Sermons, Uncategorized

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

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“Christ Preaching at Capernaum” by Maurycy Gottlieb

Click here to listen to this sermon. 

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.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Receiving the Kingdom of God Like a Child

10261_1521254229736Click here to listen to this sermon.“Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:14-15).

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

Dear friends in Christ, in the last few weeks, you have heard what a place of honor Jesus affords to little children. You have heard that one who receives a little one in Jesus’ name receives Jesus. You have also heard the warning against leading a little one astray, both through false teaching and failure to teach. And our Lord takes it one step further in our text this morning/evening. Jesus declares in that little ones can believe in Him, and are, in fact, models of faith.

People are bringing their children to Jesus. They have heard of Jesus’ miracles, and may have witnessed some of them personally. They desire the spiritual blessing associated with Jesus laying His hands upon them, to receive His benediction. And these are not just little ones who can already tell you that Jesus loves them. St. Luke’s account of this story indicates specifically that the people were bringing infants—their newborn babies—to receive Jesus’ blessing.

And when the disciples, for some unknown reason, rebuke the people, Jesus grows indignant against them and says, “Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

The kingdom of God belongs to little children, including infants. Put this knowledge together with other teachings of the New Testament, such as “whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved,” and “by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves—it is the gift of God; not by works, lest any man should boast,” and you get a powerful proclamation of God’s kingdom that goes against the conventional wisdom of man.

The conventional wisdom of man goes according to the Law that is written on his heart. From that, man concludes that salvation is contingent upon one’s works and deeds in this life. “If you want to go to heaven,” the sinful heart says, “you do these certain things. You jump through all the hoops. You decide to follow Jesus. You get yourself baptized. You do good works to get a reward.”

But while Jesus does speak of the necessity of good works and bearing good fruit, nowhere does He ascribe one’s salvation to one’s own works. His blessing of the infants here in Mark 10 is undeniable proof of this. What works are infants performing toward their salvation? What good deeds are they doing in order to gain God’s favor? None, absolutely none! Why, these little ones could not even come into Jesus arms, if someone else did not bring them!

And lest anyone here respond with the notion that little children are exempt from God’s Law and they are not responsible for sin until reaching an age of discretion or accountability, the Scriptures clearly declare otherwise. St. Paul writes to the Romans: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). King David laments in the 51st Psalm “surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” And St. Paul also says without question that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). So, while an infant may appear innocent and pure to us, the child still has the original sin that infects us all. And this original sin is a terminal illness, as is evidenced by the tragic fact that even babies can die.

Knowing, therefore, that little children need the forgiveness of sins and the blessings of God’s grace, we understand the gravity of Jesus’ command not to hinder the children. But we also learn an important lesson about our own Christian lives as those who have grown up and confessed our faith. If a little child receives the forgiveness of sins and the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit—that is, receives saving faith and the promise of eternal life—it is fitting and right for us to recognize how God works to save all of His people.

If a little child is promised heaven through God’s work in the washing of the water and the Word, it doesn’t speak well for our man-made opinions regarding faith and good works. For we brought nothing into this world, and we will take nothing with us. But our sinful nature seeks to glory in our own works and behavior, as if it were scoring points with God and earning a seat at the eternal feast in heaven. Our sinful heart says to us, “I’m a good person, or at least better than many. I give to my church. I love my children. I do my best to love my neighbor, and when I sin, it’s not really a big deal because it’s nothing really bad or serious. I’m a good Christian, and that is why God will save me.”

But dear friends, if God looked at your own works and deeds, as you do in this instance, and considered you righteous because of them, then Christ Jesus died in vain. Repent of all of the self-righteousness that continually creeps into your heart from your Old Adam. For although your Old Adam has been drowned in your Baptism, he’s still a good swimmer. The depravity of the human race manifests itself not just in the awful things people do to one another—in their sins against another, but, even more so, in the hardness of our hearts toward God Himself, in our unwillingness to receive everything from His grace.

The sinful heart does not want to believe that the work of salvation is complete already, and that all are in need of it. This is the sin the disciples committed when they hindered the children from being brought to Jesus. And the children had to be brought into God’s kingdom. They could not bring themselves.

In the same way, you must be brought into the kingdom of God—you cannot bring yourself. You cannot trust in your works to bring you there because your works in and of themselves are nothing but filthy rags. They might look good to you and your fellow man, but they earn nothing with God. “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

The faith of a little child is faith that trusts in Jesus. It is the purest and strongest of all. If you ask a little one who believes in Jesus why they get to go to heaven, they’ll tell you it’s because Jesus died on the cross to take away their sins. That’s as good an answer as you can give. “To such belongs the kingdom of God.”

But the child will grow up, and as an adult becomes dissatisfied with the Sunday School answer, and looks for a more “educated” answer to the question. And eventually the concept of being a good person sneaks in. Even one who answers with “I am going to heaven because I believe in Jesus” already has taken the merit of Christ and replaced it with his own believing. He’s turned the gift of faith into his own work. And Jesus warns against this when He says: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

Children receive the kingdom of God because God gives them faith in their Savior Jesus and He regenerates them in their Baptism. Adults receive God’s kingdom only when they despair of their own works and righteousness, and they possess a childlike faith.

A little child does not add to the Word of the Lord and supplement God’s work with his own. A little child does not tell others that he is going to heaven because he’s a good kid. A little child receives God’s blessing and the promise of eternal life before he can even speak, because God attaches this powerful promise to His chosen means of Baptism. It is God’s work, not the child’s.

Dear baptized, the promise of the forgiveness of sin and eternal life is yours as well, only because of God’s continued work in your earthly pilgrimage. For you have been justified by the faith which God Himself has given you, and which He feeds and sustains. He has declared you righteous in His sight, and draws you continually to His house. Here, He strengthens you and equips you to continually drown your Old Adam through repentance of sin, and trust in Christ Jesus to forgive you. Here, He comes to you with His mercy and grace.

When the people were bringing their children to Jesus, they didn’t just want Him to speak a blessing. They wanted their little ones to receive Jesus’ touch. For He was no mere priest of the temple or eccentric preacher. He was God in the flesh, who Himself had become a little child. Listen to how the Epistle to the Hebrews explains it in this morning’s reading:

“At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him. But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ‘I will tell of Your name to My brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.’ And again, ‘I will put My trust in Him.’ And again, ‘Behold, I and the children God has given Me’” (Hebrews 2:8-13).

The Savior had to become like His people in every respect, and indeed He was even tempted as we are, yet without sin. The eternal Son of God became flesh to suffer and die in order to atone for the sins of the whole world. Thus, He, too, had to be an infant. The one, for whom and by whom all things exist, was made for a little while lower than the angels, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for every one. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin’s womb and was born a child so that He might redeem all children from sin and the power of death. His whole life—from conception to death—was lived out in perfect obedience and holiness so that it might be credited to us by faith.

Christ death and resurrection conquered the devil, hell, and all their power, opening the gates of heaven to all who would believe in Him. This includes little children, and, in fact, places them at the front of the line. Theirs is a simple, trusting faith that receives God’s grace and doesn’t try to replace it with something else. Theirs is a faith that is in the Incarnate Lord Jesus, who promised to be with His people unto the end of the age.

Therefore, do not hinder the little children. Bring them to the Lord Jesus and encourage others to do the same. Teach your children about their Savior, and instruct them in the Christian faith, that they may examine themselves to be admitted to their Lord’s altar, when the same Jesus who touched the children to bless them now touches the lips and mouths of the faithful with His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

Furthermore, approach the altar of your Lord this day in repentance and childlike faith, despairing of your own works of righteousness, and trusting in the love and mercy of Christ alone, trusting that you, His servant, may truly depart in peace, “For to such belongs the kingdom of God”—children and those of all ages who hear and believe these marvelous words: “You are forgiven of 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.