“What Sort of Man is This?” Matt. 8:23-27

Text: Matthew 8:23-27

Storms and the sea are things that come up pretty often in Scripture. When I did a word-search for, “sea,” I came up with over 400 matches. Sometimes its vastness is considered. Other times it’s mentioned as the place where the great creatures dwell. Just after our text in Matthew, the Sea of Galilee is where Legion drives a heard of pigs and drowns it. Often, its raging and roaring – its destructive nature and potential for death – rouse fear and wonder. But, overwhelmingly, the witness of Scripture is that the sea, and the storms that rage on it, are under God’s control. “The sea is His, for He made it. And His hand formed the dry land.” God is the one who set the boundaries of the sea, who dried up both the Red Sea and the Jordan River so His people could pass through in safety. Psalm 107 speaks this way, “They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.”[1]

Such words should’ve been the confession of the Disciples when the storm rose up in the Gospel text. Instead, they feared for their lives – even with Jesus in the boat. It appeared to them that all was nearly lost. Then, Jesus – who was with them and in control the whole time – rebuked the wind and wave and brought about a great calm. Bewildered, the men were left scratching their heads. “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him?”[2] In our text, Jesus again revealed His glory as the One who has power and authority over wind and wave.

I.

            Today we’re picking up in the same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel that we were in last week. Only ten verses separate our passages, but a lot has been going on. After Jesus healed the centurion’s servant He went and stayed at Peter’s house. There He healed Peter’s mother-in-law from her fever and many others who were sick and oppressed by demons. St. Matthew writes, “With a word [He] healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’[3] We’re beginning to get a pretty good picture of who Jesus is, what sort of man He is. He’s the one whom the Father proclaimed from heaven, He’s the one who turned water into wine, the one who cleansed the leper, the one who heals diseases and casts out demons simply with a word, the one who will be whose face and clothes will shine like lightening next week. In short, He is God and is in control of all things.

St. Matthew writes, “Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to over to the other side…And when he got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves. [So, they] went and woke Him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’[4] At Jesus’ instruction, they departed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had just been rejected by a scribe and an unnamed disciple, so He decided to go preach to the Gentiles. As they were sailing, a great storm arose. We aren’t given any clue from the text to make us think that this is anything other than the type of storm that would occasionally happen on the Sea. But, with a boat that measures only about 4 feet deep, waves can begin to overcome you fairly easily.

During this time, St. Matthew writes, Jesus was sleeping in the helm of the boat. He was in the captain’s spot, unworried by the wind and waves. Though, by His human nature, He needed rest, by His divine nature, all things were in His keeping. The Disciples should’ve taken a clue from this. They should’ve remembered all the miracles He’s already done. Instead, they were afraid for their lives and they woke Jesus. “[Jesus] said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”[5] As they were crossing the sea, a great storm arose that caused the Disciples to panic. They woke Jesus who, though He did rebuke them, caused the wind and sea to be exceedingly calm. He revealed that all things were under His control. What sort of man is this, they ask? The sort who has power over illness and disease, death and demons, and – now – wind and wave. Jesus again revealed His glory as the Son of God, who has power over all things.

II.

            “What sort of man is this?” That same question is still asked today. Whether it’s just in minds, spoken, or written, it is asked all the same – seemingly, with as many answers as there are people. There is, however, only one right answer. That hasn’t stopped the constant flow of opinions, though. Especially in this last political season, it seems that there is a Jesus to fit every cause and ideology. Most of the millions of Jesus’ that are proclaimed by politicians and activists are simply reflections of their preachers – and not the way it should be. But, when it all comes down to it, when life takes a turn for the absolute worst – which it always seems to do – none of those Jesus’ will save; not the Jesus of radical equality and tolerance, not the Jesus of universalized religion, and not the Jesus who simply says nothing.

We often fall into the same path as the Disciples in our text. I’ve said it before, and you don’t need me to say it again, but no one makes it through life unscathed. The fact is, life is hard. Sometimes it feels like living is the worst of all possible options. Whether it’s our health going down the tubes, our spiritual life feeling hollow, and even the rent on land going up – life is hard. Maybe the harder pill to swallow is that, like the storm in our text, sometimes God in His wisdom allows these things to befall us – but not without reason. And, not outside His control. Sometimes God allows bad things to happen to teach us to rely on Him, that man does not live by bread alone. But, because the weakness of our flesh, we often fail to receive all things as coming from God’s loving hand. We assume that a good life means God’s happy with us and that suffering must mean He’s angry with us. We don’t always thank Him for the good and when bad happens, we question His care for us. “What sort man is He, anyway?”

Jesus is the man who is God, who has control over wind and wave. He demonstrated that by rebuking the sea in our text, rescuing the Disciples from their fear of death and teaching them that all things are under His control. So, He revealed His glory again. He has command over all things, and knows what best to provide us. Sometimes, this means that He does calm the storms in our lives. Sometimes He does rescue us from danger and harm, illness and anxiety. Sometimes not. But, to bring St. Paul in, “Who [or what] shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”[6]

Why is St. Paul able to speak so confidently, even though he himself suffered so much – including being imprisoned and beheaded for the faith? Because he knows that Christ, the Lord of wind and wave, has calmed the ultimate storm. Apart from Christ we can only be tossed about like a ship on the ocean of sin. But, by Christ, sin and death have been defeated. By His death and resurrection, He rebuked and calmed the claims of sin and death against us. Though in this life we groan, waiting for the redemption of our bodies, we know that at His return Christ will put a final and complete end to all suffering and death, and we will inherit eternal gladness with the saints in light.

Just what sort of man is Jesus? He is God. He is in control of all things: sin and death, disease and illness, wind and wave. In His wisdom, He does sometimes permit disaster to befall us – but that does not mean that we are out of His keeping. The disciples feared that was the case. Then Jesus rose and rebuked the wind and sea, and the resulting calm was greater than the raging of the storm. Though in this life we may be tossed about, we know that Jesus has calmed the ultimate storm. At His return, all suffering will cease, and He will fully save. What sort of man is this? The One who reveals His glory by calming the storm, both this time forth and forevermore.


[1] Ps. 107:28-29.

[2] Matt. 8:27.

[3] Matt. 8:16-17.

[4] Matt. 8:18, 23-25.

[5] Matt. 8:26.

[6] Rom. 8:35, 37.

Epiphany Mercy

Text: Matthew 8:1-13

In one of our Bible studies this last week, some of us had the opportunity to talk about why we follow the Church year. As in, what are some of the benefits of using a set rotation of themes throughout the year, where we learn about events in the life of Christ and the church through corresponding readings? One of the major benefits is that the Church year ebbs and flows, just like life. We aren’t happy at all times, but neither are we always sad. Just like in life, where at certain times we become focused on certain things, so, during the Church Year, we focus on different things at different times. The different seasons of the year center on different doctrinal topics.

The season we are in now is Epiphany. In this season, we celebrate the manifestation of our Lord’s glory, the revealing of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the Nations, now come. We’ve encountered this idea twice already. First, in the Baptism of our Lord, where the Father proclaimed Him from heaven. We also had the Wedding at Cana, where the water was made wine – Jesus’ first miracle. This theme is expressed very well in today’s Introit. The antiphon (the part that repeats) goes, “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.”[1] This week we continue the idea of the Lord revealing His glory in the sight of all people and we’ll add a new aspect: the compassion and mercy of our Lord.

In our text today, we heard about two miracles. Both tell us something about our Epiphany Lord. In the first part of the text, we heard about the leper who came to Jesus to be cleansed. Jesus stretched forth His hand and did something you absolutely would not do – He touched him. Immediately the leper was cleansed. In the second part, a Roman centurion came to Jesus on behalf of his own servant, who was near death. Jesus spoke and, at that very hour, the servant was healed. Through these miracles, we confess today that that our Lord is merciful and compassionate, and is willing to cure both sin and death.

I.

We pick up in the eighth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he writes, “When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’”[2] Our text follows nearly immediately after Jesus had finished delivering the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ ministry had already begun earlier, with His Baptism in chapter 3. Chapter 4 saw Him overcoming the devil in the wilderness, calling of the first disciples, and some initial healings. When Jesus saw the crowds beginning to follow Him, He went up on the mountain and taught.

Now, coming down from the mountain, a man who had been following from a distance came up and threw Himself down at Jesus’ feet. “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.” What does the man mean? Well, leprosy was a very serious disease. It was debilitating and, eventually, a fatal condition. Moreover, one suffering from leprosy – which included several skin conditions – was ceremonially unclean. He could not visit the temple, nor could he live among his family. Anyone who encountered such a person, would also become unclean and must undergo an arduous ritual of cleansing, even if they themselves weren’t leprous.

St. Luke tells us that the man’s condition is quite advanced, perhaps he is very near death. The man came to Jesus, kneeling at His feet, asking for cleansing, but he conditions his petition with the words, “If You will.” The man may be desperate, but this is a prayer made in faith. “If it be according to Your will, Lord, You can heal me. But if not, I die in peace.” “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”[3] Not willing that this man should suffer, Jesus showed the utmost compassion: He touched him. But, instead of becoming unclean, Jesus’ touch cleansed the man of his leprosy.

Later, when Jesus entered Capernaum, a Roman centurion came Him. He begged Him and said, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.”[4] This centurion demonstrated great faith, something Jesus would later marvel at, by not even asking Jesus to something. He just told Jesus the situation, knowing that the Lord would know what to do. When Jesus offered to come and heal the servant, the centurion replied that that was not necessary. Just as he himself was a man of authority, Jesus can also simply command the illness to leave and it will. After marveling, St. Matthew writes, “Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.’”[5] Jesus again revealed His glory by having mercy on the centurion’s servant. Jesus spoke, and he was healed.

II.

In our text we see our Lord’s glory continuing to be revealed. By His mercy and compassion, Jesus manifests the glory of God for all to see. As if cleansing a leper wasn’t enough, Jesus healed by touching the man. Jesus went absolutely beyond the pale to show His compassion for those previously unclean. The centurion who came to Jesus – he wasn’t a Jew. He was not descended from Abraham. He was a Gentile. Jesus would’ve been excused from dealing with the man. Instead, He offered to go into the man’s home (which would’ve made Jesus unclean). When the man responded that Jesus could heal just by speaking, Jesus said of this Gentile believer, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”[6]

In these miracles, Jesus manifests His glory by having compassion and showing mercy. He has compassion on the unclean, making clean again. His has mercy on one previously outside the chosen people. Leprosy, by the way, also stands as a good illustration for the harmful effects of sin. Leprosy is a disease that affects the nerves. It causes loss of sensation, which worsens as it spreads. Eventually parts of you get damaged, die, and fall off. All of this contributes to one being unclean. In the Biblical sense, unclean means you cannot expect to encounter God and live; you should expect the opposite. Sin does nearly the same thing.

Sin, like leprosy, takes ahold of us and spreads. Lie begets lie. Temptation that is entertained bears terrible fruit. Before too long, the temptation to skip church becomes a habit. The anger we harbor in our hearts consumes us. The lust that burns within us chokes out the ability to love as God designed. Before God, by our own powers, we deserve to be cast out like lepers for our sins. We can only rightly say, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof.”[7] But Jesus does.

Jesus is mercy. Jesus is compassion. Rather than cast us away for the unclean leprosy of sin that eats within us, Jesus came to cure it. He touched our whole human nature by becoming human Himself. Being fully God, He also become fully man. He bore our entire human nature. Though He had no sin of His own, He took all the world’s sinfulness upon Himself. He touched our human nature, bore our sin, and suffered for our sake on the cross, so that through these things the leprosy of sin would find its cure. Though we are not worthy for Jesus to come under our roofs, He does. By Baptism, Jesus Christ Himself, with His Holy Spirit, dwells within our hearts. In the Lord’s Supper, we receive the very body and blood of Christ, broken and shed on the cross, to purify us from the inside-out.

Had the leper not been cleansed, he probably would’ve died very soon, and the servant most likely. The same is true for us. We know what the penalty for sin is: death. Just like leprosy spreads, hastening the pathway to bodily death, so sin spreads hastening the pathway to eternal torment. But, Jesus is mercy and compassion. By becoming flesh, Jesus has purified the human nature. By His Sacraments, He works throughout our entire lives to purify us from iniquity. Then, when our frail bodies will cease, He will raise us, too. He who has command over disease and illness, also has command over death.

As we move through our Lord’s Epiphany to His journey toward the cross, we continue see His work of revealing His glory to the world. This week we saw Him healing both an unclean leper and a Gentile centurion’s servant. He stretched forth His hand to touch the unclean and His Word to the Gentile. May He continue to stretch forth His compassionate hand to us through the Sacraments and give to us His Word of mercy, so that we may be cleansed from all sin and rescued from eternal death. To God be all glory.


 

[1] Introit for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Lutheran Service Book: Altar Book, pg. 857.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt. 8:1–2.

[3] Matt. 8:3.

[4] Matt. 8:6.

[5] Matt. 8:13.

[6] Matt. 8:10.

[7] Matt. 8:8.

Septuagesima, “The Wages of Grace”

*Septuagesima marks the beginning of the season called Pre-Lent in our lectionary. The word means, “seventieth,” and stands for the seventieth day before Easter. It is three Sundays away from Ash Wednesday.


 

Text: Matthew 20:1-16

Life isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair. Either you’ve said this yourself, or you’ve heard it spoken by someone around you. I must confess that those words crossed my lips many times when I was a child. I wish I could say that I only uttered them when a real injustice was committed against me. But really, I was just upset at one thing or another. What I actually meant by, “Life isn’t fair,” was more like, “Why don’t things work they way I want them to?” You might’ve thought this way from time to time. This sort of feeling was common in the Bible, too – if I can speak a little candidly about King David and our other fathers in the faith. Though, for David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Solomon, and others, the question was more often phrased in terms of, “Why do other people prosper and I fare so poorly?”

However, as I look back on these long 26 years of my life, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s probably for the best that I don’t always get what I want. But, just as I don’t always get what I want, neither – by the grace of God – do I always get what I deserve. Actually, it is far more often that I don’t get what I do deserve. Meaning: When we confess in the liturgy that we have offended our heavenly Father with all our sins and iniquities, we also confess that, because of those sins and iniquities, we justly deserve God’s wrath in both the eternal sense (hell) and the temporal sense (afflictions, diseases, and death). By the grace of God alone, we are spared the majority of the terrible things that we deserve as the consequences of our sins. And by the grace of God alone, we are also invited into His heavenly kingdom. Jesus illustrates this for us in the parable of the vineyard. In it Jesus shows us that there is only one way to heaven, grace alone, and this grace is given equally to all sinners. As Jesus said, many who are last will be first.

Our text today is part of a larger chunk of teaching. After the Transfiguration, Jesus’ teaching was amped up a little bit; things got more serious as He drew nearer to the cross. Just before our text, Jesus was teaching His disciples and the crowds about getting into the kingdom of heaven. The conversation went like this. A rich young man came up to Jesus and asked Him, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus, being the model preacher and knowing when to give either the Law or the Gospel, gave the man the Law. He knew the Commandments. If the man desired to enter eternal life by works, he must keep all of the Commandments perfectly. The man insisted that this was already the case. However, it was not. When Jesus instructed him to sell all his possessions and follow, he went away sorrowful. He was not rightly honoring the First Commandment. He did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

This caused no small ripple among the disciples, for if a rich person could only scarcely enter the kingdom of heaven, how could anyone be saved? The rich were looked to as the ones most able to do good works. They didn’t have to labor in the hot sun all day, and then worry about doing good works after. Instead, they could just do the greatest work of all and give away money. Surely the wealthy were on the short list to heaven. Not so. St. Paul clearly writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The way into heaven is not by works, but only by the grace of God. That is why Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of heaven belongs even to little children. Everything a child has he receives as a gift. So also is the kingdom of heaven. In this way, many who are last are made first.

Since this parable is the second longest that we have recorded for us. I’ll let it stand as read before; I’ll just remind you how it goes. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who goes out to hire workers for his vineyard. The first bunch are called early in the morning, and it is agreed that they will work for a day’s wages. A few hours later the owner goes out again and he finds workers standing around in the marketplace. He hires them to work, offering to pay them what is right. A few hours later he does the same, and again even later. Then, finally, when there is only one hour left in the workday, he goes out and hires a last round of workers.

Jesus uses this parable to teach us about the kingdom of heaven. God is the master of the household and the vineyard is His kingdom. We are the workers. We see that life in Kingdom, life in Christ’s Church, is like being called to work in a vineyard. Throughout the Scriptures we are exhorted to serve to the Lord. Psalm 100, for example, teaches us, “Serve the Lord with gladness!” Like the master in the parable, the Lord, in His gracious wisdom, sees fit to call workers at many times throughout the day. The morning is probably the most expected time, but the master is gracious. He goes out many times during the day, calling to himself many who would not have been hired otherwise. We, likewise, have all been called to serve. That call has come to us at different times. Some of us received at Baptism while we were children. Some of us may have received it as adults or in other times of our lives. The Holy Spirit works through the Means of Grace in many times and ways to call laborers into the vineyard.

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Eventually, the end of the workday does come. The owner of the vineyard calls his foreman and says, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.” Then, beginning with those who started in the last hour and finishing with those who started first, each received the same wages, a denarius. After the laborers who started first received their payment, they began to grumble. They figured that if those people who only worked an hour received so much, they should definitely receive more than that. That’s understandable. It’s fair, even. But, remember what I said before: life isn’t fair. Or, perhaps a better way to frame it today is: God’s fairness is not the same as our fairness.

That is to say, Jesus uses this parable to show us that with God things are reversed. In our world you work to get paid; in the kingdom of God, payment is given apart from works. In our world, your own hard work merits you a reward; in the kingdom of God, Christ’s hard work earns you the reward. In our our world, you work longer and you get paid more; but, in the kingdom of God, all are paid the same. In our world also, we all earn the same wage. The Scriptures say that the wage that we all earn is death. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, regardless of who we are, where we’re from, or what we’ve done. And, if life were fair, we would all die in our sins and trespasses, having justly deserved the earthly and eternal wrath of God.

But, life isn’t fair. Instead of getting the punishment we do deserve, we get the wage that Christ worked for. When someone gets that we’ve worked for, we get upset and grumble like the workers in the vineyard. But Jesus, He is happy when people get what He worked for, because otherwise they wouldn’t get it at all. What I mean is, in the kingdom of God everything is a gift. We are neither worthy of the things that we have, nor have we deserved them. Instead, God gives us all things freely in Christ Jesus. He blesses us with food and drink, house and home, clothing and shoes. He gives us all that we need to support this body and life. And, above and beyond that, He gives us the most precious gift in all creation: the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with Him. And that, He gives to us not because we’ve worked for it or earned it, but because of the sacrifice of His only begotten Son on the cross.

When I was child, I used to complain that, “Life isn’t fair,” often. Mostly, it was just because things weren’t going my way. But, today I realize that might be for the better. In Christ, things don’t go our way; They go His way: grace. Through the sacrifice of Christ, we don’t get what we deserve (the punishment of our trespasses) and we do get what we don’t deserve (forgiveness). Having been forgiven our sins, we are called to be workers in God’s vineyard, sharing the grace and love of Christ with the world around us. And, whether we’ve been in the vineyard a long time, and worked many long hours, or whether our work is still mostly ahead of us, we all receive the same gift. As it says, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Therefore, in Christ, life isn’t fair. Thanks be to God.

 

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Text: Matthew 17:1-8

The theology of the cross is one of the main things I love about Lutheranism. The theology of the cross says that the depth of God’s for us is not found primarily in the high points of life, such as wealth or comfort – things that are temporary. Instead, it is found in the humility, shame, and suffering of the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus teaches us this in John 14 when Philip asked Him to show them the Father. He responded that he who has Jesus has seen the Father. Jesus was teaching His disciples about His suffering and death for the forgiveness of sins. He who has seen the Son of Man dying on the cross for the sins of the world has seen the love that God has for us. Martin Luther once wrote, “True theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ.”

The phrase, “theology of the cross,” comes from one of Luther’s writings. Luther found himself in hot water after posting the 95 Theses. He was branded a heretic; and, though not excommunicated yet, Pope Leo X moved to silence him early on. He sent word down the line until it reached Luther’s superior, Johann von Staupitz. But, instead of silencing of Luther, Staupitz invited him to speak, in order to convince others to align themselves with Luther’s cause. In the midst of this Luther wrote one his most famous passages: “He deserves to be called a theologian…who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.”

What Luther means is this: the love, grace, and mercy of God are shown to us – above all other things – in the suffering and cross of Christ. That is what the Transfiguration of Jesus is all about. In His Transfiguration we receive a glimpse of Jesus‘ heavenly glory, a foretaste of what awaits us in the life to come. But this glory, which Christ will share with us, only comes through the suffering of the cross. At the Transfiguration, Jesus gives us a glimpse of His resurrected glory, which He shares with His Church, but it comes only as the fruit of His cross.

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The text from St. Matthew’s Gospel begins, “After six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” St. Matthew writes that the Transfiguration happens six days after something. The context of this passage is that Jesus and the Disciples are traveling south from Caesarea Philippi, up toward Jerusalem. Caesarea Philippi was a Gentile area, but there St. Peter gave the great confession of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” From that moment on, Jesus began to show the Disciples what being the Messiah meant. Just before our text, Jesus explained for the first time that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things, be killed, and on the third day rise from dead. He is the gloriously majestic Son of God, but His glory is wrapped in the suffering and shame of the cross.

And just as Jesus’ life was full of suffering, so are the lives of His followers. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The life of a Christian is thus a hard one. After we are washed by the blood of Christ, we are led by the Holy Spirit to deny ourselves, to deny the sinful wants and desires of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. We carry the cross of Christ, which is foolishness to the world, upon our shoulders, around our necks, and in our hearts. We do this because, now that we have been crucified with Christ, we no longer live; Christ lives within us.

After teaching the Disciples this, Jesus took three up the mountain with Him and was transfigured before them. His face shined like the sun and His clothes were as bright as light itself. We see a picture of the glory that awaits the Church. We see the glory that Jesus had with the Father and the Holy Spirit before all time, which He will share with us – but only after His crucifixion. The Transfiguration confirms that what Jesus has been saying all along about His suffering and death, and about the Christian life of self-denial, is true. Moses and Elijah also bear witness to this. Moses represents both the Law and the Prophets, which speak about Jesus. Elijah’s presence likewise confirms the promises which God has made of old. Notice that neither Moses nor Elijah are dead. In fact, they’re very much alive. So shall we be in the resurrection, for God is not god of the dead, but the living.

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But then, St. Peter interrupts. “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Perhaps as a representative of the group, Peter interrupts the scene – just like he did before when Jesus explained that He was going to be rejected, suffer, and die. It didn’t suit Peter’s sensibilities for Jesus to suffer, be rejected, die, and rise again – even if it were the forgiveness of sins – because that means he would have to suffer as well. Peter’s desire to remain on the mount of the Transfiguration is quite understandable, and in some ways is good, right, and salutary. Though, if they remained on the mountain as Peter desired, that would be a problem. Then Jesus wouldn’t be going to the cross as payment for our sins.

Peter proves St. Paul to be right when he says, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” The idea that the suffering of Christ is where we see the love of God flies against every fiber of the Old Adam within us. The idea that, because we are united with Christ in Baptism, we will also suffer in this life and be hated by the world, all the while striving to deny our own sinful passions, is absurd to natural reason.

Like Peter we sometimes get glimpses of Jesus’ glory: the baptisms of our children and grandchildren, their confirmations, in the sacrament of the altar, in those times where we see prayers answered before our very eyes. But life, unfortunately, isn’t all glory; there are also the crosses we bear. We trudge through our daily lives. We struggle to teach our children the faith, knowing that the world will do everything it can to rip it from them and us. We are hated by the world for actually believing Christ and His Word. But, the suffering of Christ means that He is with us. Last week we talked about how Christ became united with us in Baptism. He is united with us and we with Him, as closely as a vine with its branches, even (and especially) in the suffering of this life. As St. Paul wrote, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

  1.  

While [Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’” The words spoken by the Father at Jesus’ Baptism are echoed here at the Transfiguration. But, now they have something added to them. Jesus is God’s Son; we’re supposed to listen to Him. That’s an added emphasis for Peter, the Disciples, and us. We are to listen to Jesus – not the devil, not the world, and not our own sinful flesh. All of those want us to strive after the good life, the comfortable life. They want us to do anything other than look at the cross and remember our Baptism. Looking at the cross means remembering that in Baptism we are united with Jesus in His suffering and death. And quite frankly, that’s not always so fun. It means we are going to struggle in this life. We’re never going to be perfect. We’ll never be rid of our sin. We will never reach a point where we are not wrestling with our many temptations.

But, being united with Christ doesn’t just mean we are united with Him; He is united with us. It means that, in those times where you just can’t take another day, where life is killing you, where your heart just says, “No more,” Jesus is there. He is with you. He bore your sins on the cross; He suffered for you, to win for you the forgiveness of sins. Through the Word and Sacraments, He continually makes good on His promise to be with you always. Then, when this life is finally over, glory begins. Jesus was Transfigured to assure us of the truth and as a preview of the glory to come. This glory, though, only comes through suffering. That’s how it was for Jesus – He stepped down from His eternal throne, to suffer, die and rise for you – and that’s how it will be for us.

St. Peter wrote in our Epistle text, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” In the Transfiguration we receive a glimpse of Jesus’ resurrected glory, glory that He will share with us in the resurrection, but it comes only after the cross. Peter teaches us to pay attention to it as to a light shining in a dark place. We are theologians of the cross. We know that without the cross, there can be no glory. Without the cross, there can be no forgiveness. But, in the cross of Christ we do glory and to us it a shining beacon in this dark world. It shows us that nothing in heaven or earth, not even death itself can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. This love will be with us always, all suffering life long, until we are raised anew to live in the glory of Christ at His coming.

 

The Baptism of Our Lord

Text: Matthew 3:13-17

Sometimes you need a pair of pants in a hurry. Or, at least, I do. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you really need a pair of jeans or dress pants, but the ones you have on hand smell like lutefisk? You need your pants in a hurry, but they smell fresh, so you quickly throw them in the wash. You give them the time to wash, but then time itself starts to crunch when you put them in the dryer. You just hope and pray that it will all come out alright when you have to take them out before the cycle completes and leave for wherever you need to be. As you sit in your vehicle, you realize that your pants are still wet. They’re not full-on wet, but they’re soggy enough to irritate you every passing second.

Soggy pants remind me of Baptism. Wearing soggy pants can be quite unpleasant, but they remind me (most of the time) that what I’m wearing has been cleaned. But, in order for something to be cleaned in the wash, there needs to be a cleaning agent, a soap, a detergent – something that takes the dirt out. In Baptism, it’s the blood of Christ that purifies us from all iniquity, from dirtiness. Being washed in the water in the Word is being cleansed in the raging flood of Jesus’ blood.This blood covers us all life long and is a reminder of the new life we have in Christ. Every time we wake up in the morning, every time we begin the service with the Invocation, we are putting the soggy pants of Baptism back on.

Today is a Church holiday. Today we remember and commemorate the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Jesus’ Baptism is not the institution of the Baptism we have all received, that will come later in Matthew; but it does mean some important things for us. At His Baptism, Jesus united Himself with us and our sins. He became our substitute by taking our sins upon Himself. There in the Jordan, Jesus was marked was the one who would go forth and fulfill the Law in our place, and then die on the cross as payment for all sin. At His Baptism, Christ was marked as our substitute, becoming one with us in our sin, so that through our Baptism, we may become one with Him in life.

I.

Our text today is from St. Matthew’s Gospel and comes towards the conclusion of John the Baptist’s public ministry. It wouldn’t be long before John would be thrown in the king’s prison. We’ve heard a little about that already from Matthew 11. You might recall that John is the one who testified that his ministry must decrease so that the Christ’s may increase; that turns out to be true, since Jesus’ ministry doesn’t begin until John is in captivity. But, remember as well, John’s ministry. John’s ministry, his calling, was to prepare the way of the Lord. He did this by preaching God’s Law, His Words about the coming Messiah who would purify the world with fire, and by calling people to repentance and faith. This was the reason for the Baptism of John. After people were convicted of their sins through the preaching of the Law, they would repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of those sins.

This Baptism was for the forgiveness of sins, and being forgiven your sins means that you come out of the fount resolving with the help of the Lord to be changed from what you once were. John taught the tax collectors to take no more than what they were authorized to, the soldiers to be content and not extort money, and everyone else to share what they have with their neighbors in need. But when the Pharisees and Sadducees came out to be baptized, they who already pronounced themselves to be without sin, John chastised them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

After this, Jesus came to be baptized, and John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Before, John stopped the ones who came to him presuming already to have no sin, but now here is Jesus – who really does have no sin. Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire, whose winnowing fork is in His hand. John has need to be baptized by Him, we have need, so why would Jesus come to be baptized for repentance and forgiveness of sins?

Jesus answered John, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” John rightly recognized that Jesus is the mighty Savior of the world, who had come to rule with justice and equity and purify the children of Israel, but his mind was set on the future. All this purification and justice and equity was the future to John, but Jesus brings his head back out of the clouds. “Let it be so now.” Now something is happening. The fulfillment of all righteousness is not just something that will happen off in the distance, but it is something that being affected even now at the Baptism in the Jordan River.

Scripture shows us that righteousness of God consists in showing mercy. This is what Jesus’ Baptism is all about. At His Baptism, Jesus becomes one with us in our sin. He goes down to the river to repent not of His own sin, but ours. Jesus goes down in humble repentance and submission to God’s will as a substitute for all the times where we are not and do not. At His Baptism, Jesus is marked as one with us in our transgression, just as He would become one with us in our death later on the cross.

II.

Then the text says, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” At Jesus’ Baptism, not only does Jesus become our substitute and take upon Himself our sins and the sins of the whole world, but we also receive the testimony of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. This is a passage where the Triune God is described to us: One God in three persons. God the Father is the Father, the creator and preserver of all things. He testifies to us that Jesus is His Son, and what Jesus is there to do pleases Him. The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus as a dove, fulfilling His role to point to and lead us to Christ.

Both the Father and the Holy Spirit testify that Jesus is the beloved Son of God. Scripture tells us that Christ came to do and fulfill the Father’s will, which is to have mercy on sinners and shower them with His grace. These come through the work of Christ, beginning with His birth, His circumcision, His presentation in the temple, now at His Baptism, and later in His crucifixion for our sins. When God the Father and the Holy Spirit speak at Jesus’ Baptism, they show that this is the will of God: that Jesus become one with us in our sin and death, so that we can become one with Him in life.

III.   

We’ve now talked about Jesus’ Baptism, where He received John’s Baptism for repentance and forgiveness as our substitute and to become one with us in sin and death. But now we should talk about the Baptism we’ve received, where we were united (and are united) with Jesus in life. The closing stanza of the hymn, “Jesus, Once with Sinners Numbered,” speaks this way, “Jesus, once with sinners numbered, full obedience was your path; You, by death, have consecrated water in this saving bath: dying to the sin of Adam, rising to a life of grace; We are counted with the righteous, over us the cross You trace.” In Jesus’ Baptism, He was united with our death, so that in our Baptism we are united with His life.

This is what Jesus intended by instituting the washing of Holy Baptism in Matthew 28. He also promises in Mark 16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” The Small Catechism teaches us what benefits Baptism gives: “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” All of this hinges on Jesus fulfilling all righteousness, all the will of God, including bearing our sin and repenting of it in His Baptism, He who knew no sin.

What does it mean to be united with Christ as He is with us? It means wearing soggy pants. It means living the Baptismal life. By daily sorrow and repentance for our sins, the Old Adam is drowned and dies within us, and through the grace of the Holy Spirit the new Adam daily arises in righteousness and purity. The Catechism points us to St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” So Baptism is like wearing soggy pants. Every time we wake up in the morning or go to bed, every time we speak the words of Invocation we are reminded that we are baptized and forgiven our sins. At Jesus’ Baptism He became one with us in our sin and carried it to the cross. On the cross He became one with us in death, so that through our Baptism we are one with Him in life.

 

The Epiphany of Our Lord

Arise, shine, for your light has come,” says the prophet Isaiah in chapter 60. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord, where the Incarnation of Jesus was made known to the world. Again, Isaiah speaks, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Over the last twelve days we’ve heard the story of our Lord’s birth. We’ve heard the announcement of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah that John would be born to prepare the way of the Messiah. We’ve heard the announcement to Mary that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her, and she shall conceive and bear a son. We’ve heard the account of our Savior’s birth; and now today, Christmas is given to the world.

The Epiphany itself, is an ancient holiday. From its beginning, it was a holiday commemorating both the birth and Baptism of Jesus. It moves from Christmas, where God is revealed as man, to the time where the man, Jesus, is revealed as the God of all creation to creation. In our calendar today we celebrate an entire season, beginning with the arrival of the wise men where Jesus is revealed to the Gentiles. We also see His Baptism, where the Spirit rests on Jesus’ shoulder and the Father speaks from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We learn of His first miracle, the first sign that He is the Messiah, the changing of water into wine. Finally, the season ends with the Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah appear in glory to speak with Jesus concerning His exodus – His death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.

But it all begins today. Today these words are fulfilled,

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Isaiah spoke the word of the Lord in a time of turmoil and suffering. The chosen people of God were fractured into two nations, with many enemies designing even further destruction. The faithful continued to hope and pray for the Messiah, longing for the Son of God to come and forgive their sins, but all they saw around themselves was thick darkness. As Isaiah said, “Darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” As the darkness of fear surrounded God’s people, so the darkness of sin covers the whole world. Each person goes his own way, ignoring and disregarding God’s will, striving after the wind and even hiding from the Light of the Lord.

We also are included in the darkness of sin. St. Paul says that, apart from faith in Christ, we are by nature children of wrath. St. John also says that those who walk apart from faith walk in darkness and do not practice the truth. But arise, and shine, for your Light has come. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord. The Light of the world has been revealed to the nations. As the wise men were led to worship Jesus through His Word, so is Christ revealed to us in the preaching of the Gospel. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith in us, and the Light of Jesus scatters the darkness of our hearts.

Today we celebrate the Epiphany. At our Lord’s birth, the Light of the World was worshipped by Angels and shepherds, but now He is been manifested to the world. Soon, we will celebrate His Baptism and Transfiguration, where it is revealed that Light of the World has also come to suffer death for the life of the world.

The Reason He Came Out

Text: Mark 1:29-39

The Gospel reading this week picks up from the text last week where Jesus was teaching in the Synagogue in Capernaum. Everyone in attendance was astonished that Jesus taught with direct authority and not with the quotations of the scribes. He spoke directly for God, as He had been anointed for that purpose by His Father, so we learned in Isaiah 61 this last Advent. Jesus demonstrated His authority as the Holy One of God by casting a demon out of a man, commanding it to be silent and come out of him. At once Jesus’ fame spread throughout Galilee.

Today we pick up that evening as Jesus left the synagogue. Beginning with Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus healed many sicknesses and cast out many demons. He provided deliverance from illness, disease, and the devil. All of these things have the same root source: sin. In delivering the people from these afflictions, Jesus gave evidence of the real reason He took on flesh – He came to deliver us from the powers of sin, death, and the devil by His death on the cross. By His death He shattered the hold that sin and its effects had over us and now strengthens us with His Means of Grace.

I.

The text begins, “Immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”[1] Immediately after Jesus threw a demon out of a man in the synagogue, He left and entered the house of Peter and Andrew. Peter’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and they bring word of her to Jesus, knowing that He can heal her. Jesus approached her, and taking her by the hand, raised her up. Immediately the fever left her. This word for “left,” is ἀφίημι, which is also the word for forgiveness. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Mark connects the forgiveness of sins we have in Christ with physical healing. There was more than just healing going here. Sickness and ailments are the result of the Fall into Sin. Scripture says that sin was introduced through the Fall, and death through sin. Various sickness are the result of a broken world.

We see the connection between forgiveness of sins and healing ahead a few verses, in Mark 2. Jesus heals a paralytic man by saying to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”[2] Some of the scribes scoff at Jesus, saying that no one can forgive sins but God. Jesus said, “’That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.’”[3] The man got up and went home. Jesus forgave the man His sins, but what do people latch onto? The healing, of course. And so, in our text we read that at sundown people brought Him all who were sick or possessed by demons. It was such that the whole city was gathered at the door. Jesus, ever compassionate, had mercy and healed many who were sick and cast out many demons. And yet, the healings were not the real reason that Jesus came.

II.

Mark continues, “Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.”[4] Jesus rose very early in the morning to withdraw from the crowds and pray. As Jesus was fully human, He may have needed time to rest and rejuvenate, and especially to be in prayer with His Father. But there may also be another reason He withdrew, and this comes out in saying that Simon and those who were with him searched for Jesus. This is actually the word for when you would hunt something, or someone. It’s like looking for something eagerly or searching for it because you want something from it.

Jesus wanted to keep people from latching onto the wrong thing. The crowds of people had been accustomed to there being so called “faith healers,” from time to time. And now, here is Jesus healing people to a degree and on a scale previously unheard of. He heals everything completely. Peter’s mother had been beset with a fever, Jesus touched her, and all of a sudden she was up and caring for the group – completely healed. The crowds saw Jesus healing, and they wanted it, too. If not for themselves, then for those they knew. But they didn’t quite get the real reason why Jesus came, and neither did the disciples at this point. They wanted to take what Jesus had rather than receive what He freely gives.

That’s something that we can relate to, a trap we can fall into as well. Our lives are filled with wants. We all have lists of wants and needs, and sometimes the wants begin to carry the day. We want a new truck; we want a new TV. The sin inside us then takes it to a new level and we carry our selfish wants into the church. I want better, easier hymns. I want something more relevant to me and my life. I want a worship service tailored to outsiders. I want commune anywhere, because I deserve the Lord’s Supper. Or maybe that is going too far. Sometimes, even in church, our selfish desires and ambitions drive us. We do the things we want to do, not always the things we’re called to do. Our natural tendency, even in these things, is to take, rather than receive. This is getting close to the reason Jesus came.

III.

The text goes on, “They found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ And he said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’”[5] Jesus says, let’s go on so that I can preach elsewhere – for that is the reason I came out. The real reason why Jesus took upon Himself our mortal nature was to redeem our fallen race. Jesus came to preach the forgiveness of sins through His active obedience of God’s Will in place of our failure, and His death on the cross as the once-for-all-time payment for our sin. He who had power over sickness and demons, suffered on our behalf to secure our redemption.

These healings and exorcisms give us a picture of the forgiveness we have in Jesus. His forgiveness is not just a Band-aid. It’s not something that we just put on a cut or scrape to cover up until our body heals itself. Rather, it is a complete reality changing forgiveness. Through His death, by the gift of faith, Jesus has transferred us from the realm of darkness into His marvelous light. The Church Fathers referred to this as something called recapitulation. This means that Jesus is restoring creation to what it was created to be. This we will see fully at His return. But we get glimpses of it in these healings. Being forgiven their sin, their bodies were restored from the effects of sin in the world.

So what was the reason that Jesus came out? According to Jesus in our text, it was so that He could preach the forgiveness of sins. For some, this was manifested in the healing of their bodily ailments. This was a foretaste of our future in the heavenly kingdom where there is no sickness or decay. The real reason why Jesus came was to deliver us from the powers of sin, death, and the devil. He did this through His death on the cross as the payment for our sins. He gives us that forgiveness freely through the gift of faith and in the Sacraments until the time when we will be with Him in heaven, where there is no crying, or mourning, or pain.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 1:29–31.

[2] Mk. 2:5.

[3] Mk. 2:10–11.

[4] Mk. 1:35–37.

[5] Mk. 1:37–38.