Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus. Where Lazarus goes to heaven and the rich man goes to hell. And while in hell, this rich man argues with Abraham that hell is really quite unfair. After all, if God were merciful, like he claims to be, He’d sent Lazarus to give even a drop of relief. Never mind that this man didn’t care to give Lazarus a crumb of his own. But we should be able to hold God to a higher standard. Besides, this isn’t really asking for all that much now, is it? Is this God really unwilling to do so little? It’s a reasonable request, after all. Except, you know, the hell part.
The problem is that we do the very same thing. Every day. I don’t think I should deserve eternal damnation just because my eyes happen to catch glimpse of a pretty skirt every now and then. Who gets hurt? I shouldn’t deserve hell because I get angry with people I think are fools. Shouldn’t God know that they’re fools as well? Why should I face condemnation for putting time with my family first? God will still be there for me next Sunday. If God is truly a merciful God, then these are small things. Nothing He should even be worried about, really.
And yet Jesus clearly speaks His judgment against every one of those things, specifically. Maybe they’re not as small as we thought. Maybe we’re not as important as we thought. And I should say not. We believe we are the judge of God. That we stand over God Himself. We get to decide whether or not God lives up to our expectations. Is He really all that good? Is He really all that powerful? Let us weigh the evidence ourselves. Has He judged us correctly? Probably not.
Every one of our sins should be considered little ones. Every one of our rebellions against God’s should be considered insignificant. Because we can justify them all. Even the most egregious ones. The pornography or the affair? I can explain that. The outright theft? It’s really not so bad as you suggest. Killed your parents or your children? I had good reasons. The lies, the deceit, the throwing of someone else under the bus? C’mon, everyone does that. God made me this way. Just what’s so sinful about it? Judge not, lest ye be judged. Nobody’s perfect. So it shouldn’t be a big deal for God to throw me a bone here. Give me some relief. After all, you claim to be just. You claim to be merciful. Prove it to me, by indulging my desires. And, God, if you wont, it only shows your true colors.
How manipulative we are. It doesn’t matter how small we think our sins are. Every one of them is us placing ourselves as judge of the very God who made us. And every excuse is an utter rejection of the very God who created us. Our condemnation is rightfully earned. Our damnation is totally deserved. Hell is exactly what we asked for. We wanted the chasm that cannot be crossed. In order to keep God out. And every sin, intended or not, and every excuse, whether good or not, widens the chasm further.
But the very worst is when we accuse God of not doing enough. The man in hell refuses to believe that our Lord had done a sufficient job. Since he’s in hell, then obviously God should have done more. Here’s what you can do to redeem yourself, little God. Send Lazarus back from the dead. That will surely be adequate to convince my five brothers to make the right choices. That will be plenty to have them do the right things. Because if you insist on being so unjust to me, then I insist that you don’t let them share in my same fate.
But when Abraham says that Moses and the Prophets, that the Word of God is sufficient on it’s own, this man says no. And it’s the most emphatic no there is in the Greek language. He practically shouts at Abraham. “NO!”
No to Moses! No to the Prophets! No to Abraham! No to the Word of God! It’s not enough. It can’t be enough. Because I am here. And that’s not okay. Because here hurts. Here is not at all what I ever wanted. I don’t even have a name here. This is all your fault, God. So, if I have to be here, then I need someone to blame. Someone other than me. Because I’ve done all I can to not be here. And I cannot bear any more. I need You to listen to me. I need You to do what I ask. Because I know better than You. Even in hell, he demands to be the judge.
Sound familiar? We don’t have to make it into the pit of eternal suffering to feel that way. When Lazarus was alive, dumped at a gate, covered with sores, licked by the dogs, wouldn’t have this been his cry? It’s been my own dealing with far less. It’s all of ours, because that old Adam is dying inside of us. The one shouting ‘no’, is me. And every pain, every suffering, every thing that goes wrong, it drives that me flesh berserk with rage. And so I continue to pretend to be the judge. Hoping to drive the faith Christ gave us away. And then to reign as a god in His place.
After all, the chasm we built between us and heaven by our sin really is too wide for us to cross, no matter how much we want to. And who else better to be a god here than me? Except here is Hell. And on the other side of the chasm is not. It’s really too bad that Abraham in Jesus’ parable said that no one would able to cross the chasm. Of course, Abraham also implied that there wouldn’t be anyone rising from the dead either.
In fact, everything the rich man asks for is what Jesus actually does, only better. And everything Abraham says isn’t possible, is exactly what Jesus accomplishes. Jesus crossed the uncrossable chasm. Crossed from heaven into hell. And How appropriate that Jesus used His own cross to do it. Jesus entered into the fiery anger of God. Taking the entirety of that wrath onto Himself. Jesus takes it all. And not a bit of it is left for you or me. Jesus endured hell itself on that cross. And He did it in your place.
Jesus also crossed that chasm carrying water. Not just enough to cool the tongue. But enough to put out the fires of hell itself. By that water, we are baptized. With that water, we receive the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And like Lazarus, our names are known. With that water, our names are written in the book of life. We are buried with Jesus by baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too would have new life.
That risen Christ is now sent to the house of our brothers. And to ours as well. To serve as the eye witness to the death and resurrection that happened on our behalf. He’s sent in order to give you the same place as Abraham and Lazarus. Being a saint and getting to heaven has nothing to do with your pocketbook. Nor your social standing. Nor how well you can justify yourself. Nor the good things you have done. It rests entirely on Christ Jesus. After all, what did Lazarus do? Nothing. Maybe even less than that. After all, Lazarus died. That’s it. And yet he received faith, grace, life, salvation. These are all gifts from Christ. And He gives them to you today as well.
Through these gifts. Through baptism. Through the Word. Through things we have a hard time believing are all that effective. Through these, Christ does His work. Through these, Christ carried you out of hell and up to heaven. Through these, Christ has made us one with His Church. With His bride. As we sang just a few minutes ago, “Oh blest communion, fellowship divine, we feebly struggle, they in glory shine. Yet all are one in Thee, for all are thine. Alleluia. Alleluia.” And because of that, it no longer matters in we have the rich man’s life, or Lazarus’ life here in this world. Because this life will always have pain. And it will have fleeting joys. But only one thing will remain forever. And you have Him. You have Christ.
I really don’t know what it is that God sees in us. We are arrogant, judgmental, selfish, destructive, and manipulative people. We try to be above even God Himself, telling Him ‘no’ when His ways don’t suit us. And yet we have fallen so low, that we cannot even see the top anymore. Despite all that, Jesus lived the life of Lazarus, and suffered the fate of the rich man both, all for us. How could we possibly be worth that to Him? It’s as though He saw what we might be without out sin. It’s because He looked at us, and saw Jesus. We have been clothed with Christ. Our sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This morning, we have two texts that are really tough. One of them is tough, because we’re not sure we get it. The other is tough, because we do get it, but we’re pretty sure that we don’t like it. In Luke 16, Jesus tells the parable of the dishonest manager. The master of the house hears an accusation against his manager that he has been mishandling his master’s funds. The manager, instead of pleading his own case, sets himself up to be taken in at the next house by doing exactly what he is accused of. He gives away what rightly belongs to his master. But here’s the part that we don’t get. The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.
If it were me, I’d have been pretty upset. I would have said, “See, this is why you’re getting fired in the first place.” Besides, Jesus goes on to say, “One who is dishonest in little is dishonest in much.” That isn’t something to praise. And yet, that’s exactly what Jesus says the master in the parable did. And that sounds crazy. The Pharisees thought so too. They ridiculed Jesus for this parable. Probably for the exact same reasons. What master would ever commend such a wasteful manager? They didn’t buy Jesus’ reasoning at all. As lovers of money, it sounded like a bad argument.
But then we come to 1 Timothy, chapter two. And the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to say, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man.” Try going out and saying that to the world. You don’t even have to go that far. Try saying it here. It sounds crazy. Who would ever commend such a saying? And who can buy the reason Paul gives? Because Eve was deceived? She will be saved through childbearing? This is why? Really? It sounds like a bad argument to us.
Both of these texts pose problems to us. So the next question is whether the problem lies with the text, or with us. Which do you prefer being, the judge, or the judged? The Pharisees gave their answer. And it was the wrong one. In fact, of all people, they should have known better. Because although Jesus appears to give a parable about finances, the actions we see inside make more sense in the context of God and His ministers. And that’s what the Pharisees, who sit in Moses’ seat, are.
When ministers act contrary to what God gave them to do, they are removed from office. But when they sit down, and quickly give away what belongs to God, they are praised. And don’t get hung up on the word “shrewd.” It has a negative context in our language. But the original Greek isn’t so negative. Maybe it would be better to say that the master in the parable commended the dishonest steward’s intelligence, or even wisdom. And what could be more wise than giving away God’s gifts?
Likewise, there is a better way to translate dishonest. And our English text even has it. The unrighteous manager, giving away the unrighteous wealth. It’s the same word in the Greek. Of course the ministers are unrighteous. They have no righteousness of their own. I hope I don’t give the illusion that I’m some great guy up here. I’m simply another in the long line of bumbling idiots that God calls to be ministers of His gifts. I’m yet another sinner in need of Christ’s forgiveness.
The Pharisees should have seen the actions of the parable, and recognized them as God’s. But instead, they set themselves up as judges. Ridiculing Christ for commending such a stupid master. Because no one would believe such a far fetched person would be that irresponsible with his money, his livelihood, or even his own life.
There were plenty of Christ’s Words that the Pharisees’ treasured. Like the ones spoken through Moses, or Isaiah. But these? These words couldn’t possibly be from God. Their god would never say that. And that was one of the Pharisees’ sins. But the Pharisees’ sin is ours as well.
We bristle harshly at what Christ spoke through Paul. And yet, what is the context? It’s the same context as the parable. God and His ministers. Because what is going on? There are prayers for all people, including those in authority. That men lift up holy hands. That women dress respectfully, and not like the prostitutes of the day. Quiet learning. Isn’t this exactly the worship service? The very place where ministers give away God’s gifts?
The problems come when we look at ministry in the way of the Pharisees instead of the Way of Christ. Is the Church, Old Testament, or New, a top-down pyramid, with God on top? Then come His ministers. Then, looking at 1 Timothy, come the men. Then the women are on the bottom as the least important? Because Christ said that He came not to serve, but be served, as a king, right?
No. Rather just the opposite. I came not to be served, but to serve. The pyramid is inverted. The first became last. The king became the servant of all. Jesus serves us all. His ministers serve His Church. The men serve the women. And the most important thing that you can do on a Sunday morning is to listen in quietness. Because in that, life itself given to you. There is no greater role in the Church than to receive Christ’s gifts.
And that is why Paul argues from creation and the fall. Because at that place was again the worship service. Adam and Eve worshipped in the eating of the tree of life. And they worshipped in the not eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In this Adam was supposed to minister to Eve. The fall happened, when Eve took upon herself the role given to Adam. And Adam let her. Paul says Eve was deceived, not Adam. But you know what this means? Adam ate, knowing full well the consequences. Eve became a transgressor, as it is written. But Adam brought all of creation down with him.
This is why Christ limits the office to men. And not even all men, but only those of us stupid enough to bear this responsibility. Because that’s what He has always done. Adam was supposed to serve Eve. Give Eve the gifts that Christ had given. Gifts that were eaten. Fruit from the tree of life. The Pharisees and the priests were supposed to serve the people the gifts that Christ had given. Gifts that were eaten. The sacrifices for sin that were offered for their forgiveness.
Today, Christ’s ministers give the gifts that Christ has given. Both the sacrifice for sin, and the fruit of the tree of life. We give you Jesus Himself. Jesus, who saved through childbirth. Where God Himself was born. He saved Eve. He saved Adam. He saved us all. And He did it by giving away everything he had. Giving away his livelihood, and even His own life. He saves by bearing all our sins on that cross. He saves by dying on our behalf. He saves by rising from the dead on the third day. And that salvation is indeed the gift given to you today. Whether that’s by a Word of absolution. Or by the Word connected to water in baptism. Or the Word in the Supper. Where Jesus says, “Take eat, this is my body. Take drink, this is my blood shed for your forgiveness.”
And Jesus gives the Office of the Holy Ministry to do this giving in the worship service. He gives the office to strange and peculiar sinners. Jesus gives this office when a congregation said to a man, “Hey you, you’re serving us Jesus.” Pastors aren’t given these jobs in order that we can have our own way. We’re not here to be served. We’re given these jobs to serve. Just as Christ serves us. And we do serve. We give forgiveness, in Christ’s stead, and by Christ’s command.
And we do this specifically in the worship setting. Because there is nothing more important than that you hear what Christ has done for you. There is nothing more important than to receive the absolution that Christ has won for you. There is nothing more important that can ever be done than receiving the gifts that Christ gives. Not reading the texts for the day. Not serving on a board or committee. Not teaching, or being an elder. Not being in this pulpit. None of it can possibly eclipse receiving this: Christ Jesus died on your behalf. And all of your sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. [Jesus] turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus, are you sure that’s right? Because it sounds like you said ‘hate’ there. You did? Oh. Hey, pastor, that can’t mean what I think it means, can it? Hate is the opposite of love, and aren’t we supposed to love? That word must have some other Greek nuance that didn’t quite come into the English, right? Well, yes. The word we translate as hate actually means to disregard, or to dishonor. You know, the exact opposite of when the fourth commandment says honor your father and your mother. Though, actually, I think that made things worse. Why would Jesus say that?
That’s not the only difficult thing Jesus says today. He also says, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” And it’s not like the people of Jesus day had never seen a crucifixion before. The Romans crucified people all the time. Thieves, rebels, murderers. You know, the sins that everyone knows are bad. The cross was the sign everyone knew that you had done something really bad. Something worthy of death. Wait, Jesus wants me to call a cross my own? And to bear the means of my own execution? That doesn’t make any sense either.
But the most difficult thing Jesus says today is this. “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Which of us has ever done that? Who has ever managed to do that? Can you give up your home? Give up your job? Your income? Give up your car? Your family? Your pride? Your social standing? Some of the monks of old tried, but were rewarded with honor and admiration. In their renouncing, they only exchanged one thing they possessed for another. Not even the original twelve could live up to this command. Peter, disciple number one, went back to his own boat after the resurrection.
You see, whenever Christ proclaims His Law, we want to soften that Law up just enough that we can keep it. We want to say that Jesus didn’t really mean that we should dishonor our family and ourselves, just that we should love Him more than them. Jesus didn’t really mean that there is a cross that should rightly be mine. But rather that when tough things in life happen, we should meet those challenges with confidence. Jesus didn’t mean that we actually renounce everything, but rather that we should be mindful of the things God has given us, and use them to do good. And as good as all those conclusions are, that’s not what Jesus says in today’s text.
Every time we soften the Law, we’re trying to get closer to God. We do the best we can, and let God do the rest. After all, it is true that the Law is what God wants us to do. And better to do part than none at all. The problem is that treating the Law in this way doesn’t bring us closer to God, it actually pushes us further away. God didn’t give the Law so that we could pat ourselves on the backs and congratulate ourselves on how good we’re doing. In fact, no law is ever created for that reason. There are no rewards for how many red lights you’ve stopped at in a row. Nor a trophy for how many people you haven’t murdered this month. The law exists primarily to condemn. And that’s the Word Jesus speaks in our text today.
But there’s still one command in there that still doesn’t quite fit. That command to dishonor father and mother. Because as we saw earlier, that directly contradicts the fourth commandment. And we might well be able to say it’s a Hebraic way of saying that you should honor Christ above all others, and even your own life. And that wouldn’t be wrong.
But I think there’s an even better reason for Jesus to say it this way. And it’s because there is no way for you to both honor and dishonor at the same time. It’s impossible. You cannot keep the whole Law. You must fail at one or the other. And in reality, we fail each one. And that’s the point.You and I love our families more than we love Christ. You and I cannot take up our own cross and follow Jesus. You and I will never renounce all that we have. Therefore, we can never make ourselves His disciples.
The problem with that is that Jesus makes it sound like we can. He tells us to count the cost. And to calculate whether or not we have enough to finish or win. But if we’re actually honest with ourselves, the answer is that we don’t have enough. We can’t match who rides out against us. We wont pay the cost. And these words, which we take as Jesus saying that we can, only condemn us further. These words only magnify the impossibility.
However, there’s one more thing about the Law that we need to know. It doesn’t just tell us what we need to do. Or what we should have done. Or what we have failed to do. The Law also tells us exactly what it is that Jesus has done on our behalf. It’s only when we look at Christ that this Law makes any sense whatsoever.
Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians. The one who knew no sin became sin for our sake. The one who always honored His Father, actually became the dishonor, actually became the hatred. Not because Jesus had any of His own. But rather He took all of ours in our place. And in doing that, He kept both Laws. What was impossible for us is possible for Christ.
Likewise, as our sin, Jesus took up His own cross. The cross that was rightfully ours. He was the one labeled a thief, a murderer, forsaken by God. He was the one who was worthy of death. He endured the shame. And Jesus did it for you. Jesus was the one, who before He started, counted the cost. Knowing it would cost Him renouncing own honor, and power, and dignity, and holiness, and all, even His own life. And He did knowing full well He would also become a laughing stock. Told on the cross, “If you are the Son of God, come down so that we may believe.” They thought He Hadn’t finished what He started. But instead, He did in fact say, “It is finished.”
Jesus also deliberated whether an army of One could meet an army of the whole world. And because the world couldn’t stand against Him, He was the One who sent Himself as the messenger of peace. Not peace as the world gives. But the peace that is found in His death and resurrection. A peace that divides us from death. And in doing all that, Christ has indeed made you His disciple. Every Law Jesus speaks, He fulfills completely by dying and rising for you. Not just from our Luke text today, but from every text of Scripture.
What the people of Israel failed do do from Deuteronomy’s text, Jesus did. Jesus obeyed the commandments. Jesus walked in the right ways. Jesus kept the statutes. And in doing that, gives us life. Gives us a kingdom that is far more than a strip of land in the middle east. Jesus likewise perishes for our hearts turning away. Jesus dies for our following other gods. Jesus endures the Law on our behalf. So that life and death, blessing and curse are set before us all together at the foot of Jesus’ cross. This is also why Paul can appeal to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. Christ came not to be served, but to serve. And to serve even in Onesimus’ place. And in that service, He paid for the sins of all three of them. Why should they not therefore forgive each other as well?
The Law always condemns us. And rightly so. We have indeed sinned against God and one another. And it does no good to water that down. Nor to soften that up. Nor to pretend that somehow we kept it anyways. But Jesus took all the Law’s condemnation in our place. He fulfilled the Law on our behalf. And the places where the Law doesn’t always make the most sense to us when we apply it to ourselves, make much more sense when we see it through the cross. So now, you are His disciple. Because Christ died for you. And your sins are forgiven. 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. What if I were to say that something is better than cleaning the septic tank? You’d understand that maybe that something isn’t so great. What if I were to say something is better than chocolate? You’re expectations would then be a lot higher, at least for most of you, right? But what if I were to compare it to something you’ve never heard of before? This thing is better than that new video game, No Man’s Sky. That thing is better than Hatch and Redpath’s Concordance to the Septuagint. I’m not really telling you anything, unless you know the context of those things.
Likewise, what if I were to say that something is even greater than the sacrificial system in the Old Testament? Does that actually tell us anything? Well, that’s the point of our Hebrews text today. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. Um. Yay us?
Moses didn’t come down off the mountain with just the tablets of the Ten Commandments. God also sent down with him the pattern for the tabernacle. That there would be priests who handled the sacrifices for the inevitable sin that those Ten Commandments would show. That offerings for sin were needed so that the people of God could have forgiveness. And those offerings had to be specific. They had to be exactly what the Lord told them to do. And when they weren’t. When Aaron’s eldest sons thought, “God doesn’t really care how we do this.” When they did it their own way, they died. God put them to death Himself. Right in front of everyone at the altar.
The details had to be exact, because if everyone just did what they thought was right, there would be nothing to point to the death and resurrection of Jesus. And so we have all those details in Leviticus. And those details all point to Christ’s death. There were sin offerings, burnt offerings, and thank offerings. Each with a different purpose. All pointing forward to Christ’s offering of Himself. But the sin offering in particular is the focus of Hebrews today. If anyone privately sinned, they were to take a goat or a lamb to the tabernacle. They were to lay their hands on the head of the animal, and confess their sins out loud, placing their sins on the sacrifice. And then, by their own hand, they were to cut the animal’s heart.
A priest would be standing by to catch the blood in a small basin. And then the priest would butcher the animal. The blood was daubed on the four corners of the bronze altar in the courtyard, then poured around the base of the altar. No one was ever to drink the blood. Because the life of that animal was still there in its blood. And that blood was the most holy element. The organs and the fat were then burned completely upon the bronze altar. This was God’s part. The flesh was then cooked, and eaten by the priests alone. The meal was considered holy, and it must be eaten to finish the sacrifice. The sin offering was not complete until the priests were done eating.
And in this way, as is written in Leviticus, “Thus the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed in any one of these things, and he shall be forgiven.” The person bringing the sacrifice didn’t receive a symbol of forgiveness. They didn’t get the foreshadow of forgiveness. The forgiveness that Christ ultimately won was actually theirs. Delivered to them by the means of the eating of the sacrifice. This was the meal that the priests had not only the right, but the responsibility to eat. And by their eating, they bear the sins of God’s people.
However, things were different if it were a public sin offering. Such as for the entire people of Israel, or for the High Priest, who by his sin brings guilt on the entire people. In such cases, it was necessary to sacrifice a bull. This time, the High Priest brings the animal into the tabernacle. The High Priest lays his hands on the bull’s head and confesses the sin. And the High Priest kills the bull, catching its blood in a small basin.
Instead of using the blood to daub the corners of the bronze altar out in the courtyard, he brings it inside the holy place, and daubs the corners of the altar of incense that is inside. He also sprinkles blood toward the veil that separates the holy place from the holy of holies, where the Ark of the Covenant rests. This is different than the Day of Atonement sacrifice, where the High Priest goes behind the veil with the blood. Though there are a great number of similarities between the two.
After the blood is daubed and sprinkled, the rest of it is brought out and poured at the base of the bronze altar in the courtyard. The organs and fat are burned upon the bronze altar, as usual. But then the meat is not consumed by the priests. Or anyone. This meal is taken outside the camp and burned on the ash heap. No one is to eat of it. It’s not allowed. It’s too holy to be eaten. And yet, forgiveness was still given to the people.
So, what happened when Christ Jesus became our sacrifice? What happened when our Lord died on the cross for all our sins? The exact same thing. Our Sacrifice was offered up by High Priest Caiaphas. Our Sacrifice was killed while bearing the sins of all people. The blood of our Sacrifice was poured out. The body of our Sacrifice was taken outside the camp. The flesh of our Sacrifice endured God’s fiery wrath, and was reduced to nothing. And our Sacrifice bestowed on us the forgiveness of sin.
As great as the tabernacle sacrifices were, the sacrifice of Christ was better. And now we know why God insisted on having them done in just the right way. So that we can know just what the author of Hebrews means when he says, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.”
They have no right to eat, for it was a sacrifice for the public sin of all people. Christ’s blood was in the holy place. And His body burned outside the camp. And yet, Jesus says, “Take eat, this is my body. Take drink, this is my blood, shed for your forgiveness.” “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” John was the son of a priest, and served in the role of God’s High Priest at Jesus’ baptism. There was no greater High Priest than John the Baptizer. And yet, the least in the kingdom of God is greater. You are greater. Because now you eat the sacrifice that no High Priest ever could. Jesus gives us the meal that is too holy for even the High Priest, and says this is yours. A holy meal for your forgiveness. Jesus takes the blood that is too holy for the High Priest to drink, and says this is yours. Jesus says in this blood is life. My life. And I give it for you.
And like every sacrifice for sin, the sacrifice is not complete until those who are supposed to eat it have eaten it. Unfortunately, today is not a scheduled communion Sunday. Maybe we should think about changing that. Not to turn the gifts God gives into a Law for us to follow. But because the sacrifice that Christ Jesus gave on that cross really is everything for us.
Because this is the feast Jesus is talking about in our Gospel lesson. Christ invites us who are poor in Spirit, crippled in our faith, lame in our walk with God, and blind to the light of Christ to this great feast. We can’t ever hope to repay Him. But that’s not the point. The feast is Christ Himself. His body and blood for our forgiveness. Which God foreshadowed long ago at the tabernacle and the temple. And now it continues throughout His Church, and even into eternity itself. And He has given you a right to eat the most holy sacrifice. Because now you are all priests greater than the old High Priest. You enter places more holy than the Holy of Holies. You eat the sacrifice too holy to be eaten. You are children of God. And to that, there is no comparison. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In Luke’s thirteenth chapter, Jesus doesn’t pull any punches. You’re not going to hear a whole lot of sunshine and rainbows here. In verse three, Jesus says, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Verse seven, “for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’” In verse fifteen, Jesus calls an entire synagogue hypocrites, for insisting that Jesus do his healing on some other day, rather than the Sabbath.
Later on in verse 34, Jesus will lament, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken.” This is the context where we read the tough words of today’s text.
Someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Whew. Sure glad Jesus said those words to them, and not to you and me, right? They needed those warnings. But we’re safe. After all, we know we’re walking that narrow way. We know the master wont shut the door on us. We know the master knows us. Because we ate and drank in His presence. We know He taught in our streets, or at least around our tables. He knows where we come from. And we’re no workers of evil. Of course we’re going to sit around the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Of course we’re part of those who come from the east and the west, and the north and the south. Because we’re good Christians.
But isn’t that exactly what every Pharisee in Jesus’ day could say. And couldn’t they say it with even more conviction than we do? After all, they walked the way of the Law better than we do. For one, they actually know it. And they also care what it says. They weren’t content with calling a half hearted attempt as their best effort. They didn’t let “I’m not perfect” be a convenient excuse. There was never a case of, “At least I’m better than that guy.” The Law was everything to them. And they did it better than you.
And they did eat and drink in the presence of God. They brought their sacrifices to the temple. They gave the fatty portions of their animals to God for Him to consume on the bronze altar. They gave the blood to be poured at the base of the bronze altar for their forgiveness. And while God ate His part by fire, they ate theirs along side of Him. In repentance, in dedication, and in thanksgiving. And they did it better than you.
Likewise, God did teach in their streets. Literally. Not just a helping hand with a vague hope that somehow something of God might get known. Maybe by osmosis. Because heaven forbid we actually say anything. No, God sent His prophets to preach His Word out loud with actual words. Creative Words that carried all the power of our Lord with them. And their forefathers believed. Because they’re the ones who came back and rebuilt the temple after the fall of Babylon. And that Word was faithfully passed down from generation to generation. That Word mattered more than sports. Mattered more than sleep. Mattered more than life itself. And they shared that Word better than you.
And yet, not even this was enough. Their best keeping of the Law, their best sacrifices, their best proclamation of the faith, none of it opened the narrow door. What makes us think our half-assed attempts can do any better? What makes us so sure that we wont hear the same thing from God? Why shouldn’t we expect to likewise hear, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!”
So will those who are saved be few? Sure sounds like it. Only those who enter by the narrow door. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, a few prophets. Oh and all kinds of people from the East and the West, and the North and the South. Or, as John described in Revelation, a multitude that no one can number. Because Jesus actually doesn’t answer whether or not few will be saved. Thank goodness, because if the answer is yes, we believe ourselves elite, like the Pharisees. And if the answer is no, then we think just about anyone can make it, and so why bother trying. We’d use either answer wrong. So Jesus answers a different question. He answers whether or not you can be saved.
And if today’s text is written for us. If verses twenty-two through thirty are for our ears. If Jesus’ strong words are really meant to be taken to heart, then maybe that answer is no. At least it is in light of the Law. But there’s a greater context to Luke. A context that we see in the very first verse of today’s text, where we read, [Jesus] went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And what is Jesus going to Jerusalem for? He’s going there so that the first in all importance might become last. The creator of all things is going there to be humiliated by His creation. God Himself is going there to die. And Jesus dies for you.
How narrow a door is that? It’s a door so narrow, that only one may ever walk through it. Strive to enter by the narrow door. The Greek word for ‘strive’ is αγωνιζω. Where we get our word ‘agony’ from. And Jesus indeed was in agony. Jesus suffered. Jesus bled. Jesus was crucified. All to pass through that door for you. Every Law that needed done, Jesus did. Every sacrifice that needed to be made, Jesus made. Every Word that needed to be proclaimed, Jesus proclaimed. Jesus outdid our best efforts, and our “best efforts.” And by His death, He has opened up the door to the feast.
We recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We sit at the table with the prophets. We kneel at the table with people from East and West, and North, and South. And we’re not just eating with God. God is feeding us Himself. He is the sacrifice. His flesh is given to us for food. His blood is given to us to drink. His life is given to us so that we may have life forever. And we, who had nothing of our own to bring. We, who had nothing to give to God but our sin, and shame, and guilt. We who were last of all men. We are made first. Jesus says to us, there is no one more important than you. That’s why I gave my life for you. That’s why died for you. That’s why I rose for you.
Jesus does give us a warning here in this text. When we want to bring our own self righteousness through into the kingdom of God, we will always find that door closed. No matter how good it is, no matter how hard we plead to keep it, no matter how much it helped others, none of it fits. We come instead with nothing. We come as the last of all men. Saying only, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And Jesus answers, “Well, how about that. Sinners happen to be exactly who I saved.” Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There are a lot of hats that Denny wore throughout his life. A number of roles he played. Offices, if you will. Husband. Father. Grandfather. Coworker. Family. Friend. Today, there is one hat, one role, one office that matters even more than all of those. Denny is a beloved child of God. A sheep in Christ’s flock. Jesus laid down His life for Denny. Jesus acknowledged Denny before the Father in Heaven, just as He promised in Denny’s confirmation verse. Jesus clothed Denny in His own righteousness by baptism. Fed Denny His own body and blood for the forgiveness of sin. Spoke His creative Word over Denny to give faith. And Denny is right now resting in His arms. Christ has prepared a place for Denny, and Denny knows the Way.
What exactly is the way? That’s Thomas’ question in today’s text. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Jesus spoke these words the very night He was betrayed. The night before He went to the cross. The night before He died.
And there is a temptation to see death itself as the way that Jesus was talking about. Because, you know, we can find it in our texts. Job confessed that after his death, “I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself.” Psalm 23 puts God with us in the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus Himself says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” And where did Jesus go? Jesus died. Therefore, why wouldn’t we think of death as a gateway to God? Why wouldn’t we think of death as how Jesus takes us to Himself? After all, that’s what Jesus says here, isn’t it? He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the death”?
No. Jesus instead says the exact opposite. I am the way, the truth, and the life. In every one of our texts today, Christ is with us, not because of our death, but rather in despite of it. Job proclaims, And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! And even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Jesus talks about us, not in the words of death, but in terms of life. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Death can never bring us closer to Christ. But the good news is this, Christ refuses to let death stand in His way. There’s where Denny’s hope is. That’s where our hope is as well. Despite death, Jesus is here with life. Likewise, we don’t die to be with Christ. He’s here with us right now. He joins us in death by going to His cross. And He is here with us in the resurrection.
For on the third Day, Christ Jesus rose from the dead. And He has raised us all in that same resurrection. And at the last he will stand upon the earth. So that on the last day, we too will be raised from the dead. Death’s reign will end. And we will have our bodies and souls returned together again. The ones we love returned to us again. Not as spirits, or angels, or some other form. In his flesh, Denny will see God. And in your flesh, you will see God. Your eyes will behold Him, and not someone else’s. And there, eternal life is yours. The house, prepared by Christ, with many rooms belongs to you. And you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. You and Denny both.
That’s definitely something worth looking forward to. But we’re still here in the now. But Christ hasn’t left any of us alone in the now. Of course, Christ is with Denny right now. Both are eagerly awaiting that final day. But Christ is here with us too. So that no matter how we’re feeling right now, we’re not alone. If we’re sad, if we’re angry, if we’re not sure how we’re supposed to feel, Jesus is with us through it all. Proclaiming to you that His death and resurrection has prepared a place for you. That you will not have that place snatched away by anything. That your Redeemer lives. And He lives for you.
Jesus doesn’t just show us a way, He is the way. Jesus doesn’t just have the truth, He is truth. Jesus doesn’t just present us with life, He is the life. He is all of those for you. He is the Good Shepherd. He is taking care of the needs you didn’t even know you had. He is giving to you, me, and Denny eternal life. Death isn’t the entrance for this. Death is far more sinister than that. But death has already been overcome by Christ. And it is now no longer anything to be feared. Because Christ is the way, Christ is the truth, and Christ is the life.
I know that my redeemer lives! What comfort this sweet sentence gives. He lives, He lives who once was dead. He lives my ever living head. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There’s a very familiar passage from Luke’s Gospel that I’m pretty sure you know by heart. It’s been read aloud so many times by so many people, that it’s one of the most recognizable passages in all the Bible. And we probably know it best in the old King James.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Is there anything our world wants more than peace? Why do you think the Christmas story is so popular? Everyone wants peace. From every imaginable background. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached peace. Dwight Eisenhower. Mahatma Gandhi. The Dalai Lama. Jimi Hendrix. Napoleon, of all people. People from all kinds of different backgrounds and different religions all want peace. So isn’t it wonderful that Jesus being born brought that peace? Glory to God in the highest indeed! And on earth, peace, good will toward men!
That’s what makes today’s text so hard. That’s what makes today’s text the last thing we ever want to hear. Because it’s Jesus Himself who says, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Which would you rather hear? Jesus telling you that he has not come to bring the peace you want, but rather division? Or John Lennon saying, “Give peace a chance”? Perhaps, we can find a way to keep the peace we want. Perhaps, it’s easier to pretend we just didn’t read these words of Jesus here. And instead we look only at the message from the angels to the shepherds. Especially without any nuance or context from the rest of Scripture. Because, really, that’s the message we want to hear. Everything’s going to be okay. Everyone is going to get along. God’s here to make us all one big and happy family.
The only problem with that is that the world out there actually believes these words from Jesus. It’s one of the few places they do. They see that the one problem that’s keeping the world from peace is Jesus and His Christians. And so, when a shooter in San Bernadino claims ties to ISIS, the headlines are about how praying to Christ in such a tragedy is the worst thing you can do. When another shooter in Orlando shouts Allahu Akbar, the headlines are all about how Christianity is the real reason 49 people died. I have been personally told that if anyone is dumb enough to believe in Jesus, then they deserve to be met with nothing but rage.
And this is anything but a left or right political issue. Both sides are backing away from us. Both sides are cutting ties. Both sides look at us with disdain. In fact, every side has something against us. Because if it weren’t for people like you and me, the world would already be united in peace. The world would already be a better place. And whether or not it’s actually true doesn’t matter. That’s what the world believes.
But there is truth to the fact that Jesus did not come to bring peace but division. And He brings that division, because the world already has something to bring it all together as one. The world is already united. United in death. Because everyone dies. And what could be more peaceful than death? The dead cannot provoke us. The dead cannot take what is ours. The dead cannot fight us. The dead cannot wage war against us. The dead cannot kill us. The dead cannot hate us. The dead have no way that they can ever hurt us. The dead exhibit all the qualities we could ever hope for in peace. So why not find our unity there?
And that’s exactly what our world does. It extols all the glorious benefits of death. It enthrones death as a mighty king above all life. It asks you to revere death from afar. And not to look too closely, lest you are devoured yourself. Which is precisely where the Gospel gets into trouble. It’s the Gospel’s fault that we look at the losses death brings instead of the benefits. It’s the Gospel’s fault that we dethrone death from it’s perch. It’s the Gospel’s fault that we examine death very closely, and discover that it has already been beaten. Because there was a man who claimed to be God. And that man told everyone who would listen that He would be killed, and then He would rise on the third day. And then He went and did exactly that. Death would never be at peace with Him ever again. And by that dividing of Himself from death, He divided us from death as well.
But how do we now put these two parts of Luke together? Peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and, I come not to bring peace, but rather division. Because peace and not-peace are exactly the opposite of each other. But really, I don’t think that’s too hard. Because Jesus will not make peace with death at all. The peace that is given instead comes in unity with the One who ends death forever. And while that is accomplished on Easter morning by Jesus’ rising from the dead, it will come to its full fruition on the last day, when everyone’s death will be overturned. That’s the peace.
In the mean time, however, we take the words of Jeremiah’s text today to heart. Let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Likewise, what does life have in common with death? And it is the Word made flesh who broke death to pieces. So no matter the cost, we speak that same Word. We speak that same life. We speak that same Jesus.
For indeed we look with the author of Hebrews to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Yes, that kind of division hurts. That division may cost us the ones we love. That division may even kill us. However, We are baptized with the baptism He was baptized with. We have Christ’s cross. We have Christ’s burial. And we have Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We have been divided from death. Divided from our sin. And He has put us on the side of life. What a blessed division we have been given. And we pray that division for everyone. Thanks be to God.