Exhausted Man/Omnipotent God

“Christ and the Storm” by Giorgio de Chirico

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“And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey Him?’” (Mark 4:41).

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

Put yourself in the disciples’ sandals for a moment. It’s still early in Jesus’ ministry. They have not yet been away from the region of Galilee where Jesus called the first of them. But they’ve already seen a lot! They have been astonished by His teaching. Amazed by His casting out of the evil spirits. They’ve seen Jesus heal multitudes, including Simon’s own mother-in-law. They’ve watched Jesus heal a paralytic and forgive sins. They’ve heard Jesus skillfully answer the questions about fasting and keeping the Sabbath. They’ve been sent out by Jesus to preach and given authority over demons. They’ve had Jesus explain the meaning of His parables about the kingdom of God. That’s a lot to process in itself.

But now they are all in a boat, crossing the Sea of Galilee, in one of the worst storms they have ever seen in all of their days. The fierce wind is howling. Whipped by the wind, the waves crash over the bow and sides, and the boat is filling fast. Even these experienced fishermen think they’re going to die. And where is Jesus? Asleep on the cushion in the back of the boat. They wake Him and say, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

Jesus awakes. He rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Immediately, the wind ceases, and there is a great calm—calm in the wind and water, but not the hearts of the disciples. So Jesus asks them, “Why are you so afraid. Have you still no faith?” And they are filled with great fear and say to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

Who is this? Who is this Man, so exhausted that He sleeps while the storm rages yet so powerful that He rebukes the wind and waves and they obey at once?

The disciples have seen Jesus do a lot of amazing things. They know He has power—divine, supernatural power. He’s not just your everyday, ordinary rabbi. That’s been obvious for a while. But this cranks it up to a whole other level. This is power over nature. This is power over creation. And the realization of what that means fills them with greater fear than they had when they thought the storm was going to do them all in  This is something only the Creator can do!

That would mean Jesus is God Incarnate! The man who just spoke to the storm is the One who spoke to Job in our first reading. He is the One “Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb,” the One Who “made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’” (Job 38:8-11). How can this be?

There’d been some hints to Christ’s deity before. At Jesus’ Baptism the voice from heaven had said, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). The unclean spirit had called Him “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). But you can’t really believe anything a demon says, can you? Jesus certainly implied He is God when He told the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” and scribes had questioned in their hearts, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:6-7). Jesus had added fuel to the fire when He told the Pharisees, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,” a bold claim to divinity that had not been lost on His opponents. (Mark 2:28; 3:6).

While at least some of His opponents understand who Jesus is and/or claims to be, and the lifeless storm recognizes Jesus’ divine power and authority, it won’t be until Jesus is near the end of His ministry, that His disciples will recognize Jesus’ divinity and confess Him as the Christ, God’s Anointed One. It’s going to take a while for them to sort out everything. They won’t really understand until after Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Living on the other side of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension we have the benefit of nearly two thousand years of Christian history to process and formulate just who this is that dwells among His people and has power over all creation, that even the wind and waves and storms obey His commands!

Our fathers in the faith have given us creeds, catechisms, and confessions so we can better understand and confess our faith. Our theologians have laid out the doctrine in books of dogmatics and systematic theology so that we teach the truth and steer away from heresies. It’s all so perfectly arranged and neat and packaged that I fear we might miss the some of the sense of awe and mystery experienced by the first disciples as they learned who Jesus is.

The union of God and man is beyond our ability to fully comprehend or explain, but God’s Word does tell us quite a bit. An Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism does a good job of explaining from Scripture while still maintaining the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and what it means for you and me.

As Christians, we confess: “This man Jesus is God and Lord: He is both my Creator and my Redeemer.” To acknowledge that Jesus is Lord “means to acknowledge that He rules over all things as our Creator and Redeemer, and that Jesus is the Lord God Himself (Yahweh) in our human flesh.”[i]  

St. Paul writes, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9–10).

 He adds, “For by [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the Body, the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:16–20).

The Lord Jesus is the eternal Son of God, who entered human history, born as a man with a body and soul, in fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promises. Thus, He is both Creator and creature, God and man, in one person.”[ii] St. Paul writes: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4–5).

To confess that Jesus is true God means to say that “the Son is God in the very same sense that the Father is God—namely, He existed from all eternity and, together with the Father and the Spirit, created the entire universe and everything with it.”[iii] As John writes, “All things were made through Him [the Word], and without Him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).

“To confess that Jesus is true man is to say that Jesus is human in the same sense that we are human, except without sin.”[iv] The author of the letter to the Hebrews explains what a benefit that is to us, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

We call the event by which the Son of God became man “the Incarnation, the great mystery that the true Son of God, who created the universe, entered His creation and became a part of it by becoming a man.”[v] As St. John reports, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

“How did the Incarnation take place? The Holy Spirit fashioned from Mary a true human body and soul for the Son of God.”[vi] As the angel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

This means that the Son of God (the Creator of the universe) has become our Brother in Jesus Christ. He is one of us. Jesus is human in the very same sense that we are human, except without sin. Jesus has a human ancestry. Jesus has a human body and soul. Jesus has a human sex. Jesus has human needs and feelings.[vii]

“Why is it so important for us sinners that the Son of God has become our Brother? As our Brother, Jesus fulfilled our obligation to keep the Law. Jesus suffered and died to pay the penalty of our sin. Jesus overcame death so that we, too, can be raised from death.”[viii]

Because Jesus, our Brother, is the true Son of God, Who created the universe, He reveals God to us—for there is no other God than this God who took on our flesh. He has provided a sufficient ransom and atonement for the sins of the world by His death on the cross. He is always with us. He intercedes for us before the Father. He rules over creation and the Church. He has the authority to judge and forgive. He is worthy of divine honor and glory. He loves us with an everlasting love.[ix]

Take heart in this mystery that is the Incarnation. The same God-man who healed the sick and raised the dead promises you healing and resurrection, too. The same God-man who ruled creation even while He slept on a cushion in the back of the boat, now rules eternally at the Father’s right hand for the good of His Church and for you. The same God-man who stilled the storm with His Word of peace, now speaks His Word of peace to you. Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. 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.

[i] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (2017). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, p 165.

[ii] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (2017). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, p 166.

[iii] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (2017). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, p 166.

[iv] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (2017). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, p 166.

[v] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (2017). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, p 168

[vi] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (2017). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, p 169

[vii] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (2017). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, p 169-170.

[viii] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (2017). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, p 171-172.

[ix] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (2017). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, p 172-173.

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God’s Perfect Will and Perfect Timing

“Parable of the Sower” by Pieter Bruegel

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[Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

And He said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables He spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to His own disciples He explained everything (Mark 4:26-34).

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

We know not how, and we know not when, but God works according to His perfect will and His perfect timing.

Jesus’ teaching about the reign of God often forces us to reexamine our expectations. This is especially true of His parables. Whether He is talking about a generous vineyard owner or a forgiving father, an ungodly judge or a fanatical shepherd, Jesus uses parables to challenge our conception of the world and offers a glimpse into another reality, which is the one, true reality. Sometimes His parables do this with a twist, or a surprise, or an unexpected discovery. Other times, He uses parables to make a relatively straightforward comparison. This week’s text includes two brief parables of the latter variety. They describe the nature of God’s reign by comparing it to seeds and the plants which grow from them.

This is not the first time Jesus spoke of the reign of God with images of seeds and planting. He uses a similar metaphor in the longer parable at the beginning of chapter four in Mark’s Gospel. There Jesus describes a sower who gratuitously spreads his seed. As He explains to the disciples, the seed is the Word, and the types of soil are the various ways in which the Word is received. The focus in that parable is on the differing fate of seeds depending on the soil in which they are cast. The parables in today’s text, in contrast, concern the nature of the growth for the seeds which land in good soil and bring forth fruit.

The first parable invites reflection on the timing of the growth. It begins with a man who scatters the seed. He does not know how the growth works. That is not necessary. He simply does his work, goes to bed, and rises each day. Once it is planted the seed does its thing. But the growth does not happen immediately. It comes in stages—first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain shall appear. Finally, when the grain is ripe, the man returns to bring home the harvest.

Here, Jesus speaks of the power and reliability of the Gospel message. All that need be done, in fact, all that can be done, is to sow the seed, to proclaim the Word. A farmer who plants the seed does not understand how it grows. The power is in the seed. So, it is with the Gospel. It is sown; it sprouts; it matures; it is harvested. Christ’s words echo Isaiah 55:11: “So shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and it shall succeed in the thing for which I purpose.”

The harvest includes the final harvest at the end of the world, when all mankind will see the marvelous fruit the Lord produced through His Word in this world of sin. But the harvest is also reaped here and now in the life of every child of God in whose heart the Word has taken root and grown and whose faith God uses time and again to bring that same Word to others.

The harvest isn’t the believer’s doing, but God’s. Thus, this parable was of special comfort to the apostles as they carried out Jesus’ assignment. Paul later put it this way in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” Though at times we may not see the results, there will be a harvest because the seed has God’s power in it.

One other thing must still be noted. When the ESV translates “by itself” it might seem as though the earth (the human heart) receives some credit. Not at all, for the Greek really means “spontaneously” or “automatically.” The person’s heart is only the locale where it takes place. God’s power inherent in the Word is the cause. If it were not so, you and I would be without hope; for by nature, we are corrupt and sinful, and we reject the grace of God. It is God alone who overcomes this opposition on our part and brings us to faith. We preach and teach the Word; God’s Word does the rest.

This first parable seems to encourage patience. We want to see instant results. We want to share the Word of God and see it bear immediate fruit. Plants grow slowly and without the sower’s full understanding. So, it is the same with the reign of God. We must sow the seed and wait for God to give it growth.

The second parable (Mark 4:30-32) has to do with the extent of the growth. It focuses on the size of the seed that is sown. The mustard seed is very small—much smaller than the other garden seeds. But do not be deceived. After it is sown and grows to maturity, this little seed surpasses all the other garden plants. Fully grown, it provides a home that is safe and secure for all the birds of the air.

Jesus’ second parable is also about the preaching of the Gospel. He acknowledges that when the kingdom of God is looked at from a worldly point of view, it seems like no big deal. It is a kingdom without a realm, without armies, certainly without an imposing king. When Christ proclaims the Word, the leading men of His nation—the priests, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, the rich Sadducees—do not follow Him. They ridicule Him, and undoubtedly that often troubles His listeners. Even the apostles have many misconceptions. They need to take another look at this and similar parables.

The kingdom of God is not one of outward form and shape. Its New Testament beginnings are so small as to be almost invisible. But Christ keeps telling His disciples, “Don’t be disturbed; the eternal fruits will be large indeed.” That’s the parallel parable of the mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds usually planted, which becomes the largest of all garden plants, sometimes reaching a height of eight to ten feet, large enough for birds to perch in its shade. We cannot judge the final size of the kingdom by the initial size of the seed. The Gospel has extraordinary power and vitality.

Although the farmer plays an important role in the cultivation of his field—after all, he sows the seed—its growth occurs apart from his efforts, even as he sleeps. The kingdom of God comes without our watching and grows without our urging. This doesn’t separate believers from the kingdom but reminds us that God’s work is not dependent on our constant effort.

This second parable seems to encourage trust. The plant that comes from this seed will grow larger than you might imagine. Again, so it is with the reign of God. What may look insignificant to our eyes at times is God working glorious growth unto eternity wherever the Word of Christ is preached.

I already mentioned the connection to the Parable of the Sower at the beginning of chapter four. If we look back a little further, we are reminded how Jesus has only recently called His disciples to follow Him (Mark 3:13-19). They have already witnessed incredible works, but they are still on the front end of their life with Jesus. Mark does not give us many clues about what they are expecting Jesus to be or do. But you get the impression that, through these brief parables, Jesus is teaching them His reign will not grow as they might expect.

God’s kingdom grows mysteriously of itself, at its own pace, and through the power of the Word. This reality often causes frustration among those who eagerly long for a rapid expansion of the Kingdom, and all the more as we only have a short-term view of things. But God’s kingdom grows according to His plan and timetable. And it is a great blessing that things ultimately depend on Him and not us, for only He is able to bring home a great harvest for life eternal.

We stand on the other side of Jesus’ life and ministry. We have read about His teachings and heard about His healings. We have mourned His death and rejoiced in His resurrection. We have observed His giving of the Spirit and have been grafted into the Church. This all took place through the Word.

But there are so many who have not believed. They may have heard the Word, but they show no signs of faith or life in Christ. Indeed, the number of people in America who identify as Christian is drastically falling—and these numbers were pre-pandemic. That is not to mention the personal connections you have. Most of you have loved ones who have heard of Christ but show little or no signs of believing.

In such a context it would be easy for you to become discouraged and grow weary. It would be natural to question whether God, who desires all to be saved, is really in charge. It would be tempting to give up and throw in the towel of Christian witness.

Into this uncertainty and weariness, these two brief parables offer a word of promise. The promise is simple: God works as we proclaim the Word of Christ. Like plants which begin as nothing but seeds, the life of faith grows from nothing but the commands and promises of Jesus spoken by God’s people. We know not how, and we know not when, but God works according to His perfect will and His perfect timing. As His reign spreads, many people find a home that is safe and secure in Christ. By God’s grace, you believe His promises for yourself. That is why you are here. You also believe God promises the same for others. But not everyone believes these promises. That’s where you come in. You can share the love of God in Christ Jesus wherever He places you.

Go in the peace of the Lord and share the Good News! For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father 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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Where Are You?

“The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man” by Jan Brueghel

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“They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:8-9).

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

“Where are you?” the Lord God asks. Not that He needs to ask. The Lord God sees everything, knows everything. No, He isn’t asking for His own sake, but for the sake of the man and the woman He had created in His image and then given stewardship over all of creation. It is they who don’t realize where they are, what a serious situation they have gotten into, how they have just brought in sin and death into their lives and all of creation with their one rebellious act.

They have sinned. They have broken the one and only commandment the Lord God had given them while He bestowed countless blessings. “You may eat of every tree of the garden,” He said, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” And now they are experiencing the consequences of their sin. Where they had heretofore only experienced good, now they know evil in a very real way. Where they were meant to eat of the tree of life and live forever, they are now dying physically, bit-by-bit, day-by-day, and have lost the eternal life with God that they had been created for. Where God had blessed His creation and commanded it to be fruitful and multiply, creation is now cursed and on a downward spiral.

As soon as they eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, their eyes are opened. For the first time in their life, they feel the dreadful, deadly feeling called “shame.” They know they are naked. And so, they make fig leaves to cover their nakedness, even though their conscience tells them it will never work.   

The second result of their sin is fear, another emotion they’d never felt before. The garden has been a place of joyful fellowship with God, but they run from Him and hide. His cry, “Where are you?” is a call of anxious love. The Lord God is moving to restore His fallen children to Himself. But these words are also a call of stern justice, calling the couple to repentance.

Adam’s response to God’s call is just as foolish as his attempt to hide; so thoroughly has sin deprived him of all discernment and good sense. “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He wants to inform God that he is naked—God, who created him naked.

Adam says he heard God and was afraid. But why was he afraid? This isn’t the first time he has heard God approaching in the garden. Always before, God’s presence brought joy, now only fear. Adam’s nakedness had never been a concern. Something drastic has happened. Adam’s words and actions do not conceal his sin, they only witness to his sullied conscience, his own condemnation.

This is the nature of sin: unless God immediately provides a cure and calls the sinner back, the sinner flees endlessly from God and, by excusing his sin with lies, heaps sin upon sin until he arrives at blasphemy and despair. Thus sin, by its own gravitation always draws with it another sin and brings on eternal destruction, until the sinful person would rather accuse God than acknowledge his own sin.

Adam should have said: “Lord, I have sinned. Please forgive me!” But he does not do this. He accuses God of sin and says in reality: “You, Lord, have sinned. For I would have remained holy in Paradise after eating of the fruit if You had just kept quiet. I would not have fled if You had not frightened me.”

This wickedness and utmost foolishness, Adam regards as supreme wisdom. However, we must not think that this happens to Adam alone, We, each one of us, do the same thing. Our fallen nature does not permit us to act otherwise. We all prefer to accuse God rather than to acknowledge our own sin before God.

The Bible says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions does not prosper” (Proverbs 28:13). God therefore continues to question Adam, and His questions become more pointed as He seeks to bring the sin of these two trembling sinners out in the open. “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Instead of accepting the blame for his own actions, Adam now seeks to shift the blame to Eve—and even to God Himself. “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Here, surely is another result of sin. A lack of love for God will inevitably result in a lack of love for one’s fellow human being—even one’s spouse.

Having been thrown under the bus, Eve attempts to shift the blame, too. “The serpent deceived me, and I ate,” she says. In Eve’s answer we note something else that must have been quite distressing to God. Both she and Adam are concentrating on the sinful deed of eating. God is much more concerned about the sinful attitude that produced the sinful deed. After all, sin does not begin with the hand but with the heart. Sin is just a deceptive in our lives today. We sense the results of our sins much more readily than the attitudes that produce the results.

As you hear this tragic account, remember that this is your family history. You and I are sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. From our first parents, we too have learned to love ourselves and to fight for ourselves, even if that means shifting the blame to our loved ones, even if it means disagreeing with the faithful God who comes to save us.

 Adam’s and Eve’s pitiful attempts to excuse themselves didn’t deserve an answer from God and He didn’t give one. Instead, God turned to the serpent and announced a curse. The serpent’s method of movement was henceforth to be changed; from now on he would crawl on his belly, a constant reminder to them and to us that this is the animal Satan used to drag down the crown of creation.

The Lord God then addresses some even more significant words to Satan, words in which He announces a new program of His faithful love. God first speaks about enmity, enmity on three different levels. He tells Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” There had been friendship between Eve and Satan. She had believed her “friend” when he spoke. And if God had not intervened, Eve and all her descendants would have gone to live forever with this “friend.” God’s promise to send a Savior to redeem lost sinners created faith in Eve’s heart, and that friendship she had felt toward Satan was now replaced with enmity. What a blessing that you and I have learned to look rightly upon Satan as our enemy!

The enmity God announces is going to extend further. God promises it will expand to involve coming generations of both Satan’s offspring and Eve’s offspring. God foretells the ongoing hostility between Satan’s followers and those of Eve’s descendants who will share her opposition to the evil one and her trust in God’s grace. This is the hostility that exists between God’s believing children and the unbelieving world down to this day.

This enmity will reach its climax in one of Eve’s descendants, here identified only as “He.” It is at this one descendant of Eve that Satan directs His most vicious enmity, realizing how much is at stake. “You shall bruise His heel.” We see the fulfillment of this promise early in the Savior’s life when Herod tries to kill Him. We see another fulfillment immediately after Christ’s public inauguration into His work when Satan tempts Him to forget His Father’s plan. And on that evil Friday that Christians call “Good,” Satan strikes His enemy’s heel with a ferocity that costs the Savior His life.

But Satan’s enmity against the woman’s offspring is futile, because “He shall bruise your head.” The serpent’s crushed head spells defeat. As it is through the woman that Satan brought sin and death into the world, so it is through the woman’s offspring that God will conquer sin, death, and Satan. “The reason the Son of God appeared was “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8) and to reconcile us to God and one another.

Our sinful pride rejects God’s Word and seeks to deceive us so that we might not know ourselves as we are or know God as He has revealed Himself. God sees our true nature, and in Christ He reveals His nature, which is both just and gracious to us. For those who confess their sins, God is always faithful to His promise to forgive for Jesus’ sake.

St. John writes, “If we say we have fellowship with [God] while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:5-9).

Out of love, the Lord God continues to call sinners to repent: “Where are you?” He, in effect, asks. “Why are you hiding from Me? Why are you trying to cover your sin and shame with your own insufficient garments? Look at your life and take stock according to My holy commandments. Where are you?”  

“Do you fear, love, and trust in Me above all things? More than money? More than family? More than your hobbies and recreational activities?

“Do you use My name carelessly or fail to call upon it in prayer and praise?

“Do you regularly set aside time for gathering with fellow believers to reflect on My Word and receive My forgiveness through My means of grace?

“Do you honor obey your parents and the authorities I’ve placed over you?

“Do you treat others with kindness and compassion? Speak up for those unable to speak for themselves? Appreciate the value of every human life?

“Do you refrain from lustful desire or activity of any kind? Do you promote the sanctity of marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman?

“Do you deal honestly with everyone? Are you a good steward of the gifts that I have  provided for the good of your family, others in need, and your church? Do you help to protect and care for the earthly goods of your neighbor?

“Have you gossiped or betrayed your neighbor by making public their private faults or secrets? Do you always put the best construction on others’ words, actions, and motives? Do you seek to build up your neighbor’s reputation?

“Are you always satisfied and content with the gifts that I have given you?”   

“Where are you?”

An honest examination of your life in the light of God’s Law will show that you are by nature sinful  and unclean. You have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what you have done and by what you have left undone. You have not loved God with your whole heart; you have not loved your neighbors as yourself. You justly deserve God’s present and eternal punishment.

But you need not run and hide. You need not try to cover your own sin and shame. On the cross, Christ paid for every single sin committed from the first sin in the garden to the last sin on the day of Christ’s return. He redeemed you, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

Where are you?

You’re in God’s kingdom. You’re one of His beloved children. You don’t run and hide. You joyfully come into His presence with contrition and faith. Led by God’s Holy Spirit, you pray with your fellow sinners: For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name.

Having confessed your sin, you hear words of absolution from the mouth of God’s called and ordained servant of the Word: In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you 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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It’s a Mystery! The Holy Trinity

“Jesus and Nicodemus” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

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“Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered Him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?’” (John 3:9-12).

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

This week I was watching a podcast where Andrew Klavan was interviewing Jordan Peterson, the best-selling author of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. For those of you unfamiliar with Peterson, I would encourage you to get to know a little about him. New York Times columnist David Brooks has called him the “most influential public intellectual in the Western world.”

What I found most interesting about the conversation was Klavan’s question about where Peterson stands in his understanding of faith and God. Peterson’s critics to the left have accused him of being a dangerous spokesman for the alt-right and labeled him a fundamentalist Christian. Conservative Christians have warned that while Peterson could be an ally in the struggle against neo-Marxism and cancel-culture, we should not be too quick to accept him as a brother in the faith, especially since he has never said that he is. Peterson calls himself “a classic British liberal” and refuses any attempt to pin down his religious belief. He defines faith “as something you are willing to die for.” While he is thinking and investigating and finds Christianity attractive, he’s not there yet.   

As I listened to Peterson and Klavan’s conversation, I’m reminded of Nicodemus’ late-night visit to Jesus. There’s great insight, thought, and hunger to understand, but the Holy Spirit has not yet brought new birth. Like many intellectuals, Peterson is still under the impression that everything must be fully understood to be believed. He is not yet ready to accept the mystery of God Incarnate in Jesus Christ. God grant that day would come soon!  

“In the first edition of his Loci Communes, Philipp Melanchthon begins with the warning that the mysteries of God are to be adored, not investigated. The Feast of the Holy Trinity is not a day for explaining and investigating the unfathomable mystery of God’s triune being; it is a day for adoration. Thus, the Athanasian Creed [which we will use today] confesses, ‘And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance’” (emphasis added).[i]  

There are many things about God that we cannot explain. Even highly trained theologians must admit that they cannot answer every single God-related question. For example, if you want to know what kept God busy before the creation of the world, you will have to wait to ask the Source Himself. However, there are a great many things about God that we do know and that we can explain.

We know that God exists. We know there is a God because His Law is written in our hearts—morality is hardwired into us. Most of us feel, perhaps even without instruction, that it is not okay to murder or steal or lie. Deep down, at our core, we know right from wrong. We call this conscience or natural knowledge.

But if we knew of God’s existence only from nature and our frail hearts, that would not be a full knowledge of God. It is not nearly enough to enter a good relationship with this God what we think must exist.

The only way we can come to know the one and only true God is through the way He chooses to reveal Himself. And while God could certainly set up some other communication system, He used a medium with which we are all familiar: words. His Word.

In Scripture, God tells us about Himself, and we learn that while there is only one God, He is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now this whole three-in-one and one-in-three business known as the Trinity is downright mind-boggling. It is a mystery. We do not arrive at our understanding of God because it is reasonable or logical, but because it has been revealed to us in Scripture.  

The word Trinity never appears in Scripture. A long time ago a theologian took the liberty of assigning a name to this concept so that we do not talk in circles whenever we refer to the threeness of the one God.

Both the Old and New Testaments state that there is only one God. We also learn that the one true God consists of more than one person. In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let Us make man in Our image.” In Isaiah 6, God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” God is both one and three. The three persons of the Trinity work together. A clear example of this is found at Jesus’ Baptism, where we see 1) God the Son as an in-the-flesh human being, 2) God the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and 3) God the Father’s voice coming down from heaven.

Also, when Jesus commands Holy Baptism in Matthew 28:19, He tells the apostles to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of Holy Spirit. The one, singular name God includes all three persons of the Trinity.

Just to make sure we are all on the same page: The Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit. The Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. They are all God—not three gods, but one God in three persons. The three persons are all equally good and equally important. There are no inferiority complexes or power struggles within the Trinity.

All that being said, if you still do not completely understand who God is, you are in good company. The truth is that God has not revealed everything about Himself. Numerous errors and false teachings started because people wanted a God who fits their own limited human understanding. But Lutherans are most comfortable in confessing what God has revealed to us about Himself. No more, no less. It is not necessary to understand the Trinity, but to believe what He has revealed about Himself. As we confess in the Athanasian Creed, “This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.”

In our Gospel for today, we meet Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a “ruler of the Jews.” Jesus calls him “the teacher of Israel,” suggesting that he is a highly recognized teacher among his contemporaries. As such, Nicodemus knows the Law and the traditions of Judaism forwards and backwards. The problem is He doesn’t really know the Lord. He doesn’t recognize Him even when he meets Him face-to-face.

As his conversation with Jesus ensues, Nicodemus encounters a hard truth about himself. As a teacher of Israel, he does not understand everything—not  even the most important, elementary truths of the Kingdom of God that Jesus brings. The ways of God bringing life “from above” are a mystery to him. Although he has taught the stories of Israel, although he has read how Ezekiel called the Spirit of God to come from the four corners of the earth and bring the bones of Israel to life, he still does not understand. He is limited in his understanding and Jesus presses into that limitation, bringing Nicodemus to the hard truth that there is an end to his understanding.

At the end of his understanding, however, is the beginning of life. It is life which comes as a gift, life which flows from the mystery of God.

Nicodemus recognizes Jesus as a “teacher come from God,” but he doesn’t recognize Him as the Incarnate Son of God. He thinks he knows about the Kingdom of God, but he doesn’t know that to enter the Kingdom of God, one must be born again of water and the Spirit. He doesn’t know about the Son of Man who descended from heaven, who must be lifted up that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. He doesn’t know that God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

By God’s grace, you do know these things. God has revealed Himself to you—who He is and what He has done for you. Although God’s ways are hard and beyond our understanding, they proceed from grace. The hard ways of God reveal the softness of His heart. God’s grace enters into that which is painful, that which is difficult, and it brings about life. God is painfully creative.

God the Father sees the world He has created: fallen, rebellious, broken, riddled with death. God the Father, however, will not abandon His creation. Instead, He sends His Son into the world to bring life, new life. Life from above, born by the power of the Holy Spirit, that all people might be saved through Him.

This way of life, however, is not easy to understand. Neither is it easy to live. Like the bronze serpent in the wilderness, Jesus will be lifted up on the cross. He will experience God’s wrath for sin. Painfully bearing the sin of all, Jesus will powerfully bring God’s grace to all. Yes, He will be lifted up on the cross and die. But He will also be lifted up from the tomb and rise. He will then be lifted up to the heavens and ascend, and be seated at the right hand of God, the Father, from where He will send forth His Spirit, through water and the Word, to bring life. We are baptized in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Three in One, One in Three, graciously joined in a mystery.

Trinity Sunday is a day we confess the mystery of our faith. It is a mystery that saves. The ways of God are beyond our understanding but at the heart of this mystery is a love that saves. Some mysteries are puzzles to be solved. Others are questions to be answered. This mystery, however, is a love to be experienced.

When I was about twelve years old, my parents let me have my own garden spot. I planted green beans. When they didn’t come up right away, I grew impatient. I also want to try to figure out how plants grow. I dug in the row and found a couple of the sprouted seeds, which broke off in the process and would never grow. I was no closer to understanding this mystery of life. Now, as an adult, I plant seeds, wait patiently, and trust in their growth.

There are some mysteries I do not understand but that does not mean that I cannot experience the blessing of their life. In some ways, the Trinity is like that mystery. Deep within the heart of God, one God in three persons and three persons in one God, is the gift of life. It is a life which is abundant, gracious, freely given, able to take our painful limitations, able to enter into our sin and our suffering, able to grasp the limits of death itself, and break through with salvation, that, “Whoever believes in Jesus Christ should not perish but have everlasting life.” Today, we rejoice in that mystery.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. 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.

[i] Weedon, William C. Celebrating the Saints. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016. Kindle Location 4922 of 5229.

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Living in the Last Days

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