Fishers, of Men

Text: Luke 5:1-11

“If I just had this, then I could do that.” You’ve probably said this or something like it in your life. I know I have. I always know that if I just had one more guitar, then I would be happy. If I just had one more guitar, I could be happy and my mind could focus on other things. I don’t expect that’s what you all think about during the day. Maybe it’s the project you’re working on at home. If you just got that done, you could work on something else. Sometimes, we think along these lines: If I could just get this done, then I could focus on church. If I could just get this need taken care of, then I could focus my time on spreading the Good News.

That’s not to say that thinking like this is inherently bad. It’s just that we often let the cares of this world prevent us from hearing God’s Word, studying it, and sharing it with those around us. We know that the Holy Spirit works through the Word to bring people to faith. It’s through Scripture that the Spirit puts to death the Old Adam and creates faith in hearts of stone, causing them to become hearts of flesh. Yet, we say, if we just had x taken care of, we could really get about the business of the Gospel. What did St. Paul say? “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”[1] And yet, it’s rarely strictly matters of food and clothing that hold us captive.

In today’s Gospel, our Lord sets us straight. After He taught the crowds, He told Simon to set out for a catch. At Jesus’ Word, they let down the nets, and He provided them with a miraculous catch – such that two boats were needed to hold all the fish. Through this, Jesus demonstrated His ability to care for our bodily needs. After demonstrating His care for the physical needs of His people, Jesus called the first disciples to care for souls by the preaching of the Word. So also, the Lord provides for our physical needs, and likewise calls His Church to be fishers of men.

I.

The text from St. Luke’s Gospel begins,

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.[2]

In St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry begins in chapter 4, where He started going from synagogue to synagogue, city to city, in both Galilee and Judea, preaching about the kingdom of God. He preached that salvation had indeed come to the world in Him. As proof, He healed many who were sick and cast out many demons.

As Word about Him spread, the crowds grew. They desired not only healing of their bodies, but the salvation of their souls. They began flocking to Jesus and pressing in on Him. At this time, when people spoke to each other they stood very nearly nose-to-nose. So, you can imagine what it would be like having a crowd of people all trying to be nose-to-nose with you. It would be nearly impossible to teach the whole group. Our Lord got into Simon’s boat, set out from the shore a bit, and taught from there.

The Holy Spirit relates to us through St. Luke what happens next.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’ And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.”[3]

When Jesus finished speaking, He directed Peter to go out for a catch. Peter responded that they had fished all night and caught nothing. This must’ve been highly unusual. Yet, at Jesus’ Word, they would let down their nets. Then they came up with a miraculous catch, such that both the boats began sinking from the weight. Jesus demonstrated through this miracle that He, most certainly, can provide for the needs of our bodies. Do notice how He did it. Simon and Andrew, James and John, were fishermen. They fished for a living. Our Lord didn’t just magically manifest fish in the boats. He told them to go fishing, and then provided the miraculous catch.

He does the same for us. Through our positions in life, our vocations, the Lord provides for our needs, and the needs of those around us. Through farmers the Lord provides food and countless other things for families in our community and around the world. Through teachers, He trains up skilled workers for society. Through nurses He provides healing and care. Notice also, how things happened in the text. They had fished all night and caught nothing. It was only at the Lord’s Word and with His blessing that fish were caught. Same for us. Sometimes we think that it is our hard work that brings in the goods, but it is the Lord’s good will that causes our work to prosper. It does sometimes happen, as in our text, that the Lord doesn’t provide growth to teach us that man doesn’t live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.

II.

“If I just had this, I could do that.” We’ve all used that at some point in our lives. We’ve all used it to excuse ourselves also in matters of faith. If I could just get this taken care of, then I could be in church. If I just felt more secure, then I would share the Good News. My friends in Christ, our Lord has demonstrated in this miracle – and in our lives – that He can and does provide for all that we need. As I look around, we all have clothes on. We all are at least relatively well-fed. These things and more, our Lord provides out of His gracious and good will.

When Simon Peter saw what happened, he fell at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”[4] Amazement at these events had overcome him, so also his brother Andrew and their partners, James and John. But, Jesus answered him, “Do not be afraid; From now on you will be catching men.”[5] Peter realized what the catch meant. He had previously heard Jesus’ preaching, but now he saw clearly. Jesus is God. He knew what the catch meant, and was convicted by his own sinfulness. Peter wanted to run from Jesus. Jesus forgive Peter and called him to be a catcher of men. That is, He equipped Peter with the net of the Gospel, to catch men and bring them out alive from the sea of sin and death. Peter, and those who were with him, left everything and followed Jesus.

“If I just had this, I could do that.” That’s what we say. But, now we realize that our Lord can and does provide for what we need. There is nothing we need that we truly lack. When we put these things above the call that Christ has given His Church, we deserve for our Lord to depart from us. Instead, like Peter, He forgives us. Like Peter, He gives us what we need and then sends us out with what the world needs – the Gospel. The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Christ has made payment for our sins, and gives eternal life as a gift to all those who believe this.

There’s an important word toward the end of our text. It was translated in our reading as, “catching men.” A better translation would be, “catching men alive.” This word in Greek isn’t just for catching, but catching something alive. Such is what happens when the Word of God is preached, and the Holy Spirit creates faith in those who hear it. They are brought up out of the sea of sin and death and seated in the ark of the Church. This work the whole Church is called to, yet we let things of this world distract us. Let us learn from this text that our dear Lord can and does provide for all that we truly need. With that in place, He call us also to be fishers of men – that we also speak the Good News of salvation to those around us, that they also be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven.


[1] 1 Tim. 6:8, English Standard Version.

[2] Lk. 5:1-3.

[3] Lk. 5:4-7.

[4] Lk. 5:8.

[5] Lk. 5:10.

“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.

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.

Christ, the Way of Love

Texts: 1 Sam. 16, 1 Cor. 13, Lk. 18

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in our Epistle reading about the enduring importance of love in the life of a Christian. You cannot have a right faith before God if the fruits of faith, love especially, are not displayed in your life. Paul uses himself as an example. If he were to speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, he would be as useless as noisy gong or clanging cymbal. If he were to have the gift of prophecies and a faith that was strong enough to move mountains, without love, he would be nothing. If he gave everything he had, even his own life, without love, it would all be for nothing. To paraphrase the blessed saint, if you ain’t got love, you ain’t got nothin’.

The same is true for us. If we do not have love and if we show ourselves to be unloving people, then it seems that our faith is misplaced. For, a living and active faith in Christ necessitates, and actually produces, love for our neighbor. But let’s stop for a second here and talk about Christ and His love. Our fathers in the faith selected our texts today and placed them on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the Sunday before the 40-day journey to the cross, for a reason. In the Epistle, St. Paul extols love. It is patient and kind; it bears and endures all things. In the Gospel reading we heard Christ speaking of the things which He’ll endure for us: being mocked, spit upon, flogged, and being killed. The reason He undertakes all these things is the same as why He gives sight to blind Bartimaeus, and it’s the same reason why David, though the youngest of his brothers and last in line to be king, was chosen to shepherd God’s people: love. As we enter the season of Lent, we see in Christ the way of love. By choosing David over His older brothers, and by healing the blind beggar others rebuked, Jesus shows Himself to be the true way of love.

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We see this play out a few different ways in our readings this week. In our Old Testament text the boy who would become King David is anointed by the prophet Samuel. The current king, Saul, disobeyed the Lord’s Word and was rejected as king, though not immediately deposed. Samuel also anointed Saul to be king earlier, and one of the things that Scripture notes is that Saul was the son of a rich man. He was handsome, a head and shoulders taller than anyone around. Even though he was of the least of the tribes of Israel, he still looked the part of a king, and so he was. But, one of striking things that we see through the Lord’s Word is that He doesn’t always do things the way that would seem right. Particularly for Samuel and us, He doesn’t choose the strongest or the oldest for His inheritance. The Lord spoke to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

And so it was that the Lord anointed David, the youngest, to be king. This is just like how, out of Abraham’s sons, God chose the younger – Isaac. Of Isaac’s sons, it was Jacob who received the birthright and inheritance. Out of Jacob’s sons, Christ does not come from the line of Reuben, the firstborn, but from Judah. And now, here, is David – not the oldest, not the strongest, but the still the one from whom an offspring will come who will sit on the throne forever. This is how God works. He doesn’t choose us because of who we are or what we do, but because of who He is and what He’s done in Christ. In Christ, God has reconciled the world to Himself, including we, who like St. Paul, are untimely born. We all live two millennia after Christ walked the earth, and yet He dwells among us now in grace, truth, mercy, and love, in His Word and Sacraments. He daily and richly forgives our sins and binds up our broken hearts.

In His love for the lost and fallen, Christ reaches out to the untouchables, those scorned and rebuked by society and considered least in the eyes of the world. In our text from St. Luke’s Gospel Jesus is already on His final journey to Jerusalem and draws near to Jericho. This will be Jesus’ final miracle before His passion, and it is a work of love. Along the roadside sat a blind beggar, and when he heard that Jesus was passing by he began crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” What he could not see physically with his eyes, he saw with the eyes of faith. This Jesus is the Son of David promised so long ago, who would usher in the kingdom of God and the forgiveness of sins. The crowd rebuked the man and told him to be silent, but Jesus stops. He shows Himself the true Good Samaritan. In the parable, a man is attacked by robbers on his way to Jericho. Now, here in Jericho, Jesus stops to have mercy on a man in need. Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” Immediately the man recovered his sight and followed Jesus, glorifying God. All the people around also gave praise to the Father.

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In choosing David, the least of his brothers, and by healing the blind man who was worth so little in the eyes of the world, Christ shows us the way of God, the way of love. Christ Himself is the image of the invisible God, the embodiment of love. He is patient and kind. He does not shame us for our sin, but daily walks with us and forgives us when we fall. He does not envy or boast. He is not arrogant or rude, and He doesn’t resent us for all our transgressions against Him. Instead, He bears and endures all things for us, even the cross. This Sunday puts us at the brink of Lent. In just a few short days we will adorn ourselves in ashes, marking the Church’s season of focused repentance. Christ teaches us about all the things that His love for us will lead Him to endure. He says,

See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

St. Paul wrote that if he were to have power to understand all mysteries and have all knowledge, and if he had faith to move mountains, and if he delivered up his body to death, but had not love, it would all be for nothing. My friends in Christ, Jesus is love. He is mercy, grace; forgiveness. These are what drove Him to the cross for you. It’s what lead Him to endure being handed over to the Gentiles, being mocked and treated shamefully. He bore being spit on and being flogged. Then, His love for you led Him to allow those nails to be driven into His flesh with hammers, and to hang there helpless, bearing in Himself the wrath of God against sin. He did this all so that, as He rose from the dead, so, too, will all those who believe in Him.

This love that Christ has for us, the mercy that He showed by choosing us for salvation from before the foundation of the world – and that not because of our works, but because of His grace – will never end. All things will pass away. In Paul’s language, prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will pass away, but love will not. In this life we don’t always see things clearly, for we know only in part and see as through a mirror dimly, but soon we will see the love of God in Christ Jesus face to face. And though our lives seem like one great Lent, a time full of trials and cycles of sinning and repenting over and over again, soon we shall know fully the eternal love that Jesus has for us. And while we are in this life, He looks past our sin and shame, past our weaknesses and temptations, and He brings us the forgiveness that He won for us on the cross. He chose David, the least of his brothers, and He healed blind Bartimaeus, to show to us His way: love. As He shows us His love, through His Word and Sacraments, He also strengthens us to show forth that love. May He ever continue the preaching of His Word and the administration of the Sacraments among us, both gifts of His love, as we enter His Lent and look to His Easter.

 

 

The One to Come

Text: Matthew 11:2-6

The Voight-Kampff machine is a sophisticated piece of equipment. It’s a very advanced form of lie detector machine that measures contractions of the iris muscles in your eyes in response to carefully worded questions and statements. It also has a set of bellows which are sensitive to the invisible  pheromones released from the human body. Like I said, a sophisticated machine. It needs to be, because bounty hunters need to be able to discern whether the subject in front of them is an android or a human. The machine is used in the 1968 book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? You might know the film adaptation, Blade Runner.

Rick Deckard is the main character in both. His task as a blade runner is to seek out and “retire” escaped androids. The literature plays on many themes, not the least of which is what makes one human. In the movie the androids are shown to think and dream, to have emotions. In our Gospel text, think of John the Baptist as a blade runner. His job was to point to and show the people the true Messiah, Jesus. The Voight-Kampff machine in Blade Runner is like Jesus’ miracles. The miracles show that Jesus is the One to Come, but there is some confusion. In the movie, the machine can sometimes give false positives – such as, showing an android to be a human. In our text, John wondered whether his machines was giving a false positive, so he sent his disciples to Jesus. When they met Him, Jesus showed through His Word and deeds that He is the One to Come. Blessed is the one who is not offended by Him.

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The text from St. Matthew’s gospel begins, “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ The scene begins with John in prison. By this point he had been there about a year already. In the Gospels, John is active before Christ’s ministry. His job was to preach about the coming Messiah and call people to repentance in preparation for His arrival. The time came for Jesus to be baptized by John. He had no need of forgiveness, but His baptism for repentance was necessary to fulfill all righteousness, Jesus said. Immediately at His Baptism, the heavens were opened and the Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove while the Father spoke from heaven, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

It was revealed to John there just whose way He was preparing – Jesus’. Jesus is the One to Come, who is now here. But John’s in prison now. He’s there for his faithful witness to God’s Word. He rightfully called Herod to repent for his adulterous marriage and was thrown in the king’s dungeon. Now, John is starting to creak. The old house isn’t falling down by any means, but when the wind blows hard enough, it moans a little. Most commentators on this text are very pious and say that it wasn’t John who doubted Jesus, but his disciples. I don’t really think it makes a difference. John sent his disciples with a simple task: find out whether Jesus is the “one who is to come,” (the Messiah), “or should we look for another?”

I think it doesn’t make a difference whether it was John himself who wanted to know, or his disciples, because the reason is the same. Jesus did not conform exactly to their idea of the Messiah. Hear some examples of John’s sermons: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.” “His winnowing fork is in his hand…the chaff he will burn with fire.” See, they were expecting the Messiah to come and deal with sin immediately. He was supposed to come and burn away the dross, to put away the evildoer and cast him into eternal fire. John saw the dove and heard the voice at Jesus’ Baptism, but maybe the machine was broken. Maybe the Voight-Kampff machine identifying Jesus was throwing a false positive.

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If John was a blade runner, whose task is to seek the Messiah, then we are blade runners, too. And, just like John the Baptist and his disciples, we sometimes get the wrong idea. See, we all want the perfect lives. Who came blame us? All we ask for is health, a comfortable amount of money, a warm home, a stable family life…we look for these things and expect them from the Messiah, but we don’t always get them. We get disheartened and disillusioned. Sometimes, like John, we’re not sure either.

But, what does Jesus do when the disciples ask Him? He doesn’t rebuke them. Instead, He says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me. Jesus does not send them away in anger or despise them, but He them tells to convey what they’ve heard and seen. They’ve heard Jesus preach that the kingdom of God has now drawn near to them. They’ve heard Him say that He has come to bring the free forgiveness of sins. We learn in the Catechism that where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. In the presence of Jesus, not only are sins forgiven, but the blind now see, the lame now walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf can hear, the dead are raised and the poor in spirit receive Good News.

These things are all actions which were prophesied by the Lord through Isaiah many centuries before. Jesus is the One to Come. Jesus shows this not just in words, but in deeds which only the Lord God Himself could do. The man who was born blind and yet healed by Jesus put it this way, “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” Jesus showed Himself to be a tree that is known by its fruits. He is the One to Come, whom God’s people had long awaited, and now He’s here. Only, He is not here primarily to judge and destroy. There will be a time for that, but not yet. In our text Jesus has come to bring forgiveness, to release those held captive in the bondage of sin by healing their diseases and infirmities. Their healing is a small picture of the healing which we will all receive in the resurrection of the dead.

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Jesus said, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” In Blade Runner they have a machine called the Voight-Kampff machine, which is used to determine whether the subject in front of them is an android or not. John and his disciples had a machine that they were using to determine whether Jesus was the one to come; They had the miracles. But they wondered whether their machine was giving them a false positive. In the movie, one android is able to make it through over 100 questions that were designed to tell androids from humans. Maybe John and his followers were mistaken. Jesus had the miracles, but He wasn’t displaying the wrath and fire, the immediate punishment of evil that they were expecting.

Instead, Jesus was forgiving sins and healing. He was showing mercy and preaching the Gospel, not desiring that any should perish, but that all come to repentance and faith. John and his disciples put Jesus into a box, expecting Him to conform to their idea of the Messiah. Jesus said, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” That statement applied to John, but its real focus was the scribes and pharisees. They, likewise, were looking for the Messiah. They saw Jesus and the signs that He did, and yet they rejected Him. John did not, despite his struggles. Jesus speaks to us as well.

We can all get behind Jesus. In hindsight it’s easy to see that Jesus is the Messiah. He heals the sick, makes the deaf to hear, raises the dead, even rising from the dead Himself. He is the One to Come, the Messiah who brings with Him the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the healing of all ailments in the resurrection. But, beyond that we also put Jesus into a box. We compartmentalize Him into just a section of our lives and ignore the demands He makes on our entire being. Jesus calls us to a life of repentance, not just Sunday mornings. He teaches us to cast out the old leaven of sin, and yet often we aren’t too serious about avoiding sinful behavior. Jesus teaches through the mouth of the Apostle Paul to mark and avoid all false doctrine, and to prize the true teaching above all things, but that’s too much work – and on top of that, it’s often seen as not “nice.”

Jesus says, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” These words apply to us as well as to John and his disciples. Jesus, however did not rebuke or belittle their question. Rather, Jesus showed through word and work that He is the One to Come. He is God in the flesh, come to release us from the bonds of sin. The title for the Third Sunday in Advent is Gaudete, which means “Rejoice.” This comes from our antiphon, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Therefore, let us rejoice at the coming of the Lord. He has shown through His words and deeds that He is the One to Come, who has come and released us from our sins. When John and his disciples were offended on account of Jesus’ not fitting their ideas, He did not turn them away in anger but showed mercy. In the same way, may He grant us grace not to take offense at Him or His Words by lighting the darkness our hearts with His gracious visitation.