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The Hour of Glory Has Come

What does glory look like? Is it being carried off the court after a last second shot was made? Is it being surrounded by those who cheer your name? Is it standing all alone on the top of a mountain that has been climbed? Is it receiving a standing ovation? Is it crossing the finish line? Is it walking out the door one last time when retirement finally comes? What does glory look like?

Here on Palm Sunday, it may look similar to what we think when it comes to glory. Jesus entered into the city of Jerusalem in an atmosphere of glory and great excitement. It was the time of the Passover, and word had gotten out about the latest miracle Jesus had performed. He had raised Lazarus from the dead. Now he was coming into Jerusalem, and the crowds wanted to see if this was the man who would be the promised Messiah.

So, they took off their cloaks and laid them on the ground. They grabbed palm branches and waived them in the air. And all the while people were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” But such a moment of glory would not last.

As we gather here on Palm Sunday two thousand years removed from that first Palm Sunday, we know what took place next. The “Hosannas” faded away. The time would soon come when cries calling for His crucifixion would echo throughout the land.

Palm Sunday may be a joyous day, but it is a somber day of joy. Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The Hour of Glory has Come. The days of Lent are drawing to a close. The time is now at hand.

In the days coming, Jesus would have all His dignity and reputation stripped of Him. The authorities would try him, beat him, and whip him. The sole goal would be to shame Him and demoralize Him. Spit would drip from his face and blood would flow from His back.

The whip the soldiers would have used would have most likely have had pieces of bone or metal or glass embedded in the leather. The whole goal was so that the prisoners’ flesh would be ripped away with each crack of the whip. This would bruise or perhaps even expose the prisoner’s vital organs.

Such torture wasn’t done though. The prisoner then would be forced to carry their own cross out of the town to be put on display for people to see as they came in the city. It was a visual symbol not to mess with the local law.

Once they arrived, the soldiers would drive nails in between the bones below the wrist so that prisoner would remain secure on the cross. Normally, the prisoner would be on that cross for days before death would finally take hold. But not for Jesus. We know from Scripture that He died that same day, probably from all of the blood lost beforehand.

Why should we take time to process a few of the graphic details of a crucifixion? Because that is what the image of glory looks like. When Jesus said that the hour of glory had come, He did not mean that He was looking forward to accolades and applause. He was looking forward to His death. And His death was not pretty at all. But it was most certainly glorious.

It was as Isaiah foretold: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

This is what glory looks like. It’s not in applause, accolades, or atta-boys and atta-girls. Glory comes in sacrifice. Glory comes in suffering and death. The suffering and death of Jesus. He is the glorious One. We are not.

For those of us who are consumed with worldly glory, let this be a reality check. Because all of those trophies and accolades we strive after so hard will all fade away and be forgotten. The only lasting, eternal glory comes in Christ. The One who died for us.

Scripture tells us to “Fix our eyes upon Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.” But we sinners only want to look at ourselves. “What’s in it for me?” “Look at me.”

Many of you know that I love the game of basketball. However, I really struggle to see what the game has become. At the professional level especially, there is so much focus on the individual. Though the line goes: “There is no “I” in “Team,” you would not know it if you watched the game. Fundamentals like passing and simple plays to work together for the sake of the team have been thrown aside for isolation ball, where the focus is on one player to get the spotlight. Unfortunately, this mentality has also trickled down into the lower levels as well. The concept of sacrifice and service is lost in a sea of self-glorification. And for what…a trophy that will collect dust somewhere and be forgotten.

That is why for our catechumens who will be going through the Rite of First Communion today, we need to ever keep before them, and before ourselves, what it truly means to live the life of a Christian. It has nothing to do with the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. It has everything to do with Jesus. I really appreciate the prayer: “Lord, may I decrease, so that you may increase.” But, that’s really hard to live out when we are so focused on ourselves and our own personal glory.

Our text tells us, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”

So, what will it take to live these verses out? What will it take to truly follow Jesus? What do we tell our catechumens who are going through the Rite of First Communion today if we desire them to “remain faithful to the point of death and so receive the crown of life?”

As we consider the glory of Jesus here today, let’s be honest and admit that the life of a Christian is going to be tough. It’s marked with suffering and death. What’s more, the devil is going to prowl like a roaring lion seeking to devour each of us. With every ounce of his being, he is going to try and keep us away from where God is located. The last place the devil wants us is here in God’s house receiving what we truly need. He is going to do whatever it takes to convince us that our sins are either too big to be forgiven, or they are not that big of a deal. Either way, he is going to lie to try and separate us from Jesus.

And for that reason, what we need every day is to join with those Greeks from our text who said to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” No matter how hard it may be to look at Him arrayed in all of His glory on that cross and be faced with the reality of our own selfish, sinfulness that put Him there, we need Him. We are dependent upon Him for survival.

That’s why we need His Holy Supper again and again and again. Constantly. Think of it this way (and many of you have probably heard me say this before): how long can we survive without food? If I asked the teenagers here, they might say, about 20 minutes. No matter how long we say, it is most certainly true that we need food to survive. And so it is that we need to body and blood of Christ if we are to survive unto eternal life.

So, here today, our catechumens will be receiving the body and blood of Jesus for the first time. And I know, the bread won’t taste like much at all and the wine may not taste all that good. But, is that really what matters? What matters is that Christ instituted this Sacrament by joining His Word to bread and wine to deliver to us the forgiveness of sins. Because He knows that’s what we need.

And the good news as we gather here today is that we don’t have to go searching for it. The Greeks in our text were looking for Jesus. That’s not the case with us. We know exactly where to find Him. As I have said before, Jesus is the worst at Hide-n-Seek. He is exactly where He says He would be. He is in His Word and Sacraments. This is where He is ‘for you’ in all of His glory. This is where He shares His glory with us by giving us Himself.

This is where we proclaim His death until He comes again. And what a glorious day that will be when that hour finally comes. Christ will descend. The trumpets will sound. The dead in Christ will be raised. We who are alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and we will always be with the Lord. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the ‘glory’ of God the Father. 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.

The Great Reversal - Pastor Gless

To what extent are you willing to go, to get what you want? Let me repeat that question. To what extent are you willing to go, to get what you want?

Today’s text gives us glimpse into what is most likely the Tuesday of Holy Week, before we begin the journey of Holy Week. And what we see is that the religious leaders were willing to go to any length necessary to get what they wanted. They wanted Jesus to be done for, at any cost. So, they set out to try and trip Jesus up so that they could do away with Him. Then, and only then, they thought the nation of Israel would be theirs again, and all the power to go with it.

Before their moment of so-called triumph though, Jesus called them out with a parable. It’s called: The parable of the wicked tenants.

Our text tells us that there was a man who planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants. The man is God. The vineyard is Israel. The tenants are the religious leaders.

The man went away for a long time, but when harvest came, he sent a series of servants to receive his share of the produce, since he was the owner. These servants that were sent were the Old Testament prophets sent to Israel to proclaim a message of repentance. But instead of being received well by the tenants, they were all brutally abused. The first one they beat and sent away. The second one they beat, treated shamefully, and then sent him away. The third one they wounded and cast out.

The owner proceeded then to ask himself what he should do. He resolved to send his beloved son thinking they would respect him. But instead of respecting him, they saw it as an opportunity to seize the inheritance. The tenants concluded that since the son was being sent, this must mean that the owner had died. They thought the son was coming to collect his inheritance.

So, the tenants gathered together and devised a plan. A sick and sinister plan. A wicked plan. They surmised that if they would kill the son, the land would become ownerless. The tenants could then claim squatters’ rights and press for ownership. Then the vineyard would be theirs.

So, that is what they did. They threw the beloved son out of the vineyard and killed him. But the owner was not dead as they had presumed. So, in response to this heinous act, the owner decided that he would come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. (Pause)

When those listening to Jesus heard this parable come to its conclusion, they were not impressed at all. But Jesus still pressed forward citing a passage from Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

A stone can be stumbled over and a stone can crush. Either way, it is an image of judgment. And so is this parable. It is a message of judgment against the chief priests, scribes, and elders who constantly rejected Jesus and His authority by failing to see their need for repentance.

But instead of repenting when they were shown their sins yet again, their rejection of Jesus only boiled over. They sought to seize Him at that very moment because they knew this parable He had spoken was told against them. But knowing that the time wasn’t quite right with all the people still gathered around supporting him, they focused their attention on trying to set Him up. They gathered together and devised a plan. A sick and sinister plan. A wicked plan. They would send out spies who would pretend to be sincere, in hopes that they could catch him in something that he said, and then turn him over to the jurisdiction of the governor. (Pause)

To what extent are you willing to go, to get what you want? The religious leaders in Jerusalem revealed that they were willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to get what they wanted. Even Caiaphas, the chief priest, said: “If we let Jesus go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” So, they made clear that they were willing to kill to get what they wanted.

To what extent are you willing to go, to get what you want? The Bible makes clear that as human beings, our sins begin as a desire. And those wants and desires are born and bred from a sinful, selfish heart. So, to what extent are you willing to go, to get what you want? Will you sacrifice your moral convictions? Will you sell someone else out? Will you skip Sunday services? Will you hide something in hopes of not being caught? Will you cheat someone out of what is rightfully theirs? Will you bribe someone to get your own way?

To what extent are you willing to go, to get what you want? Recently, the news has been swamped with stories about celebrities who used their wealth to bribe their way to get what they wanted. And what they wanted was for their kids to be able to go to college at prestigious schools. So, be it that they used their position as past-donors, or that they promised to be future donors, either way, they were showing the extent they were willing to go to in order to get what they wanted…and it is going to cost them legally in the long run.

But it doesn’t stop with bribery. This week someone killed four people in Mandan, North Dakota. Why? I can only guess it was to try and get what they wanted. Why did someone kill a college student in South Carolina? It must have been to get what they wanted.

To what extent are you willing to go, to get what you want? Little did the religious leaders know, that what they wanted would be the very instrument that God would use to carry out His plan of salvation. This is how marvelous our God is. He takes what is evil, and reverses its very purpose and uses it for good. What was about to happen only three days later, was the most remarkable 180 degree turn that has ever taken place.

Just think about it. Next week, we are going to behold the intensification of Satan’s forces as he used the religious establishment to accomplish his goal. The religious leaders would continue to seek Jesus to put him to death. They would breathe down his very neck with every step that He would take. Then Satan would enter into Judas who would then offer to turn Jesus over. All to the delight of those religious leaders as they looked forward to taking Jesus down.

And that is what they did. Those same leaders would soon mock Him, beat Him, falsely accuse Him, drag him off to Pilate, call for the release of Barabbas over Him, and then lead the people in the chant calling for His crucifixion.

Just like the son in the parable of the wicked tenants who was thrown out of the vineyard and killed, so it was for Jesus. He was thrown out of Jerusalem carrying His own cross, nailed to it, and left for dead.

It is no wonder that Jesus wept over Jerusalem as Holy Week began. These were His people, His family, His church, and they all rejected Him.

For the Jews, their fate would come just as the parable foretold. In A.D. 70, Jerusalem would be destroyed, and not one stone would be left upon another. All that they had wanted, and were willing to do anything to get their hands on, would be left in a pile of rubble.

Indeed, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” But as the Psalm continues, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

What is such a sad story of rejection by the religious establishment two thousand years ago is what we cling to as the hope of our salvation. As we prepare to enter into Holy Week, we are once again brought face to face with the Greatest Reversal. God reversed a plan meant for evil and He made it good.

In fact the day it all came to its climax, is even called Good. Good Friday. It is good because the death of Jesus should have been our death. We should have been left there to breathe our last…to be left to face eternal condemnation. But we have a God whose goodness was manifested in the sending of His Son to die in our place…to reverse our fate away from eternal condemnation.

Jesus revealed that He was willing to do whatever it took to get what He wanted. Jesus didn’t kill, but with the greatest reversal, He laid down His life to get what He wanted…you. Jesus wanted nothing more than for you to be with Him for all eternity. So, He did what it took by dying your death.

As we prepare for Holy Week, we are given this text to ponder the severity of what it truly means to reject Jesus. And we are also given the opportunity to ponder the great extent Jesus went to in order to save us from our sinful, selfish wants and desires and the death that goes with it.

In the greatest reversal, He takes what is ours and places it upon Himself. And then what is His, becomes ours. His perfect life, His death, His resurrection. All of it. Because everything He did, He did for us. Because He wanted to. Because He loves us.

So, instead of condemnation, we get salvation. Instead of death, we get life. Instead of hell, we get heaven. Thanks be to God for His great reversal He won for us! Amen.

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

"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…this...you 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.

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