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Served By the Suffering Servant

Mark 10:32-45
Lent 5

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

    Our Lord Jesus once asked His disciples, "Who is greater, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves?"  The obvious answer was the one at the table who's being waited on.  Those of you who are Downton Abbey fans know that it’s not the cooks downstairs and the footmen and the maids and the butler who are the greatest, but the masters and mistresses upstairs who are being served.  And even today in the world's way of thinking, the more people you have tending to your needs and doing what you want, the greater you are–the politicians and celebrities with their entourages, the successful businessman with dozens or hundreds of employees to carry out his wishes, and so on.  However, Jesus then says, "I am among you as one who serves."  In the kingdom of God, the ways of the world are reversed.  It's not the one who receives the service but the one who gives the service who is greater.  As it is written, "It is better to give than to receive."

    That is how God is.  That is what the Scripture means which says that God is love.  God is by nature a giver and a server.  Many people hold to the false notion that God created mankind in order that He might have creatures who would serve Him (as if God needed anything).  But in fact it's really the other way around:  God created man in order that He might serve man, breathing into people the breath of His life and pouring out on them all the blessings of His creation.  God is glorified in giving Himself to man, not in man giving Himself to God.null

    So then, one could define sin as the refusal to be given to by God–to reject His gifts in the way that He wants to give them and to try to acquire them in your own way or by your own doing.  That’s why the Pharisees received Jesus’ harshest condemnation; they didn’t want to receive what God was freely giving them in Christ.  That's why it's such a wicked thing to push your good works and good living into God's face, as if by those things you could merit His favor.  Doing that turns God into the receiver rather than the giver, the lesser rather than the greater.  Besides, you can't give anything to the God who created everything, anyway.

    So let it be clearly understood that, strictly speaking, you have not gathered here today to serve God.  Rather, you are gathered here for God to serve you, to receive the forgiveness and life and salvation which He alone can give.  The Lutheran reformers said that the highest form of worship is faith.  And faith is nothing but given to by God.  Faith humbly receives the gifts of the Lord, extolling them and glorifying Him with prayer and praise and song for being a gracious giver God.  The true worship and service of God is to revere Him as the One who is greater, that is, as the One who serves, the One from whom all blessings flow.  

    It’s worth repeating: God doesn't need your good works; but your neighbor does.  Your good living is to be directed not upwards but outwards to your fellow man.  God serves you here in order that He may serve others through you out there.  Therefore, when it comes to your daily lives out in the world as family members and citizens and workers, the words of Christ are also to be the words of you who are members of the body of Christ:  "(I) have not come to be served but to serve."

    However, you must admit that doing that doesn't come naturally.  Your Old Adam would much rather be a receiver than a giver.  You know very well how to handle relationships and manipulate things to get what you want.  What's important to you is that your desires are being met, your goals are being fulfilled.  Others can often be used to achieve those ends.  Though it may be in subtle or subconscious ways, all people by nature seek to be served rather than to serve.

    The Gospel gives a crass example of this.  James and John come up to Jesus and with ignorant boldness say, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask. . .  Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory."  James and John thought that they could use their connections with Jesus as a way of gaining power and security in life.  Like some people today, they were using religion as a means for personal advancement, as just another way of getting what they want out of life.  They still didn't get what it meant to be a follower of Christ.

    "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus says.  "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?"  "We can," they answer.  Jesus says to them, "You will . . . , but . . . these places belong to those for whom they have been prepared."  James and John were still thinking of Christ's kingdom as one of political power or glory.  They didn't yet grasp that the real way of the kingdom of God involved a cross.  It meant being humbled and being a servant on this earth.  That's what Jesus was referring to when He spoke of the cup and His baptism, as He said in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Father, if it is possible, take this cup away from me.  Yet not my will but yours be done."  What James and John were unwittingly asking, then, was to be participants with Jesus in His suffering.  The places prepared at Jesus’ right and left hand were for the criminals crucified with Him.  James and John would indeed suffer as followers of Christ.  All of the apostles would be persecuted for the cross.  In fact all, except John, would be killed as martyrs for the faith.  But to be given places of honor in God’s kingdom was not something they could ask for or earn.  They were gifts of God’s grace.

    After this incident, Jesus gathered the disciples together and spoke to them.  Jesus has also gathered you together here today, and He speaks the very same words to you:  "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all."  Jesus here takes the thinking of the world and stands it on its head.  In the world people seek to climb to the top of the ladder of success or power.  But amongst the people of God, greatness is defined by people lowering themselves to the bottom of the ladder in service to others.  The one who is higher in God’s eyes is the one who puts himself lower.

    Martin Luther put it this way: Christians live outside of themselves.  You live in God by faith, and you live in your neighbor by love.  By faith you get to stand in Jesus’ place and receive His righteousness as your own.  By love you get to stand in your neighbor’s place and make his needs your own.  Faith looks up to God and offers Him nothing; love looks down to the neighbor and offers Him everything.


    This is the way of Jesus, who didn’t come to rub elbows with the movers and the shakers but to be present with lowly sinners in order to lift them up.  Jesus "gave His life as a ransom" for you.  That means that you had been kidnaped.  You were in the clutches of self-obsessed sin and death and the devil, unable to free yourselves.  But Jesus came from heaven and freed you from your bondage by paying the full ransom price.  He redeemed you, as the Catechism says, "not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death."  His blood sets you free.  Jesus succeeded in this rescue mission precisely in the moment when in the world's eyes He had failed.  His greatest victory took place in the time of His greatest humility.  For in this total giving of Himself, He defeated the devil and brought you back to God.  On the cross our Lord showed Himself to be a God of love, a God who gives, a God who serves with everything He has. Having risen from the dead,  He now lives forever as your conquering Savior and Lord.  You belong to Him; for you were bought at the price of His own life.

    And not only did Christ serve you in this marvelous way some 2000 years ago, but He continues to serve you still today as you gather here each week for Divine Service.  The divine Lord Himself, Jesus Christ, serves you His words and His sacraments so that you might receive today the forgiveness that He purchased for you on the cross long ago.  Jesus is truly present among you right now in the flesh, not to be served, but to serve, and to give you His life and His Holy Spirit.

    So then, the words of Jesus are also for you, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with."  You come forward and drink the cup of Christ, receiving His suffering and death in His body and blood.  However, there is not judgment in that cup but forgiveness; for the judgment was already fully meted out on Good Friday.  It is now for you who believe a cup of grace.  Likewise, when you are baptized, you are buried with Christ, the Scriptures say.  However, that burial occurs so that you may be raised with Him to the new life of Easter.  Your baptism is not only a cold flood of death, but a water of rebirth and resurrection.

    Brothers and sisters of our Lord, you have been given the very life of Christ Himself, a life of service.  Having freed you from the fear of death, Christ is working in you to die to yourselves for the benefit of others.  Having assured you of your eternal destiny above, Christ is working in you to humble yourselves so that others might be lifted up and helped.  Having given you the very Spirit of God, Christ is working in you to become great–not in the way of James and John but in the way of a servant, taking up the cross laid on you in the Sacraments and following Him, going the way that leads through suffering and death into joy and everlasting life.  In Jesus you now live not to be served but to serve; for He gave His life as a ransom for you all.

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

On Earth Peace

Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols
Luke 2:1-20

Peace on Earth?
    Every year at Christmas we hear the phrase “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”  But that peace never seems to be real, at least not among the peoples of this earth.  Peaceful feelings may exist for a time, an absence of major conflicts may last for a while, but sooner or later, the peace is gone, and the fighting and the violence comes back.  International relations are unstable, the threat of terrorism still looms, and particularly now we see that racial tensions are rising.  We can point to political and social causes for these things, ideological errors and falsehoods.  But we must acknowledge that the root cause is man’s fall into sin.  In the fall peace and fellowship with God was broken, and as a result peace between human beings was also broken.  Sin brings division to all our relationships–between spouses and family members, between co-workers and neighbors, between ethnic groups.  Curved in on ourselves, we blame and bicker and snipe.  Our God is a God of order and beauty, and so the devil loves to work in concert with our fallen natures to stir up disorder and ugliness and animosity among people.  He wants to tear down God’s good creation, instigate rebellion against the authorities God has instituted, and reek havoc on those once made in the image of the God who is love. null

    So what exactly is being referred to here in the Christmas story?  Where is this peace on earth, good will toward men to be found?  It is to be found in the Christ-child and only in Him.  For He alone is the one who restores us to fellowship with God the Father.  And therefore, He alone is the One who restores us to true fellowship with one another.  Jesus Himself is Peace on earth, God’s good will toward fallen sinners, the perfect embodiment of His love and His desire to save us.

What race is Jesus?
    It’s interesting to see how the Nativity and other Scriptural scenes are portrayed in artwork in various countries around the world.  Very often Jesus is depicted as being of the same ethnicity as that country–in a Chinese painting Jesus looks oriental, in an African portrayal Jesus is black, or for that matter, in a German or Scandinavian portrait Jesus looks like a blue-eyed European.  That used to bother me a little, because the Christmas narrative is a true story, real history, and Jesus is a middle-eastern Jew.  To depict the Nativity in some other way seemed to me to be making it into a bit of a fairy tale that we can mold and shape and change to fit our desires and needs.  But the account of Jesus’ birth is no myth.  What I read to you is for real.  Luke emphasizes that point by even giving you some of the historical details about who the Caesar was at that time and the census and the tax and the governor of that particular region.  The Christmas story is an actual, literal account about the real Jesus and His birth.

    And yet the more I think about it, the more I believe that those paintings may have it right, in this sense: The angel came with the message of good news for all people, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  The Savior Jesus is born to you, for you; He is yours.  He’s your kind, humankind.  When the Son of God took on our human nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, He did not just became a man.  He became man.  He took all of humanity into Himself in His incarnation.  For He came to bear the sins of all humanity in His body.  That includes every nation and tribe and people and language.  Though Jesus was indeed a Jew, His birth reveals the truth that there is in fact only one human race–only one race!–the fallen children of Adam.  And in this newbnullorn baby in the manger, every sinner is redeemed and restored to God.  Jesus is the embodiment of all people from every corner of the globe, and in His body all people are put right with God again.  And so when Jesus is portrayed as African or Oriental or European, theologically speaking that’s true.  By becoming man, Christ becomes one with all people to deliver all people.  The Savior is born to you, for you.  He’s one of you, your very flesh and blood, your true human brother.  There’s no one that’s left out of the new life that comes from His holy birth.  He’s like you in every way, except without sin, that you might become like Him in every way and share in His divine glory.

    That alone is the basis for the peace of which the angels sang.  Only in Jesus, the Word made flesh, is there "peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled."  We sinners are no longer under God’s wrath; we are at peace with Him again through His self-giving mercy.  The warfare between heaven and earth is now ended.  The case of God against the human race is set aside, and His love for the world is revealed.  Our flesh has been joined to God.  Heaven and earth are at peace.  God and man are brought back together in Jesus, for Jesus is God and man together in one person.  Baptized into Christ, we are put right with God.  

    And living in Christ, we are put right with each other, too, restored to each other by forgiveness and love.  In Jesus the human race is reborn.  All believers in His name are made to be brothers and sisters, whoever we are, wherever we come from. Christ came for you all to rescue you, to forgive you.  Our Lord took on flesh and blood so that He might sacrifice His flesh and shed His blood to cleanse you and make you holy, His own special people.  He was willing to deal with the indignities of His lowly birth, His humble life, His suffering and death, in order that you might be dignified and exalted and lifted up with Him in His resurrection to everlasting life.  The only peace on earth that lasts forever is the peace of Christ, forgiven sinners united as one in His holy body.

Seeing as Children
    At Christmas time, our attention often turns to the children, as we enjoy the wonders of the holy day by experiencing and seeing things anew through their eyes.  This is good for us to do at all times, as Jesus said that unless we turn and become like little children–dependent on God, trusting His Word, thankful for His gifts–we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  What better way to turn and become like little children than to turn to the Christ-child Himself and to see yourself in Him.  For you are in Him.

    With that in mind let me draw this all together and to a close by reading a simple poem which speaks of the Christ who was born for us all, as one of us:

Some children see Him lily white,
The baby Jesus born this night.
Some children see Him lily white,
With tresses soft and fair.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
The Lord of heav'n to earth come down.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
With dark and heavy hair.

Some children see Him almond-eyed,
This Savior whom we kneel beside.
Some children see Him almond-eyed,
With skin of golden hue.
Some children see Him dark as they,
Sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray.
Some children see him dark as they,
And, ah! they love Him, too!

The children in each different place
Will see the baby Jesus' face
Like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace,
And filled with holy light.
O lay aside each earthly thing
And with thy heart as offering,
Come worship now the infant King.
'Tis love that's born tonight!    
    (written by A. Burt, W. Hutson)

    To all of you, whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever you’ve done, know this:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  In Him you are forgiven; in Him you are put right with God and with one another.  All is well.  “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  Merry Christmas!

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

God's Right and Left Hands

Matthew 22:15-22; Philippians 3:17-21

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

    I think all of us are looking forward to Wednesday, when all the political commercials and ads will thankfully and mercifully stop.  Today I won’t be adding to the promoting or tearing down of candidates.  But our appointed readings are timely as they encourage us to consider and rightly understand the place of politics and religion.

    God rules in this world in two distinct ways, through government and through the Church.  Today’s readings teach that although these two kingdoms are very different from one another, both of them are from God.  He is the ultimate authority behind each.  Lutherans usually refer to these two kingdoms as God’s left hand and right hand kingdoms.  With His left hand, God appoints civil authorities to maintain order, to defend its citizens, to punish wrongdoers and to praise those who do what is good and right.  In this kingdom of the left hand, the Law holds sway.  Coercion and the threat of penalties and prison are used to keep the peace.  But in God’s right hand kingdom, the Gospel holds sway.  The church operates not by threat but by gentle invitation, not by penalties but by the forgiveness of sins.  Peace comes through Christ’s death on the cross which reconciles us to God the Father.  It is not a temporary peace between people but an everlasting peace with God.  The Church is not ruled by the sword but governed by the preaching of God’s Word alone.null

    Jesus directs us to give proper honor to both kingdoms when He says, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  First of all, give the governing authorities the honor and obedience that is due to them.  For Romans 13 says, “The authorities that exist have been established by God.”  They may sometimes not properly exercise their authority; they may not even realize that they have a divine calling.  But Christians are to honor those in office as servants of God nonetheless.  For by honoring that office, we are really honoring God Himself.  We may or may not like a particular governing official.  In Jesus’ day Tiberias Caesar was not a particularly honorable fellow.  But if God has allowed a person to be established in office, then we are to honor him for God’s sake, obeying whatever laws are in force, as long as they do not cause us to sin against God.  If that happens, then it is written, “We must obey God rather than men.”

    In our country, of course, we have an unusual situation in that we get to choose our Caesars.  We get the government and the taxes we elect.  So to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” for us means to do the best job we can as citizens to be informed and to choose wise and competent leaders and to vote for laws that are good and right.

    It’s tremendously important for us to make a proper distinction between Caesar and God.  We sometimes tend to confuse the two. We either turn God into Caesar, as if God were merely the top law enforcer, a morality cop.  Or we turn Caesar into God, as if getting the right people elected would solve all our problems and bring the kingdom of God on earth.  We either reject the gift of government, or we expect too much from it.

    Jesus speaks in terms of both God and Caesar, and He speaks of the two properly distinguished–not separated, as some people think, but properly distinguished. You don’t cease to be a Christian when you walk into a voting booth or take public office, as if your faith doesn’t matter there–if you don’t act on your beliefs, someone else’s false beliefs will take their place, right?  Likewise, you don’t cease to be a citizen of this country when you walk into a church.  It’s just that you have another higher citizenship in Christ.

    With His left hand of power, God gives us temporal blessings, 1st article gifts, daily bread. He ensures that we have roads and sewers and policemen and firemen, and everything that protects our body and life.  With His right hand of grace where Jesus is seated, the Father gives eternal blessings, 3rd article gifts, forgiveness, life, salvation.  God’s left hand punishes and restrains, it keeps a lid on our sin and keeps us more or less in line.  The policeman that pulls you over for speeding, the judge who sentences the criminal is an extension of God’s left hand.  With his right hand, God comforts and consoles us in Christ.  Preachers and teachers of the Word are an extension of God’s right hand, giving forgiveness, eternal life, and peace with God.  God’s left hand works to make people outwardly good.  God’s right hand works to make people inwardly holy.

    God is both left-handed and right-handed.  The left and right hands of God work in different and opposite ways–and we don’t always see how they are connected.  For instance, it was during the time of the pagan Roman empire, when there was relative peace throughout the world and a common language spoken, that Jesus was born.  This allowed the Gospel to be carried far and wide after Jesus’ ascension.  We can see that now, but back then, I’m sure the Israelites wondered why God allowed them to be oppressed by the Romans.  So also today, all we can do is believe that God is working with both hands toward the redemption of His people.  With His left hand God causes kings and kingdoms to rise and to fall.  He has caused our nation to rise for a few centuries in history, and when He is through with us, He will bring this nation down, as He has all the great nations of the past, like the Romans.  God doesn’t explain why or what He is up to.  We are simply given to trust that the God who sent His Son to die for the world knows best how to manage the kings and kingdoms of this world.  It’s all in God’s left and right hands, and He orders everything “for us and for our salvation,” working all things toward the day when Jesus appears and every president and governor and congressman must bow down before the King of kings and Lord of lords.

    And that brings us to the second and really more important half of Jesus’ statement.  “Render unto God the things that are God’s.”  Well, everything is God’s, so give Him everything.  Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”  Paying taxes is really nothing, then.  God wants all of you–all you are and all you have.  He doesn’t just want a couple of hours on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning and some money put into the plate so you feel like you’ve done your duty.  And then you get back to your real life out there.  He wants to be your real life everywhere, 100% of the time, at the heart of all you are and all you do.  He Himself is your life, isn’t He–the Source, the Creator, the Redeemer?  To render to God the things that are God’s, then, means to honor Him as the true owner of everything you have and to manage it in a way that is pleasing to Him.  That starts with the 10% that goes in the offering plate here–that act of worship is very important–but it continues with the other 90% that you are given to use and manage out there for the good of your neighbor and the glory of God.

    Remember, it’s all about the image.  The coin bore Caesar’s image, so it was given to Caesar.  And what bears God’s image?  You do.  You are in the image of God.  And so you are given to God.

    But also remember this.  You do not give yourself to God.  You are brought to God in Christ. For while you are in God’s image, Jesus actually is the image of God.  The image of God was broken in us through sin, and it is restored only in Christ.  It is written in Colossians, “(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God.”  As an image of a president is pressed into a coin, so Christ Himself is the image of God “coined” in our human flesh.  And as money is offered up to pay taxes, so Jesus was offered up to God to pay for our sins on the cross, rendered to the Father as a sweet sacrifice.  Jesus purchased and redeemed you, not in the currency of this world, but in the currency of God, His own blood.  And there was even an inscription that was placed over Jesus’ head at Calvary by an agent of Caesar himself.  It read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”  Not by offering up your own merits, but through Christ alone you are put right with God.  To render to God the things that are God’s, then, is simply to rely on Christ and believe in Him.  It is to point to Christ the crucified and say, “There is my salvation; He is my offering that settles my account with God.”

    And there is still more.  For through your baptism into Christ, the Lord put His own inscription on you, His own Triune name.  On you, whose image was tarnished and corrupted, Jesus stamped the sign of the cross and joined you to Himself.  You are now God’s holy coinage, His cherished treasure.  What shall we render, then, to the Lord, for all His benefits to us?  We offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, calling on the name of the Lord.  And living in Christ, we offer up our bodies by the mercies of God as living sacrifices in love toward our neighbor.

    You are now citizens of heaven.  You are pilgrims in this world, foreigners who are only passing through to our true homeland.  So you don’t have to live as if you’re so attached to the things of this life, or even the outcome of elections.  You are citizens of this land only for a short time; you will live under Christ in His kingdom for all eternity.  Set the deepest love of your hearts, then, on that better, heavenly country.  St. Paul wrote in the Epistle, “We eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.”  Our natural birth leads to death.  But our supernatural rebirth into Christ leads to the resurrection of our bodies to share in Jesus’ Easter glory.  By the all-encompassing power of the Lord, these lowly bodies of ours will undergo a wonderful and mysterious transformation, so that they will be like the glorious body of Jesus after His resurrection.  Your bodies will finally no longer be threatened by all of the troubles and the sin and the sickness and the death they experience in this world.  Rather, you will live before God amidst the holy pleasures of the new creation eternally.

    Until that final Day comes, always remember that Jesus is reigning at the right hand of the Father as Lord of all.  The future of the nations, the future of the church, your future rests in both of His nail-scarred hands.  And there is surely no safer place to be.  

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

Who Is Neighbor to You?

Luke 10:25-37

Trinity 13

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

    Everyone knows at least something of the story of the Good Samaritan.  Even those outside the church have at least an idea of what the term means.  A Good Samaritan is someone who goes out of his way to help someone in need, usually a stranger.  He gives of himself and his time or his resources without expecting any sort of reward or recognition.  null

    And so we assume that Jesus’ main point in telling this parable is a moral one:  that we should be more like the Good Samaritan.  We should help our neighbor in need, even if that person is a complete stranger, in fact even if that person is our enemy, as Samaritans were to Jews.  And, of course, that is true; we should do that.  We must constantly be reminded and encouraged and exhorted to remember the needs of our fellow human beings, not to overlook them, but to love them in the same way that we love ourselves.  

    How easy it is for us to come up with justifications not to do that.  “I would help; but I just don’t have time or the money right now.  I’ve got other important business to tend to.”  Or, “I would, but what if it puts me in danger?”  Both of those excuses were very genuine ones for the priest and the Levite.  They both had important business to tend to in Jerusalem, holy business in the temple.  And who’s to say that if they did stop to help the man, the same people who beat up this guy wouldn’t beat them up and rob them, too?  In one way or another, we’ve felt their fears and insecurities; we’ve used their justifications.  “Someone else will help; the government surely has some program to deal with this.”

    So the moral aspect of the story of the Good Samaritan is clear.  Jesus said that as the Samaritan showed mercy, so also we should go and do likewise.  No making excuses or saying to yourself, “Well, even if I don’t, God forgives me anyway.”  Don’t use God’s mercy and love to justify your failure to love.  That’s just another way of passing by on the other side.  Jesus did not come to justify and condone sin but to justify and save sinners.  

    And that’s where we begin to get to the heart of this parable and the main point Jesus is trying to make.  Don’t forget the reason why Jesus told this story.  He told it to a man, an expert in the law, who thought that he could justify himself, that he could inherit eternal life by what he did.  And so Jesus told this parable to crush this man’s false belief, to try to wring out of him the notion that there was any hope at all of him being saved by his own supposed goodness.  This expert in the law was not much of an expert.  The Law demands far more than he recognized.  It requires that you love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and mind and strength.  It doesn’t say “some” or “most” but “all,” everything that you are, no exceptions, no failures, God at the heart and center of everything.  James 2 reminds us, “Whoever keeps the whole Law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” 

    And there’s still more.  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  The Law recognizes that we know how to love ourselves; that comes quite naturally.  We are to love our neighbor in the same way, freely, gladly, from the heart–and to do that even if our neighbor is our adversary who has wronged us and hurt us.  And you simply can’t do that–not from within yourself.

    So Jesus is not simply making a moral point in this parable about loving your neighbor.  Rather, he is calling us to let go of any faith that we have put in ourselves and in our own keeping of the Law to become right before God.  As the Epistle said, “The Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”  It is faith in Christ alone that makes us right with the Father.

    Jesus is saying to us all today, “In truth you are the one in the ditch.  You have been robbed of the glory in which you were created.  Satan and the world have beaten you down and left you laid out on the side of the road, physically alive, but spiritually dead.  The Law cannot help you.  It can diagnose your condition, but it offers no medicine.  It passes by on the other side.  Only I, your Good Samaritan can rescue you.  I have come to you as a foreigner from the outside, the Son of God from heaven. Though I  am rejected and despised by the Jewish leaders, I have come to show you mercy and compassion.

    “As one who shares in your flesh and blood, I am here to take your place.  For I myself will be robbed and stripped of My clothing; I myself will be beaten mercilessly and left dead on a cross, buried in a grave.  But this is the way I will defeat your enemies.  This is the way I will take away their power over you.  I will take the whole curse into my body, your sickness and sin and hurt and death.  And by My divine blood I will break the curse; through My resurrection, I will give you new and immortal life.  You cannot win this fight by your own strength.  But I am fighting for you.  When death and the devil grab hold of My weak flesh, they will learn all too soon that they have grabbed hold of the almighty God; and I will tear them limb from limb and utterly destroy them.  I am here with you.  Lean on Me. You are safe; you are forgiven; there is nothing now that can separate you from My love.”

    You don’t have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and by your own willpower stand and come to Jesus.  All that would do is inflame your injuries.  No the Good Samaritan Jesus comes to you right where you lay.  Be still.  He cleans up the wounds of your sin in the waters of baptism.  He pours on the oil of His Holy Spirit to comfort you and the wine of His blood to cleanse and purify you in Holy Communion.  He places you on His own beast of burden, for He comes to bear all of your sins and carry all of your sorrows.  He gives you lodging in the Inn, His holy church, where you are continually cared for through the preaching of His words of life.  For although your sins are fully forgiven, yet the wounds of sin are not fully healed.   We live still with their effects in this world.  The Church is the hospital where those wounds are tended to by the Great Physician, lest they become infected.  Jesus provides the innkeeper with two denarii, that you might receive double mercy, overflowing compassion in His ongoing ministry of the Gospel.  He promises to return, paying fully for the completion of your healing, the redemption of your body on the Last Day. 

    So then, who is your neighbor?  Actually, notice how Jesus changed the question.  He changed it from the Law to the Gospel.  He said, “Who was neighbor to the man?”  Who is neighbor to you?  The answer to that question is Jesus.  It’s what He does that counts.  He is the One who has loved you as Himself.  He kept the Law for you, in your place.  Through Him you are fully redeemed and righteous.  

    Repenting and believing in Jesus, He now lives in you and through you to love and be the neighbor to others.  He frees you to “go and do likewise”–not because you have to in order to be saved, but simply because your neighbor needs you.  Since Christ became weak for us and bore all our infirmities and sorrows, we learn to see Him in those who are weak and suffering.  And we show love for Him by loving them.  “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbor” come together in Jesus.

    You don’t have to be defensive, then, or try to justify yourself; Jesus has taken care of that for you.  He is your Defender; in Him you are justified and righteous members of the family of God.  And so the promised inheritance is yours in Jesus, a free gift, won by His death, delivered by water and the Word, sealed by His body and blood.  As you rest and recover here in the Inn, be strengthened in the certainty that soon, very soon your Good Samaritan will return to you as He has promised.  The risen Jesus will come again, your compassionate Lord, and you will be with Him in the perfect rest and contentment of the new creation in the life of the world to come.  

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

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 ✠

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 ✠

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