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, February 28, 2021

Denying - February 28, 2021 (03/04/12, 03/16/03, 03/19/00) - Second Sunday in Lent - Text: Mark 8:27-38

If it had been a snake it would have bitten you. How often is something “right before our eyes,” and we miss it? That is what happened to Peter and his fellow disciples.

Our account for this morning begins with Jesus asking His disciples, “Who do others think I am?” Jesus wanted to know if the general public knew who He was, especially since He had been showing Himself to be the Messiah through the signs, wonders and miracles He had been performing. The answer is that the public does not really know who Jesus is, but thinks, perhaps He is John the Baptist, who had been beheaded, or Elijah, or one of the prophets, in particular Moses.

Okay, so the general public does not know who Jesus is, what about His own disciples? So Jesus asks them, “Who do you think I am?” And this is where Peter answers and confesses for the rest of the disciples that Jesus is the Christ, that is He is the promised Messiah. And Jesus tells them to tell no one about Him, at least not at this time.

Jesus is the “rabbi.” He is the teacher of these disciples and every day He continues to instruction them. They have already learned many things. They have seen more than many had seen. They have, first hand, seen the signs and wonders, the miracles which He performed as “proof” of the fact that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah, even God in human flesh. Peter has confessed for himself and for the disciples that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and now Jesus continues their instruction. Jesus tells them that He must suffer many things, that He must be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed. He makes no “bones” about it. He does not talk in veiled language. He does not hold back, He tells them like it is, the Son of Man must suffer many things and be killed.

The disciples were used to Jesus speaking in parables, but of course, many times they too did not understand what He was saying and Jesus would have to explain what He meant to them. At this time Jesus does not speak in parables, but He speaks plainly, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (v. 31).

This time, having spoken plainly, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again,” now the disciples understand what Jesus is saying. They understand so much so that Peter gets up and speaks for them, again, and this time he rebukes Jesus. ‘No, Lord, this is not going to happen. Don’t talk about suffering and dying. Suffering and dying are not what the Christ, the Son of the living God is about.’ Peter cannot think of anything good that would come from suffering and especially from death. How would your dying be a good thing? How can you teach us if you are dead? Yes, Peter rebukes Jesus.

Jesus continues the disciples instruction with a rebuke back to them. The things of God are the cross, death and forgiveness. The wages of sin is death. The price for our sins is eternal death and hell. Whether our sins are sins of commission, doing something we should not have been doing, or they are sins of omission, not doing something we should be doing. The cost, the wage, the price for our sins is eternal death and hell. Back in the Garden of Eden God had told Adam and Eve that they were not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and we know what happened. They did eat of the fruit. The warning from God was that if they ate of the fruit they would surely die. And after they ate of the fruit they began to die. They died spiritually and they began to die physically. And we know that even though they did not ultimately die spiritually, that is they did not die an eternal death, they did not go to hell, because of God’s promise to send a Savior to take care of the spiritual punishment, they did die physically. The punishment was meted out. The price for sin is death, eternal death and hell. We are born in sin and we daily add to our sin. And the price for that sin has to be paid. The only way we can have life is through death.

For Peter, for the disciples, for many people today, the things of man are glory, power and might. We reveal in glory, power and might. We fantasize, romanticize, and often visualize ourselves in positions of glory, power and might. This way is the better way, at least in our own minds and according the ways of the world, but these are not the ways of God and they were not the ways of Jesus. The way of Jesus, the way of forgiveness, the way of eternal glory, the way of power over sin and evil, the way of might over the devil is the way of the cross.

Which brings us to the question of “What is true discipleship?” For some, maybe even for many in our world today, the way of true discipleship is to follow Jesus and His example. For some it is the way of asking the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” And for some that might be a good reminder of being faithful. However, for others, that may be simply an excuse to do it my way in the name of Jesus. I say that because as a sinful human being, I do not know what Jesus would do and even if I did know what Jesus was do, I would probably do the opposite. Thus, how easy it would be for me to answer that Jesus would, of course, do what I naturally would do, which is saying that I would do it my way and blame it on Jesus. True discipleship includes following Jesus’ example, but it also includes the realization that without the help of the Holy Spirit that we cannot follow Jesus’ example.

True discipleship, Jesus Himself tells us, is denying oneself. To deny oneself means, to not pay attention to our wants and desires, to refuse to think about what we want for ourselves, to put our own wants and desires at the end of the line, to say to ourselves, “keep quiet.” To deny ourselves, we must admit, is very difficult, if not impossible, especially in the “me first” world in which we live. How often we are told to “look out for number one.” Yet, true discipleship is just that, denying yourself.

True discipleship is taking up one’s cross. Here we must distinguish between crosses that are inflicted upon us and self inflicted crosses. Too often we put ourselves in the position to bring a cross upon ourselves. We might take a stand insisting that this is what Jesus would do and think we are suffering for our “holy” actions, when in reality we have put the cross on ourselves. I do not necessarily like this as an example, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a great example of this. They preach false doctrine, have the door slammed in their faces and count it as suffering for God. That is not true discipleship and taking up one’s cross. True discipleship is taking up one’s cross and standing firm in one’s faith in Jesus alone, even to the point of death.

The paradox of life is this, we either have life in this world and not in the world to come, or we have life in the world to come and not in this world. We cannot have it both ways. We may try to fool ourselves into thinking we can, but we cannot have it both ways. Jesus expressed it this way, “you cannot serve two masters for you will either hate the one and love the other, or love the one and hate the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

If our goal is life in this world and living it to its fullest (in all the decadent sense of that word) then our goal really is losing our life, that is losing our life in the world to come. What we are doing is exchanging life in the world to come for life in this world. Do we make decisions concerning our life based on the here and now or the hereafter? Are we like the rich fool who tore down his old barns in order to build bigger barns and said to himself, “today I will eat, drink and be merry and tomorrow I will worry about my eternal soul.” You might remember that it was that very night that his soul was required of him.

If our goal is saving our life, that is, if our goal is eternal life, that means giving up the things of this life. What is our priority? Do we live as if this world is all there is, or do we live as if this world is merely a “snap of the fingers,” compared to the world to come? Do we live as if today is all there is, or that we are living for eternal life? If our goal is saving our life, that is, eternal life, then we will live our lives with our eyes focused on the world to come. We will live our lives in such a way that all we do can be seen by others as a prelude to the world to come. Others will see through our lives that there is more to life than just this present existence.

What is our confession? What is in our heart and what do we believe? Our confession truly is our life and our life truly is our confession. Our confession is a confession of thought, word and action (deed). How we live, the way we make decisions and the decisions we make show what is our confession. There is no way around it. We live according to what we confess and we confess according to what we live.

What is our confession? What is our confession of faith? Do we confess with Peter and the disciples that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? And if that is our confession, do we really understand the ramifications of that confession? Do we understand that confession means, not glory, power, and might, but suffering, death and resurrection? Our lives as Christians are not glamorous, famous, powerful lives, they are not lives in which only good things happen to us and if only good things are not happening then we must have a problem with our faith. To confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God is to confess our sins and to live lives that are at odds with the world in which we live, to live in the shadow of the cross and even to suffer because of our faith.

What is our confession? Is our confession a complete confession? In other words, is our confession a confession of complete agreement of the Word of God, whether we like what the Word of God says or not? My confession is a complete confession when I give up myself, my wants and my desires, in order to live my life, to allow my thoughts, words and actions (deeds) to reflect my faith in Jesus Christ alone. Of course, we know that in and of ourselves we cannot have such a confession. It is only as Christ confesses His love for us and gives us faith, it is only as the Holy Spirit gives us faith and stirs in us that we can make such a confession, albeit an imperfect confession as we continually, daily break our confession, repent and renew that confession.

I cannot say it any better than Jesus said it Himself, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34b-38). With Jesus’ help, we forfeit our lives in this world and we rejoice and say, to God be the Glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Tempting - February 21, 2021 - First Sunday in Lent - Text: Mark 1:9-15

The season of Lent officially began on Wednesday which was Ash Wednesday. The season of Lent lasts for the six weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. The season of Lent lasts for forty days and we count the days of this season not including the Sundays during these six weeks. Sunday, we remember, is the day we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and so they are still little Easters for us even during the season of Lent. The color for the season of Lent is purple which is the color of repentance. Lent is the season of personal reflection and penitence.

The season of Lent brings an intensity of looking at the life of Jesus; who He is and what He came to accomplish. We confess in the words of the explanation of the second article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord . . .” We confess what we have been seeing during the season of Epiphany, that Jesus is the Lord, truly God and truly human.

Our text for this morning brings us to the temptation of Jesus. This event occurs immediately after Jesus’ baptism. Jesus is truly God meaning that He is perfect, holy, and sinless. He had no need nor reason to be baptized, yet in order to fulfill all the laws and the prophets and to identify with us, to be our substitute, to show Himself to be truly human, He was baptized, by John, in the Jordan.

Now, immediately after His baptism, immediately after showing Himself to be truly human, He goes, freely, into the wilderness to be tempted. Now let us not underestimate His temptation. He was not simply tempted to lust after another person. He was not simply tempted to shoplift a piece of gum. He was not simply tempted to lie or steal. He was not simply tempted to listen to and pass on a bit of gossip. Jesus was tempted with the same temptations with which we are tempted and even more and even greater temptations. I would say that our greatest temptation and sin is the temptation to sin the sin of omission. As good Lutherans we are determined that we are saved by grace alone as we quote Ephesians 2:8, 9. Yet, we often omit verse ten. We omit that we are to do the good works which God prepared in advance for us to do, that is we are to get off our grace and do what God would have us to do, not to earn forgiveness, but as a response of forgiveness and faith. Jesus was tempted with all temptations, even greater temptations than we might ever think or imagine. He was tempted to take the easier course of trying to save the world, and He was even tempted to omit saving the world.

Last week we spoke of the matter of Jesus as the embodiment of Israel. Jesus came to do what the whole nation of Israel could not do. Jesus came to do what we are unable to do. As an indication of Jesus’ embodiment of the nation of Israel, His ministry begins with His forty days of temptation in the wilderness. These forty days reflects Israel’s forty years of testing and wondering in the wilderness because of their failure to believe and trust in God’s promises in entering the promised land. Jesus was tempted with the same temptations as the children of Israel, however, He did not fail as the children of Israel did.

In his Gospel Matthew expounds on the temptations of Jesus and especially shows us three particular temptations. First, Jesus was tested on the question of how the true child of God should live. Does the true child of God live according to the Word of God, or according to the word of man? The gift of manna in the wilderness was given to feed the children of Israel and to remind them to trust God to provide for their needs. This they failed to understand. Jesus obeyed God perfectly, trusting completely in Him and resisted the temptation. The temptation in the church today is to be a “social church,” providing only for the social needs of the people, instead of providing for the real needs of the people, forgiveness of sins and the Savior.

Second, Jesus was tempted to test God to see if He would be faithful to His promises. Here we are reminded that God may test us, but we are not to test Him. The children of Israel were constantly testing God, showing their lack of trust and faith. Satan suggests to Jesus that He demand such evidence, but Jesus, true Israel, knowing the commandment, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” (Matt. 4:7; Deut. 6:16) does not fall for this trick of the devil. The temptation of the church today is to bring in the people by a dramatic show, speaking in tongues, making worship entertaining, telling people what they want to hear rather than preach the law in its sternness and the Gospel in its sweetness, performing healings and the like. Certainly many people would follow someone who is entertaining and does dramatic “tricks.”

The third temptation of Jesus was that He was tempted to achieve control of the world by worshiping God’s rival. The Israelites were tempted to worship the plain god “baal” and thus seek prosperity through their deity. As God’s obedient Son, Jesus knows God’s promises and conditions and that by serving and worshiping God alone He would inherit the world and its kingdoms and thus He resisted such temptation. The temptation in the church today is to compromise the Law and the Gospel. The temptation is to be tolerant of others, including other gods, other lifestyles, other sinful cultures and the like. The temptation is to go with the flow, to be like the world and just get along. The temptation is to not bother with the cross, after all, the cross is a point of contention. And we know that the cross was always on Jesus’ mind, and even more so now that He was getting close to that appointed time. The temptations that Jesus faced were temptations to give up dying on the cross in order to save us and instead, simply saving Himself.

Fortunately for us, and we praise the Lord, that Jesus did not succumb to any, not even to one, temptation. Where Israel failed, Jesus succeeded. He defeated the devil for us and in the process also gave us a good example of how He will help us to defeat the devil, namely through the use of the Word of God. Jesus defeated the devil who left for another time to return and tempt Him even more. And Mark tells us that Jesus was comforted by the angels.

With His first round of temptation completed and having defeated the devil, Jesus now begins His earthly mission. The Gospel writers tell us that John the Baptist came calling in the wilderness to prepare the way for Jesus. The way he came calling to prepare the way was through repentance. But now Mark tells us that John was put into prison. His time, his work, of preparing the people is over. Now it is Jesus time to do the work He came to do.

Mark tells us that Jesus came calling. His calling was very similar to John’s calling. Jesus, too, says, that now the time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Now is the time to repent and believe. Notice that Jesus did not succumb to the temptations of the culture and His example is one we would do well to attempt to emulate today, that is that we not water down our preaching and teaching, rather that we continue even today to call people to repentance. The world may not like it, but we would be doing no favor to the world to do otherwise because the greatest need of the world in Jesus’ day and in our own day is indeed forgiveness of sins which is given through confession of sins and absolution.

As we begin this season of Lent we are reminded of what this season and what this time of the church year means for us. Lent is a time for us, each one of us, individually, to remember and to repent. It is the time for us to take time to reflect on our own lives. What part do we have in the crucifixion of Jesus? Now is the time to remember that, in God’s eyes, all sins are equal. All sins are deserving of the same thing, eternal death, hell in other words. One little sin condemns us. One little lie, one little half-truth, one little thought of hatred, one sin of omission, not helping someone in need, not doing what God would have us to do, sitting on our grace, one little sin condemns us to eternal death in hell. And there are no excuses for our sin. You know how it is, we like to justify our sins. There are some things we “have to do” in the name of helping others. Sometimes we “have” to tell a white lie or a half-truth, after all, we do have to live in this world. And there are things we cannot do for the same reasons. May I remind you again that in God’s eyes there is no justification for sin and all sins are deserving of eternal death and hell. Lent, then is a time for personal reflection.

Lent then becomes a time to confess. As we reflect on our sins we realize that it was me personally who committed the sin which put Jesus on the cross. At the same time we are reminded that even if we were the only person on this earth that Jesus would still have come to give His life for ours. Lent is a time to confess.

Lent is a time to review. We have already said it is a time to review our own sins, but it is also a time to review what Jesus did for us. What Jesus did for us is that He gave up all the glory that was His in heaven. He took on human flesh and blood. He spent nine months in Mary’s womb. He was born in the small town of Bethlehem and placed in a feeding trough for animals, a manger. He took care of His family. He was raised the poor son of a carpenter. He lived perfectly for us in our place. He took all our sins upon Himself. He suffered the penalty, the price for sin, eternal death in hell, for us in our place. He gave His life for ours, for yours and for mine. Lent is a time to review all that Jesus did for us.

Lent is a time to be reminded of Jesus’ victory. Jesus did not stay dead. We do not worship a dead God. We worship a living God. Jesus rose from the dead, showing Himself to be the victor over sin, death and the power of the devil. Jesus defeated the devil and He declares us forgiven and free. At this time He continues to watch over us, pray for us and look forward to the time when He will come to take us from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven. Lent is a time to be reminded of Jesus victory.

Lent is a time to get ready for Good Friday. Good Friday is just that, Good Friday. Good Friday is the day that Jesus died. It is the day that He suffered for our sins. It is Good for us because, since He suffered for us in our place, we will not have to suffer. Lent is a time to celebrate the good of Good Friday.

In a very real way, Lent is a time to praise the Lord. What else can we do? What other option is there for us? Yes, we can deny all the Lord has done for us. We can refuse all His good gifts and blessings, we can sit on our grace. But, better than all that is this, that we can simply be given His good gifts and blessings and rejoice in response with words of praise to our Lord and King. And we are reminded that our words of praise are just that, a response of praise to Him who loves us and gave Himself for us. Yes, Lent, and especially the Sundays of Lent are a time to praise the Lord.

Some people have the habit of giving up something for Lent. That can be a healthy thing to do. Whatever you do, I would urge you to take the time during Lent and to use this time for the purpose for which it was intended, to reflect, to review, to confess, to remember Jesus great love for you which is what moved Him to give His life for yours and to remember Jesus’ victory, to get ready for Good Friday and to praise the Lord. So that ultimately we might all together stand before the Lord’s throne and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee - Ash Wednesday - February 17, 2021 - Text, Sermon Hymn, #607 - From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee; Scripture Readings: Psalm 130; Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 5:20-21; 1 Tim. 1:14

As we did during the beginning of this present Church Year, during the season of Advent through to New Year’s Eve last year, so during our Lenten season through to Easter morning we have chosen to use hymns and in particular, the hymn of the day as our sermon texts. Which means, since on Wednesdays there is no hymn of the day we will use the hymn of the day for the previous Sunday. Also, please understand that this does not mean we are not preaching on a text from the Bible as all our hymns have a Biblical foundation. If you wish you can follow along in your hymnal as we look at the verses of our hymn.

The author of our hymn for today is Martin Luther. Because of Luther’s outrage against what the Latin Mass had become, he desired to write “as many songs as possible in the vernacular which the people could sing during Mass.” Luther sought many poets and theologians to write songs and he wrote many himself. This hymn is a paraphrase of Psalm 130. This song is important to twenty-first century Lutherans for several reasons: it was one of Luther’s favorite songs which expresses our hope and comfort in the Gospel. It is a wonderful example of the proper distinction between Law and Gospel and the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. It expresses our human sorrow for sin and thus is sung during times of mourning, funerals and the like. Because it is based on a penitential psalm it is used as an aid in catechetical teaching reinforcing the meaning of confession, which is why it is listed under the “Confession and Absolution” section of the hymnal.

Stanza one, “From depths of woe I cry to Thee, In trial and tribulation; Bend down Thy gracious ear to me, Lord, hear my supplication. If Thou rememb’rest ev’ry sin, Who then could heaven ever win Or stand before Thy presence?” As we remember that the season of Lent is a season of reflection and repentance, this stanza is quite fitting as it reflects that Psalmist cry “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,” and so is our cry from the depths of our sins. At the same time there is a word of trust that is inferred in this pleading for God’s mercy and trusting that He will be merciful. Indeed, if, as the Psalmist pleas, “you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand.” Our trust as we remember our sins and plead for mercy is that God would be merciful to us.

Stanza two, “Thy love and grace alone avail To blot out my transgression; The best and holiest deeds must fail To break sin’s dread oppression. Before Thee none can boasting stand, But all must fear Thy strict demand And live alone by mercy.” This stanza begins with a word of trust in God’s love and grace, that His love and grace will bring forgiveness for our sins. There is a recognition of our human failure indeed, what we perceive as our holiest of deeds are as filthy rags in God’s eyes. We cannot boast or depend on our efforts but must live by God’s mercy alone.

Stanza three, “Therefore my hope is in the Lord And not in mine own merit; It rests upon His faithful Word To them of contrite spirit That He is merciful and just; This is my comfort and my trust. His help I wait with patience.” Again in this verse we have an expression of our hope in the Lord not in ourselves nor our own merit. We find our rest in the faithful Word of our Lord, especially and including the Word made flesh in Jesus Himself. And so we express words of faith and trust in God’s mercy. Indeed, our hope and trust our comfort is in the Lord alone and so we wait with patience for His grace and mercy.

Stanza four, “And though it tarry through the night And till the morning waken, My heart shall never doubt His might Nor count itself forsaken. O Israel, trust in God your Lord. Born of the Spirit and the Word, Now wait for His appearing.” We continue in stanza four singing our expression of faith in God’s Word and Promises. We wait patiently through the night. We express our confidence that we shall never doubt His might nor believe we are forsaken. And we sing of our being a part of the true Israel, that is those who are born of the Spirit and the Word, the true Israel of faith.

Stanza five, “Though great our sins, yet greater still Is God’s abundant favor; His hand of mercy never will Abandon us, nor waver. Our shepherd good and true is He, Who will at last His Israel free From all their sin and sorrow.” In this last stanza we express our faith and trust, our belief that God’s grace is always greater than His Law. Perhaps Paul’s words in Romans comes to mind, “20Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21). And again, we sing of our being a part of the true Israel, not the Israel born by flesh or DNA, but the true Israel, that is those of faith who are forgiven and comforted.

Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of our Lenten Season. Lent is the time of the Church Year that we take the time to reflect on our lives, on our sins, on our part in what we are preparing to remember and celebrate. A little less than three months ago our Church Year began with the season of Advent. During Advent we took the time to prepare ourselves to celebrate the first coming of our Savior, and to be reminded to continue keeping ourselves ready for His second coming, His return to gather us and all the saints and to take us and all the saints to be with Himself in heaven. A little less than two months ago we celebrated the birth of the one promised in the beginning in the Garden of Eden. We were reminded of the visit of the Magi, the wise men as we celebrated what has been called the Gentile Christmas on Epiphany. Last Sunday we witnessed Jesus on the mount of transfiguration with Moses and Elijah as Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem and His trek to the cross.

The very reason Jesus was born, God in flesh was always before Jesus, His whole life long. Thus, during this season of Lent we are reminded of the fact that it was our sin, my sin and your sin that put Jesus on the cross. We cannot point our fingers at others because even if we were the only person in the world Jesus would have come to give His life for ours, thus is His great love for us. We are also reminded that just as the promise to send a Savior was first given in the Garden of Eden, to Adam and Eve, before there was a Jew or a Gentile and that all nations were in their DNA, so when God promised to send a Savior through the family line of Abraham, the Savior promised was a Savior for all people. And we are reminded that by faith in Jesus we are a part of the family of Israel, the true Israel, the Israel of faith.

As we take the time to reflect on our sins and our part in the events that lie ahead, we find psalms like Psalm 130 and hymns like our sermon hymn to be quite appropriate. At the same time, because we are living in the days after these events we do know the whole history, we know the rest of the history. We know of Jesus’ perfect life. His perfect obedience. His perfect suffering and death. His joyous and perfect resurrection. We know that all He did He did because of His great love for us. We know that we have forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness is life and salvation. And so we give thanks and say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

I Can See Clearly Now - February 14, 2021 - The Transfiguration of Our Lord - Text: Mark 9:2-9

What you see is what you get. When we hear those words we take notice, we sit up, we open our eyes as wide as possible, we try to take in as much as possible, because we know that what we see is not always what it appears to be. Yes, I am, at many times and even more so in our world today, a skeptic and I believe we live in a skeptical world. We watch the illusionists perform their “magic” on television and we know there is a trick to what they are doing. We watch the card shark do card tricks and we try to figure out how they do it. Those of us who wear glasses or contact lenses understand the importance of these devices to correct our vision because we know how important is our sight. What you see is what you get, but can you always trust what you see?

This morning the Gospel writer Mark writes to tell us of a glorious sight on the mount of Transfiguration. And let me assure you, that as we “see” what Mark is telling us, we can believe our eyes. The very word which is used to describe this awesome event is the word “transfiguration,” which is translated from the word, “metamorphosis.” Usually we hear this word, “metamorphosis,” either in talking about children’s toys that are “transformers” that can be “morphed” from a car or truck into a sort of robot person, or the like, we hear about this being “morphed” in some super hero show or in a super hero comic book, or in talking about butterflies. This morning, in our text, this word, “metamorphosis” is used more along the lines of what happens to a butterfly and we have to admit, the first two examples I gave are fantasy examples so the only real example we have of “morphing” is that of a butterfly, at least that is what we call it. As a caterpillar spins itself into a cocoon and later emerges changed, morphed, transformed into a butterfly, and this morphing is somewhat what we are seeing happen to Jesus this morning.

Mark takes us to the top of the mountain with Jesus, Peter, James and John and he tells us that Jesus was changed. He was transfigured. He was metamorphed. “. . . His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (v. 3). Mark is trying to use human terms which do not do justice to the heavenly scene he is describing. I am sure that this would be better than any bleach commercial you would ever see today.

And if that were not enough to make Peter, James and John, and us, wonder about what they were seeing, if their eyes were deceiving them, they also saw Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. Is this a vision, are they dreaming, or is this real? Moses, you might remember, was the one who lead the children of Israel through the Red Sea and out of their bondage of slavery in Egypt. Moses died on the mountain overlooking the Promised land and was not allowed to enter. Moses is also the one who received the Ten Commandments and all the Laws from the Lord on the mountain. Moses was given to write the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch as it is called. Moses is often remembered as representing all the Law. And Moses stands at the head of Israel’s history.

Elijah, on the other hand, you might remember, never died. Elijah, as we heard in the Old Testament reading for this morning, was taken directly, bodily into heaven. He was not taken to heaven by a chariot and horses of fire as we are often told and as many pictures depict his ascension, rather as we heard in the reading, the chariot and horses of fire separated him from Elisha and then he was taken to heaven in a whirlwind. When we think of Elijah we think of all the Prophets, and we are reminded that Elijah came when Israel was in decline, so that only 7,000 remained who had not bowed the knee to Baal. And so, here on this mountain we have Jesus, God in human flesh, consulting with the ones who represent the beginning and the ending of Israel and representatives of all the Law and the Prophets. Now let me remind you that Jesus came as the embodiment of Israel, that is He came to do what the entire nation of Israel could not do. But, not only Israel, Jesus came do for us what we are unable to do. He came to live perfectly for us in our place. He came to fulfill all the Laws and the prophecies, perfectly and completely. Might we suggest that at this meeting Jesus was reviewing with these representatives of the Law and the Prophets to acknowledge that He was doing what He came to do.

As an acknowledgment of this fact, that Jesus was doing what He came to do, God the Father spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him” (v. 7b). And then, the whole event was over. Just as quickly as it began, it ended. For Peter, James and John this was truly a “mountain top experience.” And although, this “mountain top experience” was unlike any of the “mountain top experiences” we have in our world today, it reminds us that we do have what we call “mountain top experiences” ourselves. When we have a “mountain top experience” we always know that the higher we go on the mountain, the greater the emotional lift, the lower we seem to drop when it is all over, the bigger the emotional let down. Unfortunately, that tends to be the problem with such emotional experiences, they are great while they are happening, but when they are over we often “feel” worse than before. Much like our eyes might deceive us, so our emotions might also deceive us.

During all the excitement, on the mountain, the disciples were in fear and awe. Did you notice that even Peter, who always has something to say, did not know what to say. Of course, that did not stop him from speaking, but Mark assures us, (“. . . he did not know what to say, for they were terrified”). What I find fascinating about this is that Peter had just, a few verse before, confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God and now that he was actually witnessing Jesus, as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, in all His glory he did not know what to say. In Peter’s defense, however, I believe he said what many of us would say, “Let’s keep this experience going as long as possible.” Peter wanted to build three shelters in order to make this event last as long as possible.

What we are witnessing this morning is not a vision, not an illusion, not a slight of hand, but an actual event. What we are witnessing is Jesus in His heavenly glory. We are witnessing that Jesus came to do for us what we are unable to do. We are witnessing Jesus who came to fulfill all of the Law and prophets, perfectly. We are also witnessing the fact that Jesus is who He says He is, He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. He is God in flesh and blood. He is the Savior of the world, your Savior and mine. This event is no trick, no illusion, no slight of hand, this event is an actual event for the sake of Jesus and His disciples. And we see that it works, as we see from the affect it had on His disciples and the affect it has on us.

The affect of this event on us is the same as the affect the Word of God has on us. We are morphed, transformed, changed. We are changed from unbelief to faith. The Word of God is one of the means that God has of coming to us to give us His good gifts and blessings. The Word of God, “rescues us from sin, death (eternal death and hell) and the power of the devil.” The Word of God, works faith, strengthens faith, gives forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The Word of God metamorphs, transforms us from death to life.

This morning, we are reminded, once again, that it is this same Word of God that we need to hear every week, even every day. And as we hear this same Word of God, we are changed. Each one of us knows of the life changing affect and power of the Word of God as it continues to morph us as we each grow in our own faith life.

For Jesus, this transfiguration event was a reassuring event, especially since this comes right before His journey to Jerusalem to give His life, to die on the cross. We celebrate Transfiguration Sunday as the last Sunday after the Epiphany and the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, which is this Wednesday. During Epiphany we celebrated the fact that Jesus is true God born in human flesh and now we turn our attention to Jesus going to the cross for us. For Jesus, this transfiguration event was a reassuring event, and for each one of us, this transfiguration event is also reassuring, because, even though we do not have to face dying on a cross, each one of us do face the difficulties of this present life. And as we face these difficulties we are convinced that Jesus, who has already faced everything we will ever face, and more, is with us every step of the way.

For the disciples, Peter, James and John, this event was certainly a humbling event and the same may be said for us, this is a humbling event as we realize again who Jesus is and why He came. Jesus is God in human flesh. He is God who, because of His great love for us, gave up all the glory of heaven in order to become one of us. It is Jesus who lived perfectly for us in our place, as our substitute, because we cannot. It is Jesus who fulfilled all the law and the prophecies, the promises of God, especially the first promise made in the Garden of Eden to send a Savior. It is Jesus who after living perfectly, never sinning, who is God in flesh, who took our sins upon Himself and suffered the eternal death penalty of hell for us, in our place, so that we might have forgiveness.

This transfiguration event is also encouraging, because it reminds us of God’s great love for us. “No greater love can anyone have than this that a person will die for another person,” and that is exactly what Jesus did for us. He gave His life for ours. He died the eternal death penalty of hell, the wages of sin is death, for us in our place.

This transfiguration event is comforting, because it reminds us that this is true. We are not seeing an illusion, we are not seeing a magic trick, we are seeing the confirmation of what the Bible says and of what Jesus says concerning Himself.

Perhaps we might summarize our text by saying, “Peter, James, and John saw it; and by faith we see it–the glory of the Lord revealed by the Spirit to those who believe!” My prayer for each one of you, as you go down the mountain of this divine service experience, into the routine of daily life, is that the Lord will go with you in order to sustain you in your faith and in your life of faith, so that we might ultimately stand together and rejoice with the words, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Jesus Prayed - February 7, 2021 - Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Mark 1:29-39

I want to begin this morning by reminding you that we are still in the season of the Epiphany. Epiphany, you might remember, means “God in man made manifest” or “the revealing of God becoming human”. It is during the season of Epiphany that we continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the fact that He was born to save all people, Jew and Gentile alike. We continue to celebrate the fact that Jesus was born for us. Next week will be the last Sunday in our Epiphany season and we will celebrate Transfiguration Sunday and the following Wednesday we will celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of our Lenten season and we might add, already. As I continually remind you, our lives in this world are truly short and as we get older we all know how that time seems to speed by faster and faster, meaning, again, as I always say, we need to always be ready either for the Lord’s return or our return to Him.

This morning we continue our reading through the Gospel of Mark and we are brought to another day in the life of Jesus. Our text for last week ended at verse twenty-eight and our text for this week picks up at verse twenty-nine. Last week, you might remember, we were with Jesus in the synagogue where He was immediately confronted by a man who was demon possessed. This morning Mark brings us out of the synagogue as he says, “and immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John” (v. 29). Again we see how Mark likes that word “immediately” as he tells us that immediately after worship, Jesus went with James, John, and their cousins, Simon and Andrew to Simon and Andrew’s home, perhaps for the Sabbath lunch. It was probably like when we go for our Sunday lunch, after church we like to go to our cousins house for lunch. Concerning Simon or Peter as he is called, Andrew, James and John; remember that these were the first four disciples Jesus called to follow Him and they were the one’s who were His inner circle of disciples, His closest friends. So, again, church is over and it is time to go home for lunch.

In our text for this morning Mark writes to more clearly show us the Epiphany of Jesus, that is that Jesus is true God in human flesh, that He is true God and true man. We see that Jesus is truly human as He spent the morning preaching and now He has gone to Simon’s home. Jesus is truly human. He was in need of some rest and He was in need of food. So, He went to Simon’s house to visit, have lunch and rest. Later, after the evening sun had set, which brought us out of the Sabbath day and into the next day, which is Sunday, people again began bringing family members and friends to be touched by and to be healed by Him. Our day begins at midnight. For the people of Jesus’ day the day began at sunset. Thus, at about 6 pm in the evening Saturday was over and it was now Sunday, thus the Sabbath was over and the people could again work. One of the works of the people we see here is that they are working to bring their sick and broken family and friends to Jesus to have Him heal them. And Jesus continued to work, doing the signs, wonders, and miracles, even casting out demons, which showed that He is truly God.

Mark skips past the night to bring us to the rising of the sun in the morning, but we might presume that Jesus, being truly human, needed and got a good night rest and sleep. Then, Mark says, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place and there he prayed” (v. 35). Jesus shows us how human He is in His need to be in prayer and in His example of going out to pray. This was the first thing Jesus did, He went out to pray. He recognized His own need to be in prayer with His Father in heaven. He knew the importance of beginning the day in prayer and in fellowship with His Father, God the Father. His example reminds us of our even more pressing need to begin each and every day in prayer with God the Father. Martin Luther said that the more that he had to do in a day the more time he needed to spend in prayer at the beginning of the day. As busy as our lives often are, I would imagine that we would need to spend more time in prayer as well. I know this does not make sense to us, normally speaking, that is that the more we have to do, the more time we need to spend in prayer. We would, humanly calculate that the more we had to do, the less time we could spend in prayer, but our God is a God who blesses us, especially in our returning to Him from what He has given to us in the first place. It is amazing that as we are good stewards of the time He gives to us, so He gives even more to us in the end. Try it sometimes. If you have so much to do that you do not believe you have time to do it, begin with prayer and see if the Lord does not bless you with the time you need.

Moving on in our text. Again, Mark shows us the Epiphany of Jesus, that He is truly human and that He is truly God. When Jesus arrived at Simon’s house, after worship, He found Peter’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever. “And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them” (v. 31). Notice that Jesus’ healing is complete healing. Jesus healed her so completely that there were no lingering side affects of her sickness. You know how it is, as you are getting better you continue to feel a little weak from your sickness. Peter’s mother-in-law was so completely healed and restored of her strength that she got up and waited on them.

Jesus continued to show that He was true God in that He healed many others who were sick, had various diseases, and were demon possessed. The Gospel writer John also writes about these signs, wonders, and miracles which Jesus performed as “proof” that He was truly God because only God can do the signs, wonders and miracles that Jesus performed.

But that was not enough for Jesus, and Jesus is not talking about meeting peoples felt needs of being healed. Jesus still saw the need to tell others the good news of salvation. He said, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (v. 38). Jesus came to preach the good news of salvation. He came to live for us in our place and He came to take our sins and to give His life  for ours.

Jesus is still working in, with and among us today. No, I do not mean that He actually physically comes to us, although I would never rule that out, after all, He is God and He can do whatever He wants and He does come to us physically through His body and blood in His Holy Supper. What I mean is that He does come to us to heal us of various diseases as well as bring us emotional and spiritual healing. He  does this, that is He heals us through means, namely through the means of doctors and medicines. Yes, I do believe that sometimes He heals us immediately, because in some cases there really is no other explanation for someone’s healing, but His usual way of dealing with us in our world today is through means.

Today, Jesus continues to heal us physically and most importantly spiritually and He continues to proclaim His Gospel message to us through His Holy Word and through His sacraments, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and even confession and absolution. Yes, as I said, I believe that Jesus can come to us immediately and proclaim His Word to us and to heal us, but His usual way of working with us today continues to be through means, namely through the means of grace, the Word, the Bible and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and through confession and absolution.

We live in a sin filled world and we are not immune to suffering as we have seen over the last year.  All one needs to do is read the newspaper, watch the TV news, or listen to the radio news and we can see the suffering that is present in our world today. We can look at our prayer list and see that people do continue to suffer and get sick in our world today. Yes, we are living in a world that has been infected by the fall into sin. And we can add to that, our own sin. Yet, how comforting it is to know that Jesus is always there for us. Even if we do not feel that He is with us or feel His presence we can rest assured that He is always with us. As we continue to see in His word, He has already suffered everything we suffer and more and now He is ready to be with us when we suffer. How comforting to know that we can go to Him in prayer and to know that He will come to us through His Word and Sacraments to give us the strength we need to face the struggles we have in life.

God never promised that life would be easy. As a matter of fact we find many places in His Word which remind us that life is often difficult. That does not mean that God is not with us nor that He has abandoned us. And we find comfort, not in the fact that others are suffering with us, but in this fact, that Jesus is with us in our own suffering. So, we are again reminded of our need to be in the Word, to daily follow Jesus’ example, that is that Jesus began each day in prayer with His Father in heaven. What better way do we have of beginning our own day than by reading God’s Word, having Him speak to us, and praying, speaking to Him.

Our reading from Mark reminds us of our need to recognize Jesus as the Christ, that is, as true God and true man. Jesus is the one promised in the Old Testament. He is the one who came and did fulfill all the Old Testament promises, completely, and perfectly. Jesus is who He says He is. He is the One who came to live for us, perfectly for us, in our place. He came to do what we are unable to do. Ultimately, He is the one who gave His life, literally traded His perfect life for our imperfect sin filled life. He suffered the eternal death penalty of hell for us, in our place. He died that we might have life. His love for us is so great, as He Himself reminds us, “What greater love can anyone have than this that they would give their life for another.” He loves us so much that He took the eternal suffering, the eternal death penalty and suffered it for us in our place.

Mark reminds us that we are given gifts, all of God’s many good gifts and blessings. Yes, we have struggles in this life, but we also have Jesus who is with us every step of the way. We are born in sin, steeped in sin, and live in a sin filled world. We know what it is like to toss and turn through the night, waiting for some relief when morning breaks. We know suffering, mental, physical, spiritual. We live in a troubled world, yet, we remember that Jesus came to overcome the world.

Jesus came to this earth. True God, giving up all the glory that was His. He came, lowly, born and laid in a manger. He grew up the son of a carpenter. He suffered temptation by the devil himself. He suffered physical pain, mental and emotional pain, and the greatest suffering of eternal death, hell. He did this because of His great love for us. But as we know, death and the grave had no hold over Him as He rose from the dead. He won. He won the victory over sin, death and the devil. And now He continues to be with us, to come to us through His Word and sacraments to give us all His good gifts and blessings, to give us forgiveness of sins, faith, strengthening of faith and life, even eternal life. Our response is simply to say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.