Before Abraham Was, I Am

Text: John 8:42-59

The Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’[1] With these words, we witness a climax of the tension between the Jewish authorities and our Lord. These confrontations seem to increase toward the end of the Gospel as those sinful men sought to silence the Word of God. Indeed, in just a few more chapters, the authorities would make up their mind to put Jesus to the death. But Jesus would not be silenced. Instead, He continued to speak to them the Word of Him who sent Him and to perform miracles, in order that some might be saved. In our text, though, things look dire. Our focus today will be on those words, “Before Abraham was, I am,” – both what they mean, and what they mean for us. Christ, the eternal Son of God – the one who spoke to Abraham and to Moses – is now become flesh to suffer and die.

I.

Our text today takes place in the temple. It would’ve happened shortly after the Feast of Booths, which is in the fall. Jesus had gone up to the temple for the celebration, and when it had ended, He went to the Mount of Olives – but, then He came back. John 8 begins with the account of the woman caught in adultery, and out text flows out of that occasion. Jesus spoke to the mixed crowd – as some of them did believe in Him – mostly concerning their father. The Jews were claiming to Jesus that they were the offspring of Abraham. Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.”[2] By this, Jesus meant they were truly offspring of the devil. For, if they were of Abraham, they would have believed Jesus, as Abraham did.

Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”[3] Now, this set them off. Abraham, the great patriarch of their faith – or, so they claimed – died. The prophets also died. How could Jesus possibly say that whoever believes His Word will never die, Jesus Himself being not even fifty? That’s when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” That is, before Abraham was born, before he was brought into existence, Jesus is. The Jews picked up stones to throw at Him because they understood what Jesus meant. Jesus was saying to them, definitively, that He is God. These are the words that were spoken to Moses from the burning bush: “I am who I am… Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’[4]

With these words, Jesus was authoritatively declaring to them just who He was. He is the great I Am. He is the one who spoke with Moses from the burning bush. He is the one proclaimed by the prophets. He is the one who spoke with Abraham. He is the one who existed before all things, and by whom all things were made. With these words, Jesus is saying that He is the eternal and almighty God. There, standing in their presence, was God. And, out of the hardness of their hearts, they picked up stones.

II.

So, what does it mean when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am?” It means that Jesus is the eternal and everlasting God, the one who was before all things and through whom all things have come into being; even Abraham, even us. But, what does this mean for us? It means that all the promises of God are being fulfilled, even in the present age. Jesus is the One who, with the Father and the Spirit, created all things. Yet, He is the one promised to Adam and Eve, who will crush the head of the devil. He is the one promised to Abraham, the offspring by whom all the nations of the world will be blessed. He is the one promised to David, who would sit on the throne forever. He is the one promised through Isaiah, who will rule with justice and equity. He is the one promised to be born of a virgin. These promises are now being fulfilled.

Chiefly, being accomplished now, is the forgiveness of our sins. Christ, the eternal and everlasting God, has become flesh for this purpose – to suffer and die. We should see in this that sin is no laughing matter, no small thing. Our sins hang around our necks like a great weight. Every single sin is another shovel load as we dig ourselves down to hell; and not only us, but the whole world, also. The weight of the world’s sin such that only one sacrifice could take away the guilt – our Lord’s own self-sacrifice. Our sins prompted God to die. Mark well, the seriousness of our transgressions. But, mark as well, the depth of our God’s love for us.

Though He was without sin, though He had kept the Law of God perfectly, Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath against sin. That cup did not pass from Him; He drank it all. Not as any man did He die, but as both man and God. One person may not die for another; we are all responsible, each for his own sin. But Jesus Christ, man and God, died in place of the whole world. By His death, He secured for the world – for us – the forgiveness of our sins. And, so, this is what it means, “Before Abraham was, I am.” It means that Jesus is the eternal God, the author of all life. He is the eternal God now become flesh, to suffer and die. He is the eternal Word of God become flesh to win for us the forgiveness of our sins. He is the eternal Word of God, come to bring us life through the cross.


[1] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn8.58

[2] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn8.41

[3] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn8.51

[4] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Ex3.14

Deliver Us From Evil. Amen.

Text: Seventh Petition and Conclusion

Today, we pray the Seventh Petition, “But deliver us from evil.” Luther writes of this petition that it’s like our Lord has combined all of the previous petitions we’ve prayed and summarized them into this final request. We’ve prayed that God’s name would be holy among us, His will done, His kingdom extended, our daily bread be given and received, that the forgiveness be shone forth in our lives, and temptation resisted. By all these things, God is at work in our lives, delivering us from evil and from the evil one – which is what the Greek text originally said in this petition. We end the Lord’s Prayer this week by praying, in summary, that God our heavenly Father would deliver us from every evil of this present age in the glad confidence that He can and will do what He has promised.

I.

            Let us speak the Seventh Petition together.

But deliver us from evil.

What does this mean? We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.[1]

As we’ve already said, this petition is sort of a summary of all the previous petitions and is directed chiefly against the devil, who is the evil one actively working against God and the world. The devil would give everything to see even us without daily bread, without forgiveness, without pure doctrine, and without faith. He prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, and we pray this petition against him. We ask our heavenly Father to do three things in the Seventh Petition: We ask that He would defend us against all evils of body and soul; that He preserve us in the face of the evils which do befall us; and, we ask that, at the hour of our death, our Father would allow us to die in the faith and be carried to His side in heaven.

Yes, we do believe in the devil. The devil is not a god, for there is no other God; but, he is a fallen angel. Shortly after Creation there was a rebellion in heaven, and Lucifer and his followers were cast out. Jesus said that Satan is a liar and murderer who opposes the truth and all things good. As such, he seeks to lead all he can away from the truth of the Gospel – even, if he can, you and me. The devil uses disasters and calamities, and also pleasures, to lead us astray from God’s Word and faith. We ask in the Seventh Petition that God would preserve us from the assaults of the devil, and from all evils of body and soul. We pray that He would thwart the old, ancient foe and finally bring all his works to nothing.

Even still, there are some evils that God allows us to suffer. It has been the experience of the saints through all time that we suffer many hardships in this earthly life. Our Lord said, “In the world, you will have tribulation.”[2] St. Paul also taught that, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”[3] Our heavenly Father allows us to suffer for two reasons. Sometimes, God allows us to suffer as the earthly consequences of sin. Death and illness are good examples of this. God uses suffering for another purpose, however, and that is that He uses our earthly sufferings to discipline and train us in righteousness. In Proverbs it says, “Do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of His reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom He loves.”[4] We pray in the Seventh Petition, that God would preserve us from despairing in our trials and that would endure our suffering in faith. St. James says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.”[5]

Lastly, we pray in the Seventh Petition that, when our final hour does come, that our Lord would give us a blessed end. When I was little, I used to think this meant that the best way to die is to die in church, or else in prayer. Those wouldn’t be bad; but, what we also pray in this petition is that God our heavenly Father would grant us to remain in the one true faith until death. We pray that He would preserve us from the evil works of the devil and keep us firm in the faith amidst the evils that do happen to us, that we may meet death joyfully and without fear, and so receive the crown of righteousness won for us by Jesus Christ.

II.

            We now turn to the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s speak it together.

For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

What does this mean? This means that I should be certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Amen, amen means “yes, yes, it shall be so.”[6]

It is true that some ancient copies of the New Testament do not contain these words, including the one that Luther used in writing the Catechism, so this portion was not entirely written by Luther himself. That said, the conclusion has been prayed by the Church at large for 1500 years, and the meaning we spoke dates back to the Reformation, at least. In response to God’s invitation to pray, the Church listens and glorifies God, and ends her prayer with a bold “Amen.”

“Amen” is an old Hebrew word which means, “Yes, it shall be so,” or, “truly, it will be done,” or something similar. It is a confident assertion that things which were said are true and will be done. We end the Prayer in this glad confidence because God has invited us to pray to Him as His own dear children and has promised to hear us. God cannot lie; therefore, we know that our prayers are, indeed, heard. And, not only does God hear our prayers, but He can and does answer them. Our God is the God, the Lord of heaven and earth. By the Word of His mouth all the heavens were made, and by His breath all their host. He is the giver of all good things, who sends rain on the just and unjust alike. And, as our Lord says, if God can so feed the birds and clothe the grass, our Father can also provide for what we need.

And so, we end the prayer right where we began. With the words, “Our Father,” God invites us to pray to Him as dear children would ask their dear fathers. In response to His gracious invitation, we pray that His name would be holy among us, that His kingdom come to us and all the world, that His will be done, that we receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, that we be forgiven our sins and so forgive others, that we be strengthened against temptation, and be defended against the devil and all evil. All these things are good and pleasing to our heavenly Father, and so we gladly say, “amen,” for He will truly do all these things.

St. James said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”[7] Let us pray that God the Holy Spirit would continue to work through the Word and Sacraments, that we be strengthened and preserved in the true faith, and that we may gladly and confidently pray to our Father in heaven, who alone is able to do more than we can say or think.


 

[1] http://catechism.cph.org/en/lords-prayer.html

[2] Jn. 16:33, all Bible citations from the English Standard Version.

[3] Acts 14:22.

[4] Prov. 3:11.

[5] James 1:12.

[6] http://catechism.cph.org/en/lords-prayer.html

[7] James 1:5-6.

Born Through Promise

Text: Galatians 4:21-31

Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,” St. Paul said, “and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”[1] St. Paul wrote these inspired words to the congregation at Rome as they struggled with the question, just who were the children of Abraham, that is, of God? Was it those descended from Abraham according to the flesh? No, said Paul; but those who shared Abraham’s faith in the promise of Christ.

The Galatians faced a similar question, though earlier in time than the Romans. How does one become – and remain – a child of God? Is it through faith in the promise of Christ, as St. Paul said, or by – in addition to faith – observing the laws of Moses, as some others said. To put it into contemporary language: are the children of God those who live perfectly moral and upright lives? Or, are they those who struggle against sin and temptation – and often fall – but look to Christ for forgiveness and rescue? Those who seek to appease God by their own moral perfection will ultimately find themselves condemned by the same law they claim to uphold. But, those who have been called by the Gospel, who look to Christ for forgiveness, are set free from the condemnation of the law and are children of the Jerusalem above.

I.

This text from Galatians 4 is one that’s hard to understand on first glance. This is a text where it’s very important to know the context. The congregations of Galatia were Gentile converts to the faith who heard the Good News of Jesus Christ through the missionary work of Sts. Paul and Barnabas. As these new brothers and sisters in Christ grew in the faith and love of God, some other missionaries came to them. These other missionaries came down from Jerusalem with a supplemental message. St. Paul, indeed, laid a good groundwork by sharing with them the Good News that Jesus had died and rose for the forgiveness of their sins. However, to remain in that forgiveness, they must continue to observe the laws of Moses. By this they meant, the dietary and ceremonial laws, the moral law, and, particularly for these Gentiles, circumcision. In terms we would be familiar with: they had faith, which is good, but the Galatians needed works to be true Christians.

Tell me,” St. Paul said to the Galatians, “you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.”[2] Right. Those who came to the Galatians to add to what St. Paul taught them used Abraham as an example. So, St. Paul fired right back – from Abraham. Abraham had two sons, but only one of them came from God’s promise. Remember that God had promised that through Abraham’s offspring all the nations of the world would be blessed. After some time had passed, thinking that God was being slow to make good, Sarai had Abram lay with her servant Hagar. Hagar conceived and gave birth to Ishmael. He was the son born according to the flesh. He was not the one born according to God’s promise. That would be Isaac.

The Lord said to Abraham, “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.”[3] The Lord promised Abraham, who was 100, that his 90 year old wife, would give birth to a son. And she did. It was through this child that the Messiah and forgiveness would come: the child of the promise. The true child of Abraham, the one who would inherit the promises of God, was not the one born through the work of the flesh, but the one born according to the promise, the one born through faith.

II.

As you probably feel, this is a difficult text – but the concept less so. What is it that St. Paul is trying to stress to the Galatians? At some point you’ve heard this word from James, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”[4] St. Paul is trying to stress to the Galatians that those who are the children of God, are not those who seek to fulfill the Law themselves. For, since the Fall into Sin, the Law does not bring life – only condemnation. We hear in the Law, by this we mean the Commandments, which things are pleasing to God – but which we are unable and fail to do. If we seek to earn righteousness or to be righteous before God by good works, we will pull the whole house down around us and suffer eternal condemnation. For, whoever fails the Law in one point fails the whole thing.

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise,” St. Paul said.[5] He recalled to them earlier in the letter how it was they first received the Holy Spirit, not by their works but by hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Galatians heard through St. Paul that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, took on our human flesh. He became subject to the Law, yet kept it perfectly. By His perfect keeping of the Law, Jesus fulfilled the Law. By His death, He made the full payment for our sins. This forgiveness He gives to all through faith and, at the same time removes from us the curse of the Law. The curse of the Law is that those who fail to keep it shall die. The Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus died, so that those who believe in Him live eternally.

What does this mean for us? We, like the Galatians, are children of the promise. We have heard the Good News of Jesus Christ and have been called to faith by the working of the Holy Spirit. Though we were under the curse of the law, rightly headed to eternal death for our failure to keep even a single Commandment, that curse has been removed from us. How? By Christ becoming a curse for us. He Himself bore our sin on the cross and suffered the condemnation of the Law for us. By faith in His death we are set free. We no longer live beneath the eternal condemnation, but the eternal light of the Gospel. That is why St. Paul called the Galatians – and all who believe in the Gospel of Christ – children of the Jerusalem above.

But, as we learned on Sunday, the temptation to sin remains. One of those temptations is to turn inward into ourselves. We either tell ourselves things are good because of all the good works we have or we assume that we must be condemned for our lack. That is what the Galatians were tempted to. Any attempts to justify ourselves by works of the Law will bring only death. The true children of Abraham, rather, are those who look not to themselves but to Christ for forgiveness. By His death, Christ set us free from the guilt we deserve to bear. And so, we rejoice, as this Sunday in Lent is called. Christ, by His death and through the preaching of His Gospel, has released us from the curse of the Law. We now live freely by faith in the light of the Good News. Though for our sins we deserve eternal death, by faith we now reign in life. “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”[6] Thanks be to God.


[1] https://www.esv.org/Romans+9/

[2] https://biblia.com/bible/esv/Ga4.21-23

[3] https://biblia.com/bible/esv/Ge17.19

[4] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jas2.10

[5] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Ga4.28

[6] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Eph2.8

Forgive and Lead Us

Text: Fifth and Sixth Petitions

Today we move into the second portion of the Lord’s Prayer. As we said a few weeks back, the seven petitions can be divided into two categories: those petitions asking for blessings, and those asking for deliverance. In petitions 1-4, we asked God for blessings – for the hallowing of His name, the coming of His kingdom, for His will to be done, and our daily bread be given. In our petitions today, we move into the petitions asking for deliverance, particularly from sin and temptation. Although we are God’s children in His kingdom, we remain in the flesh. We ask in these petitions that God would not deny our prayer because of our sins, but instead, continue to forgive us and strengthen us against temptation until we enter His eternal kingdom of glory.

I.

            Let us speak the Fifth Petition and its meaning together.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.

In this petition we pause to focus on the reality of our lives here on earth. Though we have been brought into God’s kingdom by the preaching of the Word and Holy Baptism, and have been made His children through the same, we still remain in the flesh and in this world. Though the guilt of original sin was washed away in Baptism, the effects of it remain. As we remain in this flesh, the temptation to sin also remains. Original sin is the corruption of our human nature that all humans have been born with since the fall of Adam and Eve. It means that we, by nature, are inclined to rebel against God and His Word. Original Sin is forgiven in Baptism, but the inclination to sin remains in our flesh. The Old Adam still hangs around our neck, Luther would say.

And, as the temptation to sin remains, we must confess that we do, daily and often, give in. We sin much and greatly. We have transgressed against God’s Law, and we have even enjoyed it. And, for our sins, not only do we deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment, but we don’t deserve to have our prayers heard…to say nothing of them being answered. We ask in this petition that God would not remember our sins against us or deny our prayers because of them, but that He would remember His steadfast love and mercy toward us. God the Father sent forth His only Son to fulfill the Law and die as the atoning sacrifice for us. By the working of the Holy Spirit, we have been brought to faith and have received the forgiveness of our sins. We ask in this petition that God would continue to forgive us our sins by His grace, as we do sin daily and stand in great need.

Included in this petition is also a reminder of how we are to live and act toward others in this world. The petition is “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” St. John, perhaps reflecting on this petition, wrote to his flock, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins…We love because he first loved us.”[1] As we sin daily and much against God and His Commandments – and He has yet forgiven us – so we, too, are to forgive those who sin against us. St. Paul also said, “[Bear] with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”[2] God does not forgive us because we forgive; we forgive because we have first been forgiven. We ask in the Fifth Petition that God would not deny our prayers because of our sin, but continue to forgive them and also lead us to forgive those who sin against us. In the Sixth Petition, we ask that God would preserve us against temptation.

II.

            Let us speak the Sixth Petition and meaning together.

And lead us not into temptation.

What does this mean? God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.

Now, even though we have been brought into God’s Kingdom and are daily forgiven our sins by faith through the Word and Sacrament, as we’ve said, the Old Adam remains. As long as we are in the flesh we remain both saint and sinner. As sin remains, so does temptation. And, it remains in force. No one is so secure in the faith that they can’t immediately go from the most joyful moment in the forgiveness of sins to the depths and depravity of sin. Perhaps you’ve experienced this: as you leave the sanctuary, no sooner have you stepped foot outside, then have you started coveting. None of us are so sanctified that we do not feel the sting of temptation. Temptation to sin comes from three places – the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Our flesh tempts us to lust and covet, the world to doubt and deny God’s Word, and the devil all the above.

We ask in this petition that God would preserve us against the assaults of the devil, the world, and our flesh. Though we are in the flesh and daily sin much, we ask that God would strengthen and defend us against future sin. We ask that He would give us purity of mind and heart, and contentment; that He would strengthen us against the enticement of the world to deny or change what He has said; we ask that He would harden us against the old satanic foe. As we said a moment ago, “We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.”

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”[3] There are no temptations that are ultimately unique, St. Paul says. Although we are beset on all sides by temptation to sin, God has provided for us the means of escape, which we know as the Means of Grace. The Means of Grace are the ways in which God’s grace and forgiveness are given to us. They are: God’s Word, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Absolution, and, “mutual conversation and consolation of brethren.” Through these things, the Word and Sacraments, God forgives us our sins and strengthens our faith. Through these Means of Grace, God hardens and preserves us against the temptations of the devil, the world, and our flesh until such time as we receive the full victory at Christ’s return.

In these petitions, we acknowledge that we are but sinful human beings. Though we have been forgiven our sins, because of the weakness of our nature, we continue to live contrary to God’s Word and Commandments. We ask today that God would not remember our sins against us, but His mercy. We ask that by His grace through Christ, He would continue to forgive us our sins and grant us our prayers. So, we, too, will forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us. So that we may do that, we ask that God would continue to preserve among His Word and Sacrament, that our sins may be forgiven, and our faith strengthened against all temptation.


[1] 1 John 4:10, 19. English Standard Version.

[2] Col. 3:13.

[3] 1 Cor. 10:13.

When Sinners Hear God’s Word

Text: Jeremiah 26:1-15

Our readings this week, the third week in Lent are, in a word, difficult. In the Epistle, we heard St. Paul’s exhortation to walk as children of the light – to forsake the defiling passions of the flesh and live in the light of the Gospel, through which we have received the forgiveness of our sins. In the Gospel, we heard of opposition to Jesus on the part of the Pharisees, who asserted that Jesus cast out demons by the power of Satan. To the contrary, Jesus was dismantling the devil’s armor piece by piece and dividing Satan’s spoil by calling sinners to faith. In our text tonight, we heard of sinners’ natural reaction to the preaching of God’s Word. Jeremiah went into the temple to preach the Law, so that the people might repent and be forgiven. Instead, they prepared to kill the messenger.

In a few ways these readings are good illustrations of the Second and Third Petitions, Thy Kingdom Come and Thy Will Be Done. In these petitions, we pray that God, by His Holy Spirit, would increase His Church on earth through the Word and Sacraments and that, by these same things, we would be strengthened and kept firm in the faith while the devil is defeated. Our text this evening shows us by a negative example God’s desired reaction to the preaching of His Word – the reaction He Himself creates within us. In contrast to the religious leaders of Jeremiah’s day, the proper response to the preaching of God’s Word is repentance and faith, which is created in us by the Holy Spirit.

I.

Jeremiah, as you know, was one of what we call the Major Prophets. His writings take up some 52 chapters and his ministry lasted around forty years, beginning from his call in 626 and lasting until the fall of Jerusalem. His call from God was a difficult one, “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and plant,”[1] the Lord said. Jeremiah was to speak against the people of Jerusalem and Judah the judgments of God; in His words, “For all their evil in forsaking Me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshipped the works of their own hands.”[2] The Lord called Jeremiah to preach the Law against His people so that they might repent and be forgiven.

That is why the Lord sent Jeremiah to the temple in our text. We heard,

‘Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds.’[3]

God does not desire the death of anyone, but that he repent and live. God is righteous, and has revealed to us His will in the Ten Commandments. To disobey the Commandments is to disregard God’s will. And that disobedience brings punishment. Yet, the Lord is also merciful. To those repent of their sins, His mercy and grace extend from everlasting to everlasting. The Lord sent Jeremiah to call out His people’s sins that they might repent and be forgiven – and the destruction of Jerusalem be averted.

II.

But, instead, we heard, “When Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, ‘You shall die!’[4] Just like the Pharisees would to preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus, the people of Jerusalem closed their hearts to God’s Word. When the Lord called out their transgressions through Jeremiah, He desired repentance. But, instead, they insisted that they had done no wrong. Inflamed by the preaching of the false prophets, who preached only peace and tolerance – never sin and forgiveness – the people of Jerusalem moved to put Jeremiah to death.

Before they could carry out their sentence, however, the officials of Judah came up from the palace to the temple. Our text ends with them sitting in the entry – the place where trials happen – and listening to the charges against Jeremiah. What happens after the text is wonderful and should’ve been the response of the people. It says in verse 16, “Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, ‘This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.’[5] The reason they gave for believing Jeremiah was that the prophet Micah had also said the same thing some 100 years before. The people in his time, including Hezekiah, repented and believed – and they should, too. In this interesting role reversal, it’s the secular officials who believe and the religious ones who don’t. But, isn’t that also the picture we receive in the Gospel? The sinners and tax collectors, the prostitutes and Gentiles believe, while the leaders don’t. They heard God’s Law and repented of their sin – and were forgiven – while the Pharisees claimed they had no need.

III.

We have in the texts this week a negative example – how not to respond to the preaching of the Law. The Lord sent Jeremiah to preach the Law, so that the people might know their sinfulness, repent, and be forgiven. Had the people repented, the Lord would have not punished Jerusalem with destruction. The Lord does not desire the death of anyone. Unfortunately, we know what happened. God desires not the death of anyone, so He continues to send preachers today to proclaim both the Law and the Gospel. The Law is what shows us our need for forgiveness, and the Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Law is that we have not kept God’s commandments, we have repeatedly transgressed against them. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves, and we truly do deserve God’s righteous wrath. The Gospel is that God our heavenly Father, out of His great love for us, sent His Son to die for us. Jesus fulfilled God’s Law and yet died to pay the price of our sin.

Those who hear those words, the Law and the Gospel, and believe, receive the forgiveness of their sins and eternal life. But, these things – repentance and faith – are not things we do of ourselves; they are work of the Holy Spirit. It is by His work that when we hear the Law, we are brought to repentance. It is His work that, by the Gospel, faith is created in our hearts. We pray this week that we would not be like the Pharisees before Jesus, or the priests and prophets before Jeremiah, but that through the preaching of the Law, the Holy Spirit would bring us to repent of our sins and turn from them and, through the Gospel, create in us a faith that trusts in Christ alone for forgiveness. May the Lord create in us ever a repentant heart through the preaching of the Law, and a trusting heart through the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection.


[1] Jer. 1:10.

[2] Jer. 1:16.

[3] Jer. 26:2-3.

[4] Jer. 26:8.

[5] Jer. 26:16.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

Text: Fourth Petition

We learned last week that the Lord’s Prayer is divided up into seven petitions; it has seven different requests and supplications to God. In the first four, we are mainly asking God for different blessings, and in the last three for deliverance. We ask God in petitions 1-3 for spiritual blessings: that His name would be holy among us, that His kingdom would continue to come to us by His Word and Sacraments, and that His will would be done here and around the world. These are all spiritual things, after which we then turn to material blessings. Jesus told us in the Gospel to seek first God’s kingdom and all things would be added to us, and in the Lord’s Prayer He reinforces that. Daily bread includes all the things that are needed to support this body and life. In the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that God would continue to provide for the bodily needs of ourselves and others, and that we would receive these things with thanksgiving.

I.

Give us this day our daily bread.

What does this mean? God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.[1]

If you remember back to last year, or to your confirmation days, you might remember that in the First Article of the Creed we confess our faith God in the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth. God, our heavenly Father, is the creator of all that exists. He formed the heavens and the earth. He molded man from the dust of the earth and made woman out of Adam’s side. We learn these things throughout Scripture, but especially in the first chapters of Genesis. Remember, also, that God isn’t just the creator of all things, but He is the preserver of all things as well. We do not believe in God the Watchmaker, who puts everything together and leaves it to work on its own. Rather, Scripture reveals God to be actively involved in His creation – chiefly in sending His Son for our salvation, but also even by providing daily bread and sustenance for all living things.

In the Psalms, for example, it talks about God who, “set the earth on its foundations… [who] covered it with the deep as with a garment… [who makes] springs gush forth in the valleys… [who makes] grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate,” who gives food to all things in due season.[2] In another part of the Psalms it says, “The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made… The eyes of all look to You [O Lord], and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand; You satisfy the desire of every living thing.”[3] Jesus said,

“If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you…Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”[4]

God our heavenly Father, out of His great love and mercy for all things, gives to all things their daily bread. And, just as the Catechism says, daily bread “includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body.” It includes everything we mentioned and more. When we think daily bread, we think mostly food and clothing and shelter. In this petition, we pray for everything that goes into those things – good weather, fruitful fields and harvests, good workers, good government and support services, deliverance from war, and so on. In this way, this is an especially far-reaching prayer, since we are asking God to continue to provide for all our bodily needs, and the needs of others, and everything that goes with that. We also pray against the devil here, because if he could, he would take away everything we have and drag us down to hell with him. He is actively at work disrupting the world and tempting people to despair. The Fourth Petition is directed also against the devil.

II.

Give us this day our daily bread.

What does this mean? God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

So, what do we pray for in the Fourth Petition? We pray that, as God already does, that He would continue to give us our daily bread; that He would lead us to realize this and receive all these things with thanksgiving; and, that we would be content with what we have so that we may share our blessings with others. Jesus said that His Father clothes even the lilies of the field, He gives food to the young ravens that cry, He sends rain on both the just and unjust alike. We pray in this petition that He would continue these things among us also. We ask that, as God has provided for us up to now, that He would continue to do so. We pray that He would continue to send favorable weather so that our crops can grow, good workers so that the products we need may be made and repaired, and good rulers so that we may live in peace.

We also pray in this petition that not only would God continue to provide for us and the world, but that He would lead us to realize this and receive His gifts with thanksgiving. There’s a difference between believing that everything we have comes either from hard work or chance, and believing that we have what we do because God has blessed us. Indeed, we do work hard, but it is by God’s blessing that our work is productive. St. Paul might say that we water the field, but God provides the growth. We ask in this petition that God, by His Holy Spirit through His Word, would teach us that He gives us all things out of love. All that we need is already known by God, who provides for us as a loving father would his children. We ask that we, in turn, would be like the one leper who returned to give thanks – and not like the other nine.

Lastly, we pray in this petition that, receiving God’s gifts with thanksgiving, we would also be content with what He has given us. It is the truth that our sinful flesh always wants more. I can think at least seven Commandments that are meant to direct us away from the sinful pursuit of things we don’t truly need. St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”[5] If we learn to receive our bread with thanksgiving from a God who loves to provide, then we can also freely share with those who are in need. It may be that in doing so, God is using us to provide daily bread for others. We pray in this petition that we may be content with God’s gifts, and use the things He gives to provide for others in need.

In the Fourth Petition, we confess that God our heavenly Father is the maker and preserver of all things. He gives to all things their food in due season. We ask that He would continue to provide for us our daily bread, that we would receive His gifts with thanksgiving, and that we would be content with what we have so we may share with others. Next week, we’ll learn again the Fifth and Sixth Petitions: Forgive us our trespasses and lead us not into temptation.


[1] http://catechism.cph.org/en/lords-prayer.html

[2] https://www.esv.org/Psalm+104/

[3] https://www.esv.org/Psalm+145/

[4] https://www.esv.org/Matthew+6/

[5] 1 Tim. 6:8.

Wrestling with God

Text: Genesis 32:22-32

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives…[The Lord] disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.”[1] These words of King Solomon were shared with the congregation in the letter to the Hebrews. They were meant to encourage the congregation in their life together, even as they faced suffering in their lives. Their suffering was not a sign that God had abandoned them. Rather, though their suffering, God was at work, discipling them as sons and conforming them to the image of His Son. The result would be an increase in the fruits of righteousness among them and a share in God’s holiness.

Though the patriarch Jacob lived some ten generations even before Solomon, he also believed this. On the eve of meeting with his brother Esau, just when he thought things couldn’t get any worse – they did. A man came and wrestled with him until the break of morning. Jacob wrestled and prevailed against the man, whom we now know to have been the Lord. Jacob wrestled with God, and prevailed over his suffering, by trusting in God’s Word and holding Him to it.

I.

When we heard these texts last year, I pointed out that Luther thought this lesson from Genesis was just about as hard as they come. No one, at least by Luther’s reckoning, seemed to know how to make heads or tails of it. It kind of comes out of nowhere and isn’t explicitly mentioned again really anywhere other than the prophet Hosea. You’d think it’d come up at least in Hebrews 11, the great “faith,” chapter. Jacob is mentioned there, but not for this event. Thematically though, it definitely is connected to the account of the Canaanite woman from Matthew 15, which was the Gospel reading this week.

We find Jacob, as we said, on the night before he was to meet with his brother. Some time has passed since Jacob stole his brother’s birthright, and he was hopeful that the time would’ve healed some of the wound. When Jacob crossed into Edom – his brother’s land – he sent message seeking his favor. Jacob’s servants came back and told him that Esau was coming to meet him…with 400 men. Fearfully, Jacob divided up his camp so that Esau couldn’t raid all of it. He sent gifts ahead of him to curry his brother’s favor. He sent everyone he could ahead of him and stayed behind by himself. He prayed that night, “[O Lord] Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”[2]

Still, Jacob was filled with fear. And, just when he thought things couldn’t get worse – they did. “Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.”[3] The Hebrew for wrestling here is related to the word for dust and gives the sense that the dust or dirt was being kicked up as they wrestled. This was a serious battle, and Jacob must have truly felt that, not only would Esau certainly kill him the next day, but this guy might even take him down first. Perhaps, God had given up on him. But, even though his heart was telling him these things, he didn’t give up. He remembered that God had promised his offspring would be like the sand of the sea. Though his hip was put out of its socket, Jacob remembered God’s promise and prevailed.

II.

Jacob wrestled against the Lord and prevailed. He prevailed because, even though doubts assaulted him, he trusted the Lord’s promise. Even though everything appeared the opposite – God cannot lie. Indeed, Jacob’s offspring have become as numerous as the sand of sea; all who share Jacob’s faith are his offspring. The Lord said to Jacob, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”[4] Jacob was disciplined by the Lord and the result was righteousness and strengthened faith within Jacob, now Israel.

I think it’s fair to say that we also struggle and suffer in this life. Sometimes, our trials seem to be more than we can bear. And, sometimes, it feels as if God had set Himself against us. After all, why else would so many bad things happen to us? St. Paul also sometimes felt that way. He quoted this passage from the Psalms to the Romans, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”[5] Then he said that, no, nothing in all creation – whether suffering or tribulation or distress of any sort – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

St. Paul, and Jacob and the Canaanite woman before him, knew that God has made a sure and certain promise to us – that He forgives our sins and will forever watch over us. Or else, why would He have sent His Son? God our heavenly Father sent His only-begotten Son, to bear our sin and be our savior. He give His own Son into death for us, so that we might not die eternally, but live in with Him in His eternal kingdom. If God has so loved us, would He then turn and abandon us? I think not. No, God our Lord and Father is our ever-faithful guide and protector. He never will abandon us or allow us to suffer harm unjustly.

Knowing that God will never abandon us gives us hope and confidence, but the fact remains that we do suffer in this life. It would be a vain and false promise for me to tell you that you will not suffer in this life. However, I can tell you that your suffering is not without purpose. Hear again the words to the Hebrews, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives…[The Lord] disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.” In our times of suffering, God is at work within us, training us in righteousness. Through suffering we learn patience and endurance, and we grow mature in the faith.

Still, in times of suffering we feel awful. Often, our suffering persists for some time. It sometimes feels as if God is against us – as Jacob certainly felt. However, God is most certainly not against us. He is for us, even at the cost of His only Son. Jacob wrestled and prevailed by trusting in God’s promises, and so do we. As St. Paul also said, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”[6]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Heb. 12:5–6, 9.

[2] Gen. 32:11-12.

[3] Gen. 32:24.

[4] Gen. 32:28.

[5] Rom. 8:36.

[6] Rom. 8:37.