Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Lord Crashes Elijah's Pity Party

Marc Chagall - The Lord appears to Elijah
at the entrance to the cave in which
 he took refuge (I Kings, XIX, 9, 13), 1956
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“And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (1 Kings 19:9b).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
Elijah is running for his life—trying to hide from God, like Adam in the garden and Jonah sailing from Joppa. Oh, that’s not what he says he’s doing; it’s probably not even what he thinks he’s doing. He thinks he’s running away from Jezebel, Ahab’s evil wife, who has vowed to have him killed. But, in reality, Elijah’s been running away from the Lord Himself. As our text begins, he’s now about 300 miles away from home, having traveled all the way on foot, most of it through inhospitable desert. The last food he’s eaten is the bread and water the Lord provided him forty days ago. He cowers in a cave at Mount Horeb.
And the Word of the Lord comes to the prophet. If that were not enough to strike terror in the bravest heart, the question the Lord asks is, without a doubt, one of the most unnerving questions we humans ever face, namely, “What are you doing?” For whoever asks us such a question when we are doing what we ought? The addition of the word here—“What are you doing here?”—only exacerbates the already precarious predicament the prophet is in, for obviously he is not in the right place either. Here is Elijah—trying to escape from Jezebel—only to be reminded of the fact that one can never get away from the presence of the Lord Himself.
It’s easy for us, looking from the outside, to see Elijah’s foolishness, but in truth, we are just as shortsighted in much of our own vision—more often than not, we’re terrified by the things of this world, even though we’ve seen firsthand the almighty power of the Lord in daily life. We fail to heed Jesus’ warning: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Shouldn’t we know better?
In fact, that’s what makes the opening lines of our Old Testament lesson so intimidating and unnerving. Elijah, of all people, should know better. He has just experienced firsthand, over a reasonable length of time, at least three significant acts that demonstrate the power of the Lord, and yet he’s intimidated by a woman, a wicked woman, to be sure, but still just flesh and blood. Elijah has just been privy to the unending oil and flour of the widow at Zarephath and the resurrection of her son, whereupon she announced, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:24). And, of course, he witnessed the dynamic revelation of the Lord’s power when the Lord vanquished the prophets and worshipers of Baal atop Mount Carmel with the fire that “consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kings 18:38). And yet, in spite of this firsthand demonstration of the Lord’s power, we see Elijah cowering in a cave. What’s up with that?
Regarding this reversion to cowardice, Martin Luther writes:
The Holy Spirit does not always impel godly people; He lets them do some things in accordance with their own will and wish. When Elijah killed the prophets of Baal, he was impelled by the Spirit of God (1 Kings 18:40); yet later on, when Jezebel’s wrath has been reported to him, he fears for himself, withdraws into the desert, and in this way looks out for his life (1 Kings 19:1–4). This he does of his own free will, for he is not commanded by God to withdraw. His reason kept telling him that he would be safe if he hid in the desert. Thus he who was most resolute when he killed the prophets was trembling here in his danger and thought that he would not be safe anywhere in Israel. These facts were recorded to comfort us, who have no other thought about the saints than that they were blocks and logs without feeling.[i]
The writer to the Hebrews takes note of heroes of the faith “of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (11:38). Elijah is certainly in their number. But like you and me, he is also a man with feet of clay. Fortunately, God does not leave him alone. The word of the Lord comes to him, and asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Now one would think, given the setting just described, that Elijah would relish the reminder that the Lord Almighty is talking to him and calling him by his name. One would think that Elijah should be feeling pretty confident about his future given the recent past. But, in truth, Elijah’s response is a sniveling sort of self-indulgence, what my Mom would call a “pity party.” “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10).
Since we’re aware of what Elijah’s just experienced of the Lord’s power, we’re amazed at his lack of confidence in the Lord’s calling. But what is even more astounding is the Lord’s enduring patience. He could have justifiably given up on the prophet, but He doesn’t. In fact, the Lord goes to great lengths to encourage Elijah, letting him know that his calling is on the same level as Moses by granting similar signs. Like Moses, Elijah goes without food for forty days in preparation for meeting the Lord at Mount Horeb. Elijah stands at the entrance of the cave, while Moses is hidden in “a cleft of the rock” when the Lord’s glory passes by. Elijah wraps his face in his cloak; Moses hides his face.
God invites Elijah to step out of his cave while He shows him three tremendous displays of natural forces. Will God use that wind, the earthquake, or the fire on His enemies? The Lord had done it before with Moses. He had used the mighty wind to separate the waters of the Red Sea and then drown the Egyptian soldiers when the water came crashing back together (Exodus 14). When Korah, Dathan, and Abiram challenged Moses’ leadership, the Lord had caused the earth to open up and swallow them. Fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men who had offered the incense without authorization (Numbers 16).
But God is not ready to deal with His faltering prophet according to the Law; instead God comes and speaks to Elijah in a low whisper, repeating His original question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Although Elijah repeats his original answer, there seems to be a whole new tone—one of confession—that suggests Elijah now understands that what he is about to hear from the Lord lifts him above the petty annoyances that had seemed so dire the first time around.
Seven hundred years earlier, God had appeared at Mount Sinai with fire, smoke, and an earthquake. When God gave the Ten Commandments, his voice was like thunder (Exodus 19:18-20). Now God comes to Elijah not with threats and anger but with patience and love, with gentleness and mercy. Through a quiet voice, God gives spiritual strength to Elijah. As a matter of fact, Elijah has not been a failure. The God who sees into our hearts and who “knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19) still has seven thousand faithful followers in Israel.
To encourage Elijah in a renewed battle against idolatry, God also gives him a threefold assignment. He is to head north and anoint the next king over Aram, who will be God’s scourge on Israel. He is to anoint a new king over Israel, who will wipe out the dynasty of Ahab and destroy Baal worship in Israel. Finally, Elijah is to anoint the man who will succeed him as prophet.  
The Gospel in this text is uniquely designed for our all too often frequent moments of pessimism and limited vision in our service to God. Elijah feels like he is the only believer left in Israel, and God assures him that there are still seven thousand faithful left in the land. God’s Word does not return empty. It achieves the salvation it sets out to accomplish. What’s more, God provides for the Word’s future success. He arranges for a successor to Elijah’s ministry. God is in charge—and, surprisingly, not just in the spiritual realm but also in the secular (1 Kings 19:15-17). God is Lord in both kingdoms, guaranteeing that all things work together for the accomplishment of His saving will and for the good of those who love Him.
The surprise is the manner in which God exercises His lordship and accomplishes His saving will. Elijah looks for the omnipotent God in the strong wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Instead, he finds him in “a low whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). This is still the methodology of our great God. While He is an awesome God who works wonders and does mighty deeds, He generally comes to us, not in razzle-dazzle, but through such ordinary items as water, bread, wine, and words.
Thank God He comes to us this way when—when indeed He comes. God came not as the all-powerful Creator who could blow us to kingdom come as easily as He could blow apart the rocks. He comes as a gentle, humble man, veiling His glory just as He did from Moses and Elijah, only this time in human flesh. He stands silently, not even whispering, before a judge and jury of His own creatures. Then, in anything but power, in seeming helplessness, He lets those same sinful creatures kill Him.
The Lord appears on a “mount” (1 Kings 19:11), yes, but the “mount” turns out to be Mount Calvary; His throne turns out to be a cross. The truth is, there is only One of God’s children who is ever all alone—Jesus, His only-begotten Son, as He hangs on the cross crying, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” His closest followers desert Him, even His heavenly Father turns His back on Him as Jesus experiences the Father’s righteous wrath for the sins of the world.
Elijah’s complaint: “They seek my life, to take it away,” at most only describes an unsuccessful attempt. But in our Lord’s case, it is successfully carried out. They indeed seek His life and take it away, or rather He lays it down of His own accord, only to take it up again. Had the prophet Elijah been slain, his death would have been merely tragic and of no saving value at all. But the death of Jesus, despite the injustice and tragedy of it all, proves to be the salvation of the world. All to enable us to stand before God’s unveiled glory for all eternity.
Elijah was not the last man of God to be threatened with death by his government. Nine hundred years later, Jesus warns His apostles the unbelieving world will continue to hate God’s messengers. The time will come, Jesus says, “when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” All of this will happen, Jesus adds, “because they have not known the Father or Me” (John 16:2, 3). Jesus tells His apostles they will stand before kings and governors for His sake (Matthew 10:18). Herod puts the apostle James to death with the sword (Acts 12:2). Paul appears before Caesar in Rome. According to tradition, Paul and all the apostles except for John die a martyr’s death. 1,400 years later, Martin Luther is excommunicated by the church in Rome and threatened with death by the emperor. Christians all across the Middle East and in much of Africa face constant persecution and often death at the hand of Islamic extremists. Whenever God’s people confess that the Lord is the only God and that Jesus is the only Savior, they can expect similar hostility and hate from the unbelieving world.
Just a few years ago, it seemed highly unlikely that could ever happen in a “Christian nation” like the United States. About the worst thing you had to endure was someone making fun of you for wanting to get home early enough on Saturday night that you could get up for Sunday morning worship. But a lot has happened in a few short years. “Same-sex marriage” went from an issue that even the most liberal politician wouldn’t touch, to a right somehow written into the constitution, so essential that it trumps all other rights including the First Amendment guarantees to practice one’s religion and protecting freedom of political speech. The rights of transgender students have become so compelling that executive correspondence directs schools they must allow access to lockers and bathrooms based upon the nebulous criteria of gender identity rather biological facts.
And those who voice dissent are bullied into compliance by a Big Brother government, crony capitalists, or their willing allies in the media. Just ask Kim Davis, the county clerk who refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex unions; or Sandra Mendoza, who after 18 years as a pediatric nurse was told she must participate in abortions or be fired; or Aaron and Melissa Klein, the Oregon bakers who were fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a cake for a “same-sex wedding”; or Judge Ruth Neely, an LCMS member in Wyoming, who came under fire when she indicated that she holds the biblical view of marriage as between one man and one woman, even though her duties do not include solemnizing marriages.
And that’s likely just the first trickle as the dam holding back the torrent of a rapidly changing culture is breached. Pockets of Europe are now under Islamic sharia law. Pastors in Canada face the possibility of arrest for “hate crimes” for preaching homosexual activity as sin. A Christian film maker who does an exposé of Planned Parenthood’s alleged involvement in selling parts of aborted babies is himself indicted on charges of attempting to purchase such parts by a prosecuting attorney who happens to sit on the local Planned Parenthood’s board of directors.
But even if nothing so dramatic should ever happen to you, it’s still easy to feel like you’re the only one trying to follow God, isn’t it? It may be at your place of work, when the HR department puts on a mandatory seminar offering sensitivity training on alternative lifestyles or religious accommodation for everyone but Christians. Perhaps you face this challenge in the classroom, when your instructor starts talking about evolution and the age of the earth being millions, even billions, of years without even allowing discussion on the possibility of a young earth or intelligent design. It could even be in your own home, when your spouse or children bluntly tell you they don’t want to hear you talk any more about Jesus.
Probably at the worst, you’ve been personally shunned or felt ostracized because of your faith, but I’m guessing you’ve not yet feared for your life because of it. The reality is, that at times, believers may feel the need to flee from those who would destroy them because of their Christian faith and their profession of that faith. It’s happened before. Will it come to that in our land? Only God knows. But we do know this: even if it does happen, you can be sure that the Lord will always be with you, patiently blessing you with His love, mercy, and grace.
You are not alone. The Lord has promised that His Church will be in the world until the end of time. St. Paul assures us that, despite the vicious efforts of Satan, God will always have his remnant, chosen by grace (Romans 11:1-5).
God alone will determine when our work on earth is finished. Until that time, He will provide for His people. As God raised up Elisha to follow in Elijah’s footsteps, so now is He raising up faithful servants of the Gospel to minister to this generation and the next. In Baptism, God calls you to be His beloved child. You are not clothed with the prophet’s mantle, but something even more powerful and miraculous—the robe of Christ’s righteousness, His death and resurrection. In the Lord’s Supper, Christ feeds you His true body and blood which strengthens you, body and soul, for the journey—far more than forty days and nights, but unto life everlasting. God continues to speak to you through the voice of His called and ordained servant, encouraging you with forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus, the Word made flesh. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 3: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 15-20. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 3, p. 320). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

We Are Beggars; That Is True!

"Swine Driven into the Sea" by James Tissot
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“The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you’” (Luke 8:38-39).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
On February 18, 1546, Martin Luther died in Eiselben, Germany. The accounts of his last few days are fascinating. Despite very poor health, Luther was at work to the very end, preaching, administering the Sacrament, ordaining two ministers, and settling a dispute between three feuding Lutheran princes. As he lay on his death bed, Luther’s friend, Jonas, asked, “Reverend Father, are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess the doctrine which you have taught in His name?” Luther responded with a clear “Yes” and fell asleep.
Upon his death, a scrap of paper was found in Luther’s pocket, which turns out to be the last words that the reformer wrote: “Let nobody suppose that he has tasted the Holy Scriptures sufficiently unless he has ruled over the churches with the prophets for a hundred years… We are beggars. That is true.”
“We are beggars. That is true.” Luther’s final words clearly picture our spiritual status before God. We are poor and destitute, broke and broken, sinful, unlovable, unrighteous, unwilling, and incapable—on our own—of effecting anything positive toward God. Our salvation must be—start to finish—an act of grace, an act of mercy. Yet as a beggar is precisely how God desires we come before Him. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13). Given our Gospel for today, we might well add, “Those who have never been under Satan’s dominion have no need for an exorcist” Or for that matter, those who have no problem with sin, have no need for a Savior.
It is important that when we read the biblical accounts we don’t just idealize ourselves as the heroes of the faith—the Davids slaying our Goliaths, the Joshuas tumbling down the walls of our Jerichos, or the Daniels standing firm in our faith as we deal with our own dens of lions. It is even more important that we consider ourselves in the position of the less than heroic, the fallen and feeble. The faithless and fearful disciples, the hypocritical Pharisees, impetuous Peter—just like you and me, they are saints and sinners. To fail to see ourselves in the faithless is to live in falsehood. But perhaps, as we consider what it means to live as a Christian, there is no better mirror than to see ourselves in the destitute, the blind, or the crippled beggars who plead with Christ for mercy.     
Have you noticed that those who approach Christ crying for mercy always come away with His blessings? In contrast, the rich man who says, “All these [commandments] I have kept,” goes away sorrowful (Matthew 19:16-22). If you are not a beggar, Christ is not your Savior. Refuse Christ’s mercy, and He will not force it on you. You will be left to your own devices to deal with your sin, death, and the devil. But sing out Kyrie eleison (“Lord, have mercy!”) and Christ is all yours. In fact, Jesus came specifically for beggars and only beggars. He delights to show mercy to beggars.*
And that’s certainly true in the account of Jesus meeting this poor demon-possessed man in our Gospel. Four times a form of the verb “beg” is used—twice by the man and twice by the demons. Yes, even the demons beg. Recognizing Christ’s authority and their own eternal destination, they have no other alternative than to beg. Sinful human beings may be led by God’s Spirit through God’s Word to genuine repentance and faith in Christ. They will spend an eternity in a new heaven and a new earth. There is no such hope for the sinful angels who rebelled against God. The devil and his cohorts will spend an eternity in hell. The best this Legion of demons can ask for is to abide in this herd of pigs for a time.
The man who meets Jesus in the region of the Gerasenes is in terrible shape; he is unclothed and has been living among the tombs. People have tried chaining him up and keeping him under guard, but when seized by the evil spirits, he breaks the shackles and escapes into solitary places. It’s not surprising that this man has nothing to do with the other people living in the area: he’s far too lost and gone.
So what does he have to do with Jesus?
That’s the question he poses when Jesus arrives: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” He’s already said a mouthful. For one thing, he knows who Jesus is. While everybody on the other side of the lake and Jesus’ own disciples are still speculating whether or not Jesus might be the Messiah, this man declares Him to be the Son of the Most High God. Furthermore, the man begs that Jesus will not torment him. That’s significant as well. He doesn’t challenge Jesus or try to scare Him with some blustery show of strength. The demons know that they are no match for the Son of the Most High God. They just want to get away from Him. But notice: they can’t do so without His permission. The demons may be strong, but so much more powerful is Jesus that they have to stay and squirm in His presence until He lets them go away.
So we have this surprising scene: the demons are begging Jesus! They’re begging Him to let them go away from His holy presence; but they’re also begging Him not to send them to the abyss. They know that because of their evil, their eternal end is the lake of fire, but they do not want that yet. Since they have to go somewhere in the meanwhile, they beg permission to enter a nearby herd of pigs. Jesus grants their request, which in turn causes the herd to rush headlong down the steep bank into the lake and drown, offering a foretaste of the lake of fire into which Satan and his demons will ultimately be cast (Revelation 20:10). The same body of water from which the disciples have just escaped by the power of Jesus becomes the final resting place for this herd of demonized pigs.
  The herdsmen who witness the death of their pigs flee to the city, where they tell the people what has happened. Naturally, many have to come out to check for themselves. They come to Jesus and find the formerly possessed man clothed and in his right mind. Now that the demons are gone, the man isn’t afraid, he’s not trying to get away from Jesus; he’s sitting at His feet, listening to His Word.
Now it’s the crowd’s turn to be afraid—not of the formerly demon-possessed man, but afraid of Jesus. Sinful man is filled with terror when confronted with the holy, omnipotent God. Sadly, this fear leads these people in their unbelief to the same response as the demons: they ask Jesus to go away.
But notice the difference in Jesus’ response. Against the demons, He stands His ground and demonstrates His authority over evil as He sends them away. But Jesus treats the people differently than the demons. He doesn’t overpower them. He leaves. It’s not that He’s too weak to do anything else. Rather, it’s that while He has grace and life to give them, grace and life are gifts—and gifts cannot be compelled. Jesus will not force Himself on anyone. As He delivers the man from the demons, Jesus comes also to deliver the Gerasenes from sin, death, and the devil. But they don’t want the deliverance; they want Him to go away. So Jesus gives them what they want—their sin, their isolation, their darkness, their death before God. But He does not leave them without a witness, in order that they might continue to hear His offer of grace.
As for the man who was healed, he wants to stick around and be in Jesus’ presence. He begs Jesus that he might be with Him. But Jesus sends him home to go and declare how much God has done for him. So that’s what the man does. In fact, throughout the city of people who want Jesus to go away, the man proclaims how much Jesus has done for him. He is now God’s instrument to declare salvation there, God’s merciful witness in hopes that those who send Jesus away might one day repent and believe in Him.
So, to play on the words of the demon-possessed man: “What does this have to do with you and me?”
One moment, the man is running around naked in the graveyard, breaking shackles and chains and terrifying the people. The next time the man is seen, he is wearing clothes and in his right mind. He’s sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Jesus’ Word, learning the Good News of salvation from the Teacher Himself. Jesus has saved him from the darkness, the demons, and the death, and then sends him back home to tell how much God has done for Him in Jesus.
This is a picture of what Jesus does for you, too. No, your condition may not seem as dire as was that man’s in the Gerasenes. You are able to get up each morning and dress yourself and go to work or your regular activities and act generally respectable most of the time. You don’t camp out at the cemetery. You don’t need to be shackled, strait-jacketed, or sedated. And we certainly don’t expect to see a herd of pigs hurtling off the bank at Split Rock Lake at the command of Jesus anytime soon. (The folks at New Horizon Farms might get upset with that.) But you and I are bound to sin and death. And like that man, we cannot free ourselves. We are beggars. That is true! We need to be clothed by Christ. We need Him to release us from our shackles of our sin, to set our minds aright, and restore order to our lives.
This story reminds us that there is a lot more going on in this world than we are aware of. There is a dark, demonic realm that occasionally breaks into our mundane existence and wreaks havoc on our lives. I know that’s a bit hard for us to swallow in our scientific age. We tend to relegate devils to Halloween and horror films. We smile inwardly when we sing “though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us…” Our scientific minds have no place for demon possession. If that man was among us today, we’d likely label him “insane” and institutionalize him. We would be much more likely to call a psychologist than an exorcist.
The fact is that there is a dark, demonic realm of which the Bible has relatively little to say. But this we do know: There is a devil, an evil one, the one who is the father of lies and a murderer from before Adam and Eve. He tempted Eve to disobey God’s Word. He creates chaos and works evil in the world, allying with our all too willing sinful natures. No, this is not make-believe or some Halloween silliness; this is a hidden, dark fact of life. It’s what St. Paul calls the “powers and principalities and the rulers of this present darkness.”
That’s not to say the ultimate end of this battle is in doubt. Satan and his minions are powerful, but they are no match for Christ. The battle between Christ and Satan is not a contest between two equal and opposite powers. All power in heaven and earth belongs to God. The only power that Satan possesses is what he has usurped and stolen. Satan’s apparent power is all a lie, nothing but smoke and mirrors, sleight of hand, and rank deception. He gains power by feeding on spiritual disorder and impurity. Evil thrives on guilt, fear, hatred, and death. Hence, in the New Testament, the demons are most commonly called “unclean spirits.” Demonic power is parasitic, for it gains its force from the desecration of what is holy and the defilement of what is good in the order of creation.
Since Satan deals with untruth and unreality, Jesus routs the unclean spirits by teaching the truth of God’s Word. That Word destroys the web of illusion and deception that characterizes the dominion of darkness. It releases prisoners and slaves from the shackles of sin, death, and devil. Jesus’ power does not just apply to what happened there in the Gerasenes. It applies equally—and perhaps even more fully—now in the light of Easter, to you and your situation. You, like all other people remain in darkness until Christ comes and teaches you His Father’s Word with authority. That Word discloses and exposes the darkness. With the Word, Christ unshackles the chains of sin that bind you. With that Word, He sends Satan and his unclean spirits packing.
Everything, therefore, depends on Christ. Through His self-sacrificial death on the cross for your sins and His resurrection, Jesus has won the victory for you. He has taken your sins upon Himself. He removes the power death has over you. In other words, He pays sins wage for you and gives you resurrection and eternal life.
The crucified and risen Son of the Most High God came to you in your baptism. Baptism has long been seen by the Church as a form of exorcism. Luther’s baptismal rite was more specific, but even ours today asks the candidate for baptism if he or she renounces the devil… all his works… all his ways. In the water and Word of your baptism, Jesus cast Satan out and commanded the old evil foe to keep his hands off of you. From that moment on it is the Son of the Most High God who possesses you. He put His triune name on you. He’s given you His Holy Spirit. He’s promised that you will be with Him forever. Baptism is a source of confidence and boldness as you go out into the world. The prince of darkness, the devil, may still prowl about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, but you can resist him as you stand firm in the faith of Jesus.
You are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Like that man out of the tombs, you have been brought out of the darkness into His light, out of death into His life. You have been clothed in Christ and His righteousness. Having been given a right mind, the mind of Christ, you come to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His Word. The crucified and risen Christ, invites you to His table to receive His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Having restored you, the Lord bids you to return home, and as you go about your daily vocations, to joyfully declare how much God has done for you in Christ.
You are a beggar. That is true! You are powerless against the devil and his forces of evil, but you have nothing to fear. Christ has overcome them all. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

*The introduction of this sermon is based upon a section of Matthew C. Harrison's "Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action" pages 99-101.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Law Is a Mirror, Not a Magnifying Glass

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“Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’ Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’” (2 Samuel 12:5-7).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
Psychologists say you’re only as sick as your worst secret. No wonder King David isn’t feeling so hot. He has a doozy of a secret; but he’s managed somehow to keep it under wraps for about nine months. At least he thinks so. But it’s taking a toll on him spiritually, mentally, and physically. Later, he will describe the experience in one of his psalms: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3–4). But for now he is in a state of denial—the most common defense for those walk the tightrope between the fear of being found out and the unspoken wish that someone will shine the light into the corner of the closet where you’ve stuffed your skeleton.
Then one day, Nathan, David’s friend, counselor, and pastor takes him aside. He tells him a story meant to strike the chords of this shepherd-poet’s heart. It seems there were two unnamed men in a certain city. One was rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and the herds, but the poor man had only one little ewe lamb that he loved and treated like one of the family. When a traveler came to visit the rich man, he was unwilling to take one of his own flock, but he took the poor man’s lamb and had it prepared for dinner for his guest.
Nathan tells this story so skillfully that he almost overdoes it. David, who had been a shepherd, understands how this poor man felt. In anger, he declares by the Lord that this heartless rich man deserves to die. Can you believe that?
Of course you can! It’s always easier to become more outraged at someone else’s sin than your own. But the Law is intended to be used as a mirror to show you your sin, not as a magnifying glass to examine others for sin. So Nathan makes the story personal when he says to David, “You are the man!” Imagine the king’s shame. How could he have missed the point? He has been so preoccupied focusing on “the rich man’s” sin, that he has failed to realize that he is the rich man. Once convicted, David no longer attempts to hide his shameful moral lapse, but openly confesses: “I have sinned against the Lord.” God waits for each of us to confess and acknowledge our sins in this same way.
It should also be noted that God waits to forgive and to heal and restore the hearts of all who turn to Him in repentance. For no sooner does David confess his sin than Nathan announces: “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” What a relief! Like a cool, refreshing shower on a hot day, God’s mercy in Jesus Christ washes away the sin and silences David’s screaming conscience. With that, the main part of Nathan’s assignment is completed. He has spoken words of absolution. He need not say more.
Perhaps at this point David writes Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions… Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment… Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me” (v. 1, 4, 10, 11). Notice how David says nothing to excuse his wrongdoing or minimize his guilt. His is nothing other than a frank admission of responsibility and an earnest plea for mercy. “Lord,” he prays, “have mercy on me, cleanse me, renew me, and forgive me.” And the Lord does. David is back where he belongs.
That’s not to say there will be no temporal consequences.
It is a mistake to think that with grace and forgiveness in Christ everything in our life is immediately reset. God has never promised there will be no consequences. We reap what we sow, forgiveness notwithstanding. In fact, we may spend the rest of our days living under the painful consequences of those sinful acts. The following chapters of 2 Samuel recount the painful unfolding of those consequences for David. In wisdom God fits the consequence of the sin to the person. And in love He doesn’t withhold the pain. As Solomon writes: “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of His reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12).
But Nathan wasn’t the only one who could tell a good story. So does Luke in our Gospel. Skilled narrator that he is, Luke at first tells very little about this man who invites Jesus to his place, not even his name. He is characterized neither as positively or negatively inclined to Jesus’ teaching. Little by little, however, as this story unfolds, Luke’s narrative reveals this man’s attitudes.
Like most pastors that I know, it seems that Jesus did not turn down many invitations to a meal. In fact, one of the harshest criticisms His opponents had was that He ate with tax collectors and sinners. So, it’s not real surprising that Jesus is willing to have dinner at the house of a Pharisee. What is more surprising is that this Pharisee would extend such an invitation. Judging from his treatment of Jesus it is not out of love for Jesus or with the desire to learn from Him, but for some more nefarious purpose.
On the other hand, the woman is determined to meet Jesus. She not only hunts Him down at a social engagement with the religious types—she crashes the party! This is the measure of how badly she wants to meet Jesus: She’s willing to endure the public scorn and shame of those who would be her harshest critics. Her actions are no less bold. She wets His feet with her tears and then wipes them off with her hair. She kisses His feet and pours expensive perfume on them.
We note the gracious way in which Jesus receives this unusual sign of love and affection. The Pharisee also takes note and he is offended. He says nothing aloud, but his thoughts are filled with disgust. If Jesus were really a prophet like many in the crowds claim, He would know this is a sinful woman and He’d never allow her to touch Him, but ask her to be expelled.
Knowing the Pharisee’s thoughts, Jesus addresses him directly: “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answers, “Say it, Teacher.” Jesus tells him a parable. Two men owed a fair sum of money to a certain moneylender—one about 50 days’ wages and the other about 500 days’ wages. Neither man was able to repay. Remember, Jewish law forbade usury (loaning money on interest), so this character is more like a loan shark than a banker. He’s not the kind of guy who would be very likely to forgive a debt. That would set a dangerous precedent. Yet, remarkably, that’s just what happens—he cancels the debts of both men.
Then Jesus asks the pertinent question: “Now which of them will love him more?” Even though Simon answers with some reservation, he come to the only logical conclusion: “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”  
Then Jesus applies His parable to Simon and the woman. Jesus says to Simon: “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water to wash My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she has anointed My feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:44-47).  
Simon has been so focused on the “sinful woman,” that he doesn’t seem to recognize his own sin and lack of love. Or at least he considers his need for debt forgiveness to be only a fraction of the woman’s. Like the rest of the Pharisees, he seems to believe that he has made up for his sin by the pious life that he leads.
Unlike David, the sinful woman has no delusions of secret sins. Not only does God know she’s broken His commandments, everyone else in town does, too. Even Jesus says she has many sins. Shunned by all, she lives a life of shame. But perhaps that is actually a blessing in disguise. After all, she is daily and relentlessly reminded that she is sinful, that her debt to God is huge and unpayable. There’s no chance she’s ever going to believe she’s okay with God on her own. She comes like all sinners must—as a beggar before God. And she falls down at His feet, offering the highest worship possible—seeking the forgiveness of sins in Jesus.
To Simon, Jesus has words of admonition. If he wants to get what he deserves, he will. To this penitent sinner, the Savior speaks sweet words of absolution: “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” How can Jesus say her sins are forgiven? For one thing, He is the Lord God Himself, the only one who can forgive sinners. For another, Jesus is going to pay for all her sins, for that matter—for all the sins of the world, offering on the cross His obedience and righteousness in exchange for her sin and disobedience.
You see, as great a sinner as was David, Simon, and the sinful woman, there’s a much greater sinner at work here, as Chad Bird writes:
“a much greater sinner than those human monsters whose names live in infamy, a greater sinner even than you. This man became the worst adulterer, the worst murderer, the worst liar and cheat and gossip and thief who has ever lived. O Jesus, You are the man! You are the man who, though without sin of Your own, became sin for us, that in You we might become God’s righteous children. You redeemed us from the curse of God’s law by becoming a curse for us. Upon the cross, hung the chief of sinners, indeed, all sinners compressed into one sinner, all humanity inside the skin of one man. Jesus became sin itself, the curse itself, the one and only object of divine wrath. Heaven emptied itself of righteous wrath the day He died. Hell’s hottest flames were extinguished by His holy blood. When the sinless Son of God became the sinner, the accursed One, a global proclamation was issued by the Father, declaring the rest of humanity not guilty. No debt of yours remains unpaid. No sin of yours remained unpunished. Jesus became all the bad that you are that you might become all the good He is. When He said, ‘It is finished,’ something new began: a new you. For if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away, and the new things have come.”[i]  
What Good News!
But this is only Good News for real sinners with real sins. Not that your sin needs to have snowballed like David’s secret sins, or be as notorious as the sinful woman’s sin to count as sin. No, a real sinner is someone who humbly confesses his or her sin own sinfulness. It’s easy to criticize the other person, to see the speck in someone else’s eye, while a beam sticks out of your own, to rail on “those sinners over there,” wherever “there” might be. David did it in our Old Testament lesson. Simon, in our Gospel. But the Law is intended to be used as a mirror to show you your sin, not as a magnifying glass to examine others for sin.
There’s a Latin phrase that best expresses the proper posture to take when confessing sins: Mea culpa. Most of you have probably heard the expression. It’s used nowadays as a synonym for an apology, but only in the sense of “my bad.” But it is rooted much deeper than that. It comes from part of the ancient liturgy in which the penitent sinner struck his breast three times, as he recited in Latin: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Best translated “through my fault, through my fault, through my own grievous fault,” this phrase is a blunt confession of sin in which the penitent sinner does not try to excuse himself or shift the blame to someone else, but bows before the Lord as a beggar in need of mercy.
Like David, who confesses before Nathan: “I’ve sinned against the Lord.” Like the woman who kneels at Jesus’ feet and washes them with her tears. Like, the troubled sinner who comes to his pastor pleading, “Dear confessor, I ask you please to hear my confession and to pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God’s will.” Or when you join with your brothers and sisters, saying, “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.”
It doesn’t matter the sin. It might be a public sin that everyone knows about, or a secret sin that hasn’t yet come to light. It could be the time you sassed back to your mother and refused to apologize… it may be an abortion that plagues your conscience… that time you walked out of the store with a candy bar and didn’t pay for it… an addiction to pornography that fills you with shame… that bitter grudge you can’t let go… the latest tidbit of gossip you passed on about your neighbor… the tongue you can’t seem to tame… the temper you can’t control… the idol you consistently turn to for comfort and peace instead of the one true God… whatever the sin, bring it to the Lord. Confess that sin, trusting that God, who is faithful and just, will forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.
To such a penitent one, the Lord says: “You are the man! You are the woman! You are the one I love. I’ve paid the debt. Your faith has saved you; go in peace. You are forgiven for all of your sin.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Bird, Chad L. Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. Copyright © 2014 Chad L. Bird, p.31  

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Miracle and Means of Life

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Then [Jesus] came up and touched the bier and the bearers stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother” (Luke 7:14-15).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Our readings for today are full of miracles. We begin in the little town of Zarephath, where the prophet Elijah dwells with a widow and her son. This is Old Testament time, famine and all, where mortality rates are terribly high and death is all too common. In this case, the widow’s son becomes sick and dies. He was all that she had left—both for family and for her livelihood. Now, he’s gone. So the widow cries out to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?” (1 Kings 17:18).
The widow’s anger is understandable. She has just lost her only son! She instinctively lashes out at someone just to seek some measure of relief. Her conscience oppresses her. Has God sent the prophet to stay with her just so that she might suffer and grieve for sin even more? Is that what the Lord is about?
Hardly. The Bible assures us that God never punishes His people for sins they have committed. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). But there is a direct connection between sin and death. Sickness and death are constant reminders that we live in a sinful world, that the perfectness of Eden is gone, that we personally need a Savior from sin.
Elijah responds to the woman’s anger with gentleness. He asks God whether, after sparing this family from starvation, He really intends to take the life of this boy. Then Elijah boldly asks God to perform a work such as the world has never seen before. “There was no breath left in him” (verse 17). Elijah asks God to raise the boy from the dead.
Elijah takes the boy into a room, stretches himself out on him three times. He prays that the Lord of life will return the boy’s soul to his body, and the God who gave life to Adam at the beginning of time gives new life to the dead body lying on Elijah’s bed. The boy revives, and Elijah returns him to his mother.
So what is it that brings the boy back to life? Is it the widow’s grief? Is it the prophet’s zeal? Is it some sort of medical maneuver as Elijah lay atop the boy? Some ancient precursor to CPR? No! The widow gets it right when she says, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the Word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth.” In the Lord’s will, He chooses to return the boy’s life. He does so by His Word. The boy lives again because of the Lord’s Word and the Lord’s will. Don’t miss the miracle—life. Don’t miss the means—the Word of the Lord.
Our Gospel lesson shows how the Lord uses Elijah to point to Jesus’ ministry later on. Crowds follow Jesus as He approaches the city gates of Nain, but this parade into town is halted by another—a procession of death. A widow’s only son has died, and the funeral procession bears his body out of the city.
The grief is thick. Death, that most pernicious enemy of our humanity, has robbed the widow twice, first of a husband and now of her only son. Who will care for her? Who will provide for her? How can she carry on with the rest of her life? We can only begin to imagine her pain, the feeling of helplessness, anger, the tears that would not end with burial, but would go on for days, weeks, even years.
People often ask, especially when a young person dies, “Why? Why does God allow this happen?” It’s a natural question with a simple answer. But an answer that none of us wants to hear. Why does a young person die? Why does anyone die? One word: Sin. Death is the wages of sin. It’s the price of Adam’s sin and our own. That young man was a sinner, born with the congenital disease of Adam in his own flesh and bones. Whatever it was that killed him, the cause of his death was sin and the Law that kills sinners.
That’s sometimes overlooked at funerals. We’re hesitant to talk about sin amidst all the grief over the death of a loved one. Yes, we know that they weren’t perfect, and we know they were a sinner, but we really don’t want to hear about it at the funeral. Perhaps it seems like we’re piling on and we want to try to soften the blow. More likely we don’t want to be reminded of our own sin and mortality.
We’d rather hear about all the good things they did. Let’s “celebrate their life” as funeral homes like to put it today. Now, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating a life, as God is the Author and Lord of life. And God hates death as much as we do… even more than we do! In celebrating life, though, we need to recognize the reality of death, what comes to every son and daughter of Adam simply for being a son and daughter of Adam. We are born to die, and it’s our sin of origin, concupiscence, that old Adam that is killing us. Denial gets you nowhere.
And that reality of death is evident when Jesus and the great crowd meet the dead man, the widow, and the considerable crowd following her. The procession of life meets the procession of death. Who has the right-of-way? In this world, death trumps life. Even today, funeral processions go through while others pull to the side, a gesture of respect and an unintended sermon that death gets its way.
But it is not so that day at the gates of Nain. Jesus doesn’t go off to the side to give this grieving widow and the mourners their space. The Lord of life meets death head on. He sees the widow, is filled with compassion, literally, “His gut moved” and He reaches out to her as only Jesus can. He speaks the consoling Word that only He can speak with full effect: “Do not weep.”
We sometimes say that to each other in our shallow attempts at comfort. “Don’t cry. Don’t be sad.” But those well-intentioned words do little, if anything to stem the flood of tears. With Jesus, it’s different. His words come with action. His words are action. He goes to the open coffin and touches it, calmly, resolutely, staring death in the face. The pallbearers stop dead in their tracks.
Jesus speaks: “Young man, I say to you, arise.” “Arise.” For Jesus, raising someone from the dead is like waking him up from sleep. He tells the dead to get up, and they do. All that it takes is a Word from the Lord of life who came to defeat death itself by His dying. One little word. “Arise.”
Notice the difference from Elijah. When Elijah raised the widow’s son in Zarephath, he did it by prayer. And the Lord heard the prophet’s prayer. But Jesus is more than a prophet; He’s the eternal Son of God in the flesh. He doesn’t pray; He commands. He doesn’t plead with the Father; He orders the dead to rise. And they hear Him, and His Word does what it says. Jesus speaks His Word, and death must flee. The young man sits up in his own coffin and he began to speak.
Don’t miss the miracle or the means. Life is given by the Word of the Lord.
You say, that’s nice. I’m happy for the widows of Zarephath and Nain who got their sons back from the dead. They must have been overjoyed. They went out to bury their sons only to bring them back alive. Wonderful for them, but what about me? What about the loved ones I’ve buried? What about those of whom death has robbed me? What about them? What about me, when the doctors say, “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing more we can do for you”?
This is where we need to understand and receive the miracle for what it is—a sign for our faith, a foretaste of greater things to come. We delight in these miracles. We give thanks to God for them, even as we remember they’re isolated incidents, not standard operating procedure in this fallen world. As Jesus Himself points out in Luke 4, there were many widows who suffered in Elijah’s time, and yet Elijah was only sent to help one. Likewise, many died during Jesus’ earthly ministry, but Jesus only healed a few. These miracles are exceptions to the rule—at least for now. But it will not always be so. From the city of Nain, Jesus makes His way to Jerusalem, where He is betrayed and crucified. He suffers the scorn of sinful men, God’s righteous wrath for the sin of the world, and dies.
Three days later, Jesus shatters death’s hold and rises from the dead. Because Christ has died and Christ is risen, we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. We confidently await the day when death is no more, and when the Lord calls all the dead back to life with His Word.
But in the meantime, don’t miss the miracles going on right now. The raisings of the widows’ sons are great—but there are even greater miracles in our readings today. I point you to our epistle, where Paul recounts his conversion. As a Pharisee, Paul was dead. His body was working just fine, but his soul was dead in sin. His death was far more serious than those in the other texts. Paul wasn’t passive as one of the living dead; He was actively persecuting Christ’s body, the Church. He was actively using death in the hopes of destroying life.
Paul is the textbook case of what it means as a sinner to be dead, blind, and an enemy of God. He was dead, for he had no faith or grace. He was an enemy, trying to do away with the Gospel. And he was blind—he sincerely believed that he was serving God by killing Christians and seeking to destroy the Church. Thus Paul’s death was far worse than those described in our readings. One who is dead in body but alive in soul belongs to the Lord forever. One who is dead in soul but alive in body is still dead forever—unless the Lord intervenes and does the saving.
That is precisely what Paul says Jesus did for him: “It pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:15-16). There is no doubt, but that this is a great miracle. The Lord converts Paul from primary persecutor and chief of sinners to foremost apostle to the Gentiles.
How is this done? Through the same means as the other miracles of life in our text—God’s Word! As St. Paul says, “The Gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11).
 It wasn’t man’s word that saved Paul. Man’s word could reason with Paul about why he should be nice or offer him tips for anger management. Man’s word could suggest to Paul other outlets for his zeal. But only God’s Word could raise Paul from eternal death to eternal life. Only God’s Word could turn him from enemy to child. Only God’s Word could make the blind Paul see.
Thus, dear friends, my plea to you today: do not miss the miracle that has happened to you and still happens. Do not miss the means by which it takes place. Don’t miss the miracle—life. And don’t miss the means—God’s Word.
Dead men don’t sit up, and dead men don’t speak. Neither do those who are spiritually dead. That takes the power of God’s Word. The same Word of God that baptized you into Christ’s death and resurrection. The same Word that gives you Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and strengthens you in body and soul unto life everlasting.
The death of the body is a horrific thing. There’s no use trying to sugarcoat it. We see death and it fills us with anguish and revulsion. But in the meantime, we look on those around us who are not believers, and it doesn’t seem to bother us so much. They seem to be getting along well enough in this life. In other words, we are troubled far more by dead bodies than dead souls. Faith sees things quite the opposite: again, one who is dead in body but alive in soul is the Lord’s. One who is alive in body but dead in soul is lost. Thus Jesus Himself declares, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Having said that, again let me repeat: physical death is a terrible thing; and as it is given to you to grieve the death of loved ones, please do not think that I am trivializing that pain at all. Rather, I would have you believe, by faith, that the death of a soul is that much more terrible. For as you understand this, then you will rejoice all the more in the greater miracle God has given to you in faith.
Before you were born, God’s only Son shed His blood and offered up His life on the cross for your salvation. Though you were born dead in sin, blind, and an enemy of God, the Lord has made you alive by His grace. He has turned you from enemy to beloved child. He has given you faith to see. Don’t miss that miracle. Further, do not miss the means, for it is the same as all the other miracles we have heard today: it is God’s Word that brings you forgiveness and life.
But be warned: the devil, the world and your own sinful flesh will want you to think this forgiveness to be nothing, will tempt you to roll your eyes at the mention of God’s grace. But your faith delights to hear the Gospel, because that’s how you are made alive in a miracle far greater than the resurrections of Nain or Zarephath. Even today, by His means of grace, the Lord performs this greater miracle on you; and because He does, even death and grave have lost their sting.
Remember this the next time you see a funeral procession. Or the next time you’re at a funeral. Or as you prepare for your own funeral. Let this Word bring you comfort in grief and sorrow today, and hope for the future. Jesus’ miracles of resurrection and forgiveness are signs for our faith and a foretaste of the feast to come. On the Last Day when the Lord Jesus appears in all His glory, He will raise all the dead and give eternal life to all His believers. What He did for the young man on the way to his burial, He will do for you and for all of your loved ones who have died in the Lord. He will raise you up with His life-giving Word: “Arise.” And it will be so.
Don’t miss the miracle. And please, do not miss the means. Come often to hear God’s Word and receive His Sacrament. Here is life and forgiveness. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Into the Wilderness

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