Saturday, September 27, 2014

By What Authority: From Heaven or from Man?

"The Pharisees' Question" by James Tissott
To listen to this sermon click here.
Or here.
The text for today is our Gospel lesson, Matthew 21:23-27.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Let’s set the context first: The Lord Jesus, with Palm Sunday praises still echoing in His ears, has entered the temple and toppled the tables of the moneychangers, driving out the droves of buyers and sellers. After lodging overnight in Bethany, He returns to Jerusalem, curses a fruitless fig tree, and begins teaching again in the temple. It’s no wonder that the leaders of the Jews come and challenge Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things?”
Jesus either has an ironic sense of timing or He doesn’t have a clue. With all the pilgrims in town for Passover, this would normally be a busy and profitable week for the moneychangers and the merchants. Disrupting business at the temple would be something akin to shutting down a Walmart Supercenter on the Friday after Thanksgiving. If the chief priests were counting on getting their cut of the profits, it is no wonder they are so upset.
But something matters even more to these men than money: power and prestige. They see Jesus’ actions and words as a challenge to their authority. Who does this man from Galilee think He is? Why are the people coming to hear this heretic teach? He proclaims that the door of God’s kingdom is open to all who repent and believe in Him. He tells them to beware of the teaching of the Pharisees and their man-made traditions.
So the fact that the temple leadership should come and question Jesus about the source of the authority for His words and deeds surprises no one. In fact, one could say that they are only doing their duty. As the leaders of the church they have the responsibility for what happens in the temple and what is being taught. If only they really cared to hear the truth!
The truth be told—they’ve already made up their minds about this Jesus. “By the prince of demons He is driving out demons,” they say (Mark 3:22). He violates our traditions (Mark 7:5). He violates the Sabbath. They have already decided that Jesus needs to die so that they can save their nation (not to mention their own positions of power). They are not looking for the truth, but are actually seeking an answer whereby they can either ridicule Him before the people or accuse Him of blasphemy—the very charge they later bring against Him.
The question of authority is the same one they had earlier put to John the Baptist (see John 1:19-27). The chief priests and elders of the people regard themselves as the authorities. The point of their question to John and the point of their question to Jesus is the same: “We did not authorize you to do what you are doing; so just who do you think you are anyway?”
John responded to their accusatory question by subordinating himself to Jesus: “I baptize with water… but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27). So it is utterly appropriate that when they ask Jesus by what authority He is doing these things, He responds with a question about the authority of John’s baptism. Who gave John the authority to baptize in the Jordan? Was this something that God authorized John to do, or did the Jerusalem leadership give him this right? By what authority—from heaven or from man?
Those questioning Jesus find themselves in a dilemma. They are trapped by the choice that Jesus puts before them. If John was really God’s prophet as the people took him to be, then they should have accepted him. But if they deny that John was from God, then that means they authorized his baptizing and teaching (or at least allowed it to continue). Caught in their own trap, the temple leadership pleads ignorance. They don’t know where John got this authority—a rather embarrassing admission, but still more palatable than the alternatives.
By Jesus is not just playing a game of “gotcha” with the Jewish leaders; He is not insecure about His own authority. Jesus’ question is really a call to repentance, an eleventh-hour invitation for them to come into His kingdom. Unfortunately, the chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders condemn themselves. They refuse to accept the truth of God’s Word, which Jesus has proclaimed in His preaching and attested by His miracles, and which they themselves have vowed to teach and proclaim. How sad! Christ gives them the opportunity to repent, but they want none of it. They reject the Savior because they value their positions of authority more highly than their salvation.
From God’s Word, properly understood by faith we know that Jesus’ authority comes from God. Jesus demonstrates this authority again and again during His earthly ministry (Luke 5:24-25). The crowds recognize His authority (Luke 4:32). This authority is affirmed by the heavenly Father at His baptism and at the transfiguration (Luke 9:35). Even if Jesus had identified the source of His authority, His questioners still would not have believed Him (Luke 22:67).
From now on, the conflict between Jesus and the official religious establishment will intensify. There will be more verbal matches between Jesus and His interrogators. Finally, there will be an arrest, a trial, and the cross. How true were the words of Jesus: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42).
In rejecting Jesus, the Jewish leaders are rejecting the Authority from heaven. Their thinking is shown to be from men, not God. Jesus is above them because He is from above—the Man from heaven. Sadly, they did not recognize this, and Jesus had already told them why: “You do not have His Word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom He has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:38-40).
Those who do not recognize Christ’s authority—here and now—will ultimately recognize that authority to their shame. On the Last Day every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Those who, by God’s grace, recognize Christ’s authority as their Lord and Savior will do so with joy.
“By what authority are you doing these things?” From heaven or from man? This question put to Jesus is still a frequent question in the Church, isn’t it? Who is “in charge” in the church? Is it the pastor, or is it the voters’ assembly or church council, or some other outside body that provides organizational oversight? Questions of authority, power, and rights can cripple congregations, turning pastor and people against each other. And, in the end it is the Church and the Gospel of Christ that suffers most.
The leaders’ interrogation of Jesus demonstrates their prideful hearts. But we must also be constantly on guard. Pride is a dangerous sin, to which we are all susceptible. Therefore the psalmist teaches us to pray, “Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind” (Psalm 26:2). Thus we learn from this Gospel to beware lest our hearts become prideful and we concentrate on establishing or maintaining our own authority instead of Christ’s. We must constantly be on guard against the assaults of the devil and our flesh in questions of authority. Each appeals to our prideful hearts.
Martin Luther writes: “The subtle poison of ambition is just under the surface. This sin has often tripped even those who have grasped God’s Word purely. From this sin all heresies have arisen… Against this secret villain we must pray God daily to suppress our self-esteem.” Thus we also learn from this text that what we need is not self-esteem, but humility before Christ, who tries our hearts and knows how full they are of ambition, pride, and selfishness. He is the only authority in the Church. It is His Church! And we dare not forget it!     
Questions of authority in the Church can turn one into a critic instead of a pupil. In C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, an apprentice devil has the task of luring a new churchgoer to hell. Attending church, his devil mentor reassures him, is not necessarily a blow for the hellish cause. In fact, the apprentice might turn his victim’s church attendance to their advantage. The trick is to get him involved in church politics. When this happens, the worshiper begins to make himself a judge, rather than a student. He assumes for himself the authority to criticize rather than learn. Then you’ve got him speaking the words of the chief priests: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
But this questioning of authority is not just a matter of power struggles and clashes of personality. It also affects our understanding of the authority of God’s Word and His Sacraments. A case in point: Is Baptism by heavenly authority or simply from man? Some would say Baptism is an act of man. The purpose of Baptism is to show the world that you have made a decision to follow Jesus Christ. That is why they refuse baptism to infants and young children.
But Baptism is not simply a human activity; rather, it goes to the heart of the proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah. This was certainly true of John’s baptism. That’s why Jesus brings it up in His response to the Jewish leaders. John preached repentance and baptized. John proclaimed Jesus to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. So if John’s baptism was from heaven, his words must be authoritative too, right? Therefore, it follows that Jesus must be the Christ.
John’s baptism was a means of grace. Like the Sacrament of Baptism instituted by Jesus, John’s baptism worked regeneration and repudiated the works-righteousness of the Pharisees. It functioned much like the Old Testament sacrifices in that it offered the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, although preceding in time the actual crucifixion of the Messiah. Thus the baptism of John was not merely “from man,” but “from heaven!”
What about our Baptism—and other means of grace? Are they by heavenly authority or only from man? The question can and must be asked regarding all the important issues in the Church today. What about Jesus? Is He merely a man, or is He also from heaven (that is, true God)? What about the Sacraments? Are they from heaven or from man? What about the Bible? Is it from heaven (inspired by God) or from man (ethical teachings, myths)? Or how about the Absolution? Is it from heaven (Christ’s forgiveness) or from man (the well wishes of that fellow sinner standing before you)?
All these questions can only be answered through the eyes of faith. Our trust in their blessings is dependent on the authority of the one who gave them—Jesus Christ, through His living, life-giving Word. As I already mentioned, Christ demonstrated His authority with His teaching and miracles. But He would demonstrate His ultimate authority over sin, death, and the devil by dying on the cross and rising again.
 Christ’s resurrection is authoritative proof that His Word is true. He is our Lord and Savior. He is the Authority of heaven and earth. Therefore, the means of grace He instituted are also authoritative. His Word, every word of Holy Scripture, is reliable and certain. The forgiveness He spokes was authoritative; the sins He forgave are all forgiven! The Sacraments He gave His Church truly deliver forgiveness, life, and salvation.

And Jesus’ authority is still at work today in the Office of the Holy Ministry. When Jesus’ pastors preach His Word, the hearers hear Him. In Holy Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ pastors forgive sins by His authority. By God’s grace, you and I rejoice in the authority of Jesus, for in it we hear His Word and are absolved. In that Word we will live, in that Word we will die, and in that Word we will live forever. In that Word, you are forgiven of all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Generosity of the Lord of the Vineyard

"The Workers in the Vineyard" by Rembrandt
Click here to listen to this sermon.
“Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:14-15).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
It’s just not fair what the lord of the vineyard does! Consider it from the perspective of the workers who are hired at the start of the day—you’ll sympathize with them pretty quickly. They’re the early birds who get the worm. The lord of the vineyard comes along and offers them the standard deal for a twelve-hour shift. They’ll work in his vineyard for a day, and receive a day’s pay at the end. So, off they go. As they labor and toil, the lord of the vineyard keeps going back to the marketplace. Each time, he finds more who are idle and he calls them into his vineyard. He even goes back when there’s only one hour left in the day.
The day ends and it’s time to collect. The bean counters do the math: If those who work the whole day get a day’s pay, then it stands to reason that those who worked one-twelfth of the day will get one-twelfth of a day’s pay, right? But when those who worked only an hour collect their wages, they get it all—a full day’s wages. Surely those who worked the whole time are going to get something extra, aren’t they? It’s only fair. Yet, when it’s time to collect, they only get what was promised—one day’s pay, the same as everyone else.
It’s then that the grumbling begins. “It isn’t fair, what this lord of the vineyard has done. We worked a lot more, so we should get paid a lot more; but instead, all we got was what we were promised. Look at the guy who killed all but the last hour of the day before coming to work; he’s walking around with a whole day’s pay and a smile on his face.” So goes the reasoning of the grumblers, and you have to agree that the landowner hasn’t acted all that fairly.
However, consider the same day from the perspective of the lord of the vineyard. It’s his vineyard. He’s the one who goes to the marketplace and finds workers who are idle. He could look for others who show more initiative—he could stick to those who arrive at his gate; but these idle men need a place, or else all that they have will be taken from them. So he “hires” laborers. But note the terms: He promises he will give them whatever is right. As the day wears on he returns to the marketplace; and each time he goes he finds more idle men. He wants them, too, in his vineyard, where he can provide for them security and peace. Therefore, he calls them into his vineyard and offers them what is right. He even goes back at the eleventh hour. The lord has to realize that he won’t get much work out of them, but he still wants them in his vineyard anyway.
When the end of the day comes, the workers are gathered for the time of reckoning, and here’s the surprise: The lord of the vineyard does not pay them based upon their work. The lord of the vineyard gives to them based upon his generosity. Whether the worker has labored for twelve hours or one, he still has the same needs. So, that’s what the lord of the vineyard gives—what each one needs! Is it fair? Not at all. And thank God it isn’t. Focused so much on their own efforts, the full-day workers miss the most important point. The only reason that they are even in the vineyard is because the lord has given them a place.
You see, this parable isn’t about life in the world; it is about the kingdom of heaven. And the kingdom of heaven isn’t about getting what you deserve; it’s about the generosity of the Lord. Don’t look for the world’s justice in the kingdom of heaven; it doesn’t apply. What passes for justice in this world just doesn’t fit the kingdom of heaven. As God says in the Old Testament reading for today: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways… For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
The Lord is simply not fair in the way that the world measures fairness. And thank God He isn’t! The world wants an eye for an eye, a life for a life; but the Lord takes the nails and lays down His life for the forgiveness of our sins. The world wants the punishment to fit the crime; but the Lord, who has committed no crime, bears your punishment in His body on the cross. The world demands retribution and revenge; but Christ prays for His enemies and takes on all of God’s wrath for our sin. The Lord is generous, forgiving, and kind. He repays evil with good. He does not seek the death of a sinner; instead, your Lord desires to show mercy. That mercy was accomplished by the Father’s just punishment of His Son on the cross. Justice for Jesus means mercy for you. Christ has atoned for all your sins by His innocent suffering and death, and in heaven you will live for all eternity in your Savior’s love. There is no worldly justice beyond the pearly gates. Heaven is filled with the Lord’s mercy and grace.
But there is a place where perfect worldly justice will reign forever. There is a place that is filled with all the pain and misery that our sins truly deserve. In that place each person will receive in his or her body the just reward for every lie they’ve ever uttered, every lustful or covetous thought, every idol they’ve secretly worshiped, every vain work they’ve ever done, every hurtful word they’ve ever spoken, every act of love they’ve failed to do. In that place the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies. In that place eternal pain and torment are each man’s portion. In that place each sin is punished eternally. That place is hell!
But our generous Lord would not have anyone go to hell. That place was prepared for Satan and his evil angels who rebelled against the Lord. God never intended it for man. But those who stubbornly reject His mercy and grace—those who choose their own standards of justice over God’s—will be condemned to hell. God takes no pleasure in the death of sinners. God does not want anyone to suffer the torments of hell. But Satan does!
Satan is not like the Lord. The Lord finds His joy in mercy; but the devil delights in what the world passes for justice. The evil one wants a chance for you to reap the rewards of your evil. Satan is s a liar and a murderer, and has been from the beginning. Satan knows no mercy. He knows nothing of grace. He knows only God’s perfectly just wrath against him and wants you to share the same.
But the kingdom of heaven does not operate under the world’s system of justice. The kingdom of heaven comes under God’s grace. It comes to us in God’s means of grace. And so, when the Lord sends His Church out into the world, He does not send it to dispense the world’s justice. He sends it to share His mercy and grace. There’s no firing range at the seminary. Pastors are not police officers or prosecuting attorneys. The Church does not train us to enforce the laws of men. Instead, we are called to be heralds of God’s mercy and grace in Christ.
The justice of the world is tit for tat. Crimes are punished, and good deeds are rewarded. But the Lord doesn’t want to punish you at all. Christ has already suffered every bit of God’s wrath and eternity in hell that you deserved for your sins. There are no scales in heaven that the Lord uses to weigh your good deeds against your evil ones. There are no lists of when you’ve been naughty or nice. The Lord has sent His Son to destroy the scales of worldly justice. The Lord sent His Son to live a perfect righteous life and exchange it for your sin. The Lord has blotted out all of your iniquities from the ledger of your sins. Jesus has won forgiveness for all your sins, and freely gives you life and salvation by His grace.
Many turn Jesus’ parables into moral lessons. They try to draw lessons for stewardship or outreach, how to live a purpose driven life, or how to live your best life now. But there is no worldly wisdom in our Lord’s parables. They do not even speak of what goes on in heaven. They were designed to tell us what goes on here, among men, when God is busy reestablishing Himself as our King and Lord. They tell us of Christ’s work on our behalf to win our salvation and make us His own.
No earthly king could ever afford to be as generous as your Savior is. The ways of Wall Street and Main Street are ignored in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus didn’t follow a business model or practice the latest management techniques. Jesus never learned the art of buying low and selling high. In fact, Jesus was so careless with accounting that He picked a thief named Judas to keep the disciples’ books.
The parables show that the kingdom of heaven is not at all like the kingdoms of the world because the King of heaven is not at all like the kings of this evil age. The Lord is ridiculously reckless with His gifts. In today’s parable the Lord gives just what He promises. He pays no one according to their deeds, but rather, gives to them abundantly according to their needs. Oh, the generosity of the Lord!
Some of you were baptized as infants. You entered the vineyard when you were just a few days old, and there the Lord promised you eternal life and salvation. You have never known a day outside of your Savior’s forgiving love. You’ve always known the comfort of the Gospel. What a blessing!
Others of you may have come into the vineyard a little later, at the third hour, the sixth hour, or the ninth hour. He found you in the marketplace. You heard the saving Word of the Gospel from a friend, a family member, or a co-worker and came into the vineyard. And a few of you may have come at the eleventh hour of your life, when you don’t have many years left. And to each of you, God has said the same Word: “Come, work in My vineyard! I will give you what is right.”
It is worth noting that the Lord does not say that He pays the vineyard workers; He gives to them. He gives to them according to His promises. The Lord does not keep a time card for you. There are no annual reviews or performance bonuses or commissions. No bookkeeping is allowed in the kingdom of heaven. The Lord of Life keeps one book, and in the Book of Life there are entries only in the credit column. Nothing is ever counted against you because Christ’s blood has blotted away all the debt of your sin.
The Lord is not a worldly landowner, and He’s not paying any attention to His bottom line. He doesn’t want you in the vineyard because of what you bring to the table. He wants you in the vineyard because of what He brings to the Table—His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. He wants you in the vineyard because that is where all the good stuff is.
What is good in this world is not even worth comparing to what the Lord has in store for you in His kingdom. Here and now, He gives you faith, forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. When His kingdom of heaven reaches its fulfillment, the Lord will raise you and all the dead. He will bring you to Paradise and give you every good gift He has won for you on the cross.
Hear of the generosity of the Lord! His mercy knows no bounds, and His love never ceases. He gives to the last even as He gives to the first. He loves you. He keeps His promises to you now, and He will keep them to you for eternity. What good news! You never need to worry whether you have done enough to earn God’s mercy, or whether you deserve it. God’s grace is a gift. He gives wonderful things to you, not because you have earned them, but because of His mercy and grace. And among the very best of His gifts is this Good News you hear week after week: For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven of all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

When the King Settles Accounts

Click here to listen.
Or here.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants” (Matthew 18:23).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Having just heard Jesus’ words about winning back an erring brother, Peter asks, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive Him? As many as seven times?” Peter thinks he is being very generous. After all, the old Jewish teaching was that three times was enough, and even then you only forgave someone if he or she first apologized. And generally, it was expected that the sinner had to make it up to you somehow.
But Jesus raises the bar considerably higher: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Some translations render this 77 times. Others make this 70 x 7 times, or 490 times. Either way, it’s a lot of times. But neither number is to be taken literally. Both of them tell us to just keep on forgiving indefinitely. Don’t keep score and finally decide that enough is enough. Forgive completely and unconditionally without limits and without keeping record. That’s the kind of love God gives. You see, if God kept such a record of our sins and required us to first make amends, He would have written us off long ago. We need God’s forgiveness over and over every day as long as we live. In the same way, we must forgive.
To help us understand this matter of forgiving and being forgiven, Jesus uses a parable. A king decides to settle accounts with his servants. The first man called in owes the king a huge debt, ten thousand talents—millions of dollars. This debt is so tremendous that the man could not possibly ever repay it. So the king orders that everything the man has, including his wife and children, should be sold in order to pay at least a portion of that huge debt.
When the servant begs for mercy and promises to repay everything, the king has pity on him, cancels the entire debt, and lets the man go. How grateful that man should be! But he isn’t. On his way out, he meet a fellow servant who happens to owe him a relatively small debt. A hundred denarii is about three months wages for a laborer—nothing at all compared to the millions of dollars of debt he had just had forgiven. We might think, it would only be natural that he would cheerfully forgive that relatively small debt, but instead he becomes violent, grabs the man by the throat and demands immediate payment in full. He turns a deaf ear to the man’s pleas for mercy and his promises to pay the debt as soon as possible. He has him thrown into debtor’s prison in order to settle accounts.
When other servants report this to their master, the king immediately calls that ungrateful servant back, angrily scolds him, and has him thrown into debtor’s prison. We may assume that he spends the rest of his life in jail because there is no way he could pay back his huge debt.
Serves him right! He got what he had coming to him! The man is a jerk! How dare he be so unforgiving after the great mercy that that had just been shown to him! I hope he rots in the hellish darkness of that prison for the rest of his life! That’s what we think, isn’t it? But then Jesus hits us right between the eyes. “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from the heart.”
You and I are the ungrateful servant. We are the ones who have been forgiven a great debt. The few sins our brother has committed against us are puny compared to the countless times we have sinned against God. We’re the ones holding our fellow servant by the neck, insisting that he settle accounts that he make up for each and every wrong he’s ever done to us. All the while, we’ve had countless thousands, perhaps millions, of sins forgiven.
Jesus’ parable hits everyone’s sinful flesh hard. It is a scary thing to hear Jesus say, “So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Who has not been unforgiving at some point in his life? How often do you avoid coming to a church function because you’re upset with somebody? Or refuse to talk to somebody because of something they did to you? How often in the heat of an argument will you dredge up some prior offense that should have been buried long ago? If God treated you like you treat others, what would become of you? Your debt of sin is so heavy that you would sink into the dark depths of hell, just like the man in the parable.
As you look at the servant with the impossible debt through the lens of the Law, you see yourself, so great is your debt of sin. You could never settle your account. Any efforts or promise you may make about paying that debt are meaningless. Your debt only gets larger, for you could not possibly earn forgiveness as fast as you commit more sins. As a matter of fact, you cannot earn any forgiveness at all. Your only hope is in the mercy of our gracious God. And He has told you that He freely forgives you all your sins for Jesus’ sake. Your account is settled. No sin stands between you and your heavenly Father.
And the same goes for the sins of your brother. You see, Jesus did not just cancel your debt; He paid it, in full. With His perfect, obedient life and His innocent suffering and death, Jesus paid for the sins of the world. With His holy precious blood, Jesus paid for every single sin that’s ever been committed!  Through faith, you receive that gift of forgiveness solely by grace. Who are you to demand that your brother make amends to you?
If you now refuse to forgive someone, you are acting like that unmerciful servant. You are showing by your actions that you do not really believe in mercy, that you think people should be held accountable for all their sins. And God then says to you: “If that is what you believe, then that is the way I will deal with you.”
We recognize the fairness of it all every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer and ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We ask God to forgive us in the same way as we forgive others. That means: If we refuse to forgive someone, don’t forgive us either. Treat us as we believe people should be treated.
Does that mean that God forgives you when you repent but cancels that forgiveness when you refuse to forgive someone else? That is a rather pointless question, really; it’s a futile attempt to accuse God of being unfair or going back on His Word. It makes no difference whether He cancels that previous forgiveness or not. Once you set different standards for yourself, that first new sin you commit is enough to condemn you for all eternity—and you have already sinned by refusing to forgive your brother!
Satan wants you to believe that you have a right to refuse to forgive someone who deliberately harms you, especially if that harm is repeated and the offender shows no repentance and doesn’t even care about being forgiven by you. The devil wants you to imagine that you can derive a certain satisfaction from holding a grudge or even trying to get revenge. But such an unforgiving spirit is spiritual poison, which harms you most of all and threatens to destroy you utterly and eternally. When you forgive others as God forgives you, you are the one blessed by that. When you refuse to forgive others, you endanger your own faith and salvation.
Really, forgiveness is not yours to give or withhold. Forgiveness is a gift of God’s mercy and grace. It all belongs to Him! God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life. Christ paid the debt for all sins. The Holy Spirit distributes that forgiveness through the means of grace. You are not the forgiver—you are just the conduit through which God forgives your brother.
Think of it this way. Let’s say you are riding along in a truck, through a country of many starving people. The truck is filled with food donated by a very wealthy man. You have neither provided nor procured any of the food. You have, however, been given this food and asked to hand it out to those who are starving. In other words, you have been asked to give out these gifts but not to decide whether someone should receive these gifts or how much they should receive. You have been asked to give these life-saving gifts even to those too weak and too starved to request the food. And you are to give them as much as they need.
Regarding giving forgiveness, you may ask, “Well, don’t others have to apologize, or at least first ask for forgiveness?” No! Why not? Because those who are too spiritually weak and starving often first need to receive God’s powerful and living Word from Him, through you, so that they can be brought back to life, spiritually. They don’t even have the strength to ask for what they need the most: the powerful, life-giving Word of Jesus’ forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not yours to withhold. Forgiveness does not belong to you, but has been given to you. Forgiveness is a gift of God, which He is asking you to give to others. Even if the faith of others is so weak they are starving spiritually—yes, even if they do not say they are sorry—God lovingly has forgiven you, and He wants His endless gift of forgiveness to flow through you to others. Settle accounts! Forgive as you have been forgiven!
But forgiveness in theory is often much easier than in practice, isn’t it? Discussing forgiveness is easier than forgiving, especially when a sinful grudge is involved. As you consider how God desires you to forgive, you may often feel frustrated. You know you should forgive your brother or sister, but you just can’t find it in you to do it. You know you should settle accounts, but you just can’t. What do you do then? You go to the cross and the abundant forgiveness that Jesus has won there. You draw from the inexhaustible storehouse of His forgiveness.
Yes, it’s often difficult to forgive, yet the remarkable thing about Jesus is that He forgives you even for the times you don’t perfectly forgive others. God gives you the strength and ability to forgive. While you cannot generate forgiveness toward those you who have wronged you, God, in Christ, enables you to do this miraculous act. Like a powerful, cleansing, and healing agent, God’s Word of forgiveness goes to work in your heart. God’s Word will prompt and enable you to do what you cannot (or do not want to) do in your own flesh.
Regularly study this parable. Ask God to make His Word and Spirit work in you. God’s forgiveness will not only come to you, it will flow out of you, forgiving others. When God’s living Word in Christ comes to you through preaching, teaching, and receiving the Sacraments, the Word will enable you to do what you cannot do on your own: forgive others who have wronged you, taking away the desire to choke them as the wicked servant did.
How often should you settle accounts? Forgive others as often as necessary, as often as the sins continue or recur, since there is no limit to how often God forgives you. Remember, when you forgive others, you are distributing God’s forgiveness and not your own. Forgiveness is found in Christ’s name and not in yours. Only He, the King, can settle accounts. Only He has paid the debt in full.
Once again, this really is nothing new. You have been aware of this for as long as you have been privileged to be in the presence of the Lord and follow the liturgy of His Church. Perhaps for as many Sundays as seventy times seven, even seventy-seven years, you have confessed your sins and heard these Gospel words announced by your pastor as the Lord settled your accounts and marked your debt of sin paid in full: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

To Whom Shall We Go?

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
There are days and times when the going gets tough. Of that you are well aware. Who would have thought less than two months ago that we would be here today? Even two weeks ago, we all had much hope for Lois’ treatment and recovery. And now you’re caught up in the swirl of thoughts and emotions that come with mourning: a deep sense of loss, confusion, or perhaps even shock, at the death of a loved one just recently so active and vibrant.
 These reactions are perfectly normal and natural. It’s death that’s not normal and natural. Oh, I know it happens all the time, but death was never a part of God’s perfect plan for creation. Man and woman were made to be eternal, to live forever—body and soul—in God’s holy presence. There is something deep in the very fiber of who we are as human beings that recognizes the damage caused by sin. Even the most hard-core atheist realizes that death is not right. As the Teacher writes in Ecclesiastes 3:11: “[God has] set eternity in the hearts of men.”  
One of the ways that people cope with the death of a loved one is to tell stories about that person... times and incidents that make you smile and bring back fond memories… times that make you cry. And as the day goes on, we will no doubt have the opportunity for that. But I can’t picture Lois approving of speaking about her too much during the service. For one, she never really liked to be in the spotlight. But more importantly, Lois understood that at a Christian funeral such as we have today, the emphasis is to be on what the Lord God Almighty has done through His Son Jesus. He is to be our focus of worship. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. So, today I am not going to be talking a lot about Lois, but I will be speaking of a few times when God was active in Lois’ life.
The last few weeks have been difficult for you. It has been tough. Where did you go for comfort? How did you find the strength to endure? Whom did you seek? I am certain that the places you went and the people you saw varied for each of you. All of that, of course, is history. It has taken place and you are only able to tell where you did go and those people you did see. But there is an even more important question along this line and it deals with the future. In the future, when you face difficult days or encounter another loss or when you are burdened with fear, to whom will you go? To whom will you go when the days are difficult and the times are tough?
The Scripture text for this sermon is from a time when Jesus was teaching the people how vitally important it is to believe in Him and to follow Him. Many people would not accept what Jesus said, others were offended, and only a few remained with Him. Please listen again to our text.
“From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.
“Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.’”
And that brings us to our question for today: “To whom shall you go?”
I suppose that it depends on the problem. If it is a medical problem, you will probably go to a doctor. If it is financial, perhaps you will go to an accountant. If you have a legal difficulty, you might be wise to consult an attorney. If something is broken, you’ll call in a repairman. But what about the issues of life and death or heaven and hell? To whom shall you go? Certainly when dealing with a problem, you would want get the best treatment or service or advice. You want the best doctor, the wisest counselor, the smartest attorney, or the most skilled repairman. And if that is true with the temporary things that we face every day, how much more concerning the realities of eternal life and death? To whom shall you go?
The best one to consult is, of course, God. In the days of our text, people were able to walk up to Jesus and ask Him their questions. That is just what they did and He answered them—at least all the questions that needed to be answered. That can happen to us, too. Today, we are able go to God in prayer, and He answers in His Word. Not all of our questions are answered in the Bible, but every answer that we need for eternal life with God is given there.
In the Bible we find that each one of us is a sinner and sin much every day. We find out that despite this, God loves us deeply. He loves us more, (and more perfectly) than we ever love anyone else. In fact, I can safely say that God loves Lois even more than any of you. Lois’ death grieved God even more than it does you. How can I say this? How do I know? Scripture tells us: “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That love includes Lois and you and me.
The first time God’s love was active in Lois’ life was about 2,000 years ago. The Son of God became man and died on the cross to pay the price of everyone’s sins—your sins, Lois’ sins, my sins, the sins of all people of all time. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead and lives forever. He has paid for our sin, conquered death, and defeated the devil. Forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation belong to anyone who believes this Good News and trusts in Christ Jesus.
Unfortunately, there is a natural, human tendency that often kicks in at times of seeking out others. It happened in Jesus’ day, and it happens yet today. People seek out the kind of help they think they want; but that is not necessarily the kind of help they need. People came to Jesus and He told them that He is the source of eternal life and that they needed Him. The Son of God told them that He is the Bread of Life, come down from heaven for them and for all. But this was difficult for some people to accept and the Bible tells us “from this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.”
The same thing happens today—both with spiritual issues concerning God and physical issues. Sometimes we go to the doctor, the tests are run, the results are received, and we are told the truth. But the truth is not what we always want to hear. So we might try to just ignore the diagnosis or go out and attempt to find a physician who will tell us what we want to hear. St. Paul describes the spiritual equivalent in his second letter to Timothy: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (4:3-4).
The truth is only found in sound doctrine. Only as we continue hearing the Word of God are we able to make the proper applications to our own lives. That means being involved with Church. It means coming to the place God promises to tell us the Good News of forgiveness and eternal life for the sake of Jesus Christ. That brings me to God’s further activity in Lois’ life through His means of grace.
 On December 28, 1949, Lois was adopted as a dear child of God. Through Holy Baptism, Lois received the gift of the Holy Spirit, faith, salvation, and eternal life. A short while later she was confirmed in the Lutheran church. On July 7, 1951, she was united with Clarence in holy matrimony in the St. John’s parsonage here in Trosky. And that marriage was blessed by God with four children.
Week after week, in a number of different congregations, Lois stood with her family and rest of the congregation to confess the creed and join in the prayers of the church. Lois heard Jesus’ word of absolution spoken through His called and ordained servant. Lois received Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of her sins and the strengthening of her faith. And those means of grace certainly brought her much joy and comfort, especially as she approached the hour of her death. That same Word of forgiveness and eternal life can be your comfort for times like this, and your salvation as you consider your own life and death.
So, Jesus told the people the truth, but not everyone wanted to hear the truth. And so “after this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” So many of them left. It was not God’s will that they leave, but they left. The Lord our God turned to those Twelve who remained with Him. He looked at them and asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”
What a question for God to ask His people! “Do you also wish to go away?” There must have been total silence for a moment as each one thought about staying or going. Finally, Simon Peter answered for those who remained: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
“Jesus, where else is there to go? You only have the words that lead beyond this life and into eternal life. And hearing Your words and understanding Your teachings, Jesus, we have come to believe that You are the Holy One of God. There is no one else we’d rather be with. There is no one else who will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death.” Peter confessed what he believed to be true and declared it in a creed: “Lord Jesus, we have come to believe that You are the Holy One of God.” Are you able to say the same thing?
It has been said that a funeral service is for the living and not the dead. That is most certainly true. Therefore also the funeral sermon is one for you, the living, and the applications must be made to you. For each one of us here... well, there will come a time when no doctor will be able to help... when no accountant will be able to give you a few extra days... when no lawyer will be able to bail you out… when no repairman can fix what’s broken. We will each face circumstances in our life that we cannot possibly handle on our own; that just don’t make sense to our limited human reasoning. Moreover, your death and mine are also coming. And so, the question for each of us to consider is the one Jesus asked, “Do you also wish to go away?”
And the answer, the only answer that prevails, is our original question, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
And the question needs to be answered today, not tomorrow. None of us knows if we will even be alive at the end of this day. We don’t have any guarantees. Let the suddenness of Lois’ sickness and death be a sobering reminder for us to get our lives in order and our priorities straight. Tonight as you are in bed and it is dark and quiet, think about Jesus’ question and Peter’s answer that are in our text for this funeral sermon. Then, think about your own answer. Turn to God’s Word for comfort, peace, and guidance. Pour out your heart to God in prayer.
If you have more questions or want to talk more about these things in the days ahead, please speak to your pastor or other mature Christian friend. If you don’t have anyone else, I would love to speak with you about these things, or I can certainly help get you in touch with someone else who can. There is truly nothing more important. It is literally a matter of life and death—eternal life and death.
So, permit me to read our text to you one last time.
“From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.
“Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.’” Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Little Ones to Him Belong

To listen to this sermon click here.
Or here.
The text for today is our Gospel lesson, Matthew 18:1-20.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” We might think of Abraham or Moses or the apostle Paul. When the disciples asked Jesus that question, however, they wanted to know which one of them would be the greatest. They all expected to have positions of importance in Jesus’ kingdom, and each of them would have liked to be Jesus’ right-hand man.
It’s natural in any social group to establish some sort of pecking order. You see it out on the playground, in the classroom, in office politics, and unfortunately, even in the church. We all measure ourselves in comparison with others. We jockey for position and hope to come out near the top. So we can understand why the disciples wondered about their positions in the kingdom Jesus was going to establish. But Jesus’ kingdom is not like any earthly kingdom. His is a kingdom where the first are last and the last are first. The disciples’ problem was that they failed to understand that. So Jesus gave them a lesson about greatness and humility, and He did it in a way that they would never forget. We do well to remember it always too.
Jesus called a little child into their midst and pointed to that child as an example of greatness in His kingdom. He warned the disciples that no one can even enter into His kingdom without becoming like such a little one. The main point of comparison was the child’s humility. Humility—that is the basic Christian virtue. As a matter of fact, there can be no virtue in God’s sight without humility. And there’s the rub. As that great philosopher, Mac Davis, once sang: “It’s hard to be humble.” In fact, true godly humility is impossible for sinful man.
To the average person, to be humble means to not think of oneself too highly. But the moment you start trying to be humble, whom are you focusing on? Yourself! Certainly, a truly humble person would never brag about how humble he is. But even the moment you start thinking about how humble you are, you’ve failed to achieve humility. So obviously humility, from a biblical perspective, means something different than the definition our culture provides.  
Humility means, first of all, recognizing personal sinfulness and one’s inability to do anything at all to become worthy before God and earn salvation. I am a poor, miserable sinner who has offended God with my sins and sinfulness and justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment. I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. Humility depends entirely on God’s mercy for forgiveness and salvation.
Jesus provides us with the perfect example of God-pleasing humility. Though very God of very God, He came down from heavenly glory and became one of us. He was born of a poor virgin in a lowly stable. He willingly submitted to all the laws God had given to His people. He never used His divine powers for His own convenience or comfort, but depended entirely upon His heavenly Father. He allowed sinful people to mistreat Him, condemn Him, and crucify Him. He allowed His heavenly Father to pour out all His wrath for the world’s sin on Him. And He endured all these things for us. That is why He came into the world.
Genuine Christian humility will show itself in our attitude toward children. Jesus speaks of welcoming a little child in His name as a service done to Him personally. We welcome a little child in Jesus’ name, first of all, by recognizing that children are gifts of God, not grievous burdens. We serve Jesus by providing for the needs of our children. That means not only food and shelter and clothing and loving care, but above all, bringing them to Jesus in Holy Baptism and training them to know and love and obey their Savior.
If we are lacking in Christian humility, we may be guilty of causing little ones to sin instead of serving them in Jesus’ name. We are personally responsible for children’s sin if we neglect to bring them to their Savior in Holy Baptism, if we fail to give our children Christian training, if we set a poor example in our homes. That’s why it’s important for children to see their parents, particularly their fathers, attending worship and coming to Bible study. If we rely on others to teach our children the Word of God and then contradict God’s Word by the way we speak and act, we endanger our children’s faith.
Little children can believe in Jesus even before they are able to express their faith verbally, and Christian parents and other adults have a solemn obligation to nurture little children’s faith with the Word of God. That’s why we place a high priority on Christian instruction with things like Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, These are opportunities for our little ones to grow in the faith.
But please note: When Jesus is speaking about “little ones,” He is not simply talking about children. It is about people of all ages who have a childlike faith. Elderly, adolescent, new Christians, doctors of theology—whatever the outward condition—Christ’s sincere followers have a childlike faith. They are all little ones who can be tripped up and tempted to sin—by us!
Sin leads away from Christ and away from saving faith. So, woe to me and woe to you when our conduct or conversation causes a fellow Christian to fall into sin. Jesus says that it would be better to have a millstone hung around our neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. Those are strong words!
Why does Jesus use such a powerful an image? Because the immortal soul is so precious! It is one thing to imagine being in someone else’s shoes, to do to others as you would have them do to you. It’s far different to jeopardize someone’s eternal welfare, your own included! It would be better to be destroyed bodily than to be guilty of destroying a little one spiritually.
There will be many things in this sinful world that will cause people to sin. That is inevitable. But that does not excuse the guilty. The sinner is guilty, and so is the person who causes another to sin. Jesus emphasizes that personal responsibility by advising us to cut off a hand or a foot or to gouge out an eye that causes a person to sin. And He means that literally! After all, we would be much better off giving up a part of our bodies than allowing it to drag our body and soul along with it into hell. Before you cripple or blind yourself, however, realize that no member of your body can be responsible for causing you to sin. The problem is how you use your body. Eyes, hands, feet—your whole being—should aid discipleship. However, if what you choose to see with your eyes and do with your limbs weakens faith, you’d be better off without them.
Jesus emphasizes the value of His little ones by telling us the parable of the lost sheep. This little parable requires no explanation. It simply expresses the concern a shepherd feels for all of his one hundred sheep. When one of them wanders away, that one becomes the main concern. How much more should we be concerned about a little one that is lost to his Lord and Savior? The Lord does not want any of these little ones to perish. An immortal soul is a precious thing.
So far today we’ve talked about our actions that tempt another to sin—a little one in the faith. Now Jesus shifts our attention to a fellow Christian, the “brother,” who has given into flagrant, open sin and will wander away from saving faith unless gently restored by confession and forgiveness.
In spite of our best intentions, we all sin every day, but we humbly confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness for Jesus’ sake. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we sincerely try to amend our sinful lives. And we regularly encourage one another when we worship together and in our daily contacts with one another. But once in a while a fellow Christian is guilty of a deliberate sin and shows no desire to forsake that sin and make amends for it.
When that happens, we need to make a special effort to bring that fellow Christian to repentance. Even if that person’s sin does not harm you directly, it still concerns you. It is still a sin against you in the sense that it disrupts your relationship with him or her, for you simply cannot ignore another’s deliberate sin.
Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
In these familiar words of Matthew 18:15-17, the theme remains the same: That little one’s soul is precious and needs to be kept in the fellowship—even if he has sinned against you. Here Jesus gives a practical example of how to restore an erring brother back to the fold through the limiting of gossip.
Let’s focus on four main points: First, if your fellow Christian has sinned against you, keep the matter as quiet as possible. Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” If that fails, Jesus says, bring one or two witnesses. Don’t bring in the whole militia. Don’t announce your intentions over coffee. Keep the matter as quiet as possible.
Why? It is of utmost importance that the sinner be restored and be able to continue in the fellowship. If the sin is broadcast throughout the congregation, the sinner may repent but still be too embarassed to maintain active fellowship with the congregation. Imagine how you would feel if everybody knew about the skeletons in your closet—skeletons confessed and skeletons forgiven, but skeletons nonetheless. You would probably be too ashamed to continue your discipleship with that group of Christians. Because the soul of this sinning Christian is so precious, Jesus advises you to keep the sin as quiet as possible.
Second, Jesus is talking about flagrant, open sin—sin that has without question occurred and has been committed by a “brother,” another believer. This is proven by verse 16, where Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy when He says, “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (19:15).  
Now we don’t need imagination; we just need plain old common sense. If you are going to take one or two people to help you talk to your Christian brother, you’d better be sure the act you believe he has committed is sinful and hurtful to that person or to your relationship with him. And you better be able to prove it!
For example: If a fellow Christian lacks tact, does Matthew 18 authorize you to reform him? Obviously not. This passage doesn’t deal with social graces or lack of such. But suppose the brother has said something that hurt your feelings. Should you tell him, according to Matthew 18? Maybe. We are all sinners. Foibles and failings will mark our lives until we enter glory. The fact is, that many of these offenses do not come under the auspices of Matthew 18, but instead under 1 Peter 4:8: “Love covers over a multitude of sins.” Where it’s possible to overlook a fault, where the offense won’t build a wall of suspicion and hurt between you and your brother, overlook it. Remember, you are a sinner too. Wouldn’t you like your brother or sister to give you some leniency when you slip up?
On the other hand, Jesus wants us to be at peace with one another. He wants us to enjoy loving one another. And sometimes that requires holding one another accountable. That’s where Matthew 18 comes in. But this truth appears throughout the New Testament. James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to each other.” In Galatians 6:1-2, St. Paul gives us a good summary: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Third, when all fails and the matter is referred to the church, the church’s concern is always the restoration of the sinner. That means that even if the repeated pleas of the church go unheeded and the sinner is removed from the fellowship, our goal always remains restoration.
Jesus says: “If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” What kind of treatment is that to be? The unrepentant sinner is outside the fellowship, just as Gentiles and tax collectors were outside of Israel’s fellowship. Yet this unrepentant sinner still remains an object of the church’s great concern. Like the Good Shepherd, the church should always have a heart willing to leave the 99 to go seek the one that is lost. As Jesus says: “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”
Finally, in all efforts to restore the brother, you can rest assured that Jesus, the Son of the heavenly Father, will be present. “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:18-20).
In these words Jesus gives us much more than a general blessing upon any gathering of Christians. Specifically, He promises to be present in our efforts to restore an unrepentant sinner. This is not just an assurance that He will be present at a Bible study or church picnic. Those are not crises. Rather, taken in context, these verses provide comfort and strength for those tough times when you have to talk with someone about what they have done wrong.
Be honest.  Doesn’t the thought of confronting someone about sin make you nervous?  Confrontation is never easy. But we must speak the truth in love. As you do, Jesus promises to be there with you, a full partner in the effort to restore the fallen sinner and regain that precious soul.
And through His Word and Sacraments, Jesus is here each week bringing us the love and strength and forgiveness we need. In Holy Baptism, He makes each of us His “little ones.” We have been reborn as the children of God. We are all baptized into the resurrection of Christ! Along with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are clothed with Christ’s righteousness.
In the Lord’s Supper, we join not only with our fellow believers in this sanctuary, but also with the church of all ages and places, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. We all receive the body and blood of Christ. The one perfect sacrifice offered to God once and for all on the cross is distributed to each of us for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. Together we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes

Together we join to humbly confess our sins and receive this sweet absolution from our gracious and merciful Savior Jesus Christ: You are forgiven of 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 ...