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!
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.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
What Is Greatness? - September 23, 2012 - Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20) - Text: Mark 9:30-37
Last week we heard the narrative concerning the problem the disciples had in casting out a demon from a young boy. We heard Jesus lament over this “faithless” generation and how He would probably have the same words of concern and lament for our faithless world today. We were reminded that the miracles of Jesus and His disciples served the purpose of validating their teaching and how after Jesus suffered, died, rose and ascended back into heaven and how as the apostles passed on, so did the ability to do miracles. And we were warned of the false teaching of today that suggests that if you have faith enough you can do miracles which often leads people who cannot do miracles to despair thinking they do not have faith.
This morning we have moved ahead one verse in Mark’s Gospel. The disciples have been with Jesus for some time. They have seen the sign, wonders and miracles He has performed. They have heard Him preach and He has taught them personally. Certainly we would think that they know that Jesus is the Savior of the world, yet as we see they do not understand what that means. They are thinking in worldly terms of fortune, fame and power. They have been with Jesus and have seen the great things He has done and can do. And they are looking to capitalize on being in Jesus’ “cabinet of advisors” when He “takes over the world.” They are thinking in terms of true earthly greatness.
We live in a world in which the view of greatness includes money, fame, and power. In our world of today, money is seen as success. If I earn more money than you then that means that I am more successful than you. If I have more money than you then I am better than you. Very often money is the driving force behind one’s behavior. We see people today who do everything they do for the express purpose of making more money. Yet, too often we see that the richest people are very often the saddest people.
In our world today, fame is seen as success. Famous people are seen as successful and are looked up to. We all dream of our fifteen seconds, or is it fifteen minutes, of fame. Again, if I am more famous than you then I am more successful than you. If I am more famous than you then I am better than you. The drive for fame moves people to compromise anything and everything in order to be famous. Yet, again, too often we see that the most famous people in the world are very often the saddest people as well.
In our world today, power is seen as success. People who have worked their way up the ladder into positions of power are seen as being successful. If I have a higher position in the corporate structure then I am seen as being more powerful and more successful than you. If I am more power than you then I am better than you.
These three, money, fame and power are strong forces in our world. The temptation of these three simply for the sake of having them is great. And lest we think that we do not have these influences attacking us because we are not the richest people in the world, we are not the most famous nor the most powerful, we had better beware and take heed, before they do overpower us. The enticement of money, fame, and power attacks everyone, even down to the lowest who would like to step on those above them to get to the top. If you do not believe me, I will give you a few examples of how this happens to us, right here.
Have you ever thought to yourself or even out loud that the money you are paid for your work is yours and that God had nothing to do with your earning it? Have you ever thought about not putting a portion of your earnings in the offering plate because you did not like what God’s called servant the Pastor did or said? Have you ever thought you would just put some money in the offering plate so that someone else could be paid to do the work of telling others about Jesus and helping out around church so you would not have to? These are ways we use money for control and these are ways we sin.
Have you ever thought about using your influence to get things your own way? Maybe you like the way things are at church, you do not want to grow and have others take what you think to be your place of influence? Maybe there are times which you say things that are true, but are not helpful? Maybe there are times which you do not say something helpful, but allow hurtful things to be said instead? These are ways we use our fame for control and these are ways we sin.
Have you ever thought about the power you think you might have by being on a particular board or committee? Maybe you get a feeling of power by being on a particular board or committee? Maybe you have forgotten that the term used for being on boards and committees is the term “serve”? These are ways we use our power for control and these are ways we sin. And let us not think lightly of this, because sin is sin and sin, all sin, our imagined big sin or little sin, all sin is punishable by eternal spiritual death. We are deserving of hell for these sins and for lesser sins. So, what do we do? How do we correct our sins? Is there any hope or us? Yes, there is always hope for us.
God’s view of greatness is seen in the person and the work of His Son, Jesus. God reminds us that money is important, but only as we use it as a tool and especially as we use it as a tool for Him and in service to Him and His kingdom, never as we use it for personal selfish reasons. Jesus showed us how to use money in that He had no money, He had no need for money and yet He had access to all He needed and all He wanted. Jesus reminds us that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” and we have seen that this is true. Jesus reminds us that the heart of the matter is our motives and is our heart, “for where a man’s treasure is, there is his heart.” What is most important to you in your life can be seen by where we spend our money.
God’s view of fame is that it should be used in service to others. Jesus was probably one of the most, if not the most, famous person in all human history. Yet, He did not use that fame for His own selfish purposes, rather He used His life for the salvation of the world and more in particular, He used His life, He gave His life for you.
God’s view of power is that we should serve and not be served. Jesus’ words to His disciples and to us are, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Jesus is God. He was and is the most powerful person ever and yet He did not use His power for Himself or for His own interest. He used His power to save all people, you and me included.
Who is the greatest? Well, I believe Jesus is the greatest, yet to illustrate who is the greatest, Mark tells us in our text that Jesus “took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’” Notice that Jesus points, not to Himself as being the important one to be welcomed, but to God the Father. If we want to be great we will want to welcome the little children of the world.
And why are children the greatest? Well, children are not the greatest, but one having faith as a little child is the greatest. Have you ever noticed the faith of a little child? Children, really, have nothing which is theirs. They trust their parents, and here we might say they trust God acting through their parents, for everything, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home, and so forth. Likewise, Jesus’ compares us as He calls us His little children. We have nothing of our own. All that we have is on loan from Him and we, as His little children, with His help, trust that as He has, so He will continue to provide us with all that we need. And most especially, we trust that He has provided for our greatest need, the forgiveness of sins. For we do indeed, daily sin much in thought, word and deed. We do daily, fail in our use of our money, fame and power in service to Him and His kingdom. Yet, He is there always ready to forgive and give us a second chance, again and again.
How does this look, practically speaking? When Jesus looks at us, does He see us as His disciples arguing about who is the greatest? Or who gets their way? Or does He see us pulling together as His people, the people He died for and saved? Does He see us pulling together to do the work He has for us to do in this place because we see the opportunities for us to get our own hands dirty with the hard work of spreading His Gospel message to these people who do not know Him? What an opportunity lays before us, but we cannot sit around and let just a few people make it happen. We all want to be involved. My prayer continues to be that the Lord would stir in the hearts of us all to pull together, to encourage one another, to pray for each other, to use our money, our fame and our power for the purpose of serving Him and extending His kingdom. And yes, we cannot do this alone, but here we have God’s promise that He is with us and that He will be with us until the end of the age.
When we go out to eat, and that is not that often, I evaluate my waiter or waitress by their invisibility. I believe a good waiter or waitress is one who takes care of filling my glass, bringing me anything extra I might need, without my being aware of it. A good waiter or waitress is one who takes such good care of me that I do not even realize they are around. Jesus is the greatest Savior of all. He has taken such good care of us, suffering, dying and rising, forgiving our sins, so that, unfortunately, too often we are not even aware of all that He has done for us and all that He continues to do for us. (And here I might say, tongue in check, this is so unfortunate so that we do not even tip Him as much as we do our waiter or waitress.) Jesus is the greatest and He shows us what greatness is all about, and what is more, He works in us to serve Him in His kingdom in such a way that our service is unnoticed by others, but is noticed by Him.
God gives and we are given to. Jesus came, not simply to be an example for us, but to do for us what we are unable to do. Jesus came, not to be famous for us, not to be rich for us, not to be powerful for us, although we might imagine that as true God He is the most famous, the richest and the most powerful. Yet, for our sakes He gave up all the fame, richness, and power that was His. He gave up all the glory that was His in heaven for us, in order to become one of us, in order to take on flesh and blood. Jesus lived for us, in our place, as our substitute, doing for us what we cannot do, live perfectly. Jesus suffered all the temptations we suffer and greater. Jesus never concerned Himself with all the things of this world as we do. Instead, Jesus concerned Himself with the most important tasks, taking care of our sin so that we might be with Him in heaven. Let me assure you and encourage you, Jesus has taken care of your greatest need, forgiveness of sins. And as He has, so He will continue to take care of all our other needs. His desire is to have you, to have your heart and if and when He has you, He will have all of you. What a great God we have. What a loving God we have. What a gift giving God we have. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
All Things Are Possible For One Who Believes - September 16, 2012 - Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19) - Text: Mark 9:14-29
Last week we watched as Jesus healed the demonic daughter of a Syrophoenician woman, and as He healed a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, so that he could hear and speak. Our text for this week actually skips a lot of material in the Gospel of Mark. Our text skip over and comes after Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain where Peter, James and John watch as Jesus confers with Moses and Elijah in all His glory. After they came down from the mountain Jesus tells His disciples not to tell anyone of this event until after His resurrection and then He sends them off ahead of Him.
As we get to our text for this morning, evidently the disciples had attempted to cast out the demon that had enslaved this young boy, but they were not able to do so. The disciples who had previously done miraculous signs were dumbfounded as to why they could not accomplish this casting out of the demon. The crowds did not understand why the disciples seemed powerless and yet, as Jesus approached we can see that the crowds still had faith that Jesus could cast out the demon. I guess logically, most students are not as equipped as the teacher so the same would be true of Jesus’ disciples, that they could not do everything their teacher could do.
As Jesus approaches, He found the Scribes arguing with His disciples. We are not told the topic of their argument, but I believe it is inferred in our text that it would have to do with the powerlessness of the disciples, even though the Scribes were truly not in any position to say anything, because we never hear of any miraculous signs coming from them.
Jesus arrives on the scene and in Mark’s usual hurry up way he says that “immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him.” When Jesus is told about the demon possessed son and how His disciples could not cast out the demon, Jesus begins by expressing His dismay over the “faithlessness” of this generation and then He goes on to ask how long He has to put up with this unbelieving world. Makes me wonder what He would say about our world today.
Next, Jesus addresses the demonic son’s father asking him questions concerning his son. Now, remember Jesus is truly God and so as God you would think that He already knows the answers to the questions He is asking and perhaps He does. Perhaps this is a reminder to us as we are encouraged to pray, that although God may already know what we need even before we ask, and He already knows what we are going to ask for, whether it is according to our real need or not, we are indeed encouraged to pray because we need to acknowledge and articulate what it is we need. There might be a different reason Jesus asks as well and that is that as true man Jesus did not always make use of His divinity, in other words there are times He wills Himself not to know certain things, such as the end of the world and the day of judgment and perhaps the struggles of this father.
As the father explains the tragic life of his son to Jesus, that his son has been demon possessed since childhood, and here as an aside I would take this as an encouragement to parents to have you babies baptized, which is a miniature exorcism, so this will not happen to them. Anyway, the man explains that his son has been demon possessed since childhood and the demon often casts the boy into fire and water in order to destroy the boy. Again, another aside, in our world today this boys behavior would probably be diagnosed as some form of epilepsy. The man tells Jesus what has been happening and then He confesses his lack of faith, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” To which Jesus responds, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” and the man responds, as we might well respond in our own unbelief at times, “I believe; help my unbelief.”
As all this is going on a crowd begins to gather. Jesus, knowing that His time to suffer and die on the cross is not yet upon Him, does not allow the demon to speak and so as Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit He commands it not to speak, to leave the boy, and never to enter the boy again. Like all demons, the unclean spirit did not want to do as Jesus commanded, but being powerless against Jesus, the unclean spirit came out of the boy crying loudly and convulsing and left the boy as a corpse so that people thought he was dead.
Jesus heals the boy showing His power over demons. Here again, logically speaking and you would think that the Scribes and the people present would pick up on this, only God can cast out demons. Jesus is casting out demons. Logically, Jesus must be God. The people could not figure this out, they were blinded and were only looking for this worldly physical, felt needs blessings from Jesus. The Scribes could not figure it out they were simply looking out for their own positions logically, in their minds, thinking that if Jesus kept doing the signs and wonders, the miracles showing Himself to be truly God, others might actually believe in Him and they would lose their positions of authority.
After healing the son, Jesus entered the man’s home with his disciples and answered more questions, especially questions concerning why the disciples could not perform the exorcism. Jesus explains how it was their lack of faith which was seen in their inability. This does not mean that anyone who has a big enough faith in our world today can cast out demons. This thinking that if anyone has a big enough faith can do miracles is a false teaching and can lead people to despair, especially if they cannot do miracles and thus think themselves as having insufficient faith. The miracles of Jesus and His disciples served a purpose, to validate their teaching, and as the apostles died out so did the ability to do such outward signs as miracles.
Jesus calls the people of His day a faithless generation. I am sure He would have just as harsh words for our world today. Much like the world of Jesus’ day, so our world today continues to be a world chasing after its own desires. What was once wrong is now right and what was once right is now wrong. People continually find those who preach what their itching ears want to hear. Faith in humanity rules over faith in God.
What does this mean? First and foremost I would say that this narrative shows us that Jesus is truly God in human flesh as only God can do the miracles Jesus does. Jesus shows Himself to be truly human because only as a human being was He able to substitute His perfect life, suffering, death and resurrection for our imperfect life. Jesus had to be truly God in order to be perfect, which would fulfill God’s demand of perfection, “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
Jesus shows Himself to be truly God through the signs, wonders and miracles He performed. As God, in the beginning, He is the Creator with the Father and the Spirit with power over all creation, thus He is able to do the signs, wonders and miracles, casting out demons, walking on water, feeding five thousand, even fifteen thousand, healing, raising from the dead and the like.
At this miracle Jesus mutes the demon so as not to have to deal with his confession of belief and knowledge of who Jesus is. Remember, very often the demons, Satan’s minions knowing who Jesus is confessed their faith calling Him the Son of God. The fact that the demons know Jesus reminds us that head knowledge is not what saves, but it is faith in Jesus alone, His trading His life for ours, that saves us.
As true God Jesus has power over the demons. As the Savior, the reason Jesus came to earth was to defeat sin, death and Satan. On the cross Jesus did defeat Satan so that Satan, a fallen angel and creature of God, truly has limited power over us even to this day.
Jesus came to save all people through His life, suffering, death and resurrection. After living a perfect life, for us, in our place, as our substitute, Jesus took all our sins upon Himself, He who was without sin became sin for us and on the cross Jesus shed His blood, the price for sin, death, physical death and apart from faith in Him, eternal spiritual death. Jesus paid the price for sin on the cross. Jesus earned forgiveness of sins on the cross.
The gifts Jesus purchased and won on the cross are not distributed from the cross, but are distributed through our Lord’s Means of Grace. It is Jesus who gives faith through the means of grace His Word, confession and absolution, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. As we make regular, each and every Sunday, and diligent, yes, even each and every day, use of these means or instruments of God’s grace, it is through these very means that the Lord gives to us forgiveness of sins, faith, strengthening of faith, blessings upon blessings, life and salvation.
Although we live in a sin filled world which still has many doubts and although we may ourselves from time to time have our own doubts, our Lord would speak to us, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23b). Through the very means of His Holy Word, Jesus shows us and gives to us the gifts we need, gifts of forgiveness of sins, gifts of strengthening of faith which squelches doubt. By faith in Jesus, which He gives to us, our sins are forgiven so that when our last hour arrives He will gather us and all the saints and robe us in His robes of righteousness and take us to heaven to be with Himself and all the saints who have gone on before us and we will stand before the Lord’s throne reveling in His victory and saying to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
Are We Listening? - September 9, 2012 - Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) - Text: Mark 7:(24-30) 31-37
Hearing is just one of our five senses, along with sight, smell, taste and touch, and yet it is a very helpful and useful sense. If we could not hear, we would not be able to hear the beauty of the birds singing, the beauty of songs of praise being raised to our Lord, for us here at St. Matthew, and for some that would certainly include the beautiful sound of the train whistles out on the track in front of the church. Hearing is an important part of our lives. Maybe you have heard it said before, hearing is twice as important as speaking, that is why we have only one mouth, but two ears. Yet, we all like to talk. We all like to hear ourselves talk, and all too often, our own talking gets in the way of our hearing. Paul reminds us of one of the most important aspects of hearing as he says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). And still, there is another important part of hearing. It is only after we have spent much of our time hearing that we can begin to imitate the sounds we hear in order to be able to speak. Someone who is deaf has a difficult time learning to speak, because they cannot hear the sounds they need to imitate in order to speak.
Our text for this morning consists of the narrative of the healing of the demonic daughter of a Syrophoenician woman, and the healing of a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. In the first narrative of the Syrophoenician woman, we are told that she came seeking Jesus and we are most certainly informed of the fact that she was not a Jew, but she was a Gentile. She was a Gentile seeking this Jewish Rabi, Jesus. Accordingly she had no right to do what she was doing, yet, she came and I would say, she came in faith, believing in Jesus and knowing that He could heal her daughter. As the narrative plays out, even after being insulted by Jesus, she shows her faith and Jesus indeed healed her daughter and as the Gospel writer Matthew makes note “Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly” (Matthew 15:28).
In our second narrative the first thing we might notice is that we are not told the man’s name, we are simply told that he could not hear and because he could not hear, he could hardly talk. Evidently he had been deaf for a long time and either had forgotten how to make the sounds which we know as talk or he had only learned a little how to talk. This man was deaf and yet he had some friends who were concerned about him. His friends had either heard Jesus or had heard about Jesus and they were confident that Jesus could help them and him. They too had faith which moved them to bring their friend to Jesus.
These friends brought the deaf man to Jesus and they begged him to “place his hand on the man.” I would suppose that they believed that all that Jesus needed to do was to touch their friend and he would be healed. Jesus took the deaf man aside, away from the crowd and we are told that Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears. Here I would caution us not to think too much of Jesus’ means of healing. Time and again Jesus healed simply by saying the word, as we saw in the first narrative of the casting out of the demon of the woman’s daughter. Jesus did not touch the daughter, He simply told the woman what had been done. We saw that He was able to heal even when He was a far way off. This time He chose to heal in a different way. First He healed the mans deafness by putting His fingers in the man’s ears.
Healing of the man’s hearing, however, was only a partial healing and this Jesus knew. Remember, we learn to speak by imitating the sounds we hear. If we cannot hear then we cannot speak, or at least we cannot speak well. When Jesus heals, He heals completely, thus Jesus also heals the mans speaking. We are told, in our text, that Jesus then spit and touched the man’s tongue. “He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!’”, which we are told means “be opened.” And what happens? Just what Jesus says. The man’s ears are opened and his tongue is loosed and he can immediately speak. He speaks plainly and intelligibly. Jesus brings complete healing.
This text speaks specifically about physical healing and I would suppose if we went around and asked the members of our St. Matthew family we might hear such responses as, “I wish the Lord would heal my spouses hearing,” or “I wish the Lord would help my children to listen better,” or even “I wish the Lord would make my parents listen to me.” We probably accuse each other of not listening more than once in a day. We live in a world which is filled with sound and I might even suggest is filled with noise. I think the term which has used is that it is called noise pollution. Yes, our text speaks about physical hearing, but as we look at this text in the context of the other readings we have this morning and in the context of how Jesus often describes the hearing of people and especially of the Pharisees we will come to a deeper understanding that our physical hearing has a lot to do with our spiritual hearing.
Most of us here can probably hear. But, do most of us here always hear when God speaks? Or do we tune Him out? God would like to speak to us everyday and He would like to speak to us many times in a day. He would also like for us to speak to Him, yet, how can we speak to Him if we do not listen to Him so that we will know how to speak to Him?
God speaks to us. He speaks to us through His Word. As we read our Bible, God is speaking to us. Of course, we can let our minds wonder as we read our Bible and thus not listen to Him. We can simply not take the time to read our Bible and in so doing we are not listening to Him. He speaks to us through the reading and preaching of His Word here in Divine Service. Of course, we can refuse and reject His Word by staying away from Divine Service and Bible Class. He speaks to us most especially at the beginning of almost every service as we confess our sins and here His most beautiful words of forgiveness through the Absolution. Of course, we can deny our sin and not confess and so refuse His forgiveness. He also speaks to us through His sacraments, through Holy Baptism and through the Lord’s Supper. As we remember our Baptism God speaks to us. As we come to the Lord’s Supper to celebrate and participate in His life, death and resurrection, He speaks to us. When we neglect to remember our Baptism, when we neglect to attend the Lord’s Supper, we cannot hear Him.
In much the same way in which we carry on a conversation with each other and with family and friends, so we can carry on a conversation with God. He speaks to us through His Word and Sacraments and we speak to Him in prayer. This is a two way conversation, and it does have a specific rhythm. The rhythm is very much like the rhythm of learning how to speak. First, we must listen to God. Only after we have listened to God can we imagine how to speak to Him. And, after we do listen to Him, He does give us the words to speak to Him.
Each one of us has friends. We have close friends and maybe some friends we count as acquaintances. Let me ask you this, if you spoke to your close friend only once a week and only listened to them for a few minutes once a week, how would that affect your friendship? Or if you only spoke to your friend when you needed something and yet never listened to your friend, how would that affect your friendship? Jesus is our best friend. He has shown that He is our best friend through the giving of His own life for ours. His desire is to be in constant communication with us. He is always there ready to listen and through His Word to speak. As we look at our efforts at communication with Him, how would we evaluate our relationship with Him?
In the case of our earthly relationships, I would suggest that if we spend more time way from our friends than we do putting time into our friendships, then we will eventually lose those friendships. The same is true with our relationship with Jesus. Spending time away from Jesus strains our relationship with Him and ultimately it could lead to losing that relationship with Him which translates into separation from God and could ultimately lead to eternal death.
Thanks be to God that just as Jesus brought healing to the daughter of the Gentile woman and to the deaf man in our text for today, He brings healing for us as well and that healing is what we call forgiveness of sins. That healing did not come without a price. The price was the shedding of His blood for ours on the cross. Again, thanks be to God that for us the price is free. He gives His salvation, freely to us without any cost on our part.
In our text for today, after healing the deaf man Jesus charged the crowd to not tell anyone, yet that is exactly what they did, they told everyone. Today, Jesus encourages us to speak out to tell everyone what He does for us, ironically today we have a tendency to not tell anyone and that is too bad. I know we live in a world in which it is harder and harder to be a Christian, yet, what a wonderful friend we have in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. How excited we are that He has given His life for ours, that He has given us eternal life, that He continues to give us forgiveness of sins, what better friend do we have to share with others, to get excited about our relationship with Him and tell others about that relationship.
In our second reading James reminds us to not simply listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves, but to do what the word says. My prayer for each one of you this morning is that you will be hearers of the Word, that you will take the time to read your Bible, to come and confess your sins and hear God’s Word of absolution, to remember your Baptism, to come to the Lord’s table and that through these times of listening that you might be strengthened in your faith so that you might be a doer of the Word so that ultimately, ultimately you might be able to share your faith with others so that they too might be a part of God’s kingdom, so that praise and glory may be given to His holy name. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, September 2, 2012
The Heart of the Matter - September 2, 2012 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17) - Text: Mark 7:14-23
Again this week we pick up where we left off last week as we continue reading through the Gospel of Mark. Last week, you might remember, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees concerning their manmade ceremonial laws concerning outward washings. Jesus showed the Pharisees their pietistic hypocrisy in how they elevated their own laws over God and His Word. And we were reminded how often the same things happen in our world today when we elevate our own human opinions over and above God’s Word.
Perhaps you have heard someone say that we are no longer under the Law because Jesus fulfilled the Law. Let me tell you that statement is only partially true. Yes, Jesus did come to fulfill the Law and the prophets and He did so, perfectly, that is He fulfilled all the ceremonial laws perfectly, all those laws which pointed to the once and for all sacrifice of Himself on the cross. However, although the ceremonial laws have been fulfilled, we remain under both the moral law, which is the Ten Commandments, and the civil law, which are the laws of our land.
Concerning these ceremonial laws, last week the Pharisees were insistent that a person must abide by certain ceremonial washings. These ceremonial washings were given by Moses and yes, they were to be observed. The problem was that the ceremonial washings with which the Pharisees were concerned were not simply the ones given by Moses, but the ones they had added over the years. They were concerned about their own manmade traditions over and above what God had actually given.
Among the ceremonial laws were the laws that regulated that persons must eat and not eat certain foods. The Levitical law given by God to Moses made it unlawful for the Children of Israel to eat certain unclean foods. Jesus came into the world to fulfill all the Law and the Prophets and He did and as He fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets, especially the ceremonial laws, the laws which pointed to Him, those laws are no longer under effect. In other words, the price for sin that was set in the Garden of Eden; death, blood must be shed; and all the sacrifices that were offered by the Children of Israel, pointed to the one sacrifice, Jesus on the cross, so, as Jesus fulfilled all these laws, they became unnecessary.
In our text, Jesus explains, as for certain foods which were previously ceremonially unclean, now He declares all foods clean (v. 19). So, why are all foods now clean? As I pondered this question, I read the notes in the Lutheran Study Bible which I believe gives a good and valid explanation, “Jesus’ teaching will affect the future Christian mission. Simply put, Gentiles will not need to observe Jewish dietary laws. The question of food laws caused much controversy in the first-century Church.” In other words, this goes back to the Garden of Eden and the fact that when God promises a Savior, a Messiah, a Redeemer, His promise was given before there was a Jew and a Gentile, His promise was to all people and now after Jesus’ death and resurrection, nothing would hinder taking that Gospel message to anyone, Jew or Gentile.
And now, Jesus gives a bit of an anatomy lesson. He says that what goes into a body, passes through the body. What enters the mouth, moves into the stomach, is digested, moves into the small intestine, the large intestine, and then exits as waste. This physical food is not what makes a person spiritually unclean.
As for what makes one unclean, spiritually unclean, it is what is already in the body and what comes out of the body. Here we are reminded that we are conceived and born in sin. The sin of Adam and Eve is in our DNA, our genes and so is genetically passed on from one generation to the next generation.
We are conceived and born in sin and so our natural inclination is toward sin. As God pronounced back in Genesis, “every inclination of man’s heart is evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). Our natural inclination is to be disobedient, to not share, to speak evil and listen to evil, to not put the best construction on everything, to not hold God’s Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it, to not help and be of service to others. All the good things that we do are things we have to learn to do and are actually against our natural inclinations.
Thus, our sins are naturally sins against the commandments as Jesus enumerates. “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (v. 21-23).
Sin is not simply sin when one does something against the commandments, rather sin begins in the heart in our thoughts. For the person who does not believe a person can sin in their thoughts, what do you think God means when He says, “And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (Matt. 18:9). How can your eye cause you to sin except that it is connected to your thinking brain? And there is the account of Cain and Abel where the sin of Cain began in his heart in his thoughts as he was jealous of his brother Abel. Sin begins in our heart, in our thoughts.
Sin begins in our thoughts and shows itself in our words. Our words reflect what is in our heart, either words of encouragement or words of discouragement. We speak words against God, against our neighbor, and at times even against our own family and friends. And we fail to speak up for and put the best construction on everything especially when everyone around us is bashing another person. We omit to speak up for our neighbor.
Ultimately sin does show itself in our actions. We actually commit sin by doing the things God commands us not to do. We put other things, idols before God, not blatantly, but subtly. We curse, swear and misuse God’s Holy name. We despise preaching and God’s Word, even despising His pastors. We disobey our parents and those in authority over us. We kill, we commit adultery, we steal, we bear false witness and spread rumors, and we covet what is not ours. Yes, we actually commit sins against God and one another and these sins have their beginning in our hearts, in our thoughts.
Jesus reminds us that we are conceived and born in sin, which means that our nature is to sin and He enumerates our sinning against all the commandments. Again, we are told that it is what is on the inside that defiles us, yet in our world today we are constantly told to look for the answers to life’s questions by looking inside ourselves. Look deep inside yourself we are constantly told. In the movie Star Wars Luke Skywalker was told to trust his instincts and to be lead by the force. I like the person who asked the question, “How would you like it if you were in an airplane and the captain came over the loud speaker and announced that he was going to turn off all his instruments, close his eyes and allow the force to help him land the airplane.” Frankly I would rather he allow the co-pilot to land the airplane using all the instruments. Yet, that is how many people make many decisions in our world, we turn off what we know, we neglect to seek God’s wisdom, instead we make our decisions, even important decision by what we feel or by what we think, by looking inside ourselves. If we neglect the Word of God and only follow what we feel, what we think, this ultimately leads to our own destruction and death, even eternal death.
What does this mean and where is the Gospel in our text for today? All three of our texts for this morning encourage our striving, if you will, with God’s help, to be the people He would have us to be. “Take care, and keep your soul diligently,” “keep alert,” and “from within, out of the heart of a man, come evil thoughts.” We live in a cursed world were sin abounds and where we are constantly being tempted to do what comes naturally and join in. And yet, we are called by Jesus to resist.
Thanks be to God for Jesus. Jesus was born and came into this world to do for the nation of Israel what all the people of Israel could not do and for that matter, to do for us what we are unable to do. Jesus came to live perfectly for us in our place, to fulfill the demands of God’s law which is to live perfectly as our Father in heaven is perfect. Jesus came to do what all the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament simply pointed to. Yes, Jesus came to abolish the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament which point to Himself.
Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets and He did. Every prophecy concerning the coming Messiah, Jesus fulfilled perfectly. The odds of one person doing everything prescribed by the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament are too great to imagine and yet, that is what Jesus did. He came and fully and perfectly fulfilled all God’s promises. He fulfilled all things perfectly and then He freely of His own free will took all our sins upon Himself, all our sins and all the sins of all people who ever have lived, who are living and who ever will live. And He suffered the price for those sins, by dying on the cross, by suffering hell. Jesus earned and paid for all sins on the cross of Calvary. And now, He freely offers to us and gives to us this forgiveness that He earned. He gives us these gifts through His means of grace. As we are Baptized and as we remember our baptism we are given His gifts. As we confess our sins and hear His words of absolutions we are given His gifts. As we hear His Word and as we read and respond with His Word, we are given His gifts. As we come to His Holy Supper and eat and drink His body and blood, in, with and under the bread and wine, we are given His gifts. And what gifts are we given? Faith, blessings upon blessings, forgiveness of sins, strengthening of faith, life in this world, salvation and life in the world to come, even eternal life. And even more, while we remain in this world, Jesus helps us to overcome.
What a great God we have. What a gift giving God we have. I would simply encourage you, do not look inside yourself, rather look outside yourself. We cannot save ourselves that is why Jesus came. Jesus came to live for us, to die for us, to rise for us. He comes to us from outside of us through His external means of grace to give to us all the gifts and blessings He earned on Calvary. As we make regular and diligent use of His means of grace, He gives us blessings upon blessings and He stirs in us to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.