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He Has Done All Things Well

Mark 7:31-37

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    It is a terrible thing not being able to hear.  Perhaps you’ve been in a restaurant eating with a large group of people.  A spirited conversation is going on at the other end of the table, and you want to know what’s going on, but you can’t hear; you’re cut off.  Or perhaps your hearing is failing from age or other problems.  Even normal conversations are strained.  You’re tired of asking people to repeat themselves or guessing at what they just said.  You can imagine, then, the isolation that someone might feel who is completely deaf, especially if he was living in Jesus’ day–no closed captioning or anything like that.  This man in the Gospel was feeling the damaging effects of the fall in his body in a very real way. He couldn’t hear properly; and so he couldn’t speak properly either.null

    Jesus had just come from the region of Tyre and Sidon, where he had cast out a demon from a young girl.  Now He again comes face to face with someone who has been attacked by the devil.  For this is Satan’s goal:  to disrupt and tear down the lives of those created in the image of God, to cause people trouble in both soul and body.  He does this in an attempt to turn our hearts away from the Lord.  

    It is not wrong to see the working of the devil in your physical troubles.  For wasn’t it through Satan’s temptations that sin entered the world, bringing with it sickness and pain and death itself?  Doesn’t Satan still seek to bring destruction and heartache, especially to the people of God? That is why St. Paul refers to his “thorn in the flesh,” his bodily ailment, as “a messenger of Satan to buffet me.”  Likewise, the Old Testament reading connects deafness and blindness and poverty to the work of “the terrible one” and “the scornful one,” namely, the devil.

    Nevertheless, the Lord uses even Satan’s destructive schemes to accomplish His own righteous purposes.  The Apostle Paul spoke of how although God wouldn’t take away his physical troubles, He taught Paul through those troubles to trust entirely in His grace and His power in Christ.  In this way the devil’s onslaughts are turned upside down so that they cause us to cling even more tightly to the Lord’s promised salvation.  

    You’ve probably experienced this in your own life.  Isn’t it true that you often turn to God most eagerly and pray to Him most passionately in difficult times–like when you’re facing financial or relationship difficulties, or in the midst of illness or bodily pain?  And so even through those bad things the devil, the destroyer, is turned against himself.  No matter what the devil does, God works it for good to those who believe in Jesus.  For though we may be weak of ourselves, yet we are made to be strong in the Lord.  Our trust is then directed ever more completely to God’s strength and mercy.  When Satan buffets us, the Holy Spirit draws us to pray in faith the words of the Psalm, “Make haste, O God, to deliver me!  Make haste to help me, O Lord!”

    However, we cannot pray in this way unless the Lord first opens our ears and unlooses our tongue.  For like the man in the Gospel we are by nature deaf and mute towards God.  Being bound by Satan even from birth, our ears are closed off and calloused towards God.  We’re tuned out.  We prefer to listen to other more entertaining voices or voices that promise more immediate help and success. We don’t naturally grasp God’s Word.  I Corinthians 2 says, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them.”

    The impediment in our hearing also causes an impediment in our talking, our praying.  It’s sort of like trying to have a conversation with headphones on and music playing.  If someone tries to talk to you, the noise keeps you from hearing them.  And if you try to speak back to them, your speech is liable to be slurred and funny sounding because you can’t really hear yourself.  You talk too loudly.  That’s also how it is in our relationship with God.  The noise of the world and of our own fallen nature keeps us from hearing Him speak and grasping His words.  And our speech back to Him, if there is any, is just loud gobbledygook, slurred and turned inward by sin.  In a very real way, we are just like the deaf-mute in today’s Gospel.

    The people bring this man to Jesus and beg Him to put His hand on him.  Immediately, Jesus takes the man aside from the multitude, away from the familiarity and the security of his friends and the people he knew.  The deaf-mute’s attention, his trust was to be entirely focused on Jesus now.  So it is with you.  When Jesus deals with you, he calls you to find your security not ultimately in the familiar people or things in this world, but only in Him. For you have been taken aside from the multitude to be His own.

    Jesus also does this away from the crowd because this wasn’t for show.  He wasn’t making sure this was videotaped so that it could be uploaded to YouTube and Facebook and go viral or maybe get on the news.  He was completely there for the deaf-mute, one on one, just as He is for you in the Word and Sacraments.

    Jesus uses a bit of sign language.  He puts His fingers right into the deaf man’s ears.  And then He spits and touches his tongue.  Jesus is hands-on.  He isn’t above lowering Himself to the point of making contact with this man’s ailment.  He literally touches the deaf mute’s problem as if to draw it out of him and absorb it into Himself.  When Jesus touched this man, God Himself was touching him.  Those were divine fingers in His ears.  For Jesus is God in the flesh, who came for this very purpose of sharing in our humanity and taking into Himself all that holds us in bondage so that He might destroy it and the devil forever.  Jesus wore our chains so that He might break them once and for all at Calvary.  Spitting and grabbing tongues and sticking fingers in ears doesn’t sound very spiritual, or even sanitary.  But that’s the earthy, ordinary way in which Jesus deals with us fallen human beings in order to save and restore us.

    Jesus looks up to His Father heaven.  Then Jesus sighs and says to the deaf mute, “Ephphatha,” “Be opened, Be released.”  Immediately his ears are opened and the impediment of his tongue is loosed, and he speaks plainly.  Jesus was not simply speaking to the man’s ears and tongue but to his whole person,”Be released!”  Jesus here is freeing this man from his bondage to Satan.  Jesus’ miracle is more than just evidence of his power over bodily ailments; it is evidence of His triumph over the devil.  Jesus’ words shatter the chains by which the evil one holds his victim bound.

    But of course, like any battle, that victory doesn’t come without a cost.  As Jesus is about to speak, He sighs, He groans.  Our Lord does this because He is making our pain and loneliness and troubles and sin His own.   He groaned and cried out for us on the cross.  The cost of our healing is His death.  But through that death Jesus is not defeated but victorious.  For in so doing He takes away the sin that gives Satan his power.  Jesus overcame all that makes us sigh and groan in this fallen world and put it to death.  And by rising bodily from the grave, He restored the bodies of all the faithful to life that is whole and immortal and imperishable–no more deafness (or even hearing aids), no more blindness and disease and death.  That resurrection life will be revealed to us and to the whole creation when Christ returns on the Last Day.  Isaiah prophesied of this when he said, “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness.  The humble also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.  For the terrible one is brought to nothing, the scornful one is consumed.”

    All thanks and praise be to God, then, that He has sent His Son Jesus to open our ears and unloose our tongues, that we may believe in Him with our hearts and confess the faith with our mouths and be saved.  Jesus still sticks His fingers in your ears.  He really does!  For in the Scriptures the term “finger of God” is a reference to the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, when Christ preaches and teaches His words to you, the finger of God is being put into your ears, the Holy Spirit is coming to you to open your ears and your hearts and your minds, that you may believe in Christ and receive His life and salvation.  The Epistle says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

    And Jesus still spits and grabs your tongue, too, in the Sacraments.  After all, what is baptism but water and words from the mouth of God?  This divine water and words are applied to you at the font to rescue you from your bondage to the evil one and to set you free as a child of God.  When you were baptized, Jesus said His “Ephphatha” to you. “Be opened, be released.”  You were marked with the sign of the holy cross by which Jesus destroyed the devil’s work and broke the chains of hell for you.  Released and liberated, the body and blood of Christ are now placed on your tongue for the forgiveness of your sins and that you may endure in the faith to the end.

    Let us then give praise to God, knowing and believing that whatever ailments the devil might yet inflict us with, he can do us no real or lasting harm.  For our bodies, together with our souls, have been redeemed through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Jesus is Lord over death and the devil, and therefore all those who are baptized into Him will be fully restored in the resurrection of the body on the Last Day.  Some of you have seen those videos of people having their hearing restored with cochlear implants.  If there is great and tearful joy in that, just consider the rejoicing that will occur for those who are in Christ in the resurrection of our bodies!  It’s hard to even imagine.  So even when it seems like age or heart disease or cancer are getting the best of you, even as you take your last breath, you are given to say confidently with St. Paul in Philippians 3, “Christ Jesus will change our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body by the power the enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.”  

    Truly, Christ has done all things well.  Even in this place He has made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.  Trust in Him to do all things well for you.

    ✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Bread of the Curse, Bread of Blessing

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Bread is one of the most common foods there is.  Bread is in many ways a basic staple of life, even in this age of lower carb diets.  And yet we sometimes forget that the reason we eat bread is a result of our fall into sin.  Bread is a sign of the curse.  For God said to Adam and to all his descendants, “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life . . . In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.”

    There was no bread in paradise.  Before the Fall Adam and Eve simply ate the fruit of the trees and the vegetation which God had freely given, and which they were given to tend to.  Without any burdensome labor on their part, God provided to them all that they needed to sustain their lives.  There was no exhausting tilling of the fields or grinding the wheat or kneading and baking as with bread.  Rather, food was given to them in abundance as a gracious gift from their Creator.

    But through the temptation of the devil, that all changed.  Adam and Eve rebelled against God by reaching out for the one food that the Lord had not given them to eat, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  They wanted to do things their own way, be in charge of their own lives, become their own gods.  The devil promised them great things, but that promise turned out to be a lie.  Instead of gaining something, they ended up losing their life with God and were left empty and famished.null

    We, too, know the temptation to reach for that which God has not given, to consume the things and the philosophies of this world and to trust in them to bring us happiness and contentment.  Satan wants your spiritual diet to consist of satisfying your own desires, focusing not on the Lord and His words but on the pleasures and the honors of this temporal, passing world.  To appease your spiritual hunger, the devil tries to sell you junk food.  He hisses in your ear, “If you would just get that bigger and better and newer stuff, if you would just spend more time on entertainment and recreation and pleasure, if you would just buy in to the self-help spirituality of our culture, why then you would get where you want to be; then you would be fulfilled.”  But the devil is a liar.  He offers nothing of substance, nothing that lasts, like state fair cotton candy that melts away in the rain.  The more we feed on such things, the more empty and famished we will become.  None of these things can truly satisfy the gnawing hunger of the soul.

    And the eating of bread is meant to serve as a reminder of that.  Every time we have a dinner roll or toast or a sandwich, we should remember that we’re no longer in paradise.  We’re in a fallen, desert world that is vastly different from what God first made.  Romans 8 says that all creation groans under sin’s curse and is in bondage to decay.   Weeds and thistles infest the ground.  Children are brought forth in pain.  There is sickness and hardship, harsh weather and earthquakes.  We can sometimes come up with temporary solutions to these problems with technology or medical advancements.  But in the end, we are all given to eat the bread of death.

    However, into this barren world breaks the very Son of God Himself to save you.  For where is Jesus in the Gospel?  He is in the wilderness with a multitude of people who have nothing to eat, those who are feeling the effects of the curse very concretely.  Christ took on your human flesh and blood and put Himself smack dab into the middle of this fallen world in order to rescue you and raise you up.  Man’s sin turned the world from paradise into a bleak and harsh place, and so Jesus entered into that bleakness and harshness as a true man in order that He might undo the curse on creation and restore you to paradise.    

    Jesus said, “I have compassion on the multitudes.”  That word, “compassion,” in Greek has to do with your inward parts, your heart, your guts.  In other words Jesus feels for you deeply in His inner being with the greatest possible empathy.  So fully does Jesus feel for you in His gut and in His heart that He went so far as to make your problems His problems.  Jesus cares not only for the spiritual but also the physical welfare of these people.  He doesn’t want them to faint on the way. Jesus feels for what happens with your bodies.  He knows what you’re going through.  In His great mercy Jesus came into the world to suffer with you and to suffer for you in order to take your suffering away forever.  He made Himself a part of your blood and sweat and tears in order to redeem your bodies and souls and renew the fallen creation in which you live.

    That’s what is beginning to take place in this miracle of the feeding of the 4000.  The curse on Adam had been, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.”  But here the second Adam, Jesus, reverses the curse and produces bread in abundance apart from any sweaty or tiring labor.  In this moment He restores the bounty of the Garden of Eden, where food is received in overflowing measure from the gracious hand of God.  Here you see God the Son beginning to break the curse of decay and death and overcome the fall into sin.  You see a small glimpse of how it was in the beginning and how it will be even more so in the new creation of the age to come.

    Jesus would complete His work of undoing the fall and breaking the power of the curse on the cross.  The wages of sin is death; and so Jesus took those wages you had coming and died your death for you.  Sin’s deathly curse was broken and undone in the body of Christ the crucified.  And therefore, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, the gift of life now flows to you and to all who believe in Him.  For if sin has been undone, so also are the wages of sin undone.  Death and hell have been taken away from you through the cross.  You have been released to a new life, free and full, through the resurrection of Jesus.

    That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the fact that it was on the third day that this miracle was performed in the Gospel.  It is a tradition in the church to fast beginning on Good Friday in observance of our Lord’s holy death and burial.  But then the fast is broken on Easter, the third day, to partake in the feast of the living and resurrected Christ.  Even so, week by week throughout the year we fast in spirit with Jesus, denying ourselves and bearing His cross in our daily callings in this wilderness world.  But then the fast is broken on the third day, that is, in divine service, as we feast on the living Bread from heaven.

    Jesus took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to His disciples to set before the people.  In the same way still today, Jesus speaks His words of thanks and consecration,  and His ministers distribute the blessed Sacrament of the Altar.  The seven loaves were multiplied to feed and fully satisfy 4000 people.  In the same way still today, Jesus uses the smallest amounts of bread to multiply His grace and feed and fully satisfy the church with His very life-giving body.  Jesus said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

    When all had eaten there was more left over than when they started.  Seven small loaves became seven large baskets.  So it is that the Lord’s love and provision and compassion cannot be exhausted; it never runs out.  In particular this means that there is no sin of yours so great that His multiplying mercy cannot overcome it.  In fact, not only does Jesus overcome it, He makes things better than before.  The seven loaves stand for the seven days of creation.  The seven large baskets stand for the even greater creation to come at Christ’s return.  It’s not just that the Lord is going to restore you to what Adam and Eve knew in Eden.  He is going to exalt you to a status and a state even greater and better than Adam and Eve.  The place being prepared for us in heaven surpasses even the Paradise of Eden.  For by sharing fully in our humanity, Christ has lifted us up to the very throne and glory of God.  We’re not just going back to paradise, we’re going forward to a new creation.

    And all this Jesus has done by turning the curse into a blessing.  He takes the things that once were signs of death and makes them signs of life for us.  The deathly curse of the cross is now for us the thing which brings the blessing of life.  And the curse of bread is now for us the thing which brings the blessed body of Christ in the Sacrament.  Our Lord turns evil for good to redeem us.

    So now, as we eat the daily bread that God provides, be it a dinner roll or a wrap or a sandwich, we are reminded not only of the fall into sin but especially of Christ the living Bread who has undone the fall into sin and broken the curse.  Though man ate of the tree that brought death, there is now the tree of life, the cross, from which he may eat and never die, never to be separated from God and His goodness again.  

    In Christ, there is no sweating to work your way into God’s favor, no wages or merits to be earned from the Father.  There is only the gift of life in His Son.  As you receive this living bread that came down from heaven, you are being given a taste of paradise.  For heaven is where Christ is, and Christ is here for you.  “The poor shall eat and be satisfied.”  “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him.”  

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

"Good Company" or "The Prodigal Son of God"

Luke 15:1-3,11-32
Trinity 3
Pastor Aaron A. Koch
Mt. Zion Lutheran Church
Greenfield, WI

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    You may know the old Greek proverb, “Bad company ruins good morals.”  St. Paul quotes it in 1 Corinthians 15.  And we know that it's true from our own experience.  If you hang out with people whose talk is foul-mouthed, you tend to start talking like they do.  If you spend a lot of time with those who look at spirituality and morality from an unScriptural perspective, you’ll tend to want to go with the flow of how the group is thinking and behaving.  And of course, “bad company ruins good morals” might be applied especially to the company we keep in our entertainment and the use of media.  If pop culture is someone’s daily company, with all of its scoffing and mocking humor, with its undermining and redefinition of marriage and sexual morality, with its assault on the sanctity of human life, that will certainly affect a person’s worldview and behavior negatively.  Christians, too, are tempted to see things not through the eyes of the Word but the eyes of the world.

    So it seems understandable, at least on the surface, why the Pharisees and scribes complained about the company that Jesus was keeping in today’s Gospel.  “This man receives sinners and eats with them!”  He wasn’t just keeping company with thieving tax collectors and conspicuous sinners; He was actually sharing a meal with them–a form of fellowship and closeness.  How could this man, this rabbi, dirty Himself and His reputation like that?  Was He lowering the standards of His teaching?  Was He condoning their sin?  It all just seemed wrong to the religious leaders.

    To explain what He was doing, Jesus told three parables–the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.  The first two especially show how Christ has come to seek out and save the lost, how He is willing to get down into the muck of our lives in order to help us, to call sinners to repentance–not to condone sin but to forgive sin.  Bad company may ruin good morals, but the good company of Jesus redeems and gives new life.  What brings joy to heaven is not the self-righteous morally upright but the one who repents and trusts in God’s mercy.

    Today’s parable of the lost son highlights that mercy of God.  A certain man had two sons.  The younger son tells his father that he wants his share of the inheritance.  He’s tired of waiting around for his dad to keel over.  He wants to move on with life and have some fun.  And so in his impatience and audacity, he makes this self-serving request of his father.  null

    The father could have rebuked him for his insolent attitude, but instead, he grants his request.  The father knows that he can’t coerce and force love from his son, and so he takes the hurt and lets him go, knowing that the son will likely have some very hard lessons to learn as a result.

    God also deals with us in the same way.  For we too have sometimes tried to use Him for our own ends, praying selfishly or using a religious cloak to justify our behavior.  In fact you could describe sin as the wish that God were dead, so that we could then live our lives the way we please.  God could sternly enforce obedience from us if He so chose.  But He doesn’t want slaves cowering in submission; He wants children who receive and return His love.  And so He sometimes lets us go our own way; He lets us mess up so that we can see how barren our life is apart from Him.

    And indeed the younger son’s life turned out about as barren as it could be.  He may have had fun partying with his friends and living the good life for a time.  But when his money ran out, so did his friends.  In the end he was left all alone, and the best job he could find was feeding pigs–the bottom of the barrel for a Jewish boy.  That’s the way sin always works.  It gives short term happiness and long term pain.  It lives for the moment and sacrifices eternity.

    When the younger son was so hungry that the pig food started to look good, he finally came to his senses.  He repented.  He realized what he had lost by leaving his father.  He realized that even his father’s servants were doing better than him.  He was sorry for what he did.  But notice that sorrow isn’t what brought him back.  It was the memory of his father’s goodness that moved him to turn and head toward home.  In the same way, we are made able to truly repent only in the certainty that we have a merciful heavenly Father.  Being sorry is only the beginning; Judas was sorry, too, you recall.  Believing that your heavenly Father will receive you back for the sake of Christ in spite of your unworthiness is the heart of the matter.  True repentance includes faith.  Romans 2 says that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repent.

    However, even with his repentance, the younger son underestimated his father by thinking that he could only be allowed back as a servant.  But the father hadn’t written him off like that.  He’s waiting, looking down the road, hoping that his lost son will return.  It says here, “But when (the younger son) was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.”  Dignified men don’t run, but the father was compelled to by his love, hurrying to welcome his son back.  

    The father goes out to the son, even as God is always going out and reaching out to us with His mercy.  And notice that the father embraces the son even before the son can say a word, even before he can make his confession!  In this we see that God doesn’t receive us back and forgive us based on how well we repent or because we formulate the right words.  God forgives us and receives us to Himself because of His grace and mercy toward us in Christ.  His very nature is love.  It’s all based on His undeserved and unmerited kindness.  There is the saying that confession is good for the soul, and that is true.  But we learn here that absolution is even better for the soul, for the mercy of God is what restores and saves us.  That’s what the father is doing here–forgiving and welcoming his son back to the family.

    And it’s not just a conditional or probationary status that he’s given until he proves himself.  Rather, the Father treats him in the way that only a full, honored son would be.  He puts a distinguished robe on him.  He gives him the family ring with all the authority that brings with it.  He puts sandals on his feet, for only the servants would be barefoot.  And the father throws a party, to celebrate that his son who was “dead” is alive again.  

    This is the picture of God’s compassionate love for you.  God’s servants, the holy angels, rejoice over the sinner who repents.  The OT reading said that God delights, He delights! in showing mercy.  You don’t have to prove yourself first.  Rather God embraces us fully as His children with all the blessings that brings, so great is His joy to have us home.  

    In fact so much does God want to have us with Himself that He made His own Son to be like the younger son.  When it comes right down to it, Jesus is the real prodigal son in this parable.  It says here that the father gave to the younger son of his livelihood, or literally his “substance”– just as we confess in the Creed that Jesus is of one substance with the Father.  Then the Son of the Father goes to a far country, which is to say, the Son descends to earth and becomes man for us.  Here He blows His wealth and His substance consorting with tax collectors and sinners and the likes of us.  He is prodigal and beautifully excessive in the way He dishes out His grace and mercy toward us.  He loses it all for you, dying in your place as if He were the rebellious sinner, to win your forgiveness.  Then Jesus arises and returns to His Father, who exalts Him to His right hand, and gives Him the name that is above every name, rejoicing that He who was dead is alive again, that He who was lost for a time to the grave has been found triumphant over sin, death, and the devil.  

    Once you were dead and lost.  But God raised you to life in His Son Jesus.  The Father now says to you, “Your brother, My Son was dead, and is alive again.  Repent and find your life in Him.  No matter how low it has gotten for you, Jesus has gone to the lowest depths on your behalf in order to become the way back for you. You’re not an outcast stepchild here.  You are robed in Jesus’ righteousness at the font and the family ring is put on your finger.  The banquet table of the supper is laid before you, the body and blood of Christ given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  You’re a full-fledged child in My house through Jesus.  There is great joy in heaven for each one of you who are here in penitent faith.  Welcome home.”

    Now before we finish, we need to talk about the older son.  Notice that the father has to go out to him, too.  He too had left home in a sense, forsaking the father’s love by thinking He had to earn it, that his father’s favor was a reward for his good behavior.  “All these years I’ve served you” he says, talking more like a servant than a son.  But here, too, the Father gives all.  He says, “All that I have is yours.  That’s the way it’s always been.”  And in the end the question is left unanswered: does the older brother believe that?  Do we?  Do you believe that the fullness of God’s mercy is yours apart from any merit or worthiness in you?  Do you believe that it’s all a free gift in Christ?

    Jesus declares in today’s Gospel that it most certainly is.  Let us, then, never become like the older brother, whose legalism and self-righteousness kept him outside of the household and away from the joy of the feast.  Let us never think that there are certain sinners who aren’t worthy of God’s mercy, as if Jesus didn’t shed His blood for them, too.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–only sinners.  If we refuse to keep company with all who repent and trust in Him, we are refusing to keep company with Christ Himself, just like the Pharisees.  We are putting ourselves outside of the joy of the household.  Only as we repent can we rejoice in the repentance of another.  Only as we see ourselves as lost sinners can we rejoice that Jesus welcomes penitent sinners to His table.  “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  That’s good company.  So come in and make merry and celebrate the Lord’s mercy.  In Him the lost are found and the dead live.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠


God is My Helper

Luke 16:19-31
Trinity 1
Pastor Aaron A. Koch
Mt. Zion Lutheran Church
Greenfield, Wisconsin

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Unbelief makes a person blind.  All the while he thinks he’s being religious and doing the right thing, he can’t see that he’s really still self-absorbed and in rebellion against God.  Just consider the rich man in today’s Gospel.  Even after he dies, even after he knows that he has separated himself from God forever, notice that nothing really changes with him.  The same beggar that he apparently ignored while he was alive, he now still treats selfishly, wanting to use and control him for his own purposes.  “Send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.”  “Send Lazarus back from the dead to my brothers, so that they don’t also come here to this place of torment.”  Lazarus was still not fully a person in the rich man’s mind, just someone who could be used to do something he wanted done.

    Of course, it is a good thing that the rich man was thinking of his brothers.  He could at least care about his own flesh and blood.  But even here, we see most profoundly how the rich man was still an unbeliever.  For after he begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to his brothers, he completely rejects Abraham’s holy reply.  Abraham says to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let [your brothers] hear them.”  In other words, “Your brothers have the Scriptures, the Word of God, which alone has the power to bring about true repentance and saving faith.  That’s what they desperately need to listen to.”  But the rich man–he who was on the other side of that uncrossable chasm–actually has the gall to contradict our father in the faith.  “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”  The rich man is still the rebellious child, thinking he knows better.  No, father Abraham.  I don’t believe you; I don’t trust in the power of God’s Word to help in this situation.  My brothers need something better, something more than the Scriptures.  No, they need to see a miracle, something to shake them up to really make them repent.

    This reveals the rich man’s fundamental problem.  He doesn’t have faith in God’s Word, before or after death.  It’s not as if once an unbeliever dies, he suddenly becomes a believer, but it’s just too late.  No, the lack of love for God and the lack of trust in God remains.  During his life, even though the rich man probably would have gone to hear God’s Word on the Sabbath as a good citizen, he was blind to its message, blind to the presence and power of God there to save, and blind to the Messiah it spoke of.  And so he was also blind to the need of his neighbor laid right there at his gate.  All he could see were the things that helped out his business, how his religious living helped to give him a good reputation and honor in the community, how secure he felt having the things he had come to possess.  In the end, because he lived without the Lord in any real way, he also dies forever without the Lord, only seeing from the greatest distance and never experiencing or knowing the Lord’s goodness that had been freely offered him.

    There is a rich man also in every one of you, your old Adam; and he too is blind.  All he can see is what he wants to see, what fits in with his way of thinking, what serves his purposes.  When there’s a problem, your fallen nature thinks, “if only my spouse or my friends or co-workers would just see things my way, then everything would be better; everything would be right.”  Ironically, we selfishly want everyone else to repent of their selfishness, to our benefit.  Your old Adam is always trying to lead you to avoid those who can’t do anything for you.  He finds his security and happiness in having a cushion in the bank account, and can’t seem to feel any love for God when the finances go south.  It is that old nature in you which likes religion only to the extent that it brings success or makes you look good to others.  It is that part of you which still believes that a key part of how you get in good standing with God somehow has to do with the fact that you’ve lived a pretty decent life.

    Repent.  Take your place not with those whom the world loves, but with humble Lazarus.  Return to your baptism and drown the old ways.  Your old Adam is not the real you, not in God’s sight.  He has given you a new life in Christ.  That is your true identity; that is who you are, a beloved child of God.  With empty open hands, receive the good gifts God freely places into your hands.  

    Lazarus is one who most certainly heard Moses and the prophets in true faith.  Stripped of all the entanglements of this world, nullthere was nothing to blind him to his true condition or the only place where there was real help for him.  The Word of God was his hope, as his name indicated– “Lazarus” which means “God is My Help.”  Even though Lazarus longed for mere crumbs from the table like a dog, even though the street dogs were his company and licked his wounds, even though in this world Lazarus had nothing–not even his health–in truth, Lazarus found what he was seeking.  He found mercy that endures forever.  He received Living Water and Bread from Heaven. He obtained perfect satisfaction and health.  It was all there for him in Moses and the prophets.  For there in Moses and the prophets was the Messiah, Jesus, his Help and his Savior.  

    Later in this same Gospel Luke recounts the narrative of Jesus after His resurrection walking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  There it is written that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] explained to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”  Moses and the Prophets are all about Jesus–from creation to the last prophecy in Malachi.  Lazarus went to heaven because he believed Moses and the prophets.  Or to put it more precisely, he believed in the Messiah Jesus whom they prophesied, who would take the sins of the world upon Himself and earn for him God’s favor and a place in heaven.

    Lazarus found there in the Scriptures a man much like himself, in fact, in even worse shape than himself.  Isaiah prophesies that the Christ is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, despised and rejected by men, one without any attractiveness that we should desire to be near Him.  Jesus Himself said in the Psalms that He was surrounded by unbelieving dogs who mocked Him in His pain, who pierced His hands and His feet.  And yet, Isaiah says, “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses. . .  And by His wounds we are healed.”  The blood that flowed from those wounds cleansed us of our sin and bought our eternal healing, the restoration and resurrection of our bodies to glory on the Last Day.

    Truly Jesus made Himself to be just like Lazarus for us.  For notice how Lazarus is comforted there in the bosom of father Abraham.  That is a clear picture for us of the first two persons of the Trinity, the eternal Father and Son, as John 1 states, “No one has seen God at any time.”  But, “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.”  Jesus made the love of the Father known and manifested it to us by coming down from heaven into the midst of our poverty and affliction in order to raise us up and bring us back with Himself to the Father’s embrace.  “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich,” with the eternal blessings of mercy and life, which do not pass away.

    Lazarus was a true son of Abraham, not only by blood, but also because he had the same faith as Abraham.  Remember how the elderly, childless Abraham was told by God that he would be the father of many nations, that his descendants would be as countless as the stars.  And even though Abraham had no evidence or experience to go on, he believed God’s promise, and God credited it to him as righteousness.  Abraham was righteous by faith alone.  And so was Lazarus.  Lazarus, too, trusted in God’s promise that He would not forsake the lowly, that no one who puts his trust in Him would ever be put to shame, that the Lord saves those who have a humble and contrite and penitent heart.  Even when all of the evidence and experience of Lazarus’ life said that God had forsaken him, he still clung to God’s promise.  By that faith he was accounted righteous before God.  He was saved.

    And so it is also for you.  The evidence and experience of your life may seem to suggest that God doesn’t like you, that He’s forgotten you, or at best that He’s ignoring you.  But don’t judge God by what you see or feel.  Instead, go on His Word and His promises.  Give up looking for impressive but fleeting signs.  Trust that what He says is true and real.  For God does not lie; He does not break His Word.  He will come through for you–maybe not the way you want right now; maybe not even in this life.  But most assuredly He will do so in the life of the world to come.  And He will be with you every step of the way there.  For He has conquered your sin and death by His own death and resurrection.  By faith in Him, you are accounted righteous before God.  You are holy in His sight, without a single flaw.  The comfort and happiness of heaven is yours, entirely by the grace of God.  You don’t have to earn it by your works.  Notice that there’s no purgatory here where you have to suffer for a while before you get into heaven.  No, it’s all a gift of Christ’s love for you.  Like Lazarus you have it all in Moses and the Prophets, in the Word, in Jesus.

    The unbelieving rich man, you’ll notice, is given no name by Jesus.  But like Lazarus, you have been given a name by God in holy baptism as His beloved child.  The Lord did more than dip the tip of His finger in the water; He reached in with His whole self and doused you with His Spirit, that you may know that God is your Help.  Let us, then, be like Lazarus in spirit–poor, weak, dependent on the Lord, satisfied with no other food than what comes from His table, eating the rich crumbs of the Bread of Life that satisfy completely.  Then you may die unfearing; for God’s own angels will bear you home to His side in Christ.  And in the resurrection you will with your own eyes behold the Son of God’s glorious face, your Savior and your fount of grace.  

✠ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Your Father Knows What You Need

Matthew 6:1-15
June 20, 2014
Concordia Catechetical Academy Symposium on the Lord's Prayer

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    “Your Father knows what you need.”  Those words are intended to bring us great comfort.  They are also words, however, that must humble us.  For too often we can pray as if we’re unsure that He knows what we need.  He’s not paying close enough attention, and we need to draw His focus.  He’s not getting it right; He doesn’t seem to understand that we need healing, or help in our relationships or our finances, or to set our loved ones back on the right course.  After a while of praying like that, we can be tempted to give up.

    Or, we may believe that God knows very well, but we become unsure that He cares, that He’ll do anything about what we need.  And so we conclude that we need to pray in just the right way or heap up a lot of words or get everyone praying for the same thing, as if this were a tug of war with God on one side and us trying to pull Him over to our side with the right combination of human effort and spirituality.  This is how the pagans pray, as if God needs to be appeased, as if His favor has to be earned, as if He’s not on our side until we impress Him sufficiently.

    Repent of that, and remember the name that Jesus has given you to call God, “Father.”  What an amazing thing that is!  Only Jesus can truly call God Father, for He is the only-begotten Son of God.  But here, when you pray, Jesus invites you to take His nullplace, to step into His shoes, and to pray as if you were the Son of God Himself saying, Father, our Father.  That “our” is not only you and other Christians, but also you together with Jesus.  You have the same Father.  For you are baptized into Christ.  You are in Him who took your place, who stepped into your shoes–you who once were children of wrath.  Jesus suffered and died on your behalf, and by His blood He reconciled you to the Father.  You are now raised up with Him, and He has brought you home as children of God.  The Father hears you the same as He hears Jesus, for Jesus' sake.

   So when you pray, you are freed from the need to make a show of it, as if you needed to gain approval from others or from God.  You already have that in Jesus.  His perfect life, including His perfect praying, is credited to you through faith.  As Jesus frequently went off to a secluded place to pray, so you are given to go into your room and close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, who is hidden.  He is the God who hides Himself, but who is revealed as the Father of Mercy in Christ, and who is made known in the unveiling of the secrets of the kingdom, in the mysteries of the sacraments and the preaching of the Gospel.  

   This hidden God reveals what He is eager to grant you by giving you the very words to speak in the Lord’s Prayer.  That in itself is a gift.  It gives us confidence to ask; and it shows us what we truly need, lest our prayers devolve into petitions for self-serving desires and pleasures, as James speaks against.  We are given to pray for God’s name to be hallowed among us, His kingdom to come to us, His will, not ours, to be done.  We are given to pray for daily bread, for forgiveness, for defense against temptation and deliverance from evil.  This may not be what our heart naturally wants to pray for.  But sometimes it would be to our great harm if the Father would actually give us what we want.  He loves you much more than to do that.  

    Your Father knows what you need, better than you do, even before you ask.  But He loves to hear you ask just the same, even as parents love to hear especially their little children put into words what they need and with trusting hearts ask for it.  This is how it is with you and the Father in Jesus.  He revels in speaking to you His words of life, and He revels in hearing you speak back those words in faith and in prayer.  It all begins and ends with Him as your good and gracious God.  Jesus is ever drawing you into this holy conversation of the people of God–so that you may be rightly oriented toward Him in faith and in love toward your neighbor.  

    So offer your hidden prayer to the hidden God, trusting that the Father sees and that He knows and that He is on your side–or perhaps better, that you have been brought to His side.  For He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?  The One who saw His Son’s secret work on the cross and honored Him in the resurrection will certainly give you to share openly in His glory on the Last Day.  This is your great reward, that you may have perfect communion forever with the very One to whom you pray, through His Son Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  To this blessed and Holy Trinity be all glory, honor, and praise, now and forever. 

Jesus' High Priestly Prayer

John 17:1-26
June 19, 2014
Concordia Catechetical Academy Symposium on the Lord's Prayer

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Jesus prays for His Church.  He prays for those given to preach the Father’s Word of truth.  He prays for those who will believe in Him through that Word.  And so He prays for you.  It is only because of this that there is still faith on the earth.  It is only because of Jesus’ ongoing prayer that the Church has survived persecution and false teaching, tyranny and tribulation, incompetence and apathy, and the likes of us who fall all too quickly into worldliness and unbelief

null    Jesus prays for us–not only in the past, but also the present; not only above, but also on earth. As He was with His disciples here on the night when He was betrayed, so the right hand of the Father is extended concretely to wherever two or three are gathered in His name.  Jesus is always the Chief liturgist and presiding minister.  He is the Great High Priest who leads our prayer before the heavenly throne, and who bestows blessing and forgiveness from the Father.  It is His service, for He yet remains the One Mediator between God and men, for He alone is both God and man.  Jesus is God for man as we receive His divine gifts, and He is man for God to bring us and our prayers to the Father.  Christian worship, then, is the worship of Christ–in both senses of the phrase.  

    Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You.”  Jesus is glorified in the hour when He is lifted up on the cross, for there the glory of God’s love toward sinners is made known.  And now Jesus’ prayer finds its fulfillment among us in the preaching of the cross.  This is how the Father is glorified and worshiped rightly, that we believe in His Son whom He sent.  This is eternal life, that we know the true God of mercy manifested in Jesus the crucified One, and cling to Him and hold on to His words from the Father–as Jesus said, “They have kept Your Word.”  And even more importantly He said, “I kept them in Your name.”

    The true and highest worship of God is faith, to receive the gifts of Christ with thanksgiving and prayer, the voice of faith.  The disciples had just received the gifts of Christ’s body and blood, the holy Eucharist.  When we receive this blessed Sacrament, Jesus’ words are fulfilled for us when He said, “(Father), the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me.”  Christ gives Himself into you most literally under the bread and wine for your forgiveness and life.  And the Father is in Christ.  And so you are drawn by the Holy Spirit into the perfect unity of divine love.  The Father loves and accepts you as He loves and accepts His own Son.  

    Jesus has not prayed that we yet be taken out of this world with its sorrows and troubles–the glory hidden under the cross must come before the revealed glory of the resurrection.  But Jesus does pray for your deliverance from the evil one, whom He fought and conquered in Your flesh.  You do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with your weaknesses, but One who was tempted and tested in every way just as you are, yet without sin.  Therefore you are without sin.  For you are in Christ and He in you.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  You have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.  His fervent desire is for you to be with Him in His glory.  He Himself is the atoning sacrifice for your sins, and not for yours only but also for the whole world.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠


The Gardener

John 20:10-18

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    Mary Magdalene is standing near the tomb in the garden weeping.  That sounds a lot like Eve, doesn't it? Wasn’t it in the garden that Eve, with Adam, fell away from God? In so doing didn’t she bring a curse of pain and sorrow upon herself? Wasn’t death the result of her and her husband's sin? In her helplessness and hopelessness and loneliness, Mary Magdalene, the daughter of Eve, weeps.

    So it is for all the children of Eve, for all you who are dust to dust. Everything is only temporary in this vale of tears. Nothing lasts. It is written, "All people are like grass and all their glory is like the flower of the field. The grass withers and the flower falls." Even the vitality of youth is permeated by the degenerative power of death. It's the hollowness that you still have after you've taken in your fill of all this passing world has to offer. It's the so-called "fun" you rationalize that ends up taking from
you more than it gives. It's the camaraderie you seek by going along with the crowd that turns out to be a sort of crowded isolation. There's ultimately no avoiding the brokenness of mortality. In the end you are left right where Mary is, bent over, staring through wet eyes into the mouth of the grave.

    But note what Mary sees. Not only does she see that Jesus' tomb is empty, but she also beholds two angels sitting where the Lord had been. And these messengers of the Lord ask her, "Why are you weeping?" It's almost as if they said, "There's no need for tears any more. For the crucified One whom you seek has risen. He who bore the curse of the world's sin has redeemed you from the curse forever. He who was held by the jaws of the grave has shattered those jaws and has destroyed death's power over you. He who did battle with the kingdom of darkness has crushed the devil's head by His holy cross, setting you free from hellish bondage. Do not cry. For Jesus is alive for you as the triumphant conqueror and the Lord of all."

    Mary turns around now and sees Jesus. But she doesn't yet know that it's Him. She mistakes Jesus for the gardener. And yet she really isn't mistaken, is she. Jesus is the Gardener. For He is the Second Adam. And was not the first Adam the caretaker of Eden's garden? So also Jesus is risen to restore you, His people, to Paradise. This New Adam walks in the garden in the cool of the new day and reveals Himself to the daughter of Eve. What He brings to her and to you is not judgment but justification, not sin but righteousness, not death but life. Jesus completely reverses and totally undoes the fall. It is written, "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."

    Jesus is not only the Gardener, He is also the Seed which is planted in the garden. He is the promised Seed of Eve which overcomes the serpent. Jesus had said that unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, then it is fruitful. So it was that Jesus was crucified and planted in the garden tomb.  He is the New Vine of the garden, which has arisen out of the earth, bearing abundant fruit, making you alive in Him, giving you to share in His resurrection.  As Jesus said, "Because I live, you will live also."

    Jesus makes Himself known to Mary simply with one word. The sheep know the Shepherd's voice, and He calls them each by name. “Mary.”  In the joy of this sudden recognition, Mary cries out "Teacher!"

    Has not the Teacher also revealed Himself to you by calling your name at the baptismal font? Indeed, by water and the Word He drew your name into the name of the Holy Trinity.  He united you with Himself and thereby made you a child of God. So it is that Jesus says, "My Father and your Father, my God and your God."  Do you see what that means? You are given the same status now as Jesus.  All that Christ is and has He has made yours: release from sorrow, abounding forgiveness, indestructible life and joy. By virtue of your baptism into Jesus' death and resurrection, you are now His kin, His own flesh and blood, restored to communion with God and with one another.  Believing in Him you shall share in the everlasting inheritance of His new creation.

    Therefore, it is written, "'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. . . God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.' Then He who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.'"

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠