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Jesus Comes to Divide

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[Jesus said:] “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

“This is the Gospel of the Lord,” we say each week after reading the Gospel, but there is no good news in these words from Jesus this week. It’s a hard text to preach on. The difficulty stems from a dominant (and often unquestioned) cultural assumption about God and His relationship to us. As a rule, Americans tend to believe life is primarily about the pursuit of happiness. They also believe that God, if and when they consider Him, exists to help them in their pursuit. This is why most prayers are for good things—like healing, favorable weather, economic growth, reconciliation, wisdom, strength, and … peace.

But here is the rub. Jesus is clear in this text: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51). That’s not quite what we would expect Jesus to say. And I must admit it would be easy to pass on the Gospel reading this week and go with a different text. But I would suggest that our difficulty with this text means we need to hear it and take Jesus’ words to heart and ponder them all the more closely. This text confronts some of our deeply held views about God and our desire for peace.

As a pastor, I see more than enough division—divided families, divided congregations, divided denominations, a divided nation—and I work hard to bring peace. I’ve counseled families who are divided. I’ve met with couples who are in deep conflict, even contemplating divorce. I’ve seen firsthand what division can do to a congregation. Sadly, our own synod is divided—some calling themselves confessional, others missional. Some conservative, others moderate. And in our nation? The politics of personal destruction and partisan division rule the day.

Yet, Jesus states clearly that He is in the business of dividing. Jesus comes to divide—houses and families. Father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

This needs to be unpacked, of course. God’s ultimate purpose is not to divide spouses or separate parents from their children. His chief goal is to separate us from our selfishness and our sin, and in doing so, to unite us with Himself and all believers. His words in the reading today describe what happens when that division does not take place. To use a theological term, Jesus’ dividing work is His alien work. It is, indeed, His will and His work, but it is not His primary will and work. This division serves to accomplish Jesus’ ultimate will and proper work, which is the redemption and salvation of mankind.

For those who were originally there to hear Jesus say these things, His words would not have been as jarring. Luke 12 falls in the middle of the travel narrative in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, teaching the crowds. His message was not soft and flowery. Much like Jeremiah in the Old Testament reading for today, Jesus was calling them to turn from their sins and repent.

Jesus came to save us from sin. That is why He became flesh. That is why He lived a perfectly holy life. That is why He submitted Himself to endure His death on a cross. That is why He rose again three days later and ascended into heaven. All of this was for you and all the world—to open the gates of heaven once more, that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

However, this grace is—by definition—a gift. Jesus offers it to all by means of His Word, but He forces it upon nobody. Not everyone will hold onto the gift of life He gives. Many in their sinfulness will reject it, throw it away. There will be those who repent and those who do not. There will be believers and unbelievers. That is the division that Jesus brings, that Jesus gives.

It is a blessed division. Apart from Christ, all would be lost. Because of Christ, many are saved.

But you know how it often goes: When division arises, it’s the Gospel that gets the blame.

It doesn’t make sense to blame the Gospel. Picture the aftermath of a shipwreck with survivors flailing around in the water trying to escape drowning. A rescue ship has arrived on scene, with rescuers pulling survivors aboard so that they’re safe. The rescuers are dividing the drowning from death to life. But instead of rejoicing to join those on-board ship, imagine some in the water screaming that it’s wrong that those on board are different. Imagine them declaring that the rescue ship should be scuttled so that everyone is united in sinking once again.

That’s the position in which the Church finds itself today, and always, in the world. You’re safe aboard the ark of the Church, saved by Christ from death to life. As the Church, we proclaim that there’s plenty of room on board; but the world will declare that Christianity is divisive for proclaiming life in Christ.

“Jesus Christ is Lord” is a statement that divides between those who believe it and those who do not, and there will always be pressure exerted on the Church to change that confession to something like “Jesus is one lord among many.” But that says that every false god is as worthy of honor as Jesus. That leaves everyone without hope, united in hopelessness: everyone’s sinking, and there’s no true Savior to rescue. No, it’s far better to rejoice in the dividing Savior, to declare, “Jesus is the one true Lord and Savior—and He has died to save you, too!

If you think about it: Even a worship service creates division. Everyone is invited and all are welcome to attend, but a worship service is designed foremost to feed the people of God. It is the family meal, where the Lord feeds His beloved children. Some will visit a worship service and not like what they hear—I’m not so much speaking of style as I am of content. Apart from faith, people will not like the Gospel. This creates a division—some believe the Gospel and some do not.

As long as sinners remain, the division Jesus brings will be apparent. This is an important truth to accept, because many will argue that division is proof that Jesus isn’t there. Many will argue that peace and quiet is the proof of God’s presence. Look at the Old Testament lesson, the time of Jeremiah. God complains about the false prophets who proclaim “peace, peace,” where there is no peace. That’s the very sort of peace that Jesus comes to destroy, because it’s a false peace that denies the need for grace.

So it’s left to Jeremiah to be the bearer of bad news, to declare that the sin of the people has divided them from God, that judgment is about to fall with a heavy hand. And, who does everybody blame for causing division? Jeremiah, for telling the truth. But while he received the blame of man then, he now rests from his labors in heaven.

So there is such a thing as “bad peace” even as there is “good division.” But even “good division” is not without pain and cross, conflict and loss.

There are two places where this division becomes especially acute and painful. Jesus mentions one explicitly in our text: it is within families where some believe in Christ and some do not. This division may manifest itself in a subtle tension when some leave for church and some do not; or an underlying worry for the souls of those who don’t believe; or it may be open warfare when a non-Christian makes moral choices that contradict Scripture. This is a difficult cross for believers to bear, and the temptation will be to blame Jesus for the division, to decide that your loyalty to family is more important than your faith in Christ.

If you are in this position, you are in my prayers: and I pray that you would be delivered from the temptation of blaming the Lord. And I give thanks to God that He has divided you to life so that you might be His instrument in your own home and among close friends, that you might with love and patience speak His saving Word to them. There may be distress, but God will grant you the grace and faith to be His blessed instrument there.

The other place is within the family of the Church. The “problem” with the Church, of course, is that it is full of sinners; and where you’ve got a group of sinners gathered around the holy things of God, divisions are bound to develop along the way. I’m thankful that, at present, we have no great divisions within this congregation—it doesn’t mean that we’ve strayed from the Gospel, but rather that the devil’s attacks at present are of a far more personal nature on different members in order to harm the body of Christ here.

So when trouble arises, we first ask the question: is the disagreement over doctrine or over some other debatable matter? If it is over a matter of Christian freedom, then we respond by making sure that the strong in faith care for the weak. None of us is to try to get his way, but to look out for everybody else. This love for one another goes a long way in preventing people from being divided from the flock. And where it is a matter of clear, biblical doctrine, we firmly hold fast to it without compromise. We do so because we do not want to be divided from God for the sake of a manmade peace. We want to remain divided from death and united in Christ.

Because Jesus comes to give division, He divides you from death to life, from sin to holiness. Why, the word “sanctify” means “to set apart,” to divide away from that which is common or unholy. By His grace, He has set you apart from sin to righteousness, from death to life, from grave to heaven, from “enslaved to the devil” to “child of God.” He has done so by enduring the cross, that baptism of fire which damned Him so that you might be purified for His sake.

Blessed are you! For Jesus has come to divide you from death and give you true peace. He does so with these words: You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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A Song for the Summertime

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“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing! Know that the Lord, He is God! It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name! For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

You’ve surely heard of how early Christians were tortured and threatened. Those threats posed a temptation for them to give up on Christ. You may know stories of personal rejection and humiliation that others less famous faced because of their faith, which created painful pressure for them too. Today there are folks like Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop; Baronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers; and Kimberly Davis, the former county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, each of whom have been harassed and taken to court numerous times due to their refusal to participate in recognizing same-sex marriages that go again their consciences because of their Christian faith. And there’s a good chance that you and I are going to experience some of that same kind of opposition ourselves.

But there are other forces that can tempt and pull us away from God’s Word, our worship, and our Savior. Sometimes our pressures are all the more seductive because they aren’t evil in and of themselves. One of them is with us right now. It’s called summertime.

A friend of ours, the ancient psalm writer, has a news flash for all of us today. Even in the midst of summertime distractions, it’s always time for thanksgiving and praise. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing!” (Exodus 100:1-2).

This day calls for a song that’s bold, loud, and immediate! This day calls for you to gather with others and to sing in the assembly of God’s people. This day calls for you to invite others to sing too.

If the words of this psalm sound a little too bright and cheery, don’t get the idea that God is ignorant of the pulls that might keep you from praising Him strongly. The other Scripture readings you just heard today are honest about the pressures believers face. To be sure, you can always find reasons not to sing

The writer of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, reminds us that the burdens and seeming senselessness of life can wear you down (2:18-26). Here is man who “had  it all,” if ever there was one: wisdom, women, wealth. Solomon was a renaissance man long before the renaissance: philosopher and theologian, poet and patron of the arts, architect and builder, scientist and statesman, lover and king, tycoon and teacher. But none of these accomplishments brought him satisfaction or meaning, causing Solomon to write: “I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:17).  

Solomon’s words, “I hated life,” brings to mind Christ’s statement, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). Solomon describes himself as a weary embittered worldling. Christ speaks of the man of faith who overcomes this dying, sinful world by clinging to that which is eternal. Yet the two are not so far apart as they might at first appear. The person whose heart is filled with despair and hatred of his earthly life is often ripe for the good news of Christ and His victorious love.

Four times in this short section, King Solomon uses the term “vanity.” Solomon is emphasizing that without God all human effort in meaningless. Reliance to human effort leads to despair. Initially, Solomon’s achievements brought him some happiness (Ecclesiastes 2:10). But as he gives them more thought, he becomes agitated and despondent.

As if obsessed with the thought, the Teacher repeats the fact that the wealth of an industrious man often falls into the hands of a good-for-nothing. It’s one of the things that make life so unfair. Not only does a person struggle and sweat for a lifetime, but he goes down to the grave without any guarantee that what he leaves behind will be appreciated or used wisely. Solomon’s question, “What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart?” fits right in with these thoughts.

To complete the picture, Solomon describes the workingman’s daytime efforts and nighttime restlessness. What he describes is not an overly pessimistic view of work but life as it is actually lived. Though written centuries ago by a Jewish king, it could have been written yesterday by an American businessman.

Having examined wisdom, foolishness, pleasure, achievements, and everything else under the sun, Solomon found it all wanting, meaningless, vanity.

The drive to get the most out of life’s wealth can also turn you from God (Luke 12:17-21). A most serious temptation is to become attached to money and worldly possessions. In our Gospel, Jesus takes the opportunity to warn against greed and covetousness when someone from the crowd makes this request of Him: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus refuses to be drawn into this dispute between brothers, just as He did not intervene when Martha wanted His support to get her sister’s help in our Gospel from a couple of weeks ago. Rather, Jesus uses this request to warn against the underlying problem: greed.

So easily people imagine that the worth of life is measured by the abundance of possessions. Both rich and poor can easily fall into this trap. No wonder the author of Proverbs prays: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (30:8-9). Disciples of Jesus need to be especially on guard against this sin of greed and covetousness.

To illustrate His point, Jesus tells a parable. A rich man had an abundance of possessions. His barns quickly became too small to hold all the grain his fields produced. He had larger ones built. He had no worries about the future as he looked forward to a retirement filled with leisure and good time.

But the rich man had not taken one important thing into consideration—God and His judgment! He thought he was all prepared for the future, but he forgot about eternity. He was unprepared when God’s summons came. Far from being wise, he was an utter fool. For the sake of earthly gain, he forfeited his soul.

Obsession with money can crowd God’s ways out of our hearts. That is why Jesus warns so sternly against covetousness. Luther writes in the Large Catechism: “This is the most common idol on earth. He who has money and possessions feels secure [Luke 12:16-21] and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. On the other hand, he who has no money doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God” (LC 1 7-8).

Jesus underlines the danger of being rich in earthly things but poor toward God. In a consumer culture, the dangers of covetousness are often downplayed; in fact, some make greed a virtue. In love for us, however, Jesus warns us against the self-destructive nature of covetousness and gives us new hearts, which He, the very source of life and goodness, fills with joyful satisfaction through the Gospel.

To be rich toward God is to believe that God is the Giver of all things, including life and salvation. To show that one believes is to share with others the gifts God gives. This is the consistent teaching of Jesus in His various words about possessions. Behind it is the Gospel of grace: forgiveness is bestowed as God’s free gift in Jesus Christ. Yet a time of accountability will come when God will ask whether His free gift of forgiveness was appropriated through faith or was abused by the arrogant assumption that God’s gifts were personal possessions earned by one’s own efforts and therefore at one’s disposal to hoard or waste foolishly.

For the sinner, God’s gifts are easily corrupted and exploited for pleasure, rather than being used for the good of our neighbor and the glory of God. Such is the subtle seduction of summertime. Even innocent things, such as summer travel, visits with loved ones, and the desire to get away from work routines, can keep you from thanksgiving and praise of the Lord. Think of your own life, how easily such things can begin to overwhelm, even dominate your calendar, until you find you have little time for worship and the study and hearing of God’s Word.

Yes, if you and I look at ourselves, our life, our pulls and pressures, it’s easy to rationalize and justify neglecting intense and continual praise of the Lord. The old psalm writer moves all of that aside. He explains that the Lord Himself is your reason to praise. He tells you who He is: Yahweh, the God of the psalmist and the Father of Jesus Christ. He is the Lord of all the earth, the one who created the times and seasons for our comfort and pleasure, who gives you the summer sunshine, the family and friends you like to gather with, who made all those beautiful places you visit these lazy days. And this great Creator we know, for He Himself came into this world and share it with us!

The Lord of the earth made you, He knows you, and He provides for all your needs in this life (Psalm 100:3; Jeremiah 1:5). The time away to rest and recharge, those friends and family you’re enjoying this summer, and the means to pay for your trip are all gifts from Him. The protection as you travel through the air or on busy highways is by His hand.

Like a shepherd, He also sacrifices for you and redeems you (Psalm 100:3; John  10:11-15). We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. He is our Shepherd, our Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, only to take it up again. Every blessing—including all these of summer—is a result of our being reconciled to God by the cross of Jesus. And, of course, the reconciliation of the cross brings endless summer!

Our distracted life in the summertime in this affluent land is a real faith test, isn’t it? Like all tests, it carries with it the risk that we could stumble and fall. And sometimes we do. But our steadfast Lord is faithful even when we are faithless. He forgives us and renews us. And under God, it can be one of those tests that is almost like doing spiritual push-ups. In other words, it can be a hurdle that makes us stronger and more devoted than we were before. God gives us grace to come into His presence often—whether at home or away on vacation, to crawl into the words of Psalm 100, to make them our own, and to shout our praise to the Lord, whose mercy and kindness never ends!

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing! Know that the Lord, He is God! It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name! For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100).

For His sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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The Simplicity & Sufficiency of the Gospel

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“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority” (Colossians 2:8–10).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The complexity of something isn’t always the best measure of its value. Sometimes the very simple has the greatest impact. The Gettysburg Address, for example, contains only 266 words. Yet it has inspired millions to greater enthusiasm for liberty and freedom. The Lord’s Prayer contains only 56 words. Yet it is a wonderful summary of how to pray and what to pray for.

In Baptism, only 18 words are used, not counting the name of the one being baptized and the “Amen.” Baptism looks so simple. A splash of water. A few words. Yet “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.” Baptism unites us with our Lord Jesus Christ in a special way. In our Baptism, God takes the death of Jesus and the resurrection life of Jesus and makes them our own.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” says the pastor. Short and simple, but oh so important! For in these words we are adopted as God’s dear children, becoming heirs of His kingdom, receiving the gift of forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. And, as we hear today, our Baptism identifies us with our Lord Jesus Christ so closely it helps us to recognize false teaching and to hold onto the truth when our faith is under fire.

The church at Colossae had been founded by Epaphras. Through his ministry the congregation had become “rooted and built up” in faith in Jesus. Epaphras had done excellent work. And as Paul stated in the introduction to his epistle, the report of their faith and love in Christ was traveling all over the Roman Empire. But now the Colossians’ faith was under fire. So Epaphras returned to his mentor and told Paul about the problems the church in Colossae was experiencing.

In Paul’s response, we see three areas where their faith was being tested. In each one the Colossians were being led to believe that something was lacking in their faith. Though they had been baptized into Christ, false teachers were telling them they needed more. They appealed to natural human reason, which says, “If I am to be saved, I must do something myself. Show me what I must do.”

The false teachers were only too willing to do just that. Some were saying, “You don’t know enough.” They appealed to curiosity, personal ego, and intellect. They contrasted their sophisticated, hidden knowledge with the simplicity of the Gospel, leading believers to wonder, “Maybe we’re missing something. Maybe the simple Gospel we’ve been taught isn’t enough.”

Some of the false teachers were saying, “You must do certain things. Without circumcision, the right foods, and ceremonies at the right times, you aren’t part of the true church.” They made their appeal to the Old Testament roots of the Christian faith, leading believers to wonder, “Since God’s people, Israel, used to have required rituals, foods, and festivals, perhaps we must too.”

Some false teachers were saying, “You don’t have the right connections. There are other spiritual authorities and powers besides Christ whom you must contact in order to gain this higher knowledge and proceed down the path to God.”

According to these false teachers, this knowledge was imparted by various types of angels who controlled the lines of communication between God and man. They taught that since the law was given through these angels, they were to be honored and worshiped by keeping the law. Breaking the law obligated the sinner to attempt to soothe these angels by Jewish ceremonies and living right.

In effect, these false teachers were saying, “Well, yes, Jesus loves you and died for your sins. But you still have to watch out for the angels. They control the lines of communication. You don’t want to make them mad.”  

Each of these errors was leading the Colossians to wonder if something was missing in their faith. And their new teachers were all too willing to supply whatever they might lack. Paul warned the Colossians that all these apparent deficiencies in their faith were nothing but lies. Baptism into Christ gave them everything they need.

To unravel and expose these lies, Paul directed the Colossians’ attention to Jesus. “In Christ,” he writes, “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ.” The very essence of God, all His divine attributes are present in Jesus’ human body. The Colossians had received this fullness themselves when they received Jesus. How? Through Baptism, the simple washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit.

In many places, God’s Word explains how truly powerful this simple washing is. St. Paul writes to the Romans, “We were therefore buried with [Christ] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (6:4).

And, in his letter to Titus, Paul tells us, “[Christ] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (3:5).

Paul reminded the Colossians that before baptism they were dead in sin and in the uncircumcision of sinful human nature. What do you do with something dead? You bury it! That’s exactly what God had done. He took their spiritually dead nature and buried it. But He didn’t use earth to do it. He dug no tomb. He used the water of Baptism, by which each one of them was united with the death and burial of God’s own Son.

And, having been united with Jesus in His death, they were also united with Jesus in His resurrection. Though they once had been dead in their sin and transgressions, they were now alive again in Christ!

Now they had their answer for those who told them their faith was lacking, that they needed something more. They had the full Gospel already when they had the forgiveness of their sins, new life, and salvation through Jesus Christ. In Baptism, Jesus had already taken them from death to life. How could secret or hidden knowledge add anything more? What ritual could ever be necessary to validate their baptismal burial and resurrection with Jesus? Could any other spiritual power have higher authority or add to what Christ has already done and the work of His Holy Spirit?

To each question the Colossians could answer with certainty, “No, nothing can be added to what God has done in Christ Jesus our Lord. He has the victory. By the cross, Christ triumphed over all of our spiritual enemies—the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh” (v 15).

How about you? Do you have your answer to each of these questions? You see, when Satan desires to weaken your faith and create doubt, he’ll often use the same means he did in Colossae. Someone will approach and offer you a “full Gospel.” You may even begin to wonder if you have only a “half-full gospel.”

And if you do, of course, the false teacher will be perfectly willing to fill your half-full gospel with his. Perhaps his trick will be that of extra or superior knowledge, the path of secret societies, lodges, and cults that only reveal their secrets once you are shut up inside. Maybe he’ll tell you he’s discovered the details regarding the end of the world and how to be kept from being left behind. Maybe he’ll tell you that you to buy his book that tells how he “cracked the Bible code” and the amazing revelations God, for some reason, hid for centuries until someone as wise and knowledgeable as him finally came on the scene.

Maybe the false teacher will tell you not to take the Bible so literally. Sure, our forefathers believed those stories really happened, but we’re more educated and enlightened now. We realize most of that stuff is just myth and superstition. Besides, it doesn’t really matter if Jesus actually lived or died or rose again from the dead. What’s important is His teaching on morality and social justice.

Or maybe, the false teacher will take the ritual route. He might tell you that your cup will be full only when you become a prayer partner and send your money into PO Box 50429. Maybe he’ll tell you that your worship style is old and stale and needs to catch up with the times in order for you to have a more vibrant faith. Maybe he’ll tell you must be able to recall a certain, emotional experience when “you made a decision to follow Jesus” to be sure that you are “born again.”

Maybe he’ll tell you that you have to observe certain rituals or eat certain foods. Maybe he’ll tell that in order to be saved you must lead a sanctified life with certain distinctive habits. You must read only “Christian” books, watch only “Christian” television shows, listen only to “Christian” music.  

Or perhaps the false teacher will appeal to other spiritual powers. Maybe he’ll tell you that you must display certain charismatic gifts as proof of the Spirit. Maybe he’ll tell you that you should contact other spiritual powers and authorities through astrology, psychics, or channeling. Maybe he’ll tell you if you have a problem you just need to pray to a certain saint or guardian angel.

But you don’t have to fall for these lies. When faith is under fire, believers in Jesus, know this from God’s Word: “having disarmed the powers and authorities, [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (v 15). Baptized into Christ, your cup is already full. Your Gospel is completely full. You can’t put any more into a cup that’s already overflowing.

This is the simplicity and sufficiency of the Gospel!

Yes, like the Colossians, you also were once dead in transgressions and your sin was stinking up your whole life. So, God used the water of Baptism to unite you with the death and burial of His Son. Peter put it plainly, “Baptism … now saves you … It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). This is where you must turn when your faith is under fire: your Baptism—salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Baptism is our way of experiencing the life of Christ. We were spiritually dead. He came to live for us. He died for us. We were buried with Him. That means we were cut off from our old sinful nature and raised to a new life in Him. The record of our sins has been cancelled and we’ve been given the power to live in righteousness and holiness forever.   

So, when your faith is under fire, remember that Christ has already won the battle between the forces of the world and the power of God. When the powers of the world try to invade the territory of God, they fail, because God invaded the powers of the world by becoming human in Christ. By His death and resurrection, Christ won the battle for the world.

You are a part of His victory celebration. Because you’ve been received into Christ through Baptism, you can rest assured that you have the full sufficiency of the Gospel in all its saving power. By God’s grace, this simple water and Word has made you one of His dear children and given you an eternal inheritance in His kingdom. In Christ, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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When the Lord Comes to Visit

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“Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” by Johannes Vermeer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

You all know what it’s like when you’re expecting company. There’s usually a certain amount of preparation that is necessary—cooking, cleaning, bringing out the best dishes and silverware. We want to impress them. We want to make them feel at home. And when the company shows up unexpectedly, it just adds to the stress and busyness—even more so, if it is someone we consider to be above our own social standing.

So. What do you do when the Lord comes to visit?

It was the hottest part of the day. Abraham was sitting in the shade at the door of his tent. Perhaps he had dozed off. Maybe he was in deep thought about the wondrous promise he had received from God—within a year Sarah would give birth to his son. Suddenly, he was aware that three travelers had stopped near his tent. Hebron was on the main road that runs along the ridge of the Judean hills, and occasionally there were travelers who needed food and lodging. Hebrews 13:2 informs us that Abraham did not realize who his visitors were until later. Although they appeared in human form, one was the Lord Himself (Genesis 18:13) and the other two were angels (Genesis 19:1).

Abraham greeted the three travelers humbly and courteously. He bowed to the earth, invited his guests to rest in the shade under the tree, and brought water to wash their feet. By our standards his invitation, and especially his hospitality, might seem overdone, but perhaps our standards need adjusting. The Christian who loves his Lord will learn to look upon people not be interruptions or things to be used but as people designed by God, loved by God, and to be loved and served by us. It is not to our credit if our daily lives touch the lives of others with as little concern as two billiard balls bounce off each other or two ships pass in the night.

At this lazy hour of the day, Abraham’s household suddenly turned into a beehive of activity. Moses describes meal preparation that must have taken several hours. Abraham instructed Sarah to take three seahs—about fifty pounds— of flour and to bake some bread. He ran to the herd, selected a choice bull calf, and ordered his men to slaughter it and prepare it. Curds and milk completed the feast he set before his guests. And the three guests ate Sarah’s fresh-baked bread and the tender veal while Abraham stood by them under the tree.

It soon became clear that the three visitors had not stopped at Abraham’s place just to get a free meal. “Where is Sarah your wife?” they asked. We can imagine how surprised Sarah must have been to hear these “strangers” mention her name as she listened in on the conversation from inside the tent. They were talking about her and had come to bring a message for her: The Lord repeated His promise: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”

What a staggering thought! In addition to the promise of a son, Abraham and Sarah were to realize, and you and I are too, that the almighty God, the Lord Himself, wants to share our company as a friend. It is this down-to-earth, seeking, caring love of the Lord that melts cold hearts and wins them to Himself.

What do you do when the Lord comes to visit? You drop everything and spend some time with Him.

As we heard in our Gospel reading a few weeks ago, when Jesus sent out the 72, He told them to take nothing with them but to depend upon the hospitality of those who would hear them and welcome them into their homes. It appears Jesus and the Twelve must have followed the same practice. As Jesus enters the village a woman named Martha welcomes Him into her house.

One can understand why Martha is very busy making meal preparations. It’s not every day when the Lord comes to visit. And if, as seems likely, Jesus’ disciples came with Him, that’s a lot of mouths to feed. She probably could have used some of Sarah’s big batch of fresh-baked bread!

Meanwhile, her sister Mary is sitting at the Lord’s feet doing nothing but listening. Martha becomes irritated and asks the Lord to put Mary to work helping her. Jesus does not agree with Martha’s assessment of the situation. It is Martha who has her priorities wrong not Mary. “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her,” says Jesus. Martha is distracted over many things; Mary is satisfied with “the one thing [that] is necessary.”

This story is a contrast to our Gospel reading from last week, “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” The good Samaritan is an example of active doing. Mary is an example of quiet listening. Martha is busy serving her neighbor, but what she is doing is not so essential as what Mary is doing. A work or service that bypasses the Word of God is one that will never last. Hearing God’s Word must be our first priority.

The main point of the story is easy to recognize. Don’t get so distracted and concerned about doing good that you neglect what is most important, namely, to sit at the feet of Jesus and to hear the Word of God. But we should also recognize the problem confronting Martha. Isn’t she also doing the proper thing, namely showing hospitality to the Son of Man, who has no place to lay His head (9:58)? And by receiving Jesus, isn’t she receiving Him who sent Jesus (Luke 10:16)?

Martha’s dilemma can be highlighted by seeing it in the broader context of Luke’s Gospel. Recall that there are three elements to Jesus’ table fellowship: teaching, eating, and the presence of Jesus. One shows hospitality to those workers sent out into the harvest in a variety of ways. One certainly provides for them the food that is essential for table fellowship. But the most fundamental part of the hospitality shown to God’s pastors and missionaries is to receive and hear the preaching of the kingdom.

The one thing necessary is the gift that Jesus has come to bring. In the context of the Church, it is the catechesis of the Church, the teaching of the Word of God. The catechumen shows hospitality when he faithfully receives the Word of God. Jesus’ teaching is the good portion that will not be taken away.

The issue here is whether one is first to serve the Lord or first to be served by Him. This really ends up being a question of the proper approach to worship. Mary has the right liturgical theology. She sits at the feet of Jesus to receive divine service from Him. Instead of trying to serve Jesus first, she allows Jesus first to serve her with His gifts. Hospitality to the Lord is best expressed in faith’s passive acceptance of God’s Word, where the gifts of God’s kingdom will be found. After receiving the gifts, there will be time for an expression of hospitality in response. But first must come the reception by faith of the preaching of the kingdom. Martha makes the mistake of thinking she is the host and Jesus the guest.

For our meal prayer, we often pray:

Come, Lord Jesus be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed.

Given our focus from today Gospel, perhaps we’d be wise to add another verse:

Come, Lord Jesus be our host. You are what we need to the most.

What do you do when the Lord comes to visit? Perhaps the more important question is: When the Lord come comes to visit, what would He have you do? You drop everything and spend time with Him. You sit at His feet and listen to what He has to say, to receive what He has to give.

The story of Mary and Martha shows that when the kingdom of God is near, one must choose the portion that is “good” in the absolute sense—good above all others. The posture in which one receives Jesus’ divine service is not the busyness of human doing, but the stillness of listening to the words of Jesus. Faith is the highest worship. A faith comes by hearing the Word of God.

Our hymnal follows the Eastern and German tradition of calling the Communion service the “Divine Service.” The point is that worship is first and foremost God’s service to us. Going to church isn’t doing God a favor. We go to receive the fruit of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection—His forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Sure, we respond to His grace and forgiveness by confessing and praising His name and serving our neighbor, but first things first. Unless we passively sit at Jesus’ feet and listen, let Him wash us in Holy Baptism, let Him take our sins away and give us His perfect righteousness, let Him put His holy and precious blood in our mouths, we are not His. For it is in these means of grace, the Lord comes to visit you.

When the Lord comes to visit, like Abraham and Sarah, you hear the Lord’s promises of salvation and His return. Like Mary, you sit at Jesus’ feet to learn and hear from the Lord of all Creation. It is a privileged place to be if there ever was one! You are not here because of your wisdom as much as Jesus’ instigation. Abraham may have invited the Lord and His angels to stay for dinner, but the Lord came to his camp at the oaks of Mamre first. Martha may have welcomed Jesus into her house, but Jesus is the one who came to the village.

What is more, the one thing necessary—which is Jesus, Himself, of course—will not be taken away from you either! He has given Himself to you—not only as Teacher and Lord, but also as Savior. No one can take away the forgiveness, life, and salvation which is yours in Christ.

What a blessed way to begin a week!

Come here often and regularly to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen. For here you will find the good portion, the one thing necessary, the Lord Jesus and His life-giving Word. Here He has washed away your sins and made you God’s own beloved child, a co-heir with Christ in His kingdom. Here, the Lord feeds you His Supper, His very body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Here, through His called and ordained servant, He speaks to you this gracious Good News: For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.