Oil Enough and More

Text: Matthew 25:1-13

Bulletin: 2017-11-26 Last Sunday of the Church Year

Once again, during the final Sunday of the Church Year, we return to our Lord’s teaching during the final week of His earthly life. That final week, He spent much of His time teaching in the temple. He taught about the greatest commandment, about being a Christian in two kingdoms, even about His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Today, we turn to some of our Lord’s teaching on the End Times. It’s fitting that we talk about the close of the age as we are at the close of the church year.

The focus of our Lord’s teaching today is this, as Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”[1] Jesus taught the parable of the Ten Virgins to emphasize to His Disciples that His return to judge and bring in the New Creation would not be an immediate thing. This fact doesn’t surprise us, some 2000 years later, but it was new for them. It’ll be, Jesus said, like the days of Noah. People were eating and drinking and marrying up until the Flood and caught them all unaware. Today, we confess that our Lord’s return will be sudden and unexpected, but He sustains us in our watch through His Word and Sacraments.

I.

As usual, when we dive into a text it’s important to understand the context. The context of our passage today is that comes from a chunk of Matthew where Jesus is speaking about the destruction of the temple and signs of the end times. It happened that, as they were walking out of the temple, Jesus told the Disciples a time would come when none of its stones would be left standing. That prompted them to ask what the signs of would be of Jesus’ coming at the end of time. Then, Jesus taught them the passages we’ve all heard about wars and rumors of wars. As we live amidst what seems like endless wars and disasters, our minds sometimes fall with the Disciples – that maybe the end is near. Every so often someone gets on TV, the radio, or internet and proclaims that they know the exact day. But, the point of Jesus’ teaching today is that His return will be unexpected.

Just before today’s Gospel, Jesus taught in chapter 24 that no one knows the day or hour of His return – not the angels, not even the Son of God – only the Father. Following our text, is the Parable of the Talents. That’s where the master left his money with his servants and went away. When he came back, he expected his servants to have done something useful with what he gave them. The meaning of that parable is that we should wait for our Lord’s return, making faithful use of the things God has given us. God has blessed each of us with many talents and skills, and we are to use them in loving service to God and neighbor during our exile here below.

But, we sometimes take all this for granted. It is not news to us that our Lord’s return wouldn’t be immediately after His Ascension. But it was news for the first Christians and even the Disciples. St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians twice concerning it. First, they thought Christ had already come and they missed it. Then, when they heard it may not be soon, they grew idle and lazy. St. Paul wrote them every parent’s favorite verse, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”[2] Even the Disciples had trouble with this. Just before the Ascension, they asked Jesus if He would restore all things right there. He said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.”[3] The point being, they were to wait and watch; as are we. Such, Jesus explains with a parable.

II.

It’ll be like ten virgins, Jesus said, who took lamps to meet the bridegroom. The custom at the time was that the bridal got prepared and then waited for the groom to come and get them. When arrived, they would all proceed together to the wedding hall for the ceremony and feast. Jesus said, “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”[4] It happened that the groom was delayed in his coming, and all the virgins grew tired and slept. Then, at midnight came the cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” The virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The wise were prepared and had oil, but the foolish had run out.

The foolish virgins said to the wise, “‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’[5] The foolish virgins did not expect the delay. And, when the cry came, it caught them unaware. They left to go and buy oil. And, while they were out, the groom came. He gathered the wise virgins, they went to the wedding hall, and the door was shut. The foolish virgins knocked at the door saying, “‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’[6] Jesus interpreted the parable for us. As we heard before, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

III.

This is a parable directed to and concerning the Church on earth. Very seldom, if ever, in Scripture, is the word “virgin” used for anyone other than a believer in Christ. The ten virgins in the parable are members of the visible Church on earth. In the parable, they were all called to await the bridegroom. Likewise, as Christians, the Bride of Christ awaits His return. Our job is to wait and keep watch for His coming. We are to be alert and expecting His return at any moment.

But, on this end of things, it appears to us that Christ’s return is delayed. At the very least, we’ve been waiting a long time. This will be my 28th Advent. That means I’ve heard the story of the Triumphal Entry read and preached 56 times, each time mentioning the fact that Christ will someday return in glory to take me to heaven. Most of you have heard it more, and we’re still waiting. Waiting, like forgiving – which we talked about a few weeks ago – and praying, can make us grow weary.

When we grow weary, we are troubled by temptations of two sorts. The first, is to fall away from our watch. Some cease coming to church. It usually doesn’t happen all at once. But some fall away from regular attendance, and their lamps go out. The other temptation is to become focused on other things. We might still be here to receive God’s Word and Sacraments, but the temptation is for our lives to really revolve around something else, be it sports or family, or some collision of the two. We become so focused on other things that we forget what we’re watching and waiting for.

So that we might keep watch, Christ has given us and sustains us with His Means of Grace. This is important because, if we’re being honest, waiting for Christ to come is hard. Every year the Church calendar starts up again and the secular calendar after that. It’s hard, but the hope that has been poured into our hearts will not put us to shame. Through His Word and in His Sacraments, Christ forgives us our sins. The Lutheran Confessions say that the Holy Spirit works through these things as through instruments to give to us the forgiveness Christ won on the cross. But, through these things, also, is our watch sustained.

The temptation with this parable is to try and nail down what the oil is and how to get enough. I’m not sure we want to go down that route. Rather, let us stick to our Lord’s interpretation, that His return will be sudden and unexpected. Therefore, we are to keep watch. Though our flesh is weak, His Spirit is not. So that our watch is sustained and filled with hope, Christ gives us His Word and Sacraments. Through these things, our lamps have oil enough and more. And when the Bridegroom does finally call us, we will enter the wedding feast with joy.


[1] Matthew 25:13, English Standard Version.

[2] 2 Thess. 3:10.

[3] Acts 1:7.

[4] Matt. 25:2-3.

[5] Matt. 25:8-9.

[6] Matt. 25:11-12.

A Christian in Two Kingdoms

Text: Matthew 22:15-22

Bulletin: 2017-11-19 Trinity XXIII – Bulletin

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are Gods.”[1] With these words, Jesus put the attempts of the Pharisees to trap Him to flight. They came to Him in the temple to catch Him once-and-for-all, and finally put Him to death. This side of the Gospel, we know will happen only three days later, but we have in this text another picture of the hatred they had for our Lord. We also have here another masterful teaching from our God. With their words, Jesus’ enemies tried to trap Him. But, with His words, He both confounded them and gave us an important teaching.

The teaching was as useful to the first Christians as it is to us now – and would’ve been to the Pharisees, had they received it. The lesson is, just like Jesus said before Pilate, His kingdom is not of this world. Jesus did not come to set up an earthly kingdom or system of government. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be Christians in every country in the world, we will all be gathered together right now. In fact, we are together, now – in the kingdom of God. This called the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. Christ teaches us that, as Christians, we live in two kingdoms. Both are established and ruled by God, and we are led by Him to give what is due in both.

I.

Let’s set the scene, shall we? We’ve been in this chapter of Matthew already in the Church Year, so we know that everything after 21 takes place in Holy Week or after Easter. When we were last here, the Pharisees put Jesus to the test by asking Him which was the greatest commandment. Remember that He was not fooled, but correctly taught that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind; and, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Mt. 22:37-39) The Pharisees even admitted that Jesus taught correctly in our text. They said, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully…you are not swayed by appearances.”[2] But, they’re up to something. Nearly every time the word “Teacher,” is used for Jesus, it’s by an enemy.

In fact, they are up to something. St. Matthew wrote, “The Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle [Jesus] in His words. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians… [They said] …Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”[3] It’s important to understand some of the context here. The Pharisees had some specific ideas about the Messiah. One of them was that, when the Messiah did come, he would be an earthly ruler. He would overthrow the Romans and institute a new worldly order. Now, the people called the Herodians who came with them – they were fans of the Romans. When they asked Jesus about paying the tax, they thought they would stick Him either way. If He said to pay it, then He would offend the Pharisees and their followers. If He said to not pay, then He would alienate Himself from those who favored the Romans…and potentially lose His head.

Just like before, Jesus wasn’t fooled. It says that Jesus, aware of their malice, had them bring Him a coin – which, of course, they had. Then He said, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” When they said, “Caesar’s,” then Jesus answered, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are Gods.”[4] Just like that, Jesus cut free of their trap and pulled them into it. Confounded, the Pharisees left Him alone. When they put Jesus to the test, to try and get Him to choose between serving God or government, the right understanding is that we serve God in both. A Christian lives both in the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world at the same time.

This is as an important teaching now as it was then. It’s important for us to confess this, because we sometimes take it for granted. All things being equal, a Christian does not need to choose between living in God’s kingdom (the Church) and the world, because God has established and rules both. In the world, He rules by His Law; but in the Church, He rules by grace. From our Lord’s mouth, we confess that we live in both kingdoms, and He leads us to render to each what is due.

II.

So far we’ve been talking about the Two Kingdoms. When Jesus was put to the test to choose between them in principal, He said to serve both. Now, let’s define them and talk about what should be rendered to each. The first, is the kingdom of caesar, the Kingdom of the World, the Kingdom of the Left. This kingdom is the collective governing systems of the world. The majority of countries have some sort of governing party that establishes and enforces law. The intention of most is to prevent and punish evil and promote and reward good. All these things are originally God’s idea.

St. Paul taught the Romans, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”[5] St. Peter, likewise, said, “Be subject for the Lords sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”[6] As an institution, government was established by God to maintain order and promote good. This happens by the establishment and enforcement of laws. There are many good examples in this of Scripture. Monday nights, we’ve been going through Daniel where kings used laws to promote the worship of God. At Kelleher, we also learned about Nehemiah, who was a governor and used his position for the good of God’s people.

In order for the government to do its work, which is really God’s, it does need some things. The thing brought up by our text? Taxes. Pay your taxes. The government serves by God’s command, so Paul says, “because of this you also pay taxes.”[7] When we pay our taxes, even as we can disagree about the amount in good conscience, we are acting in obedience to God’s Word and it pleases Him. At times, we may be called upon to serve our government with our talents and bodies. We should also do that in good conscience, for behind the government, we are really serving God. It may be that God has given us talents and gifts that may be of service to our government – whether it be running for office or entering voluntary service – in these also, we render to Caesar what is his. The kingdom of the left, extends over all the world and over all people. The whole world is ruled by God’s Law. He sets in place and overthrows, He plants and uproots. But the kingdom of the right, the Church, God rules by grace. We are brought into this kingdom through faith in Christ.

III.

According to our Lord, we also live in the kingdom of God. Just as the kingdom of the world was established and is ruled by God, so also the Kingdom of the Right. It is built upon the preaching and teaching of the prophets and apostles, Christ Himself being the cornerstone. In this kingdom, Christ rules by His grace. Those who have sinned are forgiven. Those who die daily to sin, are raised in Baptism and in the resurrection to come. Here, He mends broken hearts and binds up weak souls. To Caesar we render our external obedience, our tax money, and our talents. But to God, we render our hearts. This is the Law Christ preached to the Pharisees, and we should hear it – our hearts belong to God and not the things of this world. Too often we mistake this, and place our trust in things that fail. The Psalm says, “Trust not in princes.”

Thanks be to God, then, that we do live into two kingdoms. As Christians, we live and serve God in both realms. In the Kingdom of the Left, we serve God through the government by being subject to it, obeying laws and paying taxes. We know that behind these things, we have both the command and promise of God. He said to the Israelites in exile that they should pray for the city they were in, for in its welfare they will find their own. We also live into the Kingdom of the Right, the kingdom of Grace. We were brought in through Baptism and here we receive the forgiveness sins of daily, we are strengthened in the faith, and led to love and serve God and neighbor. When the Pharisees put Jesus to the test, He confounded them and taught us the truth. We are called and led to serve God in both kingdoms. The Lord grant that, by His Holy Spirit, we cheerfully render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.


[1] Matthew 22:21, English Standard Version.

[2] Matt. 22:16.

[3] Mt. 22:15-17.

[4] Mt. 22:20-21.

[5] Rom. 13:1.

[6] 1 Pet. 2:13-14.

[7] Rom. 13:6.

Unlimited Forgiveness

Text: Matthew 18:21-35

One of the conclusions that we all come to as we work our way through this life is that things don’t last. They wear out, they run out; they expire. One of the lessons I’ve had to learn over life is to smell my milk before I drink it. And, something I find myself doing with unnerving frequency is buying new socks. For some reason, I wear holes in my socks quickly, and I have to throw them away and get new ones. Everything has a number of expected uses, a shelf life, or an expiration date – which we have all learned to accept. But, what about forgiveness?

Forgiveness is the topic of the day in the Gospel text. St. Peter went to Jesus with a reasonable question. When my brother sins against me, how many times I am required to forgive him? How many times before I can stop? In some areas of our country, legal systems allow for three strikes – then you’re out. In our personal lives, we tend to mirror that standard. St. Peter was especially generous, he offered to forgive his brother up to seven times before he cut him off. How does our Lord respond to the question? “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Mt. 18:22) That is, the forgiveness we offer to our neighbor should never be exhausted or run out. There is no point at which we can stop forgiving our neighbor and get a new one. Jesus will illustrate this with a parable. As our multitude of sins have been forgiven by Christ, so also are we led by Him to freely forgive those who sin against us.

I.

It is a totally understandable – and relatable – question that Peter asked our Lord. We’ve all been in situations or are in one now, where we have been repeatedly sinned against, even by the same person. The flip side is also true, we have all been guilty of repeatedly sinning against other people. What prompts Peter’s question is Jesus’ teaching in this chapter. Matthew 18 is largely concerned with caring for our neighbor in Christ. The chapter opens with Jesus teaching that we should humble ourselves and become like children before God. Then, Jesus talked about how, if our brother sins against us, we should go and speak to him. If he refuses to be reconciled, Jesus said to take one or two others with us and go speak again. If he still refuses to be reconciled, it is to be told to the congregation and – if he still then refuses to repent and be reconciled – the offending brother is excluded from fellowship.

So, Peter follows this up with the question, “‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Mt. 18:21-22) Peter’s question resonates with us. Forgiving is hard work. Often, it involves no small amount of spiritual hurt and anxiety. As such, we get tired of forgiving. So, we stop. And the world says we’re right to do so. But, what does Jesus say? We are not to forgive our brother seven times only, but seventy-seven times. The phrase that Jesus uses in the Greek is meant to convey an unlimited amount, not just a bigger – but still limited – amount than what Peter graciously offered. In no uncertain terms, Jesus says that we are to forgive our neighbor in Christ. Period. No limits. The relationship between a Christian and his or her neighbor is to be one of complete love and forgiveness. At no point should our forgiveness run out or dry.

II.

It’s like this, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.” (Mt. 18:23) In this parable there is a king who wishes to reconcile the debts of his servants. Right away, one was brought to him who owed ten thousand talents. A talent itself was a large amount of money. One commentary I read did the math and said that this would be the equivalent of sixty million days of work. Since the man could not pay this monumental debt, the king ordered that all that the man had be sold to cover at least part of it. The man begged for patience while he tried to figure out some way to pay. But, instead, the king felt compassion for the man and, “released him and forgave his debt.” (Mt. 18:27)

Straightaway, the man went out and found one of his fellow servants. The other did owe him money, and a large amount – about 100 days’ wages – but certainly less than the first servant had been forgiven. The first servant began choking the other and demanding payment. When the man begged for patience, in the same way that the first had implored the king, his cries were steadfastly ignored. The Greek says the first servant kept being unwilling to forgive and instead threw his fellow servant in prison until such time as the debt be paid.

Now, in short order, the king found out about all this. He said to the unforgiving servant, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Mt. 18:32-33) The expected behavior of the first servant is that, as he had been forgiven a monumental debt, so he would in turn forgive the debt of his neighbor. Instead, he refused to forgive. So, the original forgiveness from the king was set aside. “In anger his master delivered him to the torturers, until he should pay all the debt.” (Mt. 18:34) Our Lord provides for us the interpretation of this parable, “So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Mt. 18:35)

III.

This is a difficult text to hear, as Jesus is calling us to do something we cannot do. And, quite frankly, we have done the opposite of what Jesus says here. We have let our forgiveness toward others lapse, and we have often refused to forgive, even in the first place. We find ourselves in the position of the first servant. We are about up to our necks in sin and it’s poised to drown us all. We know that for each and every sin, there is payment to be made. The cost of our sin is such that we could not pay it in a billion years. Yet God, who is the king in the parable, forgives us. He forgives us at great cost to Himself, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His Son. By His grace, our colossal debt is forgiven. So, we, in turn, should forgive those who sin against us. And, not seven times, but seven-times-seven.

The question before us is how. How can we forgive so much, especially when we are hurt by others’ sinning? On our own we can’t. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches…apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5) But, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. This is why Jesus has given us the sacraments: so that we might receive the forgiveness of our sins, be strengthened in the faith, and have our love for our neighbor increased. This why we are to receive the Lord’s Supper often. On our own, we tend to look at forgiveness as a limited resource that, once it’s gone, it’s gone. But that is not how we are to be. Instead, through the Sacraments, the love of Christ is poured into our hearts, and through that we are led to love and forgive our neighbor as often as he does sin against us.

Peter’s question to Jesus is totally understandable. Like the milk in our fridge that expires or socks that wear out, we also treat our forgiveness like it’s something that can expire or run out. But, Jesus says our lives are to be lives of love and unlimited forgiveness. On our own, we cannot do this. But, Christ, through His Word and Sacraments, gives the forgiveness His won to us and, through these things, leads us to forgive others. May He grant that this day we receive the Sacrament for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith, and the increase and sustaining of our love for each other.

The Law, and How to Keep It

Text: Matthew 22:34-46

Our Lutheran Book of Concord says this near the end,

The distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a particularly brilliant light. It serves the purpose of…properly explaining and understanding the Scriptures…We must guard this distinction with special care, so that these two doctrines may not be mixed with each other…When that happens, Christ’s merit is hidden and troubled consciences are robbed of comfort, which they otherwise have in the Holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely and purely.[1]

Today we have another text in which the distinction between the Law and the Gospel brought up and taught to us by our Lord. When questioned by the Pharisees about the Law, Jesus explained the holy and righteous will of God, the actions that all the Commandments are pointed towards: love of God and love of neighbor. As Jesus said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”[2] Our Lord went on to explain the Gospel: that He is both the promised Son of David and David’s Lord, his Redeemer.

The thing about the Law and the Gospel is that you can’t have one without the other. These two teachings must remain and be preached in the Church until Christ returns. If you take away the Law, the Gospel gets turned into a new Law. If you take away the Gospel, then you doom people to eternal condemnation. Therefore, our Lord rightly teaches both the Law and the Gospel in this text. Today we confess that in the Law we are taught God’s holy and righteous will and in the Gospel, we are taught what Christ has done for us.

I.

The text this week takes place during Holy Week, around the Tuesday. Sunday was the Triumphal Entry, and much of the first part of the week Jesus spent teaching in the temple. While He was teaching, the challengers just kept coming. First, it was the chief priests with the elders, then the Pharisees. Then came the Sadducees – who don’t believe in the Resurrection. Then came the Pharisees, again, in our text. Their plan? Get Jesus to trip up and incriminate Himself. So, the text begins, “When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?‘”[3]

This was an on-going discussion for the Pharisees. They and their scribes and the rabbis would argue back and forth about which is the greatest commandment. If Jesus said something different than the others generally responded, then they got Him. Jesus won’t be caught in their game. He cuts through the muck and goes right to the heart, as only the author of the Law could. He cites from Deuteronomy 6, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”[4] As Jesus said, this is the first Commandment. We are to fear, love and trust in God above all things. But, a second goes with it – again from the Old Testament – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[5]

These two commandments are the sum of the whole Law. In fact, all Scripture is directed to this end: that we love God and love each other. Sounds pretty simple. But, remember, Jesus is preaching the Law here. He’s speaking to the Pharisees, of whom we’ve had examples over the last number of Sundays: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector or the parable about humility from last week. The Pharisees were known and loved for their outward piety. But in their hearts, they did not love their neighbors and, therefore, did not truly love God. And neither do we.

The great commandment is that we love God with all that we have and are, but do we? To use an illustration from Luther, we would rather have a gold coin in our pocket that we could use to feed our appetites than hear the whole and pure Gospel read. God’s holy and righteous will is that we love our neighbor as ourselves, yet so often – for all we care – our neighbor can take a hike. Like the priest and Levite, we pass by while the Samaritan suffers. Even if we don’t pass by physically, we hold both contempt and apathy in our hearts.

II.

The will of God is given to us in the Law: we are to love Him above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. This is good, right, and true. Jesus says, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” And, I think that’s devastating. Because, the whole of Scripture directs us to those two things, and condemns for our failure to do them. This is what the Law does: it shows us what we are to do, and it condemns us when we don’t. Therefore, the Law must not be preached alone. But, after the Law, the Gospel. This is what Jesus does. He has just taught the right understanding of the Law, which is both good and hard for us to hear. In it we hear what we are supposed to do, but that which we fail to do. What we need now is the Gospel.

Jesus preaches the Gospel here in an odd way, by talking about King David. King David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sang Psalm 110, which says, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’[6] We know from elsewhere in Scripture that the Messiah would come from the David’s bloodline. This is shown in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. But, here David – and Jesus by citing it – says that not only would the Messiah be his descendent but also his Lord. And, by “Lord,” he also means “Redeemer.” To redeem someone, in the Scriptural understanding, is to buy someone back from something else. In David’s case and ours, Jesus is our Redeemer and Lord, for He has bought us back from sin, death, and the devil.

“Not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” Jesus is David’s son and Lord, and ours, by purchasing us out of death by His own suffering and death in our place. But, before He died for us, He kept God’s Law for us. First, He did truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Second, He perfectly loved the whole world by dying for the whole world on the cross. By these things Jesus both fulfilled God’s Law in our place, and secured for us the forgiveness of our sins. This is the distinction between the Law and the Gospel: the Law shows us God’s will for us and condemns transgressions against it, the Gospel shows what us Jesus did for us and gives to us.

But, if we cannot do the Law or obtain merit before God by our works, why is the Law still preached? Well, because the Commandments remain holy and righteous and good. They are God’s will for us as Christians. Besides, it is good to not steal or kill or commit adultery. Sometimes we need the reminder. When Jesus was questioned about the Law, He didn’t say we should put it on the shelf and talk about something us. Rather, He taught the Law and then the Gospel. The Gospel is different from the Law in another way, too. The Law doesn’t actually give us the ability to keep it, but the Gospel does. The Gospel doesn’t just tell us we are forgiven, but through being preached it actually does it. The Gospel is the instrument through which the Spirit creates and sustains faith, and through which we are equipped and led to do God’s will, the Commandments.

We won’t keep them perfectly, since we are in the flesh. Now that Christ has atoned for our sins, God our Father no longer looks down at our failures as an angry judge, but, to use Luther again, God looks at us through His fingers. He sees only the righteousness of His own dear Son. For our part, as God’s dear children, we seek to do the will of our Father. The Lutheran Confessions say that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a brilliant light and the way to rightly understand Scripture. In our text, Jesus teaches both the Law and the Gospel. In the Law, He shows that God’s holy will is that we love both Him and our neighbor. In the Gospel, Jesus showed that He is both David’s Son and Lord, who has redeemed us all by His perfect life and death.


 

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 552.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt 22:40.

[3] Matt. 22:34-36.

[4] Matt. 22:37.

[5] Matt. 22:39.

[6] Ps. 110:1.

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

Text: Matthew 8:23-27

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

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

I.

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

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

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


[1] Ps. 107:28-29.

[2] Matt. 8:27.

[3] Matt. 8:16-17.

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

[5] Matt. 8:26.

[6] Rom. 8:35, 37.

Epiphany Mercy

Text: Matthew 8:1-13

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

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

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

I.

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

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

[3] Matt. 8:3.

[4] Matt. 8:6.

[5] Matt. 8:13.

[6] Matt. 8:10.

[7] Matt. 8:8.

Where Christ Is Found

Text: Matthew 24:15-28

Today our attention turns toward the end times and the return of Christ. This week and next we’ll be focusing primarily on the return of our Lord and for what purpose He comes. His first coming was to preach the Word of God and to secure for us the forgiveness of sins by His death on the cross. His second coming will be to raise all the dead, gather all the faithful to His side, and stand in judgment over those who rejected His salvation. The big word for all this kind of talk is eschatology, or, the study of the last things. In the early centuries of the Church, as we heard in our Epistle text, the return of Christ was looked forward to with fervent anticipation. Though, now it seems to have left the mind of many, or else the joy of Christ’s return is replaced with fear.

It’s easy for our minds to sway that way. The Gospel reading for today, taken by itself, without context, can be frightening. It can be mystifying. But, we should understand, the reason why Jesus is saying these things is not to scare us, but to prepare and comfort us. Jesus said, “I have told you beforehand.” In St. Luke’s account Jesus also said, “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” So, if it is correct – that Jesus teaches us these things to comfort us – what is one thing we can be comforted by today? In our text, when Jesus teaches not to be swayed by those saying He is out in the wilderness or in the inner rooms, He’s teaching that because soon He Himself will promise to be with His people always. Just after our text, He institutes the Sacraments and promises to be with us always and never be apart from us. Therefore, in our text Jesus teaches us the signs of His Coming so that we are not deceived, and learn to look for Him where He already is and will always be until His return.

I.

Our text takes place around Tuesday of Holy Week. Sunday is the Triumphal Entry and the cleansing of the temple. The next few days see Jesus teaching in the temple a final time. As He and the disciples are leaving in chapter 24, He caught them marveling over the great buildings. Jesus said to them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Jesus was indicating that the temple, the place of God’s holy abode, would be destroyed as a judgment against unbelief. This had happened earlier, 500 years before Christ, but this prediction of Jesus came true some 40 years after His ascension, when the Romans destroyed both the temple and the city.

Jesus is a clever and skilled teacher, so He’s able to teach two things at once. In our text He’s teaching about the destruction of Jerusalem as both the temporal judgment of God against His people’s infidelity and as a sign of the impending eternal judgment of God against sin and unbelief. This means that we should understand the destruction of the temple and the holy city not just as God’s specific judgment against them, but as a point from which we should be always prepared for Christ’s return. We should see the destruction of the temple as an indicator that we are in the end times. Or, to be more precise – the temple is destroyed because God’s chosen people rejected the Messiah. In Christ, the fullness of the deity became flesh. In Jesus the mystery of God’s salvation was made plain for all to see. We should see in His incarnation, death, and resurrection, the surest sign that we are near the end. But, like the disciples, we can be kind of dense. In His compassion, Jesus doesn’t rebuke us. He is patient and teaches us further about the end times.

Jesus has already taught about the wars and rumors of war that are to come when He says,

So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place…then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back…

Remember that Jesus is teaching about two things at once. These verses are attached to the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. The abomination mentioned could be a reference to a few things. First, we read in the book of Maccabees that king Antiochus Epiphanes set up a pagan altar on top of the altar that was already in the temple. Or, it could be reference to Roman interference with temple worship. Long story short – the temple’s going to be destroyed and Jerusalem with it. When these things happens, to condense Jesus’ words: Get out.

II.

There’s a subtle shift in verse 23. Remember that Jesus is really good at teaching and can do two things at once. He’s talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple as both the temporal judgment of God and as a sign of the end times. We’ve all heard the passages about wars and rumors of wars and pestilences and famines; but there’s one aspect I want us to latch onto today. Jesus says,

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

One of things that Jesus says is going to happen before He returns is a continual spread of false teachers and false doctrine. Jesus says that, first of all, there will be false christs. History has shown us some examples of this. Scripture itself contains accounts of those who came claiming to be someone. (Acts 5, for example.) I think Luther’s interpretation of this passage is helpful, especially since we don’t so much see people claiming explicitly to be Jesus. Luther says this also applies to those who teach in Christ’s name what He has not said. So this applies to pastors. Jesus says that in the end times many false pastors will come and teach what is not right – and claim that it is true Christian teaching. This fits well with Jesus saying there will also be false prophets.

What sort of things will these men of falsehood say? Jesus gives examples. They will try and draw people to go find Christ in places where He hasn’t promised to be. What does that mean? They will teach people to search for Jesus out in the wilderness, that is nature, or in the inner rooms, that is the mystical warm feeling of Jesus that you can only experience by yourself. It is true, that by the power of being God, Jesus is everywhere, but He hasn’t told us to look for Him there. Instead, He has told us two places to look for Him and find Him. His Word and His Sacraments. In these trying times, the devil tries to lead many astray by convincing them to look for Jesus in places He hasn’t promised to be.

But, Jesus is telling us all these things so that we would be prepared and comforted by His coming. Against all the world and the devil, there are two places where Jesus remembers and is faithful to His promise to be with us always. First, He has promised to be with us through His Word. Jesus says that where two or three are gathered in His name, He also is there. Scripture itself is living and active. It is the instrument through the Spirit of Christ creates and maintains faith within us. Christ is always with us in His Word. Second, Christ promised to be and is with us in the Sacraments. In Baptism, He joins us to Himself, taking our shame and clothing us with His righteousness. Through Baptism we have access to our Father in heaven. In Absolution, Christ works through His Word spoken through the mouth of pastors to forgive sins and mend broken hearts. In His Supper, Christ is with us in a tangible way – a way we can see, feel, taste – for the forgiveness of sins. So, when men come to lead God’s people astray from the Word and the Sacraments – where Christ has promised to be found – we repeat Jesus’ words, don’t believe them and don’t go out.

My dear friends in Christ – taken by itself, this text can be kind of distressing. But, for those who are found in Christ, it is a comfort. It is a comfort that we are now in the end times, for the end is when our Savior comes. Then will the redemption He won for us on the cross be made complete when we are forever separated from sin, death, and the devil. But until then, things are going to be bad. Jesus says so. He also encourages today to look for Him not where people say He is – in the wilderness, in inner rooms – but where He promises to be. He has promised to be with us always and to always be found in His Holy Word and Sacraments. Then, when the end comes, Christ Himself will appear like lightening and gather us with all the faithful to enter His everlasting joy and peace.