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

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Genesis 32:22–32

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

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

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the main event.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Matthew 4:1–11

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

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

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

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kyrie Eleison – Sermon for Quinquagesima on Luke 18:31-43

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Luke 18:31–43

31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

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

The disciples are blind. Not physically but spiritually. Jesus plainly tells them where they are going – Jerusalem. Jesus plainly tells them why they are going to Jerusalem. So that everything written about Him in the Scriptures would be fulfilled. He will be mocked, shamefully treated, and spat upon. Jesus will be flogged, whipped, and beaten. He will be crucified, and He will die. But He will, He absolutely will, rise again on the third day.

Jesus gives turn-by-turn directions to His destination. But the disciples are blind, and Luke wants us to know this, and tells us three times. The disciples understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them. And they did not grasp what was said.

Jesus Heals BartimeausThe road to the cross passes through Jericho. In the city where the walls had come-a-tumblin’ down, lived a blind man. Mark tells us that his name is Bartimeaus (Mk. 10:46). Bartimeaus heard all sorts of commotion and asked what it was all about. He is told nothing more than that Jesus of Nazareth is passing through. As blind as he is, Bartimeaus sees his opportunity and cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” And don’t miss this.

 

By recognizing that Jesus is the “Son of David,” blind Bartimeaus recognizes that Jesus is his King and Lord. And Bartimeaus requests mercy. In Greek, it would be, “Kyrie eleison.”

Each week, part of our normal service to sing the Kyrie after the Confession of Sins. We ask God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit to have mercy upon us. Maybe, you have done it so often that you don’t really think about it. Well, today, do think about it.

Think through our whole service. What would you say is the highest praise, the most worshipful thing we do? Is it when we sing songs and hymns or when we place our tithes on the Altar? Now, those things are good, and it is right to do them. But I would argue above them, and maybe the greatest worship we offer, is singing that God would have mercy upon us.

For one thing, asking God for mercy is one of the most common prayers in all of Scripture, trusting people who count such things. It also puts us alongside other people in the Gospels – two blind men (Mt. 9:27), the Canaanite woman whose daughter is possessed by a demon (Mt. 15:22), and the ten lepers (Lk. 17:12-13). We take their cries for mercy and put them on our lips.

Now, maybe you think the Kyrie isn’t too worshipful and more like begging. You have a point because we are. But also realize that this is high praise. When we ask God to have mercy, we are recognizing God as He wants to be recognized. He wants to be known as the God who is merciful. His truest character is that He has steadfast love and compassion (Ex. 34:6-7). He desires mercy and not sacrifice (Hos. 6:6; Mt. 9:13). God’s mercy, His steadfast love, endures forever (Ps. 136).

When we cry out, “Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.” We stand with the blind men, with the unclean lepers, and with those who are oppressed by the devil and the demons. We are saying, “Lord, we want You to be our Savior too. We want you to be Jesus for us. We want to receive what You gave to them. We want You to be what all the Scriptures reveal You to be. We want You to come to us in Your truest character.”

And Jesus delights in that prayer. He answers that prayer and is merciful. He gives sight, healing, deliverance, cleansing, life, and salvation. And because of that, we follow Him and give praise to God.

Baptism 2Dear Charlie. Today, you are Baptized. Today, your God and Lord has had mercy upon you. Today, God joined all His promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation to water and poured out all His love upon you. The perfect, Divine love we heard in our Epistle lesson (1 Cor. 13) has been given to you and to all your brothers and sisters in Christ.

All you saints, hear this. The love of Christ you have received is not simply empty words that echo like noisy gongs or clanging cymbals. In His great love and mercy, Jesus gave away all He had – every last ounce of strength, every drop of His blood, and His final breath.

To you, Christ has been patient and kind. Though Jesus was mocked, shamefully treated, and spit upon, He was not arrogant or rude. Even in the midst of all this He was thinking of you praying, “Father forgive them.” Jesus did not rejoice in the wrongdoing but rejoiced in the truth that God, in His mercy, would use all of this for your eternal good. On the cross, your Savior in love and mercy bore all things, believed all things, hoped all things, and endured all things. His merciful love for you will never fail and never end.

And so, we sing in worship with Bartimeaus, “Kyrie eleison.” Lord have mercy. And He does. Amen.

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

Successful Sowing – Sermon for Sexagesima on Luke 8:4-15

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Luke 8:4–15

4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The Sower9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

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

Success is measured by goals. The Titanic was a massive success, if the goal was to produce the world’s largest luxury ocean liner. It was a complete failure if the goal was for it to remain world’s largest luxury ocean liner.

As we consider this parable, we might be tempted to ask, “Is the Sower successful?” On the one hand, He is massively successful. The seed is sown. But, on the other hand, He is a massive failure because of how recklessly and wastefully the seed is tossed around. Most of the seed fails to grow, mature, and bear fruit. It ends up all over the place. On the path where Satan will snatch the seed. On the rocks where it doesn’t get nourishment. Among the weeds and thorns that choke it to death.

Now, rather than judging the Sower’s success, we need to recognize that Jesus is teaching us some very important truths with this parable and the places where the seed fails.

First, God is perfectly willing to let His Word go out to places where there will be no fruit.

Second, we see that the Word has enemies. With the seed that falls on the path, Jesus wants us to recognize that Satan is a real threat, and he always attacks where the Word is present – where it is preached, taught, and heard. Don’t be surprised when you are attacked. Also, with the seed that falls on the rocks, Jesus wants us to know that the Word needs to be continually nourished. Christian, you never outgrow your need for the Word and Sacraments so that your faith does not wither and die.

ThornsThird, Jesus blows away any misconceptions we may have that if the devil left us alone and the seed gets the nourishment that it needs, then everything would be hunky dory. The seed that falls among the thorns – that is the riches and pleasures of this life – it dies too. Even good things in this life are a threat to your faith. Thorns don’t just prick you like a needle leaving a little pain behind. They entangle and trap. Enjoy the good gifts God gives you in this life, but also recognize how easily they choke out your faith.

If we focus on those things, we may be tempted to think that God is mostly a failure when He sends out His Word. God forbid even the thought.

The Sower is successful. The seed that falls on the good soil produces, and it produces a hundredfold. But even when the seed falls on the path, the rocks, and among the thorns, we need to remember that, though there is no fruit, the Sower is still successful. Jesus is teaching exactly what we heard on our Old Testament text (Is. 55:10-13). God’s Word never returns void. It always accomplishes God’s purpose. Always.

Now, since we clearly know that God is successful, we might instead be tempted to think that we are unsuccessful. Do you see in yourself the hundredfold fruit that Jesus describes the good soil producing? Probably not. Instead, you see yourself being choked out. You feel malnourished and starving. You know the devil’s attacks. All these things are extremely evident to you, and so you’re tempted to doubt that God’s Word accomplishes what Jesus describes.

But that is the remarkable nature of the Seed of God’s Word. The Seed, unlike any other seed, is able to transform the ground. That is why God sows it in inhospitable places.

Bear Fruit with Patience SowerAnd hear again what Jesus says in the last verse of our text: “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

That honest and good heart comes from the work of the Word of God itself. The Word cleanses and forgives you. The Seed of the Word is what makes your heart clean (Jn. 15:2-3). And the fruit comes with patience.

Don’t be surprised if you don’t see the massive, hundredfold production. Be patient. God is the one who will bring it about. Don’t fall into the devil’s temptation to measure how successful God’s Word is. If we measure the how successful God’s Word is by looking for our fruit, we will surely be discouraged.

Instead, remember that the success of God’s Word Is not dependent on what you see or experience. The success of God’s Word is dependent on His promise.

Dear Christians, to you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God. Hear and receive Christ’s Word. Hold it fast. Be continually nourished by that Word as you hear it, read it, learn it, and receive it now in the Lord’s Supper. And be patient. He who has begun a good work in you will be faithful to bring it to completion (Php. 1:6). Amen.

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