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Understanding the Scriptures


            “Hey, open up! Let us in. You’ve got to hear this!” Perhaps those were the words of the two Emmaus road disciples who had just hurried back to the disciples in Jerusalem. It was Easter Sunday, and for one reason or another, they had made the seven mile trip to a little town of Emmaus. Jesus falls in with them, though to them He appears to be a stranger. He joins them in conversation, interprets the scriptures for them, and then finally made Himself known to them in the breaking of the bread at their evening meal. Then He disappears from their eyes.

            Full of joy, these two disciples, one named of Cleopas (the other we’re not exactly sure of), book it back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples what happened. This is where our text picks up for today: 36As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!”    

The resurrected Jesus comes and stands in their midst. It’s difficult for us to grasp. But for those who got to see it, hear it, and smell it, it was the real deal. He was there in the flesh. The same flesh they saw ripped to shreds by the whip a few days ago. The same flesh they saw nailed to a cross, gory and grotesque. He stands among them and says, “Peace to you.”

This, too, is hard for us to grasp. Attempts to wax eloquent on the peace of Jesus can often end up becoming more of a do it yourself speech on how to will peace in your life, rather than receiving the actual sense of peace. So it does us well to note the source of that peace.

For the disciples, Jesus spoke peace, and so He gave peace. His Word was not void. It was not empty. He demonstrated that to the Emmanus road disciples. He opened the scriptures for them to understand. When Jesus, spoke things happened. The disciples saw it countless times before. So when Jesus speaks peace there is peace to be felt.

Of course, you and I long for this peace. We’ve seen enough, heard enough, and felt enough unrest in this life to know what it is to hope for peace. And not just any old ordinary peace, we long for a peace that brings some “joy and marveling,” something that breathes life into our souls and puts passion into your daily routine, as mundane and ordinary as it might be.

But for this to happen, we need some sweet Jesus action to come into our souls to raise to life the hopes and dreams that so often feel like are just dead and gone. So let’s take some more Jesus action in:  Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

That’s what we want! We want a Jesus we can touch. We want a Jesus we can feel. One who we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt is real and is really with us. However, Jesus has not made an appearance to us like this yet. So what are we left to do?

Too often life, and faith with it, is blurred by our own burning desires and the best of this world’s liars. “If Jesus is real, prove it! If Jesus can help me, why can’t I feel it? If God is so loving, why do bad things happen?” Satan tries to rip the very fiber of faith from your soul. He aims to make belief in Jesus too difficult for some, or too simple and silly for others. Make no mistake, he will tempt you and harass you the same way Jesus was harassed while on the cross.

Remember how the crowds jeered at Jesus? “He saved others, if He is the Chosen One let’s see if He can save Himself!” “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Even the criminal crucified with Jesus derides Him, “Are you not the Christ? Then save yourself and us!”

He certainly could have. He could have went all Wolverine (or Superman), healed Himself, ripped the nails out of His flesh, and then unleashed a can of terror and might rivaling any comic book super hero. But to what end? What would that had proved? The power of the Gospel is rooted in God’s love, not in His almighty omnipotence. Smashing heads and taking names is not love, its pride. But willingly dying for the very people who meant Him harm is unconditional, unfathomable, and unbelievable love. That’s the faith you are called to believe.   

Yet, the Devil, the world, and your sinful flesh fight and flail to destroy what it means to believe in Jesus Christ—to believe in what we cannot see, to trust in one whom we cannot feel, and to love Him whom we cannot touch. To live by faith is a difficult thing indeed. But that’s why we call it faith.

However, don’t worry if you struggle off and on. You’re in good company: 40And when [Jesus] had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate before them. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.

The mass and mixture of emotions going on here is really quite astounding, “while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling...” What’s that all about? Though Jesus is standing in front of them, they are still disbelieving? Yet because Jesus is standing in front of them they are full of joy! They were disbelieving and they were marveling all over the same person! It’s a seeming incongruence of emotions. But it masterfully shows what it is to be human.

It reminds us that being a walking contradiction of emotions is not all that unusual—that peace and unrest, that joy and pain, and that faith and doubt can somehow, by the grace of God, exist together. Plenty of you here know this feeling. How’s it possible? How can this joy, disbelief, and marveling coexist? The text doesn’t tell us. It only describes the intensity of these emotions and then tells us what Jesus does next: “[H]e opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”  

And there it is. It’s the sweet action of Jesus unleashing a fury of joy and amazement on His disciples. He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures—short, sweet and to the point. Faith is rooted in and revealed by the Scriptures.

The incarnate Jesus pointed to them. The crucified Jesus fulfilled them. And the resurrected Jesus opens minds to them. And it’s not just for those disciples. It’s for you and for me, right here and right now. Still today Jesus unleashes the fury of His Amazing love. So get ready, because there’s going to be some crazy good, joy filled, disbelieving yet believing, Jesus loving, massive marveling going on in the roller coaster of your life. That’s what happens when the resurrected Jesus opens your mind to the Scriptures and reveals Himself to you in the breaking of the bread you are about to partake.  

He knows the frailty of your flesh and the fickleness of your faith. Yet, He calls you to faith—to believe in what seems unbelievable—even when you hurt, even when you’re confused or angry, and even when you sin and fall short of the glory of God. Through it all, He calls you to faith, and passionately declares that you’ve been redeemed by the blood of the lamb.   

To have peace in this world means we must know the Scriptures. If you want joy, believe the Scriptures. If you want some mind blowing, game changing, faith filled marveling, all-in joy then read, hear, learn, and believe the Scriptures! They declare the Good News.

Jesus loves you! Crucified, dead, risen and ascended, He loves you like nobody else loves you. He never gives up on you. He never leaves you nor forsakes you, but declares that you are a beautiful, beloved, and precious child of God. Where Jesus is, there is joy. Where Jesus is, there is marveling. Take some home. Share it with others. The resurrected Jesus is on the loose. Amen.   

Doubts Defeated - Pastor Gless 4/8/18


nullGrace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Doubt. Do you ever doubt? It is a word that is associated with uncertainty. If left untamed, it becomes disbelief. And where disbelief dares to enter in, fear is not far to follow.  

Doubt. It is a word that is often associated with the disciple Thomas. Doubting Thomas. But, if all the disciples could have been thoroughly examined for doubt that Easter night, they would have all ‘no doubt’ tested positive. For they too were filled with uncertainty, disbelief, and fear.

Our text tells us that On the evening of that day, the first day of the week [Easter day], the doors were locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews. But no doubt such fears ran deeper than that. Instead of following their leader, they had abandoned Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when Judas came with his band of thugs, when Jesus seemed to have needed them most, they had abandoned Him. They had run off into the night leaving Him for dead at the hands of Pharisees. They had failed in their following.

By this time on Easter evening, the word was out there that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Mary had reported to the disciples that she had seen the Lord. It was just as He had predicted. After three days He would rise. They should have listened. They should have followed. They should have done something. But they didn’t. They hadn’t done anything. Oh how their minds must have been a swirling mess of doubt-filled thoughts wondering what would happen if Jesus came and appeared to them. Surely He would scold them, despise them, condemn them.

You see what happens when doubts abound. Doubts disorder truth from reality. It separates the two. Doubts lead to fear and uncertainty because the mind forgets the truth and starts to chase after lies. Doubts are quite damning because they convince the doubter that there is no hope, only condemnation.

How surprised they must have been when Jesus did appear and speak to them. On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:19-23).

Wait just a minute! This was not the scolding they expected. There was no tone of disappointment or condemnation. In no way did it seem that He despised them for their lack of faithfulness. Quite the contrary. This was Jesus being true to His character as One who loves and forgives in a way that goes against all common sense. This is that scandalous love that defies all human reason. This is that peace that passes all human understanding and He was literally delivering it to them with His very own breath as He said not once, but twice: “Peace be with you.”

What’s more, instead of letting them have it for their doubts and fears, He was gifting them with the Holy Spirit and sending them out for service. It is what we call the Office of the Keys: “that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.” He was giving them the very keys of the doors of heaven so that they might serve others in the stead and by the command of their Lord Jesus Christ.  

Though they were glad to see Jesus, just imagine how confused they must have been. To think that they expected punishment, and in place of punishment they got peace.

Something He didn’t hesitate to deliver to doubting Thomas either. Though the disciples delivered to Thomas the same testimony that Mary had given, that they had seen the Lord, he would not believe it. He needed proof. He demanded proof. And that’s exactly what Jesus gave him as he sought His doubting disciple out.

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands, and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:26-29).

The proof Thomas demands, Jesus gives. He gives Him proof with peace. It was more than he could have ever asked for, and certainly more than he deserved. Such is the way of our gracious God.

What Jesus did for Thomas and all of the disciples, so He does for us, because He knows that we have all sorts of doubts too. We doubt His love for us. Does God really love me for all that I have done? We doubt whether we are truly forgiven. Will God actually forgive all my sins, even the really bad ones? We doubt whether or not we will be saved. Will God actually welcome me into His heavenly home? We have all sorts of doubts when it comes to our relationship with God.

But God defies all common sense and human reason, and He comes right into our lives and into our ears by way of His Word. He does not hesitate to seek us out, to defeat our doubt. And He does more than just walk through a wall, He walks right into our hearts to save us.

His pierced hands that He showed Thomas have pierced our hearts as well. By His resurrection from the dead, Jesus has shattered the very barrier that existed between us and God. By His gift of reconciliation, He has delivered to us His perfect gift of peace. We are at peace with God. With that gift of peace, He also delivers unconditional love, forgiveness, and the promise of eternal salvation.

So for all the times you may have doubted God’s love for you, hear this: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing separates you from God’s love.

For all the times you may have doubted God’s forgiveness for you, hear this: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1st John 1:9). God is always faithful. He forgives you.

For all the times you may have doubted God’s salvation for you, hear this: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17). God does not condemn you. He loves you. He sent His Son to save you.

For all the times any of us have ever locked ourselves in room in doubt-filled fear like the disciples, listen to His Word. It is God’s doubt defeating gift to you. There is power in His Word. By His Word, He created the universe, as well as you and me. By His Word, when He said to the sick “be healed,” that person was healed. By His Word, when He said to the demons, “be gone,” they left. By His Word, when He said to the dead, “Arise” they arose. By His Word, when He said “It is finished,” it was finished, over, done with. Sin, death, the devil, all of it…Finished. And by His Word, when He said to His disciples, “Peace be with you,” that is exactly what they got. They got peace.

Imagine the sigh of relief that came over them when Jesus spoke those words. They were not condemned by God. They were forgiven by God. They were set free by God. Set free to serve Him. Talk about a weight lifted.

So it is with us. It’s why the pastor speaks those words of peace at the end of each sermon. It’s why the pastor speaks God’s Word of forgiveness as a called and ordained servant of the Word. It’s why the pastor baptizes in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s why the pastor speaks Jesus’ Words of Institution and delivers Christ’s body and blood.

It is all so that you may believe [beyond all doubt] that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31). “Alleluia! Christ is Risen” “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Amen.

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

Every Knee Will Bow- Pastor Woodford 3/25/18



Every Knee Will Bow

9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…

Today marks the beginning of Holy week. It is the week we see just how human Jesus was. The sinless Son of God rides into Jerusalem and is hailed as a King on His way to die.

The crowds were gathering, knees were bending, palm branches were waving, people were shouting, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” and children were singing loud “Hosannas;” at the same time the scribes were grumbling, and the Pharisee were plotting. 

They refused to believe what you and I have come to confess time and again—that Jesus Christ is Lord. Their knees refused to bow. Their mouths refused to confess. But that did not change the truth of who Jesus is. Whether or not people believed Jesus was Lord did not change who He was. Whether or not people today believe Jesus is Lord will still not change that truth. 

Jesus Christ is Lord because He came from the stairway of heaven. Born in Bethlehem. Reared in Egypt, brought up in Nazareth, baptized in the Jordan, tempted in the wilderness; He performed miracles by the roadside, on the countryside, and by the seaside. He healed multitudes without medicine and made no charges for his service. He conquered everything that came up against Him. He took your sins and mine, and willingly went to Calvary and died.

As Paul said: Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Yet, while he was on that cross people mocked him saying, “If you’re the Christ, come down from the cross and show yourself to be the Christ.” Jesus didn’t answer that taunt. But the silence did. In fact, the silence may have said something. The silence was saying this is Friday, but Sunday’s coming! Yes, even the silence bows the knee to God. The silence knew it is better to get up out of the grave than it was to come down from the cross.

8[Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Jesus died. Make no mistake about it. No matter what skeptics try to say—that He faked it, that it didn’t happen, or that it’s all a lie. Scripture is quite clear. History is clear. Jesus died.

As African American preacher S.M. Lockridge put it years ago: “He died until the sun refused to shine. He died until the temple was ripped in two. He died until the dead came out of the tomb. He died until the rocks were split. He died until the centurion said, ‘Surely he was the son of God’ ” (Mark 15:39).

Jesus died! He was crucified dead. We don’t like it when things are dead—unless of course, such things happen to be the garter snake in your lawn or the spider in your basement. Come to think of it, maybe you wouldn’t mind the death of your financial debt, or maybe your enemy, your ex, your boss, or your competition.

Such hate filled daydreams are why Jesus died—for your ugly sins and mine. Yes, Passion Week points us to Jesus’ death. Surely, Mary fell to her knees in sorrow. His disciples surely dropped in disbelief. Knees bowed at His death—but they were bowed in grief.

Then Jesus was buried. Poor and humble, He was buried in a borrowed tomb. The One who made the mountains, who comprehends the infinite, who placed the stars in the sky, dug the canyons of the earth—the one who filled in the oceans—He was buried in a borrowed tomb. Why would knees bow to one buried in a borrowed tomb?

Because He wasn’t going to be in there long, a borrowed tomb would do just fine. He stayed in the grave just long enough clean it out—to remove its sting and wash away its sorrow. Yes, He knows the darkness of the grave. He knows the coldness it contains. But He dusted out that grave for you. He cleaned it up. Yes, you’ve been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, and therefore He stayed just long enough to make the grave a fine place for you and me to await the Resurrection! Jesus died.

And then, on schedule, as foretold, as prophesied, as ordained by the Heavenly Father, He got up out of that grave with every power of His omnipotence and every detail of His omniscience. Jesus Christ walked out of that tomb as Lord, and every knee will bow at His name.

However, people today think His power is fading and falling. The world seems dark. Unrest is all around. Broken marriages, broken homes, and broken lives cause people to fall to their knees and wonder where is Jesus in all this mess? Perhaps that that’s you.  

Others try to wrestle His power away. They deny He’s Lord. In anger and selfishness they aim to destroy His power, be it by unbelief, tyranny, terrorism, governmental decree, or military might.  

But if you’re going to destroy His power, by what power will you do so? If you try to destroy Him by fire, He’ll refuse to burn. If you try to destroy Him by water, He’ll walk on the water. If you try to destroy Him by storm and wind, He’ll shout “Quiet! Be still.”

If you try to destroy Him by law, you’ll find no fault in him. If you try to destroy Him by falsehoods and lies, the truth will shine through. If you try to destroy Him by hatred, He’ll wrap you in His love. If you try to destroy Him by rejection, soon you will hear Him say, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). And if you try to destroy Him by putting Him in the grave, He will rise from the dead!

This is why 9God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord.

Every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess. As Pastor Lockridge would say, “Jesus Christ is the bird from paradise. He is the gem from the glory land. He is truth’s fairest jewel. He’s time’s choicest season. He’s light’s purest ray. He’s joy’s deepest expression.

His name is like honey to the taste, harmony to the ear, health to the soul, and hope to heart. He’s higher than the highest of heavens, and holier than the holy of holies. In His birth is our significance. In His life is our living. In His cross is our redemption. In His resurrection is our everlasting hope!”

Yes, every knee shall bow! At His birth men came from the east. At His death men came from the west. Therefore, the east and the west meet in Him and He shows them all that He is the prince of peace, the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords.

Every knee shall bow! Whether people believe it or not, that won’t change the truth.  Whether you believe it or not, it won’t change the truth. Pharisee, infant, or atheist, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Sadly, some may not believe while they live, and that will mean the sorrow and sadness of Hell when they die. But that’s why we tell them about Jesus. Be assured, every knee will bow.

Every knee! The young knee. The old knee. Every knee. The Republican knee. The Democratic knee. The communist knee. Every knee! The white knee, the black knee, Wounded Knee, every knee!

There is no other name like Jesus. At His name all will bow. The Muslim knee, the Hindu knee, the Buddhist knee, every knee! Your neighbor’s knee, your knee, my knee. In the end every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.   

Follow the Leader - Pastor Gless 3/18/18


The Fifth Sunday in Lent; March 18, 2018

Gospel Reading: Mark 10:32-45

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise” (Mark 10:32-34).

Follow the Leader. The concept of the game is really quite simple. Perhaps you played it as a child. There is one person who serves as the leader. That person stands at the front of the line to lead the others. Then there is a group of people who stand behind the leader. They are the followers. The leader then proceeds forward, and whatever the leader does, the followers are expected to do the same. Again, the concept is really quite simple.

So it should have been in our text for today as well. Our text says: And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. Jesus was the leader, and His disciples were the followers. That is, until certain followers began to misunderstand what their role was in this game of follow the leader. That is the case in our text for today.

It all started with a request, or perhaps better put, a demand, by James and John while they were following Jesus to Jerusalem. It was a request that made clear that they weren't interested in following. Even though that is the very definition of a disciple. No. They had a different agenda in mind.

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able” (Mark 10:35-39a).

This is a blank check request, with a dose of arrogance on the side. James and John wanted Jesus to do whatever they wanted for them. No limits. Just sign at the bottom and we will fill in the amount. And fill in the amount they did, as they asked of Jesus to sit at his right and left in his glory.

Greatness and glory. Our society is saturated with the pursuit of it. We crave it. We love it. We love the feeling it gives us to think we are on the top of the world. We love the so-called power it provides when we can think we are in some way, anyway, better than someone else. We love the attention it draws from others, the limelight, even if it is just our fifteen minutes of fame. In fact, we love it so much we are even willing to bask in the light of someone else’s greatness and glory. We flock to be in the presence of celebrities, star athletes, and musicians. We think, if we can’t be famous, maybe we can rub shoulders with someone who is and some of it will rub off on us, even if just for a moment.  

Through it all, what is the aim? What is the goal of this seeking of greatness and glory? It is to breed jealousy in others. Look what I did that you didn’t do. Look who I was with that you weren’t with. Look at me, don’t you just wish you were more like me? Such jealousy then only breeds division.

That’s what happened between the disciples in today’s text. And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John (Mark 10:41). And why wouldn’t they be indignant? Every one of them wished that they had come up with the idea first. What James and John demanded of Jesus is the same demand they all had. Sure they were willing to follow Jesus, but there was an underlying motive at work. They all hoped their following would lead to greater glory in the long run. It was a ‘what’s in it for me’ approach. And this wasn’t the first time this topic had arisen among the disciples.

You will recall only a chapter ago that such a pursuit of glory consumed their minds: And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest (Mark 9:33-34).

How much time do we waste arguing over or pursuing being the greatest, the greatest athlete, the greatest employee, the greatest friend, the greatest sibling, child, parent…the list goes on. All in an effort to try and validate our so-called superiority over another…when all of us stand before God as equal. We are all sinners. Sinners in need of a Savior.

Thanks be to God we have a Savior who displays such patience toward us as He did with His disciples. He doesn’t write us off or condemn us when we lose our place in line and think we should be the leaders. No, He takes us where we are at and shows us the error of our ways. He gently guides us to repent of our sinfulness, graciously forgives us, and then He redirects us back to where we are to be and remain. He calls us to be His disciples who follow Him to the cross and the empty tomb.

The very same place He told His disciples to follow Him toward. See we are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise” (Mark 10:33-34).

We hear that, and it’s no wonder that James and John didn't want to be followers. Their leader was going right into the foothold of the enemy. Mocked, spit upon, flogged, killed? Why would they want to follow Him there? Certainly a fair question.

In fact, it is a question that all of us needs to consider in the times we are now living in. Being a Christian is no life of greatness and glory as the world defines it. Mockery and the threat of death are more the reality. Take the recent episode of ABC’s The View where one of its anchors mocked Vice President Pence’s Christian faith by comparing it to a mental illness. A statement she made and received no consequence from the company she works for whatsoever. So much for tolerance, right? Or how about the cake maker in Colorado who finds himself before the Supreme Court for refusing to make a cake for a homosexual couple because to do so was against his religious views as a Christian. And all the while, he and his family face constant death threats. So much for religious liberty, right?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us put our pursuits of worldly greatness and glory aside, for that will not be our lot in life if we are to remain faithful. Let us humble ourselves as servants and patiently endure the suffering that comes with it. As the Apostle Paul told us: We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame (Romans 5:3-5a).

It is just like Jesus told His disciples…they would be baptized as he was and they would drink the cup that he would drink. They would suffer and die as He did. But through it all, sure and certain hope would remain. There would be a light at the end of the tunnel.
          That light is the light of the tomb opening on Easter morning. Our text told us: after three days he will rise. And He did. So it will be for His disciples who followed Him. So it will be for you and me.

So instead of earthly greatness and glory, let us fix our eyes on our Leader. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus who humbled Himself that we might be exalted to heavenly greatness and glory.

Jesus gave up His heavenly greatness and glory to enter into this world of sin and shame. He put aside popularity to dine with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. He didn’t come to seek the attention of the paparazzi. He came to heal the sick and forgive sinners. He didn’t expect people to wait on him hand and foot. Rather, on the night He was betrayed by one of His own followers, He wrapped a towel around his waist to wash the dirt and dung off of his disciples’ feet, and then He gave them his own body and blood so that they would be strengthened for their own life of service long into the future. He didn’t demand that we pay the price of our life for our sins. He did it for us. He was mocked. He was spit upon. He was flogged. He was killed…in our place. Because that’s what He came to do. That was His mission from the very start: to serve us in order to save us.

And He keeps serving us so that we may continue to follow Him. In fact, He does so yet again today through His Word and Sacraments. This is where we receive all the nourishment we need to endure as His disciples…so that we too may live a life of service toward God and our neighbors. No, it isn’t going to be easy. There will be trials and tribulations galore, but take heart, our leader has overcome the world. We can trust Him to lead and guide us through it all, come what may. He will see us through the cross and the empty tomb. So, in full assurance of faith, let us follow our Leader confident that where he leads there will be greater glory than we could ever imagine. 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.

Dead Man Walking - Pastor Woodford


 “Dead man; Dead man walking!” That’s what the guard says as he escorts convicted prisoner John Coffey from the prison truck to his death row prison cell in the movie The Green Mile. It’s a phrase that’s traditionally used to announce a condemned prisoner who is walking to the place of his execution. Though he is still alive at the moment, he is a walking dead man.

In the movie, Tom Hank’s character tells us what death row was like in Louisiana during the Great Depression in 1935: “Usually, death row was called ‘the last mile’ [but] we called ours ‘the Green Mile’ [because] the floor was the color of faded limes. We had the electric chair —'Old Sparky,’ we called it.” The movie shows several individuals who had to journey down that green mile all the while knowing they were a dead man walking.

That’s the kind of imagery the Apostle Paul gives us in the reading from Ephesians. Listen again:  1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked… Because of your sins, your bad deeds, your wicked thoughts, and your immoral behavior the verdict is in, the sentence has been handed down, and Paul says you are a “dead man walking!”  

Paul is rather specific in his description. Not only does he describe the guilt of sin, but he also describes how sin works and the consequences of sin.: 1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

[L]ike the rest of mankind…” No one is excluded from this indictment. Not you, not me, and certainly not the unbeliever down the street or on the other side of the world. Just like you and just like me, because of their trespasses and sins, they too are the walking dead. They too need a Savior from the rot and the stench of sin.

Paul’s imagery here is quite provocative. I think that’s intentionally so. Paul wants his readers to use their imagination to see how destructive and how grotesque sin is upon every last man, women, and child. He wants you to consider not only the guilt of sin, but the consequence and contamination of sin too.

The irony about this is that right now our culture has an utter fascination with depicting the gruesome and heinous rot of the walking dead. From heavy metal rockers, to comic books, to TV shows, to movies, depictions of the walking dead are all around. A popular heavy metal rocker who goes by the name Rob Zombie, (and also makes horror movies) had a popular hit song called, “Living Dead Girl” that speaks of the horrors of what such a living dead girl does.   

Even more, from 2012 to 2017 the highest rated cable TV series was a show about survivors living in a zombie apocalypse world. The name of the series is, of course, The Walking Dead. It’s now in its eighth season. It depicts survivors who band together for protection against the threat of the “walkers,” who are the undead gruesome and vile creatures perpetually trudging across the broken landscape, looking for survivors to gorge on and turn into fellow zombies.

I’ve only seen snippets of the show, and I certainly don’t recommend it. But perhaps such grotesque portrayals help us to see the effects of sin on us and those around us. Sin is vile. It’s putrid. It contaminates. Whatever its form, be it lies, cruel thoughts, lust, greed, or hatred—sin pollutes and infects, and ultimately turns you and me into the walking dead. It isn’t pretty.

When you are infected by sinful desires, and contaminated by uncontrolled passions, you often go looking for someone else to gorge upon and infect. You know how it is. When you’re angry you lash out. When others hurt you, you hurt them back. When you’re a bully at school or at work, you intimidate and threaten. When you are in the cool crowd you put others down.

Yes, as Paul says, we are dead in our trespasses and sins… carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and are by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 

            “Children of wrath.” Not just any wrath, but God’s wrath, His anger, His almighty fury! Be assured it is no comforting thought to be a sinner in the hands of an angry God. Like John Coffey you and I are a “dead man walking.”

            We are left to beg for clemency. Like a death row inmate, we can only repent and plead for mercy. And that is the very message we want all people to know. Not only for yourself, but for your family, your friends, your coworkers, and your unbelieving neighbors down the street. Like a convicted felon walking the green mile, we must cry out to God for mercy.

In the movie The Green Mile, John Coffey is convicted of terrible crimes he did not commit. Though he is giant black man, set in the prejudice south of 1935, we find he has many unique abilities. He is a gentle giant, who though naïve, is kind and deeply compassionate. He has the ability to not only feel the great pain and sorrow of people, but he can take their pain into himself, remove it from them, and give them relief, even bringing physical healing.

Though wrongly accused and convicted of terrible crimes, (the murder of two young girls), he is ready to take the death penalty. Yet, in so doing he heals people along the way, even taking away their diseases, before finally walking to his death an innocent man.

Of course, that was just a movie. But we know one who truly and willingly endured suffering, injustice, and death on our behalf. As we sit on death row begging for clemency and crying out for mercy, the Apostle Paul happily tells us of our merciful and compassionate Lord:

4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…”

            Because of his great love… Convicted for crimes He did not commit, Jesus Christ willingly took all of your pain into Himself so that you might be healed. He willing took all of your punishment into Himself so that you might have clemency.  

Because of his great love… Jesus willingly endured the wrath and fury of God the Father in your place, in my place, and in the place of the unbeliever down the street and across the globe. The love He has for you, He also as for the person sitting next to you, for the one living across the street, and for the one living on the other side of the world. 

Because of his great love… Jesus stood before Pilate, He before Herod, and He stood before the people and all rejected Him, lied about Him, mocked Him, beat Him and bullied Him. He knows what it is to feel the contamination of sin heaped upon Him. He knows what it is to have the walking dead try to gorge upon Him and infect Him with their sin and savagery.  

            Because of his great love… Jesus set out toward Golgotha with the cross on His back, a crown of thorns on His head, and the sin of the whole world infecting His whole being. He set out, not on the green mile, but on the “Calvary mile” with all the guards and all the people pointing and shouting, “Dead man; Dead man walking!”  

            He did that for you. He did that for your children and for your grandchildren. He did that for your neighbor. He did that for your coworker. He did that for the unbeliever who knows the pain of this world but doesn’t yet know Jesus.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16).

            Because we are the walking dead, Jesus willingly became a dead man walking, so that even when we were dead in our trespasses, we are made alive together with Christ.

            Because of his great love… Jesus walked right through death, and three days later walked out of that tomb as the resurrection and the life. That contamination of sin and the infection of evil had been undone. Death had been defeated. And when people saw Him alive, they couldn’t believe it. He was a dead man, a dead man walking! And He is walking right into your life and mine.

You are baptized in the name of this death defeater. You now have His death and His resurrection welling up within you. Now you go forward dead to sin, but alive to Christ. For when you are baptized into Jesus it means that the sinful self in you, the self that gives in to temptation and fleshly desires, is by daily contrition and repentance drowned and put to death with all sins and evil desires.

But yet, when you die with Jesus it means you also rise with Jesus. Those sinful desires that rage inside are put to death so that a new, forgiven and freed person can emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity. In fact, Paul declares that now we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

Now you walk in His works. Now you walk in His love. Where you go, He goes. His love is wrapped around you. Share it with others! Share it with others in your daily vocations.

His forgiveness is poured into you through His sacramental body and blood. Christ is at work in you. So now you walk in the works He sets before you. Yes, He who once was a dead man walking, is now walking right into your life and mine. He loves you! He forgives you. And He will raise you from the dead. You walk with Him. Amen.

Zealously Jealous For You - Pastor Gless 3/4/18


The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:13-17).

What a mess! Oxen and sheep running everywhere. Tables overturned. Coins rolling across the floor and scattered this way and that. Pigeons flying all over. People racing for the exits. It was a scene of utter chaos. And there at the center of it all was Jesus, face flushed, breathing heavily, with a whip in His hand. A whip He had fashioned on His own to drive them all out. And drive them all out of the temple is exactly what He did.

We have come to expect Jesus to be kind, caring, and compassionate, and He is all those things. But He is also not immune to other emotions either. Some may call what happened in the temple a fit of rage or a temper tantrum, but the more appropriate term is that Jesus was filled with zeal. Luther defines zeal as an angry love or a jealous love, for Jesus’ anger does not arise from hatred; it springs from love toward God.

It was zealous love toward God that motivated Jesus to do what He did in the temple that day. He looked around and He saw that His Father’s house had been reduced from a place of worship to a business, a house of trade.

You see, in an effort to make things more convenient for the Jews travelling to the temple in Jerusalem for the Passover, animals for sacrifice were sold there. This way people didn’t have to travel from far off locations with an animal in tow. They could just purchase the appropriate animal for sacrifice on site. Then, when it came to the temple tax that was expected, money changers were readily accessible to exchange currency for anyone who needed it.

It appeared to be a kind and caring service they were offering to those who were travelling to the temple at the Passover, but it was really anything but. Animals were sold at exorbitant prices. Exchange rates for the currency were extremely excessive. So as it was, the work of the temple came more down to profit margins than worship. And beyond that, it was all done in the Court of the Gentiles, the only place a Gentile was allowed to worship and pray.

So, you can see why Jesus was so worked up. Again the text says, His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17). The better translation would be “Zeal for your house will ‘devour’ me.” It literally ate at Jesus from the inside out that His Father’s house was being abused in such ways.

What are you zealous about? What are you passionate about? What causes you to get worked up inside? For some, it’s sports. Be it college, professional, or their kids’ peewee leagues, they can’t help but shout and scream as if somehow it could make a difference. For others, it’s politics. They love talking about it incessantly, gloating when their side is winning, and griping when they are on the losing end. What are you zealous about?

Our text makes very clear what God is zealous about. He is zealous for His house. But more than that. He is also zealously jealous for His people. He can’t stand seeing His Word being twisted and abused for selfish exploits. Above all else, He expects that we obey His Word because He knows what is best for us.

That’s why in the Old Testament Reading, He graciously gives us His Ten Commandments. And while doing so, he says this: For I the Lord your God am a ‘jealous’ God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:5-6).

He gives us His commandments because He is Zealously Jealous for Us. He doesn’t want us to turn away from Him. He knows that will only lead us to death and condemnation. So, in a zealous, jealous love for us, He tells us exactly how to follow Him. He doesn’t leave any doubt out there. It is all laid out for us in these Ten Commands of God.

So what would we think God would say about us and our handling of His Word and His commandments? How are we doing? What’s going well? What could be done better?

Are we putting God first in all that we do, or is He farther down the totem pole in our priorities?

Are we respecting His name, or do we take it in vain, curse, and swear?

Are we honoring the Lord’s day as holy, or do we have better things to do?

Are we respecting our parents and other authorities, or do we think we get to be the ones who call the shots in our lives?

Are we protecting the lives of others, or are we filled with the desire to lash out in anger and hatred?

Are we cherishing our spouse, or our wandering eyes looking elsewhere?

Are we protecting the possessions of others, or are we looking for avenues to take advantage of others for personal gain?

Are we honest in our interactions with others, or do we lie to get our own way?

Are we content with what we have been given, or do we have a jealous desire to have what belongs to others?

Well, how are we doing? What do our answers reflect that we zealously love? Do we zealously love ourselves, our wants, our profit, our reputation? Or do we zealously love God, His Word, His house, His mission, His reputation, and the world as He loves it? Needless to say, God has every right to come in here and clean house as well. He has every right in zeal for His house to be angry at us.


It is as Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark, For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23).

So you see, it’s not just the temple that was in need of a cleansing. So do we. Our bodies are also temples; temples of the Holy Spirit. And yet, we have abused and defiled the temples we have been given by God by neglecting His Commandments. And such abuse and defilement comes with a price. Sin is like poison, where even in the smallest of amounts, it still kills. So, if our bodies are not cleansed of the poison of sin, we are doomed to die…eternally.

That is exactly why God sent His Son Jesus. You see, your God is zealously jealous for you. He loves you. He doesn’t want you to die. He is so passionate in His love for you that He would stop at nothing to save you. Even if it meant sacrificing His own Son, His own beloved child. Which is exactly what He did. And He did it all for you. He willingly paid the price.

For all of the times we have failed to obey His commandments. For all of the times we have failed to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. For all the times we have failed to love our neighbors as ourselves. For all of that and more, God the Father sat back and watched them nail the body of His Son to a tree. And there, the Father let His Son have it. There He unleased all of His anger and all of His wrath upon His only Son. (Pause) Though it all should have been directed at us, He directed it at His Son…so that we would be spared. (Pause) That’s how much He loves us.

He takes our sin, and it is buried in the tomb with His body. And it is no more. Gone forever. You are forgiven. But He doesn’t stop there. There was a resurrection yet to come. Knowing your body was yet doomed to die, His body was raised from the dead. It’s what this whole season of Lent builds toward. The Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting. It’s exactly what He predicted would happen in our text for today: Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).

That is exactly what He did…for you. In the most beautiful exchange, He joined His life to yours and your death to Him so that you would not die. He wants nothing more than for you to remain with Him. And not just for a moment, but for an eternity. That’s why He makes sure that nothing separates you from Him and His love for you. He dies for you. He rises for you. It’s all for you.

And He assures you of His promise to you yet again as He comes to you today. In, with, and under the bread and the wine, His resurrected body and blood are given to you. All to assure you that even though your body will one day be placed in the grave, that will not be the end of the story. Like His body was raised, so will yours be. For He has cleansed your body with His holy and precious blood, with the price of His life. You have been redeemed. You have been bought back from death and into life, by He who is the Resurrection and the Life. That’s how zealously jealous He is 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.

LCMS Stewardship March 2018

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Stewardship Ministry March 2018 Newsletter Article

Hudson Taylor, a Nineteenth Century British missionary to China, is reported to have said, “God’s work, done in God’s way, will not lack God’s supply.” To know God’s way, we need to know His Holy Word. Or to say it another way: you need to know your Bible.

St. Paul, before he spends two chapters on giving, wrote that every thought is to be taken captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

Doctrine matters. And doctrine matters because the Scriptures matter. And the Scriptures matter because this is where we learn the teaching of Christ. Our thoughts must be brought into line with the teaching of Scripture so that our work is what God wants done and so that we do this work in His way.

A good tree bears good fruit. A bad tree bears bad fruit. We have been made good trees in holy baptism. We are fertilized and pruned for bearing good fruit by constantly hearing God’s Word preached and taught in sermon and Bible Class and in receiving the life-giving, faith-sustaining food of the Lord’s Supper. Remember your doctrine, hold on to the Lord’s teaching, and your thoughts will be taken captive to the obedience of Christ.

Bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ is recognizing that God does provide. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray for daily bread. Praying this day in and day out reminds us that the Lord is the giver of our daily bread, and that we are to gives thanks for His daily provision of it.

God is rarely early and never late in His work, as Abraham learned, “on the mount of the Lord it will be provided” (Gen. 22:14). The Lord’s generosity forms our generosity in return. Thus, we set aside for the work of God a generous, first-fruits, proportion of the daily bread that God has given to us. This act of trust in the Lord’s provision is the working out of our faith in Him.

When budgetary discussions pop up, our natural reaction is to point fingers. But remember your doctrine, and what your mother taught about pointing fingers. Our first natural reaction is not always right. In fact, when our thoughts are brought into captivity of Christ, our first reaction should be repentance.

It should raise questions in our own lives. As good trees in Christ who are to bear good fruit, we should ask whether our thoughts are taken captive by obedience to Christ. Have we given generously? Have we given our first-fruits? You know. And God knows. “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chron. 16:9).

God will provide. He always has and He always will. He gives His meat in due season. He has not left you as orphans, but has grafted you into His own family. You belong to Him. Remember this, letting this thought dwell in you richly. And you will then be rich toward others.