Luke 17:1-10 – Asking the Right Person the Wrong Question

Listen here.

Luke 17:1-10

1 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 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. 3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

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

scandalYou heard Him. Jesus guaranteed it. They are coming. Our translation says, “Temptations to sin,” but that is very weak. Scandals, snares are sure to come. The image is something that causes your faith to fall flat on its face. This is eternally serious. Jesus is talking about things that trip up your faith.

Jesus tells us about three scandals to our faith.

The first is your forgiveness. Not the forgiveness you receive from God, that is perfect, complete, as-far-as-the-east-is-from-the-west forgiveness. No, your problem is your lack of forgiveness toward others. Your unforgiveness can cause you to doubt the forgiveness you receive from God. When someone sins against you, how do you respond?

Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.” You’re fine with that. “Hey, man, you stepped on my toe.” “Oops. Sorry, dude.” “Ah. It’s alright. I forgive you.” No problems there. But what happens when he steps on your toe again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again – seven times? You start to wonder if he’s doing it intentionally. It doesn’t matter if it is intentional. Jesus says, “If he sins against you seven times in a day and says, ‘I repent.’ You must forgive him.” It isn’t an option. Forgiveness is never an option.

Your lack of forgiveness is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to faith. Don’t fall for the trap. Don’t get tripped up. Don’t scandalize yourself. You can always find reasons to not forgive someone. You can always find ways to justify yourself for not forgiving others. But then you pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive me as I forgive others.” And you are caught.

If you can’t forgive others, you can’t be forgiven. When you don’t forgive others you perpetuate a lie. You are, in fact, trying to redefine forgiveness. You believe that forgiveness has limits. When you don’t forgive others you only hurt yourself because you call into question the fact that forgiveness is never earned or deserved. Forgiveness is always about grace.

God forgives you knowing that you will turn around and do the same thing again. God forgives you because of Jesus’ blood, Jesus’ death, and Jesus’ perfect life. Forgiveness does not and cannot originate with you. Instead, it flows from the fountain of God’s forgiveness. Jesus reconciles you first to the Father and then to the one who sins against you. Unforgiveness is the first stumbling block to faith.

We’re going to skip over the second scandal for now. So the third scandal to our faith is the idea of merit and worthiness.

Jesus warns us about this scandal by asking a question with a little parable. “If you have a servant who works in your fields or tends your sheep, when he comes in, do you make supper for him? No! Instead, a master tells his servant, ‘Ok, Frank. Now that you’re done in the field, clean up and make me some supper.’ And a master doesn’t need to thank the servant because that is what a servant is supposed to do. So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Don’t pat yourself on the back for doing what God commands. Don’t compare your obedience to others’ obedience. Whenever you do what God commands, you are simply doing your duty. God isn’t going to reward you. And remember the kind of Master you serve – the one who came not to be served but to serve you. On the Last Day, when Jesus says to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” you don’t say, “Finally, You notice all the work I have done for You.” No! Instead, you say, “I am an unworthy servant. I have only done what was my duty.”

Now, back to the second scandal, which is likely the most common scandal you and I face. It is in v. 5-6. The disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith.”

Now, it is important here to understand what the disciples are doing right and what they are doing wrong. They are asking Jesus for faith, and that is right. Faith is a gift that comes only from God. But they are asking Jesus for more faith, and that is wrong. Here’s why:

looking-at-your-belly-buttonFirst of all, faith isn’t something that can be measured. And secondly, if you ask God for more faith, what you are saying is that the gift of faith that God has given you isn’t enough. You are saying that God needs do something more for you. When you ask for more faith, you aren’t looking at what God has done; you are looking at yourself, at your belly button.

Be careful here. Do you remember the story (Mk. 9:14-29) of the father who had a son with a demon that made the boy mute and threw the boy into terrible seizures? The father had asked the disciples for help, they couldn’t. The father brings the boy to Jesus, and says, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus responds, “’If I can,’ all things are possible for the one who believes.” The father says, “I believe; help my unbelief,” which is very similar to the disciples’ request, “Increase our faith.” But there is a massive difference.

When the father says, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief,” he is asking Jesus for forgiveness – even if he doesn’t know it. Romans 14:23 says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” But when the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, they were looking in the wrong direction. They were looking at themselves, their own faith, instead of looking at Jesus.

Faith always believes in something. Today, many people sound like the disciples. “I just wish I had more faith.” “I just need to trust God more.” Do you see how that puts the comfort, the assurance, back on yourself? Repent. Turn away from thinking that your faith is insufficient. Don’t fall over that stumbling block, that scandal.

Faith is God’s gift to you. God grants you faith that you might be full of faith. When you look at your own faith, you won’t find much because there isn’t anything to look at. But if you look to Jesus, you see the author and perfector of your faith (Heb. 12:2).

entsWhen the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, Jesus didn’t say, “Yes,” or, “No.” Instead, Jesus says, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could tell trees to jump into the ocean and they would.” But God isn’t interested in you being a horticulturalist. Christians would have the best yards. “Hey, tree, you are really nice. I like you. Come over here to my yard.” Instead, God is interested in justifying you.

Jesus puts the kibosh on you looking at your faith. Jesus wants you to see that He is always faithful. Don’t ask yourself, “Do I have enough faith?” That is the wrong question. The only answer to that question is, “Do I have enough Jesus?” Because you can never have a little Jesus.

And Jesus is here today to give Himself, Body and Blood, to you once again. Jesus is always faithful to you. Look to Him and His faithfulness today and always. Amen.

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

Luke 16:19-31 – Lazarus Has a Name

Listen here.

Luke 16:19-31

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

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

Jesus tells us a parable about two men. One is filthy rich and the other is dirt poor. One was covered in fine purple linen like royalty. The other is covered in sores and slobber. One has the richest foods – the best meat, the tastiest baked goods, the ripest fruit, and the finest drink. The other would be content if he could simply have a crumb that fall from that smorgasbord.

Two men – one rich and one poor.

lazarus-dogsOne man who would have had been wildly popular. The other’s only friends were the dogs who licked his sores. One man lived in a fabulous house that would have made the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. The other lives on the street. The curb was his pillow and the street was his bed.

Two men – one rich and one poor.

One man’s house would have been a feast for your nose. Think of all the smells in L&M Meats, Dakota Bakery, and Widman’s Candy Shop, and they’re all there. But even the sight of the other would have made you plug your nose.

One had every comfort, every luxury, every good thing that you could imagine in this life. The other had nothing.

Jesus tells us about these two men – one filthy rich and the other dirt poor. And the rich man ends up being Lazarus.

Both men die, and everything in this life gets stripped away. The rich man’s food, linens, and house are all gone. They weren’t really his to begin with. He ends up in hell and anguish. Lazarus’ sores, dogs, and slobber is gone, and he is taken by the angels to Abraham’s side where he beholds the face of Jesus.

Before he died, the rich man had probably not even noticed Lazarus watching and waiting for the crumbs from his table. But now, he desires that a tiny drop of water fall from Lazarus’ finger to give him the smallest comfort because, now, all the comforts, all the pleasures, everything the rich man had is gone. True riches are revealed. Lazarus has everything, and the rich man had nothing.

But this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Of these two men, only Lazarus has a name. The name Lazarus means, “one whom God helps.” As our Psalm said, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob” (Ps. 146:5). The rich man has no name, no identity, no Helper. He had only himself, which means he had nothing.

rich-man-lazarusHis request for a drop of water from Lazarus’ finger is denied. Abraham tells him, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus bad things. Now, he is comforted and you are in anguish.” If Jesus had not continued to tell this parable, we might think that Jesus is condemning wealth and extoling poverty. But that is not the point. God wants you to have the blessings that He has given you. We know this because of the 7th Commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” No this parable is not mainly about the evils of being rich. Instead it is about faith and the Word of God, the Bible.

And watch this because it is so revealing: Abraham tells the rich man that Lazarus cannot help him because of the great chasm between them. So the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers about the horrors of his torment.

Abraham says, “Your brothers have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” In other words, they have the Scriptures, they have God’s Word. They have everything they need to know about the God who wishes they repent and believe, about the God who desires to save them, about the God who wants to be their Helper too. They have a God who wishes to give them a name and a place at His eternal banquet table.

We must listen to the Scriptures in faith. We all need to busy ourselves with God’s Word. We need to hear the Law that points out our sores and boils. We need to hear that our sins we are rightly judged by God as having earned and deserved hell. And we must believe the Gospel which raises up by its very words. The Gospel which tells about Jesus, the Savior of sinners.

Jesus Coming out of the TombWhen you have the Scriptures, you have everything. You don’t need another message from God. You have Jesus who has risen from the dead to preach to you, not about the torment of hell, but about His mercy and forgiveness.

When you have Jesus as your Savior, it doesn’t matter what you have in this life. Wealth, fame, comforts, luxuries all fade into the background. Because when you have Jesus, all poverty, suffering, sickness, and trials fall into their proper perspective. They will fade. They will vanish, and you can bear those things gladly and willingly.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have Jesus, you have the Scripturesu which tell you, “Once, you were a faceless nobody – a sore-covered beggar with no glory to call your own. Once, you had no name, no friends, no father. But because of Christ and His mercy, now, your sores have been taken away, and your anonymity is no more. Now, because of Christ and His cross, Your Father inu heaven knows your face, has called you by name, has taken you in His arms, and given you the glory of His kingdom” (Pr. Hans Fiene). Amen.

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

Luke 16:1-15 – A Shrewd Savior

Listen here.

Luke 16:1–15

1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ the-shrewd-manager5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

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

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”

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

This parable of Jesus is widely considered the most difficult He ever told. A rich man had a manager who was padding his salary. Whatever his problem is, his master’s money was the solution. This manager’s god is money. He trusts in it. And he will do whatever he needs to do to get it – even if it means robbing his boss.

But his money fails him because money is a god that can be quickly, easily taken away. His master catches him red-handed, fires him, and tells him to turn in the books. Now, he has to figure out where else he can put his trust.

The manager asks himself, “Now what? I’m too much of a runt to dig, and I’m too ashamed to beg.” His god has failed, and he realizes it. You know what this feels like because your idols fail you too. A true God, the God of Scripture will never fail you. He always keeps His promises. He always delivers. So whenever you have fear or whenever you are worried about something, you are recognizing the frailty of your false god. The manager needs a new God, something else he can trust.

Now, this is very important. The manager has lost his job. He’s canned. The pink slip has been handed over. He is no longer the manager of his master’s accounts. But notice that the master hasn’t thrown him in jail. The rich man could have done this, but he doesn’t. Instead, the master is mercifully cutting this manager loose. So the manager has a window of opportunity. And he uses it to take advantage of the rich man’s generosity and mercy.

The manager could have tried any number of things, but look at what he does. He banks everything on his master’s reputation of being a generous dude. The manager puts all of his trust where it should have been in the first place – his master’s generosity and mercy.

The manager calls in every schlub that owed his master. They come into his office, and what do you suppose the first thing this fired manager says to them, “I just got canned, but let’s take care of your bill real quick here.” Nope. He keeps that little secret to himself because these clients wouldn’t go for trying to pull one over on the rich man. The clients each report how much they owe, and the manager lowers their bill by about a year-and-a-half’s worth of work each. But also notice (he’s very tricksy) he has the client write the new amount on their bill.

The manager gathers up all the books and heads back to the rich man. You can see him walking up to the rich man’s desk, smiling and waving the paper to help the ink to dry. The rich man looks at the books and realizes two things. First, the debts have been lowered, and second, the debtors know about their lower debt.

The rich man hears the debtors gathering outside his building celebrating how generous their lender is. He looks at his phone and sees that he is trending on Twitter – #GenerousGeorge.

Any other lender would set everything back the way it was. “Hey everybody, listen up. I fired this man because he’s a crook and a scoundrel. Your original balance is still owed. Sorry for any confusion.” He was well within his rights to do so, but he doesn’t. The rich man could have really stuck it to his former manager, but he doesn’t do it. He has a reputation for being generous and merciful, and he’d rather be out all that money than tarnish His reputation. So the rich man drops dead. He dies to all that debt, all that income. He throws up his hands, looks at his former manager, and says, “Well played. You might be a swindler, but you know me like the back of your hand. You are one smart cookie.”

So what does this parable mean?

butterflyFirst, we have to be careful because we can’t press any of the parables too hard. The parables are meant to teach us, but we can take them too far. When we look at parables, we must find the main teaching and then see how the details shed light on the main point. If we look for meaning in every detail, we go too far and kill the parable. Think of the parables like pets. Some of them are sturdy like a dog. You can walk them, pet them, hug them, and even wrestle with them. Some of them are delicate like a butterfly. You can’t hug and wrestle a butterfly.

Jesus’ parables don’t show the Law or how to live a better life. Jesus’ parables reveal how things work in the reign of God. The parables are intended to show you the character of your God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. The parables teach us Jesus Christ Himself.

Last week, we saw Jesus the Shepherd searching for His lost sheep. We saw Jesus as the meticulous woman working to find the lost coin. We see God as the waiting Father, longing for His lost sons (yes, plural). And in all three we see the celebration of heaven when the lost is restored.

Today, we see Jesus as the heavenly steward who banks everything on the generosity of the rich man. Yet unlike the shrewd manager, Jesus wasn’t interested in His self-preservation, but yours.

This is the point of the parable. It looks like Jesus is praising a man for breaking the 7th Commandment – for stealing. Instead, this parable is about Jesus’ single-minded desire and drive to win you back from death, Satan, and the power of hell. He gave up everything to pursue you. He recognized how desperate your spiritual situation was. He banked everything on the generosity of God.

Passion of Christ on the CrossWhen God became man, evil was turned on its head for doing evil. Putting Jesus on the cross, humanity’s greatest injustice, was God’s greatest act of mercy. Death gave way to life. The cross gave way to the empty tomb. Good Friday gave way to Easter. Now, your bill isn’t just reduced. It is eliminated, paid in full.

Everything around you is now fair game. Not for you to abuse, but for your soul and for your neighbor. All your money, talents, and possessions are now free for service in God’s kingdom. Now that you are free, God uses everything around you – your money, possessions, skill, power, knowledge, and your good works – He uses it all for His divine strategy.

He won you from your sins. The victory is His and He gives it to you for free. When Jesus bet all His chips on God’s mercy, it was no gamble at all. Because that is what God wanted all along. God wanted to sacrifice Himself for you, so that you could be His. Amen.

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

Luke 15:1-10 – Joy, Joy, and More Joy

Listen here.

Luke 15:1-10

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

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

pharisees-grumbleOur text shows one scene and that is Jesus associating with the lowlifes, the riff-raff, the scum of the earth. Not only is Jesus talking with them, He is eating with them. Our text reveals this one scene, but two very different reactions to it.

First, is the reaction of the Pharisees and scribes. In the Jewish mind, eating with someone was like putting a rubber stamp with big, red letters “APPROVED” upon their behavior and life. So just imagine the worst of the worst – the burn-outs, the promiscuous, the hoodlums, those who leech off the system, you name it. Jesus is right in there with them. He’s not even shy about it. The scribes and Pharisees see this, and their heads explode. This is just not appropriate for anyone, so they grumble and murmur. That’s the first reaction.

The second reaction is the reaction of heaven itself. The angels look down on this same scene, and they throw a party. Because when heaven looks at the exact same scene, it sees Jesus, the Son of God, keeping His Word and promise.

Jesus the Good Shepherd 1Heaven sees God doing exactly what He promised to do in our Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 34:11-24). God is seeking His lost sheep. God is rescuing them from the places where they have been scattered. He is gathering them from the ends of the earth. He is feeding and making them lie down in the good pastures. Yahweh is bringing back the strayed, binding up the injured, and strengthening the weak. God is doing His God thing. He is showing His steadfast love and mercy.

Heaven looks down and sees the holy, eternal, almighty Son of God in the flesh eating with the most despicable people you could imagine, and heaven rejoices.

Now, it is easy to get mad at the scribes and Pharisees. Our tendency is to point the finger at them and say, “They shouldn’t be so hard-nosed. They think they are so good. They just think they’re better than everyone. They should understand no one’s perfect.”

Repent. As soon as you say that, you’ve become just like them. Because, you see, when Jesus tells these parables, heaven continues to rejoice. When Jesus tells these parables, He is still doing His God thing. He is seeking after His lost sheep, the scribes and Pharisees. He wants to bring them into the fold as well. He wants to rescue them, bind them up, and be their shepherd as well. The parables are Jesus doing that very seeking.

Jesus is the Shepherd who goes out after that one lost sheep. He finds it, but then the hard work really begins. The sheep can’t walk. It’s too scared. But the shepherd lays that sheep on his shoulders rejoicing even though he has to lug this 60-pound animal back home. And instead of collapsing after his exertion, he invites the whole town over for a party because he hasn’t lost his wandering sheep.

Jesus is the woman who lights a lamp and sweeps the whole house to find her one lost coin. Then, she calls everyone together to party because she found what she lost.

And here is the kicker. Jesus says, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Think about what that means. Now, we all know that everyone needs repentance. No one is righteous. But Jesus is saying that the one who has repentance and faith causes heaven to break out into a raucous party. And with these two parables, Jesus redefines repentance.

Too often, we think that repentance is the least we can do and that repentance is what we do to get or earn God’s forgiveness. We put on a show of feeling sorry and tell God, “Here is my repentance God. Accept me because of this repentance I’m offering to you.” That’s not how repentance works.

Instead, Jesus pictures repentance in these parables as being found. All the sheep contributed to its’ being found was to wander off and get lost. And all the coin did was lay in a dark crack gathering dust. But both are found and restored. That’s repentance because from that picture Jesus says, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

There aren’t ninety-nine who need no repentance. But there is One who needs no repentance. In each parable, the focus is more on the shepherd than the sheep, or more on the woman than the coin. These parables are about Jesus, how He does His God thing. He rescues the lost. Because of His work, heaven rejoices.

angels-rejoiceRemember how the multitude of the heavenly host came down the night Jesus was born and rejoiced? Do you hear what Jesus is saying in this verse? Heaven rejoices more over one sinner who repents than it would rejoice over ninety-nine Jesuses who needs no repentance. Every sinner on earth, everyone with inborn sin and everyone with actual sin. Every terrorist, adulterer, child pornographer. Every liar, every oath-breaker, every hypocrite, every braggart, every bully. Every selfish, prideful, bent-in-on-himself person through all of history who repents causes heaven to rejoice more than it did at the birth of Jesus. All because you are the fruit of Jesus’ labor.

Dear sinner, there is joy in heaven over you. Because you have been repented, you have been found, by your Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Luke 14:25-35 – When God Marches Against You

Listen here.

Luke 14:25-35

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

Unfinished Tower28 “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

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

When you read the Gospel of Luke, make sure you know which side of 9:51 you are on. That verse is the turning point. There Jesus “sets His face” to go to Jerusalem. From that point on, Jesus is determined to get to the cross. Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die, but that news hadn’t spread very far yet. In fact, the only ones who are in the know – the disciples who were told several times by Jesus that He was going to die – even they didn’t get it.

Throngs of people are still surrounding Jesus looking for a favor. They saw Him as a celebrity who could hand out whatever you wanted. Need to be cured? Sure. Throwing a party for thousands? Jesus can cater it for a very low price. Going to a funeral? Bring Jesus, He’ll be the life of the party.

But here Jesus throws a wet blanket on everything. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” How many times have you seen this show up on your Bible verse of the day calendars, or when was the last time you heard this verse read between songs on Christin radio? Right, probably never.

Isn’t Jesus supposed to be pro-family? He called the people hypocrites for not taking care of their parents (Mk. 7:6-13)? And, for goodness sake, how can Jesus overthrow the 4th Commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother”?

But Jesus isn’t done being a kill-joy. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Jesus isn’t talking about little, golden necklaces. Jesus is talking about rough timbers of wood. Crosses kill. They are instruments of death. To take up your cross is to take up your death. If you aren’t ready to take up your death and follow Jesus, you cannot be His disciple. Sorry.

Still want to be a disciple of Jesus?

Count the cost. Do you have the resources? Can you afford it, or will you get the project only half completed before you run bankrupt?

Jesus tells you what it costs to follow Him. It’s more than just your money, your name, your reputation. More than your home, your lake cabin. It’s everything. To be a disciple of Jesus means you give up absolutely everything. Anything that gets in the way of Jesus, you have to hate: parents, children, spouses, work, friends, and whatever else you can think of. You can’t juggle those things and carry your cross.

When push comes to shove, if your parents, children, spouse, or friends wander from the faith, do you follow after them by defending their sin or making excuses for them? Or do you follow Jesus? How about when your will and desire are opposed to God’s will which do you choose?

Or what about when persecution comes? Will you stand for what God says is right, or will you cave in to the pressure? When you are forced to make a choice between your career, your livelihood and the truth, which will it be? When your family is marched before you and you have to decide between your family and your faith, what will you do?

You might have good intentions. Right now, you might think that you would be bold. But how can you be so sure? Your resolve today doesn’t mean anything. When that moment comes and the pressure is on, will you cave in? If any of us counted the cost of following Jesus, we wouldn’t follow, wouldn’t believe. No one would.

Our Old Testament reading might sound like God is making salvation a choice, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Dt. 30:19). If you’re dead in sin, you aren’t in a position to choose life. And if you are alive, your only choice is death because Jesus says to follow after Him you must take up your cross.

Besides, you already know what you chose. Every day life and death, blessing and curse are placed before you, and you always chose death. You sin. You not only choose death and curse, you embrace it and hold it dear.

Count the cost of following Jesus and it is the last thing you will do.

The cost of following Jesus is rung up, you can’t pay. But that is why Jesus pays it all for you. imagesJesus counted the cost of being your Savior, and He deemed it worth every last drop of His holy and precious blood. Jesus gave up His glory, His throne, His dominion. He became your sin (2 Cor. 5:21). He died your death. Yes, He even hated His life. He did it all for you.

When God marches against you, when the Lord of hosts is coming at you with His armies, repent. You don’t have the forces to attack Him, and you cannot retreat. Surrender. While He is still a long way off, ask for terms of peace. He will make a covenant with you. He will give you His very body. He will give you His precious blood. He will forgive you, restore you, and seat you at His eternal banquet. Amen.[1]

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

[1] Much of this sermon is adapted from a wonderful sermon by Rev. William Cwirla.

Luke 14:1-14 – Move Up Lower

Listen here.

Luke 14:1-14

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

2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Jesus Dinner Dropsy4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things.

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

12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

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

Some dinner party this was. Did you feel it in the text? Awkward! Eyes are darting around the room. Dinner Party WatchingEverybody is watching each other, and every look is critical. It isn’t just to see who foolishly uses the dinner fork to eat their salad. No! The Pharisees are carefully watching Jesus, just waiting to catch Him doing something wrong. And Jesus has His eyes on them, watching as they stumble over each other for seats of honor. So much for Sabbath rest at this dinner party – it’s exhausting.

The Pharisees are watching for good reason because it appears that they have set up this whole scenario. Somewhere in the crowd is a man with dropsy. Pockets of fluid are collecting in his body tissue, and he has swelling all over. Jesus sees this grotesque-looking man, and knowing the Pharisees are watching His every move, He asks, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

They refuse to answer the question, but Jesus doesn’t care what answer they might have given. Jesus looks at this swollen man just as He looks at all sinners – like a mother looks at her child in the cancer ward. Or, even better, Jesus looks upon sinners like a mother looks at her child who has been rightly convicted of murder and is hours from execution on death row (Pedersen). Jesus sees this man’s need, and He has mercy.

The dining room turns into a doctor’s office and the buffet becomes an exam table. “Move the turkey legs out of the way. Slide those potatoes across. You might want to cover the salad bowl. Time to get this bloated, swollen man healed. Ok. Now that that’s done, let Me ask you – which of you, would leave your son or even your ox in a well if it fell in on the Sabbath?”

Now, instead of refusing to reply, the other dinner guests can’t reply. There they sit, dumber than oxen who don’t even realize they have fallen into a well. The question convicts them, and they are like dead men. Despite their deadness and hatred of Him, Jesus still loves them. His desire is to save them too.

So Jesus tells this parable which is a retelling of Proverbs 25:6-7. Now, we could take this parable as an etiquette lesson: Sit low and get honor by being paraded through the party to a higher seat. But that flies in the face of what Jesus is actually doing. Jesus wants to show them true humility. And pretending to be humble in order to get everyone’s attention isn’t true humility.

This parable is all about Jesus. It tells of His path from glory down to earth and even hell and back again. Jesus was removed from the place of honor at His Father’s right hand in order to make room for you. Jesus was humiliated (Php. 2:5-11). He took the form of a servant. God was found in human form. When we sinners saw God in the flesh, we pinned Him to a cross.

But, then, God does the strangest thing. He takes you who are sitting in the muck and mire of your sin. Because God sees that Jesus’ seat is open, He invites you to move up. You are invited to sit at the table He prepares for you. He anoints your head with oil and makes sure your cup is never set down empty.

Glory of the CrossThen, from the lowest place, Jesus is raised up. At His name, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is King of kings and Lord of lords.

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

You have been honored by Jesus’ grace. And as you sit in that seat of honor, you are humbled because of what Christ has done, for you

That is why Jesus, your Savior, still invites you, “Come up higher. Sit here. Yes here! Come and receive what you could not earn or buy. Come and receive what you aren’t even clever enough to ask for. Come and receive My grace, My forgiveness, My mercy.” Amen.

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

Luke 12:49-53 – Division

Listen here.

Luke 12:49-53

49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. Quarrel52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

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

Is this what you expected to hear from Jesus when you got up to come to church today? Probably not. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, right? You expect to hear Jesus proclaiming a message of peace, but instead you get all this: fire, distress, division, fighting. Fathers against sons. Mothers against daughters. Houses of five divided – three to two. Who will be in the majority and will the majority be on Jesus’ side?

Jesus asks, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?”

“Well, yes, Mr. Jesus, if you are asking, yes. Now that You are here shouldn’t everything go perfectly? Aren’t You here to end all war, famine, and calamity? Aren’t You here to make everything fantastic? Make the lion lie down with the lamb and all that. Make this world the place ‘where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average’?”

Sword 2Jesus doesn’t let us answer His question, “Do you think I have come to give peace on earth?” He jumps right in and says, “No, I tell you, but rather division.” In the same context in Matthew, Jesus answers His own question more violently, “I have not come not to bring peace but a sword” (Mt. 10:34).

Swords and division go together. Swords divide. They are a tool of war designed with one purpose – to divide. Flesh from bone. Soul from body. Paul writes that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). Maybe, then, we shouldn’t be surprised when Jesus, the Word of God in the flesh, brings division. In our Old Testament lesson (Jer. 23:16-29), God says, “Is not my Word like a fire and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”

Remember that the next time you come to church and hear the Word of God. Remember that before you crack open your Bible. Be careful with the Word of God. You can get burned. You can get smashed. You can get slashed.

The division Jesus speaks about is first and foremost within you. The work of God’s Word is to separate you from your sin, and this isn’t a pleasant operation. It is a terrifying ordeal. God talks about it as removing your heart of stone and giving you a heart of flesh. We’d prefer to postpone the operation. Maybe get a second opinion. But Jesus won’t wait for us to sign liability forms. Jesus is ready to get the whole thing started.

Jesus says, “Fire is coming to the earth, and let’s get it kindled. I’m going to be baptized in My own blood and God’s judgment. I will go to the cross where the napalm of God’s wrath will be poured out upon Me because I will become sin – for you.” Jesus will be baptized upon the cross as God pours out His anger against your sin upon His own beloved Son.

In Christ, God is at war with sin. The Great Physician is amputating what is incurable – your sin, your evil, your wickedness. He took it upon Himself and nailed it to the cross, buried it in the tomb, and left it there when He rose from the dead.

And in your baptism, God joined you together with Jesus. You who are baptized have been baptized in to His death – into a Jesus-type death. You were buried with Jesus by baptism into death. Since you have been united with Jesus in a death like His, you will certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His (Ro. 6:3-5).

“But pastor, that’s all over now, right?” Nope, that’s not what the Scriptures say. Sorry. Through His Word, God has raised up a new man inside of you. If it were over, you wouldn’t sin anymore. But you do. Your old, sinful flesh still clings to you. So now the good things you want to do, you don’t do them. The things you hate because God says they are sin, you still do those things (Ro. 7:14-20). God has made your hearts instruments of faith and faith will and must fight against sin and unbelief.

Sinful Tree Person“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Ro. 7:24-25). All the while God says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro. 8:1).

God’s Word is still a sword. Believer, on this side of glory you are still at war. The Word of God still cuts and divides. And the place where it is rightly preached is always marked by division. Your neighbors, your friends, and sadly, yes, even your family will be divided against you. God’s Word of Truth is the stench of death to those who do not believe. People you love will stop their ears to the Gospel. They don’t want to hear the Gospel – the free forgiveness of sin – because they don’t want to need forgiveness.

But you, you will run with endurance the race set before you. You will lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely. You do this looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of your faith (Heb. 12:1-2). This Jesus is coming again. When He comes, His power will be seen. The fog will clear, and all of the devil’s lies will be exposed.

Then you won’t run. You won’t stand. You will kneel. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Then, and only then, will the division within and without cease.

Until then, you fight. Fight and rejoice in the joy that Christ has given. You will fight singing a battle song. Even though it will appear that the enemy is winning because even if you fall in that battle (and unless Jesus comes first, you will), the victory is already won. Forgiveness is yours. You are now free, and soon you will be whole. Then your warfare will end. Then the sword will be beaten into a plowshare. Then you who have been made clean will lie down with the Lamb. Amen.

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