Reminiscere, the Second Sunday in Lent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 15:21-28
March 12, 2017
“Consider Your Place in Life”
“No one believes how the devil opposes and resists them, and cannot tolerate that anyone should teach or live rightly…It hurts him beyond measure to suffer his lies and abominations to be exposed…and to be driven out of the heart, and to endure such a breach to be made in his kingdom. Therefore he rants and rages as a fierce enemy with all his power and might, and marshals all his subjects [against Christians]…in addition, [he] enlists the world and our own flesh as his allies…Such is all his will, mind, and thought, for which he strives day and night, and never rests a moment…
If we would be Christians, therefore, we must surely expect and reckon upon having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies, who will bring every possible misfortune and grief upon us.” Large Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, 3rd Petition, 62-65
How did it go this week?
How did what go?
Your fight with Satan and his allies, your flesh and the world. Did it go well?
Last week’s Gospel told us about the temptation of Jesus. To save people out of Satan’s Kingdom, Jesus had to be attacked by Satan. On Wednesday, we heard the beginning of Jesus’ final conflict with the evil one, His Passion.
What happened to Jesus also happens to everyone who doesn’t want to remain in Satan’s kingdom. You have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. You have God’s name on your forehead. As long as you remain in Jesus’ death and resurrection, in His victory over sin, death, and the devil, you also are in a life-or-death conflict with the old evil foe and his allies the world and your flesh. You could never hope to win this fight. But Jesus has already won. Through faith in Jesus you also conquer Satan, even when you’re weak, even when you stumble. That’s why Satan’s goal is to destroy faith in Christ.
So how did the fight go this week?
The chances are good that you didn’t think much about the fact that you were in the middle of a battle with Satan and his allies, your flesh and the world. We get so busy with work, responsibilities, worries, pleasures, that we forget. If you forget you’re in a war, this week’s battles probably didn’t go very well.
Even if you were conscious of the battle you’re in, chances are good that you experienced defeats. In the prayer guide in the bulletin this week the catechism memory work is about confession. “Which are these?” it asks—what sins should we know and feel in our hearts and confess in order to receive absolution? The answer is: Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm? In other words, look at how you carried out the calling God has given you. The sins the catechism mentions are not what we consider great sins. They are sins that most of us struggle with every week in one way or another. Yet to be a Christian is to continue to fight against them, to get up when we fall and try to make progress against them. For forgiveness and strength in this fight we draw near to God, hear His Word of pardon and absolution, and receive the body and blood of Jesus which cleanses us of all sin.
To overcome our sins by faith in Jesus is to fight against the evil one, Satan, and his allies, our flesh and the world.
But if you try to do this week in and week out, you find how hard it is. In fact, you feel overwhelmed. It is a struggle even to keep your mind on it, isn’t it? If we don’t want to be overcome by our sins, we need God’s help. We call out to God to keep us watchful, to give us strength against the devil, to keep us in faith in Christ, to forgive us when we fall. We pray. Prayer is our weapon in the war against the devil—not because our prayers are strong, but because the One who has promised to hear and answer our prayers is mighty and victorious.
In the Gospel reading we have an example of this in the Canaanite woman. She cries out to Jesus for help and deliverance in her distress, and she doesn’t quit, because she believes that Jesus is who He says He is—the promised Son of David, come to bring salvation to her and the whole world from the devil’s power.
But we don’t need prayer only for ourselves. God calls you, when you are baptized, to serve Him in specific ways by serving specific people. He places you in your family and calls you to love and serve your spouse, your children or your parents. He places you in your congregation and calls you to love and serve your congregation and your pastor. He places you in your city or country and calls you to love and serve your government and your fellow citizens. All these things—family, church, state—are God’s institutions. They are there to bring God’s blessings to people. When they falter, people suffer. So they need prayer too. When the devil makes inroads against someone in your family, against your congregation or synod or your pastor, against your city or country or neighborhood, you aren’t supposed to sit still. You are supposed to fight the evil one with the weapons God has given you—prayer and the Word of God.
The Canaanite woman is dealing with an obvious attack of Satan on one she is called to love and serve—her daughter. Her daughter, says the Gospel, is “severely possessed by a demon.” The word literally is “she is demonized.”
People are naturally “demonized”—under the power of demons. If the Kingdom of Jesus is going to free them, there will be a fight.
If people are going to be saved, there will be a fight. We need to pray.
The problem is sometimes Jesus doesn’t seem to listen to our prayers…doesn’t answer her, says “I was sent only to lost sheep of Israel,” says, when she bows down in front of Him, “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
She perseveres in faith in Jesus, believing He will help. She says, “Yes, I am a dog, but dogs get the crumbs.” Yes, I’m a sinner, yet you will not refuse forgiveness and blessing even to the chief of sinners. You came to save sinners.
Don’t doubt this. Hold firmly to it. Though great our sins, yet greater still/ Is God’s abundant favor. / His hand of mercy never will/ Abandon us nor waver. / Our shepherd good and true is He/ who will at last His Israel free/ from all their sin and sorrow.
When you see the devil attacking in yourself, your home, your church, your city, call on Jesus for help. This is how His kingdom advances, people are brought to salvation and preserved in it.
Soli Deo Gloria
The First Battle of Jesus’ Reformation. Invocabit, The First Sunday in Lent, 2017. St. Matthew 4:1-11
Invocabit, the First Sunday in Lent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 4:1-11
March 5, 2017
“The First Battle of Jesus’ Reformation”
You have been hearing this year about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, how God revealed to the world again the truly good news of Jesus after it had been buried under teachings of men and demons. Martin Luther was the human instrument through whom God accomplished this.
But what happened with Luther was only one act in the play. Reformation began long before this. The stage was set for it in eternity. The drama began when God spoke this threat to the serpent in the garden: I will put [hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:15) When Jesus came out of the Jordan River, still wet from being baptized, the table was set, and the drama began.
Jesus came into the world to bring about reformation. He didn’t come to reform a corrupt government, or even to reform a corrupt religious establishment. He came to destroy the root of the world’s corruption—to dethrone the fallen spirit that had set himself up as the world’s god, and to set free the people God made to bear His own image and likeness. Jesus was here to bring about a reformation of the world, make the world into a temple, where people would worship God in every thought, word, and action, with every breath. This worship of God, this obedience of God, comes through faith in the true God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
All the evil we see in the world—cheating and lying, hatred and killing, immorality, dishonoring God—all of it comes from unbelief, non-trust in the true God.
So Jesus entered the world, as God had promised long before, to crush the serpent’s head, make people free from his corruption, and bring about reformation. To bring them to faith in God & release them from worship of Satan, belief in his lies.
He was conceived in the womb of Mary through the Holy Spirit, born in the Bethlehem stall. For the next few decades we hear little about Him, until He appears at the Jordan River to be baptized with the crowds who were confessing their sins that those sins might be washed away.
When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice sounded from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17) Jesus’ reformation began in earnest. Jesus had come to the Jordan with no sins to confess. Nevertheless, He was baptized with the sinners. The only-begotten Son of God was baptized as a sinner because He had taken the burden of humanity, its sin and its redemption, upon Himself.
Then in the Gospel for today, Matthew chapter 4, we hear how the Holy Spirit brought Him to the first battle of His work of reforming the world. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matt. 4:1) Any reformer of any kind has to fight. If you want to reform a corrupt city government, you will have a fight on your hands from the corrupt politicians who are in power and all the people who benefit from the corruption. When Luther tried to reform the practice of granting indulgences, he was quickly attacked by the powerful bishops, including the Pope, who profited from the sale of indulgences.
Jesus came to reform something much bigger than a city government or even the Church; He came to reform the whole world. He had to have a confrontation with the ruler of this corrupt world—the devil.
But what Jesus experienced as soon as He was baptized happens to everyone who comes after Him. When you brought your little ones to be baptized into Jesus, you were bringing them to be baptized into His fight with Satan. As long as you are a Christian and lay claim to the benefits of your baptism, to peace and union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to the forgiveness of your sins, you can’t avoid a fight with the devil and all who are his. You must suffer his attacks, and you must fight. You must be tempted. When the fight ends, when the temptation ends, so does your salvation.
The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into this fight, and to prepare Him for it, He lets Jesus fast for 40 days. Jesus is weak almost to the point of death when the devil appears to test Him. And the tests the devil brings are all temptations to presumption, to pride. “You are God’s Son,” Satan says. “Since you’re God’s Son, why should you have to starve out here in the desert? 40 days of fasting? How unreasonable your Father is to make things so hard and painful for you! You shouldn’t have to deal with the irritations and humiliations that human beings have because of their sin and unfaithfulness to God when you’re righteous! The angels should carry you around! Why doesn’t Your Father let you show Your glory so that these people give you the honor that is due you?”
Later Jesus would teach His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” The Small Catechism, the handbook of Christian faith and life Luther drew from the Scriptures, explains that part of the Lord’s Prayer in this way, “We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we would finally overcome them and win the victory.”
We usually think of temptation as the devil trying to persuade us to commit grave moral lapses. Of course he does that. But the heart of all the devil’s temptations has to do with faith. Despair is when the devil convinces us that we cannot be saved, that we cannot believe that God has forgiven our sins. The other, “false belief”, refers to presumption, false confidence, where our faith rests not on God’s promise but on ourselves—our past good works, our past experiences of being close to God, our feelings.
The devil tries Jesus with presumption and false belief. “You are God’s Son. Why should you have to hunger and be meek and suffer? Shouldn’t your Father honor you and give you glory and rewards instead of this humiliation?”
Then he lets loose a barrage of flaming arrows at Jesus in his third temptation, in a desperate attempt to get Jesus to fall, like all other human beings have before. “I know that you have come to take possession of the world,” Satan says. “You are the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed king. The Scriptures say you are going to rule all the nations. Well, here, have a look at them. You can take possession of them all, right now. They’re yours. I’ll give them up. Just give me my due. Fall down and worship me. No one will ever know. I won’t make you fast for 40 days or suffer humiliation like your Father is doing to you. It will be quick and easy.”
We have to give the devil his due, the saying goes. This is an evil world, and things don’t go so smoothly for us when we don’t play by its rules. Christians often give the devil his due too. We often believe that there is no other way to survive. (Examples)
But Jesus gives Satan—nothing. Nothing except God’s Word from the Scriptures, which silences his lies and expose his fraud. Satan is driven off, beaten. The first man in history has refused his offers and been faithful to God.
Jesus could easily have overwhelmed Satan with His power and glory. He could have done that without coming to earth. But that wouldn’t have helped us. Using His divine, almighty power to destroy Satan would have meant destroying all of Satan’s servants as well.
Instead Jesus came to reform the world and crush Satan not with overwhelming power but with faith in God and the obedience that comes from faith. Jesus trusts His Father and accepts His will, even when that will means being humbled and suffering for our sins. By this humble faith and trusting obedience to His Father, Jesus bruises Satan in this first battle, and finally bruises his head, crushing it in the dust, when He fulfills His work on the cross. By His perfect faith and obedience to His Father, Jesus earns God’s favor, His grace, for all of us. By His righteousness, Jesus earns the forgiveness of our sins before God. God looks at the human race and sees not our rebellion and falling before Satan, but Jesus resisting and overcoming him. He sees Jesus in perfect trust and obedience giving His holy life, shedding His innocent blood to atone for all of our transgressions.
Jesus’ humble trust in the Father, His rock-like holding to God’s Word despite all temptations, all appearances that seem to contradict it, is the example of how our lives are to be lived. The love and humility He showed in willingly bearing this suffering in the wilderness, when He by rights did not have to suffer at all, is our example of how much God wills that we give of ourselves for our neighbor’s good.
But even more, Jesus’ victory over Satan in this first battle, and His final victory in His death and resurrection is our shield and defense in our battles against Satan. When we are tempted to despair of God’s mercy, we claim Jesus’ obedience all the way to the cross as our own. God has promised and pledged that it is ours in our Baptism. We claim it, invoking the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit placed on us in Baptism.
The work of reformation that He began here is also our defense against false belief. When the devil says, “Avoid suffering. It doesn’t matter. No one will know,” we hold to the Scripture and lay hold of Christ, who suffered this temptation and the agony of the cross for us. We say, “I do not belong to you, but to Him who died and was raised to reform this world and me and make me a new creation, a Son of God.”
Or should Satan press me hard, let me then be on my guard. Saying Christ for me was wounded, that the devil flee confounded. Amen. SDG
Ash Wednesday (7 p.m.)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Joel 2:12-19, 2 Peter 1:2-9, St. Matthew 6:16-21
March 1, 2017
Repentance and Reformation
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
That is the first of the 95 Theses that sparked the Reformation. The first word of the Reformation of God’s Church was about repentance. If your life needs to be reformed, if a family needs to be reformed, if a congregation or the whole Church needs reformation, this is where it begins—with repentance.
But a Christian life not only begins with repentance. The entire life of a Christian is one of repentance—an ongoing, daily “changing of your mind.” A change in how we think, look at the world, what we love and hold dear, what we believe, with the result that we return to God.
This the reason ashes are imposed today. Ashes are a physical way of saying that our way of thinking and living must change. Ashes are what remains to people who have been destroyed.
Look at pictures of a place that has been through a war, like Germany after World War 2, its cities pulverized to dust, rubble, and ashes by the rain of bombs falling from the sky. You see people with wide eyes hiding in blackened, charcoal shells of houses, their faces dirty from the ash that is everywhere. They haven’t just been going through a hard time. Their country has been laid into the dust and destroyed. The ashes of what they once had smeared their faces black.
Do you recognize that that is how you are? A shell of what you were created to be, sitting in the ashes of the glory you once had, not knowing when fire will rain down from the sky to consume what is left of your life?
In ancient times, in the Bible, when people grieved and mourned, they sat in ashes, they sprinkled ashes on their heads. They did this to show that they had been destroyed. Frequently, along with the ashes, they stopped eating food—they fasted. People do that when they are too full of pain to fill their stomachs; they also do it when war or destruction has so ruined their worlds that there is no food to eat. When God had punished people in the Bible, or when it seemed like He was about to punish them, they would sit in ashes, they would fast, and they would cry out to God from their destruction: “You have destroyed us; please bring us back to life.”
They understood correctly who the God of the Scriptures is. He is the God who, out of a handful of dust, made man in His image, and breathed in His nostrils the breath of life. We were created with glory to bear the image of the one God. But when Adam and Eve rejected the Word of God, they lost their form, just like the palm leaves in the fire. The image of God was destroyed. They lived out the remainder of their lives under a curse until their ruined bodies returned to dust. God gives life. God also destroys life that turns away from Him.
But God is able to bring back the life He destroys. He is able to gather the ashes of the palm leaves and make them once again the green branches they once were. He is able to bring back human beings that have been destroyed by sin; to raise to life flesh and bone that have returned to dust, and to restore the lost image of the Creator to human bodies and souls.
But when He does that in a person, or a household, or a church, it always begins with repentance, with a change of mind.
If a person is a burnt wasteland, a bombed-out ruin, he hasn’t started to come back to life yet until he recognizes he has been destroyed. Until our ruins are rebuilt and no sin remains in us, a Christian cannot be comfortable and satisfied. Could a person who has lived through a war be comfortable and content while his country is burning, his home is ashes, and he is sleeping on a cot in a refugee shelter? No! He will not be content until his home is rebuilt, the fields of his nation are sprouting grain, the roads are paved, there are schools for his children. So Christians can’t be content while sin remains in them.
As we seek to renew our life of repentance this Lent, it is important to remember that repentance has two parts. The first is contrition, which is heartfelt sorrow and terror over our sins, the recognition of God’s wrath against sin revealed in the Law, together with the desire to be free from sin and its destruction. Contrition is necessary, but it is not something we can do or make ourselves feel. It is God’s work within us, and there is only one way that God has promised to work it. That is through His Word—in particular, through the preaching of His Law.
If you listen seriously to the sermons that are preached to you instead of sitting in judgment on them, as so many do; if you allow yourself to be taught God’s Word by the pastor God sent you; if you faithfully read the Scripture; and if you take up the Small Catechism, learn the ten commandments with their explanations, and look at the way you live in light of them, God will work contrition within you—not because you have done a good work by listening and reading, but because He desires that all be saved and come to repentance. His Word is the instrument He uses to create repentance within you.
He will give you a contrite and broken heart, which is the sacrifice of God, which He does not despise (Ps. 51). He will not only terrify you with the threat of His wrath, but if you believe in Christ, He will also create in you the sorrow that comes from having offended the God you love.
Ashes a biblical symbol of the destruction sin has brought upon us. But there is another kind of ashes in the Bible—ashes used not to grieve, but to purify.
In Numbers 19, God commanded that a red heifer should be sacrificed and burned and its ashes mixed with water. This water was used to purify those who were made unclean through contact with a dead body. An animal, completely consumed in the fire, reduced to ashes on God’s altar—those ashes, that residue of a destroyed life, when mixed with water, made a person clean from the impurity that came from contact with death.
God has provided another, much greater life to be consumed in the fire of His wrath for your sins—the life of His Son. In Baptism, the ashes of His sacrifice on the cross, the fullness of His death for the sins of the world, are joined to water and poured upon you to cleanse not only your body but your soul from death. Not only His death under the wrath of God, but His resurrection into life free from the condemnation of the Law. In Baptism you become a participant in both. You are joined with Him. On the cross, the burning wrath of God fell on His soul as He carried your sins as His own. You also were brought to an end with Jesus.
But God is able to raise up again and put back together what He has utterly destroyed in His wrath. And He did. He raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. And in raising Jesus, He raised you and all people up, put us all back together again as a new creation, as children of God. He raised up our ruins, brought our ashes together and re-formed them, remade us in the image of the glory of God, so that we will never taste the second death.
This is the second and most important part of repentance—not only sorrow for our sins, but faith that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus. By faith I mean certain confidence and trust that although we cannot free ourselves from spiritual destruction, God has done so. He destroyed our sins in the wrath that He poured out on His Son who bore them. Then He raised up the one who bore our sins, freeing Him from the curse. Instead of ashes He gave us a beautiful headdress, a crown of victory (Is. 61), like the Old Testament priests who wore a crown that said, “Holy to the Lord.” This crown is placed on our heads by God, because Jesus, our head, is alive again. His battle with sin is over and He has emerged in righteousness and victory. He is our crown of righteousness and sanctification. He was poured on our heads in Baptism. By faith we wear His holiness as our crown.
“The entire life of a believer should be one of repentance,” Luther wrote in the first word of the reformation. That means not only a life of sorrow over our sin, but a life of confidence and trust that God has dealt with our sin. A life in which we daily return to God, not only with sorrow over our destruction, but with firm trust that our destruction has been swallowed up by life. Then instead of transforming us to ash from outside, God, who is an unquenchable fire of love, transforms us from within into the image of His Son. He burns away our old self until Christ appears in us.
Repentance begins with the recognition of sin and ends with the certain trust that our sins are forgiven—not because we feel that they are, but because the Gospel of God declares them to be. Where the pure Gospel of God is preached, it will work this change of mind—contrition and faith. And this repentance—true repentance– always brings reformation with it. Wherever an individual, family, or congregation is given this change of mind, and clings steadfastly to the promise that their sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, that individual or family or church will begin to reorder its life according to God’s Word. It will begin to produce fruit that pleases God. May God graciously create and strengthen this repentance in us this Lent.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria