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"The Father's Love" -Pastor Gless

Rejoice! That is the theme of this Sunday in this penitential season of Lent. It is important for us as we navigate this season confessing our sins that there is great reason to rejoice. We do not confess our sins with no hope of love and forgiveness. Rather, we confess our sins in the confidence that we will be forgiven and nothing separates us from God’s love.

The parable of the prodigal son shows us that we have great reason to rejoice in the Father’s love for us. In fact, the parable might be more appropriately called ‘the parable of the prodigal father’. Because even though the younger son went and lived a scandalous, reckless life for awhile, it is the father who is both scandalous and reckless in his love for both of his sons.

We begin with the younger son. Now here was a young man who obviously despised his family and most certainly his father. And the request that he was about to make was by no means random. It was planned. He had thought it through long and hard, and even though it was audacious by every stretch of the imagination, his disdain for life with his family usurped any such sensible reason.

Picture this: the young man walks into his father’s room and says, “Dad, I wish you were dead.” Oh, the text may say that he demanded his inheritance, but to receive an inheritance means what? The father must first die.

Though it may be hard to fathom speaking to our father in that way, if any of us have ever resented, begrudged, or even hated our parents, we can relate. Maybe it was because of jealousy because of favorable treatment they showed a sibling but not you. Maybe it was just because you didn’t like them telling you what to do.

At any rate, the remarkable response of the father to his son’s ridiculous request is that he didn’t hesitate to give it to him. His son just made the demand and the father gave it to him. No conditions whatsoever, he just gave it to him.

Now it should be noted that this would not have been a cash payout. This would have been a very public affair. From selling land, to bringing in grain and livestock to sell. It would have been a public disgrace to this family. Yet the father allowed it to happen.

And the younger son was in no way done disgracing his father’s family. He went and used his father’s wealth in reckless living. We don’t know what that included, but we can certainly imagine.

But that life of reckless living quickly changed when the money ran out. No doubt the entourage of so-called friends he had following him quickly vanished. And it was not long and he was alone. Alone and broke. Forced to turn to a life of filth, feeding pigs and longing to eat the food of those pigs as famine struck the land. Remember, Jesus is telling this story to a group of Jews, and Jews have nothing to do with pigs. So this would have been truly rock bottom in their eyes.

While staring longingly into that pig slop, the younger son remembered his father’s love. So he devised a plan. He would return home and he would admit his fault and take the form of a servant. He would work for his father.

But on the way back while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and immediately started running. Though the father may have looked foolish as he hiked up his robe and started sprinting, he didn’t care. He put all reputation aside to meet and greet his long, lost son. Hugs, kisses. And all the son could get out was a confession. The father didn’t even let him get out a word about being a servant. This was no servant. This was his son. His son that was now found, safe and sound.

This was a time to rejoice and celebrate. What we see here as the father put a ring on his finger, gave him a robe to wear and sandals for his feet, and killed the fattened calf is that the father’s love is beyond compare. It is downright reckless and scandalous. To think that this was the boy who wanted his father dead. To think that this was the boy who squandered his father’s property. To think of the shame this younger son had brought upon his family. But the father’s response was only to love and forgive, with no expectation whatsoever of having to earn that love and forgiveness.

What would such love look like in our workplaces, community, congregation, and families? What impact would there be to simply cast aside hard feelings and just love and forgive without conditions?

For so many of us, that just seems so impossible. We hold too much hatred and bear too much bitterness. We can’t even begin to think of rejoicing and living in a love like that.

And so we come to the older brother. In from a long day of hard work in the fields he came. Sweaty, dirty, here was a man who worked hard, and with a chip on his shoulder to boot. As the older brother, he was inclined to think he was entitled to favorable treatment. And that notion only grew when his brother ran off.

So when he came in and heard the celebration, he no doubt was instantly filled with bitterness wondering why a celebration was going on without him. But then, when he found out that the celebration was being thrown in his younger brother’s honor, that did it! No way was he going in to celebrate!

His fury raged at both his younger brother and his father. In no way did his younger brother deserve this treatment. He had disgraced their family. He was a loser. How could his father do such a thing? How could his father turn such a blind eye from all the shame that his younger brother had brought upon their family and throw such a party? His father had never even let him and his friends have a small party on their own. Now he was killing the fattened calf for this… fill in the blank.

Yet while the older brother stewed in his anger, his father came out and initiated the conversation. He went to him, and he made clear that what he wanted more than anything was for both his sons to be present at the party. But the older brother wasn’t having it. He didn’t even call the younger brother his brother. He said, “this son of yours.” We can just imagine the anger seething with each word the older brother spoke.

But the father didn’t take issue with such an insult to his family. Instead, he entreated him as his beloved child: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.”

And with that the parable ends. It leaves us to ponder what happened next. Did the older son go in and join the celebration? Did he storm off and go back to his work filled with bitterness? Did he tell his father off and demand his own inheritance and leave the family? We don’t know.

What we do know is that this parable cuts us all to the heart. For as much as we like to associate with the younger brother who is lost and then found, it is more likely that we are more fittingly paired with the older brother.

How many of us struggle to forgive? How many of us bear grudges in our hearts? How many of us think we are entitled to better treatment because like that older brother, we just think we are better people?

After all, this parable was spoken to a group of Pharisees and scribes as well as tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees and scribes couldn’t believe that Jesus would eat with tax collectors and sinners. How could He associate with such filth? How could He associate with those who were like the younger brother who longed to eat from the slop fed to pigs?

Little did those Pharisees and scribes know, and so often, little do we know, that Jesus was sent by the Father to do just that. Though he had no sin, He became sin. He didn’t spend his time with the 'holier than thous'. He spent his time with sinners. The Father made clear that he wasn’t afraid to get a little dirty in the person of His Son.

Yet, how often do we not want to associate with someone because we think their sins are worse than ours? How often do we think we are better than others simply because we think we are in the position of judge? How often do we hold hatred in our hearts because we have the audacity to think that we are more deserving of salvation than someone else?

See in this beloved parable that the love of the Father is downright reckless and scandalous. Like the younger brother, He loves you in spite of the fact that you have squandered the gifts he has given to you again and again. He looks for you longingly when you have lost your way. And there is nothing sweeter to his ears than when you confess your sins. Because he just can’t wait to forgive you. He just can’t wait to lavish you in his love.

Like the older brother, He loves you in spite of your hardness of heart. Instead of waiting for you to come to Him, he goes to you even though it is the last thing you deserve. He gently shows you the error of your ways because more than anything He just wants to have you near Him. He wants to see your face smiling from ear to ear at the celebration that is to come. He wants to see your face light up when a sinner repents, and to join in rejoicing with him when someone comes to the knowledge of the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.

Because nothing is more grand for the Father than to have His children with Him for all eternity. That is why in love for you, He willingly, voluntarily, and lovingly sent His Son into this world of sin to die your death. In the most reckless and scandalous form of love ever, He sat back and watched His Son bleed for you, breathe His last for you, cry out for you. He did that because that is what it took to save you. His love for you never ceases. There is simply nothing He would not do for you. He gave His Son into death for you. So, see that cross before you and know that your heavenly Father loves you.

So no matter how big the sin may be in your mind, confess it. Confess your reckless and scandalous living, your hardness of heart and your bitterness, and be forgiven. Then eat and drink of the Father’s love for you given and shed in His Son’s body and blood. He gives it you here today so that you may live in His forgiveness and join in the celebration that you who were once dead are now alive. You who were once lost are now found. So, come and rejoice in the Father’s love for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Jesus Triumphs Over Temptation

What tempts you?

Are you tempted like Saul? Are you tempted to jealousy and fits of rage and anger? When Saul and David returned from victory in battle, David was praised for killing tens of thousands, while Saul was only praised for killing thousands. This was the tipping point of Saul’s jealous rage against David. Are you tempted like Saul?

Are you tempted like Cain? Are you tempted with anger that runs so deeply that you would plot and would even consider harming someone else? When God favored Abel’s sacrifice over his brother Cain’s because it was given as a first fruit, Cain responded in hatred and killed his brother Abel. Are you tempted like Cain?

What tempts you?

Are you tempted like the Israelites? Are you tempted to grumble and complain and not be content with what you have? As the Israelites were set free from 430 years of slavery, they quickly took their freedom for granted and grumbled against God and Moses for their lack of food options and water. Are you tempted like the Israelites?

Are you tempted like King David? Are you tempted to lust after someone who is not your spouse? Are you tempted to commit an affair, even an emotional one on-line? David looked and saw Bathsheba bathing. Instead of guarding his eyes, he lusted after her, and then he committed adultery with her. He even stole her to be his wife. Are you tempted like King David?

What tempts you?

Are you tempted like King Ahab? Are you tempted to look and see that the grass is greener elsewhere…be it the stuff your neighbor owns, the house your sibling has, the life your friends live? Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard. He coveted it intensely. Then with his wife Jezebel’s help of killing Naboth, Ahab stole Naboth’s vineyard for himself. Are you tempted like Ahab?

Are you tempted like Adam and Eve? Are you tempted to try and be like God, or at least try to be the god of your own life because you think life would be better if you called the shots, if you were in control, because after all, you know what’s best for yourself? Adam and Eve bit into that fruit that Satan dangled in front of them because it falsely promised them likeness with the Almighty God. Are you tempted like Adam and Eve?

What tempts you?

What tempts you? Scripture says: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man (1st Corinthians 10:13). We are all tempted in countless ways. Page through Scripture as we have just done, and we see that when it comes to the temptations we face, there is nothing new under the sun.

Though temptations in and of themselves are not sin, temptations have a way of luring us in and getting us to sin. Like a worm on a hook, temptations promise what they can’t deliver. Like a fish that sees a tasty snack on a hook, only to be reeled in to their own demise and death. That’s the aim of temptation: sin and death.

The orchestrator of all such temptations is the father of all lies, the devil. “The old satanic foe, has sworn to work us woe. With craft and dreadful might, he arms himself to fight. On earth he has no equal.”

On our own, we are no match for the devil. Faced against the old satanic foe on our own, we will lose every time. Every time. “No strength of ours can match his might. We would be lost rejected.” We are no match for the devil under any circumstances. To try and defeat him by our own merits will only lead to our defeat.

Our text for today reveals that even though we are no match for the devil’s temptations, Jesus triumphs over temptation. Though Scripture only reveals three of the temptations, knowing the very nature of Satan, we know that his attacks on Jesus were relentless. We know this from our own experience. As the Large Catechism states: “The devil never lets up or becomes weary; when one attack ceases, new ones always arise.”

And so it was with Satan’s temptations of Jesus in our text for today. After having gone without food in the wilderness for forty days, Satan goes on the attack against Jesus’ grumbling belly. If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”

Here Satan tried to get Jesus to comfort Himself with His divine powers. He tried to get Him to use those powers for instant satisfaction and gratification.

No doubt we would have fallen instantly. We have become addicted to this instant gratification lifestyle that we are now accustomed to living. Everything is a click away. There is no sense of restraint. No sense of self-control. We simply want to have it our way…and right away.

But Jesus wasn’t having it. He not only thwarted the temptation of Satan, but by telling him that man doesn’t live by bread alone, He directed Satan’s attention to where ultimate satisfaction is delivered…the Word of God…the two-edged sword Jesus used to thrust into his enemy with each temptation that was thrown at him.

But as we know all too well from life, the devil was not done. He had more to throw at Jesus. Just like he always has more to throw at us. And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only will you serve.’”

Here the father of all lies was at his finest. Not only is he a liar, but his very temptation of Jesus is delivered on the basis of a lie. He doesn’t have the authority over all the kingdoms of the world. Sure, he has his reign right now, but all that will end in the twinkling of an eye when Jesus returns. Yet, that didn’t stop Satan from lying to Jesus nonetheless.

But where Jesus won the battle, we would have no doubt fallen. To think of having all that power and dominion in this world would have been far too tantalizing to pass up. We are a power-hungry people…at work…at home…everywhere. We love to be in charge. We love to be in control.

Jesus, however, knew full well who was in control, no matter how Satan tried to twist the truth. He knew Satan’s reign is limited. He knew Satan is on a leash. But where so many dogs like to try and take control of their owners while on a walk, so it is with Satan. He kept at it.

And Satan took Jesus to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed until an opportune time.”

Here we see the alarming reality that Satan knows Scripture. Not only does he know it, but he knows how to manipulate it and abuse it for his own purposes.

But where Jesus came out on top, we no doubt would have fallen yet again…simply because we have chosen not to prioritize consuming the regular diet of God’s Word in our lives. We need to read God’s Word, learn it, mark it, and inwardly digest it…because we do not live by bread alone. The strength and nourishment we need to stand up to Satan is none other than the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. We need Jesus. Knowing His Word and learning it by heart will help us to be armed and protected against the flaming arrows of the enemy.

This is why teaching God’s Word is so essential after being baptized. Though baptism saves, if it is not nurtured by the Word of God, it will die. That’s because, just as it was for Jesus, so it is with us. As soon as we are baptized, Satan goes on the attack to do anything to try and tempt us and drive a wedge of separation between us and God.

So, where do we turn? What do we do when we are tempted by Satan to sin? We turn to the One who triumphs over temptation. Scripture tells us to “Call upon name of the Lord. Call upon Him in the day of trouble; He will deliver you.” Make no mistake about it…when we are being tempted, we are in trouble. We are on a slippery slope with no hope of escape on our own. And the devil knows that. The devil knows we are no match for him.

But the devil is a defeated enemy. He is no match for the Son of God. So, no matter what the temptation is, we always have hope. Scripture says: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted. He knows it to his very core. He felt its intensity there in the wilderness, and he undoubtedly felt it pressing in as he approached the cross. He had every chance to give in to Satan’s temptations and turn away from the cross. But, as Scripture tells us, He set his face toward Jerusalem…The very place Satan took him to and set him on the pinnacle and told him to throw himself down. Little did Satan know, but that is exactly what Jesus was going to do.

Jesus willingly and voluntarily allowed for His life to thrown down upon the cross. He let them drive nails into his hands and feet. And at any moment, Jesus could have called down legions of angels to save him, but he didn’t. He didn’t fall to temptation. No, He endured everything Satan threw at him so that He could shed his holy and innocent blood for us and our salvation.

You see, had Jesus fallen to even one temptation, the blood He had to shed for us would have not forgiven and saved us. It would have not been for our benefit, and He would have been no help to us. But as Scripture tells us: “For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).

Jesus is our help us because His foot is firmly planted on the head of the Satanic serpent. Jesus triumphs over temptation because Jesus has already triumphed over the Tempter by way of the cross and the empty tomb. “But now a champion comes to fight, whom God Himself elected. You ask who this may be? The Lord of hosts is He, Christ Jesus, mighty Lord, God’s only Son adored. He holds the field victorious.”

So, what tempts you to fall into sin? Whatever it is, turn to the Triumphant One, Jesus Christ, and take comfort in these words of Scripture: God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1st Corinthians 10:13).

So let us close in prayer that we may not enter into temptation (Luke 22:40). “Almighty and everlasting God, through Your Son You have promised us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. Govern our hearts by Your Holy Spirit that in our daily need, and especially in all time of temptation, we may seek Your help and, by a true and lively faith in Your Word, obtain all that You have promised; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

A God Who Hungers - Ash Wednesday

Throughout the season of Lent, during these midweek services, we will be taking a deeper look at the humanity of Jesus. Specifically, we will look at it from the context of Pontius Pilate’s line: “Behold the Man”. As Jesus was put on display before the crowd, it was made known to all that Jesus was in fact, human. But as we know, Christ has two natures: He is both God and man. His divinity is what comforts us in knowing that He carries authority over the powers of sin, death, and the devil, and that He exercises that authority on our behalf and for our benefit. His humanity comforts us in that we know that we have a God who does not remain distant. Rather, He humbles Himself by entering into our sin-stricken life to experience all the things we do, from temptation, to pain, to hardship, and ultimately death. It is this reality of Christ’s humanity which will be the focus of our attention over the next six weeks as we “behold the man” Jesus Christ.

          Tonight we focus on a God who hungers. It goes without saying, that hunger is a powerful force in our world. Our stomachs rumble and grumble as we think about, smell, or see any of our favorite cravings. Be it Minnesota hotdish, Chicago style pizza, Tex Mex, Kansas City BBQ, New Orleans Cajun or Creole, and so on. It seems like no matter where we are from or where are at any moment, our palettes can be pleased by the plethora of food options that are out there. But due to so many options and accessibility, rarely have any of us ever truly experienced what it means to hunger.

          I am reminded of being in Kenya talking to a man by the name of Chepkoni. Chep, as he is called, cares for the livestock and the gardens at the Lutheran School of Theology just outside of Nairobi, Kenya. While Chep and I were talking, he leaned down and picked up a rather large beetle out of a pile of cow dung. He then proceeded to tell me that back in the mid 1980’s when the drought was at its worst, this is what the people would eat to curb their hunger. Now that’s hunger. To eat a beetle picked up from a cow pie.

          As this season of the church year begins each year, we hear of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Immediately after Jesus is baptized in the River Jordan, the Spirit casts Him out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. In that reading, we hear that Jesus had been without food for forty days. Then comes one of the most, if not ‘the’ most obvious (‘Duh!’) statements in all of Scripture. The text says that after forty days without food…he was hungry. Such a statement seems unnecessary to make. However, it is yet another piece of evidence that points to the fact that God had become fully man.

          Behold the man who hungers. Behold the man, who just like you and me, would get hungry. Behold the man who had taste buds on His tongue, an esophagus, stomach, intestines, and the whole works to process the food that he took in. Behold the man who no doubt enjoyed special dishes that his mother Mary would make for him. Behold the man who probably had his own fair share of food cravings and likes. Behold the man who was fully and completely human just like us. Behold the man, who was in no way immune to hunger.

          Because He was familiar with hunger, He was known for having compassion on those who also hungered. In compassion, He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He had compassion on a group of 5,000 men, plus women and children when they were far away from a place for food and were obviously hungry. With five loaves of bread and two fish, he fed them all, with leftovers to spare. Then again, he with a few loaves and fish, He fed a group of 4,000 men, plus women and children. All because He had compassion, and He knew what it was like to hunger.

          Yet, here in our text, the God who hungers references fasting, assuming that His hearers are practicing fasting. And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:16-18).

          It is probably safe to say that ‘fasting’ is a foreign concept to us. Outside of a doctor saying we need to fast before blood work or surgery, we don’t get its purpose. If you are like me, you can’t go 20 minutes without thinking about food, let alone 12 hours without actually eating any.

          I just had my annual physical. And before going, I had to fast the night before. Believe it or not, I had to have Emily remind me that I was fasting on more than one occasion, and I had to stop myself at least a couple of times so I didn’t accidentally grab a late night snack…a favorite bad habit of mine.

          Fasting, from our perspective, does not make sense. However, as Luther tells us in the Catechism portion on the Lord’s Supper: “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training.” He goes on to say: “It teaches us to say no to things we crave and to say no to temptation. It teaches us to discipline ourselves. It also gives us time for prayer, self-examination, and time in the Word.”

          Both Jesus and Luther present fasting not as a command, but as a beneficial spiritual discipline. It is not because it makes one better than anyone else. It is not a good work that will somehow earn greater favor before God. But, what it does is discipline the body from over indulgence and gluttony to focus oneself on repentance and prayer. With each rumble and grumble of the stomach, the one who fasts can be reminded to turn to God in repentance and prayer recognizing that it is God alone who truly delivers satisfaction.


But this topic of fasting is difficult for us because we are a people that so often lacks any self-control. We have everything at our fingertips, while living a life with little restraints. So there is nothing to keep us from indulging, and often over-indulging. We are often downright gluttonous when it comes to our food consumption. But it doesn’t stop with food. We spend more money than we have. We binge watch countless shows then claim we don’t have enough time for faith and family. We have more stuff than we will ever need.

Such over indulgence, food or otherwise, needs to be confessed. We are sinners, living in a sin-filled world, and more often than not it just doesn’t seem to bother us. We seem satisfied with continuing to live a life gorging in gluttonous fashion on all that this world has to offer. But the truth of the matter is, none of it will truly ever satisfy us. To buy into this world’s cravings is like trying to fill a bottomless pit. It can’t be done.

The only thing that will truly ever satisfy is the One who brings satisfaction. The One who endures the wrath of God in our stead. The One who lays His life down for us. The One who suffers, bleeds, and dies our death. The One who hungers for our righteousness.

You see, hunger is that great reminder that we humans are in need. We can’t survive without food. But food for the stomach only satisfies so long. We need more to survive. We need a daily diet of repentance and forgiveness for all the times our diet was about self-consumption. We need a daily diet of God's Word, inwardly digesting it like our life depended upon it…because it does. And here at Zion we are privileged to be fed with a weekly diet of Christ’s body and blood that brings the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. These gifts meet our greatest need and truly bring us satisfaction.

Though fasting may be foreign to most of us, to fast from God’s gifts of repentance, Word and Sacrament would be detrimental to both our body and soul. The daily bread our God provides in His House is essential to our eternal survival. It is as we hear at the end of communion: “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and protect you in both body and soul to life everlasting.” Here is where God is located for us to eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins. Here is where the food of His body and blood is located that will last until eternal life.

Behold the man who hungers for you. Behold the man whose stomach aches for your righteousness. Behold the man whose greatest craving is for you to be with Him for all eternity. Behold the man who satisfies your hunger for righteousness. Behold the man, Jesus Christ. In His name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Suffering Before Glory - Pastor Gless

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Today we are given a glimpse of future glory. Today we behold Jesus arrayed in heavenly glory. Today we hear the voice of the Father declare that Jesus is His Son, His Chosen One.

The Transfiguration of Jesus is a gift that those three disciples and us are given to behold today. It is a gift that we need to keep ever before us. That’s because in three days we will begin the season of Lent. For forty days we will be journeying throughout this season that will take us into the streets of Jerusalem. It is a journey that will take us to the cross. It is a journey marked with suffering.

The disciples were made freshly aware of this as they had just heard from the lips of Jesus that, The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Luke 9:22). What’s more they had heard Him say, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:23-24).

These sayings of Jesus were no doubt swirling throughout these disciples’ minds as they ascended that mountain with Jesus. Sayings that in no way could be disregarded. For now they had to try and process what it truly meant to follow Jesus. It would be a road that would be marked with suffering and death.

Suffering is a guarantee in this life. Scripture says, In this world you will have trouble… I know I don’t need to tell you that life includes suffering and trouble. You live this life like I do. You see the news reports. You experience the chaos and the madness. You endure the diagnoses, the divorces, the damaged relationships, the dismay, the despair, and even death. You’ve gone through it all just like I have. We have each had our share.

Suffering is not something we enjoy in the least. We will do most anything to avoid suffering. We don’t like to think about it because it drags us down. We don’t like to talk about it that much because we don’t want to burden someone else with our problems. We mere sinful creatures even have the audacity to question God’s will and ways when we do suffer. Yet, as Jesus’ face was altered and His clothing was dazzling white, this reality of suffering is what He discussed with Moses and Elijah on the top of that mountain. The text says they spoke of His departure, literally they discussed His exodus.

How fitting is it to have Jesus discussing His exodus from this earth with Elijah whose exodus from earth had been on a flaming chariot, and even more profoundly, with the same guy (Moses) who led the Israelites in the Exodus from Egypt.

But where the Exodus from Egypt was marked with celebration and the plundering of the Egyptians, the only celebration of this exodus for Jesus would be the unruly crowd calling for His crucifixion…and the plundering would be of all of his clothing and dignity as they would strip Him and beat Him leaving Him to die in humiliation and embarrassment. This is what Jesus was to look forward to at His exodus. And this is what Jesus discussed with Elijah and Moses that day on the mountain. (Pause)

Now Peter probably missed out on most of the conversation because he and James and John were so heavy with sleep. But no doubt as he woke up, his mind was still on the sayings Jesus had spoken days before, sayings that included words like ‘suffering’ and ‘death’. So, it only made sense that when Peter became fully awake, that he suggested to Jesus what he did.

Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said (Luke 9:32-33).

We can hardly blame Peter for wanting to stay on the mountain? To look and see the Son of God’s glory. To see Moses and Elijah. Why would anyone want to leave that? It would be glorious.

But Peter here revealed that he completely missed the point about what was happening here and who Jesus is. Even though he had been journeying with Jesus for about three years now, he still didn’t understand. He hadn’t been paying attention. He hadn’t been listening.

How perfectly appropriate is it then that at that very moment then, the Father in heaven interrupted Peter as a cloud came and overshadowed them, and the Father said, This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

Peter hadn’t been listening. Here he made this offer to put up three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, but he was forgetting what Jesus had said before this all happened: The Son of Man ‘must’ suffer many things and be rejected and killed and on the third day be raised. The Son of Man must suffer. He must. It had to happen. So Jesus made clear He was not planning to stay on that mountain. He still had a mission to attend to and He wasn’t done yet.

But such is the case for Peter and all of us when it comes to our misunderstanding of who Jesus is and why He came. Such is the case when we don’t listen to all of what Jesus tells us. Yes, Peter wanted to stay up on that mountain. Who wouldn’t? But Jesus didn’t come to do what we suggest and fulfill our wish list. He came to be our Savior. That meant that He had to suffer and die.

Unfortunately, so many have bought into the notion that Jesus did just come here to fulfill a wish list. That’s called the prosperity Gospel. It’s where Jesus gets reduced to being all about the fulfiller of our happiness in the here and now, where Jesus is all about making sure we are healthy, wealthy, and happy. There is no sight set on the future glory in Christ through His death and resurrection. All that matters is that we are happy now. For Peter, he was happy now, and he wanted to stay on that mountain where there was no suffering. Again, who can blame him? How often do we buy into the same thing?

We may be inclined to think that ‘it is good to be here’ on earth like Peter said up there on the mountain, but everything here on this earth is temporary. Be it money in the bank, or stuff in the garage…it is all temporary. It doesn’t last. What’s more is that none of it will save us from our sins. None of it will save us from death and eternal condemnation.

That’s why, just like those disciples, we need to listen to Jesus. If we think that life is to always be filled with happiness and what we want and void of all suffering, then we haven’t been listening to Jesus. We need to open our ears and listen to Him and hear that the reason He came to this earth was because in order to save us He ‘must’ suffer, be rejected, and die. That was the only way for our sins to be atoned for. It was the only way the wrath of God could be satisfied. The Son of God had to die. Which meant that He couldn’t stay up there on that mountain no matter how much Peter wanted Him to do so.

Sure, it would have been much easier for Jesus to just stay up there. There He was arrayed in glory, surrounded by saints in their glory, and enveloped in a cloud that contained the voice of His Father. Of course it would have been the simple way to go. But Jesus didn’t come to do simple. He came to do the suffering…and the dying.

And that meant that Jesus had to ascend a different mountain. Only this time He did it while carrying His own cross. The cross that should have been ours, He carried up to Calvary. And there upon His shoulders, He bore the weight of our sins in order to defeat death once and for all. There He manifested His glory for all the world to see.

This is the journey we will soon begin this week as we journey throughout the season of Lent. It is a journey marked with suffering and death. But if we listened to what Jesus said before our text, He told His disciples and us that after suffering and dying, on the third day He would be raised.

It is in the hope of the resurrection that we journey throughout Lent and throughout all of life. Yes, there will be suffering in this world. Yes, in this world we will have trouble, but take heart, Jesus has overcome the world. He has overcome sin, and He has overcome death itself. Death will not get the final say.

There is a resurrection yet to come. As we deny ourselves and daily take up our cross and follow Jesus, let us keep our eyes fixed on Him and the guaranteed glory that awaits us. Glory that doesn’t include pain, tears, suffering, or death.

Because Jesus is not still on the mountain. He is not suffering or dead on the cross. He is alive and well, right where He belongs in all of His glory at the right hand of the Father. And from His very throne He will share His glory with us. He does so in His body and blood given and shed here today. And He will do so in the feast to come for all eternity. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Love Your Enemies

Today’s Gospel Reading is a continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel Reading. It is all a part of a sermon that Jesus delivered that is often called the Sermon on the Plain. Last week, as we heard Pastor Schwanke preach, we heard Jesus share the beatitudes. Blessed, blessed, and blessed again. As we begin our text for today, we recall these words Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! (Luke 6:22).

Those are tough words for us to chew on. And today’s text begins with words that are equally, if not more difficult for us to hear. Jesus said: I say to you who hear, Love your enemies…(Luke 6:27).

An enemy is defined as “someone who is actively opposed or hostile to someone.” The forming of an enemy starts by the drawing of a line in the sand. Then the person steps back and sizes up their enemy to look for weaknesses. If it’s a physical weakness, then they look to jab here and there. If it’s an emotional weakness, the jabs take the forms of insults and put downs. If it’s psychological weakness, the blows come in name calling and labeling, or anything to mess with the person’s head. If it’s spiritual, the punches come in exclusion and isolation. No matter what, an enemy always looks to exploit the weaknesses of another. We all have our enemies, and we have all been exploited by enemies.

The presence of enemies has been around since the fall. Satan vs. God. Satan vs. Humanity. The Israelites vs. the Egyptians. The Romans vs. the tribes of Germany. Then centuries later: Germany vs. the World, then Germany vs. the World again. Today, we still see ample evidence of enemies on a global scale.

Such lines drawn in the sand don’t just happen on a global scale though. They happen in organizations between co-workers. In schools between classmates. In churches between parishioners. In families between husband and wife, between parents and children, between siblings. The presence of enemies is all around us.

So, when Jesus tells us to love our enemies…and do good to those who hate us, His Word cuts us all to the heart. We may live in the façade of thinking we don’t have any enemies, but it is just that: a façade. We all have our enemies. An enemy is anyone we have drawn a line in the sand to turn the relationship from me ‘and’ you to me ‘vs.’ you. And it doesn’t take much to draw that line. It can be done with a divisive thought, a destructive word, or a damaging look. It’s any time we think we are better than someone else or we are jealous of someone we think is better than us.

That was the case for Joseph and his brothers in our Old Testament Reading. Joseph was dearly loved by his father. To show that love, Joseph’s father Jacob gave him a multi-colored coat to wear. The very sight of him in it sent waves of jealousy up the spines of his eleven brothers. Well, one day, when they saw him off in the distance, they agreed to kill him. But Reuben, the oldest brother, in a moment of conscience spoke up and convinced them to throw him into a pit instead. When Reuben came back to rescue his brother from the cistern, he unfortunately found that his brothers had sold his brother to some Ishmaelites who in turn sold him to the Egyptians. Just think of that, first they wanted to kill him, then they sold him. Well, the whole story took a turn of events when God raised Joseph up among the people of Egypt in the time of famine. He became second in charge, and don’t you know who came looking for food…none other than Joseph’s brothers. But they didn’t recognize it was him. It was only when he revealed his identity that they were filled with dismay. But instead of lashing out at them or seeking vengeance, he promised to feed them, provide for them and their families, and he kissed them and wept upon them.

What we see here is that by our standards, Joseph had every right for vengeance. He had every right to get back at them, to let them have it with every ounce of his might. And he had the power to do it. His brothers were starving, and Joseph had the food. What’s more, he was the second most powerful person in the world’s most powerful country. All he had to do was say the word, and their life would have been forfeit. But he didn’t…

Instead, Joseph loved the ones who had been his enemies. He did good to those who hated him. When they had struck him on the cheek, he turned to offer his other cheek. As he wished that they would have done to him, so he did to them. He did good to them, expecting nothing in return. He loved his enemies by forgiving them. Love and forgiveness go hand in hand.

The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer says: And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. But what I really want to take us to is the meaning of that petition: What does this mean? “We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.”

Let me repeat that last line: “So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.” How is that possible? How is it possible to forgive and do good to those who sin against us? Or better put, how is it possible to love our enemies? Because it’s really the same question.

The answer to that question comes in verse 36 of our text for today: Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36).

If we are going to love our enemies, then we are going to need help from the One who is merciful. You see, unlike our love, God’s love never ceases.

God’s love doesn’t size us up and look for weaknesses that He can exploit. Rather He looks at us and our array of weaknesses, our inability to help ourselves and save ourselves, and He has compassion on us. He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He does not deal with us according to our sins or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him (Psalm 103). Because nothing separates us from his love (Romans 8).

You see, God crossed the enemy line that we drew in the sand with our sins, and he entered into our world to have mercy upon us. As it says in the book of Romans: For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (Romans 5:10).

In love for us, He came into our world to lay down His life for us. He took the blows, the jabs, the punches as He was whipped and beaten, mocked and insulted, spat upon and struck, excluded and isolated. Left to die on a cross that should have been ours, because we were the ones who were enemies of God. And yet, in the greatest act of love, the Father had mercy upon us. He sent His Son to love and forgive all of us who were His enemies. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”

When it comes to loving our enemies, we really don’t know what we are doing. Our love and forgiveness is conditional. We bear grudges far too easily. We seek vengeance. We are really good at breeding more division, more bitterness, more anger, and more hatred. We think that if someone does something to us, then we need to respond by giving them what they deserve. But two wrongs will never make a right. And no enemy will ever be won by giving them what they deserve. Lest we forget that God our Savior desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1st Timothy 2:4). This includes our enemies.

This is why Scripture directs you and I away from looking at our enemies. God’s Word directs you to the cross, to fix your eyes upon Jesus. To see His love poured out for you. To see that your sins are in those wounds. To hear His words, “Father forgive them,” and know that they are spoken to you and for you.

If ever you are going to love your enemies, then you need help…help from your God who is merciful, who doesn’t give you what you do deserve. And the good news is that as baptized children of the Heavenly Father, that love is poured into you under bread and wine here today. His body and blood fills you to overflowing with His love and forgiveness.

So fix your eyes upon Jesus. See His love for you. See those wounds. See how He suffered and died just to save you. From sin…from death…from the devil himself. Fix your eyes upon Jesus, and be forgiven, and so forgive others as He has forgiven you.

Forgiveness is what loving your enemies is all about. So, stop holding the grudge, seeking the vengeance, or harboring the hard feelings. Confess where you have hardened your hearts, and rejoice in the mercy of God who sent His Son in love to save you. Live in that love and share that love…by loving your enemies.

And a great place to start living in that love, is by listening to the words of Jesus and turning to God in prayer. Let us pray. Almighty, everlasting God, through Your Son, our blessed Lord, You commanded us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, and to pray for those who persecute us. Therefore, we earnestly implore You that by Your gracious working You would help us and have mercy upon us to love our enemies; that they also would be led to true repentance and faith; and that we may be of one accord in love for You and each other. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Your Guilt Is Taken Away-2/10

It started with “Woe is me!” … It ended with “Here am I! Send me.” (Pause)

Isaiah had been given a vision of heaven. There before him was the Lord Jesus, high and lifted up. From His throne, the train of His robe filled every inch of the temple. Just imagine such a garment, its splendor and beauty. There above him were angels, flaming seraphim, the highest ranking officials in the heavenly host standing guard, just awaiting the command of their Lord. In holy reverence and modesty before God, they used four wings to cover themselves from their eyes to their feet, while flying with their two remaining wings.

All the while, the seraphim called to one another, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” Not one, not two, but three. Three holies for the Holy Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. With voices that echoed, the foundations of the temple shook. An earthquake rattled the very thresholds and the house of the Lord was filled with smoke, letting everyone know of the presence of the Almighty God.

Just think of how awestruck Isaiah must have been, to behold such wonder and amazement. To stand in the presence of the Almighty God. Oh, how he must have been shaking from the inside out, to behold such glory. To see what no one else had seen.

Then, knowing that no one sees God and lives, he was rightfully overcome with a weight of guilt. No doubt it brought him to his very knees in fear, thinking that he was about to be stricken to death, right then and there. He had only to utter from his very lips, Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! (Isaiah 6:5)

Isaiah knew his guilt. He knew his fate. He knew that he was doomed to die a sinners’ death. It was the wage demanded of him, and in his mind, he was about to have to pay it. The end was now here. (Pause)

Have we lost this sense of reverence and respect as we are welcomed into the presence of the Almighty God week after week? Do we still take seriously that the wages of our sin is death, which means just to be here and be alive is an act of God’s mercy and grace? Do we recognize that even the angels covered themselves in reverence and modesty before the Almighty God? Even the angels! Do we hear those words of Isaiah spoken before God “Woe is me!” and think that his words are our words? When exposed for who we truly are as sinners, do we, like Isaiah did, see ourselves as guilty before the Almighty God? (Pause)

None of us escapes guilt before the Almighty God. It isn’t a matter of whether or not we get caught. As God holds His Ten Commandments before our eyes, we all stand as guilty. All of us. We have all broken God’s laws, and like Isaiah, none of us could stand before the Almighty God and live. We aren’t holy. We are deserving of death and damnation. We are all guilty.

It is unfortunate though, that unlike Isaiah who willingly admitted to such guilt, we have the tendency to do otherwise. For some of us, we try and bury our guilt deep down within ourselves and deny its existence hoping it will go away only to have it resurrect itself time and again. For others, we try and justify our guilt thinking that it wasn’t all that bad, especially when we comfort ourselves by comparing our bad deeds to the bad deeds of others. Then for others, we simply deny the fact that we are guilty, arrogantly trying to live out a façade of innocence. No matter which approach we take, it doesn’t negate the fact that we are all guilty before God.

Scripture says in the book of Romans: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12).

The very reality of our guilt is precisely why we as Lutherans regularly practice confession and absolution. It is a God-given opportunity for us to be shown our sins and our desperate need for a Savior. It is a gift to admit our guilt in the presence of the Almighty God and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He will be faithful to forgive us.

It’s why our confessions state that confession has two parts, “First that we confess our sins, and second that we receive absolution.” It’s why the liturgy quotes God’s Word in saying, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [But] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1st John 1:8-9). It’s why when the pastor tells us to take a moment of silence to examine ourselves that we don’t need to fear being left in that silence. Jesus is always faithful to forgive us.

That’s the way it went for Isaiah as well. Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for (Isaiah 6:6-7).

With fire from the coals of God’s altar, Isaiah’s lips were purified and cleansed. With fire from those coals, Isaiah was saved from the fiery wrath of the Almighty God against sin. With fire, Isaiah’s guilt was gone. There was no more “Woe is me!”

Our text says: And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

So it is with Isaiah, so it is for us as well. Only it isn’t a seraph using a burning coal to place upon our lips. No, it is the Almighty God’s Son who places His own body and blood upon our lips.

Though seraphs may not fly around today and we may not see the train of His robe fill this place, we can be sure that as the Word of God is spoken and His Sacraments are administered that we are in fact, in the holy of holies. We are given the opportunity to dine on the foretaste of the feast to come. And it won’t be long and our very voices will echo the trifecta of holies that those angels spoke that day in heaven.

We call it the Sanctus.

(8am) Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth adored; Heav’n and earth with full acclaim shout the glory of Your name. Sing hosanna in the highest, sing hosanna to the Lord; Truly blest is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

(10:30am) Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain; Holy, holy is He; Sing a new song; To Him Who sits on; Heaven's mercy seat; Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.

This is the song we have been given to sing as we are welcomed into the place we last deserve, beyond the curtain of the temple, and into the holy of holies. Here we will behold Him, taste Him, and consume Him. Here He comes to us at our level. Humbling Himself as He comes in mere human words, simple water, bread and wine. We may think that there is nothing marvelous about such means, but how remarkable is it that the Almighty God doesn’t distance Himself with special effects and theatrics. Instead He comes to us in ways that we sinful human beings can easily and regularly receive Him.

This is where our guilt is taken away and our sin is atoned for. Because here before us is the very One about whom Pilate told the crowd, “I find no guilt in him (John 18:38), and it is He who has assumed our guilt. He who knew no sin, became sin (2nd Corinthians 5:21), and in doing so faced the fiery coals of God’s wrath for you and for me.

All of our sins, ever last one of them, He took upon Himself, and into Himself. Every last ounce of guilt that was ours He drank to ensure that our guilt would be taken away and we would not have to face the wrath to come. He endured it all for us on Calvary.

So, let us not fear or dismiss the impact of confessing our sins. First, we confess. Second, we are absolved. This is why Jesus bled. This is why He died. It’s because we didn’t stand a chance on our own. The burden was too big. The weight was way too much. But with arms stretched out on the cross, He bore it all for you and for me. From the sins that darken our past to ones that still dampen each day. Every last one of them is gone. The weight of our guilt has been lifted. “It is finished.” Sin, death, the devil. They are done for. We are innocent. We are forgiven. We are free. (Pause)

I was recently told a story of a cardinal that would come by and eat from a bird feeder. Only this time, the cardinal decided it was time for a bath. However, it was extremely cold outside. Well, unfortunately, when the bird tried to fly away after the bath, it couldn’t. The wings of the bird had frozen to its body. It was not able to fly. The owner of the home watching this, brought the bird inside the garage in a box so that it could thaw out. Once it had thawed out, the restrictions were gone, and the bird could fly.

So it is with us. When we are no longer burdened by our sins and our guilt is taken away, it is like we are set free to fly. We are set free to share what we have been given to share in all of our vocations and stations in life. The sin that once weighed us down and restricted us is no longer present. Our guilt has been removed as far as the east is from the west. We can’t help but share this good news of great joy with others … about how our “Woe is me” was traded in for “Here am I! Send me!” In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Amazing Authority of God's Word - 2/3

Authority. The presence of authority is all around us. And it doesn’t take us long to see that our society has a problem with authority. Just ask the worker whose boss gives them something to do that they think is beneath them. Ask the child whose parents tell them to do something they don’t want to do. Ask the driver who is pulled over by the police officer for speeding. Ask the athlete who is called for a foul they think they did not commit.

We don’t have to look far to see that our society has a problem with authority. Protests turning to violence. Police officers being shot and killed. Athletes whining to referees. Kids talking back to their parents.

We also don’t have to evaluate our own lives too extensively to see that we fall into the same trap of having a problem with authority. No one seems to like to be told what to do or what not to do. We all seem to adopt the mentality with those in authority over us: “Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do?” Instead of seeing authority as something that is good and a gift, we view it as something that restricts or removes our freedom. All too often, we conclude that life would be better without those in authority over us, and if we were the ones to call the shots.

But would that be true? In the country of Somalia, as an example, there is no centralized government. There is no one to dictate laws or carryout discipline throughout the land. The presence of civil war among factions and tribes is a daily routine for those living in Somalia. Such division has led to the rise of the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab. With no government in place to provide security for the people, there is no one to stop Al-Shabaab members from advancing their version of radical Islam. They force people with the threats to join them, and if they don’t, then they risk losing their lives. This is what has people fleeing Somalia…looking for order and authority to be restored in their lives.

When the proper authority is in place, there is a sense of security and stability. To know that justice will be carried out gives a sense of peace. It also means that our lives will not be consumed with constant fear. There are authorities in place to defend and protect.

Today’s text has to do with authority. Amazing authority. The amazing authority of God’s Word.

Our text says: And they were all ‘amazed’ and said to one another, “What is this word?” For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!”  And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region (Luke 4:36-37).

The amazing authority of God’s Word! That was the reaction of the people as they witnessed Jesus rebuke the spirit of an unclean demon in a man in Capernaum. Immediately, as Jesus said, “Be silent and come out of him!” the demon came out. Immediately, a man’s life that had been filled with chaos and disorder was restored to peace by the authority of God’s Word being spoken.

It was much the same with Peter’s mother-in-law who was ill. Jesus rebuked the fever afflicting her, and immediately it left her. So it went with all those who were sick and demon possessed that day in Capernaum. Jesus spoke, and boom, whatever He said, happened!

It’s like dynamite. Really it is! Our text said that “with authority and ‘power’ he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” The Greek word for ‘power’ is dunamis. Dunamis. Dynamite. And how does dynamite work? I had to look it up. “Dynamite is formed into explosive sticks that feature a wick and blasting cap. The wick is lit, which leads to a small explosion when it reaches the blasting cap. When the blasting cap explodes, the nitroglycerin then causes a much larger explosion.” Boom! It’s amazing!

And so it is with the authority of God’s Word. He speaks, and the amazing happens. Boom! It’s dynamite!

So, why then, do we have this tendency to call the authority of God’s Word into question? Why do we doubt, and sometimes even deny His Word? Why?

Do we think it’s because He won’t back up what He says? Do we doubt that there is any power in His Word to do any good? Or is it because, deep down, we have a problem with authority…we think we would be better off without the authority of God’s Word…we think that we rightfully deserve authority over our own lives? …that even though we are the creatures and God is the Creator, we still have the audacity to think that our word usurps God’s Word?

Unfortunately, there are countless examples of that happening all around us and in our own lives: Perhaps we think abortion is now permissible because there are now eight states that permit an abortion up until the time of birth…or we think of a same-sex union is acceptable simply because a majority on the Supreme Court said so…or we think living together before marriage and having sex outside of wedlock is acceptable because so many others think it’s a good idea…or maybe we think we are justified to not forgive someone until they say they are sorry first…or maybe we think it is alright to be lazy and avoid prioritizing a life of worship, Bible study, and prayer. The list goes on, and the list affects us all. Because we all struggle when God’s Word is clear, but it isn’t in alignment with our opinion and what we want to do. And when that happens, we still, more often than not, side with ourselves, because we think we know what is best for ourselves.

But do we? Do we know better than God? You see, the unfortunate reality is that the more we dismiss God’s Word having authority, the more we conclude it has no place in our lives. It’s a slippery slope. A slippery slope to denying God’s authority altogether. This is what the third commandment refers to as the ‘despising’ of God’s Word. Instead of being amazed by God’s Word, we tend to be annoyed, antagonistic, and apathetic towards it. We no longer see the need for His Word. We no longer see the need to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

And this is precisely why we ‘need’ the dynamite of God’s Word spoken into our ears and into our lives…to wake us up from our apathy toward the Word of God. To help us to see that for as much as we have rejected authority in our lives in favor of our own agenda, we desperately need the security and stability that God’s Word provides. Otherwise, we are doomed to death and damnation.

Left to ourselves, that will be the result. Like the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. With no authority present, nearly all of the people live in buildings that have been damaged and demolished. So it will be with us if we live life thinking we get to call the shots. Apart from the authority of God’s Word, all that will be left of our lives will be rubble.

But what we see in our text is that Jesus is not afraid to enter into our damaged and demolished lives. For here today, we behold just how amazing the authority of God’s Word truly is. With a few words, Jesus rebukes a demon and it comes out of a man, immediately. With a mere rebuke, sickness leaves Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus speaks, and amazing things happen. And countless others that day benefited from that same authority of God’s Word. Here we see that in this world where we have little control at all, the One who has the authority is in total control.

And these certainly aren’t the only examples in Scripture. With His Word, He brought forth creation, the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, everything in it, including you and me. With His Word He took on the devil’s temptations in the wilderness after forty days of no food and defeated him. With His Word, He healed the paralytic, ten lepers, and countless others who were sick and demon possessed. With His Word He raised the widow’s son in the village of Nain from the dead, and Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus too. All with His Word.

But none of that compared to the authority He displayed in the words He spoke from the cross. “It is finished.” As He spoke those words and bled and died our death, He manifested His authority over the devil himself. The very stranglehold that Satan had over us was loosened and we were set free. Set free from sin. Set free from guilt and shame. Set free from death. Set free to serve our Savior. Our Savior whose foot is firmly planted on the head of the serpent once and for all. With those three words, Jesus made clear for all time who was the One who calls the shots. It isn’t Satan. It isn’t us. It’s Jesus.

Take comfort in the fact that He is in control. With the same authority He displayed on the cross, He rose from the dead and proclaimed victory over the devil. Because no one takes His life from Him. He lays it down of His own accord. He has the authority to lay it down, and He has the authority to take it up again (John 10:18). And that’s exactly what He did.

And He still exercises His authority among us here today. His Word is like dynamite that reverberates throughout the land and throughout our lives. Jesus speaks, and amazing things happen. Here at the font, we who were doomed to die are raised to life. Here at the church, we sinners are set free from guilt and shame. Here at the altar, under bread and wine, we are forgiven by His body and blood. When Jesus speaks, amazing things happen. Just like that demon he told to get out, so it is with us. He has cast out our sin as far as the east is from the west, and He remembers them no more.

And with every word He speaks to us, He is there to back it up with His own flesh and blood. Because He didn’t just ‘say’ He would save us. He actually did it. Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, and He uses it to redeem us and set us free. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.