Sermons, Uncategorized

Hidden from the Wise, Revealed to Little Children

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At that time Jesus declared, “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; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:25-30).

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

When our grandson, Abbott, was quite a bit smaller—about two years old—Aimee and I would take him along on our walks through Dunham Park. On one occasion, he insisted on bringing along one of his toys. Planning on walking at least three miles and knowing he would probably get tired before we got back, we tried to persuade him not to bring along the extra load. But it was to no avail. So, we took off, with Abbott carrying his special toy that he felt was so necessary to bring along. We figured he would have to learn the lesson for himself.

It took a while for our suspicions that his (in our view, unnecessary) burden would soon become too heavy for him to materialize. For someone with so much shorter legs, he really kept pace with us. For a while it even looked like he might make it the whole way. At about the 2 ½ mile mark though, he pulled up short. His chubby cheeks were bright red, sweat was glistening off his forehead. He said, “Papa, can you take this for me?” I said, “No, you wanted to bring it with us even when we told you that you should leave it home, so you’re going to have to carry it.”

But I could see that he was really hot and tired. So, I told him to hold on to the toy and I picked him up, put him on my shoulders, and we walked all the rest of the way back home. It wasn’t easy, but I enjoyed every minute, every step. I guess you could say at that point it was a labor of love. Abbott carried his load (the toy) and I carried him and his load. But it didn’t happen until Abbott realized his own limitations. He needed to find out that perhaps he wasn’t as big or strong as he thought he was, to admit he needed help, and then to turn to the one he know could help him.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but there is something like this going on in our text for today. Jesus is calling all who are weary and heavy-laden to come and follow Him. In reality, that is each of us. Each of us are weary and heavy-laden, weighed down the burden of our own sin and the consequences of living in a fallen world. We are all “little children” in being utterly dependent on God to save us.

But we don’t always recognize it. We aren’t always willing to admit our sin or our limitations. The world has taught us the importance of self-sufficiency, of carrying our own weight, handling our own problems. That strategy generally works best for us in the kingdoms of this world, but it doesn’t go far in the Kingdom of God. There, it is those who realize their own limitations, who realize their neediness, and the insufficiency of worldly wisdom, those with a childlike faith, who are the ones who find true strength and wisdom in Jesus Christ.   

Which brings us back to our Lord’s words: “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.” Jesus makes this faithful confession after a sermon to the multitudes who have been carefully catechized by the Pharisees and their own sinful natures. They’ve been trained to believe that salvation works just like daily life. Since nothing comes from nothing, you’ve got to work hard to get to heaven, and every mistake is going to cost you dearly. Success isn’t guaranteed, and you may not be righteous like the Pharisees.

Remember, too, that there’s always more to do. The job of salvation isn’t ever done, so keep working hard. That’s why the Pharisees continually load down the people with demands. That’s why they instruct the people on how to walk, what to eat, even how much makes for a proper tithe of herbs. For the shakers, movers, and haves, the system seems to work. There are successful people who seem to be keeping the rules, and this is supposed to motivate everyone else to try. Some will try to be self-righteous. A lot more will give up and stop trying, because there’s only so much room at the top.

So much religion is run this way, sadly, even under the guise of Christianity. The Gospel is pictured as one more pursuit of excellence. If you’re wise enough and dedicated enough then you can develop a solid faith and a mature relationship with Jesus. You get out of it what you put into it. It makes sense—but it’s wrong.

This is why Jesus declares that salvation has been revealed to little children. The little children are the ones of any age who treat religion like a little kid: they are believers who are there to be given to. They are there to be fed with forgiveness. They’re there to be clothed in righteousness. They’re there to be taken places, namely the Kingdom of Heaven. They’re quite happy, like a child, to say to the Savior, “You’ve done all the work, and I’m happy to receive the benefits.”

That doesn’t work in daily life, but that’s the Gospel. You and I have eternal life because Jesus has done all the work by His life and death and resurrection. He’s lived the perfect life for you. He’s died on the cross for your sins. He’s risen from the dead in order to raise you up and give you everlasting life. He’s even ascended into heaven to prepare the way for your ascent into heaven. He doesn’t say, “Work hard, and if you do well enough I’ll save you.” No, instead He declares this: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”

  “Come to Me,” says Jesus, but He doesn’t mean “If you work hard enough to make your way to Me, I’ll reward you.” No, think instead of the parent who tenderly picks up a tired child while at the same time inviting him, “Come here!”, and you have a better idea of the Savior. He has rest for all those who are weary and heavy laden with sin and weakness and know it, and those who are weary and heavy laden with sin and weakness and don’t know it. The former understand that salvation isn’t about the rules of daily living; if it is, they’ll never get the work done. Thus, they’re happy to rest in the Savior. The latter don’t think that the burden is heavy, so they see no need for the Savior. Instead, they’ll seek out salvation by their own rules. But they’ll never make it.

“Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Note carefully again the words of Jesus. Not “take My yoke upon you and pull with Me,” but “take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.” Hear His Word that He has paid the price for your sins. Hear His Word that He gives you grace and faith and salvation and all good things. Jesus does not come like the ox-driver, whip in hand and demanding a good performance before He rewards you. No, He is gentle and lowly and humble in heart, so much so that He gently rode into Jerusalem, suffered most lowly, and humbly went to the cross in your place. Because He’s suffered God’s wrath for you, you have rest for your souls with God forever. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light, because the price for your salvation is already paid.

Daily living is enough of a challenge for you and me. Rather than seeking to make salvation work the same way, you and I ought rightly say, “In everything I do in daily life, there is always more to do and I can never get it done, especially not perfectly. This accuses me. It shows me my limitations and failings, and it teaches me that if salvation works the same way, then I am surely lost. Therefore, rather than seek to earn my way to heaven, I will simply confess my sins and give thanks that Jesus has earned my way to heaven for me. Rather than seek to wisely and prudently earn my salvation, I will instead be a child who rejoices to be taken care of, to be given to.”

Now, be careful. There is no greater joy than being a little child in the arms of the Savior, who delights to give you all good things. But, before you know it, your sinful nature will twist this around and say, “Did you hear that sermon? The pastor said that you don’t have to do anything, so go ahead and do whatever you want. The pastor said that being a Christian isn’t about how hard you work to build a strong relationship with God, so forget that stuff like reading the Bible and receiving the Sacraments.” Old Adam is highly skilled at hearing only what he wants, so do not be deceived.

A little child delights to be given to. A little child delights to be fed and clothed and taken places. But if the child refuses to eat, he grows weak and sick. If the child goes and hides so his parents can’t find him, then he can’t be fed or clothed or taken places. The Christian who does not often hear God’s Word and receive His Supper is not boldly demonstrating that He is saved by grace; he’s being a child who runs away and refuses to eat. Do not be such a child. Instead, rejoice that the Lord visits you time and time again, giving you forgiveness, clothing you in righteousness, promising the kingdom of heaven.

Life is a struggle. You get out of it what you put into it if you’re lucky; and sooner or later, you can’t put enough into it to sustain. That’s how life works in this sinful fallen world. But that isn’t how salvation works with your sinless Savior. The Lord Jesus declares that He give it to you freely as a parent gives to a little child. May your struggles and setbacks in life serve to give you this joy: that while you must labor wearily and bear heavy loads in this life, it is not so for eternal life. Your Savior bids you, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

That rest and salvation are yours in Christ. You are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

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

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Devotions & Essays, Uncategorized

Prayer for Independence Day

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:1–3).

Dear Christian friends,

As I write this, it is Independence Day weekend. On July 4th, we observe the 244th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We have much to be thankful for in this country. God has given us a system of government that has allowed us to worship and practice our faith in our vocations relatively freely. God has given us a land filled with natural resources and industrious people that have made this the most economically prosperous nation in the history of the world. God has brought a diversity of people from all over the world who have sought to live together acknowledging the richness of our own ancestral heritages, while at the same time seeking to build a common culture.

Certainly, our nation is not without problems. No human society in this fallen world will ever be. No matter what side of the political aisle you stand on, I am sure that you can identify concerns that you have. Most recently there are issues dealing with respect for authority, assurance of equal protection and justice under the law, and how to deal with the medical, emotion, and economic consequences of a pandemic. In our system of government, we have the tools to deal with those concerns peacefully. As citizens of this country, we have the right to voice our opinion public square. We have the right to vote and campaign for candidates who best represent our views and interests. And we have the right to worship and practice our religion according to consciences.

As Christian citizens, we have a duty to not just look out for our own benefit, and the benefit of our loved ones, but for the good of our neighbor as well. God has also given us the privilege and duty to pray on behalf of our nation, civil authorities, and people, that, as St. Paul urges, “may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We acknowledge our failures of the past, the many challenges of today, and pray for the Lord’s guidance and protection of our nation as we move into the future.   

Toward that end, I offer this prayer, adapted from Lutheran Book of Prayer, for your consideration.

Heavenly Father, we come to Your throne of mercy bowed down and wearied by the weight of suffering and disaster visited upon our country through disease, distrust, and disorder. We beg You to protect this nation in our hour of need. We acknowledge our trespasses before You and do not deny either our own transgressions of Your holy Law or the sins of other citizens of our homeland. We have not loved You above all things; we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are laden with iniquity, but You call us to Your forgiveness, salvation, hope, and life. Turn the hearts and minds of all to You that they might find peace through the cleansing of Jesus’ blood. Let us not be confounded or dismayed, so that we, children of Your grace, may courageously speak to this needy world of the hope that is within us. Make us instruments of Your peace in a world of conflict, witnesses to the power of faith in a world lost in unbelief, and bearers of the joy that overcomes the sorrow of a fallen world. Grant to the leaders of the nations of the world wise counsel, calm thinking, and unselfish aims. Amid the tumult of disaster, build Your kingdom and turn even more souls to Yourself. Because of Your grace, we are not altogether lost but find peace and forgiveness in You. O Lord, give us the grace to seek You, trust You, and confess You; in Jesus’ name. Amen

The Lord bless us and keep us and our nation in His Word and will in however many days and years He has allotted to us. Amen.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Not Peace, but a Sword

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

Our text for today, Matthew 10:34-37, is a terribly difficult passage of Scripture. Not so difficult to understand, but difficult to accept. These words are even more disturbing because they come from the One whom Scripture calls the Prince of Peace. Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”  

Most Christians want to think of our home as a place of refuge and peace, our family as a source of strength and comfort—especially in times of difficulty and tumult. Heaven help anyone who would try to drive a wedge between your dearest loved ones and you! So we have to ask, “What kind of God would come to this earth with the expressed purpose to “set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law”?

Jesus. Jesus is that God. Your Jesus—the one whom you love and the One to whom you pray—He is that God. “I have not come to bring peace,” He says, “but a sword… And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

What’s going on here? Well, there are a couple of clues. The first clue is a matter of Law. When Jesus speaks of turning families against each other, He is echoing the Old Testament prophet Micah, who is commenting on his day. Rejection of God and His Word has led to many terrible consequences in society. Rulers are corrupt and judges are easily bribed; there is no justice for anyone. Friends and neighbors are not to be trusted; sin has turned people to selfishness and greed. The family structure has broken down. Micah writes: “The son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house” (Micah 7:6). In contrast to this breakdown of human relationships, Micah places faith in God and reliance upon His Word: “But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me” (Micah 7:7).

This is the first clue in understanding what Jesus is saying according to the Law in today’s text. When all share the same faith in the Lord, there will be harmony. When some in the family are believers and some are not, there will be strife because some hold to the truth of God’s Word and some reject it, some worship the one true God and others turn to idols of their own making. Such a family will find peace in only one of two ways: Either all will come to believe in the Lord and abide by His Word, or all will decide that family is more important.

The second clue to understanding Jesus’ harsh words is Gospel. Jesus comes to undo the wages and consequences of sin. All deserve eternal death, because all are sinful, and the wages of sin is death. But Jesus comes to die for the sins of the world. He has won peace for us between man and God. He is Lord and God, truly worthy to receive glory and honor and power.

So, given all of this, the question you face is this: Are you worthy? Do you really want Jesus to be your Lord and God? Do you really want to trust in the Lord and abide by His Word?

“Of course, I do, Pastor?” you say. “What a silly question for you to ask! Do you think I would be here if I didn’t?”

But I ask you again: Are you worthy? Do you really “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”? All the time? In every way?

Part of you certainly does. That baptized, sanctified, fully cleansed part of each Christian wants nothing more than for Jesus to be Lord and God. This is the part of you that Paul calls “a new creation.” This is what Luther’s Small Catechism describes as the new person who emerges and arises from Baptism “to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

But here in this life, that new creation is not the only part of you. Another part of you doesn’t want Jesus to be Lord and God. That part is the old evil flesh, “the body of sin” still living and working within you. The Old Adam wants nothing to do with Christ crucified and seeks to worship other gods! No, you do not want Jesus to be your Lord and God. Not all the time. You are an idolater!

Knowing who you are—your natural tendencies and inescapable desires—Jesus says to you: “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword… Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:34, 37).

With these terrible-sounding words, Jesus is lovingly cutting away objects of your idolatry. Remember: “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress… Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god” (LC, Part I, 2,3). Jesus does not want you to have any illusions about what shall be most important to you. He’s not even asking you to choose between Him and your gods. Jesus is making the choice for you because He knows you don’t have the ability to choose correctly for yourself.

Perhaps you have one of your idols sitting with you today. Go ahead and take a look. Maybe your favorite gods live somewhere across the state or the country. Inventory your memories. Assess your fondest hopes for the future. Consider your happiest moments of your life along with the people who were with you in those times. Think about how secure and comforted those loved ones have made you feel. Have you turned them into an idol?

Consider this in regard to a few common family situations faced today.  Suppose your son decided he was going to live with his fiancé before getting married. Would you call that sin or remain silent in order to keep peace? What if your daughter’s team were scheduled to play on Sunday morning? Would you let her miss worship just this once so that she wouldn’t lose her spot on the starting lineup? What if your boyfriend was pressuring you to do things God’s Word has clearly saved for marriage? Would you give in, rather than risk losing him?

Jesus’ says, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And the sword of Jesus’ Word is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” (Hebrew 4:12-13).

That Word terrifies the Old Adam, but it brings great comfort to the baptized new man. Jesus wields the razor-sharp sword of His Word to bring you true peace. This is not a half-hearted peace. This is not a comfortable peace brought by calculated compromise and careful negotiation. This is not a “peace” maintained by silence or at the cost of truth. This is peace through strength, the power of God’s Word. The Word is the Law that kills and destroys sin in the death of Christ; but the Word is also the Gospel, which raises you to life and heals you in Christ’s resurrection. This is the Word that declares you righteous and holy for Jesus’ sake.

So, don’t fear the Lord’s sword or flee from it. For the One who wields this sword is the same Christ who gave His life into death for you on His cross. He knows the killing edge of that sword. For you, He has experienced it firsthand, in His own body. And on the way to Calvary, He experienced the rejection and scorn of even His own family members. He wields this sword—not as an instrument of destruction—but as a skilled surgeon, slicing out sin and death, carving out the cancer of idolatry, reviving and restoring you with His breath and His blood.

But the sword of Christ also brings earthly conflict and division. The cross of Christ always precipitates a crisis when it confronts us. We either deny it in unbelief or we confess it in faith. And the line between faith and unbelief is always up close and personal. It cuts through family ties. It severs every human connection, whether by blood or marriage.

Why would Jesus do that? Why would God tear down the bonds He has joined, the ties of family that you know are so essential to this life?

Jesus must tear down, before He builds up. He must wound before He heals. Christ must cut into your relationships, so He can get into the thick of it all. For Christ must get between a person and the members of his household, so that each will deal with the other, and receive the other, in and through Christ Himself. Without Christ every relationship is in danger of becoming idolatrous.

Jesus says, “Anyone who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. Anyone who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” To love anyone over Christ is to make them into an idol. And no one can be God and Lord for us but the One who hung on the cross, who was broken by our death, and in His dying and rising brought us life.

Think about your dear loved ones that God has given to you for a time here on earth. They are certainly wonderful gifts from God, among His very best gifts, but do they make a good god? Are they going to save you?

Can your Dad defy death for himself, much less you? Jesus can and Jesus has. It is on account of Jesus’ death and resurrection that you now shall rise from the dead, fully forgiven of every sin, including your idolatry.

Can your Mom truly comfort you as you face the harsh realities and consequences of your sin? Can anyone? Then why do they go away? How dare they die and leave you to face life alone! Jesus does not and will not leave you to face life alone. Risen from the dead, Jesus ascended to heaven so that He may fill all things—so that there is no place you can ever go where Jesus is not with you.

Can your spouse completely fulfill you? Does he or she know you, your innermost thoughts, and darkest secrets yet still love you perfectly and unconditionally? Jesus is your High Priest, who is able to sympathize with you in your weaknesses, One who in every respect has been tempted as you are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He is the Bridegroom who loves you and gave Himself up for you, that He might sanctify you, having cleansed you by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present you to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that you might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).

Can your child be the source of your eternal joy? Your hope for the future? Your shot at immortality? Only God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ can! According to His great mercy, He has caused you to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. Though you have not seen Christ, you love Him. Though you do not know see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3 ff.).

Has anyone in your family ever treated you selfishly? Has anyone ever put himself or herself first, rather than keeping you first and foremost in all things? Jesus has never done that, and He never will! Everything Jesus does from His incarnation and perfect life to His atoning death, resurrection, and ascension, even His harsh-sounding words to you—everything Jesus does is for you!

“Anyone who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. Anyone who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” With these words, Jesus is keeping your perspective clear. Love your family, yes! Cherish them as precious gifts of God. Hold them and care for them and pour your life into them. You have nothing better to do than to devote yourself to those whom God has lovingly placed into your life. But don’t turn them into your idols!

With one and only one exception, every human relationship will eventually loosen and end. Death will see to it. One and only one connection remains eternal. God the Son has made you His brother in Baptism. In that water with the Word, God the Father has adopted you to be His child and heir forever. God the Holy Spirit has created for you an everlasting family, which extends far beyond the walls of your house and is now as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands on the seashore. You shall live and remain in this house with this dear family forever.

There, with Christ—Your Brother, Lord, and King—you will find perfect peace, eternal peace. Peace with your fellow man. Peace with God the Father. Peace which declares He no longer holds your transgressions against you. Indeed, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

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

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Guest Preacher, Rev. Doug Minton: Dread Warrior

“Jeremiah Preaching to His Followers” by Gustave Dore

You can find more of Pastor Minton’s work at https://www.wrestlingwiththeology.org/

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten” (Jeremiah 20:11).

“The LORD is with me as a dread warrior.” What a frightening image! The LORD being some great warrior king, fighting the battles for His people. No wonder Jesus was crucified. He looks ”’nothing”’ like that in the Gospels! Right?

The Gospels show Jesus as kind and compassionate. Helpful to friends and enemies alike. Not some valiant warrior looking to reclaim His throne. When we think of dread warriors, we look to guys like Goliath or Hercules. Guys who look like they’ve just come out of a wrestling ring with muscles bulging out of places we’re not even sure we have. But Jesus isn’t shown like that.

But we can only say that if we skip His Passion. How does the Passion paint Jesus? A very dread warrior fighting the most epic battle ever fought. The battle with sin, death and the devil for the souls of all the people on earth.

He is a dread warrior whose enemies made Him a laughingstock and mocked His battle. Roman soldiers stripped Him of His own clothing. Clothed Him with a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns. They mockingly hailed Him as the King of the Jews. Other soldiers gambled for His clothing. The bystanders, egged on by the chief priests and elders, taunted Him from the foot of the cross: “You who would destroy the Temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.” The mockery continued from the thieves hanging on either side: “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” Does He look more like a dread warrior or a laughable fool?

The battle raged on and reached its full height as the sky darkened. For three dread hours of darkness, sin, death and the devil did their worst. Then, Jesus gave up His spirit. Everyone thought He was done. Jesus had gone the way of all flesh. He had died. The battle was over. He had lost. No one had to worry about Him anymore. He was not the dread warrior people had hoped He would be.

But then the victory march began: “The veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened.” Jesus’ victory march began with the tearing away of the barrier between God and man. When God revealed the plan for the Tabernacle to Moses, He said: “You shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy.” He further commanded, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die,” except on the Day of Atonement. But now, the veil is gone! Torn from the top! ”’God”’ tore the veil! God declared no more separation between Him and His creatures since His Son, the dread warrior, had won the war.

Nature itself announced the next phase of the victory march. The earth quaked. The rocks were split. The tombs were opened! Recently dead saints were resurrected! They proclaimed the glory of the dread warrior who would soon be resurrected Himself. The earth could not stand still as its Creator had died. It could not keep quiet. It rejoiced that the firstfruits of salvation had begun. There was an end in sight for its constant groanings under the plague of sin.

Jesus Himself rose from the dead. The dread warrior would not stay dead! His own resurrection brings the victory march to a fevered pitch. His appearances to His disciples from Easter morning until He ascended into Heaven were to declare what the resurrection truly means. The battle is over. The LORD, the dread warrior, has won. What happens now? Six centuries before, Jeremiah proclaimed the results: “Therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.”

After the Good Friday portion of the victory march, “the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned.” The chief priests and elders, who had handed Jesus over to the Romans because of envy, stumbled when they saw all the miraculous events that surrounded Jesus’ death. This “impostor” revealed Himself as the dread warrior, and they didn’t know what to do about it. Their religious world had been rocked, just like the earth quaked.

When Jesus rose from the dead, they stumbled further in order to discredit Jesus. When the soldiers guarding the tomb came back with the report of the resurrection, the chief priests and elders paid off the guards to give a phony report of what had happened. The news that Jesus had ”’actually”’ risen from the dead made them have to backpedal and rethink everything. Now, their entire religious structure and system would have to switch to a complete and total rebuttal of Jesus of Nazareth being the resurrected Messiah. Their entire religion, which would become modern Judaism, walks away from God’s Word to focus completely on disproving Jesus, the Word of God incarnate.

Most of them would not–could not–bring themselves to acceptance of the fact nor to repentance over having killed the Messiah. Some did believe in Jesus as the Messiah and join the ranks of the disciples, but the majority remained steadfast in their arrogant defiance of what they knew to be true. Their arrogant defiance would lead them to great shame which will never be forgotten.

The chief priests and scribes gave themselves eternal dishonor in their arrogant refusal to accept that Jesus is the Messiah. This will never be forgotten because the Holy Spirit caused it to be recorded in the Scriptures. I’ve already mentioned the cover-up with the guards at the tomb. The fallout that would continue to shape the way of Jewish apologetics forever. They would not see Jesus as the dread warrior that He was promised to be throughout the Scriptures. The dread warrior who would crush the serpent’s head. The dread warrior who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows … pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities … with His wounds we are healed. … The LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

Jesus Himself said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; but ”’whoever does not believe”’ will be condemned.” The unbeliever’s dishonor does not end with their earthly death. Just as Jesus’ death began the slow victory march to be completed on the Last Day, the unbeliever’s death begins the slow march of the condemned. They wait for the Last Day so that they will be reunited body and soul in order to continue their eternal dishonor in the fires of Hell. The final dishonor that cannot and will not be undone or forgotten.

This has all been great, but what does it have to do with us who believe in Jesus? Where is this dread warrior now? “The LORD is ”’with me”’ as a dread warrior.” This dread warrior is beside you in all your trials, tribulations and troubles. He fights ”’for you”’! Giving you the great spoils of His battle. What He won, He gives to you! ”’Your”’ persecutors stumble! ”’They”’ will be ashamed! ”’Their”’ dishonor will never be forgotten!

The dread warrior is no longer frightening. In fact, He is very comforting. He is your refuge and fortress. You stand in the shelter of His wings, as they are stretched out on the cross. His war brings you the victory through faith. He has overcome the world. Since we are in Him, we too will overcome the world. He “will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.” That means, though, that you sometimes find yourself ”’in”’ the fowler’s snare or surrounded by the deadly pestilence. Even through all this, He guards and keeps you as His own. The evils of this life will overtake you, but you will overcome them! Because you stand on the foundation of the dread warrior’s “excellent Word.”

Your persecutors will stumble. Those who revile and rebuke you. Who might even be from your own house: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.” Why do we have this division among people? Jesus. “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” And your persecutors ”’love”’ to point this out. ”’Love”’ to stress the division.

But your division is not from the LORD. As we heard last week from the prophet Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands.” You are not divided from your Lord. You are forever bound with Him through the engraving of the nail prints in His hands. “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge.” Under His wings, you “have been brought from death to life.”

All who try to divide you from Him will stumble and be ashamed. He forgives sin. He has overcome death and the devil. Who can stand against Him? He is the dread warrior who has won the greatest victory ever. He is the refuge that allows you to “depart this life confiding in [your] Savior.” You can confide in Him because He has given you His life. He has saved you so that you may rejoice in Him for all eternity. Rejoicing because your persecutors can only kill your body. They cannot destroy your soul. Their power is limited and fading. His is ever overflowing.

His eternal and ever overflowing power gives you honor that will never be forgotten. It is His free gift to you. You have committed your cause to Him. He is committed to you and your salvation. Otherwise, He would have turned away from the cross and let you wallow in your sin. But He came down and pick you up out of the muck and mire that surrounds you. He calls you His own. For now, you might be mocked by the world. You might become a laughingstock to unbelievers. But this is all momentary. The problems of this world are fleeting. His love and salvation are forever. His love wells up inside you like “a burning fire shut up in [your] bones.” You cannot help but confess your faith in Him as your dread warrior. We do this with our words and our actions. We show the world that the battle has been won. Jesus the dread warrior has emerged victorious from ”’everything”’ His persecutors put up against Him. He brings you along so that you may share in His eternal honor and glory.

You are part of the dread warrior’s victory march. “His faithfulness is a shield and buckler” against all attacks. He is your refuge in the ongoing battles of this life. He is the fortress that stands firm forever. His dread warfare is your great glory. “You will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” You will endure because the dread warrior has fought for you and won the war. Amen.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Jesus Sees; Jesus Calls; Jesus Sends

“Ordaining of the Apostles” by James Tissot

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“When [Jesus] saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’” (Matthew 9:35–38).

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

Seeing. Calling. Sending. That is the movement in the Gospel reading for today. It is also the movement of Jesus’ response to those who are harassed and helpless, of God’s interaction with His fractured and fallen creation, and of the sanctified Christian life as it lives by the Spirit of Jesus.

Jesus sees. Jesus calls. Jesus sends.

As He goes throughout the cities and villages, Jesus sees. This is not a minor detail. Many people go through life wondering if anyone sees, anyone notices. If you listen closely, that is at the heart of many of our current social conflicts. A significant number of people are wondering: Does anyone see? Does anyone notice? Does anyone care? Will anyone do anything to help?

The crowds Jesus sees are “helpless and harassed.” The first word literally means “thrown down and helpless,” like exhausted spent, sheep. It is often used with reference to corpses lying scattered on the ground. The second word means “having been flayed,” or somewhat milder, “having skin torn,” as this happens to sheep wandering among brambles or sharp rocks. Both words are made vivid by the comparison: “like sheep without a shepherd.” Having neither protector nor provider, they soon look miserable, torn, and exhausted, a sight to break the heart of any shepherd with even an ounce of compassion.

Jesus does not name the source of the peoples’ harassment, but it is not hard to imagine. Simply look around today. Some are tossed about by injustice, grief, or the abuse of authority. Others are flayed by disease, economic strain, or isolation. Everyone is harassed by a sinful inclination to respond with unrighteous anger, fear, and self-righteousness.

Jesus seems to be thinking particularly of the spiritual condition of the people and the neglect of their supposed spiritual leaders. With the coming of Jesus and the initial course of His ministry, the people’s need for a shepherd has become even more apparent. Israel’s leaders should be nurturing the people and guiding them to follow Jesus, but instead those leaders are blaspheming Jesus, declaring Him to be in league with Satan (Matthew 9:3, 34). At the hands of such false shepherds, the people are helpless and in great need. The souls entrusted to their care receive no wholesome spiritual food and care, for, as far as that is concerned, they are left to fend for themselves.

Material and physical destitution moves our humanitarian age deeply. We organize food banks and disaster relief agencies to help in times of physical distress. But who cares for or even sees spiritual distress? The problem, in part, is many people do not see. Perhaps they cannot, having never put themselves in the position to see. Maybe they don’t know how, having never been taught to see. Perhaps they will not, refusing to look outside their own lives and their own bubbles. Maybe they are just too tired of all the conflict and it’s just easier to pretend it doesn’t exist rather than putting forth the physical and emotional energy it takes for actually dealing with it.

Contrast them (us) with Jesus. Jesus sees. He sees the crowds in the text. He sees their helplessness. He sees those who are harassing them, and He does not look away. This is not surprising, for He is the Son of the One who sees all things—good, bad, and ugly.

Truly seeing others and their plight is a necessary beginning. But if being seen is not accompanied by being helped, it doesn’t do much good. Having seen the crowds, Jesus has compassion. The verb splagcnizomai means to have the viscera moved, lungs, heart, and liver, which were considered to be the seat of emotions, such as love, pity, etc. We might say, “His heart was stirred.” Of the three words translated “being compassionate,” this is the strongest, for it indicates not only a pained feeling at the sight of suffering, but in addition a strong desire to relieve and remove the suffering.

Jesus has compassion on these people, that is, He suffers with them. In this sense, the suffering of Jesus is not limited to the events of Holy Week. It encompasses His entire ministry (even His entire incarnation). Jesus comes among us to suffer with us before He suffers on Golgotha for us.   

Jesus has compassion. Jesus suffers with us. We, on the other hand, are not good at suffering with others. Luther’s explanations to the fifth and eighth commandments come to mind. We are to fear and love God by helping and supporting our neighbors in every bodily need. We are to defend them, speak well of them, and put the best construction on everything they do. We often fall short, which must not be excused even though it is true. But Jesus does not. He protects and provides for His people as the Good Shepherd they have been missing.

We see how the compassion of Jesus at once manifests itself in action. Jesus speaks to the larger group of His disciples and bids them to pray to the Father. Jesus uses the metaphor of a great harvest that is approaching. In the fields where the crop is growing ready for harvest, there is urgent need for workers to help gather the harvest. With this figurative language, Jesus communicates to His disciples the urgency of the times, an urgency that continues for the Church to this day. The harvest is ripe! Pray for God to send laborers!

Immediately, the prayer that the disciples are to offer to the Father is answered by Jesus Himself. From the unnamed larger circle of His “disciples,” Jesus now chooses a small number of “apostles,” literally, “sent ones,” whom Jesus will send out to extend His gracious kingdom. They are named individually and given His authority, demonstrating Jesus’ personal care for each of them.

These twelve are hardly men who could normally be expected to change the world. For the most part, they are uneducated, unsophisticated, weak in faith, and slow to learn. They can accomplish their mission only through the authority and power of their Lord. It is the Gospel message, which the Holy Spirit will use to produce saving faith in the hearts of people who hear it.

Jesus sends the apostles to do what He came to do. Through them, Jesus sees, Jesus calls, Jesus sends. Seeing, calling, sending. That is the continuing movement. Jesus continues to send His people to see others (especially the widow, the orphan, and all who suffer injustice) as human beings and fellow creatures of a loving God. Jesus sends His people to have compassion on those who are helpless and harassed; to suffer with them and help them bear their burdens. He continues to send His people to speak words of life and forgiveness that not only create saving faith in the hearts of individuals, but also gather them together for life as His Body. And He continues to send His people to others until all have heard and believed and come together in His name (See Romans 10:14-17).

Jesus asks His disciples, and He also asks us, to share in His compassion, and He tells us the first thing He wants us to do to show such compassion. “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” It is the Lord’s harvest field, and He will see to it that the necessary workers bring the harvest in. He assures us that none of His elect will perish. All His sheep will be gathered into His fold.

Jesus will accomplish this either with us or without us. He doesn’t need us, but He wants to use us. He graciously wants to give us the privilege of being involved in this all-important work, work with blessed results that will last into eternity. And the first thing He asks us to do is exceedingly simple and will cost us nothing but a little of our time. He tells us to pray for laborers for His harvest field. In response to our prayers, He will provide them.

As we sincerely offer such prayers to our heavenly Father, we surely are willing to let Him make us the answers to our own prayers as well. Our Lord will use us in some way or other in this most blessed work, for this work is the privilege of all believers in Christ. Satan wants us to regard it as a grievous burden that we ought to avoid. But it is not a burden, rather a blessing. It is a privilege to pray for this work, to support this work, and to do this work personally.

When we pray for the heathen, for the suffering, for the afflicted, and for our enemies, we want the Lord to use us to alleviate suffering, to spread the Good News of the kingdom of God, and to win over our enemies through kindness. When we pray for missions, we are not only asking the Lord to open the hearts and the hands of others Christians to support mission work; we are also expressing our own willingness to bring our generous offerings for the work of Christ’s Church. Otherwise our prayers are hypocritical and better left unspoken.

Last week, the Gospel reading came from Matthew 28. We call it the Great Commission or Sending. In a sense, this week’s reading gives us the background, the motivation, method, and means for that Sending.

Jesus sees. Jesus calls. Jesus sends.

Even before creation, the Lord looked with compassion and saw our need for His mercy, forgiveness, and grace. God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Christ died for the sins of the world—every single sin of thought, word, and deed. Every sin of commission and omission. Risen and ascended, Christ rules heaven and earth for the good of His Body, the Church. In love and mercy, He continues to call men to serve in the Office of  Holy Ministry. In answer to prayers, the Lord of the Harvest sends laborers into the harvest of souls. In His Church, through the means of grace, Christ continues His work of salvation and brings forgiveness and life.

Through the waters of Holy Baptism, God has called you by name and made you one of His dear children. In His Holy Supper, He feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Through His powerful Word, He delivers forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Fully forgiven and equipped for service, He sends you out with the message of God’s love and compassion for a world of lost sinners, Shepherdless sheep.

Go in the peace of the Lord. Serve your neighbor with joy. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

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

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