I need this...and this...and this...
Midweek 6 LSB #’s 422, 436 v.1; 451
Text – 1 Peter 4:1-2
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
I Need This… & This… & This…
“I thirst.” As we meditate on repentance for Lent, we come to these words of Jesus from the cross. “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch & held it to His mouth..” (John 19:28-29 ESV)
Hearing these words, you can imagine how this sermon might begin. Maybe you expect a literal description of the tortures our Lord endured on the cross & His excruciating thirst. Or you might expect something about a hot day & hard work; something designed to get you to remember what it’s like to be really thirsty.
Instead, I simply have a question. What do you thirst for? What do we thirst for? Am I trying to trap you? You’ve heard enough sermons to guess where this is going. We should not thirst for things. We should not want ‘things.’ But I’m not going there either. This is no trap! I’m taking certain things for granted this evening.
I’m assuming that I’m talking to the Christian church, the bride of Christ, those redeemed by the bloodshed of our Savior on the cross, those whom the NT calls “the body of Christ.” I’m talking to those who know the promise of an end to suffering because Jesus died for us. I’m talking to you. I’m talking to you who fit the description of 1 Peter 4:1-2:
“Since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because He who has suffered in His body is done with sin. As a result He does not live the rest of His earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” In that I hear Peter calling us to “arm” ourselves with the same thinking as Christ. I hear Peter saying we’re done with sin, yet I know we still struggle with it. Tonight, let’s think about ourselves as that body of Christ, as sinners but saved sinners who are already armed with the same manner of thinking as Christ. With that in mind, what do God’s children thirst for?
We thirst for justice, for healing, for an end to suffering. We thirst for a stronger economy, for those without work to find jobs, to provide for their families. We thirst for safety, for disaster victims to get the supplies & protection they need. We thirst for an end to abortion, racism, sin, death & the power of the devil. We have a spiritual thirst!
Now, we’re at the point where the sermon typically turns the corner. I could take a moment to look closer at the Gospel reading. I could point out that St. John lets us know the drink was given to Jesus in order to “fulfill the Scriptures.” We could look back at the verse Jesus fulfilled, Psalm 69:21, “…for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink…”
I could tell you that as God promised a brief release from suffering for Jesus in the form of a drink on the cross, in the same way we can know that God will meet our needs. Pastors are tempted at this point of a sermon to tell you that your thirst will be quenched as well. However, that is not always true, & from experience we know that.
We thirst, & sometimes there is just no relief from it. The financial burden of operating a Lutheran school weighs heavily upon every member of this congregation & the thirst of that budget never seems to be quenched. Sometimes there is no cure for the cancer. At other times the better job never arrives, the house gets foreclosed, or the relationship fails.
It’s like the story we heard last week of the children buried under the rubble in Haiti. Two of them were rescued, but three of them died. And do you remember what Sabrina told reporters? “He asked us for water on Wednesday, on Thursday, on Friday. He finally died of dehydration.” Sometimes we thirst & nothing comes to meet the need. What is there to say to the “Sabrinas” of the world? Sure, we church people have countless phrases to call upon in these situations, phrases we use so often they become meaningless even in our own hearing. Try telling one of those “Gospel clichés” to someone in Sabrina’s shoes. What might she say?
In the face of such horror, as watching a baby brother die of thirst, do I point to a man suffering to death on a cross? That doesn’t make sense. It seems foolishness beyond any comparison! Pastors are supposed to have something to quench the thirst for justice & righteousness, but we don’t, because we are empty just like you. Pastors thirst too.
We sing the 2nd & 3rd verses of “Go to Dark Gethsemane.”
Follow to the judgment hall,
View the Lord of life arraigned;
Oh, the wormwood & the gall!
Oh, the pangs His soul sustained!
Shun not suff’ring, shame, or loss;
Learn from Him to bear the cross.
Calv’ry’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.
I thirst… yet still it is my job to stand here & tell you one of those ‘Gospel clichés’… something like… Jesus lives… That may be what you’re expecting, & at this point, it’s exactly what I am going to do, because it is the most important thing I can do. Jesus lives! It is the only news that can be good in any time of tragedy. Jesus lives!
Is that enough? If this good news – this Gospel – that Jesus lives doesn’t seem like enough, perhaps it’s because we do not realize what we need. Let me say that again. Please hear it. If this good news – this Gospel – that Jesus lives doesn’t seem like enough, perhaps it’s because we don’t realize what we need. Too often we live in the moment. We live in the midst of whatever suffering we are currently in, & cannot see what we really need. We focus all our attention on alleviating the suffering right now. We want to end that suffering.
That man, thirsting on the cross, would come to an end of His suffering. He would die. And when He died He paid for the sin which has brought so much suffering into the world & into our lives. But an end to suffering is not enough. Even if the pain is numbed, the wound remains. What we need is healing, & that is the promise we see in Christ’s resurrection.
Jesus lives! And because He lives, we too shall live. With His resurrection Jesus brings more than an end to our suffering. He brings us the promise of a day where all will be put right. All will be healed. All will be made whole. All the things that hurt us & make us something less than God created us to be will be no more.
There will come a time when death shall be swallowed up & God Himself will wipe every tear away from your eyes. That is our goal. That is what we truly need – not just for the pain to end, but to be healed, to be made whole. To be raised from the dead. That is the hope which keeps us going in the midst of suffering.
That is the certainty which arms us, as St. Peter wrote in the sermon text, with the “same way of thinking as Christ.” But it does not alleviate the suffering here & now. We still thirst. Must we wait with parched throats for this final day? Will our suffering never be alleviated here on earth? Though we may not see or feel it, God is intervening daily.
In countless ways God is giving us tiny sips of water so we can endure throughout this drought. Help may not always come, but because Christ lives we live in hope. Kiki & Sabrina lost three siblings, but they were rescued. In fact, that is one of the reasons why we are here. We are the body of Christ in this hurting & suffering world. We are often the instruments God uses to alleviate suffering, & to bring hope in the here & now, as we wait for the ever after. We are the ones who wipe tears from the eyes of others as we wait for the day when sorrow will end. We bring the sip of water as we wait for the day when the drought will end. We wait for the day when the source of living water – Jesus – will return, & you & I will thirst nevermore.
“Go to Dark Gethsemane,” verse 4.
Early hasten to the tomb
Where they laid His breathless clay;
All is solitude & gloom.
Who has taken Him away?
Christ is ris’n! He meets our eyes.
Savior, teach us so to rise.
We read in Revelation 22:20 that Jesus, who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” That is what all of us truly need. And we reply with a resounding, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Amen.
dead and alive
5th Sunday in Lent – A LSB #’s 905, 847 tune 367, 650
Text – Romans 8:10
But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
DEAD AND ALIVE
Are you able to remember the first time you visited a funeral home? I don’t know what age I was. I don’t remember who had died, but the mood in the room was unlike anything else I had experienced. There was something very different about the way people talked to one another, something unusual about the way people acted – the timid tones & hushed language.
In our culture, death brings a somber atmosphere. It’s like a cloud hanging over the entire room, suffocating any sort of lively or high-spirited behavior. Its power, its finality, its merciless advance into the life of another human being, touches every heart, leaving a trail of sorrow & grief in its wake.
“But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” As St. Paul writes to the church at Rome, he’s telling them that they can be dead & alive at the same time. As children of God, you & I should be able to describe that experience. We live it every day we are here on earth, because Paul is not writing to the dead.
The Holy Spirit was inspiring Paul to write to those who were alive & dead at the same time. That is the life of a child of God in this world. It may not sound all that appealing, because we are constantly being pulled in two directions at once. Yet, it is better than the alternative. Those who are not part of God’s kingdom are just & only dead.
St. Paul wrote about that in his letter to the church at Ephesus: “And you were dead in the trespasses & sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body & the mind, & were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, …because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” (2:1-5 ESV)
As Paul wrote it, that is one long, run on sentence, but it is clear that until God made us alive, we were dead, & only dead. As believers here on earth, we are dead & alive. On the Last Day, when we are raised from physical death, then we will be completely & only alive. In saving us, God moves us from being dead, to being dead & alive, to being only alive.
We don’t think in those terms on a day to day basis, so why does Paul write about this? How does it apply to the challenges you deal with in your life? We can go back to the opening illustration about funeral homes. If the person who died is a believer, there’s no need to be sad for them. Their soul is in paradise with God. Sin no longer torments them.
We may be sad because we miss them, but being dead & alive in paradise is a better deal than being dead & alive here on earth. Paul writes this to the church at Rome because a lot of the believers there were dying under persecution from the Roman government. When a believer endures physical death, Jesus guarantees that it’s not the end of them.
For us here on earth, being dead & alive is a way of describing the struggles we experience because of sin. There is nothing in all of creation that has been left untouched by the ravages of its corruption. Sin makes a mess of everything. In his previous chapter, Paul writes about his experience of that struggle with being dead & alive:
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19 ESV) Concluding, Paul poses a question: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24b ESV) He gives a resounding answer, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a ESV) As children of God that is our answer as well. We experience that struggle of knowing what to do & just not doing it. It’s frustrating & discouraging, but then we see how God works things out anyway.
Because of sin you & I are dead. The good that we want to do we don’t. The evil we do not want to do is what we keep on doing. And yet, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, you & I are alive. The heavenly Father has given us credit for all the good that Jesus has done. He never once failed to do the good that He wanted to do. You & I get the credit for it.
We are dead & alive because, after being brought to faith, we still struggle to believe. We struggle in believing everything that Jesus taught. We struggle in believing that God is working out all things for the good of those who love Him. We struggle in believing that the blessings given to us by God will never run out. We struggle to give as God gives to us.
Those struggles are ways in which we experience the death that Adam & Eve brought into God’s creation. After the Fall into sin God put into effect His plan to rescue us from that death. We then experience being alive when any particular burden of guilt is lifted from our shoulders. Receiving forgiveness brings us life & salvation.
We also experience being alive as we realize that something good happening to us is too much of a coincidence to be just a coincidence. Every now & then, God just lines things up & makes it happen. Each of us has personal stories to tell revealing God’s custom designed blessing even in the brokenness of this world.
So, what does God want us to learn from Romans 8 this morning as He tells us that we are dead & alive? First, God wants us to know that He knows what our struggles, trials & sorrows are like as we live in a sinful world. Jesus lived in this world with far fewer conveniences than we can imagine. Jesus knows what hopelessness looks like. It’s a type of death, resulting from sin, that brings on depression & despair. St. Paul writes about being dead & alive so we understand that God knows what that death is like.
Second, God tells us we are dead & alive so we realize that He does not leave us in death. The Creator who brought us into being out of nothing has brought us back to life. He sustains us in that life & one day He will completely remove death from us. Jesus was raised from the dead in order to begin the new creation that will never die.
Right now, we are simultaneously 100% saint & 100% sinner & we are constantly torn between the two. Both words, dead & alive, are descriptive of believers here on earth. We experience the limitations of this body & flesh, yet, as such, we still have opportunities to be God’s hands & feet amongst His creation. We are dead & alive.
On the Last Day, when our bodies are raised from the dead, they will be raised as part of the new creation that will never die. Then, we will be completely & only alive – no more death, no more struggle, no more sorrow. Then, you & I will only do good, & we will never do evil. There will be nothing more of this dead & alive, nothing more of this saint & sinner.
We could say that, on the cross, Jesus killed death, & with His resurrection He re-created life. As we heard Jesus say in the Gospel reading, “I am the resurrection & the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25 ESV) And we live because the Holy Spirit is alive within us to direct & to strengthen our daily walk with God.
That walk may be one of struggle & sorrow. It may be a walk of pleasure & joy. The circumstances change, but Jesus is the same, yesterday, today & forever. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He knows how desperately we need His help. Jesus knows that, as sinners, we need a new identity. In baptism Christ gives us that new identity & makes us alive. When we die, there will be no more temptation & sin, no more doubts & struggles, but until the resurrection, our body will be suffering the effects of sin, whether we are buried or cremated, our flesh will still be dead. At the final resurrection, no more corruption at all. No more being dead & alive. No more timid tones & hushed language of the funeral home.
“…the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin & death.” (Romans 8:2 ESV) Whenever we are struggling in this world, that verse is a good antidote to bring to mind. Even when, or especially when, we’re at a funeral home & processing our grief, in Christ we are still & even then free from the law of sin & death.
In this life, because we are dead & alive, we will never finish learning that lesson, but on the day that Jesus calls us home, we can rest in the fact that Jesus aced the exam for us. Amen.
Hear the word that Christ has spoken, help the weak, the hungry feed; see the powers of darkness broken, sinners pardoned, captives freed: Christ the Savior, Christ the Servant, help us meet our neighbor’s need. Come, O living Christ, renew us, as of old in wind & flame; with the Spirit’s power endue us, servants of Your saving name: Christ the Savior, Christ the Servant, Christ whose kingdom we proclaim. Amen. LSB 847:2, 4.
Midweek 5 LSB #731
Text – 1 Peter 1:6
Now for a little time you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
I Can’t Believe in a God who Would…
“You would destroy the temple & rebuild it in three days, save yourself, & come down from the cross!” The words of those who passed by cut deeper each time. Crowds had once hung on His every word. Now these onlookers had turned on Him in a most vicious manner. The chief priests & scribes pointed out the utter folly of this ‘Son of God.’
“He saved others. He cannot save Himself! Let this Christ, the King of Israel, come down from the cross that we may see & believe!” As if it couldn’t get any worse, then the criminals being crucified on either side joined in the fun, mocking Him as well. Jesus hung there, suspended between earth & heaven, utterly alone.
His followers fled into the darkness the night before, & except for His mother, the two Marys, & John, all His people seemed to have turned against Him. Even the midday sky closed itself to Him. The clouds were thick & the sun was nowhere to be found. All He saw was darkness. Desperately Jesus gazed into the abyss & cried:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His cry echoed into the darkness – unreturned. How could His Father leave Him like this? How could He trust in a God who would abandon Him in His time of greatest need?
On January 12, 2010, Odinel, a mother of six, was preparing rice & beans for the family dinner. One of her children was playing outside while the rest were inside their ground floor apartment doing homework. One moment, it was a day like every other – the next moment, the world itself shook with great convulsions.
An earthquake brought the six-story building crashing down upon them in a few
moments of chaos. Stunned & confused, Odinel was able to compose herself & dig free, but she feared the fate of her five children who’d been inside with her: “I was screaming out for the children as I threw pieces of concrete off me but heard nothing. I could see layers of concrete lying on the spot where [they] had been doing homework. I was sure they were dead.”
The silence Odinel faced was deafening. She could never move that amount of concrete rubble by herself, & with everyone else scrambling for their survival, this mother faced the harsh reality that her children were dead or very soon to be. In a matter of moments, five of her precious children were violently snatched from her motherly embrace.
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck 16 miles west of Haiti’s capital city, killing an estimated 300,000 people, once again left people staring into the abyss. The reality is this – the world is a dark, dark place. When we aren’t entertaining or distracting ourselves into a dazed stupor, we are pressed by the brutality of this world on many different sides.
From everyday struggles & frustrations to wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, broken families, lost jobs, tragic car accidents & long battles against disease; in those moments we come face to face with our utter helplessness. We cry out to anyone for help! Where are the answers? Especially we pray to God, time after time, but what do we get for our prayers?
Often it’s the same thing that Jesus got – silence! How many Christians have prayed to be delivered from the clutches of cancer or other terrible illness to no avail? Sure one or two make it against the odds, but what about the rest? How often do people cry to God over broken relationships? How many people cry out of the despair of unemployment?
Does God ever hear? Is He even real? Did He ignore the cries of the 300,000 people killed in Haiti’s earthquake, or those killed by violent criminals, or by fentanyl poisoning? Is God dead? PAUSE As the dark clouds swirled over the head of Jesus, He faced His greatest trial. Everything He stood for hung in the balance. In a matter of hours He’d be dead, & already He had been shamed, humiliated, discredited. Everyone around Jesus had reason to abandon faith in Him, because the pressure to despair was enormous.
What good was it for Him to patiently wait? What could He possibly be waiting for as death reached out to embrace Him? How could this be the arrival of God’s kingdom that He’d so forcefully preached? How could He be Messiah & the long-awaited King of Israel? Had He been mistaken? Now was the time to own that! Now was the time to give up!
No one could fault Him for it! But stubbornly, defiantly, Jesus pressed onward. He did the unthinkable – He resolved Himself to wait patiently on His Father in heaven. He refused to give up hope that God’s kingdom was at hand. He did not fight to bring Himself down from that cross. He did not call an army of angels to intervene. Not once did He curse God.
Following the way of love, He persisted till the end & refused to back down. He would not be deterred; He threw Himself headlong into the destructive path of death itself. To the despair of those who stayed & watched – death did not yield. It also pushed forward unwaveringly, crushing this Jesus under its weight.
Under six stories of broken building, seven-year-old Kiki, his ten-year-old sister Sabrina, & their little brother were buried alive. Tucked away in a small pocket in the concrete rubble with the corpses of their other two siblings, these three had amazingly been spared from a crushing death. But now they were trapped – alone, hungry, thirsty & weak.
The days passed & there was no sign that rescue would come. They heard no one calling for them or digging to set them free. Kiki & Sabrina’s little brother cried out to them, begging for water, but they had none. He asked for water on Wednesday… on Thursday… on Friday. They were helpless to save him. Fatigued & dehydrated, he died of thirst in their arms. Surrounded by the decaying bodies of their brothers & sisters, Kiki & Sabrina clung to each other & waited. Though it would’ve been easy to simply surrender in despair, slipping into death, they continued to hope beyond all hope that they would be rescued. They found their solace in one another, strengthened by the fact that they were not alone.
In this world death also stands on our doorstep – diseases, disasters of every sort, wars & violence rage all around threatening to tear your life apart. Will you continue to look to God in hope or will you walk away in despair? Alone, eventually you will fall into despair, but with others there is a chance for hope.
Like Kiki & Sabrina, it is important that you & I face the harshness of reality in the company of one another. If you & I try to go it alone, we will not make it – we simply are not strong enough. God has given us a community of brothers & sisters that we might build each other up & strengthen each other in the face of the world’s darkness.
Peter’s 1st letter was written to Christians facing persecution, people who were being tempted to give up on God. He wrote:
“…now for a little time you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise & glory & honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1:6-7) Peter wrote those words to Christian communities, not to individuals.
He wrote about facing despair as part of a community in Christ. Without community gathered around the cross the task ahead would be too much. When you & I stare death & despair in the face, we need each other. A hymn writer put it this way: “When all things seem against us, to drive us to despair, we know one gate is open, one ear will hear our prayer.”
On Friday they laid Jesus’ body in the tomb. He’d stared into the abyss & it swallowed
Him up. It looked like the kingdom He preached never came. Now He was just another dead Messiah – a failure. Scoffers said His trust in a god who would let Him face rejection, suffering & crucifixion was a joke. How, they ridiculed, could He have thought that such a god was real?
His god had been too late. His trust had been in vain. In a world where the strong conquer, He had been weak. In a world where wisdom rules, He had been a fool. In a world where death had the final say – Jesus was dead. This dark & unforgiving world once again asserted its strength.
But as it pressed down relentlessly on this weak & seemingly foolish Jesus, its iron grip began to slip. On Sunday morning, it was the way of the world that was shown to be a fraud. The world that everyone thought they knew was completely turned on its head. Jesus, this crucified failure, was bodily raised to life!
His foolishness proved to be true wisdom. His weakness, true strength! Everything the world thought it had figured out began to crumble in a pile of rubble.
A week after the disaster, Kiki & Sabrina’s aunt, Devinal, returned to the family’s apartment to look for belongings. As she looked through the rubble she heard what sounded like muffled cries. Immediately she began to dig with a crowbar. Amazingly, a team of 20 American rescue workers from New York & Virginia stumbled onto the scene. They moved in to help.
They began to dig. After four hours of digging & cutting through five layers of crushed concrete they came upon Kiki. Huddled next to the corpse of one of his siblings they were able to pull him free. Then they released Sabrina who was trapped behind a metal chair.
After eight grueling days without food or water the two children were reunited with their mother amidst tears & laughter. Their foolish hope was answered, & a small window into another world was revealed. It was a view into a world where Jesus lives & reigns with the Father & the Holy Spirit, one God, now & forever. In the story of Kiki & Sabrina, in countless others throughout the world, we are shown that our natural understanding of what is wise or foolish, strong or weak, has been turned upside down in Jesus Christ, the Crucified. The insignificant & humble ways of faith, hope & love are shown in Him to be God’s way.
The dark world around us continues to mock our foolish hope, but our assurance is that the outcome of faith in Jesus is nothing short of true rescue on the other side of death. “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him & rejoice with joy that is inexpressible & filled with glory.” (1 Peter 1:8 ESV)
Though you do not see God, you know you will be saved from the evil grasp of a world of disease, disaster & war. Cling to God in all things & you’ll be raised from the dead, just like Jesus! As you lie on your deathbed, & even in the days between now & then, you can be certain that your God, the God of Jesus, will act on the other side of death, the other side of the abyss.
The eyes of faith, given by the Spirit of Jesus, reveal that the true God of this world is found in the midst of the fearful abyss – our God resides in the crucified Messiah. You’d be a fool to believe in a God like that, a God you cannot see, a God on the other side of death! You would be a fool – just like Jesus.
“…you believe in Him & rejoice with joy that is inexpressible & filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your soul.” (1 Peter 1:8-9 ESV) Amen.
O God, forsake me not! Take not Your Spirit from me; do not permit the might of sin to overcome me. Increase my feeble faith, which You alone have wrought. O be my strength & power – O God forsake me not! Amen. LSB 731:2.
4th Sunday in Lent – A LSB #’s 744, 545, 849
Text – John 9:39
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, & those who see may become blind.”
One reaction is to take pity. Another is to wonder whose fault it is. That’s how human beings tend to respond when we see suffering. Was it a car accident, or cancer, or a stroke? Were they a smoker, or have they been drinking too much? In the Gospel reading, Jesus passes by a man who was born blind. His disciples ask, “Who sinned – this man or his parents?”
Human beings love to find fault. Who should we blame? The Gospel reading highlights a few examples. The disciples wonder if they should blame the blind man or his parents. The Pharisees blame Jesus for violating their law by healing on the Sabbath. They blame the man who was blind for being born in utter sin.
The blame game is an easy trap to fall into. Adam & Eve had it down pat the moment they sinned. Eve blamed the serpent. Adam blamed Eve & their Creator. It’s difficult enough to accept the blame for our sins. Jesus does not lower the bar. He gives an answer that can be even more difficult to accept:
“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3 ESV) That’s not a blanket statement which can be applied in every instance of suffering. Yet in this particular situation Jesus clearly makes the point that this man’s blindness was for the purpose “that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
As believers, we are all for the works of God being displayed. In fact, a survey would probably show we’d like to see a lot more of it. As one Collect says, from the season of Advent, “Stir up Your power, O Lord…” We’re just not very comfortable with the thought that it might be our suffering that provides God those opportunities. The man who was healed of his blindness had his time of suffering brought to a close. In spite of the ruckus caused by the Pharisees, his healing brought great joy to him. The Pharisees, on the other hand, are the ones who now begin facing the prospect, in their own eyes, of suffering.
This new Rabbi, who’s appeared on the scene, is attacking the very foundation of their religion & their livelihood. By undermining their laws against working on the Sabbath, He is destroying their credibility. Their religion, & Jesus, cannot stand side by side. One, or the other, will be destroyed. The Pharisees will decide to destroy Jesus.
They were unwilling to suffer through the wholesale revision of their religion. They reject the teachings of Jesus at every turn. They refuse to acknowledge that He is working miracles which only God Himself could work. When the man who used to be blind confesses faith in Jesus, Jesus summarized what happened:
“‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, & those who see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near Him heard these things, & said to Him, ‘Are we also blind?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains.’” (John 9:39-41 ESV)
One of the works of God being displayed in this event is obvious. A blind mind receives his sight physically & also spiritually. Another work is the revelation of what happens when a person refuses to receive the gifts of God. Even though the Pharisees were leaders in the Jewish faith, their refusal to accept Jesus as God was causing them to become blind spiritually.
The religion of the Pharisees was no longer the teaching that God gave to Moses in the first five books of the OT. Whereas Moses taught trusting in the mercy & grace of God, by the time Jesus was born, the Pharisees were teaching that they could make up for their defects in fulfilling the law. They did that, as righteous people, through their sufferings, & they considered themselves righteous by virtue of the fact that they were biological descendants of Abraham. For example, blindness was considered to be a disease & all disease was regarded as punishment for some transgression.
Thus, the disciples’ question, “…who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 ESV) They believed that all sin incurs earthly & eternal punishment unless it is made good by atonement. Atonement was made chiefly by good works & repentance – the main expression of which was fasting & by suffering.
Jesus’ disciples had a lot to unlearn. That unlearning was one of the works of God being displayed through the man who was born blind so that he could be healed by Jesus. This event confronted the Pharisees & the disciples with an opportunity to learn the truth from God’s Son. Forgiveness is earned & atonement is made for us, by Messiah as He dies on the cross.
It’s ironic that the Pharisees believed suffering would make atonement for their sins. Yet, when the opportunity came to suffer – the loss of their power of prestige – they refused & had Messiah suffer & be crucified instead. His very suffering & crucifixion made perfect atonement for all of their sins, but they refused to receive that gift which Jesus offered.
The man born blind was gaining sight. The Pharisees, born with sight, were losing it. They were becoming blind because they refused to see. Jesus performed a miracle & they acted like it didn’t happen. The purpose of Jesus’ appearance was to blind unbelievers hoping that they would then recognize their condition & turn to Him for healing.
Peter experienced that firsthand after Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed. Still, Peter denied Christ & when the rooster crowed, & Jesus looked at Peter, Peter went out & wept bitterly. Peter recognized his condition & once Jesus was resurrected, Peter turned to Jesus for healing. Acknowledging our sin, & our blindness, allows God to bring sight into our lives. This morning, the uncomfortable point of the law for you is this, “Are you blind, or can you see?” Think carefully about that question & remember these words:
“Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains.’” Whenever we begin to believe that we have our religious life all tied up in a neat little box, it’s wise to keep at least one eye open. God may be coming for us to prove that we are blind so that we can return to Him & see.
That tendency to believe that I can see, is why we speak words like these here in God’s house, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins & iniquities… But I am heartily sorry for them & sincerely repent of them…” (LSB p. 213) When spoken from the heart, those words express our blindness & our desire that God, once again, restore our sight.
As God said in the OT reading from Isaiah, “I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them.” (42:16a ESV) Jesus came to fulfill that prophecy in the events of John 9, but also in your life & in mine.
Whatever suffering we endure in this life, even if it is our fault, can be used by our merciful Father to display His works. And His works in this life are not to condemn the world, but to save it. The blind man was encountered by Jesus that he might be saved. Jesus is looking to encounter you this morning, not just in your joys, but in your sorrows as well. Amen.
Word eternal, throned on high, Word that brought to life creation, Word that came from heaven to die, crucified for our salvation, saving Word, the world restoring, speak to us, Your love outpouring. Word that caused blind eyes to see, speak & heal our mortal blindness; deaf we are: our healer be; loose our tongues to tell Your kindness. Be our Word in pity spoken, heal the world, by sin now broken. Amen. LSB 545:2-3.
sitting beside the well
3rd Sunday in Lent – A LSB #’s 421:1-2, 4; 699, 435
Text – John 4:6a
Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as He was from his journey, was sitting beside the well.
SITTING BESIDE THE WELL
The pastor is going down the line at the communion rail. He comes to a mother with two children & since this is pre-Covid, he actually puts his hand on the head of each child to give a blessing. Then, he places his hand on the mother’s stomach & blesses the child in the womb. Except, the woman was not pregnant.
I hope that’s an apocryphal story with no basis in fact, but you can understand what an awkward moment that would be. It’s an awkward moment, in the Gospel of John, when the Samaritan woman arrives at the well. A Jewish man is sitting there & he speaks to her. Even worse, he asks her to give him a drink. He seems oblivious to the cultural & religious taboos.
The woman tries to alert him to the issues, but he ignores them & pushes forward with the conversation. You & I have experienced those moments as well. They are uncomfortable because of the conflicting thoughts going on in our mind. The cultural or religious norms tell us how things should go, yet the reality we face is entirely different.
When those awkward moments occur, wanting to just get away is a common feeling. You may experience that as you’re walking around the downtown area of a city & a panhandler approaches. I’ve experienced it in nursing homes as dementia patients reach out to me in the hallways. Politeness says I should respond. Experience tells me who knows what will happen.
Where my mom was staying the last few years of her life, I responded to one patient by saying hello & shaking his hand. He almost broke my thumb. After those awkward moments occur, we are normally left wondering, “What was I supposed to do?” & “I hope that doesn’t happen again.” Yet, because Jesus is involved with this awkward incident at the well, the Samaritan woman is left with a feeling of joy & amazement. The end result of this encounter comes after the Gospel lesson, but the woman returns to her town & said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” Notice that she doesn’t get preachy or tell them what to believe. She simply asks the question that was left on her mind.
When we encounter those awkward moments in our lives that is probably a good strategy for us to follow as well. Invite other people into the conversation that is going on in your mind. In the case of the Samaritan woman at the well, that’s what she did:
“Many Samaritans from that town believed in [Jesus] because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, & He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, & we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’” (John 4:39-42 ESV)
Yes, the awkward moments of life make us uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean we should be afraid of them. They might even be moments that God prepared in advance, for us to walk in them. Jesus was exhausted from His travels & sat down beside a well to rest. From that desire to rest, many people came to believe in Jesus as Savior, people we will meet someday.
The Samaritan woman had been married five times & when she meets Jesus she’s living with another man outside of marriage. We can imagine that she’s been hurt & hardened by all those failed relationships. On top of that, she was trapped spiritually by the false understanding of Messiah, & of worship, which the Samaritans operated with.
She came to the well with a thirst for literal water, but that was not all. Like Jesus, she was exhausted from her journey to the well, but her exhaustion involved the entirety of her life apart from God’s Holy Spirit. She was trudging through this sinful world without the peace of mind & forgiveness that a relationship with the Savior would bring to her.
All human beings need water, even more than food, in order to have physical life.
However, without the living water, as Jesus describes, there is not life at all. That living water is the Holy Spirit that comes to us in our baptism. In the Gospel reading, Jesus’ life-giving words bring with them the life-giving water & gift of the Holy Spirit to the Samaritan woman. Upon coming to life spiritually, she immediately begins to overflow that water by telling others.
That effect is described later in John’s Gospel: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up & cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me & drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”’” (7:37-38 ESV) In other words, as God blesses us, those blessings overflow to the people around us.
When Jesus arrives at the well, He is exhausted, yet He reaches out to this Samaritan woman who needs to be restored to true life in relationship with her Creator. She listens & she receives the gift that her Savior offers to her. Maybe without even realizing it, she had been longing for a more hopeful future than she was living. Jesus gave it to her & she believed.
All of us, deep down, thirst for things to be made new & right. Even the unbelieving world is longing for that, but they refuse to receive the solution that Jesus paid for with His life. They search for their own solutions in all the wrong things & in all the wrong places. It doesn’t take long & the world’s solutions bring even more weariness & exhaustion.
When we think of Jesus, & what the Bible tells us about Him, what normally comes to mind are all the things that He was constantly doing – preaching, teaching & healing. Jesus performed many miracles, so we don’t typically think of Him as a lollygagger, sitting down on the job, doing nothing.
We also know how Martha was really disappointed in Mary. Martha was doing all the work & her sister was sitting down on the job – not helping Martha at all. You know how that went. Martha ended up being scolded by Jesus & Mary was the one to whom He gave credit for
doing the most important thing, listening to the Words of God’s Son. Before the gift of the Spirit, the Samaritan woman only sees life in terms of her ancestors’ link to Jacob, Joseph & the blessed well. After the gift of the Spirit, the Samaritan woman sees her life in terms of a more lasting & even eternal ancestry – her relationship with Yahweh through His Son Jesus.
Before the gift of living water, she sees devotion to God in terms of a particular holy place (Mount Gerizim). After, she sees devotion to God in terms of faith in Jesus, God’s “truth,” which amounts to worship “in the Spirit.” Since Jesus is God’s temple & presence, one looks for God neither on Mt. Gerizim nor in Jerusalem. Instead, one looks to His Son & Messiah.
Before, we are invited, along with Jesus’ disciples, to see the Samaritan woman’s life as one of limitations, disappointments, failures, & sins. After, we are invited to see the work of God in the life of a suffering outsider & to celebrate her new life in Jesus, as well as the extension of that life through the woman’s bold witness to her countrymen.
Her soul now thirsts for the living God, & desires to become clean. When the sinner, in whom the Lord is working, recognizes total personal unworthiness & corruption, the question becomes so much more active; “Where can I find a gracious Lord?” In the life of the Samaritan woman, Jesus was waiting for her at the well. Jesus is waiting for you here today!
As we prayed earlier, in the collect: “O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy, be gracious to all who have gone astray from Your ways & bring them again with penitent hearts & steadfast faith to embrace & hold fast the unchangeable truth of Your Word.”
The next time an awkward moment arises in your life, at least consider the fact that Jesus might have prepared that moment in advance just for you. Amen.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto Me & rest; lay down, thou weary one, lay down thy head upon My breast.” I came to Jesus as I was, so weary, worn & sad; I found in Him a resting place, & He has made me glad. I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Behold, I freely give the living water; thirsty one, stoop down & drink & live.” I came to Jesus, & I drank of that life-giving stream; my thirst was quenched, my soul revived, & now I live in Him. Amen. LSB 699:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet