Where Is Your Sting? – Sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 for the Resurrection of Our Lord

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1 Corinthians 15:51-57

51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Too often we think of death in wrong ways. We think that death is a state or a category or a condition. But v. 55 of that Epistle Lesson says that death is an enemy, a person who can be talked to and, most importantly, an enemy who can be questioned.

Imagine encountering death. When you or someone you love dies and you cross paths with death, you need to only ask death one simple question: “O death, where is your sting?”

Death might try to answer you with a pale, menacing, frightening voice, “My sting is your sin. I sting because you sin. If you didn’t have sin, I would have no sting. But I sting everyone because all have sinned. I am the wages and payment of sin (Ro. 6:23). And I will sting you because your sin is my sting.”

But you can simply respond, “I know all of that, death. I know that my sin has put me under your thumb. I know that the Bible says, ‘The wages of sin is death.’ So, what you say is true. But, death, I didn’t ask you, ‘What is your sting?’ I asked you, ‘Where is your sting?’ So, death, where is it, where is your sting?”

And death might smile and respond, “You simple Christian, have you forgotten how powerful my sting is? It is more powerful than the most poisonous snake or spider or jellyfish. My sting is the most powerful sting imaginable. My sting burns forever because the power of my sting is fueled by the Law. Yes, God’s eternal Law that abides forever, and you have broken that Law over and over.”

But you can look back at death and say, “I know my sin is no small sting. I know my sin is against the God who created me and loves me. I know the penalty of my sin is everlasting death, and I feel it in my conscience. I also know that the Law is not ever going to go away. I know that God’s Commandments are eternal. In fact, the Law was what made me scared of you. Because of the good and righteous Law, I know what you can do to me. I know that your sting is my sin, and I know that the power behind that sting is the Law. But, death, you still have not answered my question. Where is your sting?”

At this point, death is uncomfortable and a little fidgety, but he musters as much gusto as possible and says, “Well, you are face-to-face with me, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am, but the sting of death is not death. The sting of death is sin. So, I ask you again, ‘Death, where is your sting?’”

Finally, death hangs his head. “I have used it, and I have lost it. But I’ll get it back again.”

Jesus Coming out of the TombAnd you can smile in his face, “Yes, death, you used your sting, didn’t you? You should have used your sting on me. The sting would have stuck on me. But you didn’t. Instead, death, you used your sting on my Savior, my God, and my Lord. You used your sting on Jesus, didn’t you? You had Jesus pinned tightly on the cross, and you stuck Him with your stinger and buried it into Him. Death, you were a fool that day. You stung God Himself. You stung Jesus who is the Resurrection and the Life (Jn. 11:25). But when you went to the tomb to find your stinger and get it back, Jesus wasn’t there. And guess what, death, Christ has taken my sin as He hung on the cross. And, death, you will not ever get your sting back. Never. That empty tomb means that your sting is lost forever. Death, I don’t fear you any longer.”

And having no other answer, death now turns around and walks away from you.

Dear saints, this is why we celebrate every Easter and every Sunday. Every Sunday, we celebrate what Christ has done in absorbing the sting of death so that death no longer has his sting.

And the day is coming when Christ will return. On that day, the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable. The day is coming when your perishable body will put on the imperishable and your mortal body will put on immortality.

Yes, death can and does buzz around now for a while. But death is like a bee that has used its stinger and soon dies.

Dear saints, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” Yes, the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. So now, Christian, you need have no fear of death. Jesus has conquered the bitter tyrant of death. And He has connected you to that victory. You do not need to fear and watch out for death hiding behind a corner to pounce on you. Instead, Christian, you continue to look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Because Christ is risen, death is overthrown. Christ is risen and life reigns. Christ is risen, and dear saint, you are safely anchored in Christ who has given you the victory, now and forever.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

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

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It Is Finished – Sermon on John 19:30 for Good Friday

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John 19:30

30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished.”

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

Dear saints, Jesus says, “It is finished.”

Jesus isn’t talking about His suffering. He doesn’t mean His agony or pain. These words do not refer to the darkness over the whole land while Jesus hung on the cross between noon and three. Yes, those things are coming to an end when Jesus says,“It is finished.”But Jesus is talking about something much bigger.

He is saying that the war between God and man is over. “It is finished.”

All of creation was plunged into sin and rebellion when Adam and the woman ate from the tree of which God commanded them not to eat. In that moment, all of humanity declared war against God. But God would not let mankind, the crown of His creation, be at war against Him. God would not fight against us though we fight against Him. Instead, He would fight for us.

Right after we fell into sin, God came down to the Garden and said that He would put enmity between Himself and the devil promising that the Seed of the woman would come and crush Satan’s head even as the devil crushed His heel. Then and there, God declared war – not against us – but against the devil, against death, and against your sin.

The Scriptures are the record of that war. Throughout the Bible, you read of the devil claiming people as his own, putting his name on them, making them his servants and followers, and dragging them with him into destruction.

But all the while God was fighting back. He kept rescuing His people from the devil and his armies. He rescued Adam and Eve. He delivered Abel, Noah, Abraham, and Moses. God ransomed His people from slavery in Egypt. He saved Joshua, Samuel, Samson, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and countless others – both named and unnamed. God was fighting back, calling His people back to Himself. Promising that one day the battles would cease. The war would end. And there on the Cross, Jesus proclaims the victory when He says, “It is finished.”

The victory was costly – more costly than we can ever fathom. And the victory did not appear to be glorious. The victory, in fact, looked like defeat as the eternal Son of God hung there, dead on the cross. It is much easier for us to see Jesus’ heel being crushed than to see the devil’s head being crushed because that heel crushing is overwhelming.

But, dear saints, if the crushing of Jesus’ heel appears to be that devastating, how much more annihilating is the crushing of the devil’s head?

Today especially, but whenever you consider Jesus’ suffering, see what God is doing. He is ending the war. The war is ended not with a ceasefire or a peace treaty, but with total and complete victory. “It is finished.”

Consider what God says the crucifixion of our Lord means. It means that everything that was ever demanded of you in the Law (Col. 2:14), Jesus says, “It is finished.”

All the prophecies about Christ’s suffering that were recorded for us in the books of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms (Lk. 18, 24), Jesus says, “It is finished.”

Everything that was necessary for the Christ to suffer so you could be forgiven and adopted as God’s child (Php. 2:5-15), Jesus says, “It is finished.”

Everything that was necessary for you to be saved and have eternal life (1 Pet. 1:10-12), Jesus says, “It is finished.”

Remember that God calls Jesus “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:19-20). It is God’s loving and gracious will for you to believe in Him. Everything that weighs on your soul, every sin that troubles your conscience, every burden of doubt, every fear, every worry, and every guilt is taken off of you and placed on Jesus. And Christ bears it away and buries it in the depths of the sea (Pr. Preus). “It is finished.”

Today is not bad Friday or sad Friday or black Friday. Today is Good Friday, the day that our Lord restored the original goodness to His creation, and that is most certainly good for us (Petersen).

The death of Christ is your redemption, your victory. Jesus is the Lamb who was slain, but now lives forever and ever. Christ has suffered and died in order that you might be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Christian, just as Christ is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, you will too. Amen.

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

Our Lord’s Passion – Sermon on Matthew 26:1-27:66 for Palm Sunday

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

Throughout history, great kings and rulers have been given great titles. Cyrus, Alexander, and Charles all had “the Great” as monikers. There was also William the Conqueror and Richard the Lion-Heart. Two of my favorites – there was Brochwel “the Fanged” who ruled in Scotland and Ferdinand “the Bomb” who ruled in Italy.

Palm Sunday King of GloryThe main focus of Matthew’s Passion account we just heard is the royalty of Jesus. Christ rode into Jerusalem on a royal donkey just like King David and King Solomon (1 Kgs. 1:38) had done. But Matthew doesn’t focus on Jesus’ royal greatness or magnificence. Instead, Matthew focuses on King Jesus’ innocence. Matthew points us to King Jesus “the Innocent.”

Though Jesus is falsely accused of many things, constant, consistent testimonies keep showing up that our Lord is innocent. After he had betrayed Jesus, Judas confesses, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Mt. 27:4). Pilate’s wife tells her husband, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man” (Mt. 27:19). Pilate knows that Jesus was innocent and tries to wash his hands of the capital punishment. And the centurion, when he witnessed Jesus’ death, confessed, “Truly, this was the Son of God” (Mt. 27:54). Yes, Jesus was innocent.

Jesus was innocent, but you are not. When you stand on trial before God on the last day, innocence is what you need, not greatness. But, again, you have not been innocent. Instead, you’ve sought to be great, mighty, important, and powerful. In your quest for greatness, you have left a wake of pain and suffering behind you. You’ve been selfish, and your words and actions have hurt those who love you most. By your thoughts, words, and deeds, you place yourself not beside Jesus “the Innocent,” but by Barabbas “the Murdering Rebel” (Lk. 23:19).

But in our Lord’s Passion, guilty Barabbas goes free. The Gospel text you just heard is called “the Passion” because this is how God loved you and the reason that you love Him.

When you hear John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son,” have the Passion accounts in your mind. The word ‘so’ in John 3:16 means “in this way.”

King Jesus the Innocent has come into the world to trade places with sinners – to trade places with you. The weight of sin you carry on your back was whipped into His back. Your hurtful actions went into His hands so that your hands may be cleansed. The bitter words you have spoken have gone into His ears so that you can hear the sweet words, “Not guilty,” on the Last Day.

And even now, you are declared to be innocent by God. Connected to Jesus the Innocent’s death and resurrection in your Baptism, there is now no condemnation for you (Ro. 8:1). This is Christ’s love for you.

Revelation 17 14 War against the LambJesus has arrived in Jerusalem. The Priest has come to the Temple. The Prophet has come to Mt. Zion. The King has come to His city. But most importantly the Lamb of God has come to His altar, where He would in five days breathe His last and pour out His blood for you (Pr. Wolfmueller). This is your Lord’s Passion, done and completed for you. Amen.

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

 

The Last State – Sermon on Luke 11:14-28 for the Third Sunday in Lent

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[Apologies for the poor quality of this recording, we had some known technical issues.]

Luke 11:14-28

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

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

These first few Sundays in Lent have a strong focus on spiritual warfare. And here Jesus is teaching us very pointedly that there is no neutral ground spiritually – there is no spiritual Switzerland. Christ says, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”In other words, if you are not in league with Jesus and fighting againstthe devil, you are fighting with the devil.

To strengthen and encourage us in the battle, Jesus tells two short parables in this text. The first parable (in v. 21-22) describes the new reality in this world. And we have to understand this first parable because it lets us know the playing field. Jesus says, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides the spoil.”

We heard about the Fall a few weeks ago. Adam and Eve brought sin into the world by rebelling against God and believing the devil rather than their Creator. When Adam and Eve fell, the devil entered his palace and the kingdom of darkness began. Satan now owned them and everyone who would be born from them – that is all of us. The armor of the devil that Jesus talks about is our sin, our guilt, and our shame. And, according to Jesus, the devil trusts in that armor. Satan thinks that because your sin and guilt is so great that he is immune from invasion and attack. He thinks his palace is impenetrable and that you are safely in his possession forever.

But Satan is wrong. Jesus, the stronger man, has stormed the devil’s castle. Christ attacked him and overcome him. Your Savior has taken away the armor that the devil thought protected him, what the devil trusted, what he thought would always be there – this is the most important part of the parable. Jesus has removed your sin, guilt, and shame which was the devil’s armor. And the devil is now weak and extremely vulnerable.

But the spiritual battle is still ongoing. The demons are defeated but they still fight against us even though they have no power and no armor. And this is what Jesus addresses in the second parable (v. 24-26). Jesus says that when a demon has gone out of a person – in other words, when someone becomes a Christian, when a person is Baptized, when they are given the gift of faith in Christ and have the Holy Spirit – that demon passes through waterless places seeking rest because it has been expelled. The demon doesn’t like that. The demon would rather be connected to that person.

Now, I need to make a quick distinction between demon possession and demon oppression. In the Gospels, we often see people who are actually possessed by demons. In cases of demonic possession, demons live inside that person and can make them mute (like in this text), throw people into fires (Mk. 9:22), or cut themselves and make them live among the tombs (Mk. 5:2-5). That is demonic possession. But just because someone isn’t possessed by a demon does not mean that they are not influenced or oppressed by demons. The main point is that you are either going to be influenced by a demon or the Holy Spirit.

So, most of you became Christians when you were baptized. The Holy Spirit came and removed the demons and their oppression from you. And those demons wander around seeking rest, but they find none. So, they come back to you, the house from which they were cast out. If that demon finds you swept and put in order, it will come back and bring seven more demons even more evil than itself and the last state is worse than the first.

So, here is the picture Jesus gives, Christian. When you came to faith, Christ drove the demons away from you, but those demons have had their eye on you ever since. They have been watching you to seek reentry. If the demon comes back and finds your house clean and (as Jesus says in the same context in Mt. 12:44) empty, it moves back in and throws an evil, sinister party, and again the last state is worse than the first.

Remember, you are either with Jesus or with the devil and demons. There is no neutral ground. Christian, as you live out your faith and devote yourself to God’s Word, Satan and the demons have no power over you. Jesus, the stronger man is with you. The Holy Spirit has filled you and the demons cannot stand the presence of His holiness. But, if you stop filling yourself with God’s Word, if you neglect the work of the Holy Spirit, you can evict Him. You can fall away. Beware and repent.

The most effective strategy, in fact the only strategy, the devil has against you is to make you think that you don’t need Jesus and His blood shed for the forgiveness of your sins. And the way that the devil does this is to harden your conscience against God’s Word. So, guard your conscience, and actively work to soften your conscience so that when you hear God’s Word, you are driven to your Savior’s mercy and grace.

Let me give you an analogy to make this point. The last few weeks, we’ve finally had temperatures above freezing. Compared to the temperatures that we had in January and February what were in the -20’s, it feels really nice. So now, when the thermometer hits 38°, our bodies are ready go out without coats, or at least much lighter coats. In the Spring 38° is glorious. But when August comes and we are used to the heat of summer, 38° makes bodies feel bitterly cold. Your conscience is similar.

Imagine each of the Commandments as a thermometer, and for this example, let’s take the 5thCommandment, “Thou shalt not murder.” Instead of numbers marking the side of the 5thCommandment thermometer, there are different sins that all fall under the 5thCommandment. Way up at the top you have a mark for genocide. A little blow that is a mark for mass murder. A little below that you have a mark for murder, then punching. And because Jesus teaches us that hatred for our neighbor is the same as murder (Mt. 5:21-22) you have a mark for that way down toward the bottom. You get the idea?

Now, all of those sins – from genocide all the way down to anger – all of them make us guilty before God. We need the shed blood of Jesus to cover all of those sins, and know, Christian, that you have that. But you still have to fight against your sinful nature in this life.

So, just think with me here, where does your conscience register on the 5thCommandment thermometer? Maybe, you are somewhere between the marks of punching and anger. The devil and the demons are at work tempting you to harden your conscience. But they don’t tempt you straight to commit genocide. Instead, they tempt you just a little higher than you already are. They tempt you to more anger. They tempt you to punching and violence. And once they have you there, they tempt you to harden yourself a little more, to go up another little step. And they do this with all the Commandments – with adultery and lust, with stealing, and lying.

But you, Christian, you need to be constantly working to soften your conscience. Let me switch to the 3rdCommandment about keeping the Sabbath holy. You’re a Christian, so going to church is simply what you do each Sunday morning. The devil isn’t going to come straight at you and say that going to church isn’t important at all. Instead, the devil will work like this:

Let’s say that one Sunday you were very legitimately sick, so you don’t go to church, but you feel bad about it in your conscience. The devil is right there telling you, “You don’t need to feel bad. You were sick, and it’s better to not risk getting other people sick. So, don’t feel bad. You listened to the sermon later, and it was boring anyway.” And so, you decide to put that little feeling of guilt and loss away. The devil has just hardened you a little bit. So, when a couple of months go by, and you wake up with a headache – something that isn’t going to get passed around to anyone else – the devil will tempt you to skip church again. A little more hardened. Then, you have that family reunion and nothing bad happened when you skipped church because of your headache – God didn’t send a bolt of lightning to smite you. And the Bible says that family is important, so you skip for that. Hardened again. The devil’s goal is to make going to church seem like one option among many options so that being in God’s house becomes nothing more than a matter of choice so that your last state is worse than the first.

Repent. Now, I do have to say that it’s not as though you should carry around guilt for missing church when you have the flu and try to do penance or something like that. No. Jesus loves you. He has disarmed the devil. He has removed your guilt, and Christ forgives you all of your sin. He remembers your sin no more. What I am saying is this: don’t give the devil a foothold. Resist his temptations to harden your conscience.

You do that by memorizing the Ten Commandments and meditating on them. Consider each of them and what Jesus says about them in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7). In this way, your house, which is your heart, does not remain empty. Rather you are filled with the Holy Spirit through the study, consideration, and meditation of God’s Word. In this way, may your last state be better than the first. Amen.

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

What’s Wrong with You? – Sermon on Matthew 9:1-8 for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

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Matthew 9:1-8

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.

Jesus Heals the Paralytic Lowered from the RoofAnd behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– he then said to the paralytic – a “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

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

What’s wrong with you? Self-diagnosis is one thing. But if someone were to follow you for a week, see everywhere you went, hear everything you say, and know your every thought, what would they say is your biggest problem?

Maybe, they would say you spent too much time on your phone and not enough time paying attention to your kids. Maybe, they would say that you spread rumors about people when you don’t really know the facts. Maybe, they would sayyou get angry too easily and quickly.Maybe, they would say that you are lazy and waste time at your job. Or maybe, they would say that your schedule is too full and you are neglecting more important things.

Getting an outside, impartial observer can be helpful in diagnosing your problem. But even people who have total access to your life might not correctly diagnose your biggest, most central flaw.

Now, imagine the scene in this house. Jesus is in His hometown. Mark tells us (Mk. 2:1-12) that Jesus is in His own house preaching the Word of God to the people gathered there. So many people come to hear Him that there isn’t any more room inside the house. But imagine that you are one of the people who are blessed to be inside.

As Jesus preaches, you notice sounds of footsteps coming from the roof. Then you start to hear faint sounds of scraping and pounding making the walls shake slightly. Some sprinkles of dust fall from the ceiling. A few blows later, and a thin beam of light hits the floor. You look up toward that hole and you can just barely make out the shape of fingers reaching through the hole. Suddenly,the hole expands as a bunch of rubble falls to the floor. Dust and straw fill the room. You turn your head away for a moment so that the dust doesn’t fall into your eyes. And then, when it sounds as though the debris has settled, you look up once again and notice a huge bundle being slowly lowered by four ropes.

The bundle finally reaches the floor, and the sheets fall flat revealing a man. He lies there. One arm is bent over his chest and the other lies motionless stretched out at his side. His legs are crossed, but in the most unnatural way. You wait to see him maneuver himself into a more comfortable position, but he doesn’t. In fact, the only sign of life is his eyes darting back and forth and his chest rising as he breathes a little frantically. You diagnose the problem: this man is paralyzed. And you think to yourself, “Well, whoever brought him here did the right thing. If anyone can help this man, it’s Jesus.”

Jesus looks up at the hole in the roof. He sees the faces of the people who have safely lowered their friend down. Then, Christ looks at the man and says, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

Think about this for a moment. This man’s biggest problem seems to be apparent to everyone but Jesus. The friends are probably up on the roof thinking to themselves, “Wait, what? We didn’t lug him up here, rip off the roof knowing that we’ll have to fix it ourselves, and lower him down to get forgiveness. What gives?”

But Jesus knows what this man’s biggest problem is. Christ knows what this man needs most. But don’t run too quickly with this either. Yes, the forgiveness of sins is what we need for our eternal welfare. Forgiveness is more important than food, clothes, shelter, and the ability to walk. But Jesus doesn’t always forgive people before He heals them.

In fact, in all the previous healings in Matthew, Jesus doesn’t follow this order. Chapter 8 contains Jesus’ first healing in Matthew. Jesus heals a leper and doesn’t absolve him. Then, He heals the centurion’s servant, but Jesus doesn’t announce forgiveness there. He heals Peter’s mother-in-law and large crowds with no mention of forgiveness. He casts out demons from two men, no absolution. And as chapter 9 continues, Jesus keeps healing, but He’ll tell people that they are healed because of their faith in Him. And we can’t (at least we shouldn’t) conclude that in those instances Jesus cared more about their physical well-being than forgiveness.

Put that on the back-burner for a moment because Jesus isn’t done diagnosing people’s problems.

Ministry of Word and Sacrament, Keys IconAfter telling the paralytic, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven,”Jesus diagnoses the scribes’ problem. They were grumbling in their minds thinking, “Just who does this guy think he is? Forgiving sins is God’s job.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”

Notice that. Jesus says that doubting that He, a man, has the authority to forgive sins is evil. He doesn’t beat around the bush. Jesus calls out their evil. And He proves that He has the authority to forgive sins. He tells the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home,”and the paralytic does, which proves that Jesus does indeed have the authority to forgive sins.

What’s your problem? I hope you see that it doesn’t matter so much what your problem is when you see that Jesus knows what it is (He does), and Jesus fixes the problem (whatever it is).

See Jesus’ pastoral heart. Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, and ‘shepherd’ is what ‘pastor’ means. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows the needs of His flock, His sheep. Answering the question, “What’s your problem?” isn’t so important because Jesus knows what your problem is. He correctly diagnoses it and fixes it.

While everyone in that house – the listeners, the scribes, and the friends who lowered that man down from the roof – might have been scratching their heads when Jesus tells this paralytic that his sins are forgiven, the paralytic lying there heard the exact words he needed to hear. He needed to hear that his sins had been removed from him as far as the east is from the west, so that is precisely what Jesus gave him.

The scribes needed to hear Jesus call out their evil. And the crowds needed to see that God had given men (plural [foreshadowing Jesus giving the authority to forgive sins to all Christians]) the authority to forgive sins on earth (Mk. 2:10). Jesus gives each person exactly what they needed.

So, you here today, what’s your problem? Well, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is here today. Surely, the Lord is in this place even if you, like Jacob in our Old Testament text, didn’t know it. This is the gate of heaven (Gen. 28:10-17), right here in this sanctuary. Jesus is here to give you exactly what you need. Jesus is here to give you His Word, Law and Gospel. Jesus has called you to put off your old sinful self, to put away your sin, and to be renewed in your minds (Eph. 4:22-28).

Communion Cross with JesusJesus is here, here to give you exactly what you need. He comes to give you His Body which was hung on a cross to endure the wrath of God for your sins. He comes to give you His Blood which He shed for the forgiveness of your sins. Whatever your problem is – even if you are unclear what it is – Jesus is here to deliver you from it. Amen.

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

Table for 4,000, Please? – Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Trinity on Mark 8:1-9

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Mark 8:1-9

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.

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

The last food you ate came from God even though it didn’t come directly from God. An exception will be made if you gathered up manna in your yard this morning. If you did, let me know. I’d like to come over this afternoon, so I can have a taste before it goes bad tomorrow. Talk to me after the service.

Your food comes from God, but God in His infinite wisdom has seen fit to give you that food through a long food-pipeline. Through farmers and ranchers who grow and raise the food. Through factories and workers that process, grind, and package. Through truckers and train engineers who haul. Through construction workers who build and maintain the roads and buildings. Through plumbers, electricians, engineers, and mechanics who design, make, and keep the roads, railways, machines, and buildings working. And even through insurance agents, accountants, and computer programmers who make all the work efficient and organized.

In fact, I bet if you and I sat down and put our minds together, we could figure out how every wholesome task performed in the world ends up putting food in our mouth. (Maybe we can do that while we enjoy that manna of yours.)

Now, God doesn’t have to use this massive, intricate food-pipeline. He could feed us directly as Jesus does in this text. God is the author of all good work and a master at it all.

This crowd has been with Jesus in a desolate place for three days hearing Him teach. They were so excited to follow Him that these silly people didn’t bring any food with them. Jesus tells the disciples that He has compassion on the people because if He sends them away, they won’t make it home. Some of them will faint and die of hunger. The disciples ask, “How can one feed these people (4,000 men plus women and children [see Mt. 15:32-39]) with bread here in this desolate place?” Their question is legitimate. Even if you had the means to pay for it, I bet you’d have a hard time buying enough bread for a crowd that size if you went to Hugo’s right after the service.

But watch what Jesus does in slow motion. He becomes the master of many trades all at once. He plows, plants, harvests, threshes, grinds, and bakes bread in a moment. Then, He sails, fishes, processes, cleans, and cooks fish to give the crowd a second course.

Yes, Jesus does this with what the disciples have among themselves. So, in a small way, He works within His creation and preserves the food-pipeline. But He certainly didn’t need to use what the disciples had because when it is all said and done, there are seven baskets of leftovers. The disciples end up with more than they had at the beginning.

This is a miracle. No one can feed such a large crowd, but Jesus can and does. But this miracle of feeding the 4,000 pales in comparison to the miracle of food that will be on your plate at lunch. The same Jesus is working through hundreds if not millions of people to make sure you have a bite later when He could simply make the food appear on your plate without any of them.

You are constantly surrounded by miracles. But you have gotten so used to seeing them that you don’t see the splendor and glory of God’s provision for you.

Do you realize how miraculous farming and gardening is? You take a seed – a tiny part of something, put it in the ground, and you get more of that same thing. How many thousands and even millions of tomatoes are in a single tomato seed when God uses His creation to nurture and grow that seed? We hardly give tomato seeds a second thought. But in each of those seeds is a lifetime supply of tomatoes for you and your family. But it is a lot less work for you to simply go to the store and purchase more tomatoes.

We are too easily bored with God’s miracles. And worse, we even grow to despise God’s work among us.

We get excited when a child takes her first steps. Her body has miraculously formed and developed the muscles, bones, and tendons needed to support her frame. Her mind has learned to control all those parts of her body so she can keep her balance. But how many weeks pass before her parents are tired of keeping her from walking to the garbage can, tipping it over, and rummaging through the contents? They wish she were still stationary.

Think for a moment of the miracle of life. Your body is made up of somewhere around 35 trillion individual cells that serve various functions. If the DNA in those cells were laid out end to end, it would travel from here to the sun and back 100 times. From the moment you were conceived, the information in your DNA would fill 600,000 pages. And right now, in each of the 35 trillion cells of your body, biological “machines” are copying volumes of information into amino acids which are taken by other machines and folded in very specific ways into proteins. So, don’t let anyone tell you that you are lazy.

These miracles are going on all around you and inside of you. And as we are able to learn even more about how this all works, it will simply get more intricate and amazing. You are fearfully, wonderfully, and miraculously made. And the fact that all of this is done because of your Creator should cause you to fall on your knees in reverence and praise.

From a seed producing a plant that produces more fruit and more seeds to a child learning to walk to your cells writing and rewriting the information that keeps you alive, God keeps this creation working. But because all of this happens every day, it doesn’t capture our wonder and amazement as much as if it only happened once.[1]

The feeding of this crowd does show us that Jesus is God in the flesh. But that is not Jesus’ purpose in feeding the crowd. Jesus did not do this miracle to show the crowd that He is divine. Rather Jesus’ purpose in feeding and providing for them is His own compassion.

If Jesus provides so richly and abundantly for a crowd who got themselves into trouble by something so simply as forgetting to bring their lunch, how much more compassion will He have for you, sinner? You who are rightful recipients of death – the wages of sin – will Jesus not have compassion on you?

He does have that compassion and He has given that compassion. He has come in your flesh after your likeness. He died on the cross and shed His blood for you to give you His forgiveness and righteousness. And this same Jesus will provide for your needs in this body and life as well.

To this hungry and dying crowd of 4,000 in a desolate place, Jesus brings life on the third day. Just as He fed the people on the third day, He has risen on the third day for your justification.

So, rejoice and trust your Savior. When Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things…,”your food, drink, clothing, shelter, and everything you need for life, “all these things will be added to you,”He meant it. Amen.

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

[1]Revised from a quote by John Donne, “There is nothing that God has established in the constant course of nature, and which therefore is done everyday, but would seem a miracle, and exercise of our admiration, if it were done but once.”

Before the Throne of God – Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday on Isaiah 6:1-7

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Isaiah 6:1-7

1In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Isaiah 62Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lordof hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lordof hosts!” 6Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

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

Why do you come to church?

Last year, Gallop polled fifteen hundred adults[1]to see why they go to church. They gave seven options, and here is the order those options were ranked:

  1. Sermons or talks that teach me more about Scripture.
  2. Sermons or talks that help connect religion to my life.
  3. Spiritual programs geared toward my children.
  4. Lots of community outreach and volunteer opportunities.
  5. A leader who is interesting and inspiring.
  6. Social activities to get to know people in my community.
  7. Good music.

Do you notice anything missing from that list? Anyone? Bueller?

No mention of receiving forgiveness.

Each of those responses is starting with the premise that when Christians gather together they are the ones doing something. “I’m learning. I’m becoming more religious. I’m doing my duty for my children. I’m helping my community.” And each of these responses is dead wrong.

When Christians gather together to hear God’s Word, God is the One who is acting, and we are the ones being acted upon. He sends His Word to convict of sin. And God sends His Word to forgive sin. That is why we want our service to be filled with Scripture. We want everything to be centered around God’s Word – Law and Gospel.

Isaiah tells us about what happened to him while he was at church one day.

Isaiah was a normal dude. He wasn’t a priest, so Isaiah couldn’t enter the holy places of the Temple. So, Isaiah is in the courtyard of the Temple where the laity would gather to offer their sacrifices and hear the Word of God. It was how God’s people did church in Isaiah’s day.

But while he is there, God gives Isaiah this vision to see what is really happening. Isaiah sees the Lord high, lifted up, and sitting on the throne. In the Gospel of John, we are told that Isaiah saw Jesus on that throne (Jn. 12:41) with the train of His glorious robe filling the Temple.

But Jesus isn’t alone. With Him are the seraphim – glowing, fiery angels with six wings. Why six wings? God didn’t create them with unnecessaryparts, and they aren’t mutations. These angels are perfect. Perfectly created, and perfect in their conduct. The angels never sinned and didn’t need to be redeemed. But even they need to cover the parts that show their creatureliness.

Each seraph calls out, “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” This threefold ‘holy’ is not just repetition. Each of these holy’s stands on its own; it could be translated, “Holy One. Holy One. Holy One.” Three distinct Holy Ones each deserving of praise. Isaiah only sees one – Jesus, but the seraphim are worshipping Three – Holy Father, Holy Son, and Holy Spirit.

Isaiah sees and hears this as he is there to worship at the Temple, and it is true for us, even though we don’t see it, every time we gather for worship as well. Every time Christians gather together, more are there than can be seen. Jesus promises that the Trinity is with even the smallest congregation (Mt. 18:20).

Wedding Feast of the LambHebrews 12[:22–23]tells us that there are many more here today than our eyes can see, “But you have 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.”

Isaiah sees what we can’t see, and he hears the worship we can’t hear. So he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost.” Essentially, Isaiah is saying, “I’m cooked.” Before the lofty throne of the Almighty, Eternal, Triune, Holy God, Isaiah figures God is there to punish him. How incredibly sad!

Isaiah is a Christian. He believes that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7).

If God had wanted to judge Isaiah, He could have opened up a hole in the ground and swallowed Isaiah to the pits of hell. God doesn’t toy around when it comes to executing judgment.

But Isaiah knows his sin. He knows that his sin isn’t something outside of him that sort of hovers over him. And his sin isn’t just something recorded in a divine naughty-or-nice list. Instead, Isaiah knows that his sin is on his lips, in his body, and part of who he is.

We wouldn’t have done any better than Isaiah did if we had this same encounter. We would have been just as terrified. The sins that we commit and don’t even think about would have been equally exposed. And we know that we have no excuse and no alibi when standing before the God and judge of all creation. We would rightly fear the Holy Trinity who after killing the body can throw us into hell (Mt. 10:28).

But when God appears to sinners. He isn’t there to destroy them. He is there to redeem them, forgive them, and comfort them. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

That seraph, that messenger of God, takes a burning coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips, and absolves him: “See this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

What comes right after this text is comical. We, at least I, forget that sometimes. There is the Holy, Holy, Holy, Triune God and forgiven Isaiah. And God asks a question. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” God could have just given Isaiah his marching orders, “Ok, Isaiah. Now that I’ve forgiven you, you’re going to do something for Us.”

No, God gives Isaiah a chance to confess that he is forgiven. And Isaiah does, “Here am I. Send me.” Isaiah, the man cleansed of unclean lips, is given the task of proclaiming God’s Word as God’s prophet.

And you here today, you saints, you who have come into the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy God, you too have been cleansed. Your guilt has also been taken away. Your sin has been completely atoned for. As you leave this place, go with a clean conscience. Go and do everything that God calls you to do this week. Go be God’s salt and light in this world.

And come back. Come back next week before the throne of God to once again receive His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. Amen.

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

[1]http://news.gallup.com/poll/208529/sermon-content-appeals-churchgoers.aspx?utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_content=morelink&utm_campaign=syndication