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God's Right and Left Hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Is Neighbor to You?

Luke 10:25-37

Trinity 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He Has Done All Things Well

Mark 7:31-37

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

God is My Helper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Father Knows What You Need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus' High Priestly Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Gardener

John 20:10-18

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

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