Sermons, Uncategorized

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Custer State Park, Black Hills of South Dakota photo by Robert Moeller, Jr.

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“Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and His arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:9–11).

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

What do you do when you have good news? You tell everyone you can. And this text is full of good news. The best news ever! It’s full of Gospel and promise and hope! The kind of good news that makes you want to climb a high mountain and shout at the top of your lungs so that everyone hears.

Of course, this passage should be filled with good news. It follows the verses that announce the comfort of God. You know: “Comfort, comfort My people… Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-3).

Immediately following our text, the prophet goes on to describe God in the most majestic terms, describing His wisdom, power, and might. He talks about God measuring the waters in the hollow of His hand and weighing the mountains and hills with His scales. The nations are like a drop from a bucket compared to His vastness. He is beyond all human understanding, a craftsman, par excellence. The prophet’s point is that however you might think of God, He is bigger, greater, and more powerful. And it is this incomprehensible God who makes the promises of care and blessings that we hear in our text. This is very good news!

This is great news for every herald of good news!

And that would include you and me. We are the ones that the prophet calls “Jerusalem” and “Zion.” We are all heralds of this good news. We are charged with announcing the good news that the God of all creation is coming, and that when He comes, He is coming to rescue us and bless us and take care of us with tenderness and compassion. That’s it! That’s our task! We are charged with telling others, this good news. But we are not responsible for their responses to it. We are not to try to argue them into faith or force the world to live as though it believed. We are to herald the good news and let others know about it. To go tell it on a mountain, to broadcast it so that all may hear. That is our assigned task.

We are tasked with telling about the coming of God. That first means we are called on to speak the uncomfortable and unwelcome message of the coming of the end, and that when it comes, the end will bring with it Judgment Day. The world doesn’t like that proclamation—at least not when it’s taken seriously. It’s fine with make-believe catastrophes like zombie apocalypses, Q-anon conspiracies, artificial intelligence takeover, and global warming theories, or the oddball with a long beard and prophet-sort-of-robe who stands on the street corner with a sign that declares, “The end is near!” But it’s never comfortable with serious talk about being prepared for Judgment Day. It will ridicule the message and the messenger, try to paint you as a kook, someone who should not be taken seriously at best—or someone who is dangerous and must be silenced at worst.

Of course, we are not to go about looking weird, and carrying placards, necessarily. We are called to herald the good news. We are not charged with telling horror stories or threatening people. We must tell them the truth about the coming judgment and the end of days, but we are to bring it with the good news that the God who created all, and who is inconceivably great and powerful, is coming to rescue us and to gather His people together like a shepherd gathers his sheep.

In other words, we have the Gospel to proclaim. We have the love of God to tell others about. We are to speak of and about Christ. We are to tell this good news loudly—lift up your voice with strength—and we are instructed not be afraid but to speak boldly and publicly. And we do. This worship service is part of the speaking we do. We advertise. We invite neighbors. We boldly and publicly proclaim God’s goodness and righteousness and truth at every service through Word and Sacrament, liturgy, and hymns. We also proclaim by how we live, and we proclaim by actually speaking to others about God and our hope and faith in Jesus Christ as we go about our daily vocations.

We have good news to share: God took on human flesh and blood and became one of us for our salvation. The story is old by now, but that is part of the reason that Isaiah continues after our text to tell of the greatness and immensity and the power of God. The wonder of it never fades. The God who measures the dust is the God who stepped down in humility to become the Babe at Bethlehem and the One crucified on Golgotha, all in the pursuit of our salvation. He died for us to redeem us from death and hell, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.

The task before us is tell the world “Behold your God!” This powerful and incomprehensible God loved you so much that He did this for you—He gave His only-begotten Son as the perfect sacrifice for sin that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. You needed the impossible, and the almighty God did the impossible to redeem you and save you from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. Behold your God!

At no time in human history have people needed that message more than they do today! Things are troubling and dangerous and downright depressing in the world these days. We need comfort. We need hope. And here it is!

The Lord is coming! Even though it seems that He delays, He is coming, and coming soon.

He is coming with might. No one can snatch you out of His hands. No danger can threaten you that He cannot manage and rescue you from. No temptation will confront you that is not common to men and women, particularly those who serve the Lord, and He will provide the way of escape that you may endure! That is His promise, and that is our proclamation.

Being the sort of God He is, He is in control of world events. When it seems like things are out of control, it is not because it so. It is because we cannot see them rightly. Our perspective is skewed by our flesh and by sin. Some things we might view with horror are actually good things in the hands of God—we just cannot see past our pain and fear to His blessings and promise of good.

Take death, for an example. It is, for the child of God, the door to life everlasting. No more pain or sorrow or sickness or grief will follow but only joy and peace. But in this world, we experience the human, emotional response to death and to the other hard-to-endure, hard-to-understand things. We see in a mirror dimly; we know only in part. We do not see the heavenly purpose or the blessings that attend those difficult things, nor do we see the bigger picture of what God is working through them. So they tend to frighten us, worry us, and confuse us. But God assures us in His Word that even though such a thing seems difficult and disastrous, in His hand, it is good and a blessing.

Our God is coming, and He is bringing salvation and the rewards of grace. He is coming to give us that abundant life in glory with Him that He has promised throughout the Old and New Testament. Once we are His children, the gifts of God are assured. He allows us to continue here because He would have us tell others. He would have us get up on that mountain, lift up our voices with strength, and proclaim Him! This is our God! Behold Him!

The world is filled with lies and distortions about God, but we know Him. We know the truth. And it is this truth of His love and grace and salvation He has worked for us that He would have us proclaim so boldly, so that the people of the world around us would come to know Him and trust in Him and share in His grace. What greater joy, higher privilege, can there be than to be called by the Lord to be a herald of such good news?

Of course, there is the other part of the reality of His return. He is also bringing judgment and “recompense” with Him. I would not be surprised if perhaps God tells us about the condemnation of sinners who reject Him and His forgiveness as much to motivate us to share the comforts of the Gospel with them, as to paint a picture of damnation to encourage them to repent.

I suspect both are part of the motivation of God in telling us: That we may rejoice and praise Him for such a magnificent salvation. And that knowing what lies ahead for the ones that do not know Him, we would be moved to share the truth of God’s goodness and grace and love with them, so that they might not be destroyed. One would need a heart of stone to know what is coming and not speak a word of warning—and not tell them about God and His great rescue for us!

So we tell them. God is coming, and He is bringing His reward and His recompense with Him. He comes with might and rules over all. But for His people He will be like a tender Shepherd. He will be gentle and compassionate. He will lead us to the heavenly pastures and feed us with His heavenly banquet for eternity.

We have the first course here, a foretaste of the feast to come, in the Lord’s Supper, His body, once given for us, and His blood once shed for us, both hidden beneath the humble elements of bread and wine—but truly present and filled with heavenly blessings for all those who eat in faith, believing the Word of Christ, and hungering for forgiveness and God’s blessings.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. Everyone who eats and drinks, receives the body and blood of Christ and are offered the benefits He has promised. But it is only through faith in Christ’s words that we receive the benefits as a blessing. When one partakes in unbelief, it is an act of blasphemy, and while they receive the body and blood of Christ, it works judgment and condemnation in them for their hard-heartedness and unbelief. That’s why we are so careful about who comes to the Lord’s Supper, that they would recognize Christ’s body and blood and be able to properly examine themselves. It’s not that we think we are any better than anyone else, but we don’t want guests to unknowingly receive the Sacrament to their harm.

We should eat Christ’s body and drink His blood confidently believing that He was delivered for our offenses and raised for our justification. Trusting in His saving work, we receive His body and blood, given to us under bread and wine, as the guarantee of our forgiveness. When one eats believing, it is the bread of life and the medicine of immortality they we eat. It is a participation in the body and blood of Christ, who gave Himself up for as the sacrifice for our sins.

He is our Shepherd. He gently cares for us and guides us and tend to us and feeds us. One day, He will return for us. And He will gather us in His arms and carry us home in His bosom to be with Him forever.

Go tell it on the mountain! Herald the Good News! Behold your God! Christ the Savior comes with might. His reward is with Him and His recompense before Him. 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.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Demon-Possessed, Mothers-in-Law, & You

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“Christ Preaching at Capernaum” by Maurycy Gottlieb

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And [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And He was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority (Luke 4:31).

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

What do the demon-possessed and mothers-in-law have in common? I know, it sounds like the beginning of a tasteless joke. But I’m not going there. I happen to like mothers-in-law. Some of my favorite people are mothers-in-law. No, I’m talking about our Gospel for today. What do the demon-possessed and mothers-in-law have in common? They are both healed by Jesus by His authoritative Word!

The season of Epiphany is about Jesus making Himself known, about people discovering who He is. In our Gospel lesson for today, we find four more important puzzle pieces that teach us much about our Savior.

The first is that He teaches, and that He teaches with authority. If you remember last week’s Gospel, we had Jesus teaching in the synagogue of His hometown, Nazareth. He read from Isaiah 61 and then began to explain the text. But unlike the rabbis who might say, “This is a prophecy of the Messiah who will come someday,” Jesus declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He’s not another teacher saying that the Christ will come—He says that He is the Christ, standing before them. He claims that authority, and rightly so. But familiarity breeds contempt, and they don’t want Him to be the Savior, so they reject His authority: in fact, they try to throw Him off a cliff, so He moves on.

Here, in our Gospel lesson, the people of Capernaum are more receptive. They’re astonished at His teaching, for His Word possesses authority.

So what are His Word and authority good for? Here’s the second puzzle piece to fit into place: by His Word, Jesus shows He has authority over demons. A man with the spirit of an unclean demon cries out, “Ha! What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God.”

Demon-possession is a terrifying thing, but Jesus is far from frightened. What does He do? He speaks. He speaks His Word which has authority. He simply says, “Be silent and come out of him!” The demon departs. It has no choice. There’s no great battle, no back-and-forth where the outcome is in doubt. Jesus speaks. The demon departs. The man is unharmed. The people are astonished: “What is this Word?” they ask. “For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” The news spreads across the region.

The Lord isn’t done: His Word does more than cast out demons, as if that weren’t enough of a demonstration of power and authority. He leaves the synagogue and goes to the home of Peter’s wife’s mother. She is ill with a high fever—a serious condition that can still kill today, despite all our medical advances. Jesus treats the fever the way He treated the demon: He rebukes it.

Again, there’s no epic struggle, no need for Jesus to repeat Himself. He speaks. The fever is gone. Peter’s mother-in-law gets up and begins to serve them: she’s not just getting better; she’s fully healed. This, by the way, is the third puzzle piece as to Jesus’ identity: by His Word, He shows that He has authority over sickness, too.

Meanwhile, the Word has spread like wildfire; and by sunset, people have brought any who are sick or demon-possessed to Jesus. He lays His hands on them and heals them. There isn’t a single Savior-resistant virus or evil spirit in the lot. It’s no contest: He wins every time. When it comes to the demons, they can’t even speak without His permission. When they cry out, “You are the Son of God!”, He shuts them up. It’s not that they’re wrong, but that it hasn’t been given to them to reveal His identity.

Jesus departs to a desolate place. The people track Him down, which only makes sense: when you’ve got a miracle-working physician, you want to keep Him around. That’s their plan: they want to keep Him from leaving. But He isn’t going to stay. He speaks His authoritative Word to say, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

There’s the fourth piece that we can fit into the puzzle of who Jesus is: as astonishing as the miracles are, that isn’t why Jesus has come. He’s come to preach the good news of the kingdom of God—not just in Capernaum, but to the other towns, too. Jesus is going to go from town to town, calling people to believe in Him for salvation—and by His authoritative Word, He’s going to give them faith to believe in Him. As He continues to preach His Word, He’s going to keep performing miracles, because the Old Testament said that the people would know the Savior in part by His miracles. He’s also going to go to the cross to die for their sins; because, from the beginning, God declared that’s what the Messiah would do.

So our text gives us four clues, four more puzzle pieces that reveal who Jesus is. He speaks His Word with authority. He has authority over demons. He has authority over sickness. And He has come to preach the Gospel.

That was then. This is now. Unlike the people who were hearing and watching and wondering who this new Teacher might be, you know the answer. But those four clues about Jesus hold wonderful comfort for you, too.

First, it is still true that Jesus speaks with authority. He does so by means of His Word. In that Word, Jesus doesn’t point to another. He points to Himself and says, “I am your Savior. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Not only is this good news, but it is His Word, spoken with His authority. In other words, when Jesus declares to you in His Word that He is your Savior, He’s not just giving news for you to believe: He is, in fact, giving you the faith by which you can believe the news He speaks. He has authority over demons.

We think ourselves too advanced to speak of demons and possession these days, rather try to explain all illness scientifically. The Lord, however, disagrees: His authoritative Word says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Those spiritual forces of evil haven’t gone away. Sometimes they still manifest themselves, but more often they wear disguises. After all, one of the greatest tricks the devil can play is to make you believe that he doesn’t exist.

So how come all the demons in the Gospels? It may well be that His presence in the flesh ticked them off so much that they felt compelled to raise a fuss; or it may be that the Lord drew them out in order to show how powerless they were against His Word. But the relative absence of such events today does not mean that the devil has ceased to operate, nor does it mean that demon-possession has ended. Every temptation you encounter is hurled at you by the evil one, and he is far too powerful for you. He is no match, however, for your Savior who still sends Satan packing by means of His authoritative Word.

You’ve witnessed it yourself, surely, for you have seen the Lord’s Word added to water and spoken over an infant at the font: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” With that, Jesus takes possession of His beloved child and sends the devil packing. The evil one doesn’t put up much of a fuss like the demons in our Gospel lesson, for the last thing he’d want to do is provide evidence to you that Baptism actually does something.

The Absolution does him similar damage: your sins give Satan a claw-hold by which to hang on as he whispers in your ear that you’re condemned. But Holy Absolution exposes his accusation as a lie as it declares Jesus’ authoritative Word that you’re forgiven for all your sins. This, too, sends the devil scurrying away into the cowardly darkness away from the light of Christ.

Third, it is also true that Jesus has authority over sickness—even death. He has, after all, borne all our sins and infirmities to the cross and died with them there before rising again on the third day. Sickness and death are no match for His powerful Word.

So why so many more healing miracles in the Gospels than now? The miracles in the Gospels took place for a specific reason—to prove that Jesus was the Savior by fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies that declared that miracles would accompany the Messiah. He’s made the case—no more proof is needed. To believe in Him, we don’t need to witness such miracles ourselves, because we hear about them in His Word—His Word that He still speaks with authority.

Nevertheless, it is true that Jesus has authority over sickness and death. The problem is that you will be tempted to believe that He must exercise that authority right now, on your schedule, to prove that He is the Savior. But the Lord often works through weakness to save—there is no better example of that than the cross; and so He will also permit sickness in your life, too—and He will permit it to stay for a while. But this does not mean He is powerless or faithless. He did not heal everyone who was sick during His ministry, either.

You’ll be tempted to doubt your Savior when He doesn’t work on your schedule, but do not despair: though He permits suffering and affliction in this life for a while according to His wisdom and will, He will still demonstrate His authority over sickness and even death itself. He will do so on the Last Day, when He raises you up from the dead, fully healed and never to be afflicted again.

The fourth comfort is this: the purpose of Jesus remains the preaching of the Good News of the kingdom of God. It’s true that He gave them authority to heal the sick and cast out demons like He did, at least for a while; but most of all, He sent His disciples out to preach the Good News of the kingdom of God. Those who were healed of their sicknesses would eventually grow weak and sick again, and those who had demons cast out still had to confront death and grave. But the Good News of the kingdom of God is better news than that: by the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified, it gives forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.

The Church is always tempted to stray away from this message, for the Good News of the kingdom of God appears so humble and weak and useless against the temptations and afflictions of this life; but once again, so did the cross appear humble and weak and useless. The Church does well to remember this, because she will always be tempted to give up on the Gospel in favor of things that people consider more important and glorious—be it faith-healing, tolerance, emotional experience, or whatever.

Yet Jesus came to preach the Good News of the kingdom of God, humble though it may sound— and humble though it may appear at the font and the altar. Familiarity breeds contempt in a sinful world, so you’ll be tempted as well to look past this Good News. But as a called and ordained servant of the Word of Christ, and by His authority, I tell you this: Jesus Christ became flesh to be your Savior. He has died for all your sins. He is risen from the dead and sits at God’s right hand, interceding for you. He will deliver you from every evil of body and soul unto eternal life. That is why He came. And that is what He continues to proclaim in His authoritative Word.

Dear friends, this is the Good News of the kingdom of God. It’s Good News for the demon-possessed. It’s Good News for feverish mothers-in-law. And, it’s Good News for you! Your Savior is not far away. He is as near to you as His Word and His Sacraments. And by that Word which He proclaims with authority, He says this to you: “I forgive you 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.