Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus returns the Chief priest’s question back to them. But without context, all we’re really left with is that Jesus is pretty good at avoiding traps and setting His own. What got left out is where Jesus was going with all of this. Because this text isn’t about how cool a cucumber Jesus is. This text is about Jesus tearing down our false religions.
Now we know that there are many false religions in the world. Many false gods. Those who believe in them work very hard at pleasing their gods. Whatever that god is looking for, that follower goes out and does. All in the hopes of getting in good graces. And thereby earning heaven, or nirvana, or a good life, or whatever it is they’re looking for. If only they just do what their god wants, then their god will repay them the favor. But who is to say what that god is looking for? Those who have authority, of course.
This is what Jesus is tearing down. And it starts a little earlier in chapter 21. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we celebrate on both Palm Sunday and the first Sunday in Advent, is a challenge to the existing authority. Not because challenging authority itself is a good thing. But because that authority is misrepresenting God.
That misrepresentation is seen when Jesus first enters the temple. In His anger, Jesus overturns the moneychangers’ tables and drives out all the animals for sale. And He does, because they gave the message that the temple is where you do things for God in hopes of getting God’s favor. His grace for sale at such a low, low price. So easy, anyone can do it. You don’t even have to leave for the market or the money changer. It’s all here. All you have to do is buy in. After all, God helps those who help themselves.
Jesus drove them all out. Because God is the giver. Not the barterer. Not the salesman. Not the magic genie waiting for you to rub his lamp just right. Not looking for something from you first. God gives. And so anything that said otherwise had to go. That’s what happened to the fig tree. This gift of God, this plant, bore no fruit. Perhaps if someone had done something first, it might have. Proper water or fertilization. Maybe getting some bees in to pollenate the flowers. With work, you might get a real good crop out of it. But that is exactly the idea Jesus is preaching against here. To you not need to work for what God gives freely. Therefore the tree is cursed. And it dies.
When Jesus returns to the temple to teach, likely this very lesson, the chief priests and elders of the people came to Him and asked, “By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you that authority?” Jesus doesn’t just reverse the trap, He continues the lesson. Jesus answered them, “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?”
Well, you tell me? Was John’s baptism from heaven, or from man? Was that baptism something the repentant did in order to get forgiveness from God? Was that baptism a statement of believe from a person’s heart? Was that baptism an ordinance a person followed in order to give obedience to God? If so, then John’s baptism was from man. The chief priests and elders were then right all along. And Jesus was wrong. However, if John’s baptism was from heaven, then what does that say about our baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?
If baptism is the gift of God. If baptism saves, as is written. If baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, as was preached on Pentecost. If baptism clothes us in Christ as Paul writes to Titus. If baptism buries with Christ and raises us with Him as well. Then we must say with Jesus that this baptism is not from man, but instead from heaven. And as Jesus has made the point all along, your baptism is a gift. Not from you. But for you.
What kind of strange authority is this? Jesus’ uses authority not to take. Not to make you give from yourself to Him. But instead to give all He has to you. The temple sacrifices in Jesus’ day were both a gift of food and of forgiveness. But that gift was rejected. Instead there were moneychangers and merchants, An implicit mandate that the giving went the other direction here. And in that mandate, the temple died. The fig tree was likewise to be a gift from God. But when it did not give God’s gifts, it too died. Baptism is also a gift of God. But when a church body turns baptism into man’s works for God, it too faces the same fate as the temple and the fig tree.
But how then can anyone avoid that fate? Because in sin, this is the world’s religion. This is our hearts’ faith. A faith in itself. That if we do enough for our god, only then our god will return that favor. Sunday Morning becomes a marketplace. Where we exchange our praises and offerings and prayers to our god hoping to get in exchange what we need to get through to the next week. Where we can keep the right rules and make our god happy. We use marketing tools can we use to attract more customers for our god. Exciting gimmicks will bring our god more people from whom he can receive things. These are our hearts’ ideas. And this is why our hearts have to die. Just like the temple. Just like the fig tree. Just like the question of the chief priests and the elders.
But you know what? It’s a good thing for our hearts to die. Because Jesus dies right along with us. And He dies precisely to give us everything He has promised. That’s what Jesus uses His authority for. To give. And only to give. Still Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to treasure all things which I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.
This statement is all promise. Not command. Not commission. Promise. Go? Jesus sent someone to us. Someone bringing us Jesus. Might have been our parents, or a family member, or a friend, or a pastor, or even a stranger. But Jesus has indeed given to us by someone who went. And they went not to get anything for themselves. But so that they could give as Jesus gives. When we go, it’s the same way. In thanks.
Jesus has made you disciple. And while our hearts want that word to mean something special we have done, all disciple is is the Greek word for student. One who is given knowledge by a teacher. To be a disciple of Christ is to be taught by Christ. To receive what He gives. Nothing more, nothing less. And it is a joy to receive that gift.
Jesus has baptized you. Another gift. Not because you believed well enough. Not because you gave God enough of your heart. No. It’s all gift. Jesus has given you His name. The name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The name of Yahweh. I am. And with that name on you, you are. You exist. You live. And have life everlasting. That’s God’s promise to you. God’s gift to you.
And because these things are all gifts. Because you couldn’t earn any of them no matter how much work you did for God. Because these gifts of the Gospel are so great, they are a treasure. We hold these gifts dear. Because in them God’s promises are sure. His authority backs them all.
And one last promise. I will be with you always, Jesus says. He is with you in life everlasting. He is with you in death. He is with you even now. Are you caught in sin? Jesus is with you right now to give forgiveness. Are you facing death? Jesus is with you right now with the good news of His resurrection for you. Are you hurt or broken? Jesus is with you right now to bear that pain along side you. Jesus went to the cross with you. Jesus dies with you. And Jesus rises from that grave with you.
This is the good news. This is what that Old English word Gospel means. This is the power of God unto salvation. The only thing St. Paul though worth preaching. The only thing God attaches His promises to. And it is given. Not earned. Not bartered for. Not traded. Not merited. Given solely by the authority of Jesus. Given to those who don’t deserve it in the least. Given to you and me. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus gives the parable of the vineyard workers. But this parable has some back story. Back in the last chapter, a rich, young ruler comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to enter into eternal life. When Jesus tells him the commandments, the young man claims to have kept them all. So Jesus tells him to give all that he has to the poor and follow Him. The man goes away sad. That, after all command was more than his heart could take. In response, Jesus makes his famous statement that it is more difficult for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
The disciples are shocked, because they believed material possessions was a sign that God had blessed a person. They ask who then can enter into the kingdom of God. Jesus says that what is impossible with man is possible with God. Peter responds by saying that the disciples have given up everything to follow Jesus. Trying to show that at least his heart was in the right place. But Jesus responds with this parable, making the point that it is not by works that you are saved. The rich man can’t do enough to earn salvation. The disciples can’t do enough to earn salvation. Salvation is given solely because of the generosity of God.
It was a rough message for people in those days. The disciples had already invested a lot of work. The rich young man would have to invest a lot more. And the payoff was the same, even for those who invested very little work. And a lifetime of work was of no value at all. No wonder the workers of the parable grumbled. Everyone had something to grumble about. Whether they were disciple, or rich man, or anyone else.
Why is it that every time there is work to be done as a Christian, our hearts betray us so badly? When there’s work to be done, our sinful nature rears its ugly head. Take something as simple as reading God’s Word. Which way does your heart go? The way of the rich young ruler? Do you look at that Bible and think, “There’s no way I can read that thing”? That it’s just too much? Even starting is a daunting task. As though the promises God makes depend entirely on your ability to understand them?
Or does your heart go the way of Peter and the disciples? Does reading God’s Word make you better than that other guy? Do you know it so well, that everyone else should be just like you? Are you so impressive, that surely even God has to notice? Or not even that. Just, hey, I did a nice job today. I did pretty good, all things considered. If I keep that up, I just might get myself somewhere. It still all comes down to me, myself and I. And a little arrogance is the same in God’s eyes as a lot.
Or does your heart go the way of the workers hired at the beginning of Jesus’ parable? Are you frustrated that you’ve been digging in God’s Word for so long, and those people who just heard it for the first time are considered to be exactly the same as you? That it’s not really all that fair for God to treat you this way? Does that hatred from others grow, even if just a little bit, because God makes things too easy for them?
Or does your heart go one other direction? We know that God considers us all equal. Therefore reading God’s Word doesn’t really matter. We all get the denarius. We all get eternal life. There’s no prizes for those who read the most. No award for those who know the most. So we’ll leave all that study to someone else, and listen instead to where my heart leads me. Even though out of the heart comes only evil, continuously.
Take any other good work you can think of. Our sinful hearts do the same thing to them all. Make each and every work about me. Whether it’s about my strength, or my pride, or my indignation, or my self-centeredness. It always comes back to ourselves. And the minor incidents are probably even worse than the major ones. Because when we get really self-centered, we’re at least shamed enough to say, wow, that was pretty bad. I shouldn’t do that.
But this is why Jesus has to make the point over and over again that salvation does not come by our own work. It comes only by the generosity of God. Because none of us working in this field have earned the days wage. None of us have earned eternal life. Because the dead do not work. And whether we’re dead in our sin or dead in the ground makes no difference whatsoever. Our hearts are still the same in both cases.
This is why Luther often called good works damnable. Because no matter how much good they actually do, our hearts use those works to try and drive us inside ourselves. To make us our own idols. To push us further away from God. And yet, despite it all, God keeps on giving that good work to us anyways. Even thought we’re the last people who should ever be given something like that. But He does. Because the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.
Jesus is the one who deserved to be first. He can actually do good works. Not only because He is God in the flesh, but because in His flesh He has no sin. He is just like Adam and Eve before the fall. With a heart that has no evil. He was born as God had created humanity in the beginning. And so, when Jesus stood on this earth, it was as both its creator and the first of all creation.
But in His mercy, Jesus took on the sin of the last people who ever deserved it. Took on everything our sinful hearts have gotten us. Our fears. Our arrogance. Our hatred. Our selfishness. Jesus did the last thing He should have ever had to do. He took every sin. And paid for each and every one of them. Paying with His own life. Dying the last death he should have ever had to face. The first became last. So that the last would be first.
The last thing in all creation that our hearts could ever get us, is the first thing God gives. We are given Jesus. Over and over and over. And with Jesus, everything that comes with Him. Forgiveness for each one of our sins. Resurrection from our dead state. Both from sin, and from when we lie buried in the ground. Salvation from our tainted hearts. The promise, that He is with us always. Even when the world falls apart around us. Even when nothing else turns out okay. And that might not make us first in the world’s eyes. But it is without a doubt to be first in God’s eyes.
What Jesus has done, what Jesus has given you is no less than the power of God unto salvation. That’s what Jesus’ death and resurrection is. And that power has overcome even your sin soaked heart. Christ Jesus does good work in you. And He does good work through you for your neighbor who needs those works. And yes, that heart will scream. That heart will begrudge God His generosity. But Jesus is stronger than even your heart. For He has given you His own heart, a working heart, in its place.
The day’s wage is yours. Jesus has been given to you. Not by your own works. And despite your own heart. All through the generosity, the mercy of our Lord. The first has become last for your sake, so that you are now first. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Old Testament lesson, where Joseph forgives his brothers.
What does it look like when you forgive? I know what I do when I’m not up here forgiving in an official capacity. When someone says they’re sorry, I usually respond by saying, “Oh, that’s okay.” Or, “No problem.” Or, “Don’t worry about it.” And I respond that way to assure people that things are alright. Because, really, they are. “Oh, sorry I hit you with my shopping cart.” “That’s okay, it didn’t hurt.” “I’m sorry I didn’t make it yesterday.” “No problem, I know what it’s like to have the flu.” “I’m so sorry I backed into your truck!” “Don’t worry about it, it was covered in dents anyways.” Nobody really got hurt. Nobody intended to cause any harm. So forgiveness is pretty easy.
But how do we forgive when things really aren’t okay? How do we forgive when there’s no remorse? How do we forgive when they intentionally hurt us? We don’t. We withhold forgiveness. Maybe as punishment to them. Maybe as a means of control. Maybe as a way to protect ourselves. Because it’s not okay. It is a problem. We cannot but worry about it. We are hurt. And that hurt doesn’t just go away with a few words that we don’t really mean. Forgiveness, instead of being easy, is a difficult thing to give.
In our Old Testament lesson today, at the death of their father Jacob, Joseph’s brothers are hoping for forgiveness. But the way they go about it is pretty shameful. The brothers come to Joseph, bearing a “message from their father.” A command to forgive. Doesn’t matter if the message is real or not. Forgiveness just isn’t that easy. Not when they told their father that Joseph was dead. Not when they sold Joseph to slave traders. Not when they were the ones that were responsible for him ever being near Potiphar or his unfaithful wife. Not when they were responsible for all those years in prison. All the abuse he received. All the depravation he endured. All the betrayal at their hands. And now they come bearing a command for forgiveness? Who can blame Joseph from weeping at these words? Even if he had already forgiven them long ago, this “message” still cut Joseph to the heart.
What was he supposed to say? “That’s okay, because it worked out in the end”? But it wasn’t okay. Not even close. Not everything worked out. “No problem, because I ended up with something better”? But it was a problem. A big problem, that not even all the wealth and power of Egypt could cover. “Don’t worry about it, because nobody got hurt?” Joseph hurt. He hurt every day. And was still hurting when the messengers arrived. Hurting when his brothers arrived afterwards. Forgiveness isn’t easy.
And yet, every Sunday, here we are awaiting God’s forgiveness. We show up, not really any different than Joseph’s brothers. Afraid God might remember what we did. Or worse, not even caring what we need forgiveness for. And, if we play our cards right, maybe God will forgive us. Because if can should say, “That’s okay, no problem, don’t worry about it,” it’s God, right? After all, He is God. He can just make everything okay. He can just make the problems go away. He doesn’t have anything to worry about.
How easy is it to forget that God is somebody? It’s too easy to think of God as just a collection of attributes. Too easy to think of Him as a power or force. To easy to dismiss the fact that He is His own individual. We reduce God to a concept. Goodness. Holiness. All-powerfulness. Love. And as a concept, we cannot imagine God ever being hurt. And yet, our God hurts like you or I cannot imagine.
From even Genesis, we see the pain of God. At the fall. Talking with Cain. Before the flood. We see God hurt. And can we see just how much we have hurt Him. With our betrayal. Our lies. Our lusting after other gods. And even worse, when we justify ourselves for doing these very things. Tell God how right we were to hurt Him like this. Tell Him to His face that we’d rather be alone, than endure His love. That’s what sin does to Him. From littlest white lie to the greatest abominations you can imagine. They all take their stab at God. And He feels every one of them. And they all hurt the same.
“That’s okay, no problem, don’t worry about it.” Those words just don’t cut it. But the words, “I forgive you,” do. Because forgiveness doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still hurt even now. What forgiveness means is “I release you from it anyways.” And that is a frightening idea. To actually forgive someone who hurt us is too much. Because it threatens to bring the pain all over again.
And for God it absolutely does. Forgiveness meant hurting all over again. The first time it definitely hurt. But Jesus came to endure the pain of all those sins again. To take those sins nailed into His hands and feet. To bear that sin pierced into His side. All in order to forgive you. Forgiveness isn’t easy. But you’re worth the price. You’re worth that pain. You’re worth dying for. You’re worth saving. No matter how many sins you have. To do that takes more than an attribute. It takes a person. It takes Jesus.
But what about Joseph? Forgiveness still isn’t easy. Could Joseph love his brothers that much? Were his brothers worth it to him? Doesn’t matter, because Joseph saw that they were worth it to God. God had saved those jealous, backstabbing, hateful brothers. And He saved them by putting Joseph in the right place. Giving Joseph the right gifts. God saved even them. And if that’s how God felt, who was Joseph to do otherwise?
Did it mean Joseph felt that hurt again? Yes. And it brought him to tears. But it also brought joy. The joy of reconciliation. The joy of restoration. The joy of family. A joy that was impossible so long as Joseph withheld forgiveness. And just as Joseph forgave because of what God did for them, so also we can forgive because of what God has done for them. Those who have hurt us so badly? Jesus went to the cross for them. Jesus suffered for them. Jesus died for them. Jesus forgives them.
Is that then a command? For us to forgive? Like the message Joseph’s brothers brought to Joseph? Perhaps. Or perhaps forgiving others is itself also a gift from God. A mirror image of what He has already done on our behalf. Might it hurt? Yes. Might your forgiveness be abused? Absolutely. But it’s still God’s gift through Christ for both you and your neighbor. And in that gift there is joy to be found.
So that is why it is an honor and a privilege to be here serving you as your pastor. Because I get to share in your joy by speaking God’s Word of forgiveness to you. And it is my joy to say that in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. At that time, the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
What Jesus says here in Matthew is a lot like what He says in Mark and Luke’s Gospel in a different situation. “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Jesus calls us to a childlike faith. And what better way to have childlike faith than to actually be a child. This is why Jesus put children in front of the disciples. As though telling them, “Here’s you example.”
And because of not only what Jesus say, but also what Jesus did, I say this with all confidence. The greatest among us in the kingdom of heaven this morning is Alexandria Lily Williams. Who this morning was given God’s gift of baptism. There is no more childlike faith, than the faith of a child. And through that baptism, God’s promises are made hers. God has indeed given her faith. And she has indeed been brought into the kingdom of Heaven. And it means that right at this moment, Alexandria’s faith is stronger than yours or mine will be for the rest of our lives.
Because ‘faith’ is just a churchy word for trust. And Alexandria has no alternative but to trust. She has to trust you, Bethany, to feed her. She has to trust you, James, to care for her. She has to trust her very life to you both. There’s no choice in that matter for her. Not at this age. It’s only when we start growing up that trust becomes optional.
And just like she trusts her mom and dad, she now also trusts Jesus. And I can say that with certainty. Because that is what God promises in baptism. Baptism now saves you. Be baptized every one of you for the forgiveness of your sins. Salvation, forgiveness, entering the Kingdom of heaven. These are all the same thing, found in the death and resurrection of Jesus. These are all the Gospel, the good news which Jesus gives to her, to you, to me, to all. And this is Alexandria’s faith.
“But how can she possibly know?” you ask. After all, her mom and dad are really there interacting with her. She can hear them, taste them, touch them. Where as God…. Well, what? Is God imaginary? Is God only an intellectual construct? Is God something we can only fathom with sufficient mental capacity? If that’s all God is, then Alexandria can’t really know God. And, frankly, neither can we.
But today, Jesus has made Himself heard. It’s His voice speaking His words. To Alexandria, and to you. Jesus has made Himself felt. Felt in water, as He Himself buried Alexandria in His own death. Felt in that same water as Jesus takes her by the hand in resurrection from the dead to new life in Him. And He has done the same in your baptism as well. Jesus gives us a taste of Himself as well. As He feeds us His own body and His own blood sacrificed on our behalf on that cross for the forgiveness of our sins. So in the very same ways Alexandria trusts her mom and dad and knows they’re there for her, likewise we all trust Jesus Christ, and know that He’s really here for us.
There is one more promise that comes to little Alexandria, and to us in today’s text. It’s a little obscure. And not a whole lot of time gets spent on it anywhere else. But it is a promise nonetheless. “See to it that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is heaven.” It’s a promise that you matter to God. That you are important to Him. That the most important members of God’s heaven, the ones that see Him face to face, are the same ones he has given to look out for you.
But again, just as we wonder how a child can trust God, we also wonder how this promise could really be. After all, there are times we really wish that guardian angel would have been a little quicker. Not let those things happen that hurt our hearts so badly. There will be times in Alexandria’s life where we will all wonder if that angel fell asleep on the job. But all that boils down to is a charmed life tuned to the desires of our hearts. You see, we like our angels like our gods, imaginary.
But when tragedy strikes, when the pain comes, when our hearts are broken, and in this sin filled world, they will be, then there is God, hurting, crying, suffering right there with us. There is our guardian angel, straight from the face of our Father, to let us know that we are not alone. To comfort us. Whether that’s in letting us know that our sin is forgiven. Whether that is to hold our hand and be by our side. Whether that is reminding us that there is a tomorrow, a new tomorrow with a new heavens and a new earth, where every tear is wiped away.
Because this is promise is still the same promise given in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This gift of God is still the same gift. Life, forgiveness, salvation, hope, love, peace, comfort, compassion. Because Christ Jesus has indeed overcome all things. Conquering even death itself. All for you.
There is no millstone so heavy that Jesus cannot pull you out of the sea. There is no hell of fire too hot that Jesus cannot save you from it. There is no one so lost, that Jesus cannot find you, and rejoice. There is no sin so great, that Jesus cannot unbind it. And there is no place so alone, that Jesus cannot enter it. All these things, which Jesus warns against in today’s text, are certainly worthy of full attention. But none of them are outside of what He Himself covered with His own blood at the cross.
Because you are there with him at that cross. There through baptism. As St. Paul said to the Romans, “We were therefore buried with Him by baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too would live a new life.” That new life is yours, just as it is Alexandra’s. And through that new life as a baptized child of Christ, the kingdom of heaven is yours as well. Thanks be to God.
This isn’t just Jesus rebuking His disciples for arguing who is the greatest. This isn’t just Jesus saying that even some child passing by is greater than they are right now. Although both those things are true. Jesus makes the point that there is no greater Christian, no more faithful person to God than a child. We all should strive for a childlike faith. And there is no easier way than to be a child.
Jesus’ words mean that in all confidence I can say to you that the greatest Christian in this room right now, is little Alexandria, who is baptized today.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where Peter means well, but just doesn’t get it. And as a result, Jesus has some harsh words for him.
I can’t imagine it was easy for Jesus tell Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” Because Peter is one of Jesus’ closest friends. Someone just a few verses earlier Jesus was praising for the good confession. Someone who would go on to do some amazing things for the Church. Because those are words that can make people shut down. Stop listening. Leave forever. Because, after all, Peter meant well.
Peter just wanted Jesus’ ministry to be successful. He wanted as many people as possible to hear Jesus. Know who Jesus is. Peter wanted to Jesus to be as effective as possible. Reaching out and making disciples of all people. He wanted Jesus to have all the right tools for the job. He wanted the metrics to all line up. He wanted the perfect mission strategy. And Jesus talking about suffering and dying was simply a major turnoff to too many people. It had to stop. Or they weren’t going to reach anyone.
It sounds silly to us now. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sure, now we know that His death and resurrection was the entirety of Jesus’ plan. But we still treat Jesus as though He doesn’t quite know what He’s doing. The Gospel is great and all. But how are we going to get it out there. Many good Christians are completely preoccupied with tools, metrics, strategies, and programs. Because it’s not enough to preach the Gospel. You have to find the most efficient way to reach the most people. I have to equip you. We have build an effective ministry together. Because, apparently, the Gospel can’t do that alone.
But do they have a point? After all, maybe the Gospel isn’t enough. No one is listening. No one wants to hear. No one is interested in that message. And so anything we do that gets people to listen has got to be good, right? Maybe they’ll listen better if they’re comfortable. Maybe they’ll hear if we play the same kind of music they like. Maybe they’ll be interested if we give them what they want. After all, Jesus did give us a mission. To proclaim the good news of His death and resurrection to the world.
But this assumes that the reason more people aren’t Christian is because that good news was powerless by itself. It didn’t go. It didn’t sink in. And so people just don’t know what Jesus is all about. And if they only knew, then they would come to the only logical conclusion that Jesus is for them. But all of that assumes that people are neutral to the Gospel. They aren’t. Because for the most part, the world has heard. The world knows what Jesus is all about. And that’s the Jesus who’s rejected. Because the world hates the Gospel. And Jesus has told us that fact all along.
The world hates the Gospel. The world hates a Jesus who dies on their behalf. The World hates a Jesus who forgives their sins. The world hates the very Jesus we worship. And no amount of cultural relevance, no amount of revitalization, no amount of giving people what they want will ever change that fact.
And you what we have also forgot? That we too are in the world. We too hate the Gospel of our Lord. And that is an easy thing to forget when we also have in us the regenerate man who loves the Gospel. Would do anything for Christ our Lord. And believes the promises God gives us over and over again. But that sinful part in us lurks. Waiting to push the good news of the cross aside for bigger and better things. And that is when we must hear the words Jesus spoke to Peter. “Get behind me, Satan. You are a hindrance to me. For you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of Men.”
When you believe the Gospel is powerless with out you. When I believe that it’s more important to give you tools than preach the Gospel. When we believe that the only chance the Gospel has is for us to make it culturally relevant by means of giving the world what it wants. When we believe these things, then we are a hindrance to Jesus, not a help. Because we have in mind, not the things of God, but the things of men. We all have fallen short. Disbelieved what God says about His Word. Underestimated the sheer power of the Gospel. The sheer power of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
I mean, do you realize how powerful the death and resurrection of Jesus is? Here we are today, sinners standing before a holy God. And we are not dead. Do you realize how much that took? Do you realize the extent of God’s mercy? Do you realize what forgiveness is? We take for granted what so many in our world desperately long for. And God is giving this gift away.
There’s a reason the world hates the Gospel. Why we hate the Gospel. Because the Gospel asks what part of your life is the worst. What part hurts the most. What part can’t you bear any longer. And these are normally the things we hide away. The things we bury as deep as they’ll go. The things we want no one else to ever know. And we’ll do anything to keep them from being revealed. We would prefer that the Gospel asked us what we liked. What we wanted to do. What fit best for us. Because we want success. But no. The Gospel asks the most painful questions anyone could ever ask.
However, the Gospel doesn’t ask us these things to hurt us more. Nor to shame us in front of the world. But rather so that Jesus can say to us that they are no longer ours, but His. He claims them as His own. The fears no one can understand. The pains no one else can bear. The unforgivable sins. Jesus takes all those thing into Himself on your behalf. The Gospel asks, so that you know what it is that Jesus has taken away. And those things die with Him on that cross. They stay buried in that grave forever. Even when He rises on the third day. They are no longer yours. They are gone. And that is the most powerful thing anyone can ever hear.
Because the Son of Man is going to come with His messengers in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done. This isn’t just a last day thing. This is at the cross thing. And that cross has been, and is still being brought to you. Even now. His angels, the Greek word for messengers, bring you this good news. Great news. That the thoughts that you are the most ashamed of. The words you can’t take back. The deeds that condemn you before God and men. They all belong to Jesus now. They’re are no longer yours. And all you will be repayed for is the good that Christ has done in you.
This news needs no cultural relevance, because it’s for all people of all time. This news needs no help to be proclaimed because it is itself the help we need. This news doesn’t need to be measured for effectiveness, because there is no other thing as effective as the Gospel. And yes, the world hates it. Our sinful selves hate it. But it still is the power of God unto salvation. And there is no substitute. This is what Jesus has promised to you. And it is yours. Thanks be to God.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-16
If there was one thing you could always be sure about with Aunt Leatha, it was where you stood with her. She was never afraid to tell you exactly what she thought. Whether it be politics, religion, or your choice of hairstyle. Ten years ago, I heard about that last one a lot. She was never afraid to speak up, at least as far as I saw. And about what, it didn’t matter. Whether over very serious things, or that last cookie on the plate. In fact, if I keep going on about her, I half expect her to get up, hit me upside the back of the head and say, “What are you do-un’?” Because she knew that at the graveside, there are more important things to talk about than her.
In our readings today there was another who was never afraid to tell you what he was thinking. At one point, he had it all. Family, friends, worldly possessions. And in an instant, they were all taken away. By a gust of wind, a handful of thieves, and a downturn of fortune. All because God trusted in Job, despite Satan’s accusations. And Job let everyone know exactly what he thought of it all. Even God Himself. With words we might not consider all that polite.
But as grumpy as Job was, he still proclaimed the hope of us all. I know that my Redeemer lives. We all need a Redeemer. One who saves us. Because everyone dies. Job died. Leatha died. We will die. Just like our forefathers before us. Just like our children will, hopefully many years down the road. Death comes for everyone. For all have sinned. And The wages of sin is death. Therefore we need a Redeemer who will save us out of even death itself.
This is exactly the kind of Redeemer Job is counting on. And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. This is the kind of Redeemer Leatha counts on even now. And this is the Redeemer we count on as well. That is why we do not grieve as others do, who have no hope, as Paul wrote. Because our Redeemer is Christ Jesus.
Jesus is the one who said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And he was talking about Himself. Unless Jesus died, he would remain forever alone. Separated from us. And that’s was not okay. But by going to that cross. By bearing the load of this world’s sin. By God Himself dying on our behalf, that one Seed bears much fruit. Death itself is overcome. We are forgiven. We are adopted into the family of God. We are baptized into His name. We are fed with His own body and blood.
And on the third day Jesus rose from the dead. So that Job likewise will rise. And see God not with another set of eyes, but with his own. Jesus rose from the dead so that Leatha will likewise rise. In her flesh. And she will see Him for herself. Jesus rose from the dead so that you too will likewise rise. And we will be together again in the flesh. The resurrection is Jesus’ promise to you.
And it’s His promises in which we hope. Body and soul put back together again. With new heavens and a new earth. Seeing Jesus with our own eyes. Where Aunt Leatha will be snatching that last cookie again, even out of Jesus’ hand. And don’t think she’d be sorry about that either.
I know that my redeemer lives! What comfort this sweet sentence gives. He lives, He lives who once was dead. He lives my ever living head. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the feeding of the 5,000 from Matthew’s Gospel. Now when Jesus heard about the death of John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. And really, who can blame Him? When things get tough, we too want to escape for a bit. Go for a walk, go for a drive, just to clear our heads a little. Get a little relief. Escape for a little while. Jesus, being both God and man, surely needed the same things we do. And so He jumped into the boat and headed off to the wilderness alone for just that kind of escape.
The wilderness has often been used in the Bible as a place of escape. Moses led the people to the wilderness to escape Egypt. David escaped to the wilderness fleeing from Saul, and later Absolom. Elijah escaped to the wilderness running away from Jezebel. Except all those escapes are of a far greater magnitude than Jesus’. All fled for their very lives. Not just to have a little time alone to sort things out.
And guess what, we still flee for our lives to the wilderness. In Acts, chapter 8, the Christians in Jerusalem are scattered out of the city. Where wilderness is all around. In the second and third centuries, Roman emperors and their cults drove Christians out of the cities into the wilderness again. In the middle ages, invaders scattered Christians from their towns and cities, and they fled for the wilderness. Even today. In Kenya. In the Sudan. In Ethiopia. In fact, right at this moment in Iraq, Christians are being driven out of their homes. At least those lucky enough to escape with their lives. Out into the wilderness. It’s been a recurring theme since Adam and Eve for the people of God. As Paul writes to Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
For the crowds in today’s text, they too headed out to the wilderness for their very lives. Because their enemy drove them out there. Sin, death, Satan, the world. They came out because their sicknesses threatened their lives. And while that might not be at the wrong end of a sword or gun, the results are the same. And out there was the means of escape. Out there was Jesus. And when a tired, hurting, mourning Jesus saw this crowd, he had σπλάγχνα. A word that means exactly how it sounds. A pouring out of the intestines. Compassion.
When the disciples got there, they thought it best to show even more compassion. It was getting late, and there was no food. So they said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Perhaps that was for the best. Let them go, Jesus. Let them return to the villages. Return to the towns. That’s their homes. That where their food is. That’s where their lives are.
But there’s one thing they forgot. That was what they were escaping. Those were the homes where disease wracked their bodies. Those were the villages where their sicknesses were their social standing. Those were the towns who rejected them. Those were lives not worth returning to. We don’t understand, because most of us haven’t been there. We haven’t been there, because we have found ways to live in our homes, our towns, and our lives. We don’t need to escape them. We don’t need the wilderness. Most everything in our lives is pretty much okay. And if there is something wrong, it really isn’t that big of deal. Because most any problem we encounter because we want, in the words of Paul, to lead a godly life in Christ Jesus, can be avoided by just not mentioning Christ Jesus.
We refuse to think so, but we are in worse shape than even those Christians in Iraq. Yes. Even though they’re driven away from their homes. Even though they’re murdered in the streets. Even though they’re forced to watch as their family is abused before their very eyes, we are worse off than they. Because they continue to confess Christ, despite it all.
We, on the other hand, think that we get along quite well never mentioning Him at all. When we say nothing, we don’t have to deal with those disapproving looks. We don’t have to answer the hard questions people ask. We don’t have to go into any awkward situations that are just so embarrassing. So we just don’t mention Jesus at all. Not to our neighbors. Not to our friends. Not even to our own children. Because we barely know much ourselves. And we have no idea what to say when they respond.
In a way, we’re already in the wilderness. That empty place where we have no idea what to say. No idea what to do. We have enough to say evangelism is important. We have heard enough to say that the mission of God’s Church is vital. But those words are themselves a vast desert. And we feel like we have to cross it all by ourselves. We have to say the right thing, close the deal, make the conversion. And that either freezes us in place, or makes us foolhardy enough to try the crossing all on our own. And both are sure to end us. We don’t flee to the wilderness, because we’re already here. And we don’t know which way to go to get out. At least the Iraqi Christians have their confession. At least they can say from experience, “Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The kingdom’s our forever.” While to us, those are just the words to a pretty song we sometimes sing on Sundays. Our wilderness is indeed far more desolate.
But even in this wilderness, even when we shut our mouths from fear, even when we hide our faith away, we’re not alone. Because out here with us is Jesus. He sees us and has σπλάγχνα. A pouring out of the intestines. Compassion. You need not go anywhere else. Because Jesus is here with you. Giving you the same gifts he gives to the 5,000. The same gifts He gives to all who escape to the wilderness. Relief. Comfort. Hope. Here, there is no need to let you go. Because here, Jesus feeds you in the wilderness. Just like he did for the 5,000. Just as He did for Elijah. Just as he did for King David. Just as he did for the Moses and the Israelites with manna. Just as He did for Adam and Eve. Just as he does today for all who are persecuted on account of Christ Jesus.
Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples. The same words of today’s text are also written in Matthew 26. The exact same words. Words we know well. For after these words, Jesus says, “Take, eat, this is my body.” The Lord’s Supper is a lot of things. A celebration. A remembrance. A thanksgiving. An obedience. All those things are indeed there. But that’s not the primary reason Jesus repeatedly gives this gift to us.
Jesus gives His body and His blood to us because we need them. We need them more than anything else in this world. Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” And this gift is yours. A gift more valuable than home, family, even life itself. A gift Christians around the world would rather die than give up. Because this bread and cup is the very death and resurrection of Jesus for you. And in this Lord’s Supper Christ Jesus creates everything important we lack.
Jesus creates faith. Jesus creates a willing and giving heart. Jesus creates the words He would have spoken. Jesus creates the strength needed to go on. Jesus creates the good confession. Jesus creates perseverance in the face of persecution. Jesus creates hands ready to help those neighbors in need. Jesus creates in you a place for Him. Those are all things you could never do on your own.
And so, when persecution comes to us, we are ready. Not if. When. Because it’s already here. It’s in your homes. It’s in your families. It’s in your lives. We’ve just been escaping it in all the wrong ways. But that doesn’t stop Jesus from feeding you. Just as it hasn’t stopped Jesus from feeding Christians of all times, in all places. He has σπλάγχνα, compassion on you, no matter what the world tries to do.
I don’t like to steal other people’s stories. But the head of the The Ethiopian Evangelical Church of Mekane Yesus said something profound on the subject of persecution. Mekane Yesus, Ethiopia’s Lutheran Church Body was heavily oppressed by the communist regime in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s leaders were killed. It’s members were imprisoned in the harshest of prisons. Wakseyoum Idosa, who lived through all the torture, all the killing, all the pain, said this. “Persecution is always good for the Church. Always.” The Ethopian Church of Mekane Yesus is now one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world. But more importantly, it is faithful through the help of Christ Jesus our Lord. So, if Jesus can bring them through persecution. And if Jesus can bring those fleeing for their lives today through their persecution. If Jesus can bring all who have died in the faith through their persecution to eternal life. Then He can bring us through this wilderness too. No matter who or what we face. Because He has given us Himself. And does so again today. Jesus, in the flesh, given and shed for you. Thanks be to God.