And My Mouth Will Declare Your Praise

Text: Mark 7:31-37

Listen to the sermon here

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” The Church has sung these words of King David for nearly three millennia. They come from Psalm 51, the great psalm of confession. These words spring from a terrible time in David’s life where he had fallen very wide of God’s commandments. After he saw Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop, he began lusting after her and scheming ways to get her into his bed. It resulted ultimately in the death of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, whom David had put at the frontline hoping that he would be killed in battle. The prophet Nathan made known to David his sin, and the king was brought to repentance.

The words that he sang echo true for all humanity: we were brought forth in sin and conceived in iniquity. That is, today, we also confess that by nature our ears are closed to God’s Word and our mouths are used for anything other than speaking His pure and saving doctrine. But, as in our text Jesus opened the ears and loosened the tongue of a man born deaf and unable to speak rightly, so He speaks to us His divine, “Ephphatha.” Through His saving Word, Christ opens our deaf ears and loosens our mute tongues to sing His praises and proclaim the forgiveness of sins that is found in Him.

I.

We pick up this week in the seventh chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel. The last time we were in Mark was a little over a month ago, when we looked at the Feeding of the Four Thousand. We spoke then about our Lord’s great compassion for all people. The people assembled at the feeding were not Jews, but Gentiles. We learned from that text that our gracious Lord has compassion on all people, including us, and He provides for all our needs of body and soul. That text, Mark 8:1-9, is what directly follows our Gospel today. These readings together, along with the whole of Mark 7, teach an important part of Jesus’ message: Jesus became incarnate for sins of all people. So, we find in Mark 7 Jesus journeying through Gentile territory.

St. Mark writes, “He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him.” We learned last month that Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities along the cost of the Mediterranean. And, actually, some translators don’t really know what to do here, because Sidon is a bit north of Tyre. The verse ends with Jesus in the Decapolis, the ten cities, southeast of the Sea of Galilee. So, in the days when most travel was done by foot, it’s odd that Jesus would go in that sequence; some say that there is an error in the Greek text. Not so. St. Mark is simply demonstrating for us the point Jesus has already made: He has come to die for the sins of all people, so He’s going to tell all people – and that involves going all over the place.

II.

As He was preaching and teaching, some brought to Him a man who was born deaf. As a result, though able to speak, he would’ve been prevented from speaking plainly. (Remember that idea for later.) There’s no indication from the text that these people knew exactly who Jesus was, which is kind of a theme in Mark, but they knew that Jesus had great power – power to heal. So they begged Jesus to lay His hand on their friend.

Taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.” Sometimes in the Gospels when Jesus performed a miracle, it wasn’t received in an entirely right way. After the feeding of the five thousand, they tried to make Jesus king by force since He filled their stomachs. Perhaps perceiving that the crowd might again misinterpret the miracles He was about to perform, Jesus took the man aside in private. As the man was at that time unable to hear, Jesus took the time to demonstrate what He was going to do – He was going to open the man’s ears and loosen his tongue. Jesus may also have been preparing us to understand how God works: through the external, spoken Word, and through the Sacraments – which are the Word combined with physical actions for the forgiveness of sins.

Looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released and he spoke plainly.” After taking the man aside, Jesus conversed with God the Father, and groaned. That is what St. Mark says. Sighing is what you do when you’re angry; groaning is what you do when you hurt. It pains Jesus to see the havoc that Satan has wreaked by the Fall into Sin. Because of sin, men are born with terrible ailments, contract ruinous diseases, and die. Jesus came to put an end to these things, and actually the healing today itself foreshadows the time where there will be no more affliction, disease, or death. When St. Mark says that man had a speech impediment, he’s using a specific word that is found only one other place in the Bible. God says in Isaiah 35, “‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God…will come and save you!’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Jesus spoke and the man was healed. This is what today’s healing means – in Christ, the salvation of God has come to man.

III.  

Jesus groaned and said to the man born deaf and unable to speak correctly, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” Since ancient times the Church has seen in our text today a fitting opportunity to talk about our Lord’s work in Holy Baptism. In fact, the Baptismal liturgy of the ancient Church included a moment where the pastor would touch the child (or adult’s) ears and mouth and say, “Ephphatha.” In Baptism, through the application of our Lord’s Word in and with the water, our sins are washed away. We are given the gifts of faith and eternal life. King David prays in Psalm 51 for a clean heart and a right spirit. Those are received through the preaching of Christ’s Word and in Baptism where the Word is applied to us in a tangible way.

Thanks be to God for this great Sacrament, for we stand in dire need of it. We may not have been born deaf and unable to speak, but our ears and mouths are anything but innocent. By nature, our ears are closed to the Word of God. Instead of hearing God’s Word preached and taught, we devote our ears to hearing gossip and other sinful things. Instead of using our tongues to proclaim the glory and mercy of Christ, to preach His pure and saving doctrine, we use them to deceive others and glorify ourselves at their expense. In the text, it says the man’s tongue was released. Literally, it reads, “the bond of his tongue was loosed.” Similarly, our tongues are held captive by Satan until our Lord frees us.

In our text, the Lord travels quite a bit – from Tyre and Sidon to the Sea of Galilee – so that all people may hear His Gospel. Today, Jesus continues to travel the world through the preaching of His Word. He continues to send pastors, missionaries, teachers, and us, to share the forgiveness of sins found only in Him. Jesus speaks to us, even today, “Be opened.” Through His Word, in Baptism especially and in preaching, Christ opens our deaf ears and loosens tongues to sing His praise. Our ears, He opens to hear His Word rightly – to hear that all Scripture is about Him, about His grace and mercy. Our tongues, He loosens from Satan’s bonds to speak His Word rightly – tongues which were formerly used for deceit and murder, are now used to proclaim Christ, and Him crucified for the sins of the world.

Thanks be to God that He has caused His Word to be preached among us and has washed us through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. As with King David whose ears and lips were mired in sin, through these things God has given us a new and right spirit – the Holy Spirit. He has forgiven us our sins. He has spoken His Ephphatha to us. He has taken our ears and opened them to understand His Word and caused our tongues to speak it plainly. Let us pray: O Lord, let my lips be opened by your divine and saving Word, and my mouth be led to declare your praise all the day.

Compassionate Lightning

Text: Mark 8:1-9

“Lightning never strikes the same place twice,” or so the saying goes. It’s a silly idiom that we use (an idiom is a phrase that makes sense in one language, but not another) to comfort someone who’s fallen on rough times. What we mean by, “lightning never strikes the same place twice,” is that, whatever bad thing that happened to you – it’s probably not going to happen again. It was a one-time bad occurrence that shouldn’t defray your hopes for the future. Unfortunately, science has shown us that lightning can, and often does, strike the same place twice. For example, lightning strikes the Empire State Building an average of 23 times a year; the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center even more than that. Plus, many of us can probably attest from our own lives that bad things do often repeat themselves.

Maybe if we tweak the meaning a little bit, it’ll still work. Maybe “lightening doesn’t strike twice,” means that something really good won’t happen to you again. I’m kind of a cynical person, so I’m fond of that. If something really good happens to you – don’t count on it happening again any time soon. But, there, again, we can find some cracks. For example, Texas native Joan Ginther has won the lottery 4 times: $5.4 million in ‘93, $2 million in ‘06, $3 million in ‘08, and $10 million in 2010. And, if you will, there’s another exception to the rule in our Gospel text. In our text Jesus feeds a multitude of people a second time. In Mark 6 He fed the 5,000 and then our text He feeds a multitude of people again. Jesus had compassion on the people and fed them, lest they grow weak on the way home. Luckily for us, like lightning, Jesus strikes the same place more than once. Out of His compassion for us, our Lord provides for all our needs of body and soul.

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Our text this week follows hot on the heels of the events of Mark 7. After Jesus fed the 5,000 in chapter 6, He sent the Disciples on ahead of Him in a boat. They were making headway across the Sea of Galilee painfully until Jesus came up to them, walking on the water, and got into the boat with them. When the Lord of wind and wave stepped into the boat, all things became peaceful. They got to the other side and after a little bit some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem to pick a fight. Their contention was that Jesus’ Disciples were (and therefore He was) in violation of the Law for not washing before they ate. Jesus put them in their place by demonstrating that it isn’t what goes into the mouth that makes one unclean, but what comes out of the heart. St. Mark gives us a little aside in the text that Jesus was thereby declaring all foods clean; and, by extension, all people.

In Mark 7 we see Christ demonstrating His love for all people by breaking down the distinction between Jew and Gentile. Immediately after that conversation with the Pharisees, He went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon, a pagan area, and there healed a Gentile woman’s daughter. Then, He continued on through Gentile areas healing, teaching, preaching. St. Mark writes, “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered,” a crowd of Gentiles, “[having] nothing to eat, He called His disciples to Him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.’” As Jesus was traveling through the Gentile areas preaching and teaching the Gospel, He found the great crowd gathered around Him had nothing to eat. Fearing that they would faint along the way to their homes, for some had come from afar ways away, Jesus had compassion on them and desired to feed them.

His Hiscompassion was met with disbelief by the Disciples. They answered Him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Something is lost in the translation here. In English if you move a word around in a sentence, it can drastically change its entire meaning. In Greek, you can put words anywhere you want and the meaning will stay the same. However, you can express emphasis by putting words in certain places. In the Disciples’ response to Jesus’ desire, not only are they doubting Jesus’ ability to provide but, if He should manifest some miracle, it would be wasted on these people. I.e., Gentiles, not descendents of Abraham, us.

Not deterred, Jesus asked the Disciples how many loaves they had, 7. He had the crowds sit down, took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and fed the people. And then they must’ve’ve found some fish, because this meal had two courses. Jesus fed 4,000 people to the full with 7 loaves of bread and then topped them off with a second round of fish. Jesus is a most gracious host. St. Mark writes that the 4,000 people, “ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.” Those baskets were the typical Roman bread basket, each holding 50 loaves. In total there were about 350 loaves’ worth of bread left over. Our compassionate and gracious Lord provided for the Gentile crowd.

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We can learn a wonderful lesson from this text. Which is, that our Lord Jesus Christ is gracious and compassionate. By becoming flesh, He humbled Himself by becoming subject to the needs of our bodies and knows, personally, what we need. He know that, because we are in the body, we need things like shelter, clothing, friends, food and water. In our text Jesus provided one of the most basic and important needs: daily bread. In the Small Catechism we get to confess some things that might shed light on our lesson today. I invite you to open up to page 324 and find the Fourth Petition. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, right in the middle of it we ask our Heavenly Father for our daily bread. Luther writes what this petition means. He says,

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.

God provides daily bread for everyone, but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to recognize that everything that we have comes from Him, and know by it how He feels about us. God loves you and gives you all things because He desires you to be well-fed and kept. True, it seems that we often consider ourselves on the famine side rather than the feast side, but God has never failed to provide what we need to live. To teach us this, Christ said to those who sought Him after the feeding of the 5,000, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”

In this life God provides for all we need. He gives us food and drink, house and home, land, animals, and all that we have. Why? Because He loves us. Christ demonstrates His power, and desire, to do so by feeding the 4,000 in our text. These people were not of the chosen people of Israel, but those who were born outside the covenant, who held to Christ in faith. Such are we. On us Christ has had compassion. He gives us all we need to support this body and life because He is gracious. And, He has given His own body and blood into death for the forgiveness of sins, so that we may eat of it and live forever. In our text Jesus shows that He is able to provide for our bodies, and He does so because He loves us. Soon, He will also provide for our souls. God grant that we receive His supper for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith, and in the confidence that our gracious and compassionate Lord provides for all our needs of body and soul.

Blessed Endurance

Texts: Daniel 12:1-3; Mark 13:1-13

Jesus said to one of His disciples, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” In our text last week Jesus taught the people to beware of the scribes. Afterward, He and the Disciples left the temple and one of them marveled at its wonderful stones and buildings. Buildings are temporary, even the temple, said Jesus; There will be a time when not one of those stones will be left standing. A minor fulfillment of this prophecy would come some 40 years later when the Romans come to destroy Jerusalem. Its major fulfillment will be at the return of Christ when He sets all things in order.

We’ve now hit the final two Sundays of the church year, and our readings take a turn toward the somewhat dire. For example, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” That doesn’t quite sound like the Gospel words we’re used to, or maybe prefer. We might’ve forgotten that Jesus Himself said that He did not come to bring peace, but division. (Lk. 12:51) That is the result when sinful man hears the Word without the aid of the Holy Spirit. He rejects it and those – like us – who receive it with joy. In our world today, and increasingly in times to come, this results in brother delivering brother to death, hating each other on account of Christ’s holy name.

Just where is Jesus going with this? “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Jesus tells us all this plainly so that we will not be deceived. My first sermon as a pastor I used the phrase, “The times, they are a changin.” This is going to become increasingly true of the world’s tolerance for the one true faith. It’s going to get worse, until it won’t. Christ tells us all these things so that we may have the blessed assurance, the blessed endurance, that we will be saved in the resurrection of the flesh.

  1.  

We turn back to the the text. The occasion is that upon leaving the temple, a remark is given about how great the buildings are. For a first-century Jew, the rebuilt temple of Herod the Great was about as close to the glory of Solomon as one could get. Surely its storied halls were a sign of God’s benevolent love. Not so, according to Jesus. The larger context is that we are in Holy Week. Jesus had already cleansed the Temple of those buying and selling, and last week He set the scribes straight. He is endeavoring now to tell the Disciples what will soon happen to them, and what will happen to the Church before His return. Jesus says,

See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.”

There again is why Jesus is telling us these things, so that we are not led astray. Scripture tells us that Christ will come again in the same way that He left – on the clouds – and the whole world will see it. But that will not stop many from falsely coming in His name. Recent history has shown us examples of that, as in ancient history some claimed to be Moses reincarnated and led many people to their deaths. There will be wars and rumors, but these things must take place. And yet, these are but the beginning.

This continues to bear immediate implications for the Disciples. “They will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.” This was true for the Apostles. Save St. John, all died martyrs’ deaths, along with many other early and present-day Christians. St. Paul was beaten in synagogues, stood before governors, and even Caesar before his martyrdom in Rome. They all stood before governors and kings bearing the Word of Christ. We, likewise, are called to bear witness to Christ before the world. Some of us may be called to suffer directly for His sake.

That is a scary thought, though, isn’t it? Many of us struggle sharing the faith with people in our regular lives; how could we possibly testify before kings? At various times in the early church there were persecutions. But, if a Christian brought in would just offer a small sacrifice to the gods, all would be forgiven. They could just forget all the bad stuff. Do you know how many are remembered in history for doing that? None. For Jesus says, “When they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”

We have been given the Words of the Holy Spirit. We hear them weekly in church, we have them in written form in the Holy Scriptures, and we have all received the Holy Spirit in our hearts through the washing of Holy Baptism, whereby our sins are forgiven and faith is received. Jesus says that things are going to get worse. More and more persecutions of our faith will come, but Jesus is telling us these things so that we do not lose heart. When these things do come, we will endure. We will speak not our own words, but the words of the Holy Spirit. Jesus also says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

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Many of you probably know and love the hymn, “Blessed Assurance.” It is actually based off a verse from our Epistle text: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” The author to the Hebrews is reminding them and us that we have been sprinkled clean with the blood of Christ and washed pure from our sins through Holy Baptism. That is our blessed assurance in the times of trial that we are in now and in the ones to come. This blessed assurance gives us what I would call the blessed endurance. We have the endurance of the Holy Spirit, given to those whose names are written in the Book of Life.

The Lord gives us a picture of where this blessed endurance leads in Daniel 12. Our Old Testament text is one of the most beloved passages in the Bible that speak specifically about the resurrection of the dead. We confess it almost every Sunday in the Creed, but what will it look like?

There shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

The Lord tells Daniel that there shall be a time of great tribulation, a great persecution of the true faith of the Church, such as has never been until that time. But, those who belong to the Lord will be delivered – everyone whose name is written in the Book of Life. That’s you. When you were baptized your name was written in the Book of Eternal life and inscribed upon Christ’s palms. When He stands before the throne to plead on behalf of sinners, He intercedes for you. When we die we go immediately to heaven and are with Christ. We become those who are standing before the throne with palm branches in our hands as we await the Resurrection. When Christ returns, He will raise our bodies from the dust of the earth and bring us into the New Heaven and New Earth.

We’ve covered some pretty heavy stuff today. We began with the teaching of Christ that more persecutions will come. Before He returns, the world will grow increasingly cold to the warmth of the Gospel and we who bear it in our hearts through Baptism. We may be called to suffer for His sake, but we need not worry what to say, because it will be the Holy Spirit who will speak through us. St. Paul writes that He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion in the day of Christ. This is the blessed endurance that we have received. The Holy Spirit will keep us in the true faith through all persecutions until the return of Christ. When He comes back, our bodies will be raised to shine like the stars and we will live forever in both soul and body with Christ and those who love Him.

Everything – Everything = Everything

Text: Mark 10:17-22 (23-31)

“How do you get to heaven? Well, I’m a good person.” That’s what most people think. Or, at least, that’s what you hear at funerals. “So-and-So was a good person.” They’re meant to be words of comfort, and they’ve probably come from my mouth; but when I hear that, in my head I always ask, “Why?” What do you mean? Do you mean that they were a morally good person? Okay, I’ll give them that – at least on the outside. Were they then a good enough person morally to get to heaven, though? Is that even the right thing to say, “So-and-So was a good person,”?

If God had a list of clichés that He hates to hear, I’m sure that “I’m a good person,” would be on there. Do you know why? With those four words the devil cuts the cross and Jesus out of the picture. It’s marvelous. We see it our text. The rich young ruler comes up to Jesus and asks Him what he can do to inherit eternal life, and then he rejects the answer Jesus gave, figuring that he was already a good person. He was already a good person, so he didn’t need Jesus. The devil wants us to answer the question, “How do you get to heaven,” with those four words instead of the ones God’s Word gives: “Jesus died for me.” Of our own powers, we will never say that. The Bible says no one can call Jesus Lord except by the Holy Spirit. By the works of man salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

I.

In the text we’re couched square in between the time of Jesus’ transfiguration and the Triumphal Entry. We have here a period of intensified instruction. During this time Jesus predicted His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins three times. All three times the answer He was looking for (amen) was rejected: first, by Peter, then by the rest of the Disciples, then by James and John – who wanted to be seated in glory. The whole point of Jesus’ teaching is that He is going to suffer and die for the forgiveness of sins so that our trespasses may no longer be held against us. He is suffering so that we can be given salvation as a gift.

Now, as Jesus was setting out on His journey toward Jerusalem, the text says, “a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’[1] Have you ever met someone for the first time and made a total fool of yourself? Maybe you called them the wrong name or sneezed on them, or in whatever other way made yourself the butt of a joke. It’s called getting started off on the wrong foot, and it’s what the young man in our text is doing. To start with, the man calls Jesus, “teacher.” This isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s definitely a red flag. Anyone who believes in Jesus in the Gospels calls Him, “Lord, Son of David,” or something similar. Those who address Him as teacher are the Jewish authorities who see Jesus as just another rabbi, whose opinion people are to seek.

The man really steps in it, though, because he puts these two words together: good teacher. See, if Jesus is just a teacher to you, why call Him good? Jesus rebuffs the man from Scripture, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”[2] I’ve said before, aside from the demons and few others, nobody gets it in Mark’s Gospel. Nobody gets that Jesus is out to die, that He is going to suffer and die for the forgiveness of sins. The man, believing that Jesus is just a teacher, is asking Him what must be done to earn eternal life. It’s not a stupid question, but it’s definitely the wrong one.

Jesus lets him have it. “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ”[3] There it is. What must we do to get into heaven? Follow the commandments. Perfectly. Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie. If you want to earn eternal life, Jesus says, go for it. Keep the commandments. But remember – it’s not just your actions that count, but the things you don’t do, and your thoughts either way. Jesus shows us that in the Sermon on the Mount. If you want to earn eternal life, go for it. Knock yourself out; But, if you fail once – in thought, in word, or deed – it’s over, and you’re going to the eternal hell of fire where there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth. Deal?

What does the man say? “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”[4] The text says that Jesus looked at the man and loved him. Certainly his zeal for God’s Word was commendable. His desire to live according to God’s commandments was laudable. But, there was just one thing. Jesus said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”[5] The man thought he had all the commandments down, but he missed one: the First. He had all his ducks in a row, but he wasn’t ready to forsake his possessions and take up the cross of Christ. Instead, he went away sorrowful.

II.

How difficult it will be, Jesus says, for those having possessions to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. To inherit the kingdom of God one must keep a perfect guard upon their heart and mind by obeying God’s Law to completion, which means forsaking all things – family, home, possessions, and life – to follow Christ, and Him alone. Upon hearing this, the Disciples were exceedingly astonished. “Who then can be saved?” With man it is impossible.

With these words, Christ puts us all in our place. We all think we’re good people. On the outside, it appears that way, too. We are present in the community, we give our offerings, we give keeping the commandments the good old college try. But if you think that you are going to get into heaven because of those things, you might as well give it up now, because you still lack one thing. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, you will not get into heaven. Unless you give up your cabin, your farm, your devotion to the Bison, your whatever, and spend all that you have and are seeking to learn and obey God’s Word – you will not earn either God’s grace or your way to heaven. With man it is impossible.

With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”[6] According to man’s power, salvation is impossible, but not according to God’s. My friends, when the rich young man went to Jesus looking for a way to earn his way to heaven, Jesus sent him away in sorrow. The answer to his question was right before his eyes, even though he didn’t want hear it. What must we do to inherit the kingdom of heaven? Absolutely nothing, except believe in Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”[7] That is what one must do to inherit eternal life. There is nothing that we must do except know and believe in Jesus Christ, and Him crucified for our sins. Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Therefore, He emptied Himself by taking on the form of a servant. The eternal Son of God took on our human flesh and was tempted in every way, yet without sin. In that way He became the perfect sacrifice for all sin on the cross. By His death you have been forgiven all your sins.

Through the preaching of His Word and through the Sacraments, Christ comes to you with that forgiveness. You don’t have to search and scour where to find Jesus. He finds you here. He found you at the fount when you received the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith. He finds you here, at His altar, as He gives you to eat of His body and drink of His blood for the forgiveness of sins.

The rich man went to Jesus figuring that he was already a good man. According to himself, he had kept all the commandments since he was baby. Jesus showed that he still lacked one thing: faith in Christ. Without that, all the riches in the world, and all the righteousness that we appear to have, come to nothing. What must you do to inherit the kingdom of heaven? Believe in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Call yourself a disgusting sinner, but one clothed with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk. 10:17.

[2] Mk. 10:18.

[3] Mk. 10:19.

[4] Mk. 10:20.

[5] Mk. 10:21.

[6] Mk. 10:27.

[7] 1 Cor. 2:2.

Treading Water?

Text: Mark 6:45-56

We’ve been having a lot of boats in our readings lately. We’ve seen this particularly in the Gospels, as Jesus instructed the Disciples in Mark 3 to have a boat ready for Him in case the crowds started to crush Him. This week both our Old Testament and Gospel readings contain boats. In the reading from Genesis we hear God’s promise to Noah that He will never again destroy all flesh with a flood. As a sign of that promise He gave the rainbow. When God sees the rainbow, He will remember the promise He has made. This promise foreshadows the blood of the covenant. When God sees that we have been marked by the blood of Christ, He remembers His promise to pass over our sins and remember them no more.

In the Gospel reading, we have another boat. Today, Jesus instructs the disciples to return across the Sea of Galilee while He dismisses the crowd that He had just fed with the five loaves and two fish. As they were going across a wind arose, such that the disciples were making no headway. Then they saw Jesus walking upon the sea. Upon seeing Him, they thought He was a ghost; but when He enters the boat, the wind ceases and they make it to the other side.

In many ways the Church has used the ark or the boat as illustrations of the Church. For example, St. Peter says in 1 Peter 3 that Baptism corresponds to the Ark in that we are saved from the world through God’s action with water. The Church itself is compared to an Ark, in which we float upon the seas of the world until we reach the shores of heaven. One thing we note from our Gospel reading is that, without Jesus in the boat, it goes nowhere. It beats against the winds, but otherwise it just treads water. Without Jesus in the boat, the Church goes nowhere.

I.

In our text Jesus finally gets some alone time. This whole chapter of Mark has been filled with action. It began with Jesus’ rejection at the synagogue in Nazareth, His own hometown. Afterward He went about the surrounding villages teaching the Word of God. Then He sent out the Twelve with the authority to cast out unclean spirits and preach the forgiveness of sins. Through them Jesus healed many sick people. Before the Apostles returned we heard about the death of John the Baptist who proclaimed repentance to King Herod and lost his life for the sake of Christ. That was the ultimate fulfillment of John’s desires that he himself decrease that Christ may increase. Finally, now, Jesus gets a chance to rest.

He told the Disciples to go ahead of Him across the lake. This way He could remain behind to pray. Jesus, as fully man, required rest and He faced an uphill walk of resistance and rejection as His journey to the cross went on. But now we get a glimpse of the true shepherd He is. Jesus is tired, He needs rest, but there are still these 5,000 men and their families…You or I might slip out quietly and leave the crowd to fend for themselves. We’d pick up our mat, throw the trash, and leave. But Jesus, He dismisses them. He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, even to point of seeing them off. Only then was He able to pray. The Disciples were making their way across the Sea of Galilee, and He remained to be in communion with His Father.

II.

We hear in the text, “When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and He was alone on the land. And He saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.”[1] The Disciples, sent by Jesus, were in their boat out upon the sea, but by about the fourth watch of the night – so, between 3-6 a.m. – they weren’t going anywhere. If we can use the boat as an image of the Church, the Disciples were doing church without Jesus. And they weren’t going anywhere.

Sometimes people ask why we Lutherans worship the way we do, why we sing hymns and use the liturgy, why we have a set cycle of readings, instead of the pastor choosing whatever he feels like preaching on. The main reason why we have these things is that these things speak Jesus to us. In the hymns and liturgy we are drawn out from ourselves, and sometimes our own personal preferences, to speak the words of Christ and hear of His love towards us, especially in the highlight of the Divine Service, the Lord’s Supper.

Many churches do away with these things, and in some ways that is fine. To a degree, worship style is an area of Christian freedom, and Lutherans have long recognized that certain things may be changed for good order. But sometimes, the baby is thrown out with the bathwater, and in this case we mean the Gospel. There are many churches that, like the Disciples in the reading, aren’t getting anywhere. As we move towards our Sunday School Workshop in a few weeks, I’m preparing to talk about the difference between the Law and the Gospel, which is a treasure of true Biblical teaching. Unfortunately, it’s become something associated mainly with Lutheranism, such that outside of Lutheranism, you’re much more likely now to get a sermon title like, “8 Steps to Be a Better Spouse,” which is actually not Gospel.

But Jesus, ever compassionate, saw that they were going nowhere and walked out upon the sea. Towards the end of the night, when the Disciples were all alone and going nowhere, Jesus appeared. They were terrified. Without Jesus they were treading water, going nowhere; but with Jesus there they are afraid. This not a pious fear such as when the Apostle John falls on his face before the Lamb, but they think that Jesus is a ghost. Though they should’ve known Jesus could walk on water, their hearts were hardened to the truth.

This is the same reaction that we get when show that, without Jesus, everything is just treading water. A church may have a fantastic youth group, the Bible studies may be packed to the gills, the offering plates may be overflowing, but without Jesus – it’s all treading water. What do we mean? Without Jesus’ perfect life and death for the forgiveness of all sins as the central and constant teaching of a church, everything else is going nowhere. Without Jesus beside us to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith, our lives go nowhere.

III.

Immediately He spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.”[2] In classical literature and Scripture, the sea is a place of chaos. It’s where the leviathan dwells; in Daniel and Revelation, it where the evil beasts come from. For Jesus to tread upon the water as if it were nothing, is to show that He is Lord over all things in heaven and on earth. As if that weren’t enough, Jesus gives the firm and comforting, “It is I.” Jesus identifies Himself clearly as the great I AM and then gets into the boat. But the Disciples hearts were hardened, because they didn’t understand about the miracle of the loaves.

Jesus gets into the boat with us too. Throughout our lives we find ourselves treading water. Maybe we’re between jobs, maybe the crop didn’t do so well that year, maybe all the medical procedures we’re dealing with make it feel like we just, “existing,” or barely getting by. Sometimes in church it feels that way, like we’re floating but going nowhere. It those spaces, where it looks to us like we’re going nowhere, Jesus gets in the boat. In fact He got in the boat by taking on our human nature. He humbled Himself to born of a virgin, submitting Himself to the Father’s will where we rebelled. Then He suffered the penalty of our sins on the cross. Jesus is in the boat with us.

He’s in the boat that we call “life,” but especially He’s in the ark of the Church. In the Church He daily and richly provides us His plentiful forgiveness. He sends His Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word to assure us that He is with us at all times and in all places. In the Supper of His own Body and Blood, He gives us something we can touch and feel and taste so that we know that He is here with us. Without these things, though, the boat goes nowhere. Without Christ’s Word and Sacrament as prominent features of the Church’s life, it goes nowhere.

We’ve heard a lot about boats in our readings lately, especially today in our Old Testament and Gospel readings. In the Gospel reading Jesus sent the Disciples ahead of Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They found themselves not making headway. The winds picked up and they were just treading water. The Church is often illustrated as a boat or an ark. Just like with the Disciples, without Jesus, the boat goes nowhere. The Church goes nowhere. But Jesus sees us and comes out to us walking upon the raging waves of the world. He says to us, “Take heart; It is I. Do not be afraid.” He steps into the boat, and we make it to shore.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 6:47–48.

[2] Mk. 6:50–51.

Jesus, the Savior of Great and Small

Text: Mark 5:21-43

One of the ongoing themes in Mark’s Gospel is rejection. More specifically, the rejection of Jesus. This rejection comes from all sides, but a particular focus of St. Mark is the rejection of Jesus by His own people and His subsequent appearances to the Gentiles. Mark, tradition tells us, wrote to a Gentile audience. Only a quarter way through the Gospel, Jesus has already been rejected by His people, His own family, and even doubted by His own Disciples. We would’ve expected the Messiah to be welcomed by God’s chosen people. They were supposed to be looking for and anticipating the arrival of the Christ. But instead, Jesus’ ministry is met with rejection, doubt, and ridicule.

Last week Jesus demonstrated that He is the Lord God Almighty by displaying His power over the raging storm and waves. Though the Disciples despaired of life itself, Jesus was beside them in the boat the whole time. Likewise, He is beside us in the Ark of the Church throughout the perils of this life. The whole reason for going across the Sea of Galilee in the first place was to go to the Gentiles, those who had been previously estranged from God. If God’s chosen people wouldn’t listen to the Good News, then maybe those who were the outcasts would. Jesus showed that He is not the Savior just of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles as well. He showed that God’s chosen people are not of one race, but of one relationship: faith in Christ.

But now Christ has come back west over the Sea of Galilee to Jewish territory. Even with home court advantage, though, Jesus continued to show that the Son of Man is impartial. He reaches out today to a number of people to demonstrate that He is Lord not only of both Jew and Greek, but of great and small as well. Jesus shows by His power over death and disease that His salvation is for all people.

I.

The text begins, “When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.”[1] Already we’ve said that Jesus is back in Jewish territory. He left it to show God is impartial, but now returning, He is met along the way by a ruler of the synagogue. The rulers of the synagogue were a class of men in charge various matters at the local synagogue, such as arranging readers and speakers. They weren’t priests, but they were fairly important. Here we see that not all Jewish authorities despised Jesus, and while Jesus’ own disciples wondered who He was to command wind and wave, this man understood.

This is reflected in his actions. This important man comes and prostrates himself before Jesus. He falls at His feet, imploring Him to come help. His little daughter is at the end of her life. We’re given to understand by the text that death is near in the immediate sense. There is nothing that could be done. But, if Jesus would just come and lay hands on her, she would be saved and live. She would be saved from the perils of death and the grave. There were any number of doctors or faith healers that the man could’ve gone to, but he asked Jesus. They could’ve prayed, could’ve made this life transition easier for the girl and her family, but they couldn’t save her. Only Jesus could save her and make her live again. And with the words that the man uses, we’re talking about more than just healing.

Jesus, hearing the man, doesn’t mess around. In fact, He doesn’t say anything at all. None of the Gospels record Jesus saying anything here; He just goes. He doesn’t twiddle His thumbs, He doesn’t debate over what to do; He sees an opportunity to share His saving news, and He jumps into action. He, the Lord of all life, who has come to suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins, goes to bring life to this little girl.

II.

Jesus goes along with Jairus to heal his daughter who is deathly ill. Along the way, a crowd followed and pressed against Him. In the crowd, “there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.”[2] Because of the type of ailment this woman had, she was ceremonially unclean. In other cases, the uncleanness may have ended, but for her it meant twelve years of being unclean. This meant she couldn’t go to the temple, she couldn’t eat the Passover, and other people who came into contact with her must first purify themselves before doing those things. Thus, she was an outcast. We see a stark comparison between her and the ruler. The ruler was an important man who humbled himself before Jesus, while this woman is at the bottom of the social ladder. And yet, they share a common faith in Jesus.

The woman figured if she would just touch His garments, she would be healed. She was right. She reached out and touched Jesus and was instantly healed. Fearing that Jesus would be angry, she confessed what she had done. Jesus responds not in anger, but to comfort the woman. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”[3] It was not the touching of the garment that healed her, but the salvation of God present in the flesh of Jesus Christ that purified the woman’s flesh. She became a living image of the healing we will all receive at the resurrection. As with the woman, our bodies are weak and frail. We grow old and die. But as with the woman, so will our bodies be renewed at the coming of Christ. That’s what we confess when we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We know that those who believe in Jesus will be resurrected in our renewed bodies.

III.

In the intervening time, the little girl died. But for Jesus, that isn’t an issue. Jesus instructs the father not to fear, but believe. There was a great commotion in the house. The practice at the time was to hire professional mourners, and so the house was filled with weeping and mourning. Jesus asked, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.”[4] They laughed at Him, not realizing that the Lord of all life stood in their midst. For Jesus, death is but as sleep. Then, taking the girl by the hand, He spoke to her. “Little girl, I say to you, arise.[5] He spoke His Word to her, and immediately she rose from the dead. He spoke the Word of life and brought her back.

That’s what Jesus does. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. His Word brings water to the barren soul and life and light those who dwell in the shadow of death. It’s not dependent on who you are, where you’re from, what you do, or what social circles you run in. The salvation of Jesus Christ is for all people. He suffered for the sins of the entire world, and by His death and resurrection has reconciled all people to the Father. This reconciliation is given through the gift of faith we receive in Baptism. From the greatest to the least, is for all people. Jesus raised from the dead the daughter of a ruler of the synagogue, and He healed a woman who had been an outcast for twelve years. The Pharisees once commended Jesus for showing no partiality, and they were right. No matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, no matter what you’ve done, Jesus died for you.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 5:21–24.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 5:25–26.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 5:34.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 5:39.

[5] Mk. 5:41.

Repent and Believe, You Fishers of Men

Text: Mark 1:14-20

Repent, and believe in the Gospel;” these are some of Jesus’ first words in the Gospel of Mark. The time is now here, the time is now complete; drop what you’re doing, turn, and believe in the Gospel. If we had to summarize all of Jesus’ teaching into one little particle, it would be that. Jesus was saying that the time was at hand. The Son of God had now taken on flesh to suffer for the sins of the world in order that forgiveness may be proclaimed to the world, and thus that the name of the Lord be praised from the rising of the sun to its setting. His words to us today are the same, “Repent and believe in the Gospel, you fishers of men.”

I.

The Gospel text begins, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”[1] John the Baptist’s ministry has now come to an end. It was a stark and interesting ministry. John preached out in the wilderness, dressed in itchy clothes and eating strange food, calling people to repentance through the preaching of the Law. His job was to prepare the way of the Lord and to make His paths straight by calling sinners to repentance for the forgiveness of their sins. John witnessed later that his ministry must end for that of Christ to continue. He said, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”[2] John’s ministry ended in his being beheaded for his faith after witnessing to King Herod.

And yet, in some ways, it continued in the proclamation of Jesus – “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” The time is now fulfilled, Jesus said. The time long expected, the time long hoped for, the time long watched for, has now arrived. The Seed who would crush the head of the ancient serpent, the Redeemer that Job confessed, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, and the heavenly King proclaimed throughout the Psalms, has come to earth. The ministry of Moses and all the prophets pointed entirely to this moment. This moment is that the king of all that there is, has come down from His throne to be beaten, spit upon, crowned with thorns and nailed to a tree, all for you. And so, repent.

Jesus’ message: repent. It’s the same message that Jonah brought to Nineveh. It was the capital of bloodthirsty Assyria, the scourge of the ancient Middle East and the enemy of God’s people. They were pagans, evil people, spiritually corrupt and dead inside, bearing the fruits of all kinds of evil. And yet, God sent His prophet Jonah to preach His Word. And you know what they did? They repented and believed in God. We may not be violent, evil, pagan devil-worshippers, but inside we carry the same temptations to sin. Repent, Jesus says. Repent of everything that leads you away from the Word of Christ. Repent of the times where you thought more highly of yourself than you ought; repent of your anger against your spouse, against your children, even your hatred for elected officials. Repent for the times you felt justified in choosing extra-curricular activities when they conflict with church. Repent…and believe.

Believe in the Gospel. For every struggle over sin, for every angry thought, for every impure desire, believe. Believe that Jesus died for your sin, for mine, and for the sins of the entire world, because He did. Though He was in perfect unity with the Father and Holy Spirit before all time, not subject to death, decay, and the stress of this world, He had compassion on us and stepped down to earth. Jesus Christ is all the love of God in the flesh to save us. He was not content to sit on His throne separate from us, but instead took upon our human frailty to be God with us, to carry our sins to the cross, and to die there to win our salvation.

II.

Now, “Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’”[3] This text is one we go to for the foundation of the office of the ministry, the pastoral office. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus called men to assist Him in proclaiming the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. In this case, He likens it to fishing for men. As Jesus passed by alongside the Sea of Galilee, and seeing Simon and Andrew, James and John, He called them away from their nets, nets that need mending, and gave them the net of His Word.

I sometimes wonder about this illustration because, usually, fishing involves death. Fishing is fun, and we do it for enjoyment and food, but it didn’t exist before the Fall into sin. The fishing that Jesus called the Apostles to is different. I know that you can catch and release, but Jesus was calling these fishers of men to catch and keep. They were to proclaim God’s Word, that in Christ all sins are freely forgiven by His death on the cross, and to keep proclaiming it. The Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the Holy Gospel and brings us to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Let’s go back to these words of Christ, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” A lot of the time spent on this text focuses on the following aspect. We’re told to, before all else, follow Jesus. We’re told to follow Jesus and to never let up. That’s good and true, but I want to focus on these 4 words, “I will make you.” In the Greek, it’s more “I will make you, I will shape you, I myself will form you into fishers of men,” and that is exactly what Jesus does through the preaching the Gospel. Though there is nothing good in us, though on our own we are unable to truly repent, Christ comes to us and gives us His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in us to bring us to repentance, to believe in Jesus, and to receive the forgiveness of sins.

Through the preaching of the Good News, Jesus Himself forms you and me into fishers of men. The net He gives us is His Word. He shapes us, forms us, and leads out into the world to cast His net to catch men. We go out proclaiming that God is here. We speak the truth of His love and forgiveness. Christ forms us to go out sharing the hope that we have of eternal life, and that, even in the midst of despair, anxiety, and suffering, Christ is with us at all times and in all places. Through its proclamation, God’s Word becomes a net that captures people unto salvation.

The closing hymn today, “Come, Follow Me,” the Savior Spake, has a couple really good verses. It goes, it part, “I am the light, I light the way, a godly life displaying; I bid you walk as in the day; I keep your feet from straying. I am the way, and well I show how you must sojourn here below…I teach you how to shun and flee what harms your soul’s salvation, your heart from ev’ry guile to free, from sin and its temptation. I am the refuge of the soul and lead you to your heav’nly goal.”[4] Christ, our eternal God and Lord, suffered for our transgressions. Through the preaching of His Word He brings us to repentance and faith in Him. As Christians we are then made into fishers of men, casting wide the net of God’s Word. To Him alone be all glory, Amen.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk. 1:14–15.

[2] Jn. 3:29–30.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 1:16–17.

[4] Lutheran Service Book, 688.