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, March 29, 2020

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? - March 29, 2020 - Fifth Sunday in Lent - Text: John 11:17-27, 38-53

With God, there is no such thing as a coincidence. For example, a pericopy system, or a Lectionary of readings has been around since Biblical times. A pericopy system, that is a reading around the text or as we call it today, our Lectionary reading system has been around many years and the purpose of such a system is to give the Church a way to hear the whole council of God over the time span of a year or in our case three years. So, readings have been appointed for each Sunday of the Church Year so that over three years we hear very much of the word of God. And these reading systems have been in place for many years. The point is that there is no coincidence that the readings we heard last week and are hearing this week have to do with bad things happening, such as the COVID 19 virus.
So, as we meander, or wander through the season of Lent, making our way to Good Friday, I am reminded of some of the older television shows which often ended with the words, “to be continued.” Last week our Gospel reading was the account of Jesus healing the man born blind and the attempt by the Pharisees to discredit Jesus. Last week we also considered the question which is the title of our sermon for today, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and you might remember, I said we would most certainly talk about this questions again. This week, we turn to another episode of, The Life and Times of Jesus.
Our Gospel account opens with a scene at the house of Mary and Martha, two sisters that Jesus loved dearly. As our scene opens we immediately have a flashback (actually, it is a flash forward), showing us that this Mary is the same Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and wiped them with her hair to, as Jesus says, get His body ready for burial. But now, as this scene opens, their brother and good friend of Jesus, Lazarus is sick. We see him lying on the bed. His pulse is erratic. His blood pressure is down. He is having a hard time breathing. The doctors have done all they could do. They have called in the family and now they are waiting. In faith, Mary and Martha send for Jesus. They know He has power to heal and they pray that He comes in time.
We shift scenes to where Jesus is. We watch as a messenger arrives with the message from Mary and Martha to tell Jesus that Lazarus is sick and about to die and that He needs to hurry if He wants to see him alive. Jesus speaks and what He says, His comment, takes us to a flashback scene to last week when He made a similar comment. You might recall, that when Jesus was asked about the cause of the blind man’s blindness He said that it was “so the work of God might be seen.” Now, back at our present scene, we hear Jesus say, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (v. 4). And then, to our surprise, He went on about His business. A message has just been delivered to Jesus that Lazarus was sick and about to die and what does He do, He stays where He is for two more days. Finally, after two days, Jesus gets His disciples ready and they head to Judea. Tensions mount as the disciple remind Him that there is a threat to His life in Judea, but Jesus assures them it will work out for the best. Then He tells them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up” (v. 11). Once again, we flash back to the death of Lazarus, as we see him lying on his bed. He stops breathing. The doctor checks him and declares him dead. Then we see him pull the sheet over his head and go out to call the undertaker to get the body ready for burial. As we come back to the present scene we can see that the disciples have misunderstood what Jesus was saying and they suggest that Lazarus will wake up. Then Jesus tells them plainly and bluntly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe” (v. 14).
Before we switch scenes, we hear Thomas, the disciple we love to beat up on once a year after Easter for doubting, show his true faith. He was ready to go with Jesus anywhere, even to die with Him, as we hear him say, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (v. 16). Perhaps we have been wrong and too hard on Thomas all these years? But that is for a different sermon.
We switch scenes back to the village. The tension mounts as we approach the village and as we see Mary and Martha grieving over the death of their brother, whom they know Jesus could have saved. The point is reiterated that Jesus stayed too long, if Jesus had been there He could have saved Lazarus. So now, we are told that Lazarus had been dead for four days. The questions we might ask is why is it so important that we know that Lazarus has been dead for four days? What difference does it make how long he has been dead? Is not dead, dead? The Concordia Self-Study Bible explains, “many Jews believed that the soul remained near the body for three days after death in the hope of returning to it. If this idea was in the minds of these people, they obviously thought all hope was gone—Lazarus was irrevocably dead.” And the Lutheran Study Bible adds, “John’s point is that only a genuine miracle could account for the raising of Lazarus.” And now, back to the present scene. We see Martha being told that Jesus has arrived and she rushes out to meet Him. At this point we have some words foreshadowing what is to come. Jesus tells Martha that Lazarus will “rise again.” Martha is thinking in terms of heaven and certainly she believes in the resurrection to eternal life in heaven, but Jesus is speaking in terms of now. We are drawn in closer and we hear Jesus tell Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (v. 25).
The scene immediately shifts as we watch Martha go and tell her sister Mary that Jesus has arrived. We shift back and watch as Jesus moves closer to the place where Lazarus body was laid. We shift back and watch Mary rush out to see Jesus. Tensions mount again as Mary politely scolds Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 32). Jesus consoles her as they walk to the grave. In a moment of deep humility and sadness we watch as Jesus too begins to cry for Lazarus His friend. Here we see, God in flesh, Jesus the human, grieving for His friend Lazarus.
Tensions again mount as we hear Jesus speak and ask that the stone to the grave be removed. Certainly the people did not hear Him correctly. Certainly Jesus knows that Lazarus is dead, it has been four days after all. And certainly Jesus knows that by now the odor would be too much. Has this man who has healed others gone mad? Is He out of His mind in torment and grief over Lazarus death? Does He know what He is saying? Yes, Jesus knows what He is saying. He reminds them, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So, they took the stone and moved it. And we hear Jesus pray, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” Then he called out, “Lazarus, come out!” The moment of truth had arrived. And almost immediately, Lazarus came forth from the grave. He was wrapped in grave cloth and looked like a mummy.
Last week we asked the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and we realized that is not the right question to ask. We came to understand that we are not good people. As a matter of fact, we are sinful people, we are evil people, we are people who constantly do everything we can to sabotage Jesus and His work of saving others. We are sinners. We are conceived and born in sin and we daily sin much, adding to our sin. What each one of us is deserving of is death, even eternal death and hell.
The question we ask is not, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but, “Why do good things happen to sinful people.” And the answer is in our text, “It is for God’s glory.” We have a God who loves us so much and who has only in mind the best for us. Certainly we will suffer trials and tribulations in this world, but these things are not from God, but are a result of sin, that is, because we live in a world of sin and a world cursed because of sin. God loves us and He works to bring the best out for us in any given situation. Someone once described life like looking at a piece of cross stitching. When you look at the back of a piece which has been cross stitched, what you see are the knots and a lot of thread dangling. Knots in cross stitching are inevitable. However, when you turn the cross stitched piece over, what you see is a beautiful picture. Life is very similar, what we see is the bottom. We see the knots. We see the mess. We experience the pains of life. What God sees is the top. He is looking down from top down. And what He sees is the beautiful person He is making us to be. What He sees is the beautiful life He is weaving for us.
Yes, “bad” things happen in our lives. We can blame others. We can blame the pastor. We can blame our parents. We can blame our government. We can even blame God. There may even be a time when we might, perhaps, blame ourselves. The fact of the matter is that in our own lives, God is constantly working out the best for us in any given situation.
But, our lesson has not been completed. There is more. In the closing scene we see the enemies of Jesus gathering around plotting. They do not like what Jesus is doing. They do not like that many people are beginning to believe in Jesus. And so they are plotting. Their interest is not in helping anyone except themselves and in keeping what they perceive as their positions of power and authority. They are all evil and you can almost see the evil they exude. They plot and plan and their plan is one of the most evil you will know. Their goal now is to do away with Jesus. They plan to kill Him.
But, in this plan of evil, we continue to see God working. From verse fifty of our text we are told that Caiaphas gives us the greatest example of good, our good, coming from evil. Caiaphas tells those planning and plotting, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (v. 50). Jesus is that one man who died, who gave His life so that we might not die, that is, so that we might not suffer eternal death in hell, but so that we might have life, eternal life in heaven. So, we see, out of this most cruel and torturing death, out of this crucifixion, out of this taking the life of the Son of God, yes, God in flesh, out of this evil and bad, God brings the best, forgiveness for our sins and eternal life for us. Yes, we may suffer for a little while. We may suffer some of the consequences of our actions, but, by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, who suffered the eternal death penalty of hell for us, in our place, we will never have to suffer any eternal consequences for our sins. We will never see death, eternal death and hell. Instead, we have life, eternal life.
So, our account comes full circle. Our tensions are resolved, only to bring another tension, as we work our way closer and closer to the earthly demise of Jesus. As we look at scenes from next week’s account we see the crowd gather as Jesus rides triumphant into Jerusalem. We see the crowds gather and cheer Him on. And we see Him on the way to the cross. For us, for now, we are resolved and reminded in our own lives that we do live in a world of sin. We are sinners living in this world of sin. Sin happens. Yet, we have a God who loves us so much that He sent His one and only Son to live for us, give His life as a ransom for us, to pay the price for our sins. We have a Savior who traded our sins for His robes of righteousness. And we have a God who is so constantly looking out for us that He is with us always, each and every second of the day always looking to bring good out of evil. What a great God we have. What a loving God we have. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Fourth Cup of Blessing and the Hymn - Lent Mid-week 5 - March 25, 2020 - Text: Malachi 4:4-6; Mark 14:26

After the Lord delivered the Children of Israel from their bondage of slavery in Egypt, by the hand of Moses, He instituted the Passover Feast as an annual remembrance of their deliverance. As we have been reminded now several times, we human beings have a tendency to forget and one way to remember then is to rehearse, to celebrate, to reenact the event or thing we wish to remember over and over again. Three weeks ago we heard the four questions that were asked and their answers as a part of the Passover celebration. Two weeks ago we heard about the first two cups of wine, the cup of Sanctification and the cup of Deliverance. Last week we talked about the food eaten during the Passover and the meaning of each food eaten. This week we move on to the point that the meal has been eaten.
As we talked about two weeks ago, so now we have already consumed two cups of wine, the cup of Sanctification and the cup of deliverance. Today we skip the third cup of wine, the cup of redemption, which we will return to on Maundy Thursday and we will talk about the fourth cup of wine, the cup of blessing.
One of the promises God made or better said, one of the promises God made was interpreted to mean that Elijah was expected to come before the Savior would come. Elijah was expected to come and to prepare the way for the Messiah. Thus, one seat at the Passover table was always left empty. This seat was meant for Elijah and the hope was that he would come in and take his seat, thus, ushering in the way for the Messiah.
This promise of God comes from the prophet Malachi (4:5) who says that before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes He will send Elijah. There were many references to this coming of Elijah as Jesus spoke with the scribes and the Pharisees. Concerning this promise of the return of Elijah, Jesus said that John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for the Messiah. Thus, we believe Jesus’ words and we believe that John the Baptist is the one who came in the spirit of Elijah and prepared the way for the Messiah, who is Jesus. Unfortunately the whole community of Israel, that is those who deny that Jesus was and is the promised Messiah, continue to look for Elijah yet today.
Thus, at one point during the Passover Seder, the door was open to allow Elijah to enter. And every year, everyone hopped this would be the year that Elijah would walk through the door and take his seat at the table. But alas, it has never happened and we know it will never happen as we said earlier, because John the Baptist is the one who came in the spirit of Elijah, preparing the way for Jesus, the Messiah.
After the door is opened and then shut, the hymn, or the Hallel, is sang. Hallel comes from the word Hallelujah which is the Hebrew word meaning “praise God”. This may have been a psalm, perhaps portions of Psalms 115-118 or the Great Halle Psalm 136, which reads, “1Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. 2Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. 3Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1-3 (ESV)). Or as other translations translate it, “Praise the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” And so forth. And the psalm continues with this giving thanks and praise to the Lord for all the great and wonderful things He has done and continues to do. It is this word “hallelujah” that is spoke, thus the name, the Hallel.
This hymn may have been sang before the fourth cup was consumed and they, that is the disciples, may have continued to sing it as they left and went to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethemane.
After the hymn is sung during the celebration, then the fourth cup of wine is consumed. The fourth cup is the cup of blessing. Before the cup, and of course we do understand that when we say the cup we are actually speaking of the contents of the cup, that is the wine in the cup, but before the cup is consumed the blessing is again spoken: Ba-ruch, a-tah A-do-nai, e-lo-hay-nu me-lech ha-o-lam, bo-ray p’ree ha-ga-fen. And this, as we have said previously, is translated to mean: Blessed are you, O LORD our God, King of the universe, who makes the fruit of the vine.
The original meaning of this fourth cup, the cup of blessing was that this cup was consumed in praise of the salvation the Lord has brought in deliverance from bondage of slavery in Egypt. Although those of the Jewish faith today would celebrate the same cup of blessing, for Christians who celebrate this Passover Seder, this cup of blessing would remind us of our deliverance from the bondage of slavery to sin.
You might recall that God’s covenant with Abraham was that He would send the Savior of the world, the Savior of all people, through the family line of Abraham. This part of the covenant was a one sided agreement with God making the promise and His fulfilling the promise. This part of the covenant had no restrictions on the part of Abraham nor any human being. The part of the covenant concerning the land of Israel was always contingent on the Children of Israel being faithful to God, which as we follow their history we know they were not. Thus, this second part of the covenant was forfeited. And, this second part of the covenant truly pointed not to an earthly kingdom, but to God’s heavenly Kingdom where Jesus, the Son of David will reign forever. It is this confusion which is seen in the last part of the Passover Seder, that is that the celebration would end with the hope and that hope would be that next year they would celebrate in the rebuilt Jerusalem. Thus, there was this continual seeking of an earthly kingdom, rather than a correct understanding of the promise of spiritual deliverance and entrance into our Lord’s heavenly kingdom.
Perhaps this part of the Passover Seder celebration begins to bring a greater distinction between what the children of Israel understood this celebration to be and what Jesus wanted them to understand, that is what we as Christian understand because we are living in the glory of the fulfillment of what was foreshadowed in this celebration. In other words, the children of Israel originally celebrated the Passover feast because they were instructed to do so in order to recall and remember their first deliverance from bondage of slavery in Egypt. At the same time, the Lord designed this celebration as a way to help them to look forward to the coming of the Messiah, the one who would deliver Israel and all people from the bondage of slavery to sin. The one who would accomplish what was promised in the Garden of Eden, the one who would crush Satan and bring forgiveness and eternal life.
Just as all the sacrifices of the Old Testament simply pointed to the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross, so this celebration pointed to the one who would fulfill all of God’s laws and promises completely and fully, the Messiah, Christ the Lord. Today, then, we continue the Passover Seder, remembering and celebrating that John the Baptist came, in the power and the spirit of Elijah, preparing the way for Jesus, that Jesus is the Messiah who came to and did deliver us from our bondage to sin by living in perfection for us, the demand of God, by taking our sins and by paying the price for our sin so that we have forgiveness and life, even eternal life. Thus we rejoice and say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Eyes That See - March 22, 2020 - Fourth Sunday in Lent - Text: John 9:1-7, 13-17, 34-39

How good are your eyes? If you are like me, they are not so good, so you go to an eye doctor and get fitted for glasses or for contact lenses. And as you get older, your eyes still change and you need to constantly get your eyes checked and your prescription changed. Sight is an important sense and one that, if we lost, we would greatly miss. But, how is your spiritual sight? As you come to hear God’s Word proclaimed, as you read your Bible, as you talk to others about God, do you understand what you are hearing, reading, or saying? In our text for today Jesus will lead us to have eyes that see. Jesus will lead us to have eyes that see what it is we need most, to see our sin, so that we repent and are given His forgiveness.
Although the text in our bulletin is the short version, the complete text for this Sunday is a lengthy text, but one that we can easily get a handle on if we break it down into several questions and answers. The first question is the question of sin and Jesus’ work. Jesus and His disciples were going along when they met “a man blind from birth.” The disciples questioned Jesus, asking, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v. 2). The assumption of the disciples was that it was sin that caused this man to be born blind, but they were not sure who’s sin. Jesus answers the question of sin and this man’s blindness by explaining that the man was born blind, not because of anyone’s sin in particular, but so that God may be glorified. Interesting, Jesus says that the man was born blind so that God may be glorified. We will get back to that later.
Jesus goes on to explain that His work is to be the light of the world. Jesus is the light of the world in that He shines in the darkness of sin, revealing and exposing people’s sin, so that they might repent and be given forgiveness, before it is too late, before they are condemned to hell. Notice that Jesus is the Light of the world and as the Light of the world, Jesus has come so that people might see.
Jesus has come in order to help people to see that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. To do that, Jesus performed many signs, wonders and miracles. These signs, wonders, and miracles were what showed Him to be God, the Messiah, and they were done to give glory to God. The whole while Jesus was on this earth, He did not seek His own glory, rather He came seeking to give glory to God. Jesus did not say, look at the signs, wonders and miracles that I am doing, the signs, wonders and miracles that I am performing and praise Me. No, Jesus did signs, wonders and miracles, and pointed to the Father in heaven and said, give glory to the Father.
Jesus healed the man born blind. In this particular instance, He did it by applying mud to his eyes and telling him to go wash. Certainly, Jesus could have simply said for his eyes to be opened, or He could have put His hands on his eyes to perform the miracle, but not this time, this time He put mud on his eyes and told him to go wash. After this miracle, almost immediately there is a second question, a question from the neighbors of the man. Their question was, “is this really the man that was born blind, or is this someone that just looks like him” (v. 8,9). They had doubts about this man’s identity, and they argued about it. The man born blind insisted that he is the man and he also testifies that it was Jesus who healed him. Unfortunately the man was not quite sure who this Jesus was, because he had not seen him, he was merely healed by Him. Jesus had put mud on his eyes and told him to go and wash, so he had not seen Jesus. Finally the people decided to take the case to the “authorities” to the Pharisees and let them decide.
Now we have the questioning of the Pharisees. The first problem the Pharisees confront is the problem that the healing was done on the Sabbath day, thus they were sure that the man who healed this blind man must be a sinner and not from God. If this man was from God, according to their understanding of who god was, certainly he would not break the Sabbath day law, that is, He would not break the way they had made the Sabbath day law.
First, they questioned the blind man, himself. As they questioned this blind man, they were not looking for a confession of faith in Jesus. They were looking for him to say that either he was not healed by Jesus, or that he was not born blind, or that it was someone besides Jesus that healed him, or anything except the truth about Jesus healing him on the Sabbath day. They were not interested in any truth that did not fit their agenda. They are like many people in our world today who are not interested in the truth of the Bible, rather they are only looking for their own brand of truth and as I always say, “if you do not like what the Bible says, change it.” Which is what the Pharisees were doing.
Because they could not get the answer they wanted from the man, they moved to question his parents. “Is this really your son and was he really born blind?” Talk about putting his parents on the spot, because hanging over their heads, if they did not answer the question the way the Pharisees wanted, was the threat that they would be thrown out of the temple, and, according to the Pharisees, they would never be able to be sure of their salvation. It is no wonder the parents plead the fifth amendment, as we would say today. They avoided the questions, referring the Pharisees to their son who was of the age of accountability and could answer for himself.
And so the questioning continued. The Pharisees asked the blind man a second time, but this time the question was not whether or not Jesus healed him, rather the question was whether or not Jesus was a sinner? Now we get to the heart of the Pharisees agenda, not whether or not Jesus healed the man, not whether or not this man really was healed, but how to discredit Jesus.
To this question the man gives a bold testimony of faith about Jesus. This man does not touch the question about Jesus sinfulness, rather he tells how he was blind and now he sees and it was Jesus who gave him his sight. The man is very logical in his approach and, I believe perhaps rather sarcastically, he was suggesting that the Pharisees should be able to logically figure out the truth.
Of course this does not suit the Pharisees and so they ask him again. And we have a few snide and sarcastic remarks pass back and forth. “Do you want to become his disciple too?” “You are this fellow’s disciple, we are disciples of Moses!” Finally the man hits at the heart of the matter, “the man answered, ‘Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing’” (v. 30-32). Again, notice the logic in this man’s answer, but of course, the Pharisees do what they do best in these no win situations, they throw the man out.
Jesus meets the man again. This time Jesus comes to confirm the man’s faith. Jesus shows him who He is and that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world and that the man was right in his profession of faith. Jesus further goes on to explain that He came for judgement. Jesus came to judge those who do not believe and to give life to those who do believe. Jesus came to give sight to the blind and to blind the sighted. In other words, those who think they cannot see, because of their sins, those who confess their sins and seek forgiveness, Jesus opens their eyes to see that they are forgiven, but those who think they can see, who cannot see their own sins and thus think they have no sin, He comes to blind, that is to give them their own way which is the way of judgement and hell.
Now let us take Jesus’ message and put it into our own words, in other words, what does this text mean for us today? First, God brings good out of a sin filled world. Today we ask the question, “why do bad things happen to good people,” with the assumption that we are good people. We even think that the bad things that happen are God’s judgement on sinners. Some would suggest that the certain weather events, such as floods, hurricanes, tornados, etc, are God’s judgement against certain people where these events happen. If that were the case, then God would not be a very good aim, because a lot of innocent people are affected by the various weather events. Some would suggest that AIDS is a direct result of homosexuality and promiscuity. Again, if that were the case then God would not be a very good aim, because a lot of innocent people have been affected by the AIDS virus. Some might even suggest the Corona virus is God’s judgement on people, yet here too, many innocent people are being affected. So, why do these bad things happen and why do bad things happen to good people. We have talked about this before and we will no doubt talk about it again. The assumption is incorrect. The assumption is that we are good people, when the fact is we are sinful people. We are born in sin and we daily sin much and often times we suffer for the sins of others. The consequences of sexual promiscuity might be AIDS. And still, a small child, receiving a needed blood transfusion might contact AIDS, meaning that he is suffering for the sins of others. The question we should ask is, “why do good things happen to sinful people,” and the answer is in our text, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (v. 3). Our God is a God of love who gives us good things. He always has the best in mind for us. Rather than say that God allows bad things to happen, because evil is not a part of God, I like to say that bad happens because we live in a sinful and cursed world, and although bad happens, God works the best through those bad things.
A second point of our text is that Jesus is who He says He is, the Savior of the world. Jesus continually demonstrated that He is the Messiah, that He is true God along with being true man, by His signs,  wonders, and miracles. The miracles Jesus performed show Him to be truly God, because only God can do miracles. Jesus forgave sins, something that Pharisees said that only God could do. Jesus forgave sins and to show that the sins were forgiven He would also heal, again, always showing the Pharisees to be wrong.
A third point of our text is that Jesus comes to us to open our eyes to see our sin so we repent and are given His forgiveness. Sin is a blinding thing. As we wallow in our sin we do not see our sin, nor do we see the need for a Savior. In reality, we are blinded by our own sin, from seeing our own sin. We are a lot like the Pharisees, we do not see our sin, we do  not want our sin pointed out to us, we get upset when our sin is pointed out to us, and we do not want to believe the truth. Fortunately for us, Jesus comes, as the Light of the world, to open our eyes, so that we see our sin, so that we confess our sin, and so that we are given forgiveness from our sin.
Today we come to thank the Lord for His gift of sight, especially for His gift of spiritual sight. We thank the Lord that He gives us His Word which shows us our sin, so that we confess and are given forgiveness. We thank the Lord that He sent Jesus to trade His life for ours, to die on the cross for our forgiveness and to give us His righteousness. We thank the Lord that He is a God who loves us so much that He works through the sin and evil in our world to work His good works in us, to the praise and glory of His Holy Name. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Food and Remembrance - Lent Mid-week 4 - March 18, 2020 - Text: Jewish Tradition, Ex. 12:8-11, 15, 18-20; Luke 22:7-16

After the Lord delivered the Children of Israel from their bondage of slavery in Egypt, by the hand of Moses, He instituted the Passover Feast as an annual remembrance of their deliverance. As we said, we human beings have a tendency to forget and one way to remember then is to rehearse, to celebrate, to reenact the event or thing we wish to remember over and over again. Two weeks ago we heard the four questions and their answers as a part of the Passover celebration. Last week we heard about the first two cups of wine, the cup of Sanctification and the cup of Deliverance. Today we want to talk about the food eaten during the Passover and the meaning of each food eaten.
The actual Passover Seder meal included items that were intended to be a reminder to the children of Israel of the years of slavery in Egypt and their deliverance by the Lord. The actual Passover included the eating of unleavened bread, that is bread made without yeast. As we said the first week, because there was not enough time to allow the bread to rise with yeast, the bread that was eaten was unleavened. And there was the lamb that was roasted. As the Passover Seder was celebrated, after the first Passover, there was no more need to rush and so a “sit down” meal was served with certain foods that were meant to be a reminder of harder days.
The actual meal consisted of the following seven courses which we will talk about one at a time and give the meaning of each. The first course was the Greens. These greens, at least today, consists of Parsley and this is dipped into the Bowl of Salt Water. The meaning of this course is this: the green was a symbol of the lush and abundant life created by God to be enjoyed by all His people. The greens were dipped in the salt water (twice) and this reminded the Israelites, first of the sweat of their work as slaves and second of the tears of hard times.
The second course of the meal was the Matzah or the Unleavened bread. If you have ever seen or eaten Matzah, it is actually very much a large unsalted cracker. This Matzah, unleavened bread, was eaten to remind the children of Israel that there was no time to let the bread rise, because they had to be ready to leave. They were in a hurry. In a modern day Seder there are three Matzah pieces that are a part of this course. We will take more time and talk about the middle Matzah later.
The third course of this meal was the Maror which are bitter herbs. These bitter herbs were eaten in order to remind the people of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt. Today we might be reminded of the bitterness of slavery to the flesh and the law of sin and death.
The fourth course of this meal was the eating of the Charoseth. Charoseth is a mixture of sweet fruits, spices and wine which is designated as a reminder of the mortar which the Israelites were forced to use in building for the Egyptians. While this, like all the other symbols of the Passover, bring up memories of bitter times of slavery, charoseth is sweet and pleasant tasting, a reminder of finding contentment in doing honest and industrious work.
The fifth course of this meal was the eating of the boiled egg. This egg was dipped in salt water, a symbol of mourning as well as a reminder of God’s desire to redeem with His outstretched arms.
The sixth course of this meal was the eating of Hillel’s Sandwich. This sandwich was often dipped or sopped and given as a sign of special favor, forgiveness or love when given to someone at the table. You might remember that after Jesus announced that one of His disciples would betray Him He told them that it was the one to whom He would hand the piece of bread. And then you may remember that Jesus dipped the bread and gave it to Judas. Certainly this was a sign of the love Jesus had for Judas, even knowing that he would betray Him.
Finally the Lamb is eaten. The lamb is really the main course of the meal. The lamb was fully cooked and no bones were broken. And we will talk more about the lamb at another time.
When Jesus celebrated the Passover He sent His disciples to get everything ready. Certainly this included the removal of all the yeast from the area. It include the selection of the lamb, setting it apart and then killing and cooking it. It include the making of the same foods which were eaten by the Children of Israel as they left Egypt and the same foods that the rest of His people were eating on that same might, the foods we just described.
At one point during the meal Jesus took off His outer garment, tied a towel around His waist and with a basin of water He washed the feet of His disciples, giving them a lesson and instructions that they were to do the same for others. After setting back down at the table the meal progressed with the eating of the various courses of food. At one point in the meal Jesus announced that one of His disciples would be His betrayer. As they all in turn asked if it would be them who would betray Him and all expected a negative answer, including, most certainly, Judas who was confident in his heart that Jesus did not know about what He was speaking. And so Jesus, after dipping the bread hands it to Judas and tells him to go out and do what he needed to do. Remembering that this was a gift of special favor and forgiveness, certainly the rest of the disciples would not understand what Jesus was doing and what instructions He had given Judas, perhaps to go out and give some money to the poor or otherwise.
We are told that Judas left and Satan entered him. There may be a question concerning whether Judas left before or after the Lord’s Supper. This question usually is asked in connection with closed communion. The fact of the matter is that it does not if Judas left before or after. Certainly he was one of the community of believers and would have been welcome to stay. At the same time he was falling for Satan’s lies and if he had eaten the meal he would have eaten it to his judgement.
Today there are many Christians who continue to celebrate the whole Passover Seder, including the giving of the Lord’s Supper. In most congregations, during the regular divine service, as we do here every Sunday, we celebrate an abbreviated meal. We do not take the time to eat all of the courses of the meal instead we simply celebrate the part of the meal which Jesus foreshadowed and fulfilled, that is we celebrate the breaking of the bread, and the drinking of the cup of redemption, that is we celebrate Jesus giving His life, shedding His blood on the cross for our forgiveness and eternal life.
Just as Jesus did in His day so today we continue to have our own traditions and celebrations, especially those that center around the church year, in order to be a constant reminder of who we are and whose we are. Perhaps we would do well to take note of and follow the example from the children of Israel and become more mindful of the fullness of the Gospel and the gifts our Lord has to give to us especially through all the aspects of divine service and the giving the Lord’s gifts through His means of grace. It is as we better understand the Passover that Jesus was celebrating and which pointed to the events soon to take place, and because Jesus took from this Passover celebration and gives us His Holy Supper that we will better understand His Holy Supper and the gifts He has to give to us through this most sacred sacrament. Indeed, the Lord has so many gifts to give and so much grace to pour out on us, as we will continue to hear in the next weeks ahead. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Living Water - March 15, 2020 - Third Sunday in Lent - Text: John 4:5-26 (27-30, 39-42)

Three weeks ago we witnessed the transfiguration of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, that was the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Two weeks we witnessed Jesus defeat the temptations of the devil in the wilderness. Last week we witnessed Jesus explain to Nicodemus the fact that we must be born again, we must be baptized for forgiveness and eternal life. This week Jesus applies that forgiveness to the sinful woman whom He meets at the well. As we reflect on the life of this woman whom Jesus confronts and comforts, perhaps we might be reminded of our own sinfulness and reflect His forgiveness in our own lives, no matter what our sin, no matter how big or to us, how small.
Also, make note of the theme of suffering and water this morning. In the Old Testament lesson we hear the Children of Israel grumble, even after being rescued from slavery and we see God provide water. In the Epistle lesson Paul reminds us that suffering ultimately produces hope and strengthens us in faith in Jesus. And these two tie in together in our Gospel in which we see the woman at the well having had a difficult life, being quenched with the living water of faith in Jesus.
Our account begins with a bit of confrontation (v. 5-9), for you see, the two characters in our lesson are of different cultural backgrounds, although they could truly be cousins. A Samaritan was someone who was half Jewish and half something else. This Samaritan culture was from what was deemed forbidden intermarriages of some of the Jewish people with those natives from the surrounding area. So, the Jews did not like the Samaritans, because they were not pure Jews and the Samaritans did not like the Jews because they were not liked by them. And so there was this conflict, this struggle between Jews and Samaritans. Their conflict was so great that even if they were the only two people in the same place at the same time they would not speak to one another. The Jews despised the Samaritans and the Samaritans despised the Jews.
Our account is about a man named Jesus. He is truly a human man and we can see this fact in that in His human state we are told He was tired. He had been on the road with His disciples, walking everywhere as they did, which reminds me of the old saying that anyplace is walking distance, if you have the time. Jesus had been walking and now He was tired and it was time to rest.
By the way, about Jesus, I should tell you, if you do not know it, but He was Jewish. He was not a Samaritan. He was not Hispanic. He was not oriental. He was not an Anglo. He was Jewish. And remember, Jews did not normally speak to Samaritans, even if they were the only two people present, yet, Jesus does speak to this Samaritan woman He meets at the well where He stopped to rest.
Her response was that she reminded Him that they don’t talk to one another. Now, I am sure you are wondering about this woman, but I am not going to tell you about her just yet, that would ruin the lesson. Anyway, our lesson begins, then, with this confrontation between Jesus, the Jew and this woman, the Samaritan.
What happens is that Jesus asks her for a drink of water. But, I guess I should tell you that Jesus has in mind more than talking about physical drinking water. Jesus’ intent is actually to bring this woman to know Him as her Savior, it is just that the water is a good starting point in their conversation (v. 10-15).
Jesus asks for a drink of water and her response is something like, “are you talking to me?” Jesus answer is, “if you knew what I could give to you, then you would be asking me for a drink.” But, again, remember that Jesus is speaking of a spiritual water and the woman is thinking of physical water.
The woman does not understand this distinction, she is like many who come to church on a Sunday morning, she has come to have her physical needs met and Jesus is looking to fulfill her spiritual needs. The woman’s thought is that if this guy can give me water, even though he does not have anything with which to draw the water from the well, then he must be greater than Jacob, our great-great-great-great grandfather who dug this well. So, her response, and I would say her doubting response, is, “Sir, (I’d like to see you) give me this water.”
Not yet, Jesus is not quite ready to give her what she wants, because she still does not understand what it is that she really needs. She is very much like many of us today. We know what we want, or at least we think we know what we want and we think that what we want is what we need. We think we need this, that or the other thing, but what we all really need is what Jesus is about to give this woman. Jesus tells her to call her husband, so that he can share in this gift. The woman’s answer is that she has no husband, and she is not lying, she does not have a husband, at least, not at this time. Now here at this point, Jesus lays out her sins. She has had five husbands and the man she is “shacking with” is not her husband. In order for Jesus to give her what she really needs, in order for Jesus to give us all what we really need, she and we need to recognize and confess (v. 16-18) our sins. Our greatest need is not to feel good about ourselves; it is not to be a part of some self-help group; it is not to learn how to look within ourselves for the answer to life’s questions; our greatest need is to repent for we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. It is only when we see how sinful we are, it is only when we realize that without forgiveness we would be lost forever, doomed to eternal death and hell, it is only when we confess our sins that we are given what we truly need, but, again, I do not want to get ahead of myself.
Upon hearing Jesus’ admonition, the woman says to Jesus, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.” What she really was asking was, “what must I do to be saved?” She was ready to confess her sins and she was seeking His absolution (v. 19-24). What we all really need is Jesus’ absolution. We need to hear those most beautiful words that we hear at the beginning of every divine service, “Your sins are forgiven!” Because Jesus gave His life for you on the cross, because Jesus paid the eternal death penalty of hell for you on the cross, “your sins are forgiven.” Those are the most precious, the most beautiful words we can hear, because with our sins forgiven, the door to heaven is open and we have eternal salvation.
The rest of the conversation turned to the subject of worship. The woman was not necessarily changing the subject, rather she was wanting to know how she might continue to confess and be given absolution, forgiveness. Jesus’ response is to worship in spirit and truth. We might translate that best for ourselves by saying, “We worship best when we say back to God what He has given us to say.” Worship is not worship because of where we do it. Worship is not the externals, not the ritual, nor the traditions, although those things might be helpful in facilitating our worship, rather worship that is true worship is worship that comes from the heart of the individual. To say it again, “We worship best when we say back to God what He has given us to say.” Personally, I struggle and fumble with what to say to God. When I open my Bible I have His Word which gives me a Word to speak to Him. How much better can I speak to my Lord than to speak to Him in the Words that are His Word? As you have been following along with our divine service this morning you will notice that most of what we have been speaking to the Lord this morning has been His Word, which we are speaking back to Him, that is what the liturgy is all about, speaking back to God the very words He has given us to say. And it is our liturgy which flows out of what God has given us and which is what ties us to those who have come before us and those who will come after us, transcending time, not simply contemporary, with time, here today and gone tomorrow.
But let us get back and finish our lesson. The lesson concludes with a bit of revelation (v. 25-26). The woman, the Samaritan, who had come out at an odd time during the day, so as not to be seen by others, this woman, having met Jesus, by His design and plan, now confesses that she believes in the coming Messiah. Jesus confesses that He is the Messiah. The woman confesses that she believes that He is the Messiah and then she must go and tell the others. The others come and hear and say they believe because of what the woman said. And finally, the others say they no longer believe simply because of the word of the woman, but because they, themselves have heard the Word. Here we are reminded, again, of the importance of the Word. It is through the means of grace, the Word in particular, that faith is given, along with the other gifts which God has to give, forgiveness, life, eternal life and salvation.
As we read and study this text today we come to a restoration, that is we come to restore  our broken relationship with our Lord. I have heard people say, “I do not go to church because it is full of hypocrites!” And I suppose they have a point. As Christians we profess to try to do good, but we often fail and we show how sinful we really are, and that is why we go to church to confess our sins and be given forgiveness so that we might have the opportunity to start over and try again, with His help, to live godly lives. We come to divine service to have Jesus fill us with His gifts and blessings through the Word and Sacrament. I guess a good answer to the hypocrite statement would be to say, “so because somebody else ‘pretends’ to be religious you would rather forfeit your own soul as well?”
We come to church to divine service to worship in spirit and in truth. We come to be given the gifts the Lord has to give to us. And as we are given those gifts we are filled. We are filled with faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. We are filled with peace and joy. We are filled with the Lord. We are clothed in His righteousness.
Ultimately, as we are given the gifts our Lord has to give to us and as we are filled, we overflow, that is we go out and live lives of faith always being ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus, telling others the good news that we have heard and been given. You have heard me use this illustration before and it is a fitting illustration. We are a lot like a glass and God is like a pitcher. Through our making regular and diligent use of the means of Grace, the Word and the Sacraments, God pours His gifts into us until we finally overflow and share those gifts with others, which is a very important part of our Christian faith and life, the getting to the point where we share our faith with others. The difficult part is that as we grow and mature in our Christian faith our glass becomes bigger and bigger. It takes more and more to fill us before we overflow and share with others. And that is unfortunate. Maybe that is why God reminds us to be as little children, to have small glasses, ones that will overflow quickly.
We worship Jesus best when we worship Him in spirit and truth, recognizing and confessing our sins and being given from Him forgiveness, newness of life, strengthening of faith and salvation. And as we given to from the Lord, so we pass that on to others. Today we give thanks for the opportunities that we have daily to hear God’s Word, to be strengthened and to be filled so that we might take God’s gifts out and share them with others through our actions as well as our words and thoughts. Praise the Lord and may He continue to bless the Word that is spoken here. To God be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The First and Second Cup of Blessing - Lent Mid-week 3 - March 11, 2020 - Text: Ex. 6:6-8; Luke 22:14-18 (in Luke this cup came before the bread and the third cup)

As we move to this third mid-week service we continue our remembrance of the original Passover. The original Passover was the last of the ten plagues the Lord sent on the Egyptians and was the passing over by the angel of death of those houses marked with the blood of the lamb, that is the houses of the Children of Israel. The firstborn in those houses not marked were killed by the Angel of Death. Following their deliverance from Egypt, the Lord instituted the Passover Seder. The feast of Passover was instituted as a permanent reminder of what God had done for His people. The feast of Passover was to be rehearsed year after year so the children of Israel would not forget. Last week we heard the four questions that were asked during the feast and we heard their answers.
Today our look at the Passover Seder continues. During the evening four glasses of wine are consumed. So, first, perhaps a bit of explanation concerning the amount of wine consumed. Wine was the beverage at the meal for good reason. Grapes were plentiful, but because of a lack of refrigeration, the grapes naturally fermented into wine. The wine that was consumed was not as potent as the wine which is produced today. And the wine was consumed with the meal. Thus, there was not the high risk of too much wine during the meal.
As I said, there were four cups of wine consumed during the Passover Seder. Each cup had its own name and significance. The names of the four cups were: The cup of Sanctification; the cup of Deliverance; the cup of Redemption; and the cup of Praise.
Although the four cups of wine may have had less significance for the children of Israel, for us the significance of the cups of wine is that they are a reminder of the wounds of Jesus; His hands, His feet and His side and also from the blood that was painted on the doorposts and lintels of each house signaling the angel of death to “pass over” that house. With this explanation we begin to understand the significance and the understanding of the wine and blood connection.
With each cup of wine a prayer of blessing was spoken. The blessing in Hebrew was: Ba-ruch, a-tah A-do-nai, e-lo-hay-nu me-lech ha-o-lam, bo-ray p’ree ha-ga-fen. This is translated as: Blessed are you, O LORD our God, King of the universe, who makes the fruit of the vine.
Today we will look in particular at two of the cups, the cup of Sanctification and the cup of deliverance. First, the cup of Sanctification. The word “sanctify” means to separate or to set apart. Throughout the history of the children of Israel there were people and groups who were set apart. Abraham was set a part, chosen to be the father of a great nation. Moses was set apart to lead the children of Israel out of bondage of slavery in Egypt. The children of Israel as a nation were separated, set apart, chosen by God to be the nation though which the Savior of the world (not just the Savior of the children of Israel, but the Savior of the world) would be born.
Today, as Christians, we are separated, set apart, chosen by God. We were chosen by God even before the foundations of the earth were laid. We were chosen by God for salvation when the promise was first made to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the promise to send a Savior. We were each specifically chosen by God and set apart through our baptism. Certainly it is fitting for us to drink from the cup of sanctification.
The next cup is the cup of deliverance. This cup was consumed in order to remind those participating in the Passover Seder of God’s promise to deliver the children of Israel from the bondage of slavery. Especially during their years of bondage the children of Israel cried out to the Lord for deliverance. And the Lord heard their cry and sent Moses to deliver them. This cup reminded them of God’s great mercy, love and deliverance.
Today we continue to be reminded of God’s deliverance of us from the bondage of slavery, that is from the bondage of slavery to sin. This deliverance takes place first and foremost through the shedding of blood, the blood of His one and only Son, Jesus. As John the Baptist called Him, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. For us today we continue to be reminded of this shedding of blood especially in connection with the Lord’s Supper and the cup which Jesus tells us is His true blood. Yet this second cup is not that cup, the cup Jesus tells us is His blood, as we will see when we get to the third cup.
Today then, these two cups help us to focus of our attention. We are not the ones who take the initiative. We are not the ones who are the prime mover. It is not that God does something for us because we have done something for Him or even because we promise to do something for Him. It is God who is the prime mover. It is God who initiates. God calls, God covenants with us. He is the one who sees our bondage, our suffering, our slavery to sin. He is the one who made the promise to send a Savior. He is the one who continually remembers us.
On the other hand, we are the one’s who sin. We are conceived and born in sin. We sin in thought, word and deed. We are spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God. Every inclination from our hearts is evil all the time. We sin sins of omission, not doing the things we should be doing and sins of commission, doing the things we should not be doing. We sin and it is our own fault. We have no one to blame but ourselves for our sin and our condition.
Yet, we fear not because it is God who brings forgiveness and deliverance. The price for sin was set in the Garden of Eden. The price for sin is death, eternal death and hell, and physical death. The price for sin is that blood had to be shed. All the sacrifices of the Old Testament were a reminder that the price for sin was death, that blood had to be shed. All the sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed to the one sacrifice of Christ Himself on the cross for us. Even the angel of death and the Passover in Egypt serve to remind us of the price of sin. Yet, the offering of the spotless lamb, the shedding his blood, the painting of the blood on the door posts and lintels all point to the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross. And here, the cups of wine; the cup of sanctification and the cup of deliverance, both pointing to God who is the beginning, who is the prime mover, who is the giver. Yes, as you always hear me say, we get it right when we point to Jesus.
And so the Passover Seder continues. We have been reminded of sin and our sin in particular. We have been reminded of our need for washing and in particular of our being washed through the waters of Holy Baptism. We have been reminded of the history, the account of the first Passover and the angel of death. And now we have been reminded of the importance of life and death, the shedding of blood, the cost of life for the price for sin. What a great and loving Lord we have who has taken care of all these things for us. Who takes care of all our needs, spiritual as well as physical, and who will continue to take care of us. What a great God we have. What a loving God we have. What a Savior God we have. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

You Must Be Born Again - March 8, 2020 - Second Sunday in Lent - Text: John 3:1-17

This morning we celebrate birth and rebirth. In the Old Testament reading we hear God reiterate the promise He first made in the Garden of Eden, the promise to send a Savior to take care of the sin of disobedience of Adam and Eve, the sin that brought a curse on the whole world. In the Epistle lesson we are reminded that God’s covenant was not a covenant of flesh, but a covenant of faith and grace. Thus, when we get to our text for this morning we are reminded that we, you and I, are indeed children of Abraham and children of the covenant, not by genetics, not by DNA, not by flesh, but by rebirth and faith. Just as we witness anyone being baptized become a child of Abraham by their baptism, so each one of us are children of Abraham, by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, faith first given to us at our baptism.
Our text brings us to a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews. He is identified, along with Joseph of Arimathea, as being one who did not vote for the crucifixion of Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and yet he did not go along with the rest of the Pharisees in their actions. Evidently Nicodemus recognized, from the signs and wonders, from the preaching and the miracles of Jesus, from the Word of God, even from the Word Jesus Himself spoke, that He was not just an ordinary person, but that, perhaps, maybe, just perhaps, Jesus may be the one promised from of old. He may be the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world.
Nicodemus approached Jesus at night. He came at night so that he might not be seen by others and in particular by others of the Pharisees. He came at night so that he might have some one on one time with Jesus, that he might be alone with Jesus without being disturbed by others. He came to Jesus and he confessed his faith. His confession was that Jesus is a prophet and he knows this because “no one can do these signs that [He] does unless God is with him.” Nicodemus understood the signs and wonders, the miracles Jesus’ performed as signs of His divinity that He was the Messiah.
Nicodemus came to Jesus and was concerned and questioned Jesus about eternal life. Jesus’ answer was an answer of faith. One is not saved by physical birth, by being born a Jew, nor is one not saved by being born a Gentile. One is not saved by doing enough good works, nor by doing specific good works. Just as a person does not choose to be born, so a person cannot choose to save themself, no matter by how much a person may try.
Jesus expands His teaching by making a distinction between physical birth and spiritual birth. As for physical birth, that which is born of flesh is flesh, in other words, we are all conceived and born in sin, that is original sin. The sin of Adam and Eve infected their DNA and the curse they received has been passed on through them from generation to generation and will continue to be passed on. And not only are we conceived and born in sin, we add to our inborn sin, that is, we daily sin much on our own, sins of thought, word, and deed, sins of omission, failing to live and do as we ought and sins of commission, doing what we should not be doing, and we are in need of forgiveness. Left in our sin we are doomed to eternal death and hell.
God’s demand is that we are perfect and the fact is that we cannot be perfect. Yet, there is one solution and that is that one must be born again, and this rebirth is not a physical rebirth, but a spiritual rebirth, a being born again of water and spirit. Of course we understand that Jesus is speaking about Holy Baptism. Here Nicodemus does not understand what Jesus is saying, what He means about this being born again and so Jesus explains.
As for physical birth Jesus said that sin is born in each one of us. As for spiritual birth, each one must be born again through Holy Baptism, so that which is born of spirit is spirit, “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16a). And as we hear quoted in the liturgy of Holy Baptism from Peter, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). Here again, just as we do not choose to be born, so it is with Holy Baptism. Most of us did not choose to be baptized, but our parents brought us so that through our baptism God saves us, putting His name on us, giving us forgiveness of sins, faith and eternal life.
The analogy Jesus uses is not so hard to understand. Jesus says, the wind is unseen, and yet we see its effect. We may not see the sin with which we are born, but we see its effect. I would suggest that if you really want to see the effect of our inborn sin, put two toddlers in a room with one toy and see if they instinctively share the toy. I would suggest that rather than share the one toy they will fight over the one toy, an effect of our inborn sin. Likewise, the spirit works through Holy Baptism. We cannot see the Holy Spirit work in Baptism, but we see the result and the result is faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
And to the argument that children cannot have faith, I beg to differ. Children can and do have faith, they simply do not express their faith as an adult, mostly because they cannot speak. They express their faith through their actions. If you hold a spoon of food to a child’s mouth they will believe you are giving them something good to eat and will, in faith, open their mouths, expressing their faith. Their faith in Jesus is seen also as they speak to Him in prayers and singing songs to Him as well.
Even in adults, the Holy Spirit, though unseen, is seen in His work of conversion, as He works through the means of grace to work faith, strengthening of faith and to keep us in faith. An unbaptized person who comes to faith through the Word of the Lord naturally has a desire to be baptized, not their choosing, but by compulsion of God, thus we see the effect of the Holy Spirit.
What does this mean? This means that there is a distinction between heavenly beings and earthly beings. And further we are told that only a heavenly being can testify of heaven. In other words, no one from earth can testify concerning heaven because no one from earth has yet been to heaven, except one and that one is Jesus. Only Jesus can testify of heavenly things because only Jesus has been to heaven, for that is from where He came in order to be born as one of us and that is where He ascended following His resurrection.
For what purpose did Jesus descend? Jesus explains His coming to earth using what would be a familiar illustration for Nicodemus and that is the encounter of the children of Israel and the serpents in the wilderness. When Moses led the children of Israel out of bondage of slavery in Egypt it did not take too long and they began to grumble. They grumbled against Moses and against God. As a consequence and as a punishment of their grumbling, God caused serpents to come into the camp and to bite the people. The people, then, cried out in repentance to Moses and to God.
Moses prayed to God and God told him to make an image of the serpent and to put it on a pole. Whenever anyone was bitten by a serpent he or she could look at the serpent on the pole and they would live. The serpent was punishment for their sins. The serpent on the pole was to be looked at in an act of repentance and faith in forgiveness. Thus, the punishment became the cure. Let me say that again and please keep this in mind, the punishment became the cure.
God created a perfect world and in that perfect world He created and placed a perfect man and a perfect woman into a perfect garden. The devil came and tempted the woman to be like God. The woman disobeyed God as did the man and with that disobedience, sin entered the world. The punishment for sin was death, the beginning of physical death, and unless there was a cure, the ultimate conclusion would be eternal death and hell. God promised to send a Savior. Jesus came as the Savior. He came as one of us, one of the beings which brought sin and death into the world. He came in order to suffer the punishment for us.
Now follow Jesus analogy. God placed Jesus on the cross. The serpent in the wilderness brought death, humans brought death. The serpent on the cross was to be looked at in repentance and faith. Jesus was put on the cross to be looked at in repentance and faith. We look at Jesus and believe and we are saved. The punishment became the cure, for us.
Which brings us to Jesus words, what we call “the Gospel in a nutshell,” John 3:16. The price of sin is death, physical death and ultimately left unpaid, eternal death and hell. What sin has earned, the wages of sin is death, eternal death and hell. Sin costs the shedding of blood and death. Left alone in our sins we would be condemned to eternal death and hell. Nothing on our part can take care of our sins. There are not enough good things we could do, not that we could or would do them, that could add up to pay the price for our sins.
In His love God sent Jesus. Jesus is God Himself in human flesh. Jesus is the Creator taking on the flesh and blood of His creation in order to rescue His creation. God knew that we, His creation, His creatures, would not be able to save or rescue ourselves, thus, because of His great love for us, He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, true God in human flesh to pay the price for our sins, to rescue us from sin, death and the devil.
The price, the cost, what sin has earned, the wage of sin is eternal death. What Jesus, God in flesh did was pay that price. On the cross, God died for us, in our place. Jesus suffered eternal death in hell for us in our place.
In our theology we talk about the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law shows us our sins. The Gospel shows us our Savior. The Law shows us how we sin, it tells us what we are to do and not to do. The Law can lead us either to think we can gain heaven through works righteousness, or it leads us to despair. The Gospel is the good news. The Gospel motivates repentance and forgiveness. The Gospel leads us to faith in Jesus who paid the price for our sins.
Thus, Jesus came into the world, not to condemn the world, but in order that the world though Him might be saved. Yes, to those who do not believe in Jesus they are condemned, but to all those who do believe, to all those who have been given faith, they are forgiven and have eternal life.
As we continue to work our way through this Lenten season, this morning we celebrate what a great and loving God we have. We celebrate that He is the one who created us, redeemed us, that is traded His life for ours on the cross, and sanctifies us, that is He continues to work faith in our hearts, strengthens us in faith, and keeps us in faith until Christ comes again. And when Christ comes again He will gather us with all the saints and we will stand before the Lord’s throne and say, “To God be the glory.” For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Haggadah: The Telling - Lent Mid-week 2 - March 4, 2020 - Text: Deuteronomy 6:4-9; John 13:12-20

After the Children of Israel were delivered from bondage of slavery in Egypt, the Lord gave them the ordinance of celebrating the festival of the Passover, often times referred today as the Passover Seder. The word Seder simply means order, in other words it is the Passover order of service. This festival was given so that they would always remember and never forget what the Lord had done for them. In a similar manner, every year we work our way through the church year cycle in which we begin with Advent and our preparation for Christmas (remember how we use the Advent wreath to tell the story with the children?). Advent means coming and is the time we prepare, not only for Jesus first coming, but to remind us of His second coming as well. At Christmas we celebrate His first coming, His birth. We move from Christmas to Epiphany. Epiphany means appearing and we celebrate the appearing of the Savior to the Gentiles, those also promised a Savior. From Epiphany we move to celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, which we celebrated last Wednesday. Lent is the season of the church year that we take the time to contemplate our sins and the fact that it was our sins that drove Jesus to the cross. From Lent we move to Easter, celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. Easter is followed by Pentecost, our celebration of the giving of the Holy Spirit. The Sunday after Pentecost Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday and then the season of Pentecost continues until the end of the church year. We do this year after year as a reminder to ourselves as well, lest we forget the goodness and mercy, the great and awesome gifts our Lord has given to us, gives to us and will continue to give to us.
As we said last week, as we were reminded, the original Passover was the deliverance of the Israelites from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. The Passover was the last plague the Lord sent on Egypt and was the passing over of the Angel of Death killing the first-born in the homes not marked with the blood of the lamb that was sacrificed so that its blood would mark those homes of the Children of Israel so that their first-born might be spared. After their safe departure from Egypt the Lord instituted the celebration of the Passover as a time to remember and, as we will see, a time to teach.
As the Passover celebration continues, at one point during the order four questions are asked and answered. The first question: “Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights we may eat either leavened or unleavened bread, but on this night why only the unleavened bread?” The answer:  First, for the Children of Israel, we are reminded that the leaving from Egypt was a leaving in haste. Because leaven takes time to rise and because there was no time to allow it to rise, the leavening was left out. Second, for us today, as we await our Lord’s deliverance from this world, we are reminded of the importance of always being ready.
The second question: “On all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night why only bitter herbs?” The answer: For the Children of Israel, the bitter herbs are a reminder of the bitterness of slavery. The children of Israel were God’s chosen people, who should have been slaves to no one, yet they had become slaves and as slaves they were treated sorely. For us Christians, the bitter herbs remind us of the bitterness of our slavery to sin. Sin infects us all. We are conceived and born in sin. Every inclination of our hearts is to sin. And so, before being given faith, we were indeed slaves to sin.
The third question: “On all other nights we do not even once dip our herbs, but on this night why do we dip herbs twice?” The answer: First, for the Children of Israel, there is the dipping of the green vegetable in salt water to remember the sweat of slavery. To be a slave often means hard manual labor, it means working long hours in the heat of the sun. It means toil and sweat. The second dipping in horseradish brings tears to one’s eyes in remembrance of the affliction of slavery. At times a slave would suffer beatings and punishment. Such affliction brings tears to ones eyes. Second, for us as Christians, our slavery to sin brings tears of repentance because of the pain and hurt we have inflicted on ourselves, on others, and above all, mostly the pain and hurt we have inflicted on Jesus. As David said when confessing his sin with Bathsheba to Nathan the prophet, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4). Indeed, all our sins are ultimately sins against Jesus.
The fourth question: “On all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night why do we recline?” The answer: For the Children of Israel, the first Passover was complete, now is a time to remember, the rescue is complete, now is a time of relaxing. Now there is no need to rush. For us Christians, we celebrate the fact that our bondage to sin has been broken. Certainly temptations and sin may continue, but the hold of sin on us is broken.
Jesus celebrated the Passover and in particular we are reminded of this last sharing of the Passover with His disciples. It was out of this last Passover celebration that He gives us His Holy Supper, the complete fulfillment of His Passover. For Jesus and for us we continue to celebrate and remember. For Jesus, He and His apostles reclined at the table. For us, we kneel at the table. There is indeed no need to rush. The price for sin has been paid. The suffering has been completed. There is no need to rush, there is no need to be in a hurry. We come to savor the moment. We come to be given the gifts the Lord has to give out, the gifts He gives through His body and blood broken and poured out, shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.
Certainly as we approach His table we are reminded of our slavery to sin. But we have been delivered from that slavery. We have been forgiven our sins. We are free, free indeed.
Most importantly we are reminded of the forgiveness Jesus brings. Forgiveness is indeed the greatest blessings we are given. It is the greatest blessings because with forgiveness we know that we have life and salvation. Forgiveness is what brings us true peace, not simply a momentary peace, not a physical peace as in a calm and quite moment, but true peace, a peace which comes, not only from sins forgiven, but also from guilt removed. True forgiveness, true peace.
It is amazing how easily we forget things. Sometimes we forget because we have too much to remember. Sometimes we forget because of some medicine we may be taking. Sometimes our forgetting is caused by a sickness in the body. The fact of the matter is that we forget. How do we overcome our forgetfulness? We make a habit of what it is we want to remember. We repeat what we want to remember over and over again. How much more important is our spiritual life such that we want to remember and never forget, not only all that great things our Lord has done for us, but all the great and wonderful gifts He has to give. Thus, we too, see the importance of repeating, remembering, celebrating all the great deeds and gifts of our God. May our rehearsal of these great wonders serve as an instrument in our Lord pouring out even more of His blessings on us. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Temptation - March 1, 2020 - First Sunday in Lent - Text: Matthew 4:1-11

In our Old Testament reading for this morning we have the account of the first temptation by the devil. He tempts Eve to question God and His Word, much like what we see and hear happening in our world today. How often do we hear the question, not necessarily “Did God say . . . ?” but “Did God really mean what He said?” In Genesis, Satan planted seeds of doubt. This morning in our Gospel lesson we see Satan at it again, tempting Jesus, and again attempting to plant seeds of doubt and allusions of grandeur and glory.
In confirmation we learn that there are two types of temptation, one is a temptation to do something evil, that is a temptation to sin. And we know that this type of temptation does not come from God. The second type of temptation is what is better called a testing of faith and is intended for our strengthening of faith. This type of temptation or testing does come from God. In our text for today we have the account of the temptation of Jesus and we can rest assured that because this temptation is from the devil that it is not a testing for strengthening, but is a temptation to do evil.
Our text follows the account of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan river. At His baptism, Jesus is attested by God as being true God and true man. And now, as a part of His humanness, Jesus was lead by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He was tempted for forty days and forty nights. What we have in our text are the three top temptations, if you will, from the devil. In the next few minutes we will look at each one of these temptations separately and see what is the heart of the temptation and what is Jesus’ response. As we review these temptations it might do us well to make a note of the temptation and how Jesus handled the devil so that we might arm ourselves against the old evil foe and his deadly temptations in our own lives.
The first temptation. “3And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’” (v. 3). Remember that Jesus has been in the desert for forty days and forty nights and he was at this time very hungry. The devil begins by using Jesus’ hunger, this physical, human desire to tempt Him. We might liken this temptation to the type of torture used on a captured soldier of war. I have been told by someone who was a prisoner of war that food and sleep deprivation can make a person very vulnerable.
The devil attempts to use Jesus’ human hunger, His humanity against Him in order to get Him to question His divinity. This is a temptation of self doubt, that is the devil wants to question Jesus’ divinity and also He wants Jesus to question His own divinity. “If you are hungry and if you are sure that you are God, and if you are God then why don’t you do something about it, why don’t you prove that you are God by making yourself something to eat.” This would be only one of the many times that this type of temptation, to prove Himself, would be offered to Jesus. Time and again the Pharisees would ask Jesus for a sign, a miracle as a “proof” that He was the Messiah, that He was God. Interestingly enough, Jesus gave many signs and miracles as “proof” that He was God. Even the Gospel writer John makes much of the signs and wonders, the miracles Jesus performed as proof that He was God, it is just that the Pharisees missed it or really did not want to believe it. On the cross was the ultimate temptation by the Pharisees, “if you will come down we will believe you are the Messiah.” The irony of that temptation was that if Jesus came down from the cross He might have proven His case to the Pharisees, but He would have missed His opportunity to be the Savior, thus He would not have been our Savior. Thanks be to God that He did not give in to any of these temptations and especially that He did not come down from the cross, but that He did give His life as a ransom, to pay the death penalty for us all.
Jesus’ response to the devil was to quote from the Word of the Lord, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (v. 4). The most powerful weapon we have against the devil is the sword of the Word of God. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul lays out the armor of a Christian and the only offensive weapon he describes is that of the sword of faith, the sword of the Word of God. We would do well to follow Jesus’ example when faced with the temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh, that is, go to the Word of the Lord.
The second temptation is the temptation to self-glory. “5Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”’” (v.5, 6 ). This is a temptation of the spectacular. The devil is saying, “there is an easier way, my way.” The devil knows that Jesus knows that the cross is ever before Him. Why not give Jesus a second way, an easier way, other than the cross. The devil says, “do not go to the cross, instead, do something spectacular that will bring people to faith in you.”
Behind this second temptation are questions of the Father’s love and question of Jesus’ trust in the Father. “Are you sure the Father loves you enough that He will protect you and if you are sure, prove it, show me.” Thanks be to God that Jesus knew the Father’s love, that He knew the glory that was His in heaven that He gave up to take on human flesh and blood and to give His life as a ransom for you and me.
Jesus’ response to this second temptation is again to quote the Word of the Lord, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (v. 7). Again, we have the reminder to use the Word of the Lord to fight off the temptations of the devil.
The third temptation, “8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’” (v. 8, 9). The third temptation seems like no temptation at all, if we really think about it. After all, everything is Jesus’, He created and made all things out of nothing. Who is the devil to think he can tempt Jesus into believing that anything is his to give away. This is another temptation of glory, “another easy way out.” “Do not go to the cross, the devil says, I have an easier way.” “Just worship me and I will give up all my authority and let you be king.”
The third question put to Jesus is again meant to question His humanity. As a man Jesus can worship the Father in heaven, who has given Him the task of going to the cross. Or He can worship the devil, who is giving Him the option of forgoing the cross. Thanks be to God that Jesus knew that He came to do the will of His Father in heaven, His good and gracious will and that will included His giving His life for you and me.
Again, for the third time, Jesus’ response is the Word of the Lord, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (v. 10). And yet again we have the example for our own lives when facing temptation to meet it and beat it with the Word of the Lord.
Jesus began His earthly ministry at His baptism by John in the Jordan river. He immediately went into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Jesus begins His earthly ministry by subjecting Himself to the temptations of the devil and by defeating the devil. He defeated the devil not only for Himself, but for us, in our place, as well. He defeated the devil for us and He is with us to help us to defeat him in our own lives.
Did you notice that the devil did not come in a red suit with horns and a pitch fork. Really, he is not that easily recognizable, especially not in our world today. Today the devil’s temptations are a bit more subtle, such as, the devil does not tempt you to not go to church, because he knows that temptation would not work. Instead he tempts you with too many things to do, more important things to do, to fill up your schedule so that you do not have time to go to church. The devil does not tempt you to take things from others, instead he tempts you to forget to return things until you forget what you have has been borrowed and you think it is your own. The devil tempts you through your own natural logic and reasoning, making you think that you are doing what you should be doing which is often what he wants you to do. The devil does not tempt you to not believe the Bible instead he tempts you to think other wiser humans are smarter than the Bible and to believe them and instead to question the Bible. The devil does not tempt you to go against your own conscience rather he tempts you to believe that truth and morality are relative, that is they are a cultural construct, so that you live and let live, that is you are tempted to let others live outside God’s good and perfect will rather than call them to account for their sin. The devil does not tempt you in anyway that he knows you will not fall, rather he tempts you with your own guilty conscience so that you believe you have no justification for speaking out against the atrocities and the chaos he is wreaking throughout the world. In a word, the devil seeks to silence the Christians Church through his attacks on you and me as individual Christians. You might say that the bottom line is the devil continues to use his original temptation which continues to work as well as it did in Eden. The devil continues today to work to get us to question God and His word rather than the abnormalities and abhorations of our society. As we have seen the temptations of Jesus, through His temptation, Jesus shows us how to defeat the devil, not that we challenge the devil on our own, but we know how to defend ourselves against the devil. We defend ourselves by use of the sword of the Word of the Lord. This reminds us of our constant need to make regular and diligent use of the Word of the Lord so that we might be able to defend ourselves against the devil.
Jesus’ temptation also reminds us that we can go to Him for help in times of temptation. Jesus understands our temptation, He underwent the same temptations and even greater temptations. And we are reminded that we can go to Him for forgiveness following our fall into temptation and sin. Yes, temptations will come. With the Lord’s help we will be able to resist some temptations. Other temptations will come and we will fall, we will sin. Praise be to God that when we do fall, that when we do fail, that when we do succumb to temptation, that when we do sin, He is there ready to forgive and give us another chance.
I do want to emphasize this point, lest we think Jesus’ temptation was merely given as an example of how we can defeat the devil, that we cannot do it on our own, nor should we challenge the devil by putting ourselves in the place to be tempted. However, we do have Jesus’ defeat of the devil as a reminder that the devil has no power over us, that we do have Jesus to help us in times of temptation and with Him we also have forgiveness when we do sin. Thanks be to God for Jesus’ temptation, for His defeat of the devil, for His giving of His life for us so that we might have forgiveness, life and salvation and that He moves in us to say, to Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.