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Jesus’ Humiliation: Our Glory. Quinquagesima 2019

jesus flagellation.PNGQuinquagesima 

St. Peter Lutheran Church 

St. Luke 18:31-43 

March 3, 2019 

Jesus’ Humiliation: Our Glory and Healing 

 

Iesu iuva 

In the Name of Jesus. 

 

Heartless scoffers did surround Thee

Treating Thee with shameful scorn

And with piercing thorns they crowned Thee.

All disgrace Thou, Lord, hast borne,

That as Thine Thou mightest own me,

And with heav’nly glory crown me.

Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,

Dearest Jesus, unto Thee.  LSB 420 st. 4

 

In the 11th chapter of the Gospel of John, our Lord says some of His most loved words: I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.  (John 11:25-26) 

 

These words are spoken in the funeral service of every Christian.  They are words we take to ourselves and draw comfort from on the hardest days of our lives.   

 

Our Lord said them first to Martha, His friend, when she was grieving over the death of her brother Lazarus. 

 

Jesus’ words to Martha are a declaration that there is more to Him than she is able to see or trace out.  She thinks that Jesus could have prevented her brother from dying, but now that he is dead, she believes that Jesus is able to bring him back—whether now, or on the resurrection of the dead on the last day.  But Jesus tells her: I am the resurrection and the life.  Not only can I bring your brother back, but he and whoever believes in Me is already alive forever.  Whoever believes in Me will never die; He has the resurrection at the end of time right now. 

 

That wasn’t what Martha or the 12 disciples saw when they looked at Jesus.  They didn’t see the last day or the dead arising from their graves.  They just saw a man.  But what they saw with their eyes didn’t tell them the whole story.  Jesus was and is the resurrection and the life, so that whoever believes in Him lives even though he dies.  That is why we say those words at Christian funerals—because things there are not as they appear to our eyes either.  The Christian who has died lives, because he has the resurrection and the life by faith.

 

Something similar to this is going on in today’s Gospel reading, the last Gospel reading before we descend into the valley of Lent, which is the season of Jesus’ suffering and death, and also the season of our renewal.

 

Jesus tells us what is ahead as He and His disciples walk the road through Jericho.  Behold, we are going to Jerusalem, and everything written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be finished.  For He will be handed over to the Gentiles and ridiculed and treated disgracefully and spit on, and after flogging Him they will kill Him.  And on the third day He will rise (Luke 18:31-33).  Luke tells us that the disciples understood nothing of these things, and the saying was hidden from them.

 

The disciples of course understood the language Jesus used, but the meaning of what He said didn’t sink in.  The reason was: they didn’t want to hear it; they didn’t want to accept it.

 

But they didn’t realize that just as Jesus was more than He appeared to Martha’s eyes and reason, so His humiliation is something more than it appears to our eyes and thinking.

 

As we enter into Lent, this reading calls us to ponder Jesus’ humiliation, because it is our healing, comfort, and glory.

 

That is not the way the disciples saw it.  That’s not how we see it either.  Of course not!  Who thinks if their Lord is spit on, beaten, and killed, that this is honor for the servants?  So they simply had closed hearts when Jesus told them this was coming.

 

We, of course, know about Jesus’ humiliation; we’ve heard the story before.  That’s our version of the saying was hidden from them.  It’s not that we don’t know Jesus was mocked, spit on, beaten.  We do know it.  Yet we don’t stay with it.  We don’t take it to heart.  We say, “I’ve heard it before,” and we lightly consider it.

 

Partly that’s because it is hard for us, as it was for the twelve, to look on Jesus’ sufferings.  It seems like losing, not winning; weakness, not glory.  It makes us feel guilty and uncomfortable to spend time with Jesus’ humiliation.  To hear the laughter and cursing of the soldiers.  To imagine Jesus’ face being slapped by the high priest.  To imagine spit from the soldiers’ mouths running down His face.

 

Also it seems like losing, not winning.  To spend time pondering Jesus’ humiliation does not seem like any way to make better the overwhelming problems that seem ready to swallow up the church, our families, our young people.  Or our own problems—health, money, depression, addiction, marriage problems.  What we need to do, it seems, is not see Jesus go to Jerusalem, be ridiculed and treated shamefully, but get to work.  Our work will save us, but what will sitting around pondering Jesus’ humiliation accomplish?

 

The reason we think this way is because our flesh and its wisdom is opposed to God and His will.

 

The Scripture foretold that the Son of God, the Christ, would suffer and be humiliated.  It was the will of God, and it was what all the Scripture prophesied.  Ask most people what the Bible is about, and they will tell you that it is a guidebook or something like that, that it tells you what God wants you to do.  No.  The Scripture tells us what God has done for us men and our salvation.  All the Old Testament scriptures foretold that the Christ would suffer, and now in this reading Jesus says that He is going to Jerusalem to finish what the Scriptures said must happen.  Ask yourself how the Jews could have studied the Bible intensely for centuries and failed to understand its central teaching, that the Christ must be handed over by His own people to the gentiles to be humiliated, abused, and killed—and you will get a glimpse of how human beings are fallen and oppose God and His will.  How helpless we are in sin and rebellion against God.

 

God the Father foretold and planned the humiliation and suffering of His Son to heal us, comfort us, and glorify us.  His humiliation, not our works, is our healing, comfort and glory. Just as Jesus was the resurrection even while Martha’s brother was in the grave, so Jesus’ mockery is our honor and our comfort.  He is our victory even as He is slapped and spit on and our glory even when He is mocked and crowned with thorns.  He heals us even as His back is laid open with red stripes and as sweat falls from His face like great drops of blood.

 

There is no other remedy, no other cure for our sins than Jesus, the eternal Son of God, taking them upon Himself and being punished for them.  Hundreds of years before Jesus’ suffering the prophet Isaiah foretold them in great detail.  Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.  Yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.  (Is. 53:4-5)  When Jesus was punished as an evildoer, and when He experienced the terror and agony of hell both in the garden and on the cross, He was paying in full the debt of our sin, so that it no longer stands before God.  There was no other way for this sickness in which we are born to be healed than by Jesus enduring God’s judgment and removing God’s curse from us.  Yet Isaiah also foretold, 2700 years ago, that most people would refuse to take to heart what Jesus has done.  Who has believed what he heard from us?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  …He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him…as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed Him not (Is. 53:1-3). 

 

That is why during Lent we ponder Jesus’ humiliation and suffering.  By what Jesus was headed to Jerusalem to undergo, we are healed of the guilt of sin.

 

Jesus’ agony is our comfort.  The suffering of Jesus is the picture of the love of God for us.  It is the assurance that He is at peace with us.  How could He still be angry with us for our sins when He planned before the foundation of the world to send His Son to be put to shame for them and to suffer His wrath for them?  If God is for us, and did not spare His own Son, who can be against us?

 

Jesus’ humiliation is also our glory.  In this world Christians are cast down and laid low.  Even in times when the church has honor in the world, true Christians are mocked like Jesus, laughed at as fools for believing in and treasuring the one who was crucified.  But in many times and places the Christian church is openly scorned or persecuted.  But when we ponder Jesus’ humiliation, we see that God has glorified us.  As the lash hit Jesus’ skin and the crown of thorns pressed down on His head, God exalted us who believe in Him.  There He removed the shame of our sin.  There He revealed before all the universe the greatness of His love for us, that He would give His only Son up for us all.

 

God has honored you in the humiliation of His Son.  He could not have honored you more highly, because He gave His Son all our shame so that we bear it no more.

 

This is why the great work of the Holy Christian Church is to receive what the Lord has done for us, to see what the Lord has done for us.  As we go down with Jesus the way of the cross, we pray with the blind beggar that He would open our eyes to see it anew.  Lord, have mercy on us!  Christ have mercy on us!  Lord, have mercy on us!

 

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

 

Seed, Sower, Soil. Sexagesima 2019

February 25, 2019 Leave a comment

sower jean francois millet.PNGSexagesima

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 8:4-15

February 24, 2019

Seed, Sower, Soil

 

Iesu Iuva

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Behind the house I grew up in there was a cornfield.

 

That isn’t very remarkable for those of us who lived in northern Illinois our whole lives.  My wife, however, grew up on the Oregon coast.  I am pretty certain no one in her hometown had a cornfield in their back yard, or anywhere near their back yard.  The Oregon coast does not have the soil for growing corn and soybeans, I don’t think.  It is very good soil for pine trees, and there are a lot of fish in the waters around there, but I don’t think it’s soil where corn grows well.

 

On the other hand, whatever northern Illinois may lack, it has great dirt.  Even people in other states that grow corn will tell you this.  They’d love to farm the soil we tear up to build housing subdivisions, because with all the advances we’ve made in agriculture in the last 2000 years, good soil is still the most important thing for growing corn and grain.

 

So that part of the parable is as true of today as it was of the day in which Jesus told it.  You still can’t produce a crop without good soil.  But there is something different between Jesus’ parable and the way farming is done today, and that is the way the seed is planted.

 

In Jesus’ parable, the farmer sows the seed in his field by hand.  He goes out with a bag of seed strapped to his side and throws handfuls of it out this way and that way as he walks up and down his field.  I never saw anybody do this in the cornfield behind my house when I was growing up.  They had machines to plant the corn in regular rows.  No seed ended up on the road or in a ditch full of weeds or on thin, rocky soil.

 

Farmers were less scientific about their planting in the days when Jesus lived on earth because they hadn’t invented seed drills yet.  But Jesus’ parable is not meant to tell us about how farmers planted their fields with wheat and barley 2000 years ago.  Jesus’ parable tells us how He plants the Word of God in the world now, and about the way that Word grows in the world.

 

His parable shows us the mystery of the seed, the Sower, and the soils. 

 

When the disciples ask Jesus to explain the parable he preached to the crowds, He begins like this: Now the parable is this: The seed is the Word of God.  The farmer who planted the cornfield in my back yard planted corn with a seed drill, and it grew up and produced corn plants.

The farmer in Jesus’ parable plants a different kind of seed: the Word of God.

 

He does not plant human words about God or human thoughts about God.  There are plenty of those in the world.  Instead He plants the Word from God’s own mouth.  It is the Word that God speaks, that communicates the thoughts and will of God.  And as Isaiah the prophet said, the Word that goes forth from God’s mouth does not merely communicate ideas—it accomplishes and does what it says.  As the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  (Is. 55:10-11)  In the beginning God’s Word declared that light should come into being and be separated from the darkness, and that the earth should produce plants, and that man should be made in the image of God, and it was so.  Now God’s Word that is sown in the world declares that human beings are redeemed from sin and death, that their sins are forgiven out of pure grace, without any works, for the sake of Jesus Christ.  And it is so.  God’s Word accomplishes what it says.

 

But seed has to be sown to grow and produce a crop.  God’s Word must be sown on human beings to be heard and believed.  The parable does not say who the sower is directly, but it is evident.  Jesus is the one preaching God’s Word.  Jesus is the sower.  From the synod’s catechism, under the second article of the creed, we learned that Jesus Christ has two natures—God and man, united in one person.  But He also has an office, a job or task for which He is authorized, that is threefold—His office as our anointed one, our Christ, is to be our Prophet, Priest, and King.

 

As our priest, He offers Himself for us as a sacrifice to atone for our sins.  As our King, he reigns over the world for the good of His Church, and on the last day will save us from our enemies and judge the living and the dead.  But He is also our prophet.  That means that He proclaimed the Word of God during His life on earth, and He continues to proclaim it from heaven through the office of preaching, the pastoral office.

 

So when the Word of God is preached, Jesus is carrying out His office as prophet.  He is sowing God’s Word into the world.  And God’s Word is going to do what God’s Word does—accomplish the thing for which He sent it.  It is going to bring Jesus, God become man for our salvation, and with Him the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  It will fall into some hearts and remain there by faith; those hearts will believe that their sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, and so they will bear fruit in love toward their neighbor and in praise toward God, even when suffering comes because of God’s Word.

 

But the parable tells us that Jesus does not sow His seed in the modern, scientific way.  He does it the old-fashioned way, like a farmer going out to scatter seed by hand.  When you sow seed that way, it doesn’t all end up in the cultivated soil, nor does it grow in neat rows, like the cornfields and the soybean fields we see around us.  Instead, some seed lands in places where it can never grow at all.  Some lands in places where it grows for a brief time, then dies; some lands in places where it never produces fruit.

 

This method of sowing seed that Jesus uses that is old-fashioned, non-scientific, and apparently inefficient is called “the public preaching of the Word.”  The Word of God is always heard, it is a message proclaimed and told before the whole world.  Listen to the way our Lord describes how the kingdom of God comes: The ones along the path are those who have heard…(Luke 8: 12)  …As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the Word…(Luke 8:15)  Through the preaching, teaching, witnessing, confessing of the faith done by pastors and by Christians in their callings, Jesus scatters the seed of God’s Word.  He does not simply drill it in orderly rows into the good soil and the good soil only, but He spreads the Word of God to everyone.

 

But this is where the difficulty arises for us.  The seed is the Word of God—the Word that accomplishes what it is sent to do.

 

The sower is the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

 

If the sower is Jesus, and the seed is the powerful Word of God, it seems to us that the seed should do much better than we see it doing.  We expect to see it bring in a great harvest of people.  Instead what we see is not orderly rows of people sitting in the pews, like corn grows in cornfields.  Instead we see gaps in the rows.  Some grows here, some grows there.  Some shoots up and then dies just as quickly.  Some never seems to bear any fruit.  Lots never seem to grow at all.

 

We are tempted to come up with a lot of reasons for why this happens.  Maybe we need to update the methods of sowing the seed; maybe after all the seed isn’t enough.

 

But Jesus told us this would happen, didn’t He?  It was the same in His time on earth as now.  He is still the one sowing the seed, and the seed, if it is the pure gospel, is just as powerful as ever, because it is God’s Word that does what it says.

 

The Word of God is powerful and it is true.  When it is preached, it does what it says.  It does what no human words about God can do.  It saves us.  It gives us the forgiveness of sins.  It gives us power to overcome sin.  It makes us sons of God.  It does all this because it is not human thoughts about God, but God’s own thoughts, God’s own promise.  It is His promise that for the sake of His Son, and for the sake of His Son alone, you are righteous in His sight.  Because His Son, the Word made flesh, has done what pleases the Father.  And because His Son, like a seed, went down into the earth and died, and rose again.

 

But when this seed of God’s Word is not received—when it is not heard and kept by faith—then it does not bear fruit in a person.  God gives His Word generously.  He scatters it everywhere, but not everyone hears it, keeps hearing it, and believes it, and so produces fruit with patience.

 

As we enter into Lent, we should come with the prayer that God would make us good soil that receives His Word.  We should not cast our eyes around so much to look at what fruit the Word of God appears to be bearing in others around us, and doubt the power of God’s Word and the one who sows it.

 

Instead, we should ask God to give us hearts that receive His Word and bear its fruit.  We should be praying the first three petitions of the Lord’s prayer: Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us your pure Word, give us Your Holy Spirit so that we believe it and stay with it.  Or as St. James tells us: Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  (James 1:21)

 

To God the Holy Spirit let us pray

For the true faith needed on our way

That He may defend us when life is ending

And from exile home we are wending.

Lord, have mercy!

 

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Septuagesima 2019. Who Will Go And Work Today?

February 19, 2019 Leave a comment

Septuagesima

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 20:1-16

February 17, 2019

Who will go and work today?

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Beloved in Christ:

 

Hark the voice of Jesus crying,

Who will go and work today? (LSB 826 st.1)

 

When you come to the Lord’s table in a little while we will sing that hymn.  We will sing, Who will go and work?  Yet we will be doing the opposite of working.  We will be tasting wine, the vintage of the Lord.  We will be tasting the fruit of the Lord’s vineyard.  Yet we are singing that the work still needs to be done.

 

But the rules of time don’t apply to the Lord like they do to us.  He is still working in His vineyard and hiring workers even now.  Yet He has already opened the wine barrels in heaven; He sits us down and has the waiters filling our glasses and bringing out appetizers.  His wedding feast has already begun.  The Lord’s harvest festival has begun and it will extend through eternity; and in the Divine Service, here, we taste that feast.

 

Yet today He is calling for workers.

 

The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for His vineyard.  Matt. 20:1

 

Vineyards are for wine.  You don’t make wine just to quench your thirst—you dig a well for that.  Wine is for pleasure.

 

The Old Testament scriptures tell us that God planted a vineyard for Himself in this world from which He intends to make wine.  God’s vineyard is His people.  In the Old Testament His vineyard was known as Israel; today it is called the Holy Christian Church.

 

God planted it by making His promises to Abraham and transplanting him from the land of his fathers into the land of Canaan.  Abraham, despite not being able to have children, grew into a vine that bore many grapes.  The 12 tribes of Israel came from him, and God took them out of Egypt and planted them in the promised land.  He tended them with His Word so they would turn into wine.  Through Moses He gave them His commandments.  Through the prophets He gave them the promise of the Messiah, the Savior, the Righteous One.  The wine that God intends to come from His vineyard is righteousness.  Good works.  The whole world is bringing forth thorns, and thistles, and poisonous berries—sin, and nothing but sin.  But in God’s vineyard the good grapes of faith grow and are made into the wine of love and good works.

 

Jesus is the master of this vineyard who goes out early to get workers to help gather the harvest of righteousness.  But He doesn’t just have others do it.  He Himself works out with the workers.  In the heat of the day He pours His sweat on the dirt of His vineyard.  He even sheds His blood to bring in the Lord’s wine.  We have seen some of this during Epiphany, how Jesus left His throne and put aside His divine glory to share our curse, our lowliness.  How on earth He went and proclaimed God’s Word, healed the sick, drove out demons, and faced the heat of persecution and the burden of unbelief and ingratitude.  And we will see it more during Lent.  His labor was not merely preaching and doing good, but also suffering and enduring evil—the opposition of the world and the devil, and the wrath of God against the sinners He came to save.

 

But the Kingdom of heaven involves joining in Jesus’ labor.  That is why He is looking for workers.

 

He calls us to join with Him in laboring for the good of His Kingdom, to join Him in bringing forth righteousness.  That means not necessarily that we all preach like Jesus did, and labor in the Word and doctrine.  But it means that we all carry out the jobs to which He calls us.  We care for our children and our parents.  In the Church we hear and learn God’s Word, uphold it with our service and offerings, and work to spread it.  In our jobs we serve our neighbor—customers, our boss, our employees.  All this is labor in the Lord’s vineyard.

 

It is labor in His vineyard if we do it because we believe in Christ.  Most people, even Christians, work for themselves.  They work to get money, they work to get ahead, they work to pay off their credit card, they work to get a reputation, they work to get people off their backs.  They do a lot of work, but they are not working for Christ.  They are working for themselves.

 

The master of the vineyard did not do that.  He went into the vineyard to labor for the glory of God.  Jesus sweat and labored to make you and me vines that produce grapes, that produce wine that pleases God.  He didn’t do it to make Himself rich.  He already had everything.  He came down and labored in this world out of grace and love toward us.

 

That is what we are called to do.  Who will go to work today?

 

Yesterday a group of us met to put together the group that is going to start contacting members of St. Peter who have stopped attending church.  It will be a lot of work to contact them, and I would imagine there will be at least one or two who will not want to hear that St. Peter is concerned about how they have been away from the Word of God and His body and blood for so long, who may even get angry about it.

 

It’s also hard, difficult, expensive to reach out with the Gospel who have never been members of St. Peter or Christ’s Church.  For some reason many Lutherans seem to have gotten the idea that it should be easy for the Gospel to go forward in the world.

 

Well, I suppose everything is easy for God.  Yet He Himself planted His Word in the world with the hard labor of His Son.  It grew in the world through the sweat and blood of the apostles.  We should expect no different today.

 

Yet the master of the house goes out for laborers more than once.  He goes at the beginning of the day, at about 6 am.  Then again at 9.  Then at noon.  Then 3.  He even goes again at 5 pm, an hour before quitting time.  It appears that He could use more workers.

 

That’s how it is with Christ.  In another place He told His disciples: the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.   It’s a shame to imagine that Jesus cannot get enough workers to help bring in His harvest of souls, to help make His wine of righteousness.  Yet we see Him go out in the parable not once, not twice, but 5 times to find workers.

 

 

If it was profitable to work in the Lord’s vineyard—if it made you money or made you famous, then the seminaries would be full of people wanting to be pastors.  Then church and bible class and Sunday school would be full, and we would never have trouble finding someone to chair the board of Trustees and the other vacant council positions.  And not only that, but Christians would work hard at their marriages, at being faithful at their jobs, at raising their children, and the work God calls them to do in the world.

 

But it does not make you rich if you serve the Lord.  If you serve in His vineyard, your reward is not an earthly one.  Everybody gets the same wage regardless of what time of the day they started and how long they worked.

 

The wage, the reward is eternal life; the forgiveness of sins.  The reward is that we get to share in the joy of the Lord’s harvest.  We get to drink the master’s wine and sit at His table.

 

The reward is that we spend our lives working in the Lord’s vineyard instead of serving ourselves and our own projects, which Jesus calls standing around idle.  No matter how hard a person works and how much money they make in life, if they are serving themselves, they are really doing nothing.

 

None of their works will endure.  When the world ends and is judged, it will all be burned up.  The only things that will remain will be the works of God.  His vineyard and its fruit will endure.

 

Now if you are in the Lord’s vineyard you have a share in this.  He will pay you the wage of eternal life—whether you spent your whole life serving Him or only came in at the end.

 

The wage is not earned by our labor anyway.  Eternal life is not earned at all—not by us.  Eternal life is the reward of righteousness.  And there is only one who earned that reward—the master of the vineyard.  The one who pays the wages.

 

He gives us the wage He earned by His blood and sweat in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross.  He gives it to us without any work.  To everyone who believes in Him, that He accomplished righteousness and made the wine that gives God joy by His life and His suffering—He gives eternal life.

 

He gives it to us even before the work day is over.  In a few minutes we will sing:

 

Hark the voice of Jesus calling: who will go to work today?  Fields are white and harvests waiting; who will bear the sheaves away?

 

Yet while we are singing about work, we will be rejoicing in the fruits of our Lord’s finished work.  Take, drink, this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  We drink it, believing His words, and the work of our salvation is already done.  We rejoice.

 

That is why we go out of the church and labor.  The harvest of righteousness has already been accomplished, and the Lord has prepared His wine and His meat.

 

We go out with the certainty that the Lord will make something of our labor, something that will endure, and that He has already finished the work of our salvation.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Seed, Not Soil. Sexagesima 2018. Luke 8:4-15

February 9, 2018 Leave a comment

sower van gogh.PNGSexagesima

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 8:4-15

February 4, 2018

Seed, not Soil

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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. (Luke 8:15)

 

Jesus just told His disciples, and us, a mystery of God.  He told us how God’s Kingdom comes.

 

He didn’t tell how earthly kingdoms come.  That’s no mystery.  If Jesus wanted that, and wanted to teach His disciples how to do it, He would not have preached this parable to the crowd.  If Jesus wanted to have an earthly kingdom, He would have told that great crowd that came to Him, “You are all my disciples.  Follow me, and the whole earth will be ours.”

 

That’s not what He did.  He told them a story about seeds and didn’t explain it.  If He had explained it to them, they would have heard that they were not all His disciples.  They would have heard that He was not interested in making them winners in this world, rulers of this world.  They would have heard that God wants to make them despised by this world, offensive to this world, and pleasing to God.

 

God wants to make us His seed, His offspring, begotten by His Word.  He says: You are not soil, you are My seed.  You are not the man of dust, from which I made Adam, cursed by sin, able to produce only thorns and thistles. You are born of the seed of my Word, which bears fruit a hundredfold.

 

That’s what Jesus says: As for that on the path…The ones are the rock…As for what fell among thorns… He doesn’t say, “The path are the ones who…”  He refers to them as the seed that fell on the path, on the rock, among the thorns, in the good soil.  He doesn’t call people soil, but seed.

 

That’s because the Kingdom of God is not about getting a crowd together and exercising power and influence on earth.  That may be a byproduct of the Kingdom of God.  More often it is a counterfeit of God’s Kingdom coming.  There are still plenty of houses of worship that are packed to the gills with large crowds in this world, even many in our country.  But there are very few that fit the description of the Kingdom of God Jesus gives in this parable.

 

The Kingdom of God comes when the sower sows His seed.  What is the seed?  The seed is the Word of God.  Not partly the word of God, and partly the word of men; not seed that produces grain mixed with seed that produces weeds.  The seed is the Word of God.  Not the Word of God mostly, but they just don’t believe that Baptism saves, or the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ true body and blood, or they don’t believe that God created the world in six days, like Genesis says, or they don’t believe you have to believe the same teaching to receive communion at the same altar.  The seed is the Word of God says Jesus, and only the Word of God.  People may be saved when the Word that they hear is corrupted by man’s word.  But God’s kingdom only comes when God’s Word is heard.  If other words are mixed in with God’s, the Kingdom of God comes in spite of those words.

 

God sends out His word with a purpose; the purpose is to save sinners.  His Word saves people who believe it.  When people believe God’s Word, they bear fruit for God.  Without God’s Word they bear no fruit.  Gathering a big crowd around you, even gathering a kingdom that extends to the ends of the earth, bears no fruit for God.  One or two people who hear the word of God and hold it fast in honest and upright hearts bear much fruit.  Without the word of God people are fruitless and barren and dead. With it they bear much fruit, “a hundredfold.”

 

The mystery of the Kingdom of God is: out of the seed of God’s Word, God brings offspring out of the cursed earth, out of human beings who are dust, and who return to dust because of sin.  He grows these offspring not for this present world, but for the world to come, where the curse will be gone, where death will be no more.

 

He does this in a mysterious way.  Seeds are very small, aren’t they?  Very small, and very simple.  Seeds are not billion dollar business empires.  Seeds are not movie stars.  If someone goes to Harvard or starts a billion dollar business, we think that is something.  Nobody thinks it’s something when you start the seed of a tomato plant in a planter in your window in February or March.

 

But seeds are more impressive than we think.  In the little shell is encoded the information and the material to produce the plant that will produce life.  One seed will produce a million more seeds, as well as fruit that can be eaten and flowers that can be smelled.

 

What human life produces a hundredfold, a million fold?  That is what seeds do.

 

The seed God sends into the world is His Word that proclaims His Son, who was incarnate of the Virgin, who died, like a seed sown in the earth, and rose again bringing forth a multitude of seeds, of sons of God who would inherit God’s Kingdom and everlasting life.

 

He sows this seed in a very low-tech way.  He has it preached.  It comes in other ways as well, but this is the primary way.  And whatever way the Word is sown adds nothing to the Word.  All the power is in the seed.  When it is heard and kept by faith, it grows and produces much fruit for God.  Whoever believes this Word has this life growing in him, in the soil of his body and his heart.

 

But God doesn’t call us who have the seed of His Word sprouting in us “the good soil” or “the rocky soil” that contains the seed; He calls us the seed.

 

His will is that this seed that He sowed in your heart grow up to eternal life, and that you become a seed like the one sown in you.  Like Him in producing good fruit; like Him in patient endurance of tribulation because of the Word that is in You; like Him in His death, His resurrection, His glory.

 

That is what God wants, and that is what will happen, as long as the pure seed is sown, and as long as the ground that receives it is good.

 

Not that there are people who are by nature “good soil” for the Word.  In your heart by nature are all the characteristics of the bad soil.  Sometimes your heart is hard like the path, like the broad way of the wicked, that hears the Word but ignores and treats it with contempt and tramples it down.  Then the devil comes and snatches it away.  Sometimes your heart is stony soil; you rejoice to hear the forgiveness of your sins through Jesus, but as soon as temptation comes you fall into sin, as though you had never heard God’s Word.  And of course in your heart by nature there are lots of weeds and thorns, worries about this life, the love of this world’s wealth and pleasure, and these will choke the Word of God.

 

But Jesus doesn’t say that the good soil is those who have no weeds in their heart.  He doesn’t say the good soil is those who are never hardhearted.  He says: 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.

 

Our hearts are purified by faith in Christ.  When we hear the Word and believe it, God counts us righteous for Jesus’ sake.  New life begins in us.  Christ’s life takes root in us.  God regards this life born of the seed of His Word as the real you.  And it produces new desires and loves in you.

 

So pull up the weeds, break up the soil of your heart, chase away the birds, the demons, who want to snatch away the seed God has sown in your hearts.  Come to the Holy Supper with your distractions and your idols seeking His grace.  It’s not you making your heart good soil.  You are not the man of dust, you are born of the seed of God’s Word, and He is tending what He has planted.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Soli Deo Gloria

He Died For All, That Those Who Live Might No Longer Live For Themselves. Quinquagesima 2017. St. Luke 18:31-43

February 27, 2017 Leave a comment

jesus heals blind beggar jericho melanchthon luke 18 quinquagesima.jpgQuinquagesima

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:31-43 (1 Cor. 13)

February 26, 2017

“He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves”

 

Iesu iuva!

 

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised.  2 Corinthians 5: 14-15

 

For whom do you live your life?  For yourself?  Or for Jesus?

 

There was a grandmother who had a grandson that she loved.  When he was little, his parents would bring him over to her house on Christmas and at his birthday and other important days.  The grandmother had very little money, but she always gave him the best present she could on Christmas and his birthday, because she loved him.  When he was little, he would open his present and say, “Thank you, grandma!” and give her a hug.

 

When he got to be a teenager and started to grow up into a man, he didn’t have much time for his grandma.  She still saved up to give him gifts at his birthday and Christmas, and his parents still brought him over, even though he usually looked like he wanted to be somewhere else.  And when he opened the card with money in it, he still said, “Thanks, grandma,” and gave her a hug.  But except for those occasions when he came over, she never heard from him.

 

Later he went to college and then got a job in another city, far away.  His grandmother still loved him, and still sent him gifts.  And sometimes he would call her on the phone and say “Thanks, grandma” when he got them.  Other times he wouldn’t.

 

Soon she went into a nursing home.  The family had all moved away.  She seldom got visitors.  Her grandson called very little.  He was busy with work and his family.  The grandmother didn’t feel any bitterness toward him.  She loved him.  She never sent him those gifts because she wanted to buy his affection; she just loved him.

 

When she died, and her grandson came to her funeral, he didn’t have any flash of insight where he realized he had been ungrateful.  He went home and went on with his life, never realizing how he had been loved.

 

Has anyone here ever seen this story happen in real life?  I have not only seen it; I have been the grandson—so wrapped up in my own desires and problems that I did not recognize when love was being shown to me.  So I did not receive it.  I did not respond to it.  I appreciated the gifts, but did not receive the love of the person that motivated the gifts.  How tragic.

But not only tragic for me.  Not only tragic for the people in your life who have treated you or others you know in the same way.  Tragic for you as well!  Because the way the grandson responded to his grandmother’s love is the way that you—often, maybe always—respond to the love of God.

Today is Quinquagesima, which means “fiftieth”, because it is roughly 50 days before Easter.  On this Sunday the Gospel reading records how Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and how, near the city of Jericho, a blind man heard the crowd that was going with Jesus travelling through.  He cried out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  We heard how even though the crowd told him to stop making a scene he kept shouting this, and how Jesus stopped, called the man over to Him, and restored his sight.  Then, St. Luke records, “He immediately recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.”

 

The formerly blind man immediately begins to follow Jesus. Where is Jesus going, and what will happen to Him there?  The formerly blind man doesn’t ask; he doesn’t care.  He follows Jesus without worrying about what will come from following him.  He loves Jesus and wants to be with Him.  He loves Jesus because he has received not only his sight, but Jesus’ love.

 

You might think, “Of course he followed Jesus after Jesus did such a great miracle for him!”  But it’s not obvious at all that he would do this.  A chapter before this in Luke’s gospel Jesus healed 10 men with leprosy, and only one came back to give thanks to the Lord.

 

No.  Many times Jesus does wonderful things for people, and they are like the grandson in the story I told you.  “Thanks, Jesus,” they say.  “Now I can get back to my life—to my job, my family, my friends, my cell phone.”  In fact, that is how people normally respond to Jesus’ gifts. Even more often, people don’t even acknowledge that Jesus has given them a gift.

 

They go on living for themselves.

 

When it is pointed out to us that this is what we are doing, we frequently get mad.  Look, we say, what do you expect from me?  Don’t you know I have to pay my bills?  Don’t you understand that it is impossible to follow Jesus the way the world is now without being an outcast, without suffering financially?  Don’t you understand people are already doing all they can without you demanding more?  And are we not supposed to have any enjoyment and pleasure in life?  You’re telling me Jesus doesn’t want us to be happy?

 

What I’m saying is that the first commandment of God is this: You shall have no other gods—which means, We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  God is always commanding His servants in the Bible to do things that seem impossible to do without risking their happiness, their good name, even their lives.  We heard it in the Old Testament reading.  The Lord said to Samuel…Fill your horn with oil, and go.  I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.  And Samuel said, “How can I go?  If Saul hears it, he will kill me.  And the Lord said…I will show you what you shall do.  And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.  (1 Sam. 16:1-3)  And Samuel goes and does what God commands, because he loves the Lord, and he trusts the Lord even though he doesn’t understand.

Yes, God commands us to love Him, fear Him, trust Him above all things.  Those who don’t love God above all things are sinners.  They provoke Him to anger, real and serious wrath that will burn for eternity.  Those who don’t love and trust God above all things are as wicked in His sight as men who dishonor their bodies with other men, as women who murder their infants in their wombs, as those who defraud and rob and steal.  We do not become good in God’s sight because we refrain from the grave sins others do.  Lack of love for God in your heart means you love someone or something else more than God.  When we devise excuses for this in the Church—and we do it so easily, both me and you—we become just what the world accuses us of being: Pharisees.

 

No, let us admit the painful reality.  Just like the world, we don’t love God above all things.  When we look at the blind man, who out of love jumps up and follows Jesus, not caring where Jesus is going or what will happen if he follows Jesus, we see in the mirror of his example that we are the grandson who doesn’t respond to the love of his grandmother.

 

Jesus has done more for each one of us than He did for that blind man.  He healed not only our eyes but our entire body and soul.  He joined our bodies of dust and ashes to His resurrected, immortal bodies, and renewed our souls when He baptized us.  Yet we often say, “Thanks, Jesus!  See you in heaven when I get done living my life for myself.”

 

When we are challenged on this and asked, “Shouldn’t you follow Jesus?  Shouldn’t you run to hear His Word when it is offered?  Shouldn’t you gladly serve Him in His Church?  Shouldn’t you give Him Your life, and follow Him in giving it up for the people He wants you to serve?  Shouldn’t you give Him the firstfruits of your wealth so that others can hear the joyful news of salvation?  Shouldn’t you use all your strength to see the gospel of Jesus given to other people?”  Then we say, “But Jesus is going to be mocked, treated shamefully, to be spit on, to be flogged and nailed to a cross!”

 

Even if we agree, to our shame, that we should follow Jesus with joy like this man who had been blind, we find that we cannot do so.  We look ahead of Jesus and see the cross and suffering.  The fear overwhelms our joy.

 

And the more we are told that we should follow Jesus, that we should do it out of love and not out of compulsion, the more we find that we can’t.  Those who are annoyed to be told this become more annoyed and resistant.  Those who agree but are afraid become more afraid and less joyful.

 

This is the terrible reality of original sin.  We are born not loving God, and we cannot will ourselves into loving Him.  The love of God must come to us from outside into our hearts, and once it has begun to come in, it must continue, and we cannot make this happen.

 

The grandson who didn’t respond to his grandmother’s love needed not to force himself to act like he loved her.  He needed to receive the love that was already there from his grandma.  That is the way it is with us and God.

 

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to be mocked, treated shamefully, spat upon, flogged with whips, crucified.  He told his disciples this not to scare them, but to cause them to see when it happened that this was no accident.  God foretold it centuries before through the prophets. In eternity He planned it, before the world began.  It was His will that Jesus should suffer all these things.  It was Jesus’ will also.  As He pulled His disciples aside and explained it to them again, now for the third time, He saw it coming clearly.  He could have avoided it and said, “We’ll go up to Jerusalem next year.”  He didn’t do it.  He saw it clearly and unmistakeably, and journeyed toward it.

 

Those were Jesus’ actions, motivated by His will, by the engine of His heart.  What powered that engine was this—love.  Love for human beings who do not love Him.  Love for His enemies, love for His disciples, love for you, love for me.  In love He saw us with a clear eye.  He saw that our love of ourselves had to be punished by a just God with shame, mockery, physical suffering, with endless spiritual torment.

 

So He journeyed to Jerusalem to receive it for us—to be treated with contempt.  To be mocked and spit on.  To have His flesh opened with stripes from the whips.  To have His hands and feet pierced and pinned to the cross and be lifted up from the earth as a curse.  To cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”  To bring to an end God’s anger against us, His righteous condemnation for the lives we have lived for ourselves, spurning His love.  And then on the third day to rise again, God declaring our sin paid for in full, God announcing that Jesus and we are no longer in bondage to our sins. He no longer counts them.

 

Consider the love behind this gift.  Meditate on it.

 

You are not able to stop living for yourself.  But Jesus has blotted out the life you live in the flesh.  He lived His life on earth in love toward His Father and in love toward you.  For His sake the Father’s anger against your life of self-love has ended.  For His sake, the Father counts you and all who believe in Jesus not only as if they lived their life following Jesus, for Jesus, but as if you lived Jesus’ life.

 

As you receive this love of Jesus, which is given to you when His Gospel is preached, when the Scripture is taught, when you read the Bible at home, when you receive the body and blood of Jesus in the Sacrament—as you receive His love in these ways, His love is born in you.  The death He died for all becomes active in your life.  Just as the grandson would have loved his grandmother if he had paid attention and received the love that was behind her gifts, so as you hear the word of the forgiveness of your sins through Jesus’ gift of His life for you, His love will enter your heart and do what it did in the man He healed of blindness.  It will cause you to forget yourself and follow Jesus, not out of compulsion, but out of love, with joy.

 

On Wednesday the season of Lent begins, with its call to baptized Christians to renew the fight against our flesh, with its constant desire to live for ourselves.  This fight, in which we exercise our will, is necessary.  No one can be a Christian without it.  We have to daily drown in Jesus’ death, in which we died in Baptism, the desires, thoughts, and impulses of our flesh that want us to live the old way—for ourselves, in sin, with our hearts denying Jesus’ love, closed to it.

 

We have to fight.  But our fighting, our willing to no longer live for ourselves doesn’t create love.  Love comes from seeing the love Jesus has in His heart for you—the love revealed in His joyful willingness to go to Jerusalem, to be treated with contempt, to be spit on, whipped, pierced with nails, and forsaken by God.

 

In that love we are secure, now and forever.  That love has destroyed the life you lived for yourself.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

Broken Hearts are Good Soil. Sexagesima 2017. Luke 8:4-15

February 23, 2017 Leave a comment

Sexagesima

St. Peter Lutheran Churchvan-gogh-the-sower-e1360145756277.jpg

St. Luke 8:4-15

Feb. 19, 2017

“Broken Hearts are Good Soil”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

The Word they still shall let remain

Nor any thanks have for it;

He’s by our side upon the plain

With His good gifts and Spirit.

And take they our life,

Goods, fame, child, and wife,

Though these all be gone,

Our vict’ry has been won;

The Kingdom ours remaineth.  LSB 656 st 4

 

Surely the people is grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever (Is. 40:7-8).  Jesus’ parable this morning reveals the mystery of how the eternal Word of God is given to us, who are otherwise grass that withers and fades.

 

[*(edited

Jesus preaches to the great crowd that has gathered to him from cities all around that the Word of God is spread like seed when a farmer goes out in the spring and sows his fields.

 

But Jesus doesn’t explain this to the crowd.  He just tells them a story about a sower casting seed into the field.  Most of the seed lands somewhere where it doesn’t grow up into a crop.  Then Jesus calls out, He who has hears, let him hear!

 

Only to His disciples does Jesus explain the meaning of his story.  To you it has been given to know [or understand] the mystery of the kingdom of God, but for others it is in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’  Jesus is quoting the prophet Isaiah, who tells how he saw God in the temple and the seraphim flying around His throne singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth!”  Then, says Isaiah:

 

I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing,[c] but do not understand; keep on seeing,[d] but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull,[e]     and their ears heavy,     and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes,     and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts,     and turn and be healed.”

 

Wait!  God told Isaiah to preach His Word so that they would not understand it?  So they would not turn to God and be saved?

 

That’s what it says; and Jesus says that’s why He preached a parable to the crowd—so that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand. 

 

That’s not very loving, is it?  What it is is a terrifying warning about the consequences of “not having ears to hear.”  The consequences of taking lightly the Word of God, of ignoring it, of valuing it less than other things, of treating it as if it is only the word of men.  God may cause those who hear His Word but do not listen to it to no longer be able to listen to it, understand it, and be saved by it.]

 

Then Jesus goes on to explain His parable to His disciples.  The seed, He says, is the Word of God. 

 

Why does Jesus tell a parable about proclaiming and preaching God’s Word?  It isn’t as if God’s Word was never preached before Jesus came.  It’s not new.  God sent prophets to proclaim His Word since the beginning of the world.

 

But there is something new here.  God sent the prophets to proclaim His promise that salvation would come for the world in the future.  The seed of a woman would crush the head of the ancient serpent; the offspring or seed of Abraham would bring blessing, salvation to all the nations of the earth to replace the curse that all human beings were under.  The descendant of Abraham, born of a woman, would bring God’s Kingdom to the earth.  Satan would no longer control us.  In place of sin ruling in human hearts there would be righteousness; instead of death there would be eternal life.  Instead of God being absent from us and angry with us, God would dwell in the midst of us and have pleasure in us.

 

That is what God told His people through the prophets would happen in the future.  But Jesus proclaimed and preached: that day is now.  Now forgiveness of sins is happening.  Satan is being cast down. Death is being overcome.  Sinners are declared righteous.  God is present with and pleased with all who believe this good news.

 

That was and is the Word of God that Jesus preached and still preaches, which endures forever.  But there is something else amazing and mysterious about this Word of God.

 

You know the story of creation.  When God wanted to create the world, He didn’t get out a plumb line, a saw, a hammer and some nails.  He spoke.  And nothing disobeyed His Word.  The light didn’t say, “No, I won’t shine.”  The waters didn’t say, “I don’t want to be gathered together and let the dry land appear.”  When God spoke, creation obeyed.  God’s Word is omnipotent, almighty.  What God speaks happens.

 

But when God speaks to human beings, it’s different.  God allows His almighty Word to be resisted and rejected by human beings, who were made out of dirt.  He says, “You are forgiven and saved,” yet many people say, “No.”  Or more likely they say nothing, because they aren’t listening.  Or laugh and say, “Listen to that fanatic, that crazy fool,” or “This has been going on for 17 and a half minutes already.”

 

And so it happens that God’s almighty, eternal Word that gives pardon from sin, brings God into our hearts, saves us from being damned forever on the day of judgment gets sidelined, thrown into a closet in the Church, rejected.

 

Jesus says God’s Word is a seed.  When it is sown, when it is thrown onto ears and hearts through preaching, it lands in many ears and hearts where it is not permitted to do what it is meant to do.  It is meant to fall into the ear canal and find its way into the heart.  There it will grow up like a plant into eternal life and joy and with it bring fruit to the praise of God—much fruit, a hundredfold.

 

The Word is the Word of Jesus; it brings Him and His full atonement for our sins, accomplished in His death in our place on the cross, where God’s anger against not listening to His Word and believing it was poured out in full on Him.  In those who hear and believe is planted the death and forgiveness of their sins.  Where this is planted in the heart, the Holy Spirit who is present in the seed of the Word causes a new life to grow in our hearts that were formed from dirt.  In the midst of these bodies of dust and ash which rebel against God, love self more than our neighbor, the life of Jesus grows.  We begin to love God, desire His Word, find comfort and pleasure in it; we trust Him and call on Him with confidence that He will hear and help, and we begin to seek our neighbor’s good—his well-being here on earth and in spiritual things.

 

But Jesus says this doesn’t happen in most people to whom God’s Word comes.  Many people have hearts like the hard-packed dirt of a footpath, made rock-hard by the weight of many feet.  They hear the Word of God, but it never enters their heart.  It just lies there on the top of the hard crust of their hearts.  They don’t understand it, and even if they do, they don’t put their trust in the message it proclaims.  Then the demons swoop in and take the Word of God away.  If our eyes were open to this, we would see how every Sunday morning demons descend on so many hearers of God’s Word like crows and grackles to take away God’s Word from their hearts.

 

Others receive God’s Word and believe with joy for a time.  They hear that salvation is accomplished, finished by Jesus, and they rejoice.  But beneath the soil at the surface of their hearts is rock that prevents the Word of God from taking deep root.  God’s Word is planted, but it gets no moisture.  The seed is not watered; they do not continue to hear and learn the Word of God.  They may keep hearing it, but it doesn’t get in; they don’t acknowledge their need for ongoing daily repentance and renewal.  So when it gets hot and they are tested by suffering or persecution, the new life of faith dies.

 

And then there are those among whom God’s Word takes root and grows, but alongside it also grow the weeds of worry about this life, the desire for wealth and pleasure here on earth.  These weeds are not pulled out.  They are there in the heart with God’s Word—worry, love of wealth and pleasure.  And the Word of God is not able to grow with these things.  It grows stunted, sickly, fruitless.  The Word of God in their hearts becomes knowledge that produces no fruit—in essence, another weed.

 

There is only one kind of soil, one kind of heart, that receives God’s Word to salvation—the good soil, the noble and good heart.  Hearts that are not packed down and hardened against God’s Word; hearts that are not rocky and unwilling to continue in daily repentance for sin and renewal by God’s Word; hearts that are not divided by obsession with the worries and pleasures of this life.

 

In this parable Jesus is comforting future preachers, who will experience how few people seem to receive the Word of God, continue with it, and bear fruit.  But He is also calling us to examine ourselves, to ask ourselves, How do I receive God’s Word?  Do I bring forth fruit that testifies that my faith in Jesus is living and genuine?

 

It is a question that requires serious attention from us and honest self-examination.  It is a question that Jesus brings before us not to kill us, but to save us.  And this self-examination will have this effect on nearly everyone who honestly does it, as they prepare to receive the body and blood of Jesus each week—we will be disturbed.  At how often we fall into the same sins—perhaps at how we live in those sins without repentance, bearing fruit for the devil.  And at how little of the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control, thankfulness and praise to God we bear.  How little we endure suffering without complaining, trusting in God; how little we can endure mistreatment from other people and still love them.

 

This kind of disturbance is good, if it is excited by the Holy Spirit and not by our own efforts to feel the right way.  We are not born good soil to receive God’s Word.  We can’t make ourselves good soil either.  It is God’s work.

 

But what makes a heart “noble and good” is conviction of sin that makes us hunger and thirst for forgiveness and the freedom to bear fruit for God.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled, said Jesus.  The poor sinner who is terrified of his sins, who runs to Jesus continually for forgiveness and help, and believes that He will help, He says has “a noble and good heart.”  Such a sinner is glad to receive Jesus’ help, glad to confess his sins and be absolved, comes to Jesus wherever Jesus is planting and watering.  This is why a long time ago I tried to teach about the benefit of private confession and absolution.  I was speaking from my experience, and echoing another teacher who also knew what it was to be terrified at his lack of fruitfulness.  He wrote:

 

Thus we teach what a wonderful, precious, comforting thing confession is, and we urge that such a precious blessing should not be despised, especially when we consider our great need.  If you are a Christian, you need neither my compulsion nor the Pope’s command at any point, but you will force yourself to go and ask me that you may share in it…If you are a Christian, you should be glad to run more than a hundred miles to confession, not under compulsion, but rather coming and compelling us to offer it…Therefore, when I exhort you to go to confession, I am doing nothing but exhorting you to be a Christian.  If I bring you to this point, I have also brought you to confession.  For those who really want to be upright Christians and free from their sins, and who want to have a joyful conscience, truly hunger and thirst already.  They snatch at the bread, just like a hunted deer, burning with heat and thirst, as Psalm 42 says, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”

 

That’s what Martin Luther thought about confession.

 

But God is so gracious that both the seed of His Word and the flowing streams that water it and make it grow in our heart don’t come to us in only one way.  He plants the Word in our heart in Baptism and in teaching His Word; He waters it through preaching, teaching, and His Holy Supper.

 

In all these things, He tells us the joyful news—your sins have been taken away by my blood.  You are liberated from death and Satan.  It has happened as surely as I died, was buried, and rose again.  All who receive this eternal Word with noble and good hearts that hunger and thirst for forgiveness and desire to bear fruit to God will find that this Word will not return to God empty or in vain—in this world or on the day of judgment.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

Jesus Will Stop For You. Quinquagesima 2016

February 8, 2016 Leave a comment

Quinquagesima

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:31-43

February 6, 2015

“Jesus Will Stop for You”

 

Iesu Iuva

Why should Jesus stop?

 

That may seem like a harsh question. Yet it is in the back of the minds of many people. Sometimes you’ll hear people say something like, “I don’t pray much. Why should God pay attention to my prayers? There are billions of people in this world asking Him for help. What’s so special about me, that He should listen to me?”

 

It’s a question that might have occurred to the blind man on the road to Jericho. It might even have seemed a little arrogant for him to shout at Jesus as Jesus passed with a great crowd down the road to Jerusalem.

 

After all, Jesus is the Son of David, the promised Christ, the King anointed to rule the nations forever. Does this man think this great King has nothing else to do, that He should interrupt His business and stop for a blind beggar? How do you feel when a beggar approaches your car when you’re waiting for a red light, on your way to work? Do you ever feel a little irritated or put out? What if they are yelling for help with a loud voice?

 

Besides this, Jesus is surrounded by a great crowd of people. Does this blind man think that no one else in the crowd might want to ask Jesus for a healing, for a miracle, for mercy? But they don’t interrupt Jesus’ procession to Jerusalem.

 

Maybe this is what the people who rebuke the blind man are thinking. Their rebuke could even seem devout and pious. “Why are you screaming at Jesus? You’re being prideful. Who do you think you are?”

 

Does this man think the world revolves around him? Does he think he’s so important that, of course, Jesus should stop what He’s doing and come to serve him, a blind beggar?

 

This is how we might think. But Jesus makes it clear by His actions and words that He does not think this way. He stops what He is doing to answer the blind man’s prayer. He puts Himself at the blind man’s disposal. He praises the man for his faith.

 

What gave the blind man such boldness?

 

He had heard good news about Jesus. He had heard that Jesus was able to cure the sick, the lame, the paralyzed. And he had heard that Jesus not only possessed such power, but that He was gracious and kind and did not turn away those who came to Him for help. Perhaps he had also heard about how Jesus had mercy and received even the greatest sinners in Israel. Perhaps he drew the conclusion that Jesus was the promised anointed one, or perhaps others told him that.

 

The blind man believed the good news that he heard. He had faith. And when his own conscience and others rebuked him and told him that Jesus had other things to do, he persevered in faith and believed that Jesus would have mercy. He believed in spite of everything that Jesus was able to heal him and that he wanted to heal him, even if it meant that he was the only one in a great crowd of people for whom Jesus would stop and give him his attention.

 

It was not that he thought highly of himself. He thought highly of Jesus’ mercy. He believed that Jesus’ mercy was greater than everything else. The blind man didn’t believe that he was the center of the universe. He believed that Jesus’ mercy and love were so great that Jesus was willing and able to deal with him as though he was the only one in the world.

 

Although this man couldn’t see with his eyes, he saw Jesus far better than most by faith. By faith He saw that Jesus was the son of David, the promised King and Savior. And by faith he saw—perhaps even better than the 12 disciples—what kind of a King Jesus was. He was and is not a king who came to be served but to serve. He came to give of Himself freely; to have mercy.

 

On the other hand, the earlier part of the gospel reading shows us how the disciples did not understand fully who Jesus is.

 

Of course the disciples understood that Jesus was God in human flesh. Three of them saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain. They saw Jesus tell the stormy winds and sea to be still and they obeyed Him. They saw Him raise the dead. Peter had confessed what all the disciples believed—that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is what the season of Epiphany that is now ending is about—Jesus revealing Himself as God incarnate, God with us in our flesh and blood.

 

The disciples believed and knew that Jesus was God with us, but they did not clearly see what that meant. They did not grasp well what the apostle John later wrote in his first epistle, that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

 

They believed Jesus was God. But when Jesus told them that what had been written by all the prophets was about to be fulfilled in His going to Jerusalem, they could not understand Him. They did not understand what the Scriptures said about God, nor did they fully understand Jesus.

 

“And taking aside the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day He will rise.’ But they understood none of these things.” (Luke 18:31-34)

 

This was the third time Jesus told the disciples about His impending death. But they didn’t understand Him. Why didn’t they?

 

This did not fit with their understanding of who God is. They understood that God was all-powerful and glorious, holy and righteous. It was beyond their comprehension that the Son of God should be mocked, treated shamefully, spit on, and killed.

 

But Jesus told them this so that when the Scriptures were fulfilled and Jesus was handed over to shame and execution, they would not think that it happened accidentally, that Jesus didn’t know about it and couldn’t prevent it.

 

How could God be handed over to enemies, be mocked and spit on and be killed? Clearly, the only way this could happen to the eternal, Almighty God is if He let it happen. If He allowed Himself to be taken captive. If He allowed Himself to be mocked and spit on and nailed to a cross.

 

But in their minds, God would never allow this to happen. Why would He?

 

For the same reason He let Himself be stopped by the blind man on His way to Jerusalem. God is as great in mercy and love as He is in majesty and power. As His power and knowledge far exceed our ability to understand, so does His mercy.

 

His mercy is so great that He interrupted His procession to Jerusalem to be the servant of one blind beggar. He stopped to give this man his request, to heal him.

 

But His mercy is greater still. He finished His journey to Jerusalem so that He might serve each one of us individually by becoming sin for each one of us. He went and accomplished what no one was asking Him for, what no one would think of asking Him for. He bore our sin and atoned for us with His death.

 

Jesus saw clearly what was coming in Jerusalem and He went anyway. He did not go grudgingly but willingly to shame and spit and abuse and flogging and death. He went joyfully and suffered for the sins of each one of us. As He was lashed, as He was spit on, as He was laughed at and scorned, He healed us our guilt before God. As the prophet prophesied seven hundred years before, Jesus was “wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” (Is. 53: 5)

 

If the disciples had understood the Scriptures, they would have understood that this is what Jesus came to do, and that nothing short of this would save them from their sins and from condemnation.

 

And if they had known that only Jesus’ blood would save them from their sins, would they have dared to ask Him? Would they have said, “Please bear my sin; let Your divine majesty serve me, a sinner with no excuse. Let yourself be captured, mocked, put to shame, spit on, and crucified to pay for my transgressions”? Do you think they would have dared to ask for that?

 

Would we dare to ask that of the high and holy God, of our innocent and gentle Jesus?

 

Yet this is what God proclaimed through the prophets that He would do.

 

Like the disciples, we are slow to believe the Scriptures, and we are slow to believe in the love of God for us. We do not think highly enough of His love toward each one of us individually, or grasp the greatness of His mercy.

 

When the blind man yelled out for mercy Jesus allowed Himself to be stopped and caught by the man. He made Himself the man’s servant. In the depth of His love He allowed Himself to be taken captive by the man’s faith in Him.

 

Like the blind man we also cry out to Jesus for mercy in the liturgy. Like beggars we sing, “Lord, have mercy upon us” in the Kyrie. When we pray that to be sure we are asking that Jesus would bless and help and heal us in this life. But we are asking for an even greater gift; the forgiveness of our sins and for salvation.

But long before we started singing that, Jesus answered our cry. Or better—He answered your cry individually. He did not go to Jerusalem simply to die for the sins of the world as a mass. He died for each one of your sins individually. For your guilt, for your sins which cry out for your condemnation, Jesus willingly went to Jerusalem and was mocked, spit on, flogged, and killed to present you holy and righteous before God.

 

In answer to our cries for mercy, Jesus still stops and serves each one of us. He cleanses us with His blood as it is sprinkled on us in the preaching of the good news of his cross.

 

He feeds us the body that was nailed to the cross for us; He tells us to drink His blood which was poured out for us for the forgiveness of our sins.

 

Today as we prepare to enter the season of Lent in which we remember His suffering and death, Jesus tells us that He willingly endures all this for each one of us. Nothing else can take away your sins except for Jesus, who has mercy on you and endures your shame and punishment.

 

By the blind man’s example He encourages you to hold fast and believe that His mercy is for you, and is greater than you can comprehend. His love is deeper than we can grasp. No matter how much your faith expands it will never be able to exhaust the riches of His love and mercy.

 

We are often doubtful about whether God will listen to our prayers. He is so great and we are so small; the world is full of people and we are just average individuals, with nothing special about us. More than this He is holy and we have provoked His anger with our many sins.

 

We would never have dared to ask God to pay for our sins with His own humiliation and suffering. Yet He did, even when we did not ask. He did it for each one of you specifically and bore your sins. And if He did that, how will He deny us any other good thing?

 

Take courage. Jesus will stop for you.

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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