Authorized to Forgive – Sermon on Matthew 9:1-8 for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

Matthew 9:1-8

1 And getting into a boat [Jesus] crossed over and came to his own city.

2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he then said to the paralytic – a “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 7 And he rose and went home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

What is the main thing in this text? Matthew tells us about this wonderful healing of a paralyzed man by a simple statement from Jesus. As amazing as that is, it isn’t what Matthew focuses on as he tells this story under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The healing actually takes second fiddle because it only takes up the last half of v. 6. Instead, the Holy Spirit would have us notice and focus on the absolution, the forgiveness of sins. God wants all sinners on earth to regularly hear the declaration that our sins are forgiven through Christ. So, as we consider this text, may our reaction be the same as the crowds. May we glorify God that He has given authority to all people to forgive sins.

This paralyzed man was brought to Jesus by his friends. Both Mark [2:3-12] and Luke [5:18-26] also tell this story, and they let us know that this man’s friends tore a hole in the roof where Jesus was teaching in order to lower the paralytic in front of Christ. After all this demolition and careful lowering of the man on his bed, there is the man before Jesus unable to move. Jesus sees the friends looking through the hole above him, He sees the shock of those who were listening to His teaching, and He sees the eyes of this man’s face. But most importantly, Christ sees the troubled conscience of this paralyzed man. So, Jesus says to him, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

This is an amazing thing for Jesus to say under the conditions. It was obvious to everyone in the room what this man needs. He can’t move. His limbs don’t work. Everyone in that house, and probably even us, expect Jesus to say, “Be healed.” But it doesn’t happen – at least not right away. Instead, Jesus speaks the absolution. Christ speaks first not to the man’s limbs but to his soul.

We know how the scribes responded. They concluded that Jesus was blaspheming. It would be interesting to hear what everyone else, especially this man’s friends, thought. They had to lug him up to the roof, tear open the ceiling, and carefully lower him down. I would love to know what they thought. They were probably wondering if all their efforts and all the risks they took to get their friend before Jesus had been worth it. But I wonder even more what the man thought.

Now, this is simply me speculating, but I think this man was more comforted hearing the absolution than being healed. I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to think that God is angry with me whenever something bad happens to me. I would guess you are similar. And I would also guess the same is true for this paralytic man, and he got to hear what he needed most. Jesus says to him, “Dear man, God isn’t mad at you. Your sins are no problem. They will be covered by My blood and by My death. You will have problems in this life, but your eternal life is absolutely, completely secure. And I will bring you to the resurrection where you will have a perfected body in eternal bliss.”

I have little doubt that these words that Jesus speaks are the sweetest, most life-giving words that the paralyzed man could have heard from Jesus.

Now, before we move on, let’s all agree on this – forgiving sins is an act of God. Right? Only God can declare what is sinful, only God can judge, and only God can forgive sins. In Psalm 51[:4] David confesses to God, “Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight.” Remember, David is speaking this after he sinned against Bathsheba and after he killed Uriah. But David rightly recognizes that, while his sin has and will affect many others, David recognizes that his sin is against God. So, if any and every sin is against God, only God can forgive sin.

So, while the scribes are grumbling about Jesus forgiving sins, Jesus says, “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, rise pick up your bed and go home.” And the man goes home – forgiven and healed. It is clearly demonstrated that Jesus can and, most importantly, does forgive sins. And there is enough there to cause us to rejoice all our days. Jesus can heal broken bodies, and even better, Jesus can heal broken souls. Jesus has the authority to and does forgive sins here on earth. But Matthew gives us something more that we need to consider today.

Matthew tells us that when the crowds see all of this, “they glorified God who had given such authority to men.” Notice, Matthew doesn’t way that they glorified God who had given such authority to ‘a man.’ That authority is given to men – plural. Forgiveness belongs to Jesus, but Jesus also passes that authority on to others, in fact to all, as well. Jesus gives the authority to forgive sins to His entire church.

Dear saints, you have Jesus’ authority to announce the absolution. In John 20:22-23, Jesus breathes on the disciples giving them the Holy Spirit and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” So, please notice, Jesus, the One who proves that He has authority to forgive sins, passes that authority on to you, Christian.

The best analogy for this is one I have used before. Imagine someone in prison. He is guilty and locked up for his crime and is in jail. Across town, the governor decrees that he is pardoned. His guilt and punishment is gone. But that act alone doesn’t do him any good. As far as the law is concerned, he is free. But he is still in his cell. So, the governor’s pardon has to be communicated to the prison warden. And even that doesn’t do the prisoner any good unless the warden sends a guard to the man’s cell who opens the door and lets the man out. Each of those steps must happen for the man to be truly free.

If the governor doesn’t pardon and the guard simply opens the cell, that guard is breaking the law. The guy may be out of prison, but he is still guilty, and he will always be looking behind him waiting for the authorities to arrest him again. And if the man is pardoned, but the guard never comes to open the cell, that pardon doesn’t do the prisoner any good either. Dear saints, that is the picture of the absolution.

God has heard the case against you. And the evidence of Jesus’ death and resurrection means that God declares you to be holy, righteous, pure, free, and pardoned. Then, God sends others with the keys to open your cell and let you out of prison.

This has already been done here today. After we confessed our sins, God sent your pastor with the keys to your cell to open it by saying, “By Christ’s command and authority you have the entire forgiveness of all your sins.” I love my job! Thank you for calling me here to do that.

But know, dear saints, that this isn’t just for pastors to do. It is good and right for there to be someone appointed to do that in a congregation where things should be done in an orderly way (1 Cor. 14:40), but that does not mean that the absolution should only be spoken by a pastor in a church service. You can also forgive sins because Jesus died for sinners. Christians are the fellowship of those who have been set free and absolved of all our sins. And we are the fellowship of those who are deputized to declare to others that their sins are forgiven as well.

So, when you talk to others, do that! It’s one thing to rejoice in the forgiveness you have, and we should, we absolutely should, do that. But do you declare this forgiveness to others? Hopefully, you forgive others when they have harmed and sinned against you. Christians should be the quickest to do that. But have you declared forgiveness to someone whose conscience is troubled by sins that don’t involve you? You can!

According to Scripture, every Christian has this authority. Again, Jesus says to you, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven” (Jn. 20:23). You have been absolved and set free from your sins. You have also been authorized by Jesus to set others free from their sins. God has put the same declaration of the Gospel into your mouth. Look for sins to forgive. Look for people who feel the guilt and bondage of their sin. Say to them something like this, “Dear friend, Jesus died for you. In Jesus’ name, your sins are forgiven.” Speak these words with authority.

These words are life, freedom, and joy. These words of Jesus, “Your sins are forgiven,” are words for your ears, and they are words for your tongue. May those words be in your ears, engrained on your hearts, and freely spoken from your lips. Dear saints, you are forgiven, and you are authorized to forgive others as well. Amen.

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

Sustained – Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 

2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

This opening to 1 Corinthians is full of stunning praise. Paul mentions that the believers in Corinth were being sanctified and made holy in Christ Jesus which is why Paul calls them saints. They, like you, are calling on the name of their Lord Jesus Christ and confessing that Jesus is their Savior. After mentioning that, Paul begins to give thanks for these Christians. Listen to all the things Paul thanks God for. He thanks God that the Corinthian Christians have God’s grace given through Christ. He says that they are not lacking in any spiritual gift. Paul is thankful that God will sustain them in their fellowship with all believers until the day Christ returns. Again, it’s an amazing greeting.

Listening to the opening of this letter, you might think that Corinth was the perfect congregation who had it all together. This introduction makes it sound like they figured Christianity out and had no problems. Maybe we should model what we do here at Christ the King by what was going on in Corinth. But then, in the verses that follow, we see that not everything in the church at Corinth was so great.

There were divisions in the church (1 Cor. 1:10-11). Some of the Christians in the congregation were saying, “I follow Paul,” some said, “I follow Apollos,” some, “I follow Peter,” and some piously bragged, “I follow Christ,” figuring no one could beat that.

As you keep reading this letter, you find out about all sorts of problems in the church of Corinth. You learn that a man was boasting about fornicating with his father’s wife (1 Cor. 5:1). The members of the church were suing each other in court (1 Cor. 6:1-8). Paul has to address the fact that marriages and families breaking apart because of immorality among these believers (1 Cor. 7). And it didn’t stop there. The congregation was having trouble at Communion. People were trying to get to the front of the line so that others weren’t able to receive the Sacrament, and some were even getting drunk in the church at the altar (1 Cor. 11:21).

Even their abundant spiritual gifts were becoming a problem because these gifts were making their worship services chaotic each week (1 Cor. 14:26-33). Whenever anyone had a thought enter their head during the service, they would stand up and interrupt the liturgy or the sermon to say it, and a lot of the time what was being said was in a foreign language that most didn’t understand. And maybe most troubling, some of the members there didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, and some didn’t even believe that Jesus rose on Easter (1 Cor. 15)!

Considering all these things, we might judge that this wasn’t even a Christian congregation. With everything that was wrong in the Corinthian church, you’d think Paul would simply start his letter by laying into them, but he doesn’t. Instead, Paul says, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.” And the fact that Paul starts this way should make us consider how we look at things within the church.

There are two ways we can look at things. With our physical eyes, we can look around, see how things are outwardly, gauge, and evaluate. And we should do this with our eyes. With our eyes, we can see a lot of good things. We can see the beauty of the fall colors and acknowledge the creativity of God. We can see all the beets on the road and know that the harvest is coming in much better than last year. With our eyes, we can see and know there are a lot of bad and evil things. We can see the riots and looting and division that is going on in our nation. We can see how politicians can’t agree on how to rule and recognize that all of this is bad for our country. 

But our physical eyes have limitations. Our physical eyes cannot see how things are spiritually. You cannot look an individual or a congregation and see how they are doing spiritually. A church could have hundreds or even thousands of people attending each week with seven pastors and dozens of staff while running all sorts of programs and have seemingly unlimited funding, but none of that means the church is doing well spiritually. And maybe most importantly, you cannot even look at yourself and see how things are spiritually. You could have the entire Bible memorized, be reading the Scriptures every day, going to church every week, and giving 30% of your income to the church and still be on the road straight to hell if you don’t have faith in Christ. Because we cannot gauge how things are spiritually with our physical eyes, God has given us spiritual eyes.

Spiritual eyes understand the world, not through what we see, but through what we hear. Spiritual eyes see things as Jesus sees them. And it is when we stop looking at everything in a merely physical way and learn to look at everything through the cross of Christ, then we will be upheld and sustained. That is why later in this chapter Paul says, “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:22). In fact, when we consider everything in light of Jesus’ cross instead of what we can see with our physical eyes, we are comforted. Because of Christ’s cross, we have the comfort that God will sustain us guiltless, completely guiltless, in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Because of the cross, when God looks at us, He sees us differently. It is easy to look at ourselves and see that we do not keep the two great commandments that Jesus talks about in our Gospel lesson (Mt. 22:34-46). We do not love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength nor our neighbor as ourselves. Because we can see that, it makes us wonder what God, who is everywhere and knows and everything, sees.  But when you have faith that Christ has died and risen again for you, God looks at you through the lens of the cross. When Jesus died on the cross for you, He took all of your guilt, all of your sin, all of your shame, all of your sorrow. Because of the cross, God does not see you, believer, in your sin. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). Christian, you are clothed with Christ, as Galatians 3:27 says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This is foundational to our faith and can sustain us in our weakest moments.

Also, when we believe and trust that God sees us through the cross of Jesus, we see God differently. In this world full of evil and trouble, we are tempted to think that God is angry and frustrated and distant from us. If your impression of God is based on what you see in the news, you will probably think that God is just waiting for the right time to smite you. But that is not where we should look to see what God thinks of us. Remember at the Last Supper, Phillip asks Jesus to show him and all the disciples the Father. And Jesus says, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know Me, Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:8-9). If you want to know what God thinks of you look to Jesus and to His chief work of the cross. Because of the cross, we see that God has come to rescue and save us. We see that God has died and shed His blood for us. We see that God loves us. We see that nothing can separate us from His love. The crucifixion stands as the irrefutable proof of God’s love for you.

And Scripture also opens our spiritual eyes to see that this Good News, this Gospel, the cross of Jesus, isn’t just for us, but it is for all the other sinners in the world as well. The Gospel changes how we see our neighbor because Jesus was on the cross for them too. Jesus died for the sins of the world. God desires that all sinners repent and believe and be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). Everyone you meet is loved and precious because everyone you meet is someone for whom Christ has died and shed His blood. 

Dear saints, when it comes to your spiritual life, it is dangerous to trust what you see with your eyes. Satan loves to throw all sorts of things in front of you that will make you doubt God’s love for you. The devil will try to point you to every flaw and failure so that you do not trust what God promises.

Dear saints don’t fall for the trap. Trust what you hear in God’s Word and view everything through God’s promises. If God promises it, believe it without fail. Faith always relies on God’s promise, and without His promise there can be no faith. No matter what happens, this fact remains. God loves you, and He has sent Jesus to die and rise again for you. what Jesus has done, God will sustain you blameless until the coming of your Lord. This is not a presumption, dream, or speculation. It is God’s sure and certain promise to you. So be confident, be upheld, be sustained in what Christ has done for you. Amen.

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

A Seat at the Table – Sermon on Luke 14:1-11 for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

Luke 14:1-11

1 One Sabbath, when [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.

2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things.

7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

All of the Ten Commandments should do two things. First, the Commandments should expose how sinful we are and cause us to repent. Second, the Commandments should make us realize that God is good and that He is concerned for us and cares about all aspects of our lives. For example, the 5th Commandment about murder should expose our anger and hatred toward others, but it should also show you that God values your life and wants to protect it. The 7th Commandment about stealing should expose our greed and idolatry of money and stuff, but it should also show you that God wants you to have and enjoy the things He has given you. The 8th Commandment about bearing false witness should convict us of how we use our tongues to lie, gossip, and speak negatively of others, but it should also show you that God loves truth and wants to protect you from false accusations, gossip, etc. This is true of all Ten Commandments, but because this Gospel lesson focuses our attention on what Jesus does at this Sabbath feast, we are going to focus on the 3rdCommandment.

Hopefully, you have the 3rd Commandment (and all the Commandments) memorized: “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.” While that one sentence captures the essence of the Command, there is more to it when it is given by God on Mt. Sinai. Here’s the full thing (Ex. 20:8-11):

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” 

The 3rd Commandment shows God’s concern and care for us. In this Command, God guarantees a day of rest every week. And we didn’t even have to unionize to get it! As far as I know, there is no other religion where people are commanded to rest and receive. Foreigners, servants, and even animals get a day off. This rest not only makes people more productive, but it also honors and protects them. God created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh. And because we are created in God’s image, we should follow His example and have the same privilege of rest.

God’s intent with this day of rest was that we should not only rest our bodies and minds, but more importantly God wants us to use the Sabbath to find rest for our souls. The day of rest is kept holy when we concern ourselves with holy things – especially hearing God’s Word preached and explained to us (Mt. 11:28-30Act. 13:274415:21). God knows that we need to work to provide food for our bodies, so He gives us six days to do that. And God knows that we need to be fed spiritually, so He set aside the Sabbath for that as well. According to Jesus, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:27).

Truly keeping the Sabbath by resting from our regular work to hear God’s Word is a witness to God’s grace. The gift of rest that God gives in the Command reminds us that salvation is never earned or achieved by our efforts. Eternal life is always freely given and received as a gift from God. If salvation is not received as pure gift, it will always be beyond our reach and we will never have it. Now, with all of that in mind, we turn to the text.

The good and merciful Command about the Sabbath was being abused by the Pharisees. Instead of rejoicing in the rest God was giving them in the Command, these legalists took the Commandment and used it as a club to beat others over the head. A legalist is not someone who takes the Law extra seriously in order to keep it, nor is a legalist someone who avoids temptation and sin because they love God’s Law. Instead, a legalist is someone who uses the Law of God to serve himself and make others feel inferior (Rev. David Petersen).

These Pharisees were feasting on the Sabbath but ignoring the man sick with dropsy. Basically, dropsy means this man had some condition that made fluid build up making him bloated and swollen. The man would have looked gross, and his condition might have led people to believe that he was a glutton who was getting what he deserved. It is even possible that the Pharisees had invited this man to the feast in order to test Jesus and see what He would do because they were “watching [Jesus] carefully” (Lk. 14:1).

So, notice that they aren’t resting on the Sabbath at all. They are working, and their task is to catch and trap Jesus. They are taking the Sabbath feast, which was meant to be a time for everyone to bask in God’s forgiveness and mercy, and turning it into a private party where they would ridicule our Lord and pat themselves on the back for keeping God’s Law all while not lifting a finger to help this poor man. Some rest that is!

But while they are working to test Jesus, He turns the tables and puts them under the microscope by asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” Of course, it is obviously in accordance with the Law to heal and do good to others on the Sabbath. God had even addressed this in the books of Moses (Dt. 22:1-4). In Ex. 23:4-5, God says, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.” And God never says, “Go ahead and forget about it if it’s the Sabbath.” 

They knew the answer, but the Pharisees refuse to respond to Jesus’ question. So, Jesus does what He always does and heals the guy. After sending him away, Jesus asks the Pharisees, “Would you leave your son or even an ox that fell into a well on the Sabbath and not pull him out?” And still they refuse to answer. Their pride and hypocrisy is exposed, but Jesus isn’t done going after them yet. Jesus continues to run after them to give them rest. Christ wants these hard-working Pharisees to put down their labors and burdens and enter His rest. So, Jesus tells them this parable, which isn’t like most of Jesus’ parables. Instead, this particular parable is more akin to the wisdom we heard in our Old Testament Lesson (Prov. 25:6-14).

Now, we could take this parable as an etiquette lesson: Sit low and get honor by being paraded through the party to a higher seat. But that flies in the face of what Jesus is actually doing. Jesus wants to show them true humility. Pretending to be humble in order to get the praise of others is not true humility.

Notice what Jesus says is the lesson of the parable, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” In the parable, Jesus doesn’t give you something to do by saying, “Be humble.” Yes, pride is your problem, but you can’t overcome your pride by being humble. Even thinking that you can fix your pride is, by definition, prideful. The anecdote for your pride is not you being humble – it is grace. Grace is humbling because it is never merited or earned. Grace is pure mercy, pure love, pure gift.

The parable is really all about Jesus. It tells of Christ’s path from glory down to earth and the grave and back again (Php. 2:5-11). Jesus removed Himself from the place of honor at His Father’s right hand in order to make room for you. Jesus was humiliated. He took the form of a servant. God was found in human form. Then, when we sinners saw God in the flesh, we pinned Him to the cross. But after all this, God does the strangest thing.

He sees that Jesus’ seat is open and that you are sitting down low in the muck and mire of your sin. He invites you to move up. You are invited to sit at the table He prepares for you. He anoints your head with oil and makes sure your cup overflows (Ps. 23:5) and is never set down empty. Then, on the third day, from the lowest place, Jesus is raised up. At His name, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is King of kings and Lord of lords. All of this has been done for you so that you can be honored by Jesus’ humility.

Dear sinners, we have fallen into the well of our sin, so Christ has come down into the well of sin for us. He dies in the lowest place of that well. And He invites you to step on His back, so you can get out and move to a seat of honor at His table. 

Remember how each of the first six days of creation in Genesis end by saying, “There was evening and morning”? The seventh day, the Sabbath, the day of rest doesn’t mention that. The picture is of an eternal rest with God that doesn’t end. Well, today is our Sabbath, our day of rest. God now invites you to His feast, and there is a place of honor for you here at His Table. Leave your work, your striving, your pride, and your sin. Come, there is a seat for you here at God’s table. Come and receive what you have not earned or deserved. Your God has good things for you here. Amen.

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

Preview – Sermon on Luke 7:11-17 for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

Luke 7:11-17

11 Soon afterward [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

We didn’t get to do it enough (at least in person) this past Easter Season. So, since we live in the Easter Age, and since every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection…

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

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

This whole text is a wonderful preview of what will happen later in Luke’s Gospel. Everything recorded for us in this text actually happened and is part of actual history, but this text is a beautiful preview.

Jesus approaches the little town of Nain which is in Galilee. Nain is about six miles south of Nazareth where Jesus grew up. Nain, the name of the town, means ‘pleasantness’ or ‘beautiful.’ Nain is on the slopes of a mountain. For those of you who have lived here in the Red River Valley your whole life, a mountain is like a dyke, but it isn’t there to prevent floods. A mountain is where the ground naturally goes up and up really high. It’s bigger than a dyke but isn’t man-made. Nain is on the lower slopes of Mt. Moreh, the same mountain where Gideon and his 300 men defeated the army of Midian with nothing but trumpets and torches in jars (Judges 7).

As Jesus and His entourage approach the gate of this beautiful town, our Lord encounters an ugly scene. Another large crowd is exiting the gate of the city. They follow a corpse carried by pallbearers on a bier which is an open coffin. Just behind the corpse, a widow is joined by most of the citizens of the town, and the corpse on that bier is the lifeless body of her ‘only begotten’ son (the same word used of Jesus in Jn. 3:16). The crowd is following her because the death of one member in the city is mourned by everyone in the city. And this death is particularly sad.

This poor woman is now absolutely alone with no one to provide for her. Her husband had already died, and in those days, she couldn’t just go out and get a job to provide for herself. After the death of his father, this son would have become the main source of hope and income for himself and his mother. But now, the son is dead, her hope is gone, and this woman is, according to Scripture, truly a widow (1 Tim. 5:3-5).

Proper etiquette would mean that Jesus and everyone following Him would move aside, get out of the way, and let this somber march of death pass by without interruption. But Christ, the Lord of Life, doesn’t yield. He doesn’t step aside for death. And so, these two crowds get mixed up and entangled there at the gate. It must have been quite a scene.

We need to pause here a minute. We talked last week about the Three Estates – the Church, the Family, and the State. If you didn’t hear that sermon, I’d encourage you to go back and listen to it because it is a helpful lens through which we can consider the world, what is going on around us, and how we are to serve God in Church, family, and state. And it is an idea I plan on pointing you back to regularly.

The gate where these two crowds meet was on the outer wall which surrounded the town of Nain. One of the ways we can imagine the Three Estates is as a set of three walls of protection around you. In medieval times, the seats of kingdoms would have three walls to protect the center of the city where the palace, the military base, and the stock of supplies were safe from enemies. So, when an enemy attacked a city, the first two walls could be breached, but the people could still defend themselves and what was most important.

That idea of three protective walls is one of the ways theologians picture the Three Estates of Church, Family, and State, and we can see how God protects our lives by providing order and peace in society through the first wall of the Estate of the State. We can see how God gives physical life and provides a safe environment for families to grow and learn and go about their business through the second wall of the Estate of the Family. And we can see how God gives spiritual life and sustains that life through the teaching of God’s Word through the third wall of the Estate of the Church.

But the devil is always attacking these walls and estates, and Satan is most effective in his attacks when he attacks from inside each of these estates. The best way for the devil to attack the Church is through false teachers within the Church. The best way for the devil to attack the Family is by going after parents and tempting them away from their family. The best way for Satan to attack the State is through politicians and leaders who make unjust laws.

Now, I need to address something before we move on here. Kids, listen up. Going off to college and moving away from your family is a dangerous time and you can expect the devil to attack you and your faith. Normally, the State isn’t going to punish you when you break God’s Commandments, so there is already a breech, or a weakness, in the wall of the State. When you move away from your family and live on your own, that wall of protection isn’t there in the same way as when you are living with your parents. And if you are living in a new town and don’t find a Church to attend every week that correctly teaches all of God’s Word, the devil has access to your conscience and will try to lure you away from the faith. In one fell swoop, the walls of protection can crumble around you. Too many kids end up denouncing Christianity shortly after they move away from home. So kids, when the time comes for you to move away from home, I would be delighted and more than happy to help you find a good church wherever you move. Ok?

Back to this poor woman. She has quickly had the wall of her family completely decimated. Her husband and her only son have died. She is vulnerable. She is weeping – and rightly so. Death is unnatural. God never intended that we should die. When someone you love dies, weeping and crying is a right response. Even Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, weeps at the death of His friend Lazarus (Jn. 11:35). So, why does Jesus tell her, “Stop weeping”?

Christ interrupts the funeral procession and gives her this command because He is about to act. Jesus could have reversed the order. Christ could have raised her son to life then told her to stop weeping, but He doesn’t. Instead, with this command, Jesus gives her an implied promise that her son will live again. These words from Jesus give a little preview into what He is about to do. Then, only after giving that promise, Jesus touches the bier and commands the young man to get up. The life-giving Word of Christ awakens the dead young man from the slumber of death.

Dear saints, I said at the beginning that this account is completely true. But it is also a preview. Christ, who raises the dead as easily as waking them from a nap, this very same Jesus went to His death. He hung on the cross. And as His holy and precious blood flowed out of His hands, feet, and head, He spoke to His widowed mother. Christ gave His mother into the care of John the disciple to provide a new family for her and rebuild that wall of protection. Then, Jesus died and His lifeless body was carried to a tomb.

But also, just like in this text, the march of death was stopped short. Death had to give way to the Word of Jesus at the gate of Nain, and death had to give way to Jesus on the third day when Christ burst from the grip of death. Death tried to swallow up the Lord of Life, but it bit off more than it could chew. In fact, death choked and died when it tried to consume Jesus. And on Easter morning, Christ rose victorious from the grave.

And yet, dear saints, even that is just a preview of what will happen when your Lord returns. Your sorrow, your loneliness, and your death will all be brought to an end. With a simple word, Christ will call you out of your graves. He will raise you and all believers to live forever with Him in perfection and bliss. In that day, we will confess just as the people of Nain did, “God has visited His people!” 

Dear saints, while we look forward to that day, let us confess the same thing now. God has visited you bringing life and salvation to a dark, dying world. May He visit us again soon. Come, Lord Jesus.

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

Amen.

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

Three Circles of Protection – Sermon on Matthew 6:24-34 for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

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.

Today, Jesus preaches to us against worry by making fun of it. Jesus asks, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (v. 27). Christ is making a joke. Literally, Jesus says, “Which of you by worrying can add a cubit,” a measurement of length, “to your life?” which is, of course, measured in time. I don’t know a lot of tall, elderly people, but my grandfather, who died in his 80’s, was 6’ 2”. When I saw him never thought, “Wow. Grandpa must have worried a lot.” Jesus even makes fun of us worriers. When our translation quotes Jesus asking, “Will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” He is actually calling us a name – “you little faiths” or “little faithers.”

In His preaching, Jesus invites us wise and noble humans to slow down and hear the preaching of birds and flowers. When birds need food, they don’t go to the little bird grocery store where all the food grown by farmer birds is sold. It’s almost as if Jesus was inviting you to imagine certain types of birds working in each role. (Finches would be at the grocery tills – fight me.) Birds don’t keep their food in cupboards and pantries in their nests. Flowers don’t look for best sales of the season for clothes, but they are splendidly clothed. In His wisdom, God has ordered creation in such a way that He takes care of feeding birds and clothing the grass. The birds and grass trust Him, and Jesus says we should as well.

Kids, whenever you are studying science – botany, biology, anatomy, astronomy, physics, etc. – you get a small peek into all the ways we have observed how God has ordered creation. And the more scientists discover, the more we see about the complexity, intricacy, and beauty of God our Father and Creator. God put thought and wisdom and detail into every part of creation as He spoke it into existence. All of creation was designed by God to both continue and sustain life. He does it for birds and plants and animals and planets and stars and galaxies. And He does it for you.

And it is with that thought, I want to take a step back and consider how God gives order to provide for us and protect us, the pinnacle of His creation. As we see this wonderful and beautiful order, Jesus invites us to not worry when we are tempted to do so.

In His wisdom, God has given order to our lives by creating and instituting, what theologians call, “the Three Estates”: The Three Estates are the Church, the Family, and the State (or government), in that order are the three circles of protection that God has graciously given. Science cannot observe and study this, but from God’s Word we can see how God has woven these Three Estates into the fabric of creation to provide for you and protect you. When we consider what is going on in the world through the lens of the Three Estates, it helps shape and guide our thinking in a biblical way so that we do not worry. And even though things can get bad (and, even, currently are bad) in these estates, these estates cannot be completely overthrown or destroyed.

Each of the Three Estates has a “source” or when it was instituted. A “form” or what it consists of. And an “end” or goal. So, let’s talk about each of these:

First, the estate of the Church. The estate of the Church was instituted and has its source at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And this will take a bit of explaining. We are always and only righteous and holy through faith. Scripture repeatedly says, “the righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4; Ro. 1:17; Gal. 3:11).

Before they fell into sin, Adam and Eve had everything good from God because of the perfection of creation, so they needed a promise of God to believe. That promise was implied when God gave the command to not eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:16-17). In other words, God’s command included a promise which was, “Evil is bad. Trust Me on this. When you find out what evil is, it won’t go well for you. In fact, you’ll die.” So, with this command and promise, Adam and Eve could have by faith what God never intended them to have. God didn’t want humanity to experience evil or death by sight, only by faith.

The estate of the church takes the form and consists of the Word of God preached and believed. As long as Adam and Eve believed God’s Word, they had the pure Church. God be praised that now, even after the Fall, we still have the Church which continued when God promised that the Seed of the woman, Jesus, would deliver and rescue us from death (Gen. 3:15).

Finally, the end or goal of the Estate of the Church is for us to have eternal life with God. So, we have, first, the Church: instituted by God’s promise before the Fall (and sustained after the Fall), with the goal and end of eternal life.

The second estate instituted by God to protect and provide for humanity is the Estate of the Family. The Estate of the Family has its source and was instituted also before the Fall when God took Adam’s rib and formed Eve. Then, God told Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). Even after the Fall, we know that God wants the Estate of the Family to continue because God repeats this command to Noah and his descendants after the Flood (Gen. 9:1).

The Estate of the Family takes the form of and us made up by husband, wife, and children.

And the end or goal of the Estate of the Family is also life, but, unlike the Estate of Church, the Family provides temporal, physical life. So, we have the Family: again, instituted by God before the Fall (and sustained after the Fall), with the goal and end physical life.

The Estate of the State is a little more complex because it was instituted only after the Fall. And there isn’t a direct passage of Scripture where God clearly establishes the Estate of the State. However, Scripture does clearly teach us that the Estate of the State is a good institution of God in both Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 where Scripture teaches that the State is not a terror to good conduct but to bad and that the State carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

A couple possibilities of when God establishes the Estate of the State could be: When God sent the cherubim to guard the way to the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:22-24). By prohibiting Adam and Eve from eating from the Tree of Life, God was protecting them from living forever in sin. Some suggest that the Estate of the State was instituted after the murder of Abel, and there are some good arguments for that, but for the sake of time I’m not going to get into that now.

The Estate of the State takes the form of and uses the instrument of the sword and punishment. In other words, the State uses either punishment or the threat of punishment to protect and preserve life. Think of it this way, God established the State to bring about ‘little death.’ To the State God has given the tools of rules, punishments, jail, even execution and war to prevent more or bigger death.

Try this as an example: your car can probably go over 100 mph. But the authorities that God has established in the State have brought about a ‘little death’ for your car through speed limits. You have to drive down Columbia at or under 40 mph. because driving 100 mph. would endanger the lives of others. And if you refuse to obey the law, there is the threat of punishment through a speeding ticket, or, if you actually do drive 100 mph. down Columbia, you should be thrown in jail for reckless endangerment.

The goal of the Estate of the State is to preserve life. Because it is impossible for the state to give life, it’s only function is to preserve life through the means of that ‘little death.’ An analogy for this would be when a surgeon cuts open a person to do surgery on their heart or to remove a tumor. This brings about pain and death, but in an effort to preserve life. So, we have the State: instituted by God after the Fall, with the goal and end preserving life through punishment or “little death.”

Now, this ordering of creation has very important ramifications. When we worry about what is going on around us, the Three Estates let us see how God has provided these three circles of protection. The Three Estates also helps shape what we are to do. We are to be faithful citizens of the State by voting and following the laws that the State gives to protect life. We are to be faithful to our Family by being good parents and obedient children. And we are to be faithful members of Christ’s Church by trusting Him and growing in God’s Word and faith.

We are constantly bombarded with news, and it is easy to get caught up with what is going on in Washington D.C. or St. Paul or Bismarck. We tend to get so focused on the coming election and what is happening in the government – both at the federal and state level. With the economy in a bad place, an open seat on the Supreme Court, and pandemic, we start to think that the State has to do something, and the State does have a place to make rules and laws to protect life. But then – when you throw in riots, fires, hurricanes, masks, and social distancing – it is easy for us to look to the State for things that God hasn’t given the State to do. There certainly may be a place for the State to have care and direction when it comes to those things as well. And there is also a place for polite discussion and disagreement on what level and to what degree the State should or shouldn’t make those decisions.

But in all of this, we should recognize that the State exists only to protect life by minimizing death. It also means that the Estate of the State has nothing to do and has no purpose apart from the Estate of the Church and the Estate of the Family. Since life does not exist apart from the Church and the Family, there is nothing for the State to do without the Church or Family. So, the State is the most temporary and the least important of the Three Estates because it only exists to serve and protect the life that comes only through the Church and the Family.

Also, it is important for each of the Three Estates to “stay in their own lane.” Pastors should not shepherd their flock like a president or king. Families should not look to the State or the Church to provide for them. Politicians should not guide on what is right and moral. We could go on and on, but I hope you get the point. (And we can talk about all this later too.)

The end of all this, dear saints, is this: A lot of our worry (at least for me and what I see on social media) comes from what is going on in the State. Repent! It shouldn’t be this way. Yes, the State is important. The State and the authorities God has placed over us matter and are there to protect life. But what is going on in your Family much more important than what happens in the State. Put more of your focus and attention there.

Remember that Jesus promises to provide for your family. Jesus hasn’t given you permission to worry about anything. If Jesus wants to give you permission to worry about something, He’ll be sure to let you know. But until then, go about your work. And worrying is not work – even though it often feels like it. Worrying takes a lot of time and energy, but worrying isn’t productive. Remember, God has promised, and He will provide – even if it means sending ravens or a miraculous provision of flour and oil like He did in our Old Testament text (1 Kgs. 17:8-16). While you remember that what happens in your family is more important than what is going on in the State, even more important than what is going on in your family is what is going on at here at Church.

Here God provides everything you need for eternal life. He has given Christ to go to the cross, shed His blood, die, and rise again for your justification. He continues to pour out His mercy upon you from this very altar with this holy Supper. Sure, things are currently bad in the state. Maybe, things are even not so great in your family. But both could certainly be worse. Remember, God still protects and provides everything you need for eternal life through the Estate of the Church. And no matter what happens in this world, the gates of hell will never overcome Christ’s Church (Mt. 16:18). Don’t be anxious. Don’t worry, little faithers.

I want to close here with what Jesus says when He preaches almost the exact same sermon in Luke 12:29–31. Your Savior says, “Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Amen.

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

Thanks – Sermon on Luke 17:11-19 for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem he 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.

Last week, we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37). Jesus is the One who gets down in the dirt and has mercy upon you. Today, we again hear about a good Samaritan who was one of the ten lepers healed by Jesus. Today’s good Samaritan receives mercy from Jesus, the Good Samaritan, and gets down in the dirt to give Christ thanks.

These ten lepers were socially distancing themselves, as the Law of God demanded (Lev. 13:45-46). The lepers are suffering, but they are also dangerous to others, so they were to be separate from the rest of society. Yet, they form a little community. We know that at least some (if not nine) of these lepers were Jewish, but at least one of them was a Samaritan. Normally, Jews have no dealings with Samaritans (Jn. 4:9) because Samaritans were considered unclean. But since all ten of these lepers were already unclean, they are united together in their suffering, similar to what happened in the months after 9/11, when our country was suffering. We bonded together as a nation. May God grant that type of unity again!

Anyway, these suffering lepers have gathered together and this little congregation lifts up its voice, “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us.” When they cry out for mercy, what were they asking for? Did they want some food or money? Did they know that Jesus had cleansed lepers before and were crying out for healing? We don’t know, and it’s possible that the lepers didn’t even know themselves. Notice, they don’t call Jesus ‘Lord’ as many other people do when they call out to Jesus in faith. Instead, they call our Lord, ‘master.’

What is important is that they were asking the right one – Jesus – for the right thing – mercy. God in His mercy answers imperfect and imprecise prayers in exactly the right way. In fact, “Lord, have mercy,” is a great prayer that distills everything you need down to a single petition. Mercy is always what you need.

Now, we need to consider the attitude toward lepers back then. In Jesus’ day, the rabbis typically taught that leprosy was a manifestation of an inner uncleanness. In other words, the common thought was that leprosy didn’t just happen to people. Instead, leprosy was seen as a Divine judgment against the sins of those who had it, and people had the general attitude that lepers were simply getting what they deserved from God.

Unfortunately, we Christians often have a similar attitude toward those who are suffering: the poor, the homeless, etc. May God forgive us for the times that we are like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, looking past those who need mercy and passing by on the other side of the road. So, please know, that while the normal attitude toward lepers in Jesus’ day was to think of it as God’s just judgment on those who had it, I’m not defending that attitude. But I think that fact is important to possibly understanding the actions of the nine who don’t return to Jesus.

Jesus hears their plea for mercy and says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Because we know the whole story, we know that when Jesus said that they would be healed, the priests would look them over, and they would be admitted back into regular society. In that moment, the lepers didn’t know that. They already knew about the priests, and they knew that because of their leprosy, there was no place for them in the Temple because they are unclean.

So, some have speculated (and I think it is a likely explanation) that the lepers might have understood Jesus’ words in a negative and offensive way. So often in the Gospels, we read that even the disciples do not understand Jesus, and that may have been what is going on here. Even though Jesus didn’t mean it this way, the lepers might have understood Christ to be saying something like, “Why should I have mercy on you when you are unclean? Get out of here. Show yourselves to the priests. If they declare you to be clean, then I will help you.”

Again, it’s speculation. But if this is accurate, it would mean that they interpreted Jesus as saying, “No.” So they are disappointed and their refusal to rejoice even when they are healed might be reasonable in their minds because Jesus hasn’t done anything for them. However, this Samaritan sees things differently, and because he has faith, he returns to Jesus, praises Him with a loud voice, and gives thanks. According to Jesus, this good Samaritan wasn’t just healed from his leprosy; instead, Jesus says to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has (lit.) saved you.”

Now, there are a lot of things we can glean from this text. For one, we see the saving power of Jesus’ Word – even from a distance. Or, as we have in the past, we could consider how Jesus is the true, great High Priest who makes atonement for us. We could also focus on how Jesus claims to be God (even though so many people claim that He never did). With this good Samaritan at His own feet, Jesus says, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” But today, we are going set all of that aside, and instead focus on the Christian act of giving thanks.

Jesus sees the evidence of this good Samaritan’s faith in the fact he came back to give thanks. Christians give thanks. Christians are thankful people. We heard the fruits of the Spirit in our Epistle text (Gal. 5:16-24), and one of the fruits of faith is thanksgiving. I want to put before you four thoughts about thanksgiving.

The first thought is that thanksgiving comes first. Over and over in Paul’s letters, he begins by giving thanks. All of Paul’s letters except Galatians and Titus begin with thanksgiving. And this is amazing when you realize to whom Paul was writing. Paul wrote two letters to the Thessalonians who thought they had missed Jesus’ return and the Resurrection. They were tempted to think that Paul was a fraud apostle. But Paul begins both of his letters to the Thessalonians with thanksgiving.

The church in Corinth was even worse. There was a man who had gotten married to his mother-in-law and was bragging about it. Families were breaking apart and people were abandoning their spouses because they thought the Resurrection was coming soon. Some members of the church didn’t even believe in the Resurrection. They were not letting poor people come to the Lord’s Supper, and some were getting drunk during Communion. They were fighting about who to follow – Paul, Peter, Apollos, or Christ (1 Cor. 1:11-13). The church in Corinth was, by all accounts, a colossal disaster. We would think Paul would begin his letters to them by saying, “I’m ripping my hair out every time I think of you.” But no! Paul begins his letter, “I give thanks to my God always for you” (1 Cor. 1:4).

There is something to be said about starting with thanksgiving. When you start each day with thanking God for protecting you through the night from all harm and danger, you’re starting your day off right. It’s easy to start your day with worrying, panicking, fretting, and thinking of all the things you have to do, but doing that only wears you down and is offering the false worship of worry instead of the true worship of thanks. Thanksgiving starts us off on the right foot.

This leads to the second thought about thanksgiving. Thanksgiving requires a turning back. The good Samaritan had to turn back and return to Jesus to give thanks. While this is what literally, physically happened, there is also something very profound to contemplate here.

If we’re always focused on what is coming next, if we are always oriented toward what lies ahead, we cannot give thanks. There’s nothing in the future to be thankful for. There are reasons to be hopeful, but nothing to give thanks for. Remember that Jesus says that tomorrow is always full of worry but let tomorrow worry for itself (Mt. 6:34). As long as we think about tomorrow, we can only have worry – or, at best, worry mixed with hope. But we cannot have thanksgiving.

If we are going to give thanks, we must look backwards to what has been or to the present and to what is. So often, Scripture pictures thankfulness as the opposite to worry. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” When we remember how God has forgiven us, provided for us, and protected us, we give thanks for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.

The third thought about thanksgiving is that thankfulness and faith go together because thankfulness looks to God as the Giver of all good things. And here, it might be good to make a distinction between thanksgiving and gratefulness. Gratefulness looks at the goodness of the gift while thanksgiving tends to look at the goodness of the giver or source of the gift. If you brought me a milk chocolate mocha with no whip and an extra shot of espresso, I would be grateful for the coffee in my hand and thankful to you because you gave it to me.

Don’t get me wrong, gratitude is important. We should be grateful and recognize the goodness of the gifts that we have – family, health, food, clothing, house, home, etc. But Christians should go past gratefulness and be thankful. I don’t doubt that the nine lepers were grateful that they were cleansed, but they didn’t return and give thanks to Jesus, their Cleanser.

By faith, we look past the gift and even past the individual who has given the gift and recognize that everything we have comes from God. As James 1:17 says, “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”

The good Samaritan leper saw and was grateful for his healing, but he looked past that and gave praise to God at the feet of the Son of God. And we Christians, when we have a table full of food, we look past the person who earns the paycheck, past the grocers, truck drivers, and farmers (it is right to give them thanks too). But ultimately, we give thanks to God who has provided the good gift of food.

Which leads us to the fourth thought: Christians give thanks even in times of suffering. After, ‘mama’ and ‘papa,’ there are two words that parents work to teach their children – ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ It isn’t just Christians who teach this. Part of living in this world is to be polite and thankful for good things. But Christians can even give thanks in bad times because God remains good. Even when God hands us over to suffering, He does so out of His goodness. 

Natural, worldly thanks has to do with the goodness of the gift. But Christian thankfulness has to do with the goodness of the Giver – the goodness of God. As Christians we recognize that everything we have comes from God. In Philippians 4:11, Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Or think of Job who had been protected and blessed by God. Even when God removes His protection, Job still rightly thanks God even in his suffering and says, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).

So, whether we are full or hungry, whether we have friends or are lonely, whether we have peace or are in the midst of chaos, in life and even in death, we give thanks to God because He has already graciously given us Jesus. Remember Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” In other words, God has already given you Jesus, and there is no good thing He will ever hold back from you.

Everything in this life comes from God the Father. In health and in pandemic, in good times and in bad, in order and in chaos, in joy and in sorrow, still we give thanks and bless God’s name. 

This good Samaritan leper had reason to give thanks for being healed, but there was even more reason to give thanks that Jesus had looked upon him in kindness and forgiven his sin. The same is true for you. God has given you His only begotten Son so that you can receive His eternal love and kindness.

May the Holy Spirit grant that we always be filled with this thankfulness. Amen.

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

Bound Up – Sermon on Luke 10:23-37 for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

Luke 10:23-37

23 Then turning to the disciples [Jesus] said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24For 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.

The whole thing started with a question intended to trap Jesus in His words. The lawyer asks, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s a stupid question because of those first six words, “What shall I do to inherit…” There’s nothing he can do. The life he desires cannot be earned or bought or deserved. However, the lawyer is right, completely right, with his last three words. Eternal life is inherited, but inheritance is always based on birth. And everyone is entirely passive in that regard. None of you will be the Queen of England. You don’t have the right birth; it’s a title you will never be able to inherit. 

Jesus answers the silly question with a question: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer gives the orthodox (ὀρθῶς v. 28) answer, “Love God perfectly, and love your neighbor perfectly.” Jesus even says, “Bingo. You’ve got it! Do this and nothing less. And you will live.” The lawyer correctly recognizes that Jesus’ response means that he is damned. The lawyer asked a Law question, got a Law answer, and recognizes the devastating results. The man had come to trap Jesus, but he finds himself trapped in his own sin. He recognizes that, under the Law, he’s toast. He looks for an escape, an out, a limit to whom he must love, so he asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

But Jesus doesn’t offer him an escape from the Law with the parable. In fact, there is no escape from the Law. The Law’s demands must be fulfilled, and, God be praised, there is One who has fulfilled the Law’s demands for you. Instead, as I’ve preached before, the parable points to another way to inherit eternal life – the way of promise (Gal. 3:18 as we heard in our Epistle text). The way to inherit eternal life isn’t by works or effort. It’s by mercy. With the parable, Jesus is pointing this scared lawyer to the inheritance that comes only by promise through the Gospel.

Jesus is the one who finds sinners not just half-dead but fully dead in sin (Eph. 2:1). He binds up the wounds of sin – both the wounds that are self-inflicted and the scars that are caused by others. He pours on the oil and wine of His Sacraments. He books you an all-inclusive room in the inn of His holy Christian Church. Jesus is the one who shows you mercy.

The point of the parable is not that we should try harder and make a better effort to love our neighbor. The parable is not teaching that we shouldn’t be prejudiced or bigoted. Of course, we shouldn’t be prejudiced or bigoted, but that isn’t the point of the parable. The point of the parable isn’t even that we should love everyone. The lawyer already knew and confessed that. So, why would Jesus tell a parable to reinforce what the lawyer already knew?

Instead, Jesus tells the parable because the lawyer has been beaten up by the Law. But the lawyer doesn’t realize – or worse, isn’t willing to admit – that he’s in the ditch dead in his sin and failure to do what the Law demands. Because this lawyer has sinned both by what he has done and by what he has left undone, he needs Jesus, the Good Samaritan who has perfectly fulfilled the Law, the show him mercy. Christ is the only One who rescues dying sinners who could not save themselves. That’s why Jesus tells the parable.

Now, after the parable is concluded Jesus says, “You go, and do likewise.” And this particular part of the text I usually don’t spend a lot of time on, and Dr. Mayor Gander, likes to point that out to me – a lot. In my defense, it is the last five words of the text. But if you are like the honorable mayor and wish I would spend more time on those words, today’s your day!

Dear saints, as we recover in the inn of the Church, we still need the Law’s instruction. We still need to our love rightly directed. And God gives us that instruction and direction in the Commandments. Christian, you do not, I repeat, do not, need the Law to save yourself. But you do need the Law to know how to respond to what Christ, the Good Samaritan, who has bound you up, has done for you.

So, with that in mind, I want to spend the rest of this sermon to talking to you about your vocation.

Whenever we talk about vocation in the Christian sense, we aren’t talking about a career. Christian vocation is all the different ways that God calls you to serve your neighbor, which means that you have many different vocations in this life.

All of your vocations are defined by a few things. First, your vocation is defined by the Ten Commandments. The lawyer was absolutely right to summarize the Law as loving God and loving your neighbor. What is often missed in our day is that we do not get to define what love is. In the Ten Commandments, God has already defined what love is. To give a quick example: men, you are called to love all women, but the love you show your wife is shaped differently than the love you show other women. Your love for all women is given shape by the 6th Commandment about not committing adultery.

Second, your vocation is defined by your relationship to your neighbor. A lot of times, we have an idea that our good works are aimed at a target. On that target are the members of our family: parents, spouses, kids, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and strangers. Typically, we think that the center of that target, the bullseye, is where God is. We think God should always be in the middle and that we should aim our good works toward Him. Then, in the next ring, depending on your age or circumstances, comes your spouse or your parents. Then the next ring is, siblings or children, then friends, then strangers.

Dear saints, I want you to chew on the idea that this picture – where God needs to be in the center, in the bullseye when you aim your good works – is wrong. God doesn’t need to be in the center of your target. He doesn’t need anything you can do or offer Him. He doesn’t need your help. You can take God out of all the circles of your target. Instead, move everyone else in. If you’re married, your spouse is the bullseye, then kids, etc. If you’re a child, your parents are the bullseye, then siblings, friends, classmates, etc.

If you are going to find God on your target, He is under the whole target. God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does. Whenever you serve your neighbor, you are serving God. You can find joy in serving your neighbor because whatever you do, you are serving God by serving that needy neighbor. You see the picture?

Kids, you are called to love God by loving your neighbor by obeying your parents, by listening to your teachers, doing your homework, being respectful to adults, and by being a good friend. Adults, you are called to love God by loving your neighbor being a good husband or wife, by being a good parent, by being a hard-working employee or a good and fair boss, by paying your taxes, respecting the authorities that God has placed over you, and on and on it goes.

Third, your vocation is defined by the needs of your neighbor. Normally, this is pretty straightforward. Your boss needs you to do your tasks efficiently and with excellence. But sometimes, you need to do things that you aren’t trained to do when and if an emergency arises.

This is a weird analogy, but think of it this way. Normally, you wouldn’t walk into a hospital room and offer medical aid or advice – at least you shouldn’t. So, don’t. But pretend that a plane crashed in the church yard during the service. In an emergency like that, it would be sinful for us to continue on with our service if such a thing happened. We’d stop what we are doing and go help. Even though most of us are not doctors or nurses, we would go and do our best to be doctors and nurses and firefighters until the professionals arrived because the needs of our neighbors on that plane demanded it.

The same thing is true if someone breaks into your house and was threatening the lives of you and your family. Because of that emergency, you suddenly have the duty and vocation to be the police, judge, and, possibly, even the executioner. But remember that those are the exceptions rather than the rule. When the needs of your neighbor are immediate like that, you might need to step out of your normal vocation and fill the need because there is an emergency.

Think back to the parable. The Good Samaritan didn’t finance an all-inclusive room for everyone he met on the road that day. He didn’t put everyone on his animal or pour oil and wine on those who were well and healthy. But he did do it when the immediate needs of his neighbor demanded it. The Samaritan didn’t do any of it out of obligation; he did it, according to v. 33, out of compassion. That word, which the New Testament only uses when talking about what God has done for us in Christ, is why we know this parable is about what Jesus does for us who have been beaten up by sin and left dead in the ditch.

Dear saints, compassion is what Jesus has given you. By His incarnation and birth, the Son of God has become your brother – your own flesh and blood. He has rescued you from the ditch. He has bound you up with His grace and mercy. And He is here now to provide His forgiveness delivered to you in this Bread and Wine which is His Body and Blood as you continue to recover in the inn of His Church.

Fed and refreshed with this Sacrament, go from here and do likewise. Love your neighbor recklessly. Bind up the wounds of sin that have harmed your neighbor. Your Savior has bound you up to Himself, and He invites you to join Him in His work of binding up the wounds of your sin-sick neighbor. Amen.

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

Opening – Sermon on Mark 7:31-37 for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

Mark 7:31-37

Jesus Heals the Deaf and Mute Man Mark 731 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

When God created Adam from the dust of the ground, God had a purpose behind everything. God created Adam with eyes so Adam could see not just the beauty of creation but also God’s goodness, mercy, and provision. God created Adam’s limbs to work in the garden that God had given to bless and sustain Adam. God gave Adam feet and legs to walk throughout creation and be in awe and wonder at everything God had given. When God created Adam’s mouth, God gave him a tongue and vocal cords that could declare God’s praise (Ps. 51:15) and mercy (Jer. 3:12; Mk. 5:19). Every part of Adam and Eve’s bodies were created to be in harmony with God, with creation, and with each other.

Contrast God’s ordered, creative work with the work of the devil. Unlike God, the devil hates order and cannot create. Satan is completely powerless when it comes to creating anything. So, when the devil saw the order and beauty of God’s creation, the serpent went to work to bring disorder and chaos.

Satan didn’t mind if Adam and Eve had ears that hear; he just wanted to make sure they were deaf to what God really says. So, the devil’s first words recorded in Scripture are, “Did God actually say?” (Gen. 3:1). That old snake went to work at closing the ears of Adam and Eve to God’s voice. And it worked. After they ate from the tree, Adam and Eve heard the sound of God walking in the garden, and they fled from their Creator.

The devil didn’t mind if Adam and Eve had tongues that spoke. He just wanted to make sure those mouths spoke the same lies and bitterness that he has toward God. And it worked. After they ate from the tree, Adam and Eve spoke false words that blamed each other and even God Himself (Gen. 3:11-13) for the sin that they had committed with their own hands and mouths.

And still today, the devil doesn’t care if you have eyes that see. Satan wants to draw your attention to anything that will divert your eyes to God’s mercy and grace because he wants to blind you to God’s goodness. Satan wants to take your eyes off the cross where you see God’s unquestionable mercy toward you and instead focus your eyes on the wickedness, danger, and evil that surrounds you. The devil wants you to see the evil in this world and be filled with fear and worry.

No, the devil can’t create. But he can and does harm, mar, maim, spoil, disfigure, and paralyze. And the devil is effective and efficient at bringing chaos and disorder to our fallen world.

Consider how Satan has distorted your mouth which was created to speak the wonders and mercies of God, but now speaks lies and spreads gossip about your neighbor. Contemplate the ways in which Satan has closed your heart to helping and defending your neighbor who is a fellow son of Adam and daughter of Eve. Reflect on the ways your hands are tightfisted instead of generous. Think about the ways in which the devil has filled your mind with worry and anxiety instead of the peace of God.

Repent. God wants to open your eyes, ears, hands, feet, hearts, minds, and mouth and bring order once again. Consider this deaf man with a speech impediment.

Imagine what this man’s life must have been like. He had lived in a world of silence. He wasn’t able to communicate with others. Imagine his friends and family who have brought him to Jesus. Think of all the times they tried to tell him, “I love you,” but those words fell upon closed, deaf ears. This man’s family has wanted to sing God’s praise with his voice added to their chorus, but his tongue was wrenched and his mouth mute. So, they bring him to Jesus and beg Christ to lay His hand on him, and Jesus acts.

Now, with this healing, please notice first that Christ hears their prayers on behalf of this man whom they love. Dear saints, know that Jesus hears the prayers you pray on behalf of unbelievers who are deaf to God’s Word. Know that without question. But also notice Jesus doesn’t answer their begging and pleas in the way they ask Him to. Jesus doesn’t simply lay His hand upon the deaf man; instead, Jesus does more.

Jesus takes the man away from the crowd. Christ sticks His fingers into those clogged ears, spits, seizes the man’s tongue, and sighs. Actually, the text says that Jesus does more than sigh. Literally, the text says Jesus ‘groans.’ It’s the same word used in Ro. 8:22 where Scripture says that all creation groans as it waits for the revealing of the sons of God. After these things, Jesus speaks one word, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.”

Tired Jesus leaning against a treeI’ve seen a picture several times this last week floating around social media. It is Jesus leaning against a tree with His eyes closed. Christ looks exhausted. The caption says, “He must be so tired of the mess we’ve made. Forgive us, Lord, don’t give up on us!” On the one hand, I don’t like the picture combined with the caption because it implies that Jesus didn’t know and is surprised by the mess we’ve made. However, there is something very true with that picture of the weary Jesus.

Jesus is wearied by and suffers because of His interaction with us. You see, Jesus sighs before opening this man’s ears and loosening his tongue because it does take effort from our Lord. This healing is work for Him. We tend to think that performing miracles and healings is just what Jesus does. We tend to think that Jesus can do this without any real effort. Part of the reason we think that way is because most of the time, Christ speaks a word and it is done. We think that is simple, easy-peasy.

However, even the miracles where Jesus simply speaks a word, those miracles and healings are still costly work for him. We see that these miracles cost Jesus effort here when He groans. It isn’t cheap or easy for Christ to do these miracles. It costs Jesus. In every miracle, Jesus is making an exchange. He takes upon Himself the deafness, muteness, sickness, paralysis, blindness, and leprosy. He does this because He is the one who bears our griefs and carries our sorrows (Is. 53:4). And this exchange happens with every miracle.

You see, the miracles that Jesus performs – healing the deaf, blind, and lame, cleansing lepers, and providing miraculous wine and bread – are all costly. He doesn’t just send the devil away. Christ Himself suffers Satan’s abuse and attacks. Just think of His temptation in the wilderness. He gets hungry and thirsty. Jesus comes into our broken world, breathes our poisoned air, suffers our backbiting, ingratitude, and greed. He endures and resists the temptations of Satan and the demons. Christ willingly did all of this knowing full well what it will cost Him. Yet, He does it anyway.

Our Lord does this for those He heals, and He does it for you because He has compassion for you. He looks at you the same way He looked at the deaf man and the same way that we look with pity at people who are suffering. Jesus sees us as having weaknesses and disabilities, as needing help. None of this makes Him angry, but it does hurt and move Him. It causes Him to act on our behalf, to intervene, and to send His holy angels.

Christ always has compassion on those who suffer. Yes, we are certainly sinners, but we are also victims. Jesus sighs in sorrow and frustration over our confusion and self-righteousness. He sighs in grief over our sins and self-inflicted pain. He sighs in anger over that which has been done to us by the devil, by our neighbors, and even by our loved ones.

Jesus knows that getting involved with us means that we will hurt Him, that we will complicate matters, that we will betray Him in a thousand ways – but it doesn’t matter. Christ gets involved anyway. He sticks His finger in our ear. He is dirtied by the interaction. He takes our sorrow, our sin, our blame into Himself in order to heal and save us.

As unconventional as the buildup to this miracle is, the man is healed. His ears are opened, and his tongue is loosened. The crowd responds to this miracle that Jesus, “has done all things well.” But, really, they spook too soon because they hadn’t seen nothin’ [sic.] yet. Jesus has more opening to do.

Those same fingers that became full of the deaf man’s ear wax and seized the man’s tongue are the same fingers that would curl around the nails that pinned Him to the cross. The same mouth of Jesus that spits here will cry out for a drink as Jesus became parched on the tree. The same lungs that exhaled here with a groan are the same lungs that would breathe their last as Jesus gave up His spirit.

And Jesus has done all of this so He can do more than open your deaf ears or loosen your muted tongue. He did this to open to you the way that leads to eternal life with God.

As weird as this miracle is – and it certainly is – Jesus stuck His actual fingers into that man’s ears and mouth. But He comes here now to stick His actual Body and Blood into your mouth. Jesus has been crucified as a ransom for your sins. Cross and CommunionHe has bought you for Himself through His death. And now He is risen and alive for your justification (Ro. 4:25).

Jesus has opened the way to God and invites you now to His table. Jesus comes to you in this holy Supper to remove your doubt that everything He has done is for you. Jesus comes now to drive away all your evil. He comes to you placing His Body into your body. He binds you to Himself. He opens your ears to hear His Word of forgiveness and loosens your tongue so that you can confess Him clearly and be saved.

Oh, Lord Jesus, pull us out of the crowd. Open our ears to hear Your Word and receive Your love. Loosen our tongues to sing Your praise. Jesus, You have done all things well, even loving, forgiving, and saving us. Amen.

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

The Eyes of Prayer – Sermon on Luke 18:9-14 for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

Luke 18:9-14

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: Luke 18_9-14 - Pharisee and Tax Collector10 “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.

When we pray, we are taught to fold our hands, bow our heads, and close our eyes. Even though this isn’t commanded anywhere in Scripture, it is a good idea for a few reasons. One, it helps keep you from being distracted by, looking at, or fiddling with the stuff around you. Two, it focuses your attention on what you are praying. And three, it is a unique posture to place your body in which makes it a special or holy posture. You don’t typically fold your hands unless you are either praying or getting arrested. (I like to watch clips from the show Live PD, and I find it hilarious how often police officers from all over the country will tell the criminal with bags of drugs, an illegal gun, and two felony warrants, “Place your hands behind your back and interlock your fingers like you’re praying at church.”) Anyway…

I titled this sermon “The Eyes of Prayer” not to make the point that you should close your eyes when you pray – even though, again, it is a good practice. Instead, I hope this sermon encourages you to look only two places when you pray – one is your unworthiness and the other is God’s great mercy toward you.

Just like two weeks ago with the parable of the unjust steward and the merciful master, getting some context for this parable is helpful. Luke 18 opens with the parable of the persistent widow. She keeps crying out to the unrighteous judge asking for justice. The unrighteous judge finally gives her justice but only so she won’t beat him down with her constant asking (v. 2-5). The introduction to that parable says that Jesus, “told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (v. 1). Jesus teaches what the parable means (v. 6-8) by basically saying that if an unrighteous person will grant justice when he is continually asked, how much more will God, who is just, grant justice when His elect, beloved children cry out to Him. In fact, God will answer their cries quickly.

Now, as we turn to this parable which follows that one, we see how quickly and mercifully God answers the prayers of His elect.

A Pharisee and a tax collector go up to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee assumes a posture that we would recognize as prayer. He stands off by himself. He is likely looking up in thankfulness to God, but his eyes are also scanning the other worshipers in the Temple, and those eyes look down on the sinners who are there.

Now, we need to be careful about our animosity toward the Pharisee because he is simply doing what you and I do all the time. Remember, Jesus repeatedly warns against becoming like the Pharisees (Mt. 16:6-12; Mk. 8:15; Lk. 12:1), and Jesus wouldn’t give these warnings unless it is actually easy to become like them. Why is it easy? Why are we in danger of becoming like Pharisees?

When we look at the sins of our neighbor, much of what we see confirms that our good behavior is beneficial to us which too often leads us to pride. The stuff that God calls us to do in the Ten Commandments is really good stuff, and your life is much better if you live according to them. Think about it. When people commit adultery, do their lives get worse or better? Of course, they get worse. When people steal, they are more likely have their things stolen. If you deal drugs, your odds of getting shot, robbed, or thrown in prison are much higher.

The reality is that God didn’t just come up with a set of ten arbitrary rules. Instead, the Ten Commandments are written into the fabric of God’s creation. When you go against the natural laws of God and creation, it isn’t going to go well for you or for those around you.

And just a little side note here: Christians, we need to stand firm on the truths of the Commandments – especially that it is good to live in obedience to them. It is not loving to condone or promote people’s sins. When there is sin, we should speak of it as sin. We need to show how it hurts the individual committing that sin and how it harms those around the person committing that sin. But when you do that, the world is likely going to throw Jesus’ words in your face about the speck in your neighbor’s eye and log in your own eye (Mt. 7:3-5). But don’t let them take those verses out of context. Remember, Jesus wants to remove both the log in your eye and the speck in your neighbor’s eye by His mercy through the Gospel that Jesus has won through His death and resurrection. In other words, when you point out someone’s sin, always do it in a way that points them to the freedom from sin and forgiveness of sin that comes only through Jesus. Amen?

So, back to the Pharisee and his eyes of prayer. He is looking around at his life and the lives of others. The problem is that everywhere the Pharisee looks are places where he can’t find Jesus. 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 going home not justified.

pharisee-tax-collectorThe tax collector’s eyes of prayer are much different. He doesn’t look to heaven, and he doesn’t look at the sinners around him. He stands far off from the others, likely with his face to the floor, tears flowing down his cheeks, and beating his chest. He looks two places – at himself where there is no hope and to God where the only hope lies.

The tax collector’s eyes of prayer are eyes of faith. Incredible faith! Our translation records his prayer as, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” This is weak on two points. First, it is not just ‘a sinner’; he says, ‘thesinner.’ His eyes don’t notice anyone else’s sins – only his own. Second, the translation of his prayer, ‘be merciful,’ falls short here.

Throughout the Gospels, many people call to Jesus, “Lord, have mercy,” or in Greek, “Kyrie eleison,” which is why we sing the Kyrie after the Confession of Sin. The ten lepers call out, “Kyrie eleison” (Lk. 17:13). Two blind men early in Jesus ministry and blind Bartimeaus just before Palm Sunday cry out to Jesus, “Kyrie eleison” (Mt. 9:27; Mk. 10:47). The Canaanite woman cries out to Jesus, “Kyrie eleison,” on behalf of her demon possessed daughter (Mt. 15:22). All of those are excellent prayers. They are asking Jesus to do exactly what He has come to do. 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.”

The noun ‘propitiation’ and the verb ‘propitiate’ have never been commonly used in English, but it is an extremely important word and concept. To propitiate means to make an atoning sacrifice. And the tax collector prays that God would be made 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. Hebrews 2:17 says, “[Christ] had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

When the tax collector prays, “God, be propitiated to me, the sinner,” he is praying that God would be reconciled to him by the blood of Jesus. And that is why the tax collector, who is the far greater sinner, goes home justified rather than the well-behaved Pharisee. He looks to God in faith and asks God to be exactly who God has promised to be – a merciful, forgiving God.

Hear again what we sang before the sermon:

Trinity 11 Luke 18_9-14 - Pharisee and Tax CollectorWhen in the hour of deepest need
we know not where to look for aid;
when days and nights of anxious thought
no help or counsel yet have brought.

Then is our comfort – this alone –
that we may meet before Your throne.
To you, O faithful God, we cry
for rescue in our misery.

Dear saints, may your eyes of prayer be focused on God’s infinite mercy toward you despite your unworthiness. Know that God is always more ready to hear your prayers than you are to pray. God always gives more and better than you desire or deserve. He pours down His abundant mercy upon you. He forgives you of all the sins – every last one of those sins – that prick your conscience. He does all of this because of what Jesus has done for you. Christ has propitiated and reconciled you to God.

May our eyes of prayer be on our unworthiness and, even better, on God’s faithfulness and mercy to us because of what Christ has done. Amen.

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

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

Listen here.

Luke 16:1-13

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

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

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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