4th Sunday after Epiphany – B LSB #’s 761, 783, 707
Text – Mark 1:23-24
And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are – the Holy One of God.”
WHAT HAVE YOU TO DO WITH US?
Just leave me alone!!! Ever said those words? There are times when it feels as if our “oppressor” is about to destroy us, & we need some space. That “oppressor” may be a little brother or sister who just wants to be with their hero. It might be parents who seemingly have to be involved with every decision you make.
On a submarine that feeling came with each trip that lasted more than a month or so. You get about to the halfway point & you don’t want anyone to talk to you ever again.
Just leave me alone!!! All of you can relate to that feeling. Maybe it’s been about religion. Maybe it was about school. It might have been personality differences or fear of not measuring up, fear of being ridiculed. In the Gospel lesson for this morning, it’s about good vs. evil, & death vs. life. “What do you want with us, Jeeeeesus of Nazareth?”
Have you ever wanted Jesus to just leave you alone? That’s an uncomfortable question to be answering truthfully, especially in church, surrounded by fellow Christians, with the pastor right up front. But I’m going to press the point. I want you to be uncomfortable. Have you ever had too much religion? Have you been up to here with it?
Can you sense the truth at the core of those questions? You have a sinful nature & it hates religion as well as the Son of God. To deny that is to deceive yourself. We are sinful from conception. We have not followed Jesus joyfully or trustingly. Our thoughts have been for ourselves, not for others. “Just leave me alone. What do You want with me, Jesus?”
Romans 8:7, “The sinful mind hates God.” e;cqra is the Greek word used by Paul & it
even sounds hateful! But that’s not what we’re talking about when we say, “I just hate it when that happens.” e;cqra means active & intentional hatred. It’s the kind that leads to death by murder. It’s the kind that chops the body into pieces & feeds it to the neighbor’s dog! That’s e;cqra & Paul says it is our disposition towards God, or at least part of our disposition.
An evil spirit cried out, “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us?” And that is why it’s difficult to truly admit our sin here in church, here in front of our fellow Christians, in front of a pastor, because we are afraid of being destroyed. That’s what made you uncomfortable earlier in the sermon. The truth causes anxiety for sinners.
You have been up to here with religion & your sinful mind does want to kill God, because you want to take His place. Each of us would like to be in absolute control of the things that matter most. That’s what being impatient is all about – ‘wanting control.’ When you’re impatient with your children, or with your parents, it’s because you want to be God.
Our soul relates well to the words of that evil spirit, & that’s the frightening part. We understand those words all too well. We live them every day, & we run from them, hoping no one will notice. You heard the same theme in the OT reading, “Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.” (Deuteronomy 18:16b ESV)
Death, destruction & damnation hound us all. Our sinful nature fears them rightly, because Jesus Christ did come to destroy that sinful nature. “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”
He wants death for the rebellious old Adam within, & as long as that old Adam is alive, our existence will be one of anxiety & impatience. We will constantly be looking for space to avoid the damning holiness of God. It’s natural for you to have had it up to here with religion because its purpose is the death of your sinful nature. Like the demon possessed man, part of you also cries out, “What have You to do with me, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy me?” That aspect of religion makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. Part of that discomfort comes from a lack of understanding &a lack of faith.
For Christians, the death of our sinful nature is a blessed thing. But it doesn’t first arrive on the day of our physical death. Rather that death is a process which began already with our baptism & continues throughout each day of this life.
That 100% Saint, 100% Sinner paradox is not easy to live with. It pulls us in two opposing directions. The good we want to do - we don’t, & the evil we do not want to do - that we keep on doing. Part of you wishes it could be nice to your younger siblings, & part of you even wants your parents to be involved in the decisions you make.
But another part wants to be God. That old Adam would murder Him if it had the chance. That’s a disturbing thought to really consider, or meditate on. You may never have seriously considered yourself as a murderer, but that’s because we don’t like to think that we are at fault. Our sinful nature always finds someone else to blame.
It’s like Gollum in a Lord of the Rings movie: “Master hates us. He cannot be trusted. He tricked us. Master does not love us.” Did you catch how master is the subject of each statement? Obviously, Master is to blame! The same battle goes on within you & me. “What have You to do with us?” can be our cry of unbelief. You have come to destroy us.
Yet, that is also the cry of the believer, “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” Master does love you. Master is good to you. Master knows your name. Your Saintly nature loves, & wants to know, God’s will. Those two opposing natures are constantly at war within us – to shape our perception of reality & to control our actions.
Sin twists & distorts our perception of reality. As Frodo had trouble seeing the truth,
because of the power of the ring, we also have trouble seeing the truth because of the power of sin, death & the devil. Our sinful nature truly believes that Jesus came only to destroy us. For the evil spirits that is true, but not for human beings. As Christians all of us are Saints as well.
In John 3:17, we’re told Jesus came the 1st time not to destroy people, but to save them. He came to save the 100% Saint that is created as the Holy Spirit works through the means of Grace, God’s Word & His Sacraments. Yes Jesus does want death for us, but at the same time life, death to the old Adam & life to the new.
That brings us back to the Saint/Sinner paradox. We are at this very moment dead, but alive – a confusing way to live – a complex teaching to learn – an even more difficult concept to teach. “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” The answer is, “Death and life,” death to the Sinner & life to the Saint.
For example, on the one hand I long to write excellent sermons. On the other hand I hate even the thought of sitting down at the computer. “And the unclean spirit, convulsing him & crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.” (Mark 1:26 ESV) I can almost feel that spirit within me as it stirs against knowing & doing God’s will.
Maybe you feel the same thing when you’re supposed sing at church. And when you’ve had it up to here with religion, or with your parents, or a younger brother or sister, then you are engaged in the same sort of struggle. You want to choose life, but death has its grip on you as well. PAUSE
“Be silent, & come out of him!” Jesus spoke seven words & the demon obeyed. I was helping lead a Bible study at the county jail in North Dakota when the leader of the study tried casting the demons out of the prisoners. He ranted on for about 10 minutes, often at the top of his lungs, but the prisoners were still struggling with sin a week later, a month later & so on. It was a sincere yet absurd attempt at doing what only God has the power to do. When people saw Jesus do it with success, they became very uncomfortable. They were astonished & alarmed. They may not have fully understood who Jesus was, but they well knew an unearthly power had just been unleashed, which they had never before experienced.
The teaching of Jesus came with authority & the people recognized they had just been confronted with an absolute claim upon their soul. Choose life or choose death! There is no space left in which to hide. So they found the presence of Jesus to be a very disturbing one, & when that happens, our sinful nature cries out, “Just leave me alone!”
But at those same moments the new Adam living within begs us, “Repent & believe! Master does love me. Master is good to me. Master knows my name.”
Within you today are the voice of death & the voice of life. Fortunately, there is a difference between the demon & us. You & I struggle with doubt & belief. The demon does not! It believes Jesus is the Holy One of God but has outright rejected Him as Lord.
In times of tragedy, such as massive hurricanes of last summer, you’ll often hear, “Where was God when that was happening?” That question comes from the heart of doubt. It’s the statement of the unclean spirit, “You’ve come to destroy us!” It’s the claim of Gollum, “Master does not love me.” It is our own demand, “Just leave me alone!”
But Jesus of Nazareth does not leave us alone. In fact He is with us always, even to the end of this age. He was with the students at the shooting in Kentucky this past week & He is with their families today. He’s with each of us as we encounter the struggles of our lives, even during the times when we just need some space.
For the people killed by the shooter, who had faith in Jesus Christ, last Tuesday was the day that their sinful nature was eternally destroyed. The mission of Jesus has been completely fulfilled in their lives. But for those of us who still live, by virtue of our baptism, our sinful nature dies a new death every day, every time we receive the body & blood of Christ, & every time the Word of God is rightly preached or taught. Our being made holy is the work of the Holy Spirit, not an unclean spirit, & that work goes on every day of our time here on earth.
For the demon possessed man Jesus broke down the gates of hell to rescue him in fulfillment of the book of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives & freedom to prisoners,” even the prisoners of demons. (Isaiah 61:1)
For God’s children, the Word of Jesus is one of life for children of death, a word of mercy for children of hatred, a word of encouragement among voices of doubt & criticism, a word of light for those lost in darkness, a word of eternity amidst the vanity of this fleeting life.
None of our current fears, selfishness or failures threaten the salvation that our Heavenly Father gives. And the joy of that assurance is what moves His children to serve Jesus of Nazareth. So we live, trying to know & do God’s will, not because it earns anything, but out of gratefulness for the life & the joy that we have already been given.
Lord, we believe. Rescue us from our unbelief. Amen.
They went to Capernaum, & when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue & began to teach. Amen. (Mark 1:21 NIV)
Life Sunday – 2018 LSB #575
Text – 1 Peter 3:15-16
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness & respect.
“Hope” is an interesting word in the Bible. When you & I talk about hope, we say something like, “I hope it doesn’t rain.” What we mean is: “I think it might rain, but I really wish that it wouldn’t.” With this kind of hope, there’s always a possibility that we might not get what we want – what we are “hoping” for. That’s not how the word “hope” is used in the Bible.
In Holy Scripture ‘hope’ is a word describing confidence. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood & righteousness.” The hymn lyrics express a “confidence” in the blood & righteousness of Jesus for our salvation. In 1 Peter 3, he writes:
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness & respect.” What is the hope he’s writing about? God, the Father, out of love for us, gave His eternal Son to bridge the gap that separated us from Himself.
Jesus is the chosen One who suffered & died in the place of sinners. He satisfied our Father’s wrath against human sin & effected true reconciliation between God & mankind. In rising from the dead, Jesus conquered sin, death & all the powers of Satan. By this grace, extended to humanity through Christ’s death & resurrection, we share in our Lord’s victory.
This is our hope, our confidence! Through Jesus Christ, we can come before our heavenly Father because we are clothed in the righteousness of the Son of God.
St. Peter’s 1st epistle was written to believers who were facing persecution. As such, Peter’s call to “always [be] prepared to make a defense” meant that believers should be ready to answer objections to Christianity. When the Christians in Peter’s time were charged by the Roman state with atheism, & ordered to recant their faith, they were to be ready to defend their hope in Christ in spite of the threats of prison & torture. Peter’s instruction in 3:15 meant that believers should have already reflected upon the answer for their faith in Jesus.
St. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:15 that we live in a “crooked & twisted generation.” We live in a culture of death, but Paul goes on to say that we “shine as lights in the world.” We have a hope that is in us! In a culture where death is preferred over life, in a culture where death is considered a friend, we have a hope that is in us & it’s full of life!
We have life in Jesus Christ, the Lord of life! That is our identity. We identify with the Living One, the One who once was dead but now is alive forevermore! In a culture that promotes death as an answer, there’s no hope for those who have no identity in God.
Without knowing the Lord of hope, there’s no identity as parents or spouses. Without a heavenly Father, a fetus loses its identity & then it’s simple to choose abortion if the baby is not wanted. Without a Creator, the elderly have no identity; so when they feel like they aren’t productive anymore, it’s not that difficult to opt for assisted suicide.
Our identity as children of God gives us hope & life. From where do we receive them? Through hearing & studying God’s Word! You have been prepared through your memorization of the catechism to know what you believe. But you need to stay ready. That means you shouldn’t let your catechism or Bible gather dust.
It means you should take advantage of what God regularly provides to prepare yourself for those opportunities to give an account for the hope that is in you. You come to worship on Sundays to be reminded of God’s great love for you in Christ Jesus, in spite of your sins. You attend Bible study at church to learn more about God & how His love works in your life. In those ways, God is preparing you to make a defense of the hope & the confidence you have in your Savior. Not that Jesus needs defending. He doesn’t! He didn’t even defend Himself before the chief priest, or before Pilate or Herod. Our Savior willingly accepted His sentence of death on the cross, & gives us the privilege of sharing the incredible hope we have because of it.
With anyone who asks why you believe what you do, you have the privilege & honor of making the case for salvation through Christ’s death & resurrection. In advance, God has prepared those opportunities in your daily life. The neighbor next door who seems to be depressed needs your witness of the amazing identity God has prepared specifically for him.
That young lady you know, who seems to be looking for love in all the wrong places, she needs to know that in Jesus there is waiting for her all the love & fulfillment she needs, & God will tailor it to her needs. In any case you can be sure your witness will be a credible one. Why is that? Because Yahweh Himself is faithful. Here are two of His related promises.
Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” (ESV) There, God tells us specifically to hold fast to our hope without wavering, because He is faithful. Then, in 1 Thessalonians 5, He goes into more detail:
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, & may your whole spirit & soul & body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” (5:23-24 ESV) There, He makes the point that even if we mess up our witness, the God of peace will keep us blameless at the coming of Jesus Christ.
You have nothing to fear, & no reason to be afraid. Just share the hope that you have in the once dead, but now risen, Christ Jesus. He is faithful to His promises! The Word of God, Baptism & Holy Communion empower you to live as God’s child & to be a powerful witness of the Christian faith that will encourage & inspire those around you to want what you have. Invite your friends & neighbors to church so that they will get to hear the sweetest words they’ll ever hear this side of heaven – words we too often take for granted. They will hear their heavenly Father say to them through His called & ordained servant: “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit!”
Those words give us a living hope which also has an eternal future. That is far better, especially being in Michigan, than living with words of helpless hope such as “I hope it doesn’t rain.” Amen!
My Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood & righteousness; no merit of my own I claim but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. His oath, His covenant & blood support me in the raging flood; when every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope & stay. When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found, clothed in His righteousness alone, redeemed to stand before His throne! On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand. Amen. LSB 575:1, 3-4.
2nd Sunday after Epiphany – B LSB #’s 901, 589, 412 v. 1, 3, 5-6
Text – 1 Samuel 3:1
Now the young man Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.
SIGNS OF THE TIMES
It’s fairly common in the Christian Church today to believe that people are no longer as familiar with the Bible as they used to be. Maybe you’ve thought that yourself. So I decided to begin this sermon with a quiz. You’ll have to keep score for yourself, maybe on your bulletin, so this is ‘scouts honor.’ We’ll stick to the book of 1 Samuel to narrow it down for you.
What was the name of Samuel’s mother? What was the name of Samuel’s father? How many wives did his father have? Eli was a priest & saw Samuel’s mother praying at the temple. What are the 1st words the Bible records Eli saying to Samuel’s mother? What was the very 1st prophecy that God gave to Samuel? Listening to the sermon will give you the answers.
The prophet Samuel was the last in the line of judges appointed by God, & he was a central character in the history of Israel. He was born to a mother with a familiar Biblical story. Like Jacob’s wife Rachel, Hannah went years without giving birth to a child, much to her shame. In her grief she spent time one day praying at the temple in Shiloh.
It was the normal custom for an Israelite to pray out loud, but Hannah did so silently. Thus, when Eli sees her praying, he assumes she’s not sober enough to speak, & he mocks her: “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” (1 Samuel 1:14 ESV)
Eli was the judge of Israel at the time, & had led its people for 40 years, dying at the age of 98. Hearing that you might think he died of natural causes at such a ripe old age, but you’d be mistaken. Listen to the 2nd chapter of 1 Samuel:
Now Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel. He knew, for instance, that his sons were seducing the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle. Eli said to them, ‘I have been hearing reports from all the people about the wicked things you are doing. Why do you keep sinning?’ …But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father… (v. 22-23 & 25 NLT) And there came a man of God to Eli & said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘…The time is coming when I will put an end to your family, so it will no longer serve as my priests. All the members of your family will die before their time. None will reach old age… The few not cut off from serving at my altar will survive, but only so their eyes can go blind & their hearts break, & their children will die a violent death. And to prove that what I have said will come true, I will cause your two sons, Hophni & Phinehas, to die on the same day!’” (v. 27 ESV & 31, 33-34 NLT)
The Lord was done treating Eli with kid’s gloves. God had given him a sign that judgment was coming, but not for the moment, because Yahweh still had work for Eli to do. Hannah had promised God that if He gave her a son she would dedicate him to the Lord’s service. After Samuel was about three years old, she took him to Eli to be his servant.
Hannah wanted her son to live in the place of worship at a tender age to become aware of God’s presence & to belong totally to the Lord. After all, Yahweh had lifted the curse of being barren from her, so she honored Him by dedicating that son’s life to his Creator. Eli didn’t know it, but he was mentoring the judge whom God had chosen to replace him.
Yahweh promised His people that He’d send prophets to make known His purpose & will at all times. Yet, the unbelief & disobedience of the people might restrain the fulfillment of this & similar promises. God might even withdraw His word to discipline the idolatrous nation.
A time such as this arose under Eli, when revelations from God were universally rare. As the conduct of Eli’s sons proved, the priesthood had fallen into very deep corruption. Instead of continuing the family tradition of the Levite clan, rather than bringing God’s desperately needed forgiveness to the people, Eli’s sons were bringing them to prostitutes at the temple.
And Eli did nothing about it, so God held him accountable. Ezekiel shared the general guidance with us, “If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, & you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezekiel 33:8 ESV) Because Eli did not remove his sons from the office of the priesthood, Yahweh was requiring his blood. That’s where Samuel enters the picture & it’s quite an intimidating place to be for a young boy – bringing God’s Word of judgment upon his 98 year old mentor & master:
“Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘I am about to do a shocking thing in Israel. I am going to carry out all my threats against Eli & his family, from beginning to end. I have warned him that judgment is coming upon his family forever, because his sons are blaspheming God & he hasn’t disciplined them. So I have vowed that the sins of Eli & his sons will never be forgiven by sacrifices or offerings.’” (1 Samuel 3:11-14 NLT)
That is the message Samuel received from Yahweh when, at the end of the OT reading this morning, he did as Eli had instructed him: “And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant hears.’” (1 Samuel 3:10b ESV) The Almighty God of the universe spoke judgment upon Eli & his sons. This is what happened the next day:
“Samuel stayed in bed until morning, then got up & opened the doors of the Tabernacle as usual. He was afraid to tell Eli what the Lord had said to him. But Eli called out to him, ‘Samuel, my son.’ ‘Here I am,’ Samuel replied. ‘What did the Lord say to you? Tell me everything. And may God strike you & even kill you if you hide anything from me!’ So Samuel told Eli everything; he didn’t hold anything back. ‘It is the Lord’s will,’ Eli replied. ‘Let Him do what He thinks best.” (1 Samuel 3:15-18 NLT)
Can’t you almost hear the relief in Eli’s voice? Finally, his days of suffering in this sinful world are coming to an end. In his weakness he surrenders completely to God’s will, & there he finds a renewed strength to trust & believe. Samuel, on the other hand, is just beginning, & has many more years of service to offer the Lord.
Samuel is beginning to learn that, while God’s Word is a precious gift that leads & feeds its hearers unto everlasting life, it is not only sweetness & light. It is also challenging, difficult, unsettling, upsetting, & has potentially dangerous consequences if you have & share that Word. In our nation, we are beginning to see that in ways we have not for many generations.
Eli knew that what his sons were doing was wrong in the eyes of God, but he gave only
lip service to warning his sons. There are many things in our United States that are wrong in the eyes of God. Chapter 4 describes Eli as old & blind & overweight. It’s a physical description, but it certainly can be applied spiritually.
Have the leaders & people of this nation, & we ourselves, become too much like Eli? Are we giving only lip service to the warnings of God? Like Samuel, are we staying in bed until morning because we are afraid to tell others what the Lord has said to us? Here’s a quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr. in his hay day:
“The Church must be reminded that it is… the conscience of the state… It must be the guide & critic of the state… If the Church does not capture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” Are you & I allowing the Word of the Lord to become rare in our day? Will God be rendering judgment upon people we know?
You still have the Word of Yahweh! Receive its blessings! Your failures are forgiven. In your weakness will you surrender completely to God’s will, & there find a renewed strength to trust & believe? Jesus is your Savior & He is your Lord! Hannah dedicated her son to God. By not disciplining them, Eli dedicated his sons to the prince of darkness.
God’s Word is not just sweetness & light. It is a fire, the Psalmist says. It melts the earth if it must; it abides forever; it creates weal & woe; it is what will never fail. Against it, who can stand? Today that Word can be very unpopular inside & outside the church, & sometimes, perhaps too often, we do not speak or live its truth in love, as we ought.
The Word of the Lord will at times test our strength of character & resolve. Increasingly that is becoming a sign of our times, but right now, it’s not because our government is banning the Word. It’s because we are. You & I are keeping that Word under lock & key. It is rare because the children of God are not using it to the extent that our Savior desires. The OT reading from 1 Samuel comes from a time in the history of the people of Israel when “the word of the Lord was rare,” & on the heels of the time of the Judges when “…all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) That well describes, not just our culture, but people we know, men, women & children we are related to & care for, people we meet in our lives.
“There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah… He had two wives; one was called Hannah & the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. Year after year this man went up from his town to worship & sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni & Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah & to all her sons & daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, & the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept & would not eat.” (1 Samuel 1:1-7 NIV)
By including Hannah’s story at the beginning of his work, the writer of Samuel is setting the tone for this theme in the rest of the book – “The Lord gives both death & life; He brings down to the grave & raises up.” (1 Samuel 2:6) People in our communities need to know that God brings us down to humble us so that we will allow Him to lift us up.
In this way the book of Samuel points toward God’s grace in Jesus, who sacrificed Himself for the sins of the world, but whom God made alive again for the saving of many that they might inherit a glorious throne in His eternal kingdom. (2 Timothy 2:11–12; Revelation 20:6)
Hannah overcomes ridicule & barrenness. The young Samuel replaces Israel’s supreme religious leaders, Eli & his wicked sons, Hophni & Phinehas. The lowly are lifted up, & the arrogant are brought down. This is how Eli, Hophni & Phinehas came to their end:
A man from the tribe of Benjamin ran from the battlefield & arrived at Shiloh later that same day. He had torn his clothes & put dust on his head to show his grief. Eli was waiting beside the road to hear the news of the battle, for his heart trembled for the safety of the Ark of God. When the messenger arrived & told what had happened, an outcry resounded throughout the town. “What is all the noise about?” Eli asked. The messenger… said to Eli, “I have just come from the battlefield. I was there this very day.” “What happened, my son?” Eli demanded. “Israel has been defeated by the Philistines,” the messenger replied. “The people have been slaughtered, & your two sons, Hophni & Phinehas, were also killed. And the Ark of God has been captured.” When the messenger mentioned what had happened to the Ark of God, Eli fell backward from his seat beside the gate. He broke his neck & died, for he was old & overweight... (1 Samuel 4:12-18 NLT)
Spiritually speaking, if you are old & blind & overweight, even then, there is hope for you to be lifted up like Hannah, to receive the glory of God. In God’s plan it is good to be broken & in need, for He will provide. Amen.
Speak, O Lord, Your servant listens, let Your Word to me come near; newborn life & spirit give me, let each promise still my fear. Death’s dread power, its inward strife, wars against Your Word of life; fill me, Lord, with love’s strong fervor that I cling to You forever! Oh, what blessing to be near You & to listen to Your voice; let me ever love & hear You, let Your Word be now my choice! Many hardened sinners, Lord, flee in terror at Your Word; but to all who feel sin’s burden You give words of peace & pardon. Amen. LSB 589:1-2.
1st Sunday after Epiphany – B LSB #979
Text – Genesis 1:3
And God said, “Let there be light,” & there was light.
AND GOD SAID
Because of the mad man in charge of North Korea, nuclear weapons have been in the news a lot over the past year. Due to the increased accuracy of modern weapons there’s no longer a need to produce giant hydrogen bombs. So the largest one ever built was the RDS 220, a Russian made weapon that they exploded over their Arctic Ocean on October 30, 1961.
It had an explosive force 3,800 times the size of the weapon dropped during WWII on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. It is interesting to note that the single most powerful invention of mankind is only useful for the destruction of other things – including human beings. Does that say something about the human race as it exists today?
The single most powerful force in all the universe is the Word of God, & in the 1st chapter of Genesis it is being used, not to destroy things, but to create them out of nothing! “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ & there was…” Strewn throughout the 1st chapter of the Bible there are 7 more verses that begin in the exact same way – “And God said…”
And after God was done speaking, the entire universe, & everything in it, had been brought into existence: “And God saw everything that He had made, & behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31 ESV) Stars & planets, rocks & tigers, snails, fish & birds, rivers & oceans, trees & elephants, multitudes of angels & two human beings, all created because God said so.
Then, in the midst of the awesome & pristine beauty of all that Elohim had made, the highest of His creatures rebelled against Him. “And to Adam [God] said: ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife & have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns & thistles it shall bring forth for you; & you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust, & to dust you shall return.’” (Genesis 3:17-19 ESV) Because of Adam’s sin, the Word of God was changed from blessing to curse. Creation needed to turn a new leaf.
This is the 1st Sunday of a new year, & sometimes when the old year is past we say good riddance. We’re glad to leave it behind & move on. For whatever reasons, there are years when we just want to turn a new leaf. That frustration or discouragement is always the result of sin. Sometimes, we’re even willing to admit that it’s our own.
I’m sure that Adam & Eve felt the burden of their original sin for the rest of their lives, especially once their firstborn son, Cain, murdered his brother Abel. If they had calendars at the time, after that day, you can bet they wanted to turn over a new leaf. Eventually, however, we need to come to terms with our past, for we are only alive in the present, the here & now.
Wanting to move on is understandable, yet, neither do we live in the future. Tomorrow never actually arrives. It just keeps on moving ahead of us, never allowing us to catch up, except when time runs out on the Last Day. Calendars are a tool we use in this broken world & they will be unnecessary in heaven or in hell.
For now, we experience time mostly as a struggle to accomplish the daily tasks of living. When God spoke these words, life for Adam & Eve took on an entirely new character: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground…” (3:19 ESV) You see, everything we try to accomplish is in some way a time consuming struggle.
Our words are merely instruments of grammar. Sometimes, our words have no basis in reality at all. We call those lies. Yahweh’s words are instruments of reality. When God wills something to be done it instantly comes into existence. As St. John writes his Gospel, he records Jesus praying, & Jesus says there, of the Father, “…Your word is truth.” (17:17 ESV) For example, when Jesus has been fasting in the wilderness 40 days & nights, the Devil tries to convince Jesus that His hunger is the ultimate reality. Satan tempts Jesus to take matters into His own hands, turn the stones into bread, & eliminate the struggle.
Jesus counters the temptation by saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” If we look at that a little deeper, what Jesus is saying is that His hunger is not the ultimate reality. It may appear that man lives by bread, but the truth is you & I live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
The Word of God does not simply create things. It creates & sustains life itself. The theory of evolution is the farthest thing from the truth because it is an affront to the very Word of God. The theory of evolution only stands because God has restrained the power of His Word. Otherwise, everyone spouting those lies would be destroyed.
Our sins are not any better & they would destroy us as well. But in His grace & mercy, Yahweh is allowing those who teach evolution to continue living, & He allows us to continue living, because the Heavenly Father desires that all men would be saved. The grace & mercy will end on the Last Day of time. “…now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2 ESV)
The 2nd person of the Holy Trinity became human in order to be the Mediator between God & man. He enables sinful people to come into God’s presence without being destroyed in order that we might be saved instead.
All that talk at the beginning of the sermon about nuclear weapons actually does say a lot about the human race. That the most powerful thing human beings have created is only useful for destroying things speaks rather directly against the theory of evolution. In that theory, higher & more sophisticated life forms are supposed to be developing & evolving all the time. Yet nuclear weapons do have the capability of wiping out almost all of God’s living creatures on earth, except for, supposedly, the cockroaches. The human race needs a savior. That much is pretty clear even to secular atheists & unbelievers of all stripes. The question boils down to whom or what should be that Savior.
The Gospel lesson from Mark 1 tells us: “And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11 ESV) To briefly paraphrase that we could say, “And God said…” For at the Baptism of Jesus God is speaking a new word of creation. Jesus is taking the place of Israel, the failed nation of God, & Jesus is succeeding.
In fact, He passes with flying colors. Here, God is once again saying of His creation, “It is very good!” It is through this Man, the new Adam that God steps back & declares of His creation “it is very good.” As you & I were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into this new creation. We are now eternal & will not die the 2nd death, which is hell.
In the 3rd chapter of Genesis, the Devil attacked God’s Word with the lie, “Did God really say?” Adam & Eve fell for the lie. As we live, move & have our being in Christ, the Gospel of Mark teaches us, “Yes, God did say, you are mine, & with you I am well pleased.” Amen.
God, whose almighty word chaos & darkness heard & took their flight: hear us we humbly pray & where the Gospel day sheds not its glorious ray, let there be light! Lord, who once came to bring, on Your redeeming wing, healing & sight, health to the sick in mind, sight to the inly blind: oh, now to humankind let there be light! Spirit of truth & love, life-giving, holy dove, speed forth Your flight; move on the water’s face, bearing the lamp of grace, & in earth’s darkest place let there be light! Amen. LSB 979:1-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet