DO YOU WANT TO LIVE?
2nd Sunday in Lent – B LSB #’s 420:1-2, 6-7, 783, 702
Text – Mark 8:35
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake & the gospel’s will save it.
DO YOU WANT TO LIVE?
It’s a rather ominous sermon title, so much so that I questioned whether or not I should use it. It’s the kind of question that can make us uncomfortable until we know the motive of the person asking it. A doctor may be asking, “Do you want to live? If so, then you need to carefully control your diet.” That would be a noble motive.
I’m reminded of a member of the church in North Dakota who had juvenile diabetes & still drank as much soda pop as he wanted. When this member was on his death bed, he told me that everything his doctor said had come true, since he did not follow the doctor’s advice.
When someone else asks you, “Do you want to live?” they might be trying to sell you something. “Do you want to live? Then I have a deal for you.” Whatever they’re selling may or may not be in your best interests, but with the money they’ll be making it certainly would be in their best interest. That sort of motive is something you should watch out for.
Another person may ask, “Do you want to live?” with entirely sinister motives, such as in a carjacking. “Do you want to live? Then give me your car!” The motives behind any question can make all the difference in the world. That’s why, when you someone comes to you with a question, before you answer, it’s often wise to ask them a question in return: “Why do you ask?”
Why they are asking that question, at that particular time, usually involves their motive. Once you know their motives you can more helpfully frame your answer. In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus is the one asking questions, “Who do people say that I am?” & after the disciples answer that one, Jesus replies, “But who do you say that I am?” It might have been wise for Peter to respond to Jesus with, “Why do you ask?” Every single one of us will always learn more by listening than we ever learn by speaking. But Peter wasn’t known for his listening skills. Yes, he boldly gave his confession, “You are the Christ,” but when Jesus tried to explain what the Christ is – Peter opened his mouth again & revealed his ignorance.
Not that we should look down on Peter, because all of us have been in his shoes, & still are even today. Peter never had a monopoly on ignorance. Many in the Christian church today still have no idea who the Christ is, or what that means for our lives. When Jesus explained that the Christ came to lose His life, He meant that such would be the pattern for our lives as well.
Effectively, Jesus was asking the question, “Do you want to live?” If your answer is yes, then you must lose your life first: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake & the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35 ESV) And that is why the question, or the sermon title, makes us uncomfortable.
Our sinful nature immediately knows where Jesus is going with this. Following Jesus is painful. At times, it is even humiliating, as Peter found out when Jesus pointed out that Peter was at that moment in time following Satan instead of Jesus. Yes, Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, yet Peter wanted nothing to do with following in those footsteps.
He could not even imagine that the Man sent to save the world would die in it. That is not the measure of success that any of us are looking for. Nevertheless, Jesus tells us that our heavenly Father measures success through what we are willing to lose: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake & the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)
What are you willing to lose in order to save your life? How much do you really want to live? One struggle we have is in how our Creator defines life. He says things like these words to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart… (Jeremiah 1:5 NIV) And these words to the nation of Israel, “Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb & will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, O dear Israel, my chosen one.” (Isaiah 44:2) King David wrote of God in Psalm 139:13, “For You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (NIV)
In God’s eyes, & in God’s Word, an embryo is a living human being, created by God. Our current political leadership, the elite levels of our society, & many Christians want nothing to do with our heavenly Father’s definition of life. They do not define it in the same way that our Lord does, & that means they are not respecting Him as their Lord.
They are trying to make their own life better, by ending the life of another human being. Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake & the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35 ESV) Losing our life for Jesus’ sake means giving up our own definitions of life. It means giving up our own desires & will.
In our sinful hearts we think we’re alive when we are actually dead. We confuse a false life for the real thing. The member of the church in North Dakota did finally give up his own definitions of life, but it was too late to save his life here on earth. Yet, because Jesus’ gave up His life in our place, that man of a mere 35 years on earth did receive eternal life in heaven.
To all earthly appearances, he had wasted his life here in defiance & suffering. Yet, if we accept that God is ultimately in control of all things, then we must acknowledge that even in our sufferings God’s will is done. We know that’s true, because suffering & death was the will of God for Jesus, born in a manger in Bethlehem & crucified at Golgotha outside Jerusalem.
“…whoever loses his life for my sake & the gospels will save it.” (Mark 8:35 ESV) Under the reign of God, if you want to live you must lose your life. If you do so, the world will label you a fool. When Jesus rebuked Peter for rejecting Messiah’s coming suffering & death, Jesus did so with these words, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mark 8:33 ESV) The things of man say that an embryo is not human so we can get rid of it guilt free. As part of His suffering, Jesus did carry the guilt of every abortion to the cross.
There is true life waiting if you give up the things of man, the definitions of life that the world gives, if you lose your life for Jesus’ sake. And there are countless ways of losing your life for Jesus’ sake.
You can obey your parents & teachers, even though they are not perfect. You can give up the luxuries of life to provide for your own children, or for other people less fortunate than you. You can work at a career that helps people, even though you may end up earning a lot less money. You can give offerings to the kingdom of God from every dollar you do earn.
To follow Jesus, we must abandon our very selves, not merely our sins. To follow Jesus strikes to the very core of our identity, because at baptism we die to our old identity & Jesus gives us a new one. Taking up our cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise happy life. It meets us instead, at the beginning of our fellowship with Christ.
The call of Christ at baptism sets us in the middle of the daily arena against sin & the devil. Each day we encounter temptations, & must suffer for Christ’s sake, as He suffered. Bearing our cross involves a reevaluation of all that we consider important. It involves struggle, suffering & death while maintaining firm trust & hope in the true life to come.
It means letting go of this poor imitation of life that we live today. It involves realizing that everything in this life is temporary, to put it in the terminology of Ash Wednesday, from dust you came & to dust you shall return. If we refuse to take up our cross, we forfeit our fellowship with the suffering Christ, who alone is the way to the Father. If we refuse to follow Christ in the struggle He calls us to, then we have ceased to follow Jesus. If we lose our lives in service to Him, we then find true life in our fellowship with Him. Only when we have become oblivious to self are we ready to bear the cross for Jesus’ sake.
The modern goal is to work toward self-awareness, self-assertion & self-fulfillment; but Jesus emphasizes self-denial. Many Christians today are trying to find in Jesus an easy way to God, or a sure way to personal fulfillment & happiness. Jesus’ words are directed against the easy & self-indulgent lifestyle that is the goal of the culture in which we live.
Make no mistake; the life to which Jesus is calling His disciples is radically different from what our society is now preaching. The manner in which God defines life is a problem that we, as Christians, constantly struggle to accept. Life in Christ is a life of sacrifice & suffering. Period. We wish it were not so. We wish it would be different, but Jesus is crystal clear.
Following Him faithfully is a life of humble submission, not only to His rule as Lord, but also in a sinful world that rejected Him & His reign. Do not be surprised when life throws you for a loop. Our discomfort with suffering leads us to all manner of unfaithfulness. It leads us to instruct God as to what He should really be doing, & to question Him when he does not obey us.
It leads us to take matters into our own hands, to fudge on His commands, to imitate the world’s deceitful & dishonest ways. It leads us to abuse power, serve ourselves, & plug our ears to the parts of Jesus’ message which do not conveniently fit our program.
Peter’s inability to accept what Jesus said about suffering prevented him from hearing what Jesus said about resurrection & life: “The Son of man must suffer many things & be rejected by the elders & the chief priests & the scribes & be killed, & after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:34)
Death was coming, that is true, and not only for Jesus but also for anyone who follows Him. But that would not be the end. Resurrection is also coming. Those who lose their lives for Christ’s sake will find it. (Mark 8:35) That is the promise we hold up on this 2nd Sunday in Lent. Resurrection is coming for us. Salvation is coming for us. It is coming for all who, in Christ, lose themselves. It is for all who give up their privilege, who sacrifice their preference, who surrender their position, who relinquish their power.
Resurrection is coming for all who have sinned, whether by ending the life of an embryo, or by refusing to love those who have. Our heavenly Father knows that promoting a cancel culture will only destroy every life in that culture. On the cross, Jesus cancelled each sin that has ever been committed. That has given us a 2nd chance at real living, now & for eternity.
Make no mistake; the life to which Jesus is calling His disciples is radically from what our world preaches. As St. Paul wrote in Romans 6:4 “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Do you want to live? At the end of your strength is the beginning of life. So the Holy Spirit will lead you into places of dying because it is there, & only there, that you will find life. That is Jesus’ promise for you, each day of your life here on earth. Amen.
Take my life & let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee; take my moments & my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my will & make it Thine, it shall be no longer mine; take my heart, it is Thine own, it shall be Thy royal throne. Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store; take myself, & I will be ever, only, all for Thee. Amen.
LSB 783:1, 5-6.
LOVE SO RICH IN PROVISION
Midweek 2 – 2021 LSB #’s 434, 895, 544
Text – Matthew 6:26
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, & yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
LOVE SO RICH IN PROVISION
In the name of Jesus, whose heavenly Father loves us as His children, feeding & clothing us while adding blessing upon blessing. Amen.
Forever from eternity God the Father has loved His Son. From eternity, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit have loved one another, existing in a perfect community of love. At the creation of the world, that love spread out, we might say; it came forth in God’s loving creation of a world, a world He created for Himself to love.
In these Lenten sermons, we’re tracing the dimensions of God’s enormous love for us. O love how deep, how broad, how high! There is nothing in your life, nothing in your world, nothing in the universe that can match it – the love of God for you in Christ Jesus. Tonight we consider God’s great love displayed to us in His fatherly provision & protection.
Just how big is God’s love? Well, what are some big things we could compare it to? Go ahead, think of something big. You thought of an elephant, didn’t you? Too small. How about a blue whale, 100 feet long? Still way too small! A cruise ship? A mountain? The whole globe of the earth? The entire cosmos?
According to scientific estimates, the universe is 93 million light years in diameter. That means if a really bright light were turned on at one far end of the universe, it would take that light 93 million years to reach the other side. And light travels pretty fast! Yes, God’s love for you is as big as the entire cosmos, because, in Christ, He created it all for you.
Genesis tells us that God created the heavens & the earth. On the 4th day of His creating,
He placed the sun in the heavens, & the moon, & all the stars. He put them there to shine light on your world, to mark your days, & years, & times & seasons. He put them there to declare to you His glory, His power, His wisdom, & yes, His love.
The whole world, the entire universe around you, brothers & sisters, is full of wonder & beauty & delight, because God has provided it to you as a gift of love.
There is a Christian cosmologist named Guy Consolmagno, who is the director of the Vatican Observatory. Brother Consolmagno is involved in all kinds of astronomical research, but his particular specialty, for years, has been meteorites. He wrote an essay in which he describes the joy that he finds, spiritual joy even, in his study of these asteroids:
“My meteorites are indeed crying out ‘Glory!’ & beckoning our silent planet to awaken & sing to the Lord once more. I do experiments in my lab just because I love doing the work. I mean, meteorites! And liquid nitrogen! What’s not to love? I know now that the love I experience is derived ultimately from the Creator of the rocks that I experiment with, who is also the Father of love.” [i]
Brother Consolmagno loves learning about the creation, because he’s come to realize that the Creator is full of love. Every good thing of His creation flows from God’s love – the roof over your head & the pillow under your head – the bacon & the eggs – the vitamins & minerals that nourish you – the vaccines that protect you – the delicate bird flitting on a branch – the stream with the sunshine dancing on its waters – majestic mountains – crops growing in the fields – dogwood trees flowering in the spring – sunsets with all of their variety & indescribable colors. Truly, God is glorious, & generous. Truly, Yahweh is the Father of love.
Tonight’s sermon from Matthew 6, is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This will be a familiar passage for many of you. Hear the way that Jesus teaches His disciples not to worry
about the provisions of life:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, & the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, & yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive & tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, & your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God & His righteousness, & all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Your heavenly Father loves you, & He will care for you. That’s the bottom line of this text. In Jesus Christ, He gives you His righteousness & an eternal kingdom. He will surely also daily & richly provide you with all that you need to support this body & life.
Yet, what an odd pair of mental images Jesus creates, as He makes His point. Have you ever seen a bird – driving a tractor – planting wheat? Have you seen a bird, in bib overalls, unloading the soybeans from his big green combine? Have you seen a bird standing beside a shiny metal grain bin, as he augers the corn up & in for storage?
Of course not. Birds don’t do that. Birds can’t do that, & they still have food to eat,
because God feeds the birds. Then, there are the lilies. Jesus says the lilies neither toil nor spin. In saying that they don’t, He invites you to imagine it. Let’s see, do lilies toil for their clothing? Do I ever see a bunch of lilies sitting around picking the seeds out of cotton or combing the flax? No, I’ve never seen flowers doing much work at all.
Do I ever see lilies operating a spinning wheel to make wool yarn or cotton thread? I don’t think so. A flower couldn’t very well do that, could it? But they are still “dressed” beautifully. A single blooming flower stands as beautiful as a movie star & as glorious as a king – because God dresses them that way.
Jesus’ argument is this – if the birds are fed by God & the flowers are dressed by God, how much more will your heavenly Father care for you. You are worth more, to Him, than the graceful birds & the delicate flowers. God loves you so that every good thing you have is a gift from His hand. It flows to you from His “fatherly, divine goodness & mercy.”
As James wrote, “Every good gift & every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:17) If God provides for the birds & flowers, how much more will He care for you! Since God has given you life itself, earthly & eternal, He will surely also provide simple gifts such as food & clothing.
Jesus uses a similar argument in Luke’s Gospel to assure us that we can seek all that we need from our heavenly Father, even the greatest things, such as the Holy Spirit:
“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:11–13 ESV)
Jesus is saying that the heavenly Father’s love for you is even greater than the love of an
earthly father for his child. Think about that. Yes, every earthly father & earthly mother is imperfect, some are deeply flawed, a few even abusive. Yet, imperfect though they are, think about the strong, strong love of a parent for their child. The joy they find in helping. The pain they feel when their child suffers or struggles.
Picture a father in the backyard, spending his weekend building a swing set or a tree house. Picture a mother, sitting on the edge of the bed & comforting her sick child. Parents – working long hours, providing, feeding, clothing, caring, protecting. They want to. Even though it sometimes runs them into the ground, they love their children.
Jesus tells us that God the Father loves you even more than this. Yet, He says something else remarkable you may have missed the 1st time I read: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” (Luke 11:13 ESV)
Who are these children who receive His love & provision? We are evil, Jesus says, yet He assures us, God will provide not only earthly gifts, a fish, or an egg – but also the greatest gifts, the Holy Spirit, faith, hope, forgiveness, salvation, His kingdom & eternal life. He gives so many gifts, such great gifts . . . to sinners.
O what love the Father has shown us, & shows us each day. He causes the sun to shine & the rain to fall even for the wicked. Is it any wonder that St. John can write these simple words: “God is love”? (1 John 4:16) How great His love, just in terms of earthly provision & blessings. Can you begin to count them all?
He provides for our needs & defends us from all kinds of danger. He guards & protects us from all sorts of evil. I bet there’ve been instances in your life, perhaps several, when you knew that it was only God’s care & protection that saved your life. His angels or His providence shielded you from great harm. You probably wanted to tell someone that, at the time. Maybe you did; that it must have been God who helped you. But He does this all the time, every day, snatching us & shielding us from dangers & calamities that could have fallen on us. He protects us from the evil one, who is always seeking someone to harm & to devour.
The Father not only provides for you & protects you; He maintains beauty for you, even in this broken world. Every day, your heavenly Father brings something beautiful before your eyes, to nourish your soul & to encourage you. Do you have the eyes & the strength to see it? Though we are sinners with no merit or worthiness in us, God keeps on giving.
All this is most certainly true, though as you turn your gaze in other directions, you might also think, “Pastor is painting a pretty rosy picture.” What about all the pain & tragedy in Texas, or around the world? Pandemics, scarcity, famine & poverty, people who suffer unthinkable harm at the hands of others. Is God’s love for us really so big, if we’re honest about all of this?
God is the potter, we are the clay. He is the Father, & we are just children; beloved children, but children. There are many things about the way in which God governs this world that we cannot fully see or understand. Why does the God who so loves us, & who cares for us so richly, also allow such hard things to come, such evil things to happen?
That is a great mystery we cannot begin to fully explain. Trusting Him requires that we leave answers to that question in our Father’s loving hands. Still, even in times of sadness & want, we live under God’s loving promise, that one day, these sorrows & evils will be no more. Jesus has conquered sin, death & evil. He is making all things new & one day, He will return.
Then, He will dry every tear & His everlasting kingdom will be a place of perfect provision – health, joy, kindness, love, safety & beauty. His love for us is enormous, deep, real, father-like. Even now, in this life, what is amazing is how God cares for sinners. We are evil & deserve nothing good from Him. Yet consider all the goodness which God provides & lavishes upon us. Our loving Father gives us blessings through His creation of fields, trees & rivers; through birds, bagels & twinkling stars, & yes, even through meteorites. God the Father loves us, though we are evil. He loves us, for the sake of Jesus Christ, His Son.
Through the suffering & death of Jesus, on our behalf, He won a place for you & me in the Father’s heart forever. What goodness & blessings the Father provides through the created things all around. Yet, it was these very things, the gifts of the Creator, that were turned against our Lord Jesus.
What kind of wood, from what kind of lofty green tree, was fashioned into His cross of death? What kind of ore from the hills was smelted into metal, hammered into spikes & spear, to pierce our Lord? What animal’s hide was tanned & cut into strips to form the whip that scourged our Savior & tore open His skin?
What thorny plant was dried & twisted into the cruel crown they pressed onto His brow? When God first set the hills in place, & formed the ancient rocks, He knew that one of those stones would close the tomb of His Son’s dead & mangled body.
The greatest mystery is not why God allows tears & pain into our lives, but why He would love us & give us good things. Yet He does. He loves us & He cares for us because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on the cross. Now we may share in His sonship, His special place in the Father’s heart.
Because of Jesus, our heavenly Father deals with us in enormous love, richly & daily supplying us, protecting us, & surrounding us with beauty. Dear friends, may God grant you eyes to recognize His loving gifts in your day-to-day lives. May God’s fatherly love for you flow on, through you, to others as we seek to provide for those in need, to protect those who are in danger, & to create beauty & beautiful things, in response to God’s love for us. Through this we show ourselves to be His children. Amen.
Now thank we all our God with hearts & hands & voices, who wondrous things has done, in whom His world rejoices; who from our mother’s arms has blest us on our way with countless gifts of love & still is ours today. Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, with ever joyful hearts & blessed peace to cheer us & keep us in His grace & guide us when perplexed & free us from all ills in this world & the next! Amen. LSB 895:1-2.
[i] The quotation is from Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, “The Stones Cry Glory,” in The Story of the Cosmos: How the Heavens Declare the Glory of God, ed. Paul M. Gould and Daniel Ray (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2019), 37–50.
THROWN INTO THE WILDERNESS
1st Sunday in Lent – B LSB #’s 902, 427, 440:1-2, 5-6
Text – Mark 1:12-13
And immediately the Spirit threw Him into the wilderness & He was in the wilderness 40 days being tempted by Satan, & He was among the wild animals & angels were attending to Him.
THROWN INTO THE WILDERNESS
So far today I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped. I haven’t lost my temper. I haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty or self-centered. I’m really glad about that. But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to need a lot more help, because in a few minutes I’m going to get out of bed!
Have you had those mornings where you just did not want to get up? It’s not uncommon for me, so I assume that everyone else has experienced it as well. One of the reasons I struggle to wake up is that I’m a night person. I am simply better able to focus on things at night.
There’ve been times, though, when I knew what the day would bring & did not want to face it. For example, anytime my submarine was going on a mission, I dreaded waking up & saying goodbye to the world for the next several months. Once out to sea, the time there seemed like one constant wake up call to go on watch. I quickly tired of that routine of waking up.
Our lives are full of temptation, & hoping to sleep in, is only one of the milder variations we face on a daily basis. As the humorous prayer said; gossip, losing one’s temper, greed, grumpiness, nastiness & being self-centered are all waiting for us as we arise each new day. And, though the prayer is funny, the temptations & the sins they lead to are not.
Whether or not we admit to it, all of us struggle, every day, with right & wrong. Should I drive faster than the speed limit? After all, the meeting I’m going to is for a good cause. Should I study for the exam or blow it off in order to hang out with the gang? Being a Christian means we should spend time with friends. If I stretch the lunch break at work, my boss will never know. Besides, they don’t pay me what I’m worth. There comes that two-bit liar. I’ll never give him the time of day. I can’t believe what he said to the committee in order to push the blame off on someone else. Temptations like those come our way every day because of our sinful nature & because of the sinful world we live in.
Another common temptation arrives when we end up suffering due to illness or some other turn of circumstances not in our favor. We pity ourselves & complain about our lot in life. We blame God for not being good to us & forget all about the fact that man brought sin into the world & not God.
Jesus came into this world, & became part of this world, in order that He might cleanse the world of its sin. He came to purify His creation through paying the penalty for the sin that mankind contaminated the universe with. We broke it. Jesus came to fix it. That fix cost Him His life, yet through it, He has begun the re-creation of the heavens & earth.
Part of paying that penalty involved the gospel reading for today. Immediately after His baptism, the Holy Spirit threw Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan over a 40-day span. Those forty days are like a synopsis of our lives. You & I are living in the wilderness of a sinful, broken world.
We’re being tempted by Satan, & there are many dangers, but we are also being attended by angels. In reading the account of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, we tend to focus on the temptations that the devil tries out. We act as if we live in a basically neutral world as long as we watch out for the attacks of Satan.
But that’s not true for one minute, because our world is not neutral. That’s why this gospel reading mentions the wild animals. Satan is not the only vehicle for sin. Everything in this world is out of balance & dangerous to our health. Eating food can kill us. Not eating food can kill us. Exercising can be dangerous to your health. Not exercising can be dangerous to your health. Do you see the paradox? Simply being alive is dangerous. Watching television is not harmless, & neither is the Internet. You can be harmed through either one. The key is how we respond. How do we use the blessings that God gives?
From the other accounts of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, we hear that He used the Word of God to defeat Satan. We know that after the testing, angels came & strengthened Jesus. They were watching over Him along the way, as He endured the struggle. Our Savior was faithful & obedient. When the time was right, the angels attended Him, to restore Him.
In the OT lesson we heard about Abraham being tested. God asks him to sacrifice his only son, & Abraham goes about the task. He’s faithful & obedient. When the time was right, the angel of the Lord stopped him, & provided a ram to take the place of Isaac.
That scene is a synopsis of our lives. We have to endure many temptations & trials here on earth. They’re the result of our living in a sin filled world. Yet our God is bigger than that broken world. He’s almighty & so in control that He can even use the brokenness to bless us & strengthen us.
In the big picture of life – the eternal picture – our Savior has already won the war. The battles continue, but those of us in God’s church already have salvation. As regards our own salvation, our only task here on earth is to not reject it.
In the daily struggles of a Christian, against our sinful nature, Satan would have us lay down that gift of salvation. In the confusion, he hopes to convince us, or deceive us, to walk away. He has no power to drive us away, & we have no power to earn our way in.
Our damnation has to be a mutually agreed upon deal. That’s why writers through the ages have written about people selling their soul to the devil. Once you’re a child of God, the only way to lose your salvation is by voluntarily giving it up; by making a deal with Satan. Abraham made no such deal. But we can certainly hear the devil giving his pitch. “What! Sacrifice your only son? What kind of crazy plan is that? Your God must be out of His mind. Are you daft Abraham? You’re not really going to do it? Here, I’ve got a better deal.”
“Did God really say, ‘sacrifice your only son whom you love?’ You could just sleep in that morning. You could pretend that you’re doing it, but don’t. Take along a lamb or two & sacrifice them instead. You don’t have to rebel outright against your God; just tweak the plan a little. After all, His idea makes no sense. Use you head, Abraham. Don’t be a fool!”
And so our lives go. It’s no wonder there are mornings or evenings when we’d rather not face reality. When we know that the right thing is to forgive, it can still be difficult. Realizing that the correct thing is to ignore the insult, does not make it easy to do. When we understand that the cancer treatment is going to be painful, it’s no wonder that we falter & become weak.
We do not live in a neutral world. This life of suffering & bearing our cross is what Martin Luther called the “Theology of the Cross.” Understanding this theology helps us recognize how God is at work in our lives. It can help us understand, like Abraham, that although what is happening makes no earthly sense at all, we can still trust in our God.
Believing in the power of God’s word gives us the certain hope that our heavenly Father is at work in the midst of suffering & death. In the midst of suffering & death, God is at work bringing about good & eternal life. Lent is a time to renew that hope as we see God at work through the cross of His Son even while we look forward to the resurrection.
Lent is a time to be renewed in our resolve to continue the battle for life in a world of death. For, while it’s true that in the midst of life, we are in death; the cross reminds us that because of Jesus Christ, even in the midst of death, there is also life.
John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Christ. From the wilderness, he called for us to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” (Mark 1:3 ESV) John was preaching a baptism of repentance. At our baptism, God Himself worked that repentance for us. Messiah came to prepare the way & make straight the paths for us to follow Him.
From the wilderness of our lives, from the struggles, from the heartaches, from the anguish & the despair, Jesus is calling to you today. He’s been there Himself, tempted & tested on the path of life in every way that we are.
Years ago there was a Lenten devotion series titled, “Ponder the Path.” One of them concerned the story of Rosh HaShannah. When God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, & Abraham obeyed, then God had mercy. At the last moment Yahweh provided a Ram to take the place of Isaac.
In the feast of Rosh HaShannah, a ram’s horn is used as the trumpet, & the sounding of that trumpet is both a reminder & a call to God’s people. It’s a reminder first of God’s mercy, & then, in light of that mercy; it is a call to repentance. Our Heavenly Father has provided His only begotten Son to take the place of you & me.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31, 37-39 ESV)
When the woes of life o’er take me, hopes deceive, & fears annoy, never shall the cross forsake me; Lo, it glows with peace & joy. Bane & blessing, pain & pleasure by the cross are sanctified; peace is there that knows no measure, joys that through all time abide. Amen. LSB 427:2 & 4.
High Love, Down in the Dust
Ash Wednesday – 2021 LSB #’s 419, 544, 616
Text – Genesis 2:7
Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground & breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…
HIGH LOVE, DOWN IN THE DUST
In the name of Jesus, who with a love as high as the heavens, reaches down to find us, even in the dust. Amen.
Dust & ashes. Ash Wednesday is that day in the church year when many Christians around the world are marked with ashes on their foreheads, “You are dust, & to dust you shall return.” Dust & ashes. This night we begin the church’s holy season of Lent – a time for reflecting on our own brokenness.
Lent is a time for repenting of our sin against others & against God. It is a time for meditating on the suffering & death of Jesus Christ, & for beholding in Jesus, just how much God loves us. These sermons will be exploring the theme of God’s enormous love – the hugeness of His mercy & compassion.
In the OT, when God personally passed before Moses on the mountain, He proclaimed His divine name: “Yahweh, Yahweh, a compassionate & gracious God, slow to anger & abounding in merciful love” (Exodus 34:6).
In the Psalms, the OT worshippers exulted: “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love for those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:11). In the NT, the Apostle Paul marvels that although we & all mankind were “dead in trespasses & sins,” there is hope, because, Paul writes, God is “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4-5 ).
The enormity of God’s love & mercy drove Paul to his knees in prayer, fervently asking that others, too, “might have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth & length & height & depth, & to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…” (Ephesians 3:18–19) That is also my prayer for us, & that will be the focus of our Lenten sermons. We will examine from several angles just how rich, how huge, how deep, how broad, how high, God’s love is, for us, in Christ Jesus.
It has become a cliché, perhaps, an empty-sounding, bumper-sticker slogan. God loves you. Jesus loves you. Yet, there is nothing empty or clichéd about the living God, & the ways in which He has loved us, continues to love us, & will love us forevermore.
Tonight we reflect on God’s high love that reaches down into the dust, literally, to help us. The Scripture text for this Ash Wednesday sermon is from the account of the creation & fall of our 1st parents in the Garden of Eden. Let me read the key sections from Genesis 2 & 3:
“Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground & breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, & the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, & there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight & good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, & the tree of the knowledge of good & evil.”
But after Adam & Eve sin against God by disobeying His commands, their Creator pronounces punishment upon the serpent & the woman. Then, He turns to the man:
“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.”
“The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
And the Lord God made for Adam & for his wife garments of skins & clothed them. Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good & evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand & take also of the tree of life & eat, & live forever – ’ therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, & at the east of the Garden of Eden He placed the cherubim & a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”
So, from handfuls of dust & dirt, God made a living human being, created in the image of God. He took dust, & he breathed into it the breath of life, & that dust became a human, blinking his eyes & opening his mouth in wonder & praise. Due to human rebellion & sin, because of the disobedience of Adam & Eve, you & me, God’s decree is that Adam & every other human must return to the dust & the dirt from which God formed us.
Every one of us will die, must die, unless Jesus returns first. Every one of us will return to dust, or ashes for those who are cremated. Every one of us must return to the ground. It is a vital truth, a central truth of our world & our human race. It’s uncontroversial. It’s pretty self-evident, yet how rare it is to be directly told, “You are dust, & to dust you will return.”
Ash Wednesday is sobering. It’s sobering for parents to see the ashes traced on the foreheads of their children, & to hear those words addressed to them, individually: “Remember you are dust, & to dust you shall return.” However, it is true, & should be sobering for every one of us. Still, this dose of reality summons us to repentance & to joy.
I summons us to joy, because as a Christian, I know Jesus Christ, the mighty Savior who has won for me resurrection & eternal life. Yet those blunt words & these ashes also summon me to repentance. My sin grieves the Holy Trinity. My sin has brought wretchedness & death into God’s once perfect creation, into my own life, & into the lives of others.
Dust & ashes – throughout the Bible, dust & ashes are associated with repentance. Job repented in dust & ashes. The straggling remnant left after Jerusalem was destroyed, sat down on the ground & poured dust on their heads. After listening to Jonah, the king of Nineveh sat down in a pile of ashes. Dust & ashes convey repentance, humility & mourning over sin.
Why dust? Why ashes? Dust & ashes are the stuff of utter destruction, nothingness, & worthlessness. All that stood, all that was built up, all that was seemingly strong & secure or even magnificent, is torn down, burned down, destroyed – undone. Think of the mushrooming cloud of dust & ash from an atomic bomb. Whatever was in its path is now dust & ash. Think of the billowing waves of dust & ash from the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Consider the dusty rubble & ashes of Jerusalem’s charred ruins, when God sent the armies of Babylon against it. That’s what comes of cities, buildings & homes – sooner or later.
And what of the millions of human beings who have preceded us in this world? Where are they now; what has become of them? Kings & queens, butlers & beggars – all of them are dust & ashes. In light of this, in the OT, God called cities & nations to repent, & return to the Lord for mercy. His prophets, such as Isaiah, warned them:
“The high fortifications of …walls [God] will bring down, lay low, & cast to the ground, to the dust” (Isaiah 25:12).
Four chapters later he writes: “You will be brought low; from the dust of the earth you shall speak, & from the dust your speech will be bowed down; your voice shall come from the ground like the voice of a ghost, & from the dust your speech shall whisper” (Isaiah 29:4).
Men had defied God, turned away from their Creator, oppressed others, & exalted themselves. They refused to acknowledge their sin, to humble themselves, or to seek God’s mercy & help. God warned & threatened them to no avail. So, He declared their end – dust & ashes, much like the sentence pronounced on Adam: “You are dust, & to dust you will return.”
This is God’s sober sentence pronounced on us, today: “You are dust, & to dust you will return.” But notice this also, dear friends in Christ. The sober reminder quoted to you on Ash Wednesday is not the full verse from Genesis. Recall what God said to Adam just before this:
“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.” It is true that because of sin, you & I must return to dust, but Yahweh is a God who reaches down into dust & gives life to men. Behold the high, high love of God, reaching down in the dirt on the 6th day of the creation. Behold God’s heart, beating with excitement & joy, as He formed our 1st father. Adam had nothing, was nothing, deserved nothing – he was just dirt. Yet God’s love made him, breathed into him, raised him up from the dust to live under God, to know God, to enjoy God, just as God enjoyed Adam & Eve. And He gave them every good thing, & everything for their good.
Brothers & sisters in Christ, you are dust, & you will return to the dust. But remember that long ago, at the beginning, God took us from the ground & raised us up from the dust. He enlivened us with His divine breath & love. He is still this God for you. He helps His people in any low & desperate situation.
He is the God who heard Hannah’s prayer for a child, & she rejoiced:
“There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you…” (1 Samuel 2:2) “He raises up the poor from the dust; He lifts the needy from the ash heap...” (1 Samuel 2:8)
You are dust, & you will return to dust, but God’s high love will preserve you forever. One day God will again reach down into the dust, into your grave, & He will raise up your body. In love, the Lord will give shape to your dust. In love, He will breathe into your lifeless corpse the breath of life. He’ll reach down & draw you up to share in the joy of Jesus’ resurrection.
We who are dust will share in Jesus’ glory & life, because Jesus set aside His glory & laid down His life, to share in our dust & in our death. The One who, in love, created us from the dust, was Himself crucified & buried because of hate. The One who created us from the dust in love, staggered & fell into the dust, pressed down under the weight of the cross He carried.
The one who created us from the dust in love, hung on that cross in pain & shame & nakedness, covered only in dust & blood. The one who created us from the dust in love, poured out His blood for those who would not know Him. His blood ran down His face, His arms, His sides, His legs, & dripped into the dust below. And from that dust, His blood cries out & speaks out in love, “Father, forgive them, pardon them, restore them, resurrect them, for I have shed my blood for the forgiveness of their sins.” Dear friends, God loves you. His love for you is so high that He reaches down into the dust to save you.
Back in the 1st week of the world, when God scooped up that dirt, He looked ahead to the resurrection. As God scooped up that dirt to form Adam, He knew the day would come when He would do this for Adam again, for all His children – for you. As God scooped up that dirt to form Adam, He also knew what it would cost – the lifeblood of the divine Son.
Behold His great love for you, even then. And so the Father bent down, the Son at His side, creating with Him, reaching into the dirt so that He might have you, that He might help you, that He might love you.
May He grant to you true repentance & full joy in His love, during this season of Lent. May He give you confidence, come what may, that His high love will lift up from the ash heap, & one day raise you again from that dust.
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him... As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. ” (Psalm 103:11, 13-14) Amen.
He sent no angel to our race, of higher or of lower place, but wore the robe of human frame, & to this world Himself He came. For us by wickedness betrayed, for us, in crown of thorns arrayed, He bore the shameful cross & death; for us He gave His dying breath. For us He rose from death again; for us He went on high to reign; for us He sent His Spirit here to guide, to strengthen & to cheer. All glory to our Lord & God for love so deep, so high, so broad; the Trinity whom we adore forever & forevermore. Amen. LSB 544:2, 5-7.
WHEN THE LORD TAKES AWAY
Transfiguration Sunday – B LSB #’s 414, 739, 537
Text – 2 Kings 2:5a
The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha & said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?”
WHEN THE LORD TAKES AWAY
When our neighbors leave their dog home alone, she howls like she’s being tortured with a hot branding iron. I’m sure you’ve also noticed that if a parent leaves their infant or toddler behind the child will often burst out in tears. Older children are saddened when they have to return home after a fun visit with friends or cousins.
Parents grieve at what might be as sons or daughters leave home for military service. Middle-aged men & women grow uneasy as their parents decline in health & move closer to the inevitable reality of death. Regardless of age & circumstance, pets & human beings have difficulty enduring separation.
As Jesus leads three of His inner circle to a mountaintop, to prepare them for His coming death & resurrection, He builds a foundation for hope through His transfiguration. In a location across the Jordan River, & many years prior, despite the pain of separation from Elijah, Elisha received confidence through another spectacular display of God’s presence.
Separation commonly causes painful feelings of loss even as we trust in Jesus to be our Savior from sin & from sorrow. All those feelings of loneliness & loss come from one & the same thing. Man brought all of his misery upon himself through his rejection of God’s Word.
And though Elijah was sent from God to lead Israel back to paradise, his ministry as a prophet was fraught with bitter disappointment & dark despair. At one particularly low point he sat beneath a broom tree & prayed, “…I have had enough, LORD. Take my life…” (1 Kings 19:4)
The disciples of Jesus would endure separation from their Lord & Master as He was
betrayed, tortured & crucified before their very eyes. And they were powerless to stop it. Elisha would endure separation from his teacher & master as God reached down to earth with a whirlwind & ushered Elijah into heaven. His student Elisha was also powerless to stop it.
The Covid pandemic has brought separation into our lives in ways that few of us ever could have imagined. Even 12 months ago, who would have thought that thousands of elderly people would be forced to die alone in nursing homes completely separated from family & loved ones. And those frail & lonely victims were powerless to stop it.
All those separations, & the grieving that goes with them, stem from the very 1st separation in history. In that case man was the instigator as, in fear, he tried to separate himself from his Creator:
“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, & the man & his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8 ESV) It was the human creature that brought separation into every aspect of living & yet, when the Lord takes away whom do we blame?
The prophet Isaiah spells out who is at fault for the pain we feel when separated from the things, the places & the people we love, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your wrongdoings have caused a separation between you & your God…” (Isaiah 59:2 NASB)
The perfect harmony of the Garden of Eden was shattered when Adam & Eve rejected the Word of God as too restrictive. In making the choice to go their own way, they created the separation between themselves & their loving Father. You & I follow in their footsteps whenever we choose to ignore God’s Word.
And when we blame Yahweh for our problems, then too, we are ignoring His Word.
Job, on the other hand, known for the suffering & tragedy that he endured, acknowledged that the Lord has the right to take away from us, because everything we have has come from God in the first place. So, when all of his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, servants & children were taken from him, by theft or by death, here’s what he said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, & naked shall I return. The LORD gave, & the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21 ESV)
Have those been your words since the Covid pandemic arrived? Have those been your words when the people you voted for did not get elected to office? Have those been your words when your health takes a turn for the worse? I know it’s a struggle for me to bless the name of the Lord in my trials, so I can be fairly certain that it’s a struggle for you as well.
In the best case scenario, when the Lord takes away it is a process for us to adjust. In the worst case scenario anger flares out & takes over our thoughts, & our words & our deeds. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, turning to the Lord takes the veil away from our heart so that we can be reconnected to the heavenly Father.
Without turning to the Lord we cannot see & we cannot understand why God allows or even causes separation to come into our lives. Without turning to the Lord we only see separation as afflicting us with loneliness & sorrow. “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, & where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Choosing to reject the Word of God turns us into slaves of sin, death & the Devil. Our sinful nature believes that when the Lord takes away then God is doing us wrong. He’s giving us a raw deal.
The truth is that by rejecting God’s Word Adam set in motion a lifetime of separation, not only from God, but from everyone & from everything that our saintly nature would love. It was our Father in heaven who intervened to offer us another way. Although, because of the damage done by sin, separation is a routine occurrence in this life, it does not have to be the complete & the total reality forever. The Great I Am sent God the Son to endure the ultimate separation in our place, & He did so on the cross.
“And about the 9th hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 26:47 ESV) At that moment in time, God the Father & God the Spirit withdraw their presence & left Jesus on the cross, truly, all alone. At Golgotha, separation became the complete & total reality.
And having endured that separation, Jesus knows firsthand the pain you feel as you endure the separations that sin has caused . When the Lord takes away, He does not do so lightly, but out of necessity & motivated by His unfathomable love for all of His creation. And to reduce, as much as possible, the separations we endure, He gave us His Word.
“And a cloud overshadowed them, & a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.’” (Mark 9:7 ESV) And what Jesus tells us, that we should listen to, is that He will never leave us. The only way we can suffer the eternal separation of hell is by leaving Jesus. Sadly, many people do. For whatever reason, they do not want His love in their lives.
Moses, who endured many separations, wrote, “Be strong & courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV) And when the Lord does take away, He always gives back far more, in quantity or quality, of blessings that last for eternity. Amen.
Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand: I am tired, & I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light. Take my hand, precious Lord; lead me home. When my way grows drear, precious Lord, linger near, when my life is almost gone, hear my cry, hear my call; hold my hand lest I fall. Take my hand, precious Lord; lead me home. Amen. LSB 739:1-2.
 2 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet