Fifth Sunday of Easter – John 16:5-15

The office and work of Jesus Christ continues on earth even today. Although our Lord is not corporeally present, our heavenly Father has sent His Spirit, Whom Jesus promised before His departure to the Father. The Holy Spirit, working in the preached Word, in water, in bread, and in wine, delivers forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.

Pastors today, though not apostles in the way of Peter and company, proclaim the apostolic doctrine handed down from generation to generation. The message of the witnesses of the resurrected Christ continues until our Lord physically returns to complete our salvation in raising the dead, glorifying the bodies of the faithful, and inaugurating the new creation.

The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ before both enemies and friends of the Gospel. The Spirit, working in the preached Word, chastises the world for not believing in Christ. All who hear the preached Word sense there’s something behind it, even if they don’t receive the proclaimed Word as the Good News. Unbelievers might comment about rhetoric or even how the words used were well crafted. But they won’t hear it as the everlasting Gospel given especially for them. The Lord wants to give them a good conscience in His Gospel. Yet they won’t receive it. The world has a bad conscience in her unbelief.

Think of it. The proclaimed Word says God has devised an eternal righteousness through Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. This righteousness is outside themselves, yet it is specifically for those who hear it. Hearken to it, treasure it, receive the Spirit’s Word and you have what it says. Outside of Christ there is no salvation. With Christ there is hope for eternity. The prince of this world has lost all rights and all power. Eternity is yours in Christ.

There are those who politely, or impolitely, say, “No, thank you. It may be for you, but it’s not for me.” The Gospel is for you. It’s yours before you believe it. The Gospel becomes yours when you hearken to it. Yet the Spirit uses that same Word to convict the world of unbelief. The world rejects Christ and His righteousness. The world falls under the same judgment as her prince. The conviction of the world concerning sin brings you comfort because the Spirit has poured the Gospel into your ears in preaching. He has bathed the reconciling Word of Christ over your head in baptism. He feeds the reconciling Word into your mouth in the Lord’s Supper. The world is judged, and so are you. The world is judged guilty, and you are free for Christ’s sake.

The Holy Spirit also glorifies Christ in the hearts of His faithful. After Christ rose from the dead, He opened the minds of His disciples to the Gospel. He does the same with you when you hear His Word read and proclaimed in His house. He also opens His Word when you read the Scriptures in your home. The world sees this and wonders why you would go through the trouble of going to church. After all, you can believe in Christ and not go to church. You can maintain a personal relationship with Him and not need to sit in an uncomfortable pew next to people you only see once a week for an hour.

Saint Paul wonders how shall they hear without a preacher. Christ sets up His Church as a place to receive, up close and personal, the forgiveness of sins. Opening your Bible at home is one way you receive the Good News. Hearing your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake is the apostolic custom of the Christian Church. The apostolic way is to gather at least once a week to hear the Scriptures read and explained, to pray for all needs and conditions of men, and to receive the Lord’s Supper. These things are done in community, one body coming together to be glorified in the Gifts Christ gives you. He speaks it. He puts it in your mind and heart, using men set apart for this work. Victory over sin and death is yours in Christ.

Jesus Christ is glorified when His Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Your sin is forgiven. You are righteous for Christ’s sake. You have been judged worthy of everlasting life. Psalm 98 says, Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things. His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for him. The new song is Jesus Christ. He changes your tune from a death dirge to a song of joy.

Fourth Sunday of Easter – John 16:16-23a

Sorrow for a Christian is not everlasting. It is a frequent visitor, but it doesn’t always stay forever. King David fasted and prayed for his son’s life, the son Bathsheba gave birth to in their affair rebuked by Nathan. When the child died seven days after his birth, David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. He then went to his own house.

His servants didn’t understand why David could resume life so soon after losing a child. David responded, While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, “Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?” But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.

David’s last sentence says it all. Though there is sorrow in losing a son, David rejoices that he shall go to him someday. As he sings in Psalm 30, [The Lord’s] anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

For the disciples on the night when Jesus was betrayed, the night of which King David sings is coming. Jesus will soon leave them to complete the work of reconciliation in His death and resurrection. He also will ascend to His Father’s right hand of power, grace, and glory. Yet He promises the coming of the Holy Spirit not long after His ascension. They will sorrow, but their sorrow is turned to joy, and Jesus tells them no one will take your joy from you.

Sorrow is an easy place to hang your hat. The devil persistently attacks you, bringing what seems like an endless string of temptations into your life. It’s easy to see the absence of God wherever you look. One look at obituaries online or in the newspaper show a constant procession of death around us. When a death happens in your family or among your circle of friends, especially when that death is sudden or unexpected, you have sorrow. Even if a death occurs after a long slog of suffering, there is a release of pent-up sorrow that is tangled up inside our body and soul.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. Jesus sees you again today in the preaching of His Word that proclaims an end to death and the hope of everlasting life for you for His sake. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory? Yes, it was necessary. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Sorrow hits closer to home when you realize how you stand before God outside of the promise of the Savior. If the heavenly Father left the work of your redemption in your hands, you would have long ruined it all. Your redemption is a fool’s errand. You can’t save yourself because you are not blameless. Consider also that it was your sin that sent Jesus to the cross. As we sang on Good Friday, “Mine, mine was the transgression/But Thine the bitter pain”.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. God the Father puts your sins on Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God. Jesus takes your sin. Jesus gives you His righteousness. It’s a sweet swap that saves you.

Sorrow hits even closer to home when the world ridicules you for clinging to what looks to them like ancestral religion or, worse yet, a legacy of ludicrous belief in a seemingly absent God Who is always out to get you. When His love and mercy has its way with you, the moment is fleeting and an exception to the rule. Worse yet, it’s a backstop to the standard that seems to be you trying hard to do the right thing to please a deity who is always angry at you. The world wonders why would you want to partake of something so bad that is supposed to make you feel so good.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. Jesus meets you here today with the joy of the resurrection. You have new life. You are a new creation. He puts His Word in your ear, changes your heart of stone to a heart of flesh, works repentance, fashions a living trust in Him, and sustains you with baptismal water, with His Body and Blood under bread and wine, and in the preached Word that creates and sustains hope in this life and in the life of the world to come.

The devil wants you to wallow in sorrow. Yet the devil’s cries are choked by the hand of God Who sends His Son into the flesh to crush Satan’s head and call the devil what he actually is: a liar. Your sorrow is turned into joy by Jesus Christ, Who is joy in the flesh, for He goes to the Father and sends His Holy Spirit to point you where true joy is found: in His house, in His gifts of forgiveness and life. Come and see what God has done: He is awesome in His deeds toward the children of man.

Second Sunday of Easter – John 20:19-31

“Pessy”. That’s the nickname my mom calls my dad when he gets in one of his moods. Everyone is out to get him. Everything bad is happening. Nothing right will ever happen. My mom, having been married to him 65 years, knows to aggravate my dad by saying one word: “Pessy”.

“Pessy” is short for “pessimistic”, an adjective worthy of Thomas. When the disciples were on their way to Bethany, it was Thomas who said let us also go, that we may die with him. Thomas saw that Jesus was walking into the hands of His accusers. He couldn’t help but think they would die with Jesus when He went to see Lazarus’s body.

Perhaps it’s better for us to be pessimistic rather than optimistic. Pessimism saves us from become another Pollyanna. So when the disciples tell Thomas, We have seen the Lord, it’s easy to put up a front and think the other ten men are fools. You are the wise one because you’ve been trained not to be so gullible, especially when it comes to the death of Jesus. The smart answer is I will never believe.

Thomas leaves himself an out, though. Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe. What sounds like the ultimate pessimistic comment is actually an opportunity. One week after the ten disciples saw Jesus alive in that locked room, Thomas is with them. Thomas isn’t ready to give up hope. But he’s also ready to be let down. That’s a fair and balanced way to live.

Jesus gives Thomas a fair and balanced presentation. Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe. There’s no scolding. Jesus doesn’t kick him out of the inner circle. He brings the truth to his face. Thomas doesn’t need to touch the scars. All it takes it what he sees and what he hears. His response says it all: My Lord and my God! Thomas saw and touched a man and confessed God Whom he did not see or touch.

Jesus pulls Thomas through. God connected Himself to Thomas in Jesus. We call that connection “faith”. Faith doesn’t need to fool itself. Faith isn’t about what you can see. Faith doesn’t need to protect itself against disappointment by building a wall of pessimism just in case hope is dashed.

Pessimistic wisdom gives way in faith to a new realism that replaces both always expecting the worst (pessimism) and always expecting the best (optimism). Pessimism and optimism is about me. Both are centered in my expectations. Faith connects with God, not with me. God in Christ Jesus guarantees the expectation of victory. Saint John’s Gospel calls the expectation of victory “life”. Life is the real thing because it is connected with God, replacing the disconnect with God that is death.

Life and victory is ours because we are connected with and share in the life and victory of Christ. No longer are they centered on the teetering uncertainty of ourselves and factual evidence. Success in life is no longer judged according to what is seen and touched. Whether rich or poor, whether happy or sad, whether melancholy or at peace with the world, in Christ everything is all right with no qualifications.

The trick, though, is having “you” taken out of the center and having God in Christ at the center. If our eternal welfare depending on what you see and feel, we are already doomed. It is sad to say there are Christians who can’t bring themselves to believe everything is not about them. They will pay Jesus lip service, yet their faith is misplaced. Jesus is the second parachute just in case the first one, our own thoughts and deeds, doesn’t work.

Those Christians look like you and me. Unless I have some sort of experience where Jesus personally comes to me, unless He is right before my face telling me what I need to hear, unless He does everything that I expect Him to do, I will not believe. Unless I have control over God’s grace in Jesus Christ, unless I get to put words in Christ’s mouth, I will not believe. Unless God decides to forgive my sins in a different way than through the Church, I will not believe.

There we go again, putting ourselves in the “I” of the storm, so to speak. When God has His way with you, when He uses His Law to show your sin and let you see how unpleasant things are with you in the driver’s seat, and when, having brought you to repentance, He declares your sins forgiven for Jesus’ sake, at last will you say with Thomas, My Lord and my God.

A life dependent on what is seen and touched is breakable. A life connected with God in Christ cannot be broken. Not even sin, pain, and death can break this life, for such a life goes through these things with Christ. Only in Him is there a victorious way through it all. That’s what Good Friday and Easter means to a Christian. The mess of life has a way out. That way is Christ for you. Christ’s death for you. Christ’s resurrection for you. Christ’s wounds for you. Christ’s proclamation of peace for you. Christ’s baptism for you. Christ’s true Body and true Blood for you.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. He’s talking about you. Live on what you see and touch and you will be broken. Live at bedrock level, live connected with Christ, and you will never be broken. There will be days when you feel as if everything is broken and on fire. In Christ, even those days will have an end in Him, for He says I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Four Features of the Sermon As Absolution

If we consider the unconditional word of absolution as the basic word, model and matrix of an evangelical sermon, then there are four decisive features that make this sermon stand out. These features have to do with grammar and pragmatics. 1. The sermon is not a discourse in the third person about something but an address in the second person, where an “I” addresses a “you.” 2. The verb is formulated in the present tense or in the present perfect (Note: The relation between the present and present perfect corresponds to the correlation between what was “won” and what is “distributed”). 3. The performative verb used in the present or present perfect is semantically and pragmatically that of “promise” – a valid promise with immediate effect; it creates community. 4. The “I” of the preacher who speaks legitimates itself, implicitly or explicitly, as authorized to make this promise – like the prophet with the message formula, “thus says the Lord:…” The preacher is an authorized representative who stands in the place of his Lord and is authorized and empowered to speak on his behalf. The divine service is begun and continued in the name of the triune God. Baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper are celebrated in this name. The sermon is delivered in this name. And the preacher hears and takes to heart the trinitarian blessing promised by the words that many pastors use to greet the congregation before the sermon: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:13).

Oswald Bayer, “Preaching the Word”, from Justification Is For Preaching, pages 202-203

Palm Sunday – Matthew 21:1-9

What Jesus do you see enter into Jerusalem? What Jesus do you see suffering and dying? He is the King of the Jews; the placard on the cross says so. What kind of King endures crucifixion without coming down from the cross? What kind of King does not speak when He is falsely accused of blasphemy? What kind of King lets Himself go through this whole spectacle?

The Savior King, that’s Who. Jesus was not recognized by many among the crowds as Whom He really was. Yet He shows Himself today as the true spiritual King, the Savior. Today we see the King revealed for Whom He actually is: the promised Savior.

Our Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem does not have much worldly splendor. A colt, the foal of a donkey, is not a regal steed. The amazing thing about the animal is that everything took place as it was meant to be. Two disciples go looking for the animals and find them just as Jesus said. What’s even more amazing is the person who lets the donkey and the colt go with them. All it took was four words: The Lord needs them.

Though there is little worldly splendor, Jesus’ divine glory is revealed. He is all-knowing, hence why He sends two disciples looking for particular animals from a particular person. Jesus knows our every need even before we ask Him. This is the Savior we need. He knows exactly what He must do and what He must suffer. So He suffers as the Scriptures foretold for you.

See yourself in all these prophecies in Matthew’s Gospel. Behold, your king is coming to you. You. Not merely a group of people in a particular time at a particular place. You. He comes to you. He comes to take your sin, bleed for it, and give you His innocence and righteousness in return. All this is yours in the shedding of blood for you.

No weapons are drawn in order to bring people to hearken to this Savior King. A weapon is drawn in the Garden of Gethsemane, striking the high priest’s servant’s ear. Jesus heals that ear and tells Peter to sheath the sword. The kingdom is not won by violence. How unlike any other king! When kings go to war they must form an army, for bloodless battles rarely happen. Yet this battle is not won with swords and clubs. This battle uses spiritual weapons for performing the work of redemption. This Savior defeats sin, Satan, and death for us in the shedding of His blood.

This sacrifice is promised all over Scripture. The Word spoken by the prophets tell how this spiritual battle is won. The familiar words of Isaiah chapter 53 concerning the suffering servant proclaim he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

Kings can be tyrants. Think of the kings of Israel and Judah who ruled not with grace but with an iron fist. Occasionally there was a king who did right in the eyes of the Lord, returning the people to the Lord and to true worship of Him. Many kings, however, were tyrants. King Ahab once called the prophet Elijah the troubler of Israel. Other kings encouraged worship of false idols.

The Savior King, Jesus Christ, rules in grace. He is looking for the conquest of man’s heart, not in man’s land or possessions. The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. The people see what the disciples do for their Savior. Their actions draw others to cry out Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

The word Hosanna means “Save us now.” The Savior King enters Jerusalem to draw the hearts of mankind to Himself. See what sort of King you have! He is willing to die for ungodly people like you and me. He is willing to be forsaken by His Father. He is willing to be denied by one of His disciples while the other disciples flee Him except for John.

The Savior King comes to save from death and sin, not from the Roman Empire. The tyranny He defeats is that of Satan, not of the Emperor. The weapon He uses is spiritual. The devil is trapped into thinking He has won. The truth of the matter is that the One dead and buried is the victor, stomping the head of the serpent while having His own heel bruised. It is enough. It is finished. Your debt is paid in full. There remains the joyous resurrection yet to come following our Savior’s triumphant descent into hell to proclaim victory.

The Jesus you see today is the Jesus you see every time you read or hear the Scriptures. He’s the same Jesus you have heard about in Sunday School, sermons, confirmation instruction, and hymns. The King of the Jews, Jesus Christ, is the Savior King, the omniscient servant Who draws all hearts to Him to see how they are saved from everlasting condemnation. The King has come. The King has died. The King shall rise. Long live the Savior King! Long shall you live, even all eternity, for Christ dies and lives for you.

The Sermon As Promise and Gift

If the sermon proper has its matrix in the gift-giving word of the Lord’s Supper, and if its purpose is nothing more than to unfold and highlight that word, then we can avoid three mistakes: the way of theorization, moralization and psychologization. In other words, the proclaimed word is not primarily statement, appeal, or expression. This cannot be emphasized too strongly. For the word and faith are closely connected: as the word, so faith. If the proclaimed word is statement and demonstration, then faith is insight and knowledge. If however the word is appeal, then faith is actually its enactment in the deed, its realization in the form of a theory or an idea. Again, if the proclaimed word is expression, then faith is a fundamental part or experience of human life as such. Only if the word is promise and gift, is faith really faith.

Oswald Bayer, “Preaching the Word”, from Justification is For Preaching, pages 201-202

Fifth Sunday in Lent – John 8:46-59

Jesus makes it plain in today’s Gospel that He is the promised Messiah on Whom all the faithful of the Old Testament have set their hope. He tells the Jews, Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad. Before that, though, He tells them, If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, “He is our God.” If that wasn’t enough for them to pick up stones to throw at Him, He takes on the divine name, before Abraham was, I am.

The last two words Jesus speaks are the tipping point. No longer can the Jews hide their hatred of Jesus. They pick up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. His hour has not yet come, but is fast approaching. The Jews can deal with Jesus as a pious teacher. When He takes on the divine name and says He is before Abraham, while also being the One in Whom Abraham believed and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, that’s too much. This cannot be the Messiah they were looking for.

Yet there He is. They have to deal with what He says. Their way of dealing with it is to make sure He is arrested, tried, found guilty of something He is innocent, and let the Roman authorities do the dirty work of ridding Judea of this meddlesome Messianic figure.

We also have to deal with what He says. Jesus says, Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? The Jews were not able to show Him the littlest sin he committed. They must recognize Jesus as perfectly holy, including what He teaches. They call Him a liar and say He doesn’t speak the things of God but the things of Satan. What do we do with the many pronouncements of innocence in His judgment? What about His resurrection? What about the Word of the Lord growing to the ends of the earth? If what the Jews say about Jesus in John chapter eight is true, then Satan is Lord and not Jesus Christ.

Now you see the foolishness inherent in the Jews’ slander of our Lord. They can’t prove anything. Neither can we when we find ourselves saying and believing the same things they said and believed then. Jesus is a liar when I don’t get everything I ask in prayer. Jesus has a demon when I discover He dies for all sinners, yet not all sinners are spared everlasting death and hell. I love what Jesus says in the Gospels, but I can’t get behind everything He says, especially the stuff about loving my enemies. “They” are my enemies for a reason. Maybe Jesus will look the other way just this once and let me have my way.

You want your way with Jesus? Your way is the way of death. Your way is the way of the Jews who accuse Jesus. He can’t be greater than Abraham. Abraham is our father. We have no king but Caesar. As for this Jesus, well, He says and does a lot of good things, but He’s not for me. His way is too narrow. He lays down too many rules and regulations. I can’t live like I want. I’m not what you’d call a holy person. I have my own problems. I have my own life to live. I can’t be bothered with a Middle Eastern man telling me what to do and what not to do.

Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light. Had you, and the Jews who accuse Him, read the Scriptures, you would have seen this to be true. Who will you believe, the Son of God Himself Who testifies about Himself and glorifies His Father in heaven? Or will you believe a group of scholars who are more interested in preserving their way of life?

The yoke and burden of Jesus Christ is to carry your sin to the cross and bury them in the tomb. Jesus comes to die for sins committed by both Jew and Gentile. Only a sinless sacrifice is able to atone for sin. This is what the author of the epistle to the Hebrews refers when he writes that Jesus, the Tabernacle with skin, entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption…. He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

Jesus comes to take care of the Father’s business. The Father’s business is to mediate a new covenant, a new promise that only He can make and keep. He makes it to Satan in Adam and Eve’s presence. He keeps it when His only-begotten Son is implanted by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the Word spoken to her. He keeps it when His chosen people, for whom Jesus came, did not know Him. His own people gave Jesus into the hands of the authorities to have them crucify their Savior. The cross becomes the holy place where Jesus enters, once for all, to make the ultimate sacrifice for sin. His blood is sufficient payment. He becomes what He was not, sin, in order that you become what you were not, righteous.

This is what Abraham saw and believed when he took his only son Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him just as God told him. He believed God would provide the sacrifice even though he was ready to slay his son. God provided that sacrifice for him: a ram caught in a thicket by his horns. The ram is a sufficient substitute. Jesus is Abraham’s, and our, sufficient substitute. You will never taste death, for Jesus Christ has kept His Father’s Word for you. He delivers you from your enemies. He rescues you from the man of violence. He declares you righteous by washing you in baptismal water and feeding you with His very Body and Blood. He alone cuts the cords of the wicked and sets you free.

Third Sunday in Lent – Luke 11:14-28

In case you missed it over the last couple of weeks, Satan’s might is great. God’s Word says it, especially in our Lord’s temptations. We experience it ourselves. We are tempted every day, seemingly every hour. We see it when we look around. Satan is hard at work to draw all attention toward anything except God working in His Church.

Despite all the works of Satan to disrupt matters in the Church, the home, and in the state, we are comforted in believing the power of the Lord Jesus is even greater. Consider Him casting out demons in today’s Gospel. Jesus calls what He does the finger of God at work, drawing us back to Exodus where the magicians of Pharaoh couldn’t reproduce what God did through the plagues. Jesus mentioning the finger of God also draws us forward to Saint John’s first epistle, where he writes the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

There you have the whole reason for every season as Christians. Jesus has already destroyed the works of the devil once by struggling with Satan and overcoming him. Not only does Jesus do this in overcoming Satan’s temptations, He also does it in proving the Canaanite woman’s faith, as well as in healing those in Luke chapter eleven while having to deal with those who think Jesus’ appearance is to do the work of the prince of demons. Some even want Him to do bigger and better things. Here we recall what happened when our Lord lay on the cross. Some yelled at Him to come down from the cross so they would believe in Him. Even in His deepest agony our Lord cannot have a moment’s peace.

Jesus destroys the works of the devil by casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. Saint Luke writes this for our consolation. Jesus is Master over the devil and his kingdom. Like Job, Satan throws everything at Jesus. Even our Lord’s own people refused to see Him as Messiah. All the evidence was before them, even the writings of the prophets concerning the coming Savior. They conveniently ignored what is written in order to believe another narrative of their own choosing: He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.

Why would the “lord of the flies”, as Beelzebul might be translated, cast out his own? It makes no sense. Then again, everything that our Lord’s opponents say and do against Him makes no sense. The finger of God has come among them, and they look for a way to show it is actually the finger of Satan at work in casting out demons.

A while back I was watching a video conversation with people who were agnostic or atheist. A Christian was leading the discussion. He read a miracle of Jesus and asked those sitting with him to react to what they heard. There was no pressure on those gathered to convert. He was simply asking for their response. One person responded that the account did nothing for them. The Gospel writer could have faked the story. Jesus could have had a confederate working for him like some magicians. After all, magicians were prevalent in those days. The book of Acts shows this to be true with the case of Bar-Jesus. It is not reasonable to say that God becomes man in order to destroy the works of the devil. More evidence is necessary. Simply to believe without actual, tactile, first-hand evidence is foolish.

This is what we face as Christians in a post-Christian world. In many ways it is like pre-Constantinian Christianity. Constantine was an emperor of the ancient Roman Empire who “legalized” Christianity in the early fourth century A.D. His “legalizing” Christianity put an end to persecutions and put Christians in the favor of the ruling authorities. In many ways the Church still enjoys some of the favors that began almost 1,700 years ago. Those favors may disappear someday. What will happen when churches are taxed? What about open persecution of Christians in our country? How will we react to Christianity falling out of favor not only with government, but with much of our fellow citizens?

We react in the way Christians have reacted for over 2,000 years. We see Jesus continually overcoming the power of the Satan through His gifts: the Holy Word proclaimed in sermon, song, and absolution, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion. Jesus did not leave the Christian Church in a pickle after His resurrection and ascension. He left us with designated instruments: water, Word, bread, wine, and whatever else belongs to the preaching office that delivers the comfort of the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

The Holy Things given to holy ones destroys the devil’s kingdom. Yet the world takes no note of it. The world even laughs at us for clinging to what seems like silly rituals. Jesus suffered the same barbs when He accomplished it. The world can’t see what Christ’s Church sees. Consider that every child that comes into the world is born into the kingdom of the devil. The world laughs at us for saying that; even some Christians think we’re crazy to say that an infant needs saving from Satan. Yet at our Lord’s mandate we bring infants, young children, even adults to the font to be washed clean from sin and made a new creation in water and Word.

When you are overwhelmed with temptation and seared with many accusations of your conscience, you don’t stay away from the Gifts until you’ve got your life under control. You run to the Lord’s house and take comfort in His Word of reconciliation. You kneel before His altar and open your mouth to receive His forgiveness in His Supper. You rest in Christ as you sing hymns, speak Psalms, and live out your vocations at home and at work.

Jesus carries out His work for you in His Church. He will continue to do so until His return to raise the dead. Instead of looking to the world’s reaction to what happens here, we look to Christ. We see and believe that His Word will not lie. He has set up His finger of God, so to speak, in His Gifts to cast out Satan and give us His love, His joy, His peace, and His life. Even at home when we open the Bible or fold our hands, Satan falls and Christ rejoices. The Son of God has appeared to destroy the works of the devil. Don’t be ashamed, for Jesus is your refuge.

The Finger of God At Work in the Church

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 into 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 unto 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.”

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

Second Sunday in Lent – Matthew 15:21-28

Today’s Holy Gospel is connected to last week’s Holy Gospel. Last week we heard Jesus overcome Satan’s temptations. This week we hear a Canaanite woman, a woman not of the lost sheep of the house of Israel, begging for the healing of her demon oppressed daughter. She is confronted with what look like temptations. Jesus ignores her. His disciples begged Him to send her away, for she is crying out after us. Jesus seemingly insults the woman again before she begs for help one more time. That’s when things are not as they seem.

Saint John gives us a hint as to why things are not as they seem for both the woman and our Lord. He writes in his first epistle: everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Think of it! The faith that clings to Jesus Christ as Savior, the faith implanted into your life through hearing the Gospel preached to you by a preacher, overcomes the world. Think of the immense warfare, both physical and spiritual, that is at the world’s command against Christians. What power must dwell in faith if it wins over such enemies, especially in weaklings like you and me.

If faith has a great triumph over the world, how much greater than the triumph in contending with the only Son of the Most High God. Today we hear such a triumph from a woman outside the pale of God’s chosen people. We hear this woman proclaim her only hope for salvation and for healing her daughter.

We get a hint something is different with this woman when she calls Jesus Son of David. How does she know this Messianic term? Saint Mark hints that she heard Him. As Saint Paul rightly says in his epistle to the Romans, faith comes by hearing. She heard the proclamation of the coming kingdom of the Messiah; a kingdom that knows neither geographical nor ethnic boundaries. She is included in His kingdom. She believes Jesus is able to heal her daughter. So she dares to call Him Son of David.

You would think this would perk our Lord’s ears. He doesn’t respond. He shouldn’t respond. Only the disciples’ interference breaks His silence. Jesus doesn’t mean to be rude in remaining silent. It’s nothing personal. It’s strictly business. His Father sent Jesus first to the Jews. He dare not help. Was He supposed to disobey His Father’s will? It seems as if God is against her.

It seems as if God is against us when we get His silent treatment. You know it all too well. You pray, you cry out to God in your time of need. Yet you hear nothing. It is as if our dear Savior has gone deaf and mute for your sake. He seems to listen to everyone except you. Like the Canaanite woman, you might even fall at His feet, so to speak, and shorten the prayer to Lord, help me!

The big difference between you, me, and the Canaanite woman is that the woman shows up all of us, even our Lord’s disciples. We’d quit. We would stop praying. We’d go looking for another savior somewhere else. What is worse, Jesus calls the woman a dog. Put more precisely, a puppy. Puppies, like full-grown dogs, hang around tables expecting to receive a morsel from the table. Even when one doesn’t come from our hand, they’ll take the crumbs that fall from the table. You can’t stop every crumb from hitting the floor. It’s their share. Let them have it.

It seems as if the Canaanite woman should echo the lament of Job: God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes. I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me. You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me. The Lord has fallen silent and you think He no longer cares. This is a test. God doesn’t tempt, but He does test your faith. We would probably fail the test. The woman passes the test with one simple admission: Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.

Jesus set His own trap. The Canaanite woman trips the spring. Jesus smiles. He wanted her to spring it. He sees what we do not see. He sees the faith implanted in the woman as she heard Him proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God. As for us, we perhaps would rather sit in the trap and lament our condition. How like a sinner not to lament their condition but lament the One Who has trampled down death and sin in His wake. God holds her utter unworthiness as a Canaanite before her so that in this battle of faith she becomes a true Israelite, one who “struggles with God”, and a true daughter of Abraham, for it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham as Paul says in Galatians chapter three.

You know how you stand before God outside of Jesus Christ. You are lost. Forsaken. Hopeless. Helpless. You have heard the Good News. In this hearing you have received forgiveness, life, and sonship with God in Jesus Christ. A fruit of this faith in Jesus is to struggle with Him, forsaking the world’s easy way of doing things for the struggle with God. In this struggle with a God Who always listens to His beloved children, you are strengthened for greater struggles yet to come.

Like the Canaanite woman, Jesus wants to be trapped. Just when you think you’re nothing in His kingdom, you hear again that you are someone for whom Christ has died. Once God strips away your need to find another way out, you see there is only one Way out: Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. His way is to hear your prayer and grant what is good for you according to His will. His way is to lead you through the valley of the shadow of death into the pleasant pasture of eternal life. This way is yours because of Jesus Christ, Son of David, Who suffers death as the price of your redemption. This way is yours because Jesus lives. The victory is won. The spoils are yours in Jesus Christ. He remembers you. He saves you.