Mark 13:24-37 – Stay Awake

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Mark 13:24-37

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

Jesus speaks about the destruction of the temple28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

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

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Bad News TerrorismIf you look around at everything happening in the world, it is easy to despair. Just think of the ride you have gone on this year watching the news: from Ebola; to Ferguson, Missouri; Boko Haram; Charlie Hebdo; the Supreme Court’s ruling on “gay marriage”; endless presidential primaries; Planned Parenthood’s calloused, soulless selling of aborted baby parts; the riots on college campuses; the attacks in Paris and several other places the past week.  It is easy to believe that things can’t go on much longer. It is easy to believe that the world is coming unhinged. It is easy to focus on all those terrible things and become worried, wearied, disheartened, and despairing. But don’t.

Jesus, your Lord and Savior, said that all sorts of terrible things are going to take place in this broken, sinful world. In Lk. 21:28, which is parallel to this text, Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Don’t focus on the evil that surrounds you. Instead, straighten up. Raise your head. Look for your redemption.

Jesus is very clear in v. 31 of our text, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” What is Jesus’ word to you? He says, “You are forgiven. You are My child. You are redeemed, holy, sanctified.” You belong to Jesus because He was willing to become man for you, to suffer the punishment of your sins, to hang on a cross and bleed out His holy and precious blood for you. And Jesus promises, He promises, that He is coming for you. So don’t let the bad and evil things that happen in this world distract you and lead you to despair. Jesus told you that they would happen, and He ascended to heaven where He is seated as king over the entire universe. He is with you always. He will never leave you nor forsake you. So don’t freak out when Chicken Little comes and tells you the sky if falling.

Chicken Little loved to walk in the woods, look at the trees, smell the flowers, and listen to the birds sing. One day while she was walking, an acorn fell from a tree and hit her on the head. chicken-little“Oh my, oh my. The sky is falling. I must run and tell the lion about it,” she said.

As she ran, she met the hen. The hen asked her, “Where are you going?”

“Oh hen, the sky is falling and I’m going to tell the lion about it.”

“How do you know the sky is falling?” asks the hen.

“It hit me on the head, so it must be so.”

“Well, let me go with you,” says the hen.

So off they run to the lion. On their way, they met the duck. “The sky is falling, and we are running to tell the lion about it!” the hen says to the duck.

“How do you know that?” asked the duck.

“It hit chicken little on the head,” answered the hen.

“I’m coming with you,” responded the duck.

So Chicken Little, the hen, and the duck run along until they met the fox. “Where are you going?” asked the fox.

“The sky is falling and we are going to tell the lion about it,” exclaimed the duck.

The fox, licking his lips, asked, “Do you know where lion lives?”

“I don’t,” said Chicken Little. “I don’t,” said the hen. “I don’t,” said the duck.

“Well, I do,” said the fox. “Come with me and I’ll take you to him.” The fox led the three to his own den and said, “Come right on in.” The three go in, but never come out again.

I’m sure that acorn caused Chicken Little pain. But acorns fall, and bad things happen in this sinful world. Now, don’t think I’m comparing what happened in Paris to an acorn falling on someone’s head. But you and I shouldn’t be surprised when things like the terrorist attack in Paris happen. Frankly, we should be surprised that they don’t happen more often. Evil will always be present in this world, but don’t let the presence of evil cause you to despair. Don’t let yourself get so befuddled that you trust the fox. Stay awake.

Jesus says, “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”  And Jesus tells this little parable about a man going on a journey. He puts His servants in charge and gives them all tasks to do, and He leaves. Where does Jesus go? Remember from last week, Jesus is now sitting at God’s right hand, the place of all power and authority. Jesus is there because His work as your High Priest, His sacrifice for your sin and the sin of everyone is done. Jesus is patiently waiting until the time when God says, “Ok, Jesus, it’s time for You to return.”

Table of DutiesIn the meantime, go about the work that God has given you to do. God hasn’t called you to stop ISIS or figure out the Syrian refugee situation. If you have opportunity to speak God’s truth into those situations, sure, do that. But God has given you important tasks to busy yourself with. Be the best spouse, parent, employer, employee, child, student that you can be. Remember that it is not up to you to save the world. Jesus has already done that. You don’t have to worry about this fallen creation coming apart at the seams and crumbling into dust. Jesus is in control. Don’t tire yourself out with anxiety over this fallen world. Heaven and earth will pass away, but His words to you of forgiveness, life, and salvation will not pass away.

Jesus has given you work to do. He has given you vocations to carry out. Just imagine the witness it is to those who do not have faith, when you calmly and dutifully go about the tasks that Jesus has given to you simply trusting that He has everything in control.

Stay awake. Do what Jesus has given you to do. He is coming again. He will gather you, His elect, from the corners of the earth. Even through the destruction of this creation, Jesus, your Savior, will bring you safely to the resurrection, the new creation, and the life everlasting. Amen.

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

Hebrews 10:11-25 – Access Granted And So Much More

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Hebrews 10:11-25

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:

I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

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

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Can you imagine the life of the Temple priests? They would go into the Temple every day and start slaughtering, hacking, handling blood, waving offerings, burning offerings. And on and on it went. When that priest finally finished his day of work, what do you suppose he would do when he finally got home? Probably what I will do after the service today – change into comfortable clothes and plop into a chair and sit. But those priests would be back at the Temple the next day standing to repeatedly and continually offer the same sacrifices which, as our passage says, “can never take away sins” (v. 11).

Passion of Christ on the CrossBut now, the offerings for sin have stopped. Jesus has come and offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins. And now Jesus sits. His work is complete. “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). Blood is no longer spilled in the Temple from bulls and sheep and goats. Sacrifices for sin are done, and yet the blood still flows. It is given to you in Communion where you are sanctified, made holy, by Jesus’ body which was crucified for you. You now have the purifying blood which flowed from Calvary poured into your mouth.

The one offering of Jesus on the cross was for you – for your sins. Because of that one-time offering, God remembers your sins and lawless deeds no more. Because of Jesus’ finished work, you have forgiveness.

Jesus, your Savior, now sits at God’s right hand because all the Law’s demands have been met. There is nothing left to accuse you. God remembers your sins no more. The angel of death sees Jesus’ blood on you and passes over you. You have forgiveness, so there is no longer any offering for sin. And because you have the perfect, complete, one-time sacrifice of Jesus for your sins, there is no longer any offering that Jesus has to do for you or that you have to do for yourself. Your sin is gone, done away with. You, brother and sister, are forgiven.

What does this mean, now, for you? Look at v. 19-25 of our text. Because Jesus’ work is done, you have full and complete access to God. Think of that for a minute. You are denied access to many things in this world. You do not have access to other people’s bank account. Generally, you do not have access to people’s homes. You do not have access to the president. Just try to waltz into the White House and say, “I’m here to see the president” (I’ll try to visit you in prison). Even though you are denied access to many things, you do have direct access to God.

The door to God doesn’t just stand ajar, it is wide open. You can confidently enter the Holy of Holies, the place where only the High Priest was allowed to go, and only once a year. To you, Jesus has opened the new and living way through the curtain of His flesh. Because you have this access, go!

But, maybe, you are still timid. You know that you have rebelled against God. You know that you have mocked Him. You have not feared, loved, and trusted Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You know that you are a sinner. Sinners do not want to be in the presence of a holy God. It makes you feel dirty, unclean, and ashamed. Too often for us sinners, we only hear a God who is critical, damning, and judging. We think God is only waiting for the right moment to zap us and burn us to a crisp.

Baptism 2But this text says the exact opposite. Jesus has completed His work as your High Priest, and He is sitting at God’s right hand. Draw near to God in full assurance of faith. You have been sprinkled clean from your evil conscience. God has washed you in the pure water of your baptism. He does not want you to run from Him and His presence any more. Jesus wants you to be with Him so He can serve you. So He can place His own body and blood in your mouth. You have access to God. You have a conscience washed clean in baptism. And you have one another.

So, come. Meet here together with God and with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Coming to church on Sunday is important for you, but it is also important for your fellow believers. Through meeting together here, we stir up one another to love and good works.

Missing church hurts this congregation. It tears this congregation down. But meeting together to receive all that God has to offer us through Christ builds us all up. By coming here into the Father’s presence, you encourage your fellow believers and your fellow believers encourage you. We need this. I need this. You need this because the Last Day is surly drawing near.

Brothers and sisters, because Jesus is seated at God’s right hand you have blessings beyond comprehension. You have access to God. You have confidence to enter the holy places by Jesus’ blood. You have a clean conscience. And you have one another. Amen.

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

Matthew 5:1-12 – Blessed

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Matthew 5:1-12

1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

3   “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4   “Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

5   “Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

6   “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

7   “Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall receive mercy.

8   “Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.

9   “Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

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

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Lamb of Judah Jesus Revelation 5In his vision (from our first lesson: Rev. 7:2-17), John sees what Jesus describes on the mountain. John sees those who are blessed. A great multitude that no one could number is there, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They are clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. John sees the poor in spirit who are made rich in the grace of Jesus which has given them the kingdom of heaven. John sees the comfort of those who mourn. He sees the satisfaction of those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness. He sees the pure in heart who now are before the throne and before the Lamb, the Son of God.

This great multitude has left behind all poverty, all mourning, all meekness, all hunger and thirst. Now, they are before the throne of God serving Him day and night. God shelters them with His presence. Nothing can touch them except the grace, love, and mercy of God. They are satisfied because the Lamb has freed them for eternity.

In his vision, John does not identify any one, particular person –  no apostle, no martyr, no prophet, no reformer, no faithful king or celebrity is named. They are all there, absolutely they are, but John does not notice them. The only individual who stands out is the Lamb. All John sees are saints, honored and loved by God. They are not all identical. John notices that they are from every nation, tribe, people, and language. But John’s attention, and the attention of the whole multitude is on the Lamb.

To the Lamb, and to the Lamb alone, belongs blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might forever and ever. Salvation belongs to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, and He freely gives it to this blessed multitude beyond number. Even though every last one from this multitude had sinned against Jesus and rebelled against Him, He has purchased them all with His blood. He has brought each and every last one of them out of the great tribulation that is this world ever since the Fall into sin. He has made their robes white in His blood, and they suffer no more.

No one sins against them any more. But even greater than that no one in this multitude sins. They are all free. Jesus has cleansed their hearts and consciences. They are free of gossip, jealousy, anger, and fear. They are blessed; they are with their Savior.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be nice to be like them? To be with them? You know what? You are.

The only difference between you and this multitude is that they have already passed through death. You and I still live in it. Our day will come. Our sins will end, and our toil will flee. One day.

But now you too are blessed. Jesus, your Lamb, is with you here in your midst. The kingdom of heaven is within you – even now it is yours (Lk. 17:21). You are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). God commands His angels to watch over and protect you. Body of Christ CommunionYou have been and are sealed for God in the water of your Baptism. God has placed His name upon you. In the waters of your baptism, your old sinful nature was killed and brought to nothing (Ro. 6:6). You were raised to everlasting life. And here you are today to receive the forgiveness of sins, to be absolved, to hear the Word, to pray and praise your God, and to join in the most intimate communion with Jesus – to eat His body and drink His blood. Jesus is here to come inside of you and join you to Himself.

Jesus says to you, present tense, here and now, “Blessed are you.” In his vision, John was transported out of time. John didn’t see only the Old Testament faithful. He didn’t see only those who had died before him. They were there of course, but there was more. John saw the culmination of creation. He saw the what comes after the resurrection on the Last Day. John saw people who weren’t even born yet. John saw his friends, the disciples. He saw Mary and Paul. He saw Augustine, Chrysostom, Luther, and he saw you, believer.

What John saw and what we read about from Revelation 7 is your future, and it is also your present. Jesus says, “Blessed are you, now.” So it doesn’t matter what happens a week from Tuesday. It doesn’t matter what others say about you. It doesn’t matter if this country and your life completely falls apart. The only thing that matters is what endures – the Lamb who was slain lives. You are His, and He is yours. He will bring you to Himself. Amen.[1]

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

[1] I am thankful for a sermon by Rev. David Petersen as inspiration for this sermon.

Romans 3:19-28 – There Is Rhubarb

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Romans 3:19-28

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

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

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

RhubarbIn Medieval Europe, there was a plant that people desperately craved. This plant originally came from China, and it was expensive – more expensive than cinnamon, saffron, and even more expensive than opium. In Luther’s day, this plant cost more than silk, rubies, and diamonds. The plant was rhubarb, and it was used to cure you if you were constipated (or, as one of my children once said, “constellated”). Rhubarb would help you purge and relieve your clogged up bowels.

From our text, “Whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law,” that means everyone, that means you. You are under the law. You are accountable to God’s law. You are a slave sin. None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Ro. 3:9-12). The Law speaks to those who are under the law so that every mouth may be stopped. Every mouth stopped.

“Well, I didn’t mean to do it.” “But it wasn’t my fault.” “I wouldn’t have done that unless he had done that first.” “I would have done better if I had a better upbringing.” Stop. STOP! When you hear the Law, stop your mouth. Quit speaking. Shut up. You have no excuse. You have no alibi. You have no defense.

The Law speaks to you and fills you up with sin. The Law plugs you up. The Law constipates you with the excrement of sin, and you cannot purge yourself. You cannot find relief. By works of the Law, no human flesh (lit.) will be justified in God’s sight, since through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

Hear it again, through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. Lex semper accusat, as the church said in Latin – and when there is a Latin phrase for something in the Church, you know it’s important. Lex semper accusat, or in English, “the Law always accuses.” The Law is relentless. The Law points out your sin, stops your mouth, and fills and impacts you with the scat of sin that cements itself into you. Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin and you are completely constipated.

Martin Luther QuoteBut, as Luther says, “Do not despair, there is a Rhubarb that is by far the best, namely Christ, lay hold of Him and you will live.” The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

In the past, I have mentioned unfortunate places where the Scriptures are divided by chapters and verses. Ro. 3:23-24 is one of them. Notice that v. 24 does not have a subject. You have to go back to v. 23 to find it. The universal declaration “all have sinned” is followed by another universal “all… are justified by God’s grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus died for all the sins of the whole world. No sin falls outside of Jesus’ death and resurrection. All sinners are redeemed by Jesus. Jesus died for every sin of every sinner. All are justified by Jesus’ death. Does that sound too universal? Probably. But Scripture says it, so it is true. Go ahead and call me a universalist. I will wear it as a badge of honor.

All are justified by Christ’s death and resurrection, but not all are saved. Sadly, people do reject Jesus’ justifying death and resurrection. They reject Jesus’ atonement. They reject His blood because they want to justify themselves. Their mouths are not stopped by God’s Law. They deny that they are constipated with their sin. They think that by doing good they can purge themselves of their sin. They would rather stand before God on their own merits and works of the Law. In the end however, they will be bitterly disappointed.

Jesus has come, but He has come only for sinners. Jesus is the Rhubarb that relieves and purges your constipation of sin. Take hold of Jesus by faith and you will live. Do not try to run. Do not try to hide. Let the Law do its work on you. Let it stop up your mouth. Let it accuse you because you have Jesus for you.

You have Jesus for you. He justifies and declares you to be innocent. He sets you free. Jesus redeems you. His blood washes over you and makes you holy.

Jesus takes and becomes sinWhen you see that your salvation has been done completely by Jesus, you are free. You have been a slave to sin, but no longer. You have been set free by Jesus. Whoever Jesus sets free is free indeed (Jn. 8:36). Fight against your sin. Put your old, sinful nature to death every day. That is a life of faith. Faith is an active thing. Faith kills the old, sinful Adam and makes you a different person in heart, spirit, and mind (Luther).

Today, is Reformation Sunday. Be reformed by faith. Be transformed by the Gospel. Be changed by Jesus, your Rhubarb. Amen.

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

Mark 10:23-31 – Jesus Does the Impossible

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Mark 10:23-31

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, Camel Eye of a Needle“Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

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

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Imagine you are watching a TV Drama: “Previously, from this pulpit.” A man, he was referred to as Mark last week, runs up to Jesus, kneels before Him, and asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Good? Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” Mark replied, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth. What is still missing?” Jesus, looking at Mark loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Mark’s face clouded over and he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

The things Mark owned, owned him. Mark wasn’t willing to give up his stuff in exchange for eternal life – even though he would lose it all once he died. Mark walks away, The things you own end up owning youand Jesus doesn’t call out to him. Jesus doesn’t pursue him. Jesus simply lets him go.

Mark should have stuck around because Jesus continues to answer Mark’s question in today’s text. But Mark isn’t there, so Jesus turns around to His disciples and says, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples are amazed. Their jaws drop and they gasp. In their minds, wealth and riches and stuff were all signs that God was pleased with you and blessing you. In the conventional wisdom of the day, a rich, moral person such as Mark was thought to be especially favored by God. If Mark couldn’t enter the kingdom of God… than who could?

But Jesus piles an even more amazing statement on top of this: “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” This blows the disciples minds – they are exceedingly astonished. The disciples respond, “Then who can be saved?”

How difficult is salvation? Jesus tells us, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Mark should have stuck around to hear Jesus say this. Mark should have believed Jesus when Jesus said that the one thing Mark lacked was to get rid of all the things that owned him and follow Jesus. But Mark went back to his house, back to his stuff, back to his “trophy wife.” I wonder what was going through Mark’s mind when he was again surrounded by the things he valued more than Jesus’ words of eternal life.

Did Solomon’s words from our Old Testament text (Ecc. 5:10-20) ring in Mark’s ears? “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income.” And, “As a man come from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil.”

I wonder if Mark got home, looked at all his things, and realized this. He came into the world with nothing and he would leave with nothing. Now, there is a tradition (we don’t know from Scripture, mind you) that this rich, young ruler was Mark, the author of this Gospel. The four Gospels are different. But Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar, and John was written later and different than the other three Gospels. But Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have their own version of this rich, young ruler coming to Jesus. That is a clue that this text was important to the early Church. It is possible the first Christians knew the identity of that this rich, young ruler.

There is another passage in Mark (Mk. 14:51-52) where Jesus is being arrested. Mark tells of a young man who followed Jesus to His arrest with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. After they arrested Jesus, the soldiers seized the young man, but he left and ran away naked. To record this detail during the pivotal moments of Jesus’ arrest is odd. Some early church fathers identified this fleeing, naked man as Mark, the author of this Gospel. And some have suggested that the rich, young ruler was also Mark. The tradition goes something like this: Mark left Jesus because he wasn’t willing to get rid of his stuff. But Jesus’ statement, “Go. Sell all you have. Give it to the poor. And come follow Me,” stayed with Mark. And Mark did what Jesus commanded. All he had left in the world was this linen cloth, and that was stripped off of him as he did follow Jesus.

If that is true, that is a much nicer ending to the story. But the most important part of all of this is to see Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question, “Than who can be saved?”

Jesus Cross Heaven & EarthJesus says, “With man salvation is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” This is pure Gospel. Your salvation does not rely upon anything you have done. Your salvation rests upon God’s doing. God doesn’t leave anything incomplete. Jesus does the impossible – your salvation. Jesus goes to the cross, Jesus takes your sin, Jesus suffers God’s wrath, Jesus dies, and Jesus rises again – for you and for your salvation. And He does it perfectly.

Now, there’s the little matter of Peter’s observation: “See we have left everything and followed You.” Hold the horses, there, Peter. You still have a house (Mt. 8:14). You still have a boat (Jn. 21:1-3). But Jesus doesn’t correct Peter. Instead, Jesus does say that Peter and all Christians will be blessed – in this time. Jesus wasn’t speaking figuratively here. You have a hundredfold now, in this time. This does still take the eyes of faith.

Believer, if you only have one dollar, you have more than a billionaire who does not have faith. A billionaire who does not have Christ thinks everything he has is something he has earned, but they also think that they have to keep it because that is all they have. But not you. You know that everything you have is God’s good gift to you, and knowing that, you can truly enjoy it. The things you own, you really own. They are given to you by God, and you can delight in them as just a small portion of the blessings that God gives you now, and in the age to come.

So look around. See your blessings. See here your brothers and sisters in Christ. Look at your possessions and delight in them because you know that they are God’s good gift to you. And if God should so choose, you do not have to worry if God decides to take those things away from you because you know that your eternal life is something that God delights to give to you. Amen.

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


Mark 10:17-22 – Jesus Runs the Salvation Verbs

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Mark 10:17-22

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler 222 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

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

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

As Jesus is setting out on on His journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him. We’re going to call this young man Mark. Mark was famous. Everything Mark did was successful. Mark was a straight A student. He was the quarterback and captain of the state champion football team. He was the homecoming king. He landed the best, high-paying job and had the nicest house on the block. Mark married a trophy wife. He went to all the dinner parties of the elite. And best of all, Mark never let any of this go to his head. He Is the kind of neighbor who would mow your lawn and let you borrow his boat to go fishing.

Mark runs up to Jesus, kneels before him, and asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” But already there is a problem. Sure, Jesus teaches, but His teaching is not an outline of a life plan, or a series of actions, or a five-step-program for eternal life. Jesus is not a teacher of what to do to earn salvation. Jesus does not teach you how you can attain salvation; He does your salvation. Jesus is not a teacher of what you must do to inherit eternal life; Jesus gives eternal life.

Jesus will not allow any of this nonsense of being called good teacher if Mark thinks that there are other good teachers who can offer whatever variety of other ways, other deeds, other paths, or other commands that he can do to earn eternal life. Jesus says, “Good? Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. By calling me ‘good’ are you calling Me ‘decent fellow’? Or are you calling Me ‘good’ in the sense that God is good? Mark, think about what you are saying. I am good as God is good. But no one besides Me can be Good as God is good. God has already said what you must do if you want to earn eternal life: You know the commandments. ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

Small Catechism - Ten Commandments Cloud IconJesus is calling Mark to take a close look at his life full of success after success and to really consider what God thinks of his life, to consider if he had really kept those commands. Mark should have taken a moment to ponder all those times he had failed in doing the Commandments. If he had done so, Mark would have realized his failure, and he wouldn’t have been asking Jesus for just another command to fail keeping.

But instead, Mark flat out rejects Jesus’ answer. By asking what he still lacked, Mark reveals that he doesn’t really think that Jesus is a good teacher because he already knew all of that Commandment stuff. Mark had asked a straight question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus gave him a straight answer, “Keep the Commandments.” But Mark is still as unsatisfied as before. He says, “Hold on there Jesus. There must be something more that I have to do. I already know those simple Commandments, and I’ve kept them my whole life. That’s stuff for preschoolers. There must be something more I have to do. Give me a grownup assignment.”

Jesus looks at Mark, and Jesus loves him. Jesus sees that Mark inwardly knows there is still something lacking, and Jesus sees that Mark has no clue as to what it is. Mark’s problem is that everything is lacking. Mark’s problem is that he isn’t willing to do what it takes to earn eternal life. Mark will not do what God requires. So Jesus turns up the heat of the Law and responds, “Mark, you poor, likeable sap. You’re not getting it. You say you want to do something to be saved, but you aren’t willing to do it. And I’ll prove it to you. Go. Sell all your possessions, and give it all to the poor. Then, come, follow Me.”

The hammer of the Law falls, and it falls hard. By demanding this, Jesus peels back all the layers of sin that were holding Mark captive. Jesus goes beneath all Mark’s politeness, his personal piety, and his moral accomplishments. All of that is stripped away by Jesus’ command. Jesus sweeps away the covering of all Mark’s accomplishments and there stands Mark’s idol completely naked for everyone to see – his stuff. And Mark’s face clouds over and becomes gloomier and drearier than a London fog. Mark sees for himself what Jesus saw – Mark was completely unwilling to do what Jesus, the Good Teacher, says is necessary to earn salvation. Mark was too much of a winner.

Four weeks ago, we heard about the father whose son was possessed with a demon (Mk. 9:14-29). After he told Jesus his sad story, he begged, “If you can do anything, have mercy on and help us.” And Jesus responded, “’If you can,’ all things are possible for the one who believes.” And the father cried out, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” That should have been Mark’s prayer. “Jesus I am weak. I’m not willing to do what you say is necessary for me to earn salvation. I love my stuff too much. Help my unbelief.” But he doesn’t. Instead, Mark leaves Jesus and walks away. And Jesus, who truly is the Good Teacher, lets him go. Jesus lets Mark go away because the Law needed to do its work in Mark.

Jesus is doing for Mark what God’s Word does for each and every one of us. God’s Word, His Law, cuts and slices through everything that we would do to earn our salvation because nothing we can do will be good enough to earn eternal life. In fact, as we will see as this story continues to unfold next week, Jesus says salvation is impossible for us.

Jesus is the one who does our salvation. Jesus is going on His journey to do exactly what Mark was unwilling to do. Jesus gave all His glory and heavenly treasure to become man. Jesus gave all He had to you poor, miserable, wretched sinners. He went to the cross where He shed His holy, precious, innocent blood – for you. Jesus hung on the tree to give His very life for you and suffer God’s wrath for you.

Blessings from the CrossSalvation is not about giving everything over for God. Salvation is about God giving everything to you. And you, in simple God-given faith, trust that what He has done for you is sufficient. It is always best to have God doing the salvation verbs because that way, they are reliable. When you are doing the salvation verbs, they fall flat on their face and are not reliable.

Jesus has become Man – for you. He has bought and freed you from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. He has done all of this with His holy and precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. He has bought you for His own because He loves and cherishes you. And His grace will always precede you and will always follow you. So give up your trust in anything and everything else. In Jesus, and in Jesus alone, you will will find your heavenly treasure. Amen.

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

Mark 10:2-15 – Marriage Math: 1 + 1 = 1

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Mark 10:2-16

2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

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

[Married couples, I want you to be touching each other during this sermon. Hold hands, have your arm around your spouse’s shoulder, or place a hand on their leg. I’ll trust you to keep it rated “G.” I know your kids might make it impossible to do this through the whole sermon, but do your best. Couples, I want you to digest this sermon together. If you get distracted by your kids through the sermon, listen to it again tonight. So you know, I will forgo my normal Sunday night routine and do this with my wife tonight. God bless you and your marriage. To you who are not married, listen as well. God has some important things to say to you as you consider marriage in the future.]

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

This Gospel text is not primarily about marriage. This text is about the Pharisees trying to dig up some mud that they can throw at Jesus based on what He will say about divorce. So, unless marriage is about divorce (and it’s not), this text is not primarily about marriage. However, that being said, Jesus does, in this text, give us God’s definitive word about marriage. With all the talk in our day and culture about marriage and the definition of marriage, this sermon will talk about God’s creation of marriage.

If you want to know what God has to say about marriage, you have to go where Jesus tells you to go. “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” If you want to know what God’s intent for His creation of marriage is, you have to go back to the beginning of creation – back to before the Fall into sin.

This is marriage. God created Adam with a complete, self-sufficient cardiovascular system that could function on its own. Adam’s digestive system was created good and complete in itself to give Adam the nutrients and sustenance he needed. Adam’s skeletal and muscular systems were created good and complete in themselves to keep him upright and moving. But God’s good creation left Adam incomplete in one way – Adam could not reproduce by himself. God, in His great wisdom, intentionally left Adam unable to propagate on his own. God created Adam to need a helper. God brought all the animals to Adam so Adam could name them, but in all those beasts of the field, birds of the air, and fish of the sea, no suitable helper was fit.

Adam and Eve 2So God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and God took one of Adam’s ribs from his side. God took that rib and used it to make a woman. God brings the woman to Adam, and she is like nothing else that Adam has seen. When Adam sees what God has done with his rib, he says, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” And she was, literally. Adam said, “This one shall be called woman because she was taken out of man.”

Pause here for a brief Hebrew lesson: The Hebrew word for ‘man’ is אִישׁ (ish), and the Hebrew word that Adam gives to this new creation of God is אִשָּׁה (isha). So the difference between man and woman is, as one Hebrew scholar puts it, “Ahh.” When Adam sees his wife that is the idea that is going through his mind. “Ahh. This is the one for me.” And Adam receives his אִשָּׁה as God’s good gift to him.

In our Old Testament text (Gen. 2:18-25), we hear Moses write that this is God’s intent, God’s design for marriage. Marriage is created by God and defined by God. Marriage is not a man and a woman falling in love and choosing to work, live, and make children together. Marriage is something God does. As God united Adam and Eve together before the Fall, God still unites a man and a woman together to be husband and wife and those two become one flesh. One + one = one. The “one flesh” union of husband and wife is not the sexual act, rather the natural fruit of the sexual act, children. That is why what our Supreme Court ruled is contrary to God’s created order. So-called “gay marriage” is not, cannot be, and never will be marriage. One man + one man or one woman + one woman = two men or two women, but never marriage. And that’s all I’m going to say about that because that is all Scripture has to say about it.

WeddingAs Jesus quotes and explains from our Old Testament text, “’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” The important thing in marriage is not what a husband vows and promises to do for his wife nor what a wife vows and promises to do for her husband. What is of lasting importance is what God promises to both the husband and the wife: God is acting; God is uniting; God is joining. What God joins, let not man separate.

The Pharisees want to test Jesus; they want people to turn against Him. They are trying to trip Jesus up by bringing up the controversial topic of divorce. The Pharisees had two schools of thought on divorce. One group of Pharisees taught that divorce was wrong except in cases of adultery, and the other group taught that divorce could take place for very menial reasons – like the wife burning her husband’s toast or the man simply finding a prettier woman. Jesus knows their motives and asks them, “What did Moses command you?”

The Pharisees point to Deut. 24:1-4 where Moses does indeed write about what is required when a man divorces his wife. Moses does indeed say that a man needs to do the appropriate paperwork in order to divorce his wife, but this was an act of mercy for the divorced woman. In Moses’ day, a man could divorce his wife and kick her out of his tent, but unlike today, a woman could not divorce her husband. In Moses’ day, if a woman was divorced, she didn’t have an opportunity to provide for herself and would starve. And she couldn’t get married again because everyone else would see her as someone else’s wife. So Moses instructed the hard-hearted people, “If you’re going to throw your wife out, if you are going to make a mess, don’t make a mess for your wife’s life. The lest you can do is give her a certificate of divorce so that she could possibly marry again.”

And Jesus picks up on exactly that. Divorce happens only because a sin and hardness of heart. Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses wrote this.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “Divorce is always contrary to God’s design for marriage. Moses only wrote that to clean up the messes that your sinfulness makes. Here is God’s intent: what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Jesus is very clear here. It doesn’t matter if the person you chose to marry was not a good choice. God joined you together. God made you and your spouse to be one flesh. So, husbands and wives, hear this: Your love for your spouse is not enough to sustain your marriage. Don’t look at your marriage as your choice. Rather, look at your marriage as something God has done. In your marriage, God joins you to your spouse to help you, to serve you, to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. Husbands, God places you into the unique office of husband. Wives, God places you into the unique office of wife. Adam did not make Eve his wife – he couldn’t have because she didn’t exist. Instead, Adam received Eve as God’s unique gift to him. And married couples, your spouse is God’s gift to you; your marriage is God’s gift to you. Again, your love for your spouse is not enough to sustain your marriage, but in God’s mercy, your marriage can sustain your love for each other.

Again, God’s math for marriage is this: one man + one woman = one flesh, and that means babies.

Now, to those of you who are not married yet, remember all of this. If you find a person you think you might want to marry, that is a good thing. But once you are married, remember that God has united you. You have not joined yourself to your spouse – God has. So, if you have differences in worldview or doctrine, that is going to cause problems because you and your spouse are both hardhearted and sinful. The devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh will attack your marriage because it is a work of God. The devil, the world, and your sinful flesh hate the works of God. Do not let anything attack your marriage.

And everyone, married couples and single people, know this: Jesus is the only one who will create, maintain, and build this unity. Jesus literally became bone of your bones and flesh of your flesh. Jesus became man. He united Himself to you so that you could be His Bride, a believer, a member of His Church. He takes on your flesh so that He can stand between you and God. He stands there to receive God’s wrath against your sin. When God punishes Jesus, it is the same as punishing you. When Jesus is obedient to God’s commands and lives a righteous life, it is the same as you obeying all of God’s commands and living a perfect, holy, righteous life.

Communion Cross with JesusJesus comes here again to confirm to you that He has become one flesh with you. He gives His body, His flesh and unites Himself to you in Communion. Jesus gives His holy and precious blood to you to forgive you of your sin, to remove your hardheartedness. Because of this meal, your sin, all of your sin, is forgiven. If you want to strengthen your marriage, come to communion together as husband and wife where together you are joined to your Husband, Jesus Christ. Come to this altar where your sinfulness is replaced with the righteousness and holiness of your true Husband, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Mark 9:38-50 – Jesus’ Instruction on How to Deal with Sin

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Mark 9:38-50

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Imagine being alone in a hot, dry desert – miles from any sense of civilization.

As you walk along, you suddenly feel a sharp pain in your ankle. You hear the telling sound of a rattle, and you spot the angry snake coiled and ready to strike again. You turn tail and run. You start to feel the searing venom move through your veins. Countless Western movies give you the idea to suck out the venom, but current medical opinion says that it is far too late. The venom moves too fast and is too lethal. The poison will continue to do its work of killing you.

The truth is, this isn’t just a hypothetical. You have already been bitten. You have venom coursing through your veins, and this venom will destroy you. The poison will effect this life and the next. The venom of sin will cause you to suffer not only in the present, but for eternity. Your corruption festers in you and is infectious to everyone you contact.

You have been bitten by the ancient, venomous serpent, the Devil. You can’t suck the poison of sin out of your wounds, but you still need to be cured. So let’s hear what the Great Physician has to say. Listen to what Dr. Jesus offers as a treatment plan for your sin. You walk into Dr. Jesus’ treatment room, and He asks, “What seems to be the problem?”

“Well, Dr. Jesus, I have been bitten by the serpent, the devil, and ever since, I seem to have a problem with my hand. It seems to have a mind of its own. I keep taking things that aren’t mine, and my hand keeps hurting my neighbor.”

“Yes, I see.” Dr. Jesus responds. “Well, there is only one treatment option. I recommend we cut off your hand.” And Dr. Jesus reaches for His saw.

“Just a minute,” you interrupt. “It’s more than just my hand. Ever since I was bitten by the devil, my foot also causes me problems. My foot takes me to all sorts of places I shouldn’t go.”

“Well, then,” Dr. Jesus continues. “This is often the case with individuals who have been bitten. The foot will also have to come off. I’ll remove them both.”

“No, Dr. Jesus. I don’t think you understand. The problem isn’t just my hand or my foot. Since I was bitten by the serpent, I also have a problem with my eye. It keeps looking at things that I know I shouldn’t look at. And every time I look at what my neighbor has I covet it. I can’t seem to keep my eyes under control. I think there has to be another treatment.”

“The best thing to do is to remove the hand, the foot, and tear out that eye. If these infected areas are not removed, you will end up in the eternal fire where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

Sinful Tree Person“Dr. Jesus, I know you are the One with the expertise, that’s why I came to You. But Isn’t there another treatment option? The poison of sin has spread so far. I think that even if You removed my hand, foot, and eye other parts of me would still be infected.”

Dr. Jesus lowers His eyes and sighs, “Yes, that is always the case.”

You see, dear saints, your problem is deeper than you will ever know. You wouldn’t treat cancer with a Band-Aid, and you can’t treat sin by simply chopping off your sinning parts. Even if you cut off the parts of you that cause you to sin, that is as far as Jesus’ remedy in this text would go. You would still be unholy and unrighteous. It is not enough to remove the sinful parts. The guilt of your sin must also be removed. Your hands, feet, and eyes are only symptoms of the greater disease of original sin you and I have. No matter how many limbs you cut off, no matter how many eyes you pluck out, you are not going to be able to get rid of your sin and guilt.

The problem is not your hand or foot or eye that causes you to sin. You are the source of your own sin. You are completely infected with the venom of Satan. The bite of the devil makes you your own worst enemy. And Jesus makes it grotesquely clear here that we must not allow anything to stand between us and the kingdom. Anything that we would value so highly that it would allow us to lose our eternal salvation is not worth keeping. Cut it off. Pluck it out. Throw it all away.

Satan’s venom has caused you, not just your parts, to be the problem. But, thanks be to God, that Jesus has already sucked all Satan’s venom out of you. Jesus has already removed all the parts of you that cause you to sin. Jesus Himself was cut off from the land of the living (Is. 53:8) for you. Jesus has already removed all of your guilt. He suffered God’s eternal wrath that you deserve. Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”

Jesus Crushes the Serpent's HeadAnd Jesus has replaced all your sinful, guilty parts with His pure and holy righteousness. He has given you His body and His blood. Jesus has given you His righteousness, holiness, and obedience. In your baptism, Jesus has brought you through the fire of God’s judgment against your sin all the way to the resurrection. In your baptism, you were united with Jesus’ death. Because of your baptism, you are united with Jesus’ death so that you could be united with Jesus’ resurrection. In your baptism, you died and rose just as Jesus died and rose. The death Jesus died, He died to sin, once for all – for you. The life Jesus now lives, He lives to God.

So baptized brothers and sisters, you too must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Because of your baptism, you are in Christ and are a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come. And, as our closing hymn says, we pray, “Finish, then, Thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be. Let us see Thy great salvation perfectly restored in Thee. Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before Thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise. Amen.

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

Mark 9:30-37 – Who Cares Who’s the Greatest?

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Mark 9:30-37

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Jesus and a Child33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

QuarrelFrom our Epistle Text, Jam. 4:1-6, 1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Jesus shows how jealously God yearns over you. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. Jesus will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. Like Jeremiah in our Old Testament text (Jer. 11:18-20), Jesus knew the deeds of the scheming, wicked men, and Jesus knew that God judges righteously. Like Jeremiah, Jesus committed His cause to Yahweh. Jesus not only saw God’s vengeance upon the wicked, Jesus experienced it. Jesus stepped between God’s wrath and the wicked. Jesus took on their sins and received God’s wrath, vengeance, and punishment for their transgressions. He suffered, bled, and died. And three days later, He rose again. The crucifixion shows that Jesus opposes your proud, sinful ways. The resurrection reveals that God does indeed give grace to the humble.

Your sin, no matter how big or how little, separates you from God. Your sin earns you God’s wrath and hell. Of course you can choose to hold onto that sin. You can persist in unrepentance and unbelief. But by doing so, you refuse the free gift of Jesus’ forgiveness and righteousness.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus has taken all your sin, all your death, and all your damnation. Jesus bore all of it in His body on the cross. Your sin no longer belongs to you – Jesus took it and answered for it. Your sin does not condemn you – Jesus atoned for it. Believer, because of Jesus, your sin cannot harm you.

Because of Jesus your sin is forgiven and gone. Because of Jesus, you are no longer in your sins. Eternal life and peace with God is yours. Jesus’ Good Friday dying and His Easter rising make you right with God.

Jesus has done all of this for you. And yet, like the disciples, we argue and fight. We jockey for position and go behind each other’s backs in order to become great and powerful. Are you kidding me?

Here is Jesus, indisputably the greatest and first of all. He has come to serve the least, the last, the lowest, the lost, the little, and the dead by shedding His holy and precious blood on the cross. You have Jesus for you. Who cares who’s the greatest?

If you want to be great, live in the freedom of the Gospel which releases you from your fighting, from your quarreling, from your sin. Because of the freedom God has given you in the Gospel, you do not have to do anything to make yourself right with God. Jesus has already made you right with God. So in that freedom, live not for yourself but for others. Care for the little ones, the most needy, the least in the world. Care for those who need help. Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me. If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Jesus takes and becomes sinBrothers and sisters, you have been made right with God. You have been washed clean in your baptism. You have been declared to be forgiven, just, and holy in the absolution. You are fed Jesus’ righteousness in the Lord’s Supper – a foretaste of the eternal banquet that awaits you. Go. Serve. Slavishly serve those God places into your life and who need that service.

Such a life of service doesn’t fight, doesn’t quarrel, and doesn’t keep score because it doesn’t need to because Jesus has become last for you. Because Jesus has redeemed you. Because Jesus has saved and restored you.

You need not fret about being great because God has already given you a new heart, a new desire, and a new delight – He has given you Himself. And when you have Jesus, you have all the desires of your new heart. Amen.

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

Mark 9:14-29 – Faith Has an Object

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Mark 9:14-29

14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

If you were reading through the Gospel of Mark, coming to this text would be like hitting a brick wall. You would see a high, lofty moment followed by this discouraging scene. Immediately preceding this text, Jesus is transfigured. His clothes turned radiantly white – brighter than the sun glaring off freshly fallen snow. Jesus’ face shined more brightly than if He had swallowed the sun. The voice of the Lord God Almighty spoke from the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.” From that high, great, glorious place, Jesus and Peter, James, and John descend from the mountain to this chaotic scene. What is going on?

Jesus Heals the boy with an unclean spirit, Help My Unbelief Mark 9At the foot of the mountain, the other nine disciples are dealing with a crisis. A man had brought his demon possessed son to them, but they were unable to cast that demon out. These disciples had previously been commissioned by Jesus with authority to cast out demons, and they did (Mk. 6:7-13, 30). However, this demon stumps the disciples, and the scribes are having a field day with this. If Jesus is so great, then why are His disciples so insignificant? If Jesus is so powerful, why are His disciples so powerless. If Jesus is so mighty, why are His disciples so weak? So they argue back and forth. Meanwhile this father stands around helpless as he listens to the disciples squabble with the scribes.

Now, imagine this man. He has watched his son being tormented by the demon his whole life. What had this done to his marriage? How did he explain all of this to his other children? How many times had this father been burned by fire and how often did he jump into the water to save his son? What sacrifices had he made to bring his son to Jesus only to have the disciples fail him? Who has suffered more, the son or the father? It’s a close call.

Jesus enters into this scene like a parent stepping in between fighting children. “What are you arguing about?” The father steps forward and tells his story. At this story, Jesus sighs in frustration against the disciples, the scribes, and possibly even at this father. “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring the boy to me”

The demon shows off – convulsing the boy, making him roll around on the ground and foam at the mouth. The father prays an iffy prayer to Jesus, “If, if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

If you can? Of course I can! You wouldn’t be here if you thought I was unable to help. You wouldn’t have brought your son to Me, away from your family.” But with the inability of the disciples and the questioning of the scribes, this father’s faith is faltering. So Jesus encourages his faith, “All things are possible for the one who believes.”

The question is, Believes what? Faith by itself is worthless. We believe all sorts of things that simply will not happen. You could believe with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength that the chair you are sitting in right now will be able to take you to Sydney Australia, but it can’t. Faith is only as good as the object it is placed in. Faith always has an object. To simply say, “I believe,” is incomplete. When you say, “I believe,” the proper question should be, “You believe what?”

Spiritually speaking, the only faith worth having is faith in Jesus because Jesus is the only God worth having. All things are possible for the one believing in Jesus because all things are possible for Jesus. And so Jesus says, “All things are possible for the one who believes.” These words from Jesus cause the father to pray another petition – and what a prayer it is. It is the constant prayer of all followers of Jesus: “I believe; help my unbelief.”

This is the prayer of the desperate father. This is the prayer of every Christian. And this is the prayer of you who cannot stand on your own. This is the prayer of you who are wavering in your doubt about what Jesus can do and has promised to do for you. “I believe; help my unbelief.”

You see, the father’s problem wasn’t the demon and the torment of his son. And your problem isn’t always what is apparent. Your problem is not sickness, disease, grief, or pain. Jesus has already shown that He can take care of those things. Your problem isn’t even death. Jesus has no problem with death. Jesus is on His way to the cross where He will meet death on death’s battlefield, and Jesus will win. Jesus will strike down death with a killer blow making death a harmless, conquered enemy.

Sinful Tree PersonYour real problem, and this father’s real problem is unbelief. Your unbelief is on full display whenever you face troubles and try everything in your power before finally, in desperation, turning to prayer and God. Of course Jesus can help. Of course Jesus will have mercy upon you. He always does. Just as he does for this boy.

This boy’s story is your story. You too have been under the power of the devil your whole life. You too have been deaf to Christ’s word. You too have been unable and unwilling to sing His praise. You too have been unwilling to submit to Jesus. Yet, you were brought to Jesus, and He took you by the hand and raised you up by the power of His Spirit. But you are also like this father. You continue to fall back into your original problem of unbelief. Because you constantly fall back into the same sins over and over, you begin to doubt and wonder if Jesus has had mercy on you and helped you. In the Spirit, you believe. Left to yourself, you do not. In the spirit you pray. Left to yourself, you do not. On and on it goes. You constantly waver, but Christ will always have mercy on you because He has had mercy upon you as He suffered, bled, and died.

Brother and sister, your even though you constantly and continually waver between faith and unfaith, your faith in Jesus is never in vain. Your faith in Jesus is not empty. Your faith in Jesus is not worthless because the Jesus you trust in is not vain, empty, or worthless. Jesus is the One who can and does break the darkness, free the prisoners, and brings you from death to life, from unbelief to faith. Amen.

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