Power or Authority?

Matthew 21:23-27

Proper 21

October 1, 2017

September 27, 2020 (edited for the people of God at St. Matthew)

Focus:  God has given all authority unto His Son.

Function:  That the hearers lead by serving.

Structure:  .

 

Power or Authority?

 

Concordia Publishing House has a book called Pastors and Elders: Caring for the Church and One Another.  In the very first chapter of the book, Rev. Timothy Mech identifies a difference between power and authority.

Have you ever thought about that?  Have you ever thought that power and authority were different words?  I think for most of us, we treat them as synonyms, as though they mean the same thing.

But in this book, Pastor Mech defines the two differently.  Power is when you strive or struggle to be able to exert yourself over someone.  Put another way, it’s when you lead and act by your own abilities.  Authority is when you lead by serving.  When you’re working through power, you are fighting to put yourself above someone else.  When you’re working through authority, you are leading people in the task that’s been assigned to you by someone else already.

This then is the struggle that we see in the text.  As Jesus seeks to use His authority, that is to lead the people by serving them the way God the Father has instructed Him to do, as He tries, the chief priests and the elders try to flex their power.

Really, this is all of Jesus’ ministry, and continues even to this day, but to understand it better, we really need to look at all of chapter 21 of Matthew’s account of the gospel.  The chapter begins with Palm Sunday, with Jesus’ triumphal entry as He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Don’t underestimate the weight of that move.  Jesus is fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy of the coming King, the coming Messiah.  If He’s seeking power, this is a bold statement, and one that’s not lost on the religious leaders.  But which is it? Power or authority?

From there, Jesus then enters the temple, and cleanses it.  This is one of those moments of anger for Christ, as the religious leaders had made a power play in turning the temple into a market for their own profits.  We see Jesus overturning tables and rebuking the leaders of the people.  Power or authority?

The next morning we get the account of Jesus cursing the fig tree.  Power or authority?

Then we come to our text for the day.  As Jesus reenters the temple, the religious leaders aren’t pleased.  And they’ve taken their time to come up with a trap for Jesus.  “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  If He answers that God gave Him the authority because as Peter said, He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, then they will have Him for blasphemy.  If He answers anything else, then they will have Him for breaking the law of man and of Judaism.

But Christ’s wisdom is unending.  As He freed Himself from their traps before, so He does again.  And this time, He not only frees Himself, He turns the trap back on them.  And not just once, but three times.  “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell Me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.  The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?”

And the religious leaders already know He’s got them.  They discuss it together, but they know they can’t answer.  If they say from God, then why didn’t they listen?  If they say from man, the people will be angry and turn against them because they’d loved John as a prophet.  And so they pass.  And Jesus could have left the conversation there, because He’s free.  He’s set Himself up to be able to continue to teach.

But He doesn’t stop there.  He proceeds to throw two parables at them.  The first is the Parable of the Two Sons, which goes like this:

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

 

These religious leaders were the ones above all who should be following God and leading by His authority.  But they aren’t.  They’ve rejected God and are leading by their own power.  Jesus has them.  He’s spoken of the good of the people and the failure of the leaders.  But again, Jesus continues:

33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

 

Jesus has now not only called out the religious leaders, He’s condemned them.  He has highlighted their guilt and their corruption and has laid upon them the full weight of God’s law.  And they get it, they know He’s talking about them and their thirst for power.  But even in all their anger, there’s nothing they can do, at least not until a couple of days later when Judas Iscariot sells them Jesus’ resting place for 30 pieces of silver.

We see this tension among ourselves.  This struggle of power and authority exists in all of our communities.  It exists in government, as people lord themselves over their community.  Even the elected officials are often driven by power and will do anything to keep that power as long as they can.

We see it in the racial tensions in this land today.  We see two completely opposite ways of thinking violently clashing against one another as they fight a fight of power.  Power will not help this struggle, which is precisely what we are witnessing happening all around us.  We need humble servants, willing to lead by serving and loving their neighbor.

We see it in marriage.  Here we could spend weeks looking at Genesis 1-3 and Ephesians 5, at the ordering of God’s creation, and how in our sin, we’ve broken that order.  But in the shorthand for this sermon, God gave the husband the authority to lead his family by serving.  And in the fall, as part of the woman’s punishment, she will try to steal her husband’s position and use power to do it.  And in return, the husband, instead of leading by serving, by the authority rightly given to him by God, the husband will lead by power.  This is why marriages hurt.  This is why marriages are broken.  Because sin destroys.

But as I had you do before, having you acknowledge that in all Jesus was doing, He wasn’t acting out of power, but out of authority.  Let’s see if you can place this quote: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”  Pause.  It’s the very end of Matthew’s account of the gospel.  ALL AUTHORITY has been given to Jesus, by the Father.  He rightly leads this world as Lord and as Savior by serving His creation.

And He served His creation by loving us so dearly, so overwhelmingly, so emphatically, that He took of Himself, He in His authority, He submitted Himself to the people in power.  He submitted Himself to the religious leaders, He submitted Himself to the Roman leaders, He submitted Himself to the cross and to death.

It is in His authority, it is in His leading by serving, that Jesus saves us.  That He conquers death, He conquers earthly powers.  He conquers the sin that overwhelms our families, our communities, and our nations.  The struggles for power between husband and wife are overcome in humble service.  The struggles between the races of this earth are overcome when we humbly listen to one another and serve one another.  The struggles between government and civilian are overcome when governments humble themselves and lead by serving, and when civilians humble themselves and respect the authority given to those who would lead them.

All of that sin, all of that brokenness is restored in Christ.  And while we will only see shades of it in the here and now, we will be made perfect in His new creation.  Which is why Matthew emphasized the end of this gospel account by quoting our Lord saying:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

Jesus entrusts His authority to us.  He encourages us to lead our neighbor by serving our neighbor.  He encourages pastors to lead His people by serving them with His words of forgiveness and life in the Sacraments.  He even encourages all people in positions of leadership to lead well by serving, as we see spelled out for us in the fourth commandment.  The Explanation of the Small Catechism states it this way:

“Who are parents and other authorities?” Parents are fathers, mothers, and guardians; other authorities are all those whom God has placed over us at home, in government, at school, at the place where we work, and in the church.”

 

It is in our sinful nature to cling to power.  But it is in the very nature of God to lay down power to love and to serve.  Jesus Christ was and is fully God.  And yet He willingly laid that down, the power that He rightly holds, He lays down to humbly serve us, to use His authority to rebuke and to forgive His people.  On account of His crucifixion and His resurrection, we live.  And while we live, we have the authority to humbly serve one another.

 

 

Forgiveness is Disarming

Genesis 50:15-21

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 17, 2017

September 13, 2020 (edited for the Church in St. Matthew)

 

Focus:  God forgives even our guilt.

Function:  That the hearers bear no grudges, either of their own guilt or another’s against them.

Structure:  Sermon Outline by Rev. Paul Philp.

 

Forgiveness is Disarming

 

Our text today comes from the Old Testament reading out of the book of Genesis.  We find an account of eleven brothers who expect death.  They expect to receive the death penalty at the hands of the man second in command over all of Egypt.

Many years before, when Joseph was still just a boy, he started to have dreams of authority, dreams that said that he would one day see his brothers bow down at his feet.  For one of the youngest of twelve sons, that was probably pretty enticing.  And he certainly gloated about it, on more than one occasion.

And while his father, Jacob, was perplexed by these ideas, his brothers weren’t very pleased.  Dad’s favoritism surely didn’t help, nor did that beautiful and luxurious cloak that dad gave to Joseph.  So, over the course of time, they grew to hate their brother; they came to despise Joseph.

Until one day when they saw an opportunity.  They were working out in the fields, and saw Joseph approaching and began to dream up ways to get rid of him.  To put an end to his gloating, to his favored status in the home.

At first, they were going to kill him.  But the oldest, the heir of the house, Reuben, convinced his brothers to spare Joseph.  And so, instead of killing him, they lowered him into a cistern, a giant hole in the ground, a well.

The brothers then sat down for a meal, and as they were eating, they noticed a caravan off in the distance. A travelling group of slave traders related to their great uncle Ishmael.  The Scriptures don’t say where Reuben was, just that he wasn’t there and wasn’t aware.  And so, in his absence, the brothers decided to make a little coin, to make a profit off of their hatred.  Rather than kill Joseph, they could both get rid of him, and make some money.  It was a win-win, for them at least.

Obviously, they never expected to see Joseph again.  Nor did they care.  Just moments before they had been willing to kill him, so they certainly didn’t care what happened to him as a slave in some other land.  So from the perspective of the brothers, we can skip over most of the life of Joseph.

Joseph is sold as a slave to Potiphar of Egypt and then winds up in prison.  After being God’s spokesman to Pharaoh in the interpretation of some dreams, Joseph is given a position of authority, as second in command over the land of Egypt.  He’s tasked with managing the abundance of food during their seven years of feasting, saving a portion each year so that the people would still have food when the seven years of famine struck.

As those famine years began, food grew scarce.  And not just in Egypt, but even the surrounding lands, including the land of Canaan where Joseph’s father Jacob and the rest of his brothers lived.  So Jacob sends the brothers to Egypt, not just once, but twice to buy food for their family. And it isn’t until their second visit that Joseph reveals himself to them.

How would you think they reacted?  Having just seen their brother’s face, knowing what they’d done to him, and now the position of power and authority that he had over them?  The food was his.  He literally was in the position to watch them starve to death or simply have them killed.

But that’s not what Joseph does.  Instead, Joseph forgives them and feeds them.  He even invites them to move down to the neighboring land of Goshen with the hopes of seeing his father again.  It’s been a good solid twenty years at least.

After several more years pass, Jacob dies.  And the brothers fear Joseph, again.  They doubt his forgiveness to them.  They question if he wasn’t just being nice to them for the sake of dad, to keep the family together.  And now, with dad no longer there to protect them, they feared Joseph would get revenge against them for their wickedness.

That’s our text today.  They come up with a ridiculous lie to get Joseph to forgive them.  Their guilt from sins decades ago still haunts them.  For no reason.  Joseph has already forgiven his brothers.  And even now, they still live in that state of forgiveness.  There’s no grudge.  There’s no plot of revenge.  But once again, Joseph had to speak kindly to them and comfort them, reassuring them of his forgiveness for them.

There are multiple ways to see God’s law in this text.  The first is guilt.  Guilt is the result of a conscience, of God writing His law, His commands upon our hearts.  And so when we sin, when we break God’s law, failing in our vocations, abandoning our responsibilities, we feel guilt.

This is what the brothers wrestled with, as do we.  We can all think of things in our past, mistakes made, friends hurt, neighbors neglected.  And most of the time, we aren’t really capable of forgetting our sins.  And the devil and our sinful flesh love to use this against us.

Many of us here today can identify one or more of those things that still make us feel guilty.  For the words you said to your parents as you rejected their authority.  For the pain you inflicted on your friend when you betrayed their trust.  Even for dumb sins we did decades ago.  We still hold onto that guilt.

Another law angle on this same topic, though, is: why?  What did the brothers actually fear?  They feared Joseph’s retaliation.  They couldn’t trust the forgiveness of their brother.  All too often in our lives, we’ve earned that distrust.

We’ve held the grudges.  Sometimes for decades.  Sometimes dividing families so that they never speak again.  And so the person who feels the guilt of their sin fears coming to us.  They fear confessing their sin to us because we’ve held it against them before.  Because we’ve acted on revenge before.  Because we’ve heard the words, “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” and we’ve rejected them.  Try this on for size: think of someone who has confessed their sin to you.  How do you view them now?  What emotions come up?  Do you see them as Christ sees them?  Do you see them as Christ sees you?  Do you see them as a forgiven child of God and your brother or your sister in Christ?  If you don’t, you’re still holding a grudge and you haven’t forgiven them.

Marriages die here.  Relationships of all kinds die here.  When we choose to hold on to our betrayal and our hurt, we sin against our neighbor.  In our pride, we only furthered, only deepened the pain and the anguish and the guilt and the despair of our neighbor.

That’s what the brothers expected: revenge, punishment.  They expected it because it was what they were used to.  That was the way things work.  And it’s still the way things work in this broken world.

But not before God.  Joseph is a type, a foreshadowing, of Christ.  The way he responded to his brothers, to their wickedness, and even to their guilty conscience was the way that Christ responds to us.  Joseph endured the pain and the loss and the suffering of his brothers’ betrayal.  He spent years as a slave, many likely in miserable conditions.  But in doing so, he wasn’t plotting his revenge.  He forgave his brothers.

Forgiveness is disarming.  As second in command over the world’s superpower, Joseph laid down his sword, his right to revenge.  Forgiveness is laying down your sword, your right to revenge.  It is self-sacrificing as you lay yourself down at the feet of another.  Forgiveness makes the relationship whole again, and comes at the price of being open to being hurt again.  As commander of all the angel armies in creation, with the full authority of God, Jesus laid down His sword.  Christ not only laid down His sword, He allowed us to pick it up and strike Him down with it.

Christ endured our betrayal.  It was our betrayal, our sin, our guilt that sent Him, willingly, to the cross.  He didn’t seek out revenge, He didn’t seek to get even, He only muttered the words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus Christ in His sacrifice for us overcomes our sins.  He took them from us.  He bore them upon Himself.  We are free.  We are freed from our grudges that we hold against others.  We can give them up.  Like Joseph, we are free to forgive one another and to break the shackles of hatred and despair.  We are free to be reconciled with all people.  Christ did that for us.

Still yet, it’s not just our grudges that He forgives.  It’s all of our sins.  And so that guilt that you’ve been carrying around since you were seven, that guilt is on Him.  He carries that burden for you.  You don’t have to.  If you’re still carrying it, pray.  Ask the Lord to take it from you.  Ask the Lord to grant you reconciliation, to bring forgiveness into your broken relationship, with whoever that may be.  Ask the Lord to wipe away all grudges and all guilt.  Because He has and He does.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, hear the beautiful words of the Apostle Paul as he greeted the church in Corinth:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in Him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord.”  In Christ, you and I are guiltless.  He took it, all of it, for us.  For you and for me.  As Joseph’s brothers came to realize that his forgiveness was genuine, and they trusted in him again, so we too, can know that in Christ’s death and resurrection, His forgiveness of all our sins is genuine.  We are indeed guiltless.  And that is how He sees us.

 

But One Flag

Romans 13:1-10

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 6, 2020

 

Focus:  God alone saves.

Function:  That the hearers trust in Christ above all things.

Structure:  Bible study.

 

But One Flag

 

It’s an election year again.  The mudslinging is everywhere, as though it ever disappears.  People are politicized, entrenched into the muck and chaos on one of two sides.  You either love the government or hate them.  There’s so much hatred and so much disagreement all around us.  There’s uproar over anything our governing officials do.

Our text from Paul writing to the Romans is about government.  It gives us the opportunity to learn what God teaches us in His Word about our governing authorities and our relationship to them.  As Christians, how are we to view them?  How are we to interact with them?  So today, our sermon is more of a wider Bible study.  Other texts of note on this topic include 1 Samuel 8, John 19:10-11, Psalm 118:9, Psalm 146:3, and Acts 5:29b.

Let’s begin with our Romans text that Pastor Otto read just a few minutes ago.  What’s Paul’s primary aim in this text?  What is God teaching us here?  The heart of this letter is all about righteousness.  First and foremost, it’s God’s righteousness for us, that He makes His perfection ours in Jesus Christ.  But the ending chapters of the letter focus on our righteousness in this world, how we are supposed to live among our neighbors in this present moment.  The aim of verses 1-7 is that we would be subject to our governing officials, whoever those may be.

But what does that mean?  What does it look like to be subject to someone else?  God’s Word teaches us that we are to look at our governing officials as ministers of God, servants of God.  He has called them into their particular office that they may care for His creation.  In some ways, it’s the same task we have: care for creation, care for one another.  But their role is more specific, it includes the greater task of caring for the entire community.  Whereas you and I can focus on loving an individual neighbor, they must focus on loving the whole neighborhood.

And it’s our God-given job to obey them and do what they tell us.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a law, a command, an ordinance, or a request.  Or whatever word you want to use.  If our government tells us to do something, we are subject to them.  We do what they ask, or tell.

I imagine that has many of you wondering if this applies when the government is evil.  And to answer that, we have to go back to the Old Testament, to the fundamental government text in Scripture: 1 Samuel 8.  Now this text never appears in the lectionary, and it’s buried in the midst of an Old Testament history book, so it’s possible that many people here today have never read it before. For that very reason, I’ll read part of it for you now, starting at verse four:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to Yahweh. And Yahweh said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

10 So Samuel told all the words of Yahweh to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

 

As I read the list of God’s warnings, many of them should sound very familiar to you.  We see in the very institution of earthly government that it never should’ve happened.  We were never meant to be governed by other men.  God alone is to be our King.  So whatever government we have is part of this dying and broken, sin-riddled world.  There is no perfect earthly government, no not one.

God works in mysterious ways.  He gives governors the power of the sword, using one sinful nation to punish another, using one sinner to cast judgment on another.  But, we all deserve it.  We’re all guilty; none of us are perfect, no not one.

In light of this, it doesn’t matter who our governing authorities are.  President Obama. President Trump.  Kim Jong-Un.  God’s Word teaches us to treat them all the same.  And that again is to be subject to them, and to honor them.  And the reason for it is simple: as Paul says, “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  The authority of the government, no matter what kind of government it is, comes from God.  And we should note that God gives authority to the person, not a piece of paper, no matter how much Americans may love their Constitution.

Jesus says this same thing to Pontius Pilate in John 19.  As Pilate is about to execute Him, to execute God Himself, Jesus says “You would have no authority over Me at all unless it had been given you from above.”  And we don’t just rise up the chain of command in Rome with Jesus’ statement, but all the way to the top, to God Himself.  Pilate’s authority came from God the Father.  And this Roman’s letter we read today, Paul wrote this to the Christians living in Rome under the Roman emperor in 55 AD.  That same Roman emperor, a man named Nero, would one day execute Paul and Peter as he brought immense persecution on the people of God.  And yet, Paul tells us very specifically that we are to honor the governing authority.  And a few years later, right in the midst of the heat of that persecution, Peter writes the same thing.

Another thing we learn from Scripture is that our governing authorities are not our enemies, no matter how bad they may seem.  They’re fellow sinners, in need of the Gospel just as much as we are.  And they will have to give an account on the day of judgment for all that they have done.  Paul says this in Romans 14:12, that we all must give an account.  Whatever God has entrusted to you, you must tell Him, the Lord of the universe, to His face, what you’ve done with it.  And so even though the preacher to the Hebrews was talking about our pastors, Hebrews 13:17 is very fitting here as well.  We subject ourselves to our leaders to make it easier for them to some day give an account.  To subject yourself to the government is to love your neighbor.  If you resist them, Paul clearly states you resist God.  But you also make their job harder, and therefore make their account more dangerous to their own body and soul.

Now, do the Scriptures teach that this is true always, that we must always be subject to our governing authority no matter what?  And the answer to that is a slim “no.” There’s just one exception, which we read in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.”  If the governing authority commands you to do something that is contrary to a direct command of God, you must resist the governor.  And in doing so, hopefully they see their wrong, repent, and that accounting before God just got easier.  But let’s consider two recent examples: closing churches and masks.

Many churches in the US today are resisting their local governing authority’s command to close, because they believe they have a command from God to gather.  Hebrews 10:24-25 says it quite plainly, that we are not to neglect the gathering.  And as Lutherans, we know all the more that the common union of communion is not possible without “union.”  We receive the body and blood of Christ as the body of Christ gathered together.

And then there’s the mask mandate which has become quite widespread.  I’ll admit to you, I don’t like it.  I don’t like wearing a mask.  I wish you didn’t have to wear them to be here.  But, it doesn’t conflict with a command of God.  So, my governing authority tells me to do it, and I do it.  I wear a mask, because I’m subject to the rulers of Jackson County.  This is, by the way, why I often mention that speeding is a sin.  Governing authorities said don’t do it.

So the Scriptures are really quite clear on the relationship of a Christian to her government. With that one exception, a historical rarity in America, we must obey our governing authority.

But this obedience is limited.  We’re called to be subject to them, not to put our trust in them.  We must remember that every government of man stands as a flawed and dying institution that exists solely because we demanded it in our rebellion against God.  He consented, granting us wicked governments as one way that He would continue to care for us.

Our governing authorities often try to take that role from God.  They seek to be our protectors, providers, and saviors.  Think about a few examples for a moment: do we trust in God to protect us, or the branches of the American military?  Do we trust in God to provide our daily bread, or in the social security system?  Do we trust in God to deliver us from death, or do we join with one of the governors who on Easter Monday of all days looked at the receding pandemic and claimed “The number is down because we brought the number down.  God did not do that.  Faith did not do that”?

God can work through many things to care for us as His people, and thankfully He does.  If the military protects us, if social security aids you, if the pandemic disappears, God is at work.  But we are to put our trust in God the Creator, and not in the tools that He may or may not use.  When we put our trust and faith into the tools, into the works of our own hands, that’s called pride, and it’s extremely dangerous to our faith.

It’s not the job of any earthly government to save us, no matter how much they may believe that it is.  They can’t save us; they can’t even save themselves.  That flag over there in the corner is perishing, just like the government that it represents.  It may be 10 years from now, or 50, or 200, but the day will come when it will perish.  The day will come when every earthly government falls.  History is riddled with them, full of prideful governments falling before their one true King.

For this reason, the ancient hymnal of the Church, which you know as the book of Psalms, sings aloud, “It is better to take refuge in Yahweh than to trust in princes,” (Psalm 118:9); and again, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation,” (Psalm 146:3). We are Christians, followers of Christ, not Republicans or Democrats.  Those parties can’t save this land and they can’t save you.  We’re not really even Americans.  We don’t put our trust or our hope in these things.

The government can’t sustain you forever.  Your years here may be two or a hundred.  But at some point, unless Christ first returns, your body will fail.  As the preacher to the Hebrews puts it, we are citizens of “a better country, that is, a heavenly one,” (Hebrews 11:16).  God, the One who created you and the One who is saving you, has promised you that He is preparing a place for you.  The Lord of the universe, the authority over all authority, has promised you His Paradise where you will live forever, and things like death, suffering, and sorrow will never be seen again.

Not only has He promised it, but He’s won it.  God carried that wooden cross into battle, as His flag, the battle standard of His kingdom.  He marched that flag up to the top of the mount where He would do battle with the devil for all the world to see.

His cross is our flag.  The cross of Christ on which His body hung and His blood flowed freely, is our battle standard.  By His death, we are freed from our sins.  By His resurrection, we know that we will live even if we die.  This is our hope.  This is where our trust lies: in Christ the crucified.

So in short, we obey our earthly governing authorities because their authority comes from God.  We pray for them regularly that God would guide them to lead well.  We subject ourselves to them and do what they ask out of love for them, as they must give an account to God for how they’ve cared for us.  Yet, at the end of the day, we have but one God.  We have but one allegiance, and it lies not in the land in which we live.  Our allegiance is to our citizenship which is in heaven, to Christ our one and only King. He has welcomed you into His kingdom, given you a new citizenship, and provided you sanctuary.

 

More than a Crumb

Matthew 15:21-28

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

August 16, 2020

 

Focus:  God has brought salvation to all peoples.

Function:  That the hearers open the doors of the church and their lives to the “unclean.”

Structure:  Controlling metaphor.

 

More than a Crumb

 

As you just heard the text, I imagine many of you are still dwelling on one specific detail: Jesus just offended this poor, helpless woman.  She’d come to Him for help, and after first ignoring her, He then insults her.  We’re offended for her!  Now, it’s certainly true that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ isn’t politically correct.  Our culture, really the world, has sought to silence the words of Christ long before we even invented cancel culture.  But Jesus isn’t afraid to speak harsh words when He knows they’ll accomplish His purpose.

So it is that we really need to study this text to understand what purpose Jesus could’ve had for speaking to her the way that He did.  And I want to start doing that by shifting your focus and attention.  While we can easily get lost in the account on the word “dog,” I want you to step back for a moment and consider the importance of the “crumb.”  That’s the crucial word in Jesus’ analogy.

When we stop and consider it, crumbs aren’t worth very much.  They’re just specks of leftover food.  It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the crumbs that fall from your mouth or your beard as you’re eating and land on your lap, or the crumbs that flake off when you’re breaking up the food on your plate, or the crumbs at the bottom of the cereal bag.  They’re all essentially the same.  You can’t fill your stomach on any of them.  And even if the crumb is big enough to give you just a taste, just a glimpse of the deliciousness of the meal, you can’t savor it.  All it does is leaving you wanting more, salivating for a bite of what you can’t have.

Let’s consider the woman now.  As is pretty normal, Matthew doesn’t identify her by name.  Most of Jesus’ miracles occur this way.  The focus isn’t actually on the miracle, or the person, but is on what Christ is doing for His creation.  And so this Canaanite woman approaches Jesus seeking help for her demon-possessed daughter.  That’s all we know about her life and her family.

Well, we know something more about her, something more important about her.  Even before Jesus Himself acknowledges it for us, we can see just how deeply incredible her faith is.  Remember, faith is trust.  To have faith in Jesus means that we trust in Him and in what He is doing to care for us.

This woman, not from God’s people, trusts in Jesus.  She trusts in Him so fully, that she left her child behind and to seek Him.  She trusted that He had the ability to do the impossible, to heal her daughter of an affliction that no earthly doctor could touch.  She calls Him by the divine title that drove the Pharisees to anger, she calls Him “Lord, Son of David.”  She acknowledges that He is the Messiah, the Anointed One who has come to rescue His people.

And then, as Jesus badgers her with this analogy of masters and children, dogs and crumbs, she reveals an even stronger faith.  Just a crumb, just a table scrap, would be enough.  The littlest of Jesus, the leftovers of Jesus would be enough to conquer the demon that afflicts and tortures her child.  She trusts that a crumb can do the impossible, can do what no man can do.

And how does Jesus respond when He hears of her faith?  He gives her the crumb.  He provides the miracle for this mother that she was begging for.  Matthew, one of the twelve disciples present who had wanted her to shut up and go away, Matthew tells us the daughter was healed instantly.

I want to keep the focus on crumbs and faith, but I also want to quickly address the sermon’s opening challenge, the dilemma plaguing your minds and your faith.  We hear the words of Jesus as an insult.  But that was not His intent.

Jesus is God.  God created all of this.  God created all the animals of the earth, including dogs.  Whether they are loved or unloved, in a home or roaming the street, Jesus, the Lord of all creation, cares for and provides for them, too.  The point of His analogy, then, is this: a parent, or a master, prepares a meal for his household, for his family.  When the family gathers at the table to eat, the food is for them.  It’s for the children.  The master hasn’t cooked to feed the dogs; they aren’t the intended recipient of this particular blessing.

Jesus, the Messiah of God’s people, is sent with a particular target.  He has been sent, as He said, “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  She isn’t a child of that house.  The meal hasn’t been prepared for her.  That’s the simple meaning of the analogy.  And it expands pretty rapidly.  Anyone not of the house of Israel would be a dog in this light.  All those Gentile sinners? Dogs.  All the Old Testament peoples of nations like Assyria and Egypt? Dogs.  I am a dog.  And unless you are descended from the patriarch Abraham or the throne of the great King David, you are also a Gentile dog.

But even with all this focus on the word “dog,” again, it’s not the focus of the account.  In its context, the purpose of Jesus’ interactions with this woman is to teach His disciples.  He had just offended the Pharisees by teaching that what defiles a person, what makes someone unclean, is what comes from inside of them, from the heart, the mind, the lips.  It’s our sinfulness, our rebellion against God that makes us unclean.

The Pharisees believed that they were clean, because they were God’s people, descended from the line of Abraham.  And likewise, they would have taught that this Canaanite woman, not born of Abraham, was unclean.  For a Jew to associate with her, including Jesus and His disciples, it would make all of them unclean.

And so Jesus acts and speaks the way He does to teach.  To show His disciples that a faith stronger than their own exists in this woman whom they thought was a nuisance, perhaps even a threat to them.  He ignores her, so they see her press on.  He tells her she’s not a part of the house of Israel, not a child of Abraham, so that they see her quick and faithful plea.  She is persistent, humble, and bows down in worship before her Creator and Savior.

In this way, we again are like her.  Not just dogs, but beggars.  Faithful and persistent beggars.  There is nothing good in us.  All our deeds are like filthy rags.  We are sick, broken, and dying.  We live a life that hurts those around us.  But we repent.  We daily place ourselves at the Master’s feet asking for His crumbs.

And just as it happened then, it happens now.  Jesus didn’t respond to the woman by giving her just a crumb.  He did give her that, but He also gave her so much more!  He gave her the whole feast!

The common bond of all three of today’s texts is the idea that God’s gift of salvation, this Messiah, would not just be for the house of Israel, but for all people!  Isaiah’s mention of foreigners coming in.  Paul’s mention of the Gentiles being grafted in.  And it’s not just here: it’s a frequent and recurring theme throughout His Word.  Whether that’s in Peter’s vision in Acts 10 where He learns that God has called all people clean, or in John 10:16 where Jesus says “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one Shepherd.”

And this Messiah didn’t come to be a Crumb King or a Bread King.  We could enjoy the crumbs of Christ.  We would enjoy seeing the miracles, having such incredible moments happen in our lives.  But in the end, it wouldn’t fill us.  It wouldn’t satisfy.  He came to give us Himself, to give us life.

Jesus gave us all of Himself.  As the bread of life, He laid down His life that we may eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, and live forever!  Not just temporarily healed from a demon, a virus, or the millions of other ailments that afflict us in our sin-filled state.  But permanently, enduringly, rescued from our sins.  Forgiven, restored, made new, made whole.  Not just with the crumbs, but with the whole meal (point to the elements of the Lord’s Supper on the altar).

This theme is important.  Now, what other Gentiles from Scripture can you recall, that God gave not just the crumbs, but so much more? (pause for answers like Namaan, Ruth, the Ninevites in the Old Testament, or the Magi, the Ethiopian eunuch, and the Samaritan woman at the well in the New Testament)  Together, with those men and women, as well as this Canaanite, we are the children of God, partakers in His great feast!

Now, before we wrap up, the actual Law of this texts bears our consideration.  It is the disciples’ response to the woman and her pleas for mercy.  They are agitated, annoyed, angered.  We don’t really get the exact word, but it’s obvious that they think this woman’s presence is beneath them, and they want her to shut up and go away.  Even the disciples, those closest to Christ, were blind to their hatred of others whom God loves.

That Law can be spoken of us as well.  Who here doesn’t have a group of people that they look down upon?  It doesn’t matter their position.  Maybe, like the disciples, you’d rather not spend time around people who aren’t like you.  Maybe, like the Pharisees, you don’t want to be bothered by the poor, the sick, or the sin-ridden outcasts.  Or maybe, like others still, you have come to despise those in positions of authority over you.  While most of us likely won’t admit it to each other out loud, there are people in this world we wouldn’t want to see come through those doors.  That’s the Law of this text.

But God is the God of all people, and as we hear of Him in 1 Timothy 2:4, He desires for all people to be saved.  Just as Jesus taught His disciples by account of this woman, so He still works to reform our sinful flesh, that we would look down on no one around us as unclean or unfit to hear of Jesus and to receive not just His crumbs, but His entire gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation that can be found nowhere else.

It doesn’t matter how they dress, or look, or talk, or act.  Nor does it matter what they’ve done or how much they may have hurt us before.  We are all sinners in need of the full meal of God’s mercy.  And come the end of the Gospel, in Matthew 28, Jesus would send out these same men to every nation under heaven with the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near.  In the same way, Jesus is sending us out as a church, in our families, as individuals, into the community around us with the good the news that the kingdom of heaven has come near.  And it’s not just crumbs!  We get to enjoy the full spread of the heavenly feast of the Lamb in His kingdom that knows no end.

Compassioned Boldness

Romans 9:1-5

Proper 13

August 6, 2017

 

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (edited for the people of God at St. Matthew)

August 2, 2020

 

Focus:  God gave everything in His love for us.

Function:  That the hearers share Christ’s bold compassion with their neighbors.

Structure:  Parallels.

 

Compassioned Boldness

 

Just how far are you willing to go?  How much are you willing to sacrifice for those people you hold dear?  Your loved ones, those closest to you?  Your spouse, your children, your best friend, your parents?  How much would you give of yourself to ensure their wellbeing?

What if we change the person, to say, the person sitting a few rows either behind you or in front of you?  How much would give up of yourself for that person?  Would it be difficult to say that you’d give up just as much?

What if we change the person again, but this time, to the person who lives three doors down from you, whether that’s apartments in a hallway, homes on a block, or even a mile or two for those of you who live in the country, how much would you be willing to give of yourself to care for that person?  For your neighbor?

And if you’ll allow, let me push this one more time.  How much would you be willing to lay down of yourself for the person you despise the most?  The person who has caused you the most harm, or the most embarrassment?  The person who has literally stolen from you, belittled you?  What would you be willing to give for that person?

In America, we have a logical worldview on this subject.  What I mean by that is the way we look at others, the way we treat others, makes sense.  We understand.  We understand if you love a good friend who loves you.  We understand if you are angry with the person who’s been gossiping about you.  We understand if you want revenge when someone has done great harm to you.

But the problem is, this logical, American way of thinking isn’t Christian.  This isn’t what Jesus taught.  It isn’t how He instructed His disciples to live.

Instead we get a fascinating text today from the letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome.  “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Many of you still remember The Titanic movie, but even more of you still remember the story.  This giant vessel crashing into an iceberg and plunging into the depths of the ocean.  The people flooded to the lifeboats, but there weren’t enough.  So what happened?  Well, in that time in our culture, men sacrificed themselves.  The women and children got the first seats.  The men offered their lives to save others.

That’s an extreme example from our history.  But it pales in comparison.  Paul just said that he would willingly trade places.  That if he could, he’d give up not just his earthly life, but his everlasting life if it meant that his Jewish brethren would come to know Christ, and receive everlasting life.

Now, you and I, and Paul, we know this isn’t how it works.  It’s not a seat on a boat, it’s not something Paul could trade, or even sacrifice.  But it’s a powerful statement and illustration.  The Apostle Paul was a Jew.  Born a Jew, raised a Jew.  Studied under the best teachers they had.  He was one of them, and he was in a position to be one of their leaders, if he wasn’t considered so already.

And then it all changed.  On the Road to Damascus, when Christ appears to Paul and strikes him blind, and directs him to go on into the city where he will receive further instructions.  Paul, even in losing his sight, saw the resurrected Christ.  Or, at the very least, heard His voice.  And upon reaching Damascus, the Lord sends Ananias, who heals Paul and baptizes him.  And Paul is saved.

Now, this didn’t sit well with his old Jewish friends, teachers, and well, any of them.  And Paul began to suffer at their hands.  His own account of it in 2 Corinthians 11 is astounding:

“with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

 

Beaten, and not just with fists.  The lashings, the stonings, the imprisonments and torture that Paul endured at their hands.  And yet, instead of wanting revenge, instead of wanting to see them get what was coming to them, which would have been a very logical reaction, what did Paul want for them?  He wanted nothing more than to see them know Christ and be forgiven for all the pain and all the wretchedness that they had caused.

There was no grudge to be found.  In fact, just the opposite: compassion.  Paul would give up his spot for them if it worked that way.  Praise be to God that it doesn’t work that way.

Because God’s plan is infinitely better.  God’s plan is that His own Son Jesus Christ would step down into this world, taking on flesh, becoming a man, born of the virgin Mary.  That this Jesus, this Son of God would then at the hands of God’s own people endure beatings, and lashings, and even death by crucifixion.  And that as He hung there upon the cross, rather than free Himself or call down His Father’s wrath, Jesus called out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

Even in His dying breath, Jesus was accomplishing what He came to do: to forgive all people.  To forgive every man of every time and every place.  To forgive every sin committed past, present, and future.  That Christ did not hold a grudge against the wickedness of mankind, but gave His life in our place.  Spilled His blood so that we would not have to.

This is the gospel!  That you and me, in spite of our sins, in spite of our brokenness, in spite of our open and obstinate rebellion against God: you are forgiven, you are saved!  The compassion that Jesus had for His people led Him to be so bold that He would even willingly die for us.

The compassion that the Apostle Paul had for the people around him, even those we would consider his enemies, enabled him to be so bold that he would continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting in His name.  Paul didn’t cower, he didn’t step back and wait for God’s wrath to rain down from heaven upon his enemies.  He went to the people who needed forgiveness, who needed love, who needed a Savior, and He gave them the good news.

We are forever grateful that this good news has been proclaimed to us.  And to 2 billion other people alive today who have heard the good news and believedin Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  And it’s not just those living, but the countless men and women that heard and shared this same gospel proclamation in the generations from Paul to us.

And so it’s this same good news that overflows in us.  We are called to boldly share the love of Christ with our neighbor.  We look upon them, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, with compassion.  And it’s this compassion for them, as it did for Paul, that leads us to be bold.  To proclaim the truth, to proclaim forgiveness and life in the name of Christ.  To our spouses and children.  To our best friends and parents.  To the people in the pews around us or the neighbors down the way.  To the very people who have done us harm.  We give of ourselves, we sacrifice of ourselves to give these people the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  To hear of the forgiveness of their sins and our sins.  To hear of the gift of life that is for all people.

Suffering Doesn’t Even Begin to Compare

Romans 8:18-27

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

July 19, 2020

 

Focus:  God will raise us from the dead.

Function:  That the hearers eagerly wait for adoption as sons.

Structure:  Walkthrough the Text.

 

Suffering Doesn’t Even Begin to Compare

 

Most of you have seen the Peanuts comics.  You know about Lucy’s business.  From time to time she sets up her little stand, hangs up the sign that says “The doctor is in,” and then gives advice to her friends for a nickel.

Now imagine for a moment that I was to set up a similar looking little shop here in our church parking lot.  The sign could read, “Slaps for a nickel!”  Anyone could come up who wanted, I would slap them, and then give them a nickel.  I don’t imagine I’d have any takers.  No one would want to experience that sting of pain for such an insignificant thing as a nickel.

But what would happen if I changed the payout?  If instead of a nickel, it were a million dollars?  All a person would have to do is step right up, receive a slap, and walk away with a million dollars in their pocket.  Do you think I’d have any takers?  My guess is there’d be quite a line.  Lots of people would be willing to endure a temporary pain, a minor inconvenience, in order to have such a reward, such a payment.  They’d be dreaming of what they could do with all that money.  Some would see themselves set for life.  They could invest it and never have to work again.  Some would be thinking of all the things they would buy, of all the pleasure that the money would bring.  And others would be imagining how they could use that money to help others, to be generous to people who are in need.

 

It’s a silly hypothetical, so thank you for bearing with me there.  But the point of the illustration is the point of the Epistle reading we had from Paul.  The sufferings that we endure in this life and in this world do not even compare to the glory that awaits us.

And we do endure suffering in this world.  Each of us here deals with the decaying and brokenness of our flesh.  Even the youngest among us in the room has been injured, hurt, broken a bone.  We all have family and friends whom we’ve watched suffer through all sorts of health problems.  Many get up in the morning to go to a job that they hate, simply because they have to to survive and to care for their family.  Others wrestle with loneliness, depression, despair, anxiety, fear, and doubts, sometimes even on a daily basis.

And then in other places of the world, perhaps beginning here, and as it was for the first Christians receiving this letter, there’s the suffering that we endure for the name of Jesus.  Having their families ripped apart.  Watching as persecutors destroy their home.  Being thrown into prison.  Commanded to recant their faith, to deny Jesus, or watch their loved ones die.

These things happen every day.  Christians suffer in this world, whether it’s the deserved consequence of their own sin or simply being a part of the brokenness of this world and this life.  We know the pains of our own suffering.  Each and every one of us.

And we’re not alone in that.  Paul invites us to consider that even the creation itself is suffering and crying out because of it.  Ever since Adam fell in the Garden of Eden, giving in to the devil’s snare, the creation that he was created to care for has been suffering.  Thorns and thistles, drought and decay, lightning and tornadoes, famines and earthquakes, a climate that is falling apart under the weight of all of our garbage and consumption, and the death of plants and animals alike.

We would not endure all of this, or any of this, for a nickel.  It wouldn’t happen.  There would be no takers.  We look at our present sufferings and think that they are profound.  And yet, Paul tells us, he encourages us, that our sufferings don’t even begin to compare with the glory that is yet to come, that will one day be revealed to us.  It’s so much better that in the end, we’ll have no reason to look back on all of this.

And so he begins with the glorified creation.  Creation itself, heaven and earth and all that is in it “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”  God has promised a new heaven and a new earth.  The sufferings of this present age will not exist there.  Animals will live.  Plants will thrive.  Food will abound.  It will be beautiful beyond our description.  Picture the breathtaking nature of creation now: the drive through the Rocky Mountains, the splendor of the Grand Canyon, the mesmerizing northern lights, the peace and quiet of a forest in the morning.  Whatever beauties you have seen in this creation now, they will be all the more so when the burden and death of sin has been removed from them forevermore.

And yet, that’s not what Paul says creation is eagerly waiting for.  What is?  Pause.  You.  Creation eagerly awaits the restoration of her caretakers, the revealing of the sons of God.  That was our created purpose, our function, as stewards of God, we were given the task of doing the things He does, caring for this earth and all that grows here.  Creation is waiting like a child on Christmas Eve to see you restored in the image of God that you may care for her again.

From there Paul then switches to us.  Just as the creation is eagerly waiting, so are we.  It waits for us.  We wait for Him (point up).  We are eagerly waiting for the adoption as sons.  And we do use that language in baptism, and rightly so.  It is in that moment that God calls you to be His child, that He makes you a part of His family.  But it’s another of our “now and not yets.”  We are now adopted as children of God, but we are not yet home.  That’s the thing when you think of earthly adoption.  When you adopt a child, you bring them home.  You bring them into your home, where they eat at your table, and live in your house.

We have this promise from Jesus Himself.  We do already eat at the Lord’s Table (sweeping gesture to where the elements of the Lord’s Supper are), but if you read the words of institution that Jesus spoke, it fixes our eyes also on what is to come.  “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom,” (Matthew 26:29).

And then we also hear:

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going. – John 14:1-4

 

We are eagerly waiting for the adoption as sons.  We are waiting for the day when Jesus Himself welcomes us into the splendor of His Paradise.  We can’t even begin to imagine just what that moment will be like.  Consider the biggest and best surprise that you’ve ever received, whether it was a gift, the sight of your beloved on your wedding day, that moment when you first held your child or your grandchild, the excitement of walking into Arrowhead for the first time, whatever it was.  And in similar fashion, that moment doesn’t even begin to compare to the glory that will soon be revealed to you when the Father says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master.”  I can’t even imagine what that first glimpse will be like.

And then Paul mentions one more piece of that eager expectation: this (pound chest).  The body, your body, that flesh that your soul inhabits right now.  Your life is composed of a body and a soul.  Death is when those two things are separated from one another.  In the moment of your death, the body shuts down, and the soul is taken up into Christ.  But that isn’t the promise.  The promise isn’t everlasting life for your soul in Paradise.  The promise isn’t a heavenly future.  God has promised to raise that body from death.  God has promised new life to that body.  God has promised a new heaven and a new earth, and the creation even now is eagerly waiting to see you there so that you, body and soul, may care for it as God has designed you to do.

All of the suffering of the body now will be gone.  We think of the physical ailments: the cancer, COPD, heart arrythmias, missing limbs, broken bones, stubbed toes.  We think of the emotional ailments: the depression, despair, longing, anxiety, eating disorders, mood swings.  And then there’s all the persecution and suffering endured at the hands of others.  Any and all such things will be no more.  Jesus has conquered sin, death, and the devil.  These things are gone!  That’s the promise of Paradise that awaits.

This is our hope.  And that’s not the empty hope of this world.  It’s not a hope that says, “I sure hope I get this job.”  It’s sure; it’s certain.  And precisely because of what God said in our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 44:8: “Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it?”  There is no other God.  There is no one like Him.  There is no one else who has created such splendor.  There is no one else who has shown the power to control creation like God did in the plagues of old, or through the miracles of Jesus in the New Testament.  There is no one else who has shown authority over the grave by raising the dead as God has done, not just temporarily for people like Lazarus, but permanently in the empty tomb of Christ.  This hope of ours is certain, because the promise comes from God Himself, the One who has created and given life to all things.  If He has done all that, He can most certainly do this.

So we wait, with eager longing, for the fulfillment of one more promise from God Himself.  We wait for the adoption as sons, and the joy that will be had together with Christ in the Paradise He is making for us.  And the sufferings of this present moment don’t compare.  They are as nothing.  Because our eyes are not fixed here (point downward to myself), but on Him.

Freedom by the Blood

Zechariah 9:9-12

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

July 6, 2014

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

July 5, 2020 (edited for the people of God at St. Matthew)

 

Focus: God freed us by His blood.

Function: That the hearers rejoice in the blood of the Lamb.

Structure: This is the historical situation of the text…these are the meanings for us now.

 

Freedom by the Blood

 

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your King is coming to you, righteous and having salvation is He.”

The words of the prophet Zechariah mark a celebration, rejoicing.  They mark the arrival of a King, a King who would bring with Him peace.  This reading fits in remarkably well in the midst of our culture’s celebration of another holiday weekend.

As we come together today, many of you are with your family and friends.  Many others aren’t here because they’ve traveled to see their family and friends.  People are celebrating the land in which they live and the freedoms that they’ve enjoyed.  And even though it wasn’t a normal celebration this year, from what I’ve been told, firework sales were record setting, and the last couple of nights certainly do nothing to disprove that.

The people living in the context of our Old Testament reading could have had a similar celebration.  After generations of wars, including civil war, the remainder of God’s people were conquered by Babylon in 587 BC.  For roughly 50 years, they served in Babylon, many, if not all, of them under poor conditions.  They had been stripped from their homes and from their land.  They were weighed down, they were oppressed.  But in 538 BC, King Cyrus led his Persian army against Babylon, and won.  God had sent him.  We learn that from the book of Ezra, that even Cyrus himself believed it to be true.  God had given him a mission: to set God’s people free.  And so in that same year, Cyrus proclaimed that freedom to God’s children.  They were free to leave Persia and return to their homes in Judah and Jerusalem.

While they may have longed for freedom from Babylon during their exile, they didn’t really have plan for what they would do if it actually happened.  They were allowed to return home.  And yet, most didn’t.  King Cyrus even paid to rebuild the temple, and yet they hesitated and waited for years.  They didn’t have a plan, and when the opportunity was given to them, they hardly took it.  They were free from their bondage, and yet they were lost on how to live as God’s people.

But God had made them a promise: “As for you also, because of the blood of My covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.  Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.”

And God kept His promise.  He reminded them of the blood of the covenant, by which He pledged Himself to be their God, and they His people.  And He never forgot.  It’s what the prophet Zechariah’s name means: Yahweh remembers.  He was still looking out for His people.

So in the midst of their newfound independence mixed with confusion, fear, and chaos, God again provided for His people.  He gave them two prophets: Haggai and Zechariah.  In their recent history, God’s people only knew the prophets for declaring bad things to them.  We even heard that idea in last weekend’s reading from Jeremiah, that the prophets of old prophesied of famine, war, and pestilence.  Isaiah and Jeremiah forecasted the doom of the nation.  Some of the prophets are so negative, you’ll never hear about them in most churches.

But that’s not the case with Zechariah.  Martin Luther said this about him:

“This prophet lived after the Babylonian captivity.  With his colleague, Haggai, he helped to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple and to bring the scattered people together again, so that government and order might be set up in the land again.  He is truly one of the most comforting of the prophets.  He presents many lovely and reassuring visions, and gives many sweet and kindly words, in order to encourage and strengthen the troubled and scattered people to proceed with the building and the government despite the great and varied resistance which they had till then encountered.”

 

It wasn’t often a prophet was sent to encourage and build up God’s people.  But in their newfound independence, delivered by the blood of the covenant, they were lost, like sheep without a shepherd, and encouragement was exactly what God chose to give them.  They had been free for 16 years and they had accomplished nothing.  Many of them, out of fear, hadn’t even left Cyrus’ Persia.

But in the year 520 BC, that’s what Zechariah and Haggai did.  They encouraged the people with God’s Word, inspiring them to return to their homes and rebuild. And they did. And by the year 516 BC, the new temple was complete.  And they celebrated.  They’d been set free.

Even though our text today is the only time Zechariah appears in our lectionary readings, he did leave them with a couple other prophesies to remember.  He warned them of people who would come, false christs, who would claim to be their Savior.  And he warned them that these men would only lead them astray.

And then he told them of the true Christ.  Of the King who would come to them “humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” We celebrate this together every year on Palm Sunday as we rejoice together with the church triumphant shouting “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Then we also hear the words “He shall speak peace to the nations; His rule shall be from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”  We celebrate this together each and every time we meet, as we hear the words of Christ that bring peace to the nations, “I forgive you of all your sins.”

Zechariah also told them about the thirty silver coins and that their Shepherd would be struck.  These events came to pass through Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of the Christ and then His crucifixion.  The King’s blood was shed.

The peace Zechariah proclaimed to God’s people wasn’t the peace they expected.  After generations of war, they expected earthly peace, what we might call a ceasefire.  But that’s not what they needed.  It’s not what we needed.  Instead, God again provided for His people precisely what was needed.  And the Shepherd’s blood was shed.

The blood of the covenant, which Jesus calls “the new covenant in My blood,” is again God taking care of His people.  By His blood you are free.  By His blood your transgressions have been forgiven.  By His blood, your sins have been washed away.  By His blood, you have been made clean.  All of us, and now today Daeson, are white as snow.  We are clean, we are free.

But in our newfound freedom from sin, it’s easy for us to be just like God’s people of old: lost, confused, and afraid in the chaos of this world.  We are in need of a Shepherd.  If you doubt it, try to read through Paul’s statement again.  It’s a tongue twister!  “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…for I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

In our freedom from sin and death, it’s so easy to get lost and confused.  It’s so easy to allow ourselves to get caught up in the world and the culture around us.  We believe the lies and we give in to the temptations.  We listen to the false christs who lead us astray, telling us there’s a better gospel, a better cause to fight for.  We seek the comforts of this world rather than rely on the only true source of comfort which is God Himself.

For this Paul tells us there is another law at work, another war being waged.  He says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  The peace that was prophesied wasn’t a ceasefire; it wasn’t even a worldly peace among men.  The peace that was prophesied was the blood of the Lamb.  That our sins are washed away.  That we are free from the bondage of sin and death.  The peace of God is salvation; it is not reconciliation here (point around); it is reconciliation here (point up and down, God and man).

And to help us in the present time, God has provided many gifts for His people.  There’s the gift of baptism, when God looked down on you and called you His own dear child.  There’s the gift of the Lord’s Supper, where He freely forgives us of all our sins.  There’s the gift of the church and this community, where we gather together to be built up and encouraged.  There’s the gift of parents, grandparents, extended family, pastors, and others who help to raise us in the one true faith.  There’s the gift of God’s holy Word, which continues to strengthen our faith as we read it daily.  God has richly blessed His people!

Zechariah closed his prophetic ministry with one more prophecy.  He foretold the coming day of Yahweh.  He told the people that the day would come when “Yahweh will be King over all the earth.  On that day Yahweh will be One and His name One…Jerusalem shall dwell in security.”  When that day comes, we will see clearly, guided by our Shepherd.  We will not only taste the freedom that we have in Christ, we will enjoy Him to the fullest.  And that will be cause for celebration and rejoicing.  Indeed, it already is. Amen.

The Hated and Persecuted

Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

Third Sunday after Pentecost

June 21, 2020

 

Focus:  God delivers His children from this present, evil age.

Function:  That the hearers be willing to suffer harm and hatred to acknowledge Jesus.

Structure:  .

 

The Hated and Persecuted

 

Today’s gospel reading is stunning and difficult to hear.  You can put it on that list titled, “Did Jesus really just say that?”  But He did.  Even though you may not think you’re living it, even though you don’t want it to be true, He still said it, and it’s still true.  “Brother will deliver over brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.”

But before we look at what Jesus said they would do to us, let us first recall what they did to Jesus.  Imagine a Man coming into your town, and even into your home, O sinner.  He would spend hours on end with the very people society had thrown away.  His teaching is divisive, with some really loving Him and others really despising Him.

But even if you question His teaching, it’s hard to question what your eyes have seen.  He has cured every disease imaginable.  Your neighbors who were possessed by demons have been fully restored to their normal selves again.  And on more than one occasion, this Man has even restored life to the dead.

On Thursday evening, He reclined at table with His most trusted friends, His twelve disciples.   That night, they celebrated together the great Jewish feast of Passover, the high point on the Jewish calendar.  It’s a week to remember what God has done for His people and how He has rescued them from the evils of this world.

After dinner, they sang a hymn, and then they walked together out into a garden where He would spend several hours in prayer that night.  But as He did, soldiers came.  They arrested Him.  They held a secret trial in the middle of the night.  They whisked Him away to be judged by any ruler they could find.  They wanted Him gone; more than that, they wanted Him dead.

They mocked Him, tormented Him, tortured Him.  And that was just the ruler who thought He had done nothing wrong.  But the people pressed on, like a mob, demanding He be crucified.  At the height of the Roman Empire, which was very well versed in finding brutal ways to execute people, crucifixion was about as bad as they had dreamed up.

Death on a cross could take a couple of days.  But for this Man, because He had already been so direly beaten and lost so much blood, death came quicker than normal.  After about six hours of His flesh and bones nailed to that cross, He breathed His last.

This brings us to verse 24-25:

24 “A disciple is not above his Teacher, nor a servant above his Master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his Teacher, and the servant like his Master. If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of His household.

 

One of the greatest temptations to Christians living in this time and in this place of creation history is the sin of trying to fit in to a dying world.  The very idea that the words of Jesus in this text strike us as odd shows just how seductive the comfort, happiness, and success of the world has been on us.  And so you know, I’m right there with you.  As a preacher, I study God’s Word to deliver it to you.  I study the text, so I can show you both the Law’s condemnation of our sin and the Gospel’s forgiveness from right there within the text itself.  And just about always, the sermon preaches to me just as much as it does to you.

A disciple is not above His Teacher.  Look to His life: that He had nowhere to lay His head.  Look to His suffering: all that He endured for your sake.  Look to His death: as He showed His great love for you.  You are not above these things.  We should not be striving for the things this world loves.  We should not be seeking a life that is better than the life Jesus had here.

Instead Jesus says “It is enough for the disciple to be like His Teacher.”  If your master is the mistress of this world, then you will always be reaching for that proverbial carrot on a stick, for a little wealth, a little comfort, a little happiness is never enough.  The lusts of our sinful hearts cannot be satiated.

It is sufficient for the disciple to like His Teacher.  To suffer for the good of the kingdom.  To be mocked for speaking the truth.  To be persecuted for the name of Jesus, “He saves.”  To be beaten for calling people to repent of their sinful appetites.  To even be killed, for daring to speak of forgiveness in this life.  If these things were good enough for our Teacher, they are sufficient also for us.

This brings us back to the difficult words that Jesus spoke at the opening of our text.  For context here, He’s sending out the twelve, the disciples, those who sans Judas would become apostles.  But the text moves from specific to generic.  The earlier you are in chapter 10, the more specifically it speaks of the twelve and their being sent.  But the later you read in the chapter, the more generically it applies to all those who are being sent, which includes every one of us, every Christian.

21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next,

 

These things are happening in the world today.  These things are happening all around us, all the time.  We are seeking to begin a partnership here with POBLO, a group within our Synod who has had a lot of success in sharing Jesus with Muslims.  The last time they were here, they brought one of their missionaries with them.  As she spoke to a group of local pastors, she shared her story.

She shared what it was like growing up Muslim in a Muslim nation.  She shared her first interaction with a Christian.  She was having computer problems, and reached out on Facebook for help.  A Christian from the US responded.  And over time, he turned the conversation to Jesus.  As the Spirit planted that seed, and she came to faith, her life was in danger.  Her family tried to take her life, to kill her.  But that same Christian man who helped plant the seed of faith, also helped provide for her transportation out of that country.

There are a couple of groups here in the States who focus on the lives of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.  One is called Voice of the Martyrs and the other is Open Doors USA.  Neither organization will offer you numbers.  They don’t want to turn our brothers and sisters into statistics.  Instead, they will tell you their stories, they will even partner you with one of these families for prayer.  Check them out.  Get involved.

As I spoke with a woman named Tanya at the Voice of the Martyrs this week, I was impressed with just how on top of things they are.  They know the stories.  They vet the stories.  They have workers on the ground throughout the world to help as they can.  She even knew that our English word “martyr” is actually the Greek word for “witness.”

And she shared an acronym with me that I wanted to pass along to you.  When Christians pray to God in the midst of suffering and persecution, He responds in one of three ways: H.O.T.  – Home, Out, and Through.  God will either call you home to Himself, He will rescue you out of the situation, or He will be with you as you endure through it.  Should the pandemic ever clear, we have an open invitation from Tanya to visit them down in Oklahoma.

It’s my hope within the next year to bring before you one of these persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.  I spoke with one such brother a couple of weeks ago.  Karim and his family are currently moving as he prepares to be ordained within the next few weeks and begin his first call in the ministry.  Having grown up in Syria, he believes the temptations of comfort that we face each day are actually more dangerous to faith than the physical dangers he endured growing up.

I am convinced that persecution is coming here.  I’m not a prophet, I won’t claim to be.  But as I watch how quickly our culture is shifting beneath our feet, I remember the Apostle Paul’s words to the young pastor Timothy,

12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

 

And that’s the answer, and it’s why Jesus says what He said next.  After telling us all that would happen, that we would endure suffering, and be killed, and be hated by all, Jesus tells us to have no fear of them.  More than that, He tells us not to fear anything that can kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, only God Himself can destroy your soul on Judgment Day.  Jesus calls us to fear Him alone.

But after doing that, He then tells us not to fear God.  The Lord cares for His creation.  A couple of birds, little sparrows, are used as the example.  You can buy them for a Roman coin called an assarion, about a half an hour’s worth of pay.  But who among us would?  We don’t want them.  They’re not even worth that to us.  And yet God cares for them.  God provides for them.

And if the price of two sparrows is an assarion, what is the price of you?  What payment did God make for you?  God has bought you back from this world of sin and death, and He’s done it by laying down His own life.  Trading His life for yours, as He shed His precious blood for you.  What’s worth more: an assarion or divine blood?  If God cares for the things that cost an assarion, how much more will He care for the things that cost His own blood?!

The fear of God is liberating.  As we are called to fear Him alone, it casts out all other fears.  Fears of suffering and persecution, fears of illness and loss, fears of rejection and betrayal.  All of these are cast aside, because we know that our Lord Jesus Christ loves us, forgives us, and saves us.  And once we come to that point, where the fear of God has liberated us from all worldly fears, then the fear of Him passes away, also.  Because as you come before Him, before His judgment throne, you will hear the voice of your Savior Jesus welcoming you home: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master,’ ( – Matthew 25:21).

It’s not a matter of “if” persecution comes, but “when.”  God’s Word promises it, and our Master lived it.  But take heart, dear family, for “when they persecute you in one town, flee to the next.”  This is how the gospel has been spreading for two thousand years.  Every time to you try to eliminate the dandelions in your yard, they just keep spreading, not just in your yard, but also into your neighbor’s.  So it is with the Church, and has been ever since the book of Acts.  It is sufficient to be like our Master, to speak of the good news of the kingdom.

What Does Jesus Give His Disciples to Do?

Matthew 9:35-10:8

Second Sunday after Pentecost

June 14, 2020

 

Focus:  God has compassion on the helpless by destroying our helplessness.

Function:  That the hearers proclaim “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Structure:  .

 

What Does Jesus Give His Disciples to Do?

 

Does it ever feel like every day you find yourself asking, “What can I do?”  We look at the news or the brokenness we see in the world and we grieve.  And we ask, “What can I do?”  Another current event comes and goes and the world screams and demands yet again that the Church jump on their bandwagon, and do exactly what they say.  And we ask, “What can I do?”

Our gospel text today addresses that very question.  We see God Himself give the Church her mission.  But let’s pause and come back to that again in moment.

To really get this, let’s unpack the first paragraph we read together earlier:

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

 

Matthew begins this section by recapping once again what Jesus had been doing with so much of His time.  Traveling from one place to the next.  Going into their synagogues to teach.  Proclaiming the kingdom of heaven.  Healing every disease.  This is the authority of the Christ Matthew has been displaying the past several chapters.  Chapters 5-7 focused on the authority of His spoken Word, that He speaks truth in a way they’ve never seen.  Chapters 8-9 focus on the authority of His deeds, that He can control creation itself.  He can speak to a decaying body, and it’s made well.  He can speak to a demon, and it must obey Him.

The next verse brings us out of the summary into one particular moment in history.  He sees a crowd, and He sees that they’re hurting, and He has compassion.  He loved them and He wanted to help them.

But there’s a question that the text demands that we ask.  And it’s a question we aren’t used to asking.  When we hear that they were “harassed and helpless,” immediately ideas come into our mind.  In what ways do you think they were harassed and helpless?  Pause to let people consider.  The text actually demands us to ask two questions: who is harassing them and how are they helpless?

If we don’t get this right, we’ll miss the whole text.  We’ll miss what Jesus was doing, what He would send His disciples out to do, and then by extension, the answer to our original question, “What can I do?”

While Matthew doesn’t pinpoint the particular crowd and their exact situation, we do still know quite a bit.  We know they were Jews living in Roman occupied territory, and that the Romans weren’t particularly kind to the Jewish people.  We know that they looked to the Pharisees and scribes as their religious leaders, and that these men lacked justice and mercy and faithfulness.  It’s likely most among the crowd were poor, slaves, hungry, and overworked.

And yet, is any of this what the text means by saying that they were harassed and helpless?  The way Jesus responds gives us the answer, and it’s “no.”  He didn’t respond by overthrowing Rome, and all their evils.  He didn’t respond by replacing the Pharisees.  He didn’t give them money, or liberate them, or feed them.  He had the power to do all of these things.

But instead, He gave us two illustrations to consider.  First, He acknowledged that they are like sheep without a shepherd.  They don’t have anyone to care for them: to lead, guide, protect, feed, and nourish them.  They are wandering and lost.  They are constantly on the run from wolves that seek to devour them.  But again, just who are these wolves?

Jesus then turns to His disciples and gives them the second illustration: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  This farming illustration brings everything together.  It has us imagining a field of wheat or corn blowing in the breeze.  It invites us to imagine the farmer out in his field cutting down the crop and gathering it together into his barn.  The harvest is a reference to salvation.  That the crowd that day, and all the people in the world, we are the harvest, ready to be gathered together, brought into God’s everlasting house, His kingdom.

The harvest metaphor answers the question demanded by the text.  The harassment and helplessness of this crowd isn’t about Rome, or slavery, or hunger.  It’s about the battle against sin, death, and the devil.  These are the things that are truly breaking their bodies down.  Hunger, disease, even government, these are all symptoms of sin.

Jesus came into this world to fight against the disease, not to treat the symptoms.  If a person has been involved in a bad accident, and they are bleeding uncontrollably, pain medication may help a little, but it won’t stop them from dying.  They need immediate treatment of a far different kind.

Our world today is churning and people are lashing out.  The year 2020 has been one nightmare scenario after another.  And the world around us is demanding that the Church take action with every event.  And we’re left asking, “what can I do?”

So we finish the text, names aside for now:

10 And He called to Him His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction…. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.

 

Did you catch it?  What the disciples of Jesus are to do when He sends them out is the exact same thing they’ve been watching Him do all this time.  Jesus takes His authority over creation, and He gives it to them.  They can now cast out demons.  They can speak now to an illness and it disappears.  But even these merciful works aren’t the main point.

Time and time again, Jesus takes the attention and the focus of His disciples from here (point all around the room), and He reorients them there (point upward).  Jesus takes our eyes off of the worries, the concerns, and the temporary problems of this world and He points us to the bigger picture of the true concerns over life and death.

Jesus doesn’t send out the 12 into battle against Roman tyranny and oppression.  They will get theirs on Judgment Day.  Instead, Jesus sent out the 12 to wage the fight against sin, death, and the devil.

By the end of the gospel account of Matthew, Jesus sends them out again, telling them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Not only does that tell us that the Messiah came for all people, but it also reiterates the job and the work of the disciples that we saw in this text today.  It’s so tempting to focus on the ability to cast out demons, and even for us to wish we could do that.  But if that’s all we see, we’ve missed it.  We’ve missed the point entirely.  Demon-possession is just a symptom.

Jesus gives the disciples something to say.  And it’s the exact same words that we hear from John the Baptist when he began preaching back in Matthew 3:2.  It’s the exact same words that we hear from Jesus when He opens His mouth to preach for the very first time in this book in 4:17.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The kingdom of heaven is the reign of a new King.  Once Adam gave into the temptation of the devil, and plunged mankind into the slavery of sin, the devil reigned, death reigned.  That’s our Romans text of the day. Murder, rebellion, chaos, destruction, greed, pride, these things have run amuck ever since.  But Christ came to conquer it all.  And He did so by going straight to the source: me.  He came to overcome the oppression that is my sin, my rebellion, my idolatry.  It’s the cause of my pain, and it’ll be the cause of my death.  But thanks be to God, for in Christ, it will not be the end of me!  By His death and by His resurrection, Jesus has crushed the enemies of sin, death, and the devil.  And He has promised to each of us life with Him in Paradise, where all of this evil that we’ve come to know, and often love, will be no more.

That’s what He gave the twelve to say.  To call people to repent of their sins and trust in Christ.  And by the words of the Great Commission in Matthew 28 just before His ascension, these are the words that Jesus has given you to speak.

You have been sent.  That’s what the word missionary even means, one who is sent.  In the waters of holy baptism, God pours out His Spirit upon you, welcoming you into His family and washing you clean of your sins as He places the gift of faith into you both upon your heart and upon your mind to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.  In doing all of this, God entrusts to you the work of the family, the work of the kingdom.

So when we ask, “What can I do?” the first and primary answer to that question is to speak the words God has given you to speak: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  We are to help our neighbor see their sin so that they can then see their Savior.  Americans are offended when you tell them that they’re sinners or that they can’t save themselves.  But Jesus never promised that it would be easy to take up your cross and follow Him.

This world is full of evils.  Turn on the news and within seconds you’ll have seen many.  And it’s our task to love our neighbor, to show mercy, and to help care for them however we can.  By all means, care for them!  But we can’t lose focus on what ultimately matters.  If somehow I could guarantee you that the fight of our culture in this moment would actually work, and racism would be stamped out for good, that would be a great thing.  But if we fix our eyes on that, and abandon the higher calling, what good have we actually done?  What good is it to liberate your neighbor from every evil the world says oppresses them if they never repent?  Nearly everyone who saw a miracle of Christ still rejected Him. If we love our neighbors and make their lives worldly wonderful, but they have not Christ, we have not helped them.  They started dead, and they stayed dead.

The answer to the question, both in this text and in our lives, is to be disciples of Jesus.  To do the things He gives us to do.  To love our neighbor by pointing them to Christ.  All of them.  Our spouses, children, grandchildren; people living on our street, in our town; those living in this country; in the world.  We’re called to love them by pointing them to Christ.

The world and her cultures are dead.  Jesus didn’t come to pass out Band-Aids and Tums, but to conquer sin, death, and the devil.  He came to forgive sins by His precious blood spilled for all people on the cross.  He came to raise the dead to new life by the power of His own resurrection on Easter morning.  And He has now called you to work in this harvest field of 7.8 million sheaths of wheat.  “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.”

The Boomerang

Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost

June 8th, 2014

 

May 31, 2020 (edited and preached to the people of God at St. Matthew)

 

Focus: God uses the Holy Spirit to bring us back to Him.

Function: That the hearers would readily work alongside the Spirit in bringing people to the Father.

Structure: Boomerang.

 

The Boomerang

 

We stand accused.  Throughout much of recent history, other Christian church bodies have looked at us Lutherans and pointed a finger.  They’ve accused us with the heresy of Christocentrism.  Now before you get defensive, let me rephrase that.  We’ve been accused of always making Christ the center of everything we do, whether in life or worship.

Well, when you put that way, yep, we’re guilty as charged.  When you put it that way, we’ll admit to that.  We’re more than willing to say that Christ is the center of our faith, He’s the One who gave Himself for us, He’s the One who saves us.  That much is true.  But when we push that too far, when we say that we worship Christ alone, we are risking heresy.

Sometimes we truly take Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:2 too literally.  “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  His point was that that was the power of God for us, the Gospel proclaimed in all of its glory.  Paul certainly knew more about God and faith as he wrote thirteen New Testament letters.

We run the risk of heresy here when we ignore and neglect the Trinity.  Three in One, One in Three.  If we do not also maintain our faith in the Father and the Spirit, then the accusation is true.  Think for a moment, when was the last time you prayed to the Holy Spirit?

We tend to defend ourselves by saying that if we worship Jesus, then we’re worshipping the Father because He gave us our Savior.  And if we worship Jesus, then we’re worshipping the Spirit because the Spirit’s job was to bring us to faith in Jesus.  And those things are true, but the Trinity is more than that!

So today I wanted to give you another metaphor to think about, another tool to use to think about the ever confusing nature of the Trinity.  No metaphor can truly explain God’s perfection, but this one could still be helpful in understanding how God works to save us.

Have you ever thrown a boomerang?  I haven’t, and because I haven’t I know exactly what would happen if I did.  It would just keep going until it either lost the battle with gravity or until it hit something or someone!  Boomerangs are a precise art form, both an ancient hunting tool, and a modern sport.  It takes skill and precision to make it come back to you.

I want you to think of the work of the Trinity as a boomerang, one that comes back.  God the Father threw it, and like a skilled master, it always returns.  Just as He said through the Prophet Isaiah: “so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it,” (Isaiah 55:11).

God the Father sent His Son, who sent the Spirit, who then works through us to share the Gospel, bringing people into the Spirit, who returns them to faith in Christ, who restores their relationship with the Father.  Simple enough?  Let’s walk through it.

Luke’s account of Pentecost really ties this altogether for us.  He helps us to see just how it is that this works in the midst of the fullness of the Scriptures.

It begins with God the Father sending His Son.  You can all quote for me one of the verses that spells that out for us, as it is perhaps the most well-known verse of the Bible.  John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

This then is what the Gospels are about.  This is what Luke wrote 24 chapters about.  The life of Christ, the ministry of Jesus.  That He took on flesh and became Man for us.  That He died on the cross to forgive our sins.  That He rose from the grave to give us new life.  All of these events lead up to Pentecost.  And it’s all why the Messiah came.

And then the Son sends His Spirit to us.  While still walking among His disciples, Jesus says to them, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send Him to you.”  (John 16:7) This, the Helper, the Counselor, the Comforter, the Paraclete, is best known to us as the Holy Spirit.  This is the same thing that Jesus promises the disciples just before He ascends into heaven in Acts chapter 1.

Father sends Son, Son sends Spirit.  The boomerang is still going, still moving farther away from the one who threw it.

Often times the Scriptures speak of God pouring out His Spirit on His people.  And we see this with Pentecost.  The apostles got drenched in the pouring out of the Spirit.  They not only get to prophesy, but they are speaking in tongues.  The twelve of them are speaking, and men from every nation under heaven are hearing their own native language.  Without a doubt, a miracle of God!

This was certainly a special day.  Nothing like it has happened since.  God starts His church with a bang, an explosion, rapid growth for it to really take hold and take off.  From 120 followers one day, to gaining 3000 the next.  That day was truly a blessing in church history, truly a blessing to each of us, as our ancestors heard the gospel.  And even though you may not consider them ancestors by blood, as fellow Christians, it is precisely what they are.

Father sends Son, Son sends Spirit, Spirit works through us.  We are the turning point on the flight of a boomerang.  The point where it “lays over” and starts to return to the thrower.  Luke records Peter preaching that “in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” (Acts 2:17).  The Apostles did it that day, the celebration of Pentecost, and we as the church have been doing it ever since.  Because to prophesy, on the most basic level, is to share the Word of God, calling people to repentance, telling them about Christ.

But why us?  Why does God, the perfect Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of everything work through us?  We’re cowards, afraid to speak the truth.  We’re weak, easily ready to give in to temptation.  We’re broken, there’s nothing good in us.  And yet, He chooses us.  He loves us and He makes us His own.  He puts the good in us; He is the good in us.  Through the pouring out of His Spirit upon us in our baptisms, we are His family, His children, and He wants us to be involved.  He doesn’t simply look down on us and call us moochers or parasites.  No, He walks with us.  He works alongside us for the sake of His kingdom.  We get to be a part of that, and it’s all because He loves us as His own.

And so we are sent out into the world to do His work and to share His love and to proclaim the faith to others.  The Spirit leads us out and the Spirit brings us back.  He works faith and repentance in our hearts and then leads us to others so He can work faith and repentance in their hearts, too!

And so the boomerang begins to return.  The Spirit’s work points people back to Christ.  He points them to their Savior who died and rose for them.  Jesus told His disciples that “when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me,” (John 15:26).  The Spirit brings us to Christ.

Jesus was quite clear that He completes this boomerang throw.  He once said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me,” (John 14:6).  Christ’s goal is to restore us in our relationship with the Father.  He wants to bring us back to Him, just like we were created to be.

The Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Spirit, the Spirit works in and through us to bring men to faith and point them to Christ, who then brings them back to the Father.  Boomerang thrown and returned.

The key focus is the faith we have in God.  A faith He creates, nourishes, and sustains.  This is why Peter says what he does on Pentecost, quoting the Prophet Joel.  “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32)  From beginning to end, God wants to be united with the people He created.

This is what we see on Pentecost.  We see the arc of the boomerang, the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in planting the church and growing the kingdom of God.  We see men and women brought to repentance for their sins and joining with the others in the faith.  We see the apostles overwhelmed with the Holy Spirit to the point where it’s the Spirit who is speaking through them.

We’re not guilty of Christocentrism.  We believe and confess God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  And it is through that relationship that we know we will live with God forever.  And that’s the same confession, same resurrection promise that the Holy Spirit is using you to share with the people around you even today.