3rd Sunday in Lent – C LSB #693
Text – Luke 13:7
And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, & I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’
USING UP THE GROUND
The debates, the primaries & caucuses, the political advertising, the mudslinging, the boasting about who has the most experience, or who can really get things done, it’s the time in our nation’s political cycle when democracy is in high gear. Each side blames the other side for being political & yet it’s impossible to imagine that any one of them is totally honest.
Politics is the perfect reflection of a sinful world, & because of the corruption inherent in the realm of politics, it makes a perfect target for one of Jesus’ parables. That’s where we are today with the Gospel reading, & our ears need to hear Jesus’ words as well. St. Luke writes:
“There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” Just hearing that verse read, it’s easy to miss because we are totally unfamiliar with the times. After all, it was written almost 2000 years ago, but that Bible verse relates an extremely political point of view.
The people talking to Jesus were no doubt looking for Him to make Israel great again. That point of view comes up over & over, throughout Jesus’ ministry, even to the very moment when He is ascending to heaven. We hear that clearly in Acts 1:6, “So when they had come together, they asked Him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’” (ESV)
All along, throughout His ministry, the people of Israel, & the 12 disciples, are looking for Jesus to restore the glorious days of the kingdom of David. They want the Roman government overthrown & political power restored to their party. They think Jesus is their man, so they bring to Him this complaint: “There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” (Luke 13:1 ESV) They expect a sympathetic response from Jesus once He hears about this incident of Roman brutality. Jewish blood was shed. It’s high time for the Romans to pay a price. “How long, O Lord! Hear the cries of Thy people.”
Think of how many political points Jesus could have scored if He had just denounced those heathen Romans. Jesus’ reply shows He’s clearly not running for president: “He answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’”
That’s the equivalent of Donald Trump saying, “I’ve heard of all the horrible things Hillary Clinton did in Benghazi, but she’s no worse a sinner than the rest of you. So unless you repent, you too will perish.”
Then, not only did Jesus not allow Himself to be drawn into the political fray, He doubled down on His call for the Jewish people to repent by adding this: “Or those 18 on whom the tower in Siloam fell & killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
No one running for president today has the courage to tell his followers to repent before they get all worked up about denouncing the other political party. Jesus did, because He wasn’t concerned with politics. He was concerned with His mission, which was not to run for office but to die for the sins of the whole world.
Jesus’ mission was about saving souls, not about saving a country. Now, there’s nothing wrong with trying to lead our nation back to greatness, if that is a blessing that our heavenly Father knows we need. But 1st of all, the people of our nation must acknowledge where that greatness comes from, if it is achieved. An earlier people had a total misconception concerning where greatness comes from & were scattered over the face of all the earth because of it. Hear their words, “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city & a tower with its top in the heavens, & let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4 ESV) It’s a famous event in the Bible because the people did not repent.
Another people, several thousand years later, had their story recorded as such:
“Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, & 23,000 fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did & were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did & were destroyed by the Destroyer.”
To those words, the Apostle Paul drew this conclusion: “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
That last sentence brings to mind a poster hanging on the wall in the gymnasium where I run during these cold months of the year. It says, “Be humble, or be humbled!”
When questioned about victims of violence, Jesus calls all people to repentance & through a parable of the fig tree, proclaims His radical love for a fruitless people. In our world today, we have our own questions about violence. What about the people who died in Kalamazoo last weekend? Or those who died in Kansas this past week?
Some politicians scream loudly for more gun control. Other politicians say that all of us ‘good citizens’ should have guns so we can protect ourselves, & the people around us. I think if we apply the Gospel reading for today, it’s very clear what Jesus’ answer would be. Those politicians had better repent of their own sins, or they will all likewise perish. For Jesus, all tragedies should be seen not as a sign of God’s judgment on specific people for specific sins, but as a sign of His judgment of all people. Jesus calls not for speculation, or for political posturing, but for contrition & faith. The courage Jesus displays, to call out the religious & political leaders, gives us insight into why He was rejected, & killed, by His own people.
People who fight for a just cause often assume that the struggle for that cause makes them righteous. This assumption of righteousness at times expresses itself as an arrogance which refuses any criticism. Such attitudes always lead to destruction, for themselves & others, if they do not repent. To those leaders, out of deep concern for their welfare, Jesus then tells a parable.
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, & he came seeking fruit on it & found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, & I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it & put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well & good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
The owner of the vineyard is the voice of justice. The tree has clearly borne no fruit, but not only that, it is also using up the ground by which the fruitful plants are being deprived of their full ability to bear fruit. It is time. Cut it down.
Then we hear the vinedresser speak, who is the voice of mercy, “Sir, let is alone this year also, until I dig around it & put on manure.” If the fig tree represents the scribes & the chief priests, then it appears that Jesus is doing some ‘trash talking.’ They need a little manure spread around them. The original audience no doubt found the imagery to be humorous.
With that detail the sparkle & vitality of the parable appears along with its unmistakable cutting edge. Judgment requires that the tree be dug out for the stated reasons. Mercy pleads for more grace & a 2nd chance. That same tension between justice & mercy is reflected all through the OT, as heard in the reading from Ezekiel 33 this morning:
“And you, son of man, say to your people, ‘Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely
live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness & does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die.’ Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin & does what is just & right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, & walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die.” (vv. 12a, 13-15 ESV)
In this parable mercy & judgment are personified dramatically by the owner & the vinedresser who struggle together over the unfruitful tree. That tension itself is deep within the heart of God. Would that such tension existed in the hearts of our nation’s leaders & politicians. The meaning of the parable is clear.
After God’s works of mercy are completed & sufficient time for renewal is given, the tree must respond. If it does not, judgment will be only option left. The health of the vineyard, which is the Church, is too important & the Master’s expectation of fruit is too strong, to leave an unproductive tree indefinitely occupying good ground & sapping its strength.
Even so, the salvation offered has a special quality to it. It does not come from inside the tree, but outside, exclusively. The vinedresser works the ground & applies the manure with no help or effort or request from the tree. The vinedresser must act to save the tree & at the same time the tree must respond to those acts of salvation.
As is other parables, nothing is written of the results. This lesson is open-ended. Does the owner grant the reprieve? Does the tree respond? We’re not told. The moral of the story is this: The present spiritual leadership of the nation is fruitless. Judgment threatens. God in His mercy will act to redeem. If there is no response, judgment will be the only alternative.
When leadership is fruitless, it not only fails in its own obedience, but sterilizes the community around it. God does care for the community & will not tolerate this situation indefinitely. In the 1st half of today’s Gospel reading, the people are called on to repent. The 2nd half deals with the barrenness in the community that results from the failures of the national leaders, who need forgiveness & mercy. In each, politics & repentance are related in ways that instruct the faithful in every age. It is here in God’s house that suffering children of the heavenly Father meet the suffering Christ.
It is here in God’s house that His Word & Sacraments forgive, renew & lead us, so that we may delight in our Savior’s will & walk in His ways to the glory of His holy name. Together, as His people, we take refuge in the infinite mercy of God, our heavenly Father, seeking His grace for the sake of Christ, & saying: God be merciful to me, a sinner.
It’s easy to get lost in arguments about God when faced with situations of suffering & violence in the world. Rather than answer with an explanation of God’s ways, we live with a testimony of our hope in Christ.
Through His parable, Jesus invites people to see the actions of God in Him in the midst of a world filled with fruitless evil & suffering. When faced with evil & judgment, Jesus responds with hopeful love. Rather than get lost in arguments with the world, we find ourselves living Christ’s testimony of hopeful love. Amen.
Help us that we Thy saving Word in faithful hearts may treasure; let e’er that Bread of Life afford new grace in richest measure. O make us die to every sin, each day create new life within, that fruits of faith may flourish. And when our earthly race is run, death’s bitter hour impending, then may Thy work in us begun continue till life’s ending, until we gladly may commend our souls into our Savior’s hand, the crown of life obtaining. Amen.
 1 Corinthians 10:5 ESV
 1 Corinthians 10:8-10 ESV
 1 Corinthians 10:11-12
 Bailey, K., Through Peasant Eyes, (Grand Rapids, MI, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), pp. 83-87.
Midweek 3 LSB #436
Text – Luke 22:41-42
[Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, & knelt down & prayed, saying, ‘Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.’
Gethsemane: A Place of Strength
Periodically, our world calls us back to simplicity. Simpler is easier, more profitable, it seems to say. Companies are downsizing. Products are marked “All Natural Ingredients.” People are practicing the Paleo Diet. All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten says Robert Fulghum, & Stephen Covey writes of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
In all of this, there is the idea, & there is some truth to it, that if we just reduce life to the essentials, get back to the basics, halt the quest for more & return to what really matters, life will get easier. Simplicity will produce serenity. Clarity will mean less struggle.
So our world is calling us back to the basics, & yet isn’t it amazing how sometimes the simplest things, the very basics of life, can produce the greatest struggles. Take for instance two words: “I do.” Simple words. Simple words that start a lifetime of commitment. With these words, you promise to seek not your own interests but the interests of another.
How simple the words, yet how difficult the commitment. “Should I put my husband into a home?” your neighbor asks. Then comes an hour-long conversation of facts & feelings. Six months full of decision & indecision pours forth.
“If I help him stay at home, he feels secure & happy, but he’s fallen lately. His mind is failing. I worry about him & think he’d be better off in a home. If I place him into a home, he’ll have all the care in the world, the opportunity to make friends, & daily activities. But can any of that cure a broken heart? Can 24 hour nursing replace our marriage? He doesn’t want to go. Shouldn’t I honor his wishes?”
As you listen, you realize that these words have been said before to another: to God in long nights of prayer. She offered Him her tears & anger, her fear & love. And all this comes out of two simple words said not quite thirty-eight years ago:
“I do.” For richer, for poorer, in sickness & in health? “I do.” And so, your neighbor is standing there, in front of you, still saying “I do” as best she can. Yet, for her, the simple things in life have become the greatest struggle.
As Luke tells the story of our Savior’s prayer in the garden, he wants us to notice that our Lord’s agony is over the simple work of His life. Doing His Father’s will; taking upon Himself the cup of God’s anger; dying for our sin. That is what this prayer is about. It can be summarized in one simple sentence.
Luke writes, “[Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, & knelt down & prayed, saying, ‘Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.’” (22:41–42) That is all of the actual prayer that we hear. In less than ten seconds, we’ve heard Jesus’ prayer. Then we’re on to the rest of the story.
It’s easy for us not to recognize the struggle. Perhaps for that very reason, Luke goes to great lengths to describe the agony. In anguish, Jesus prays. Earnestly, He offers His words. Sweat like blood falls to the ground as the life of our Lord flows out in prayer. An angel of God lifts the veil of heaven to come to His Maker’s aid.
What did Jesus say in all of this anguish? Luke records only one sentence. “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” How long did Jesus pray? Luke doesn’t say. We only know it was long enough for the disciples to fall asleep.
Luke doesn’t describe all the words, & he doesn’t describe all the hours, because there’s
really no need for that. Anyone who has been there knows. Anyone who has ever said yes to the will of God in this world knows how long those nights can be. Honor your father & mother. Love your neighbor as yourself. Be faithful to your spouse. Care for your children. Love God with all your heart, soul & mind.
Simple words. Simple words to guide us in this life, & yet anyone who has said “I do” to these simple words knows how draining the struggle can be. When one’s father is dying of cancer, when one’s child is not coming home at night, when one’s spouse is absent with long hours at work & silence in the bedroom, the agony is strong & the nights of prayer are long.
Words cannot contain the depth of our pain, so we find ourselves saying the same thing again & again & again. Time stands still as emotions rush by:
Sorrow at what’s being lost, joy at what had been found, fear at what could happen, hope for what might be, confidence that God is watching, uncertainty that He hears, anger at our situation, compassion for our loved one, longing for it all to be over, fear that it could all end. We watch & we pray, & we cry, & we fear, & in exhaustion, we finally fall asleep.
There is only so much agony that we can bear, & our lives, like the disciples, shut down under the struggle. Luke writes that the disciples slept that night a sleep like no other: “sleeping from sorrow.” (v. 45) There are times in our lives when we’re brought to that place of agony & sorrow from the simplest of things.
Desiring to do the things of God can lead to places of deep exhaustion & sorrow in our lives. Yet, our Lord continues to pray. While the disciples sleep from sorrow, while God’s people fail under the weight of the struggle, while the world is too weak to accomplish the will of God, Jesus goes on. Jesus prays. Jesus rises to wake His disciples & do His Father’s will.
By showing us this contrast, Luke reveals that there is one thing stronger than even the
simplest sorrow. That is the simplest love: God’s love for the world giving His only Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Here, we see that love of God. The Father’s will is to give up His Son, to forsake Him in punishment for the sin of the world.
The Son’s desire is to do the will of His Father, laying down His life that all the world might be saved. Only God can love like that, & only God could serve like that. A Father’s love, a Son’s service, a world’s salvation are all gathered here tonight in this garden & offered up to God in the agony of this prayer.
What Luke wants you to know by recording it is that God’s love is stronger than sorrow: Jesus in willing obedience submits to the will of His Father saying, “Thy will be done.” Jesus enters our places of sorrow & makes them places of His strength. He does not fail.
God’s will overcame human weakness that night. His love made a place of sorrow a place of strength. Tonight, then, I encourage you to live in that comfort. Yes, tomorrow we return to a world where the simplest things can create the greatest struggles. The simple will of God for us & our neighbor can produce times of agony & trial in our soul.
But God’s love is beyond our loving. God’s strength is beyond our weakness. Nothing in this world can ever separate you from that love. God forgives your sins. He claims your life as His own, & “He who did not spare His only Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
There is nothing in this world that God’s love has not conquered, & there’s nothing that can separate you from that love. Your life is in His hands &, when you are there, you are in the hands of the one who made you & adores you. Tonight, our Lord assures us that we are in the hands of our Maker. He conquered our weakness in the garden, so there’s nothing that can separate us from His love. When we engage in those long nights of prayer, we pray to a God who listens. When we don’t have the words to express the depth of our feeling, He gives us His Spirit, interceding with groans that are too deep for words, bringing what our mouths cannot say to the heart of God, who hears.
Even on those nights when we fall asleep from sorrow, we sleep in the kingdom of a God who loves. Sleep then. Rise then. Pray & labor knowing that you are members of a Kingdom where God watches over His loved ones even in their sleep. He has prepared a place for you to go in times of struggle & sorrow.
It is a place of His loving strength. Rest now in His love! Rest now in His strength! Amen.
Go to dark Gethsemane, all who feel the tempter’s power; your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour; turn not from His griefs away; learn from Jesus Christ to pray. Calvary’s mournful mountain climb; there, adoring at His feet, mark that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete. “It is finished!” hear Him cry; learn from Jesus Christ to die. Early hasten to the tomb where they laid His breathless clay; all is solitude & gloom. Who has taken Him away? Christ is risen! He meets our eyes. Savior, teach us so to rise. Amen. LSB 436:1, 3-4
2nd Sunday in Lent – C LSB #423
Text – Luke 13:34
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets & stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, & you would not!
A CITY THAT KILLS THE PROPHETS
Jerusalem the golden, with milk & honey blest – the promise of salvation, the place of peace & rest – we know not, oh, we know not what joys await us there: the radiancy of glory, the bliss beyond compare! (LSB 672:1) A beautiful song, with beautiful lyrics, about a beautiful place, but it is definitely not talking about the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day.
The Jerusalem that God’s Son is talking of, in the Gospel reading for today, is quite the opposite. That city is a bloody disaster of injustice, hypocrisy & murder. The OT reading gave us a taste of that Jerusalem:
“When Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests & the prophets & all the people laid hold of him, saying, ‘You shall die!’” (Jeremiah 26:8 ESV) ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’ is a time honored saying, because most everyone in this room has, at one time or another, felt the desire to do exactly that.
People don’t welcome bad news, & being the bearer of such news is not a comfortable role to play. To be savior is a thing of glory. To be executioner is a role played as we take up our cross & follow Jesus while He grieves for those who have rejected His love.
God sends His Word to bring, not just life, but also death. The exact same Word of God brings life or death depending on how you react to it. First off, God intends for His Word to bring life, but if we reject that Word it does not return to our Lord empty. Even in rejection it still accomplishes His purpose:
“So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it
shall accomplish that which I purpose, & shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11 ESV) Jeremiah was sent to preach repentance to Jerusalem, but the city rejected his message. This is the result as Yahweh explains it to His prophet:
“And when your people say, ‘Why has the Lord our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me & served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours.’” (Jeremiah 5:19 ESV) The people heard the Word of the Lord & rejected it. Yet that word still accomplished the purpose for which it was sent.
As a result, that Word of the Lord, which would have rescued His people, takes them into exile in Babylon. When Yahweh took Moses & the people of Israel to the doorstep of the Promised Land, He gave a Word to enter the land flowing with milk & honey. They refused, & thus that Word of the Lord took them, instead, into 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.
All of us are sinners. Each one has fallen short of God’s will for our lives. We too hear the Word of the Lord & reject it. That’s what sin is, plain & simple. Now, the Word of the Lord is a two-edged sword. It is sent to give life, but if people reject it, then it’s purpose changes. If people reject God’s Word then that same Word brings discipline or judgment.
After the Transfiguration, Jesus set His face to Jerusalem. As He’s approaching, Jesus laments that it has been such a bloody disaster of a city: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets & stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, & you would not!”
Harsh as Jesus’ words are, they are still a part of His call to repentance. His is the voice of the hen that gathers her brood under her wings, concerned & compassionate. Would anyone chastise such a hen for warning & calling her chicks? Yet this very thing, of their killing the Prince of Life, became a powerful weapon in the hands of the Apostles to preach the Law to the Jews in preparation for the preaching of the Gospel. It pricked the heart of many a hearer so that they asked on the day Pentecost:
“‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent & be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, & you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you & for your children & for all who are far off – every one whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.’” (Acts 2:37b-39 ESV)
“…& there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41 ESV) Jesus had tried to gather the people of the city about Him, to bring them the joyful assurance of their salvation through His blood. Yet those who thought themselves the holiest & best brought upon their Savior the greatest damage & harm.
Some eventually had a change of heart. Others did not. On the Last Day, their lips, for the chattering of their teeth, will hardly be able to form the words, & their heart will utter curses & blasphemies. Against every grain of their will, they will confess Jesus Christ as Lord.
This week’s Bible readings are provocative. The OT lesson is a confrontation between Jeremiah & the people of Judah. In the Gospel we hear of the confrontation between Jesus & the Pharisees. These readings also confront us with a “prophetic word” that our people & maybe we, ourselves, might not want to hear. It is the message of the cross.
The thrust of this reading from Luke is the rejection of Jesus by His own people, just as they did to His predecessors the prophets of old. While God desires to draw people to Himself, they deliberately abandon His temple (Christ), & His presence. Jesus would be killed by the very people He was sent to save. Jerusalem, after all, was the city that kills the prophets.
Our heavenly Father is fully aware of that, so He’s able to build it into His plan of salvation. Just as God’s people commonly end up in exile, because of the brokenness of this world, Jesus would end up in exile on the cross & in the grave. Then, as God delivers His people, in events like the exodus, Jesus would accomplish the world’s greatest exodus as He is released from death & from the grave. Because sin is at the root of death, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead clearly demonstrates that Jesus has conquered death & its root – sin.
Sin has been conquered but until Judgment Day it is still at work in the lives of God’s children. The confrontational tone of the readings for today comes not from God, but from unbelief. Those who love God agree with the truth; those who don’t, they hate the truth.
A prophet is sent by God to faithfully speak His word. The people in Jesus’s day were comfortable in their sin. They did not want to be called to repent. So, the prophetic word has to be confrontational.
Does the church today still speak a prophetic word? We, too, have become comfortable with our sins. Adultery, fornication, homosexuality, violent crime, pornography & profanity are cabled into our living rooms & called “entertainment.” Coveting & greed are seen as the only way to survive. No, people still do not want to hear a prophetic word calling them to repent.
Perhaps, the church has grown fearful of speaking it. We’ve allowed Satan & the world to intimidate us & convince us that it is more loving to overlook than to confront & be more like Jesus. Our culture especially says it is good to permit people to remain in their sin. So, the church is tempted to speak a word that people want to hear, but that is not God’s word.
The world, the church, you & I need the sure prophetic word. The church must say once again, “Thus says the Lord!” It does not matter what the law of the land will allow, or society permits, or others are doing. God says, “Amend your ways & obey the Lord.” (Jeremiah 26:13)
The great salvation theme is this: Those who are proud & mighty shall fall. Those who are humble & broken shall be exalted. The words of Jesus, immediately before today’s gospel reading are these: “And behold, some are last who will be 1st, & some are 1st who will be last.” That language prepares the hearer, which today is you, for God’s ultimate reversal. It is about to occur in Jerusalem. Where the weak have been trampled upon, the mighty shall fall. Those who attempt to stop God’s will, shall themselves accomplish it.
The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, will do it through being crucified by the powerful Roman government & the proud religious leaders of the church. Christ’s weakness & poverty are the manner in which our heavenly Father chooses to overcome the power & money which so occupies human beings in this life.
Lent is a time to reevaluate our thinking. How are we deluded? How are we seeking care & protection in things other than the cross & the empty tomb? In Luke 13, Jesus warned the people to repent or they would perish. (v. 3) There is no middle ground. He told them to strive to enter through the narrow door or they would be shut out altogether. (v. 24–28)
This is the message we are sent to proclaim in our vocation as parent, friend, neighbor, or preacher. We can expect opposition, but we simply cannot become comfortable with sin. That’s not the Christ-like thing to do. For then, we’d empty His cross of its power to save. Without the prophetic word people will never know God’s mercy & grace & never truly hear the gospel.
Yes, Jesus is a prophet, & more than a prophet. He is our crucified & risen Savior. He promises you life & salvation, but it is available only in Him. Hear Him calling today, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. . . O people of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, how often I have longed for you.” Amen.
Jesus, refuge of the weary, blest Redeemer, whom we love, fountain in life’s desert dreary, Savior from the world above: often have Your eyes offended, gazed upon the sinner’s fall; yet upon the cross extended, You have borne the pain of all. Do we pass that cross unheeding, breathing no repentant vow, though we see You wounded, bleeding, see Your thorn encircled brow? Yet Your sinless death has brought us life eternal, peace & rest; only what Your grace has taught us calms the sinner’s deep distress. Amen. LSB 423:1-2
Midweek 2 LSB #’s 848, 780, 668, 937
Text – Luke 22:24
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.
The Upper Room: A Place of Service
The artist Rembrandt tried to paint the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac – twice. Two different times he tried to help others see what faith looks like in that moment. The 1st time, Rembrandt made a grand painting. This was early in his life. He was famous & had recently moved to Amsterdam. His halls were filled with students & his studio was filled with clients.
His painting was over six feet tall & four feet wide. His vision was grand. As you look at the painting, you’re struck by the faith of Abraham. Isaac is stretched out on the ground, his chest bared toward heaven, his back arched as his father’s hand covers his face, pushing his head back to bare his throat.
Rembrandt had painted a hero of faith, larger than life. Abraham’s faith & Rembrandt’s glory are blended into one.
Twenty years later, however, Rembrandt returned to this story a different man. He came as an artist who was broke & as a man who was broken. His wife had died, along with three of his four children. His family life was in ruins &, in less than a year, he would declare bankruptcy. Broke & broken, his picture of faith was much different.
This time, the picture was small. An etching, about six inches by five inches. As you look at it, Abraham’s boldness in following God is hidden. All you see is his love for the child. Isaac is kneeling alongside Abraham, his head on his father’s knee. And Abraham covers Isaac’s eyes, hiding him from his death, as if this were his father’s last & greatest blessing.
Rembrandt no longer paints a hero of faith, larger than life. Instead, he draws a small picture: a servant of Yahweh whose service is humble & hidden in love for his son. This reveals for us two ways of seeing faith: (1) faith mixed with glory, bold & larger than life, or (2) faith, small & weak, humble & hidden in love for the least. I open with this contrast because, in some way, it captures what is going on in the sermon text this evening.
Tonight, we’re in the Upper Room. Jesus celebrates the Passover with His disciples & then bids them farewell. In this one small moment between Jesus & His disciples, we see two visions of faith: (1) faith mixed with glory, bold & larger than life, & (2) faith, small & humble, hidden in love for the least.
The disciples reveal faith mixed with glory, bold & larger than life. Luke tells us that “a dispute arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.” (v. 24) While Jesus is predicting His death, they’re arguing about greatness.
Having spent three years with Jesus, listening to His teaching, seeing Him cast out demons & rule over creation, the disciples now turn their eyes toward one another to see whose life is filled with glory. “Who is the greatest?” they ask.
As Jesus moves toward death, His disciples grasp for life. As Jesus welcomes dishonor, they fight over honor. As Jesus speaks about suffering, His disciples argue about glory. They try to rise above the world & rule.
Luke doesn’t give the specifics of their argument. We don’t know what they said... but then again, do we really need the words? We know what it sounds like, don’t we? Arguments over greatness tend to be common among God’s people, then & now.
Whether you look at the Church at large, or at an individual congregation such as our own, it’s not hard to come across division & strife. God’s people are frequently broken up in arguments about gifts & greatness. It happened in Corinth. There you had a church blessed with a multitude of gifts: faith & healing & miraculous powers that could make you stand up on your feet & sing. In such a place, was there peace? No. God’s people were too busy arguing about all the gifts, trying to see which was the greatest. God’s church became divided, as people fought over His blessings. Some followed Paul, others Apollos, others Peter. The very pastors God had given them became tools that Satan used to divide them.
Lucifer wants to turn us against one another, & he uses God’s gifts to do it. He tempts us to turn our gifts into things we fight about. Our confession of faith, our offerings to God, our service in the Church, our witness to the world, all become ways in which we divide ourselves into groups – into those who are really committed & those who are not.
Yahweh gives us faith, mixed with glory, bold & larger than life. Slowly, our attitude toward those gifts begins to separate us as Satan twists & turns our heart using deception. And the tragedy of all this is not the wasted time, not the wasted gifts, not the hurt feelings, not even the words said in anger.
The real tragedy of all of this is that we end up missing the very thing God wants us to see: His presence in this place, His work of loving service. We find ourselves busy with all the trappings of disagreement, when right in our midst God is doing the one thing that brings us together, the one thing that can make all of us stand on our feet & sing, the one work that is greater than any which anyone here has ever known: the humble work of His saving service.
In Jesus, we have the true picture of greatness. Notice how Jesus responds to the argument of His disciples. Once before, His disciples had argued about greatness. When that happened, Jesus took a child & placed that child in their midst. (Luke 9:46–48)
Children had little to no social status at that time. Yet Jesus interrupted His disciples’ grand & glorious visions by asking them to look at a child. That child, easily overlooked & easily forgotten, was, to Jesus, a picture of faith. Like Rembrandt’s Abraham, holding his son, Jesus held a child & revealed the hidden nature of God’s glory. That glory is a life of embracing, receiving & serving the one who is least in the Kingdom. However, Jesus does more. Rather than simply placing a child in their midst, Jesus claims His disciples as children.
When His disciples argue over greatness, Jesus reveals faith in humble service by asking a question: “Who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves?” (22:27) The disciples would have agreed that Jesus was greatest among them, that He was the one who should recline at table, but Jesus calls their attention to His action.
He is the one who serves. Not only has He served them at table, but He is going to serve them as He suffers betrayal, a brutal whipping & then death on the cross. The Creator comes to die for His creatures. Here, hidden in this service, is the greatness of God.
Jesus radically identifies with that which is least in this world, becoming the Crucified One, rejected by the world, by religious leaders, by His disciples, even by His heavenly Father. Yet in that rejection, He fiercely & faithfully holds on to every last sinner, every last fallen child of God. In His dying, Jesus silences all arguments by revealing the radical mercy of God.
Through His death, the least are brought into the kingdom of God. As we struggle for glory & seek to make a name for ourselves, Jesus freely gives us the only name that truly matters. You are a child of God, forgiven of sin, & hidden in the embrace of our Father. Yahweh extends His hand over you & gives you His greatest blessing.
He hides you from eternal death by the death of Jesus, His Son. God now calls you His son, His daughter. As children of God, we don’t know the future. We don’t know the struggles it will bring, but Jesus wants you to know the comfort of His service for you for all time.
Although one will betray Him, another deny Him, Satan divide them, & the world fight against them; although we, too, have sinned & fallen short of the glory of God; although all of this is true, there is still one who comes among us & brings us the true glory of God. Jesus reveals the Holy Trinity’s glory in His suffering service. He comes to fulfill all that God has planned. He goes to the cross, offering His life, that He might come this evening & offer forgiveness to you.
You are children of God. In Jesus, God has brought you into a Kingdom that death, the devil, & all of our petty arguments can never destroy. This world of arguments about greatness has become a place of great service in Christ. Amen.
Lord, whose love through humble service bore the weight of human need, who upon the cross, forsaken, offered mercy’s perfect deed, we, Your servants, bring the worship not of voice alone, but heart, consecrating to Your purpose every gift that You impart. Amen.
1st Sunday in Lent – C LSB # 521 v.1-4, 6
Text – Luke 4:13
And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.
UNTIL AN OPPORTUNE TIME
…the years rolled slowly past & I found myself alone. Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends, I found myself further & further from my home. And I guess I lost my way. There were oh so many roads. I was living to run & running to live; never worried about paying or even how much I owed.
Moving 8 miles a minute for months at a time – breaking all of the rules that would bend.
I began to find myself searchin' sear chin' for shelter again & again against the wind; a little something against the wind. I found myself seeking shelter against the wind.
Well those drifter’s days are past me now. I’ve got so much more to think about – deadlines & commitments – what to leave in, what to leave out. Against the wind, I’m still runnin' against the wind. I’m older now but still running against the wind.
You don’t have to be a cross country runner to relate to those words. And you don’t have to be Jesus to understand the words of the sermon text for this morning. We too know intimately what it is like to be tempted by the devil. Even if we manage to put him off, it’s clear he will return at a more opportune time.
Being alive in this world has a lot in common with running against the wind. Bob Seger was inspired to write the words to the song partly by the time he spent on his high school cross country team. As I took up running at the seminary I vividly recall the stormy spring days & coming around the bend on the ¼ mile track. As I turned into the wind it would hit like a truck.
You only made that turn once per lap. And yet, as you began to tire, you’d have to steel
yourself for that turn in order to keep going. It would have been a lot easier to just quit. Are any of you at a point in life where you’re coming around the turn? Do you feel like you’re running against the wind & you’re not sure if you want to keep fighting it? Even people who do not follow Jesus recognize that trying to live well is a constant struggle.
That wind against us consists of two things – our own sinful nature & the sinful world around us. Since Jesus is holy & without sin the wind against Him was made up only of the sinful world around Him. The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days, & the Son of God eats nothing during the entire time.
In a bit of masterful understatement, St. Luke writes that when those 40 days were ended Jesus was hungry. Satan goes right at Him: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” No doubt you recognize the intent. You’ve been in Jesus’ shoes.
Whether you were hungry, or tired, or depressed, satisfied, wide awake or happy, you’ve been there, in a vulnerable spot & ripe for the picking. You remember God’s Word to Cain, don’t you? “…if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7b-c ESV)
The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. In our lives we also experience that sort of leading by the Holy Spirit. Students seldom enjoy them, but quizzes & tests are given in class, not just to evaluate their learning, but to further it. Likewise, we are tested spiritually for the purpose of growing our faith in Jesus as Lord & Savior.
The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, but His Father in heaven did not leave His Son defenseless. Likewise, we too experience wilderness times in our lives, & our Father in heaven does not leave us defenseless. In today’s reading from Romans 10, St. Paul wrote: “The word is near you, in your mouth & in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, & believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” You see, the good news of the Gospel is not that we will never fall into sin. The good news is that even in falling to temptation it is possible for you & me to be saved.
Jesus endured every temptation we do, because He would not fail & His righteousness is then available to be applied to everyone who trusts & believes in Him as Savior. Jesus didn’t only pay for the evil we have done, He accomplished the good that we have left undone. He did all that simply through using the Word of God, the sword of the Holy Spirit.
As Hebrews 4:12 says, “…the word of God is alive & powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul & spirit, between joint & marrow.” (NLT) Like Jesus, we are not left defenseless as the devil attacks, & even if we don’t know which Words of God to use, we have help even in that regard as Romans 8 makes clear:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” That groaning of the Holy Spirit coincides with the groaning of our saintly nature over our temptations & failures. Through suffering & the cross we come to God, not through glory.
As Satan tempts the Son of God, he asks for only a little compromise: “To you I will give all this authority & their glory… If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:6-7 ESV) He offers Jesus the kingdoms of the world, & their glory, without the excruciating pain & agony of the cross. Later, at Gethsemane, we will hear Jesus pray:
“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36 ESV) There, Jesus expresses His desire to bypass the agony of the cross, for it is a fearful suffering. However, even then Jesus places that decision into the hands of His heavenly Father. Jesus will come to the glory of His resurrection, but not until after He comes to the cross. In John 15:20a, Jesus tells His disciples, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’”
Our efforts to avoid suffering in this life, & leap straight to the glory, are in effect a denial of Christ. Jesus took the way of the cross. So shall His disciples, but it’s not that God takes pleasure in our suffering. It’s that our Lord knows our sinful nature must “…be drowned & die with all sins & evil desires.” (LSB p. 325)
Our sinful nature sees all manner of serving our neighbor as suffering. Our sinful nature sees all manner of weakness & poverty & sorrow as suffering. In Luke 4, Satan tempted Jesus to bypass His suffering & go straight to the glory. You & I face the same temptation, each day, even if crucifixion is not part of our future. We long for glory already in this life.
In Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, the devil even uses Holy Scripture as part of his test: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you,’ & ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” (Luke 4:9b-11 ESV)
In a similar way, many people, throughout history, have taken the very Words of God & twisted them to serve their own desires. Sadly, a great number of those have been pastors. We use the Word of God to justify our sinful actions. We use the Word of God to cover our tracks. We use the Word of God to avoid serving our neighbor. Then we say, “See, everything is good.”
The devil knows well how to bide his time & wait for the opportune moment. He sets the trap & then leaves us alone until we ourselves dive headlong into it. The glory we lost, at the fall into sin, is a powerful attraction. On a daily basis we try to regain that glory without the help of God, according to our own plan & our own devices. Many churches are complicit in that glory seeking as they aim still today, to restore God’s kingdom here on earth. We too are tempted, especially when it comes to the visible church, to want God’s glory in the here & now. After all, shouldn’t the church have God’s special favor in order to draw men to it?
St. Paul painted a very different picture of that as he wrote to the church at Corinth: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong…” (1 Corinthians 1:27 ESV)
In line with that plan, he later wrote: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions & calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV)
History makes clear that the Church of God never flourishes when men try to make it outwardly powerful & glorious here on earth. In those times, rot sets in & the church slowly withers & dies. On the contrary, God’s Church grows & becomes vibrant when it endures suffering & persecution. When outwardly it appears weak, then it is strong.
When outwardly, Christ was hanging on the cross, suffering hell & dying for our sins, to those who see with the eyes of faith, Jesus was conquering sin & death, winning the victory & enjoying His finest hour of glory.
In our own lives especially, we need to live by faith, not by sight. As our Lord gives us those opportunities of temptation, His plan is for us to grow in our faith, through that testing. As we fall to temptation, Jesus has already forgiven our sins, & is working to turn back again to His Father’s mercy & love. Jesus is working to turn us away from our glory seeking selves.
First the suffering. Then the glory. First the running against the wind. Then the running with the wind at our back. I sort of doubt that Bob Seger was intending to write anything of spiritual value, but his song Against The Wind does express something of what life is like in this sin broken world. Without a doubt, the Word of God reveals that Jesus is the one & only answer.
“…the years rolled slowly past & I found myself alone. Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends, I found myself further & further from my home. And I guess I lost my way. There were oh so many roads. I was living to run & running to live; never worried about paying or even how much I owed.
Moving 8 miles a minute for months at a time – breaking all of the rules that would bend.
I began to find myself searchin' sear chin' for shelter again & again against the wind; a little something against the wind. I found myself seeking shelter against the wind.”
On this 1st Sunday in Lent, as we again examine more closely our own sins, let us find shelter against them in the incredible love & sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Although this life commonly seems to be a running against the wind, Jesus has borne the brunt of that for us at Golgotha. So let us rejoice in our sufferings as God uses them to draw us nearer to Him. Amen.
Jesus came, this word fulfilling, trampled Satan, death defied; bore the brunt of our temptation, on the wretched tree He died. Yet to life was raised victorious; by His life our life supplied. Jesus, send Your angel legions when the foe would us enslave. Hold us fast when sin assaults us; come, then, Lord, Your people save. Overthrow at last the dragon; send him to his fiery grave. Amen. (LSB 521:4, 6)
 Seger, B., Against The Wind, (Capitol Records), 1980.
 Romans 10:8b-9 ESV
 8:26 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet