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Peace Be With You

John 20:19-31

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

The disciples were in a self-imposed quarantine.  They were afraid of what might happen to them if they were to venture outside.  To this fearful, socially distanced group, Jesus appears risen from the dead. You can’t blame the disciples for being afraid; we would have been, too.  They’d seen their Teacher and Friend crucified.  Surely they as Jesus’ top lieutenants would be the next targets of the authorities.  

They had heard the news from Mary Magdalene that Jesus was alive; she said she had seen Him and touched Him.  Peter and John had investigated the tomb. Nothing there. The grave clothes were folded neatly, the head covering off to the side. Everything was in order. Clearly not the work of grave robbers.  Yet still, the disciples are locked up in this little room in fear. Death is conquered. Jesus is risen. And still they are afraid. They knew about the resurrection of Jesus, but they hadn’t yet seen, heard, and touched Him. That makes all the difference in the world, being gathered together in Jesus presence, in person, in the flesh. Dead men don’t rise, ordinarily. They weren’t ignorant. The news just seemed too good to be true.

What is it that you fear, that leaves you paralyzed and uncertain?  What keeps you locked up, bolted in?  It’s not just viruses and governors’ orders that do that.  We fear financial troubles, losing a job, losing a relationship.  We fear rejection by friends or family.  We fear violence.  We fear aging and losing our faculties.  And so we lock ourselves into our own little safe zones–in work, in TV and social media and video games, in drinking and comfort foods, in our hobbies and constant need for entertainment and activity–whatever it is that you do to hide from your fears, from the world, and especially from God.

But Jesus breaks through such artificial barriers.  The crucified One comes to the disciples in their locked room.  His risen body now shares fully in the glory of His divine nature, all-powerful, omnipresent.  And so locked doors are no barrier to Him.  Remember the stone was rolled away from the tomb not to let Jesus out but to let the witnesses of the resurrection in.  Jesus doesn’t need to knock–they wouldn’t have opened the door anyway.  He simply appears, as though He was there all along though not seen–just as He is with us, here and now.  You can’t see Him, but His presence is very tangible and real, in that little room and in this one, and wherever two or three are gathered in His Name.  

And the very first words Jesus speaks to them after His resurrection are not words that berate them for their unbelief; they are gentle words of absolution.  “Peace be with you.” That’s not just some generic greeting.  Jesus’ words give what they say: calm, wholeness, forgiveness.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  Jesus is saying to them and to you, “It’s going to be OK.  I am not here to give you vengeance but mercy.  I do not hold your sins against you.  They have all been paid for and answered for and put away forever.  Everything is as it should be.  I have reconciled you to the Father.  All is well.  Do not fear.  Be at peace.”

With Jesus’ words come also His wounds, the nail marks in His hands and feet, the spear wound in His side.  But why the wounds?  The rest of His body had been restored and glorified; why keep these wounds after the resurrection?  Firstly, they mark Him as the crucified One. Had Jesus appeared without wounds, there might have been doubt that it really was Jesus.  Maybe it was an impostor.  The wounds mark Him for certain. That’s what Thomas wanted to see. “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails and place my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Pretty strong statement, but then, dead men don’t ordinarily rise, so we probably shouldn’t point fingers at doubting Thomas.

But Jesus’ wounds are more than proof that He’s actually risen, they are the very source of the peace Jesus spoke of.  From those wounds alone come our forgiveness, our life, our salvation.  It is written in Isaiah, “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by His wounds we are healed.”  Jesus retains the scars from His wounds, then, because that’s how we recognize Him for who He is, that’s how we know Him to be the Savior, whose glory it is to lay down His life in love for us, whose “rich wounds yet visible above” are our peace.  It’s only when the disciples saw the wounds of Jesus that they knew gladness and joy.

Once more Jesus says, “Peace to you.”  With His first word of peace Jesus absolved His disciples and took away their fear.  Now with His second word of peace He sends them to absolve others and take away their fears.  “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  As Jesus was sent from the Father to speak on the Father’s behalf, so now Jesus was sending His apostles to speak on His behalf and to give out the gifts that He had just won.

And how will this group of fearful disciples manage this task? What will propel them out the door into the world?  It is written, “Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” The Holy Spirit is the life-breath of the Church who enables them to speak the Word of Christ.

Jesus says to them, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.” You don’t have to search for forgiveness from God. You don’t have to look to heaven, or in your heart. Look for the mouth of the minister and listen with your ears. Forgiveness is something spoken and heard out loud from outside of you.  No self-medicating here; this isn’t some pop culture notion about forgiving yourself.   Forgiveness comes from God as a gift and is simply received and believed.

So when the absolution is spoken to you, think of it as a resurrection appearance of Jesus to you.  For that’s what it is.  Through those whom He has sent to speak in His name, Jesus Himself is saying to you, “Peace be with you.”  “I forgive you all your sins. . .”

And think of the Lord’s Supper as a resurrection appearance of Jesus, too.  After all, what did Thomas do?  He touched Jesus’ hands and side.  Isn’t that happens when you come to the Sacrament?  You touch the nail marks by receiving the body of Jesus, wounded for your salvation, risen from the dead, and fed into you to give you unconquerable life.  You touch Jesus’ side by grasping the cup which contains the very blood which flowed from His side which cleanses you of all sin.  Before you come forward for the Lord’s Supper, Jesus presents His wounds to you as the host and cup are lifted high and the words are spoken, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”  The same risen Jesus is here with His words and His wounds, so that you might confess of Him with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

Blessed, then, are you who have not seen and yet have believed.  For by believing you have life in Jesus’ name.

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

(With thanks to the Rev. William Cwirla)

Easter in the Flesh

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

I’m sure there are some folks in the world who might wonder why it is that we would desire to meet together like this today.  Why go through all the hassle and strangeness of trying to worship in a parking lot?  Why not just stay home and pray and read the Bible individually?  And why during these last few weeks have many of you who can safely do so, why have you been coming here to meet in our groups of 10 or less to receive the Lord’s Supper inside the church?  What is it that compels us to gather like this in person, bodily, in the flesh?  

The answer very simply is Easter.  The answer is the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.  For Jesus’ rising was not just a virtual thing, a spiritual matter.  It wasn’t a ghost or a hologram that came out of the tomb and appeared to the disciples.  Notice what the Easter Gospel says.  When the women went to the tomb, “they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.”  They didn’t find a body, because Jesus’ dead corpse was raised and glorified!  Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t merely spiritual, it was physical.  The same body that was born of the blessed Virgin Mary, the same body of the man who lived a holy life on our behalf, the same body that suffered and bled and died on the cross to pay for our sins–that body of the eternal Son of God was raised from death in victory over the grave for us.  The Christian faith is a bodily thing.

The Scriptures make it clear that this same risen Jesus is truly present among His gathered people.  For Jesus said, “Where two or three [or 10 or 100] are gathered together in My name [around My preaching and My supper] there I am in the midst of them.”  The church by its very nature is the bodily gathering of God’s people around His words and His supper, where He is bodily present for us.  The Biblical word for church means those who have been called out of this world and gathered together in His saving presence.  And so, here we are–not gathered in the way we would prefer to be certainly, but still gathered together by Christ and with Christ around His Word.

The resurrection of Jesus means that your body matters to God.  It’s not just a mere container for your soul; it’s an integral part of who you are and whom He has created you to be.  That’s why He cares about how you live your bodily life.  That’s why He cares about redeeming and exalting your body together with your soul.  Otherwise, why would He have taken on your flesh and blood and become a true man in the first place?  Why else would He have risen with flesh and bones?   The Christian faith is a concrete, tangible, physical faith.  It deals with stuff that really happened; it deals with the real world of material things, bodily things, the things of this creation.  

So virtual stuff, stuff that we can watch on a screen, is fine as a temporary measure in times like these.  We thank God for that ability and that technology that can keep us somewhat connected, and that the Word of God can be heard in that way.  But the communion of saints is not a virtual communion; it is the living body of Christ.  There is no such thing as virtual communion, just as there is no such thing as a virtual hug.  In the same way that a virtual hug over long distances leaves you longing for the real thing, when you can truly embrace the ones you love, so virtual church away from the Lord’s altar leaves you longing for the real thing, when we can be together in the flesh, where Christ embraces our bodies, speaking His life-giving words into our ears, touching us in the Sacrament of His body and blood, uniting us with Himself and one another as we eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins.  Our God is the God of creation, the God who redeems and restores our bodies, who will raise us up at the Last Day just as He was raised up, literally, in the flesh.  

For now, though, we must deal with our flesh that is riddled with sin and sickness and death.  We are fallen creatures; our created humanity has been corrupted.  And this Coronavirus is actually a pretty good metaphor for what sin does to us.  It cuts us off from one another; it isolates us; it often makes us fear one another and see each other as a potential threat or competitor.  Sin turns us in ourselves and puts us in a defensive posture of self-interest, guarding our own stuff, losing patience and lashing out at others.  And worst of all, sin is a fatal virus that cuts us off from God.  The deadly pandemic began in the garden.  It is a contagion that makes us delusional, that causes us to rebel against God’s Word, to think that we can live better without Him.  But as the book of Proverbs says, His words are life to those who find them and health to all their flesh.  Apart from Jesus’ words, there is no life; only death and being cut off.

I’ve seen quite a few commercials lately that are advertising something they’re calling contactless delivery.  That’s a selling point now, no human contact.  How awful!  It may be temporarily necessary, I understand, but how awful!  I’ve preached to you before how one Scriptural way to understand hell is that it is utter isolation and aloneness, being forsaken and cut off from God and all that is good, utter emptiness and loneliness.  Sure, we all like a little time to ourselves now and again.  But it is not good for man to be alone.  That’s not how God created us to be.  We are made to be in communion with God and one another.

And that’s what Jesus has come to restore for us and has given to us at Easter.  We are reconciled and reunited with God and each other in the risen and living Christ.  Jesus is not about contactless delivery or social distancing at all.  He who is without sin, without disease, comes with no mask, no personal protection, and He touches our diseased human nature.  Remember the stories of Jesus’ healing of the sick?  A leper once came to Him begging Him for help, and it is written that Jesus stretched out His hand and touched Him (Matthew 8:3).  Think about that!  Highly infectious lepers, of all people, were supposed to be quarantined and isolated.  But Jesus breaks into the quarantine in order to bring the cure to our diseased bodies and souls.

And the cure is His own pure and holy body and soul.  Here’s how it works: Jesus was  willingly infected on your behalf.  He willingly absorbed into Himself every single bit of your sin virus, so that in His death the disease itself would die.  The risen Jesus has become the cure for you, for He is now immune from death.  As we just said in Romans 6, “We know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again.  Death no longer has mastery over Him.”  By your baptism into Christ, by your faith in Him, you now share in His immunity.  As it is written, “The death He died, He died to sin once for all.”  The grave is now a toothless enemy for you.  For though you may still die, eternal death and hell are defeated, and you shall rise again, just as Jesus did.  For he said, “Because I live, you shall live also.”  “I am the Resurrection and the Life.  He who believes in Me will live, even though He dies.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”  

You could compare it to how a vaccine works.  A vaccine introduces into your body certain elements of a particular virus, exposing you to it in a non-lethal way, so that your body produces anti-bodies.  And then when you’re exposed to the full-fledged virus, you have the defenses to fight it off.  It can’t harm you any more.  In a much deeper and greater way, Jesus does that for you.  He introduces death to you in a non-lethal way by joining you to His own death for sin.  As it says in Romans 6, “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”  You’ve been safely exposed to death through Christ.  So now when you face your own death, in Christ it cannot touch you.  For He took it all into His body and destroyed its power by dying and rising again.  Receiving Jesus by faith, hearing His Word, partaking of His body and blood, you have the antibody against death.  He has already conquered death for you, and so sin and Satan and the grave can’t harm you any more.  He is your sure defense against every physical and spiritual pathogen.  As Romans 6 continues, “If we have been united with Him like this is His death, we shall surely also be united with Him in His resurrection.”

This is the great comfort and joy of Easter for us, just as it was that first Easter day for the disciples who were sequestered away in fear.  Jesus’ resurrection means that your sins have truly been paid for.  For the wages of sin is death, but now death has been undone, and there is forgiveness and new life.  Jesus’ resurrection means that you can trust His Word; He prophesied this, and His words have come to pass.  If He is trustworthy in something so important as this, then you can also have confidence in everything else that He says, too.  And Jesus’ resurrection means that you also will rise bodily from the grave on the Last Day.  For Christ is the firstfruits, the first of many more who will be raised at His coming.

So this is why we gather, this is why we assemble.  We can’t help but be near the One who is our source of life and healing.  Our God is in the business of gathering us to Himself so that we may have perfect fellowship with Him and share in His life and live in His presence.  God the Father created your body, God the Son by His blood redeemed your body, God the Holy Spirit by Holy Baptism has sanctified your body to be His temple, so that you may have your part bodily in the new creation to come.  

So this pandemic can temporarily stop many things, but it can’t stop the permanency of Easter.  His tomb is forever empty.  Nothing can undo His eternal victory over the grave.  And nothing can stop the fellowship that you have with one another in Christ.  As we look forward to the day when the quarantines are lifted and we can get back inside church together, let us much more look forward to the Last Day when we shall all be bodily gathered together around the throne of God, in the visible presence of the Lamb who was slain, who has begun His reign.  He is raised and is alive forevermore, so that you may have life and have it abundantly.

The Lord is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

4 Brief Meditations on the St. John Passion

John 18:1-27

   The contrast between Peter and Jesus couldn’t be more stark.  Peter had talked big about his faithfulness and devotion to Jesus.  He had flailed around with his sword in the garden, as if he were Jesus’ personal bodyguard.  But now he is suddenly a coward.  Now that Jesus is captured, he is fearful even of a little servant girl suggesting that he is Jesus’ disciple.  Peter is afraid of what might happen to him.  He is afraid to suffer.

   And so are we.  We’re in love with the idea of faithfulness. We look up to the martyrs of the church and believe that we too would rather die than deny Jesus.  But we deny Him in so many little ways, when we fail to speak or act because that might associate us with Jesus in a negative light.  We’re afraid of what might happen to our reputation or our income or our life if we’re stereotyped as one of “those” Christians.  We don’t want to suffer for the name of Jesus.

   But Jesus is most willing to suffer for us.  He doesn’t hide from those who come to arrest him.  Rather, Jesus goes forth boldly to meet His captors, fully prepared to drink the cup of judgment given Him by His Father.  Jesus is not like Adam, who hid among the trees in fear.  In this garden Jesus meets his enemies head on, so that we who are the children of Adam may go free.  For this man Jesus is the great I AM, the eternal God revealed in the burning bush to Moses.  His name causes His enemies to draw back and fall to the ground.  For all who do not call on His name in faith will fall to their own destruction.

   Peter would later not deny but confess the name of Jesus boldly on Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  In the end Peter would die courageously for the name of Christ.  God grant us His Holy Spirit that we too may confess the name of Jesus with full confidence in Him.  Let us take to heart Jesus’ words, “Be faithful even unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

John 18:28-40

   The Jewish leaders do not want to enter Pilate’s Praetorium, especially during this time of the Passover, lest they be defiled by being in a Gentile building.  But they are already defiled within by their sinful motives and desires.  So also, we are all too often concerned about outward righteousness and appearances, when the Lord looks at the heart and desires the inward righteousness of faith.  To be undefiled is to confess your sins for what they are and to trust in Him who is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  

   Jesus stands before Pilate.  Pilate received His authority from God.  And now God in the flesh humbles Himself to be placed under this authority.  The Judge of all men is being judged by a man.  Judgment should be based on truth, but the only thing Pilate can say is “What is truth?”  All fallen human beings are liars, the Psalm says.  But Jesus is Himself the truth.  He is reality.  He is the way things are, the truth of God’s mercy shown to those who have not deserved it.

   Pilate finds Jesus innocent, no fault in Him at all.  But the crowds don’t want Jesus, they want Barabbas.  The violent robber goes free so that Jesus might rob us of our sin by being violently executed.  The one who took life lives; the One who gives life dies.  This is God’s good and gracious will, that Christ should die in the place of sinners.  Jesus goes to death in our place, so that we might live forever in His place, in His kingdom, which is not of this world.  Pilate’s plan to release Jesus fails.  The Passover Lamb will be sacrificed by the Father to take away the sin of the world.

John 19:1-22

   People will sometimes blame their failings on the fact that “they’re only human.”  However, the problem since the fall of Adam is not that we are human but that we are less than human.  Our sin has dehumanized us, turning us in on ourselves rather than outward in love toward God and others.  Beastly thoughts and words and actions often proceed from us.  Survival instincts dominate. So it is written, “Man is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:12).  

   And we don’t like anyone drawing this to our attention, either.  Better if they can be ignored or shut up.  This is the behavior of those who are less than men.  It is the behavior of the chief priests and the officers when they see Jesus.  He is a threat to their territory and domain.  And so they growl  for His crucifixion.

   But before they can cry out their desires, Pontius Pilate speaks words that were more true than he realized.  He presents a bloodied and beaten Jesus and says, “Behold the Man!”  Here is the One who is truly and fully human, who is not degraded and corrupted by His own sin.  Here is the only real Man, who lays down His life for fallen creatures like you to raise you up as the people of God, His own beloved bride, His Church.  He willingly allows Himself to be treated inhumanely to rescue you, to restore your humanity, to give you to share in His life and His glory.  By His wounds you are healed and forgiven.

   Behold the One who wears thorns on His head as a crown, to redeem you from the curse on the ground which you were created out of.  Behold the Ram whose horns are caught in the thorny thicket of sin, who is offered up in the place of you Isaacs as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Behold the woman’s Seed who is crucified at Golgotha, the place of a Skull, whose cross is driven like Jael’s tent peg into the skull, whose pierced feet crush Satan’s head and defeat the power of death.

   This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.  The chief priests don’t like this inscription that Pilate placed over Jesus’ head, and they ask him to change it.  But the earthly authority whom God has established proclaims the truth.  “What I have written, I have written.”  Jesus truly is the King of the Jews, that is, the King of all those who are the true children of Abraham.  He reigns in mercy over His baptized ones, over all you who believe in His promises, and who are credited with His righteousness by grace alone.

John 19:23-42

   It is Friday, the sixth day of the week.  It is the day not only of man’s creation in the beginning, but now also of His redemption and re-creation.  For here is the new Adam who is put into the deep sleep of death, that the new Eve might be created from His side.  The sacramental water and blood that flow from His pierced heart are most certainly what gives the church her life.  “We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:30).

   The new Adam bears the shame and the nakedness of our sin, which the fig leaves of our denial and excuses cannot hide.  Jesus is exposed and laid bare on the tree of the cross.  As the first Adam and Eve were clothed with the skins of sacrificed animals, so we who are their children are covered with the seamless garment of Christ, as it is written, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).  His bloody death covers our shame and atones for our sin.  

   In the sweat of His face, Jesus cries out “I thirst!”  He who is the fountain of life is parched like the dusty ground.  His tongue sticks to the roof of His mouth (Psalm 22:15).  He is given sour wine, vinegar for His thirst (Psalm 69:21).  Our Lord endures this scornful gesture that we might hunger and thirst for His righteousness and drink deeply of the Living Water that He gives and so be honored with Him in His resurrection.

   Jesus is buried in a garden, an indication of the greater Eden to come.  For in Christ paradise is restored and all creation is made new.  The work has now been completed.  “It is finished,” Jesus said.  The Sabbath is at hand.  “And God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.”  “And God saw everything that He had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

Abraham Rejoiced to See My Day

Genesis 22:1-14; John 8:56

Lent 5

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

Even if we’ve heard today's Old Testament reading many times before, it really is still a bit shocking that God would ask Abraham to kill his son Isaac.  This is the son he had waited for 25 years, the son of the promise, the one through whom all nations on earth would be blessed, God said.  It seems almost cruel now to command Abraham to sacrifice him as a burnt offering, like an animal.  We tend to think that since God is gracious and merciful, He would never do anything like this.  What good is a God who asks you to give up what you love, even people you love?  We prefer a God who will give us our heart’s desires and help us to fulfill our earthly dreams.  But that’s not the God that Abraham had, nor is that the true God, the living God.  The living God speaks of taking up the cross and following Him, and sometimes He asks you or causes you to give up what is most dear to you–not because He wants to make your life difficult, but because He wants to make your life eternal.  He wants your heart to be set on things above, to have a treasure that will never pass away, to love Him above all else–even above your own children and family.

When God asks such sacrifices of you, that’s when what the heart loves and trusts in is revealed.  Think about the things or the people that you enjoy most and are most attached to in this world.  What if you had to choose between them and God, having them or worshiping Him?

Sooner or later you will be asked to give up what you love, in one form or another.  And then you can either say to God: You aren’t good; you shouldn’t do this to me.  I’ve had enough and I don’t want to have anything to do with you any more. Or, you can say: I don’t understand at all.  But Father, this much is true and certain; I know that your will for me is only good, and I believe that in the end I will be able to see the good, even though I can’t right now.  Dear Father, I believe; help me and save me from my unbelief.

It’s rather interesting that nowhere in Scripture are we let in on what Abraham was thinking or feeling about God’s command.  That’s not the main thing here.  Abraham simply walked by faith; he did what God said to do.  The book of Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead–not that that makes it any easier to put the knife to your own son’s throat.  This must have been tremendously heart-wrenching.  In the Scriptures, God calls Abraham “My friend” (Isaiah 41:8).  And a friend is someone who can empathize with you, who knows and understands what you’re going through.  I would suggest that Abraham is called the friend of God in part because at the sacrifice of his beloved son he tasted something of what God Himself would go through.

God asks Abraham to do this not only for the testing and strengthening of his faith, but also because this is a picture and a prophecy of what God Himself would be doing on the very same mountain some 2000 years later.  Like Isaac, Jesus is the only Son, the beloved Son of the Father, the One long promised and long awaited.  Just as Abraham saddled his donkey, so a donkey would be saddled, too, for Jesus, and He would ride on it into the city of Jerusalem, which was later built here on Mt. Moriah.  As Isaac carried the wood, so Jesus, too, would have wood laid on His back, the wood of the cross for sacrifice.  As Isaac was willingly bound, so also Jesus willingly let himself be bound and nailed to the wood in obedience to His heavenly Father.  As Abraham raised the knife to slay his son, so the cross was raised up from the ground to slay the Son of God.

But, of course, Abraham didn’t have to go through with it.  Instead of Isaac, God told him to offer up a ram, caught by its horns in a thorny thicket.  In one sense then, you are the one like Isaac.  You don’t have to make the ultimate sacrifice, because God has provided a substitute sacrifice, the Lamb of God with thorns on His head, willingly caught in the thicket of your sin.  Jesus is sacrificed, and you go free.  You are saved from death, forgiven by the blood of Him who was offered up for you at Golgotha.  

Abraham is the one who usually receives the attention in this narrative for his faith, but we should take special notice of Isaac’s faith, too.  He could have tried to prevent what His aged father intended to do; he could have fought him.  But he doesn’t lift a finger in self defense. He allows himself to be bound and to be laid on the altar.  Isaac accepts the will of God as preached by his father, and in this acceptance he paints for us a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 53 says, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open His mouth.”  Isaac points us to the great patience and restraint our Lord Jesus exercises on our behalf when He gets led like a lamb to His own altar.  When Jesus was arrested, He said to His disciples, “Do you think I cannot call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:53-54)  Jesus, like Isaac, doesn’t raise a finger in His own defense.  Jesus dies saying “Thy will be done,” believing that the Father will vindicate Him and raise Him up again.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”  I can’t help but think that it was here on Mt. Moriah that Abraham saw Jesus’ day, that he was given to understand fully the sacrificing of the obedient Son, the meaning of the substitute being offered, the meaning of this being the third day.  As Abraham received his son back from the dead, figuratively speaking, on this day, so did the heavenly Father, literally speaking, on the third day. Abraham laughs with joy, not only to have his son, but also to see the Lord’s salvation.  He saw that God the Father was willing to sacrifice His Son out of immeasurable love for this fallen race of men, for him and Isaac, for you and me.  “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”

Finally, Jesus also said, “Before Abraham was, I am.”  They were ready to kill Jesus for saying that.  For He was unmistakably laying claim to being the Lord Himself in the flesh, the great I AM.  But that’s precisely why He took on our flesh, so that He could be put to death in our place.  The God who asked of Abraham the unthinkable is the God who came to do the unthinkable Himself.  

And He continues to be your Lamb, just as you sing to Him when you come to His table.  His Body and Blood are there unquestionably “for you.”  And so He Himself is with you; He is on your side.  Like Abraham, you have been made to be the friend of God.  That is a priceless comfort for you to hold onto, especially in these times, especially when the time comes that He asks great sacrifices of you.

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

(With thanks to the Rev. William Weedon and other brother pastors for some of the above)

Jesus, the Bread of Life

Lent 4 Meditation

Exodus 16; John 6

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

Today’s Scripture readings remind us of how our God provides for us, for our bodily needs,  even in ways that we do not expect.  Unexpected, uncertain circumstances can be stressful for us.  They can bring out creativity and ingenuity; sometimes, though, they bring out the worst in us.  The children of Israel weren’t exactly patient in dealing with their circumstances.  They grumbled against Moses and even wished that they could go back to their slavery in Egypt where at least there would be some food.  Even after seeing the power of the Lord in the crossing of the Red Sea just a few weeks earlier, their grumbling stomachs quickly caused them to turn their faith away from Him to the fact that their present needs weren’t being met.  This is a warning for us also, especially in this current unexpected public health situation.  Let us be on guard against faithlessness, against turning our trust away from the Lord to whatever else we think might be the answer to our present needs.

Grumbling is the opposite of prayer.  Prayer seeks the Lord and His help.  Prayer holds God to His promises.  Grumbling points the finger of blame at others–politicians, leaders, perhaps family members that we’re cooped up with.  But really, grumbling ultimately is directed at God.  As Moses and Aaron pointed out, “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”  So let us rather call upon the Lord’s name for help in our time of need, whether it be for food or finances or physical healing and protection.  For He has promised, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble.  I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me.”

We are reminded by current events, though we sometimes forget, that this world in which we now live is the wilderness.  It is that place between the Red Sea of our Baptism into Christ and the promised land of our resurrection with Him on the Last Day.  Right now we’re in the in-between time of testing and trials, when God calls us to trust in Him and not in ourselves.  The wilderness is where faith is nurtured and shaped and strengthened.

God let His people get hungry in the wilderness, but He didn’t let them starve.  They were His Israel.  He promised to take care of them.  He heard their cry, grumbling though it was, and He fed them.  In the evening, God gave them meat, sending quail into the camp.  And in the morning, a thin layer of a small round substance covered the ground, manna.  God provided daily bread for His grumbling people.  

That tells us something about the nature of our God.  He is good even to the stubborn and rebellious, in hopes that His kindness may lead them to repentance.  It is as we confess in the Catechism, “God gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people.”  God provides for our bodily needs, not because of our asking or because we’ve deserved it.  For even the wicked who don’t pray for daily bread still receive it.  God is simply good and generous and merciful to the world through Christ.  He causes His sun to shine and His rain to fall both on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  Why then should we pray for daily bread?  The Catechism continues, “We pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this (that He is the source of all that we have), and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving (to Him).”  Hopefully, in this time when supply chains are less reliable, we will be all the more thankful to God for things we used to take for granted.

Notice once again that we are directed to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.”  God only provided the Israelites with enough manna to last for that day.  No one was to hoard the manna or be greedy with it.  They were only to gather as much as they needed that day.  They were to live trusting that just as God provided for them today, He would also provide for them tomorrow and the next day.  God was teaching them to live by faith in Him.  

Right now we are tempted to worry about tomorrow and next month and next year.  There is much uncertainty about the future.  And there’s clearly nothing wrong with planning and preparedness.  It’s obviously fine for us to have more food in the house than just for today.  But also don’t forget what happened to the Israelites who didn’t live by faith in God’s Word but in their own efforts and scheming and hoarding.  What happened to that extra manna?  It became rotten and would be full of maggots by morning.  

God will provide you with daily bread.  That’s His promise to you, His baptized children.  It may not always be everything that you want; but it will be everything that you need.  Today’s Gospel shows that our Lord can even bring something out of nothing for His people.  With nothing but five loaves and two fish, He feeds more than 5000 people.  And there was more left over than when He started.  Learn from this that the Lord cares about your bodily needs.  In fact, He cares so much that He became flesh, to suffer and die in the body, and to rise again bodily from the grave so that you, too, might rise bodily to life everlasting.  That’s the ultimate answer to the prayer for daily bread, for healing and your physical welfare.  Even if you must hunger or struggle in this life, you have the resurrection of your body through Christ and the riches of His glory in the life to come.

Jesus is Himself your manna for the wilderness.  He is the bread sent by the Father to feed you, to nourish you, to fill you, to sustain you on your pilgrimage from Baptism through the wilderness to the promised land of the new creation.  Jesus said, “I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, He will live forever.  And this bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh . . . He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”  Every other kind of bread is temporary.  It spoils, and you get hungry again.  But Jesus is the bread that does not spoil.  He is the food that endures to eternal life.  Eat and receive of Him and you will live forever.

One last thing: There was one day of the week that Israel was allowed to gather more than they needed for that day.  It was Friday.  On that day, the 6th day, they could gather enough for it and the next day, too, the Sabbath day of rest.  The manna did not spoil overnight but sustained Israel through the day of rest to the beginning of a new week.  So also, our Lord Jesus, the Manna from above, who died on the sixth day, Good Friday, did not decay in the tomb.  Rather, He has become the Living Bread that carries us through to resurrection and new life and everlasting rest in heaven.

You eat the Bread of Life by believing in Jesus.  Trusting in Christ, you are receiving and  absorbing all the blessings and benefits of what He has done for you–His incarnation, His perfect life, His innocent death on the cross in your place, His victory over the grave, His ascension to the Father–all of that becomes yours through faith in Jesus.

So especially in these unusual and disorienting times, receive the bread of life day by day.  As you read and meditate on the words of Scripture whether here or at home, you are given to experience the words of the Psalm, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103). And above all, here in the Lord’s Supper you get a special, literal sense of what it means that Jesus is the Living Bread come down from heaven. Under the form of ordinary bread, Jesus gives you hidden manna, His own body, once handed over to Pontius Pilate as the perfect sacrifice for sin, now handed out to you for the forgiveness of all your sin.  Here God acts in a way that is wonderfully beyond our expectations, that calms our stress and our fear.  That small round substance on the altar is Living Manna to sustain you here in the wilderness.  Jesus is the Bread of Life, and no matter what else is going on in the world, if you have Him, then you have everything, all that you need.

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

My Eyes Are Ever Toward the Lord

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

In today’s Old Testament reading, we hear about two of the plagues that God brought upon the land of Egypt.  Hearing about plagues may be a little uncomfortable as we sit here today, not in the midst of a plague, but certainly in the midst of a significant health situation in our country and in the world with the Coronavirus, COVID-19.  With the constant negative news headlines, perhaps you have just a small sense of the fear that must have come over Egypt as they had to be wondering “What next?” while the Lord caused 10 different plagues to come upon them.  

Those plagues were sent as judgment against Egypt and the Pharaoh for their oppression of God’s people Israel, for the Egyptians’ idolatry, for Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness.  The plagues were the terrible consequence of their impenitence and unbelief.  Which raises the question, when things like the Coronavirus happen today, is that God’s judgment, too?  Is God punishing us?  

It’s important to note in Exodus 8 how God drew a distinction between the Egyptians and His people Israel.  Scripture clearly reveals that this was an act of divine judgment against particular people for their sin.  As the Epistle said, "The wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience."  With things like COVID-19 though, we have no such Word of God.  This virus attacks both Christians and unbelievers alike.  Someone who gets this disease or any other disease for that matter is not necessarily being punished for some particular sin.  We should be careful to note that.

However, this is still a call to repentance–not only for the unbelieving world that has rejected the Lord’s Word in so many and increasingly rebellious ways, but also for us who believe in Jesus.  For everything that robs us of comfort and ease in this life is meant to be a reminder to us to repent.  This world will pass away.  God’s kingdom will never pass away.  Too often we find our comfort and confidence and security in the things of this world.  The stock market goes down, and we feel like everything is falling apart in our life.  The love of mammon and worldly pleasures, the idolizing of economic prosperity, the fearful hoarding of supplies from store shelves is not in keeping with the love of God and faith in Him.  Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon.”  Or when our health is threatened, we can suddenly start wondering if God is absent.  But does our faith rest in how well life is going at the moment or in God’s never-changing words and promises?  Are we clinging so much to this life that our hearts aren’t set on the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come?  So at this time of upheaval and uncertainty, yes, the Lord is calling you to repentance.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, that He may lift you up in due time.

But then above all, trust that He really will lift you up in due time, that He will never leave you or forsake you.  His promises hold firm even when nothing else in this world seems firm.  Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”  To keep the Word of God does not simply mean to obey it, though it does involve that.  To keep the Word of God more literally means to hold onto it, to cling to it, to find your confidence in it, to take comfort in it.

And here is a Word of God for you to cling to today, from Isaiah 43.  The Lord says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name.  You are mine.  When you pass through the waters I will be with you, and through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire you will not be burned, the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”  

There is much to legitimately fear out there, even though there is also much fear-mongering that is going on, too.  It’s a good idea not to watch too much news in the midst of a crisis.  The way they keep their ratings up sometimes is by keeping you fearful.  But in the midst of threats that are real, whether it’s the sin inside you, or the devil and the world outside you, the Lord says to you, “Fear not.  Don’t be afraid.”

And then He gives you two tremendous reasons why you need not fear.  First, He says, “I have redeemed you.”  Jesus has bought you with the price of His own blood.  He has ransomed you from the power sin and sickness, death and the devil.  Those enemies of yours are defeated and crushed by His holy cross and empty tomb.  It is worth noting especially today what is written in Matthew 8, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”  Jesus suffered all of that for you so that now even a terminal disease cannot do you lasting harm.  For you will be raised in glory with Christ on the Last Day!  St. Paul said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

And lest you think that this is only true for other people but not for you, note what else the Lord says in Isaiah 43, “I have called you by name.  You are mine.”  Those are great and precious words.  They remind you of your baptism, where the Lord literally called you by name and then put His own name and seal upon you.  He marked you as His own.  He gave you a place in the family.  What more comforting words could there be than to hear our Maker and Redeemer say, “You are mine.  You’re with me.  I am with you always to the very close of the age.  I’ve been through the worst of it for you; and now I will walk through the worst of it with you to carry you safely out of it.  Nothing in all creation can separate you from my love.  Stick with me.  I’ve got this.”  

Jesus is that Stronger Man in the Gospel who overcomes the strong man, the devil.  Satan likes to make like he’s some big mafia boss or gang leader you’ve got to pay protection money to.  He makes it seem like living in the “real world” means you’ve got compromise your beliefs and get with his program and follow worldly ways in order to live safely and well.  But then Jesus comes upon the scene and beats him at his own game.  He uses the weapons that the devil trusts in and turns them against him.  Scripture says that death, and particularly the fear of death, are a way in which Satan tries to hold people in his grip and make us cling to idols.  And so Jesus enters into the devil’s stronghold of death through the cross.  He uses that very weapon to crush the devil’s head, exploding the power of the grave from the inside out through His resurrection.  The mafioso devil is exposed as the pathetic creature that he is, bound and defeated.  It is written in Hebrews 2, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, Jesus Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. ”

This helps us to see that diseases and disasters–while they are a call to repentance, always, while they may be discipline that God uses to draw us back to Himself–they are not the punishment of an angry God against sin.  For Jesus has already suffered the punishment for all sins.  All that judgment and wrath fell on Him.  He was plagued with everything that we deserved in order to set us free.  Even as Israel was saved from the final plague of death by putting the Lamb’s blood on their doorpost, so eternal death has passed over us who have taken refuge in Jesus and the blood He shed for us.  

So when we face fearful or uncertain times, when things don’t seem quite as solid or sure as they once did, it is here in divine service, where the words of the liturgy which have held solid and sure through the ages, the changeless words of God bring us comfort and hope and confidence.  How fitting the words of the Introit are for today.  Listen again to these words from the Psalms:

My eyes are ever | toward the LORD,

For He shall pluck my feet out | of the net.

The eyes of the LORD are on the | righteous,

And His ears are open | to their cry.

The face of the LORD is against those who do | evil,

To cut off the remembrance of them | from the earth.

The LORD is near to those who have a | broken heart,

And saves such as have a contrite | spirit.

Many are the afflictions of the | righteous,

But the LORD delivers him out | of them all.

The LORD redeems the soul of His | servants,

And none of those who trust in Him shall | be condemned.

Our eyes are ever toward the Lord, looking to Him for all that we need in body and soul.  And most importantly, His eyes are ever on us, watching over us, caring for us.  His ears are open to your cries.  Those who reject the Lord and turn away from Him are rejecting their only help and refuge and will be cut off.  But if you have a broken spirit, if you are burdened and weighed down,  He is near to you to help.  He saves those with a penitent heart.  You may suffer many afflictions, but the Lord Jesus who was afflicted for you, He delivers you out of them all.  Your soul has been redeemed.  Trusting in Christ, you shall not be condemned, but you shall be received by Him with joy forever.

So as it is written in Romans 5, let us rejoice even in the midst of tribulation.  For very often we learn much more of value in times of trouble than in the good times.  As we recently studied in Bible class in Ecclesiastes, we are reminded again that everything about this fallen world is vapor.  It’s all here one day and gone the next, a chasing after the wind.  The things of this world are no place for you to be staking your hope and your happiness.  A pastor friend noted how this Lenten tide, God is forcing us into a certain sort of fast, a fasting from sports and March Madness and concerts and entertainment of various sorts–all of these ultimately vaporous things that too often distract from the one thing needful.  So let us give thanks to God at all times, even in times such as these.  Let your eyes ever be toward the Lord, fixing your eyes on Jesus your Savior, who plucks your feet out of the net, who loves you and gave Himself for you, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.  Let us lay aside the faithless ways of this passing world.  Let us love our neighbor in need and fulfill our callings as Christians, serving one another in the stations of life into which God has placed us.  For though you were once darkness, now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as the children of light.

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

When God Appears to Be Your Enemy

Genesis 32:22-32; Matthew 15:21-28

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

Last week we saw how the devil, who is your enemy, likes to parade about as if he is your friend.  “Your eyes will be opened; you will be like God.  I’ve got a great deal just for you, all these kingdoms of the world and their glory if you just pay homage to me.”  The devil is a false and traitorous friend if there ever was one.  Now this week, we learn that there is an opposite truth as well, namely, that when Jesus, your truest friend, deals with you, very often He will appear to be your enemy, to be One who seems not to care, who apparently ignores your prayers for help.  

As a Christian you know that you can count on Jesus to keep His Word, to be faithful to you and stand by you and never forsake you.  But sometimes you know that only by faith and not by sight or experience.  Sometimes it’s like in today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings.  For in both of those readings, God acts as if He were the enemy.  He doesn’t appear to be the faithful friend, but an adversary, first of Jacob and then of the Canaanite woman.  Why would He act in that way?

We must always remember that God deals with us in two different ways–through His Law and through His Gospel.  Those aren’t just theological words, those are the realities of how we experience God’s coming to us.  The Law brings judgment; the Gospel brings mercy.  With His Law, God holds a gun to our head, so to speak, so that our predicament as sinners before His holiness hits home with terrifying reality.  Like Isaiah when he stood before the Lord and said, “Woe is me, I am a dead man,” so also we haven’t really dealt with reality until we’re scared to death that God is going to be our worst enemy.  After all, He holds your life in His hands.  His Law undoes all of your defenses and lays you bare–no excuses, no escape, nothing to bargain with at all as you face an eternal death sentence.  There’s no playing games with such a God.  For, as Martin Luther said, “Where there is no fear, there is no humility.  Where there is no humility there is pride, and where there is pride, there is wrath and judgment.”

But God behaves this way toward us, humbling us, laying us low, not to harm us but to save us.  The Law ends up serving the Gospel.  God “kills” us in order that He might raise us from this cursed life to real life.  We need to know the terror of death before we can truly live.  And so God slays us sinners with the Law in order that He might recreate us holy in Christ with the Gospel.  Through His damning Law God clears out and creates a place for His mercy in our fallen hearts where there was no place before.  And this is what He wants–hearts stripped of all pretense and self-sufficiency, directed only toward Him, seeking and taking refuge in His mercy in Christ.  It is written in Hosea, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for He has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us; He has injured us, but He will bind up our wounds.  After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up that we may live in His sight.”

Imagine if you were a child watching a surgery take place without any explanation of what was going on.  The surgeon would certainly look like a terrifying bad guy, cutting with His scalpel, wearing a mask, with blood on his hands.  Only through the words you hear telling you what he’s doing, only by believing those words can you see that the surgeon is actually the good guy.  In the same way, only by believing the words of God do you come to see that even when He appears to be doing you harm, He is still the good guy.  This faith is something that the Holy Spirit creates in you, giving you to believe that God’s true nature is one of love and mercy, and that his attitude toward you is favorable in Christ, even when everything that you feel and see seems to say otherwise.  This is what it means to walk by faith, not by sight.  We trust in His mercy that we often cannot see against His judgment that we often do see all too clearly.  We believe that His promises are greater than His threats.

This is what we witness in today’s readings.  God comes to Jacob as a nameless stranger who fights and wrestles with him.  Jacob probably would’ve hoped for God to come to him in a more gentle manner.  For Jacob was already under a lot of stress.  He was about to meet his brother Esau, the one whom Jacob had tricked out of the inheritance and the family blessing some 14 years earlier.  This would be the first time they’ve seen each other since then.  Jacob didn’t know if Esau would receive him well or try to do harm to him and his family.  And in the midst of all this, God comes and wrestles with Jacob until the break of day.

But He does so for Jacob’s good.  For despite appearances, He is making Himself accessible to Jacob here.  The Lord is with him to wrestle away his fears and to strengthen Jacob’s faith in the promises He had made to him.  So it is that Jacob clings to the Lord and will not let Him go until he receives a blessing from Him.  That’s faith, that’s what the Lord wants.  Though He seemed like an enemy, God was there as Jacob’s ally.  For He blessed him there.  Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, which means “struggles with God.”  For he struggled with God and men and prevailed.

In the same way, there may be times in your life when you want God to come gently and softly, and instead you get the God who fights and wrestles with you.  But trust Him; He knows what He’s doing.  Rejoice that He’s there, that He’s with you.  He’s putting your sinful nature to death. Like Jacob, hold on to Him tightly.  Cling to His promises; wrestle with His Word.  Don’t let Him go until He gives you a blessing.  That’s what He wants.  That’s why He seeks you out and comes to you.  Be a true Israelite, struggling with God and prevailing by faith.  Believe that behind the awful judgment of the Law, the Lord is indeed good to you, and His mercy endures forever.

That’s what the Canaanite woman in the Gospel believed.  Jesus certainly treated her as if He were her enemy.  According to the standards of political correctness, Jesus acted like a racist!  This Gentile woman comes to Him believing that He can help.  Though she’s not from Israel, yet she believes that He is the Messiah, calling Him Son of David.  She prays to Him, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!  My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”

But Jesus doesn’t even answer her.  He acts as if she is not even worth listening to, turns His back on her.  All she gets is silence.  It’s like when we pray to God, when our need is serious, but there seems to be no answer to our prayer.  Then the struggle and the wrestling begins. Then the temptation arises in your hearts to think that God is loveless (at least toward you), that He doesn’t really care, that there’s no point in seeking His help.  The Psalmist knew this struggle when He prayed, “To You I cry, O Lord, my Rock.  Do not be silent to me, lest, if you are silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.”

Jesus goes on emptying this Gentile woman of herself so that He might fill her up with His goodness and life.  He behaves as if He’s not for her, saying that He’s only for the Jews.  And then, even when she kneels before Him and begs for help, He seems to give her a mortal blow, calling her a little dog who shouldn’t get the children’s bread.  

But this Canaanite woman shows herself to be a true Israelite.  Like Jacob of old, she won’t let Jesus go until she receives a blessing.  She clings to the Lord’s words, and she’s not going to let Him wriggle out of them.  Out of His very own words she forms a plea.  “Yes, you are right; I have no right to your mercy.  I am a dog.  Yet, if that is what I am, then give me what a dog gets; give me some table scraps, and that will be more than enough to see me through.”  And Jesus delights in being caught in His words and to give to the woman not just crumbs but the whole loaf, all that she desired.  She struggles with God and man in Christ and prevails.  And so she, too, is of Israel!  Jesus says to her, “O woman, great is your faith!  Let it be to you as you desire.”  Behind the enemy’s mask, Jesus now breaks through and is revealed to be her truest Friend.

So it is with you, too.  God’s Law deals you a mortal, lethal blow.  “Lord, your judgement against me is that I am damned sinner.  Yes, Lord, it is true.  I deserve nothing good from you.  I have no right to your mercy.  Yet, if I am a sinner, give me what you have promised to sinners.  It is written, ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’  Grant me that salvation.  It is written, ‘The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.’  Grant me that forgiveness.  It is written, ‘I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.’  Lord, grant me that life.  I’m not letting go until you keep your promises to me.”  And Jesus is delighted to have you hold Him to His words.  That is what faith is, to cling to Christ and His words, even when everything else seems to be against you, even contrary to what you see.  For Christ gives you not just crumbs, but the whole loaf, His entire self, His true body and blood offered up for you on the cross, now given for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  No longer are you mere dogs, scrounging around for scraps.  You are children at the table of the Lord.

That is so because Jesus traded places with you and put Himself in the position of the Canaanite woman.  He was treated as if He were the unwanted street dog, whipped and rejected by men.  He too heard the silence of God in His ears when He prayed to the Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”  No answer came back as He suffered our sins and our hell to death.  And yet He remained faithful, trusting in and holding on to His Father’s love, and He was vindicated in the end, rising from the grave triumphant on the third day, so that with the Canaanite woman, we too might share in His vindication and His victory.

So remember, our God is in the business of death and resurrection.  He cuts you so that He may heal you.  He kills you so that He may make you alive through His Son.  Through tribulation He produces perseverance and character and hope which does not disappoint.  Trust Him with your death.  And trust Him with your life in Christ.

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