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A Teachable Moment on Faith

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People watching. While dating in college, Emily and I did a lot of people watching in downtown Chicago. It never disappointed. There was the travelling Casino man who rode on the “L” (the elevated train). He had three bottle caps and a small bean. He would move them around and get people to bet $20 to guess which cap it was under. When they won, he would get them double down, and they would always lose. I was glad I never participated. Then there were the street evangelists who would blare their threatening lines that the end of the world was coming, trying to scare people into repentance. There were street entertainers of all kinds, from jugglers to musicians. My favorite was a group of boys who were percussionists that played on five gallon pales. They were amazing. Then there were the silver people. They were people who painted themselves completely in silver paint and stand as statues. Occasionally they would move in a rather robotic fashion and then resume the position of a statue like character. There truly never was a dull moment in downtown Chicago when it came to people watching.

Our text says that Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people (Mark 12:41a). Jesus watched the people. He watched the people putting money into the offering box. Imagine if we had our ushers do that, or the elders, or perhaps the pastor watch each person as they put in money into the offering plate. Just imagine.

The truth is, at the suggestion of the previous MN South District President, the Council was directed to watch attendance and giving trends during this vacancy. Thus far, it’s been noticed that while attendance is slightly up, giving is slightly down. The reason for watching such a trend is that their experience, the District believes that it is vital for congregations to maintain attendance and giving integrity throughout a vacancy in preparation for when the vacancy concludes.

Now such watching of giving to the church was quite a bit different in Jesus’ day. In His day, there were thirteen receptacles located around the temple courtyard. And it was not uncommon for people to watch others give their tithe. You see, in those days, the command was that a ten percent tithe was to be given to the Lord. But because this was a public affair, many of the wealthy would give even more in hopes of drawing attention to themselves and their giving. That is exactly what Jesus witnessed. The text says that Jesus saw many rich people put in large sums (Mark 12:41b).

 

 

But then the focus of this people watching session made a dramatic shift to the most unexpected person. A poor widow. Where no one else would have focused in on her, Jesus makes her the focal point of this teachable moment for the disciples and for us. A teachable moment on more than just giving, but rather a teachable moment on faith.

And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny (Mark 12:42). Here the wealthy are lined up putting in large sums of money. Others are no doubt impressed by the sound those large sums make as they enter into one of those thirteen receptacles. We might guess that the disciples were impressed too.

But not Jesus. No, Jesus hones in on a widow who gives two small copper coins. No doubt when they landed in one of those receptacles, no one even heard the little plinking sounds they made. No one really cared about those two small copper coins.

Those two copper coins were known as lepta. They were the smallest form of currency. If one were to work a day’s wage and make a denarius, they would be making sixty-four lepta. So, what this widow gave as an offering was 1/32 of a day’s wage. That means that this amount would be what the average worker makes in fifteen minutes of work, to give us some perspective. To anyone else there, this offering was completely without significance. Except for Jesus.

And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44).

The disciples must have been quite flabbergasted to hear such a line from Jesus. How could this woman’s offering be more than what others were giving? She only gave two lepta. That’s nothing. Or almost nothing. But Jesus counters such a thought in saying that what might be deemed as nothing by most, is everything to him.

As I said, this is a teachable moment on more than just giving. It is a teachable moment on faith. This woman was a widow, which meant that her husband had died, and in those days that meant that her source of income and support was no longer present with her to provide for her. She did not know where her next meal would come from or if it would come. All we know from the text is that everything she had, she gave.

What’s more is that we don’t know what happens afterwards. In the words of Paul Harvey, we don’t know “the rest of the story.” We don’t know if the disciples and Jesus cared for her. We don’t know if family or friends took her into their homes. We don’t know if she may have died within the next few days from starvation. Though we want to think that Jesus and the disciples did not abandon her in her time of need, the truth of the matter is that we don’t know. And for good reason.

Just like this woman didn’t know her future when she gave to the Lord, nor do we. There is not-a-one of us here who knows what the future holds. We don’t know if we will have enough money for food tomorrow. We don’t know if our job will be there for us to go to anymore. We don’t know if the number of our days will be ended. We simply don’t know what the future holds.

For many of us, that causes us a great deal of unrest and anxiety. We worry, and how often, more than naught, is our worrying about finances. We fixate on finances, and all the while forget about the fulfillment of God’s promises. We allow anxiety to overwhelm us to the point that giving to the Lord might be diminished to an afterthought. First fruits might get lost in the shuffle to the point that if we give, it might only be from our leftovers.

You see, this is where the freedom of percentage giving comes in. Where the Old Testament commanded a ten percent tithe, the New Testament leads us to give a percentage of our income. Though it does not specify a specific percentage, we are encouraged to give of our first fruits giving thanks for all that the Lord has done for us. That means if we make a thousand dollars one week or a hundred dollars the next, the amount of giving may change, but the percentage does not. This is freeing. Because, let’s be real. Some of us don’t know how much we will make in a year, or a month, or even in a week. But when we give thanks based upon a percentage gift to the Lord, it removes the fear of trying to maintain a specific dollar amount when the circumstances of life may become more trying.

The amazing thing about this story is that Jesus, who knows and sees all things, says that she put in everything she had, all she had to live on. God doesn’t look at the amount she gave. He looks at the heart. Where others were giving that they may be seen by others, she gave so that God might be seen and glorified, and the needs of others might be met. All the while she had faith that God would provide for her needs of body and soul, no matter what happened the next day. She truly feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things thanks to the faith that had been given to her.

Such faith is given to us as well. In the water and Word of Holy Baptism, we were given the faith to believe in Jesus as our Savior. But with that gift of faith, God doesn’t promise us that when we give to the Lord, we will be blessed with health or wealth. He doesn’t promise us that we will be millionaires or that we will get a raise or always have the job we desire. Truth is, we don’t know what the future holds in this life.

What we do know is that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). We have been given to know and believe that among all the uncertainties of life, there is one thing that is always certain as baptized believers in Jesus. Salvation is secure. It is guaranteed. It has been secured and guaranteed by the One who gave everything He had, all He to live on.

As the song goes: “He gave His life, what more could He give? Oh how He loves you…oh how he loves me. Oh how He loves you and me.” In love for you and me Jesus secured for us salvation in heaven with Him. He made sure that when that last day arrives and we see Him descend from the clouds, that will not be a day that we will face with fear.

That is what is so remarkable about the faith of this woman who gave the two small copper coins. Her faith wasn’t in her next meal or her next place to stay. She wasn’t storing up treasures on earth only to see them rust and decay. Her treasures were in heaven, right where they ought to belong. Her faith was in her God who loved her so much that He sent His Son. It’s no wonder Jesus sat and watched her God-given faith in action.

          To think that she displayed such faith and Jesus hadn’t even died on the cross yet, is quite amazing. To think that He was sitting right there and only three chapters later in the book of Mark He would be bleeding and dying for her salvation. We don’t know, but perhaps she lived and was even able to witness His crucifixion and resurrection. We don’t know.

          What we do know is that we live on the other side of Christ’s sacrificial death. We are privileged to gather here and look back and see that the promise that was made for us and all humanity has been fulfilled. We gather here celebrating that the resurrection of the dead is a reality. And we gather here to give thanks to God for the faith He has given us so that we may believe that when He comes again our salvation is a guarantee. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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

The Eternal Gospel

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In ancient Greece warfare was a more common and royal occurrence than we see it today. Kings and rulers sent their generals and troops off to battle and then awaited the news of how it went. When the battle was won, a well-groomed and finely dressed messenger was sent back with a specific message.

As he entered the city, the messenger’s appearance would tell he brought good news. His face would be clean and shinning, his spear would be decked with laurel and other green shrubbery, likewise his head would be crowned in greenery.

He would be swinging a branch of palms as he went through the city, which would excitedly rouse all the inhabitants, and make his arrival at the palace all the more grand and exiting. When he finally reached the king or emperor, the messenger would raise his right hand in greeting and call out with a loud voice “euangelion!”— “good news!” It was the customary and technical term of war used for the good news of victory in battle.

 “Euangelion,” this word fills the pages of the (Greek) New Testament. We see it in English as the word “gospel.” The book of Mark starts by saying, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Jesus Himself begins his ministry saying, “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The Apostle Paul, in one of my favorite verses of all Scripture (which is also my confirmation verse) says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation for all who believe” (Rom. 1:16).

In other words, at the core of the New Testament is the Gospel, and that most certainly is “good news.” This is quite fitting, of course, because the New Testament is all about the Good News of victory of over sin and death through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, for a time in the history of the Church this good news was buried in demands to earn your salvation or even to buy your way to heaven. But the Reformation started by Martin Luther when he nailed those 95 Theses to the church door, brought the unequivocal goodness of the Good News back into the life of the Holy Christian Church and her people.

That’s why on this Sunday we mark the day that began the great Reformation, even as the children of this church publicly confess their faith in the rite of confirmation, all while together we rejoice in the Good News of the Gospel with mutual celebration!  

Reformation, confirmation, and celebration all because of the Good News of the Gospel. It’s the very Gospel spoken of in the reading from the book of Revelation.

In fact, the book of Revelation captures the Apostle John’s vivid visions of a victorious battle, an uses the word “euangelion” along with all the ancient imagery associated with it. This is especially so in the reading for today.

But in this case, the messenger is an angel who is triumphantly going not just to the inhabitants of one city, but to the inhabitants of the whole world: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.” (Rev. 14:6)

            An eternal gospel. That means never ending Good News. In a world full of the never-ending cycle of bad news—be it from FOX news, CNN, MSNBC, or the feed from your preferred social media platform—we crave and need some eternal good news.   

Putting it bluntly, we live in a land of unhappy and unhealthy people. All we need do is look around and listen to all the bad news coming from the vitriol and cruelty of another election cycle. In fact, Ben Sasse, the Senator from Nebraska just released a fascinating book that diagnosis the sorry condition of Americans. It’s titled, Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal.

Them. You know “them.” They are the ones who don’t think like you, talk like you, look like you, or vote like you. Them. Though Jesus shed His blood for them, “them” are your enemies. If ever there was evidence of the corrupt and sinful heart, American political seasons are it. Sasse’s analysis of the vitriol and disdain for fellow human beings, especially in public discourse, is rather frightening. Yet, he brings a rather telling diagnosis of why. 

He says we hate each other because we are lonely. Interestingly, he observes that the ties that used to bind previous generations to family, friends, neighborhoods and communities are no longer in place, so America is suffering from a “loneliness epidemic.”     

Perhaps you know what that is like. A broken marriage, a broken family, or a broken promise brings the heaviness and isolation of loneliness. No friends at school, no friends at work, or no friends who understand, leave you haunted by the antagonizing whispers of loneliness. Or perhaps it’s the long days of work, the long nights alone, or the long stretches of eating by yourself that leave you hurting, unhappy, and unhealthy. 

            In fact, Senator Sasse says the greatest health crisis in America, “is not cancer, not obesity, and not heart disease—it’s loneliness.” Putting it into some stark terms for us, he says, “Persistent loneliness reduces [the] average longevity [of life] by more than twice as much as heavy drinking and more than three times as much as obesity.”(p.23)

The result, Sasse notes, is an attempt to treat persistent loneliness by creating “tribes” of “us” vs. “them” in order to create an artificial sense of identity and belonging. Secure within a preferred tribe, people lash out, hurl personal insults, and, as was all over the bad news cycle this week (if it is to be believed), mail pipe bombs and white powder to the opposition, instead of engaging in reasoned dialogue and seeing the humanity of another person.

Loneliness is sinister. The Devil can tempt you and me with any number of sins by it. Loneliness is painful. The fact is, loneliness can eat you alive. Aloneness can swallow every last once of hope that you have to spare. It feasts upon any happiness that you have left, leaving behind an empty carcass, full of despair and memories that you can’t seem to hold onto anymore.

Loneliness takes your heart into its claws and it squeezes. It makes you angry, it makes you sad, it makes you near despair, and it makes you desperate for relief—desperate for good news.

Now hear this. I have good news for you. There is an angel of heaven flying overhead with an eternal Gospel to proclaim. No amount of bad news can thwart the goodness of this Good News. No intensity of isolation can keep this Gospel away from you. This Good News is eternal. It cannot be stopped. It will carry on. Pastors proclaim it. Parents speak it. Confirmands confess it. And you believe it!

The eternal Gospel is that Jesus Christ brings hope to you today, tomorrow, next week, next year, and even next century. The eternal nature of the Gospel is that is does not, cannot, and will not ever stop bringing you Good News. In fact, it will never cease filling you from head to toe with the faith, hope, and love of Christ Jesus. With Him, there is no fake news or false news, there is no artificial identity or empty sense of belonging. He loves you unconditionally, irreversibly, and unmistakably.    

Baptized into His life, Jesus brings compassion and understanding to your hurts; He brings life and light to your weary soul. With Jesus there is solace, there is safety, and there is satisfaction to be had in a very present God who comes directly to you under bread and wine. Here you not only taste and see the Lord is good, but here He is present with you, and then sends you to be present with others.

You see, Jesus came to root out every lonely corner and seek out every isolated soul. Jesus came to thwart every ounce of hatred and overcome every divided people. He came that you might not be left alone in your sin or ever doubt your identity. He calls you to repentance and then wraps you in His eternal acceptance.   

Jesus Christ has promised never to leave you and never forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). You are not alone! Christ Jesus makes Himself present for you today, physically and sacramentally. His body and His blood given for you. This is the Gospel. This is Good News. It is for you!

You see, with Jesus, you have an ever-present Lord who not only understands your hurt, but has endured the very soul searching, gut wrenching, and heart-breaking devastation of lonely suffering.

He knows the pains you bear, the emptiness you feel, the anger you harbor, and the longing you have. He knows the battles you face, the sins you suffer, the offenses you commit, and the wars that are waged against your soul by the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature; and He will not leave you to suffer alone.

He comes to your aid. He sends His Spirit to your side, and His Word to your mind. He calls you to live by faith, to trust in Him, even as the battle for your soul rages on.

In fact, into this battle the Heavenly Father sends a great warrior from Heaven to fight for you. He brings not sword or shield, nor puts on armor. Rather He puts on flesh.

God sent His Son into your skin, to walk around in your misery, in your hurt, and in your suffering; to endure your temptation, to fight against the devil, and to do battle with death itself on your behalf.   

Yes, He knows your plight, and He came to deliver you from the eternal consequences of it. On the cross of Calvary our Lord went into battle and endured the utter agony of rejection. He knows what it is to be hated. He knows what it is to be one of “them.”

Still he battled on. He dripped with the blood of aloneness, casting His soul into the deepest, darkest depths of loneliness imaginable. Crying out for His Father, He was answered with nothing but deafening silence. Jesus endured the depths of utter and complete aloneness because He was the only one who could pay the price for your sins and endure the terrifying loneliness of Hell so that you would never have to.

Jesus Christ went into the depths of loneliness, stood upon the brink of despair, and lay dead sealed in a tomb, so that three days later, having paid for sin, stomped on Satan, and destroyed death, He could walk out of that tomb, raise His hand and call out for all to hear, “Good news! The victory is won.” That is the goodness of the Gospel.

Be you infant or adult, confirmand or congressman, black or white, republican or democrat, citizen or sinner, the good news of the eternal Gospel is for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.    

 

The Impossible Made Possible

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The Gospel Reading last week placed before us a man who was blind. Though he could see just fine physically, he was blind spiritually. His sinful, self-righteousness made it impossible for him to see his need for Jesus as his Savior. So with great love and care, Jesus exposed this man’s idolatry of his wealth and possessions. Unfortunately, when this man’s sins were exposed, he walked away from Jesus. It is as this man walked away from Jesus that our text picks up for today.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23).

Where last week exposed the very fact that there is nothing we can do to inherit eternal life, this week’s text exposes that money and possessions won’t get us there either.

Today’s text is hardly a popular one, because it talks about money. There are many who feel that the church should never talk about money, and yet Jesus Himself brings it up on countless occasions. He is well aware that it is our money and the use of that money that often exposes where our false gods are located.

It is interesting to note that when it comes to money, hardly any of us would consider ourselves as rich. We always seem to be comparing ourselves to others, so we often see ourselves as the ‘have nots’ instead of the ‘haves’.

Interestingly enough, in Kenya, where the unemployment rate is 40%, an average day’s wage for a laborer is five dollars. Five dollars per day. Imagine living on that! Kind of makes it difficult to stop for that cup of coffee at Fivebucks…I mean Starbucks.

Then, while we were in Duca Moja in Kenya, a town miles from nowhere, the family we visited was on an eleven month payment plan to be able to afford a couple of solar lightbulbs in their tin hut. Eleven months, to pay off two bulbs. Needless to say, by many of the world’s standards, we are all quite wealthy.

But the issue here before us is not about how much money we have, but the role money plays in our lives. For the disciples, they couldn’t believe that Jesus said it would be difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.

And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:24-26).

For the disciples, wealth and possessions were signs of blessing from God. In their minds, if you had money and stuff, then your eternal inheritance was secured.

This notion the disciples bought into is still alive and well today. It is called the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel advances the idea that if one believes in God, then God will bless them richly. These rich blessings often focus on promotions, positions, health, wealth, possessions, you name it. Televangelists of all kinds push this lie trying to get rich themselves.

And don’t get me wrong, it is not that the money and the possessions we have aren’t blessings from the Lord. They are. But what function do they serve in our lives?

We need to ask ourselves, what has become too important in our lives? What has become our god? What has caused us to crowd God out of being our first love? Are we willing to admit it? Are we willing to repent of the error of our ways? Are we willing to confess that we have feared, loved, and trusted in something other than God?

All too often, the unfortunate reality is that the devil uses our wealth and possessions to drive us away from God. Money and possessions give us a false-sense of power and control, as well as a false sense of security. We are often inclined to think that because we have money and stuff, we are doing alright, and we don’t need Christ.

Our Old Testament Reading exposed the slippery slope in saying: He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity (Ecclesiastes 5:10).

The risk with wealth and possessions is that we are rarely if ever satisfied with what we have. We fail to understand what it means to be content with what we have. Consumed with comparing ourselves to others, we constantly want more and more, bigger and better. It is a bottomless pit that the devil takes full advantage of, especially in our American culture.

John D. Rockefeller was at one point the world’s richest man and first ever American billionaire. Considering he was a billionaire in the early 1900’s, he is still considered as the richest person in modern history. When a reporter asked him, “How much money is enough?” He responded, “Just a little bit more.” (Pause)

Isn’t this our American mentality that we have bought into when it comes to wealth and possessions? So, it’s no wonder that Jesus likens us to camels that can’t make it through the eye of a needle. When we think that the wealth and possessions we have in life are what provide us security, we are left with an impossible task. None of that will get us salvation in heaven.

You have heard the line, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” Well, the truth is that “He who dies with the most toys, still dies.” No amount of money or possessions is going to be able to get our way into heaven. Though millions of dollars have been spent trying to reverse the reality of death through nanotechnology, cryogenic freezing, and other technologies, the common denominator for us all is that we will die.

How did the line go from Benjamin Franklin? “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Death is a given for us all, and for all of us, it is impossible for us to overcome.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).

The Son of God came from heaven to earth and humbled Himself by being born in a stable and placed in a manger. He made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:7-8).

Not with gold or silver, but with His holy and precious blood, Jesus died the death that should have been ours. He did the unthinkable, to accomplish the impossible. With His death, He destroyed death once and for all. And three days after lying in that tomb, He won for us the victory that never should have been ours. But so it is with our God. “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Thanks to Jesus, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of the sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1st Corinthians 15:54-57).

This is where we find our identity in life. Not in the money we make or the possessions we have. As Scripture says: Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, so that we by His poverty might become rich (2nd Corinthians 8:9). Our identity is secured in the victory won for us by none other than Jesus Christ.

Through water and the Word of Holy Baptism, Jesus generously joined Himself to us to pull us up from drowning in those baptismal waters so that we may have eternal life. There Jesus pulled us camels through the eye of the needle. The impossible was made possible, because all things are possible with God.

Now our salvation is secure, and so is our identity. We don’t have to strive after ‘a little bit more’ as Rockefeller said. We don’t have to try and keep up with the Jones’, whoever that may be in our lives. We belong to Christ. We are not our own, we were bought with a price (1st Corinthians 6:19).

As those who belong to Christ, we are called to follow Him to the cross and the empty tomb…To bear our own cross and sacrifice everything…To endure persecution and divisions…To be His disciples…and to be His stewards.

As baptized believers, we recognize that everything we have comes from God. From those gifts, we joyfully and gladly give back to God so that the work of His kingdom may continue to be spread.

My Dad taught me how to tithe when I earned my very first dollar. He instructed me that the first ten cents of that dollar went to God, then fifty cents to savings, and forty cents to spend. It is a lesson that has stuck with me all my life, for which I am forever thankful.

It is a lesson that this world thinks is absolutely crazy. The rest of the world will never understand why we would willingly give money to the work of the church expecting nothing in return. They think we have lost our minds. They think we are nuts. In a sermon I heard from a Pastor Beyer at the Seminary, he shared that NUTS is an acronym for Never Underestimate the work of The Spirit. So, we are, in fact, NUTS.

So be it. Because our identity is not based upon what the world says. Our identity is based upon who God called us to be. We are children of the Heavenly Father, named and claimed by Jesus Christ Himself. The very One who made the impossible, possible for us.

Let us pray: Almighty God, heavenly Father, You have called us to be Your children and heirs of Your gracious promises in Christ Jesus. Grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may forsake all covetous desires and the inordinate love of riches. Deliver us from the pursuit of passing things that we may seek the kingdom of Your Son and trust in His righteousness and so find blessedness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

See the Savior

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Recently I watched a video of the procedure known as Lasik eye surgery. In this surgery, a laser is used to create a thin circular flap in the exterior tissue of the cornea. That flap is then folded back to give access to the underlying cornea. A highly specialized laser is then used to reshape the cornea so that it more accurately focuses light on the retina for improved vision. I sat in awe as I watched the patient’s sight improve almost instantly because of this procedure.

I bring this up because today we are going to talk about sight. Specifically, spiritual sight. What we are invited to see today is that with greater precision that Lasik surgery, Jesus Himself provides the vision necessary so that we may see Him as our Savior.

Today’s text reveals to us a man who is blind. Oh, he can see physically just fine. But as far as spiritual sight goes, he is completely and totally blind.

The text says, And as Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Here was a man on a mission, searching for an honest answer. We might wonder how many others he had asked this question as he desperately sought the assurance of knowing that his salvation would be secure. Unlike the Pharisees, he was not trying to trick or trap Jesus. No, this man legitimately saw Jesus as the One who could finally help him. He was even willing to kneel before Jesus, to take a position of humility before Him, in hopes of finally getting his answer.

It is an answer that we have so often seek after as well as we ask the same question: What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

In a survey taken in the early 1990’s, it was revealed that three out of four Lutherans said that they were trying to attain the ultimate gift of heaven and eternal life by “living good lives,” “obeying the commandments,” or “being good Christians.”

What this statistic clearly shows us is that we Lutherans are not immune to the same blindness that this man had who knelt at Jesus’ feet. It is the blindness of self-righteousness. Like this man must have concluded, we tell ourselves the lie that we are good people. And we further that lie when we compare ourselves to others; then we see ourselves as better people. A daily diet of this behavior puffs up pride which only keeps us from clearly seeing the truth before us.

The truth is that pride, more often than not, is a mask of insecurity. Though this man kneeling before Jesus pridefully declares that he has kept all the commandments from his youth (which we will examine more later), he still is insecure about his salvation. 

The same can so often be said of us. We put on errs before others that we have life all together, but the truth is, that actually, deep down, we are really an insecure people. We bury our past and all the hurts hoping that if we push them down hard enough and long enough that eventually they will go away. We fret wondering if we have done enough to right all of the wrongs we have done. But on the outside no one would ever know. We put on the smiling face and tell everyone we are ‘just fine’ so that no one really knows what is actually going on within us.

But below the surface of that facial façade, we are battered and bruised by the reality of this sin-filled, fallen world. All too often we bear the burdens of being betrayed by those that said they would love and care for us. Inside, we are left with one question: What do I have to do? What do I have to do to make things right? All too often when we ask this question, we begin to view life as if it were a ladder of achievement or a set of steps in hopes of gaining security in our lives.

And it doesn’t take long for us to look at God’s commandments in a similar way. We begin to see the commandments as a checklist of sorts. If only I do this, then I will finally be in favor with God. If only I accomplish that, I will finally be able to make up for what I did back then. Because after all, we all have sins that haunt us and plague us, right? Things that we have done or failed to do, and the devil knows just how to press the right buttons to shake the security of our salvation.

So what do we naturally turn to? We turn inward toward ourselves. What must I do to inherit eternal life? What do I need to do to make this right? Isn’t that what we ask in a relationship that might be on the rocks. “Just tell me…what do I have to do to make this right, to save this friendship, to heal this family, to fix this marriage?” It doesn’t take much for us to ask the same question before God as well.

It just goes to show that we think much more highly of ourselves than we ought to when come before God. We actually have the audacity to think that we could do something to achieve eternal life, just like this man who knelt before Jesus. We actually think that we are somehow capable of being ‘good’ before God. (Pause)

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother (Mark 10:18-19).

When we first examine these verses, it appears that Jesus is telling this man that eternal life is, in fact, a ladder or a set of stairs to climb. It looks like he is saying, do all these things and you are good to go. But that is far from what Jesus is doing here.

With laser like precision, Jesus is exposing this man’s false sense of security. With the care of a surgeon, he is unveiling this man’s sinful pride and arrogance. He is leading this blind man to see just who the Savior is.

And he said to Jesus, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth. And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Mark 10:20-22).

Here was a man who had found his security in life. Unfortunately for him as he walked away disheartened and sorrowful, his security was not in the Savior. For this man, his security was in his wealth.

But that’s the thing, when we fail to see Jesus as the Savior, we become insecure when it comes to salvation. And rightfully so. But what happens is that we are inclined then to misplace our security. Maybe it is in our money or our possessions. Maybe it is in our job title or the position we hold in life. Maybe it is in the affirmation and affection of a person, a parent, a spouse, or even a child. Maybe it is in ourselves and our accomplishments.

Here’s the thing though: The security of salvation comes only in the One who is Good, only in the One who saves. And today the Savior who is the only One who is good places before us the commandments of God to show us that we are sinners. He removes our spiritual blindness so that we may all see we are sinners who fall short of the glory of God. He helps us to see that we will never find security in what we do before God or anyone else. An inheritance is not earned. An inheritance is a gift. A gift given by none other than the One who opens our spiritual eyes. His name is Jesus. He is our Savior.

It was our Savior Jesus who was the One who came and followed the law to perfection. He did that because we were not able. He did that because just like He looked at that man and loved him, so He loves us. In love for us, He went to the cross to bear our burdens and our sins, to die our death so that we would have an eternal inheritance. With eyes of love, He looked upon all of humankind from that cross and said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

All too often we live out the lie thinking we can do all that is needed to be perfect. But, Jesus knew full well that there was nothing we could do to earn eternal life. He knew we couldn’t complete the to-do list of the commandments. He saw us in our battered and bruised state in this world. And like so many of us have had to endure, He was betrayed by one His own so that we would not have to do anything to secure our salvation. He did it for us. It’s finished. It’s done.

Let that sink in for a moment. For all of us who constantly find ourselves burdened by the weight of our sins and those committed against us, take a deep breath and take this in:

As Jesus breathed His last, you may breathe a sigh of relief. The separation is ended. Your salvation is secure. The work is done. You don’t have to work your way to Jesus. He came to you.

And He comes to you once again today. Through His Word and His Holy Supper. He is here for you. To forgive you. To strengthen you. To sustain you. Be at peace, and see your Savior before you.

It is just as we will soon sing after receiving the Savior’s body and blood in the Nunc Dimittis:

(8am) Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.

(10:30am) Lord, bid Your servant go in peace, Your word is now fulfilled. These eyes have seen salvation’s dawn, This child so long foretold. This is the Savior of the world.

Your Savior comes to you and He calls you to follow Him. He will lead you through this valley of the shadow of death, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. So, take a deep breath. You have nothing to fear. Your salvation is secure. See your Savior is here, and He is looking in love upon you. Amen.

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

Pastor Stefan Wismar

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our sermon text for this 20th Sunday after Pentecost is the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark, chapter 10.

          I was finishing up teaching Bible Class one Sunday morning and part of that Bible class was looking at those Bible passages that deal with the subject of divorce. As I was packing up Mike approached me with his Bible open and pointed to Mark 10:11, “And Jesus said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.”” And then he said, “So, I’m screwed then?” You see Mike had gotten married very young and just a year or so after that marriage both him and his wife, with no infidelity involved, realized they had made a mistake. Citing irreconcilable differences with no malice they divorced and each moved on with their lives. Later Mike fell in love married, had two children and along the way he and his family had reconnected to their faith in Christ. By the time I was his pastor they had become quite committed to the work of the congregation with Mike even serving as President.

          So why bring it up? I bring it up because it illustrates that even a divorce that occurred years and years before without even a fight or a mean word spoken. A divorce that was all legal and in good order. And yet still the divorce haunted his conscience with the realization of its sinfulness. And of course, no way to go back and fix it. Such is the power of the most intimate law between a man and a woman when it has been transgressed.

          And this is at least a starting point for understanding why Jesus answers the way in which he does when the Pharisees ask him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” The question hinges upon one’s understanding of ‘lawful.’ Jesus points them to answer from the laws of Moses and they answer correctly: “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” Jesus then reminds them that the precedent for Moses civil legislation regarding divorce was because their hardness of heart. In other words, Moses made the law as a practical necessity to deal with a terrible situation: Men were abandoning their wives for other women. So Moses made a law to make it clear that the divorce was official.

But Jesus immediately points to a higher law that is prior to Moses. The law at the beginning when God made them male and female. The law at the beginning when God said a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. And what God has joined together in this way Jesus makes clear that man should not separate. The disciples ask him later about this issue and Jesus is even more stark in his reply: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” And Jesus, in Mark, does not cite the exception that he does in Matthew where he adds the “except for sexual immorality.”

          When Jesus points to the higher law that was given at the beginning in contrast to the civil law of Moses he asking us to wrestle with how our understanding of the civil law relates to that of the moral law. The easiest way to summarize this is with the question, “Just because it is legal; does that make it moral?” Christian Ethicist Scott B. Rae in his book Moral Choices, answers the question in part in this way, “The law is the moral minimum. It is the moral floor, not the ceiling!

The majority of our most interesting moral dilemmas occur when confronted with the question of how far beyond what the law requires our morality demands us to go. In other words, how far beyond mere compliance with the law do my moral convictions tell me I have to go? Most of the pressing demands of morality are in those spaces where the law is not definitive, where the law is silent, or where the law allows one to do something unethical.”

          When Jesus challenges the Pharisees with the law at the beginning he is telling the Pharisees, your divorce may be legal but it is NOT moral. In fact, your immorality even has a specific name: Adultery. He is saying, “Your piece of paper makes it legal but it does not excuse your lack of love and concern for the well-being of the one with whom you have been joined in holy matrimony. You have carelessly and callously broken a sacred union. And no ‘certificate’ undoes the hurt and bitterness and anger and brokenness you have wrought.”

          A certificate seems an easy ‘legal’ way out of a marriage. And it isn’t a whole lot different today. Minnesota is a ‘no fault’ divorce state. This means that if you or your spouse believe that your marriage is irretrievably broken (meaning, so badly damaged that it can’t be saved), and the judge agrees, then the court will issue a divorce order. There is no need to get into why the marriage failed, or who was at fault. The only difference, it seems, between this and Moses’ divorce legislation is that at least in Minnesota you have to go before the judge.

          Of course, you still need to divide the property and deal with the children and this is where things can get nasty. It becomes the place to enact one’s vengeance. However, in a ‘no fault’ state community property is generally divided equally between the spouses while each spouse keeps his or her separate property. Community property is distributed equitably which isn’t necessarily a 50/50 split. But all others estates, assets and earning are divided in this manner.

Which means it doesn’t matter how much a spouse cheated they still get equitable distribution of the shared wealth.

This would seem to be in place to prevent undo vengeance. Maybe it does, but it does not prevent bitterness. It does not prevent anger bordering on rage. And it does not undo the brokenness. Why? Precisely because the civil law is a moral floor not a ceiling. It is a bare minimum requirement designed to keep society somewhat together. So, the divorce may be taken care of easily enough ‘legally.’ But everyone feels that something much greater has been undone. Not just the ones getting the divorced but their children and their families and their friends. Everyone feels a little bit of the pain. Everyone feels it because everyone knows the higher law that Jesus points us to: The moral law given at the beginning that man should not separate. The moral law written upon our hearts. And when it is violated, even if the civil law dissolves it easily, there is still damage. Severe, deep, painful hurt and despair. Again, the question is “Just because it is legal; does that make it moral?” Or more specifically, “Just because my divorce was legal, does that make me moral?” Or more stark, “Just because my divorce was legal, does that still make me an adulterer?”

          The weight of such questions when seriously considered and honestly answered is overwhelming. Hence, the immediate response of Mike in my conversation with him after Bible class that day: “So, I’m screwed then?” By which he meant, “I guess this sin isn’t forgivable.” He thought for many years it was fine because it was legal and they both thought it ok. Now he wasn’t sure. And there was no way to go back and fix it.

          Divorce hurts. Even if the exception for sexual immorality is at play—there is still so much brokenness. And there is sin—even if that sin isn’t adultery. There is sin before and there is sin after. The pain of divorce lingers. And it becomes the occasion for yet more sin.

Anyone touched by a divorce knows this. Perhaps this is why the Lord God chose to use it as a way to express his broken relationship with Israel in the Old Testament.

          Through his prophet Hosea the Lord tells his chosen people Israel that he is going to divorce them. Divorce them for their unfaithfulness. Hosea was commanded to be a living illustration of this brokenness: Commanded to marry an adulteress. Then he was to name his daughter ‘No Mercy’ and his son ‘Not my People,’ so that Israel would understand that they are children of spiritual adultery. They had cheated on the one true God by adulterating themselves with other gods. And as children of adultery they would receive no mercy and they would no longer be God’s chosen people. If you read Hosea the language is rough even if it is true. Rough as all that divorce entails.

          But God is not like us. He only divorced his people to bring them to repentance. But through Hosea he kept promising that a day would come. A day would come when he would restore them. A day when he would have mercy on No Mercy and he would say to Not My People you are my people. A day when they would in love call upon their God as, “My Husband.” A day when the seemingly unforgivable sin of spiritual adultery would be forgiven. A day when the seemingly unrepairable wounds of spiritual adultery would be repaired.

          That day was a day when darkness covered the earth and the Lord of Life, who called all things into existence and called them good, hung on a cross and pleaded with God the Father to forgive. To forgive because he was willing to take on our sin and bear its pain.

          “So I’m screwed then. I guess my divorce isn’t forgivable.” That thought can haunt. But God in Christ is clear.

From the mouth of Jesus, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.” You know only Jesus can say that because every sin is spiritual adultery against him. Only Jesus can say that because Jesus is always faithful in his love even when we are not. And because of that love, only Jesus has paid the price of all sin through his suffering and death on the cross. It is his to forgive or not to forgive. He chooses to forgive. And so it is that having paid the bridal dowry with his innocent, suffering and death he reconciles with his people and marries them again and calls them His bride.

O Bride of Christ, rejoice; Exultant raise thy voice

To hail the day of glory Foretold in sacred story.

Hosanna, praise, and glory!

Our King, we bow before Thee.

          When the pain of divorce lingers and haunts. When the bitterness you thought was long gone pops up again. When you thought you had finally forgiven and yet you still have thoughts of revenge. When you feel you’re screwed and this is never going to get better. Your bridegroom Jesus is still here. Still here. Still full of love. Still full of forgiveness. Come again and again to worship where your bridegroom offers forgiveness and life. Open his book and hear his promises of comfort and hope and peace. Hear it. Read it. So that you will be sure. For where Jesus is concerned, divorced or otherwise: There is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

From Complaining to Praying

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Does anyone ever complain in your household or in your workplace? Do you ever complain? You know, as I thought about it, I think moms are the ones who have to deal with the most complaints. And I think it most often has a lot to do with food. So often this is how it goes: Mom works really hard after a long day of caring for the kids to get supper on the table. Then the first few bites are eaten, and here it goes: “I don’t like this! This isn’t good! Can I have something else?” And it really gets worse when Dad has the audacity to join in. Suddenly all that work that made that meal possible is negated by a collection of complaints.

The people of Israel had their fair share of complaints as they wandered in the wilderness after having been set free from slavery in Egypt. It had been over a year since their departure from slavery, and all the provisions they had brought with them had run out. Now they were left with the manna from heaven. Scripture tells us that the manna was like coriander seed and the people would gather it, grind it, boil it, make cakes out of it, and it tasted like cakes baked with oil. But as Veggie Tales says, it is a dish that is filling, but bland. Day in and day out, they ate the same thing. So they complained.

“And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at” (Numbers 11:4-6).

At first, it is hard to imagine why these people would complain. After all, they had been slaves for 430 years, and now they were free. Who cares what is on the menu now? Then I am reminded of being in Kenya. One of the main dishes that is served in Kenya is ugali. Ugali has the appearance of mashed potatoes, but it is really only corn flower and water. It is very filling, but it is bland. For a Kenyan, it is what can be afforded day in and day out. For us spoiled Americans, if we aren’t careful, we complain.

We complain a lot, don’t we? What’s at the heart of a complaint? Why do we complain? Almost without fail, we complain because something isn’t going our way. The dictionary defines a complaint as “a statement that a situation is unsatisfactory or unacceptable.” In essence, it is that I am forced to bear a burden that I just don’t want to bear.

Moses found himself in that position with the people of Israel. He would walk by the tents of the people, and without fail, they would be complaining. Ever been in a situation like that before, where it seems like everywhere you turn there is negativity? It can really bring a person down. And that’s the way it was for Moses. So what does he do? He complains. After all, as it so often goes, negativity breeds more negativity.

Listen once again to his complaint to the Lord: Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness” (Numbers 11:11-15).

This is one down dude. He looks around him and sees 600,000 men, plus women and children, probably about two million people. He sees them all and thinks that it is his responsibility to care for all of them. Like several other prophets throughout the Old Testament, he wanted to die rather than put up with this grumbling bunch. For Moses, the burden was just too big.

Perhaps you can relate. I am well aware that we have a lot of people in this congregation going through very difficult circumstances. And I am also aware that there are many circumstances that I am not aware of that people are enduring. Life is hard. A lot of times it is because of the tangled web of sin we have woven for ourselves, and other times it is simply because we live in a sin-filled fallen world. Either way, life is tough going. So, it’s no wonder that we complain.

But as we look at our text, there is a stark difference with how the complaints are handled. The people of Israel sat around by their tents and complained among each other. We’ve been in those tents before, haven’t we? The dinner table. The office. One person starts griping, and before long, everyone’s grumbling away as if the sky were falling.

Then there is Moses. What does he do with his complaint? He took it to the Lord. Instead of complaining to Aaron or Joshua or anyone else, almost like a form of gossip, he takes his complaint to the only One who can do anything about it. He humbles himself by laying his burdens at the feet of the Lord in prayer, confidently trusting that he will be both heard and answered.

Now the answer he gets from God is not what he wanted. Remember, Moses wanted to die. Instead of death, he gets help. Help from 70 elders to help him carry the load of leadership among nearly two million of God’s people. Help that Moses rejoices in when Eldad and Medad start prophesying in the camp. What relief there must have been for Moses to see that the burden was no longer his to bear alone.

Then again, it was never his to bear alone. These were God’s people after all. He had set them free from slavery. He had saved them from the hands of the Egyptians by allowing them to cross the Red Sea on dry ground. And He had provided food to fall from heaven in the wilderness. It was all because of God. Moses was merely his instrument to carry out this task before them.

But that’s how it goes when we get to complaining, isn’t it? When we complain, we fail to see the countless ways our God continues to sustain us. We fail to see that “He richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support this body and life. He defends us against all danger and guards and protects us from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. For all this it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” Instead of thanking and praising Him, serving and obeying Him, we complain.

So, the next time any of us are tempted to complain, follow the example of Moses and lay it all out at the feet of the Lord in prayer. After all, life isn’t easy. It’s a difficult world we live in, and there is a lot we can’t handle. I know a lot of people like to say that “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” Well, that’s not in God’s Word. God doesn’t not tempt us beyond our ability and He will provide a way of escape, but there is nothing that says He won’t give us more than He can handle. If anything, He constantly gives us more than we can handle, just like He did for Moses. And the result was that Moses leaned upon His Lord all the more.

It is as Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV).

Though our God had every right to complain about us, to declare us unsatisfactory or unacceptable (as Webster defined a complaint)…though He had every right to complain about us, in love for us He invites us to turn our complaints into prayers. He invites us to cast our burdens upon Him because He cares for us.

Just like He was for Moses, He is here to help us. Now like Moses, that help may not come in the way we think it should go, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t help us. “He is our true Father and we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children as their dear Father.”

We don’t have to fear going before the Lord with anything that weighs upon our hearts and minds, be it a complaint or anything else. After all, He is our omniscient God; He already knows everything anyway. So, why not lay it all out there before our God in the sure and certain confidence that He will answer us according to His will?

That’s how it was for Jesus too while He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. If ever there was a man who had reason to complain, it was Jesus. Here He was being directed by His Father to be crucified for the sins of the whole world. Talk about a burden to bear. A burden He shares with His disciples in saying: My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:38-39). The Gospel of Luke also tells us: And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

And yet through all the sorrow and agony, He still submitted to the will of His Father. Even though it meant pain and suffering, He still pressed forward with fulfilling the will of the Father. He bore the burden of your sins and mine upon Calvary. And there upon the cross, He uttered the most heart-wrenching complaint that has ever been heard: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

It is a forsakenness that none of us can ever relate to, nor will we ever have to relate to. For when Jesus was forsaken on that cross for your sins and mine, He made sure that we never would be. We are forgiven. We are saved eternally. We will never have to be alone. And our prayers, complaints and all, will never be responded to in silence.

Now when our heavenly Father looks at us, He sees His beloved Son Jesus, and He delights in hearing our prayers, every last one of them. But consider this the next time complaints arise in your mind. Take a moment and think about and meditate about Jesus in that Garden of Gethsemane. Ponder those drops of sweat that were like blood pouring from His brow. Consider the agony that He endured. And then focus on His words of ‘not my will, but Thine be done.’ And watch and see how God turns your complaints into prayers of thanks and praise, for how God’s will was done 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.

Comforting Words

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It is my understanding that when someone is wandering in a desert, that their eyes have a way of playing tricks on them. But it’s really no trick at all. A mirage is a natural occurrence when the surface is hot and the air is cool. When light enters through the cool air into the hot air just above the burning sands, the rays bend creating an image that looks as though the surface might be wet. So for a wanderer in the desert wilderness, it certainly makes sense why someone might run after a mirage hoping to cool their parched tongue with a drink of water. But alas, a mirage is only an optical illusion. There is no water to be had.

To put our hope in an illusion can only lead to one result: death. Like a wanderer in the desert wilderness, anyone who tries to quench their thirst with sand from a mirage will only die as a result.

Isaiah writes comforting words for God’s people who find themselves wandering in a desert wilderness of sin and death. His words are words of comfort for us as well so that we may all be directed away from the mirages which only lead to death and toward the only One who can truly quench our thirst and give us eternal life.

Listen once again to our text: Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water (Isaiah 35:4-7a).

For Judah, the outlook was bleak at best. Enemies surrounded them. It would not be long and the nation of Babylon would enter in and drive them into exile. Like their forefathers who wandered the wilderness with Moses, they too would soon be wandering in a land away from home. It would not be long and they would be desperately hoping for these words of Isaiah to come into fruition.

And even though his words would come to fruition, even though Babylon would be overcome by the nation of Persia, and even though King Cyrus would allow God’s people to return home and build the temple once again, Isaiah had the people of Judah looking ahead much further than that.

There was a far greater promise that was yet to be fulfilled in their homeland that they were to fix their eyes upon. This would be no mirage off in the distance. This was the fulfillment of a promise that had been passed down from generation to generation ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden. The comforting words of Genesis, chapter three tell us that the offspring of Eve would come and He would crush the head of the serpent. The evil one would be destroyed. He would be destroyed, and all reason for fear would be removed.

You see, it’s one thing when comforting words are spoken. It is a whole ‘nother thing when those words are actually backed up with the action of a person. And in this case, that man would be Jesus. He would be the One to come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He would come and save his people.

But He would come and save them from far greater enemies than Babylon or Persia or anyone else. He would come and save His people from sin, death, and the devil. In fact, that’s exactly what the angel told Joseph as Jesus entered this world: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 18:20-21). 

That’s exactly what He did on the cross of Calvary. And all along the way leading up to the cross, He fulfilled the prophecies and promises that had been told about Him. In fact, our Gospel reading is evidence of that. There was a man who had a speech impediment and was completely deaf. But Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ears, spit, touched his tongue and the man’s ears were opened and his tongue was released. Just like Isaiah had prophesied, the mute man was no doubt singing for joy.

How comforting is it to know that we have a God who backs up everything He says and everything that was prophesied and promised about Him. As it says, in the book of Titus, God never lies. What He says is no illusion. It is no mirage off in the distance which only disappoints. No, our God is faithful to His Word from beginning to end.

That’s what makes it hard to fathom that as we navigate the Scriptures and see God’s people in action, more often than not they are steeped in rebellion. More often than not they are going away from God rather than following Him. It is as if they are fixated on a mirage off in the distance hoping that it provides something greater than what God can provide. It’s so baffling. Why drink the sand, if there is ample to drink from the One who truly is Living Water?

Then again, how many times do we do the same thing? How many times do we allow our eyes to get fixated on the false promises of this world? “Get rich, and you will be happy.” “Buy this, and you will finally be satisfied.” Do this, and you will finally please everybody.” But every one is a false hope. Every one is a mirage that is only like drinking sand in a desert which leads to death.

Yet, we still get caught up in it, don’t we? We work more and more hoping for a better life, but for what? A few extra bucks? I am reminded about a line that my home pastor used in a sermon once. He said: “No one ever laid on their death bed and said, ‘I wish I would have worked more.’”

And no doubt no one ever bought anything and was ever satisfied. Not in our consumer culture where even when you buy it, there is already a new model that’s being released. We are a society that teaches that enough is never enough. I have even thought of moving to Africa just to get away from it all. But then, as soon as I got off the airplane in Kenya, what is before my very eyes: a large billboard for the latest smartphone. So much for getting away from it all!

And when it comes to pleasing people, there is simply nothing you can do to please everybody. To try and be all things to all people, no matter how hard you try never works. Because invariably, there will always be someone that you have let down. And besides, we are called upon to please God rather than men (Galatians 1:10), which means in this post-Christian culture we are going to upset a whole host of people if we are to remain faithful.

Needless to say, we all get caught up in chasing after the mirages of this world. So, where do we turn? Where are we to go in this wilderness filled with blazing sand? The book of Hebrews rightly tells us to, Fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

Fix our eyes on Jesus. That’s what the Old Testament was intended for as it pointed to the coming of the Christ-child. That’s what the New Testament is intended for as it reveals His death and resurrection for us and points us forward to His return.

As we mark Rally Sunday today, I can’t emphasize enough as pastor that we need to be in the Word, Old and New Testament alike. If we are to look anywhere else for comfort, we will only come up with a mouth full of sand which leads to death. But, here in the Word of God is where Jesus is for us. He is the Word that became flesh and dwells among us (John 1:14). Which means that prioritizing of the Divine Worship Service, Bible Class, and Sunday School are essential. Rightly ordering our weeks and our lives around the Word of God who became flesh by entering this desert wilderness for us is the only way we will truly ever be satisfied.

As Jesus said in the beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

Satisfaction doesn’t come in money, stuff, or the works we do. Satisfaction comes in the shed blood of Jesus Christ that He poured out for us upon the cross of Calvary.

And it is with that very blood along with His body that our thirst is quenched. Nothing is more satisfying than receiving the Son of God into our body as we hear from the lips of the pastor those words of Jesus declaring that our sins are forgiven. Every last mirage chasing sin is gone…forever.

Those comforting words of forgiveness, life, and salvation are a constant echo of God’s Word of promise ever since the day the drenching waters baptism were poured over our heads. On that day we were promised that our Savior would never leave or forsake us. And through it all, come what may, He has been ever faithful to His promise. Just as He will be faithful to His promise to come and save us (Isaiah 35:4) for all eternity, just as He was prophesied in our text for today. It is such a comfort to know that we have a God who never goes back on His Word. Thanks be to God! 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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