Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Every year once a year, we inevitably encounter Charles Dickens’ most beloved classic story. We know Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. We know the ghosts of Christmas, past, present, and yet to come. And this is not usually the time of year we think about them.
But all good stories resemble The Good Story. The hero always needs a resurrection of some form. Simba returns from the dead to save everyone in The Lion King. Han Solo is resurrected from Carbonite to help lead the rebels against the Empire in Star Wars. Harry Potter returns to life to finally defeat the evil Voldemort. And Ebenezer returns from a vision of his own death to save Christmas. Good stories always end up looking like Jesus’ story. So it shouldn’t surprise us when tonight’s texts resemble Dickens’ story. Maybe we could call the readings tonight A Paschal Carol.
The vision of the Pascha past is our Old Testament lesson. The memory of great time. A time when the people of God were in awe of what God did to save them. A memory that lived on, and was passed down from generation to generation. A memory God wanted them to remember. So He gave them a great feast to be held every year. A feast of unleavened bread. A feast of lamb. All to remember that Death passed over their houses that night. Because they were all covered by the blood of the Lamb.
But the point of this Passover was not to be an end. This feast was shadow, pointing forward into the future. Pointing forward to a different Lamb. Pointing forward to the defeat of death instead of it’s mere delay. Pointing forward to a bread that was also the body of God. Pointing forward to a cup that was the blood of God.
The vision the Pascha Present, is the account of Jesus in the upper room. It’s a picture of the suffering Jesus will undergo that very day, especially since the Jewish day starts at sundown. Take, eat. This is My body. The very body that would be arrested for them. Beaten for them. Scourged for them. Abused for them. Crucified for them. Take, drink. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. The very blood that would fall from his wounds. The very blood that would be spilled across the ground. The very same blood that would be on the heads of those who crucified Him, and their children.
The present was not the same as the past. It was new. It was different. It was the night when we stopped looking forward, and started looking back. The awaited Christ had come. The final sacrifice had been made. There was no more need for foreshadowing. Because He is already here. The bread was unquestionably the unleavened bread. The cup was unquestionably wine. Especially since grape juice as we know it didn’t exist until the 19th century.
But the Word of God came together with that bread and with that wine. Jesus spoke to that unleavened bread This is my body. And it was. Jesus spoke to that cup of wine This is My blood. And it was. Exactly as when light was created on the first day, so Jesus spoke. And it happened. Whether the disciples believed His words or not, it happened. Whether they were worthy or not, they received exactly what Jesus gave. Even Judas.
The Paschal meal was no longer just a memory. It was no longer a symbol of something greater. It was no longer a reminder of their standing with God. Jesus delivered Himself. Jesus delivered no less that His own body and blood from the cross. As a last will and testament. That’s the New Testament in Jesus blood. Not a book. But an inheritance given away. Jesus left you in His will forgiveness, life, salvation. All payable upon His death. And With His body, and His blood given to you, that death is confirmed. The inheritance is yours.
And yet, we still must deal with the text of the Pascha yet to come. As with Ebenezer Scrooge, this news is not so bright. In the following instructions I do not commend you, writes Paul. Because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. And Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Whoever eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
Those words are more frightening than the open grave with Ebenezer’s name on the tombstone. Those words are why Martin Luther wrote in his Large Catechism, “It is not our intention to let people come to the Sacrament and administer it to them if they do not know what they seek or why they come.” Those words are why I don’t like to just commune anyone who asks, without first finding out what they believe. Those words are why the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod has, at least on paper, stood with the historical Church throughout time and practiced closed communion. Not because we’re mean. Not because we want to be exclusive. But because the danger is real.
Yes, Paul mentions that this is why some of them are weak, ill and dead. That is dangerous for them. But even worse than that is the negative impact the abuse of this gift has on a person’s faith. And so, out of love, and out of concern for their faith, we may ask some people to hold off, until we can talk about what discerning the body means. What examining one’s self means. Even if they are already Christians.Because there are Christians, saved Christians, that deny Jesus’ words that the bread is His body, and the wine is His blood.
But those words from Paul in 1st Corinthians can also scare us. Make us ask if we are worthy enough. How much do we need to be able to examine ourselves? Maybe our past sins make us unworthy? Is the blessing Christ promises worth the risk? But those questions are precisely why Jesus gave this Sacrament to you and to me. This is My body given for you! You alone are never enough. Jesus alone is more than enough. And here He is. This is My blood, shed for your forgiveness! This blood is given to you precisely on account of your sin. There is no sin that is too great. No sin that makes you unworthy to receive Jesus. If Jesus can commune Judas Iscariot, as we see in Luke’s Gospel, then He can certainly give this precious gift to you as well.
And you can never have this gift too often. Never. It will never stop being special. It will never stop being effective. Because what makes it so doesn’t come from you. And while there’s no Law saying how often or how little it can be used, Luther was willing to talk about the Lord’s Supper in terms of a daily encouragement and a daily treasure. Because the body and blood of Christ in this Sacrament is no less than the Gospel itself, given to you.
What joy this Sacrament is! Ebenezer Scrooge’s Christmas morning has nothing on this kind of joy. The joy of sins forgiven. The joy of feasting with the whole Church, past, present and future. The joy of inheriting everything Jesus left for you at His death. It’s a joy so profound, that not even the solemn events of Holy Week can quiet it.
Even though the altar will be stripped bare tonight. Even though Jesus is betrayed, beaten and bruised. Even though Jesus cries out in pain, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me!” Even though Jesus is crucified and dies. We stand at the cross through this very Sacrament, and see Jesus for us. At the cross we see God’s glory. We see God’s blessing. We see God’s victory. At the cross Tiny Tim’s words ring the most true. God bless us, every one. 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 James and John decide that it’s okay to go up to Jesus and say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” That didn’t go over very well with the rest of the disciples. Especially when they asked for the most prominent positions possible. There are things that are okay to ask, and there are things that aren’t.
Except, you don’t ever really get that idea from Jesus. Jesus doesn’t tell James and John that they’re asking for the wrong thing. Jesus doesn’t scold them for trying to be closer to Him than anyone else. Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for being selfish. Actually, just the opposite. Jesus essentially asks them in return, “Are you sure you’re ready for this?” “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”And they said to him, “We are able.” Yes. Yes, you are. “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” Jesus cannot give them what is set aside for someone else. But Jesus will give them something that’s even better than what they asked for.
This is why God attaches such bold promises to the things we ask. Saying things like, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do for you.” Because God will give you what you ask for, or something better. Now, that something better might be very different than what we asked for . One pastor put it this way. It’s okay to ask your father for ice cream and cookies for breakfast. He knows oatmeal is better for you though. And that’s what he’ll give you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask.
But you know, as kida, we really do want the ice cream and cookies. And we can get mad when we don’t get it. And sometimes we don’t really get why oatmeal for breakfast is better for us than sweets. Oatmeal’s plain. It’s ordinary. It really isn’t that impressive looking. Or tasting. But one will stick with you through the morning, and the other will leave you in a sugar crash, in worse shape than you started.
We’re not much different when it comes to asking God for things. Sometimes we ask for things that are a lot like ice cream. But the problem is never in our asking. Jesus isn’t going to chastise you because you didn’t ask for the right things. But He will certainly give you something better than what you ask for when you don’t. Look at James and John. They asked to be in the places of honor when Jesus came into His glory. And instead, Jesus gave them something better. He gave them His cup to drink, and He gave them His baptism to be baptized in. And yes, Jesus means His death when He says that. But that also means that it’s the cup from the Lord’s Supper, which we drink, and the baptism which we are baptized with. That’s what Jesus gives them instead. That’s the gift that better than what they asked.
Oh. Well, that kind of looks as plain as oatmeal. Water splashed on us with some words. Some of us don’t even remember when it happened to us. Some cheap wine, some styrofoam crackers that barely count as bread, some remembering. I mean, it really doesn’t look all that remarkable. We wanted something different. Something special. All without realizing that it doesn’t get more special that this. This is the same cup that Jesus drank, given to us. The cup of which He said, this is my blood, shed for your forgiveness. This is the same baptism which baptizes us into His death. These are the means God uses to not only create, but sustain faith in you.
These are the places Jesus promises to be for us with His forgiveness. The places where Jesus promises to be with us to the very end of the age. The places where Jesus promises to makes us part of God’s family. It’s impossible to say too much about the value of these gifts. Because in them is Jesus for you.
Jesus likewise gives more than they ask to the rest of the disciples who are not happy with James and John’s request. They’re being indignant is the same as asking Jesus to do something about James and John. He does. But something better. Something for all of them. He gives them freedom.
Wait, freedom? Isn’t this where Jesus says, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all”? That sounds like the opposite of freedom. We’d much rather be lording it over someone, and making them do everything we want them to do. Because that’s a whole lot easier than them telling us what to do all the time.
Look at our own lives. How badly do we fall apart when things get out of control? When nothing is going right. When the people we love are hurting. When we can no longer do what we used to do. When we can’t make it right. When the sin is too big to stop. When we are too weak. What is it that we feel at that moment? It’s fear. But what are we afraid of? And look past the event itself. What are we afraid of?
We’re afraid that we’re not enough. Whether that’s good enough, strong enough, whatever. We’re not enough. And to be enough, we need power. And we must do what it takes to have that power. Not having it just isn’t an option. And even if we end up hurting the very ones we love, we must keep it. For their sakes, and our own.
That need binds us. Leaves us with no other options. And limits what we can do. We’re afraid that without it, we will never be able to do enough. We will never be able to prove that we are enough. And so we hold it, or rather it holds us until our dying breath.
Power is our ice cream. It’s what we ask for from God more often than anything else. Power to do things ourselves. But so many other things in this world look to take that power away from us. The sin of others takes that power away. Death takes that power away permanently. And so, the power we want the most is the power over death. Which is why we hope beyond hope that we have power over the way we die. To have that power is the greatest of all powers. Even if it is a delusion. Because we still all die.
And yet God uses that death not to take away, but to give. Which is why we are baptized into death. Which is why the cup we drink is a cup of death. When we die, we are freed from the need for power. Freed from needing to be enough. And what we are left with is a a God who tells you that you don’t have to be enough. In fact, you were never enough. But that’s okay. That’s what God loves about you.
You aren’t enough. And that means God has a purpose. Jesus came not to be served. Not to lord it over you. But to serve you. To be enough for you. To give His life, which is enough, in order to cover all the parts in your life that aren’t. You no longer need to worry if you are enough. You’re not. And God will take care of you anyways. Raising you from death. Raising you with sacraments today. Raising you with all the dead on the last day. And in between, giving you enough. Giving you more than enough.
You see, the power is unnecessary. The fight for power useless. Even with all the power in the world, you can never, ever be enough on your own. And that power will enslave you to itself. Unable to give. Unable to serve. Unable to be a neighbor to those around you. You were created with need, so that God could serve you by filling that need. And He has served, giving His life as a ransom. He still serves, delivering His death to you. The gifts of God, his plain, ordinary, oatmeal-like gifts, set you free. And since Jesus is giving those gifts so freely, it really is okay to ask Him anything, knowing that whatever He gives is for your good. Whatever He gives sets you free.
You are free! Because now look what you can do without having to be in control of everything. Now look what you can do when you can trust God to provide for you. You have the freedom to serve. To give to others freely, without wondering what you’ll lose out of it. Because God has given just as freely to you. And fear gives way to joy. You are not enough, and that is good news. Because God is enough for you.
What that looks like in my life or your life? I have no idea. I don’t have a whole lot of experience thinking this way. Or acting this way. I’m used to being as strong as I can, and hoping that my strength alone is enough. I know it’s not, but I don’t know what else to do. And yet, Jesus is there when I am not enough. To remind me that I was not created to be enough all on my own. And that He will cover what I cannot.
James and John asked to be on Jesus’ right and on His left when He entered into His glory. Jesus said that those places weren’t His to give. Those two places were reserved for two thieves who had been caught and sentenced to death for their crimes. Who before sundown would have their legs broken to speed their death. These two had no power to claim of their own. And yet, they shared in Jesus death. A gift they didn’t earn. But a gift given because that’s what Jesus does. Jesus continues to share that death, that powerlessness with us. In ways that don’t look like much to anyone else. But in that death, in those sacraments, Jesus is in fact enough for you. 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 we get the tail end of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Which includes this iconic verse. For God so loved the World that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. But let’s not stop there. Our Epistle lesson has another well known Gospel packed verse. For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
And then there’s our Old Testament text. Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people so that many in Israel died. Eh. Two out of three aint bad. And what a powerhouse of two those are. The Gospel in a nutshell, and the very definition of salvation. John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9. Those are verses worth memorizing. Those are verses we hold on to forever. These two verses are also great proof texts of the Reformation. Clear words against anyone who would preach a works righteousness. It’s believing, not works that save. With these, how dumb to you have to be to believe anything else?
Not so fast. You should never assume the foes of the Gospel are dumb. We live in a world where we think it’s easy to destroy an opponent’s argument. Because that’s what we read. That’s what we hear. That’s what we watch. We are told that anyone who would disagree with our particular political stance is dumb. Anyone who doesn’t do things our way is stupid. Anyone who comes to a different conclusion is an idiot. But instead of engaging the actual debate, we content ourselves in knocking over straw men. Or watch someone else do it for us. And the ones who end up dumb are us.
Never assume that the foes of the Gospel are dumb. Because while we sit here, pointing to a few verses out of context, those who would have you believe in works righteousness are using that very context for their own purposes. After all, John 3:16 isn’t the end of what Jesus has to say. He goes on, saying, “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.” That’s the note Jesus ends on. Not belief only, but also works.
So also Ephesians 2:8-9 also has a verse 10. Sure faith and grace aren’t a result of works. However, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” And Paul finishes that thought there, not after verse nine, where we stopped. Therefore all they need is one question. Whereas only those who do what is true come into the light. And whereas those created in Christ Jesus are created for good works. Therefore, how will we know that we believe, that we are indeed in Christ Jesus, which is what we need to be saved?
The logic is diabolically brilliant. Because the answer that makes the most sense, the answer that is the most sound is to look at yourself. If I am doing good works, if I am doing what is true, then I will know that I believe. I will know that I am created in Christ Jesus. I will know that I am saved. You can come to this conclusion, and John 3:14-21 still makes sense. Ephesians 2:8-10 still makes sense. All without changing a word. The only thing that changed is where you look.
And with that perspective, now you don’t have to be ashamed of this embarrassing text from Numbers about God sending the snakes. Because obviously those people got what was coming to them. They did not do good. They were not true. They loved the darkness more than the light. They deserved to die. And if you don’t want to share their fate, you’d better get to work. Just like in every other religion across the world. After all, this is God’s love. This is God’s grace. That you even have a chance to show what you’re made of. Just shouting John 3:16 doesn’t destroy that argument. Repeating Ephesians 2:8-9 doesn’t overturn that logic. Because they kept those texts. Word for word. And they kept the immediate context as well.
Now, it’s no longer about them out there. We cannot go on by saying things about those people. That wont change a thing. Because every one of us has this perspective. Every one of us has the Old Adam that always insists on looking at itself. Finding its own way. Doing its own thing. All of us have this little works righteousness advocate sitting on our shoulder. Pretending to be an angel, speaking the words of the devil himself. There’s a reason the logic works. Because we all think this way. The Israelites in the desert, Nicodemus, the Ephesians Paul wrote to. All of us. We are the foes of the Gospel. Because we are all sinners. Dead in trespasses and sins.
We can’t look to ourself. We can’t look to how much we love Jesus. We can’t look to our own belief. We can’t look to our own repentance. We can’t look to our own works. We can’t look to anything inside ourselves to tell us our standing with God. None of these things tell us anything at all.
Jesus said, People loved darkness more than light. And we are people. And look at the words Jesus uses about those in darkness. Those words are plural. Their deeds were evil. Everyone who does wicked things. But the one who is in the light is singular. The one who does what is true. His deeds have been carried out in God. There is only one on whom the light shines. And it is the one who is also the light who came into the world.
When there’s only one in the light, there is only one place you can look. The spotlight’s shining on Him. That Old Testament text we dismissed earlier? It makes this very point. Yes, God sent the snakes. But the reason was to have mercy. To give grace. To get their attention away from themselves. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look to the bronze serpent, the serpent given to them by God, and live. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so also must the Son of Man be lifted up. So that anyone who looks to Him will not perish, but have eternal life.
That’s how God loved the world. He gave His only Son to be lifted up on a cross for you to see. On the cross is where His deeds have been carried out in God. On the cross is where the light who came into the world shines. Even when we were dead in our trespasses, Jesus died for us. Rose again for us. So that we are made alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved! For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world would be saved through Him.
It’s only in looking to the Son lifted up on the cross that any mention of works makes sense. Because the snake-bitten cannot work. The sinner cannot work. The dead cannot work. Only Jesus does the deeds of His Father. And even when you’re made alive together with Christ, only Jesus can do that good work which God prepared for Him beforehand to do through you. And that is a comfort for you. Because now you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’re doing enough good work for God. You don’t have to worry if you’ve repented enough. You don’t have to worry if you believe enough. Jesus Christ has been lifted up for you. And that is more than enough.
And if ever you doubt that, look to Him on that cross. That cross is not your own doing, it is the gift of God. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever looks upon Him should not perish, but have eternal life. By grace you have been saved, through faith. The faith given to you through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. You see, these were great verses of Scripture all along. Not just a few out of context. But all of them. Together. Not to look in, but to look out. Looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith. 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 gets angry and creates quite a commotion over at the temple.
There is a temptation that pastors face when it comes to preaching. Because every pastor has their own pet peeves. Those things that we just really don’t like. And sometimes, the texts for the week seem to say exactly what we want to say to those people. For example, I have a real big problem with the idea that the Church should be run just like a modern business. If ever there were a trump text for such a position, it would be today’s. Jesus making a whip of cords, driving out the businessmen, and shouting at them, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” I could talk for hours on that subject. But if I were to make it the point of a sermon, I would be doing you a great disservice.
Because then the most egregious sinners end up being those guys out out there. A wise pastor once said, “If I ask you to pray for the most sinful person you know, and yours is not the first name to come to mind, it’s time for some serious self-reflection.” This text isn’t primarily for them out there. The Ten Commandments text we read in the Old Testament this morning isn’t primarily for them out there. It’s for you. It’s for me. Because we are sinners. We have failed. We do not do what God would have us do.
That said, though, I think we have a hard time taking today’s text that way. Jesus never walked into our congregation with a whip. Jesus never overturned our tables. Jesus never drove us out of His Father’s house. We look at Jesus cleansing the temple, and think, “Wow, they sinned really bad.” Because nowhere else does Jesus do this.
Isn’t that the sense you get? Their sin at that place was so bad, that Jesus got angry. Their desecration of the temple was so wrong, that it took physical force to turn it around. Those people were the worst of the worst. After all, Jesus only speaks about the Pharisees. These people He actually did something about.
But then, that doesn’t fit with what we know about who Jesus is. That doesn’t fit with how God looks at sin. Because every sin is equal in the eyes of God. To break one commandment is to break them all. As it is written, For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. And elsewhere, Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. Desecrating the temple is no worse than a lustful glance out of the corner of your eye. Nor is it better than mass genocide in the eyes of God.
Likewise, we make the mistake of thinking that actions speak louder than words when it comes to Jesus. When it was the Word that created all things. Jesus simply speaks and it is. The Word is a far more powerful thing for our God than any whipping people or overturning tables could ever be.
But if all of this is true, and I think Scripture makes a pretty compelling case that it is, then today’s text doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The sin isn’t worse than any other sin. The method is not as effective as Jesus’ usual method. Even the temple itself doesn’t end up being that important in the long run, as within thirty-five to forty years, it’s going to be desecrated into a pile of rubble anyways. So why this kind of zeal? Why this kind of reaction? After all, this doesn’t really fit Paul’s “we preach Christ crucified” model.
Or does it? When they asked Jesus what sign he was going to show them for doing these things, Jesus immediately referenced the cross. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” He was speaking about the temple of His body. Likewise, we too are said to be temples for the Lord. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? His temple was clean from the beginning. Our own temples, however need cleansed.
So if the sin of the merchants and money-changers in our text isn’t any more egregious than any other sin. If Jesus’ actions don’t speak louder than His Word. If the temple of real importance isn’t the one made out of stone, but the one, and ones made out of flesh. If all these things are true, then there is something unique going on here as Jesus uses that whip and overturns the tables. Because here, Jesus is giving us a picture of what he does in each and every temple in His Church. A picture of what He does in every one of you.
Because cleansing a temple take something more than words. It takes more than our hearts. It takes more God simply speaking a cleansing into existence. It takes an action. A violent action. And there’s only one other place in Jesus’ life where a violent action like that ever happens. And that it at the cross. Everywhere else, Jesus speaks. And Jesus speaks at the cross as well. But it is that action of Jesus going and dying on that cross that changes everything.
But wait a minute. I thought we said that the Word of God was more powerful than any action. And that is true. But as we have heard today, The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. As Paul says elsewhere, The power of God is made perfect in weakness. And that Jesus was crucified in weakness. Jesus saves you by becoming weak for you. Weak even to the point of death. Weak by resorting to action instead of simply speaking the Word. Because it’s only in God’s weakness that we are saved.
But weakness is what causes us stumble. Weakness is what causes us to think this all foolish. Because we have dealt with our own weaknesses, and have found them to be the cause of everything that’s wrong. How can God’s weaknesses do any better? But that is exactly why we preach Christ crucified.
To cleanse you from your sin, God became weak. To drive out the merchant, who would buy and sell your soul, Jesus became weak. To get rid of the money-changer, who would give you a way to pay for yourself, Our Lord became weak. To overturn the tables that held your pain, and guilt, and shame, He became weak. To get rid of the sacrifices you came up with to bribe your way into good standing, Jesus became weak. Weak enough to die on your behalf. And that weakness is our salvation.
Does God still use His strength? Absolutely. God does speak, and faith is created in you. But He will connect that Word to very weak things. Like water. Like bread and wine. Like sinful people like you and me. And through those things, He cleanses our temples. Through those things, He forgives our sins. Through those things Jesus gives us life. Through those things Jesus gives us hope.
For we do not stand in our own strength. We don’t right the world with our own morality. We don’t cleanse the temples of others with our own good character. We’re all weak together. And in the weakness of Christ, He has saved us all. 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 Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ. And then proceeds to put his foot in his mouth. But Mark has been building up to this point in His Gospel. So far in Chapter 8, the Pharisees demand to see a sign. The disciples want to see some bread. And Jesus wonders aloud whether or not they all have eyes to even see with.
At which point we come to one of the most embarrassing passages in Scripture. Mark’s account of Jesus healing a blind man at Bethsaida. We pick up with verse 22. And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to [Jesus] a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”
Why would it take Jesus two tries to heal a blind man? Did Jesus get distracted in the middle of it, and make a mistake? Did Jesus just not have enough power to do it on the first try? Did Jesus not get his fingers and spit in the right places? Because it’s pretty obvious that after the first attempt, things weren’t quite there yet. And that a second attempt was necessary by Jesus to get things right. Which is really strange. Especially when you consider that only two chapters later, when Jesus was leaving Jericho, Blind Bartimaeus is healed simply by Jesus speaking. But in Chapter 8, all kinds of people just aren’t seeing very well yet.
And this is where today’s text starts. Jesus asks how everyone else sees Him. And the disciples relate that some see Him as John the Baptist, others as Elijah, and still yet others as one of the prophets. So Jesus asks how they see Him. And Peter answers, “You are the Christ.” Peters sees. And he sees Jesus better than anyone else does at this point. Peter’s got who Jesus is. And to borrow from Matthew’s Gospel, this wasn’t revealed to him by men, but rather by the Father in heaven. Peter sees. Showing the faith that he has been given by God. And it is a blessing to him.
And yet, just a few verses later, Peter shows that he doesn’t really see so well. “Get behind me, Satan,” isn’t exactly a pat on the back. That gift of a seeing faith looks to still be a bit cloudy. And so Jesus will give Peter sight again. The next verses after today’s text is the Transfiguration, which we had a couple of weeks ago. Peter saw Jesus, and then saw fit to recommend building tents. So Jesus would have to give Peter sight back again. In chapter 10, Peter, with the rest of the disciples saw Jesus take down the Pharisees who tried to trap Him in his words. But then they saw fit to rebuke the parents who brought their children to Jesus. And so Jesus would have to give Peter sight still again. And the night when Jesus was betrayed, Peter was so confident in the Jesus he saw, that he claimed, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And yet before the rooster crowed twice, Peter would see fit to deny Jesus three times. Peter would need to see yet again. And He would need Jesus to give that sight. Turns out that even after the resurrection, Peter would need help. For even after becoming the greatest apostle, he still didn’t see that the Gentiles as equal in the eyes of God to the Jews. A blindness Paul publicly called him out on. And in doing so, Paul directed Peter to Jesus. And in doing that, in preaching the Gospel, Peter was restored once more.
I have said before that it is my job to deliver Jesus to you over and over again. And this is why. Because even though we see, we don’t always see. Paul puts it this way: For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. We will never in this life see it all clearly. However, every time we are given Jesus again, that mirror brightens with His light.The darkness gives way even more. The walking trees become more like men. And we see Jesus. Even more clearly than the last time. And that is pure joy.
So Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ is only part of picture we see. It’s only the outline. And so Jesus must shine a light on that outline in order to show what’s really there. And so Jesus speaks the words that we’ve been hearing for the last month. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. This is what the Christ came to do. This is what the Christ is all about. And this is what Peter rebuked Jesus for. The death and resurrection of Jesus are the things of God. And anything that would turn our eyes from that cross are the things of men. The things even of Satan.
The truth is, we can come up with a lot of things of men we have our mind on. The front of your bulletin there has a great list. But as far as Jesus in concerned, anything that takes us away from the cross. Anything that dims the light Jesus shines on His suffering, death and resurrection must be rebuked in the strongest possible terms. It’s such an important point that Jesus doesn’t just tell Peter, He doesn’t just tell the disciples, but He calls the crowd over and lets them all know.
“If anyone would come after me,” literally, “If anyone would follow behind me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Because what dims our sight of Jesus? It’s us looking at what we want. Peter wanted Jesus to be an unstoppable force who was on his side. And that couldn’t happen if all the respected people of the Jewish community rejected Him. That couldn’t happen if Jesus underwent suffering. That couldn’t happen if Jesus were to die. It was easier for Peter–faithful, confessing Peter–to deny Jesus than it was to deny himself.
And if Peter, the greatest of all the disciples did this, not only here, but at the cross, and even after the resurrection. If Peter did this, then what makes us think we haven’t done the same? When it’s left in our own hands, and our hands alone, we trade our soul, our life for things of far less value than the whole world. How dark that deed is. How blinded we truly are. And if Peter was found to be ashamed of Jesus and His Word over and over again in this adulterous and sinful generation, what hope do any of us actually have? For the Son of Man will be ashamed of you, ashamed of me when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.
Yet what is Jesus giving us sight to see? Where does Jesus have us look? [Look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame. Jesus has already been ashamed for you at the very place He’s been lighting up the whole time. The very place where the Son of Man comes in the glory of His Father. Look to Jesus on that cross, because it’s that cross which we take up. Deny yourself, because the cross you take up is not your own. It’s Christ’s. And with it, we follow Him.
At that cross Jesus takes all your shame, the shame of this entire adulterous and sinful generation, and bears it himself. There, Jesus takes your soul, your life, and redeems it from wherever you traded it away. There, Jesus loses His life for your sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, all to save your own life, your own soul. What can a man give in exchange for his own life? Jesus gave what you could never give. Jesus gave the life of God, His own life in trade. And in doing that, He profited the whole world. And redeemed you from sin, death, and hell. At this cross, Jesus gave you a way to see. And then something remarkable to see with that sight.
That why we always return to the cross. There we find the things of God. This is why we are given Jesus over and over again. All so we can see all the better Jesus hanging on that cross for you. Because going there to die is what being the Christ is all about. It’s at the cross where all of Peter’s sins have been forgiven. And it’s at the cross where all your sins have been forgiven as well. No matter which sins they are. The cross, the death of Jesus leaves those sins lost in the darkness. But it doesn’t leave you there. You are continually given sight. Continually brought out of darkness. Continually brought up out of the grave. Continually brought into the light of Christ. Continually given the things of God. And continually given life.
And through Jesus giving Himself to you again and again, we take up His cross. We lift high that cross. O Lord, once lifted on that glorious tree, as thou hast promised, draw us all to thee. Let ev’ry race and ev’ry language tell of Him who saves our lives from death and hell. So shall our song of triumph ever be: Praise to the Crucified for victory! 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 we find the temptation of Jesus. Although, in Mark’s Gospel, the temptation account is so short, we really have to add the entirety of the baptism of Jesus and the start of Jesus’ ministry, just to have enough context. And we already covered Jesus’ baptism back in January, along with the stat of His ministry. So really, we have about two verses here that we haven’t looked at yet.
The temptation from Matthew’s Gospel last year wasn’t this short. Neither was Luke’s text from the year before that. In those accounts, e are told which temptations Satan used, and what Word of Scripture Jesus used to overcome them. Mark summarizes all that into four words: πειραζομενος υπο του σατανα, being tempted by Satan. And yet in these two brief verses, Mark manages to tell us things about the temptation of Jesus that the other two Gospels don’t. In Mark, Jesus isn’t just led out to the wilderness, he is driven out by the Holy Spirit. Εκβαλλω. Literally to be thrown out.
And then, out there with Jesus, are the wild animals. What a strange detail to put in there. Especially when so many others are left out. It’s as though Mark thought this one point was important. And it is. But it takes some work to find out how. Jesus with the wild animals sounds a lot like what we hear in Isaiah 11, where the Root of Jesse is said to be coming forth. And these words describe what Jesus coming to us looks like.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
And yet, that might be a lot to read into Mark’s words here. There is a better referent. A better place in the Old Testament that includes the wild animals. A place that also has temptation. That also has Satan as tempter. That also includes being thrown out. A place where man is driven out into the dust. And that place is Eden. The temptation of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, as short as it is, points us clearly to that Eden in Genesis chapters two and three. Even more than Matthew or Luke can.
The animals with Adam, all named, even the wild ones. Satan bringing temptation in the form of a serpent. Adam and Eve driven out, εκβαλλωed, from Eden. Where we failed, Jesus returns. And Jesus succeeds. He takes the water of life, the water of His Baptism in the Jordan river, and brings it out to the dust, where Eden used to be. All to bring that garden of paradise back. And after those forty days, Jesus wins. Satan is defeated. And the ministry of Jesus to the world begins.
Only there’s one problem. Eden didn’t come back. The garden of paradise didn’t spring up out of the desert. No tree of life grew there. We still eat our bread by the sweat of our brow. We still bear children in great pain. We still die.
Fortunately, Jesus would return to Eden once again. Jesus returned late one night to a that garden in order to pray. A garden where he asked his disciples to watch with him for just one hour. Jesus would again be with the wild animals. Only this time, they shouted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
Jesus that day would again face the temptations of Satan. Jesus would hear the words, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”
And once again, Jesus would succeed where we did not. Jesus resisted the temptation of the devil. And by dying on the cross, He also undid every other time that we have ever failed. From Adam and Eve, to today, to as long as this world lasts. The sins of the past are forgiven. And now, life comes through Christ alone. Life through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on the third day.
And yet, Eden has not returned. We still eat our bread by the sweat of our brow. We still bear children in great pain. We still die.
But here’s the thing. Eden was never that important. Jesus didn’t face temptation in order to bring Eden back. Jesus didn’t die and rise again to make that garden of paradise appear once again. Eden doesn’t matter. But you do.
What made Eden so great wasn’t all the stuff that was in it. It wasn’t the easy life. It wasn’t the lack of suffering. It wasn’t even eternal life. What made Eden great is that was the place where God was with us. And when we drove ourselves out of Eden by our own sin, there was no more reason for God to remain there. There was a far more important place for Him to be. And that was by our side.
When we fall into temptation, there is Jesus with us. Not to lead us into it. After we pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Deliver us from the evil one. Jesus finds you where you are. And is there to lead you through temptation to the other side. Either giving you the strength to say no. Or giving you forgiveness for the times you said yes.
Jesus is there also when eat by the sweat of our brow. Jesus is there in every pain, childbirth or otherwise. And Jesus is there even when we die. For He left that garden behind to join you through it all. To be your strength when you fall. To be your hope in the night of despair. To be your comfort in the face of the greatest of losses. To be your forgiveness, when the guilt is ours. To be your honor when you have nothing but shame.
Jesus is no longer found in Eden. You can’t find God by getting closer to paradise. Even though, that’s often what we pray for when we’re in need. The cross of Christ is better than Eden. Because Jesus left all that paradise behind to join you wherever you may be. And He does it through His life, death and resurrection all for you. Jesus is driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit because that’s where you are. And there’s no way He can abandon you in your time of need. You are not alone when you suffer. You are not alone when you cry. You are not alone when this world is too much to bear. You are not alone, even lying in the grave. These are the places Jesus goes. And He has gone there for you. To bring you through temptation. To bring you through whatever wildernesses you have in your lives. To bring you through to the other side. Through to be with Him forever. 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 is transfigured before Peter, James, and John.
In the Scriptures, there is nothing recorded more terrifying than standing before God in all His glory. In our sinful flesh, what can we possibly stand before God with? Moses only was allowed to see the Lord from the back, lest the sight kill him. The great prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel are reduced to nothing before that glory. Paul, on the road to Damascus, completely overwhelmed. And here, Jesus’ three closest disciples see Jesus transfigured in all his glory. And they were terrified.
Fear is a strange thing. Especially the fear of God. Sometimes in the Bible, it can be good. The fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom. And, it is the Lord your God you shall fear. Sometimes fear is not so good. I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid… Sometimes, we’re even told not to fear Him. Take heart, it is I, don’t be afraid. As a result, it’s not so easy to pin down what fear means.
But one thing we do know is that we all have fears. And like in Scripture, our fears may be good. Or they might not be so good. But no matter what kind of fears they may be, there’s one thing they all have in common. We desperately want to do something about them, if we can. Whether that’s fixing the problem, or overcoming our feelings, or distracting ourselves with something else. The last thing we want is to be helpless in the face of our fears. To have nothing that can be done. Our whole being cries out for action, whether it’s in fight or in flight. That’s what fear does to us.
So when Peter is faced with the the glory of God revealed in Jesus, he’s not doing anything different than you or I would do in his place. Maybe the particular action he took is different than what we would do. But action is action. There’s God. I’m afraid. So what should I do? You can’t fight God. You can’t run away from Him either. Offering to build a tabernacle is actually not the craziest idea Peter could have come up with. It showed he knew his Scriptures. He knew where God was found. And even though Peter wasn’t a tentmaker by trade, he was sure willing to give it a try if that’s what God wanted from him. God is here. So what do I have to do?
But that isn’t even the right question. The question is not what do I have to do. But rather it’s what is He going to do? The disciples on the mountain were terrified. And so the Father did do something. He spoke. “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” And it’s not the command to listen that does anything for our fears. It’s what we hear from Jesus when we do listen.
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. Later, He was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” And again, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
Listening to Jesus, you cannot help but hear what was the most important thing to Him. The most important thing to tell His disciples. The one thing that overcomes all our fears. Done by Christ, without any action on our part. As David wrote in his Psalm, When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? Because whatever it is we’re afraid of cannot be bigger than Christ. Whatever we stand to lose. Whatever dangers we face. They cannot afflict us forever. Even if what we fear were to kill us, Jesus Christ has risen from the dead for you. To bring you up out of that grave forever. Because Christ died for you on that cross, nothing that really matters can ever truly be lost. The sin that brought terror to Moses, Isaiah, Paul, and others has been taken away. You can’t do any of those things for yourself. But Jesus has done it all for you.
This is what Paul was talking about in our Epistle lesson today. The fear is there, to be sure, but as is written, “We do not lose heart.” Why? Because what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ. It’s not our fighting or flighting, it’s not our actions that truly overcome our fears. It is Jesus alone. Jesus only. Just as Peter, James and John saw after the transfiguration was over.
Jesus is here today with us, just as He was that day on the mountain. And just as He did there, Jesus is doing some transfiguring of His body here as well. Only instead of changing His body into something else, He changes something else, namely bread, into His body. And in giving that body to you to eat, Jesus is giving to you everything He has. Especially what He gained for you with that body at the cross. He does the same with His blood in wine. All for you.
Jesus gives Himself again and again to you. And He will keep giving Himself, so long as we have fears that need overcome. So long as we have sin in our lives that needs forgiven. So long as death still exists. Jesus gives Himself continually to you because you cannot overcome those things alone. No action you do, or can even imagine even comes close. But the one who suffered, died, and rose again on the third day already has.
Do not be afraid. Do not lose heart. For what we proclaim is not ourselves. This is the beloved Son. Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s Jesus only that we see. Jesus only who shines in our hearts. The Son of Man has indeed risen from the dead. And He has risen for you. Thanks be to God.