Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In our three texts today, we have God calling people. Ezekiel is sent to the rebellious house of Israel to proclaim everything God had to say to them. Paul is sent to boast, not in himself, but in the Lord. That God’s grace is sufficient for you, and His power is made perfect in weakness. And the disciples are sent, two by two, in order to proclaim repentance to the people. All of them were called by God. All of them were given a specific task.
So what is your calling? What is it that God wants you to do? Repent and believe the Gospel? Proclaim Christ to the nations? Help people in their needs? Well, He’s called everyone to do that. But how do you know what God has called you to do specifically. Where can you find that? Because surely God has something in mind for you, right? And we’d better find out what that is. How?
Well, if you have the money, someone is always willing to tell you how. There’s hundreds of different Spiritual Gift Assessment tools for sale in the marketplace. Maybe a survey can tell you what God has in mind for you. Or perhaps, we can get some books on discerning God’s will for our lives. Amazon’s website has over one thousand five hundred books on that subject to choose from. Surely at least one of those has some good ideas about how to find out what God is calling us to do.
Or how about instead, we don’t spend any money, and just pray really hard? And whatever feeling God gives us, or voice we hear in our hearts will tell us just what God has called us to do. After all, prayer is a great thing, right? Prayer has power. But, you know, to cover our bases, we can just try them all and see what sticks.
Is this really how to discern what God has called us to do? To look out there in the world, or in here to our heart? I have often been asked when I felt the call to the ministry. And to be fair, It felt like something I wanted to do. I had prayed, and it felt good to my heart. You know, inside kind of stuff. The path to ordination opened up really well. Scholarships were available, it ended up financially feasible. Barely, with a ton of student loans, but feasible. You know, out there in the world kind of stuff. And it’s tempting to believe that I had therefore found what God called me to do.
But at the end of seminary, God had not yet called me to be a pastor. Sure, I had made it through. I had graduated. I was certified. But there was no call. That spring, twenty men in my class received no call. And that’s not counting those who had washed out, or couldn’t make it through. Every one of us had internal feelings. Every one of us had overcome obstacles out there in the world to get here. And every one of us sat in the pew at chapel as the rest of our classmates found out to what church they were called. It turns out, that just having a feeling in your heart, and a path to go down in this world is not a call from God. Do you know when God called me into the ministry? I have it right here. It’s the day this piece of paper was written. [Diploma of Vocation].
“In the exercise of the authority with which God has vested his church on earth,” we extend you this call. This call did not come from examining my heart. It did not come because the path was clear. It came, because of the Word of God created the office of the Holy Ministry. And that same Word of God gave you the responsibility to make that call on behalf of God Himself. In other words, my calling is found solely in the Word of God, and no where else. And do you know what? That’s where you’re calling is as well.
Not everyone is called to be a pastor. Just like not everyone is called to be a prophet like Ezekiel. Or an apostle like Paul. Or to go out healing the sick and driving out demons like the twelve (including Judas, by the way). We’re studying Galatians each Sunday morning before Church. And right there, in the very beginning, Paul says that God called you by the Gospel. In fact, Paul says that all over His letters. You have been called by the Gospel. Called into hope. Called into peace. Called into sainthood. Called into grace.
We don’t have those things because things are going right in our lives. We don’t have those things because we have a feeling in our hearts. We have those things because God declared them to us in His Word. We have those things because The Father has declared them ours through His Son.
But you know what? that’s hard. Because what goes on out there in the world is what we have to deal with every day. Those things we feel, that’s what we have to live with every day. It’s a lot like when Jesus went to preach in His own home town. There, the Word of God was proclaimed to them. And you know what they said? They said that they saw Him all growing up, His path through this whole world, and this wasn’t where they saw Him going. They said that they knew his mom, and his brothers and sisters, and this didn’t feel at all like what it should. Their own hearts and their own experiences were the most appealing judge. And these things were to be trusted above and beyond anything the Word of God might ever have to say.
That’s been Satan’s lie from the very beginning. That what God wants for you, or that what’s best for you, is not really found in His Word. But rather you can find it by trusting something else. Anything else. Anything but what God has to say. That’s the lie the rebelliously stubborn Israelites believed when Ezekiel was sent. That’s the lie that Paul was tempted to believe when asking God to remove the thorn in his flesh. That’s the lie the people who caused the disciples to shake the dust of their feet at believed. That’s the lie the people in Jesus’ own home town believed. And that’s the lie that many Christians, yes, Christians, believe today as well.
Because that lie is powerful. That lie has great promises. That lie makes sense to us. But it ends up pointing us to ourselves. And we come to believe that our will is actually God’s will, when that’s not the case at all. Now, it’s great when what we want, and what God wants are the same thing. But we don’t know that they are, unless what we want is also what God has written. Which is why I didn’t know if I was called to be a pastor until, according to the Word of God, you called me to be your pastor.
So what is your calling? Your calling is most assuredly to repent and believe the Gospel. It is most assuredly to proclaim Christ to the World, in whichever way that ends up taking. It is most assuredly that you are a child of God. Called in grace. Called in peace. Called in hope. Calling into being a saint. Called by the Gospel. Called by the death and resurrection of Jesus, to be forgiven. Called to die with Jesus in baptism. Called to rise with Jesus from the dead. Called to sit at Jesus’ table, eating His body, drinking His blood, as He bids us do in His own testament.
We are not called into a job. Jobs are something you can quit. We are called into something far greater than that. We are called into being the Church of God. Called by none other than Christ Himself. By His own words. And from there, we also end up with other callings. Other things we can’t quit being. Whether it’s father or mother. Sister or brother. Son or daughter. Husband or wife. Friend, and neighbor. But those too are given by God’s Word, and at God’s command.
God spoke to the people of old by the prophets. But now, in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. Not by circumstances. Not by feelings. Not by want we want. But only by Jesus Himself, and His very Word. And that Word has called you to be His own. And to be His own 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 today is the gospel lesson, where Jesus heals the bleeding woman, and raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead.
One thousand years ago there was a great Danish king. King Canute the Great, Son of king Sweyn Forkbeard. And even though he began his reign as king of Denmark, he also became king of Norway, Sweden, and England. He was such a great king, that, at his request, the Holy Roman Empire was forced to reduce their road tolls on merchants of his kingdom. Few people on earth at that time had as much power as king Canute. And as a result, Canute’s officials flattered him. Told him repeatedly just how great he was. And that no one else was ever, or would ever be as great as he.
And so, because of that flattery, King Canute had his throne brought out to the sea. At low tide, he placed his throne right at the foot of the waves. He sat down, and refused to be moved. The king then said the following to the sea: “You are part of my dominion, and the ground that I am seated upon is mine, nor has anyone disobeyed my orders with impunity. Therefore, I order you not to rise onto my land, nor to wet the clothes or body of your lord.”
I don’t know exactly how his advisors responded. Do you think they might have been afraid? Or do you think they might have cheered? Last Friday morning, a different kind of ruler, who did nearly the same thing was met with cheers. Half a country of advisors patting this ruler on the back for declaring something that God Himself created to be something else entirely. Dred Scott vs. Sandford. Roe vs. Wade. Obergefell vs. Hodges. There is nothing new under the sun.
However, we must proclaim that Jesus Christ died to forgive all our sins. And that Jesus has commanded us to forgive those sins. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld. And to pull a King Canute and say something is not a sin when it really is, is to withhold forgiveness for those sins. To say it’s not a sin is to condemn the one who does fall into that sin. To say it’s not a sin is the real hate. And I don’t know about you, but I love people too much to do that to them. Because Jesus died and rose for sinners. You, me, them, all of us.
Faith, at least the faith that God gives is like King Canute’s waves. It stands firm and says, “We must obey God rather than men.” But unlike the sea, we don’t get to say that with impunity. We will most likely pay for crossing Caesar. If not today, then soon. Just as Peter and the apostles. Just like Cyprian and the Carthaginians. It will be far safer to keep our mouths closed, and hide away. To bow down before the idols of public opinion, and get our certificates. So then, forgiving each other’s sin is actually a dangerous thing to do. Because even today, businesses are already threatened. Jobs are already lost. Friends have already become enemies. And the cost of legal defense, one of the few defenses legally left to us, is already absurd.
There is a lot to be afraid of. Just for confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. And fear has been a theme in our texts each Sunday for weeks. Isaiah’s fear. The fear of the unforgivable sin. The fear that the kingdom of God is not growing. The fear of the storms. The fear of Jesus’ own overwhelming power. And that theme has not stopped with today’s texts either. Jairus fears for his daughter’s life. And the bleeding woman fears that she may not get another chance to be well.
Fear is in our Old Testament lesson as well. And while the few verses chosen are fairly positive, the book is called Lamentations for a reason. Jeremiah can only watch as Judah falls and the temple is destroyed by the Babylonians. And the fear that there will be nothing left of the people of God. It’s as though the world want to make us afraid. And it does that job very well.
And that is why Jesus’ words are so important for us to hear today. “Do not fear, only believe.” Words Jesus speaks when Jairus has heard that there is nothing more that can be done. “Do not fear, only believe.” Words the bleeding woman had already received from Jesus as she reached out to touch even Jesus’ clothes. “Do not fear, only believe.” Words Jeremiah echoes from the dust when he writes, “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.”
But you must admit, those are hard words. Especially when faced with years of suffering and shame. Especially when faced with the death of a daughter. Especially when faced with the obliteration of your nation. How can you do anything but fear? What is left to believe in anymore? Holding onto those words is what makes us a laughing stock to the world.
But we know something they don’t. Or should I say, someone. Someone who took the hand of an unclean old woman. Took the hand of a dead little girl. Took the hand of a nation that no longer existed. Took the hand of His weary church. And spoke to her a few small words. “Talitha cumi.” Little girl, I say to you, arise.
Those words are ours. Because no matter what happens in the world, Jesus gives His resurrection to us. Both now, and on the last day. His resurrection gives us the strength to stand. His resurrection gives us the ability to walk. His resurrection gives us life no matter who would take it away from us.
You should know how the story of King Canute the Great ends. As it’s written down, “the sea carried on rising as usual without any reverence for his person, and soaked his feet and legs. Then he moving away said: “All the inhabitants of the world should know that the power of kings is vain and trivial, and that none is worthy the name of king but He whose command the heaven, earth and sea obey by eternal laws”. Therefore King Canute never afterwards placed the crown on his head, but above a picture of the Lord nailed to the cross, turning it forever into a means to praise God, the great king.”
Jesus Christ is the Great King. One who can even command the waves. One who can command even death itself. And this great King has indeed died and risen again in order to forgive all our sins. Even the sins this world would prefer to call virtues. No one ever said following this King would be easy. No one ever said being on this King’s side would be safe. And yet, The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” And we do hope. We hope when Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe.” We hope when He says, “Talitha cumi.” [Child], I say to you, arise. Because in Jesus is the hope that overcomes all other fears. And in the fear of Him, all other fears are stilled. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As the wave broke over the top of the boat, the force of the water knocked the wind out of Peter. It felt as though someone had hit him with a tree. And for a moment his senses failed him. The water rushing around him was disorienting, and he could no longer tell exactly which way was up. His body screamed for air, but if he breathed in now, he would drown. It was only for a few seconds, but those second took forever. As the wave finally receded away, his head was still swimming. The rope had held. He was still on the boat. Matthew was coughing and sputtering next to him.
Peter gasped, remembering to breathe while he still could. As the feeling returned to his face, Peter wished it hadn’t. The water stung at his nostrils. And now the wind drove the rain in painful sheets that stung his whole body. Peter looked up and saw that they had not tied up the sail well enough. The last wave had begun to unfurl it just enough for the wind to tear part of it from the yard. In moments it became half tied, half tattered. He could hear the hull starting to crack underneath of him from the power of the storm. His fellow disciples who had some experience at sea were trying to do something, anything to save the boat. But those who didn’t know anything at all about sailing were just hanging on to anything they could for dear life.
Peter had been in storms before, bad storms. Enough to know that storms like this were something to be feared. Because storms like this had killed better fishermen than he. Another wave crashed overtop of the boat. This time, Peter braced himself better, and was ready act as soon as the moment passed. There was a pit in his stomach that was growing. But now every movement was deliberate, and efficient. Because if they weren’t everyone might die.
However, the hold was filling with water with every wave. And it was soon clear that no matter what he and the other fishermen did, the boat would not be saved. Peter loosened his lifeline, and made for the back of the boat. He knew that this was far more than he could handle. More than any reasonable man could ever handle, no matter how good a sailor he was. Fortunately Peter knew someone unreasonable enough to possibly be of some help. And the last Peter had seen him, he had been at the stern.
After couple more waves, Peter saw Jesus lying there. Had the waves knocked him out? Was he still alive laying there like that? Peter rushed up to Jesus body laying on the deck, being pelted with the searing rain. His heart was pounding in his throat. He knelt down, and rolled Jesus off the pillow he had somehow fallen on. Then he picked up his head in his hands to see if Jesus was still breathing.
And out of Jesus came a snore.
Peter dropped Jesus’ head back onto the deck from the incredulity. Jesus groaned at the sudden jolt, and started to stir slowly awake. A single half-opened eye met Peters glare. Peter yelled at Jesus over the top of the storm. “You care that we’re dying out here, right?” Jesus rolled his eyes back, put up his hand, and groggily stood up. Frowning intensely, Jesus appeared more upset about waking up than the imminent watery grave that assaulted him from all sides. Looking around, Jesus gradually faced out towards the heart of the storm.
“Shut. Up. I don’t want to hear any more.”
Immediately, the wind stopped. The rain stopped. The waves stopped. And the sea was as smooth as glass. The tattered sail fell limp. But still, the water dripped from Peter onto the deck. The boat sat much lower in the water than was probably safe. Jesus picked up his pillow. He wrung it out. The water splattered as it fell. He turned to Peter and the twelve frozen and dripping disciples. He gave them a wearied look and shook His head. He said to them, “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith?”
And in that moment, Peter’s hands began to shake. His vision blurred. His breath drew short. And his knees felt as if they would buckle underneath of him. The storm might have been a reason to be afraid. More afraid than he had ever been before. But this was in a whole different class. Peter had known that Jesus was different. That Jesus could do things that no one else could do. But after seeing this? Did Peter even know who Jesus was anymore? Because this was insane. This was not physically possible. Who then is this? That even the wind and the sea listen to Him?
Today’s text tells us something we don’t want to hear. How many times have we prayed with King David in Psalm 34, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears”? How many times have we sung in the hymn, I Know My Redeemer Lives, that “He lives to silence all my fears, He lives to wipe away all my tears”? How many times have we taken comfort in Jesus’ words from the next storm, “Take heart. It is I. Don’t be afraid”? We look to our Lord to take away our fears. But today… Today, the one to fear is Jesus Himself.
Why? Sure, it is written, “It is the Lord your God you shall fear.” Yes we hear from the Bible, “You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.” By all means we read, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” And of course, there’s, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria… [walked] in the fear of the Lord.” But to actually be afraid of Jesus? That doesn’t sit quite right. And yet, in today’s text, the disciples literally feared a great fear as they asked, “Who is this?” Their fear wasn’t from the deadly, boat-crushing storm. That was nothing. Their fear was because they came to the realization that Jesus isn’t safe.
If there is one emotion that we hate above all others, it’s fear. Fear never leaves us feeling good about things. Fear always hurts whenever it rears its head. Fear is something to be escaped. Or managed. Or overcome. Or in some way controlled. Fear is the reason we make security such high priorities in our lives. Fear is the reason we’ll voluntarily sacrifice our freedoms in order to feel safe.
Safety is our power over fear. It’s when we know that everything is going to be okay. And we so very badly want this text this morning to be about safety. To say that no matter what storms we face, as long as we have Jesus in our boat, we have nothing to fear. But that just isn’t true. If anything, having Jesus in our boat brings the storms on.
Today little Mae is baptized. Washed with water and the Holy Spirit. Marked by God as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. This did not make her life safer. Because now she has an enemy. A powerful enemy in Satan. Who will attack her relentlessly throughout her life. And the worst of it? Her safety is not Jesus’ highest priority.
Jesus Himself says, “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten…” And again, “they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.” And again, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” And again, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Faith isn’t a divine insurance policy. Jesus doesn’t shield us from the things we’re afraid of. Not every chapter of our life has a happy ending. If it did, all our soldiers would come home. All diagnoses of cancer would end with a cure. And all our children would live. And faith would make our lives safe.
Why are we such cowards? Why are we so afraid? Jesus brings something worth more than just safety. Worth more than the mere removal of dangers. Jesus comes in power incomprehensible. Jesus comes in authority overwhelming. Not to rescue us from the dangers of this life. But to rescue us through the dangers of this life by being by our side through them all. Yea through I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me.
And what happened on the boat that day with the disciples was a foretaste of the storm to come. Because there was a more powerful storm coming. A great windstorm fueled by the shouts of “Crucify Him!” Waves of pain crashing over and over again. Betrayal. Mockery. False charges. Beatings. Scourgings. The burden of a cross. Nails. Spear. And the weight of the sins of the world. Each one crashing over His bow. Each one swamping his boat and sinking Him.
And through these, through the greatest fear we could ever face, Jesus fell asleep. And He slept the sleep of death in the pillow of the grave. And as Jesus slept His Sabbath death, His disciples cried out, “You care that this is our end as well, don’t you? You care that we will have no where else to go, right? If you sleep here, there is nothing left for us.” And on the third day, Jesus arose, and faced the blustering storm that is death and shouted at it in all His divine authority, “Shut. Up. I don’t want to hear anymore.” Then and there, death itself was silenced. It’s dread power, vanished. And it was reduced to nothing.
Who is this that even death itself obeys Him? He is Jesus. Lord God of all creation. Of all existence. There is no danger that you can ever face that can overcome Jesus. Though you will face danger. There is nothing so broken that Jesus cannot make it right. Though you will face brokenness throughout this life. There is no pain or grief or sickness that can bring down Jesus. Though you will face pain and grief and sickness yourself.
Even if the boat would have sank, and all the disciples died in that storm today. Who is to stop Jesus from raising them from the dead and giving them even more than they lost? Who is to stop Jesus from fulfilling His promise to walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death? Who is to stop Jesus from overcoming the world you suffer through today? Who is to stop Jesus from raising you and all your loved ones from death on the last day and bringing you into His kingdom forever? No one, that’s who.
Jesus might not be safe. But He is good. We might have every right to be afraid. But in fearing Him, all other fears pale in comparison. We might be cowards. But He is the Lord over the storms. And He has put us in His boat. Baptized us into His family. Given us a place at His table.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? …Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 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 tells a few parables. A couple of weeks ago, on Trinity Sunday, we heard Isaiah chapter 6. Where after Isaiah says, “here I am, send me,” the Lord has Isaiah tell the people of Israel to “see but not to perceive, to hear, but not to understand.”
Earlier in Mark, chapter 4, Jesus quotes these words to Isaiah as the reason He speaks in parables to the people. And why at the end of today’s text, we hear, “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” But the problem is for us that we don’t have the explanation of the two parables we heard today at all. What then does the parable of the seed and the parable of the mustard seed actually mean?
Maybe it would help to look back at the beginning of Mark 4, where Jesus does explain a seed parable. There, Jesus lays it all on the table for not only the disciples, but for us today as well. The seed is the Word of God. The ground different people. And the ones who receive the Word produce thirty-, sixty-, a hundred-fold. And that explanation could work for today’s first parable as well. The seed is the word again. And how it grows, we cannot understand. But we know it does. And at the right time, a harvest will take place. Likewise the second, the mustard seed is the word. And it may start small, and insignificant. But it can grow into something so very big. With branches and shade and birds. And those things are all very true about the Word of God. But we aren’t told what the other things in the parable are. And that seems kind of important.
The Early Church thought those things were important too. The last few weeks, I’ve been bringing in a lot of what the Early Church Fathers said about these text. Because the truth doesn’t change. Whether you’re in the Roman Empire, the early middle-ages, the Reformation, or today. But this time, they’re not much help. Everyone has a different idea what all those other things really mean. And some of them sound pretty good. But they’re all over the place. So maybe how Jesus explained the unknown parts of these parables to the disciples doesn’t matter as much as we thought. Because what we do know the parables say also happens to be exactly what the disciples needed to hear.
Because look at what’s happened in Mark so far. He comes a guy straight out of 40 days in the desert. And he just calls people to follow him, which the disciples did. He drives out demons, but tells them to be quiet about who He really is. He touches lepers. He forgives people’s sins without even hearing what they are. He hangs out with the dregs of society. He ignores the Sabbath laws by calling Himself the Lord of the Sabbath.
He makes enemies with the leaders of the synagogues. People are saying He’s out of His mind. The head honchos from Jerusalem say Jesus Himself is demon possessed. His own mother and brothers don’t even rank high enough to see Him. And He speaks in parables so that no one can understand anything He says. The crowds still gather, because He heals people. But anytime the crowd gets too big, Jesus wants to move on. At this rate, the Kingdom of God just isn’t going to grow very much. Not with this Jesus guy anyways. Because He’s doing everything wrong.
But even if you do not understand how, the Kingdom of God is still growing. Still producing its fruits. Still readying a harvest to be gathered. All because the Word of God makes it happen. Which is really something. Because the crowds did not understand that Word. They had no explanation. No one to tell them what the parables meant. And yet, the Word of God still grew within them. And crowds were still eager to listen, even when the authorities of that day did everything in their power to drive them away.
Isn’t that a promise we need to hear today? Amid news reports that churches all over are shrinking fast? Reports can we can see with our own eyes in the pews next to us? In a day when standing up for what the Bible actually says is seen as crazy, even demonic, in the eyes of the world? In an age where confessing the forgiveness of sins is seen as bigoted hate-mongering? And friends of Christ’s church are getting harder and harder to find?
Isn’t this a promise we need to hear today? Amid a church that is spending a great deal of energy trying to find out how the seed grows? Finding out how the Word creates faith in people? And thereby formulating the best way to get it planted? All because we’re not sure if the Word can actually work without our help? All because we feel like we need big, giant seeds in order to make big, giant Christians?
Isn’t that a promise we need to hear today? That we don’t need to make the Word grow ourselves? That we don’t need to know how the Word creates faith? That we don’t need it to be big for it to have a chance? That it doesn’t matter how full our pews or coffers are? That all that matter is that God Word is planted in us?
Because what does that Word of God proclaim? Jesus says of that Word that, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” And again, on the road to Emmaus, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them all the Scriptures, the things concerning himself.” All of God’s Word comes back to Jesus. Who is the Word made flesh, and who made His dwelling among us.
And the one thing the Word came to do. The one thing Jesus came to do was to die and rise on our behalf. The parable becomes reality, as the Word is planted into the ground. Planted, and sealed with a stone at the entrance of the tomb. And on the third day, sprang alive from out of the ground. And grew into the largest thing the world has ever seen. Jesus is our life, our salvation, our forgiveness. There is nothing greater in this world that the news of Jesus Christ. Because that news changes who we are. Right down to our very core.
The seed God plants. The Word made flesh. Jesus Himself changes us. Just as it changed everyone Jesus spoke to in Mark’s Gospel. The leper changed to clean. The sick changed to well. The demon-possessed changed to faithful children of God. Likewise that planted Word changes our sin to Jesus’ sin. Changes our grief into Jesus’ grief. Changes our sorrows into Jesus sorrows. Changes us from children of sin into children of God. Not superior moralists. Not somehow better than everyone else. But rather forgiven sinners. Because that’s where Jesus plants His Word. In sinners, like you and me. And in sinners like us is the only place where that Word can grow. The seed sprouts and grows, [we] know not how. You have that seed. You have that Word. You have that Jesus in 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 today is our Gospel lesson, but let’s start two hundred years later, in the year 250 AD, in northern Africa, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The Roman Emperor Decius has just decreed that, for the safety of the Empire, every inhabitant must make a public sacrifice to the Roman ancestral gods, and thus prove their loyalty to the Empire. Public officials would be stationed, and would issue certificates to those who offered and ate their sacrifice to these gods. Anyone without a certificate would be tortured or killed, along with their families, as enemies of the state.
Directly across the Mediterranean sea from Rome to the south was the North African city of Carthage. Bishop Cyprian has urged Christians there to defy the edict. But, he himself has left the area, and is only communicating by letter. It also turns out that right after Cyprian tells people to refuse, a plague breaks out. The people are in a panic, and are blaming the Christians for failing to appease the ancient gods of Rome. They even name the plague, ‘The Cyprian Plague.’ Then the soldiers come in and finish what the mob started. Brutally executing those who have sided with Christ Jesus instead of with Emperor Decius.
What do you do? Do you participate in the public sacrifice, and get your certificate by worshipping false gods? Do you give in, in order to protect your own life, and the lives of those you love? Do you fake it? Just stand and do what you’re told, all while cursing the whole process under your breath? Do you get a fake certificate to keep the army off your back? Or, do you stand up and say, “I will never concede my Lord Jesus Christ, even if it means my death”?
There is a right answer. It’s the answer that the apostle’s all did. It’s the answer that all the martyrs of the Church did. And it’s the answer that many Christians in Carthage did. They stood up, put their lives on the line, and often times died for that stand. Because they believe in the resurrection of Jesus. And that He is more powerful than any mob, any army, any Empire.
But not everyone was able to make that stand. Some were too afraid. Some gave in. Some were not able to give what the Christian faith demands. They were called Lapsi, those whose strength of faith lapsed at the very time they should have confessed the loudest. And after Emperor Decius died only one year later, the persecutions slowed considerably. Gallus, the next emperor, while not exactly friendly to Christians, wasn’t actively looking to kill them either.
So now, all these Lapsi were looking to return to the Church. And the question was what to do with them. Bishop Cyprian had some opinions. But since he fled, his opinion didn’t carry much weight. They turned instead to those Christians who had been imprisoned and tortured, but not yet killed under Decius. And many of them said that the Lapsi should be forgiven, and no extra burden placed on them for their sin.
However, there was a high ranking man in the Church named Novatius. And he remembered a particular verse from Mark Chapter 3. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. The Lapsi had all been baptized. The Lapsi therefore had all received the Holy Spirit. And with the Spirit in them, they went to the altars of false gods. They sacrificed there. They practiced idolatry there. If ever there was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, this was it.
Therefore Novatius refused to offer absolution to the Laspi. He refused to forgive them for this sin. Because forgiving them would be crazy. They had fallen out of the grace of God. They were traitors. And they would bear that sin for eternity in hell. For those in North Africa, where the brunt of the persecution took place, this sounded good to them. Because these Lapsi had their chance to stand up. And they failed. Why should we have anything to do with them ever again?
This attitude divided the Church. Novatianists no longer wanted much to do with a Church that dared forgive the unforgivable sin. They rejected their leadership. They would not recognize any baptism except a Novatianist baptism. They parted from the Church, and expanded the unforgivable sin from idolatry to also include murder, adultery and fornication.
The Novatianists are one of the reasons the Nicene Creed was expanded at the Council of Constantinople. Before, the third article was simply, “And I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Because at Nicena, the creed was primarily in response to Arius’ claim that Jesus was not God. But in order to condemn the Novatianist schism, more was added. “I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church, I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.” Notice that the confession concerning the forgiveness of sins is in the third article, not the second. And it’s all because Novatius used Mark 3:29, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, to justify his position on baptism and absolution. But then, if even the blasphemous idolatry by the baptized can be forgiven—which is what we confess every Sunday, both here, and in the Apostles’ Creed, and what Jesus says directly in the previous verse—then what exactly does Jesus mean when He says blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the eternally unforgivable sin?
Because, let’s face it, we need to know exactly what the unforgivable sin is. So that we can either avoid it, or at least know if there is no longer any hope left for us. To leave it an open question is to have doubts about whether forgiveness, salvation, and heaven are for me. And while it’s comforting to know that it isn’t this sin, or that sin, not knowing exactly where that line is torture. Because now the fate of our salvation rests entirely in our own hands. And if we make that one wrong mistake, that’s the end of it.
Well, we could try working backwards. We could ask what it is that condemns people. And the Bible is consistent in saying that it’s unbelief. But it can’t just be any unbelief. Otherwise Saul, who persecuted so many Christians, would never have become Paul, possibly the greatest Apostle who ever lived. So unbelief itself can and is forgiven. But I have always been taught that the unforgivable sin is persistent unbelief, even to the point of death. And that is the reason people will end up in hell.
But the problem is that persistent unbelief isn’t exactly what Jesus says here. You really have to stretch the definition of blasphemy in order to make it work. Because blasphemy is a particular sin, not a general one like unbelief. Blasphemy specifically says God is something He’s not. Blasphemy ascribes sin to God. Therefore, Novatius makes a better case for the Lapsi being blasphemous than we can for the unbeliever. Therefore, while unbelief may condemn, it’s not unforgivable. So now what do we do?
What we do is hear Jesus words. Let’s look at the text again. “Truly, I say to you,” The words Jesus says right before He’s about to say something you really, really need to pay attention to. “All sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter,” period.
Now, pastor, didn’t you see? There’s not a period there. There’s a comma. And a ‘but.’ And that ‘but’ is exactly what we’re worried about. And you would be right to worry if it were not for one very small, almost unnoticeable detail. There are two Greek words for our word that is giving us all these problems. But in order for us to take this ‘but’ and use it to say ‘all sins are forgiven except…’ only one of those Greek words would have worked. Mark used the wrong one.
There’s a tiny little word, δε. And every time it’s used, it’s a marker to let the reader know that the subject of the previous sentence or phrase has changed. It doesn’t mark a continuation of a thought, but a contrast. So, ‘but’ can indeed be an appropriate translation. But it also means that the subject of the next clause cannot be the same as the last one. All sins of the children of man. All blasphemies of the children of man. Neither of those things can be the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Because of one word. One little word. Not one of your sins or blasphemies can ever be the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. “Let this world’s tyrant rage; In battle we’ll engage. His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail! One little word subdues him.
”Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, period. It doesn’t matter at all what those sins were. It doesn’t even matter if your worst sins are ahead of you in your life. Because the sins of the demon possessed in our text are forgiven. The sins of Jesus’ family who thought he was out of His mind are forgiven. The sins of the scribes who accused Jesus of having an unclean spirit are forgiven. The sins of those who bent their knee to the false Roman gods are forgiven. The sins of cowardly Cyprian are forgiven. The sins of even Novatius are forgiven. And therefore all your sins are likewise forgiven.
So then now what does the blasphemy against he Holy Spirit mean? If it can’t be one of our sins or one of our blasphemies, who is left? There’s only one person is could possibly be. Jesus. Not that it’s Jesus’ own blasphemy, because Jesus Himself is without sin. At least until He takes onto Himself the sin of the world. He who knew no sin became sin for us.
This is the same Jesus who had the Holy Spirit descend on Him like a dove at His baptism. The same Jesus who bore the Holy Spirit throughout His ministry. The same Jesus who still had the Holy Spirit while hanging on the cross bearing all those sins. By virtue of taking on that sin, Jesus is the one who ascribed to the Holy Spirit something that was completely alien to the Holy Spirit. And even though this blasphemy was not His own, He claimed it as His own, holding onto the Holy Spirit through it all. And Jesus only gave Him up upon His death. And Jesus was not forgiven, never forgiven, but instead paid the full price for the sins of the whole world. And also paid the full price for the one unforgivable sin. And the marks of that price are on his hands, feet, and side for all eternity.
And that means the one unforgivable sin is not yours. And never will be. All sins will be forgiven the children of man, and you are one of those children. Jesus went to the cross for your sake. Especially when you can’t measure up to what you should be doing. Especially when the guilt is more than you can bear. Especially when you fear that you may have sinned so badly that not even God could forgive you. Jesus died and rose for you. And all your sins have indeed been forgiven by Him. Thanks be to God.
Therefore with angels and archangels and with the whole company of heaven, we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
That’s funny. Whenever we sing the Sanctus, the Holy, Holy, Holy in the communion service, the foundations of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church don’t shake. The sanctuary isn’t filled with smoke. We don’t have the train of the Lord’s robe filling up the area around the altar. I mean, it’s the same song right? Whether written down in Hebrew in Isaiah, or in Greek in John’s Revelation, or in English in our hymnals. Shouldn’t something happen? We don’t see anything happening. We don’t hear the voice that shook the heavens. Why?
Something definitely happened with Isaiah. It’s a frightening thing to be face to face with God. Woe is me! For I am lost. For I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips! But those unclean lips are precisely what God had in mind to use. I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty worried about anyone with tongs holding a hot coal going for my mouth. I’d especially be worried to have it be one of the most historically terrifying beings in existence doing it. And notice that the text doesn’t say whether or not it hurt. It very well may have.
But it is precisely Isaiah’s lips that needed cleansed by fire. The open wound of sin from his mouth needed cauterized. Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.
Now, and only now, does the Lord ask, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (That ‘us’ at the end is particularly important on this Trinity Sunday.) And only after having his mouth made holy can Isaiah answer, “Here I am! Send me.” But the message our Lord has for those lips made holy isn’t exactly the most pleasant one. And [the Lord] said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
Isaiah 6:8, Isaiah’s volunteering to go, is a favorite verse to get people excited about evangelism. And then, in verses nine and ten, God makes it pretty clear that the goal of Isaiah’s message is just the opposite of what we think evangelism should be. Don’t let them perceive what they see. Don’t let them understand what they hear. Dull their hearts, so that they don’t get who I am, declares the Lord. Lest they turn, repent, and believe. That can’t be right. That’s not what Jesus would want. Except those are the very verses Jesus quotes to His disciples in Matthew 13 when they come and ask Him why He spoke in parables to the people.
So perhaps it’s not a surprise when we don’t feel the foundations shake, or see the seraphim flying around, or hear their song resounding to the heavens themselves. But on our lips, on our lips there are the words. “Holy. Holy. Holy.” Our own unclean lips sing, from the midst of a people with unclean lips. All in preparation before the altar of God. On which we find the body and blood of the One who was baptized in fire. And because Jesus has touched your lips, your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.
The idea of Jesus as the coal from Isaiah 6 is not new. Cyril of Alexandria in the 400’s said the coal in Isaiah 6 is “clearly a picture of Christ, who, on our behalf, offered himself up to God the Father as a pure and unblemished sacrifice… Let God then be on our lips like a glowing coal that burns away the rubbish of our sins, purges the filth of our unrighteousness, and sets us on fire with the Spirit.”
The most ancient liturgies of the church make explicit reference to Jesus as the live coal in the supper. In the ancient Syro-Malabar liturgy, instead of just saying, “The body of Christ, given for you,” the celebrant says, “The propitiatory live coal of the body of Christ, given for the pardon of offenses and the forgiveness of sins forever.” The historic practice of having the celebrant place the host directly on the lips of the one receiving, which is still done today in some Lutheran churches, comes also from this verse. Even Martin Luther himself would say of this verse in Isaiah, “Here is where our sacraments are established.”
Because what happens for Isaiah in today’s text is the exact same thing that happens for us at the Lord’s table. No matter the exact details of how it’s done, the forgiveness of sins is still placed right on our lips. Jesus’ own body and blood. And that sacrifice from that altar is delivered to us with the words, “Holy, holy, holy,” still echoing in our rafters.
This is why God has Isaiah say to the people, “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes.” This is why Jesus spoke in parables. So that we don’t think that by our own eyes we are saved. That by our own perceptions, we somehow make the forgiveness of sins work. That by our own understanding and comprehension we can somehow reach out and grasp ahold of the Almighty God. For by eyes and ears and heart, Isaiah could only find His own destruction. By eyes and ears and heart, Isaiah could only say, Woe is me!
The forgiveness God gives can only come from outside. The holiness that God gives comes by receiving what is not at all yours. The faith that God gives comes by external means alone. His Word, not your understanding. His sacraments, not your obedience. His Son, not your heart. That’s how our Lord works.
The Lord’s Supper quite possibly the most exciting thing in all existence. And, if not for God dulling our eyes, ears and hearts, one of the most terrifying as well. Because as we sing Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Power and Might, there the heavens themselves shake clear down the the foundations. There, the smoke billows forth. There, the train of the Lord’s robe fills the temple. There the seraphim cry out with voices that cause the earth itself to tremble. And there, on that altar, and on this, is the live coal, the sacrificed Christ, who is put upon your lips in order to forgive you all your sins. There, heaven and earth meet.
Therefore with angels and archangels and with the whole company of heaven, we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” May that song, and our Lord Himself always be on our lips, delivering His forgiveness to us and to all. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. C. S. Lewis wrote a series of seven children’s books, called The Chronicles of Narnia. And in those books, in a world of fantasy and magic, Lewis painted a detailed picture of the Christian life. In the first book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the children are nervous the first time they hear about Aslan, a character Lewis used to represent Jesus. They were nervous because Aslan was a lion. “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
Lewis wrote that about his character Aslan precisely because the same is true about Jesus. Aslan is not safe, and neither is Jesus safe. Our God is not a safe God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But He is good. And that’s the point is our Gospel lesson today makes, when Jesus speaks about what the Holy Spirit is coming to do. When the Helper comes, whom I will sent to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me…. And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.
We could point out that the Holy Spirit isn’t safe, because He is the one who bears witness concerning Christ Jesus. And He bears witness through us. I’ll bet that you already know the Greek word for bearing witness: μαρτυρεω. Martyrdom. Because throughout the world, people are dying for their confession of Jesus’ death and resurrection for them. Iraq, Libya, Syria, Kenya, Sudan. When will we see another video of Christian in orange jumpsuits executed by men in black masks?
And even where Christ’s witnesses aren’t dying, they are certainly under attack. Threatened with litigation, or angry mobs, or the shaming of them and their whole family. All with the goal to silence those who would bear witness concerning Jesus, by the most effective means possible. And Jesus does acknowledge this fact in today’s text. “They will put you out of the synagogues.” The places where the people gather. “Indeed the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering a service to God.”
As dangerous as being a witness, a martyr is—and it is certainly without a doubt dangerous—that isn’t the most dangerous part about our God. Where we lose all safety is in the words, “He will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.” That word for, “convict,” also can be translated as “bring to light,” “expose,” “make known to everyone” In other words, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to reveal the sins of the world. Each and every one of them. Including yours.
And we’re not talking about just little mistakes you’ve made. Not just about generic sins, which apply to everyone equally. Not just the sins that everyone and their dog are willing to forgive, if not overlook altogether. The Holy Spirit exposes every sin. Including those sins we can never, ever tell anyone about. Sins that, if they were known, would ruin us. Sins that no one could ever forgive if they found out. Death doesn’t look so bad in comparison to having those sins known. And yet, these are the sins that the Holy Spirit puts the spotlight on, so that no one can look away from them. So, no. Our God is not safe. Not for us.
And yet, you’d think God would know better. Because there is nothing the world likes better than to burn hypocrites at the stake. You have seen first hand, over and over again what happens to someone who has the gall to stand on a moral ground, and yet not live up to that standard. How many careers have been ruined. How many families have been destroyed. How many people have lost everything. All because they did the very thing he or she publicly confessed was wrong? Shouldn’t the Holy Spirit be more concerned at keeping those things quiet? So that the Gospel can be better proclaimed? Because if you expose their sins, to their great shame, what good now is their proclamation?
And what does that mean for us? That sin we hide deep down. So deep that no one can ever use it against us. The sin that has grasped control over our lives from out of our hands. The sin that eats at us in the dark a we lie in our beds. The sin that brings us to tears when we’re left alone. The sin that, as long as it stays tucked away, we remain safe. This is the sin the Holy Spirit reveals. This is the sin that gets brought to light. And soon, everyone will see it.
Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course He isn’t safe. But He is good. Because the Holy Spirit does not expose only sin. But righteousness as well. The righteousness was never found in us. It never could be. Not with that sin in there. Not with those atrocities in there. That righteousness come from outside of us. Won by Jesus for us at the cross. And delivered to us by the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sent. But do not think that once you are passed having your sin revealed that you are now safe. Quite the contrary. “The scandal of Christianity is not that its adherents sometimes commit atrocious acts, but that the founder of Christianity willingly died for them.”
Do you realize just how dangerous Jesus’ forgiveness is? That forgiveness can cover any sin. Even the sin you least want forgiven in someone else. That forgiveness can make anyone right with God. Even the person you think deserves it the least. It can bestow heaven on anyone at all. Even the most brazen hypocrite who ever dared utter a morality they themselves couldn’t sustain. Because if the blood of Jesus can’t cover these, then it can’t cover anything at all.
But this kind of forgiveness is not safe. You risk letting people think that sin is okay when it’s not. You risk letting those who should rightly be shamed off the hook. You risk condoning the very sin you said was wrong in the first place. And the Holy Spirit is just flinging this forgiveness everywhere. But if the Holy Spirit hadn’t revealed your worst sin, how would you ever come to know that this reckless forgiveness was also for you? Forgiveness not just for the easy sins. But the forgiveness of every single sin. No matter how atrocious. No matter how devastating. No matter how wrong. No matter how many people you hurt with it.
It is just as Jesus said. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that [the Holy Spirit] will take what is mine and declare it to you. This is why the Holy Spirit is called the Helper. The Comforter. The Counselor. The Paraclete. Because He takes Jesus’ forgiveness and declares it to you. No matter what you may have done, or not done. No matter what anyone else may have made you do. No matter what you may have had to endure. No matter what happened when sin was spiraling out of control. Christ Jesus’ forgiveness is greater than all of it. And the Holy Spirit proclaims that to you. In Absolution. In Baptism. In Supper. In the Word itself, spoken to you.
There are good reasons to fear God. Our sin will be revealed by Him. Revealed even to the world, which will, as a result, shout for our heads. And so we can never be safe in our sin. But what is even scarier is a forgiveness so immense that it can cover any sin, no matter how atrocious. Because that kind of forgiveness is not safe. That kind of Jesus is definitely not safe. Of course He isn’t safe. But He is good. Thanks be to God.