Monday, March 28, 2011

Sermon for 3/30/11--LENT III MIDWEEK: “Witnesses on the Road to Golgotha”

This year at St. Peter our Lenten midweek services will look at Jesus’ journey to the cross from the eyes of those who witnessed and participated in those events. Their testimony concerning Jesus, His identity, and His work—testimony sometimes given against the will of those who testified—speaks a profound word concerning the salvation Christ died to win for us.

Pontius Pilate: “I find no fault in Him.”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus of Nazareth was on trial for His life. The religious leaders of Israel had convicted Him in their court as a blasphemer, a crime worthy of death, according to their selfish and evil standards; but because they were a conquered people, the Jews lacked the authority to carry out the death sentence they desired. So they petitioned the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to carry out that sentence for them. Pilate heard their charges against Jesus, and he focused on the one that could possibly have mattered to Roman interests: the charge that Jesus claimed to be a king. Jesus testified that He was, indeed, a king, but that His kingdom was not of this world. Instead He came to bear witness to the truth. He testified that everyone who cherishes and holds to the truth would listen to Him. Pilate’s response set the tone for everything that would follow. He asked, “What is truth?”

You see, Pilate knew the truth concerning Jesus. This wasn’t an earth-shaking confession such as Peter made when he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Nevertheless, Pilate spoke the truth about Jesus when he said, “I find no fault in Him at all.” This was the bare-bones truth. Jesus was innocent of the charges brought against Him by the Jewish authorities, and Pilate was fully aware of that fact. But what could that mean to a man who asked, “What is truth?” In a sense, Pontius Pilate is the father of what we call post-modernism, an ideology that says reality is relative and depends on who the interested parties are and what their interest is. You see, Pilate knew the truth, but he didn’t let that get in the way of what he believed is in his own best interest. The trial against Jesus should have ended then and there, the moment he ruled that Jesus was innocent of the charges. It had already gone on longer than it should have. There was no case, no cause for criminal procedure. With all his authority as Caesar’s representative in this region, Pilate should have released Jesus without hesitation.

But Pilate was a weak man, a coward. Though he carried the emperor’s authority with him and he had the backing of the local Roman cohort, he was afraid of an insurrection during his watch—especially since the Jews were gathered in Jerusalem in greater concentration than usual because of annual observance of the Passover. A rebellion during the festival had the potential to be deadly—not only for the soldiers under his command, but also to his career. So in order to keep the peace in Jerusalem and appear powerful and merciful at the same time, he offered the crowd a choice between the just and innocent Jesus, whom he called “the King of the Jews”, and Barabbas, called a robber by John and an insurrectionist and murderer by Mark. Perhaps he was surprised when the crowd shouted for Barabbas. But because he was weak and allowed his heathen reasoning to rule him, he had no choice but to let an innocent man face a punishment he did not deserve. Pilate heard the truth, but he was not interested in the truth, nor did he belong to it.

Truth is a precious gift of God, but it is a gift that is often unwelcome, a gift that comes under constant attack. Do you belong to the truth? Do you hear and cling to the voice of Christ? It is not easy to walk in the way of truth. You know this all too well. Be angry at Pilate if you must, but do not ignore the truth. The truth is, God is a just and jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Him. The truth is, you are as responsible for Christ’s crucifixion as Pilate. You are as responsible as if you had brought the false accusation against Jesus. You are just as responsible as if you had cried out for Barabbas. You are as responsible as if you had ignored the truth of the innocence of Jesus and surrendered Him yourself into the hands of sinful men with selfish and evil motives. You bear the curse of sin, inherited from your first parents Adam and Eve. With them, you look for some kind of greater truth that what God has revealed to you in His Word. You look for the truth in the treasures of this world. You look for the truth from fellow sinners. You live in a world that denies that there is objective truth; a world that denies that there is a universal right or wrong; a world that says that what is right for you may not be right for me; a world that says what Christ calls “sin” is the product of the time in which Jesus lived, and if He lived today He would say something different—and it’s so easy to buy into the “wisdom” of the world. With Pilate you have heard the Word of truth, but in the imagination of your hearts, deluded by your own self-interests, you ignore the voice of truth, the Word of God, to pursue your own sinful desires. Jesus, the innocent King of the Jews, the Son of God, is the voice of truth. That should be truth enough.

And if that truth is not enough, then listen to this truth: On the cross, Jesus suffered the wrath of God which your sin deserved. Ultimately, the cross is not the result of vengeful Jewish chief priests or misguided former disciples or cowardly Roman governors. Even though they acted in selfish and sinful ways, they are just acting as God’s instruments to bring the innocent, faultless Christ to the cross. God is at work behind their actions to carry out His judgment against your sin and the sin of the whole world upon His Son. The cross is the result of God’s great love for you, the people He created. The cross is not a victory for the chief priests and the leaders of Israel. It is not a victory for Pontius Pilate. It is not even a victory for the devil or the world, though this world’s prince and those who belong in his domain may delight in the suffering of Jesus. The cross is Christ’s victory: victory over the devil’s temptation to save Himself, victory over the satanic desires of the chief priests, but most especially victory over the sin whose wages would condemn us everlasting death. The innocent, sinless Son of God bore that sin to the cross, dying the death your sin earned for you. Through Baptism you died that death with Him; and because the innocent Son of God died that death for you, through Baptism you are raised up with Him.

The truth is, Jesus is the innocent, sinless Son of God. The truth is, through Holy Baptism, your sin becomes His burden, and His righteousness becomes Your innocence before God. When the world asks you, “What is truth?” your answer becomes, “Jesus is the truth.” Cling to the Truth, for in Him you have abundant life. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

And the hymn that goes with it:

As Strode the Christ to Cross and Grave

1. As strode the Christ to cross and grave,
To bear all men’s transgression,
Men saw His mighty pow’r to save
And of Him made confession.
Hail, Jesus, David's greater Son,
Who, in His love, heals everyone,
Delivering God's mercy.

4. Pilate before the priests proclaimed,
"I find no fault in Jesus."
All said, who should be greatly shamed,
"Naught but His death appease us."
Still, Pilate knew His innocence.
He gave up Christ at truth's expense.
Thus death became the judgment.

6. "Truly this man was God's own Son,"
The soldiers said in wonder,
As death's fierce power was undone,
The veil now torn asunder.
May we, with those who saw, believe
The saving work which Christ achieved
For us and our salvation.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sermon for 3/27/10--Oculi: Third Sunday in Lent (LSB 1-year)

With Me or Against Me?
Luke 11:14-28

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

At the very core of our faith is the conviction that we can do nothing to save ourselves. Salvation is the work of God, accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ, given to us only through faith by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. It is our conviction, as Lutheran Christians, that this is the absolute truth of the Scriptures, which is why we are troubled when we hear others speak about such things as “deciding to become a Christian.” Scripture says that, apart from Jesus Christ, we are dead in trespasses and sins; and, of course, dead men don’t make decisions about anything. Having said that, it is also true that faith is an active thing, daily doing all kinds of things that give witness to its existence and its presence. It is a daily process confessing Christ in the midst of a world that would seek to lead us in any other direction. That really is the substance of those admonishing words of Jesus in our Gospel reading: “He who is not with Me is against Me, and He who does not gather with Me scatters.” Our Lord Jesus Christ came into this world to redeem all creation. That is what the season of Lent is all about; a rehearing of that great story of redemption.

All of this reveals the absurdity of the claim that was being made about Jesus; that He was in league with the devil. “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. If Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” How could Jesus be in league with the devil in order to destroy the devil? To the contrary, Jesus, in His great work of destroying the works of the devil reveals the power of God, and the kingdom of God that had come to them unaware. The enemies of Christ today have not changed, and will not change. They will seek an answer for who Jesus is and what He has done apart from what is gloriously true; that He is true God and true man, born of the Virgin Mary, that He suffered and was buried, and that He rose from death the third day after.

What is your attitude toward Jesus and His mighty works? Do you believe them all? Do you believe and take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus, as Lord of all things, has overcome the devil, and that He is at the right hand of God, ruling and reigning over all things for the sake of His Church? If so, then you are confessing Christ, that He is Your Lord, and that you are trusting in His redemption.

Our text says: “And others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven.” They were not satisfied with that they had seen and heard from Jesus; they wanted Him to satisfy their own whims. They rejected His Word and the work He had come to do. That the kingdom of God had actually come among them made no impression on them at all. The One who had come to conquer Satan stood in their midst, and yet they would not accept Him. It was not faith but sin which prompted them to seek a sign from heaven. Such people have their followers in our day, too. When Jesus Christ is proclaimed as the world’s Savior from sin, when that is made known through the Gospel, even through the preaching of His servants today, they are not satisfied. They do not see in this message heavenly wisdom; they seek instead wisdom that pleases themselves. It means nothing to them that the Scriptures have been given to make us wise unto salvation. Jesus is the great High Priest who has perfectly fulfilled God’s Law, has sacrificed Himself for the world on the altar of the holy cross, and who is even now at the right hand of the Father praying and interceding for the world. But the world still seek other signs and wonders.

And what about us? How do we respond to Jesus and His redemption? St. Paul wrote: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.” It is the miracle of all miracles that Jesus has redeemed us from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, that we may truly be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. We are now children of God, heirs with Christ. If we are content with these assurances, and if we fully appreciate this comforting truth, trusting in His redemption, then we are faithfully confessing Christ.

The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of righteousness, and peace, and joy. It is a kingdom that has been prepared for us. Though we cannot see it yet in its fullness, we believe this to be true. Jesus said: “He who is not with Me is against Me.” From these words we can plainly see that there cannot be a neutral position toward Jesus and His kingdom. One cannot be with Him and with His adversaries at the same time. One is either for Him or against Him. There are really only two kinds of people in this world: believers and unbelievers. There are only two destinations possible upon death; either heaven or hell. This is brutally plain language, to be sure, but it is also the truth. There are no other choices. One is either with Christ or against Him; and to be against Christ means to be in league with the devil. But it’s even more serious when we realize, as Peter says, that Satan wanders about like a roaring lion, always seeking someone to devour. That is why a position of neutrality toward Christ is so dangerous.

How many people does this describe—those who do not speak against Christ nor despise His Word, who lead outwardly good lives; but neither their life nor words are a confession of Christ. They have a high regard for the Church, and may even contribute a good deal to its support, and yet, their hearts are not really there; they are not really against Christ, but they are not really with Him either. We face that same danger. This is the threat that lies in wait even for us who confess His name now. This is the temptation Satan would place in our path. It is a temptation so subtle that we might fall for it and never know. How can this be resisted? How do we “defense” ourselves against this? Jesus gives the answer in this Gospel reading. In response to all the praise that was heaped on Him, He said: “Even more than this, blessed are those who hear the Word of God, and keep it.” It is that Word that brings blessing, cleansing the heart from evil thoughts and desires. Keeping that Word brings righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Through that Word the Holy Spirit calls us to faith in Jesus Christ, and enlightens us with all the gifts of God, and keeps us in the true faith, that our words and life together may be a confession of Christ. May the body and blood of Jesus strengthen us to confess Christ faithfully, for “blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Animals and the Fifth Commandment--Fixing an Incompletion

Since I'm talking about Issues, Etc., let me first crow a little bit about being selected by Jeff once again for "Blog of the Week", this time for my March 11 post "News Flash".  (Right click on this link right here to save the show to your computer, and then listen to Todd praise brevity.)  Cool beans!  It is always an honor to be selected, and it says a lot about the quantity and quality of the dissemination of Lutheran teaching over the Internet that such a beneficial show would have a "Blog of the Week" segment.

About a year ago, I was invited to appear on the Issues Etc. radio program on a round-table discussion of the Fifth Commandment.  (Right-click on this link right here to save the show, and then listen to me sound like a buffoon who is just learning to speak the English language.)  While I was on the show, Todd asked me a question regarding animals and whether the Fifth Commandment applies to our treatment of animals.  I babbled on, something about how the anger that a man demonstrates in "throwing his parrot against the wall" is the same anger which leads a man to murder another man.  I focused mostly on the treatment of domestic animals, barely touching on the food aspect of our treatment of animals.  I can only plead extreme nervousness due to this being my first live radio appearance. 

We've been studying the book of Genesis in Bible class on Sunday mornings--and you're invited to join us, by the way.  I'm preparing chapter 9 for next week or the week after, depending on how quickly we finish chapter 8.  In reading Genesis 9, it occurred to me that I had missed the point of the question Todd had asked.  Here's the background: In Genesis 1 God created man.  Moses writes:
28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  29 And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. 30 Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so.
Here we see the Lord setting apart "every green herb" as edible and good for food, both for man and the animals. 

After the flood, the Lord changes the relationship between man and animals.  Moses writes:
2 And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.
Whether or not man has eaten animals before this point, man now has the divine sanction to eat the meat of animals.  God doesn't necessarily answer in Genesis 9 the question of hunting animals only for sport, though Genesis 9 does speak only of the use of animals for food.  Then again, though they surely exist, I have yet to meat a hunter that kills an animal and doesn't use the meat for food, whether or not he mounts the animal head on his wall.  (Don't mean to sound sexist here, by the way, as I know a number of women who hunt, as well, and proudly display their trophies and eat the meat of the animals they have hunted.)  I will save for another day the discussion about the humane treatment of animals by those who raise animals to sell in mass quantities.

Listening again to what I said in the round-table, I didn't necessarily say anything that was wrong.  Rather, what I said was incomplete.  

Still, please don't throw your parrot against the wall.

Sermon for 3/23/11--LENT II MIDWEEK: “Witnesses on the Road to Golgotha”

This year at St. Peter our Lenten midweek services will look at Jesus’ journey to the cross from the eyes of those who witnessed and participated in those events. Their testimony concerning Jesus, His identity, and His work—testimony sometimes given against the will of those who testified—speaks a profound word concerning the salvation Christ died to win for us.

Judas: “Innocent Blood

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

As we have heard in our readings from the Passion History, Judas sought out the chief priests and asked how much they would offer him to betray Jesus into their hands.  They gave him thirty pieces of silver in advance, and from that moment Judas began to look for the opportunity to keep his end of the bargain.  The opportunity presented itself to Judas after the Master and His disciples partook of the Passover meal, after the Lord instituted the Holy Supper.  While Judas went to summon the soldiers of the religious leaders of Jerusalem, Jesus took the disciples to the Mount of Olives to pray; and as Jesus completed His prayers, Judas led the soldiers into His presence.  And then, with a kiss, Judas signified that this was the One sought by the chief priests, scribes and elders.  Jesus was taken away and immediate stood trial before Caiaphas and the council.  Our text for this evening records a second meeting of the council, where Jesus was sentenced to death.
What did Judas think was going to happen?  Did he perhaps believe that the council would hear what Jesus had to say concerning Himself and be convinced finally of the power and wisdom, the Messianic nature of Jesus?  After all, Judas knew Jesus spoke with authority, and that preaching had brought many people to believe in Him.  Or did Judas perhaps believe that Jesus would work some sort of sign, maybe that He would miraculously deliver Himself from the power of those who would have their wicked way with Jesus?  As you know, Judas was also an eyewitness to the powerful signs and wonders Jesus performed among the people during His ministry—including a miraculous departure from Nazareth when the people there sought to kill him.  Or perhaps Judas felt he could force the hand of Jesus—by betraying Him, maybe that would force Jesus to deliver Israel from the clutches of Rome.  Scripture is not clear as to the motives of Judas, nor is it clear what wrought his change of heart; but as the text explains, when Judas learned that Jesus was to be put to death, he felt remorse. 
What a strange and sad character this Judas is.  On the one hand, it’s easy to hold him in contempt.  After all, he was one of the hand-picked disciples.  He had spent three years with Jesus, watching Him perform signs and wonders, listening to Him as He preached the good news.  He was an eyewitness to everything Jesus said and did; but that did not instill in him any loyalty—or at least, not enough loyalty to keep him from betraying his Master and Savior.  He betrayed his beloved Teacher and Friend; and it’s all too easy to hold him in contempt for that.  On the other hand, it’s not all that hard to pity Judas, either.  Like a child who is caught in a lie, he’s not really sorry for what he’s done, but he does express remorse for the consequences.  It’s easy to pity him for that because we’ve all been there.  We’ve can sympathize, because we’ve all been caught with our hands in the cookie jar, so to speak.  And it’s easy to pity Judas because the high priest, who should have been concerned for his spiritual welfare, ignored his need for spiritual care.  In fact, those who should have been concerned for the state of his soul aided him in his sin.
But the real reason to pity Judas is that he did not repent.  Repentance is remorse combined with faith, and Judas did not believe in the One who could give him forgiveness.  Instead he went to the wrong person to deal with his sin.  After three years, he should have known that he could find forgiveness and peace for his soul in Jesus—and only in Jesus.  Even then, as Jesus was facing the wrath of the council, Jesus would have spoken the Word of forgiveness to him.  Even then, when Jesus was on His way to Golgotha and the cross, Jesus would have welcomed him back into the fold.  Instead, he put his hope in the same people who bought his sinful services in the first place, men who hated Jesus more than they loved to tend to the needs of sinners.  When that inevitably failed, he tried to buy a measure of forgiveness and hope by throwing the blood money down in the Temple.  And when that failed to soothe his conscience, he hanged himself.  It’s so easy to pity Judas because we, too, find ourselves looking for comfort and hope in all the wrong places.  We look for comfort in our own works—as if our own works aren’t what got us into trouble in the first place.  We cannot earn forgiveness with our works.  We cannot buy comfort with our offerings.  We cannot find peace for our souls from earthly authorities.  Those things only lead to death.  Judas despaired and killed himself, separating himself from the Lord for all eternity.  That separation will be ours, too, of we die without faith Christ.  We pity Judas just as we pity ourselves: as sinners in desperate need of a Savior.
The ironic thing about Judas is that he spoke the answer, the place where he should have put his hope, without prompting from anyone else.  He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”  It is in that very innocent blood of Jesus that sinners find hope and comfort and forgiveness.  Had Judas put his faith in the blood of Jesus rather than in his own works or in the evil-minded men who bought his betrayal, he would have found healing and cleansing for his soul.  What Judas did was necessary, but it could also be forgiven through repentance and faith in that holy blood which makes us clean and spotless before our heavenly Father.  This is your hope and comfort and peace as baptized children of God: the faith which you have received in Holy Baptism clings to Jesus and the forgiveness He won for you by shedding that innocent blood on the cross.  Once you could only able to feel the guilt of sin; but now the Lord blesses you with repentance—still carrying that remorse, but now also having that faith which clings to the forgiveness won by the spilling of that innocent blood.  Once your end would have been in that potter’s field with Judas, forever to be separated from the heavenly Father; but now, through Holy Baptism, you have been buried with Christ into death, so that, just as Jesus was raised from the dead, you are raised with Him into eternal life.  What’s more, Jesus gives you His holy and innocent blood along with His precious body to drink and to eat, so that your sins continue to be forgiven and you can return to your baptism. 
Thanks be to God that Jesus allowed His innocent blood to be betrayed, so that His innocent blood would be spilled and our filthy souls would be made white in that holy blood.  In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

And the hymn that goes with it:

As Strode the Christ to Cross and Grave

1. As strode the Christ to cross and grave,
To bear all men’s transgression,
Men saw His mighty pow’r to save
And of Him made confession.
Hail, Jesus, David's greater Son,
Who, in His love, heals everyone,
Delivering God's mercy.

3. “Innocent blood have I betrayed,”
Said Judas to the plotters.
Our own destruction Jesus stayed
Through blood poured out with water.
That sinless blood makes our robes white
And saves us from death’s endless night.
That blood has bought our pardon.

6. "Truly this man was God's own Son,"
The soldiers said in wonder,
As death's fierce power was undone,
The veil now torn asunder.
May we, with those who saw, believe
The saving work which Christ achieved
For us and our salvation.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sermon for 3/20/11--Reminiscere: The Second Sunday in Lent (LSB 1-year)

The Faith of a Dog

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Remember, O LORD, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, for they are from of old.” So we prayed in the Introit for the day. Sometimes in your prayers it seems as though you have to remind God of who He is, so maybe He’ll finally do His job. It’s like God is forgetful, and it’s your job, so to speak, to remind Him of what He’s supposed to do for us. “Remember, O Lord.” Why does the Psalmist call on God to remember, unless God had forgotten His mercies? So it seems in life. Aren’t there times in life it seems as if God has forgotten you? Doesn’t it seem as though you are alone and God has left you here flapping in the wind to fend for yourself? Tempted to ask God, “Why do you let something like this happen?” It’s easy to blame God for all the problems of the world. It’s just like the cry of the Psalmist: “Remember, O Lord.” Remember that you are here to save me. But the silence is deafening. Sometimes the suffering continues. It’s enough to make you want to stop praying. But this, of course, is the devil talking. God hasn’t abandoned you at all. He is doing things in His time, in His own way and pace. But the devil won’t let that go. He doesn’t want you to know that God will do anything for you. The devil does not want you to hear God’s Word of forgiveness and peace and healing. And listening to the devil comes naturally.

So we come to the faith of the Canaanite woman. Her plight is much like yours. Jesus went over to Tyre and Sidon, the land of the Gentiles, or half-breeds that weren’t Jews but they weren’t Greeks either. They were despised by all. But Jesus goes there, nonetheless. And when He is there, this Canaanite woman comes to Him and cries out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Son of David, for my daughter is demon-possessed.” She doesn’t care that He is an Israelite. She doesn’t know what He’s going to do. She just knows that she’s stuck, and that her daughter has the worst thing imaginable happening to her. Her daughter is possessed by a demon. This is hard for our 21st century way of thinking. When we see a child that hasn’t been baptized, that doesn’t go to church, and has major problems, it would never occur to us that something sinister was happening. We would simply assume that it was an attitude problem, or maybe some sort of problem with improper medication. But in this Canaanite woman’s case, there is no question. Her daughter does not have faith. Her daughter is possessed by the devil.

For this woman, there was little hope outside of Jesus. A Gentile, a woman, with a possessed daughter, it could hardly be worse. So she goes to the only one who could possibly help her. His answer, though, is hardly a ringing endorsement of her faith. The text says that He answered her not a word. There are few things more frustrating than being ignored. No one likes that. It’s insulting. It shows a callous disregard for someone else’s feelings. It’s one thing to get mad at someone, but it is another to ignore them. It is as if you are saying that they aren’t worth the trouble. He’s ignoring her; but she’s not going away. She won’t be deterred. Like Jacob who wrestled with the Lord, she comes and worships Him and says, “Lord, help me!” Notice what she didn’t say. She didn’t say, heal my daughter. She didn’t say, make my life perfect. She simply said, “Lord, help me!” My brothers and sisters in Christ, that is great faith. Her faith was great because Jesus is great. She knew that Jesus would give her what she needed. Maybe that would be healing her daughter. Maybe that would mean giving her the faith to continue to take care of her daughter. Whatever it meant, she believed that Jesus would supply it.

But even then Jesus doesn’t give her what she clearly wants and needs. His insults continue. “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” So she’s a foreigner and an outsider, and now Jesus calls her a dog! For most of us, if God were to respond this way, we would simply give up and go home. But this woman of great faith knows better. For now she has Jesus trapped in his own words. He has called her a dog; so be it. She will be a dog. She then says to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” She had Him. She knew that she was a part of God’s household of faith. She believed that God was slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. She clung to Jesus’ word of promise in the face of what appeared to be certain failure.

Finally, Jesus reveals what He wanted to reveal from the very beginning. “O woman,” He said, “great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. You see, God’s ways are not your ways. It might have seemed that Jesus was being cruel to this hurting woman. What Jesus saw, though, was a faith so great that it had to be revealed to the world. So even though it looked cruel on the outside, all Jesus did was remove any filth from around the gold. He cast everything else aside, so that all that was left was this woman’s trust that Jesus would keep His Word, no matter what.

God does not abandon you. It may appear as though things are as bad as they can get. It may look like God wants to rip you to shreds and leave you bleeding on the floor. But it’s not true. God was with her all along. If there are trials and tribulations in your life, God will use them so that your trust in Him may grow, and so that others around you will be able to learn how to trust in God above all things. This is what worship is all about. Sometimes, worship is exciting and wonderful. You sing a certain hymn, or something from a reading or the sermon hits you just right. But there are the other times. There are times when you leave more frustrated than when you came. You can’t base God’s presence on your surface experience. You may feel frustrated, or bored, or excited, or distracted. But the reality is that God is in your midst. Jesus comes to you to forgive you your sins. He comes to comfort you with the Gospel. He comes to feed you—not with mere crumbs, but with His very body and blood. That isn’t just experience; that is reality. As our confessions say, the chief worship of God is the desire to hear the Gospel: Jesus died bearing your sins, and He rose so that you would have life in His name. Join your voice to the voice of the Canaanite woman this Lent. Cry out to God, “Lord, help me!” Cry out in prayer and the boldness of faith, for He will not disappoint you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sermon for 3/16/11--LENT I MIDWEEK: “Witnesses on the Road to Golgotha”

This year at St. Peter our Lenten midweek services will look at Jesus’ journey to the cross from the eyes of those who witnessed and participated in those events. Their testimony concerning Jesus, His identity, and His work—testimony sometimes given against the will of those who testified—speaks a profound word concerning the salvation Christ died to win for us.

Caiaphas: “One Man Should Die for the People

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead. What greater sign could the world expect to see that would give testimony that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah, the one promised by God to Adam and Eve who would crush the head of the serpent? Our text tells us that many who had seen what Jesus had done believed in Him. That’s exactly as it should have been, for only by the power of God which was His own to command could Jesus have raised Lazarus from the dead. But there were some witnesses who were not as impressed with Jesus or His power. They went to the Pharisees with their eyewitness account of the raising of Lazarus, and this caused a stir. Jesus was becoming a problem for these men. The people were seeing the signs and wonders Jesus performed, and they were believing in Him. They feared the loss of their influence. They feared the loss of their positions. And they feared their Roman overlords and their reaction to this Jesus and his influence over the people. After all, the crowds might acclaim Jesus as their king, and their Romans would surely see such a figure as a threat to their power and could use that as an excuse to destroy Jerusalem and, indeed, the whole nation of Israel. That could not be allowed to happen! They could not help but acknowledge that Jesus had the power and authority to do what He did, but they hardened their hearts against what that power and authority meant. Acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah did not serve their selfish purposes, and so they did not let themselves accept the truth.

Caiaphas was the high priest that year, and as he listened to the council he grew more and more perturbed. The council was missing the most convenient solution. Finally he lashed out. Speaking with all his authority as high priest, he said, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” Caiaphas candidly raised the possibility of the officially-sanctioned, cold-blooded murder of Jesus. He buried it under the passive word “die”, softening the harshness of his suggestion. Nevertheless he asserted that, since Jesus was the one ultimately responsible for their unrest, since Jesus was the one causing their problems, this Jesus should be killed—and killed quickly—so that Israel would be spared. This was the most obvious, most practical solution to their Jesus problem. In doing so they would rid themselves of this meddlesome Jesus; their authority as the religious leaders would be secured; and they would prove their loyalty to their Roman governor.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Caiaphas was right, but he was right for all the wrong reasons. The evangelist wrote, “He did not say this on his own authority.” He was high priest; and even though he was speaking selfishly in suggesting and authorizing this action with evil intent in his heart, as high priest his words had God-given authority behind them. This hateful and evil saying was actually a prophecy from God, a prophecy not only concerning the nation of Israel but also for all those who would believe in Jesus who were dispersed among all the nations of the world. He was speaking a prophecy that the sacrifice of Jesus would benefit both Jew and Gentile, all those who believed in the Christ. That should have meant something to Caiaphas. As high priest he should have been the first to rise up and give welcome to the promised Messiah, greeting Jesus as the fulfillment of everything a high priest of the Old Testament covenant was supposed to want. But Caiaphas was only interested in his own authority, his own idea of what was good for the people of God.

How do you receive the Messiah? How do you respond to His Word? You have heard the eyewitness accounts of John the Evangelist who recorded the Word and the signs and wonders of Jesus. The Church in our day still has those who, like Caiaphas and the council, hear the Word and receive the first-hand testimony from eyewitnesses like Matthew and Jon and Paul, but they disregard that testimony for their own wisdom. This is the promised Messiah, the One who crushed the head of the satanic serpent; but it’s so much easier to believe that your own works and your own desires are best. It’s so much easier to believe that you can do something to earn your salvation. It would be so much simpler if you could control your own salvation. The will of God becomes a dreadful thing, as if submitting to God’s will means that you will suffer merely for the sake of suffering.

But God has something different in mind—for Caiaphas and for you. You may remember the account of Joseph: how his brothers sold him into slavery. When everything was resolved, Joseph told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people.” In the same way, Caiaphas meant evil for Jesus. Indeed, the Father allowed the high priest’s evil plan to succeed. But instead of delivering the council from the Romans by eliminating a popular teacher and miracle worker, the sacrifice of Jesus atones for the sins of all people, delivering you and all the faithful from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

It is expedient that one Man should die for the people. That one Man, Jesus Christ, died as the Lamb of God, the blood offering that ended the world’s need for a high priest to offer sacrifices for the people. Caiaphas got what he wanted, but he lost everything that mattered to him. He lost his authority and position, for Jesus now is the one true High Priest. He is the High Priest and the Sacrificial Offering all in one. The Temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed; but the new Israel, the Holy Christian Church, is alive. It lives, for one Man—our Lord Jesus Christ—died for all people. And because He raised you up with Himself through Holy Baptism, you who live and believe in Him will never die. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

And the hymn that goes with it:

As Strode the Christ to Cross and Grave

1. As strode the Christ to cross and grave,
To bear all men’s transgression,
Men saw His mighty pow’r to save
And of Him made confession.
Hail, Jesus, David's greater Son,
Who, in His love, heals everyone,
Delivering God's mercy.

2. "'Tis better that one man should die
Than die our holy nation."
When Caiaphas these words did cry,
He prophesied salvation.
Though speaking as Christ's enemy,
Unknowing, he spoke faithfully.
Christ died to save all people.

6. "Truly this man was God's own Son,"
The soldiers said in wonder,
As death's fierce power was undone,
The veil now torn asunder.
May we, with those who saw, believe
The saving work which Christ achieved
For us and our salvation.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Liturgical Karaoke and Snobbery

I love music. The highlight of my secular week so far was Neil Diamond's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Yes, I realize a number of my readers will want to tune out after reading that, and more of you might feel that way after hearing that I've participated in a letter-writing campaign to get "Weird Al" Yankovic likewise inducted. Just hang in there.) I have over a thousand CDs, a packed iPod, and favored artists too numerous to conveniently list here, covering the gamut of genres and styles.

I will also admit to being a bit of a snob when it comes to the music used in the Divine Service. I do listen to some contemporary Christian music, but I am firmly convinced that what you experience in the Divine Service should sound and feel different than what the world promotes the rest of the week. On the other hand, I'm not such a snob that I believe the organ is the only appropriate instrument for the Divine Service.

All that being said . . .

I am the pastor of a fairly small rural parish. We have one organist. For as much as I love music, I can't play any instrument. My wife hasn't played her flute in . . . decades. My members don't play. And we could always sing a capella when we have to, I suppose, but we are not a bunch of bold singers. Accompaniment makes a big difference.

A while back I bought myself a copy of The Concordia Organist, a set of over 30 CDs of the music for the hymns and liturgy for the new LCMS hymnal Lutheran Service Book. It is my own personal copy. I use it for personal and family devotions, for teaching hymns to my children and Catechism students, for quiet "occasional music" in my study, and even for my burgeoning hobby of writing hymn texts. It is a valuable resource for my home and church life.

But I have also used it when our organist has been unable to play. (I did the same in previous parishes with "Every Voice a Song", the 9 CD set that CPH produced before "The Concordia Organist". I have since donated that first set to an Army chaplain to use as needed, and I would encourage you to do the same if you have such a superfluous resource.) I would always prefer to have a live musician even if it's not on the organ. That is not always an option. It is, for my congregation, a temporary aid, not a permanent solution. We will be using it for the hymns this evening and speaking the liturgy of Evening Prayer.

Some call the use of such a product "liturgical karaoke", suggesting that such recorded accompaniment is an affront to all things holy. "Find another solution." "Be creative." "The organ is not the only instrument a congregation can use." "Sing a capella." I'm amused (read that through the eyes of the Eighth Commandment, please) with those convinced of the ease of finding alternatives. Let me reiterate: We don't have a lot of resources here. This is not a large congregation in the big city. It's not even a medium-sized congregation in the suburbs. This is a small rural parish in an isolated area--or so I would say. Then again, I'm from the "big city". My congregation might disagree with me. Anyway, we don't have a lot of options. Even with an organist, I sing as loud as I can so the congregation has one fairly-confident voice to follow. We have a surprisingly large amount of churches in this area, and the musical talent is spread pretty thin.

You have a flautist and a guitarist on Sunday? Good for you, and thank God for that. You're able to pay other instrumentalists in addition to a full-time organist/Kantor? Blessed are you. We don't have access to those things. We tried a choir here. We had three people show up--and two of them were me and the organist. I don't hold that against my congregation; they serve in so many ways. But while they love hymns and music, they're not bold singers. I'm not, either, though I pretend to be. For a congregation like mine, "The Concordia Organist" is a great blessing when our organist is unable to play. And if it was "The Concordia Pianist" or "The Concordia Flautist", I'd feel the same way.

Call it "Liturgical karaoke" if you must. But let it be known that I consider that musical and liturgical snobbery of the highest order, and I probably won't invite you to fill in here when the organist is away. *wink*

Sunday, March 13, 2011

HYMN: Lead Us Not Into Temptation

In my handy dandy notebook (thank you, Blue's Clues) I've made notes about a number of Scripture texts for which I would like to write hymns. One that's been on the back burner for a long time is the Gospel appointed for Invocavit--the First Sunday in Lent: Matthew 4:1-11. (That's today, by the way.) On Friday a verse popped into my head. Unfortunately, it was the last verse. That's not usually how I write. I'm a front-to-back kind of person, and I'm a bit OCD about it (and about a lot of things, actually). I spent about 4 hours yesterday trying to work out the rest of it. Here's what I came up with: mostly Matthew 4 and Luke 4 with a little Genesis 3 and a hefty dose of commentary built in--not to mention the Sixth Petition of the Lord's Prayer or a head-nod to Luther.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

1. Lead us not into temptation,
Loving Father, God of grace.
Satan seeks our soul's destruction.
Weak, our flesh would fear Your face.
Devils all the would would fill,
Coaxing us to hate Your will.
Temper us with ev'ry testing.
Thus refined, grant us Your blessing.

2. Lead us not into temptation
As the Spirit led Your Son.
Let Christ's blood be compensation
For the evil we have done.
Let Your mercy overflow
On Your children here below.
Grant that we would trust You solely
That our yearnings may be holy.

3. Lead us not into temptation.
Jesus, tempted in our place
Through His holy incarnation,
Gave the vict'ry to our race--
Trusting God for daily bread,
Living on Your Word instead,
Testing not His holy Father,
Serving Him and not another.

4. Lead us not into temptation
For the sake of Jesus Christ
Who, for us and our salvation,
Faced temptation and sufficed.
Through the water and the Word,
By His body and His blood,
Blunt the power of the devil
And deliver us from evil.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
87 87 77 88
Tune: DER AM KREUZ (LSB 421)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sermon for 3/13/11--Invocavit: First Sunday in Lent

Spiritual Warfare

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

When the disciples asked the Lord to teach them to pray, among the things He told them to pray to the Father was, “And lead us not into temptation.” It might seem strange, then, that before Jesus taught this petition to the disciples, He Himself was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to face the temptations of the devil. Our text tells us that, immediately after His baptism in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness, where He fasted forty days and forty nights. It was then, when Jesus was at His weakest, that the old evil foe brought his assault against the Lord. The obvious temptation came first. Of course Jesus would be hungry after forty days without food. When that failed, the devil tempted Jesus to prove God’s goodness and protection. And finally, when that didn’t work, Satan went for the most outrageous temptation: offering to give to Jesus what already belonged to God if only Jesus would worship the devil instead of honoring the Father. The ministry of Christ was a time of constant temptation. “You don’t have to trust the Father, Jesus, if only You provide Your own food.” “You don’t have to go to the cross, Jesus, if only You’ll become an earthly king instead of a heavenly king.” “Save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross. We will believe you then.” Even to the moment of His death, Jesus faced every temptation that the devil could devise to draw Him away from His work of redemption on the cross.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the devil would turn His attention from the incorruptible Jesus to those against whom he has already found success: the children of Adam. He doesn’t even need to change his tactics. He finds you in your weakest moments. Are you hungry? Satan will place before you someone holding a loaf of bread, and all you have to do is take it from them. Are you alone? Satan will tantalize you with the lust of the flesh. Have you earned great wealth? The devil will place before you the temptation to use it in godless ways. Are you struggling with a sin you already committed? Satan will lead you to believe that forgiveness is only for someone else, that there is not enough forgiveness in the world to cover whatever sin it is that troubles you. It should come as no surprise to you that Satan desires to lead you astray. Satan does not need to tempt the faithless, for the faithless already belong to him. And He has never been able to draw the Lord into sin. So he goes after the children of God. He wants those who belong to God—and he will find you when your resistance is at its lowest and offer you the desires of your heart.

The Lord does not lead you into temptation. However, He does allow you to be tempted. He allows you to be tested. God is not absent in the midst of these temptations, either. He knows what Satan has put before you. And He allows it to continue all the same. What kind of God would allow His children to face temptation? That’s exactly the question the devil would have you ask, for he would have you question the goodness and mercy of God. But if you must have the question answered, then look to Scripture. The Lord says through the prophet Malachi, “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness.” You must be prepared to face temptation, for God uses the devil’s snares like a cleansing fire, burning away the impurities within you so that you may be found holy and blameless in His sight. But as you learned on Ash Wednesday, Satan would offer you earthly treasures that would rust and fade and turn to dust; and left to your own devices, ignoring the Word and promises of God like Adam and Eve in the Garden, you give in, partaking of that forbidden fruit.

The old Adam within you submits to the temptations set before you. But that is not the last word in the matter. Through Holy Baptism you now have Christ within you; and Christ in you, the new Adam, resists all temptation. Satan is powerless before our Lord. Jesus faced the temptations which the devil set before Him—not so that you would have an example of righteousness in your battle against temptation, but rather to win the battle against temptation on your behalf. Jesus knew the weak and sinful nature of human flesh, for He took that flesh upon Himself. And knowing that the flesh is weak, no matter how willing the spirit, He defeated the desire for the sinful acquisition of daily bread, the lusts of the flesh, the hunger for power, and every other temptation that would lead you away from the Word and promises of God. In Holy Baptism He placed His perfect obedience upon you to shelter you from Satan’s snares and to grant you His holiness before the Father in heaven. Christ within you cannot help but be victorious over the devil and the temptations he would set before you, for Christ has already won that victory in His perfect obedience, even to His death on the cross.

When you face temptation, that is not the time to hide from God and His gifts, as if you do not deserve them. In fact, it’s when you’re struggling against temptation that you most need the strengthening of your faith and the forgiveness of sins you receive in the Lord’s Supper. He gives you His Word in the preaching you hear and in the body and blood which you eat and drink—the same Word He spoke to defeat Satan and his lies and temptations. He died to give these gifts to you. Consume the Word of God, and be satisfied by it. Rely on this Word in the midst of temptation to strengthen and preserve you. No matter what temptations you face, no matter how persuasive the forked tongue of the devil may be, you have the Word of God, the Word by which you overcome. “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.

In this Lenten season, do not be afraid of the devil’s snares. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow Christ as He makes His way to the cross He bore on your behalf. Our Lord Jesus Christ has overcome the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh; and His righteousness is your righteousness. Our Father will never lead you into temptation—for the sake of Jesus Christ, who was led into temptation for you and who overcame for you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

News Flash

Jesus has accepted me as His own personal sinner and has moved into my heart despite my vehement protests.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Sermon for 3/9/11--Ash Wednesday

Ashes and Dust

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Since our commemoration of the Transfiguration of Jesus, you have heard a lot about our Lord’s passage from the mount of the Transfiguration to the mountain of the cross. That will not change throughout these forty days, for we will continue to focus on our Lord Jesus Christ and His relentless journey. But this evening we pause to consider our own trek to the cross.

Though we do not participate in the imposition of ashes here, think for a moment about the words which pastors speak as they make the sign of the cross in ashes on the foreheads of those who come forward: Remember, thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return. Look around you at your brothers and sisters in Christ. Look at yourself. When you get home, look at your house, your clothes, your possessions. Understand this: everything that you love, everyone that you love, everything that is a treasure to you is going to end up in ashes and dust. Your prize quilt collection. Your mp3 player. Your computer. Even your spouse and children. Ashes and dust. That's why Jesus says not to store up these treasures on earth—because that's how they end up. They are great while they’ve lasted. But in the end, just like us, they turn to dust and ashes.

When you were baptized, you were marked with the sign of the holy cross on your forehead and upon your heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. Your baptism is God's own promise to you that because His Son was covered in your sins, you have a treasure that does not turn to ashes. What is that treasure? Forgiveness of your sins and eternal life! That water and word that was put on you is what rescues you from being ashes. Of course, unless our Lord returns first, you'll get put in the ground the same as everyone else who has gone before; but your baptism is the Lord's promise that because Christ has conquered sin and death and risen again, you will be raised up on the Last Day.

The reason that Lent focuses so much on the suffering and death of Jesus is so that we poor sinners learn what our true treasure is. We preach the cross—and Christ on that cross—for on the cross Jesus suffered and died to rescue us from all those things that we love so much. It’s not that they aren't our gifts to enjoy, but we always want to love them more than the Lord and His Word. The reason that fasting and alms giving and prayer are the traditional works of Lent is not because we need to be taught that our money and our toys are necessarily bad, but because we need to learn that our money and our toys are not the true treasure. They are not the most important things our heavenly Father has for us. Rather, the treasure in heaven, the treasure that does not turn to ashes, is Christ Himself and His salvation. Jesus can't ever turn to ashes. Ashes are the reminder of death. But when Christ died for our sins, He did not turn to dust; instead He rose the third day and threw down sin, death, the devil and hell. He threw down those enemies that make us into ashes! He threw down their power to keep us forever as piles of dust! By His rising from the dead, Christ shows that He is a treasure that doesn't get stolen or eaten by moths or that rusts away or rots into dust and ashes. He is our everlasting and ever living Savior who brings us with Him by His Word to the realms of glory and eternal life!

You don’t have to do so, but if you so desire, it's okay to give something up for Lent. But do it for the right reason. Do it because you're reminding yourself that such a thing is not true treasure, that it won't last forever. But more than that, the real way to celebrate Lent is to have more Jesus. Take advantage of the extra opportunities to hear the Word. Take advantage of the opportunities to confess your sins and receive Holy Absolution. Take advantage of the opportunities you are given to receive the body and blood of Christ. Through these gifts our Lord Jesus Christ piles up for you riches that you cannot imagine!

Though you do not bear a cross of ashes upon your forehead today, you still bear on your forehead and heart the cross of Christ, put upon you at the font of Holy Baptism, which rescues you from a future of ashes and gives you the promise of a future of life in Christ. By His cross your sins are forgiven. By His cross you store up for yourself the true treasure in heaven that will not fade, rust, or turn to ashes and dust. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Friday, March 04, 2011

HYMN: Faithful Shepherd, All Providing

After a two-month dry spell, two hymns in a week? It might be more impressive if this one had better flow. For some reason I've always hesitated to tackle Psalm 23--there are some topics that I've always felt it would be presumptuous for me to approach as a fledgling writer--but last night in the space of about 45 minutes, this simple paraphrase jumped out of me. Perhaps the haste is a message I shouldn't overlook. Nevertheless, here we go.

Faithful Shepherd, All Providing

1. Faithful Shepherd, all providing,
By the placid waters guiding
To green pastures for my rest.
He restores my soul; He feeds me
And in holiness He leads me
By His name, forever blest.

2. Though through death's dark vale I wander,
Though Satanic foes may thunder,
Yet no evil will I fear.
With the rod by which He pries me
Endless comfort He supplies me.
Christ my Shepherd guards me here.

3. Though my enemies surround me,
With His table He astounds me.
His abundant gifts provide.
All my life His grace avails me.
Lo, His mercy never fails me.
With Him ever I abide.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
887 887

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Sermon for 3/6/11--Quinquagesima (LSB 1-year)

Stopping Jesus

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem, and He knows what awaits Him at the end of the journey. He tells the disciples, “All things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” This is a deliberate, relentless journey. It seems that nothing—not even the lack of understanding from the Twelve—can keep Jesus away from Jerusalem and the cross. Nothing in the world can stop Him . . . but on the outskirts of Jericho, He pauses. What is it that brings Jesus to pause here? It certainly is not the disciples. It seems like they’re constantly trying to thwart Jesus. Pretty much every time He tells them why He must go to Jerusalem, they try to hold Him back; but He won’t let even Peter break His stride. Two things bring Jesus to stop here. First, it takes a bold cry of faith for Jesus to stop, and the blind man on the outskirts of Jericho makes such a cry. He said, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And though Jesus would not stop for the sake of the disciples, He paused for the faith of this blind man and His bold cry of faith. He paused. He heard the confession of faith and the request. And He restored the man’s sight.

The temptation is to compare the lack of understanding of the disciples to the bold faith of the blind man. These were men who, by this time, had spent three years with Jesus, listening to His teachings, watching Him heal the sick and even raise the dead. Why could they not understand the teachings that they heard so frequently? Even a blind man could see that Jesus was the Messiah! Why couldn’t they? It’s all too easy to accuse and mock the disciples; but the truth is, it’s not that the Twelve were inattentive or stupid. Luke tells us, “This saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.” Like Pharaoh whose heart had been hardened against the Word of God which Moses spoke, the Holy Spirit did not allow the disciples to understand the teaching of Jesus that He had to suffer and die. It would not be until after Jesus had risen from the dead, when He breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit, that they understood the reason that Jesus had to suffer at the hands of sinful men and be put to death and on the third day rise again. The disciples were not allowed to see; they were blinded to the truth.

So what’s your excuse? At least when it comes to the disciples, understanding and faith were prevented for a time. But we have the clear teachings of Scripture in front of us, delivered to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the evangelists and the epistle writers. There is no hindrance from the Spirit. You received the Holy Spirit in the waters of Holy Baptism. So why is it that the cross of Christ remains a stumbling block to you? Why is it that the Word of God seems so foreign? King Solomon the wise tells us, “Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, and so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil.” Do you know better than God what is profitable for your salvation? Do you know better than God what is detrimental to your spiritual health? Of course not. But it seems all to easy to rely on your own wisdom and strength, even knowing that, as the hymn says, “The arm of flesh will fail you; Ye dare not trust your own.” Your wisdom and strength will not bring Jesus to a stop, either; your strength is nothing when it comes to your sins and your faith.

But that brings us to the second thing that brings Jesus to a stop, and that is His great love. The love that brings Him to a halt to heal the blind man is the same love that takes Jesus on His relentless journey to the cross. You see, the purpose in stopping is the same purpose that has Jesus on the road to Jerusalem in the first place. Look at what Jesus says to the blind man: “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” We are told by Paul that the wages of sin is death. On the outskirts of Jericho, by opening the eyes of the blind man, Jesus undoes one aspect of those wages of sin. By the same token, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, in dying on the cross, Jesus pays the wages of sin for all mankind, bringing to an end the power that sin and death once had over you. What great love that is—exactly the kind of love Paul describes in the epistle. Listen to what Paul describes about the love of Jesus for you: “Love suffers long and is kind. . . . Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Does that not describe the love which Christ displays here—the kindness of Christ in healing the blind man; the longsuffering of Christ in the patience He displays with His disciples and with us; bearing all your sins on the cross; enduring the pain and suffering and scorn which you deserve.

And more than that, like He eventually does with the disciples after the resurrection, He bestows on you His Holy Spirit in the waters of Holy Baptism, that you may believe all that the disciples with their opened eyes and minds teach you through their eye-witness accounts; and in Holy Baptism we are given faith which clings boldly to the promises of God, the promise to deliver us, the promise to forgive us, the promise of eternal life. He gives us the faith which allows us to cry out boldly to Him. Indeed, we will repeat that bold cry of faith which the blind man made as we being our prayers this morning—“Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy”—not in doubt of God’s goodness, but boldly, in faith, knowing that He will hear our prayers and answer them, even as He answered the prayer of the blind man.

The Lord is gracious and loving, and He demonstrated His grace and love both in His journey to Jerusalem for all people and by His pause on the journey to heal the blind man. Do not doubt for a minute that He pauses for you, as well. Cry out to Him in boldness of faith, for He will stop, He will hear, and He will answer in the way that serves you best. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.