First Sunday in Lent – Matthew 4:1-11

To get a sense of what is happening to our Lord in Matthew chapter four, and to apply Christ’s antidote to temptation to ourselves today, let’s see how Paul prepares Timothy for ministry in Second Timothy chapter three.

Understand this, Paul begins, in the last days there will come times of difficulty. If you’re looking for a specific time, that time is now. It was now even at the time Paul wrote these words to Timothy. The last days begin when Jesus is raised from the dead and ascends to His Father in heaven. The more the Gospel is preached to the world, the more the world throws everything and the kitchen sink at Christians. Indeed, Paul continues, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

You and I haven’t really suffered persecution like Paul and Timothy suffered persecution, not to say anything about Christians in certain portions of Asia and Africa today. Being called a “Christer” by people or suffering name-calling on social media isn’t true persecution. Nevertheless, it is a form of temptation. No one likes to be called names. It is true that “sticks and stones may break my bones by talk don’t bother me”, but when so many people talk the same way for a long time, you begin to wonder if there’s something to their words.

There is temptation to equate everything that the Grand Old Party does with being pleasing to God, just as there is temptation to equate everything the Democratic Party does as being anti-Christian. That is painting with a broad brush because members of both political parties are among those redeemed by Christ the crucified. It is also a means of temptation by the devil for you to believe it, just as it was a means of temptation for Satan to tell Jesus, All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.

The pleasure and glory of the world is bait with which the devil deceives and catches us. He has caught many Christians with it. The glory of the world glistens and tinkles so beautifully and lovely as if everything would be just fine if we could have control of everything at our disposal. How quickly we forget that the world is in a sorry state. The devil is the prince of this world. The entire world’s beauty is the devil’s pomp and pride. You serve the world, you serve the devil. You serve the devil, you don’t serve God. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

If the devil doesn’t get you there, he will dare you to do something you ought not to do. He will tell you God cares about you, but in the wrong way. That’s how He tries to trick Jesus. Throw Yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple! His angels will catch you. That’s what Psalm 91 says, right? Almost, Satan, but not quite. God does not promise that He will protect and preserve me and let me succeed if I dare something without need and without His command. I stay on the way the Lord has prepared for me and not play fast and loose with His kindness, faithfulness, and help.

One of the ways this happens is for us to set up our own self-chosen devotion and piety. For example, we shun baptism because it uses a created thing, water, to bestow heavenly things: forgiveness of sins and a new life in Christ Jesus. We think that God hates created things and would rather we focus on spiritual things. Even though Holy Scripture says baptism is a good thing, we interpret it the wrong way and make something good into something evil because we don’t like how God set it up in His kingdom.

Working backwards, we come to the first temptation of Jesus. Satan baits us like he baits our Lord. He makes us think God doesn’t care for us even though Holy Scripture is full of our Father in heaven providing good things for His children when they are in need. Satan starts in with making you doubt you are God’s child. Can’t you help yourself? Can’t Jesus show Himself in your home and zap some bread on your table? What use is all this faith and prayer? The more you bless God, the more He curses you, so keep on blessing God and die!

There’s an antidote to all these temptations. Here’s how Paul explains it to Timothy: continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from infancy you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The way through temptation is to trust what God has written in His Word. When you understand the crafty language of the devil, and he knows how to misuse the Bible more than you know how properly to use the Bible, when you have ripped away the pious mask from the devil’s face, you have already won the victory. Satan talks a good game, but his words are all mist and vapor. He mutilates the Scriptures, tears them out of context, misapplies it, invalidates God’s promises and turns it all to ruin.

Jesus says to Satan over and over: It is written. Cling to what Scripture says about God’s promises to you. That’s the only weapon you have to fight the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature. You live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. When you walk in the way of trusting God above all things, He will protect and guide you on the path of life through the valley of the shadow of death. Trust that there is only one way, truth, and life for you: Jesus Christ, the Righteous One Who overcomes Satan’s temptations for you.

You will forget the way out of temptation. You will succumb to the devil’s lies. Jesus held fast against Satan for you. Jesus holds the field forever. Jesus is Your Champion. He is complete, equipped for every good work. In His completion you find your completion. In His goodness you find your goodness. In His obedience to His Father you find your obedience to your heavenly Father. Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed. He who stands firm to the end shall be saved. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Quinquagesima – Luke 18:31-43

The season of Lent is an eye-opener. Like bath soap commercials of long ago, the season hits us like a whiff of Irish Spring. Lent is a dose of reality. Lent is the best way to prepare for the Resurrection of our Lord. You come face-to-face with your sins. You also come face-to-face with your crucified Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s time to open your eyes, take off the mask that hides the real you from others, and see your sin so that you see God’s grace and mercy all the more.

The disciples weren’t ready for what Jesus told them would happen. Today’s account in Luke chapter eighteen is at least the third time Jesus says everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. Elsewhere in the Gospels, Peter takes Jesus aside and tells Him to knock it off with the nonsense about suffering, death, and resurrection. Jesus’ response is brisk: Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

The disciples’ collective mind remains focused on things below when they should be looking up. You wouldn’t want to look up when you hear Jesus will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise. That’s the way it must be, for the prophets have proclaimed the Word of the Father. Someone will take the blame for the sins of the world. That Someone is Jesus, the very Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds.

It takes a blind man to point this out to the disciples, to you, and to me. The blind man, not being able to see, perfectly sees everything. How is this so? He sees not with the eyes of man but with the eyes of faith. Seeing with the eyes of faith is a gift of God. You know something is up with the blind man when he starts in with Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. This cry was after he was told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. Notice the shift in what Jesus is called. The crowd says Jesus of Nazareth. Eyes that do not see by faith know that Jesus is a man from the Galilean town of Nazareth. The blind man, however, sees something that many in the crowd, even the disciples, cannot see. He sees that Jesus is more than a man from up north. He sees Jesus as the One Who is to come. He need not look for another even though he can’t look for him with his own eyes.

Lent is the time to ask yourself, “What do I see when I see Jesus?” This year you will see Jesus as Warrior, our Champion on the battlefield between good and evil. This is the picture of our Savior Martin Luther gives us when we sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”. When you think of a warrior, you think of chainmail, armor, and weapons. This Warrior, however, comes with no other weapon than the Word of God, as you’ll hear, Lord willing, next weekend. He comes not with implements of destruction. Jesus comes with the Word, toppling all our enemies by suffering.

Warriors do not suffer. This Warrior, Jesus Christ, suffers. He suffers for you. He suffers so that your suffering becomes a light momentary affliction. For the blind man, his light momentary affliction is about to disappear. Jesus stands still when He hears this man call out not merely His name, but His title, Son of David. That’s as good as calling Him Messiah. The crowds tell the blind man to be quiet, but he can’t stop telling the truth.

What do you want me to do for you? That’s the question Jesus asks every season of the Church Year. The answer to His question for us is the same as the blind man’s answer: Lord, let me recover my sight. Let me see You. Let me see You come to me in Your holy Word. Let me hear your Word of forgiveness penetrate my ears and soothe my conscience. Let me see Your gifts at work in Your house. Restore to me to the joy of Your salvation every time I walk past that font and walk to this altar for Your Supper. Let me see You open my eyes when I open my Bible and read Your saving acts. Let me see You save your people over and over again. Let me see myself in these people and believe that You saved me just as You saved them. Break my darkness with the Light of Your mercy.

Recover your sight. Your faith has made you well. Jesus opens your eyes to see your salvation. It won’t be easy to see Him suffer and die for your sins. You’ll want to run away like most of His disciples. You’ll want to skip the hard parts and go straight to the resurrection. Don’t be afraid. Jesus is your Champion. He holds the field forever. Though His strife begins anew, the ultimate strife between death and life is over. The battle is won. Jesus is the Victor over Satan. The Prince of Life Who died reigns immortal for you.

Sexagesima – Luke 8:4-15

We often hear this parable called the parable of the sower, putting the emphasis on the one sowing. Sometimes you might even call it the parable of the seed, because Jesus says the seed is the Word of God. The main focus of the parable, however, is the soil that receives the seed. There are four different kinds of soil that Jesus describes. The easy thing for many preachers is to try to let you figure out what type of soil you are. Jesus doesn’t do that in this parable. He tells the story and leaves you hanging with He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Come on, Jesus! Tell me what kind of soil I am! If you tell me, then I can fix the problem and make me better soil. That’s not the point of the parable. The point of the parable is simply to show you and me that there are four types of hearers of the Word. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Four different groups of people hear the Word. The great majority of mankind is and remains wicked and fruitless. The smallest portion believe and are converted.

Two hard things are said in this text. First of all, it is hard to believe that three out of four groups of hearers of the Word of God will bear no fruit. The first group Jesus talks about are those whose hearts are as hard as the path on which seed fell. They hear the Word, then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Jesus isn’t talking about crass atheists or persecutors of the Word here. He’s talking about the greatest part of mankind. The Word penetrates their ear…and goes right out the other ear. The seed tumbles through them and lands on the path. Nothing can take root on a path because so many feet have trod there.

The only thing that can happen to the seed that lands on the path is for birds to devour them. You might say the birds are messengers of Satan who snatch the Word away before there’s a chance for the seed to take root. So they turn to whatever makes their heart happy. They wander off into fables. They believe what is false in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. Nothing less than the Word of God saves because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Where there is no Word, there is no hope of salvation.

The second group of hearers are those who receive the Word with joy, but they do not persevere. Jesus says, these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of agonizing struggle fall away. Once they hear the Word, everything is good until it isn’t good. When the heat is on, they wither because the seed has no moisture.

As a pastor, I have seen this group of hearers so many times. The Word brings joy to a person’s life. Walking in the blessed hope of eternal life, he or she frequently receives preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. When hard times come, though, you don’t see this person very often. You may never see this person again. “Let me get my life back in order, Pastor, then I’ll be back in church. Believe me, I miss being there but I have to take care of a few things before I can come to church.”

There are times when that person does return and receives the Word. Many times, however, that doesn’t happen. The thinking prevails that church is only for people who have their act together. If your life is broken, and all our lives are broken by sin, then you need to fix your brokenness before you show up at the house of the Lord. You don’t dare let the seams show on your garment of incorruption that Jesus put on you at your baptism, or so you think. You must suffer in silence. You must not confess in public that you are a poor, miserable sinner. You musn’t go to church without a smile on your face.

Beloved, those are precisely the times when you enter the Lord’s gates with thanksgiving, even if you aren’t thankful. This house is for broken people; sinners only are welcome here. Sinners are also saints, for we are both 100-percent righteous and 100-percent sinful 100-percent of the time. The holy things are here for you. The preaching of the Gospel and the Body and Blood of Christ are your comfort and your strength this side of Paradise, and they are not exclusively for people who have their act together. Having a bad week? Jesus forgives you. Having a miserable marriage? Jesus forgives you and forgives your spouse. Your family is constantly fighting? Jesus forgives you and forgives them. Don’t hide from the Lord in your struggle. He restores the joy of His salvation for you in His house with His gifts.

Then there are those who hear and understand the Word, but still it falls on the other side of the road, among pleasures and cares of this life, so that these folks do nothing with the Word. The Word, for them, becomes a burden. Instead of seeing Jesus Christ and His forgiveness and life in every page of Scripture, all they see is one long farewell to fun.

You can empathize with this kind of hearers. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you forsake all fun and live a strict ascetic life, depriving yourself of every worldly possession and refusing to enjoy God’s temporal gifts that bring pleasure. It’s as if you’re thinking: “Hello Jesus, goodbye living the high life. Hello Jesus, gotta thump my Bible and tell others to follow the rules.” Christians hold things of this world with a light hand. You don’t place your trust in them to save you from everlasting death. Yet there are many who simply won’t see it that way. Cares and pleasures of this world choke off all cares of eternal life. They know what is good and true and beautiful, but wish it wasn’t there for the sake of enjoying this life right now.

Now that we’re at the last group of hearers, you can see why their numbers are few. It is not easy to receive the Word and hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. Often you get tripped up on bearing fruit with patience. The focus goes there more on holding the Word fast in an honest and good heart. When you hold the Word fast, fruit will be borne with patience. They go together.

As the Lord encourages you to hold on to His hand through this wilderness of life, so you encourage each other on this long walk in the direction of eternity. As others do good to you, so you do good to others. Yes, there will be much temptation and agonizing struggle. Yes, at times, you may drift from the Lord. The Lord, however, is patient. He will find you when you weren’t even looking for him. When He finds you, He will carry you home to be with your fellow believers in Jesus Christ. They, too, tend to stray. Yet even here we are, having ears to hear our Lord bless us, having mouths to praise His name and receive His Supper, having eyes to see His goodness, and having hands to love and serve our neighbor.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Amen, Lord. Yes, indeed, it shall be so.

Septuagesima – Matthew 20:1-16

The master of the house lays it all out in the last thing he says to the grumblers: do you begrudge my generosity? Other translations take what he says literally: is your eye evil because I am good? That’s putting a finer point on it. That’s also the heart of the matter in our Lord’s parable.

The heart of the matter is grace. In the bulletin is an insert that I’ve inserted for nearly a decade that gives you a basic understanding of grace. Why make such a hubbub about grace? Grace is so easily misunderstood that you can give away the heart of what it means to be a Christian if you misunderstand what is grace.

It’s like going to the master of the house and saying these last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat. Hey! How about a little something extra for the effort, Lord? Twelve hours of backbreaking work and all I get is the same thing that those who worked an hour in the cool of the early evening get?

They got what the master of the house says they were going to get. What’s wrong with that agreement? What’s wrong with it is we don’t like the agreement. We hate one-way love. The master of the house loves those who were hired so much that he’s willing to pay them for their work. They did nothing to stimulate the master of the house to hire them. They were hired.

It’s useless to read the master’s mind to see why he hired them. He hired them. Full stop. Other laborers were necessary in the task. So the master hired them. You’re given no reason why. He hired them. Full stop. At the end of the day all were paid what they were promised. Full stop. It would be a different story if the master refused to pay them. He paid them neither according to merit nor according to who they are. He paid them all the same, just as he promised. Full stop.

Perhaps Jesus is on to something when He uses a parable about laboring to demonstrate God’s love for sinners. We might consider the vineyard the world. We might consider the task at hand to be living in the world, serving God and our neighbor in our various callings. We might consider pay day to be Judgment Day. What matters most, however, is not what you do, how long you do it, or what you are paid. What matters most is God’s love for you as seen by the evil eye of Old Adam.

The evil eye of Old Adam cannot stand grace. It wants merit to count for something. Perhaps you work, or worked, for an organization that has or had a seniority list. The higher up your name, the more opportunities you had not only for better wages, but for scheduling time off and other perquisites. Low man on the totem pole has to work holidays, doesn’t get paid all that well, but has opportunities to move up the list if he works hard and perseveres. When you try to take that model into our Savior’s parable and make it fit, you’ll find it a square peg in a round hole. Everything is by grace in God’s kingdom. Nothing is by merit, thanks be to God.

If your salvation was by merit, you don’t qualify for anything except everlasting torment in the burning lake of fire that is hell. God will give you your just desserts if you believe you can work your way into eternal life. Try that out on someone who repents and believes in Jesus Christ in their last fleeting moments on earth. Oh, well, friend, you only believed in Jesus for four minutes. That’s not long enough to be welcomed into Paradise when compared to a veteran Christian of ninety or more years.

There’s not one of us who would be so foolish to believe that. But when you play the merit card before our Father in heaven, Who loves you and redeemed you from everlasting death through the blood and righteousness of His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, you tell your heavenly Father that Jesus really isn’t enough. For a Christian, either Jesus is everything or He is nothing. His love is one-way, from Him to you, or is no way. Your salvation neither starts with you nor ends with you. Your salvation is all God’s doing, all the time. You are the recipient of His favor for the sake of Jesus Christ.

How do you receive this grace, this one-way love? You receive it when it is proffered in the preaching of the Word. The ear hears the Good News sound in preaching and creates a living hope. This living hope draws you to the font, where your sins are washed away and you are united to Jesus Christ and all He has done for you. This living hope draws you to this altar and opens your mouth to receive Christ’s forgiveness and life in His very Body and Blood. Old Adam goes to these places kicking and screaming because he wants grace to be a joint proposition at best and a solo flight on your part at worst. The new man, however, loves the habitation of His house and the place where His glory dwells. This interior battle only ends when you die. Until then, there will always be a fight inside you over God’s grace.

Grace is receiving what you don’t deserve. We have a hard time dealing with that because we’ve been taught that receiving charity, a hand-out, is receiving something for nothing. But that’s what grace is all about. I recall another Lutheran pastor walking past our church building several years ago during the Gladiolus Festival. We were passing out free water bottles and he took one, looked me eye-to-eye, and said, “Ain’t it like a Lutheran to give something for nothing!” He’s right. The only correction I can make is to say, “Ain’t it like God to give His beloved children something for nothing!” Grace is God’s way, and it is good.

The Purification of Mary and The Presentation of Our Lord – Luke 2:22-32

In a time of instant gratification, there is still joy when you receive something for which you have waited a long time. Your patience is rewarded when the UPS, Fed Ex, or U.S. Postal Service truck pulls up in front of your home and delivers a package. Even now I stop and stare when a delivery truck is on Pine Street. More often than not, the delivery is for someone else but, still, I wonder if I am receiving something that was unexpected.

Unlike a surprise package or a package long-awaited, Simeon receives a package today that he has been expecting for many years. God’s chosen people have been waiting for this package for many centuries. The package is Messiah; the promised Son of David Who comes to set His people free. It had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. There’s a twofold blessing here. Not only is Simeon expecting Messiah, he is also expecting to die soon. We wouldn’t expect death to be a welcome visitor to our home, but Simeon is ready because God is ready. The opposite is true, too. Because God is ready to send His only-begotten Son to us, we are ready not only to die in Him, but also to live in Him both now and in eternity.

Saint Luke describes Simeon as righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. Simeon is whom Luke says he is not because of anything in Simeon. Simeon, like many of God’s chosen people, is righteous and devout because he hangs on a promise God made to his forefathers many years ago. When someone makes you a promise, you expect that promise to be fulfilled. Politicians are experts at making promises that are not often kept. Politicians aren’t the only ones, though. We make promises that we know we cannot keep. Try as we may, we will never perfectly fulfill every promise that we make.

God keeps His promise to Simeon and, on a larger scale, to both the Jews and even the Gentiles. Simeon tells us so when he sings that Jesus is a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people. Jesus is also the Light that shines in the heathen darkness for all the nations of the world. The One promised to be the consolation of Israel is also the consolation for Momence, Kankakee County, Illinois, the United States of America, and all the world.

Yet so many people do not see this 40-day-old Child as any consolation or Light. They see Him as a troublemaker at worst and a teacher of virtue and morality whose followers seem not to listen to Him at best. At both our Lord’s baptism and at His transfiguration, the voice of our Father in heaven declares Jesus to be His only-begotten Son. Then our Father says listen to Him. This means more than hearing Him speak. Listening to Jesus means to hearken to what He has to say, to perk up our ears and pay attention because our Savior has something to say.

This feast couldn’t come at a better time in the church calendar. We won’t sing Alleluia again until the evening of April 11th, when we will celebrate our Lord’s resurrection at the Easter Vigil. Two long months of waiting for that wonderful word of praise to God. While we wait, though, we still listen to Him speak to us in His Word. As we hearken to what He has to say, we hear Simeon’s words come to life in the life of Christ.

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word. Jesus Christ, the living Word, gives you peace as you live in His all-availing sacrifice upon the cross. Looking at this Child in Simeon’s arms, it’s hard to believe that this Baby will grow up to die. But that’s why God sent His only-begotten Son to us. Jesus dies for our sin. Jesus lives the perfect life, fulfilling the Law in our place so that His fulfillment is our fulfillment. All our sin is cast on Him, the spotless, innocent Lamb.

For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples. If the Lord were to take you to His closer presence today, you die in peace because you have seen your salvation. Granted you haven’t actually held Baby Jesus in your arms, but you have had Jesus’ righteousness, innocence, and blessedness poured on you in your baptism. You have His Body and Blood put in your mouth under bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. You have His word of forgiveness and life put in your ears in this sermon. You have seen the Lord’s salvation with the ears of faith. That doesn’t make sense, but it makes perfect sense. Hearing Jesus is seeing Jesus because Jesus is made present in Word, water, bread, and wine. Jesus is here, bringing you salvation in these lowly, holy things.

A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. We come full circle hearing that Baby Jesus is for both Jew and Gentile. Baby Jesus grows up to become Man Jesus, the God-Man Who is our warrior. He holds the field forever, as we sing in Martin Luther’s masterful hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”. Jesus fights for us. As He fights, we listen to the many battles He wins for our sake. As we listen, we believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He has accomplished all things for our salvation.

Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord. Jesus Christ fulfills this law today in our hearing. No longer do we offer a substitute for our first-born son. Jesus Christ, the first-born Son of God, the first-born from the dead, is our substitute. Those who believe in Him shall be called holy to the Lord. That’s you. That’s me. Holy to the Lord. There is no further waiting necessary because Jesus has accomplished it for you.

Silence Does Not Mean You’re An Idiot

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”. – James 1:19 ESV

I know many of us have vigorous political beliefs and Christian convictions, but so far as I know, this doesn’t nullify the Scriptures’ demand that we not slander or gossip or invent outrageous stories about whatever politician or religious thinker we dislike. And please, can we stop acting like God’s on our side, whatever our side happens to be? I suspect that God would be more liberal than the liberals and more conservative than the conservatives and would tell us all that we’re way out of line. We’re to do the best we can, in an imperfect world and with the limited wisdom we have—and we’re to assume that our neighbors are doing the best they can too. It would probably be prudent if we’d all pipe down. Maybe we could even offer a prayer to God to help us be good people and make good decisions when things get so dang confusing.

I think many of us find it difficult to just sit in our space, to be where we are, to make peace with the contradictions or uncertainties. Social media has given us the unfortunate opportunity to announce our opinions incessantly, to blurt out every passing reaction. But, God help us, we really don’t need to spill out every pebble that’s rolling around in our heads.

The deep places in our soul, the ambiguous terrain and those areas where we’re experiencing seismic shifts, require space and quiet for us to honor what’s happening in and to us. We need time to consider what our questions uncover and what our experiences mean—and what we are to do with all of this. We need enough distance to discern what is true for us and to discover what may prove in the end to merely be our year of indecision or funk, maybe our knuckle-headed detour.

With all this, I’m really preaching to myself—I know there have been times when I’ve leveraged my angst to say something edgy, to feel the satisfaction of being irreverent. I enjoy the thrill of gaining others’ attention…. And God knows I’m quick to offer my point of view when I think I’m right. But maybe we can step back from the microphone (me first of all) and let our opinions take a backseat to our friendships. Maybe we can actually live where we are instead of telling everyone where we are.

Winn Collier, Love Big, Be Well, pages 35-37

Saint Titus – Acts 20:28-35

The book of Acts is the Gospel according to Saint Luke, Part Two. Even though the book is called The Acts of the Apostles, it is a book about the Word of the Lord growing from Jerusalem through Judea and Samaria and into the entire world. The chief subject is Jesus Christ. The chief players are Peter and Paul, though Peter fades into the background about halfway through the book.

Acts chapter twenty finds Saint Paul about to leave Ephesus, where he concludes a missionary journey and makes haste to get back to Jerusalem in time for Pentecost. From Jerusalem the action rises as Paul allows himself to be arrested in order to witness the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Roman authorities. He uses his Roman citizenship to gain access ultimately to the eternal city of Rome itself, where the book ends as Paul is under house arrest.

Back to Ephesus, though, for this amazing scene on the beach. The book of Acts is a book that begs to be made into a movie. Close your eyes for a moment and picture this scene on the silver screen. There are a number of boats not far off the coast of Ephesus. Paul and his companions soon will board those boats as they make their way to Jerusalem. Paul knows that this journey back to Jerusalem and on to Rome may be the last journey of his life. He leaves Ephesus knowing he may never again see these partners in the Gospel. He asks the elders of the churches in Ephesus to join him for what looks like his farewell address.

All the elders with Saint Paul get down on their knees on the beach. The water laps over them on the beach as Paul speaks to them. Perhaps his voice is cracking from time to time with emotion. He loves these men who preach the Good News in Ephesus. They love him in return, for he has been their teacher and faithful friend. Tears freely flow. How will they go on without Paul visiting them from time to time for encouragement?

They will go on preaching the Gospel because Paul has commended them to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. Their preaching and teaching will not be in vain. In the darkest hours of their work, and even in the brightest hours as the Word of the Lord grows, God’s grace keeps them going.

It seems like gilding the lily for a pastor to preach to you about God’s grace for pastors. The feast of Saint Titus is an opportunity for us to thank God for those who preach the Gospel in the Christian Church. They are, as Paul tells Titus, overseers, God’s stewards. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. If anyone needs to hear God’s grace preached to them, it is a pastor.

Consider that preachers of the Gospel will never get to see the end result of their preaching until Judgment Day. Even now I never see how the Gospel penetrates your soul. Occasionally you tell me “Good sermon, Pastor” or “How did you know that I needed to hear what you said in the sermon today, Pastor”. That’s about as close as it gets to seeing preaching in action. For now I must be content to preach the Word and believe the Holy Spirit works in that preached Word.

Life would be so much easier if we could see God’s grace at work in our midst. We think we do when we are happy to see pews that are full and more people attending Bible Study. Yet even these indicators don’t get to the heart of the matter: God’s grace building you up and giving you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. As the human eye sees it, my vocation is frustrating. Though you can phrase it as me preaching to a select audience, the facts are that there aren’t as many in these pews as there once was. Many are asleep in Jesus, awaiting the voice of Jesus to wake them from the grave. Others have what they want: God leaving them alone because they would rather live without Him than with Him.

Now you see why Paul preaches these words to the Ephesian elders. They need to hear God’s grace as much as their hearers. Once pastors have been trained and are set free into the mission field, they never lose their ability to hear every sermon with a critical ear. We pastors find it hard to be receivers. After all, Paul says that Jesus said: It is more blessed to give than to receive. It is a noble task to be a giver of God’s grace. However, it is a very good thing to be a receiver of that grace as well. A pastor needs a pastor. A pastor needs to be a hearer, and not just a hearer of himself reading the Bible out loud. He needs to hear another pastor speak that Word of God’s favor over sinners that makes for a happy conscience.

That’s why the Church sees fit to honor Saint Titus today. The day really isn’t about Titus as much as it is about the Chief Pastor of the Church: Jesus Christ. He alone raises up shepherds of His flock. He alone sees to His Church being fed with the Good News of sins forgiven and eternal life bestowed. He alone makes sure that there are mouths to speak the favor of God to fellow redeemed sinners…even pastors. Paul points that out by telling the Ephesian elders: pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock. The pastor must be taken care of spiritually before he is able to take care of his flock’s spiritual needs.

From this pulpit, that font, and this altar, the kingdom of God has come near to you. That’s the joy Titus, Paul, and the men who have stood in this pulpit proclaimed to their hearers. As they spoke God’s grace to you, God’s grace also was spoken to them. Don’t forget pastors are sinners, too. Men like me need to hear the forgiveness of sins as you hear it each week. Though the Ephesian elders will never see Paul again, they are commended to God and to the word of His grace. You, like them, are also commended to God and to the word of His grace. Though sin still clings to your mortal body, God’s grace covers you and protects you from everlasting death. Pastors come and go, but the Good News remains the same because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Second Sunday after Epiphany – John 2:1-11

Saint John says Jesus manifested his glory in changing water into wine. The more Jesus does glorious things, the more we like it. Who doesn’t love a good miracle story? Whether He heals someone, raises someone from the dead, or simply changes water into wine, there’s a wow factor inherent in every divine miracle. Perhaps we get attached so much to them that we expect our Lord’s wow factor to be evident in our lives. If only Jesus would show up and throw a few miracles our way. I could use a few family members raised from the dead. I could use lots more food in my cupboards. I have some aches and pains that need a touch from the Master’s healing hand.

While it is true that the Lord of glory shows forth the glory of the Lord, you must remember that He does not do this in order to prove anything. Perhaps you’ve heard about the false infancy gospel of Thomas, where Jesus fashions a bird out of clay and proceeds to bring it to life. What purpose does that show except to say that Jesus is omnipotent? Does that help anyone? So we consider that account to be false. When Christ performs a miracle, He does so in order to help someone, not merely to show He is all powerful. He also performs miracles so that we recognize and receive Him as the Savior of the world. Making a clay bird come to life simply for the sake of making a clay bird come to life has nothing to do with the salvation of the world. Again, that account from a false gospel is wrong.

What do we make of Mary’s words to her Son: They have no wine. Mary has treasured up so many things in her heart that, if we consider those things to be puzzle pieces, she can clearly see the full picture on the top of the box. She knows Who her Son is. She knows what He is capable of. She says her piece, believing Jesus is able to help. Mary, however well intentioned her words, is out of place with her request. She speaks to her Son as her flesh and blood son, not as her Savior. It’s much like us taking our requests to the Lord in prayer and telling Him exactly what needs to be done and when to do it. In earthly matters, we pray “Thy will be done”. Nevertheless, Mary has a fair hearing from her Son even though He responds rather briskly to her request: Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.

Jesus here puts Mary in her place, but with a gentle hand. The Lord knows when to help His beloved children. He needs no assistance even from his earthly mother. His ultimate help, His hour, will soon come. For now, Jesus is content to bring joy to this wedding in His own time and in His own way.

Mary receives His brisk response in faith when she tells the servants: Do whatever he tells you. Her eyes are focused not so much on Jesus as Son but on Jesus as Lord. Put another way, Mary shows us what it means to pray “Thy will be done”. The matter is out of her hands. If Jesus helps now, it’s all good. If Jesus allows lack to persist, it’s still all good. There may come a time when lack becomes plenty.

That’s what we often forget when we go to God with our petitions. There are times when going without something is best for us. Financial independence is a good thing. If you don’t know how to manage money, then that blessing becomes a burden. You want a loved one back from the dead. Isn’t it better that your loved one rest in Jesus than be here living in their mortal bodies, only to suffer the wages of sin once again? What joy we have, then, in praying “Thy will be done”. Whatever is good for our Savior is also good for us, even if what is good for us is to go without something that our heart desires. Who knows? God may bless you with something even better that you weren’t expecting.

God blesses this wedding with not merely wine, but the best wine. It’s only right to serve the good stuff first, and then serve the inferior stuff later when no one really cares about how good the food is or how tasty the wine is. Jesus, as is His wont, turns everything upside down. Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now. The master of the feast has an unexpected joy. He doesn’t know from where it came, but the servants do. All the master of the feast knows is that the bridegroom seems to have pulled a fast one on him, but he doesn’t mind. This backwards way of doing things has brought joy into a difficult situation.

Consider what happened at Cana’s wedding feast as the same thing that happens to you when Jesus Christ suffers death and rises from the grave. Dying for you to live, and living so you will never die, is a backwards way of giving you peace of soul. Why not slaughter the Roman soldiers? Why not put the Jewish leaders in their place? Why not send the legions of angels to bring peace to the world? All these remedies, well meaning as they are, don’t get to the heart of the matter. None of these remedies that we might favor pays for sin. Only the blood of Jesus is the perfect offering for sin. Only our Savior’s righteousness is able to cover our wickedness. His creative power and creative goodness serves for our benefit. As we sing at Christmas time: “Mild He lays His glory by.” Jesus, however, remains glorious, albeit cloaked in flesh.

“Mild He lays His glory by”, but in so doing, He makes you glorious in Him. He lays His glorious forgiveness upon water in your baptism. He lays His glorious forgiveness under bread and wine in His Supper. He lays His creative Word in your ears, bestowing forgiveness and life in your hearing. He will lay you down in the grave in order to raise you up on the Last Day. The things that look useless to the world are still useful for salvation in the Church.

What an amazing Savior we have Who uses earthly stuff to bestow on us heavenly things! Here we see the glory of God manifested before our eyes. As His disciples believed in Him at Cana, so we too believe in Him even though His glory is covered in water, word, bread, and wine. “Mild He lays His glory by”, yet in that mildness there is perfect greatness given for you.

First Sunday after Epiphany – Luke 2:41-52

Questions and answers. That’s the ancient way of learning. It’s often called the Socratic Method. One of my favorite books and movies is “The Paper Chase”. A young man from Minnesota enrolls at Harvard Law School and is intellectually challenged by his Contract Law teacher, Professor Kingsfield. The professor uses the Socratic Method to teach a large class full of students.

Martin Luther understood how important the Socratic Method was in learning. That’s why he structured the Small Catechism to be questions and answers about the basics of what the Bible teaches. How you examine yourself to receive the Lord’s Supper is twenty questions with answers.

How a child learns something is by asking questions. Sometimes we think their questions are repetitive and bothersome. But how else is a child expected to learn something if he or she doesn’t ask a question? The same thing happens in Bible Study. How are you supposed to learn something if you don’t ask a question?

Jesus’ mother asks a question to her Son. Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress. You would say the same thing as Mary if you went through what she and Joseph went through trying to find their Son. They thought He was with their group when they were leaving Jerusalem for Nazareth after celebrating the Passover. By the time they were a day’s journey from Jerusalem, they discovered Jesus wasn’t with them. Back they go to Jerusalem where they search for three days for Him. There’s no AMBER alert. There’s no social media to get the word out about a missing child. Jerusalem is a big place. Where could He possibly be?

Had Mary not asked that question, how would she have remembered Who Jesus is? Had others not asked Jesus questions in the temple, and had Jesus not asked His questions, how would any of them learned anything about the Father’s gracious will for His people? We don’t have a record of what was asked in the temple. We do know from the text that Jesus was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Jesus’ mom and dad catch a bit of this discussion as they find their Son. Of all the questions asked that day, Mary asks the big one: Son, why have you treated us so? You would ask that question, too, if you spent three days searching a large city for your child. Shouldn’t Jesus have obeyed His parents and not gone rogue on them? No. He is where He needs to be when He needs to be there. Mary and Joseph need to hear what Jesus says in the temple. Everyone present there that day needed to hear what He had to say. Our Lord’s answer to His mother is also a question: Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?

Why must Jesus be in His Father’s house? He must proclaim His office among His people. Remember that this catechism class of sorts in the temple takes place during the celebration of Passover. Everything in Passover points to the redemption of God’s people. As they were led out of slavery in Egypt through the wilderness into the Promised Land, so will our Father in heaven do the same with His children. He will lead them out of slavery to sin through the wilderness of this life into the Promised Land of the life of the world to come. A fulfilled Passover is yet to come. The Passover sacrifice this time will be Messiah. He will be sacrificed for both Jew and Gentile.

Jesus Christ, now a twelve-year-old Boy visiting Jerusalem for Passover, is the bloody Passover Lamb that is roasted over a fire for the redemption of the house of Israel. The doctors of the law stand in the presence of the One Whom they have been waiting for through the centuries. Their hope for forgiveness of sins and everlasting life is learning from them and also teaching them. You can see why some of them may be dismayed and think that this “tweener” is smarter than they are when it comes to Scripture. What they should realize is that this is not about who is smarter or who knows more about something. This is about the fulfillment of who they are as God’s children. Everything they have been waiting for, every promise their ancestors clinged to through good times and bad times, has taken on flesh and stands in their presence.

“Within the Father’s house/The Son has found His home,/And to His temple suddenly/The Lord of life has come.” It should have been the first place Mary and Joseph looked. After all the things Mary had treasured in her heart about her Son, you would think she would say to Joseph, “Oh, that Boy of ours is probably in the temple having a good conversation with the lawyers and scribes. Let’s go get Him. How silly of me not to think of that as we were leaving Jerusalem!”

It’s easy to forget that Jesus is primarily the only-begotten Son of God. That’s what Mary forgot when she asked her question to Jesus. But Mary’s question is the most important question that was asked Jesus that day. She learned something about her Son that she forgot in the heat of the moment. Her question also teaches us something about this twelve-year-old Boy from Nazareth. He is more than a Nazarene. He is the Son of God Who has come to do His Father’s business.

How blessed are His parents that Jesus was left behind. At the end of their search they hear their Son proclaim the Good News that He has come to fulfill all things in their place. How blessed are we today to hear this Good News as well. Jesus is about His Father’s business. As Saint Paul says in First Corinthians chapter five: Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

Behold your salvation wrapped in flesh and blood, obedient both to His heavenly Father and to His earthly parents. Where you fall short in obeying our Father in heaven, Jesus is perfectly obedient. That is Christ’s business, the final answer to all questions about eternity, and it is for Mary, for Joseph, for the lawyers in the temple, and especially for you.

Second Sunday after Christmas – Matthew 2:13-23

We try to explain away the deep things of God. Instead of rejoicing in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come, we downplay the future glory of Judgment Day and talk instead about the dead in Christ being “angels” who watch over us. Talk about mixing metaphors! Angels have their place and so do the dead in Christ. Why mix them together? Like a spoonful of sugar taken with medicine, it’s easier to digest.

Once the Holy Spirit has its way with you in the preached Word, once you believe Jesus Christ is Lord, then God’s Word and His ways are no longer offensive. Everything that God says and does is for your comfort and encouragement. So how are two discouraging moments in the life of young Jesus Christ for your comfort and encouragement?

It is miraculous that the holy family found a way to escape persecution in Judea by slipping away to Egypt for a while. If you look at a map, you’ll see that’s not an easy trip. The journey is almost 373 nautical miles. That’s akin to a riverboat trip from Chicago to about Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus didn’t take a boat. They more than likely walked the distance with a beast of burden. Figuring twenty miles was a daily journey in Biblical times, the trip took over two weeks one way if they made good time.

The difficult journey had to be successful because our heavenly Father’s hand was upon His Son. The salvation of the world was at stake. Matthew reminds us of this when he cites the prophecy; out of Egypt I called my son. If Jesus stays in Judea or returns to Nazareth, your salvation could be in jeopardy. The Father saw to it that His Son would stay alive in order to die for your sin.

The flight to Egypt is an appropriate example for you when times of temptation and, God forbid, persecution happen. You’ve heard the saying, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” You’ve seen this happen many times in your life. There are times when you could go one way, but God finds ways to close that way in order that you walk another way that serves as a blessing for you and for others. Sometimes the way He would have you walk is a difficult road. The journey is arduous. The end is not easily in sight. You walk that way believing the Lord will see you through. If the way ends in death, then it is a blessed end. If the way ends in life, then God continues to bless you in life and even in death.

While the holy family is away in Egypt, all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under are killed under an edict from King Herod. Why did God allow the gruesome murder of so many little children? Why did God allow so much sorrow and wailing of mothers? This shameful act was prophesied in Holy Scripture: A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more. Why would a loving and gracious God allow the slaughter of all male children under the age of two?

God allows this slaughter of the innocents in order to show these mothers that Jesus is Lord. That’s difficult for even the most devoted Christian to understand. Like Rachel weeping for her children, there seems to be no comfort for them. Their children can’t be brought back from the dead. Yet they die in hope because their Messiah will die for their sins, and even the sins of those who put these baby boys to death.

When death happens quite suddenly, unexpectedly, or randomly, particularly for a young child, we often focus on the fact that the child won’t get to have a childhood. They won’t get to experience the same things we experienced. They won’t get to grow up. They won’t meet their prospective spouse and have children. They won’t have the opportunity to serve their Lord in some particular way. It seems like God has robbed a life from us. It is not fair to our human understanding.

Another way, a blessed way, to look at the matter is to consider the fact that God allowed a life to happen even if He also had that life taken after a brief time. That life, albeit short, is a gift to parents, to family, and to the world. This child was given the gift of life. He or she is left in the hands of a loving, gracious, and merciful God. While there is anguish over a life cut short, there is also joy over a life coming into the world. Jesus Christ died for that child’s sins, whether many or few.

The slaughter of children under two years of age also serves to adjust how we handle disturbing events in the world. Even the most seemingly terrible thing happens under God’s knowledge and management. The most-recent event experienced by most of us that brings this truth to light is the horror of September 11, 2001. Many people who would have never thought to darken the door of a church building went to church after that event. Yes, many people who did probably never went back to church again. That’s not the point. The point was that God used this opportunity to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins for the sake of Jesus Christ to a substantial amount of hearers. How the Holy Spirit uses the preached Word is out of our hands; it is certainly out of my hands. He works saving faith when and where He wills.

Jesus Christ had it very hard the first couple of years of His earthly life. His parents had to flee from Bethlehem to Egypt, and then make an even more difficult journey north to Nazareth in Galilee. Through it all, the loving hand of our heavenly Father was on it all, guiding it for the happy outcome that the sin of the world is covered in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Believing this in the midst of disturbing events gives you blessed hope in the midst of tragedy. We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…. In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.