Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Holy Time

The events beginning on Palm Sunday of Jesus’ suffering and death and culminating in His resurrection are known as Holy Week. We observe these events like no other. We ponder the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, mindful that it was for the sins of the world one man suffered as no other. There is nothing holier than that. Jesus paying the penalty on behalf of everyone.

We meditate on these events. We repent of our sins. We give thanks to our Lord for His eternal love for us. And we bring it all to a culmination with our celebration of His resurrection on Easter Sunday.

But Holy Week isn’t the only time that we consider to be a holy time. Because of His sacrifice for us He has made us holy. He has given us a new life in Him. Our life is now holy. Every moment of our life is a holy time. Holy Week is a powerful reminder like few other things are.

The events of Christ’s life we observe during Holy Week are actually the events we are bound up in in our life in Him. It all happens to us in Baptism. Our Baptism was a holy time. Water was poured over us. We were received by God into His holy Kingdom through the Word that was spoken as the water was applied. “I Baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy God made you His holy child in Baptism.

You are now holy. Each moment of your life is holy because you are now His. Your holy life you live continues to be filled with moments that are holy. In the Old Testament only the priests were to enter the holy part of the temple. When Christ died on the cross the curtain in the temple tore in two. We have access to the holy God through the Son Jesus Christ.

We come to the very altar of God directly. We open our mouth and receive into it the holy body and blood of Christ Himself. It is a holy moment; one which sustains us for the living of a holy life.

In Baptism we are buried with Christ in His death and raised to life in His resurrection. In His Holy Supper we are united with Him in His body given on the cross and His blood which flowed from His side.

Holy Week is a special time. And we rightfully treat it as a special time. But we tend to think of the rest of the time—our lives, in fact—as not that special. But it is a holy time. It is the time God has given us to live in Christ. To be holy people in the world. To bring to the world the message of the holy God giving His love to the world in His Son Jesus Christ.

Blessings on you during this holy time of Holy Week. And blessings on you in your holy life, a holy time even to eternity.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

It’s All About Jesus

Lent Midweek 6
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Acts 8:35

Throughout our Lenten journey we have seen from the proclamation of God’s Word in the book of Acts that the call of God is to repentance. In every sermon Peter proclaimed we were led to the fact that we stand as sinners before the Holy God. We saw it in the sermon proclaimed by the first Christian martyr, Stephen.

Now we see another servant of God, bringing the good news to one person. We’re glad that we can peek over their shoulders and listen in. But this time the actual sermon is not given. Luke simply describes what Philip said to the eunuch.

He was reading the Scriptures; specifically the part that we heard moments ago in the Old Testament reading, from Isaiah 53. The eunuch could plainly see that the one being described was one who was suffering for the sake of others. But who was it? How could he know unless someone made known to him who it was?

Luke then says that beginning with this Scripture Philip told him the good news about Jesus. It’s always all about Jesus. Apart from Jesus there is no hope and no salvation. Without Jesus all we’re left with is questions. And our sin.

We have seen that salvation is all about Jesus. Repentance is all about Jesus. Our Baptism is all about Him. The Lord’s Supper is all about the Lord. The Bible itself is all about Jesus.

The four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are plain to see that they’re about Jesus. But every other book in the New Testament furthers the proclamation of Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the salvation of the world. From the New Testament itself we come to know that the Old Testament is likewise about Jesus. From the Bible we know that God is made known to us clearly in the person of Jesus.

That’s why we repent. Jesus died and rose for us so that we may live. There is no life without death involved. The good news Philip was telling the eunuch is that the death involved is not ours but Christ’s! Imagine what the eunuch must have been thinking when Philip told him that the one suffering in the Bible passage he was reading was God! The one who would go to His death was God Himself!

Luke tells us later on that the man upon hearing the Gospel proclaimed to him realized that he needed to be Baptized. The proclamation of the Word of God produces this kind of repentance in us—the kind in which our new mindset is that of Jesus. Of being drowned in the waters of Baptism. Of our sinful nature being crucified with Christ. Of our being raised up with Christ to new life.

Have you ever noticed how much of your life revolves around yourself? I suppose it’s a natural tendency since we’re with ourselves all the time. But when we see in the Scriptures as the eunuch came to see that it’s all about Jesus then we begin to see that our lives are centered in Christ. That it’s always all about Jesus.

When we see that the gifts He gives us are eternal, we see that it’s only in Jesus we have hope for eternity even in the midst of our daily life. When we see that He is with us eternally we see that even in our day to day struggles He strengthens us. In heaven it will be plain as day that it’s all about Jesus, we will see Him face to face. Here it’s not always easy to remember that.

But that’s the good news of it all! It’s all about Jesus! Which means that when it’s hard for us to see, He always remembers us and keeps us in His care. Amen.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Scandal of Particularity

Fifth Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Luke 20:9-20

They say you’re not supposed to use theological jargon in sermons. But it’s too much fun to say “scandal of particularity” to never use it. So let’s break it down. Everybody knows about scandal. We hear about scandals all the time. So and so had an affair. So and so embezzled funds. And we distinguish between particular things and general or broad things all the time.

So the scandal of particularity is something specific and offensive. We’re not talking about any old thing and it’s not just a notion that doesn’t affect us one way or the other. It’s a scandal and it’s particular.

Some people don’t like to hear this about God. They want to hear about a loving God that’s going to smile down on everyone. They don’t want to hear Jesus saying words like “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” They don’t want to hear about how Jesus is the rock upon which men will stumble and be shattered.

But that’s why it’s called the scandal of particularity. Jesus isn’t about sappy love. He’s scandalous. He doesn’t fill everybody up with good feelings, He scandalizes them. This is seen in the religious leaders’ response to Jesus. They didn’t want to hear it. They set out to kill Him.

Everyone who heard Jesus’ parable was surprised, in fact. And what do we do in response to God? We ignore Him. Or sin against Him. Or disobey His commandments. Or rationalize our way out of this messy problem of Jesus having hard things to say to us that we don’t want to hear.

But there is no getting around the scandal of particularity. People try to avoid it in this life and they fool themselves into thinking they’re successful. But that’s because avoiding it in this life can be done—but this life is a brief part of our eternal existence. When we die and face the Judgment we will see that the scandal of particularity means that those who believe that Jesus is their Savior will enter heaven and those who do not will eternally suffer in hell.

The scandal of particularity cannot be avoided. It begins with the very Word of God itself. Some people do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that’s because they are scandalized by it. We can see this kind of thing going on with the whole tomb of Jesus farce. Some people believe that every person who has been born had a physical father and physical mother so the belief that Jesus is God—born of a virgin—is simply that, a belief and has no basis in truth.

But we’re not scandalized by God’s Word. We believe it’s true—yes we do. We take the Bible to be the Word of God—no being scandalized by it for us. We believe that Jesus was born of a virgin and He is God. But what about when we hear something in the Bible we don’t like? Fudging on your taxes is stealing. The gift of sex is reserved for the bonds of marriage. We sometimes let our expressions of anger get the best of us, even when it’s directed against something that’s not right.

We don’t want to hear this kind of stuff. But that’s God, for you—His Word is offensive to us. We are, after all, sinful human beings. It makes sense that our sinful nature rebels against God’s holy Law. But God doesn’t just stop there. He doesn’t just tell us what to do and not to do and we’re left to be scandalized by it. No, God sends His Son. God creates the ultimate scandal in the Rock of offense that is His Son. Does this sound like a happy clappy God sending a Savior?: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

So here He is to save the world from sin but they’re either shattered or crushed. If you fall on the stone that is Christ you’re in pieces and if it falls on you you’re crushed. The rabbis had a saying: “If a stone falls on a pot, woe to the pot! If the pot falls on the stone, woe to the pot! Either way, woe to the pot!” We’re the pot. Christ is the stone. The Rock of offense. He came to scandalize. The Bible says that it’s the Gospel that is the stumbling block.

So how is there hope in Him? Well, Jesus told us this parable for a reason. Intelligent as they were, the religious leaders figured out He was speaking it against them. As a warning. As a call to repentance. And also as an example for all the ordinary Christians. And you know who else He spoke this parable for? You and me.

You know why it’s offensive that Jesus says there is salvation only Him? Because that removes anything we can put on the table. We can’t offer a thing to God that He’ll accept. And all those pet sins we have? Especially those ones we’ve rationalized away, successfully convincing ourselves that they’re not really sins, or at least not really that bad… Those stand in the way. This is what we do not see. That we are the ones who offend God by our sin.

So how is this Good News of Jesus’ suffering and death for the sins of the world a good thing when it’s the scandal of particularity? How is it a comforting thing when it means we will be shattered or crushed? Because we must be offended; otherwise we’d be placing our hope in ourselves. And because we must crushed; otherwise our sinful nature would have the winning hand.

Think if there were no way to know for sure where salvation is to be found? How would there be hope in that? But salvation is very particular—it’s found in one Person. Think about if we were allowed to hang on to our notions of being good people. How could we be saved since we are utterly corrupt in our hearts?

It’s hard to hear. It’s never easy. But Jesus is here telling you where salvation is to be found. He’s making it startlingly clear that it’s so specific that there is nowhere else you can look in order to find salvation.

It’s in Him. And Him alone. It’s in His suffering and death. In His being crushed by the weight of our sin. It’s in the sealing of the deal of His resurrection. Yes, we are crushed. Our sinful nature is crucified with Christ and stamped out. But we are raised to new life in Baptism. And the eternal love of God? It’s very particular: Christ died on the cross to save you for eternity. Amen.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Will History Repeat Itself for You?

Lent Midweek 5
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Acts 7:51

One of my favorite sayings is “those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it”. Not that I’m all that wise in taking it to heart, as I keep doing many of the same dumb things I’ve always done. We learn in God’s Word that those who don’t know His holy history are not condemned to repeat it but condemned forever. That’s why He’s given us His Word. So that we may know. So that we don’t have to repeat the dumb things our forefathers in the faith have done. So that we don’t have to be condemned eternally.

But we’re stiff-necked, aren’t we? We hear the examples of those who have gone before us. How they messed up. How they rebelled against God. Their complaining. Their own refusal to learn. And what do we do? We do the same things they did. We don’t learn from their mistakes, we follow them.

Once again, we’re met with this theme in the Book of Acts, this time with Stephen speaking, of the accusation that the people he was speaking to killed Jesus. And as we’ve seen previously with Peter’s sermons, the accusation sticks to us also.

But is it true that we are like those people Stephen was speaking to? Are we uncircumcised in our heart and ears? Are we always resisting the Holy Spirit? How can we be Christians if this is true?

It is telling how we respond to passages like this. Do we resist the Holy Spirit? Of course not. Are we uncircumcised in our hearts and ears? Of course not, we’re Christians. But why do we respond that way? Why do we think that we escape these sins, when time and time again the people of God fell into them? Why would we think that these sins are beyond us when the Bible gives us example after example of God’s people falling into them?

Because we’re just like them. Because we don’t know history. And therefore we’re condemned to repeat it. Yeah, we know the stories. But somehow, just like they did, we don’t think that the same things will happen to us. Somehow we think we won’t succumb to those kinds of actions like they did.

That’s why we need to hear this proclamation of the Word of God by Stephen as the proclamation of the Word of God to us. Our hearts and ears are uncircumcised. We are hardened and unyielding. We may not think we are because we think we’re not like those people Stephen was preaching to. We wouldn’t stone anybody.

But are our hearts any different from theirs? Don’t we keep slapping God in the face by not obeying Him at all times and not giving Him all glory in everything we do? Just by thinking that we’re not like them or at least not as bad as them we show that we are exactly like them.

That’s why God continues to apply His Word to us. We daily fall short. We’re no better than our forefathers who have gone before us. The good news is that there is one who has gone before us but not in sin. Nor is He bound to sinful nature as we are. Though flesh and blood He is not of sinful flesh as we are.

But He did take on our sin on the cross. As stiff-necked as we are, He was even more resolute in His willingness to go to the cross for our sinfulness. We have seen that the purpose of the proclamation of the Word of God in the Book of Acts is to bring us to repentance. The call to repentance is the call that convicts us of our sin. But it is also the call to resolutely fix our eyes on Jesus who in His death and resurrection has authored faith which the Holy Spirit establishes in us in Baptism.

Will history repeat itself for you? Or will you learn from those who have gone before you? History repeats itself because we’re so lazy and think we won’t fall short. But in Baptism we have been grafted into a new history—it is the very history of the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In Him our history culminates in eternal life. Amen.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Son Who Had It All (But Squandered It)

Fourth Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

We can all identify to a degree with the story of the son who had it all. Everything his father had was his. But we also know the very sad decision he made to squander it all. To treat it as if it was something that was his by right and take for granted his father’s lavish love and blessings.

And we all know how his father grieved for his son. Longing for him to come to his senses. To join in on the celebration of being part of the household. Rather than think about himself, enjoy being part of such a wonderful home in the first place instead of throwing it all away.

But we can sympathize with this son. We can understand what it was like for him. Feeling like a prisoner. Feeling like everything he did was because it was expected. And we can see why he felt the way he did, probably feeling jealous toward his brother. Maybe feeling like he had to get out, like there must be something better on the outside. As it was, he felt like he wasn’t getting what he deserved.

And to top it all off, his dad seemed to treat his younger brother more lavishly than him. And the younger brother certainly didn’t deserve it! Not like he did! Not after what his younger brother did in taking his inheritance and wasting it upon himself. But there was dad, throwing a big party for him.

Oh. You thought I was talking about the younger son; the Prodigal Son. And yes, he did indeed have it all and squandered it all. He didn’t deserve anything from his father after what he did, and yet his father lavished his love upon him.

But the older son, we don’t hear much about him. He gets mentioned at the end of the whole story, almost as if in passing. But there’s a lot to be learned from that son who stayed home when the younger brother ran away.

We probably identify more with the Prodigal Son. We can see ourselves in this young man who had it all and then threw it all away. In his father’s lavish love for him, we see the Heavenly Father’s eternal love for us even though we have gone astray. But we’re more like that older brother than we realize.

We’re not simply sons and daughters of a wealthy man. We’re sons and daughters of the King. All that He has is ours. But how do we treat our Heavenly Father? How do we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ? If we look at that older son we will see how we, too, have it all but squander it.

The Prodigal Son might seem an extreme example to us. Most Christians wouldn’t go to the lengths he did, but we see in it how spiritually we are just like that younger son. The older son might not seem an extreme example to us at all. We might even identify with that older brother. He got short-shrifted. His dad didn’t even invite him in from the fields to the party! After all the good-for-nothing younger brother did, he ended up getting treated like royalty!

The older son got nothing. He was left to work out there in the fields. As he had done faithfully for months on end while his younger brother was off somewhere partying till he dropped. Can’t we understand why the older brother was indignant with his father?

Yes we can. And that’s the very sad part of it all. That is why we are so like the older brother and need to repent as the younger brother did. Notice who the stable one is through all of this is. The father. He waited for his younger son to return home. Now he waits for his older son to come in and join the party. What would have been the response of the older son had he been invited to come in and celebrate? The same. Why does he get a party when I’ve never gotten one?

But the father is patient. Compassionate. Everything I have is yours. You see yourself as deserving a party and your younger brother as deserving of nothing. What you don’t see is that I have lavished everything I have upon you not because you’ve been working out in the fields all these years for me. But because you’re my son. Just as your brother is. I don’t love you any less. I love you both more than you can imagine.

The tragedy of this parable is the older son. The younger son, the poster boy for belligerence against the gracious God, the Prodigal Son, repented of his sin. He confessed to his father that he was not worthy to live under his roof as his son. But not the older son. He was entitled to everything he got. And he deserved even more. He didn’t rejoice with his father and the rest of the household at the rebirth of his brother—he was envious of him. He was guilty, in fact, of the very same sin his brother committed but didn’t even realize it.

He saw his younger brother as the great transgressor. He was unwilling to look in the mirror and realize that everything he possessed was all by the grace of his father. He couldn’t even see that the love his father showered upon his returned brother was the very same love lavished upon himself—day after day! It never ceased. It never waned. It was constant and it was over-flowing.

Yet, the father would let his older son go his own way, just as he had let his younger son go his own way. Lavish love never compels. It only keeps lavishing. This the older brother refused to see. This the younger brother finally came to see.

The father’s heart broke when his younger son left. It broke again when his older son refused his love even though he never physically left. The older son had it all. But sadly he squandered it away.

Will we be able to see in the younger son the hope there is for all of us? Will we come to our senses and repent of our sins so that we may be fed at the table rather than long for the slop of the pigs? Will we see the older son and look in the mirror before it’s too late? Before we squander it all?

Will we see in the waiting father our Heavenly Father who loves us so much that He won’t give up on us? Will we see a God who we’re entitled to get things from, or a God who lavishes more blessings upon us than we can imagine? Will we see in the Heavenly Father the God who loves His sons and daughters so much that He gave His only-begotten Son to wallow around in the pig’s slop of our filth so that we may receive a robe, a ring, and a place at the table?

Then we will see the One who didn’t squander His life but did indeed give it up in our place so that we may have a place with Him in His Kingdom. Amen.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What Does Jesus Lead Us To?

Lent Midweek 4
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Acts 5:31

Children can hear. They can understand what you’re telling them. So why is it that you have to tell them so many times? Why can’t they get it the first time?

It’s because they need to be led. They need to hear things over and over. Part of it is because they’re learning. Partly it’s because they’re testing the boundaries. And some of it is because they want to know if they can trust you.

So parents, among other things, need to be patient. They need to say the same thing over and over. They need to not give up after a few times but know that by sticking to the message they will instill in their children what they need to know.

That’s why we’re hearing each time Peter proclaims the Word of God in the book of Acts him pointing the people to their act of crucifying Jesus. And each time he proclaims the Word of God it is for the purpose of bringing them to repentance.

We should always hear the Word of God as children. We need to be led. We need to hear the same message over and over.

Jesus is the one who was crucified and risen. He is the Lord and He is the Savior. This time Peter helps us see that as the crucified and risen Lord He leads us. “God exalted Him at His right hand as Leader and Savior.” He died and rose to save us. And now He leads us.

The question is, what does He lead us to? It sounds strange, but He leads us to repentance. It sounds strange to be saved by the Lord and then be called to repentance by the Lord. But this is the Christian life. It is the life of the saved. Those who have been saved by the Lord see that they are continually in need of His grace and blessing.

This does not come without repentance. What unrepentant person thinks he needs God’s grace and blessing? None. They don’t see the need. They don’t see that they need Jesus. The repentant person always sees his need for Jesus. He sees that the one who has saved him is always saving him. He sees that he is always in need of being saved because he is always sinning against the one who was crucified for him, rose from the grave, and is leading him.

Jesus is in the position to do this. Not only is He the only one who can save us, as God and Savior, He is in the position of leading us. He has the power and the will to lead us through our lives all the way into heaven. He has the power and the love for us to guide us and guard us. He has the position and He has compassion to stick with us.

What does a leader do? He leads. This Leader does it from the cross. There is His power, love, and compassion. It is not just by His resurrection that we see His power to lead us, but also by His accomplishing salvation for us on the cross. With love like this we know we have a Leader who will do all He can to save us and help us in our need. Amen.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Did God Get It Wrong?

Third Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Luke 13:1-9

It seems as if Jesus didn’t quite get it right. He was told of some people who met with a ghastly fate. It was at the hands of the infamous Pontius Pilate. How could he do such a sacrilegious thing as to mix their blood with their ritual sacrifices? Surely Jesus would be outraged at such contempt! That would be like someone murdering someone and mixing their blood with the consecrated wine of the Lord’s Supper.

But Jesus doesn’t address any of that at all. It appears He gets it wrong when He answers by saying something about those people who met that fate not being any more sinful than anyone else. Surely that’s not the issue. What Pilate did to them was outright wrong. Why would Jesus question whether people thought that it must have been because those people were so much worse of sinners?

And then Jesus adds an example of His own. But this time it’s not because of some wicked ruler. It’s because there are tragedies that happen in life. In other words, God allows them to happen. It must be because those people deserve it. Why would God allow innocent people to suffer?

But that’s not what Jesus says. He says that it’s not the case that they were worse. But, see, this doesn’t make sense to us. God must be getting it wrong. Jesus is trying point out that we’re all equally sinful. So why do some suffer fates such as the Galileans, or the ones of the tower of Siloam, or the victims of 9/11?

Or what about us? Don’t we wonder if God has gotten it wrong when we suffer? Why are we suffering? Isn’t God supposed to be helping me rather than bringing this suffering upon me, or allowing it to happen to me?

What those people were really doing to Jesus was asking Him to spell it out for them. Okay Jesus, explain this one to us. How could a merciful God allow something like this to happen? But see, Jesus surprises them. He gives them one Himself. How about this? How about a tragedy that God could easily have prevented but allowed to happen?

You see, Jesus is saying, you are the ones getting it wrong. All of your notions of “unfairness”. All your rationalization that “these people must have been really bad for something like that to happen to them”. What you really need to do is look at those tragedies and repent. You deserve the same fate. If you won’t take heed to the warning then it’s on your shoulders.

Repentance is a difficult thing. It means acknowledging that God isn’t getting it wrong. It means believing, trusting, that He’s getting it right even when everything is falling down around you. When your loved one is overcome by cancer... Is that really God getting it right? When you’re being harassed at work and your boss doesn’t support you… Is God getting it right? When the tyrannical get more powerful and the downtrodden get more trodden down… Is God doing something right anywhere in here?

It seems all mixed up. But that’s because we’re seeing things from our very limited view. Our limited view doesn’t have room for things like repentance. It doesn’t see the need for something like that when there is unfairness involved. When we are burdened and can’t find our way out of the trials.

But God’s vision is so much bigger. He’s sees it all, in fact. He sees, even, in the trials and tribulations the opportunity for you to be stretched and strengthened. He sees the perfect time for you to repent of your sins. When Jacob wrestled with God—Jesus in His pre-incarnate form—he took a fascinating approach. Why was God wrestling with him? Why when Jacob had so much going on, fearing his brother was going to kill him and his family, did God decide that now was a good time for a wrestling match?

Jacob had been through a lot, but it was only by the strength of God that he was able to endure. He took the wrestling match as an opportunity for God to bless him. When the pre-incarnate Christ said, “Let go of Me,” Jacob refused until he got a blessing. Jesus obviously could have defeated him easily—but He didn’t. Jacob strove with God. We wouldn’t think that’s what we would want, but look what came out of it for Jacob: a blessing.

Jesus is now telling us that when we face these things and think that God has it wrong, we should do as Jacob did and ask for a blessing out of it. You know what this calls for? Repentance. It calls for a humility that sees that God is always in the right, even when it appears He’s got it wrong. It calls for a sorrow over our sins that sees suffering and trials not as punishment from God but a warning and opportunity to repent and put our trust in Him and Him alone. To see in these things a call from God to save us from a worse fate than what we’re experiencing. He will never give us beyond what we can bear.

We all know Christians who are strong in faith. They never seem to falter. It’s easy for them to have this kind of faith when things get difficult. We might look at Jacob and say, well of course he saw in his striving with God an opportunity to get blessed. But I’m not so strong as that. I’m weak and don’t trust in God like that.

Take comfort then. Because the Bible doesn’t give us examples of only the mighty heroes of the faith who stood strong in the face of adversity. God also shows us some ordinary people that we’d never look at twice if we saw them walking down the street. But these are the people that show us the kind of repentance and trust Jesus is talking about when we otherwise think that He’s gotten it wrong.

We’re all taught to be polite. We shouldn’t insult anybody. Well do you remember the time Jesus in effect called a woman a dog? There didn’t appear to be a good reason for Him to do it, either. Why would He be so rude to her? Why would He not have compassion on her in her time of need? She might have been stung by this insult and walked away, never receiving a blessing from Him, as Jacob would have missed out had he not persisted.

All she wanted was what everyone else was receiving from Jesus, healing for her daughter. But Jesus ignored her. Not content with this, the woman persisted. That’s when the insult came: It is not right to give the food from the table to the dogs. You see, she was not a Jew. So what right did she have to ask Him, the Messiah, for help? Is this really the way Jesus wants to operate, or is He getting it wrong?

But where we see an insult, she saw an opportunity. Yeah, nobody wants to be called a dog. Nobody wants to get only the scraps while the higher-ups get to feast at the table. But she saw what Jesus was really offering her. That this wasn’t an insult at all. But an invitation. I will give you what you need. You don’t even deserve the scraps, but not because you’re a Gentile, because you’re a sinner. That is what Jesus is saying to all of us—it doesn’t matter who we are, we’re sinners. We need to repent.

The woman saw that. She saw that Jesus was not wanting to put her in her place, but lift her up and give her even more than she asked for. That’s the way God operates. He doesn’t get it wrong at all. He gives us what we really need, and that’s why we think He so often gets it wrong. Because He doesn’t give us a free pass on our sin but calls us to account for it.

It seemed to all who put their trust in Him that God got it wrong when He was yielded to a pathetic end on the cross. But this was God getting it right like nothing has ever been. This was His supreme love to all mankind. God the Son offering Himself in the place of everyone, sinners all. If we see in our suffering a God who isn’t getting it right, then we’re not seeing our suffering through the cross of Christ. Because if we do, we will see an invitation, a blessing. If we want to see God getting it right, then we look nowhere else but his Son Jesus Christ. Amen.


Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Do We Treat Jesus the Way the Pagans Do?

Lent Midweek 3
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Acts 4:11

What is the message unbelievers need to hear? That Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved. They reject Him. But He is the only one in whom there is hope.

It can seem like a lost cause in making this message known to the non-Christian world. It seems like they don’t listen and don’t care. We continue to do it, though. We entrust the work of converting them to God the Holy Spirit.

But what about us? We know everything Peter is talking about in the New Testament reading we heard this evening. We believe Jesus is Lord. We believe our salvation is in Him and Him alone. This sermon Peter is preaching to the unbelievers is something we say “Amen” to.

So it would be very easy to hear it, praise God, and go on our way.

But Peter (as Luke tells us, by the inspiration of the Holy Sprit) is preaching to us; not just the unbelievers. In fact, we who know who Jesus is and who trust in Him for salvation should not be so quick just to hear the message and go on our way. We should hear it and repent.

Why is that? Because Peter keeps bringing up this notion that you are the ones that crucified Jesus. If we only hear that as, oh yeah, those guys back then are the ones that crucified Jesus then we’re not really going to be listening to the sermon Peter is preaching. We’ll be hearing a sermon that is being preached to someone else.

We need to hear this sermon as the proclamation of God’s Word to us. When Peter says “you” crucified Jesus, hear that as you crucified Him. How is that? The Holy Spirit isn’t inspiring Peter to imply that you and I were there driving the nails into His hands. But He is moving Peter to make known the heart of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. We are every bit as guilty for His being crucified as they were.

The reason Christ was crucified was our sins. That’s why we must never take our sin lightly. They put Jesus up on that cross! Yes, we know who He is and believe in Him, but we sure don’t treat Him that way. Instead, we continue to sin.

As Peter says it, we reject Him. Here he quotes the Psalms. “The stone the builders rejected.” If you’re building a house you’re going to toss out the stones that aren’t up to snuff. Using them would diminish the house. This is what the Bible says we do to Christ—we toss Him on to the unusable pile. We do this by our continual sin against Him. We call Him Lord and defame Him by the way we live. We make sure we’re in church consistently but come up with excuses for not reading and growing in His Word. We’re cordial to others but inside envy them.

We must repent of our sin against Him. Our continual action of crucifying the Lord and Savior. Why do we continue to treat our Lord in the way we do? Because we’re sinners. Because we raise ourselves up and treat our Lord as if He’s an insignificant stone.

But think about what it means that Jesus was rejected as He was. It’s true that we treat Him shamefully, but Jesus wasn’t the victim of circumstances beyond His control. The great fact of the crucifixion of Jesus is not that we brought Him to shame by our sin but that He brought Himself down to suffer in our place. What we have despised has been glorified. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

What we thought not valuable is the most glorious thing there is. We are tempted by many things; they are tantalizing to us. But Jesus is more glorious than all of them. They will bring us ultimately to the throw away pile. But Jesus raises us up into His eternal glory that has as its foundation Himself—He is the Cornerstone.

Salvation is found in no one else. Amen.


Sunday, March 4, 2007

He’ll Be Sticking Around

Second Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 4, 2007
Luke 13:31-35

It occurred to me when I heard the news, that there’s an irony to it—we’d know where He is. We’d be able to go to that place where His bones are and know exactly His location. A documentary has been made which claims that Jesus’ bones have been discovered. If we could prove that Jesus’ bones are really in that coffin then there would be no doubt that after He was crucified He stayed in that tomb.

It’s bound to happen that these kinds of stories are going to be popping up from time to time. Thankfully, we haven’t been hearing much about the da Vinci Code thing lately where the holy grail is really supposed to be Jesus’ wife Mary Magdalene and their descendents are still alive today, from their daughter Sarah they had.

This time around though, Jesus and His wife have actually been located; their bones have been discovered in Jerusalem, except, they didn’t have a daughter, but a son, by the name of Judah.

Isn’t it amazing that everyone wants to pin Christianity down? If we can demonstrate that Jesus was really married to Mary Magdalene and they had descendents, then that uproots the foundations of Christianity. If we can show that Jesus’ bones are laying there in a tomb, then that proves once and for all that Jesus did not rise from the dead and, along the lines of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, we are lost, our faith is in vain, and we of all men are the most to be pitied.

You know what? People have been doing this kind of thing for ages. From the very beginning in fact. The Pharisees tried to pin Jesus down. Pilate, have some guards at His tomb so that His disciples can’t steal His body and say that He was raised from the dead. You know what happened when Jesus rose from His grave and the soldiers were powerless to prevent it? They were paid off by those Pharisees. Tell them you were sleeping on the job and that they managed to steal His body after all.

Always an explanation. Always an attempt to give a different set of circumstances. Never the real story. What really happened. Never the plain truth: that Jesus died but rose from the grave. His bones aren’t there. James Cameron knows how to make movies, there’s no question about that. Titanic was not a flop. But he’s no different from those first century Pharisees who tried to tell us that the whole Jesus thing is a hoax.

And here those Pharisees were even before Jesus’ death and resurrection trying to put their own spin on Jesus. They wanted to be able to control Him—you gotta get out of here. And to show Him that they meant well they warn Him that He’ll die if He stays because Herod wants to kill Him.

But Jesus is never going to yield to our calculations to determine where He is. He won’t concede to our demands to show us Himself according to our conditions. He goes right along showing Himself in the way that He sees fit. Will you find His bones there in that tomb with the name “Jesus” on it? No, you won’t. Because they’re not His bones, despite the hype it’s been given like the hype The da Vinci Code received. Jesus’ family tomb would not be located in Jerusalem but in Galilee where His family was from.

What was Jesus’ response to those Pharisees who wanted Him gone? No thanks, I’ll be sticking around. You see, this is where I need to be. The people of God have been terminating the prophets ever since God has been sending them and it’s going to happen again. So, yes, I will be dying here, but it won’t be at the hands of Herod. In fact, it’s all of you. It’s you who want to always put your fences around God so you can be in control. You want Me dead because I’m telling you you’re already dead spiritually and eternally and have no hope apart from Me.

This is the way Jesus operates. Doing His own thing in His own way. But it’s not as though we’re not able to have a clue where He is. Quite the opposite. We know exactly where He is. Why? Because He’ll be sticking around. He did in Jerusalem. Because that’s where He knew He would die. So He stuck around and we can see exactly who He is when we look at that cross.

The prophets proclaimed the Word of God. That’s why they were tortured and their lives snuffed out. Jesus Christ not only was the Prophet par excellence, not only proclaimed the Word of God, He is the Word of God. He is the Word made flesh. The One who gave His body and blood on the cross for the sins of the world. The one who died, and yes rose, He’ll be sticking around. We know exactly where to find Him.

Don’t expect James Cameron to buy it, though. Don’t expect the world to see the light when we tell them exactly where Jesus is to be found. They’re still feeding off all the different ways to discredit the truth of Jesus, whether through the da Vinci Code, the supposed bones of Jesus, or simply saying that it’s all a nice fairy tale.

We know the truth. We know where Jesus is sticking around. It’s here at this altar. It’s here in this bread and this wine. It’s here where Jesus says He gives us Himself: His Body, His Blood. Many will give their different versions of it: it’s just a symbol of His presence; it’s just a memorial meal to remember His death; it’s a meaningful ritual to me. And on and on. We will always be hearing from the world of how Jesus is not really who He says He is. He’s not really where He says He is.

We can listen to all those other voices. Jesus could have listened to the Pharisees and gotten out of Dodge. Jeremiah could have listened to the powerful leaders and gone away quietly. Paul could have just given a rosy picture to the Philippians instead of warning them of those who seek their destruction.

Or we can listen to Jesus and take Him at His Word. He’ll be sticking around. That’s how He operates. Notice He doesn’t prove anything. Come down from the cross and we’ll believe you. Yeah? Maybe. But Jesus isn’t going to achieve a short term victory at the expense of the long term goal. It didn’t make sense to anyone there for Him to stay on that cross if He was really God. But He stuck around. He stayed on that cross to save the world from sin.

It doesn’t make sense how a little piece of bread and some wine can bring you forgiveness, give you strength for your life, be a manifestation of oneness in Christ and with each other. But He’ll be sticking around here in this Meal, and so we’ll continue to receive it often. We will never understand how in simple bread and wine He gives us Himself but we’ll know where He is. And we’ll most certainly know He’s not laying there in a tomb in Jerusalem. He’s living. He’s active. You can’t pin Him down. But He’ll be sticking around.

And all the while He will be preparing a place for you in heaven where you’ll be sticking around for eternity. Amen.


Thursday, March 1, 2007

Look Under Every Rock

Hidden under every rock of the Bible is Christ. Yes, He’s clearly made known in the Bible. But He’s also hiding there in places you might not expect. Places where, if you didn’t look under a certain rock, you’d miss Him completely.

It’s like looking for buried treasure. You know it’s there, but you have to do some hard searching. But when you find it it’s worth the search. Your world is expanded and enriched.

Why would Jesus not just make Himself clearly known throughout the Bible so we don’t have to go searching under rocks to find Him? There’s something to be said for the search. If someone dumps the treasure on your lap, you have it just the same. You’re just as wealthy. But if you have to search for it and you’re successful it makes it seem more worthwhile. It’s more rewarding.

That’s why Christ at places in the Bible is there “hiding”. We may not see it at first, but once we do, it’s like finding a treasure. It’s exciting! And we then begin to realize how rich we really are.

So how do we go about our search? How do we know where to look? One thing about the Scriptures is that the more you dig in them the more you find is in there. And it works with itself. Scripture interprets Scripture. The more we’re in the Scriptures the more we will see that they point us to Christ and give us Christ. Even if He’s hidden under a rock.

“I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” [1 Corinthians 10:1-4, emphasis added]

Now how in the world would we know that that rock was Christ? We wouldn’t. Except that the Bible itself tells us it was Christ. And that’s what the Word of God does. It tells us of the Word made flesh. It makes known to us Christ.

He’s there, under every rock. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzer looked and saw four men in there. He said, “Look, the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” [Daniel 3:1-30] But that wasn’t just an angel in there with the three men—that was the Son of God Himself, the pre-incarnate Christ.

Little did the king know that this “son of the gods” he was staring at was the very Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Little did the centurion who oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus know that he was crucifying God. At the moment He died, however, the centurion declared, “Truly this was the Son of God.” [Mark 15:39]

Jesus is clearly shown to us in the Bible, especially on the cross. He’s also hidden under some rocks; the fiery furnace being one example. There are many more. Happy searching!