Thursday, February 23, 2012

Christ Comes in Cross and Conflict

Many people will use conflict or the sinful actions of some in the Church for a reason to distance themselves from the Church.  They conclude: "With all the bad things that seem to happen when people get involved in a congregation, perhaps it is better just to stay home and read my Bible rather than risk such conflict and turmoil."   Some will even go so far to cite examples of negative behavior as evidence of the ineffectiveness of the Gospel: "If what they were teaching were really true, they would certainly behave better."

In a sermon on "The Seizure of Christ in the Garden," Martin Luther uses the example of Judas to counter such claims.  Would anyone dare say that Judas betrayed Jesus because Jesus is to blame?  Could anyone honestly say that if our Lord would have taught him better things, Judas would not have committed so grievous a sin?  No!  The Lord is holy and righteous, and the enemy of every vice.  The object of His teaching and preaching was to check and ward off sin and to save from sin.  No, you wouldn't blame the Lord.  You would have to conclude that what Judas did happened because he consistently rejected the Lord's admonitions and warnings. It happened because Satan used Judas in his attempt to stifle the Gospel.  Luther then refers to “The Parable of the Tares”: "Satan hates the Gospel; men are by nature corrupt and inclined to evil; therefore Satan and the evil world have caused these offenses, so that the good seed, which is the pure, wholesome doctrine, might be despised by men."  

Stay around the Church long enough, you’re bound to run into conflict, pettiness, and even outright evil.  That shouldn't be surprising.  The Church is filled with people like you and me who have been declared righteous, but still struggle with sin--our own sinful flesh, the allure of the world, and the temptations of Satan.  There are hypocrites and scoundrels, wolves in sheep's clothing, and hirelings.  There are many tares sown among the wheat. 

But don’t let those “tares,” those “weeds” keep you away.  Don't blame, Christ, His Church, or the Gospel for that which wicked men and Satan have done. For the Church is the place that Christ has promised to come to you with His grace, mercy, and love.  There He sows His good seed--His pure, wholesome doctrine.  There He feeds you with the bread of life—His Word and gives you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.  There He equips you for forgiving your fellow sins and living out your faith through your vocation. 

As He has always done, the Lord hides Himself in the weak and despised and common—even in the midst of the sin and pain—that He might bless His people.  For confirmation of that you need look no further than the cross of Calvary.   For there in the midst of the great injustice, hate, evil, and death, you will find God's greater grace, love, righteousness, salvation, and eternal life.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On the Reading of Books

“When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.”  So writes Dutch humanist and theologian, Desiderius Erasmus, a contemporary and sometimes opponent, of Martin Luther.

Anybody who has ever helped me move can testify that I can relate to Erasmus’ philosophy.  I like books, all sorts of books, classic and new fiction, history, politics, academic, and more than anything else—theological books.  My shelves (when I have space for bookshelves) are full of books.  In addition to the 150 on the shelves in our apartment I also have one 4’ X 6’ X 7’ storage room packed with books.  I’ve read all of them but about 20 that are sitting on the shelf when I get a few minutes or hours of leisure time.  The best ones I’ve read several times.  I’ve underlined them and made notes in them.  That’s an advantage to owning a book as opposed to borrowing a book.  You can go back to it again and again.

The books that you read help to shape your way of thinking.  They expand your mind, your vocabulary, your understanding of the world we live in, and an understanding of yourself and your fellow human beings.  The best theological books do all that; but they also help us to better understand God and His creation, particularly as they focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of His work of salvation for the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life.

I’ve made a short list of some of my favorite “theological” books.  None of these are exceptionally scholarly, but readily accessible—providing both “milk” and “solid food” for Christians of various levels of maturity.  I offer them to you as examples of the many books that are available.  If you’re looking for a good book, please check one or more of them out.  Let me know what you think.  Hopefully they will prompt some questions for you and we can get together to discuss them.

The Spirituality of the Cross by Gene Edward Veith

Dr. Veith describes his spiritual journey, which included forays into liberal theology, fundamentalism, Buddhism, mysticism, and activism, and ultimately led him to Christianity.  Becoming dissatisfied with generic pop Christianity, Veith came upon the Lutheran spiritual tradition, where he found, in Lutheranism, a “faith particularly centered in the centered in the cross of Christ, one that offers a framework for embracing, and an honest and comprehensive way, the whole range of spiritual life, and whose insights have a profound resonance in ordinary, everyday life.”  This book explains some of that theology.

The Fire and the Staff: Lutheran Theology in Practice by Klemet I. Preus

“The Fire and the Staff” captures the relationship between doctrine and practice, in other words, how does the way we worship relate to what we teach.  Through stories of his own pastoral experiences, reflections on the Lutheran Confessions, and Scripture itself, Preus explores the impact of the American Evangelical and Church Growth Movements on the modern Lutheran Church.  Preus provides critical feedback to help fellow Lutherans evaluate the importance of unity of practice for the walk together as a church.

Grace upon Grace: Spirituality for Today by John W. Kleinig

There is much interest in “spirituality” these days, but little understanding of true Christian spirituality.  Dr. Kleinig states in his introduction: “Christian spirituality is, quite simply, following Jesus.  It is the ordinary life of faith in which we receive Baptism, attend the Divine Service, participate in the Holy Supper, read the Scriptures, pray for ourselves and others, resist temptation, and work with Jesus in our given location here on earth.”  Rather than list a number of confusing and distressing answers like many self-help spirituality books, this book points continuously to the means of grace and vocation, through which God gives us every spiritual gift we need and in which God gives us the opportunity to live out our faith.  

Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church by Michael Horton

Have you gone to a funeral or wedding lately and barely heard a message that included the name of Jesus, let alone, of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.  Chances are that you won’t hear much about Christ in the Sunday worship services either.  Reformed theologian, Michael Horton explores the ways in which modern American churches have given in to the whims of popular culture and left Christ out of Christianity.

The Proper Distinction between Law And Gospel by C.F.W. Walther

In the late 19th century, C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the LC-MS delivered a series of 39 evening lectures to the students of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, detailing the proper distinction between Law and Gospel in Scriptural interpretation and preaching.  These lectures were translated into English and have been a standard textbook in our seminaries for decades.  One of my seminary professors remarked: “Every good pastor should review Walther’s Law and Gospel at least once a year to make sure he keeps his theology straight.” 

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This book brings together C.S. Lewis’ legendary broadcast talks of the World War II days, talks in which he set out simply to “explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.”   Lewis uses an apologetic approach rather Scriptural doctrine to make a case first of all for the existence of God, and then the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

The dust jacket for my copy of this work of fiction says it well: “A masterpiece of satire, this classic has entertained and enlightened readers the world over with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life from the vantage point of Screwtape, a highly placed assistant to ‘Our Father Below.’  At once wildly comic, deadly serious, and strikingly original, C.S. Lewis gives us the correspondence of the worldly-wise old devil to his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of securing the damnation of an ordinary young man.  The Screwtape Letters is the most engaging and humorous account of temptation—and triumph over it—ever written.”

The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz

I’ve read this book at least once a year since I came out of the seminary.  It’s a fairly easy read with a well-written story.  I’ll let the back cover give the summary: “Here is a powerful novel on the theme of spiritual regeneration.  Three Swedish pastor learn the necessity of relying on God’s grace and promises the hard way—through failing in their pastoral duties, through public humiliation, through self-doubt, through an inability to accept God’s promise of forgiveness and sonship in their own lives, and through divisions and quarreling among parishioners.  Ultimately, each rejects the temptations of self-serving pride and over-reliance on works and permits the Holy Spirit to work through him for the glory of God and the continued ministry of the Gospel.

A Skeleton in God’s Closet by Paul L. Maier

Suppose they found a skeleton that appeared to be the remains of the body of Jesus Christ?  Would it matter?  In this carefully researched and compellingly written thriller, Dr. Paul L. Maier, Professor Emeritus of History at Western Michigan University and currently 3rd Vice President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, explores the tension between doubt and faith, science and religion, and one man’s determination to find the truth no matter what the cost.  The first time I read this book, I did so in one sitting, finishing up at about 4:00 a.m.  The second time I got done by 2:00 a.m.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Salvation Comes in Such Simple Ways!


The text for today is our Old Testament lesson, 2 Kings 5:1-14, which has already been read.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

There was once a boat that sank in a storm in the ocean.  Another boat saw the accident and went to help.  Only one man was in the boat that sank.  Luckily, he got out in time and was swimming pretty well, but he definitely needed help getting out of the water.  The rescue boat pulled up about twenty feet from the man.  Someone quickly grabbed a blue life preserver and threw it out to him. 

The man in the water caught it, but then he did something odd: he threw it back.  The person in the rescue boat was confused, so he hurried up and threw the blue life preserver back out to the man.  This time it landed right around his head—it was a perfect throw!  The man in the ocean grabbed the blue life preserver with both hands, picked it up off his head, and threw it back again!

The person on the rescue boat couldn’t believe what was happening.  He called out, “Hey, we’re trying to save you!  Why do you keep throwing the life preserver back?”

The man in the ocean said, “Don’t get me wrong, I do want to be saved, but I would prefer you save me with the white life preserver instead of the blue one.”

It’s just a story.  It wouldn’t ever really happen.  Or would it?  There salvation is.  It comes right at you.  But maybe, you don’t like the way it looks, so you throw it back.  You don’t like the form in which it comes, so you refuse it. 

Naaman was a powerful, influential man, the commander of an army.  He was highly respected, with a great future ahead of him.  But all this came crashing to a halt when he was diagnosed with a disease that would surely kill him. 

How good to hear that there was a cure for his disease!  “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”  You’d think Naaman would be overjoyed with this good news; but he wasn’t.  “Dip yourself in water?  That’s ridiculous.  I want the prophet Elisha to come out and wave his hands in the air over my illness.  I want him to speak loud, boisterous words to his God, calling on the name of his God to do something amazing.  I don’t want some boring water.  What kind of salvation is that?”

How sad for Naaman.  He had the cure right before him, but he pushed it away.  It wasn’t fancy enough.  But who says salvation has to be flashy?

Every Sunday, you come to church and are offered salvation.  Did you realize it?  Have you seen the salvation God has been offering you?  Maybe not.  Sometimes dramatic salvations happen in such simple ways it is easy to miss. 

A child has a few drops of water placed on his head, and with the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” salvation comes to that child.  It seems silly that salvation comes that way, doesn’t it?  I’ll be the first to admit it does not appear very dramatic or fantastic or dazzling for the God who is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. 

But the question is, is that good enough for you?  Or would you walk away from your Baptism, forget what Jesus has done for you through that water, and maybe look for something more dramatic like an altar call or repeated baptisms.  Will you try to create some kind of “spiritual” atmosphere where you can “feel” more saved?  Or will you cling to the simple means that God has given you?  The fact is, God hasn’t promised to cleanse you from your sins or make you His own through the exciting and dramatic, but in the humble simplicity of water and Word.

And don’t forget the bread and wine.  In these humble elements Christ comes to you to feed you with His very and blood that not only brings you the forgiveness of sins, but strengthens you in body and soul unto eternal life.
 
Or what about this one?  A pastor says, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all of your sins.”  Maybe you don’t think it’s dramatic enough; there should be some tears you must shed or maybe you need to make satisfaction for your sins or do good works to prove that you’re truly sorry.  Or can it happen through those simple words?  It can and does.
 
And for those who are weighed down by particular sins, God has given private confession and absolution.  Before the pastor you confess those sins which you know and feel in your heart, especially those that trouble you.
 
No, it doesn’t look too impressive.  After all, your pastor is a sinner, too.  But you can receive his absolution as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it your sins are forgiven before God in heaven, because your pastor is standing in Christ’s place and acting by His authority.  And you have the additional assurance that your confession will remain confidential.  When he was ordained, your pastor made a vow to God never to reveal the sins confessed to him. 

“But I feel awkward talking to my pastor about these things,” you say.  Won’t I be embarrassed?”  Yes, you might be embarrassed.  It’s proper to be ashamed of our sins.  But remember, this isn’t about your pastor or what he thinks about you; this is about your relationship to God.  God is there waiting to forgive you.  Be ashamed, but confess your shame to God!  He will cover up your sins forever.   Amazing isn’t it?  God’s salvation comes to us in such simple ways.

One day, a young Lutheran woman was at a college youth group meeting.  She was pleased to be around other Christians.  The group began talking about their salvation and how that salvation came about.  Each student had a dramatic story—one heard a voice from God while on a bus one day; another young woman spoke about a fantastic dream; one young man had a stirring testimony of how God had delivered him from addictions to drugs, alcohol, and sex; still another young man talked about how he felt God take his hand and walk him up to an altar call. 

When it came time for the young Lutheran woman to speak about how she’d been saved, she said it happened when she was seven days old.  A few of the students gave her a puzzled look, two of them even laughed at her.  “That’s the day I was baptized,” she explained. 

“You mean that you believe you’re saved just because some pastor sprinkled some water on you and said a few words?  That’s silly.  It doesn’t make sense.” 

The young woman thought for a moment, and then she said, “You’re right.  It is silly.  It doesn’t make sense.  But that’s exactly how God saved me.” 

Then she shared words she had memorized in catechism class: “How can water do such great things?  Certainly not just the water, but the Word of God in and with the water does these things, along with faith which trusts this Word of God in the water.  For without the Word of God, the water is plain water and no Baptism.  But with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter 3: ‘He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life’ (Titus 3:5-8).” 

Amazing, isn’t it—God’s gift of salvation comes to us in such simple ways.  And that, right there, is often the problem, the objection, and the offense.  Ever since the fall into sin, the devil has been tricking us into not accepting what God has given and instead has us looking for other, more dramatic and enticing ways that we think will bring us salvation.  But Christ, that simple Christ who dumbfounded the world by coming into it as a baby and not as a great and mighty king, has shown the way for us.  He comes to us in simple ways, quiet ways, sometimes ways that can be completely overlooked.  But these are ways of salvation that the greatest of kings can touch or the smallest infant can receive.

Thankfully for Naaman, he had servants who were levelheaded enough to bring him to his senses.  “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it?  Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (v.13). 

What a wonderful, inviting way of telling your boss, “Look, Naaman, you fool.  That prophet sent His messenger with the Word of God’s promise to you.  If you had been commanded to give 10,000 pieces of silver to be cured, you would have done it, wouldn’t you?  If you were ordered to conquer a nation in order to be healed, you would have done it and been glad… right?  But now, since God’s Word has been given you, and you find you need only wash seven times in the Jordan River, you are offended, angry, and having a temper tantrum?  Are you really willing to pass up your only opportunity to be cleansed from such an awful disease?  Repent of this great sin against God and His Word!”

Oh, how the unbelievers in the world and the doubters in the Church regard the invitation to repent and be baptized, to come and hear the Word of the forgiveness of all your sins—to take and eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. 

Though it is an invitation and not a command, the foolish reply: “Don’t tell me what to do!  I’d rather have the pastor come out and wave his hands and entertain me.  I’d prefer to hear practical advice on child rearing or how to spice up the marriage bed.  Instead, he talks a lot about my sins and my need for a Savior.  He invites me to a ‘feast’ of unleavened bread and wine, where’s there’s not even enough there to curb my appetite or wet my whistle.  Why should I bother?”

And what happens to people such as this?  We don’t know.  What we do know is what happened to Naaman.  Had he not been given the gift of repentance through the mouth of others, he would have died a leper.  But by God’s grace, he did see his sin and acknowledged it.  He did listen to those simple words and look what happened: he was saved!  His skin was restored.  He was healed!

Leprosy is a terrible painful disease.  It eats away at skin and flesh, causing paralysis and muscle atrophy.  It is so contagious, that those who are afflicted must be isolated from the rest of the population, until it brings a horrible death.

But there is something like that disease that eats human beings, one permeating the soul.  It is called sin—a condition that is ours by nature even prior to birth.  David declares the truth for each of Adam’s descendants: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).  Many people think of sin as only something you do or fail to do; but sin is a deep and horrible corruption of your human nature.  Sin isolates you from God and one another.  Sin leads to eternal death and the torments of hell. 

But God, in His grace, has given you a cure in His Son.  Jesus lived the perfect life that you could not live.  He died on the cross to pay for your sins.  His death reconciles you to God.  His shed blood cleanses you from all sins, and gives you new life.  And He bestows that salvation through His Word and Sacraments. 

God’s gift of salvation comes in such simple ways.

Christ says to you, “Come to My Table.  Eat My body and drink My blood.  I gave it into death for you, and now I want to give it to you so you can be certain you are really free from the devil and hell.

“Come, here is water for you in Baptism.  I gave you this miraculous water so that all can be washed and clean.  It is simple, so all of you are able to receive it.  I don’t ask anything from you.  I ask only ask you to come and be clean.  Let Me wash you of your sins and make you clean.

“Come, hear My words of love spoken in the Absolution.  Though voiced through My called and ordained servant, they are just as valid as if you heard them from My lips.  Hear this Good News: ‘I forgive you for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.   Amen.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Jesus Comes Today with Healing


The text for today is our Gospel, Mark 1:29-39, which has already been read.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Straight from the Capernaum synagogue, Jesus goes off to Simon Peter’s house along with brother Andrew and James and John.  Simon’s mother-in-law isn’t feeling terribly well.  “She’s been running a bit of a fever lately, which is why she missed services today,” they tell Jesus.  “Probably one of those 24-hour bug things.  A little rest, some chicken soup, a couple of aspirins, and she’ll be fine.”

Yet there is Jesus, in the little house, completely there for this woman with the flu.  He comes to her bedside, bends down, takes her by the hand and lifts her up.  At that very moment, it’s as though there was no one else in the world but this woman.  And there is no doubt as to why Jesus is there.  He is there for her.

He gently lifts her up by the hand, and the fever leaves her, without so much as a Word.  He sure makes it look easy, doesn’t He?  Simply a touch and the fever is gone.  Then she gets up from her sickbed and begins to serve them.  Puts the water on and makes some coffee and sets out some sandwiches and cookies.  Nice, but hardly the stuff of headlines.  As miracles go, this is an unremarkable one.  Almost not even worth reporting, really.  Actually, I’m more surprised to find out that Peter is married and has a mother-in-law than that she recovered from her fever after a visit from Jesus.   People recover from fevers all the time.  

About a year ago, I got home from work in the morning knowing I wasn’t feeling well.  Within a few minutes, I was in bed, shivering with fever chills under a pile of blankets.  I spent the whole day in bed.  Slept for about 16 hours, only waking up to take some more cold medicine and drink some more liquids. 

By the next morning, I was feeling fine again and ready to meet the day.  A miracle?  That’s not what we would usually call it.  I can assure you that I prayed for healing, as best I could, with the blankets piled on top of me—but you probably wouldn’t classify it as a miracle, would you?  Nor did I, to tell you the truth.

But the text would have us rethink and repent.  We’re caught in our own little version of what is called materialistic naturalism—the notion that natural events always have a natural cause.  It’s a basic assumption in the natural sciences today.  It’s one way to keep the idea of a Creator out of the creation and the curriculum.  Nature is natural, and therefore nature must have a natural cause.  Of course, it doesn’t really explain how everything can start out from nothing, but hey, that’s about as far as you can go if you want to leave God out of the picture.

Now that may be a bit over your head… or off your radar screen… or out in left field… which are all ways of saying: “So what?”  Unless you’re arguing with a Darwinist or speaking to the school board about science texts, it may not mean all that much and you may not care all that much.  But when it comes to the sneezes and sniffles, the colds and flus, and possibly, for some—even the cancers and clogged arteries—we’re pretty much materialists.  We’ve been trained by science and medicine to see natural causes as the ultimate cause, the final word on health and healing.  If the fever breaks and the flu goes away and we regain our strength to serve, then it was the pills we took or our immune system or the vitamin B shot.    

No, I’m not saying don’t go to the doctor, don’t take your prescriptions, or don’t watch your diet and exercise.  These are all gifts of God.  Use them!  But remember, these are instruments in the kit of the Great Physician in whom there is life and health.  The healing may come through medicines, miracles, or even the natural healing processes of our wonderfully designed bodies; but all healing comes from Jesus, the Incarnate Word through whom we are made and in whom there is life.  Jesus comes today with healing.

Notice that it’s all the same to Jesus—whether it’s a case of the flu or a case of the demonic.  He treats it all the same way–with His touch and His Word.  Every disease—whether the demons or the viruses, the life threatening or the simply annoying—is a sign of the Fall… the disorder of God’s ordered creation… the groanings of a world subject to futility, decay, and death.  Every illness—including those little colds and flus—are signs of our own death, mirrors of our mortality reflecting the harsh reality that we are natural born children of Adam subject to Adam’s death.  Every healing—including the little ones when the fever breaks at the end of the day—is a little resurrection, a small reminder that the One who suffered for our sins on the cross is our health and strength.  “He has taken up our infirmities… By His wounds we are healed.”  Jesus comes today with healing.

As happens in small towns, word of Jesus’ healing soon got around.  By sundown, when the Sabbath had ended, people started coming from all corners of Capernaum to Peter’s house.  They were all over the front lawn and up the driveway, trampling down the bushes and flattening the flower beds.  People were carried on mats or draped over the shoulders.  Demonized people spit and cussed and foamed at the mouth.  People lay helpless with horrible, disfiguring, contagious diseases. The front lawn looked like a trauma center… an episode of ER.  It looked like hell—that’s what it really looked like. 

The whole city was gathered together at the door of the house of poor woman who had just been cured of her fever.  And Jesus heals them all.  He heals their broken bones and their runny noses and leprosy.  He silences their demons and casts them out.  He patiently works into the wee hours of the night.  The Great Physician on his rounds, making house calls, working to the point of exhaustion.  Touching.  Healing.  Casting out unclean spirits with little more than a word.  Going from one person to the next.  One person at a time—much as He continues to come among you today.  Jesus comes today with healing. 

Christ Jesus gave up Himself into death on the cross as payment for all of the sins of the world, in the place of every man, woman, and child who has ever or will ever live.  There is not one sin, one sinner, that His holy, precious blood did not redeem.  And yet He applies this gift personally, individually, to each one—in Baptism, as the water is poured on you.  In the Absolution, as hands are touched to your head and words of life and forgiveness are put into your ears.  In the Supper, where you receive with your mouth the gifts of His sacrifice, His own Body and Blood, touching you, taking you by the hand, lifting you up from the fever of your sin and death, raising you to a life of grateful service.  All of it “for you”—as personally “for you” as Jesus was for Peter’s mother-in-law that Sabbath day.

Early in the morning, before sunrise, Jesus arises and goes off to a quiet place by Himself to pray.  You would think that Jesus would ride this wave of celebrity.  The crowds are great; the word is out.  The opportunity is ripe, and you’ve got to strike while the iron is still hot.  But Jesus goes off by Himself to pray.  The disciples go looking for Jesus and tell Him what He already knows:  “Everyone is looking for You,” they say.  

And then Jesus says a remarkable thing: “Let’s go to the next towns, so that I may preach there also, because that is why I came.”  He leaves all those diseased and demon-possessed people behind in Capernaum and goes on to the next town!

  Couldn’t He heal them anyway?  Like a general absolution?  A corporate healing?  Just wipe out all disease in Capernaum first, and then push on?  Certainly!  But Jesus doesn’t do that.  He leaves them the way they are—suffering, searching for Jesus.  He goes on from one town to the next, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons.  To preach is why He came.  Jesus comes to preach.  To preach that the kingdom of God has come in His coming.  That’s what the miracles show.  They are signs of the new creation, signs of the resurrection, sneak previews, not the main event.  Jesus comes to preach.

Preaching.  That’s number one on Jesus’ priority list.  Preaching, not healing.  And that’s kind of hard for us to understand, isn’t it?  At least when it goes from the abstract to the concrete.  Until it touches our lives where the rubber meets the road.  Healing we like.  Miracles we like.  Quick fixes we like.  Preaching, well… that’s another matter.  We generally don’t ask our pastors how many hours and days they prepare for preaching.  We’re more worried about other things: problem solving, programs, vision, leadership.  But not preaching.  Not real Law and Gospel preaching.  Yet Jesus said that’s why He came—to preach.

Our priorities are upside-down.  We expect all the wrong things.  We want Band-Aids from God.  A quick fix.  Something to make me healthy, wealthy, and wise.  We want answers to all our perplexing questions.  We want healing for our diseases.  We want our demons silenced.  And all Jesus wants to do is preach.

So why did He even do the miracles?  They’re a “sign” that reveals who Jesus is.  He is the active agent behind all healing—the Creator and Redeemer of the world.  Simon’s mother-in-law would probably have gotten better on her own.  But even if Jesus had never visited her house to bend down at her bedside, her healing would have still been by Jesus.  Jesus was simply showing Himself for who He is—our Creator and Redeemer, the One who made us and the One who saves us.  Every healing, no matter how it happens (no matter on whom it happens) is the work of Christ.  The miracles simply leave out the middle man—the doctor, the HMO, or the big pharmaceutical company—and point directly to Jesus.

Jesus didn’t heal everyone in Capernaum because it wasn’t necessary to heal everyone.  That’s not what He came for.  That’s not how He deals with diseases and demons.  The way Jesus deals with demons and disease is to die, and to drop all of our diseases and demons into the black hole of His death.  The way He heals us is not to give us Band-Aids and bromides, but a death and resurrection.  Death and resurrection is the way that Jesus brings healing and life. 

The miracles just point the way to Jesus.  They are not an end in, and of, themselves.  Faith in Jesus is not faith in miracles.  It is faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ.  Faith that is born of miracles needs miracles to keep it going.  True faith given by God trusts even when the road seems the darkest.

The fact is, Jesus didn’t kneel down at every bedside, as He did Simon’s mother-in-law.  Nor did He cast out every demon and heal every disease.  Sometimes He just pressed on to the next town with His disciples, and maybe you weren’t one of the lucky ones.  But that didn’t matter.  Because every healing, when it comes, however it comes, comes from Jesus.  And every prayer for healing is answered positively in the resurrection from the dead.

I tell people that.  I’ve done so at their bedside and I’ve done so at the funeral for their loved one who has died from sickness.  It isn’t God’s desire that you are sick.  Nor does God cause disease.  It is a consequence of sin.  But I also tell them that when we pray for health and healing of a Christian, that prayer is always answered “yes.”  The only thing we don’t know, and the only thing we can’t say, is when or how.  Perhaps you might be like Simon’s mother-in-law and simply rise up from your bed and head straight for the kitchen.  Or you may spend a few days in bed before you rise.  Or maybe months.  Or you might die first before God grants that healing in the resurrection.

Jesus didn’t come to put a temporary bandage on our wounds.  You know what happens to bandages; they wash off in the next shower.  Jesus came to heal our wounds ultimately and finally, once and for all.  He came to preach, to proclaim the kingdom, to suffer, die, and rise and so to deal decisively with the cause of disease and death. 

In His death and resurrection, Jesus took all creation with Him.  He bore not only our sins on the cross; He bore our sicknesses, our frailties, our weaknesses.  He defeated the devil and demons that hound us.  He defeated death itself. 

And if He leaves things as they are for a moment, if He leaves a few devils lurking around, and a few diseases uncured for the time being, the victory remains.  Christ has conquered death.  And He gives us the victory.  And there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from God’s love in Christ—not the devil and his demons, not terrible accidents, not cancers or bullets or viruses or whatever else.

The fact is Peter’s mother-in-law would get sick again.  There would be other colds and flus and fevers.  One day, she would die from one of them.  The medical report and her obituary would read that she “died of natural causes.”  Again, that naturalism of ours.  Death by natural causes, as if death were nothing more than the natural order of things.

But the ultimate cause of death is anything but natural.  It is the unnatural wages of our sin, the chaos of our rebellion, the disorder of our humanity living in denial of God and making gods out of ourselves.  All those diseased and demonized people whom Jesus healed would one day die of something.  But they would know, as Peter’s mother-in-law would know, whom to trust in the day—the One who touched them with His healing touch, the One who silenced their demons with a Word, the One who hung on a cross in the darkness and rose from the dead in the early morning.  They would know that though they die, yet in Jesus they would live; and living and trusting Jesus, they would never die forever.

One day you will die, too.  And there won’t be any easy answers or quick-fix miracles.  But Jesus will be there as He always is.  He will reach down to you and take you by the hand, and raise you up from your grave.  And then all those prayers for health and healing you ever uttered, and all the prayers that others prayed for you, will find their “yes” and “amen” in your resurrection.  Jesus heard them all—all those sighs and groanings and prayers.  He heard them.  And He’s already done something about them.  He died and rose from the dead, and took you with Him.

  You know that.  Now believe it.  Jesus comes today with healing. 

There was an interesting change in the post-communion blessing with the new hymnal.  Have you noticed it?  “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting.  We used to say “in the true faith,” but now we say “in body and soul.”  

While I greatly appreciate the old and its emphasis on right believing, the new is a reminder that Jesus came to deal with your death and conquer it… that what is good for your soul is also good for your body… that He is the ultimate Source and Cause of your own health and strength… and that there is a coming Day when you will finally realize and receive this in your own body.  On that Day, Jesus will bend down to your grave, take you by the hand, and awaken you from death to life just as He once raised Peter’s mother-in-law from her sickbed.
But you don’t have to wait to see Jesus.  Jesus comes today with healing.  You’ve been touched by God in the water of your Baptism.  You hear the Word of His preaching.  You receive His Supper, what the ancient church called the “medicine of immortality.”   In these means of grace, you have His Word of promise to you.  You have healing.  You have eternal life.  You are forgiven for all of your sins.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Into the Wilderness

"Christ in the Wilderness" by Ivan Kramskoy Click here to listen to this sermon. “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out ...