Welcome

Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Pilate - March 29, 2017 - Fifth Mid-Week of Lent - Text: Matt. 27:13-65; Mark 15:1-44; Luke 23:1-52; John 18:29-19:38

We begin this week as we have begun every week with the reminder that we call the Word of God the “Good News” and rightly so, for it is the good news of salvation for all who believe. This year during the season of Lent through Easter Sunday we are hearing of the events surrounding the suffering and death of Jesus through the different characters of those involved in the events. Prayerfully we are getting a better understanding of the personalities and thus the reasons for the specific actions of the characters through actual Biblical statements and “quotes” of each person.
 
Last week we got to know the mother of our Lord Jesus. We reviewed some of the experiences of Mary and how she continually pondered all the things that she heard, saw and experienced especially the Lord’s calling her to be the mother of Jesus and gifting her with the strength she needed for her calling.
 
Our main focus for this evening is around the character of Pontius Pilate. Pilate was the Roman authority in the territory of Jerusalem when these events were taking place and he is the one who heard Jesus’ case and handed down the death penalty. Pilate had been privately interrogating Jesus. And we are told that afterward, “Pilate came out to [the Jewish council] and asked, ‘What charges are you bringing against this man?’ ‘If he were not a criminal,’ they replied, ‘we would not have handed him over to you.’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.’ ‘But we have no right to execute anyone,’ the Jews objected. This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled” (John 18:29-32).
 
Pilate was not really interested in these matters between Jesus and the Jewish rulers, yet he had to hear the case anyway. Concerning what took place in the court we are told, “And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.’ So Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man.’ But they insisted, ‘He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.’ On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies” (Luke 23:2-12).
 
The account continues as Pilate attempts to have Jesus released. We read,  “Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.’ With one voice they cried out, ‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’ (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ For the third time he spoke to them: ‘Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.’ But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed” (Luke 23:13-23). Interestingly enough, it may or may not have been this crowd that was there when Jesus came into town earlier in the week and they sang praises to Him.
 
The account of the trial continues inside the palace where the interrogation continues. “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’ ‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’ Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.’ ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ ‘What is truth?’ Pilate asked” (John 18:33-38a). It appears that Pilate and the people of his day had as much trouble getting a handle on this issue of truth as people do today.
 
We pick up the trial back outside the courthouse. We hear that in fact Pilate tried to free Jesus by using the tactic of offering to release Jesus instead of a known criminal and one with a history of violence. We are told; “With this [Pilate]  went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release “the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, ‘No, not him! Give us Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ And they struck him in the face. Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.’ When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ But Pilate answered, ‘You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.’ The Jews insisted, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace”(John 18:38b-19:9a). It is evident that Jesus had a profound affect on Pilate and he did all he could to have Him released..
 
The trial resumes in Pilate’s chambers where Pilate tries to get Jesus to help him and to defend Himself, but to no avail. It might have appeared to Pilate that Jesus had a death wish. The questioning continued, “‘Where do you come from?’ [Pilate] asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. ‘Do you refuse to speak to me?’ Pilate said. ‘Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’ From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, ‘If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.’ When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. ‘Here is your king,’ Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, ‘Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!’ ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ Pilate asked. ‘We have no king but Caesar,’ the chief priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified” (John 9:9b-16a). It was against Pilate’s better judgement and wishes, but what held the day was whether Pilate would be held accountable or if he would let Jesus be held accountable. So, it was Jesus death instead of Pilate’s political fortune.
 
We move to the events of the crucifixion. “So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, ‘Do not write “The King of the Jews,” but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written’” (John 19:16b-:22). In an attempt to save face and to get the upper hand, this time Pilate remained firm, but it was too late for Jesus.
 
Unfortunately Pilate’s involvement in this case still did not go away. “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away” (John 18:38). “Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid” (Mark 15:44-47).
 
Finally, Pilate is involved one more time; “The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.’ ‘Take a guard,’ Pilate answered. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how’” (Matthew 27:62-65).
 
Pilate seems to be a man who was looking after his own political interests. Certainly he was interested, or showed some concern for Jesus, but in the end it was either Pilate or Jesus and Pilate chose himself. Interestingly enough, in his historical novel, Pontius Pilate, Dr. Paul Maier suggests that perhaps in his later days Pilate may have even come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, but we cannot know for certain. Pilate was a pivotal character in our salvation in that he is the one who sentenced Jesus to the penalty which should have been ours, death. Yet, Jesus paid the price for Pilate’s sins as well as ours. We can no more blame Pilate than we can ourselves for these events. Thanks be to God that He can and did use the means necessary to bring us forgiveness, life and salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

From Darkness to Light - March 26, 2017 - Fourth Sunday in Lent - Text: Is. 42:14-21

Most of us know that we have five senses. The sense of touch, taste, smell, hearing and seeing. Most of us also know what it means when we lose any one of these senses. People who cannot hear are called deaf people; people who cannot speak are referred to mute people, although I believe years ago they were actually called “dumb” people; and people who cannot see are called blind people. Now, if you were asked, would you rather be blind or deaf, what would you choose? I believe most people would rather be deaf than blind, for the simple fact that most of us believe it is easier to get around without our hearing than it would be to get around without our sight. Personally, and I believe I speak for most all of us, we would all prefer to have all our senses and have all of them working, at least a well as they can work.
 
This morning our Bible readings speak to us about our sense of sight. The question we might ask ourselves is, “Do we have eyes that see or eyes that do not see?” In our Epistle Lesson it is the darkness which reminds us of being unable to see, because in real darkness, we cannot see. Paul’s words remind us of the fact that as sinners, when we sin, we are indeed walking in darkness. Very often sin is compared to darkness and sin is compared to blindness. We are spiritually blind, we sin, we do not know what we are doing when we sin. It is only as our eyes are opened, it is only as light is shined into our lives that we become aware of the nature of our sin and our need to repent.
 
Not only does the Epistle lesson speak of such darkness and blindness, so does the Gospel lesson. In the Gospel lesson we have the account of Jesus healing the blind man. Of course the problem in our Gospel lesson is the fact that Jesus did this healing on the Sabbath day, which was a “no-no” according to the Pharisees. Two important points from this Gospel lesson are these, first notice that, according to Jesus, the man was not born blind because of anyone’s sin in particular, reminding us that we live in a world that has been infected by sin and so there are bad things in this world, and again notice Jesus’ words, that this man’s blindness would give glory to God. Second, notice that it really was not the blind man who could not see, but it was the Pharisees who could not see and here we are speaking of spiritual blindness. The Pharisees were indeed spiritually blind, not being able to “see” that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, even the Savior of the world.
 
Yes, the Epistle lesson, the Gospel lesson and our text, the Old Testament lesson, all three talk about blindness. In the Old Testament lesson God, through Isaiah, promises to lead those who cannot see. The reference concerning these blind who cannot see is that they cannot see because of their sins. They are blinded by sin and cannot see the way to go, so God must lead the way.
 
How might we apply this to ourselves and our lives today? When is it that our eyes do not see, especially concerning Christ our Messiah? We become blind when we are blinded by the falsehoods of this world. We mentioned it last week and other times before, but we are very much like the children of Israel. When the children of Israel were given the promised land they were told to go in and destroy all those who were living in the land. This was important because this was God’s judgement on the land and because God did not want the heathen nations living in the land to influence His chosen people. Here we might point out that purity of God’s word is seen to be more important than evangelism. If evangelism were more important, God would have had the Israelites go in and evangelize the land rather than cleanse the land, instead, because God knew the temptation of the idolatry of those living in the land He judged them to be completely destroyed. Anyway, what happened was that the Israelites failed to do what God commanded. Instead of cleansing the land they settled in the land and began to be influenced by those living in the land so that instead of standing firm in their faith and influencing those in the land, they began to be influenced, to be like the heathen nations who were living in the land. They became blind to God’s commands, to God’s will, to their own sin. Likewise, as we live in this country, we have a tendency to be like the people of this country, as the saying goes, “When in Rome, live as the Romans.” We see this time and again as we see churches and denominations give up their teachings and take on the appearance of the world, allowing for sins God does not allow: abortion, homosexuality, infidelity, stealing, killing and the like, often all in the name of what is called tolerance.
 
We are blinded by the sins of the world and we are blinded by our own sinfulness. How often do we find ourselves sinning and then we attempt to justify our sin. We suggest that there is a gray area and we are not doing anything that hurts anyone else. Or we believe we are sinning, but it is for the greater good. Most often I would suggest that we sin and we simply do not realize we are sinning. And there are also times when we simply do not want to know that what we are doing is sinning because we believe that gives us an excuse, because we did not know. And other times we blatantly simply ignore our sin and go on sinning.
 
And we are blinded by lack of faith and knowledge of God. Here again, I am amazed at how many people refrain from a serious study of God’s Word, being in Bible class and asking the hard questions because we like our life or our lifestyle and we do not want to know that what we are doing is sinning, because then we may have to stop. Yes, we are by nature sinful and unclean. We are conceived and born in sin. We are spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God. Yes, every inclination of our heart is evil all the time and this cannot be used as an excuse.
 
So, how do we learn to see? When do our eyes see, especially when do our eyes see the Messiah? When we are having eye problems and are having a hard time seeing, what do we do? We go to the doctor, the eye doctor. When we are having spiritual eye problems and when we are having a hard time seeing straight spiritually, we go to our spiritual eye doctor, we go to the Lord. We go to the Lord first and foremost when we go to Him in the Word. As some have described the Bible as “Basic instruction before leaving earth.” So, we go to the Word of God where He speaks to us and gives us the good gifts and blessings He has to give. The Bible is God’s Word. The Bible is a book of and with authority. The Bible does what it says because it is God’s Word and God speaking. The problem of our world is that for too many people the Bible is placed on an even level or even below man’s reasoning, in other words, man’s reasoning and thinking is placed on an even level or above God’s Word and the problem with this scenario is that man’s reason has been tainted by sin. It is only as we realize our own blindness and the perfect authority of God’s word that we can come to His Word and allow Him to speak to us through His Word.
 
When the Holy Spirit comes to us through God’s Word, He opens our eyes so that we can see clearly. Yes, it is God, the great physician and High Priest who comes to us, through the means of His Word, to correct our sight, to heal our blindness, to give us sight. As the Lord gives us sight, He helps us to see and better understand His Word and what His Word speaks to us. He opens our hearts and minds to see the fullness of His Word and His Gospel, even the fullness of His love for us.
 
As our eyes are open and as we begin to see then we realize our need to stay away from ungodly places. As our eyes are open and we begin to see clearly, we are better able to discern from what is good, mete, right and salutary and what is temptation and sin. Our desire to go in the direction of sin decreases and our desire to be more regular and diligent in the use of the means of grace increases so that we hunger and thirst after the Lord and His Word so that we simply cannot get enough. And interestingly enough, even while we have eyes that desire to do what is good, as we grow in our faith our eyes are open to see that the more we grow in our faith and the desire to do what is good the more we realize just how sinful we truly are and thus just how great God’s love for us truly is and how we need to cling to Him and Him alone for our salvation.
 
What does this mean? One of the reasons for the season of Lent is that this is the time of the year, especially, that we contemplate our sins and our part in putting Jesus on the cross. Yes, we are susceptible to sin. We are conceived and born in sin. Sinning comes natural to us, so natural we do not even need to practice. And, most of the time when we are sinning we are not thinking about the fact that we are sinning, if we were, we would probably stop. Sinning is not a problem for us, at least from our ability to sin, however, sinning is a big problem to us because it is our sinning that keeps us in the dark. It is our sinning that keeps us blind. It is our sin that separates us from God. And it is the price of our sin that must paid.
 
Although God commands that we not sin and even more, His command is that we are perfect, we know that we cannot stand on our own. On our own we cannot quit sinning. We need and must have help. Thanks be to God that He has promised that He will never leave us. He has promised that He will help us. He has promised that we may call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.
 
So it is with the Lord’s help and only with the Lord’s help that we can do all things. We know that when it comes to our abilities, we fail, but we also know that with God, all things are possible. God is the one who called all things into being. God is the one who promised to take care of our sin. God is the one who came in human flesh, intervening in human history. God in Christ, is the One who lived perfectly for us in our place because we cannot. God, in Christ, is the One who took our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price, the eternal spiritual death penalty for us, in our place so that we might have forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Yes, with God’s help and only with God’s help are all things possible.
 
This morning we rejoice and give thanks and praise to our great God especially because of His gift of eyes, eyes that see. Thanks be to God that He gives us eyes that see our spiritual nature, the fact that we are conceived and born in sin, the fact that we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness, but even more, thanks be to God that He gives us eyes that see that Jesus is our Savior. Thanks be to God that He gives us eyes to see how Jesus is the one promised in the Garden of Eden, the one reiterated to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, King David and the like. Thanks be to God that He has given us eyes to see how Jesus is God in flesh who lived for us, died for us and rose for us. Thanks be to God that He gives us perfect eyesight, faith, forgiveness and life. And thanks be to God that He moves in us to give thanks and to rejoice. Yes, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mary - March 22, 2017 - Fourth Mid-Week of Lent - Text: Matt. 27:55-61; Luke 1:27-56; 2:1-22, 34, 39; John 19:26-27

We begin this week as we began last week with the reminder that we call the Word of God the “Good News” and rightly so, for it is the good news of salvation for all who believe. This year during the season of Lent through Easter Sunday we are hearing of the events surrounding the suffering and death of Jesus through the different characters of those involved in the events. Prayerfully we are getting a better understanding of the personalities and thus the reasons for the specific actions of the characters through actual Biblical statements and “quotes” of each person.
 
Last week we got to know the apostle responsible for writing the Gospel of John, the Revelation of John and the epistles of John, probably the youngest of the apostles, the one who became Jesus’ mother’s adopted son, and the one who referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” the apostle John.
 
In order to get a better understanding of the person of the character of the passion we are addressing this evening we must go back to the conception of Jesus, because this evening we are looking at Jesus’ mother, Mary. This evening we begin some thirty three years before the events of Jesus’ death. We begin at the beginning, that is, we begin at the birth of Jesus. Luke tells us the history: “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’ ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.’ ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her” (Luke 1:26-38). Indeed, Luke speaks highly of the character of Mary in that she was highly favored by God.
 
Continuing on Luke tells us: “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’ And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things  but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.’ Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home” (Luke 1:39-56). Here we see that Mary is blessed and she is blessed to be a blessing to others, even to the world and even to us today. She is a blessing to all who hear and believe the good news of the Gospel, the good news of the child she will bear, the good news of Jesus, the Savior of the world.
 
Luke continues: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:1-7). From this account we know that because of the royal blood of Joseph, and in other accounts that of Mary as well, that Jesus is of royal blood, even the line of King David.
 
Luke continues: “and there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about’” (Luke 2:8-15).  Luke confirms Jesus miraculous birth as a descendent of David who came into the world in a humanly lowly manner, yet in a heavenly joyous manner.
 
Finally, Luke concludes: “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:16-22). Mary’s character is that even though she was young and did not fully understand what was happening to her, she continued to trust in God and “ponder,” that is think about all these things that were taking place.
 
In good Jewish fashion we are told: “on the eighth day (after His birth), when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed. When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth’” (Luke 2:34,35, 39).
 
We hear nothing of Jesus from birth and circumcision until He is twelve years old when we are told that following a trip to Jerusalem His mother, Mary and His father, Joseph left Him behind. It was not until later when they had stopped for the evening on their way home that they realized that Jesus was not with them. Returning to Jerusalem He was found in the temple discussing God’s word with the chief priests and the teachers of the Law, and that He was doing an excellent job of doing so. When confronted by His loving and concerned parents He told them that He must be in His Father’s house and about His Father’s business and once again we are told that Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
 
One can only imagine the pain Mary felt, as predicted by Simeon at Jesus’ circumcision when he spoke of a spear piercing her heart which must have been what it felt like when Jesus was sentenced to death and nailed to the cross. Yet, even on the cross Jesus remembered His mother and to care for her needs. While Jesus was hung on the cross, suffering in great anguish of body, mind and spirit, “when He saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27). Yes, we can see how Jesus loved His mother and how she loved Him. Even in His hour of pain and suffering He made sure she was cared for.
 
We hear that at the cross, “many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb” (Matthew 27:55-61).
 
Later we are told that Jesus did show Himself to be alive, even to Mary, which certainly brought her joy. Perhaps it was seeing Him alive that helped her put the pieces of His life together, those pieces she had been pondering all through His life. Mary was an extraordinary woman, a woman of courage. She was a woman, chosen by God to fulfill His Word and purposes in this world.  And she was gifted by God with the strength she needed to be the person He created her to be. As God chose her and called her, as He gave her the strength to be His servant, so we see her life and example as an example to us so that we too are encouraged to come and be given to by God and to rejoice in His living in us, working in and through us, giving us faith, forgiveness and life and our response of giving Him glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Testing the Lord - March 19, 2017 - Third Sunday in Lent - Text: Exodus 17:1-7

In our Epistle lesson for this morning Paul reminds us that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” And this is the reason we “rejoice in our sufferings.” Would that the children of Israel had Paul’s words and would that we would memorize Paul’s words and make them a part of our lives. How often do we find ourselves “suffering,” and wonder why? Of course, we might need to define suffering. For some of us suffering my be losing our job, a family member and our automobile all in the same week. For others suffering my be a hangnail. For each of us our tolerance for struggles is different and God knows our level of tolerance and thanks be to God that He has promised that He will never allow us to suffer any more than He knows we can handle, which reminds us that in all our struggles He is with us. This morning, as we look at the “suffering” of the children of Israel and their reaction to their struggles, we would do well to reflect on our own lives, our own suffering, our own struggles and how we react.
 
Our text is a part of the history of the children of Israel, God’s chosen people. What God had already done for His people is that He had already delivered them from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. He did this in a rather grand way. He did this by defeating all the gods of Egypt which He did one be one through the plagues that infected the land. He did this by pillaging the Egyptians which He did by making the Egyptians predisposed to give the Israelites their gold and precious metals as they were leaving Egypt. He did this by showing the greatness of His strength and power. Certainly you would think that His show of power would have been enough to convince the children of Israel that He is God indeed.
 
Yet, as the children of Israel left Egypt and as it seemed that they were trapped, with the mountains on two sides and the sea in front of them with the Egyptians behind them, the Lord again showed His power by clearing a path through the Red Sea so that they passed through on dry ground. But even more, as the Egyptians followed the Israelites into the Red Sea the Lord again showed His power and protection as He returned the water to its original place and drowned the Egyptian army.
 
And still, if all this were not enough, the Lord continued day and night to lead the children of Israel. He lead them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He was with them every hour and every minute of every day. He never left them.
 
In our text we read of one of many accounts of the Lord testing the faith of the children of Israel. On this particular occasion the children of Israel had encamped where there was no water to drink, or at least they found no water to drink. The reaction of the children of Israel is that they quarreled against Moses, the Lord’s chosen leader. Time and again they accused Moses and God of leading them out into the desert in order to die. Time and again they recalled how much better things were in Egypt, how they had pots of meat to eat and how great things were before they left Egypt. It is interesting that the way they remembered how life had been in Egypt was a lot different from the what it was actually like when they grumbled while they were still in Egypt, but I guess they are really no different than the rest of us and the way we remember things.
 
Anyway, it is this quarreling and grumbling that show what is really in their hearts, the fact that they were ungrateful and unbelieving. God had done so much for these people and yet, here at the mountain, when they believed they did not have any water to drink they showed their ingratitude and lack of faith, they quarreled, grumbled and complained.
 
As for Moses he warned the people. He warned them that their quarreling, that their discontent was not so much with him as it was with God. And you would think that such words would bring them to their knees in repentance. But such is not the case with this stiff-necked people.
 
As for God, His answer is that He told Moses to take the staff, which was a symbol of the authority God had given to Him, and he was to use the staff to demonstrate his God given authority. In this instance he was to take the staff and pass through the people, taking with him the elders of the people and he was to strike the rock at Horeb and God promised that water will come out. One note to remember, this was not the same rock that later Moses was simply to speak to, the rock he hit and the event which kept him from entering into the promised land. In this instance Moses was commanded to strike the rock and that is what he did.
 
God, again, showed His power and the authority of Moses by His working through Moses to give the people water to drink. Moses struck the rock and water came out of it.
 
The elders who were with Moses were there to bear witness of the Lord’s power and might. They were their to bear witness of the Lord’s case and for that matter, Moses’ case against this stiff-necked people. And the name of the place was called “Massah and Meribah” because of the quarreling of the people and the testing of the Lord.
 
So, what does this mean? And what does this mean to us today? I have said it before and I will say it again, because it bears repeating and because we need to hear it, we are so very much like the children of Israel. I contend that you can take the words, “children of Israel” or “Israelites” in our text and in the Old Testament and substitute the word “Christians” and you will have a good idea of how we are in our relationship with our Lord even today. Why do we need to be in divine service every week and whenever offered? Why do we need to read our Bibles every day? Because we forget. Because we sin. Because we need forgiveness. Why do we eat every day? Why do we do many of the things we do on a daily basis? Because we need to. We need to eat every day so we do not starve to death. We need to clean ourselves every day because we tend to get dirty. We need to read our Bibles every day, we need to be in divine service every Sunday because we tend to forget all that our Lord has done, all that He does and all that He promises to continue to do. We need to repent every day because we sin every day. We need our time of confession and absolution at divine service because we need to hear those most beautiful words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven.” And especially when we face struggles and difficult times, we tend to forget and sound and act just like the children of Israel, we quarrel and grumble and complain. We test God and show our lack of faith. Yes, we need to be reminded, daily that God has given us all things. God has given us all things including all physical or bodily blessings, “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all I have,” all that we need for our lives in this world. Not only does He give us all that we need according to our bodily needs, but He also takes care of our lives. He “defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.” And even more, He takes care of all our spiritual needs as well. He is the one who works and gives faith. He is the one who gives forgiveness of sins, paid for by His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. He is the one who gives us life, life in this world and even more life in the world to come, eternal salvation.
 
And just as testing came to the children of Israel, so testing comes upon us today as well. We are tested when we have decisions to make, decisions regarding the use of our time; should I be in divine service or should I do something else, go to a ball game, go fishing, go hunting, sleep in? We are tested when we have to make decisions regarding our talents, should I use my talents and abilities in service to God and His Church or for my own good and reward or for some other reason? We are tested when we have to make decisions regarding our treasure, should we give to the Lord first from what He has first given to us, or should we give Him just some of what is left? We are tested when we face struggles in life, illness, death, loss of work, emotional pain, suffering and the like. When testing comes, how do we handle it? Very often, I believe, we act very much like the children of Israel, we show our ungratefulness and our unbelief. I do not say this to be mean, but simply because this is a fact, this is our nature after all. And I do not say this to give us an excuse either. The fact of the matter is that, just like the children of Israel, we fail and we fail and we fail.
 
Thanks be to God that He never fails. No matter how often we fail, the Lord continues to pour out His blessing on us despite our ingratitude and unbelief. What a great God we have. What a gift giving God we have. As we talked about last Sunday, we are not the ones who take the initiative. We are not the ones who act so that God reacts to us acting first. No, God always acts first. God does and we are done to. God gives and we are given to. Our lives very much reflect the account of our Gospel reading. It was not the woman of Samaria who came to Jesus, but it was Jesus who approached the woman. Nor did the sins of the woman repulse Jesus so that He did not speak words of grace to her. Likewise, we are not the ones who approach Jesus. We are not the ones who choose Jesus. It is Jesus who comes to us, who chooses us, who does everything for us, who gives everything to us. Paul says it well in our Epistle lesson, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What great and wonderful words of grace! Just as the Lord called Abram and made him a great nation. Just as God carried out His covenant through the children of Israel so that Jesus was born of the tribe of Judah. Just as God always keeps His promises no matter how often the children of Israel failed and sinned, so the Lord does the same for us. No matter how often we sin, no matter how often we fail, the Lord is with us, picking us up, giving us forgiveness, giving us life and salvation.
 
As we come to this, the third week in Lent, as we continue to remind ourselves of our part in Jesus death, that is that it is because of our sins that Jesus came to die on the cross, so too we are reminded of God’s great love for us, a love which is shown in the very fact that He has never and will never stop loving us even when and especially when we fail. And it is this love and our knowledge and faith in this love which stirs in us our response of faith, a response of faith which includes repentance and forgiveness, as well as a desire to continually make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, having personal and family devotions, reading the Word of God, being in divine service and Bible class, remembering our Baptism, making use of confession and absolution, remembering our baptism and partaking of the Lord’s body and blood in His holy meal, knowing that through these very means of grace our Lord does and gives to us from His bounty, forgiving and sustaining us until He comes again or we go to Him. Thanks be to God and to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

John - March 15, 2017 - Third Mid-Week of Lent - Text: Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2; 10:35; 14:33; John 13:23; 21:7, 20

As we began last week, so we begin this week, with the reminder that we call the Word of God the “Good News” and rightly so, for it is the good news of salvation for all who believe. This year during the season of Lent through Easter Sunday we are hearing of the events surrounding the suffering and death of Jesus through the different characters of those involved in the events. Prayerfully we are getting a better understanding of the personalities and thus the reasons for the specific actions of the characters through actual Biblical statements and “quotes” of each person.
 
Last week we continued our theme by looking at the character we might call the most volatile, the one who would act first and think second, Peter. As we heard about Peter so we were reminded of ourselves, that as he confessed Jesus as Lord, he did so, not by his own power and will, but as it was given to him by God the Father so that even we who confess Jesus as Lord do so by the power of the Holy Spirit giving us faith and that proclamation. And as Peter denied Jesus and was forgiven, so as we daily deny our faith the Lord forgives us as well. This evening we move on to look at the character of John, the one who often referred to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved.
 
What do we know about John? John was also one of the first apostles to be called by Jesus. He was with his brother James working as a fisherman in cooperation with Peter and his brother Andrew. John worked for his father Zebedee. From all indications John was probably the youngest of the group. He is also the one who wrote the Gospel of John as well as the Revelation of John and the epistles of John. John was one of the “inner circle” of Jesus as it is called, along with Peter and James. John was also on the mount of transfiguration as we read last week and again today, “after six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead’”(Matthew 17:1-9).
 
Along with many of the Jewish community who knew the prophecies of the coming Savior, John and his family did not completely understand what the prophecies meant. Many were looking, not for a spiritual Savior from sin, but an earthly Savior from the Romans and perhaps some were looking for a bit of a combination of both. When it comes to God’s Kingdom we are told, “then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’ ‘We can,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’ When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:35-45). It is rather obvious to us today that they did not completely understand Jesus’ work.
 
As we heard last week so again this week, one important bit of history was the Passover Celebration Jesus enjoyed with His disciples. Actually it was His last Passover where we learn more of the events that were to take place. We note that John, again who refers to himself as the disciple Jesus loved is the one next to Jesus. “‘I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: “He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” ‘I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.’ After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.’ His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’ Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. ‘What you are about to do, do quickly,’ Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night” (John 13:18-30).
 
Later that evening after the supper Jesus took His disciples out to pray and we hear about John again. “they went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’ Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Simon,’ he said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.’ Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Returning the third time, he said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’”(Mark 14:32-42)
 
At Jesus trial we are told that it was John who got Peter into the courtyard where some of the proceedings were taking place. And following Jesus conviction and during His time on the cross, John was one of the few who actually came to the cross. John was there giving comfort to Jesus’ mother who was also there witnessing her son’s death. We are told that “near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:25-27).
 
Following Jesus’ resurrection, Peter announced that he was returning to his former trade and go fishing and John was one who went as well. That night they went fishing and caught nothing, but in the morning Jesus showed Himself on the shore, although they did not know it was Him. When He told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat and they had a large catch of fish John realized it was Jesus. We are told, “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead” (John 21:7-14).
 
So, what do we know about John. He was a young man, chosen by Jesus to be an apostle. His career path began as a fisherman in the family fishing business. He was not a step up, speak out leader, but he was one who was more of a behind the scenes worker. He knew people and used his influence for good. He was given Mary as his adoptive mother and we know he cared for her. He was not shy about sharing his faith which got him put into exile. And he knew the importance of writing down the words of the Gospel so that others might be given an opportunity to hear and believe as well. In other words, he writes for us so that we might be saved. Finally, we know that John knew himself to be a sinner in need of a Savior and that Jesus is that Savior. Even today, although we might think ourselves as good people, certainly we would think of John as a good disciples, yet we too know that we are sinners in need of a Savior and forgiveness. And we too know that Jesus is our Savior who loves us and forgives us so that we have life and salvation. And so we rejoice and say, thanks be to God and to Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

I Will Make You into a Great Nation - March 12, 2017 - Second Sunday in Lent - Text: Genesis 12:1-8

Pack your bags, we are moving. My boss just gave me notice that we are being transferred to our Oregon office. In our day and age this is not a rare occurrence, rather it tends to be the norm. We live in a very mobile society. We live in a constantly moving and changing world. If you have ever had to move, especially for business purposes, you might have some idea of what Abram went through. I say some idea because Abram did not have the post office to mail letters back and forth, nor did he have e-mail, nor Facebook, nor video chat, nor twitter, nor snap chat, nor did he have the telephone or cell phones in order to call his family back home to tell them how he was doing. When Abram left, he left.
 
God’s call to Abram came when he was seventy-five years old. In verse one of our text we read, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’” (v.1). At least when our company tells us they are going to transfer us we can look at a map to see where we are going. We can read about where we are going in an encyclopedia (for you young people, that is a book that contains most all the information you get from google), or on the internet, or get a newspaper from that place. There are many ways we have of finding out about a place. Abram did not have all these resources at his disposal. God called, Abram answered. Abram had no idea where he was to go, simply that the Lord his God called him to leave his country, his people, his family, his relatives.
 
But with the command to go, the Lord gave him a promise. The Lord promised to bless him. In verse two of our text we read, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (v. 2). The Lord promised Abram great physical, or material blessings. The Lord promised to make Abram a great nation. That means the Lord promised to make Abram the father of many people, so many people that they would be a nation. The Lord promised that He would make Abram’s name great. The Lord did not promise to make Abram a famous person, but that he would be remembered as someone special.
 
The Lord promised that He would bless Abram. He promised that He would lead Abram, that He would be with him on his journey, that He would give him a land for his own. In the first part of verse three the Lord says, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse” (v. 3a). The Lord promised to be with and to protect Abram on his journey. If anyone tried to curse Abram, the curse would fall back on them. If anyone blessed Abram, they too would be blessed.
 
The Lord also promised that He would bless others through Abram. The last part of verse three reads, “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (v. 3b). Here the Lord is promising spiritual blessings to Abram. The ultimate fulfillment of this promise was the sending of the Savior into the world through the line of Abram. Not only was Abram be the father of many people. Not only were Abram’s children, grand-children, great-grand-children, and so on a great and large nation. Not only did Abram’s people own the promised land, but the Savior of the world came through Abram’s family. Let me say that again, the Savior of the world came through Abram’s family. Through Abram “all the families of the earth” were blessed, blessed with forgiveness, life and salvation.
 
The uniqueness about our text and what stands out most is the fact that it was God who chose Abram. God called Abram. It had nothing to do with how good or how righteous Abram was. It had all to do with the grace of God. In His grace, in His undeserved love, God chose Abram. God made His covenant with Abram. God is the one doing the action and Abram is the one passively being given God’s good gifts and blessings.
 
Another uniqueness about our text is that God’s timing is not our timing. God does not immediately take Abram to the promised land and give it to Him. He does not immediately give Abram children, grand-children and so on. In our text we read of the Lord making His promised covenant with Abram and that is all. As we continue reading our Bible we see God’s hand in time as we watch how later Abram did receive the promised land, but he did so according to God’s time schedule, according to God’s good and gracious will.
 
God acts in our lives in much the same way that He acted in Abram’s life. It is God who chooses us. More specifically, it is God who has chosen us from the beginning of time and who makes us His own through our Baptism. We do not choose God. Because of our sinful human nature we cannot choose God. But God chose us. He chose us and sent His Son Jesus Christ to bring us back into a right relationship with Himself.
 
Just as God worked in Abram’s life according to His own time frame, so too God moves in our lives according to His good and gracious will. Just as Abram did not always know what lay ahead of him, neither do we always know what God has in mind and in store for us. All we know for certain is that our Gracious Lord chose us to be His own, that He has promised to always be with us, and that by faith in Him we are children of Abram and are heirs to eternal life through Jesus Christ.
 
So, what does this mean? There are some religions and denominations that will suggest that the way you become a Christian is that you have to make a decision for Jesus, in other words you have to “choose” Jesus as your personal Savior, or you have to “make a decision” for Jesus, or you have to “dedicate” your life to Him. I remember as a child being out on the playground at recess. We would choose two captains who would pick teams so we could play a game. I remember at times my best friend being the captain and I chose to be on his team, but you know what? That did not matter.  It did not matter what I chose, because I was not the captain. What mattered was that my best friend chose me to be on his team. Likewise, it does not matter if we choose Jesus, as a matter of fact, Scripture tells us we cannot choose Jesus, “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit”  (1 Cor. 12:3). If we do say, “Jesus is Lord,” that is not because of some innate knowledge in us, but because we have been given that declaration by the Holy Spirit. Remember when Peter professed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus told Peter, that this did not come from him, but from the Father in heaven who revealed this to him (Matt. 16:17).
 
Now, some will point to Joshua and say, in Joshua, he asked the people to make a decision from God. He said, “choose this day whom you will serve,” how can you say we cannot make a decision for Jesus. Well, let us look at what Joshua actually said to the people. Joshua ended his remarks by saying, “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Notice that Joshua does not even give the option of choosing the one true God. His options are that they either choose the idols their fathers serviced in the region beyond the River, or the false gods of the Amorites. Joshua understood what we understand, that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel and enlightened us with His gifts.
 
Just as God called Abraham to faith, so He calls us to faith. He calls us to faith, through means, namely through the means of grace. In other words, although God came directly to Abraham and called him directly to faith, God does not come to us directly today. That is not to say that He cannot come to us directly, that just is not His usual way of coming to us. Today God comes to us through means, thus we understand the importance of the means of grace. We believe in God’s doing, choosing, and giving through Word and Sacrament. And that is why these means are so important to us and why they permeate our divine service and our lives. Because we believe God works through Holy Baptism, we begin our lives being baptized as infants, we begin each divine service with the words of our baptism, the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because we believe God gives forgiveness and because forgiveness is so important, we begin our divine service with confession and absolution. Because we believe the Word of God is so important, our service is filled with our repeating back to God the very words He has given us to say. Because we believe the Word of God is so important, our lives are centered around that Word, having personal and family devotions, being in Bible Class and Sunday School, being in divine service as often as offered. And because we believe the Lord’s Supper is the means through which we participate in His life, suffering, death and resurrection, we partake of His Holy Meal as often as offered so we might be given the gifts He has to give through this as well as through all His means of grace.
 
Yes, God gives and we are given to. God’s promise to Abraham is His promise to us. We are children of Abraham, by faith. This is not something which comes with DNA. We are not saved because of the faith of our parents or grandparents or because of anyone else’s faith. We are saved by God’s grace through the faith which He gives to us through the very means He has of giving us our faith. And this faith is that instrument which reaches out and grabs hold of the blessings our Lord has to give. Blessings which are what God promised to Abraham. Blessing which include physical blessings, yes, a land flowing with milk and honey and no, I am not speaking of America, but eternal life in heaven, the ultimate promised land. And this faith grabs the greater blessings, the spiritual blessing of forgiveness of sin, life and salvation, that life and eternal life in the land of milk and honey, heaven. And all this is gift. All this is given, not chosen, not decided for, not with anything on our part, but all God’s doing and giving.
 
In a similar way that the Lord called Abram to leave his people and to go to a land that He would show Him, so too the Lord has called us. He has called us out of this world to be followers of Him. He has also called us out of this world as a church to teach and to lead in a Christian way. And in a similar way that the Lord blessed Abram in order that he might be a blessing to others, namely through his offspring of Jesus Christ, so too as the Lord blesses St. Matthew so that St. Matthew is a blessing to others, because as children and families come to St. Matthew and hear the Word, that Word takes root, springs up and bears abundant fruit, for Jesus’ sake and to the praise and glory of the name of the Lord. Indeed, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Peter - March 8, 2017 - Second Mid-Week of Lent - Text: Matt. 14:28,29; 16:16-23; 17:1-4, 25-26; 26:33-75; John 21:1-21

As we began last week, so we begin this week, with the reminder that we call the Word of God the “Good News” and rightly so, for it is the good news of salvation for all who believe. This year during the season of Lent through Easter Sunday we will be hearing of the events surrounding the suffering and death of Jesus through the different characters of those involved in the events. We will get a better understanding of the personalities and thus the reasons for the specific actions of the characters through actual Biblical statements and “quotes” of each person.
 
Last week we began by looking at the character we might want to “hate the most.” We did not look at Judas in such a way so as to illicit sympathy for him, but to try to understand Judas as a person, after all he too is loved by God and he was chosen and called by Jesus to be one of the Apostles. This evening we move on to look at the character of Peter, the one known as Simon or Cephas.
 
What do we know about Peter? We know that Peter was one of the twelve apostles, called by God and set apart to be with Him. We do know that he was one of what we often call the inner circle of Jesus with James and John and often Andrew. We do know that his career began in the fishing industry with his brother Andrew and his cousins James and John the sons of Zebedee. And as we review some of the facts and quotes of God’s Word we get the idea that Peter was one who would rather act first and think later, at least that seemed to be his temperament until after Pentecost as we will see.
 
One such incident that bears out this character trait of Peter, acting first and thinking second was following the account of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus sent His apostles to the other side of the lake while He spent time in prayer. During the night Jesus saw the disciples in distress in the boat and came to help. “When the disciples saw [Jesus] walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:26-33).
 
Peter was a leader of the group of twelve. Perhaps it was his personality, that is one who would step up and take charge. Peter followed Jesus, listened to Him preach, watched Him perform signs and wonders and Peter believed, at least in his own way and according to his own understanding. When questioned concerning his understanding of who Jesus was Peter answered as we are told, “when Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men’” (Matthew 16:13-23).
 
Again, Peter was one of the inner circle as we have described and thus he had opportunities that the others did not have. One such opportunity was that of seeing Jesus in all His glory on transfiguration Sunday. The account tells us, “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead’” (Matthew 17:1-9).
 
As the time approached for Jesus death, He arranged and celebrated one last time the Passover Seder with His disciples. At that celebration He spoke some rather unnerving words to them all and even to Peter. “Jesus told [His disciples], ‘This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:’ “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.’ Peter replied, ‘Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’ But Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the other disciples said the same” (Matthew 26:31-35).
 
Jesus words happened just as He said, “Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. ‘You also were with Jesus of Galilee,’ she said. But he denied it before them all. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, ‘This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ He denied it again, with an oath: ‘I don’t know the man!’ After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, ‘Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.’ Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’  Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:69-75).
 
Jesus words continued to be fulfilled as all the disciples left Him so that He was on trial, suffered and died alone. Yet, as we know the rest of the account, Jesus did not stay dead, but rose and for forty days showed Himself to be alive. One such appearance was described this way, “afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead” (John 21:1-14).
 
Finally, we hear words of confession and absolution for Peter. After Jesus fed the disciples on the morning by the sea He spoke to Peter and here let me use the Greek words that are in our text for the word “love,” so that you might get a better understanding of what is being said. “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you truly [agape, selflessly] love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I [phila, brotherly] love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you truly [agape, selflessly] love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I [phila, brotherly] love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’ The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you [phila, brotherly] love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you [phila] love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I [phila, brotherly] love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!’” (John 21:15-19). Note well that although Jesus asked Peter for unconditional, agape, selfless love, Peter knew he could only give a human brotherly love for Jesus. So, Jesus concedes to Peter’s love the third time.
 
I might suggest that at times we would all like to have a friend like Peter, one who is faithful and true, who will stand up for what is right, or at least what he thinks is right, one who will not simply speak up but will act. Yes, Peter had his flaws, he was after all only a man. The person of Peter, his being chosen by Jesus as one of His apostles might remind us that we are all truly Jesus disciples, that is learners and we too learn as we, not only sit at the Master’s feet which we do as we read and hear His Word, but as we act, that is as we live our lives as priest in the priesthood of all believers, offering our lives as living sacrifices, always being ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, a hope and faith given to us by the Father in Heaven. And as we too often deny our Lord with our lives, our thoughts, words and actions, our Lord also forgives us and invites us to follow Him. And so we have a hope and certain, a faith which moves us to say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Temptation (It Starts) - March 5, 2017 - First Sunday in Lent - Text: Gen. 3:1-21

What a great way to start Lent, with all three Bible readings giving us insight into our spiritual condition. Remember, Lent is the time we contemplate our part in Jesus’ dying on the cross. In our Epistle lesson for this morning Paul reminds us that by one man, namely Adam, sin entered the world but more importantly, by one Man, Jesus, forgiveness enters the world. In the Gospel lesson we are given the account of the temptation of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness. The difference between the Gospel lesson and our text, the Old Testament lesson is this, where Adam and Eve failed, Jesus succeeded. Here is where we begin seeing the fulness of the Gospel, the fact that not only did Jesus come to die on the cross, He also came to live for us, doing everything for us, in our place that we cannot do, namely resist temptation and sin.
 
Just a brief word before we get into Genesis chapter three and that is to say this. Either the Bible is the Word of God and it is to be believed, or it is not. There seems to be a debate about this in our world today, especially when it comes to the theory or belief of evolution and belief is the optative word. As Christians we have the same evidence as the evolutionists. The way we interpret that evidence is often contradictory. The reason for this is because we believe the Bible to be God’s Word and so we look at all the evidence in light of the Bible and if there is a contradiction, or a seeming contradiction then we know that the problem is not with the Bible, but with the fallible human explanation of the evidence. One striking example is that of dating methods. Most all the dating methods which give dates of millions of years to our earth are faulty dating methods and have been proven to be faulty. And, interestingly enough, most dating methods that give a young age to our earth, and have been proven to be more accurate at dating, are simply avoided and not used. Because no one was around when the world was created, except God Himself, then no one knows exactly what happened, except God Himself, so we take His Word for it.
 
As we get into our text we notice that we are introduced to three characters. The first character is the serpent. Of the serpent we are told, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.” So, who was this serpent? From these words as well as from other words of Holy Scripture we know that this serpent was a fallen angel, even Satan himself, the one Jesus calls the father of lies. Satan was created as a good angel, however he rebelled against God and was thrown out of heaven, along with his own followers. Satan thought himself to be a god equal with his creator God and that was his undoing. And we are also told that because of Satan’s fall, that is the very reason God created hell, not for us, but for Satan.
 
As the father of lies, Satan is the master. Satan approached Eve and brought questions through doubt, exaggeration and twisting of words. And actually, if you listen carefully you may notice that Satan really does not have any new tricks or temptations today, he simply uses the same old lies which do work just as well today as they did in the Garden of Eden. Satan began by twisting God’s Word, “Did God actually say . . . ?” “Perhaps you misunderstood.” How often is this temptation used on us and even on our Christian churches. How often do we hear such statements as, “Well, there many interpretations of the Bible.” Do we hear Satan in these words, “Did God really say that or did He really mean what He said?” The reason we have so many different denominations and so many churches that look like our society is because Satan has tempted so many to doubt the actual words of God and instead has tempted mankind to twist and reinterpret God’s Word into his own image.
 
Notice Satan’s temptation that Eve can be “like God.” There are actually some religions, cults and sects that teach that a person can become a god. Yet, even worse is the subtlety of this temptation. We may not believe we can be like God or even become God, yet whenever we put our own thinking before God’s Word, that is what we are doing. In other words, whenever I suggest that what God “really means” is something other than what His Word actually says, then I am indeed being like God. Here again we see this especially in churches that have thrown out the actual Word of God for their own understanding of His Word. Examples in our world today consists of such things as: God is love so certainly He does not want us to condemn those of the homosexual community. Men and women are equal in God’s eyes so certainly God wants women to have the same roles as men in our churches. God loves everyone so we should not discriminate against anyone in our congregations especially keeping anyone from doing what they want, coming to the Lord’s Supper and the like. And the list goes on. Just listen to how people talk and you will know if they worship God or if they believe themselves to be god.
 
As for the serpent, he, as Satan was punished with eternal spiritual death and exile. As for the serpent, the snake he was punished with crawling on his belly and eating dust.
 
The second character we have in our text is Eve. Eve was the woman created by God from Adam’s rib to be a helper suitable for him. Of course the feminism of our society would rather skip past these words failing to understand what a great gift and privilege God has given both Adam and Eve in this relationship. The problem with the view of our society is that it is tainted with sin and fails to understand the good that God gives in everything, especially here in the different roles of men and women. Anyway, as for Eve, she was created by God and we understand that at this time she only knew good. She did not know what evil was, nor what lying was, nor anything about sin because she only knew good.
 
As Satan tempted Eve she began to get the hang of his temptation and she progressed, first from Satan’s questioning, “Did God really say . . . ?” to her own exaggeration, “God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” Satan’s temptation lead her to doubt and finally to disobedience. She ate of the fruit and gave some to her husband.
 
When she was confronted with her disobedience she blamed the serpent. How often do we find ourselves following in the footsteps of our first parents. We never take the blame for anything, but we can always find someone else to blame. “Well, she did it first.” “I only said those hurtful things because I was hurt first.” “You made me do it.” When God asks us about our breaking the commandments, continually, I believe we certainly will answer as Adam and Eve, blaming someone else, pointing the finger at others and not accepting our part the problems we have caused. It is our nature after all.
 
For Eve, she was punished with a desire for her husband and pain in childbearing. Her desire for her husband can still be seen in our world today. We see this through the constant striving of women to usurp the roles that God has given especially to men, roles in the church and in society. Personally I do not know why women want to lower themselves to be like men. We know how men are, if the women want to do our work, we will let them and we will sit and watch them. Here again we see how our society has been duped by the lies of Satan and we miss the good gifts and blessings our Lord first gave to us before the fall into sin.
 
But let’s get to our last character, Adam. Adam was also created only knowing good. He did  not know what evil was, what lying was, what sin was. He only knew good.
 
Adam’s first failure however was his failure in his responsibility to care for Eve. Adam was in charge, we know that he was in charge because God held him responsible for what happened. We call this the order of creation. According to the order of creation God first created Adam and God put him in charge of the Garden and his family. Adam failed this responsibility by allowing Eve to speak with the serpent in the first place. I can only imagine what he was thinking as he watched Eve converse with the serpent. According to his role, his God given role, he should have stepped in and sent Satan away, but instead he simply watched and then joined in her sin by eating the fruit with his wife.
 
When God came calling and holding Adam accountable, remember, God first called to Adam. Adam blamed Eve and even worse, he blamed God, “The woman whom you gave me . . . ” Adam says. “It’s all your fault God, if You had not given me this woman then this never would have happened.” Here again, as men, we must understand that the order of creation has never been negated. God will hold us accountable for our family and what happens with our family.
 
For Adam his punishment was hard labor. No longer would the world simply grow food, now it would take hard work. Work, which was not a curse, but a gift given from the beginning, would now become toilsome and no longer much fun.
 
And finally we get to the first Gospel promise. Because of the sin of Eve and Adam, there was now a separation between God and man. God’s promise was that One would be sent to take care of this separation. One would come who would bring reconciliation and forgiveness.
 
The One who would bring this forgiveness was One who would be born of a woman, thus He would be truly human and so would be able to be a substitute. Remember, the price for sin that was set in the Garden of Eden was death, physical death and apart from Jesus eternal spiritual death, and that price had to be paid and it had to be paid by those guilty of sinning. The only way out for us would be to suffer the eternal punishment or to have someone take our place and that someone would have to be someone like us, a human being, except without sin.
 
The One to be born would be a human, but He would also need to be born in perfection, in other words He would have to be truly God. The One to be born would therefor also be the Son of God, and He was as He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, thus making Him truly God.
 
Finally, the one to be born would need to fulfill all God’s Law and Prophecies and would have to suffer and pay the price for the sins of the those He came to save.
 
So, what does this mean for us? As we read this account from Genesis we may notice that in the beginning when God was active everything was perfect. In Genesis chapter one and two everything is described by God as being good and even very good, everything was perfect.
 
When we get to chapter three we move from God acting to mankind acting and all hell breaks loose, literally. Perhaps we would do well to take notes from these first three chapters of God’s Word. Our problem always has been and will remain that when we believe ourselves to be in charge and we attempt to put God out of the picture life becomes unbearable. And yet that is what we do on a daily basis. We do this in our personal lives, making decisions without God and even in spite of Him. We do this in our society, working to throw God out of the public square and attempt to relegate Him only to our church buildings. We do this in our congregations when we put ourselves and our perceived needs before our Lord in other words, when we fail to make regular and diligent use of our Lord’s means of grace and then when we attempt to blame Him because of our failings and sin. We do this when we determine to run our congregation as a business, when we determine to run our congregation according to the whims of our society, instead of acting in faith and doing what God would have us to do according to His own Word and not our faulty understanding of His Word.
 
Thanks be to God that He remains in charge, even in spite of us. Thanks be to God that He is continually working in and through us, even in and through our congregation to bring good from evil. Would that we could simply go back to living in Genesis one and two? And yet, what great words we have from our Lord here in chapter three. God created. God created all things out of nothing. God created all things good, even very good, yes, even perfect. And after His creatures failed, disobeyed and sinned, God continued and continues to be in control. God continues to reach out to fallen humanity. He has taken care of our sins and the price for our sins. He has paid the price for our sins, for your sins, for my sins, for the sins of all people, of all places, of all times. His desire and His will for us is always good and even perfect. His desire is to give to us and to pour out on us blessings upon blessings. And He does give to us and pour out His blessings on us. He has given His blessings to us through the substitutionary work of His Son, God in flesh, Jesus Christ. Jesus life, suffering, death and resurrection was for us in order to pay the price we owe for our sins. Thus, by faith in Jesus we have forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Thus, we rejoice in the gifts we are given.
 
As we begin this lenten season, we know how this will all end. We know the rest of the story and it is knowing the rest of the story, it is knowing our sins are forgiven which give us the boldness to repent and confess our sins. Because we know that as we repent, so our sins are forgiven and we have life and salvation, for Jesus’ sake. To God be the glory. Amen.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Judas - March 1, 2017 - Ash Wednesday - Text: Matt. 26:14,16,25,47,49; 27:3,5; Mark 14:10,43,45; Luke 22:47,48; John 12:4; 13:2,26,27,29,30; 14:22, 18:2,3,5

We call the Word of God the “Good News” and rightly so, for it is the good news of salvation for all who believe. This year during the season of Lent through Easter Sunday we will be hearing of the events surrounding the suffering and death of Jesus through the different characters of those involved in the events. Prayerfully, we will get a better understanding of the personalities and thus the reasons for the specific actions of the characters through actual Biblical statements and “quotes” of each person. On Maundy Thursday and Good Friday we will move to address the events of each of those days and then resume with our characters on Easter Sunrise and Easter Morning.
 
This evening we begin by looking at the character we might want to “hate the most.” Please understand I am not here to illicit sympathy for Judas, but I think it is important to understand Judas as a person, after all he too is loved by God and he was chosen and called by Jesus to be one of the Apostles.
 
What do we know about Judas? We do know that he was one of the twelve, one of the inner circle of Jesus closest disciples, even an apostle. He was called by Jesus and was with Him for the three years of His earthly ministry. Certainly he had ample opportunity to listen to Jesus, to watch Him, to see the signs, wonders and miracles He performed. Although we do not know of his early life, his childhood, his upbringing and what he was taught as a child and so on, yet perhaps we might conjecture that he was raised and taught as any Jewish boy, that is he was taught the Jewish faith and the promise of a Messiah. And perhaps as many in his day did not completely understand the prophecies, especially the spiritual nature of the prophecies, but instead had come to understand the promises as promises of an earthly deliverance, so too with Judas. Perhaps, just perhaps he understood Jesus in terms of an earthly Savior. I believe this presupposition helps explain much of his behavior as we will see.
 
What do we know about Judas? We do know that he betrayed or better said, sold information about Jesus as he went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand [Jesus] over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over” (Matt. 26:14-16). We also know that the chief priests “were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over” (Mark 14:11).
 
We do know that Judas knew Jesus regular routine, when and where He would be, and Jesus knew this as well. We are told that “when evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.’ They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’ Jesus replied, ‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.’ Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, ‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’ Jesus answered, ‘Yes, it is you’” (Matt. 26:20-25).
 
We might surmise that Judas did not think Jesus knew what was in his heart. As they were celebrating the Passover, and after Jesus spoke of His betrayal we are told, “After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.’ His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’ Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. ‘What you are about to do, do quickly,’ Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night” (John 13:21-30).
 
Later that same night Jesus took His disciples out to the Mount of Olives, a small garden in which Jesus often went in order to have some private time alone. We know that Judas was not with Jesus and the disciples when they went to the Mount of Olives, but he arrived later. We are told that, “While [Jesus] was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him” (Matt. 26:47-49). “But Jesus asked him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’” (Luke 22:48). “Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘I am he,’ Jesus said” (John 18:4-5a).
 
We know that because of Judas’ actions, Jesus, the one who is called the Christ was arrested and taken in for questioning. There were many in Jerusalem who believed that Jesus was the one about whom the prophets had spoken, that a Savior of the world would be born and that this man is that Savior, yet many did not understand what that meant, whether an earthly Messiah like their deliverance from Egypt or a spiritual, sin forgiving Messiah. At the same time, we know that His followers abandoned Him. As the events of the evening transpired one might surmise that the trials had been rigged and that in fact the leaders of the people, the Sanhedrin, the teachers of the Law, the Scribes and the Pharisees, had been trying to get Jesus arrested, tried and prosecuted, hoping for the death penalty.
 
Again from the Words of Scripture as well as from his actions we might believe that Judas, who lead authorities to arrest Jesus and who was one of His followers also believed that Jesus was the promised Savior, but perhaps did not understand what it meant that He was the Messiah. Judas may have done what he did because he wanted to force Jesus’ hand. In other words, according to what Judas may have believed about Jesus being the Messiah, the Savior, it may be that he believed Jesus to be the one who would come and overthrow the Romans from rule over his people, the people of the Jewish nation. Anyway, perhaps Judas believed Jesus to be this Savior and because He had not yet started an uprising, or a revolt, he believed the best way to get Jesus to begin was to, “call his hand.” This may account for his plot with the authorities, whom he knew were already trying to find a way to arrest Jesus and he lead them to Jesus to have Him arrested.
 
Following His arrest and what were truly illegal trials through the night Jesus was indicted. He was given the death penalty and was awaiting to be crucified. During all His trials Jesus either spoke very little at times and spoke nothing at all at other times. Following His conviction we are told that “when Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’ So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself” (Matt. 27:3-5).
 
We might make note here that Judas did have remorse. He was sorry for what he had done. He even repented. His problem, if we might call it that, was that he did not believe that Jesus could or would forgive him, that is what lead him to despair and what lead him to kill himself. Indeed, Judas died in unbelief and that is what condemned him.
 
Life is not always what it seems. Many times there are two sides, sometimes even three or more sides to each story. Judas thought he was doing his people a favor by betraying the one he thought to be the Savior. Indeed, how often do we find ourselves in our own lives doing something we think is right for what we believe to be the right reasons only to find ourselves betraying our Lord as well? Thanks be to God that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior, the Christ, the One who came, lived, suffered, died and rose so that we do have forgiveness, life and salvation. Thanks be to God that the forgiveness Jesus won, bought and paid for is ours and is freely given, even poured out on us. Thanks be to God that because forgiveness is ours we are moved to repent and in repenting we know our sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God for His love and indescribable gifts. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.