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Remember Wondrous Works March 13, 2019

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Psalm 111:4

Lenten Midweek 2

March 13, 2019

Focus:  God causes His wondrous works to be remembered today.

Function:  That the hearers believe He is still working wonders today.

Structure: “A Lent to Remember” Lenten series sermon outline.


Remember Wondrous Works


Our sermon text today is from Psalm 111:4 – “He has caused His wondrous works to be remembered; Yahweh is gracious and merciful.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I still remember a few falls ago, in my time in Minnesota, it was Daylight Savings Time again.  Spring forward; fall back.  Well, one of the older members didn’t remember.  And so as I was at church early preparing for services as normal, in walks Frances at 6:30 in the morning.  Early church starts at 8:00am.  When I informed her of this, she shrugged it off and spent that time reading God’s Word in her pew.

We have ways of remembering things.  Sometimes it’s the task ahead, like the little phrase spring forward, fall back.  Other times, it’s a way to recall something that has happened before.  But, like the story of Frances, we don’t always remember.

Our God intentionally uses the recalling of history to bring about faith in His creation.  He constantly calls His creatures to remember the wondrous works He has done for them.

It’s so easy to look at God’s Word for this.  In the Garden of Eden, God crafts Eve out of a single rib, and brings her to Adam as His bride.  He has fully formed the world around them.  And yet, when the devil brings his temptation before them, they seem to have forgotten God’s wondrous work of creation.

After suffering in Egypt for 400 years, God works a series of ten miracles, stunning displays of His power and His authority over His creation.  It is through this manipulation of insects, light, hail, blood, and even life itself, that the Egyptian Pharaoh finally caves and lets God’s people go free.

And yet, no sooner than they’d left Egypt, the Israelites forget the wondrous works of God that they’d just seen, and start complaining about what they think they lack.  They forget the God who has so wondrously and miraculously saved them!

Then there’s their descendants, the people who got to enjoy the fruits of the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  They didn’t earn it.  They didn’t even fight for it.  They watched the wondrous work of God, as He drove out their enemies from before them.  And yet, they so continuously and regularly forget God, we get the book of Judges, a cycle of sin, oppression, deliverance, and rest that occurs again and again and again for generations.

Rinse, wash, repeat.  Rinse, wash, repeat.

We forget the wondrous works of God in our own lives.  Even to the point where some of you are thinking to yourself right now that you’ve never seen a miracle of God in your lifetime.  Let me handle that two different ways:

First, so what?  What’s it matter if you’ve seen a miracle or not?  We put too much stock in ourselves.  It’s prideful to think that if we just saw a miracle, then we’d really believe.  It would be no trouble to remember God and what He’s done for us, if only we could see it.

How’d that work for Adam and Eve?  The Israelites that fled Egypt?  Their descendants for generations after them?  How’d that work for the disciples after all the miracles of Jesus they saw?  I mean, where were they to be found on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and very early on Easter morning?  Yet Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29).

But second, you have witnessed miracles in your lifetime.  Martin Luther once penned,

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.


You, a broken and dead sinner, who had no hope of anything in this life or the life beyond it.  Even you have been set free.  The wondrous work of God, through His Holy Spirit, has created faith in you.  You heard the Gospel, the good news of the forgiveness of your sins through Jesus Christ.  And yet, the dead cannot raise the dead.  Dead in your sins, you couldn’t believe on your own.  God has done even this for you.  He has raised you to new life, made you a new creation, created faith in you.  And look around.  He’s done the same wondrous, miraculous work for each of them, too!

And He’s not done!  He continues to do wondrous works.  He continues to promise wondrous works.  Creation is a foreshadowing, a preview of the new heaven and the new earth that is to come.  The Promised Land is a foreshadowing, a preview of the new heaven and the new earth that will be our home with Jesus forevermore.

And the Exodus was a foreshadowing, a preview of the most wondrous work of God known to man.  The disciples got to see it.  It wasn’t what they expected.  They had been looking for a Messiah that would bring victory, triumph, and glory.  They were looking for wondrous works of their own description, like the mighty deeds of men.  Instead, they got a bloody tree.  Instead, they got the very Son of God Himself, Jesus Christ, willing to lay down His own life, in order that they might have life.  The cross of Christ is a wondrous work indeed!

But remembering in God’s Word isn’t just thinking about fond memories.  Remembering in God’s Word brings the past into the present.  Think about that for a second.  The cross moment in history was nearly two thousand years ago.  How does God bring the wondrous work of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ into the present for you?  The means of grace!

He does it through means! Through more wondrous works.  By His means of grace, God brings the forgiveness of Christ to you.  Your sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus!  In John’s gospel account, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life.”  (John 5:24)  Faith comes through hearing.  Through God’s Word, read, preached, and proclaimed in your hearing, the Holy Spirit creates faith.  He brings dead sinners to the foot of the cross where they hear Christ’s beautiful words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Your sins are forgiven!  God’s wondrous work on the cross is conveyed to you through God’s wondrous Word.

In 1 Corinthians 11:26, we see Paul make this connection.  “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  That past event of the Last Supper is present even now.  The Lord’s Supper is a wondrous work of God, a means of grace in your life.  In this meal, the Holy Spirit is granting you forgiveness, strength, and encouragement, each and every time you receive Christ’s body and blood. God’s wondrous work on the cross is conveyed to you through God’s wondrous Supper.

And in 1 Peter 3:20-21, Peter tells us the past, remembering the time of Noah, where the world was wiped out in a global flood.  And so he tells us that

because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.


Baptism is an ongoing gift of the Spirit, as He has created faith in you.  It is a regeneration, a renewal, a being made into a new creature.  You have new life every day.  God’s wondrous work on the cross is conveyed to you through God’s wondrous washing.

These are some of the wondrous works that we see.  Specifically, these are the wondrous works of God, where we see Him attach His wondrous Word and His promises to something visible, something tangible for us to see, to feel, to taste, to hear.

And there’s more!  In the explanation of the 1st Article of the Apostles’ Creed, we confess:

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

This is most certainly true.


This doesn’t qualify as a miracle.  This is the way God originally designed His creation to function.  But nevertheless, it’s still a wondrous work.  Just think of all the detail, all the thought, all the care, all the work that God put into making you.  From the intricacies of your DNA, your eyes, ears, and all your members.  And not just you!  God has done this wondrous work for your neighbor!  God has even done this wondrous work for all the geese who’ve made St. Matthew their home this winter!

Here’s some more to think about: if we saw someone miraculously healed, where the doctors had no explanation, we’d call that a wondrous work of God.  So, why not God’s preserving your health right now?  Giving you the ability to draw breath, sustaining your life for yet another day?

If we were rescued inexplicably from some kind of danger, we may credit God, saying He’d done a wondrous work by sending a guardian angel to care for us.  Why not say that same thing even now?  Why not call it a wondrous work that God is protecting you from harm even now?

And of course, we can’t forget that final promise of a wondrous work.  On the Last Day, when the Father chooses to send His Son back into this creation, to come again, all the dead will be raised.  All who have fallen will be raised again!  And for all who believe in Jesus Christ, who trust in His wondrous works, we will get to see one more wondrous work: the new heaven and the new earth that He is preparing for us even now.  And who knows how many more wondrous works we will see when we’re there with Him in His Paradise.

God is still at work.  Right here.  Right now.  He is at work through His wondrous Word and Sacraments.  He is at work as He continues to create and preserve life in His creation.  And, He is at work as He continues to restore His creation back to Himself.

What wondrous works has God recently done in your life and in the life of your family?  I can, and I will gladly tell you what He’s done for mine!  Amen.






God Changed a Name: Jacob (Revisited!) December 12, 2018

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Genesis 32:22-32

 Advent Midweek 2

December 7, 2011


December 12, 2018 – Continuing the second go at this sermon series (Abraham, Jacob, Pashhur, Hosea, and Peter). There are only a handful of changes to this sermon, but the original can still be found here: https://sandhandrews.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/god-changed-a-name-jacob/


Focus: God blesses His people through His covenant.

Function: That the hearers find the gospel in the Old Testament.

Structure: Working the text.


God Changed a Name: Jacob


Last week we looked at the life of Abraham and his wife Sarah.  We saw Yahweh establish a covenant with Abraham, that He would make him into a great nation, with numerous offspring, and that He would give him the entire land of Canaan.  He then changed Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai to Sarah, to remind them of the covenant, and how that would keep the promises of God constantly in their minds.

Sure, the promises of God were great.  But what’s a promise if it isn’t kept?  It was tempting to avoid making a gospel punch at the end of the sermon last Wednesday; but I couldn’t.  All things in the Old Testament, the old covenant tie into the coming Messiah.  And we’re going to see that each and every time we gather together as God’s people in this place.  We’ll get there, trust me.  We’re preparing for the Messiah; we’re making straight the path for the coming Christ; it is Advent after all.

So today, we take the next step.  We begin to trace the covenant beyond just Abraham.  While many Christians know the more important people and stories of the Old Testament, it often seems like we fail to truly connect the dots.  We don’t really piece together the masterpiece that God’s Word truly is.  So while name changes are a fun thing to look at, well, at least they are for me, that’s not truly what this Advent sermon series is about.  See, the name changes help us paint the bigger picture.  The changes that God makes help us draw the picture of the gospel throughout the history of creation.  That’s why I’m happy to say: it’s back to the drawing board.

When Yahweh promised Abraham the land and all the offspring, He did it through Abraham’s son Isaac.  As time went on, Isaac grew up, became a man, and had children of his own in Esau and Jacob.  Grandpa Abraham died when his two grandsons were just fifteen years old.  A few years later, a harsh famine hit the land.  To survive it, Isaac packed up the family and moved them to Gerar, in the land of the Philistines.  He even began to think about permanently relocating them down to Egypt, to a rich and fertile land.  But just when he seemed to have forgotten, Yahweh appeared to him to remind him of the covenant.

And Yahweh appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. 3Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. 4I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, 5because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Gn 26:2-5


Again, we have absolute gospel in the Old Testament.  God promises to bless His people in all His fullness.  There is even a Messianic promise in there: “in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”  The word for offspring in Hebrew there is singular.  It refers to a one heir, a specific descendant who will come some fifteen hundred years later.  Yahweh is referencing the Christ.  But again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  We’re working at the bigger picture.

The Messianic line traces all the way back to Abraham.  Any time someone had multiple children along the way, the family tree splits.  We know that, when there’s two kids you draw separate lines to each of them, and they start their own trees.  Well in the case of the Messiah, this happens generation after generation when you trace it back.  Isaac’s first two sons, twin boys, were Esau and Jacob.  Esau was born first, with Jacob grasping his heel as he came out.  That’s where Jacob’s name comes from.  It means “he grasps the heel.”  It also carries a connotation of cheating or deception.

In this stage of culture, the firstborn son inherited everything.  All the wealth, the land, the livestock, the servants, everything that was his father’s goes to him.  In Isaac’s case, that also meant the covenant blessing of becoming a great nation, and eventually the lineage of the Messiah.  That was Esau’s birthright.  A birthright he sold for a bowl of red stew.  Perhaps you remember that part of his life.  He came in from hunting one day claiming that if he didn’t eat something right then, he’d die of starvation.  It just so happened that his brother Jacob had some red stew hot and ready.  Starving to death, Esau bartered away his birthright for that stew.  He gave up the privilege of bearing the Christ.  And then later, when Isaac was on his deathbed, Rebekah helped Jacob trick Isaac into thinking he was Esau.  And so Jacob stole the father’s blessing as well.

Jacob, he who grasps the heel, the cheater, the deceiver, the one who snuck his way into the Messianic line.  But then again, who in that lineage was perfect anyway?  There’s even a prostitute in that family tree.  It’s a great blessing and wonder that God worked through sinners to bring about salvation in Christ.

So the covenant, the promises, the blessing continued on in Jacob.  And as time passed, Jacob moved in with Laban, a relative of his, married both of Laban’s daughters, and worked for him for fourteen years.  Yahweh prospered Jacob there among the people.  Eventually, Jacob decided it was time to return back to his homeland, and it’s on his way that we pick up our first lesson.

It’s the crazy and befuddling tale of Jacob wrestling with God.  Most people never get past the idea that God couldn’t win a fight with a man.  But let’s put that detail aside and look at the point of the appearance of Yahweh.  Did God have a hidden motive?  Well if He did, it’s still hidden.  But Yahweh did appear to Jacob; He came to meet the heir of the covenant face to face.  After God departs, Jacob realizes this and names the place Peniel, or “face of God,” because He saw God face to face there and lived.

And in terms of the reminders we mentioned last week, God definitely handed Jacob a couple of them.  First, He leaves him a physical ailment, a limp.  And as though that weren’t enough of a reminder, God changes his name.  No longer is he to be Jacob, a deceiver, but now Israel, one who strives or struggles with God.  Yahweh tells him that specifically, and even adds that it’s because he’s striven with God and men and he’s prevailed.

There’s an interesting connection here that’s lost in English.  The Hebrew verb that makes up the root of Israel, that means “to strive,” is Sarah.  It’s the name of Jacob’s grandmother.  Did God rename Sarah that because of His foreknowledge that He would one day wrestle with her grandson, and change his name to Israel?  Just something to think about.

God appears to Jacob again in our second reading.  Again Yahweh blesses Jacob and tells him of the name change to Israel.  But it’s more than that.  God comes specifically to Jacob at this time to remind him of the covenant that He has with him.  God is God.  Nations will come from Jacob.  Kings will be among his descendants.  And the promised land of his fathers would be his also.  The covenant, the promises, the blessing already being fulfilled in him are laid out again for him to see, to know, and to remember.

When Yahweh changed Jacob’s name to Israel, it’s perhaps the most important name change in the Bible.  I say that because Israel becomes more than just a name.  Israel had twelve sons, each of whom had more children of their own.  Indeed, each of them became tribes of their own.  And together they were known as the sons of Israel.  Over time, that phrase was shortened, and they became the nation of Israel.  Jacob’s offspring became a nation as promised.

We know of the nation of Israel as God’s chosen people.  We know them as the ones whom Moses led out of slavery in Egypt.  We know them as the ones who inherited the Promised Land.  But this is their past.  They are Israel because Jacob was Israel.  The play on that name is that while it was Jacob Israel who strived with God, it is now God who strives with Israel the nation.  They are the ones who grumbled about the lack of water and food.  They are the ones who then complained that they had to eat the same thing every day.  They are the ones who erected the golden calf to worship instead of Yahweh.  We could go on and on about the sins and complaints of that nation that God struggled against.

But even through all of that, Israel was still the chosen people of God.  He could have ended His relationship with them at any time because of their failures and their falling away.  But instead, Yahweh chose to remain faithful to His covenant.  He continued to hold on to the promises that He made to them and their fathers before them.

And over the next few weeks, we’ll continue to unfold our history.  We’ll continue to paint the picture of the covenant, of God’s faithfulness.  We’ll see kings come from Israel.  And on Christmas Eve, we’ll see the grand masterpiece, we’ll see our King.

This is why we gather today.  This is why the New Testament refers to us as Israel, that is, as God’s holy nation and royal priesthood.  Because in Christ, that is who we are.  Forgiven.  Redeemed.  Made holy before the holy God of heaven and earth Himself.  And He is forever faithful.  Amen.

The Rich Young Idolater October 14, 2018

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Mark 10:17-22

Proper 23

October 14th, 2018


Focus:  God loves us and forgives us, even of our greatest idols.

Function:  That the hearers repent of their idols and trust in Christ alone.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.


The Rich Young Idolater


Our gospel reading from Mark today is one that’s very familiar to us as the Church.  It’s the story of the rich young ruler, the man who had great wealth, and wanted to know how to be saved.  Because we’re so familiar with it, today’s sermon will be more of a Bible study, as we walk through this text verse by verse and really look at it.  So, let’s dig in!

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 


Jesus has recently been in the region of Judea, just on the east side of the Jordan River.  He’s been doing some difficult teaching, as He’s answered the Pharisees questions about divorce, and then later said one of His famous quotes: “Let the children come to Me.”

And now He’s preparing to leave that place, to move on to the next town and continue to preach and teach in another place.  And in the next section, Mark tells us what that place is.  They’re on the journey to Jerusalem.  It’s about to be time for the triumphal entry, for Jesus to ride in to Jerusalem on a colt.  For an excruciatingly difficult week.

It’s sandwiched in between these events, that we see this young man come before Jesus.  He gets on his knees.  He comes to the feet of Christ.  And then he asks Him a question.  “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Before we get to Jesus’ answer, we can unpack that.  Good Teacher is true.  Jesus is that.  More than that, but He is a good teacher.  But what about the question itself?  “What must I do?”  What’s the answer to that?  Brothers and sisters in Christ, what can you do you’re your own salvation?  Nothing!  Let’s see Jesus’ response:

18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 


Jesus begins with the introduction.  He responds to this young man calling Him a “good teacher.”  Why?  Why would you call Me good?  There’s two goals of this sentence.  First, who is good?  God alone.  So in order for Jesus to be good, He must be…God.  Jesus is seeking a confession of faith from the man.  And this is gold!  If we can’t earn our salvation by our works as we’ve already said, how then are we saved?  By faith in Christ.  Jesus is aiming for that response.

The second part of this sentence is for us to realize that we aren’t good.  God alone is good.  That means, we aren’t.  We’re not good enough.  We can’t earn our salvation.  It must be a gift.  And so Jesus continues His answer to help the young man see this.

19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 


What must I do to be saved?  Keep the Law.  If it were up to us, that’s how we’d have to do it.  We would have to keep the Law perfectly.  No slip ups, no kinda sorta’s.  Perfectly.  I won’t read into the order of the commands Jesus is quoting here.  I mean, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, and then back to 4.  I’m not sure if there’s any reason He puts honoring parents at the back of the list for this man.  I don’t know.

But what is clear, is what He doesn’t include.  The first table of the Law is missing.  Commandments one through three, which teach us how to love God.  They’re not here.  He’s going with the second table, the obvious ones, the one’s we can see.  The one’s we can judge.  This man would know if he’d ever killed someone.  Cheated on his wife, stolen, lied in court.  He’d know these.

The point here is this: you can’t even keep the commands to love your neighbor, who’s right here in front of your face.  How do you think you can love God, the Lord of the universe?  If you can’t keep the easy ones, how are you going to keep the hard ones?  Jesus is inviting the man to realize that he can’t save himself, that even his question is wrong.

But in the man’s response, we see he doesn’t get it.

20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 



            The young man thinks he’s done it!  He actually believes in his heart that he has kept the Law.  This is easy for us to look at from the outside.  To render our judgment, both because we know of original sin, that all men sin and fall short of the glory of God.  But also, because we know the young man can’t do it.  We know he hasn’t done it.  In a couple of verses, we’re going to see him walk away from God.

We could read into that introduction, too.  That perhaps he just showed us his lack of faith.  Jesus said not to call Him good unless you think He’s God.  So it’s possible that the young man changes his introduction to match.  To declare that he doesn’t see Jesus as God, but only as a teacher.  I can’t say that part with certainty.  But it’s an interesting possibility, and the context tells us it’s probably true.

Either way, the statement is a hard one.  This man thinks he’s kept the Law, and that he’s capable of earning salvation.  So we see Jesus respond:

21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 


Jesus could’ve responded to the young man in lots of different ways.  Clearly, this guy wasn’t there for the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus took all of these laws and showed us just how deep they actually are.  Just how impossible it is to actually keep them.  He could’ve preached that again, but He doesn’t.

He could’ve gotten angry at the man’s lack of faith.  But He doesn’t.  He could’ve gotten angry at the man’s idolatry, but He doesn’t.

Instead, He loves him.  Remember, when this man shows up, Jesus was just about to begin His journey to Jerusalem, where He would willingly give His life for all people.  This man included.  He loves him.  Dearly.  This man is His creation, His creature, and Jesus is going to give His life for him.

So instead, we see Him respond with precision.  Like the surgeon in Operation, whether you’re thinking of actual doctors, or that difficult, beeping children’s game.  Jesus strikes true.  Straight at the heart of the man.  He names his idol, and He seeks to kill it.

On the surface, it sounds like a ridiculous command.  Take everything you own, and go and sell it all.  Then take the money, and give it all to the poor.  At that point, as you hit rock bottom, as you’ve got nothing left, come with Me.  Trust in Me.  Follow Me.  You’ll have Me.

This is the call.  He’s made it before.  The disciples were asked to do something similar.  Although, for most of them, they left the homes of their parents, the work they were being trained to do so they could care for themselves and their own families in the years to come.  But the twelve did it.

22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

The young man couldn’t.  He couldn’t give it up.  Jesus went straight for the kill.  No messing around with different laws.  Jesus went straight to the first commandment.  You shall have no other gods before Me.  And for this man, his wealth was his god.

He trusted in it.  He trusted in it for his daily bread.  He trusted in it for a roof over his head.  He trusted in it for the safety he could buy with it.  He trusted in it for the friends he could acquire with it.  He trusted in the money when the Savior of the world was right there in front of him.

Jesus knew his idol.  He knew the one thing that was truly preventing this man from being saved.  He lacked faith.  He didn’t trust in God above all things.  And so Jesus answers the question truly.  Give it up.  Repent.  Stop trusting in the created things and trust in the Creator.

This is us.  For some of us, perhaps all of us, money is an idol.  Even if it isn’t all the time, we have those moments.  We trust in our bank account, rather than God, for daily bread, for the needs of this life.  We panic at the sight of stock market changes, and what that means for our retirement, rather than trusting in God.

We idolize family, as we turn to them for love and belonging instead of the Lord.  We idolize our careers, as we put so much effort into building something, anything, even though as soon as we leave this place, it’ll crumble.  We idolize our government, looking to them for safety, guidance, even our identity at this point.

We idolize success, striving each day to be as busy as we can be, doing this activity, this task, this job, all so we can move up.  All so our kids can move up.  We already have more wealth than 98% of people who are alive today.  What are we striving for?  What are teaching our children?

This is what our Bible study has been about the past five weeks.  And we’re just getting started.  We’ve talked about the purpose of life, loving our enemies, where our identity comes from, our value.  We’ve looked at self-esteem.  In these next few weeks, we’ll see what God’s Word has to say on another few dozen topics.  We’ll talk government and politics.  We’ll talk family, marriage, children, and education.  We’ll talk about contentment, individualism, flags, and death.  Please join us, bring more topics.  Bring questions.  Bring your family.  Bring your friends.  Let’s study God’s Word.

Jesus knows this is us.  He knows our biggest idols.  He knows them all.  Most of the time, He even created them.  They were meant to be gifts, but we chose to worship the creation rather than the creator.

But even with this grand insult of the Almighty God, His love for us runs so deep, that He kept His promise.   He hopped on that colt, and He road it into Jerusalem, knowing exactly what He was up against.  He did it for you.  The whole week, the teaching, the table tossing, the betrayal, the Lord’s Supper, the garden and arrest, the trials, the mockery, and the crucifixion.  He willingly gave His life for us.  He shed His blood to cleanse us of our idols.  To forgive us, to restore us.  We are free to trust in Him.

You are His creation.  You are dearly loved.  And this, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is what true love really looks like.  It’s the willingness to speak the hard words.  It’s the willingness to call your family, your friend to repent of their wrongdoing, to turn away from their sin.  To turn away from idols, and to put our trust in Christ alone.  Because He does love us.  He does provide for us.  He does protect us.  And He shows us what true love looks like by laying down His own life for ours.  He is your hope. He is your salvation.  And it’s all a free gift.

The Battle between Two Kingdoms July 15, 2012

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Mark 6:14-29

Proper 10

July 14-15, 2012

Focus: God has restored His kingdom among us.

Function: That the hearers live out their lives as a part of the Kingdom of God.

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


The Battle between Two Kingdoms

            Growing up, my first job was working at a Subway restaurant back in high school.  And my official job title: Sandwich Artist.  This was before Quizno’s and their toasted subs caught on or Jimmy John’s freaky fast delivery.  Subway was the go-to sandwich place, and we were hoppin’.  The line was always out the door for lunch and dinner.  Sandwiches are quick, simple meals, with plenty of variety.  You’ve got the standard ham and cheese to something stranger like peanut butter and banana.

You may not have realized it, but the Apostle Mark liked his sandwiches, too.  Alright, so it’s a different kind of sandwich.  We saw an example two weekends ago, when he sandwiched the bleeding woman in between the account of Jesus healing Jairus’ daughter.  And we see it again today.  Our gospel lesson is the meat, cheese, and veggies in between.  Or better it’s the liverwurst, because it grosses everyone out.

Last week, we read through Mark’s account of Jesus sending out the twelve.  And next week, we’ll see them return.  So that’s our sandwich.  It’s a literary technique that Mark employs multiple times in his gospel, one that critics seem to miss when they argue that Mark wasn’t a good writer.

So what’s he doing?  Where’s he going with this sandwich?  It’s all tied in to one of his key themes throughout his gospel.  It’s about spiritual warfare.  It’s the battle between two kingdoms.  It pits the kingdom of God up against the kingdom of Satan.

When I preached on Mark’s gospel last week, I tried to pick up on the kingdom concept.  You could summarize that sermon’s central focus into this:  Jesus Christ came into this world to bring the kingdom of God, or to restore the kingdom of God.  But I took the kingdom for granted, and didn’t really explain what that meant or looks like.  Thankfully, someone asked me about it after church, and thankfully Mark gives me another chance.

Six-thousand years ago, God chose to create.  He decided to design a universe and to fill it with planets and stars and all kinds of wonders.  And on one of those planets, He decided to create life.  We see not just water and trees around us, but animals and people.  God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden.  Creation was wonderful, awesome, perfect.  It was very good.  God created it, He cared for it, and it was His kingdom.  He was God, He was king.  Everyone and everything looked to Him.  Adam and Eve could talk to Him, ask Him anything they wanted.  It was indeed very good.

But it didn’t last.  Some six-thousand years ago, a fallen angel, who tried to fight God in the heavens, tried to become god, decided to bring that battle to us.  We were on God’s side after all, we were enemies of Satan.  So he came, he attacked.  Satan tempted Adam and Eve to not believe what God had told them, to not respect God’s authority.  And when they took that first bite, everything changed.  God’s kingdom was corrupted, damaged goods.

Satan may well have thought that he had won, that he had beaten God, or at least dealt a strong blow.  He became known as the prince of this world.  Together with his fellow fallen angels, we know as demons, Satan torments this world.  He’s been up to no good for the last six-thousand years.

God had choices of how to respond.  Choices that included wiping out creation and starting over.  But He chose instead to fight.  He chose to continue to care for this creation.  He chose instead to reclaim it.

That’s Jesus’ mission.  He came to restore the rule of God over His creation.  To restore things to the way they once were.  To crush Satan and give back all authority to the one true God.  And we are part of this plan.  Humans, from the very beginning, are the crown of God’s creative work.  And God has continued to care for us.  He has continued to call us His people.  And He has done it through His Son.

So what does the kingdom of God look like?  What did Jesus sacrifice to give?  The kingdom includes any and everywhere the gospel is preached, the good news of God’s love and salvation is shared.  It includes any place that comes together in Word and sacrament, trusting in God’s promises.  It includes as we see in the book of Acts, the early church, and even now, the building of a community, the building of a church.  God’s holy people, whom He loves.

This is what Mark writes about.  This is what our sandwich is about.  We see Jesus give His authority to His disciples, the authority to cast out demons and heal the sick.  Things normal people can’t do.  And then He sends them out.  He sends them out and they preach the gospel.  They preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  And they cast out demons and heal the sick.  And then they return from their journey, report the success to Jesus, and He leads them to a quiet place so they can rest and recover.

It’s the in-breaking, the breaking in, of the kingdom of God.  The Word being preached; people hearing and believing; and Satan getting scared.  His demons are being cast out.  His temptations and crippling diseases are being thwarted.  He’s scared that he’s starting to lose his touch; afraid that he’s losing ground in this war.  And so he lashes back.  He digs in his heels and keeps fighting.

King Herod, not a believer in Jesus, hears of these disciples and the things they were doing.  Herod’s scared, that’s the message of this text.  He doesn’t understand the things of God, he doesn’t understand who Jesus is.  He thinks that Jesus is John the Baptist.  And this scares him all the more, because he killed John.  So we get the account of a weak and pathetic king who couldn’t even stand up for himself, but bowed to the wishes of a child.

Herod feared John the Baptist.  He feared that he really was a prophet of God.  For an unknown amount of time, Herod defended John, kept him alive. In prison, but alive.  For Herod’s wife, Herodias, wanted John dead.  You heard the account.  A little girl gets King Herod to make a stupid promise.  A promise peer pressure forces him to keep.  And so he does what she asks, he kills the man he fears.  And now his nightmares are coming true, he thinks John’s back!

As a king, as part of the kingdom of Satan, Herod wanted power, just like so many today.  Power motivated his life.  John threatened that power.  And this Jesus, also a threat.  There will be attempts on Christ’s life.  Satan and Herod aren’t going down without a fight.

This is the message we see in Mark’s gospel.  The message that there is a war being fought.  The question from our worldly point of view, and the view of people in Mark’s day, is this: is God still at work?  Is He still fighting, or has He been defeated?  And that’s what Mark ultimately is answering in his gospel writing.  God is not defeated, instead the fight goes on.  Even though John the Baptist was imprisoned for speaking against Herod and Herodias’ corrupt marriage, he kept preaching.  He kept fighting.  And oddly enough, Herod was listening, which is why Herodias had John killed.  She feared Herod might truly listen and believe.  That he’d repent, divorce her, and she’d lose all her power as queen.  John kept fighting until he died.

The same goes for Christ.  Satan constantly attacked Him, constantly tried to undermine His ministry and put an end to it all.  But Christ kept pushing forward.  He kept preaching and teaching.  He continued to form disciples who would carry on the preaching of the gospel, who would carry on the fight.  Christ’s ministry still reached its goal.  His death served as the ultimate in victory.  Because in His death, the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are offered to all mankind.  Satan loses everything.  It’s a strange victory cry, to celebrate a death.  But without death, Christ would not have conquered death.  Without dying, He couldn’t have been raised.  But He has conquered death; He has been raised from the grave.  And because Christ lives, we live.  Christ is risen!  (He is risen indeed, alleluia!) That is our battle cry.  We are part of God’s kingdom.

This all applies to us still today.  This life is tough.  We suffer, we bleed, we hurt, and unless Christ returns first, we die.  Things don’t go well all the time; the ball doesn’t always bounce our way.  We spend time in the hospital, get sick, disasters happen, unforeseen events empty our bank accounts.  People ask how a good God can let bad things happen to good people, how can a good God let suffering and evil exist.  But the question is flawed.  We’re not inherently good people.  We’re sinners.  God doesn’t simply let everything happen as though He doesn’t care.  We chose to live this way.  We chose sin as far back as six thousand years ago.  And mankind still chooses sin today.  Bad things happen; but it’s not God’s fault.  It’s all a result of sin; it’s all a result of Satan fighting against us.

In all of this, Mark offers great comfort.  We see it with John, that he keeps going until the end.  But we see it all the more in Christ.  Jesus kept fighting, God keeps fighting.  No matter what obstacles were in Jesus’ way, he pushed forward.  He achieved the goal of His mission.  He brought the kingdom of God.  And He brought it to you and me.  Through baptism, we are children of God.  We go from being His enemies, to being His beloved children.  We switch sides, from Satan’s kingdom, to God’s.  And we can rest assured through all the hardships in our lives that everything is still moving toward God’s goal, His outcome.  Through Jesus Christ, we will be saved.  We will live in Him.

In a sense, Mark’s gospel leaves the spiritual war going on.  The battle still raging.  And that’s fitting, because the battle between two kingdoms is still being fought.  We are part of that fight each and every day.  But I also know there are a few of you out there who like to spoil a good book by flipping to the end and reading the last page or chapter.  If you flip to the end of God’s true and holy Word, it doesn’t spoil it.  Revelation provides all the comfort we need.  Because it tells us how everything ends.  And God wins.

Love Each Other May 13, 2012

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John 15:9-17

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 12-13, 2012

Focus: God loved us so much that He gave up His Son for us.

Function: That the hearers love each other as God first loved us.

Structure: .


Love Each Other


Over the last couple of weeks, our Scripture readings have focused a lot on love.  That really comes as no surprise, as love is a major theme throughout Scripture.  But it does pose a challenge to us.  What is love?  Do we even know anymore?

In chapel this week, we talked about how we all love a good story, whether it’s a book, a movie, or something else altogether.  And it doesn’t matter how old you are, we all like to get wrapped up in the plot.  Most stories have a common theme.  Fairy tales make it quite obvious.  Love.  How many fairy tales revolve around a princess just waiting for her Prince Charming, her knight in shining armor to come and sweep her off her feet?  They call it true love.  And it usually ends in them riding off into the sunset and living happily ever after.

While that makes for good entertainment, or as the guys say, a chick-flick, unfortunately, stories like these give us an inaccurate view of love.  They portray love as an emotional high, a feeling of bliss, like floating on Cloud Nine.  It’s sublime happiness.  But how many marriages end a year or so in because the couple comes down off of this emotional high?  It certainly contributes to our nation’s ridiculously high divorce rate, which is somewhere around 50% of marriages.  They don’t understand that life indeed is full of challenges and that there will be rough moments in every relationship.  That’s what sin does.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in our vocabulary.  You can love your spouse.  You can love your children.  You can love God.  You can love a good story.  You can love Taco Bell’s new Dorito tacos.  You can love sinning.  You can love money.  You can love a sport.  You can love pretty much anything.  I think you get the point.

But the Greek language had four words to describe love.  Agape, phileo, storge, and eros.  Definitions of these words aren’t always mutually exclusive, they do occasionally overlap in meaning.  But for the most part, they’re unique.  The romantic kind of love of fairy tales and newlyweds is eros.  It’s all about passion and attraction.  You won’t find it in the Bible.

Storge describes natural affection, the love you have for your whole family.  It only appears a couple of times in Scripture.  Phileo is a love along the lines of friendship and loyalty.  We see it in words like philosophy, which is the love of wisdom or in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia.

And lastly, we have the love called agape.  While agape and phileo are occasionally used interchangeably, agape tends to mean unconditional love.  It’s the love of God for us as His people and it’s the one that’s been coming up in our texts of late.

I know you’re not all Greek scholars, but the point of the little Greek lesson today is to help us identify how love can differ.  The most common love in the world around us is selfish.  How many relationships are formed merely so that we can benefit from them?  We don’t say we love something unless it somehow brings us pleasure or happiness.  That also ends up being the way fairy tales portray true love.

So do we really know what love is anymore?  Thankfully, God has left us with some examples.  At our men’s retreat a couple weekends ago, we looked in depth at being the Christian head of a household, being a loving and faithful husband and father.  And we discussed a couple of Bible verses on this topic.  In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he said that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

That’s a difficult verse for us to swallow, but it deals with love, specifically the love of God.  Throughout Scripture, God portrays Himself as our Father.  And Christ portrays Himself as the groom, with the church as His bride.  Family relationships, things we can comprehend and understand.  So to Timothy, if you don’t take care of your own family, you clearly don’t comprehend the message of God’s love and salvation.  You don’t get the relationships He has used to express Himself to you.

In this way, we can look at the relationships in our lives today to help us better understand what love is.  And what better a day than Mother’s Day?  That one day of the year that we set aside to let our moms know just how much we appreciate everything they do for us.  Hopefully everyone remembered!

We can come up with a whole slew of things that mothers do for us.  Whether it’s the way they care for us when we’re just little babies to how they always seem to know just how to make us feel better.  Now, I don’t want men to feel left out, as similar things can be said about fathers too, but that’s next month.  I stumbled across any number of stories this week in honor of Mother’s Day, but I would like to share one with you that I think really illustrates the love of a mother for her child.

There was a teenager who didn’t want to be seen in public with her mother, because her mother’s arms were both  terribly disfigured, downright gruesome. One day when her mother took her shopping and reached out her hand, a clerk looked horrified. Later, at home crying, the girl told her how embarrassed she was. Despite the hurt, the mother waited an hour before going to her daughter’s room to tell her, for the first time, what had happened.

“When you were a baby, I woke up to a burning house. Your room was an inferno. Flames were everywhere. I could have gotten out the front door, but I decided I’d rather die with you than leave you to die alone. I ran through the fire and wrapped my arms around you. Then I went back through the flames, my arms on fire. When I got outside on the lawn, the pain was agonizing but when I looked at you, all I could do was rejoice that the flames hadn’t touched you.”

Stunned, the girl looked at her mother through new eyes. Weeping in shame and gratitude, she kissed her mother’s marred hands and arms.

I chose that story because it illustrates how much a mom truly loves her child.  It demonstrates the lengths that she is willing to go for her baby, the sacrifices she’s willing to make, and also the lack of respect and appreciation that she’s willing to endure when her children hit puberty.  It’s a good reference to the love we see in our text; however, before anyone accuses me of building up egos too much today, we need to remember that our love is tainted by sin.

The greatest moms and dads the world over aren’t perfect.  And that’s why the Bible points us to the One who is.  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”  That’s the agape love of God in this text.  It’s the unconditional love that only He can have for us.  It’s the agape love that Paul talks about in his letter to Rome:

“Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by His blood, will we be saved through Him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life.”


That’s the unconditional love of God, that while we were still His enemies, He sacrificed His Son to forgive us and save us.  It’s the unconditional love as He showed through the prophet Hosea, who illustrated God’s love to Israel through his role as a husband to Gomer the prostitute.  No matter how many times she abandoned him and went away with other men, Hosea went to her as God comes to us.  He forgave her and took her back, as God does for us.

That dear brothers and sisters, is the true agape love of God, which He has so graciously poured out on all of us here today.  Through the waters of Holy Baptism, He claims us as His own children.  And every time we pray, read the Bible, or anything else that brings our thoughts to Christ, we see the ultimate in love and sacrifice.  A willingness to sacrifice it all for someone you care about.

It is from this love that Christ then issues the command from our gospel today.  “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.”  He roots the command in what He’s already done for us.  It’s not just a random command to go and do something.  It’s connected and flows from His love that He’s already most graciously given to you and me.  We love one another as He first loved us.

What is love?  What does it look like?  It’s putting everyone else before yourself.  If your neighbor is hurting, care for them.  If they’re in any kind of danger, lend a hand, or more.  If they’ve wronged you, it means no grudges, but forgiveness.  If they fail to respect you or appreciate you, it means continuing to love them anyway.  It’s commitment, care, communication, and Christ.  If ever you want to know what love looks like, look no further than the cross.  As God first loved us, so we love one another.