Conquered – Sermon on Luke 10:17-20 & Revelation 12:7-12 for the observation of the feast of St. Michael & All Angels

Luke 10:17-20

17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Today, we consider the work of God through His holy angels. Some people have thoughts about angels that are more superstitious than biblical. And I have to admit that because there is so much false teaching and beliefs about angels that I tend to not preach or teach about them very much. So, let’s dive right in and consider what the Scriptures do teach about the angels. Please know that as I do this, I’ll be throwing out a lot of references; however, I won’t be giving you every reference that supports what I’m preaching. If you are interested in studying the Scriptures further about this, please ask me after the service, and I can print this sermon which has all the references.

Both the Hebrew (מַלְאָךְ) and Greek (ἄγγελος) words for “angel” mean “messenger.” Angels are spiritual beings with no physical bodies who were created during the first six days of creation. We know this because before the six days of creation there was only God (Jn. 1:1-3), and after the sixth day, God rested from all His work of creating. We can narrow the creation of angels down to one the first three days because in Job 38:4-7, God asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … Who determined its measurements? … On what were its bases sunk or who laid its cornerstone?” There, God seems to be talking about the third day of creation when He created the land and sea. God says that as He created the land and sea, “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” The singing of the morning stars and shouting of the sons of God were the angels because that is the same title they are given in Job 1:6.

We know that God created a huge number of angels. Heb. 12:22 says they are innumerable. The angels were all created good and holy by God (Gen. 1:31). Because they are holy, this day is called the feast of “St. Michael” and all angels. We don’t typically call angels saints, but remember that ‘saint’ simply means ‘holy one.’ The angels were created holy, and they retained their holiness. But here’s the thing: You are holy in a different and greater way. You, Christian, are holy because you have received Jesus’ holiness (is. 53:11; Eph. 1:4; Col. 1:22). Angels are holy, but not all angels remained holy. At some point before the devil tempted Adam and Eve, Satan led a significant percentage of the angels in rebellion against God and they fell. Those fallen angels, we now call demons. More on that later, but from here on, know that if I use the term ‘demons’ I am simply referring to fallen angels.

Scripture teaches that angels were present at the giving of the Ten Commandments (Dt. 33:2; Gal. 3:19). They were sent to proclaim the conception (Lk. 1:26), birth (Lk. 2:11), and resurrection of Christ (Lk. 24:5-7). In fact, angels remain at the empty tomb even after Jesus left.

There are different orders and classes of angels – Cherubim (Gen. 3:24; Ps. 80:1), Seraphim (Is. 6:2), archangels (1 Th. 4:16) are some of those. There are also greater and lesser demons (Lk. 11:15, 18-19), but Scripture doesn’t give names for them.

Even though angels are spirits, they can move and manipulate material things. They are able to take Lot and his family by the hand to get them out of Sodom before God destroyed it (Gen. 19:16). An angel would touch a pool in Jerusalem, and when people saw that the water was stirred, they would jump in to be healed (Jn. 5:4, 7). So, it may very well be that when you or someone you love has a close call that God’s angels have protected you from danger. Many Christians have stories about being helped in a particular situation by someone who suddenly appeared and wasn’t seen again. It could very well be that God sent an angel to help and defend in that moment. Also, there are times when Christians have helped someone who was in trouble, and they have a sense that something was strange or different about that encounter. It may be that an angel appeared to give an opportunity to the Christian to serve in a particular way. Heb. 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Scripture teaches that angels have power, might, and strength (Ps. 103:20; 2 Th. 1:7) which is greater than ours, and they use their strength to guard and protect us from things that would overpower us (Ps. 91:11-13). Demons are also strong. Scripture says that the devil holds unbelievers securely captive in his kingdom (Lk. 11:21-22), and believers can only withstand the attacks of Satan in the power of God (Eph. 6:10-17).

The angels’ work is to sing praises to God (Is. 6:3; Lk. 2:13) and to fight on our behalf (Ps. 104:4; Heb. 1:14); in other words, their tools are the song and the sword. A fantastic text about angels fighting on behalf of God’s people is found in 2 Kgs. 6:8-23 where Elisha and his servant get surrounded by the army of Syria during the night. Elisha’s servant is scared silly about being surrounded by this army. But Elisha says to him, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then, God opens the eyes of Elisha’s servant so that he can see a whole host of angels with horses and chariots of fire on the mountain near them, and those angels deliver them. In that account, we see the truth of what is said in Ps. 34:7, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and delivers them.” 

Hebrews 1:14 says that the angels are “sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” So, the angels serve you, believer, as you live out your vocations (Ps. 91:11-12), and they are present with you even as you are dying to carry your soul to heaven (Lk. 16:22). In fact, each believer has an angel (see Act. 12:15) or a whole squad of angels for protection. In Mt. 18:10, Jesus says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones,” and I would argue Jesus is referring to all Christians, “For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” I hope this is a humbling and encouraging thought.

The angels who guard, protect, and serve you always behold God’s face in heaven. You can’t see God’s face, but the angels who are guarding you can because they have retained their holiness since their creation. Also, this should give you an indication of how valuable you are to God. If you see someone walking around with bunch of large, armed, and intimidating bodyguards around them, what is your impression of that person? It would get your attention. You probably wonder what sort of person that is. Well, the Creator and King of the universe has given you a squad of mighty, powerful angels to protect you.

Even though angels have might and power and help us, we should not pray to angels. Every time in Scripture that someone begins to worship an angel, the angel protests and directs worship to God (esp. Rev. 22:8-9). We can certainly pray that God would send His angels to protect us, but don’t pray to them. Also, we shouldn’t listen to angels unless they are pointing us to Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul  says this in Gal. 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”

Finally, and maybe most importantly, we should realize that angels are present with us right here and now as we are gathered in worship. Hebrews 12:22-24 says that in church we have “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering…” Jesus says that the angels in heaven are joyful over one sinner who repents (Lk. 15:7, 10). As we confessed our sins earlier, a whole host of angels whom we cannot see or hear rejoiced as they heard Christ absolve and free us from our sins. Hebrews 1:14 calls angels ‘liturgizing’ spirits (most English translations will use the term ‘ministering’ but the Greek word there is λειτουργικός). So, using the liturgy is how we join our worship with the angels’ worship in heaven.

So, there is a quick overview of the Scriptural teaching of angels. Now, to what we learned specifically in our readings today.

A little context for Gospel lesson (Lk. 10:17-20) today helps. Jesus had sent these seventy-two ahead of Him to preach and heal in every town Jesus was about to go to (see Lk. 10:1-12). As He sends them, Jesus says, “Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” Jesus says that they would be housed and fed by the people who welcomed them, and Jesus told them to heal the sick and say to the people, “The reign of God has come near to you.”

Now in our text, they are returning, and we hear them joyfully report that the demons were subject to them in Jesus’ name. They saw victories in their various spiritual battles. But Jesus says something even greater was going on that they couldn’t see. While those seventy-two were proclaiming the reign of Jesus, Christ says, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.” So, the seventy-two saw victories in battles they fought, but there was a greater defeat, a bigger conquering taking place. And we hear about that in our Epistle text (Rev. 12:7-12) where the archangel Michael was given the privilege of throwing Satan (‘Satan,’ by the way, means ‘accuser’) out of heaven. How was Satan cast down and conquered? The text is clear. Satan was cast out by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony (Rev. 12:11).

Now, there are Christians who disagree with what I am about to say here, but I think we should see Jesus’ proclamation of seeing Satan falling like lightening and this text in Rev. 12:7-12 as the same event and as confirmation that the shedding of Christ’s blood and the preaching of the Gospel was what cast Satan down from heaven. This means that Satan is no longer able to accuse you before God which is what he was constantly doing day and night (Rev. 12:10). Remember how, in the book of Job, Satan was there in heaven before God by saying that the only reason Job loved God was because God was nice to him (Job 1:8-11, 2:1-5). But now, Satan has been conquered, defeated, and expelled from heaven.

However, there is also a warning at the end of that Revelation text. Satan is no longer able to accuse you before God because he has been defeated and expelled from God’s presence, but that doesn’t mean he is done accusing. The devil can’t accuse you before God anymore, but he can and does try to accuse you in your conscience, and he is very good at that. Satan will come to you here on earth and say that your sins are too many or too great to be forgiven. The accuser now roams about like a roaring lion seeking to devour you (1 Pet. 5:8), constantly whispering in your ear, “Did God really say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’?”

Dear saints, when the devil does this, he needs to be expelled from your conscience. How can you do this? How can you conquer the devil as he attacks you now? You conquer with the same weapons that Michael and the angels used – the blood of the Lamb, and the word of your testimony (Rev. 12:11).

Dear saints, when you confess your faith that Christ has been crucified and shed His blood for you, you expel Satan from your conscience and conquer over him. When the devil whispers his accusations, confess that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29) and has conquered the devil. Tell Satan, “Christ has taken my sins. So, if you want to talk to someone about my sins, you can’t talk to me about them anymore. Jesus has taken them as His own. Christ owns them now. He has died and shed His blood for them.” And the devil will have no reply to that testimony and is conquered.

So today, dear saints, come to Jesus’ table. Come as you join with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven singing the song of Jesus’ victory. Come, receive His body given for you and His blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. And know. Know that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus your Lord (Ro. 8:38-39). Satan has been conquered. He has been conquered by the blood of your Savior. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.[1]

[1] This sermon was reworked from 2019.

The Line – Sermon on Matthew 6:24-34 for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Matthew 6:24-34

24 “No one 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.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The things Jesus tells us to not be worried about in this text are, typically, not the things that we are actually worried about. The last time you didn’t have a meal was probably because you chose not to eat, either you are on a diet, you chose to do something other than eat, or you didn’t like the food you had on hand. You probably aren’t worried about clothing either. Your dressers and closets are likely full of clothes. Even if they are last year’s styles, they would still do what clothes are meant to do. Yes, clothes wear out, but in a pinch you could stitch together something to keep you warm and covered. You have food and clothing. And here Jesus promises that He will give you everything you need for this life as long as He wants to keep you in this life. And Jesus wants you to trust that He will do this. 

That is why Jesus harps on all of us for our worry over and over in this text. Even though we don’t typically worry about food, drink, and clothing, we certainly do worry about other things. The economy. Gas prices. Inflation. Cancer. Heart disease. The upheaval and unrest in our country and throughout the world. Those things and things like it are the things we worry about, and we try to excuse our worry about those things. But  today, Jesus says, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles,” in other words, the pagans and unbelievers, “the Gentiles seek after all these things.” According to Jesus here, one of the marks of the unbeliever is worry. Yet, you and I still worry. This text gives us all ample reasons to repent. 

Notice how Jesus draws a line in the last verse. After telling us not to worry about food, drink, or clothing or anything else we need for this life, Jesus adds, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Last week, we considered how thankfulness looks back to the good gifts of God in the past. Well, worry does the opposite. Worry looks at the unknown, bad things in the future and has a wrong belief that we have to face that future alone. Tomorrow is clouded in the unknown, but tomorrow is also clothed with the promises of God to be with us, to never leave or forsake us, to provide all that we need, and to protect us with His power and might. God will care for us. Now, that doesn’t mean that we get to be lazy or idle. But too often we sinfully think that worry is the work we need to do to face the troubles of tomorrow.

That is why Jesus draws this line for us. The things that God sets before us today are the things that should have our attention. We are to do everything God gives us to do to confront and combat those evils and troubles that we face each day. Jesus wants us to go about our business and exert our efforts while God promises to give us the strength we need for every moment of today. But when Jesus says, “Do not worry about tomorrow,” He draws a line at the end of today. Anything past that line, we are to leave in His gracious hands.

With all of Jesus’ talk about not worrying, we can fall off the other side of the horse and become sinfully passive and idle. We might be tempted to think we don’t ever have to work or do anything to combat the evils we face and think God will just take care of everything as we can just back and do nothing. Well, that isn’t right either. For example, it is a sin to pray for a hole when God has given you a shovel. God uses you as His hands and feet to combat the evils of the day, and He promises to give you the strength you need as you face those evils. And since each day has enough evil of its own, don’t let tomorrow’s evil distract you with worry from what God has given you to face today. Jesus promises that He will give you everything you need to meet the evil, ugly troubles of today. And, if He gives you another day tomorrow, He will do it again.

Our Old Testament lesson (1 Kgs. 17:8-16) is a great example of God giving what is needed to face the troubles of today. In Elijah’s days, things were bad. God’s own people had given up the faith and were worshipping Baal, the false god of fertility. So many had abandoned the faith that Elijah worries that he was the only believer left (1 Kgs. 19:10). God had sent a drought to punish Israel, but God told Elijah to live by the brook Cherith promising, “I have commanded the ravens to feed you there” (1 Kgs. 17:4). We don’t know exactly how long Elijah lived by that stream with the crows waiting on him, but as the drought went on, the brook dried out, and that is where our text picks up. God tells Elijah to go the city of Zarephath because, “I have commanded a widow there to feed you” (1 Kgs. 17:9).

For however long he lived at Cherith, Elijah had become accustomed to the ravens flying to him and providing his food because God had commanded them to feed him. Now, Elijah gets to Zarephath, but this widow isn’t like the crows who just delivered his food to him. She doesn’t come up to him and say, “There you are. Diner is at my place. God commanded me to feed you.” Not even close! Elijah watches this widow picking up a couple of sticks, asks her for a drink of water, and as the woman heads off to get it Elijah adds a bite of bread to his order. The widow doesn’t say, “No way! I can’t give you anything.” Instead, her response is, basically, “I’ve only got enough ingredients for my son and I to have a bite. I’m grabbing these sticks so we can bake it, eat, and die.” But Elijah gives her a promise from God that the flour and oil will not run out until God would send rain and provide relief from the drought (1 Kgs. 17:14, 16). For the entire three and a half years of the drought, God gave Elijah what he needed to face the evil of each of those days. Dear saints, God will provide all you need for this life until He calls you out of this veil of tears. So don’t worry.

Some of you have watched the pain that a family endures while their child is being treated for cancer. Some of you have gone through this, but for those of you who haven’t, you might think, “I could never handle that the way they handled that. I don’t have the strength.” You were right. You don’t have the strength to handle that because God hasn’t called you to face that – at least not yet. But here’s the thing. When Jesus says, “Do not worry about tomorrow,” Jesus is saying that He doesn’t want you to worry about that diagnosis coming tomorrow because it distracts you from meeting the troubles that God has called you to face today. If the day comes when God calls you to meet that evil (or any other evil), Jesus promises to give you the strength to meet that evil each and every day it is yours to endure.

You see, when you get to the end of the day and are completely worn out, remember, God designed your tank to be empty at the end of the day. So, go to sleep in peace (Ps. 4:8). And when you wake up again, be ready to face the trouble that comes your way that day because God will give you His strength to meet it then.

Dear saints, work and strive and face the evil, troubling that are before you. But draw a line at the end of the day, and don’t worry about anything past that line since you can’t do anything about it anyway. God promises that He will give you the strength to meet the evil things that come your way each and every day of your life, and He is faithful.

Above all, remember what Christ has done by taking on our flesh. Jesus Himself got hungry and thirsty and tired and hot and cold, so He knows the struggles you face. Christ endured it all without a shred of worry because He trusted that God the Father would provide the strength He needed to endure it. Even as He went to the cross, carrying all your sin of doubt and anxiety, Christ entrusted Himself to God (1 Pet. 2:23), and there on the cross Jesus provided what you needed most – His forgiving blood shed for you. On the cross, Christ overcame and defeated all the evils of every day that you face and has now opened the kingdom of heaven to you.

This means that you can face the evils of each day of your life knowing that God will give you the strength to meet those evils, and you don’t need to help Him with your worry. Without fail, Christ will give you everything you need until the day He calls you into His gracious presence. Amen.

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

The Worship of Turning Back – Sermon on Luke 17:11-19 for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In my opinion, this is the third weirdest miracle Jesus does. If you want to know which two top it, you’ll have to ask me after the service.[1] This miracle is weird because of how Jesus heals with a hidden promise, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” In saying this, Jesus instructs the lepers to do what the Law required after being cleansed from leprosy (Lev. 14:2-32), but when Christ tells them to do that, they are still leprous.

I don’t know what it is with this text, but I have a lot of questions about it. Maybe I have these questions because Jesus Himself asks a lot of questions in it. One of my questions is when the ten lepers ask Jesus to have mercy on them, what exactly are they asking for? They have the obvious need of being healed from their leprosy, and Jesus had healed lepers before (Lk. 5:12-16). So, maybe they knew Jesus could cure their disease and wanted Him to do that. It could be that the lepers were asking for something different than healing. Maybe they wanted food or some other form of charity.

Another question I have is why does Jesus heal the lepers this way? Back in Luke 5, a leper came to Jesus saying, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Jesus says, “I am willing; be clean,” then Jesus says, “Go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” Why wouldn’t Jesus do that again? Why not say, “Sure I’ll give you mercy. Be cleansed and go, show yourselves to the priest”? Why does He skip the first part?

Another question I have is how far did the ten go before they were cleansed? Was it after they walked for a couple hours, or was it ten or fifteen minutes and after they got outside the village? Or, possibly, was it as soon as they pivoted away from Jesus and toward Jerusalem? It’s unclear in English, but the Greek verbs can legitimately be interpreted to suggest that it happened more or less immediately. Jesus’ question, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” could be a direct rebuke of the unthankfulness of the nine that they heard with their own ears. Something along the lines of, “Hey, are you nine going to ignore what I have just done for you?”

Now, we don’t know if the lepers were healed immediately or not. And we don’t know for sure what happened to the nine. Maybe they went to the Temple, were declared clean by the priest, offered the sacrifices, and went back to normal life. I’m sure the nine lepers were grateful for their restored skin and the fact they were able to be regular members of society again. But they were not thankful.

Whatever happened to them, it is a reminder of what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Mt. 5:45). God is good to all mankind. Anyone can be grateful for a sunny day or a rain shower that provides what we need to eat. Unbelievers can be grateful for all the blessings God gives through creation, but they can’t be thankful because they don’t know whom to thank. Only believers can be thankful to the God who gives good gifts.

There is a difference between being grateful and being thankful, between gratitude and thanksgiving. The two are, certainly, related. But to use a distinction by a pastor friend of mine,[2] gratitude looks at the goodness of the gift while thankfulness looks back behind the gift to the goodness of the giver. Let me give an example:

My first year of Bible College, I was on a choir that went on a tour in Eastern Europe. One church that hosted us was in the Czech Republic, and the church ladies prepared a meal for the entire choir and the chaperones (around 40 people). For them, this was a monumental task and huge cost. We all sat down at the tables as we waited for the ladies to serve us, and out they came with plates loaded with steamed sauerkraut and dumplings. That was the meal. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like sauerkraut, but I like it as a side – not the main dish. But we could tell that those ladies were proud of the meal they had set before us. So, we all did our best to eat as much as possible. Some, of course, ate more than others. I don’t think anyone was grateful for a meal of sauerkraut, but everyone, even those who only choked down a few bites, was thankful to the ladies. After our concert that night, I went to my host family and had a massive spread of food put before me that included several different baked goodies, sliced meat and cheese, fruit, and vegetables. There was more than I could eat. There, I was both grateful and thankful for the food. But, in both instances, those who served the food were good and generous and deserved thanks.

Back to the healed Samaritan leper. I’m sure he was grateful for the healing, but only he was thankful to Jesus, the Giver of the healing. Notice, he “turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks” (Lk. 17:15-16). Now, there is something important here. There are some pagans who say Jesus never claimed to be God. It’s complete nonsense and ignores the totality of Jesus’ sayings and what the Scriptures teach.[3] But look at what Jesus says while this Samaritan is worshipping at His feet, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Right there, Jesus is identifying Himself as God. Dear saints, God has feet – human feet that were pierced for you.

Yes, this text is about thankfulness, but more broadly, this text is about the worship of thanks. Worship is always about turning back. Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” So, one act of worship is repentance. Repentance is nothing more than turning back, turning back from a life filled with sin and the consequences of sin and turning toward God. Another act of worship is thankfulness. Thankfulness is receiving God’s gifts and not just going on to the next thing but turning back to give thanks to the God who gave the gift.

To be thankful, this healed Samaritan leper has to literally turn back to Jesus. And it is the same for us. To offer God the worship of thanksgiving is to first receive God’s gifts and turn back in thanks. Now, I’m using this sermon to prepare us for what we will hear Jesus say in next week’s Gospel lesson (Mt. 6:24-34) about worry and anxiety. This text puts us in the right orientation to hear what Jesus has to say about the future and worry. We can face the unknown future with confidence when we first look back and give God the worship of thanks. You can’t thank God for things in the future because God hasn’t given them yet. Yes, we can look to the future with hope, but even that hope comes through faith, and faith is another form of worship that requires looking back to the promises God has already given us. With those promises in our pocket, we can face the future without fear. Worry and anxiety come by looking at the unknown, bad things in the future. The worship of thankfulness turns back to God who has been faithful to us in the past and given us good things.

Dear saints, you have a giving God. God’s love language is gift-giving. So, the best way to worship a giving God is to come back and receive more of His gifts like this Samaritan does. He receives healing from Jesus, comes back, and receives salvation. The last words of Jesus in this text are literally, “Your faith has saved you.” God is like a grandma. You know how grandma invites you over for a huge meal and stuffs you full of her excellent cooking. The best way to praise and thank your grandma after such a meal is not to help with the dishes. No, the best way to praise grandma is to take another helping of her special green-bean casserole.

Dear saints, God gives you every good thing. He has given you a new day to live and receive His gifts of parents, children, siblings, friends, food, clothing, house, etc. And here, in God’s house, you have received God’s gifts of forgiveness, absolution, His Word, faith, eternal life, and fellowship with your blood-bought brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus has won all of this for you through His death and resurrection and freely gives it all to you. And He has more for you.

We will continue to worship. We worship our Savior by receiving all these gifts He has already given and we will turn back to fall at the feet of our crucified and risen Savior. And Jesus raises up from His feet to sit at His table where He continues to give us more gifts. The gift of His life-giving Body and Blood in His Supper. Amen.

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

[1] The two stranger miracles are the healing of the deaf and mute man in Mk. 7:31-37 and the two-part healing of the blind man in Mk. 8:22-26

[2] Pr. Bryan Wolfmueller.

[3] Many of Jesus’ own statements are clear about Him being the Son of God, but those statements can only be understood in light of the Old Testament.

God-Shaped Love – Sermon on Luke 10:23-37 for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Luke 10:23-37

23 Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus uses the parable of the Good Samaritan to teach the lawyer that he will never be saved by the Law and that he needs a Savior to have compassion on him and give him eternal life. The lawyer is the one who has been robbed, stripped, beaten, and left dead in the ditch. The Law, represented by the priest and Levite, passes by and can not and does not help him. With the parable Jesus is teaching that to be one who inherits eternal life, we must be rescued by an outsider whom we despised (Is. 53:3-4) and who owes us nothing. We sinners need a love and compassion that we could never repay from One who doesn’t even want to be repaid. This is the only way for this lawyer to be saved and the only way for any of us to inherit eternal life.

So, the parable of the Good Samaritan is about Jesus and what He does for sinners. Christ is the Good Samaritan who finds us dead in sin. He has compassion on us, comes to us, binds up our wounds, pours on oil and wine, lays us on His animal to bring us to the inn, and sets us up in an all-expenses paid room. That is the point of the parable. The parable is not telling sinners that they need to do good to everyone. The lawyer already knew that he needed to love everyone (Lk. 10:27). He knew the Law requires that he love God and neighbor perfectly. So, if you ever hear someone preaching or teaching that the purpose of this parable is to tell us to love everyone, know that you are hearing only a half-truth, and, often, half-truths are more dangerous than full lies.

Jesus is not calling us to be the Samaritan in order to be saved. Jesus is the Good Samaritan who saves us. Then, it is true that Jesus calls us to go and do likewise (Lk. 10:37). We are to be like Jesus. Christians are to be little Christs who have compassion on their neighbor because Jesus has had mercy upon us. Because we have been rescued by Christ, we have become inheritors of eternal life and children of God. This means Jesus’ call to, “Go and do likewise,” is an invitation for us to imitate Him because children are like their father.

So now, please know, I’m not going to be preaching on the main point of the parable for a bit here, but I am going to use the parable to show how we Christians, who have been saved and rescued from the ditch, are to love God by loving our neighbor.

Dear saints, we need God to shape our love, and He shapes our love by two things: First, by the Ten Commandments, and second, by our relationship to the neighbor that God puts in our life in at any given moment. Let’s flesh this out with an example:

God has called me here to be your pastor, so I have a love for you, my neighbors and members of my flock, that is shaped by the 3rd Commandment. I am here to faithfully preach and teach God’s Word to you, and you have a love for me, your neighbor, that is shaped by the 3rd Commandment to faithfully hear God’s Word as it is preached and taught. As a parent, I have a different love for my children that is shaped by 4thCommandment, so I buy them socks. Well, how it actually works in our house is I work to earn the funds so my wife can purchase our kids’ socks because she’s a lot better at finding good deals on the socks my kids like. I have no idea which socks they like. Sometimes, my 4th Commandment shaped love is to take those socks from the clothes drier and help my kids fold and organize them in their dresser. So, I have different vocations, different callings, and different kinds of love that are  shaped by the Commandments and my relationship to my neighbor. And these vocations are what any reasonable person would expect. My love as a pastor is to preach and teach the Word of God to His flock, and as a parent, I provide and care for my kids.

Now, stick with me here while I get a little absurd. It would be wrong for me, as your pastor, to come here on a Sunday morning, stand in this pulpit, and say, “No sermon today, but here are some new socks. I’ll come to your house later and help you organize your dresser.” That would be weird, right? At least, I hope you think it would be weird because it is. You still are my neighbor, and I am still commanded to love you as I love myself. But my 4th Commandment love for you is shaped differently than my 4th Commandment love for my own kids. My 4th Commandment love for you is shaped by my relationship to you. So, I am to encourage you to honor, serve, love, obey, and respect your parents and the authorities that God has placed over you. Now, this doesn’t mean that will never buy socks for you. God might change your needs so it would be good and right for me to buy you socks. But, hopefully, God won’t put you in a position like that. But if He does, let me know, and I’d be happy to buy you socks.

So, God shapes your love by the Ten Commandments, and God shapes your love based on the needs of your neighbor whom He places along your path. The English word ‘neighbor’ comes from the old word ‘nigh’ or modernized, ‘near.’ And it’s the same for Greek word used here. A neighbor one who is near to you. So, when God puts someone near to you, that is your neighbor. The priest and Levite in the parable come across the guy in the ditch and they both un-neighbor him by crossing by on the other side of the road. They refuse and reject the neighbor God has put in their life and refuse to care for his needs. They probably thought, “Everybody is my neighbor, so I’m going to go serve them.” That’s sinful. Your neighbor is the person that God puts in your life – whether you like it or not.

In our text the lawyer asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” and Luke tells us that the lawyer was asking this because he desired to justify himself. So, in the context, this was a bad question with wrong motives. But that question, “Who is my neighbor?” is typically a good question for us Christians to ask. It helps us identify our neighbor and see our neighbor’s needs so our love can be shaped by the Commandments. So, think back to the parable. The Samaritan would have passed by many different people on the road that day. He probably even met the Levite and the priest at some point in his journey, but the Samaritan didn’t put them up in an all-inclusive room because their needs didn’t dictate that he needed to.

In the parable, the Samaritan had his plans for the day. He was going somewhere with some purpose, but God put this robbed, stripped, beaten, half dead dude in his path and upended whatever those plans were. And the Samaritan stepped up in compassion and mercy to meet those needs realizing, “This is the guy that God has put in my path, so I am going to help and love him.”

So, please recognize that God shapes your love and gives you callings based on nearness. This is why God calls you to have more love for your family than for friends or for strangers. The closer people are to you, the more responsibility you have to them, the more opportunity you have to do good to them, the more opportunity you have to serve them. But we often turn aside and try to find excuses to not serve the one God has put near us. Instead, we prefer to choose our neighbor. In our technological society, the devil has ample tools to keep us from showing love to the neighbor that God puts in front of us to love and serve.

Dear saints, whomever God puts near you is the one that God has put in your life for you to serve. So, serve the one God has drawn nigh to you. Let God’s Commands and God’s placing of people in your life shape your love. As a spouse, parent, child, boss, employee, teacher, student, or friend, remember that God is the one who has given you those relationships and has brought that person near you. Love that one, and let that love be shaped by the Commandments and your relationship to that neighbor.

And quickly, this is an aside, but it’s something I thought about months ago and marked this text to preach on this: Many of you have experienced the loss of spouses, siblings, parents, and friends recently. When those who are near to you have died, you still have a God-shaped love for them. Even though they have passed from this world, they are still near to you. So, when they die, your God-shaped love takes a different form or shape, and that shape is grief. Jesus Himself wept when His friend, Lazarus, died (Jn. 11:35). Grief is the shape love takes when those God has brought close to you are gone. So, grieve, but grieve as those who have hope in the resurrection (1 Th. 4:13).

Now, all of that was secondary to the parable. I want to close by returning to the main point of the parable. Again, Jesus is the Good Samaritan who proved to be a neighbor to you. And, hopefully, this idea of loving the one who is near to you gives you a deeper understanding and appreciation of Christ’s compassion for you.

Jesus is God. And because He is God, you weren’t His neighbor, but He chose to become your neighbor. The eternal, infinite Son of God took on your flesh in order to be ‘nigh’ to you. Out of pure compassion, He saw you in the ditch, dead in sin (Eph. 2:1). He chose to become your neighbor and raise you from your deadness in sin.

His love for you took the shape of Him going to the cross. He was stripped, beaten, standing under the wrath of God that you deserved because of your sin, and dead. Dead and buried in a grave. Now, He is risen. And because He has done all of that, you are His child. And He will bring you to your inheritance which is eternal life with Him. He has promised. Amen.

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

Falling Up – Sermon on Luke 18:9-14 for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Luke 18:9-14

9 [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Some portions of Scripture are familiar and important enough that all we need to hear is the book and chapter, and our mind recalls most of the content. For example, when you hear someone mention Psalm 23, you have all the sheep and shepherd imagery that the Psalm contains. Maybe you don’t have Psalm 23 completely memorized, but you know the general content. So, I have a pop quiz for you on this last Sunday of August, what comes to mind when you hear Genesis 3? Typically known as ‘The Fall [into Sin].’

It is somewhat unfortunate. Yes, that is when mankind and all creation became infected with sin. And because of that sin, we are born under God’s judgment and condemnation. So, yes, it is a fall. But when we label it ‘the Fall,’ we can easily forget how we fell. Mankind fell by trying to go up. Now, I’m not going to suggest that we rename that chapter in our minds, but I do want you to recognize the direction of the Fall.

God told Adam and Eve to not eat of the tree, but they decided to do it anyway. The devil asked the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Eve responded mostly correctly by pointing out the big downside of eating, “If we eat from it God says we will die.” (Now, she also adds not touching the tree to God’s prohibition against eating from the tree, but that’s for another time), “God told us to not eat it or we would die.” But Satan poo-poos the downside. “You won’t die; instead, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God knowing good and evil.” The devil lies saying that the sin will only be beneficial to Adam and Eve.

The text goes on to say that the tree looked good for food, it was a delight to the eyes, and it was desired to make them wise and like God knowing good and evil. They both took and ate. They fell into sin, but they fell by trying to go upward. They rose up in pride. They exalted themselves. Believed in themselves. Trusted in themselves. They desired to rise high, up to godly and divine status. Ever since that moment, everyone who has ever been born has the same desire to exalt themselves.

Now, to the parable. Jesus tells this parable to individuals who continue in that line of thinking, they are falling up. They trusted (lit. they ‘persuaded’ or ‘convinced’ themselves) that they were righteous and treated others with contempt. That is why the two men in the parable are so different.

As the Pharisee prays, he is looking around at the lives of others – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, and tax collectors – and at his own life – his fasting and tithing. Now, all these works are, actually, good things. It is good and right to not be like the sinners that surround you, and it is good and right to do the good works that the Pharisee does. The Pharisee’s problem is not his good works. His problem is that everywhere he looks are places where he won’t find Jesus, the Righteous One, who makes sinners righteous. The Pharisee won’t find Christ by looking at his good life, and he won’t find Jesus by looking at the sins of his neighbor. All he sees is his goodness which leads him to pride. And his pride means that he goes home not justified. The Pharisee fell up. He went to the Temple of God, where God had promised to atone for sins, but the Pharisee receives no atonement.

The tax collector does go home justified. Think of all the things the tax collector could have prayed; he could have prayed, “God help me to be more like this Pharisee. Help me to live better, fast better, pray better, and tithe more.” But he doesn’t. The tax collector goes up to the Temple and sees only two things: the just demands of a holy God and his own sinfulness and depravity. He looks at himself where there is no hope and to God where the only hope lies. He sees the gap and cries out for mercy. Our translation records his prayer as, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” This translation is weak on two points. First, it is not just ‘a sinner’; he prays, ‘the sinner.’ The only sins he sees are his own. Second, the translation of his prayer, ‘be merciful,’ falls short.

Throughout the Gospels, many people call to Jesus, “Lord, have mercy,” or in Greek, “Kyrie eleison.” They ask Jesus to do exactly what He has come to do, to be their Lord who has mercy. It’s a good prayer. But what the tax collector in this parable prays is something similar but importantly different. The tax collector prays to God (lit.), “Be propitiated to me, the sinner.”

To propitiate means to make an atoning sacrifice. And the tax collector prays that God would be made to be, that God would become the atoning sacrifice for him. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, this word was also used for the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant. The place where the high priest would sprinkle the blood on the Day of Atonement and where God promised to meet with His people (Ex. 25:22; Lev. 16) was called by the same word. Jesus is that place where God makes the atoning sacrifice. 1 John 2:2 says, “[Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus is your Great High Priest who makes the propitiating sacrifice of Himself. 

Now, our problem is that we flip the parable upside down. We easily swap the Pharisees’ prayer with our own version, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men, self-righteous, pretentious, holier-than-thou types, or even like this Pharisee. I don’t take so much pride in my good works.” But when you do that, you are literally being the Pharisee. Repent.

The Pharisee’s problem was not his fasting or tithing, it isn’t even that he was glad that he wasn’t like the “really bad” sinners. His problem was that he trusted in those things and does not trust that Jesus will forgive him and be the propitiation for his sins. 

In the end, it is the tax collector who leaves the Temple with God having become the propitiation for his sins, so he goes down to his house justified. And that is an important point to keep in mind.

The tax collector goes home declared by God to be holy and just no matter how despicable he was. He goes home a changed man. He now goes down to his house to live out a holy life. God could have forgiven and propitiated him and swept him immediately up into heaven like Jesus did with the thief on the cross. But God doesn’t. And God hasn’t done that for you – not yet anyway. The tax collector goes home justified and that makes a difference for him, his family, his neighbors, and for the entire world. 

By God’s grace freely given through Jesus, the tax collector is exalted; he is lifted up. What Jesus says in Matthew 5 about Christians being the light of the world is fitting here. You aren’t the light of the world because you do all the good works of the Pharisee in this parable. Instead, you are forgiven and justified by Jesus who is the light of the world. That forgiveness and mercy joins you to Jesus who is the light of the world. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, you are given the gift of faith and enlightened. The Holy Spirit then places you on a lampstand so that you, the justified, give light to the whole house (Mt. 5:14-16).

Since the Fall, our thoughts have been upward, but God’s thoughts have been downward.  We sinners keep reaching for the heights, but Jesus has come down into the depths to raise you up and seat you with Him in the heavenly places (Col. 3:1-3).

Dear saints, don’t fall up. Don’t exalt your good works as though you are better than others. And don’t exalt your sinfulness as though you are better than the self-righteous because that isn’t humility either. Both of those are falling up. Instead, be exalted down. The most exalted you can be is to be one of the sinners for whom Jesus has come and given His life as a propitiation, an atoning sacrifice. And, dear saints, Christ has done this, and He has done this for you. Amen.

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

The Cure – Sermon on Jeremiah 8:4-12 for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity

Jeremiah 8:4-12

4 “You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord:
When men fall, do they not rise again? 
If one turns away, does he not return? 
5 Why then has this people turned away 
in perpetual backsliding? 
They hold fast to deceit; 
they refuse to return. 
6 I have paid attention and listened, 
but they have not spoken rightly; 
no man relents of his evil, 
saying, ‘What have I done?’ 
Everyone turns to his own course, 
like a horse plunging headlong into battle. 
7 Even the stork in the heavens 
knows her times, 
and the turtledove, swallow, and crane 
keep the time of their coming, 
but my people know not 
the rules of the Lord. 

8 “How can you say, ‘We are wise, 
and the law of the Lord is with us’? 
But behold, the lying pen of the scribes 
has made it into a lie. 
9 The wise men shall be put to shame; 
they shall be dismayed and taken; 
behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord, 
so what wisdom is in them? 
10 Therefore I will give their wives to others 
and their fields to conquerors, 
because from the least to the greatest 
everyone is greedy for unjust gain; 
from prophet to priest, 
everyone deals falsely. 
11 They have healed the wound of my people lightly, 
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. 
12 Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? 
No, they were not at all ashamed; 
they did not know how to blush. 
Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; 
when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, 
                                    says the Lord.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Imagine that you have been in severe pain for two months, so you finally go to the doctor. The doctor asks some questions, examines you, runs some tests, and orders some imaging. After all that, the doctor comes back and says that your blood tests and x-rays show that you have a bacteria that is slowly eating your bones, and if your condition is left untreated it will liquify every bone in your body within six months. We’ll call this infection I completely made up ‘osteoliquiditis.’

You reply to the doctor, “Osteoliquiditis? That sounds completely made up.” But the doctor shows you all sorts of medical journals and studies, and you learn that osteoliquiditis is, in fact, a well-researched, well-studied condition. Your doctor tells you that you can be treated, but the medication will have the side effect of lowering the levels of dopamine in your body reducing your experience of pleasure. You don’t like the sound of that, so you decide to get a second opinion. The second doctor looks over your chart and says, “Yes, this is a classic case of osteoliquiditis. But don’t listen to your first doctor. That medication should never have been approved. Yes, it kills the bacteria that causes osteoliquiditis, but do you really want to have less pleasure in your life? I don’t recommend any of my osteoliquiditis patients take that medication.” You ask, “Then, how should I treat this?” as you hope and pray this second doctor knows of a treatment that kills the bacteria with little to no side effects.

The doctor hands you a Band-Aid, and says, “Here. Put this on, it’ll help you feel better.” You can’t believe your ears and reply, “A Band-Aid for a bone-liquifying bacterial infection? Is this some magical Band-Aid?” The doctor says, “No, it’s just a regular Band-Aid. It won’t do anything to stop or slow the bacteria. But do you remember how, when you were little, your mom would put a Band-Aid on your shin after you bruised it? That Band-Aid did nothing to heal your shin, but it made you feel better because you knew someone cared. This is the same thing.” And the doctor walks out of the room. 

Now, you are left with a decision. You can go back to your first doctor and get a prescription for the pleasure-reducing medicine, or you can slap that Band-Aid on hoping for the placebo as you live out your last six months while the bacteria slowly liquifies every bone your body. So, what do you do? You open the Band-Aid, slap it on, and go about your life. Thus endeth the analogy.

This text from Jeremiah before us today is utterly depressing and almost exasperating. God Himself is mourning the unrepentance of His people. They keep falling headlong into sin and don’t get back up. They turn away, but never return. God isn’t frustrated because His people take one step forward and two steps back. No, instead, they are perpetually backsliding. They abandoned truth and desperately clung to the lies and deceit that their sin isn’t so bad and their pain and suffering wasn’t being caused by their iniquities. They went after their sins with the speed, strength, and determination of a warhorse. But you can hear God’s frustration when He says that the birds know when to migrate. They don’t need to be told to fly south before winter; they just do. Yet God’s people didn’t know the way home. The animals obey God better than the people God created to rule over nature.

What happened? How did things get so bad that God would be so despondent? Why did God’s people take the Band-Aid instead of running back to God for the treatment? Well, the text tells us exactly why. God’s people did not know the rules (lit. the ‘just decrees’) of the Lord. They claimed to be wise thinking they still had God’s Word, but the religious leaders had twisted the Scriptures into a lie. Because God’s people had rejected God’s Word, there was not even the possibility of them having wisdom. Instead of calling God’s people to turn from their sin, the leaders put a Band-Aid on a terminal disease saying, “Peace, peace,” when there was no peace. As a result, God’s people were not ashamed of their sin and did not even know how to blush.

Dear saints, we are no better. The same sins and abandoning of God’s Word in Jeremiah’s day are rampant today, and we don’t have to go outside these walls to find those sins. If we are honest, if we examine ourselves and our actions, thoughts, words, and deeds, we will find the same. Instead of being convicted of our sins, we justify our actions. Instead of turning from sin, we dive headfirst into more transgression. Instead of blushing, we thrive on the dopamine of our pet iniquities and crave after more. Repent.

Dear saints, there is only one cure for our sin and that is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. By His blood shed for you, you are cured of your transgressions. Your iniquity is taken away and your sin is atoned for (Is. 6:7). And by His grace, the false pleasures of sin are shown for what they really are. Your lust, greed, and pride are shown to be empty and shallow compared to the freedom that comes from God’s grace. Your idolatry, adultery, gossip, lies, and covetousness are revealed as the stinking piles of dung that they are.

So, come back. Come back to Jesus, your Great Physician, and get the medicine of immortality. Just as Christ wept over Jerusalem in our Gospel lesson (Lk. 19:41-48), Jesus weeps for your repentance that everything He has done for you would be applied to you. Christ comes and clears out the sinful cravings in your life and turns your body into a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). To you who did not pursue righteousness, God has freely given you the righteousness that comes only by faith (Ro. 9:30) bringing you the eternal cure for all your sin.

Dear Branch, that brings me to you. Branch, today you are Baptized. Today, Jesus has joined you to Himself by placing His name upon you (Mt. 28:19) and clothed you with Himself (Gal. 3:27). Branch, in your Baptism, Jesus joined you to His death so that you have a Jesus-kind of death – in other words, a death that doesn’t last long and ends in resurrection (Ro. 6:3-11). Even though you did not seek the cure for your sin, Jesus has freely gifted all of this to you. As those waters ran down your head God healed, restored, and saved you.

So, Branch, and all of you dear saints, do not think that you can find another righteousness. There is no other cure. When you sin, and sin you will, repent and return. Learn and know and grow in God’s Word. When God’s Word tells you that you have slid back into your old ways of sin and pain, come back to Jesus for the cure. When the Scriptures reveal the evil you have in your heart, ask, “What have I done?” and flee to Christ. When there is pain and chaos all around you because of this fallen and broken world, don’t listen to the voices that say, “Peace, peace,” because Jesus is the only true peace. When you recognize the pain and evil of the abominations of sin surrounding you and within you, blush. But don’t stop there. Return to the Savior whose blood gives you the cure for all the evil, pain, and suffering in this world.

Come back to the brightness and glory of Christ’s eternal medicine and grace. Come now to God’s table of love and mercy where He gives you the cure of His Body and Blood given and shed for the forgiveness of all your sin. Amen.

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

As You Believe, So It Is – Sermon on 2 Samuel 22:26-34 for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

2 Samuel 22:26-34

26 With the merciful you show yourself merciful; 
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; 

27 with the purified you deal purely, 
and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. 

28 You save a humble people, 
but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down. 

29 For you are my lamp, O Lord, 
and my God lightens my darkness. 

30 For by you I can run against a troop, 
and by my God I can leap over a wall. 

31 This God—his way is perfect; 
the word of the Lord proves true; 
he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. 

32 “For who is God, but the Lord? 
And who is a rock, except our God? 

33 This God is my strong refuge 
and has made my way blameless. 

34 He made my feet like the feet of a deer 
and set me secure on the heights.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

If this text feels like a Psalm, you are a good student of Scripture. 2 Samuel 22 is actually the same as Psalm 18. David wrote at least 74 of the 150 Psalms, and it’s interesting (at least, I think it’s interesting) that this is the only place in the story of David’s life where a Psalm recorded. We don’t know exactly when the Psalm was written. But this is placed here in 2 Samuel 22 at the end of David’s life, and v. 1 tells us that this was David’s song, “when the Lord delivered [David] from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.” And the contents of the Psalm are a very fitting way to wrap up David’s story.

David had fought his last war. He had faced the lions and bears as a shepherd. He had killed the giant, Goliath. He was rescued from the spears of King Saul. David had been saved from the Philistines. David was reestablished as king even after his own son, Absalom, had dethroned and hunted him. And, maybe, most importantly, God had rescued David from himself. God forgave David for his adultery with Bathsheba. God absolved David from the sin of murdering Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. Through it all, God was faithful to David in the face of David’s enemies of the devil, the world, and David’s own sinful flesh. From a humble shepherd who was the youngest of the eight sons of Jesse to the conquering King of Israel, David’s life is a rags to riches story. But morally, David started out better than he ended. The tail end of David’s life was disappointing to say the least, but that is what makes this passage so interesting.

The verses you just heard are the middle of the Psalm where David is reflecting on all of God’s gracious acts throughout his life. David addresses God, “With the merciful You show Yourself merciful; with the blameless man You show Yourself blameless; with the purified You deal purely.” God does show us all these things about Himself, but it sounds as though David is bragging that he was those things – merciful, blameless, and pure. How could such a great sinner like David say something like that?

Well, look again at v. 33. “God is my strong refuge and [He] has made my way blameless.” It was God who made David all those things. By God’s declaration, by God’s mercy, and by God’s absolution, David was merciful, blameless, and pure.

Now, whenever we hear passages like this, we need to recognize God’s actions come first and then God’s attributes shine through God’s children. The text does not say that God is merciful to the merciful, blameless to those who are blameless, and pure to those who are pure. If that were the case, God’s mercy, blamelessness, and purity would never be revealed because we are all sinners. Instead, we need to recognize that God is the one who makes us blameless, makes us merciful, and makes us pure, and all of that shines through us. We are not the light of the world. Jesus is, and His light shines through us for all the world to see. God is merciful, blameless, and pure according to His nature, and God works on us and in us to make us like He is. Colossians 3:10 says that we are being renewed after the image of God, and Romans 8:29 says we are being conformed to the image of Christ. As Christians, God is renewing us in His image.

So, again, with the merciful God shows Himself merciful; with the blameless God shows Himself blameless; with the purified God deals purely. But then notice how v. 27 changes gears, “with the crooked You make Yourself seem tortuous.” Big change there. Just quickly, the translation there is tortuous not torturous. Torturous is related to torture and causing extreme pain and suffering. That’s not the translation here. Instead it is tortuous (remove the second ‘r’) which means full of twists and turns or shifty. It isn’t as though God is shifty toward crooked, bent sinners. Notice very carefully, shifty and complex is simply how God seems to the crooked.

Dear saints, we don’t and can’t change the nature or character of God, but what you believe about God does shape how God will appear to you. In short, as you believe, so it is (Mt. 8:13, 9:29). If you believe God is merciful, and He is, you have no trouble seeing God’s mercy. If you believe God is blameless, and He is, His blamelessness is apparent. If you believe God is pure, and He is, you will see and receive His purity. But if you wrongly believe that God isn’t those things, if you believe God is a as crooked as you are, it will seem and appear as though God is twisted, convoluted, and out to get you even though God by His nature and character is direct and straight; He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Ex. 34:6) toward you.

We can see this in how Jesus deals with the scribes and Pharisees. They were always out to get Jesus and trap Him in His teaching, and Jesus will respond in a similar way. Remember when they were trying to trap Jesus by asking Him a question about divorce (Mt. 19:1-9), and Jesus responds to this Law question in a similar fashion by asking them what the Law says. The Pharisees wanted to live by the Law, which isn’t possible, so Jesus lovingly points them back to the Law in an effort to mercifully show them that life does not come through the Law (Ro. 7:5-12). But rather than fleeing to Jesus to receive God’s mercy, the Pharisees stubbornly reject Jesus and are left under the torture of needing to keep the Law perfectly. Because of this, God seems tortuous.

Dear saints, the way you view God will affect the way you interpret all reality. Lord, have mercy on us, and deliver us from believing wrongly about You.

When life gets tough and bad things happen, when we feel the weight of the burdens and crosses we bear, one of the first things we sinners do is blame God. We ask questions like, “What have I done to deserve this?” “How could You do this to me, God?” Or, even, “What kind of God would allow this evil?” In those moments of grief, sorrow, and despair, God does seem absent, uncaring, and tortuous, but remember that your feelings do not dictate reality.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Your feelings are a good and important gift from God. But your feelings are also fallen and infected with sin and don’t always match up with reality. So, when God seems to be absent, when God seems to be uncaring, when God seems tortuous, that is not the time to reject or abandon God. That is the time to run to Him.

God loves you with the purest love. He has demonstrated His love for you in that while you were a sinner and enemy of God, rebelling against Him, God gave Jesus, His Son, to die for you and restore you (Ro. 5:8). So, when you feel forsaken, abandoned, and even cheated by God, ask yourself, “Did God send Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world to die for my sins?” The answer to that question is always, “Yes.” Then, be honest with God about your feelings. Cling to His promises that He gives you in His Word. Run back to Him in prayer, and ask Him to be true to those promises. That is what faith does.

Dear saints, God has given you His mercy by sending His blameless Son to redeem you and make you pure. That is how He is toward you now and for all eternity. Believe that, and watch how God’s mercy, blamelessness, and purity flow freely to you. Believe that and God will always be your rock, your strong refuge, and your shield as you take refuge in Him. Amen.

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

If you have a heart that can expect of Him nothing but what is good—especially in need and distress—and a heart that also renounces and forsakes everything that is not God, then you have the only true God. If, on the contrary, your heart clings to anything else from which it expects more good and help than from God, and if your heart does not take refuge in Him but flees from Him when in trouble, then you have an idol, another god.[1]

[1] LC. 1st Commandment, par. 28.

The Worst Economy – Sermon on Romans 6:19-23 for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

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.

Romans 6:23 might be the most familiar verse in the whole book of Romans. Almost every evangelism class and tract you come across probably has this verse or, at least, a portion of it. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It’s a good verse to point to, but the danger of that verse being so familiar is that, when it is taken out of its context, it becomes little more than a slogan. It has a lot more force when we see it in its context.

When we understand this verse apart from its context – especially the phrase, “the wages of sin is death” – we most often take it to mean that when we do sinful work, the check we cash or the payment we get is death. In other words, we do sinful works and get paid with death. Now, I want to be clear. That interpretation is true, but it can lead to some serious and dangerous drawbacks. It can feed the false notion that some sins aren’t as bad as others. “Well, I only did this little sin, so I won’t get paid as much death as that other guy who did that big sin.”

The idea that sin is the work we do and the payment we get is death doesn’t actually fit the context. Consider your job. You have a boss. You have work and tasks. And a couple times each month your boss pays you for doing the work. When we think that sin is the work we do and death is the payment we get, we lose sight of who our boss is. 

What Paul is doing here puts the focus back on the boss. Sin is not just the works we do; instead, sin is the master, the employer, the boss we serve. And your boss pays with the currency of death. Talk about a bad economy. All humanity, all of us sinners, live in the worst economy where the employer is sin, and sin pays with the currency of death.

Sin is our master until Christ redeems us, buys us, and becomes our new master. Verse 22 of this text makes this clear. “Now… you,” you, Christian, “you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God.” That means that sin used to own you, and when sin owned you, the wages Master Sin paid were death. But now Jesus is your master.

Now, we might wonder, why would anyone work under such a master as sin? Why not unionize and chose a better master with better benefits? Well, it is because Master Sin is so deceptive, sneaky, and insidious. Master Sin seems harmless, but he is entirely treacherous. Master Sin 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 and satisfying, but it is all a façade.

When we are working for Master Sin, we feel free. It seems nice and natural. It doesn’t feel like work. 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. You gladly work for Master Sin because it feels good and seems to make life easier. For those outside of Christ, serving Master Sin feels like freedom. And it doesn’t seem like the wages we will be paid matter all that much. We might wrongly think we can simply make a quick change in our lives before payday rolls around and everything will be fine. Beware. That is not the picture that Scripture gives here. Sin is not simply the type of work you do. Sin is your employer, your boss, your master, your owner.

Every moment, Master Sin is 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. Master Sin is 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 and condemned. Repent.

Christian, you ought to hate Master Sin and his slave wages. But remember, as you heard in our Epistle lesson last week, you have been Baptized. You don’t belong to Master Sin anymore. You are no longer his slave. “You must consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Ro. 6: 11).

Christian, know 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 loathe him, his wages, his chains, and his whip more and more. Plug your ears to him, and run back to your new Master, your true Master, Christ Jesus, your Savior.

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, the free gift, of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ro. 6:22-23). Consider Jesus, your new Master, and how He is toward you. What does He pay? He doesn’t. He doesn’t pay anything.

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?” (Job 41:11). 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. With Christ as your master, you leave the worst economy and enter a radically new economy. Ephesians 2:6-7 says, “[God] 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.” You think you like God’s grace now? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. None of us have. 

Throughout all eternity, God will show you the immeasurable riches of His grace in Christ Jesus. And these riches are incalculable. In this life, riches are always measurable. Even if you owned the whole world, your account would have a certain amount in it. Your net worth would always have a limit. But God’s gifts and riches are immeasurable because they are new every morning (Lam. 3:22). That is true now, and it is true through all eternity.

Think of that! For all eternity God will never have to show you a treasure of His grace and mercy a second time. Every one of them is new and one that you haven’t seen before. It will take an eternity of eternities for God to show you the riches of His love and kindness toward you. In our current economy in this country, it is easy to see the balance sinking lower and lower. But in God’s economy of gifts, He can show you the treasures of His mercy for trillions of trillions of years and all eternity is still before you, and nothing is diminished. There is just as much left as when you started. That is your life now in Christ Jesus, and that is your future.

So, when Master Sin comes knocking on your door whispering to you about his slave wages, send him away; tell him he can take his wages of death and shove them. 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. And Jesus, your God and Savior, wants to continue to show you the treasures of His mercies now. He invites you now to His table to receive the gifts of His holy and precious Body and Blood given to you for the forgiveness of your sins. Come and receive. Amen.[1]

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

[1] Reworked from 2020.

Standards – Sermon on Matthew 5:17-26 for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Matthew 5:17-26

17 [Jesus says,] “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

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.

I don’t know how well this analogy will work, but I’m going with it. Imagine you are riding a horse up a mountain. Everyone knows the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but paths up mountains rarely go in a straight line. (I have to say that to you Red River Valley-ers because some of you might not have any idea how to get up a mountain, or even what a mountain is.) This path you are on traverses back and forth, back and forth. The incline of the path is steep, but you’re riding a horse, so that doesn’t bother you too much.

After riding for a while and navigating the switchbacks, you’ve gotten fairly high up the mountain, and you start to get a little nervous because the path is only a little wider than your horse. You took to the left, and you can see hundreds and hundreds of feet below you. If you fell off your horse to the left, you’d fall to your death. But when you look to your right, you see the mountain slope and a fall that way would result in some bumps and bruises, so you decide to lean to the right. This leaning does result in a fall now and then, but you figure the scrapes and bruises are an acceptable alternative compared to certain death. But then you come to one of the switchbacks. Now, when you look to your right, you see a deadly fall, and when you look to your left, you see the slope and a fall of only a few feet. So, you decide to lean a little bit to the left. Your leaning still means falling now and then. More bumps and more bruises. Still much preferrable to falling off a mountain. This keeps happening. Lean right. Switchback. Lean left. Switchback. Right. Left. You’re always trying to avoid the big fall, but the fall keeps changing sides. And those little falls are now leaving you bruised and bloodied.

After hours of riding, leaning, and falling, you’re nearing the top of the mountain, but you aren’t to the summit yet. You’re at the highest ridge, and there’s still a long way to the top. Now, the path is only as wide as the horse. You look to your right, and you see that a fall means death. You look to your left, same thing. Now, you have to stay directly on top of the horse. But you’ve spent hours leaning – right, left, right, left. You’ve also gotten used to falling, and you’re absolutely terrified. 

Today, Jesus is teaching us about God’s Law. (Obvious statement of the day, there.) Whenever we consider the Law of God, we Christians can quickly and easily fall into one of two errors; both are dangerous and harmful. But at times we think falling to one side is going to be less deadly than falling off the other side. But a fall is a fall. Even though those falls don’t necessarily mean death, they still harm us. And the more we fall, the more difficult it is to stay on the horse. In this text, Jesus is teaching us about the Law and our relationship to it in a way that helps us stay on the horse.

When it comes to God’s Law, staying on the horse means that you take it seriously and fear to break God’s Commandments, but it also means that you never, never ever, trust in your Commandment keeping to save you.

As you live the life of faith, there will be times when you will put more trust in your keeping of the Law. You think that by doing righteous things, God is more and more pleased with you. This was the error of the Pharisees and is called ‘legalism.’ Legalism will have varying degrees. Some legalists will figure so long as they do one more good thing than bad thing that God is obligated to save them. Other legalists think that God’s grace saves them, but once they are saved, they have to make sure they live a certain way to stay saved. Legalists take the Law seriously, and figure that not taking the Law seriously is the bigger danger. Legalists would rather fall of the horse on the side of self-justification figuring it is less dangerous. But, again, falling off the horse is always harmful.

At other times in your life of faith, you might think that because Jesus has died for and forgiven you of all your sins that the Law doesn’t apply to you anymore. And because the Law doesn’t apply anymore, you are free to do whatever you want. This error is called ‘antinomianism’ (i.e. no-law-ism). Some antinomians will go so far as to say, “You don’t know what grace is until you have done some really sinful thing and been forgiven.” They will think that the worse past you had before being saved will make you a stronger or more thankful Christian.

Sometimes, antinomians aren’t that extreme. Instead, they will hear passages of Scripture similar to the portion of this Gospel text where Jesus teaches the full meaning of, “Thou shalt not kill,” where He says that anger and name-calling is the same as murder. Antinomians will justify breaking the 5th Commandment about murder saying that their anger toward someone else is justified because, “Look what they did.” Antinomians will justify breaking the 8th Commandment about lying by pointing to the fact that the gossip they spread is true. The Small Catechism rightly teaches that to keep the 8th Commandment, we must defend our neighbor, speak well of our neighbor, and put the most charitable construction on all our neighbor does. Would you want someone sharing an embarrassing truth about you to other people? Do you like it when people assume your motives when you have done something questionable? When you gossip, you either assign false motives to someone else’s actions or you invite the person you are sharing that gossip with to assign false motives to someone else’s actions. In other words, you are being an antinomian thinking that the 8th Commandment doesn’t apply to you. And every one of us does this from time to time with all the Commandments. Repent. 

Both legalism and antinomianism are errors and false doctrine. Both are poison to the soul. It is easy to think that legalism and antinomianism are opposite errors because legalism leads to a strict keeping of the Law and antinomianism leads to ignoring or belittling the Law. But these two errors are not opposites. The two share the same basic problem. Both legalism and antinomianism lower the standard of God’s Law. Legalism lowers the standard by saying that the Law is doable, followable, attainable, and achievable. Antinomianism lowers the standard by saying that the Law doesn’t matter, that the Law doesn’t actually demand what it demands. And, again, we fall into both of these errors. Sometimes, it is in our attitude to the whole Law. Or, we might fall into legalism when it comes to certain Commandments and into antinomianism when it comes to other commandments. But every one of us, at certain times, thinks that falling into one of those errors is preferable to falling into the other error, but that is always a deception. Again, repent.

Dear saints, when it comes to the Law, God doesn’t ever lower the standard. God doesn’t smile and wink at antinomians. God’s grace and mercy does not mean that God doesn’t care about sin. Yes, Jesus welcomed sinners, but not because He overlooked their sin. He welcomed them because He forgave their sin.

And your Pharisaic, legalistic good works and piety don’t impress God. God doesn’t watch your good works and respond. “Great job. I owe you for that.” No, His standards are higher than yours. Your righteousness must, it absolutely must, exceed the best of the best, or you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

So, where does this righteousness come from? It only comes through Christ. The righteous do not live by the Law; the righteous live by faith (Ro. 1:17). Romans 10:4 says, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Dear saints, stay squarely on the horse. Don’t lean either toward antinomianism or legalism. God does require you to be perfect as He is perfect (Mt. 5:48; Lev. 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:16). And Jesus freely gives you His perfect obedience to every iota and dot of the Law. Christ has filled and fulfilled the Law in your place. His death removes your sin, and His perfection is credited to you through faith. Jesus has attained the righteous, perfect obedience to the Law that God requires, and Jesus freely gives you the righteousness that guarantees your entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus has come, not to take away the requirements and demands of the Law. He has come to take away the guilt of the Law. On the one hand, don’t imagine you are performing before God to gain His applause, and on the other hand, don’t think God doesn’t care about how you regard His Commands. Instead, God desires to freely give you His gifts of mercy, pardon, grace, and forgiveness which He gives, not through the Law, but through the Gospel.

Dear saints, you are not righteous because you do much. You are righteous when you believe much in Christ. There is a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes, Pharisees, and every other moral person you can think of – that is the righteousness given to you by Christ. And, through God-given faith, that righteousness belongs to you. Amen.

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

Called – Sermon on Luke 5:1-11 for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Luke 5:1-11

1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 

4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

If I am ever asked to preach at a seminary graduation, an ordination, or installation of a pastor, this is the text I will use. This miracle is uniquely fashioned for preachers.

Most of Jesus’ miracles fall into one of two categories when it comes to the reason Jesus does the miracle. Probably, the most common reason for Jesus’ miracles is to bring relief when there is a great need – casting out a demon, calming a storm, healing the sick, feeding the crowds, and raising the dead. The other common reason behind Jesus’ miracles is to authenticate or initiate His teaching. Sometimes, Jesus would do a miracle in response to the grumbling of the scribes and Pharisees (Mt. 9:2-8), or He would agitate them by healing on the Sabbath. 

This miraculous catch of fish doesn’t really fit into either of those categories. Jesus doesn’t do this miracle to validate or initiate His teaching. Sure, the text starts by telling us that Jesus was teaching the Word of God to a crowd so large that Jesus has to preach from Peter’s boat a little off from shore. But the way Luke records this, the miracle happens well after Jesus’ sermon was finished. Jesus had finished preaching, and it would take Peter a while to row out into the deep parts of the Sea of Galilee like Jesus tells him to. The crowds wouldn’t just stand around and watch this whole thing take place. I looked at a depth chart for Gennesaret, and they probably wouldn’t have been able to see the miracle. The crowds would have gone home, so the massive catch of fish doesn’t fit this miracle into the category of meeting a need. This haul of fish isn’t Jesus’ way of feeding that congregation.

This miracle is directed at and tailor-made for Peter (and we could probably also throw in the other disciples). After this miracle, these fishermen, who were already disciples of Jesus (see Jn. 1:35-42 and Mk. 1:16-20 which both appear to be separate calls of the disciples), leave everything behind to follow Jesus and learn to become fishers of men.

That’s why this miracle fits so well for preachers. Peter was a successful fisherman, but his knowledge, wisdom, and expertise had its limits – even when it came to fishing. After wasting a whole night where he and his partners caught nothing despite using every trick they knew, Peter listens to fishing tips from this carpenter from Nazareth and has a catch of fish that was more than Peter and his partners could handle. That catch came in an unlikely place, out in the deep, and at an unlikely time, probably late afternoon or early evening when you aren’t likely to catch many fish.

All of this points to the fact that this miracle is teaching Peter that he is going to have to learn to simply trust Jesus’ word, especially when he enters the new vocation of preaching. In other words, this catch is a preview of what is going to happen when Peter preaches the Gospel, and that is exactly what we see. On Pentecost, Peter preaches a sermon that, honestly, isn’t that impressive or insightful, but God uses that sermon to bring a massive catch of souls into the Church. The Gospel net is cast at a place and time that is unlikely to have success. Peter is preaching only fifty days after these same people called for Jesus to be crucified. But the net of the Gospel brings in 3,000 souls into the boat of the holy Christian Church.

This is why this text would be so good to preach to seminarians, pastors, and preachers. In this text, Jesus is showing preachers that their success won’t be based on their rhetoric or skill or cunning or persuasiveness or methodology. The success of the Gospel comes by simply being faithful to Jesus’ Word and throwing out the nets. The Holy Spirit does the work. The only thing a pastor needs to do in order to be a faithful shepherd of God’s flock, and the only thing a congregation needs to do to be a faithful body of Christ, is to simply teach God’s Word, stand firm on what it says, and God will use that Word to do things beyond our imagination or comprehension.

But, my dear congregation, you aren’t seminarians or pastors. So, I won’t preach that sermon to you. Wink, wink. Nod, nod. I guess I need to come up with a different sermon, and this text does have something very important to teach you, but it isn’t, maybe, what you would expect.

If you look at this text in your Bible, you will probably see a heading over these verses in bold letters that says something like, “Jesus Calls the First Disciples.” Well, that heading is a bit misleading because, when we look at the other Gospels, we learn that this is the third time Jesus’ disciples follow after Him. Actually, John 1 is where we see Jesus first calling these disciples. There, Andrew, who is Peter’s brother, is a disciple of John the Baptizer. Andrew hears John call Jesus the Lamb of God. Andrew goes and finds Peter and they begin to follow Jesus and see Him do miracles (see Jn. 2 and Lk. 4) Later, Jesus sees Andrew and Peter and James and John fishing and calls them to follow Him, and they do (Mk. 1:16-20). So, by the time we get to this text in Luke 5, Peter, Andrew, James, and John are already disciples who follow Jesus. But notice, they are still providing for their families through their fishing business.

They are making sure their company will have a future by taking care of their nets. Even though those nets went empty that night, they still needed tending and cleaning to be ready for the next excursion. Tired after a completely unproductive night of fishing but still needing to finish his work, Peter would have had every excuse to ignore Jesus and let Him do His preaching thing over there on the shore for the crowds. Peter had other work to do, and it was good, God-given work to make a living and provide for His family.

But Peter also recognized that he needed to give his attention to the Word of God, which he did. Notice Peter leaves his nets twice in this passage. Yes, he leaves his net to follow after Jesus at the end of the text, but don’t miss the first time Peter leaves his net. The first time, he leaves his work of cleaning them to bring Jesus out a little way into the sea so Christ can continue preaching to both the crowds and Peter.

Peter doesn’t let his career be an idol. He recognizes his work of cleaning the nets can wait. In that moment, Peter was called to something more important than plucking seaweed out of a net. He was called to listen to Jesus’ preaching. And Peter is called by Jesus to let his boat be used for that same preaching. Peter uses the gifts God had given him serve Jesus and those crowds who also needed to hear the Word of God.

Dear saints, it is good to see your job and your paycheck the same way. God has given you work and money to provide you and those in your care with food and clothing, house and home. But God has also given you work and a paycheck so you can set aside time to find rest – not just for a weekend away from your desk, your boss, your coworkers, or your employees – but to find rest from the toil and sin of this fallen world. And God wants you to share those gifts with others so they can also hear God’s Word and find rest in His mercy and grace. Putting your tithe in the offering plate is the same as letting Jesus use your boat to preach. That is also why, even though there are many charities and organizations to give to – and you should give to them – don’t let that come at the expense of giving to the preaching of God’s Word. Your tithe to these plates comes first. Other charitable giving should come second. You need the preaching and so do your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus’ teaching did its work in Peter. When Jesus tells Peter to put out into the deep for a catch – which, again, is the wrong place and wrong time – Peter listened to Jesus and trusted Him, admittedly begrudgingly. Peter puts out the nets, and there are too many fish. The nets threaten to break. The boats threaten to sink. Peter sees all of this and is filled with fear. He isn’t afraid of the nets breaking or the boats sinking. Instead, the sinner is afraid of the wrath of God. Peter is afraid because he recognizes that he, a sinner, is standing in the presence of the holy, almighty God in the flesh. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 

But the nets don’t break, the boats don’t sink, and the sinner doesn’t get the wrath and punishment he deserves. “Do not be afraid;” Jesus says, “from now on you will be catching men.” Jesus’ words there are an absolution. Jesus casts Peter’s sins into the depths of the sea where the fish and boats should have ended up. But Jesus doesn’t stop with saving Peter. He has more saving to do. That’s why Peter and the apostles are given the task of preaching. Jesus desires that His work would spread to all.

A lot of sermons on this text will end by challenging you to be like Peter and leave everything to follow Jesus. Dear saints, God in His infinite wisdom hasn’t given you that calling, and that is totally fine. Maybe God will call you into the office of ministry one day. But for now, God has called you into the vocations He has put before you. Right now, you are called by God to listen to His Word being preached to you. And this week, God will put other tasks in front of you. Do them, and do them faithfully. Col. 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Your work, your calling, your vocations are never wasted, never in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). Everything you have and everything you do is made sacred by the Word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4:4-5).

So, hear God’s Word. Be forgiven of all your sins. Then, go and do your work. Fulfill the callings God has given to you because your work isn’t done for your paycheck or your boss. The work and calling God gives you has goodness because God uses that work to help and serve your neighbor.

Dear saints, God needs you in the stations and vocations where He has placed you. Jesus knows how He can best use you in the kingdom of God. Jesus knew what He was doing when He placed you into your family, into this congregation, in your job, in your neighborhood. He has placed you there to be a faithful husband, wife, child, employer, worker, friend, and neighbor. You don’t need to leave that in order to serve God more faithfully. God has placed you there to serve Him by serving those neighbors He has given you. Even if you think Jesus made a mistake by putting you there, just trust that Jesus knows what He is doing and that He will use you in the way that He sees fit.

All your earthly work and calling has something of eternity in it because it is done in service to God. And God will use that work to bring about His purposes. To Him alone be the glory, now and forever. Amen.

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