Sermons, Uncategorized

Does Anything Astonish You Anymore?

Devotion for the Pipestone Zone LWML Board meeting

Then [Jesus] returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” (Mark 7:31–37).

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

We live in astonishing times. When I was a kid, if someone had a phone in his car, it meant that he was very rich. Some people had color television, hardly any had more than three channels. A single computer filled a large room. Now many kids over the age of twelve have a smart phone that they can use to watch videos, text, talk with friends, video chat with someone practically anywhere in the world, and which has more computing power and speed than the most advanced computers had just a few ago. I could go on and on, listing all the astonishing things that are happening in our world.

Yet what’s most astonishing to me is that none of this seems to astonish us anymore. We’ve become so used to technological advances that they no longer surprise us—unless they don’t work or operate fast enough. That begs the question: “Does anything astonish us anymore?” More important: Have we lost a sense of astonishment when it comes to our God?

The case was pathetic, beyond the ability of any physician to heal or even to improve—a man who was deaf and mute. Friends of the man brought him to Jesus. Since the man who was deaf and mute could neither understand easily nor express himself readily, Jesus took him aside privately. Then using some exceptional sign language, the Lord made the man understand what He was about to do for him. Jesus placed His fingers in the man’s ears; He would give him hearing. Jesus spit and touched his tongue; He would give him the ability to speak clearly.

By looking up to heaven, Jesus showed the man that the cure He was bringing him was more than an ordinary man could perform. It came from God. The sigh was a physical sign of His compassion.

Then Jesus spoke one word, Ephpphatha, which means, “Be opened!” This Aramaic word was later used in the Church’s baptismal liturgies to emphasize the Spirit’s power to open ears to the Gospel. And the man was immediately and completely cured. His ears were opened. His tongue was released. He spoke plainly. The barriers to sound and speech were shattered in one moment and the pent-up words of praise came out with astonishing clarity.

And Jesus charged them to tell no one. How ironic that the newfound gift was to be silenced. Not only was the man to keep the secret, but also his family and those who saw the miracle. This command to silence is one of the many times Jesus prohibits the spread of His work or identity. However, as it happened before, the more He commanded, the more they joyfully disobeyed.

Jesus commanded the people not to tell anyone because the Jewish people of His day had a totally false, political conception of the coming Messiah. Christ made it clear that He had not come into this predominantly Gentile territory to organize a political insurrection. He had come to earth to lay down His life a payment for the sins of the world. He was determined to let nothing compromise the purpose for which He had come.

Jesus knows that the crowd’s praise will eventually force His enemies to kill Him. However, He must have time also to do the miracles and teaching before the end. So He must generally limit the spread of the news until Palm Sunday when the crowds can sing out without restraint.

St. Mark tells us the crowd was astonished beyond measure. While many crowds have been impressed by Jesus, this crowd has reached a new level of astonishment. They are astonished by the healing He brings with His Word.

Do you know what is really astonishing? Our Lord still works in people’s lives through His Word! That’s why you are encouraged to worship, to be in the Word in your daily devotion, to sign up for a Bible class. Through His Word, Jesus speaks His people, life-changing Ephphatha to your heart. With the Law, He exposes your spiritual deafness. With the Gospel, He tells the astonishing story of His love for you in manger and cross and tomb. With that message, He is about to open your heart. He makes your sin-dulled ears to hear clearly again the Good News of His love and forgiveness.

Through His Word, our Lord is able to astonish when no one else can. Hearing what God has does in Scripture opens your eyes and ears to the astonishing things Jesus did in His death and resurrection and is even now doing in your life through His Word and Sacraments. Making you His dear children in Holy Baptism. Creating a clean heart and renewing a right spirit in you. Strengthening and preserving you in body and soul with His body and blood unto life everlasting.

Most astonishing of all still remains the future we can’t yet see and can only hear about: the eternal beauty and joy and love and delight of heaven. Oh, that will astonish us! and in ways, so we hear, that can’t now even be put into words.

Yes, God is doing astonishing things in our lives through Christ Jesus. May we, like the people in the region of the Decapolis zealously proclaim: He has done all things well! Amen.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Just Jesus?

jesus-unrolls-the-book-in-the-synagogue-1894(1).jpg!LargeClick here to listen to this sermon.

“[Jesus] went away from there and came to His hometown, and His disciples followed Him. And on the Sabbath He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him” (Mark 6:1–3).

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

As usual, St. Mark gets right to business. He tells us that right after healing the woman of a 12-year hemorrhage and raising a little girl from the dead in Capernaum, Jesus returns “to His hometown” (Nazareth) with His disciples.

It is not a social call, a chance to renew old acquaintances and catch up with the homefolks. Jesus returns as a rabbi, a teacher of Scripture. And so, that Sabbath He can be found teaching in the synagogue. The worshipers all know Him well. He comes to share the Gospel with them. But the question is: Are they ready to receive the Gospel from Him? Or perhaps better stated: “Are they ready to receive Him as the one who embodies the Gospel in His person and ministry?”

Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus preached. He focuses, rather, on the reaction of the townspeople. “Many who heard Him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?’”

Translation: It’s just Jesus, nobody special. We watched Him grow up. He might be doing some special things, but He’s nobody special. Certainly not any better than we are. Who is He to be speaking to us this way?

But there’s even more than merely “the hometown boy makes good” jealousy or the “familiarity breeds contempt” thing going on here. St. Luke tells us they drove Him out of town… so they could throw Him down the cliff. St. Mark tells us why: “They took offense at Him.”

“They took offense at Him.” These words are a warning to all Christians, including (perhaps especially) the one who is preaching to you. The warning is this: Preaching should not be done to entertain you. Preaching is not meant as a pep talk or even for teaching you how to be a better person. Preaching has but one purpose, and that one purpose is to focus your eyes and ears and heart on Christ Jesus and Him alone. Just Jesus… that’s ultimately who you should hear and see when God’s Word is proclaimed to you.

Now, in order for God to give you a good picture of your Lord Jesus Christ, He must first show you a bad picture of yourself—that is, a true, accurate, though unflattering picture of you and your sin. In order for you to benefit from the forgiveness that Jesus earned for you through His death on the cross, God must first proclaim His holy Law to diagnose and warn you about your continual need for forgiveness because sin and death live within you. The people of Jesus’ hometown took offense because they did not want to hear such things.

That is where things fell apart at Nazareth. Jesus “came to His hometown… and on the Sabbath He began to teach in the synagogue.” Everything was fine up until then. Then, Jesus starts preaching about Jesus. Just Jesus. And “they took offense at Him.” They were scandalized because of Jesus and the Gospel.

You and I both should take a clear warning from this. May God guard us against such unbelief and self-centered scandal! May we allow our Lord Jesus Christ to say what He must say about us—our sin, so that we might focus on Him—our Savior. So that we might repent of our sinful ways and continue to receive the gifts of salvation and life that come only from Him—just Jesus.

The second warning of today’s Gospel is this: a personal relationship with Jesus will do you very little good. I know, that sounds shocking given today’s religious environment. All the time you hear Christians saying, “You must have a personal relationship with Jesus” if you are to be saved. But a personal relationship with Jesus, in and of itself, will not save you.

Let me explain. I think the text makes it clear that most everyone in Nazareth assumed they had a personal relationship with Jesus. They’d seen Him grow up. They knew His family. They even knew Him as an adult when He plied His trade as “the carpenter.” Yet they took offense at Him.

This is another serious warning, not only for us but also for many of our loved ones and neighbors who find it unimportant to come to worship! Our text does not emphasize knowing who Jesus is or even having a personal relationship with Him. It does emphasize that we hear the words of Jesus and believe. A simple claim to know Jesus or a claim to have personal relationship with Jesus might place you in danger of the fires of Hell. Even the demons knew Jesus. And so, it seems, did everyone in Nazareth. Yet “[Jesus] marveled at their unbelief.”

No, salvation is not based upon a personal relationship with Jesus, but rather faith given by the Holy Spirit through the Word. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned,” Jesus promises in Mark 16:16. Believe in what or whom? In Jesus. Just Jesus. Christ alone, and Him crucified.

It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? The foolishness of unbelief, the disregard for things we consider common. There stands the eternal Son of God, present with His people and speaking His powerful Word, and to them He’s just Jesus—no one special. How could they do such a thing? After all, they’d heard of His marvelous teachings and miraculous powers. You would think that they would receive Him as Savior with open arms and listen to Him and believe.

But then again, the Old Adam makes belief very hard, and we must take care or we will fall into the same trap. And if we have so fallen, then it is time for us to repent. You see, the Lord is here, too. Not just “spiritually present” as so many churches teach. The Lord is as really present here as He was in that synagogue in His hometown. There, He cloaked His godhood in flesh and blood. Now He hides both His divine and human natures to visit you in His means of grace.

You’ve heard of this miracle and mystery many-a-Sunday before this one. By means of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion, the holy Lord Jesus Christ is wholly present here with you. Furthermore, He is present for your good. He speaks His Word of grace and life to you. He forgives your sins for an awesome purpose. He desires that you have eternal life with Him in heaven. That is why He died on the cross. That is why He comes to you in His means of grace. And that is why He is present here. The Son of God is here. To save you.

Now the question I lay before you is this: What kind of welcome will He receive? All over, as people got up for church this morning, Old Adam got up with them. Among the discouragements that Old Adam whispered were these: “It’s going to be really hot in there.” “The sermon is going to take a long time.” And we’ll be singing the same old hymns and liturgy again.” “It’s the same stuff that we do every week, nothing special.”

The Old Adam whispers all these things to us—maybe not this Sunday, but then some Sunday soon. He does so for a reason. Old Adam doesn’t want you to rejoice that Jesus is here. Because, you see, Jesus is here. He is present in these things. In Holy Baptism, He placed His name upon you and wrote your name in the Book of Life. As you hear His Word proclaimed and sing His Word in the liturgy, He is working through that Word to give you grace. As you receive His Supper, He shares His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

Miraculous things are going on here—miracles far greater than healed hemorrhages and stilled storms, even greater than little girls brought back to life—because these miracles give you life forever—eternal life in the presence of God. And yet, when the Old Adam prevails, you approach these things with a sense of apathy and boredom, unhappy with the same old Jesus. Perhaps, even offended?

To illustrate the sadness of this sin, consider this. You know that the car needs gasoline to get you places, and it’s the same routine each time. Pull up to the pump and stop the motor. Slide the debit card and pump the gas. Put the nozzle and the cap back in their places. Understanding the necessity of fuel, are you ever tempted to look for an alternative source of power for your car?

Now, you need forgiveness repeatedly because daily you sin much. The Lord gathers you here to give you forgiveness and eternal life, and He has prescribed His Word and Sacraments to get the job done. Yet it is so tempting to approach this ongoing feast of forgiveness with the idea that it’s just Jesus, nothing special. If this is true, it’s because your sinful nature is hard at work. Your Old Adam doesn’t care if you trust in gasoline to get around. It doesn’t destroy him and give you eternal life. But forgiveness does, and so the Old Adam works hard to make it seem like just forgiveness, nothing special. Could it be that you are tempted to take our Lord’s presence for granted because you don’t see the need for forgiveness? Because you don’t see how terribly sinful you are before God?

So I ask you: Did you come here today excited to be visited by the Son of God Himself? Do you make your way here with at least as much enthusiasm as you would to meet an old, dear friend? Do you come enthusiastically into the Lord’s presence—as eagerly as you ought? The answer is no. Burdened by sin, none of us can honestly say “yes” in this life. Why? Is it that the Lord has changed and is no longer as holy, glorious, or merciful? No. He remains the same. The trouble is with us, plagued by sin, that prevents us from rejoicing as we ought.

If you do not appreciate our Lord’s visit, it is not that the Gospel has changed; rather, it may be that you have failed to hear the Law that shows you how much you need forgiveness. Burdened for one reason or another, and denying how sinful you are, it is easy to come to church and say, “It’s just Jesus, nothing special.” This is proof you are sick with sin, and this is confirmed by God’s Word. But if you realize you are sick with sin, then take comfort. Remember, it was the sick in the Gospel lesson who were healed. It was those who didn’t trust in themselves, but confessed their weakness and trusted in Jesus who were healed.

So, here is the Good News. No matter what frame of mind was yours as you came here this morning, the Lord is here—as faithful as always. He gathers you here to forgive your sins, to strengthen and preserve you in the one true faith unto life everlasting. He removes your guilt from you, for He has died for your sins.

How powerful is His grace? Consider someone who drags himself in with little eagerness to meet the Lord, and who departs with no more emotional or physical energy than when he arrived. Nevertheless, he hears the Word and receives the Lord’s Supper. And as he goes, he can say, “Even though my body denies it with every step, the Lord came to visit me today. And although I feel no different, He has removed my sin and strengthened my faith. He will preserve me in that faith until the day He raises me from the dead. Then, fully released from the bonds of sin and death I will be properly joyful at His presence with me.”

Take heart, dear friends. The Lord is here to forgive your sins. Today, He visits you by His Word and Sacrament; and though your Old Adam may say He’s just Jesus and no one special, your faith rejoices to receive Him and to hear Him speak this Good News through His called and ordained servant: 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.