Monthly Archives: February 2018

The Work of Jesus Kicking Satan’s Hiney Continues Today

We need to know that Christ’s work of driving out the devil never ceases but continues to go on in the Christian world until the Last Day. Wherever Christ’s kingdom is, his wondrous work continues, causing the dumb to speak, the blind to see, and the deaf to hear. When Christ came in to the flesh he set this work going, and it continues in Christendom day for day till the world’s end. For this task Christ left us designated instruments: holy baptism, the blessed Sacrament, the Word and absolution, and whatever else belongs to the ministry of preaching, in order to enable us to destroy the devil’s kingdom, to take from him his captives and cast him out of people. That promise is written in Isaiah 55:11: Verbum meum non redibit vacuum, “[My word] shall not return to me void.” Just as rain fructifies the dry land, causing it to become green and alive, so God’s Word produces fruit wherever it comes. The Holy Spirit accompanies the Word, to enlighten, kindle faith, cleanse, and free people from the devil’s power and rule.

So what that the world takes no note of it! That was true then when Christ personally accomplished it. For the world is not worthy of seeing the smallest spark of God’s wondrous signs and works, but deserves to be blind, senseless, and deaf; for it dishonors, reviles, and slanders the Lord Christ as we see here. We Christians, however, who have and believe the Word should see, know, and be comforted in our hearts that God has vested us with the power here upon earth to continue to drive out the devil also now – indeed it is our duty! – both spiritually and physically.

Every child that comes into this world is born into the kingdom of the devil, the lord of death, who exercises his sway through sin’s tyranny. But upon Christ’s command we bring a child to holy baptism, speak the words of promise which he commanded, and the child is born anew into God’s kingdom; and the devil must yield and get out. God’s grace, through Christ, is spoken by God to the child, inasmuch as he or she is baptized into Christ’s death. When a person whom the devil has greatly overwhelmed and seared with many accusations comes to me with heavy heart and troubled conscience seeking comfort and instruction, I have the mandate, as does every Christian, to comfort my brother and pronounce God’s grace, for Christ’s sake, upon him. The devil must yield, not to me, a poor and wretched sinner, but to the Word which the Lord Christ left us upon earth. When your conscience is weak and terrified, therefore, and you are unable to grasp tightly enough the comfort that God graciously wants you to have, the forgiveness of sins, then know that Christ has given the Lord’s Supper, his true body and blood to eat and to drink, so that you have no reason further to doubt that his body was given for your sins and his blood poured out for your transgressions. Where such faith and trust are present, there it is impossible for the devil to dwell and hold sway.

This work, therefore, must continue apace in Christendom, in order to drive the devil out by the finger of God. Christ began it, as St. Paul states in Acts 10:38, “[Jesus] went about doing good, healing all that were oppressed by the devil; for God was with him.” The Christian church continues this work until the world’s end, indeed more and greater works than those Christ did, as he himself promised (John 14:12): “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”

The fact is that the Christian church carries forward its ministry even further than Christ did. He preached in only a small corner of the Jewish homeland, driving out Satan, converting but few through his preaching. The Christian church, in contrast, is spread throughout the world and pursues its office of preaching and administering the sacraments with the help of the Lord Christ, who is the church’s Head and sits at the right hand of God, punishing the devil and his wicked works continuously, now at this place, tomorrow at another.

Martin Luther, House Postil for the Third Sunday in Lent (Luke 11:14-28)


Second Sunday in Lent – Matthew 15:21-28

When you watch Jesus shun a Canaanite woman, you must see what He does within the context of Matthew chapter 15. The twenty verses prior to where today’s Gospel reading begins have Jesus tangling with the Pharisees and scribes. They want to know why Jesus’ disciples break the tradition of the elders. For they do not wash their hands when they eat. Christ’s response is brisk. And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? The Pharisees and scribes put tradition ahead of the Scriptures.

Jesus continues to poke them by saying it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person…. What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone. Again, the Pharisees and scribes put tradition and customs not found in Scripture ahead of what the Scriptures say.

So we come to the Canaanite woman. Knowing what we know about Jesus’ remarks to the scribes, Pharisees, and those who heard Him speak, especially His own disciples, we expect to see a kind and gentle Savior heal the woman’s demon oppressed daughter. But he did not answer her a word. The disciples fall in line with their Master, begging Him to send her away, for she is crying out after us. Jesus responds I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Wait a moment. What’s wrong with this picture? The same Jesus Who tangles with the religious authorities about customs and traditions, letting them have it by quoting the Scriptures, now acts like one of them by refusing to have anything to do with a Canaanite woman and her request. Why the turn? Why are the disciples not reminding Jesus about what He said earlier about customs and traditions? It seems that theory and practice are out of whack. Everything is as it seems, at least for Jesus. The disciples are about to learn a valuable lesson from a Canaanite woman. She will show them what comes out of her mouth isn’t always what one expects to come out of a Canaanite’s mouth.

A Jew should never have to respond to anything a Canaanite says. A Jew looks at a Canaanite and sees, well, nothing, really. They are not on the radar screen. They are outside of the kingdom of heaven. They are not God’s chosen people. They are mutts, no longer pure-bred children of the Promise as they were before the Assyrians conquered them in 722 B.C. The Assyrians began to enter into mixed marriages with the Northern Tribes of Israel. The blood line, as God saw it, became polluted. Messiah would not come from them. His children redeemed from Pharaoh’s yoke and brought into the Promised Land gave up what was theirs. Now what is left is to be shunned as idolaters.

A Jew doesn’t eat with a Canaanite. A Jew never prays with them. A Jew doesn’t strike up a conversation with them. A Jew goes out of his or her way to ignore them. That is why Jesus’ response to the Canaanite woman is appropriate. I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel…. It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. The translation of “dogs” there is actually quite mild. The thrust of the word is actually could be translated as an epithet one might use to describe a female dog.

It’s easy to identify with Jesus and the disciples. The Good News is only for those who God intends the Good News. You have to be chosen, pure-bred, with no defilements inside or outside. There are customs and traditions to follow in order to maintain that sort of life. You get, as it were, braggin’ rights. Messiah is for us, not for you. As long as we stick to the rule of life, the code of ethics, we will remain in God’s good graces forever. We’ll wash our hands just so. We’ll eat only certain foods. We’ll pray a certain way. And we won’t let outsiders have anything to do with us unless they submit to our customs and traditions.

Do your customs and traditions also include not welcoming strangers and foreigners? Does it include coarse conversation against those outside what you believe? Does it include finger pointing and blaming everyone else but yourself when things don’t go your way? Remember what Jesus said earlier in chapter 15: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.

Jesus should be defiled. So should the disciples. Look at how they act. Yet Jesus has a reason for it. He answered the Canaanite woman: It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. She said, Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. This conversation hinges on one little word: Yes. Everything Jesus said about her is true. Now let’s see the account in its true light. You are the Canaanite woman instead of one of the disciples. In fact, the disciples are one with the Canaanite woman. A Jew and a Canaanite both have something in common: sin. Both are outside the kingdom of heaven because both are sinners.

But I hold to the customs and traditions of…no, you don’t. If you did, you wouldn’t be a sinner. But I am…no, you aren’t. If you were, you wouldn’t think, speak, or act that way toward a fellow sinner. When Jesus says all these things against the Canaanite woman, He says them to you. He says them to His disciples. He says them to His own people. Customs, traditions, blood lines, and nationalities mean nothing in God’s eyes. He sees them as His fallen creation in need of redemption. He sees you in need of redemption.

Hey, watch this! O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire. The woman’s daughter is no longer demon possessed. The Canaanite woman receives what she desires: Jesus and everything He provides. Jesus Christ does not limit what He does to one particular people. He is the Savior of both Jew and Gentile, even this Canaanite woman who heard and believed that Jesus is her Savior, too.

The disciples have a front row seat for it because they will soon go to all nations to proclaim what they see and hear. They see and hear Jesus suffer and die for sins. They see Jesus resurrected to seal His victory over death and Satan. This victory is for all who hear and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The desire of the nations is redemption. Only Jesus is the Redeemer. Only Jesus brings light in the midst of darkness. Only Jesus speaks the Word that scatters Satan. Only Jesus is the first-born from the dead. Jesus remembers you when He comes into His kingdom. Our Father in heaven, when His Son remembers you in His death, remembers your sin no more. He doesn’t see Canaanite, American, Jew, or Greek. He sees forgiven sinners waiting for His Son’s return.

Hey, watch this! Jesus is trapped by a Canaanite woman, and in His being trapped sets her daughter free from demons. In His being trapped by His own people He sets them free and you as well.

First Sunday in Lent – Matthew 4:1-11

HEY, WATCH THIS! That phrase is usually spoken by someone who is about to show off. What usually follows after also saying, “Hold my beverage” is an antic that might end up being something totally cool. Or it might end up putting that person in the hospital. Over the next few weeks, the former option is the correct option. Jesus will be doing some totally cool things. The ultimate result is the coolest thing of all. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, will rise from the dead, trampling down death and Satan in His wake. He forgives your sins in His all-availing sacrifice upon the cross, and then He secures a place for you with Him in the heavenly mansions for eternity. HEY, WATCH THIS!

          Today we watch Jesus shut down the accuser, Satan, who tempts Jesus to disbelieve, to become arrogant, and to love the world instead of His Father in heaven. Jesus shuts down Satan by resisting temptation as He quotes the Scriptures in His resistance. Jesus resists temptation for us, knowing that the first Adam did not resist temptation.

The devil thinks his time has come. Jesus has gone without food or drink for forty days. Jesus is then led into the wilderness to do battle with the devil. Christ has the power to turn stones into bread. If Jesus does so, He falls prey to sin. He transgresses the divine will. There is no need to sin here. Jesus stands firm with the Word. Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

If Jesus changes stones to bread, He denies what is written. The Scriptures cannot deny themselves. The Living Word then would trump what is written and make the Scriptures a lie. Then Jesus Himself becomes a deceiver, falling into disbelief.

The hour of the tempter comes to us when we are in need. We know what it means to lack what is necessary. We know what it is to have unfulfilled wishes and hopes. We’ve been sick. This is Satan’s moment to strike. It’s time to help yourself for once he says. It’s time not to be honest. It’s time to find another cure. It’s time to make your dreams come true, even if you hurt or harm someone else in the process. So we step on the backs of others to make sure we get what we want. We change stones into bread.

All the more then for Christ to stand firm. Watch Him deny the tempter with the spoken Word. As He overcomes disbelief, so He gives us the remedy to overcome disbelief this side of Paradise. Our heavenly Father will provide what we need when we lack. We may not receive everything we want, but we do receive what we need at the right time. As the Psalmist says: Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. Trust yourself and you will fall. Trust the Lord, trust His providential care, and you stand.

If Jesus jumps off the pinnacle of the temple, He enters into an unnecessary danger. He shows off for the sake of showing off. Jesus never performs a miracle in order to show off. Every miracle is performed to help someone in need. There’s no need to call out angels to catch Him. It is written: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

Even today we are tempted to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, so to speak. We try to put ourselves ahead of everyone. We gossip against our neighbor. You know something they don’t know, and you can’t wait to tell everyone about it…except them, of course. We attend church only when there’s a personal goal that needs to be met. I really sinned big time this week. I guess I’ll go to church and get my forgiveness. Maybe next week I won’t need forgiveness once I clean up my act. It works the other way, too. I’m such a horrible person that God can’t possibly forgive me. Yes, He can, and He does.

As Jesus overcomes the temptation to arrogance, so He also shows us how to overcome spiritual arrogance. When you are tested, cling to God’s promises for you. He will show me the way to walk with Him. When I stumble off the way, He will provide a way back to the path. When I fall far off the path, there stands Christ ready to catch me, to forgive me, and bring me back to rejoice in His gifts in His house.

The accuser saves the greatest rudeness for last. He provokes Jesus through the glory of the world. Nothing belongs to him, yet he wants Jesus to believe everything belongs to him. All our Lord needs to do is fall down and worship him. Satan shouldn’t be that blunt, but he is. We undergo the same temptation, too. How many times have you looked for that get-rich-quick scheme that will finally give you financial security? How many times have you ditched reliable friends for new, well-connected friends who turn out to be people who use you and then kick you to the curb? Then there are the times when you want to cast aside what you believe about the Christian faith and no longer practice it. God is out of one more last chances. Or, worse yet, God stands in the way of family, friends, and every advantage necessary to have a good life.

Jesus has an answer for that temptation. You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve. When Christ speaks, the evil enemy must give way. He has no response to it. He can no longer tempt our Lord. As Christ speaks the Truth, so He gives you the Truth in the Scriptures. There is no other God but the one Lord God revealed in Sacred Scripture. The devil is a liar. His accusations are a farce. He must flee the scene a defeated man when you strike back with the Truth.

The Truth is that the world, your flesh, and Satan make false promises. The Truth is that you will fall prey to Satan’s temptations. Because you believe the evil foe, you deserve eternal death. Jesus Christ, however, breaks and hinders the power of the devil, the world, and your flesh. He overcomes temptation not to bask in His own glory, but to give you the spoils of His triumph. His perfect righteousness, His perfect holiness, and His perfect victory over sin and death are yours in believing Christ alone overcomes the adversary. Jesus alone brings you again to paradise. Jesus alone declares you worthy of sonship with the Father. It is written: He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

Hey, watch this! Jesus overcomes temptation for you. You, also, overcome temptation. He gives you the sword of the Spirit and the full armor of God against the foe’s cunning strikes. In Christ you have the victory, both here and in eternity.

Quinquagesima – Luke 18:31-43

The Resurrection of our Lord is the fulcrum, the center point, of the church year. Everything flows from it, and everything flows to it. It is the greatest mystery of godliness. Christmas time introduced us to this mystery as God is revealed in the flesh. Lententide, which begins Wednesday, covers this mystery in an even deeper and more incomprehensible way. The incarnate Son of God humbles Himself in the suffering of His crucifixion in order to earn salvation for lost sinners.

The next six weeks compels a lively and more faithful knowledge of the blessed mystery of our salvation in Christ. The healing of the blind man by Jesus on His way to Jerusalem is the ideal way to enter into Lent. We hear today that our salvation is only in the crucified and risen Son of God.

The first promise of a Savior is given to Adam and Eve. God willing we will hear the full context next weekend. For now we hear the promise itself. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. The last promise comes from the mouth of Malachi under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 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 fullers’ soap. In between these two prophecies are many more assurances that Messiah is coming.

Messiah comes to suffer. He 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. Jesus suffers in His soul. He suffers agony in Gethsemane. The wrath of His Father goes on Him. He suffers the torments of hell for our sake, even crying out My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? This terrible suffering pays for the guilt of sin. It is the atonement, the sin offering, for the punishment of our sin. Through it Jesus overcomes the devil, death, and hell. Divine righteousness is satisfied. Redemption is perfected, prepared for, and acquired for all sinners. Hence our Lord’s last words from the cross: It is finished.

Christ’s suffering and death is the penultimate note. His rising from the dead is the ultimate note, the confirmation of His work of atonement for our sake. Without the resurrection, everything that comes before it is in vain. In the resurrection we see the revelation of His glorious victory over all our enemies. We see the completion of His work of salvation sealed, for Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

It is one thing for our blessed Lord to acquire salvation. He also appropriates His salvation to us. We don’t often hear the word “appropriation” these days. We usually think of it in the context of our government. Congress sets aside public funds for a specific use. That’s federal appropriation. The Illinois General Assembly does the same thing on the state level. Another definition of “appropriation” is “to claim or use, especially as by an exclusive right.” That’s what Jesus does with His salvation for us. He uses it by an exclusive right to save us.

Our Savior could cling to His salvation on our behalf. He could dangle it as a carrot in front of us. He could demand that we clean up our act, get our spiritual room tidied in order to make way for His saving benefits. He does no such thing. His work of salvation is exclusively for sinners, not for those who used to be sinners. Yes, you are holy by virtue of believing that Jesus Christ shed blood for your sin and was raised from the dead for your sake. Yet while you remain in the flesh, you also remain a sinner. You need Jesus to appropriate what is His for you.

Consider the blind man in today’s Gospel. He believes Jesus is able to do something about his malady. We get a clue that the man believes Jesus is more than merely a man when he persistently cries out: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Note that he says this after the crowd tells him Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. What’s the difference between the two titles? One is Jesus’ earthly title. It’s like saying David from Du Quoin. Calling Jesus Son of David, however, is a Messianic title. The blind man knows more about the Lord than perhaps most of the crowd.

Hearing the blind man call Him Son of David, Jesus stops dead in His tracks. What do you want Me to do for you He asks? Lord, let me recover my sight. Jesus gives what the blind man desires. Immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him, glorifying God. Jesus appropriates sight to a blind man. He has the authority to do it.

You, like the blind man, outside of Christ, are spiritually blind. You can’t see your way to Paradise. Jesus, however, has the authority to give you sight. He appropriates vision. He creates trust that He is your Savior in hearing His Word, for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

Jesus appropriates salvation by the Holy Spirit when He shows from the Law the misery of sin. Once you hear your miserable state, He then proclaims an end to misery in Christ Jesus. He alone accomplishes redemption. He alone is able to give His redemption to you. When you receive it, when you believe it, you are born from above as God’s own child. You are washed in the waters of baptism. Your desire is to receive more of what the Lord has for you. Your desire is to live in peace with God and with your neighbor, putting your body to work to serve Him as you serve others.

Lent is the season when we consider the depths of our depravity because of sin. Lent is a special season where repentance is encouraged. Yet sin and repentance run through every season of the church year, as does the joy we have in Christ’s completed redemption and resurrection for us. It is, indeed, a happy Lent. Our joy is muted, but not fully silenced. We know what lies at the end of the forty days of Lent. When we get there, we will see what a wonderful Savior we have, Who is willing to trample down death and cover us with His blood that we might be His children.

Gospel and Scripture

“It is, I believe, the failure to grasp and face up to the confessional doctrine of Biblical authority which has given rise to much of the confusion in the Lutheran church today regarding the relation of the Gospel to Scripture, of the material principle, so-called, and the formal principle of theology. Scripture is the principium cognoscendi, the source of our knowledge of theology; the Gospel is the source of our faith itself. Scripture is the source of our doctrine (fides quae creditur), also the doctrine of the Gospel; the Gospel creates personal faith (fides qua creditur). Scripture is properly called the authority, norm, source, judge; the Gospel in Scripture, or wherever it obtains, is power, God’s own power unto salvation to all who believe. The unity of faith in the Gospel is the foundation of our fellowship in the church universal (AC VII); unity in the articles of faith drawn from the Scriptures is the foundation for external fellowship among particular churches and synods (FC SD, Rule and Norm, 1; SD, X, 16, 31). The sola gratia and sola fide of the Gospel are the source and means of my salvation; the sola scriptura is the source of my preaching and teaching. Recognition of the formal principle (sola Scriptura) and loyalty to it are the fruits of faith in the Gospel; faith in the Gospel is the result of a Word and preachment drawn from and normed by the Scriptures.”

Robert Preus, “Biblical Authority in the Lutheran Confessions” (1977)

Robert Preus

The Law Is Preached to the Christian Because The Christian Remains in the Flesh

Christians, however, also need the Law as a norm, i.e., as rule and guideline from which they learn how they should walk in a God-pleasing way. Certainly not, however, in so far as they are reborn or Christians. To this extent, they have the Law of God within themselves and need no external rule and guideline for their manner of life. In this place belongs the word: “The Law is not laid down for the just.”[1] But inasmuch as Christians still have the flesh in themselves, blindness and perversity prevails in them regarding the will of God. They want to do things that God does not require of them, and the things they should do they want to omit.

The history of the Church and of every Christian life provides enough examples. Just think of monasticism. Men came and come to the strange delusion of wishing to serve God by leaving their vocation and running to the cloister. Let us remember that in ourselves, i.e., in our flesh, we often have little desire for the works of our vocation, but we may be content with the things that are not commanded us.

Therefore, we cannot seriously stress enough that the Law must be incessantly taught in the Church as the norm of a God-pleasing life. To the same people to whom the apostle said: “Christ is the end of the law”[2] he holds up before them: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”[3] Further: Paul certainly gives Christians the testimony that they gladly give. He testifies to the Christian communities that they “gave according to their means and beyond their means, of their own accord”[4], and again: “I know your readiness”[5] — and yet the same apostle holds up before the same people as rule and norm: “God loves a cheerful giver”, and reminds them: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”[6] From this we see that we merely follow the apostolic model when we hold up the Law to Christians as the norm that shows them what they are to do.

Let us see to it that in this point no antinomian practice creeps in among us. Someone might think that all external substance has no value before God. That is why I will continue with the preaching of the Gospel, but keep silent of the Law as the norm of the Christian way of life. I will wait for true works to come by themselves. That would make a false distinction between Law and Gospel. This would in practice neglect a part of the Word of God. It is true that a Christian, as a Christian, is not only willing to walk in God’s commandments, but as a Christian he also knows himself (namely because the Law is written in his heart according to the new man), what is the good will of God. But a Christian is a double person [German: Doppelmensch]. He still has the old man in himself who always indicates the wrong way regarding works. But because the old man does not live apart from the Christian or is removed from him, but dwells in the Christian, and forms a person with him, he thus continually obscures the right knowledge of what the will of God is to the Christian. For this reason, the Law of God must still be held up before Christians as the norm of a God-pleasing life.

Franz Pieper, “The Practical Importance of the Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel”

Note: Italicized print is Pieper’s emphasis. Bold print is my emphasis.

[1] 1 Timothy 1:9.
[2] Romans 10:4.
[3] Romans 13:13-14.
[4] 2 Corinthians 8:3.
[5] 2 Corinthians 9:2.
[6] 2 Corinthians 9:6-7.

Sexagesima – Luke 8:4-15

It’s fun to play “What if”. Now and then I pretend that our family lives in a four-bedroom condominium on the 88th floor of the John Hancock Building in Chicago. If you have trouble sleeping maybe you pretend that you’re someplace else doing something else. It’s nice to pretend and wonder what could be if circumstances are different.

There’s a danger to playing “What if”. The parable of the soil into which the seed falls shows the danger. “What if” sometimes leads to worry. We play the “What if” game all the time in a negative connotation. It’s always good to have a contingency plan should something unexpected occur. But “what if” you’re constantly worried about a contingency plan? “What if” that contingency plan fails? “What if” this or that happens? You can “what if” yourself until you’re crazy.

From our side of things, there’s a lot of “what ifs” to consider as the sower sows the seed. Take the seed that lands among thorns. The seed grows. Hearers receive the Word. They believe in God and are saved. Then thorns arise and take over. Worries creep into the heart. Worries about daily bread, reputation, and so forth, whether actual or perceived worries, are maintained and excused. Worries are seen as our contingency plan. You have to be prepared. You also can worry so much about what you have and don’t have that you fail to appreciate what is given you by the gracious, giving God.

The fruit of the Word implanted in the soil is suffocated by thorns that bore deeper into heart and mind. Before long you’re literally lying on a bed of thorns, walking on a bed of thorns, even sitting on chairs of thorns. What if everything goes bad? What if the Word doesn’t really take root in my life? What if the Word I’ve heard all my life is a sham? What if my congregation can’t survive? What if everything around me isn’t real?

If that isn’t enough, there are thorns of abundance. It’s not sinful to have many things. What is sinful is when abundance causes you to see things in a different way. Instead of putting abundance to work for furthering God’s kingdom, you see the abundance of what you have as a way to get ahead of everyone, including God. The seed of the Word of God is suffocated again. All that’s left is thorns that block Jesus giving you His gifts of forgiveness of sins. You’ll never find satisfaction in abundance that lies to you about having more abundance to better yourself. What if I don’t have more than my neighbor? What if I could show off all that I have to make others jealous of me?

But wait, there are more thorns. If earthly cares and deceitful abundance don’t get the job done, the pleasures of this life certainly can do you in. Satan is always looking for ways to get you to love everything and everyone except the Lord. Your own flesh seeks to find its own salvation in creature comforts. Even the world lies about your life never getting any better than it is right now. No wonder so many choose to live for today rather than live in the grace and joy of God bestowed on His beloved children in the all-availing shedding of blood by Jesus for the sin of the world.

Misplaced lusts for life are perhaps the most dangerous thorns of all. What if I love the image of a scantily-clad woman on my phone more than my wife? What if I spent more quality time with the guy down the street than with my husband? What if I dressed in such a way that makes others turn their head? What if I treated others as if they have to pay attention to me more than others?

It seems as if there is no hope for the seed that is choked by thorns. Maybe a shrug and an “amen” is appropriate here as we mourn what might have been. But “what if”? What if the good and wise Law of God has its way with the sinner’s heart, working contrition and repentance for trusting and loving everything except God? What if the Sower Himself, Jesus Christ, rips away the dying thorns killed by the preaching of the Law? What if the seed is watered with vivifying baptismal water? What if that seed is regularly nourished by hearing the Good News that Jesus Christ has destroyed death and paid for sin, bestowing His unblemished righteousness to the sinner? What if that seed is also nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ under bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith in Jesus? What if that seed doesn’t die, but instead lives? What if that seed bore abundant fruit?

With God all things are possible. After all, He is in the death and resurrection business…and business is always good. Sometimes that seed lands on good soil, ready to receive the seed and bear fruit a hundred fold. Yes, there are times the seed lands on bad soil. It’s as if Jesus knows it, laments it, yet rejoices in the seed that bears fruit. The implanted Word regularly nourished can’t help but bear fruit; the fruit of joy and pleasure of resting in the arms of a loving Savior. The “what if” of what seems impossible is certain in God’s only-begotten Son. You live. You bear fruit. You abide in the Vine of Righteousness growing from the Tree of Life.