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Great Faith

“Christ with the Canaanite Woman and Her Daughter” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

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“But she came and knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And He answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly” (Matthew 15:25-28).

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

Jesus withdraws to the district of Tyre and Sidon. This is Gentile territory, a coastal region northwest of Galilee that had never been part of Israel and had been dominated by the Phoenicians in Old Testament times. Jesus goes there, not primarily to engage in ministry, but to avoid the opposition arising from His recent confrontation with Pharisees from Jerusalem. The Canaanites who live there are descendants of those whom the Israelites failed to exterminate when they occupied the land. Most are unbelievers and idolaters, but this woman is an exception.

With the word “behold,” Matthew draws attention to this Canaanite woman and her words. She speaks like a disciple and calls Jesus “Lord.” This woman, who might so quickly be dismissed as unclean, speaks like a believing Israelite and addresses Jesus as “Son of David,” in sharp contrast to the Pharisees who had just been offended by Jesus’ teaching on what makes someone clean or unclean.  

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David,” she pleads. “My daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” It is a heartfelt prayer to the only One who can help. But how does Jesus respond? “He [does] not answer her a word.” Jesus’ response, or rather, lack of response, may surprise or even puzzle us. We have never seen Jesus treat anyone this way, and we wonder why He did this. Many commentaries seek to provide a satisfying answer, as though Jesus’ actions require a defense from us. But it is useless to conjecture why; Jesus simply remains silent.

But is that so out of character? Doesn’t it seem to you, that God is often silent when you are most anxious for an answer? At times, God seems inattentive, inactive, indifferent. And this silence may lead us to disappointment, despair, and hopelessness. God’s silence can be hard to take. It must have been excruciating for the woman in our text. You could probably tell of times when you have experienced this. It can be difficult. But it is necessary because it is only out of the silence that faith arises. As the writer of Hebrews puts is, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

The woman hopes for healing for her daughter. But even before that, she hopes for a response from Jesus. You, no doubt, have hoped for many things, too. Some of your prayers are known to others. Others you have kept hidden, because the hurt is too raw, you’re afraid it will overwhelm you if exposed. The need is so deep, you prefer to keep it under wraps to avoid the pain.

Jesus is silent as though He has not heard the woman’s plea. His disciples, however, have had enough. They ask Him to “send her away.” Give her what she wants so she’ll leave us alone and we can all get some rest.

Why Jesus replies to the disciples as He does, with words about His not being sent except to Israel’s lost sheep, we cannot be sure, but the words of the Canaanite woman provide a likely answer. She, herself a Gentile, has raised the issue of who Jesus is by calling Him “Lord, Son of David.” These titles are key to Jesus’ identity. In an especially important sense, Jesus has been sent only as Israel’s Messiah. To be sure, His identity as Israel’s Messiah and Savior has implications for His relationship with the rest of the human race and the entire creation. Nevertheless, Jesus is, first and foremost, “the Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham,” as Matthew describes Him in the opening verse of his Gospel. Jesus is not there for the disciples’ convenience or to be a wandering wonder worker.

Undeterred and unfazed by Jesus’ apparent indifference, the woman persists. She “kneels” before Jesus, the same word usually translated as “worship,” calling Jesus “Lord” for the second time, and continuing to cry out, “Help me!”

Finally, the Messiah of Israel speaks to her directly. If His silence was disappointing, His words are crushing. If His words seemed harsh before, now they are brutal. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” It’s not just that Jesus has been sent only to the lost sheep that are Israel’s house, but it’s also that He has come to give bread to feed the children, the people of Israel, and “it is not right,” if this woman is thinking that she should get what by right and by divine economy belongs to Israel.

Remember, Jesus has just provided bread in the wilderness for five thousand men, besides women and children, with twelve baskets of fragments left over (Matthew 14:13-21), and He will soon provide bread for four thousand more (Matthew 15:29-38). In Jesus, Israel’s God is feeding His ungrateful, uncomprehending people once again, as He had done during their forty years of wilderness wandering, while they waited to get into the promised land, the land that God had taken away from the idolatrous Canaanites. Now, Jesus wants to know this: does the Canaanite woman really know who He is, or are the things that have come out of her mouth just words and no more?

The woman speaks and shows her faith. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” In other words, “Yes, Lord, You’re absolutely right! It would be bad indeed to try to deny or contradict God’s plan to save His ancient people Israel. You are Israel’s Messiah, and the bread you give belongs to the children. I agree and believe, and I don’t want the children’s bread. But when the children eat, they drop a few crumbs, don’t they? And the dogs get to eat them, don’t they? The bread of the Messiah is so abundant and so overflowing that everyone can eat and there are still fragments leftover. I’ll take the crumbs!”

Last week, we had Jesus rebuking his disciple as Little-Faith. We learned what little faith looks like. We learned the dangers of little faith. And we were reminded that little faith in Jesus is still saving faith. This week, Jesus lauds an unnamed Canaanite woman for her faith: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Matthew 15:28).

How did she know? Who had taught this Canaanite woman about Israel’s Messiah? We simply do not know. We do know, however, the ultimate answer to the question of how this woman came to know and believe. The Father revealed to her His Son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. She is an unlikely candidate for such faith. That, however, is the way of God, to hide things from the wise and understanding and to reveal them to little children (Matthew 11:25-27).

Great was her faith. In what does greatness of faith consist? Two things. She knew who Jesus is: Lord and Son of David. And she knew that Israel’s Messiah has come to give such abundance that there will be something left over even for her. Great faith puts all hope in Jesus. It believes Jesus can and will help. The woman demonstrates this faith by looking for Him, following Him, begging Him for mercy, and continuing to ask even when it seems that He doesn’t care a whit about her. That’s the way all genuine faith in Jesus works.

The unnamed woman is not too proud to hear that she has no right to ask or demand anything. She listens humbly as Jesus says He was sent for the children of Israel and referred to her people as dogs. The children of Israel were God’s chosen people. They had received the promise and the Messiah came to them now. The Canaanite woman does not belong to His people. She recognizes her lack of standing. She identifies herself as a beggar—worse, a dog. She also recognizes who she is talking to. Jesus is the Master and He has bread (even if it was just crumbs) to spare. That’s the way it always is with true faith. Faith knows that if He helps, it’s undeserved grace.

The Scriptures make it clear how you and I are also beggars and we have no standing before God outside of Christ. He has all that we need for this life and for eternal life. In Holy Baptism, He has made us God’s children, heirs of God’s kingdom. He has washed away our sins and clothed us with Christ’s righteousness. He feeds us with the Bread of Life, Himself, His very body and blood, for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. Furthermore, God’s Word reminds us that Jesus is still Lord, and He has even more to spare. So, we come to Him, like the woman came to Jesus, and continually cry out for mercy, “Lord, help me.” And He does. He will. Not always when or how we would like Him to, but always at the right time.

It is interesting to note the different ways that Jesus deals with people who come to Him for help or for healing. He often surprises us by the way He treats people. When we analyze each episode, however, we see that He deals with each person in exactly the right way, for He can look into their hearts, and He knows what is best for them. In this way, He also teaches us that He deals with us as individuals. He knows our needs, and He is always concerned about providing what is best for us. His primary concern is to keep us in the saving faith to everlasting life. Nothing could be more important than that. We need to remember that always, especially when our gracious Lord deals with us in ways that we cannot immediately understand or appreciate. Any difficulties we have to endure in this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us in the life to come.

The promise in this text is not that Jesus will respond here and now by doing our will. He does on occasion, and at such times we sing His praise. But in many cases, and in an ultimate sense, we are stuck with the silence. Our shared experience with the Canaanite woman in our text comes to an end… for now, at least.

You see, our story is not yet finished. Our healing and restoration has not taken place yet. But it will. At the return of Jesus, when God’s silence is broken by the trumpets and His absence is replaced with His glorious presence, we will know the fullness of His mercy. As He did for the unnamed woman and her daughter, God will bring you and me full and eternal healing. In the meantime, we live in faith and prayer, appealing to and trusting in the mercy of God in Christ. Such is how it goes for those who live by faith alone. Amen

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. 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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“Saint Peter Walks on the Sea” by James Tissot

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Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

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

Have you ever had a nickname? Did you like it? Hate it? Still answer to it? I suppose it depends upon the nickname. Sweetie or Dolly or Mama Bear are good. Stinky or Lumpy or Terry the Toad, not so much.

Did you know that Jesus had nicknames for His disciples? James and John were Boanerges, “The Sons of Thunder.” Thomas was Didumos, “Twin.” In this week’s Gospel, Jesus has a less-than-flattering nickname for Peter (already a nickname for Simon, meaning “Rock”). Jesus calls him Holigopiste, “Little-Faith.” This Greek word occurs only in Matthew (6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). Where it does occur, it always applied by Jesus to His disciples in rebuke. However, the result never is that Jesus rejects them. No matter how weak or small their faith may be, they remain His followers. “Little-Faiths” are not the same as unbelievers.

Faith can be little or great, and your faith may fluctuate. Faith is fed by the Lord, present in His Word and Sacraments. The more you receive Him and His grace, the stronger your faith is likely to be. The less you make use of His means of grace, the weaker your faith will be. However, it’s important to note that your faith is like your pulse: as long as you have one, you’re alive. A strong pulse is better than a weak pulse, of course, and a strong faith is better than a weak faith. One with a strong pulse can get more done and is less susceptible to death. One with a strong faith will accomplish more good works and is less susceptible to doubt and temptation. But a little faith is still a saving faith because it holds onto Jesus.

Sometimes, nicknames just happen, but often there is an incident or trait behind the nickname. I suspect the moniker, Stinky, would be connected to someone who has frequent gastric issues. Blondie is probably noted for her golden locks. Jesus’ nickname for Peter also has a context. Let’s explore that a bit.

Our Gospel reading follows immediately after Jesus feeds the 5,000. Having provided compassionately for the people, Jesus sends away the disciples in a boat while He dismisses the crowds. Then He goes up on a mountain to pray, finally finding some time alone with His Father, a necessary recharge after the news of the Baptist’s death and all the busyness of healing and feeding the hungry horde.

Somewhere between 3 and 6 o’clock a.m., Jesus heads out to His disciples, walking on the sea. The response of the disciples when they see Jesus walking on the sea is threefold. (1) The disciples are terrified. (2) They speak a sort of anti-confession, “It is a ghost!” (3) And they cry out in fear.

They are afraid of such power and mystery. They do not understand who this is. Only one possibility enters their minds: It must be a phantom. This is like their reaction when Jesus appears in the upper room on Easter evening. They can hardly be blamed. Unlike Easter evening, Jesus has not promised He would walk to them on the water. He simply shows up unannounced, which may be why He does not chastise them, but encourages them.

Notice how Jesus’ response matches the disciples’ responses perfectly. Because they are troubled, Jesus invites them to “take heart.” Because they don’t know who He is, Jesus responds simply and absolutely, with echoes of Yahweh’s “I Am” at the burning bush, “It is I!” Because they have cried out from fear, Jesus speaks assuring words, “Do not be afraid.”

The message is clear and straightforward. This amazing being who has mastery over the sea and who comes to them in a fearful epiphany is none other than Jesus, their Master. Because it is He, they can know that this awe-full figure is for them. They do not have to be afraid. In this, His reassuring word, He has given them everything, and it is enough.

It should be. But it is not enough, apparently, because Peter does not quite believe it is Jesus. So, Peter opens his big mouth. He poses a bizarre question (a challenge?) to Jesus. “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” It’s a pattern that is repeated throughout the Gospel. Peter speaks from a lack of understanding at best, and perhaps from a far worse motive (see 15:15; 16:22; 17:4; 17:24-25; 18:21; 19:27; 26:33, 35, 69-74.) You think our current presidential candidates are gaffe-prone; when Peter speaks, bad things always come out of his mouth. The one exception to the pattern occurs in Matthew 16:16, where Peter speaks a wonderful truth: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He only does so, however, because the Father gives Him the words to speak.

 Doubting Jesus’ words of assurance, Peter wants evidence. Surprisingly, Jesus obliges. “Come,” He invites. Unsurprisingly (given Peter’s impulsivity), Peter accepts the invitation and steps out of the boat. Doubts quickly rise again, however, and Peter begins to sink. He cries out to Jesus a second time, not to challenge Him, but to find salvation. “Lord, save me!”

Earlier, when Jesus spoke to all the disciples who were in the boat, He offered them only words of invitation and encouragement. Speaking now to Peter, however, His words are a gentle rebuke. He doesn’t say, “I’m so proud of you for being bold enough to try stepping out on the water.” He’s doesn’t say, “You did well for a while; you only need to learn to trust Me more.” Jesus reaches out His hand, takes hold of the sinking man, and says, “Little-Faith,” why did you doubt?”

Peter’s lack of faith in Jesus manifests itself in fear. The same happens for you and me. Jesus promises He rules over all creation. He promises He will deliver us from all adversity and provide for all our needs. But we don’t always see it, which leads to doubts and fear. Fear leads us into all kinds of foolishness.

What is causing you to fear? Which promises of Jesus are you struggling to believe? Financial instability? Questionable governmental leadership? The pandemic? School re-opening? What has Jesus told you that you have a hard time believing? ? To what foolishness is your fear leading?

At the heart of all fear is idolatry, foolishly following false gods that seek to lead you away from Jesus, in this case, not because they promise pleasure or help, but because they terrify you into thinking that Jesus is no match for them. The example of the Gospel is the wind. Peter believed Jesus at first. Then he saw the wind and believed it was more powerful—that it had more power to kill him than Jesus had to save him. You, too, will be tempted by false gods who rule by fear.

It may be the god of pain or heartbreak. In this case, it may be a sinful relationship that you’re afraid of losing, because you’re afraid that the broken heart would be too great for Jesus to mend and cleanse. Therefore, you stay in it out of fear of the hurt. It may be that you’re afraid of staying in a God-given relationship because there will be some pain on the way to healing it; therefore, you get out of it in fear of that pain. It may be that you are afraid of leaving old sins behind, afraid what life will be without them. In that case, that sin has become a god that terrifies you that you will be worse off as a new creation.

Your peers may become a false god. Whether it’s in the office, the locker room, or the classroom, you’ll be tempted at times to deny your faith and confess another because you’re afraid of losing their respect or their friendship. You may  be afraid of suffering persecution for your faith. In that case, those people have now become your gods that you fear more than you trust in Jesus.

Disease is a big one. When healing is slow or the disease is chronic, when the scary stories of the pandemic are in front of you every day, you’ll be tempted to believe that the illness is too powerful for your faith and your Savior. You may withdraw, hoping that isolation will protect you, even as it saps your soul, mental health, and physical strength. In that case, disease has become a powerful false god which boasts it has more power than Jesus.

The greatest of all, of course, is death. Many have feared death enough that they were willing to deny Christ to avoid execution. Confronted by death, many are terrified because they can’t see beyond it. They recognize the power of the grave and doubt that there’s any way Jesus will raise them up again. The fear of death may cripple people, prevent them from doing those things that God would have them do in worship of Him and in service to their neighbor: once again, death has become a false god that must be obeyed out of fear.

In this world, the false gods that rule by fear look so big and intimidating, while Jesus looks so small and weak. These enemy idols are formidable and powerful, and the devil mocks you for putting your trust in a Savior who was so weak that man put Him on a cross and killed Him. That’s what the devil does, turning everything upside down. And living in this world and looking at everything upside down, those with little faith will be intimidated by those false gods that rule by fear. At times, you will be intimidated, for at times you will be Little-Faith.

But you rejoice because little faith is still faith. It still clings to Christ. It’s not intimidated by what you see—faith trusts in what you do not see, despite what you do. So, when you are afraid of these false gods, by faith you do what Peter did: you call out, “Lord, save me!” You call upon the One who has conquered your enemies, including sin and death and devil. By faith, you call on the One who has borne your sins and sicknesses and destroyed the power of the grave. And by faith, you hear Him draw near to you in His Word. To you, the risen Christ declares, “Take heart; It is I. Do not be afraid.” He forgives for all your sins—including all your fears.

Through the means of grace, Jesus comes to you as He came to the disciples on the boat; unasked for, sometimes unrecognizable, but always with authority. His stroll on the sea gave them a glimpse. His resurrection from the dead sealed the deal. His promise to return will provide the final assurance for you.

Jesus can save, and He will save all who have only a little faith in Him—even if at times we, too, doubt. The promises He has made He will keep, even now in the present time, as this tired old age still fights against the new age of salvation. He is the Lord of creation, who entered it to set things right. His power over creation was masked in weakness. He took upon Himself humanity’s sin and the divine curse of death, only to burst forth new as the Lord of life, the Lord over death and everything that would destroy us. This is Jesus; it is He, and no other.  For His 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.

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Guest Preacher, Rev. Doug Minton: Eat and Drink Freely

“The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes” by James Tissot

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (Isaiah 55:1)

You are daily in the devil’s kingdom. He ceases neither day nor night to sneak up on you and to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against these three commandments and all the commandments. Therefore, you must always have God’s Word in your heart, upon your lips, and in your ears. But where the heart is idle and the Word does not make a sound, the devil breaks in and has done the damage before we are aware.

How aptly Luther describes the world we live in as Christians! Neary five hundred years and forty-six hundred miles distant, but he summarizes the current cultural climate very well. We have heard and sung the great promises that are ours in Christ, but many Christians live in a constant state of fear. Fear of disease. Fear of being caught without our masks. Fear of persecution for our own thoughts and beliefs of what is going on in the world. Fear of death. Fear of the devil. All things which should not cause us fear. But many fear anyway. Because fear is more contagious than any virus.

But, as Christians, what do we have to fear? Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” It’s very easy to say, but it is difficult to put into practice. But that is pulling the verse out of context a little bit. Let’s look at the context around it. Jesus continues by giving this comfort: “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Your heavenly Father knows you so intimately that He knows the exact follicle count on your head! If He has concerned Himself with knowing that, why do you continue to worry and fear despite His promises?

We have heard and sung these promises throughout the service this morning: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” “It was grace in Christ that called me, taught my darkened heart and mind; else the world had yet enthralled me, to Thy heavenly glories blind.” “Now no more can death appall, now no more the grave enthrall; You have opened Paradise, and Your saints in You shall rise.” “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.” All of these wonderful promises, but fear still tries to win the day.

The LORD asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” Why? Why do we prefer the fear over the promise? The first words out of our mouths this morning: “Lord, ‘tis not that I did choose Thee; that, I know, could never be; for this heart would still refuse Thee had Thy grace not chosen me.” Without Christ and His grace, all we know is fear. By nature, we hear the LORD’s promises, but we cannot believe them. They are foreign to our natural way of thinking. Ever since the Fall into sin, man has allowed fear to rule his life. We always question God’s motives. We always question His promises.

With all the questions in our sinful human nature, what are we, as Christians, to do? How would Luther encourage us to go forward? He continues in the Large Catechism:
On the other hand, the Word is so effective when it is seriously contemplated, heard, and used, it is bound never to be without fruit. It always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devoutness and produces a pure heart and pure thoughts. For these words are not lazy or dead, but are creative, living words.

“Hear, that your soul may live.” Listen “to Him who alone does great wonders.” Fill your heart, lips and ears with His Word constantly. They are not just “lazy or dead” words on a page. They are “creative, living words.” Three weeks ago, we heard the end of this chapter in Isaiah. We heard exactly what happens when God’s Word is proclaimed: “It shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” What is God’s purpose in sending His Word? To free us from our fears. To welcome us back into His loving arms.

“I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” This morning’s Psalm reminds us of this constantly. The last half of every verse in the Psalm confesses, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Steadfast love that never leaves His people. The people He has claimed through His covenant.

St. Paul shows us this wonderful promise even to those who have walked away from His Word. Stopped their ears to listening. Closed their hearts to His love. As he begins to speak about his “kinsman according to the flesh,” what does Paul say? “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship, and the promises.” The Israelites had completely abandoned God, turning the faith of the Old Testament saints into a religion of the Law. The Israelites had everything they could ever want from God, but they turned aside because our sinful human nature seeks to reject everything that comes from God. As it has been from the beginning. The serpent deceived Eve that eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would make her and Adam “like God.” Ever since, sinful man has always thought he knows better than God how to live in this world. Therefore, he seeks to throw away everything that has to do with God.

How does God respond to this? How does God react to His people getting rid of anything belonging to Him? He continues to send messengers, calling His people to return to Him. Isaiah was one of the many Prophets God sent to His people, but Paul points back to before the Prophets. “To them belong the Patriarchs.” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To them, God promised the land in which they lived as strangers and sojourners. He promises them salvation through their Seed. He encourages them to listen and hear the Word that He has proclaimed to them. The Word that would become incarnate and dwell among His people. This incarnate Word brings the LORD’s great blessings with Him as He begins the process of the new Creation through His blood.

Therefore we sang, “Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed, paschal victim, paschal bread; with sincerity and love eat we manna from above. Alleluia.” This wondrous incarnate Word brings forth His message of salvation. One almost as old as time itself. The same message given to Adam and Eve. The same message given to the Patriarchs. To the Prophets all through the centuries. To the Apostles and the pastors they sent out. All of these proclaimed the same message. Christ, who would come from the Israelite line, would shed His blood as a once-for-all atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.

With the genealogy at the beginning of his Gospel, Matthew drives home the point that Jesus comes from the Israelite line in the flesh. Matthew, whose Gospel we are reading throughout this year, has a great deal to say about this Savior who has come not only to satisfy our stomachs with bread and fish, but He comes to satisfy us with the forgiveness of our sins. A promise made millennia ago to our first parents. Echoed down through the generations. Made personal in Jesus’ Incarnation. Applied to your sins and mine in Baptism.

Often, we think of repeated messages as being rather “lazy or dead.” However, Jesus shows in our very lives that they are truly “creative, living words.” Words that cause our lives to overflow with His blessings, even when—and maybe, especially when—things are falling apart around us. It is in these moments were we must see His blessings around us. Understanding these blessings appropriately, we can have “ever joyful hearts” that rejoice in His wonderful gifts. Where we can thank Him in our deepest struggles like we can when everything is going well.

He encourages us—even commands us—to come to Him in times of hardship and times of plenty. When our stomachs are satisfied and when they are growling. When our throats are parched, He says, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Eat and drink freely! Not just to satisfy your belly. Satisfy your soul. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Your Lord comes to you with His Word of forgiveness, leading you to the living waters of salvation, so that you may be satisfied in righteousness. Jesus promised this living water to St. Photini, the woman at the well: “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Again, the promises far outweigh any fear we might have in this world. God’s promises last far longer than your mortal life. Your fears last until you overcome them or you die. Fears do not follow you into God’s Paradise. God has promised you His Paradise after this life. A place with no fears, no sorrows, no mourning, no death. With this awaiting us upon Jesus’ return, what fear on earth can stop you in your tracks? There should be none.

However, we still succumb to the fears of this world. We do live in the devil’s territory. He does everything he can to keep the fears of this world front and center in your minds. But his words always fall short. All of the fear he can muster is nothing compared to God’s promises. As David says, “The LORD is my Light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” He goes on to say, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life to gaze upon His beauty and to inquire in His Temple.”

How do we keep this confidence? We hear the Word. Not just the sound waves hitting your ear drum. Listen to the words and their meanings. “You must always have God’s Word in your heart, upon your lips, and in your ears,” Luther said. Only then can you seriously contemplate, hear and use it. The familiar Collect of the Word encourages us to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” God’s holy Word so that “we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.” Holding to this hope is seen by coming to God, eating and drinking freely from the fountain of salvation. Hearing His Word. Eating His body. Drinking His blood. Receiving His promises as truly “creative, living words” that do not return to Him empty, but accomplish His purposes and succeed in giving and fulfilling the promises He gives you. Promises that overcome every fear in this world. Amen.

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The Hidden Treasure

“Hidden Treasure” by Eugene Burnand

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“[Jesus said:] “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

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

Hidden treasure. Who among us has not dreamed at least one time of finding hidden treasure? A map that leads us to the buccaneer’s buried booty. An old chest covered with dust in the attic of an abandoned farmhouse. The valuable antique discovered in the contents of a box purchased at an estate auction for a dollar. We’re captivated by stories of hidden treasure.

Jesus tells a story of hidden treasure and He puts you and me right in the middle of it. “The Parable of the Hidden Treasure,” is one of seven parables in Matthew 13. In each, Jesus describes an aspect of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Why do You speak… in parables?” Jesus explained, “To you has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (vv. 10-12).

The kingdom of heaven is a secret in that it is beyond our sinful human comprehension. It is unlike any kingdom on earth. No human words or descriptions can describe its glories. That is why Jesus used parables to describe it. When Jesus told His parables, a separation took place among the hearers. For those who heard and accepted His Word in faith, the parables helped them to understand the deeper truths of His kingdom. On the other hand, for those who rejected Christ, the parables became a means for obscuring the truth. Their calloused hearts prevented them from understanding. In this respect, parables served a purpose beyond that of the direct sayings of Jesus.

We must constantly remind ourselves that it is precisely His work of redemption that Jesus had in mind as He told His parables. In fact, when we read the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” we might paraphrase them by saying, “When Christ is active redemptively among men, this work is like…” The kingdom of heaven belongs to the plan of salvation our heavenly Father designed from all eternity centered on Jesus Christ.

Although we often think of this kingdom as something in the future, the kingdom of heaven is a present reality. The parables do not describe something that just goes on in heaven. They were designed to tell what goes on here and now among men when God is busy re-establishing Himself as King.

In “The Parable of  the Hidden Treasure,” the kingdom of heaven is compared to a thing—a treasure. A treasure is something that is highly prized, valuable, eagerly sought after. This term is used so that we might think of all the precious things in the kingdom: e.g., righteousness, pardon, peace, salvation, eternal life.

This treasure was hidden in a place where no one would expect it to be—buried in an open field. In the Near East, great treasure, such as gold and jewels, was often hidden, due to war, changes of rulers and such. Men of wealth divided their riches into three parts: one for doing business, another part converted into precious stones with which they could flee if necessary, and a third part buried in a safe place for when they returned.

The kingdom of heaven is hidden in a similar way. Although it is in plain sight, not everyone is able to see it. It is seen only through the eyes of faith. Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed nor will they say, ‘Lord, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20-21). Even though the kingdom of heaven was present among them in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Pharisees were not able to see it because of their unbelief. They were looking for a kingdom of power and glory, not a kingdom of the cross and humility.

But God’s hidden treasure is meant to be found by us. He did not hide His treasure far off in the heavens where no human being could even come near it, but in a common, lowly place, where it could indeed be found. The kingdom is hidden right in plain sight. But it cannot be seen by the earthly wise, or the proud and self-sufficient, but only by the humble and helpless.

God hid the treasure in His Son. He hid it in His Word. He hid it in the water of Baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. It is those gifts that give us the child-like faith to see the priceless treasure of the Gospel. As Jesus had prayed, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25).

It is only those who despair of their own efforts and accept God’s gift of salvation with the faith of children, who are shown this wonderful treasure. As we read in Proverbs 2:1-5, “My son, if you receive My words and treasure up My commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

The kingdom of heaven outweighs in value everything else. Just as the man in the parable who finds the treasure will go and sell everything he has in order to take possession of it; the man who understands the value of the kingdom of heaven will, with great joy, part with all he owns. As Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save His life for My sake will lose it, but whoever loses His life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).

You would think that anyone who found such a treasure would indeed be willing to give up everything he had to obtain it. But can we really do that on our own? Can we really give up everything for the treasure of the kingdom?

Think about the rich young man who asked Jesus what He must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus looked at him and loved him. “You lack one thing;” He said. “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21). The young man went away sad, for he had great possessions.

Treasure in heaven is the gift of eternal life, or salvation. It cannot be earned by self-denial or giving of one’s material goods. The cost is complete surrender to Jesus Christ. In giving away his wealth, the young man would have removed the last obstacle that kept him from trusting in Jesus. But he wasn’t willing to or able.

By our old sinful nature, neither are we. You and I would rather try to hold on to the things we already have. Old Adam would rather cling to the things of this world than give up everything for the treasure. Even if we were willing and able to sell everything we have, we could not buy that treasure. It’s out of our price range. It’s too rich for my blood… or yours.

Only one man could give up everything for the treasure. Our Savior Jesus Christ, the same Jesus who embodies the kingdom of heaven in His person and work. You see, Jesus is the man who found the hidden treasure in the field.

A common feature in all the kingdom parables is that the central character always represents (more generally) God or (specifically) Jesus. The kingdom of heaven concerns what God is doing to reestablish His reign in His fallen creation through Jesus of Nazareth. It is only Jesus who could find the kingdom of heaven hidden in this sinful world. And once He found it, He hid it again so that He could give up everything He had to purchase that field—the world. He gave up all for that treasure.

“Hidden Treasure” by Eugene Burnand

And that means… you and I are the treasure. Despite all the appearances to the contrary, we are that treasure. That’s the way God sees us through the lens of Christ. He told the people of Israel through the prophet Moses, “You are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). He declared through Malachi, “They shall be Mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up My treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (3:17-18).

Jesus unselfishly gave up His own life and bought the whole world. To claim us as His treasured possession, Christ gave up all that He had. Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, so that through His poverty we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). He willingly sacrificed everything—His power, His majesty, even His own life—to pay for the sins of the whole world. Not with silver or gold, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, Jesus purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation to be a kingdom and priests to serve God (Revelation 5:9-10). To get His treasure, Christ bought the whole field.

Obviously, the kingdom of heaven is the highest treasure. Nothing else measures up to—or even approaches—the tremendous personal value of forgiveness and peace with God. This kingdom was purchased at a great price: the death of God’s Son. Jesus willingly gave up His life to ransom a world imprisoned by sin and Satan. His work of salvation, completed at the cross and vindicated at His resurrection, is our assurance that nothing will separate us from God’s love.

This kingdom is not yet clearly visible to the world. It is not present now in all its future glory, but hidden in the simple, humble, and even among the godless and evil. That’s the way God works. The Savior came to the earth as a child. His ministry revolved around quiet service and obedience. He died the death of a criminal and outcast. But Christ’s resurrection signaled God’s acceptance of His atonement for the sins of the world. From this humble beginning, this kingdom of heaven continues to grow by God’s grace. Through ordinary means—words proclaimed, water, bread, and wine—when we are brought to faith, we are present in that kingdom here and now.

This treasure has been hidden in and among us. As the Apostle Paul writes, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). In the Near East, it was customary to conceal treasure in plain clay jars, which had little value or beauty in themselves. These would not attract attention to themselves and their precious contents. In choosing us as vessels in which to hide the kingdom of heaven, God has done the same. He has taken our ordinary, mortal bodies to hold His most precious treasure.

One day, Christ will come to reclaim His treasure. On the Last Day, our Lord will raise our bodies from death, gather all His saints, and welcome us to His eternal kingdom. As you wait for that day, always remember the great price that was paid for this treasure, living a life that reflect the tremendous value He has given to you. Joyfully tell others of this hidden treasure so that they too may participate in the kingdom of heaven.

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.

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Subjected to Futility in Hope of Redemption

“The End is Near” by David Sipress (The Phoenix)

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:18-23).

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

It seems the world is getting worse and worse. There’s a good reason for that…it’s true. Despite advancements in many areas our world is winding down. One step forward and two steps back. Science even has a name for this condition—entropy. Things left to themselves deteriorate and decay. You don’t have to look far for evidence. How about your home? Do the appliances last forever? Shingles and eaves? Check inside the refrigerator. What happened to that sealed container of leftovers that got pushed to the back? It turned into big petri dish, didn’t it? Growing a colorful, perhaps pungent collection of molds and bacteria.

But the evidence is even closer to home than your home. You carry it with you. You can eat the right foods, make sure to get enough exercise, avoid too much sun and toxic substances, and you’re still going to age. The aches and pains build up, no matter how careful you are, because you’re wearing out, too. And then, there’s all the stuff outside of your control—cancers and auto-immune deficiencies, mental failures, and various viruses and infections that come along and find you. Because you are a part of creation, you are subject to corruption as well. You can work hard and try to maintain for a while, but in the end it’s futile.

Why is it like this? We’re going to do a little time travel today to find out. Not just a few years forward or back. Not even just a few centuries. No, that kind of time travel is for amateurs. Our guide, St. Paul, is going to take us to the dawn of time, then to the end of the age, and back again. In just a few sentences, the apostle gives us a brief history of the world, starting with the present suffering and futility, going back to creation and the fall, then looking forward to Judgment Day and restoration, and finally back to what this all means for us now.

Declaring, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” St. Paul sets the stage for the entire discussion to follow. He is driving toward a satisfactory answer to explain how and why these “sufferings” are to be endured, even overcome.

So, he continues: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). Paul personifies creation, ascribing to it personal qualities and characteristics. Creation “waits in eager expectation.” Creation “has been groaning.” With the phrase “eager longing,” he pictures creation stretching its neck forward, looking ahead for an eagerly awaited event. Creation seems to comprehend that it will only be made perfect when we are.

The restoration of creation will not happen apart from the revelation of the sons of God. In the everyday world, it is impossible to tell with certainty who is a child of God. We cannot read hearts. But who is and who is not among the “sons of God” will become public knowledge only on Judgment Day.

The apostle explains, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21). Creation is eagerly waiting Judgment Day, when believers will be identified, because that day correlates closely with its own release from “futility.” Creation is frustrated because its original goodness is diminished by man’s fall into sin. Ever since that time, there has been a constant deterioration. Creation is in “bondage to decay” through no fault of its own.

So, how did creation end up in this situation? Not willingly, Paul says; instead, it was subjected. The one who subjected creation is not explicitly identified here. Some propose Adam or Satan. But Genesis 3:17-18 provides the answer. There the Lord God tells Adam: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.”

This subjecting of creation to futility happened in the fall into sin. But Adam is not the one who is doing the subjecting. Rather, God is the one. Through Adam, sin and death entered the world (Romans 5:12) but it is God who subjected creation to futility. It was God’s will to curse the earth and have it produce thorns and thistles. In this way it became hard to work and such served as a constant reminder to Adam and his descendants of the seriousness of their sin. But, as Paul reminds us, suffering is also a method of hope on God’s part. It is a gift to teach us that our pains have purpose and meaning.

In expounding Psalm 6, Luther reminds us his pastoral and practical way to  remember, first and foremost, that our suffering comes from the Almighty.

In all trials and affliction man should first of all run to God; he should realize and accept the fact that everything is sent by God, whether it comes from the devil or from man. This is what the prophet does here. In this psalm he mentions his trials, but first he hurries to God and accepts these trials from Him; for this is the way to learn patience and the fear of God. But he who looks to man and does not accept these things from God becomes impatient and a despiser of God.[i]

It seems strange (even blasphemous, I know) to hold that God brings suffering into our world. But it is so. After chronicling Job’s grief, the Holy Spirit tells us that our brother was comforted “for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). Some of my fellow pastors try to “defend” God by explaining, “God doesn’t want you to suffer. It’s better to say that He allowed this to happen.” But as Luther and Psalm 6 teach us, this, too, is from God. God’s permissive will is still God’s will.

This is a very painful example of what we Lutherans call the alien work of God the Holy Spirit. His main and favorite work is to comfort us with the Good News of what the Son has done for us with His own death and resurrection. But before we will become interested at all in trusting Jesus to be our Way, He must show us beyond all doubt how lost we are, and the consequences of our sin and rebellion—both to us and to all of creation.

Creation suffers collateral damage from man’s fall into sin. It is waiting to be freed “from the bondage to decay,” something it has endured ever since Genesis 3:17-18. Creation will only be freed from, this bondage and made perfect together with us on Judgment Day when our role as God’s children is fully and finally revealed to all. In fact, we, will then be heirs of the world.

Paul’s main emphasis here is for us believers to patiently endure under suffering. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).

In Old Testament times, God commanded His people to offer the first of the harvest to Him. For the believers to cheerfully offer the first of the crop to the Lord implied their trust and confidence that God would be giving them more later. As such, the “firstfruits” came to be looked at as a pledge, God’s down payment, assuring that He would give them the rest of the harvest also. Here, Paul emphasizes the firstfruits are not our offering to God, but a gift from God to us. God’s sending the Holy Spirit into our hearts as firstfruits is God’s down payment assuring us that He will also give us the rest of what He has promised.

What has He promised? Our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Our adoption is present—in baptism, God made us His son, heirs of His inheritance. But it is also future, as is “the glory which is to be revealed to us.” The longed for “not yet” aspect is the redemption of our body.

The divine solution promised by Paul—the bodily resurrection—is in marked contrast to the dominant philosophical expectations of his day, as well as those of our own modern age. Physical creation is not something to be destroyed or from which one must escape. Neither does our future redemption consist of being permanently delivered from any physical body. As creation longs for future restoration as the solution to its own present groaning and travail, so also believers yearn for the redemption of our bodies, not from them. This redemption will take place in the final resurrection on the Last Day when we are raised with glorified bodies to live with God forever in a new heaven and a new earth. That glorious hope is to strengthen us in anticipation of God’s great day at the end of the age.

From this text, we can see in astonishing clarity the whole plan of salvation for all of God’s creation. It is the kind of view that speaks to our souls and changes our perspective. The key to understanding what God has been doing in the world, and will continue to do, throughout all of world history all pivots on the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God.

Man was created in the image of God and put in charge of creation. When our first parents rebelled, man lost the image of God, creation fell into disrepair—weeds and wild, poisonous and deadly. But even then, human hearts corrupt it further: “Exchanging the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave [us] up in the lusts of [our] hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of [our] bodies among ourselves, because [we] exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:24-25).

God allows this state of our self-enslavement to continue, not because the created order wanted to be like that, but He is determined to eventually—at the fulness of time—reclaim His usurped earthly kingdom and restore it. God sent the new Adam, Jesus Christ, to redeem mankind, so that we might take our place under God and over the world, worshiping the one and only Lord, and exercising glorious stewardship over the world.

The creation is not waiting to share the freedom of God’s children, as some translations imply. It is waiting to benefit when God’s justified-by-grace children are at last restored and glorified. It is waiting expectantly for the freedom it will enjoy when God gives to His adopted-through-baptism children that glory, that wise rule, and stewardship, which was always intended for those who bear God’s glorious image. It is an image perfected in the Son of God and gifted to those clothed in Christ’s righteousness.

This perspective on the created order has all kinds of implications for you and me; from the way we think about the ultimate future of the world and ourselves to our present anticipation of that final responsibility for God’s world. Going to Heaven, it turns out is not the final goal, but rather the staging ground for our glorification. This is a positive, world-affirming view, without any of the risks associated with pantheism on the one hand or the cult of environmentalism on the other. Yes, there is still evil, and mankind is the source of it in the world and the world continues to be affected by it… so it groans. But think about how hopeful Paul’s message is, how far-reaching the Gospel is: The Earth itself, into which the blood of Christ seeped, will be redeemed and renewed, just like our bodies on the day of the resurrection. God through Christ Jesus reclaims His kingdom and creation from corruption and, behold, all things are new.

In saying, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18), Paul is not making light of your suffering. He’s not saying it is no big thing. Rather, he is saying that no matter how terrible the wages of sin you encounter in this life, the glory of the resurrection is that much indescribably better. You simply cannot imagine how great and wonderful are the blessings of eternal life that await. But they are yours.

They are yours because Christ has died to make you His.

They are yours because the Spirit safeguards them to you as He delivers repentance and grace by His Word.

They are yours because 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.

[i] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 14: Selected Psalms III. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 14, p. 140). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.