Sunday, September 17, 2017

Forgiving Our Debt with His Payment

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 17, 2017

Matthew 18:21–35
Forgiving Our Debt with His Payment

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

At the heart of this parable is the difference between justice and mercy. Justice is getting exactly what you deserve; mercy is getting the opposite of what you deserve. The servant stands before the king and which one does he ask for? Does he ask for mercy or justice?

24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26The servant fell on his knees before him. He begged, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay back everything.’
MATTHEW 18:24-26 NIV

This servant shows that he didnt believe that he needed to be forgiven because he didn’t ask for forgiveness. He asked for patience. He thinks that the king has simply done him a favor that he might have done on his own, if only he were given enough time. So he is not repentant. He doesn't really think that the king has forgiven him, because he doesn't think he really had something wrong with him. He probably would have said that the king was a nice guy, but his freedom and his righteousness were his own, and that he would have gotten free eventually on his own.

This is a warning to us. By faith we will be generous and merciful to other people, but that we also see our place in God's kingdom: we are beggars. We cannot dig ourselves out of this hole. We sins are too much for us. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. So we need His mercy, not more time to dig ourselves deeper into debt.

In short, we need Jesus. We need Him to forgive our debt, our trespasses, our sin. It is too much for us, but Jesus has forgiven it all.

27The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
MATTHEW 18:27 NIV

So, dear beggars and now also servants of the true everlasting King, Christ hasnt give you justice, but mercy. He has given you the opposite of what you deserve: instead of prison, He has given you a place in His kingdom.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,
and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45

Willing to Be Thought of as Mean

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 10, 2017

Matthew 18:15-20
Willing to Be Thought of as Mean

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

What is the worst thing that another person can think about you?

Cheap? Lazy? Smelly?

How about mean?

Being thought of as mean is the worst possible outcome in life. I don’t think this used to be the case, but it sure is a fear of many today. I mean, you’re afraid of being thought of as mean, right? So am I.

We should be self-aware enough to care about how we come across to others. But when this fear of being thought of as mean forces you not to tell the truth, that’s a problem.

Now there are three ways you can end up being thought of as mean.

You can actually be evil or
you can tell the truth to hurt someone else in order to make yourself feel better or
you can tell the truth out of love for someone’s safety.

Before the flood, Noah was called a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5 NIV). Very likely when his neighbors came around to see the ark being built, Noah preached to them about what was coming and why it was coming.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
HEBREW 11:7 NIV

He condemned the world by faith, because faith is agreeing with God. And Moses recorded what God had said about the world.

5The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6The Lord regretted that He had made human beings on the earth, and His heart was deeply troubled. 7So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”
GENESIS 6:5–7 NIV

Noah preached not his own condemnation. He didn’t speak about his own personal disgust for the world’s evil; he preached the judgment of the Lord, so that some might be get on the ark and be saved. Noah didn’t care if his neighbors thought of him as mean; he just didn’t want them to drown and go to hell.

Fast forward to a decade or so after Jesus ascended into heaven. The early Church is being torn apart by those who insisted that Christ dying and rising for salvation wasn’t enough. They were insisting that you had to follow the old laws of Moses to be a “real” Christian. So to be a “real” believer you had to be circumcised and you had to eat certain foods and avoid others.

Even Peter had been taken in by this false teaching, so Paul had to speak the truth in love. He confronted Peter “face-to-face” not out of anger, but out of concern for his soul. He loved Peter enough to risk being thought of as mean in order to set him straight back onto the full and free Gospel of Jesus, who lived, died, and rose for our sins.

You care about your neighbors. Care enough about them to risk being thought of as mean. When one of them sins against you, speak the truth in love to them. Speak clearly and calmly about the sin in question and then speak clearly and joyfully about the forgiveness of that sin that we receive in Christ’s dying and rising. He died for all sin, including the sin in question. He knew the sinner by name and the sin in question when He willingly suffered and died.

If your sinner won’t listen, get back-up from a trusted fellow believer. This is someone who can be trusted to keep the matter confidential. If your sinner still insists on calling their sin not-sin, then it’s appropriate to get the Church involved. And if your sinner clings to their sin even then, then they must be shown and not just told that they are in danger. This is what Jesus said:

15“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
MATTHEW 16:24–25 NIV

When you do this, you’re taking a big risk. The one who sinned against you will very likely think of you as mean. They will think your trusted believer is mean. And they will think the Church and her pastor are mean. This is a risk we must take. By faith we sacrifice our reputation to the scorn of committed sinners and of the world. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome:

1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
ROMANS 12:1-3 NIV

When we remember what we are and what we were, we will warn our fellow sinners out of care and love, risking ourselves in the process. Why? Because of our Savior, who risked and lost everything for us! Not only did lose His life, He also risked His good name. Indeed His reputation continues to be trampled on by the unbelieving world. But risk and lose did not stop Him because He loves you.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,
and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45

Getting Behind Jesus’ Dying

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 3, 2017

Matthew 16:21–23
Getting Behind Jesus’ Dying

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

There are times in life when frustration or sadness leads you to share secrets that later on you wish you hadn’t shared. At the time it seemed like you had to tell someone this secret doubt or opinion or frustration. And maybe for a while sharing the secret did make you feel satisfied.

But then as time goes by, you start to wish you had keep this private thought private. You realize that what you thought was so important or insightful at the time wasn’t as brilliant or accurate as you thought. And you wish you could take it back.

If you know what I’m talking about, then you probably can relate to the Apostle Peter. He often over-shared, as we’d say it today. And in this account he really was out there.

By this point in his life he had seen so much that Jesus had said and did. He had seen Jesus feed thousands of people and heal many more. He had seen Jesus calm stormy seas. He had felt Jesus’ hand grab his own and pull him up out of water and carry him on water to safety. Surely a Man like this, indeed the Son of the living God, would never let Himself die. And Peter expressed his secret opinion to his friend.


21From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. He said, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to You!”
MATTHEW 16:21–22 NIV


Jesus’ reaction is startling. He doesn’t talk Peter down or try to soothe him. He could have explained, “Yes, Peter, it seems impossible, after all you’ve seen, but believe Me, this is going to happen. So thanks for sticking up for Me, but it’s going to be okay.” Instead He delivers one of His most crushing rebukes, looking right into Peter’s eyes:


Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
MATTHEW 16:23 NIV


The Greek word that in English is heard as “stumbling block” is an interesting and even complicated word. It originally meant the stick that propped up a box trap. And soon it meant the trap itself. What is clear is that the Devil did not give up his attempts to trap Jesus after the tempting in the wilderness. The Devil is still trying to get the cross out of the picture. He wants Jesus to gloriously and bloodlessly rule the world. And Peter agrees with the Devil. This is why Jesus says what He says: “Get behind Me, Satan!”

When anyone tries to stop Jesus from going to the cross or in our day deny that central fact of Jesus’ dying and rising, that is the Devil speaking. The Devil’s trap is to feel forgiven and good without Jesus and certainly without His bitter suffering and death. This is the danger for those who never miss the joy and glory and fame and razzle-dazzle of Easter Sunday, but make it a point to boycott the hearing of the Good Friday account of Jesus’ cross and dying. In their own way, they agree with Peter: “No, Lord! That never should have never happened to You!” They know that rising from the dead assumes a death, but that’s the problem—they assume it. Good Friday and Easter together is the Gospel, Jesus died and rose. Assuming either one is dangerous, because the Gospel assumed is the Gospel denied.

Peter denied Jesus’ actual—and now clearly laid out—reason He came to Earth. He took on our flesh and blood, so that He might shed His blood as a sacrifice. This sacrifice is what makes us pleasing to His Father. Peter wanted life without death and without sacrifice. He wanted to save his life without losing it. Perhaps he realized that if Christ must carry a cross and die, so must His followers.

Do not deny Jesus’ cross. Instead confess His cross, His death, His resurrection with joy. And carry your crosses faithfully. These are the things in life that the Devil uses to raise doubts in your mind as to whether Jesus truly loves you.

A hurricane.
A positive result on a biopsy.
A child who will not listen.

Everything is washed away, but you still have Jesus.
You might die sooner than you thought, but you still have Jesus.
Years of frustration may lie ahead, but you still have Jesus. And so does your child.

When crosses come to bear, turn to Jesus and listen to Him as speaks to His disciples, which is you:


If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. 25For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it.
MATTHEW 16:24–25 NIV


For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,
and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Lutheran Satire: Luther, the Pope, and James 2

Jesus Is Not Just Another Good Man

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 27, 2017

Matthew 16:13-22
Jesus Is Not Just Another Good Man

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

Children saving the world from evil is a common idea in books and films these days, but I suppose in 1963 it wasnt. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle Iin Time is about children saving the world. They travel through space and time, fight an evil brain, and save the world from evil.

It’s mostly make-believe, but the Madame L’Engle identified herself as a Christian. She wanted her writing for children to indoctrinate them into a certain way of understanding Christ. So cut to about the middle of the book and you get this dialogue between the characters explaining how there is a cosmic battle between good and evil, light and darkness, and how people on our planet have been fighting against the darkness. Quoting the Gospel of St. John, a sort-of angelic fairy godmother called Mrs. Whatsit explains to the kids that Jesus is one of these fighters:

And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”
Jesus!” Charles Wallace said. “Why of course, Jesus!”
Of course!” Mrs. Whatsit said. “Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They’ve been lights for us to see by.”
Leonardo da Vinci?” Calvin suggested tentatively. “And Michelangelo?”
And Shakespeare,” Charles Wallace called out, “And Bach! And Pasteur and Madame Curie and Einstein!” . . .
And Schweitzer and Gandhi and Buddha and Beethoven and Rembrandt and St. Francis . . . Euclid . . . And Copernicus.”
(A Wrinkle in Time, Bantam Doubleday Dell, Yearling Edition, April 1973, page 89)

Who is Jesus? According to the author of A Wrinkle in Time Jesus is a good light fighting the darkness, just like Leonardo da Vinci and Gandhi and Buddha and Madame Curie and Einstein. Artists and philosophers and scientists who were—giving them the benefit of the doubt—trying to make the world a better place. Jesus is a nice guy who teaches us to be nice. And if you’re already nice, how to be nicer.

We could make-believe that if Madeleine LEngle were to travel back in time to the moment Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” I have no idea what she would have said. But in her writing, this notion that Jesus was some kind of Yoda or Mr. Spock comes through loud and clear.

Who is Jesus?

He is not just another good man, another artist, another philosopher, another scientist, another prophet.

He stands alone because He is

the Christ, the Son of the living God.
MATTHEW 16:16 NIV

Christ means that He is the anointed Savior, sent by His Father to save spiritually dead sinners by living and dying for them.

He was sent by His Father into the world at Bethlehem, He was anointed by the Holy Spirit at the River Jordan, and He was put to death for our sin upon the cross of Calvary. Indeed it’s worth noting that although at this point Jesus had done many miracles in the presence of His disciples, He was now going to clearly lay out why God was among them. Just after this dialogue between Jesus and His disciples, Matthew reported that for the first time,

Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
MATTHEW 16:21 NIV

Jesus is the Light that shines in the darkness, but He doesnt save us by inspiring us to be good or creative or charitable. He rescues us by being punished for our evil and the destruction our evil causes. By means of His cross and baptism He inspires, breathes, into us His completed promise that our sins are forgiven.

This is what He means when He promised Peter that the Christian Church would be built on these words that Peter had been given to speak. Because of Jesus, heaven is opened to you and He brings you into His heaven. Heaven is where Jesus is, and He is already with you and with His Church.

If Jesus was just another good man, you would just be another bad person. Happily Jesus is not another Einstein or Shakespeare or Albert Schweitzer.

Children will not save the world.
Science will not save the world.
Art and literature and music will not save the world.
Humanitarianism will not save the world.

But Jesus does save you, because He is God in the flesh, who died and rose, for you.

For even the Son of Man
did not come to be served,
but to serve,
and to give His life
as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Jesus’ Promise Pulls Us Out of Our Imagination

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 13, 2017

Matthew 14:29
JesusPromise Pulls Us Out of Our Imagination

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

I.

Jesus made them get into the boat. He had just finished feeding the 5,000 and then He made His helpers, the disciples, get into a boat. Picking up the account:

20They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. 22Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd.
MATTHEW 14:20-22 NIV

A big reason for getting these men on the boat was their imagination. They were thinking how nice it would be to have a king who could provide bread without Adams curse: no longer having to sweat to get bread. John reported that the crowd was thinking pretty hard.

14After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make Him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by Himself.
JOHN 6:14-15 NIV

John referred to the crowd, but it would wise to include the twelve disciples in that crowd. They, too, were imagining this king of bread. And why stop at bread? If this Man could make thousands of loaves from five, why not wine? Olive oil? Or even gold? You start with one bar of gold and He makes it into a thousand. Rumpelstiltskin, eat your heart out.

If you think the disciples were immune from their imagination, go back to Jesus forcing them onto the boat. They needed a timeout after this glorious miracle, so that they would not fall in love with power and come to despise the real reason Jesus had come to earth.

II.

He had come to rescue us with His Word. He had spoken His promise that He would die. His suffering and death would grab us up and away from the slow death we were drowning in. From the womb we are drowning in our doubt, in our intentions, and in our bad ideas, to say nothing of our actual sins. So He came by, reached out to us not with His hand, but His tongue, and spoke us out of drowning and onto dry land, Himself, the Rock of our salvation.

III.

Mark tells us that while the disciples were on the boat in the storm, Jesus went walking by without any intention of stopping. But when they saw Him, they were scared. In His mercy, Jesus stopped and spoke to them.

Shortly before dawn He went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49but when they saw Him walking on the lake, they thought He was a ghost. They cried out, 50because they all saw Him and were terrified. Immediately He spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
MARK 6:48b-50 NIV

Again the disciples imaginations were on overdrive. They thought Jesus was a ghost; what other explanation could they imagine under the circumstances?

And again Jesus’ word brought them comfort when their human imagination only brought them only grief. Their dream that Jesus had come to give them free bread pulled them away from Jesuscross. And now they must have thought that they were dreaming as a man was walking on water—only ghosts can walk on water and soon they would be surely be ghosts, too!

Oh, how our minds bring us grief with visions of gold and of ghosts, of power and poverty. What we need and what Jesus gives us is Himself and His dependable word.

27But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s You, tell me to come to You on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. He said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
MARK 6:48b-50 NIV

Peter heard the word of God, “Come.” By the power of that promise, he walked on water. It is easy to forget that Peter actually walked on water. But quickly his imagination took over and insisted on being listened to. The little voice in his head got louder and louder: “Peter, this isn’t happening. You cant walk on water. Jesus can, but not you! Youre just a man, and Hes God! What would God care if you drowned?” And his dying imagination doubted Jesusliving word.

IV.

I cant picture it. Jesus walking on water. And not calm flat water—wind and waves. How do you imagine that? Im always interested how film makers are going to portray Jesus walking on water, because you cant. You can never get it right. Even if Peter was an adviser to the film, how does he explain to the special effects guys? He cant. The Gospel writers dont try to explain it either. They just say that He walked on the water.

What more impossible than walking on water? Dying and coming back from the dead. Jesus did that, too. He did it all so that when He comes near to you, you no longer need to be afraid. You are, so to speak, walking on water with Him. You are doing the impossible because you have received Jesus powerful and living Word. He tells you to come and by faith in Him you walk with Him.

For even the Son of Man
did not come to be served,
but to serve,
and to give His life
as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Being Needed by God—A Precious Gift!

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
August 6, 2017

Matthew 14:13-21
Being Needed by God—A Precious Gift!

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

Crowds were always following Jesus. Even when Jesus tried to be alone to pray, they found Him. And most of the people who found Him were desperate. They were crippled, they were sick, and they had no where else to go.

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick.
MATTHEW 14:14 NIV 1984

But then Jesus disciples became afraid that the people that had been healed would be right back in harms way.

As evening approached, the disciples came to Him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
MATTHEW 14:15 NIV 1984

Healing desperate people all day, Jesus had now allowed the food situation to become desperate. But this is how Jesus usually does things. He gives us impossible things to do. Baptize babies and make them alive. Tell sinners that they are sinners and that Jesus has died for them. These are things that should be impossible, but with God they happen. When He speaks through us, the impossible is done.

Jesus demands the impossible from His disciples: “You give them something to eat.” The men had just returned from their time of preaching and miracle-working. Jesus had sent them out and they had returned, filled with excitement and joy. But notice how quickly they had forgotten? They had healed the sick, but even more impossible they had forgiven sinners in the name of Jesus. Now Jesus asks them to get some bread, and they fall to pieces. How quickly they forgot!

How we quickly forget, too. You have come here today and you are hearing me speak about this account from Jesuslife that has preoccupied my heart and mind all week. But others things have filled your mind with worry. How are the bills going to get paid? Will I pass my latest test? When is the baby going to arrive? Will I get my project for work done in time?

You probably wont find an unmarked envelope stuffed with cash on the sidewalk. You might not get the answers to the test beamed into your brain. Jesus doesnt usually send babies gift-wrapped on your doorstep. And you wont turn on your work computer to find your project all done.

Instead Jesus uses people to do this, usually you. You work and get money to pay the bills. You study and pass the test. Moms have babies. You finish the project.

This is the way He does it.

And He directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.
MATTHEW 14:19 NIV 1984

He allows Himself to need His disciples, disciples who worried and disciples who forgot. And He allows Himself to need you, too. To get daily bread to His people, He uses you to work and cook and plan and sacrifice as you care for yourself and for others. What a dear and precious thing it is, to be needed by God Himself in this daily life!

But in one thing, indeed the most important thing of all, Jesus uses no middle men. He didnt send His disciples or saints or the Virgin Mary to die on the cross to pay for all the evil indifference of the world. He sent Himself.

For even the Son of Man
did not come to be served,
but to serve,
and to give His life
as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45