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Behold the God With Family

Mark 6:1-6; John 19:25-27
Midweek Lent 4

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✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    Our God is a God who has a family.  And I don’t simply mean in the spiritual sense, where we are all brothers and sisters in Christ–though that is obviously true and very important.  But here I mean that Jesus, God the Son, had an earthly family.  Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters living with Him in His house as He grew up (Mark 6:3).  There is a tradition that the virgin Mary was the mother only of Jesus, and that the other children were from a previous marriage of Joseph, whose first wife had died.  But whether Jesus was the youngest and had several older step-siblings, or whether Jesus was the oldest child, and Mary had more children afterwards–half-siblings of our Lord–the fact remains that Jesus grew up in a rather large household.   Behold the God with family.

    And our God is also a God who worked an everyday job before He began to fulfill His mission as the Messiah.  Like His earthly father, Joseph, Jesus was a carpenter.  He worked with hammer and wood and nails to make farm implements or tables or furniture for the people in the nearby capital city of Galilee called Sepphoris, six miles away from Nazareth.  Jesus didn’t just wander around piously for the first 30 years of His life.  He lived a rather normal, common life.  He worked.  Behold the God with a job.

    This is one of the reasons why, when Jesus came back to Nazareth preaching the kingdom of God, that the people of His hometown were offended and put off.  “Isn’t this the carpenter?” they asked.  They had watched him grow up with His siblings and learn the carpentry trade.  They couldn’t see Him as anything more than an ordinary man.  They were scandalized that he would now come home as their teacher, the one sent to carry out God's saving plan.

    We sometimes fail to fully grasp that fact, that Jesus was (and is) fully human.  It’s offensive to our reasoning to think that God the Son became a toddler, learning to walk, or a teenager, growing up into a man.  That seems beneath the divine majesty.  But Jesus’ true humanity is precisely what saves you.  And it’s a great comfort, too.  He knows what it’s like to live in an imperfect family, with all the dynamics of a full house and multiple brothers and sisters.  He knows what it’s like to work with His hands and to deal with people in the marketplace.  He knows what it’s like to be weary and tired, and to be joyful and content in the work of His hands.  He knows what it’s like to experience the kind of things that you go through.  Jesus hallowed your entire life, from conception to the grave, by going through it all Himself for you.null

    Jesus experienced the brokenness of this world.  We know that Joseph died at some point after Jesus was 12 years old and before Jesus began His ministry.  So perhaps even during Jesus’ teen years, it was a single parent household.  And Jesus experienced rejection in His life, not only from outsiders but even from His own family members.  Prior to His death and resurrection, Jesus’ brothers and sisters thought He was a bit crazy.  John 7(:5) says that they didn’t believe in Him.  And even after His resurrection and ascension, His siblings didn’t always get it.

    James, the half-brother of our Lord Jesus, did become a believer after Easter; and He even became a leader in the early church–no doubt, in part, because of his family connections.  How many can say that they’re Jesus’ brother, after all?  He must have some special insight, right?  But James had a hard time shaking off the Jewish requirements of the Law, requirements that Jesus had fulfilled and set aside.  James had a tendency to add these ceremonial, legal requirements back onto the free gift of God’s grace in Christ.  The epistle to the Galatians speaks of how a delegation was sent by James from Jerusalem, telling these new Gentile believers that to be true Christians, they had to submit to circumcision and the OT food laws.  The apostle Paul had to forcefully denounce this and rebuke those who listened to James.  Paul reminded the Galatians, “ a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ; . . . for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”

    This situation with James helps to explain why Jesus says what He says on the cross to His mother Mary and to John.  Ordinarily, it would be the next oldest son who would take care of His mother after death.  But in view of the family situation and James’ issues of faith, Jesus on the cross entrusts Mary not to James or any of the other brothers, but to John, a preacher of the unadulterated truth.  It’s important who has the care of Mary.  For Mary is a picture of the church.  From her came the Christ; and the church is the body of Christ.  It is in the womb of the church that we are reborn at the font and made to be members of Christ’s body.  By virtue of our baptism, Mary is our spiritual mother, the icon of the church.  It is important who has charge of the church.  So it is that Jesus says to Mary, “Woman, behold your son,” and to John, “Behold your mother.”

    Water is thicker than blood.  By water and the Word in Baptism we are made to be Jesus’ mother and sisters and brothers.  In Mark 3 it is written that Jesus’ mother and brothers were looking for Him.  And Jesus looked at those who were listening to His teaching and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”  Biological connections gain you no advantage with Jesus.  The truth of the Gospel is what counts in this family.  

    John preached that truth.  He said such things as this, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sin.”  John drew special attention in His Gospel to the blood and water that flowed from Jesus side, reminding us of the sacraments which cleanse us and give us new life with God.  

    John, you will recall, is the one who outran Peter to the tomb and believed in the resurrection.  John is the one who first recognized Jesus on the shore after Easter.  John is the one who didn’t refer to himself by name but as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  The love of Jesus was the key thing.

    Jesus is the only one who reveals the Father and His love to us.  And now, with these words from the cross, “Behold your son,” Jesus is saying that it is only through the preaching of John and those like him that you can come to know Christ.  This is the Trinitarian nature of the faith–the Father sends the Son, and the Son sends the Spirit to preach the truth of the Gospel that we may be drawn to Jesus and through Him back to the Father.  

    Therefore, these words of Jesus apply also to you, the church, “Woman behold your son, the preacher of the Gospel.”  Listen to those who are the successors of John and who proclaim the Word that he proclaimed.  Don’t listen to other voices that preach other gospels, even if they’re family.  Don’t listen to anyone who mixes in human works with the all-sufficient work of Jesus.  Receive the care of your pastor who speaks the saving truth of Christ and His words.  For it is through that Gospel alone that you come to know Jesus.  And He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Him.

    And Jesus’ words also apply to pastors, “Behold, your mother!”  The pastor is given charge of the church, but He is not in charge of the church as her owner.  Rather, He honors her as he would a parent.  For she is the one through whom he himself was given life.  The pastor is to treat the church with the same respect he gives his own Mom.  He is there to serve her and care for her spiritual welfare.  “Behold, your mother.”  Both mother and son are given as gifts to each other from Jesus, who alone is Lord over all.

    Finally, in one sense we could say that the people of Jesus’ hometown had it right; He was still a carpenter. For He yet had one more thing to build.  But this time in addition to hammer, nails, and wood, He would use His own body.  Through the redeeming work of the cross, Jesus laid the foundation of the Church.  Baptized into Christ the cornerstone, Scripture says that "you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22).  This temple will never crumble, because it is founded on the solid rock of Christ and His work for you, His family.

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

Living Bread

John 6:1-15
Lent 4

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

    At the end of today’s Gospel, the people said about Jesus, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  When they spoke of “the Prophet,” they were referring to the promise that the Lord had made to Moses, when the children of Israel were afraid to hear the thundering voice of God on Mt. Sinai.  The Lord told Moses, “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth.”  

    And to that extent, the people were right.  Jesus is the promised Prophet, the New and Greater Moses, who speaks God’s words to His people, who leads you and feeds you and intercedes for you.  Just consider all the details in today’s Gospel.  In the same way that  Moses led the children of Israel through the Red Sea, Jesus goes across the Sea of Galilee (6:1), and a great multitude follows Him.  And why did they follow Him?  Because of His signs which He performed on those who were diseased (6:2), just like Moses who had performed great signs in Egypt before Pharaoh.  And as Moses went up Mt. Sinai with the elders of Israel, and they saw God and ate and drank, so also Jesus here ascends a mountain with His disciples, and in Him the people would see God and eat and drink (6:3).  And it is written here that the Passover was near (6:4), the sacrificing of the unblemished Lamb whose blood protects from death.  In this Gospel, then, the Lord is teaching you that He is your greater Moses.  He alone is the One who sustains and leads you safely across the wilderness of this fallen world.  He is the One who comes after Moses, your Joshua, who leads you through death into the Promised Land and eternal life.null

    Jesus is also your manna.  He 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 (6:51).”  So when we hear of a miracle like the feeding of the 5000, we know that its significance doesn’t end with the earthly bread of that time and place.  No, here is pictured the true Manna, the Bread of Life which is still being distributed to the multitude today, to you in the Sacrament of the Altar.

    Seeing all the people coming to Him, Jesus asks Philip a question to test him.  Now when the Lord tests you, He does so not to find out information about you that He didn’t already know, right?  He’s God; He knows all things.  Jesus tests you ultimately to direct your faith to the right place and to strengthen it.  God’s tests are for your good.  The Lord asks Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?”  In this way the Lord leads Philip to despair of his own ability to do anything to solve this problem.  “Even if we had 200 days’ worth of wages, we still couldn’t buy nearly enough food.”  The disciples were helpless to do anything.  The first thing about having the right faith is knowing what not to trust in. Tests serve to empty you of your idols and your false gods.  The disciples were not to trust in themselves or their own resources.

    It’s the same way with you.   Jesus asks this question to show you that the bread of life is not something that you can acquire with your own spiritual resources or by your own goodness.  You simply have no ability to come up with what is necessary to attain eternal life.  You must learn to turn way from and despair of your own qualifications to solve this problem.  You’ve got nothing to barter with to make yourself right with God.  You can’t purchase this heavenly bread.  Rather, God offers it to you freely in Christ.  His forgiveness and salvation are granted to you without cost; for He has paid the price.  As Isaiah 55 says, “You who have no money, come, buy and eat.”

    Only those can receive the bread of life, then, who acknowledge their spiritual bankruptcy before God, who recognize that of themselves they can lay no claim on God’s eternal gifts.  Those who think that they are worthy of the Bread of Life will not be given life at all.  For they are still trying to “buy” their way into God’s good graces with their own merits.  Only to the poor in spirit does the kingdom of heaven belong.  Our righteousness is like the rotting Old Testament manna that was kept overnight; it’s goodness doesn’t last.  Only those who hunger and thirst for the righteousness of Christ will be satisfied.  For His is the food which endures to everlasting life (6:27).

    One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?”  On the surface it appeared that this bread and fish would be useless to help feed the people.  But with Jesus it was more than enough to do the job.  It’s the same way with the Sacrament of the Altar.  Someone might ask, “What good can this little bit of bread and wine do?  How can these elements help my soul or give me any eternal blessings?”  But in the hands of Jesus, such elements are more than enough.  For what counts is not the impressiveness of the bread and wine but the miracle that our Lord does with them.  You must focus not simply on the elements only but on the Word of the Lord who stands behind them.

    “Then Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’  Now there was much grass in the place.”  The Lord invites you also to do the same thing today, for the Psalm says, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall lack nothing.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures.”  Right here is your grassy pasture where He calls you to come for rest.  It is here that He leads you beside the still waters of His living Word.  It is here that He prepares a table before you, spread with heavenly food.

    “And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.”  Here is the great miracle, that as the disciples handed out this food given them by Christ, there was always more and more.  The more they handed out, the more there was.  First there were five loaves in the basket.  Then, as this was distributed, the disciples would reach in and find more and more loaves ready to be given out.  And likewise with the fish.  Thousands upon thousands of people were fed, and the food never ran out.  Everyone was filled and satisfied; no one was left out.  The Lord more than covered all of their needs.

    Isn’t this also how it is with the gifts that Christ gives in Holy Communion?  In bread and wine He multiplies His body and blood, and through His ministers He distributes them to His people, that you may receive all that you want of Him who is the Living Bread from heaven, and that your souls may be thoroughly satisfied with His mercy.  There is always more and more of this Bread of Life to be given out.  For this bread is the flesh of God Himself; and there is no limit to God.  He offered up His body for you on the cross to purchase your forgiveness.  And now He offers up His body to you in Holy Communion that you may receive that full and limitless forgiveness.

    Like the five loaves and the two fish, our Lord’s love is ever-expanding.  It’s reverse mathematics; the more that He gives, the more that He has yet to give.  It can’t be measured; you can’t put a boundary around it.  So when you come to the Lord’s table with penitence and faith, you need never fear that the sin you bring is bigger than the Lord’s forgiveness.  The cross covers it all, and then some.  The shed blood of the Passover Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world.  When you eat the Living Bread from heaven in the Sacrament, you receive the fullness of Christ’s pardon, all that you could ever want.  And there is still more even beyond that.  For when you eat this Supper, you are partaking in the very life of God Himself.  Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (6:54).”

    After the 5000 were fed, Jesus told the disciples to gather up what remained, so that nothing would be lost.  We also do the same thing here in Holy Communion.  What remains after the Supper is gathered up and placed into the tabernacle there at the back of the altar.  From there it is carried out to our hospitalized and shut-in members.  In that way the Lord’s love also reaches out to them in their need so that they might be drawn in and joined with us in this same holy communion.  

    Finally, when the disciples gathered up what remained, they filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves.  Five loaves became twelve baskets–more than when they started.  Five is the number of the Law, for there are five books of Moses.  Twelve is the number of the apostles.  In this miracle, then, we see a transition, from the old Israel, guided by the Law of Moses, to the New Israel, the Church, built on the doctrine and ministry of Christ’s apostles, as we say in the Creed, “one holy Christian and apostolic Church.”  It is written in Acts 2 of the early church,  “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers (Acts 2:42).”  This is what the 5 becoming 12 means for you: You have been freed from the judgment of the Law by Christ, who fulfilled it all for you; and your life is now to be found in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking and receiving of the Bread of Life, and in the prayers and liturgy of the church.  

    The multitudes back then wanted Jesus to be king–but only to keep their bellies filled and their appetites fed.  But you know that Jesus is much more than that.  He is the King who goes off to the mountain by Himself where He will be crowned with thorns, that His flesh might be given for the life of the world.  You are children of the Jerusalem that is above.  You are children of the promise in Jesus, the Greater Moses and the Bread of Life.

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

Behold the God With Skin

John 19:1-24

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✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    Our God is a God with skin.  The Lord Jesus, true God, took upon Himself real flesh and blood, body and soul, and became true man.  He is covered with skin.  Skin clothes our bodies, yet we usually also cover up most of our skin with clothing.  This is to protect it from the sun or from the cold weather.  But we also cover our skin to cover our shame.  In the beginning, man’s skin was uncovered.  Genesis 2 says that Adam and Eve were naked and that were not ashamed.

    But you know what happened.  They fell into sin, and immediately Scripture says that they saw that they were naked.  Their eyes, which had been directed upward to God in faith and outward to one another in perfect sinless love, now were turned in on themselves.  They became self-preoccupied and self-absorbed.  That’s one way of understanding what sin is; it’s when your humanity is distorted and bent and curved in on yourself.  

    Having lost their humanity, with the image of God broken in them, our first parents sought to cover their shame with flimsy fig leaves.  We too try to keep the truth of our sin and shame from being exposed by doing our best to cover it up and hide it, or to justify it and rationalize it.  But such fig leaves don’t work too well.  They’re not a good or lasting solution.  They cannot truly hide sin and shame.

    And so according to Genesis 3, God covered Adam and Eve with skins.  The first real item in their wardrobe came from the death of an animal or perhaps several animals.  Their sin had brought death into the world, not only to themselves, but to all creation.  Their nakedness would be covered at the cost of an even deeper nakedness.  For what could be more exposed than an animal stripped of its skin? And so the first death, the first bloodshed, happened at the hands of the Creator Himself, to grant to these rebellious human beings the luxury of hiding their sin and shame behind the innocence of another creature.null

    You cannot truly hide your own sin.  Sin can only be covered with skin.  No one knows for sure what type of animal it was in the garden from which God peeled its innocent hide in order to hide the exposed and vulnerable parts of Adam and his wife.  But considering what was later used on Passover and in the tabernacle and the temple, it's not unreasonable to suspect that the first animal to die was a sheep, a lamb.

    "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world," John the Baptist declared of Jesus (John 1:29).  Behold in Jesus the fulfillment of every lamb with its throat slit to render it a sacrifice in the temple. Behold in Jesus the fulfillment of every Passover lamb roasted and completely consumed the night before God brought His people out of slavery.  Behold, the Lamb who is a man, and the man who is God.  Behold the God who literally has skin in the game.

    Jesus was scourged by the Roman soldiers with a whip called a flagrum.  It was designed to shred the skin from the back of the one being whipped, tearing away flesh so deeply that the internal organs are nearly exposed.  In order to rescue us from our shame and cover the nakedness of our exposed sin, Jesus is not only stripped of His clothing, but even His skin is torn open.  Jesus is utterly uncovered on the cross, and the soldiers cast lots for His clothing.  All He wears is the crown of thorns that were mockingly pressed into His head.  Thorns were part of the curse on Adam and Eve in the beginning.  Now that’s what Jesus wears, for He bears the curse for us to break its power over us.  Behold the God with skin, God made naked, now clothed only in the mockery of sinful men.

    This event not only exposes Jesus to shame, above all it uncovers and reveals His great mercy toward you.  It lays bare His sacrificial love for you.  Jesus’ garment is seamless and perfect.  This garment is taken off of Him so that it may be placed on you, so that you may be covered with His perfect righteousness and enveloped with His full and free forgiveness.  

    Behold the man who willingly bears your sin and shame.  Behold the man who suffers in your place without complaint.  Behold the man whose nakedness answers for Adam’s, and for yours.  Behold the man with nothing to hide, with no sin of His own to cover up.  He is stripped bare to bear all of your sins, and especially to take away the ones that cause you the greatest shame.  All of them hang there on the cross with this man, this God, Jesus, naked and dying for you.

    Baptized into Christ, you now have new skin.  Behold the man who dresses you in His own holiness, who gives you Himself to wear.  For it is written, “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  Behold the man who was sacrificed for you sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, who covers you with His own skin.  Gladly wear His garment of righteousness and peace, knowing that you are dear children of God.  For in Christ, your sin has been removed, and your shame is gone.

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

Behold the Man Who Prays

Luke 22:24-46
Midweek Lent 1

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    Perhaps it seems strange to you that Jesus would pray.  I remember as a child wondering who it was that Jesus prayed to, since He’s God.  Is He talking to Himself?  What’s going on?  Of course, we know that even from before creation, there has been an eternal conversation going on among the persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  So it’s perfectly natural that the Son of God would speak to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is part of their everlasting union and communion with one another.

    But with the incarnation of Jesus, there is an additional and very important element added.  He is now praying not only as true God, the Son of the Father, but also true man, our fully human brother.  Behold the Man, Jesus, who prays as one of us, who leads a life of faith and trust in the Father as a perfect human being.  When we say that we are saved by faith, one of the things we mean is that we are saved by Jesus’ faith, by Jesus’ trust in the Father and His faithful following of the Father’s Word and will.  If you ever find yourself struggling in your faith, if your faith feels weak and fading, don’t try to work up more faith in yourself somehow.  Rely on Jesus’ faith; cling to His perfect trust and faithfulness; take refuge in Him who took refuge in the goodness and love of His Father.  That’s what Christian faith is.  That’s how we come to know the Father as good and loving toward us.null

    To have faith in God is to pray to God.  Prayer is the exercise of faith.  So that’s what Jesus does, throughout His ministry, and particularly here in His Passion.  And we see that Jesus is praying as a true human being, because He expresses a will that is different from the Father’s.  Think about that!  For our sakes, Jesus has emptied Himself of His divine powers, and He faces His suffering on our behalf as a man, without any of His divinity to diminish it or mitigate it.  And His truly human will quite obviously wants to avoid the hellish afflictions He’s about to undergo if at all possible, if there’s some other way.  “Father, if it is possible, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me.”  

    The cup that Jesus is referring to there is the cup of judgment, like a cup of poison that will cause Him to die a slow, agonizing death.  By drinking this cup for us, He will take away the judgment of sin that stood against us.  Only in this way can we be saved.  Only by Jesus submitting to the Father’s will are we rescued.  And Jesus does submit; He obeys.  “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”  That is our salvation.  Behold the Man, who submits His fully human will to the Father’s will in perfect obedience.  Where we had asserted our human will against the Father, wanting to do things our own way and make ourselves the greatest and avoid the narrow way, Jesus says, “Thy will be done.”  He restores our humanity by bringing the divine and the human will back together, back in line with each other.  He restores us to communion with the Father by His obedience and His willingness to serve and to suffer.

    And we see that suffering already beginning here in the Garden.  It was in the Garden of Eden that man first fell under the curse.  And so it is fittingly here in this garden that Jesus begins to bear the full weight and pressure of the curse.  The name Gethsemane literally means “oil press.”  It was part of an olive grove where the oil was pressed out of the olives.  Here, Jesus is pressed down in a similar way, under the crushing burden of the world’s sin and the judgment we deserved.  Imagine the anxiety and the stress you would feel if you knew what was coming on you like Jesus did, if you knew that tomorrow you would be dying a slow, agonizing, and torturous death.  Here in Gethsemane, Jesus is pressed in such a way that His blood is forced from His pores.  It is written, “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.”  

    Medical experts describe this condition where a person is under such duress and stress that the capillaries in their skin actually begin to burst, and the blood mixes together with the nervous sweat.  This is what Jesus is experiencing here.  Even before anyone can arrest Him and do Him harm, already He is shedding His blood for us.  Remember this when you are undergoing stress, when anxiety seems to dominate your mind and your life, when there seems to be no way out from underneath your burdens and whatever it is you’re dealing with.  Remember Jesus, who has been there, who knows just what you’re going though–and more–and who provided the way out through His suffering and into the resurrection.

    It is written in 1 Corinthians 10, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”  Here in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see the way of escape.  It is Christ who, when put to the test, was faithful.  After Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, the Gospel of Luke records that the devil left Him “until an opportune time.”  This is that time, where Jesus is tempted to turn away from the Father’s will.  But He doesn’t.  He follows through on your behalf.  

    And now He says to the disciples and to you, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  Pray in the name of Jesus, who conquered sin and Satan for you.  Take refuge in Him when you are put to the test and lured away from God’s Word and God’s will.  Cling to Christ for mercy and forgiveness and for strength to endure in the faith until the end.  He is your Mediator, your Intercessor, your Advocate before the Father, speaking in your defense, appealing on your behalf by the virtue of His shed blood.  In the time of trial He has promised that He will never leave you or forsake you.  Learn to pray with Christ, “Not my will, but Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

Sight for the Blind

Luke 18:31-43

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

    The disciples in today’s Gospel don’t seem to be very bright.  Jesus takes them aside and gives them a heads-up, spelling out for them exactly what’s about to happen: They are going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus will be mocked and insulted and spit upon and scourged and killed.  And the third day He will rise again.  It couldn’t be laid out much more clearly than that.  But the disciples aren’t able to see or understand it.  It doesn’t fit in with their way of thinking about Jesus, and so it goes right over their heads.  The disciples clearly don’t get it.

    Let this be a warning to us all.  For if it could happen to them when they were right there in the visible presence of Jesus, it can also happen to us.  We shouldn’t look at them and say “How foolish!”  We should rather look at ourselves with some godly fear and humility and ask, “What is it that I don’t get?  What is it about Jesus or about myself that I’m blind to?”  The fact of the matter is that in our fallen condition, we are all spiritually blind.  Our vision is clouded and darkened to the truth, even though it might be sitting there right in front of us.  null

    First, without the clear mirror of God’s Law, we don’t see our own sin rightly.  We know we have a few flaws and problems, but we’re blind to how utterly deep the corruption goes in us, and how it taints everything about us.  We can see it a little better in others, all the issues that everyone else has whom we live and work with.  But the justifications and excuses we make for ourselves inevitably obscure our vision and block a clear self-diagnosis.  

    And perhaps even worse, apart from the clear proclamation of the Gospel, we don't see Jesus rightly.  He gets turned into some other figure whom we can fit into our agendas–the Messiah who’s on our side in political causes, the guru who helps us to cope and live a happier lifestyle, the guide who provides the example for how we can make ourselves righteous, the coach who helps us to get where we want to be.  You can tell you have a false Jesus, though, when He’s only a means to an end.  In the Bible, Jesus is the end–He’s the goal; He’s everything that we’re seeking.  He is Himself the Truth and the Life.  He’s not merely our guide to lead us somewhere greater.  For there is nowhere greater than fellowship with God in Christ.

    So as we ponder today’s Gospel, let us remember what we confess in the Catechism about the 3rd article of the Creed, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.  But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts ("enlightened" means that He’s given light to our eyes so that we can rightly see), sanctified and kept me in the truth faith.”  If we do have proper vision about ourselves and about Jesus, it’s entirely a gift of God’s grace by His Word and Spirit.  Remember this, too, as you talk about the faith with others, particularly if they seem to be a little bit unclear and unable to understand what you’re saying.  Have patience; for only the Holy Spirit can open their eyes.
    In today’s Gospel, the one who sees Jesus best of all is actually the blind man.  And so we must learn to become more like that beggar on the side of the road–empty-handed before God, with nothing to give Him that He should accept us, desiring the vision that only He can impart.

    The blind man heard a great crowd passing by and asked what it all meant.  When they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was with them, the blind man cried out and shouted with a loud voice, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Notice how that prayer showed that the blind man already had faith in Jesus.  The term “Son of David” is a title for the Messiah.  This blind man had certainly heard about the things Jesus had said and done prior to this.  The blind man believed that Word he had heard.  His ears were his eyes.  Seeing Jesus would not have helped the blind man believe in Him.  For faith comes by hearing.  Even without earthly sight, the blind man could see that Jesus was the Promised One.  He believed that Jesus could heal him; even more, he believed that Jesus was the Christ, who had come to redeem His people.  

    “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  This is our prayer, too.  “Let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.”  “O Christ the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.”  This is your go-to prayer.  For it covers almost every situation possible.  When you see someone in trouble or acting foolishly, you can pray for them simply by saying, “Lord, have mercy.”  When you yourself are in trouble or need, when you’re about to go into surgery, when a relationship is on the rocks or you don’t know how you’re going to pay the bills, you can pray, “Lord, have mercy on me.”  Even when everything’s going great for you, you’re healthy and prosperous, after your prayers of thanksgiving, it is still good to pray “Lord, have mercy on me” lest you fall into complacency and spiritual laziness or pride and self-congratulation.  Let this prayer be a regular part of the conversation of your heart, so that in the hour of death you may confidently say, “Lord, have mercy,” and know that He will.  His mercy is everything for you.

    Now the crowds here don’t much like this prayer of the blind man.  They warn him that he should shut up.  It’s impolite.  He’s being annoying, crying out that way.  It’s like those people who think it’s fine that you’re a Christian, as long as you keep it a purely private matter.  “I don’t care what you believe, as long as it doesn’t bother me.”  But when the exercise of your faith goes against the flow of their desires and plans, or when the confession of your faith becomes a nuisance to them, that’s when people start telling you to shut up and pipe down and don’t carry things so far.

    However, faith is stubborn and persistent.  Faith won’t let anything get in the way of life in Jesus or prayer to Him.  Faith doesn’t care what people think or what they will say, because it seeks a gift infinitely greater than worldly approval.  Faith is not ashamed and will not be silenced.  And so the blind man cries out all the more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

    And notice this wonderful statement in the Gospel.  When the blind man speaks these words, it is written that “Jesus stood still.”  This prayer goes directly to His ears.  It stops Him in His tracks.  It turns Him around and draws His undivided attention.  Isn’t that marvelous!?  Jesus stood still.  He doesn’t mind that proper decorum has been breached.  At the sound of this prayer, Jesus commands that the blind man be brought to Him.  

    And He asks him, “What do you want Me to do for you?”  Now why would He ask that?  Doesn’t He already know?  Of course He does.  God knows what you need even before you ask Him.  In fact, He knows your needs better than you do.  But He asks anyway in order that the blind man may exercise his faith with a specific prayer.  The general prayer, “Lord, have mercy” opens up a whole world of particular prayers and requests.  Jesus also wants to hear the specifics of your lives. He wants to hear from you in your own voice what is on your mind and heart. He wants you to verbalize your desires, like a little child learning to speak to his father and use his words to ask for help.  In verbalizing your prayers, they become concrete and focused.  Prayer is one of the primary ways in which you exercise your faith, that you may learn to look to the Lord for all that you need and see that every good gift comes from His hand.

    In response to Jesus’ question, the blind man answers, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”  Jesus says to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.”  And immediately he can see.  The blind man’s eyes are opened, and the first sight that he sees is the face of His Savior.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  The blind man’s heart is pure, for it trusts in Jesus who alone is pure.  Through this faith he is made well; he sees God.

    Now this doesn’t mean that if God doesn’t give you 20/20 vision when you ask for it, then you don’t have enough faith.  It's best not to focus on your believing, but on the One you're believing in.  Faith in Jesus receives everything as a gift, not as a demand that He has to fulfill.  Sometimes God says “no” to what we ask for because he wants to teach us patience or make room for greater gifts.  Sometimes He knows that what we are asking for will harm us and endanger our salvation.  We can’t know the mind of God ahead of time.  So we pray trusting that Jesus will hear our prayers and do what is truly best for us.

    Like all of Jesus’ miracles, this healing wasn’t just talk or an easy wave of the hands. It cost Him his life on the cross. There Jesus won healing and restoration for us all by bearing our physical ailments and infirmities, our sin and pain and sorrow, suffering them all to death in His holy body.  And He shares that miracle with all who cry out to Him in beggar faith.  Jesus hung on a cross in the darkness, blinded by death, in order to bring healing and the light of His resurrection to the world.

    Know, then, that the Lord hears your prayers, even when they seem to go unanswered.  Ultimately they have all been answered “yes” in Jesus’ dying and rising.  For now we walk by faith in that truth; but on the Last Day our faith will turn to sight, just like the man in the Gospel.  For on the Last Day every bodily disorder and disability will done away with–from failing vision to poor hearing, from arthritis to paralysis, from heart disease to cancer; sin and death will be eradicated completely, and the Great Physician will raise you bodily to share in His own glory and life.  

    When the blind man received his sight, he followed Jesus on the road to Jerusalem and the cross.  As we prepare to enter Lent, then, let us follow Jesus, too, and walk with Him on the way of sacrificial love.  And let us also remember what happened afterwards on that first Easter evening.  The Emmaus disciples walked the road with Jesus and talked with Him without recognizing Him, blind to who He was.  But when Jesus broke bread with them, then He was no longer hidden to their eyes.  So it is also now.  Here your eyes are opened, and Jesus is made known to you in the breaking of the bread.  His body and blood are given and shed for you.  His forgiveness covers your past and your former blindness.  When the final Easter comes, you will hear Him say to you, “Your faith has saved you; receive your sight.”  And then you, too, will behold the face of God.

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

The Seed is the Word

Luke 8:4-15

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

    In order to understand a parable fully and rightly, you need to know why it is that Jesus told it.  His parables were almost always addressing some particular circumstance or event.  For instance, Jesus doesn’t tell the parable of the Good Samaritan just to give a nice moral teaching but to humble a self-righteous lawyer.  Or He tells the parable of the Prodigal Son in response to the self-righteous Pharisees who were grumbling about Him eating with tax collectors and sinners.

    And the same thing is true about today’s Gospel parable.  Jesus tells it, in part, in order to warn against pride and self-righteousness in His own disciples.  It is written here that a great multitude had gathered around Jesus and that people had come to Him from every city.  Everyone had heard about Him and wanted to see Him.  And so Jesus tells this parable to make something clear, especially to the twelve.  They might have been getting a little puffed up, thinking that this was going to be just one big victory procession, everything seemed to be going so well.  Jesus tells a parable that gives a dose of reality.  He says that there are four possible outcomes to the hearing of the Word, and only one of them is good.  For three out of four hearers, the Word of God comes to no effect.  The apostles are going to experience more failure than success, more rejection than acceptance in the long run.  They shouldn’t be fooled by the large crowds coming out to see Jesus.  Big numbers don’t mean anything.  Not all of them were believers.null  

    In fact, remember that there actually came a point in Jesus’ own ministry when the crowds stopped following Him; all He had left were the 12 disciples, and even one of them would turn away from Him and betray Him.  After the feeding of the 5000, Jesus had been teaching how the bread that He would give for the life of the world was His flesh, and how His flesh was real food and His blood was real drink (John 6:55).  That was too hard for the people to accept; Jesus went from 5000+ down to only 12 followers.  Finally Jesus asked the 12, “Do you also want to go away?”  Peter replied in those familiar words, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

    And that’s where we can find some comfort, especially in this little flock called Mt. Zion.  When everything is going great in terms of numbers, we can be tempted to self–absorbed pride; when things are going poorly in terms of numbers, we can be tempted to self-absorbed despair.  But what we must finally cling to in both cases is not outward signs of success, but the sure promise that the Word of Christ is living and powerful to fulfill its purpose.  Sometimes the purpose of the Word is to reveal the unbelieving heart. That’s why we have those unsettling words in the Gospel, when it says that Jesus spoke in parables so that, “seeing, they may not see, and hearing, they may not understand.”  Blindness and deafness to the Word unveils God’s judgment.  But above all, the Word of God is sent to give life and joy to us descendants of Adam created from the dirt.  God said through the prophet Isaiah, “(My word that goes forth from My mouth) shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

    The going forth of God’s Word is like the scattering of seed on all different kinds of soil.  God scatters the seed of His Word recklessly, freely, even on places where there seems little hope of a harvest.  For in His love He desires all to be saved.  The Lord’s Word is alive with His Spirit to give life even to the worst of soils.

    First, like the hardened, foot-worn path, some people become hardened to the Word of God.  Perhaps they’ve been “walked all over” in their lives, mistreated, abused.  Or they’ve been pressed down and wearied by the struggles and difficulties of life.  They say, “Where has God been for me?  Why should I even listen to His Word?”  Or Satan has pressed and hardened some with his lies about the Word as being untrustworthy, or that it’s foolish superstition, or that it’s all just a power play by church bureaucrats to manipulate people.  And so the Word goes in one ear and out the other, like seed bouncing off a dirt road. The birds of the air snatch it away–which is a reminder of that passage which describes the devil as the prince of the power of the air.  Think of all the stuff that flies across our airwaves which seeks to counter the truth of God’s Word.  For the first group, then, the Word doesn’t penetrate the heart and bear fruit and do what it has the power to do.

    Be on guard, therefore, against inattentive and unserious listening to the Word of God.  Martin Luther once wrote that the third commandment is not only violated by those who don’t come to church each week as the commandment requires, but it is also violated by those who do come to church, but only from force of habit or out of compulsion, who listen to it like they would listen to entertainment, and then who leave church no different than when they came in.  On the other hand, Luther said, “when we seriously ponder the Word, hear it, and put it to use, such is its power that it never departs without fruit. It always awakens new understandings, pleasure, and devotion, and it constantly creates clean hearts and minds. For the Word is not idle or dead, but effective and living.”

    In the second instance, in the planting of the Seed on the rocky soil, there’s the listening that hears and rejoices, believes and thanks God, and yet it’s only a shallow, good-times faith. When the bad-times come along–and they always do sooner or later–the person lets go of the Word and their faith withers and dies. One of the purposes of hearing the Word regularly is to store up in your heart and mind those passages that will see you through the hard times with your faith intact. The Word has the power to do it, if we don’t let it go. So often this happens when tragedy comes–people stop going to church, stop listening to the Word, and then they’re surprised when their faith grows weaker and weaker and finally dies. Remember: faith is never something you can keep alive inside yourself. It only comes from hearing and holding the Word of God.

    Next, our Lord reminds us that even folks who listen to the Word, can still lose it, if they let it get crowded out of their lives by the thorns.  Jesus says these are the cares, riches, and pleasures of life–which is odd because usually when you think of thorns, you think of something that’s painful, something that hurts.  And yet the thorns Jesus mentions include riches and pleasures, things which seem to be the opposite of pain!  But experience teaches that Jesus’ words are true.  For, in fact, the things that often promise us the most pleasure bring us the most pain.  The things of this world  give a temporary happiness but leave us with a lasting sadness and emptiness if they are what we set out hearts on.  These thorns can sedate us into apathy and cause a choking of the Word of God, squeezing it into an ever smaller place in our lives until in the end we don’t really hear it at all.

    And then our Lord reminds us that it is possible to hear His Word in such a way that it bears abundant fruit. He describes those hearts that hear and hold fast the Word as honest and good.  How did those hearts get to be honest and good?  Not of themselves.  All of us are by nature the first three soils.  Only the Word and Holy Spirit of God has the power to till up and clear the soil and renew our hearts.  If, as the Apostle says, faith in Jesus is what purifies the heart, and faith comes by hearing the Word of God, then our hearts will be “honest and good” in no other way than by that Word making its home inside of us, and creating in us a clean heart–the heart of Christ.  

    Here’s really the best way to think of it:  Jesus is Himself the fourth perfect soil.  He is the eternal Word of God, the Seed, having taken root in the earth of our humanity–fully human but entirely without the rocks and thorns and hardness of sin.  

    This Word became flesh and bore all that has infested your soil.  Jesus was planted in this world by His heavenly Father to save and redeem you.  Behold how this Seed is cast to the earth, how Jesus the Word is thrown onto the wayside, the way of sorrows, where he is dragged to His cross, mocked in His suffering like the caws of scavenging ravens.  But notice that the birds of the air do not devour Jesus’ body, as was often the case with other crucified criminals who would be left for the animals to consume.  This Seed is hurled upon the rocky ground of Golgotha, where he lacked moisture and cried out, “I thirst!”  But in spite of his suffering and thirst, this Seed would not wither away permanently.  And Jesus was even crowned with thorns, the very symbol of Adam’s curse; yet this Seed would not be choked out of existence, but would rise again.  A Seed has to die, if it is to rise out of the earth and bear much fruit.  The fruit of Jesus’ suffering is your salvation.

    In this way our Lord has overcome all that stands against you, all that keeps you from having life, all that keeps you from growing to maturity.  In Christ you are free from hard-heartedness and the rocks of shallow faith and the thorns of this world.  In Christ alone you are the holy fourth soil, pure and righteous and fruitful and forgiven.  In you, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Word of God is implanted.  You have been watered with the Word in your baptism.  And the Word is sown in the soil of your body, placed on your very tongues, in the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood.  The power of God to give life is in the Seed.  And the Seed of the Word is in you and with you and for you, the Word of the Father who wants you with all His heart to share forever in His life.

    Let us, then, be eager to confess this Word with our mouths before the world.  Let the scattering of the holy Seed continue outside of these walls, out in the daily callings that God has placed you in.  Let the Word accomplish its purpose with your unchurched or de-churched friends and family.  Invite them in to divine service, to adult instruction classes.  Together with them, let us all seek the Lord while He may be found, and call upon Him, for He is near; His Word is here.  Return to the Lord, for He will have mercy on you, and He will abundantly pardon.  His grace in Christ is more than sufficient for you, even in the midst of your weakness.  For His strength is made perfect in the weakness of the cross.  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

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

The Lord is Good

Matthew 20:1-16

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

    Let me begin by saying what today’s Gospel is not about.  If your first thought in hearing about the laborers in the vineyard is to try to apply it to politics or economics, don’t.  This is not about socialism or capitalism; it has nothing to do with the rights of workers or employers.  It doesn’t support a conservative or a liberal agenda.  More and more we tend to see everything in terms of politics and rights and power and victimization.  But Jesus is no politician, and his mission is not to empower you in your quest for your rights.  His kingdom is not of this world.  He says here very explicitly, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.”  The way things work in God’s kingdom is quite different from the ways of the world.  Wages are given not based on the merit of the worker but on the goodness of the owner.  Here’s the key saying from the vineyard owner, “Is your eye evil because I am good?”

    God’s unmerited goodness is what we call grace, His undeserved love toward us in Christ that we receive by faith.  Now unfortunately, some take that teaching about grace and use it as an excuse for laziness when it comes to doing good works.  “My salvation isn’t based on my works at all?  Great!  I’m going to take it easy, then, and just enjoy myself and do as I please.”  But that’s just a perversion of God’s grace, and ultimately it’s a rejection of grace.  For God’s Law is still in force.  You should still be loving God above all things–including your money, including your family, including the approval of your friends.  You should still be loving your neighbor as yourself.  The Ten Commandments are still commanded.  They’re not the Ten Suggestions.  God has told us to do them, and so we must.  It’s not optional.null

    But here’s the point: If you do good things in order to gain some eternal reward out of it, is that truly a good work?  Or if you do something good out of fear that if you don’t you’ll be punished, is that truly a good work?  In both cases the good deed is tainted, isn’t it?  It may be good humanly speaking, but it’s not in God’s sight.  For with Him it’s not just the outward act but what’s going on in the heart that counts.  Love and trust in Him is what He seeks.  If heaven is the reward we get for living a good life, we’re hopelessly lost; because then trying to live a good life would end up being a self-serving thing, which in fact is the opposite of doing good before God.

    Let me illustrate it this way: Valentine’s day was just celebrated.  If a husband gets his wife a card and flowers or some other gift only because he feels like he has to or else he’ll be in the dog house, is that really love for his wife?  Or if he does something romantic because what he truly wants is to score some points that he can cash in on, is that really love for his wife?  What he does might be good outwardly speaking, but what makes it real love is when it’s done without thought to rewards or consequences, but simply with a desire for the good and the happiness of the spouse and their marital communion.

    So what God has done is this: He has enabled you to do truly good works by taking the eternal threat and reward entirely out of the mix.  The reward is already yours before you even start working.  It’s been purchased by Christ for you; it’s a done deal, whether you entered the vineyard at dawn or at the 11th hour.  Your reward, your eternal life in Christ is not in doubt.  The denarius is yours through faith, simply by trusting Him.  So now what?  Now you are truly free to do the work God has given you to do from the heart, out of love for Him and love for your neighbor, without any thought of what’s in it for you.  All the tainted motives you might have are taken away in Christ.  Fear of what might happen to you, self-serving goals no longer have a role to play since Jesus has already given Himself to you with every blessing.  You are set at liberty to do good, not because you have to in order to win God’s favor, but precisely because you already have God’s favor in Christ, and because your neighbor needs you.  In a sense you actually are free to do as you please.  Because what pleases the heart of faith is not to go back to the same old shallow, empty, self-serving ways, but to live in Christ, loving and trusting in God and serving others.  That’s why it is written that without faith in Christ, it is impossible to please God.  Only in Jesus are you truly free to do good.

    When we forget that, that’s when we’ll start to grumble.  You only complain when you think God owes you, that you deserve better based on what you’ve done.  “I’ve worked harder than that other guy; I’ve done more for the church.  So I deserve better than him.”  “It’s not fair that God is letting me go through this hardship.  I’ve lived a good life and been a good person.”  You can only talk and think that way when you believe it’s your works that run the show with God.  And when your works run the show, then it’s all about you, not Jesus.

    The laborers in the vineyard wanted the landowner to be fair.  But in fact He was more than fair.  A denarius is a good and proper wage for a full day’s work.  That’s exactly what they received.  The landowner wasn’t being miserly; he didn’t stiff them.  It’s just that the landowner was extremely generous to the others.  He treated even the ones hired at the 11th hour as if they had worked all day.  The landowner wasn’t unfair but gracious.  Besides, he had the right to do whatever he wished with His own things.

    Beware of applying standards of fairness to God.  Beware, because generally the fairness argument is just a mask for promoting your own interests.  That’s why we love to grouse about the rich and income inequality.  “They don’t deserve it, and we deserve more for all our hard work; it’s not fair.”  But God doesn’t want to deal with us that way, on the basis of what we deserve, as if we had a contractual arrangement with Him, a business deal, a pre-nuptial agreement.  He wants our relationship to be one of real love, freely given, no strings attached.  As soon as it’s about what we think God owes us, then we’re not seeking to love Him but to use Him.

    We should beware of wanting God to be fair with us, anyway, as I’ve often told you before.  For then we’d be in grave danger.  If you want fair wages, then here’s what the Scriptures say, “The wages of sin is death.”  Those who end up in hell are really in the end only getting what they asked for, namely, the just and fair payment for their faithless works.  “Go your way,” the landowner said.  Have it your way.  Hell is filled with grumbling and complaining against God.  You might think that hell would mostly be about regret.  But regret quickly shifts to anger and blame, especially toward God.  The damned actually believe that God is wrong, that He’s being unfair.  This worsening bitterness and teeth-gritting frustration is part of their unending torment.

    Repent, then, of dealing with God as if He were against you, as if He needed to be negotiated with and badgered into loving you.  Turn away from your anger with Him.  Trust that He is good, that He is merciful and abounding in steadfast love.  He is blessedly unfair with you, pouring out on you the fullness of His generosity in Christ.  He does love you.  He will provide you with all that you need.  After all, if the Father has given you His own Son, will He not also graciously give you all that is good and necessary and right for you?  Remember that the laborers who were hired later in the day went to work without being told what they would be paid, just trusting in the goodness of the landowner.  So you also, even though you can’t see what the future holds, even if life doesn’t seem to be fair–trust in the goodness of your heavenly Father; stake your life on His grace in Jesus.  Know that He will give far more than you could ever dream of.

    Just like the landowner dealt with those hired at the 11th hour, so the Lord treats you as if you did all the required work, from the beginning to the ending of the day.  For what you failed to do, the Lord Jesus has accomplished perfectly on your behalf in His perfect life and death and resurrection.  He Himself is the true Laborer in the vineyard.  He began His work even before dawn on Good Friday, being condemned by the Jewish authorities.  He was questioned by Pontius Pilate at the third hour of the day, flogged, and then crucified.  Darkness covered the land from the sixth hour, noon, until the ninth hour, as a sign of the judgment He bore in your place.  Then our Lord cried out “It is finished!” and died as the perfect and complete sacrifice for your sin.  Behold how He did all the work for you!  He who is the Rock was struck, and water and blood flowed forth from His side for your cleansing and your forgiveness.  He was buried at the eleventh hour just before sundown to sanctify your grave and make it a place of rest from which you will awaken and rise in glory on the Last Day.

    “The Lord will save the humble people, but will bring down proud and haughty looks.”  And so we are not jealous of the newcomer in the vineyard of the church or of the one converted in his dying days, but we rejoice that the same mercy that saved us has also saved another.  Even a faithful lifelong Christian recognizes that of himself he deserves nothing and that it is only because of Jesus that he has forgiveness and life.  As it is written, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).”  

    Let us, then, be truly full of good works by trusting in the grace of Christ alone to save us.  Or as St. Paul puts it, let us run in such a way as to obtain the prize of life with Christ, which He Himself has won for us.  Let us run with the certainty of faith, setting our hearts on Him, disciplining our bodies and minds, more than even a dedicated Olympic athlete, filling ourselves with His words and His life-giving body and blood.  Come and lay hold of the denarius Christ earned for you–not because it’s owed to you; but simply because it is His good pleasure to be generous and loving toward you.

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