Miracle Sandwich – Sermon on Matthew 9:18-26 for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Trinity

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Matthew 9:18-26

18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples.

Woman with the Issue of Blood20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all that district.

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

One text; two miracles. One story begins, but before it finishes, another story takes place. Why would Matthew (along with Mark [5:22-43] and Luke [8:41-56], who also tell us about this event) lump these two miracles of Jesus together? Why make this miracle sandwich? Why take these two slices of bread – the healing of the woman who had a discharge of blood and the raising of a girl – and mash them together? The most obvious answer is that this is how it actually happened. But there are also important lessons for us to learn in this ‘holy hoagie.’ Those lessons are what makes this ‘supernatural sub-sandwich’ so delicious. So, let’s take a bite!

For the top slice of bread, we see Jesus is approached by a ruler. We learn from Mark and Luke that he is a ruler of the synagogue and named Jairus, and he is there to get Jesus to come and heal his daughter who is at the point of death. Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells the story as quickly as possible. So, Matthew introduces Jairus as a father asking Jesus to raise and restore life to his dead daughter. But Mark and Luke let us know that Jairus had left his dying daughter to come to Jesus.

Notice Jairus’ faith. Jairus doesn’t offer any compelling reasons that Jesus should come to his house. He doesn’t mention his life of service in the synagogue. He doesn’t say how well-behaved his daughter is. He doesn’t make promises of how he will change his behavior if Jesus does this for him. Jairus simply believes that Jesus’ touch has life, so he says, “Come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus confirms Jairus’ faith by going with him.

But as Jairus leads Jesus through the streets to his house, there is a problem. The crowd is getting in the way. People are all coming to get a glimpse of Jesus and pressing in on Him (Mk. 5:24). Jairus keeps his eyes forward, darts through the people, and pushes his way through the throngs merging to get close. Every moment is precious. Every second matters. But suddenly, Jairus notices that Jesus is no longer with him.

Jesus has stopped. Jairus makes his way back to find Jesus, and there He is chit-chatting with a woman which is the bottom slice of bread in our sandwich.

This woman had been suffering with a discharge of blood for twelve years. She had gone to every doctor and specialist she could find, but her every effort failed. Every bill she paid didn’t bring the relief she needed. Her last penny had been spent (Lk. 8:43), and yet her life was still slowly draining away. But this woman had an idea.

She thought to herself, “If I only touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak, I will be,” (not, “healed,” or, “made well,” as our translation puts it), “I will be saved.”

Now, to any rational person, this is silly and even boarders on superstition. But notice her faith. Yes, it is uneducated; her doctrine is severely lacking. She doesn’t believe all the right things. Apparently, she doesn’t believe Jesus is God because she’s going to sneak up on Him, and you can’t sneak up on God; He knows everything. Also, all the other times Jesus healed people, He spoke to them or, at least, knew about them and their need. And this woman thinks, what? That she can steal what she needs from Jesus. Yes, her faith is silly and even infantile. There wasn’t anything special about Jesus’ clothing. Jesus wore the same types of clothing that everybody else wore. The type of stuff you would get at Eddie Bauer or Kohl’s today. But this woman has it in her mind that Jesus is so mighty, so powerful, and so gracious that just a brush of His cloak will save her.

So, she gets close enough, reaches through the crowd, touches Jesus’ garment, and is instantly healed (Mk. 5:29). And Jesus stops to confirm her faith. Jesus looks her in the eye and tells her, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has saved,”(again not, “made well,” as our translation says), “your faith has saved you.”

Now, back to Jairus. Don’t forget about him. While Jesus is speaking to the woman, someone from Jairus’ house arrives to tell him, “Your daughter is dead; don’t trouble Jesus any more” (Lk. 8:49). Imagine what the devil must have been doing in that moment to Jairus’ faith. But Jesus hears this and confirms and strengthens Jairus’ faith by saying, “Do not fear; only believe” (Lk. 8:50).

Arriving at the house, Jesus sees all the people gathered there to weep and mourn. And Jesus talks to them, and what He says is something that, to our ears, sounds as silly as the belief that Jesus’ clothes can heal. Raising of Jairus DaughterHe says to the mourners, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And the mourners laugh, mocking Jesus and His words.

But Jesus isn’t concerned with their mockery. He marches straight into the house, takes the girl by the hand, and lifts her out of death just as easily as you would help your kid up after you have tied her shoe.

One text; two miracles. The healing of the woman and the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Two slices of good wholesome bread. But what makes this miracle sandwich so tasty; what is the Miracle Whip? Pun intended. What can we learn from this text?

Several things:

Go ahead and pray for things that seem silly or even impossible. Your prayers – whether they are big, small, or impossible – are not a bother to our Lord. Don’t be shy with your prayers. If you hold back on your prayers, you are showing that you don’t trust God. If you want your team to win the game, if you want a good parking spot, if you want your spouse to rise from the dead, ask God. He won’t laugh at your prayers any more than a mother would laugh at her four-year-old for saying he wants to be a dragon. Trust God with your desires – all your desires. He loves you. Don’t be afraid to ask. He already knows your desires anyway.

Also, don’t look at how things are going on in your life when you should be listening to Jesus. When your money is tight and you don’t know how you are going to make it. When you are arguing with your spouse and begin to wonder if they really love you or if your relationship will ever be the same. When your children fall into sin and make you doubt every parenting decision you ever made. When your health is so deep in the toilet and the pain is more than you can handle. In all those times, don’t let sin creep in and make you doubt God’s goodness, power, or love for you. Let Jesus’ words remind you that even if He doesn’t heal you like He healed the woman with the issue of blood, Resurrection Pulled out of DeathHe will raise you from the dead when He returns in glory. Even if you don’t get the things you want now, Christ will give you everything on the Last Day.

Finally, realize that, “True Christian worship is faith fighting against despair.”[1] When life seems hopeless or impossible, when the winds of despair blow, recognize that these are the temptations and assaults of the devil. In all those moments, Christ says to you what He said to Jairus, “Do not fear; only believe.”The greatest worship you can offer is to trust Christ’s words over everything you see, feel, and experience.

Listen to the words of Jesus. He is there to comfort you. He has delivered you from the domain of darkness and transferred you to His kingdom. He has redeemed you. He has forgiven you. And nothing in this life can ever take that away from you. Amen.

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

[1]Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, 44 (Kolb-Wengert, 338).

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The Race – Sermon on Hebrews 11:39-12:2 for Observation of All Saints’ Day

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Hebrews 11:39-12:2

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

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

Let these words of Scripture paint a picture in your mind. The picture is of a huge stadium, and it has to be massive. We’re not talking thousands or tens of thousands of seats. Imagine millions, billions, even trillions of seats. And every single seat is filled – a capacity crowd. You, believer, are there in that stadium, but you are not in the stands. You are running a race on the track.

All the people in the stadium are Christians. They are the believers who have come before us. Hopefully, the rest of Hebrews 11, which you didn’t hear, is familiar to you. It is sometimes called “the hall of faith” and is a list Old Testament believers who finished the same race. The chapter gives sixteen names including Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, David, etc., but it also includes multitudes more who aren’t named. All of them had faith in Jesus (v. 13, 39) even though they faced persecution, difficulty, trials, and temptations. They were all sinners who clung to faith in Jesus. But these saints have finished their race, are now in heaven, and are part of that great cloud of witnesses that surround us.

Wedding Feast of the LambSo, the picture is this: These Christians have crossed the finish line. But instead of going to the locker room and getting into an ice bath, they go into the stands to cheer us on as we run our race. And again, this is multitudes of people – more than you could count – people from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Rev. 7:9). Imagine the cheers, chants, clapping, and whooping encouraging you as you run.

Here you are on the track. Running your race of faith. The race has been long. It has been hard and difficult. Parts of the course of your race have been filled with sorrow, with disappointment, with discouragement. Parts of your course have brought you through the valley of the shadow of death. And you have gotten tired. Your lungs are burning. You can hardly feel your legs, and with each stride your feet hit the ground harder and harder. You are weary and might be tempted to stop pushing, to take it easy and walk, or even stop the race altogether.

But everyone in the stands is cheering you on, “Don’t stop! Run! Keep going! Dig deep! Keep pressing on! Go!”

I remember when I was in cross-country (I was never a great runner, but I still did cross-country to get ready for swimming, and I was good at swimming). But when I was in cross-country, everyone running the race would start in a huge pack. Scores of runners would all get on the starting line, and all the parents and classmates would be there to cheer everybody on at the start. As the runners would make their way through the course, fans would find different spots to cheer people on, and when their runner went by, they would move to another spot to cheer. Anyway, people would all try to be at the finish line to encourage runners to finish strong. But as the leaders and the main pack of runners finished, the crowd at the finish line would thin out. Usually, by the time I would finish, there would hardly be anyone left to watch. I think even once, the official timer wasn’t paying attention when I crossed the finish line which was discouraging to say the least.

But that is not the picture Scripture gives us about the race we are running. This great cloud of witnesses is there encouraging us at every last bit of the race.

These Christians who have gone before us and are cheering us on are called ‘witnesses.’ They aren’t called an ‘audience’; they are ‘witnesses.’ That means, as we run our race, they are cheering us on with their witness, their testimony, encouraging us to press on.

Exhausted Runner.jpgSo, maybe you are tired and struggling with quarrels in your family, and you want to quit running. But there is Abel cheering you on, “Keep going. I know it’s hard. My brother hated me for my faith in Jesus and killed me. But Christ was faithful to me and brought me to the end of my race. Keep going.”

Maybe, you are tired of all the evil in the world and it’s pressing down on you. But there is Noah, “Don’t stop. The evil in the world is nothing new. I was one of only eight people in the whole world who believed in Jesus. But Jesus protected us. He delivered us from the evil. He brought us to the finish line. He’ll get you there too.”

Maybe, you discouraged because you want to have kids but can’t. There is Sarah, “I know your pain and heartache. Keep running. God is faithful. Jesus will see you through.”

You are afraid of your enemies, there are the people who crossed the Red Sea on dry land and the people who walked around Jericho and shouted telling you to look to Jesus.

You are filled with regret and guilt or how you gave your body away to people who were not your spouse, and there is Rahab telling you to look to Jesus.

You committed one little sin which tossed you headlong into more sin, shame, guilt, and regret. There is David telling you that Jesus is faithful to you.

This is one reason – not the main reason, but one reason – that it is important to know your Bible. No matter what you are struggling with, no matter what problems and guilt and shame you have, you can see how Jesus was faithful to your brothers and sisters in Christ who went through the same things you are going through.

All those saints are bearing witness. They are telling you, “Those sins and burdens you have, let them go. Get rid of them. You don’t need them. Lay them aside. Let them go, and don’t look back. Cross and CommunionLook to Jesus. Fix your eyes on Him. Look to Christ, the author, the founder, and the perfecter of your faith. For the joy what was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Yes, dear saints, the race is long and hard. But here is Jesus. He is here to lift your drooping head. He is here to draw your wandering eyes back to Himself. He is here to nourish and sustain you for the race. He is here to give you His Body and Blood in His holy Sacrament. Amen.

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

Messiah Complex – Sermon for the 11th Sunday of Trinity on Genesis 4:1-15

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Genesis 4:1-15

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man [with the help of] the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.

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

As long as there have been siblings, there have been sibling rivalries because sin came into the world before siblings did. After Adam and Eve fell and brought the curse of sin and death upon all of humanity, God made several promises. To the serpent, God promised that He would send an offspring of the woman to crush his head. To Eve, God promised that He would greatly multiply her pain in childbirth. And to Adam, God promised that He would have to get his food by the sweat of his brow. There were several other important promises, but keep those specific promises in your mind as we consider this text today.

As life went on after the Fall, Adam and Eve experienced the reality of God’s promises. Adam had to labor, toil, and sweat among thorns and thistles to provide food for himself and his wife. Time passed, and Eve conceived. Nine months and a lot of pain later, she gave birth to her first offspring, a son whom she named Cain. Because those two promises of God were so evident and in their faces every day, Adam and Eve also believed God’s deliverance from the serpent was just as imminent. Adam, Eve, and CainThey thought, wrongly, that Cain was the promised offspring who would crush the serpent’s head.

What Eve says after Cain’s birth is not translated well in any English version. All the popular translations add words to it because the translators don’t think Eve is actually saying what she is saying. So, I added brackets around the extra words on your bulletin. Eve literally said, “I have gotten a man, the Lord” (no “with the help of”). Eve was certain that Cain was the God-promised Messiah. Adam and Eve raised Cain teaching him about the promises God had made, and over time, Cain grew to believe as his parents did that he would crush Satan’s head and deliver his family from the curse of sin. Cain had a messiah complex.

Now, somewhere in there, Adam and Eve had another son Abel. I’m sure Adam and Eve loved Abel, but they didn’t treat him the same as they treated Cain. This is seen even in Abel’s name which means ‘breath’ or ‘vapor.’ But, beyond that, Adam and Eve gave Cain the important job of working the field, but Abel was tasked with being a shepherd. This is significant because God had not yet allowed people to eat meat. So, Cain was the provider of their daily sustenance. Abel was sent into the fields to keep his eye on sheep.

Now, here is where it gets interesting. Both brothers bring offerings to God. Abel brings offerings from the firstborn of the flocks, and Cain brings offerings from his crops. God has regard for Abel’s offering but not Cain’s. Why is that? Some might say it was because Cain didn’t bring best portions of his crops. That could be, but there is probably something else going on here.

Who made the first sacrifice in the Bible? It wasn’t Adam and Eve or Cain and Abel. It was God. Remember, the first thing Adam and Eve realized after they ate the forbidden fruit was that they were naked. So, they tried to cover themselves with plants – fig leaves. It didn’t work so well. But God came and covered their nakedness and shame by slaughtering an animal and covering them with skins. Plants weren’t enough to cover Adam and Eve’s sin. Blood was needed. In fact, Scripture says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22).

Long story short, Abel followed God’s order of offering animals for a sacrifice. But Cain, who has been raised with a Messiah complex, is doing something different. He figures he can offer God the works of his hands. But then Cain recognizes God’s rejection of his offering, gets jealous, gets warned, gets mad, gets violent, and gets punished.

You probably don’t feel too sorry for Cain. He killed his brother without remorse. Cain refused to keep Abel, the keeper of sheep. When God announces Cain’s punishment that the ground Cain works will be cursed and that Cain will be a fugitive and a homeless wanderer, you think that it is just and right. I would guess that you are not sympathetic to Cain’s statement, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” If that is you, repent.

In every sinful heart is the same Messiah complex that Cain had. We heard another example of it in the Gospel lesson (Lk. 18:9-14). The Pharisee comes to the Temple thanking God that he isn’t like other men. The essence of his prayer is, “God, thanks for making me someone whose sins are little and whose good works are big.” This Pharisee wants God to take a good look at him and give him a high-five because he is a full bottle of Awesome Sauce. Like Cain, the Pharisee offers God a sacrifice, but God had no regard for it.

pharisee-tax-collectorYou see, the only way to approach God is through an offering, a sacrifice. Examine your life and ask yourself why you believe God will hear your prayers, why God will notice you, why God will have regard for you. But remember, you don’t get to pick which sacrifices are pleasing to God. Your good works are not enough, and your perceived lack of sin is nothing but an illusion of your own fallen mind. If you think and believe otherwise, sin isn’t just crouching at your door. Sin is your master. Repent.

Psalm 51:17says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Abel’s blood cried out from the ground for vengeance upon Cain’s sin. But there is a better blood that cries out to God. The blood of Jesus was shed for you upon the cross. Jesus’ nail-pierced heel has crushed the head of the devil. Jesus, the promised Messiah, offered His own body for the condemnation of your sin in place of your body. Christ’s shed blood flowed down the ground, and His blood even now cries out not for vengeance but for your forgiveness. The earth has opened its mouth to receive Jesus’ blood, and because it has, the earth now cries out to God for your forgiveness.

When you sin, when your spirit is broken, when you are crushed under the weight of your transgression, you can plead, “God be merciful to me, the sinner” (more accurate translation of Lk. 18:13). And He is. Amen.

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

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

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Luke 8:4–15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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