Luke 23:27-43 – The King’s Prayer and Promise

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Luke 23:27-43

27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

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

Jesus Crucified 1Be careful as you consider this text. This text requires faith – faith to see what is really happening. At the crucifixion, only Jesus and His Father know what is happening.

The crowd that follows Him does not know what is happening. They weep and lament because they see a miracle worker and good teacher beaten, battered, and marching to His death.

The soldiers do not know what is happening. They are simply doing what soldiers do – kill. They are putting a man to death at the order of their superiors.

The rulers do not know what is happening. Believing Jesus to be vastly inferior to them, they scoff, “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!”

The criminal does not know what is happening. He plays the stereotypical, “I didn’t do it/I shouldn’t be punished,” card. He rails (lit. ‘blasphemes’) at Jesus, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But he only wants to temporarily escape death.

Too often, we do not see what is happening either. Reading the accounts of the crucifixion may make us solemn and sad, but we have heard it before. We know what happens outside of Jerusalem on that dark Friday between the hours of noon and three will soon be replaced with the dawn of the resurrection. Too often, we would much rather run, skip, and jump ahead to Easter and not be so caught up and bogged down with Good Friday.

Repent.

As unpleasant as it is, the cross is where Jesus delivered you from the domain of darkness and transferred you to His kingdom. In Christ’s pain and suffering on Good Friday, you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. By His holy and precious blood shed on the cross, Christ reconciled to Himself all things – all things, whether on earth or in heaven (Col. 1:13-14, 20).

Today, see what is really happening at the crucifixion:

Soldiers become priests as they offer up the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Satan thinks that he is winning, but he is crushing his own head.

The place of The Skull becomes the place where Jesus’ life is poured out for all.

God in the flesh is condemned, but there Jesus rules as King of kings and Lord of lords. Thrones become a crown. And the cross becomes a throne where Christ the King prays a gracious prayer and promises eternal life.

seven-last-words-of-jesus-father-forgive-themOur text reads, “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’” But the Greek there should be translated either “Jesus was saying,” or “Jesus began to say.” “Father, forgive them.” The point is that this was not just a one-time prayer. This was Jesus’ constant plea to His Heavenly Father.

Too often, we read this as just a straightforward prayer that God would not hold those directly responsible for crucifying Jesus as guilty. But there is more here than that. The only way God can forgive those who unjustly put Jesus on trial and put Him to death is if Jesus is sacrificed for their sins. In praying, “Father, forgive them,” Jesus is praying that He would suffer God’s wrath rather than them.

“Father, forgive them,” is a prayer for more than just the soldiers, the crowd that called for His crucifixion, Pilate, and Herod. Jesus is praying for forgiveness for the rulers who had wanted Him put to death for years. Jesus is praying for forgiveness for the disciples who constantly fail. And He is praying for you. Jesus prays for your forgiveness from the cross – the very place where that prayer is answered by the Father.

Jesus is also praying for the two criminals who are being crucified with Him, and His prayer for forgiveness bears fruit. Jesus’ forgiveness changes and recreates the criminal. So he prays to Christ, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” He asks the dying King for forgiveness because he knows that the crucifixion won’t be the end of Jesus.

seven-last-words-of-jesus-today-you-will-be-with-meChrist the King promises, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

How Jesus was for that criminal is how Jesus is for you. Jesus has made peace between you and God by the blood of His cross.

Once you too were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds. But now, Christ has reconciled you in His body of flesh by His death. Jesus did this in order to present you holy, blameless, and above reproach before God (Col. 1:21-22). By staying on the cross, Jesus saves you. Jesus’ suffering and death is what saves sinners; it is what saves you. Amen.

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

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Luke 21:5-36 – Pray & Work

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Luke 21:5-36

5 And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

7 And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” 8 And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. 9 And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.

20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

jesus-fig-tree-temple29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

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

Jesus says that as His return draws closer, there will be signs. He tells us about those signs because He expects us to be able to read them. The signs mean His return is as near and as sure as buds on a tree mean leaves are about to bloom.

The signs Jesus mentions are not pleasant. They hang over all of us with impending doom, and we see the signs even today. If you haven’t noticed, the world isn’t getting better. Violent, unstable rulers have the capability to use nuclear or biological weapons. Terrorism continues to spread. Anti-biotics might stop working. Christianity is being persecuted more and more. Violence is on the rise.

Creation is falling apart because our sins have polluted it. But none of this is a surprise. Jesus said it would happen, and He has told us to notice. He told us to notice so that we wouldn’t react to these signs like the unbelievers do.

When unbelievers notice the signs of Christ’s return and the end of the world, they react in two main ways. First, they fear and their fear leads them, secondly, to do works that they think will make themselves righteous.

FranticThe first reaction is fear. For those who do not have faith in Christ, for those who do not know God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness, these signs cause distress. Unbelievers are weighed down with fear, dissipation, and drunkenness. And how else should they respond? Fear is proper and appropriate for those who think that this world is all there is. As they see the creation falling apart and people fighting against each other, they know that everything they hold dear is coming undone. They fear.

Their fear is good and proper – it shows that their conscience is working. Fear is the first part of repentance, but it isn’t true repentance. It isn’t full repentance. It isn’t true, full repentance because it is lacking the most important part of repentance, faith. Faith is the most important part of repentance. Faith that clings to the promise that Christ has died and taken away their sin.

This fear often leads to the second way unbelievers react to the signs of Christ’s return and the end of the world which is to make up all sorts of works which they think will give them a clean conscience. But these works cannot justify them because they are motivated by fear – fear of wrath, punishment, and judgment.

You see this in the so-called ‘radical Muslims.’ In fear of Allah’s wrath, they try to follow the Koran. They use violence and terror in an effort to bring about total submission to Allah.

You see it in climate activists. They see the signs of the end of the world in nature and blame people who have huge carbon footprints, drive gas guzzling SUV’s, and spew “toxic” carbon dioxide into the ozone. So they do their good works. They try to save the planet by buying carbon credits and driving hybrid cars. And they evangelize. They preach that the only way to save the world is to do the ‘good works’ of reducing emissions.

And, you even see it in Christians too. Some think that electing this politician or passing that law will slow or stop the terrifying collapse of society. Some believe that we can make our nation become Christian, but nation’s don’t have faith – only individuals do. Brothers and sisters, the Church has worshipped far too long at the altar of politics and prayed too many prayers to the god of government.

None of this will stop or delay Christ’s return and the end of the world. It won’t! Because of sin – your sin and my sin and the sin of those who have come before us and the sin of those who will come after us – because of sin this world will end. It doesn’t matter how many good works you do or how many sins you avoid. This world will end. Christ will return. You will stand before God on Judgment Day.

The only response to the signs that Christ tells us about is to repent. Turn away from your sins and believe, trust in Christ.

The signs of the end of the world do demand repentance, but not a repentance that manifests itself in a self-made righteousness of works done in fear. Rather a repentance of the heart. When you see these signs, don’t be indifferent and don’t try to amend your life thinking that you will stop or delay the end of the world.

Glory of the CrossInstead, Jesus says, “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

This takes faith – faith in the words of Christ. You have faith in something that stands firm even in the midst of all these terrors. You have faith that Jesus has come to restore this fallen, decaying creation. Christ will bring that work to completion when He returns. Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” And Jesus’ word to you is, “You are forgiven because of My death and resurrection.”

Believer, do not despair. Do not grow weary in doing good (2 Thess. 3:13). Jesus doesn’t tell us that the world will end so that we would try to fix it. Jesus has already fixed it. He will, He absolutely will – bring His work to completion. Jesus also doesn’t want you to should retreat.

The kingdom is drawing near. Jesus tells you this so that you will have joy and so that you will pray. And while you pray, you should work. Do the works that God has prepared beforehand that you should walk in (Eph. 2:10). What are these good works? They are laid out for you in the Commandments:

Have no other gods. Fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Do not take God’s name in vain. Call upon God in every time of need and worship Him with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

Remember the Sabbath. Keep God’s Word holy by being here to listen to God’s Word where He absolves you.

Honor your parents and all in authority over you. Honor, serve, obey, and respect them.

Do not kill. Help and befriend your neighbor in every need.

Do not commit adultery. Honor and defend marriage. Husbands and wives, love and honor each other.

Do not steal. Help your neighbor improve and protect his property and living.

Do not bear false witness. Defend your neighbor. Speak well of him. Put the most charitable construction on all that he does.

Do not covet. Be content with what God has given you.

Don’t do those works to escape Christ’s return or to give yourself a good defense when you stand before God on Judgment Day. Instead do those works because God called you to them.

Brothers and sisters, your Savior says, “Stay awake at all times praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man. As you see these things taking place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Amen.

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

Matthew 5:1-12 – Blessed Are You, Saints

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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.

Dear saints,

FranticJesus announces blessings in the Beatitudes. However, we do not feel very blessed, in fact, just the opposite. We feel cursed. We begin to wonder, “How could a God who promises to love us allow us to be surrounded by so much hate? How could a God who promises to care for us let us feel so alone? How could a God who promises to have mercy on us let us feel so guilty?”

Now, there are times when we feel blessed. When the sun is shining, when your spouse is smiling, when your kids empty the dishwasher without being asked, when you get a promotion with a big pay raise, when your parents let you play video games all day, then you feel blessed. You can start to think that your life is one blessing after another. God does give us those times for our enjoyment, but that is not when Jesus says that you are blessed.

So, because we feel so unblessed and cursed, we take these beautiful words of Jesus and make them into Law, into things that we should and must do. We hear these words from Jesus and think, “If I want to have God’s blessing, then I’d better do these things. I’d better be poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure in heart, and a peacemaker.” However, Jesus says that we are blessed precisely when we feel so cursed.

Jesus says that you who are poor in spirit, you who feel empty, you are blessed. To you belongs the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus says that you who mourn, those of you whose guts are wrenched by sorrow, you are blessed. Comfort will be given to you.

Jesus says that you who are meek, you who get trampled down by the strong, you are blessed. You will inherit the new creation.

Jesus says that you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, you who feel your guilt and shame because of your sins, you are blessed. You will be filled with Christ’s righteousness.

You don’t feel it, but don’t let that surprise you. As our Epistle text (1 Jn. 3:1-3) says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto you, that you should be called children of God, and so you are.”

The world will not recognize this. If you do not know the parent, how will you recognize their children? The world will not identify you as children of God because the world does not know who God is. That will change. When Christ returns, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. You will be revealed to be sons and daughters of God, and you will be like Jesus because you will see Him as He is. And even now, you hope in Him. And you are pure.

All Saints 1In the vision that John saw in our first reading (Rev. 7:2-17), John saw you. John saw you who have come out of the great tribulation of this world which Jesus has overcome (Jn. 16:33). John saw you who have been baptized, absolved, have had your hunger and thirst for righteousness quenched by Communion, and have washed your robe white in the blood of the Lamb. You have Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, as your Shepherd.

Dear saints, you are blessed. Jesus says that you are blessed here and now. You may not feel it, but who or what are you going to trust, Jesus and what He declares or your feelings?

We are going to sing a wonderful hymn For All the Saints (#164 in your hymnal). Turn there, please because this hymn contains so much Scriptural comfort.

  1. For all the saints who from their labors rest,
    Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
    Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!

We sing blessing to Jesus for all the saints who rest from their labor because they confessed faith in Jesus before the world. This isn’t just talking about those who have died in the faith. You are praising Jesus because He has saved them, and He has saved you. You rest from your labors. You are forgiven, absolved, restored. You do not have to work and labor your way back to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!

  1. Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
    Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
    Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!

Dear saints, Jesus is even now your Rock, your Fortress, your Might. He leads you into battle against the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh. In this present darkness, He is your one true Light. His light shines into your darkness and the darkness will never overcome you. Alleluia! Alleluia!

  1. Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
    Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
    And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!

You pray for yourself and for the saints who are with you and will come after you. “God, grant that we may continue to fight the good fight of faith. May we come into the unspeakable joys that await us.” The crown of life is awaiting you. Alleluia! Alleluia!

  1. O blest communion, fellowship divine,
    We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
    Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!

Those who have died in faith are not separated from you. Like them, you also are in Christ. You still struggle in this world with your sin and temptation, yet Jesus is with you. They shine in glory around the throne of the ascended Jesus. And at this altar, you will join with them as you eat Christ’s body and drink His blood which is a foretaste of the eternal banquet that is to come. Alleluia! Alleluia!

  1. And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
    Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
    And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!

All SaintsWhen you are weary of the fight, when the war seems unwinnable, when you reach the end of yourself, hear the victorious battle song. Remember that the battle has been won. On the cross Christ, your Savior, defeated all your enemies. Be encouraged. Stand again. Fight with a heart made brave and arms made strong by Jesus’ body and blood. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Dear saints, God invites you to this altar. And as you come here to receive Christ’s body and blood, you, “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24).

You who feel so cursed, Jesus says you are blessed. Jesus declares it, and so it is. Amen.

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

Luke 19:1-10 – Looking Up into the Tree

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Luke 19:1-10

1 Hezacchaeus-in-the-sycamore-tree entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

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

For a long time, the residents of Jericho had watched as Zacchaeus climbed the ladder. Though Zacchaeus was small (lit. mikros), he had a big gig. The little runt of a man was the chief tax collector in the lavish, Palm Springs-esque vacation destination of the royal family, Jericho. He would make his way through the city fleecing taxes from the citizens. In all likelihood, only Zacchaeus knew how much the empire wanted in taxes from Jericho. Rome expected tax collectors to earn their wages by collecting more than was owed.

You can imagine the citizens’ disapproval as they watched, year after year, Zacchaeus’ house getting bigger and fancier, his gardens plusher, and the catering ridiculously expensive. Zacchaeus had made a pretty good life for himself at the expense of his neighbors. All the residents of Jericho knew that it was their hard-earned money that was paying for those luxuries, and they also knew that they couldn’t do a blessed thing about it.

Anyway, Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was. But it was going to be hard for him to get a view. Everyone hated him, so they weren’t going to let him get close to Jesus. And Zacchaeus was short so he couldn’t get a view from the back. [You know of course that Zacchaeus isn’t the shortest person in the Bible. Some think it is Ne-High-Miah, but they are wrong too. The shortest person in the Bible is in the book of Job, Bildad the Shuhite.]

Anyway, trying to get close to Jesus would be too risky for Zacchaeus. A huge crowd is thronging around the Man who had just healed the blind (Lk. 18:35-43). The hustle and bustle surrounding Jesus would be an opportune time for someone who was sick and tired of watching his money pay for Zacchaeus’ life of luxury to jab a knife into the chief tax collector’s back. By the time the crowd thinned out, Zacchaeus would be deader than dead and no one would care.

So Zacchaeus tries Plan B. He runs ahead of the crowd to the other side of town, finds a sycamore tree, which had branches low enough for the little pipsqueak to reach, and climbs into it. As Jesus exits Jericho, He looks up into the tree and spots Zacchaeus. The Savior looks at Zacchaeus. Though Jesus was initially passing through Jericho, Jesus invites Himself over, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down. I must stay at your house today.”

So Zacchaeus does. He hurries down and receives Jesus joyfully. The rest of Jericho hates this. Jesus goes in to be the guest of the most deplorable resident of Jericho. The whole town is grumbling. But in his house, Zacchaeus gives his little speech about how he is going to give away his wealth. Half of his goods he will give to the poor, and if he has defrauded anyone (and he certainly has) he will restore it fourfold. For as much money as he had, Zacchaeus wasn’t very good accountant because this would have been impossible.

Jesus closes out the text, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

So what do we do with Zacchaeus? Do you teach our kids to be like him? Should you seek after Jesus and then make sure you do good works?

luther-roseToday, our congregation is focusing on missions. But today the church also celebrates the Reformation. The Reformation was certainly a rediscovery of the Gospel. But it was more than that too.

The Reformation was also a rediscovery of how difficult it is to be saved. You see, the church in Luther’s day taught her members to be like little Zacchaeus. They taught that Jesus was nice, but to be saved, you had to get to work. Put your money in the right place. Buy this indulgence to get yourself or someone you love out of purgatory. Make a pilgrimage. See these relics.

The Reformation rediscovered the truth of the Scriptures. You cannot work your way to God. You cannot climb your way up to Him. The Reformation rediscovered that with man, salvation is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God.

Sinner, the more you realize that you cannot do anything to make yourself right with God the more comfort you receive in what Christ has done for you. The story of Zacchaeus isn’t about Zacchaeus; it is about Jesus.

Zacchaeus got more than he bargained for. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but Jesus decided He was going to be Zacchaeus’ Savior. Zacchaeus climbed to try and get a glimpse of God, but he couldn’t get any higher than the branches. But Jesus had already descended to save sinners like Zacchaeus and sinners like you.

Zacchaeus climbs down from his tree, but Jesus will climb up to Jerusalem and ascend another tree. Jesus takes and becomes sinLook up into that tree because on that tree, Jesus will bear Zacchaeus’ sins and your sins. On the tree of the cross, Jesus died for all the thieving and conniving of Zacchaeus as well as for all your sins.

Salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house because Jesus – the way, the truth, and the life – was there. Zacchaeus gets to host Jesus because Jesus invites Himself over. Jesus always ends up being the true host.

Jesus invites Himself here today. The Gospel says that Jesus has come to seek you. Salvation comes to this house today as Jesus absolves you and removes your sin as far as the east is from the west.

Jesus will leave Zacchaeus’ house and walk up the steep and dusty road to Jerusalem. The grumbling of the residents of Jericho, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner,” will soon change to, “Crucify Him. Send Him out of the city to die with the rebels.” Which is precisely what Jesus came to do.

“The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Jesus has come to seek and to save you. Amen.

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

Luke 18:9-17 – How Do I Look?

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Luke 18:9-17

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

15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

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

Jesus told this parable to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. In other words, Jesus tells this parable to us. We are the ones who trust in ourselves. We trust our righteousness, or – maybe to put it better – our righteousness in comparison to others’ unrighteousness.

We have to understand that, in Jesus’ day, tax collectors weren’t just your regular, run of the mill IRS agents. The tax collector in the Temple was a truly evil man. You could compare the tax collector to an abortionist going into the poorest neighborhood and becoming fabulously rich by killing the unborn. The tax collector had done some truly vile things, and he had earned the disgust he received from the Pharisee.

But the Pharisee had equally earned God’s anger and disgust. The problem is that Pharisee looked into the mirror God’s perfect Law to see how he looked in comparison to others, “Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the sinlessist one of all?”

When the Pharisee prayed, “God I thank You that I am not like other men. I am not like those extortioners, unjust men, and adulterers.” Imagine if God responded, “I didn’t ask you to be like other men. I commanded you to be holy as I am holy.”

But the Pharisee responds, “Look at all these swindlers and cheats. Why are You going to be mad at me? Don’t You have more important sins to worry about?” The answer is, “No.”

When you are confronted with your own sin, don’t point to the sins of others and try to convince yourself and God that you are not that bad. It won’t work.

violent-men (1)Imagine that you joined a rebellion against a king and killed his advisors and judges. When you stand on trial before the king, are you going to say, “I know I did some pretty bad things, but I didn’t kill as many as the other rebels. And I killed my victims quickly. I made sure they were dead before attacking the next guy. Those other guys left your friends to suffer and die slowly”? That isn’t repentance. It is pride cloaked in humility, and it isn’t going to fly.

The Pharisee’s problem was twofold. First, He was looking at himself in comparison to other sinners. And second, the Pharisee looked at the tax collector and saw him according to his sin and not according to his need.

The Pharisee forgot that the purpose of the Temple was to make sinners, all sinners, clean and restore them to God’s mercy. God desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. The truth that, in Christ, God has won and purchased salvation for all sinners. Because of this, because he had forgotten that God desires mercy and not sacrifice, the Pharisee went home damned.

Now, here’s the rub: When Jesus told this parable, it would have been unthinkable that the tax collector goes home justified rather than the Pharisee. The mindset of Jesus’ day was that tax collectors were bad news. Today, we flip it. In our minds, a Pharisee equals bad news. And you are just as quick to judge the Pharisee as he was to judge the tax collector. Your prayer goes something like this, “God I thank you that I am not like other men, self-righteous jerks, elitist, holier-than-thou pigs, or even this Pharisee.” Repent.

We should be sympathetic to the Pharisee. Imagine if you came into church and had to be in the same sanctuary and pews as the one who had robbed you and humiliated you.

The Pharisee was hurt. The Pharisee had been betrayed. He had been slandered. For all his self-righteous, pompous, holier-than-thou attitude, we know that the Pharisee had felt shame, guilt, and regret. No temptation – even the temptation to view yourself as holier than others – no temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man (1 Cor. 5:13).

We are all too easily offended. We know what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. But we quickly excuse our lack of charity and love toward others and hold everyone else accountable when they look crossly at us. All of us will admit that we behave badly, and we would all like a little understanding and sympathy. But the sympathy you want from others is the same sympathy you should show to them.

Instead of being annoyed or angry when someone is rude to us, cuts us off in traffic, or even spreads a nasty rumor about us, we should have pity for and be kind to them. Of course, pain and bitterness doesn’t excuse bad behavior. But wouldn’t life be better if we did unto others as we would have them do unto us? I think Jesus said something about that.

Anyway, the Pharisee went home damned. He didn’t ask God for mercy because, in his mind, he didn’t need God’s mercy. The Pharisee looked into the mirror of the Law to see how good he was. And since he saw the tax collector in the corner of the reflection, he figured he was just fine. But mirrors aren’t for looking at others. The mirror of God’s holy and perfect Law is meant to show you how sinful and disgusting you are. The mirror of God’s holy and perfect Law shows that even all your righteous deeds are like filthy rags (Is. 64:6) – like the stuff you see through the hole of an outhouse.

Crying to GodThe tax collector was sorry for his sins. He was humble before God as he beat his chest and cried for mercy, and he was humble before man as he stood far off. The tax collector confessed (out translation misses it), “God be merciful to me (lit.) the sinner.” The sinner. He didn’t know about anyone else’s sin, just his own. He begged for mercy and went home justified.

The tax collector threw himself to the mercy of God, and it was a good bet. Jesus came not for the righteous, but sinners. Sinners know that all thing they bring to God is sin and resistance. “Here God. All I have to give You is my sin.”

Brothers and sisters, you don’t have to be a big sinner to need forgiveness. You can be a little sinner. Your God loves both sinners with public shame and Pharisees with secret pride. You have a God who is always more ready to hear than you are to pray and who gives more than you desire or deserve.

Jesus died for you and rose again for your justification. Jesus absolves you today. He restores you and sends you home justified, declared righteous for His sake. Amen.

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

Luke 18:1-8 – The Cries of the Elect

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Luke 18:1-8

1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. Judge2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

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

Today, Jesus tells you this parable for two simple reasons. First, He tells you this parable so that you would always pray, and second, so that you would not lose heart. That, right there, is enough to cause us to fall on our knees in repentance.

For us, prayer is reserved for when we lose heart and despair. When we have tried everything, when we don’t know what more we can do, when every other avenue has failed – then, we pray. What Jesus offers us is so much better. Pray always so that you don’t lose heart.

Prayer isn’t an easy thing because prayer is fighting against unbelief. Prayer and faith go together. When you pray, you are trusting in God that He is in control of everything, even the smallest thing. Cast all your cares and anxieties upon God because He cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7). Prayer is like Jacob wrestling with God in our Old Testament text (Gen. 32:22–30).

Fourteen years before, Jacob had stolen his brother, Esau’s, birthright. As Jacob traveled home, he learned that Esau was coming to meet him. Jacob was sure that his brother was out to kill him, and God shows up to meet him alone by the river. But God isn’t there to teach Jacob or comfort him. God is there to wrestle.

After a whole night of scrapping and grappling, God tries to get away, but Jacob holds on. Even after God touches Jacob’s hip socket and dislocates his hip – couldn’t have felt good – even still, Jacob won’t let God go until God blesses him.

This picture is also what Jesus puts forward in this parable. The widow in the parable is giving the unrighteous judge a serious beat down.

There once was a judge who neither feared God nor respected men. You could not reason with this judge. You cannot appeal to the fact that he will, one day, be accountable for his actions. And he’s like the honey badger, he doesn’t give a rip about anything. If you ever ended up before this judge, there is only one way to ensure a judgment in your favor. You have to out-bribe the other guy.

Enter into his courtroom, a widow. She has no one to speak on her behalf, and she has been wronged. According to the law, she has been swindled, and she is there to get justice, but the deck is stacked against her. Because she is a woman, she has little standing in society. She has no one to speak on her behalf. She has no money to bribe this judge who is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. But this widow still has her voice. She can nag. The way Jesus tells the parable, you could almost imagine that nagging was what killed her husband.

persistent-widowShe shows up day after day before the judge with her constant, persistent nagging. The judge’s response is despicable but hilarious, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” That is where we get the same picture of prayer as wrestling with God like Jacob did. The phrase beat me down means, “give me a black eye.”

Now, the judge isn’t worried that this widow would physically attack him, and he’s not worried about this widow ruining his reputation. He is like the parent who has been audibly beaten down by a child asking question after question. He is sick and tired of hearing this woman day after day, night after night crying out to him demanding justice.

This is the image of prayer that Jesus gives. The words of the unrighteous judge should teach you to not lose heart.

Like the widow, when you appear in God’s courtroom, you don’t have a case against your adversaries. The devil, the world, and your conscience all testify against you that you are guilty. Even God’s Law points out your guilt. You are sinful in thought, word, and deed.

Imagine that you are a wanted criminal with all sorts warrants are out for your arrest – murder, assault, fraud, perjury, etc. – but you go strolling into court trying to get out of a speeding ticket. The judge will take a look at you and have you arrested on the spot.

But that is why the parable should give us hope. The unrighteous judge doesn’t give the widow justice based on the law, he gives her justice to get rid of her. The judge, who is a mockery of justice, still ends up ruling justly. And if that is how things work in this world which is full of injustice, how much more will God, who is just, give justice to you, His elect? Will God do justly to you, elect believer as you cry out to Him? You can bet the farm on it!

Romans 8:31b–33, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”

Baptism 2Believer, you are justified by God. God has made you, His elect, baptized children just. If God declares that you are just, who could dare say otherwise? And because God declares that you are just, you can have the boldness to cry out to God for justice.

Last week, ten lepers cried to Jesus for mercy. All ten were healed, but nine went on their merry little way and healing was all they got. One, a Samaritan, returned to Jesus and got so much more. Jesus told that Samaritan leper, “Your faith has saved you.” That man was saved declared just by Christ, elect by God. And so are you, believer.

Because of what God has done for you by sending Jesus to die for your sins and raise again for your justification, you can boldly pray to God asking Him for justice.

Pray. Wrestle with God. You can demand that God keep all of His promises to you. You can nag Him. You can take even swings at Him and try to give Him a black eye. Go ahead. He can handle it. In fact, that is what faith always does. Faith says, “God you have made a promise to me. You have promised to be my God. You have promised to deliver me from this world full of sin and disappointment. Do it.” And He will. Amen.

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

Luke 17:11-19 – Faith Turns Back to God

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Luke 17:11-19

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

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

They were far off, as they should have been. These ten lepers are being devoured by death. Their skin is rotting, so they should be separate from the rest of society. Together the little congregation of ten lepers lift up their voices, “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us.” When they cry out for mercy, what were they asking for? Did they want some food, water, or money? Were they crying out for healing? Did they know that Jesus was a miracle worker and had cleansed lepers before? We don’t know, and maybe the lepers didn’t even know themselves.

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

When you feel guilt over your sin, “Lord, have mercy.” When you, or someone you love and care about, is sick, “Lord, have mercy.” When your bank account is deep in the red, “Lord, have mercy.” When your car breaks down again, “Lord, have mercy.” When a hurricane kills hundreds in Haiti and is swallowing up a region of our nation, “Lord, have mercy.”

Crying to GodWhen you stub your toe. When you are running late for that important appointment because you had to scrape frost off your windshield. When you are worried that beets are going to fall out of the truck, smash through your windshield, and kill you. Whenever you don’t know what to pray, when you can’t find the ‘right’ words, when you don’t see how anything good could come from a particular situation, “Lord, have mercy,” is always appropriate. Because that petition is asking God to be who He says He is. The most common description of God throughout Scripture is that He is the God who has mercy (Ex. 34:6).

Jesus sees the lepers. He doesn’t ignore them. He doesn’t walk by on the other side of the road. He hears them and answers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Now, their leprosy had made them unclean; they couldn’t go to the Temple unless they were healed. So their going is actually evidence of their faith. They obey Jesus expecting that they are going to be healed and begin the necessary steps to be declared cleansed (see Lev. 13:2-14:32) – a process that took around three months. You had to do all the right sacrifices and certifications. Then, and only then, could you return to your family, your job, your worship.

But one of them doesn’t go. It is somewhat surprising that he doesn’t go, but he couldn’t do what Jesus told him to do anyway because he was a Samaritan. No matter how healed he got from his leprosy, Jesus could have made his skin fairer than Snow White, he wasn’t going to be declared clean and fit to enter into the Temple and worship.

This Samaritan starts off to Jerusalem with the other nine, but as he travels, he notices that he is clean. The disease is gone, his body healed. So he returns to Jesus which looks like he is disobeying, but he’s not. This Samaritan realizes that Jesus is the Messiah, the one to whom the priests and sacrifices and Temple were pointing. He returns to Jesus the true, great High Priest, to the Temple built without hands (Mk. 14:58). He falls at the feet of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world who has shown him mercy.

What about the nine? Why didn’t they return? They had been cleansed. They had been healed. They too had received mercy. But they disappear, and we have no idea what happened to them.

Martin Luther has an interesting theory about why. The theory fits in well with the context of the beginning of Luke 17 (our text from last week) where Jesus says, “Temptations to sin  (scandals, things that destroy your faith) are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”

Luther’s theory goes like this: These nine, cleansed Jewish lepers come into the Temple to show themselves to the priests and tell their story.  “We cried out for mercy to that Jesus guy, and He just told us to show ourselves you and, wholla.” But the priests, out of their bitterness, hard hearts, and unbelief, convince these men that it wasn’t really Jesus who had healed them. They point the lepers that their own prayers or piety had healed them. “Whatever it was that healed you, it couldn’t have been Jesus.”

Again, we can’t know, but it certainly is an interesting theory. The priests knew the Scriptures. They were looking for the Messiah who was promised – the one who would heal diseases, cast out demons, set the prisoners free. All the stuff that Jesus was doing. So why wouldn’t they believe in Jesus when everything is pointing to Him being the Messiah?

Because when people won’t repent, they recruit. When people are afraid to believe that God really, truly forgives, they make excuses and try to justify their sin. They select a jury of their peers to rule in their favor – even though, when judgment day comes, they won’t stand on trial before a jury but a Judge. And the easiest way to convince yourself not to believe something is to find strength in numbers. If you can align yourself with other people who don’t believe what you don’t believe, it is easier to believe a lie. That’s why atheists evangelize. If atheists really believed there was no God, they wouldn’t care if others do. But atheists find comfort and security when more people share in their atheism. They find shelter in en masse.

Whatever it was that lead the nine Jewish lepers away from Jesus, it killed their faith. Believer, you too will face obstacles to your faith. Will they trip you up like the nine? Will you, like the nine, go on your merry little way, content with just one word from Jesus? Jesus doesn’t want that.

Christ of St John on the Cross Salvador DaliInstead, Christ wants you turning back to Him, always crying to Him, “Lord, have mercy,” because that is who He is for you. He is the place where you find mercy. On this side of glory, faith is never satisfied. Faith wants more of what Jesus gives and wants to be where Jesus has promised to be. In this life, there will be disappointments, sorrows, and plenty of reasons for repentance. But faith continually turns back to Jesus and cries out, “Lord, have mercy.” And Jesus’ mercy endures forever.

Jesus’ statement at the end of this text hits on this too. Our translation misses it. What gets translated “Rise and go your way,” is only two words in the Greek. The word Jesus uses for ‘rise’ is also the word for ‘resurrection.’ And what gets translated as ‘go your way’ can either mean ‘go’ or ‘come.’ And it would be really odd for Jesus to praise the Samaritan for coming back and then tell him to go away. Instead, Jesus is calling the man to journey with Him to Jerusalem where he will see Jesus’ love and mercy. And the last phrase, “your faith has made you well,” is a curious translation. Literally the word there is ‘saved’ – “your faith has saved you.”

So, Jesus invites this man and you, to follow Him. To stay with Him as He continues to travel toward Jerusalem, toward the cross. Because there at the cross, you see God’s mercy for you on full display. You see your salvation purchased with the holy and innocent blood of Christ. You see Jesus, the one who had mercy upon you, the one who still has mercy upon you, the one whose mercy for you endures forever. Amen.

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