continually testify to you that Jesus is still on the throne. He is in charge, and He promises that He works all things together for good for you who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Ro. 8:28) because He is at the Father’s right hand.

But again, we have a problem recognizing this because the devil is always trying to make us by forget that Jesus has ascended and is in charge. For example, we look around and see the world falling apart. Those who have been elected to rule are foolish, wicked, confused, dangerous, or incompetent. We see the church being persecuted and threatened all over the world. We see how people are hardly able to even speak to each other because of differing views on certain topics. We see all of this and try to wrap our heads around it and make sense of it all. We see things falling apart in our state and community with unemployment and businesses having to close their doors for the final time. We see people getting sick and dying. We see hurt, accidents, terrorism. We see people leaving the church and abandoning their faith.

Then, the devil comes and sticks our nose in all of that and says, “How can you think that Jesus is on the throne and in charge?” And we start to think that Jesus has abandoned us, that He has left us as orphans, and that we have to fend for ourselves. You see this happen in the church when people think that it is our job to spread the Gospel and grow the church because Jesus isn’t doing anything about it. That is wrong! God has not called us to be the ones to figure out how to grow the church. God has reserved that work for Himself. Yes, we are to be lights in this dark world. Yes, we are to be witnesses. Yes, we are to proclaim the Gospel by our words and actions. But we are partners with God in that. God has reserved the work of the growth of His Church to Himself. Jesus says that upon the rock of our confession that He is the Christ He will build His church and the gates of hell will never overcome it (Mt. 16:18).

With all of that in mind, I would encourage you over the next couple of days to read the book of Revelation. Do it in one sitting (it should take you less than an hour). And as you read Revelation, remember that Jesus is ascended, read it through that lens.

In a lot of ways, the book of Revelation is a commentary on Jesus’ ascension. John will write about seals and trumpets and bowls. He will see the frightful spiritual realities of this world. He will see famines, war, pestilence, and all sorts of terrible things happening. And as all of these things unfold, you start to think that the devil is in charge and running the show. But then, John gives us a glimpse of what is going on in heaven. And there, we see that Jesus, the Lamb of God who was sacrificed for our sins, is the One who is still sitting on the throne. The church is there with the all angels singing His praises. And just as you begin to get your fill of encouragement, it’s back down to the earth and it looks like things are getting worse. There’s dragons and beasts and rivers turning to blood. And just when it seems like Jesus has been dethroned, it’s back up to heaven and there is the Lamb of God still ruling, still reigning, still in control, still forgiving sins, still serving His Church. And this cycle keeps going until at last, Christ returns and heaven and earth are combined into one with Jesus still on the throne.

Finally, remember how Jesus ascended. He raised His hands in blessing. And Christ’s hands which bear the wounds He endured for your salvation are still lifted up in blessing over you today.

Dear saints, Jesus hasn’t left you because He is angry with you. Jesus is ascended to bless you and hear your prayers and present them before the Father. So, may you have joy that Jesus has ascended to rule and reign. Take heart. Have hope. Be of good courage. Your Jesus who was on the cross for you is now at the right hand of God for you, and He will stay there until He comes back for 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.