9th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 12) LSB #’s 909 tune 367, 646 tune 338, 573
Text – Deuteronomy 7:6
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
HIS TREASURED POSSESSION
There are quite a few Americans who love to go hunting at garage sales, & the price they are willing to pay for an item tells you what they think it is worth. Offering a dollar for one item and $50 for another tells you the relative value they are placing on each object. What value does God place upon the people He is calling to Himself? That is the point of this sermon.
A lot of people in our country take very poor care of themselves as evidenced by any number of statistics. Between 2019 & 2021, the average life expectancy for U.S. males declined by three years. In the 20 years from 2000 to 2020, the % of Americans who were considered obese rose from 30.5% to 41.9%.
How well a person cares for themselves can reveal the relative value they place upon their life. Many people who are addicted to a substance or a behavior place low value on their ability to lead productive & useful lives. Rather than fighting the good fight of following Jesus they simply take the broad & easy road that leads to destruction. (Matthew 7:13)
When God sent Moses to rescue the Israelites from being enslaved in Egypt, that adult generation was unwilling to put their trust in God. All across the wilderness they complained against Moses & against Yahweh. Nothing God provided was good enough for them. When He offered to take them into the Promised Land they refused.
Apparently, all those years of enslavement, gave them an inferiority complex. They placed little value upon their ability to receive the Lord’s blessing. Finally, all but Joshua & Caleb were buried in the wilderness outside the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy, Moses reviews the entire 40-year history for the new generation that did value their willingness to receive God’s promises & His blessing. He is sharing with them what God considers to be their value. In Hebrew, they are Yahweh’s segullah; in English – His treasured possession. This parallels the Gospel reading where Jesus teaches that the kingdom of heaven is like treasure.
As with the ancient Israelites, God’s children are the treasure, or the pearl of great value. However, we are not the treasure or the pearl on our own. We are only that because God calls this treasure into being, just as Jesus called the dead man back to life when He said, “Lazarus, come out!” Today, Jesus calls us into being His treasure, through His Word & through Baptism.
Those who respond with the faith that Jesus gives, they come to life & become the very segullah of God. They are of tremendous value, not because of anything they do, nor because of any evil that they do not do. Those children are of tremendous value for a reason that each one of you should be able to answer. Someone died in order that you may live.
The heavenly Father was willing to pay a far greater price at Satan’s garage sale than anyone could have imagined. Judas betrayed his Rabbi for 30 pieces of silver, but Jesus was willing to give His life for you. Even Jesus’ own disciples could not believe the price that their Master was willing to pay. As Peter once said:
“Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Jesus turned to Peter & replied, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:22-23 ESV) Where is your mind this morning? Is it on the things of God? Where was your mind yesterday, & the day before that?
Have you been recognizing the value that your life has to the heavenly Father? Do you live as if you are His segullah? Or do you live as if you’re on the one dollar table at a local garage sale? Do you abuse the blessing of God? In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is challenging us by saying, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God.” (7:6a ESV) He’s not saying there that we never sin. That’s generally what we think of when we hear the word holy. The root definition of the word simply means something is set aside, or consecrated, for a special purpose. For example, we only, ever use the chalice for serving communion. It is holy.
You are holy, because God the Father has chosen you, & set you aside, to be His segullah! But quite unlike the communion chalice, God has called you to be His treasure every day of the week & every day of the year. All of us abuse the blessing of God. We live as if we are on the one dollar table at a local garage sale, & still our Lord forgives us each & every day.
Martin Luther taught that every time we wake up, the 1st thing God’s children should do is to remember their baptism, because that is where you & I know for certain that Yahweh Himself called us to be His treasure, His pearl of great price. If we remember the tremendous value that our Creator has placed upon us it will have a positive effect on how we live our lives.
A now infamous U.S. senator was reflecting upon his recent 6-week hospitalization for depression: “I don’t even like me. That’s the truth.” Whatever his religious leanings may be, it seems that he has not bought into the tremendous value that God placed upon him when Jesus died for his sins on the cross. The senator is struggling to manage his emotions.
Low self-esteem is a common scapegoat for why people cause trouble. Psychology, as practiced by unbelievers, comes up with a solution that is completely on the wrong path to actual healing. It evaluates the worth of people by what they do or by what they leave undone. God places value on people based upon what Jesus has done.
God’s path to healing removes emotions from the equation. In His design our emotions are not allowed to determine our value. God did that in the perfect life, death & resurrection of Jesus. How we feel about ourselves, & about others, is not what determines value in our Creator’s plan. Even what we do, or don’t do, with our lives, does not determine our value. Jesus has set us free from the chains of sin & from all the emotional destruction that it causes. Yet, that does not mean that our emotions are bad. God simply recognizes that they too have been corrupted by sin. Yahweh is not held hostage by our feelings.
Our frustrations & our anger do not determine our eternal fate. Happiness does not need to be the god that we or our family members serve. Self esteem & self confidence are idols that Satan loves to set before us because he knows that our ‘self’ will always fall short of being content or at peace. Chasing that goal never leads to satisfaction.
Our heart, mind & soul all can find rest in what Jesus has done. In this life our happy moments do not last forever, but we needn’t wallow in sadness when they end. Likewise, our suffering will not last forever, so we needn’t wallow in despair while it does. Nowhere does the Word of God say that fending off despair will be easy, but it assures us that it will not last.
Of course, God’s Word comes from an eternal perspective, & for now we can only see that dimly even as we live in Christ. This OT reading is but a snippet of a sermon by Moses, before the people are to enter the Promised Land. It is instructive for us as we await the day when you & I will enter the true & eternal Promised Land.
In the larger picture, this sermon of Moses also warns against responding to God’s offer of salvation with complacency. It warns against failure to remain connected to the Vine, which is Christ. Yet the good news overrides those warnings as the Gospel lesson demonstrates that God will pay whatever it costs to claim us as His segullah, His treasure.
Our character has nothing to do with God’s choice or declaration of righteousness. Instead, it was God’s character of love & faithfulness which drove His choice of Israel. It is God’s character of love & faithfulness which drives His choice of you. It is a remarkably consistent message throughout the Bible, all the way down to Mary, as St. Luke wrote, “Mary treasured up all these things about Jesus in her heart. (2:19) God chose Mary as His treasured possession. In a response of faith, Mary treasured the fact that God had chosen her, & Mary treasured her son who would also be her Savior.
The news that God desires all human beings to be saved is the only news that can change the stubborn & unregenerate hearts of sinners like us. The Law can show us our sin but it is powerless to change us.
In the text from Deuteronomy, Moses is encouraging the people for the coming challenges they will face even in the Promised Land: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
That is the news God wants us to build our life upon. In fact, it is the only news upon which any true life can be built. As one of the Psalms tells us, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice & be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24 ESV) Amen.
Church of God, elect & glorious, holy nation, chosen race; called as God’s own special people, royal priests & heirs of grace: know the purpose of your calling, show to all His mighty deeds; tell of love that knows no limits, grace that meets all human needs. God has called you out of darkness into His most marvelous light; brought His truth to life within you, turned your blindness into sight. Let your light so shine around you that God’s name is glorified & all find fresh hope & purpose in Christ Jesus crucified. Amen. LSB 646:1-2.
8th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 11) LSB #’s 904, 650, 981:1-4, 7
Text – Romans 8:26
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
GROANING FOR WORDS
Something as simple as talking with God can be turned into a hot mess by sinful creatures. It is one of our heavenly Father’s greatest desires that you & I turn to Him in times of trouble. However, it is one of our greatest sinful desires to never be dependent upon someone else’s mercy. In the text for this sermon, St. Paul acknowledges how far sin has corrupted us:
“For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Prior to the fall into sin, mankind was in perfect harmony & communication with our Creator. After the fall, we don’t even know what to pray for as we ought. At best it is a challenge for you & me to get in touch with the heart of God.
At worst, we’re taught that prayer is a means of manipulating God’s response to our every desire. As Paul writes to the church at Rome, which is under tremendous pressure from a pagan government, he wants to encourage them that prayer brings powerful results. Yet, those results are never due to our expertise, but due to the power & wisdom of a God who is love.
As a pastor, I get asked to say a lot of prayers. That’s not surprising or in any way inappropriate. However, there are times when I wonder if it would be better for the person making the request to bring themselves to pray instead. My prayers are not better than yours, & God is not more likely to give you what you want just because I am saying the prayer.
Every child of God should feel comfortable turning to the heavenly Father in prayer even while God has called pastors to intercede on behalf of His people. Trying to put things back into balance between those two designs, I like to use humor. I’ve told the story that, as a pastor, sometimes I feel like people treat me as the prayer genie. Instead of rubbing Aladdin’s lamp, you just rub my bald head & three prayers pop out. Now, God does have a sense of humor & there can be laughter involved with our prayers. Remember, prayer is simply heart to heart communication with our Creator. Still many of our prayers have little to do with humor.
Often, when we’re so distraught that we are literally unable to pray that’s when we most need heart to heart communication with God. It is times like those that the Apostle Paul is writing of in this letter to a church suffering under the devil’s persecution. As such, you & I have a great deal in common with the Roman Christians way back in the 1st century.
Satan persecutes in many ways. For one, the Judeo Christian values that our nation was founded on are under attack as never before, because now the greatest attacks are not from outside our nation. They are from the inside. During WWII, the Nazis & fascists of Europe declared war upon our nation. Today, groups from within are seeking to cancel our values.
Hard work is no longer honored. Truth is no longer respected. Arrogance & pride are held up as virtues. As we encounter those attacks on the values that our Creator has given to us we discover how weak we are to battle against the attacks. The burdens they impose upon us can be so complicated & exhausting that we have no idea how to pray.
In March of this year, a former student went back to a Christian school she had attended. She shot her way into the building & then killed three adults & three children, before the police were able to stop her. The investigation revealed that the killer calculated & planned the attack. You don’t need to be told in order to imagine the anguish & pain caused by that attack.
“For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26b ESV) In his letter to the church at Rome, there is no doubt that Paul was writing to believers who had endured events causing similar anguish & pain. People on the lower rungs of society paid a very high price for the Pax Romana – the peace of Rome. Satan always makes sure that people on the lower rungs of any society pay the highest price for the peace of the well-connected & the wealthy.
In the Christian Church of Paul’s day, it was those suffering people on the lower rungs who flocked to the Church for the comfort of Jesus Christ. That solace could be found nowhere else. Jesus is very God of very God yet He completely knows & understands all the suffering that every human being has ever endured.
No god, that any human being has invented, becomes one of his creation in order to suffer & die along with us & for us. No god, that human beings invent, loves so much what is clearly inferior to him. Still, the people who are rejecting the true God, & His design, are broken & hurting, just like you & I, even if they deal with that in a harmful manner.
The shooter in Nashville would have found comfort & acceptance in Jesus Christ, if she had actually surrendered to Him. Jesus knew all her sorrows & pain. He sends the Holy Spirit to intercede for us with groanings too deep for words, because sin has grievously harmed every single human being on earth. We are so broken that often we have no idea how to pray.
Our heavenly Father is well aware of that & never refuses our petition because we didn’t pray in the ‘correct’ manner. He knows our needs & our suffering before we ask. The question is, do we seek His help in humility, or do we demand His help from arrogance & pride? If you’re afraid of praying out loud, in a group, it might be that pride is the cause.
Jesus never rejects our heart felt plea even when we fall flat on our face in offering it. The Spirit helping us in our weakness is pictured in Romans by an image of the Spirit shouldering the burdens which our weaknesses impose upon us – even if that weakness is pride & arrogance. Christ suffered & died for all of our sins. If you feel embarrassed about your ability to pray, keep in mind that this text is exactly about that feeling of weakness & it reminds you that the Holy Spirit is praying for you with groanings too deep for words. God is always aware of our thoughts. Those thoughts become prayer when we submit them to the heavenly Father in humility.
We will never adequately diagnose all our struggles – health, financial or otherwise. We’ll never articulate godly solutions for our problems, or the problems of this world because of our brokenness resulting from sin. When Jesus suffered & died for us, He proved that suffering is not the end. It’s not the greatest enemy we face. Jesus rose from His suffering & death.
The time Jesus spent on the cross was not random & meaningless. God is able to turn all of Satan’s attacks on you to a godly purpose. Though we are God’s beloved children, there are times when we feel forsaken, forgotten, victims of jumbled & incoherent thoughts of guilt, self-condemnation & despair. That suffering also is never random & meaningless.
The heavenly Father knew it was coming & has already orchestrated every previous facet of our lives to bring good from it. God does not minimize our suffering, but He does add purpose & meaning fitted to every aspect of our individual being. So the Epistle lesson begins:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God… For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:18-19, 22-23 ESV)
Christians often look at death as the great & final release from the iron fist of sin, but there’s something even greater that comes after death. It is the resurrection of our body to perfect holiness & glory. That’s what Paul means when he writes, “…we …groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23 ESV)
For that moment too, knowing full well the glory that is to be revealed to us, “…the Spirit
…intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26 ESV) He groans for the suffering we endure, but also that we might have patience to hang on until that day when we clearly see that all our past sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory we will know.
We are always battling with our own weakness in faith & hope. At times we find it difficult to keep a firm hold on the promises of God concerning our sonship. Satan constantly attacks those promises. The Spirit comes to the aid of our faltering, uncertain, even proud footsteps. His strength serves to counter our pride & to uphold us in our weakness.
The contrast between our present state of oppression & tribulation to the future state of glory is so great that even Christians cannot find the proper words to adequately express our longing for the final deliverance from sin. That’s why Jesus came, because for the joy set before Him of our eternal life – He endured the cross.
Jesus endured that cross not simply to pay for our sins, but also to re-create you & me & all of God’s creation. The entire universe will be made new on the Last Day, & that will be our new & glorious home. That entire salvation process was begun when Jesus arrived on earth with His incarnation.
Built within our faith is a deep longing for what Christ has promised. We don’t yet know what that means, but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, because He does know, & He intercedes with groanings too deep for words. May His prayer always be ours. Amen.
Holy Spirit, ever living as the Church’s very life; Holy Spirit, ever striving through us in a ceaseless strife; Holy Spirit, ever forming in the Church the mind of Christ: You we praise with endless worship for Your gifts & fruits unpriced. Holy Spirit, ever working through the Church’s ministry; quickening, strengthening & absolving, setting captive sinners free; Holy Spirit, ever binding age to age & soul to soul in communion never ending, You we worship & extol. Amen. LSB 650:2-3.
7th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 10) LSB #’s 686, 685, 653
Text – Romans 8:13
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
DEATH BY THE SPIRIT
People struggle with their Christian faith because they don’t understand why the Christian faith is such a struggle. The budget is always stressed to make ends meet. Brothers & sisters in Christ rub each other the wrong way. The sermons are too boring. The music is too dull. The room is too hot & the room is too cold.
Those are superficial struggles & Satan can do great damage with them, nevertheless, they are not his primary purpose. They are only means to an end – our eternal suffering in complete isolation from everything that is good. Church budgets, brothers & sisters in Christ, sermons, music & room temperature – all of them are external struggles.
Satan’s real desire is to drill down deep & tear asunder your very mind, body & soul. His ultimate longing is to torture us from within & turn us away from our Creator. The Apostle Paul writes of his personal experience in the 7th chapter of Romans, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (7:24b ESV)
St. Paul is describing the struggle that goes on constantly within all of God’s children. The sinful nature of our physical birth & the saintly nature of our spiritual rebirth are at war with one another. Our mind, body & soul are the battlefield. King David wrote of this struggle in Psalm 51:
“For I know my transgressions, & my sin is ever before me… Create in me a clean heart, O God, & renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (51:3 & 10 ESV) In Paul’s words, “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:24b-25a ESV) It is so easy to simply read or hear those words. Living them out, as Satan tries to tear apart mind, body & soul, is an entirely different matter.
At Christmas, Gary’s family had posed for the quintessential family picture in the lobby of their church. At the time it seemed unremarkable. Months later, Gary realized it was the last photo where he was clasping his children’s shoulders with his own hands. Just a week after the picture session Gary was in full-blown septic shock with his organs shutting down.
After ten days of coma nightmares, Gary woke to see that his hands & legs were black. Two weeks later the decision was made to amputate them below the elbows & the knees. How would Gary respond? Would it be with despair or with hope? Would he trust in his Creator or deny Him? Our struggles may not be that severe, but the same questions face us each day?
Many of us believe our country is headed in the wrong direction on practically every issue. Do we respond with despair or with hope? Paul tells us what the result will be in each case, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13 ESV)
Considering the direction of our nation, to despair is to live according to the flesh. If we choose that Paul says we will die. Yet, if by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, if we put to death the choice of despair, then we will live. Noah was in our shoes thousands of years ago, yet, by the Spirit, he put to death the choice of despair & he lived.
Every other human being besides his family, chose to live according to the flesh & they died. The Spirit worked in Noah & in his family to put to death the deeds of the body – despair, worry & denial of their Creator. Eight people entered the Ark & all of them lived. Our struggles may not be that severe, yet the same questions face you & me multiple times each day?
That is the struggle of Christian faith in a fallen world. We cannot avoid the struggles or
the pain, if we are following Jesus. Satan will not allow it. He will attack. Do we allow the Spirit to put to death the deeds of our body that we may live? Our culture tells us to say “Yes,” to all of our base desires, to enjoy & even celebrate the deeds of the body. Those deeds are the dreams & the desires of our sinful nature. Those dreams & desires never lead us back to God.
Paul says, “Put them to death by the Spirit & you will live.” He illustrates this in further detail at Galatians 5:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies & things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...” (5:19-23 ESV)
Putting to the death the deeds of the body, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is practicing self-control. Fifteen hundred years later, Martin Luther wrote that by contrition & repentance we are to drown the old Adam every day. That working in us, of the Holy Spirit, is good news. In fact, the struggles of the Christian life are evidence that we truly are alive.
If we are not experiencing struggle in this life, there’s a real question as to whose side we are on. Satan is always attacking the children of God. Not a moment goes by that we are not tempted to sin. If you are not experiencing that struggle then your conscience is dead, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die…” (Romans 8:13 ESV)
That’s why, as Romans 7 comes to a close, Paul is rejoicing in the fact that through Jesus Christ our Lord he has been delivered from this body of death! Even though Paul is still a sinner, he knows that he also has eternal life, & that Christ has won the war even if the struggles & the battles are not yet finished. There is, in our lives, still tremendous injustice in this world, but we are not, because of it, chained to despair or the denial of our Creator. You & I, along with Paul, have been delivered from this body of death that is still sinful every moment of every day. Though we do not do the good that we want to do, though we still do the evil that we do not want to do, that struggle is what Christ our Lord has delivered us from.
Our lives certainly don’t look like freedom from sin. They don’t look like pure joy & glory, yet Jesus says we are free. It takes the gift of faith to believe this, a gift that God freely gives us through Baptism & through our hearing the Word of God. Daily, the Spirit calls us back to that faith, to that trust in God’s promises.
We will fully experience the freedom of that reality only upon our arrival in heaven at the Last Day. Then, Satan’s efforts to tear asunder your very mind, body & soul will have been brought to an end. Until then, our struggles with sin are a sign that God’s Spirit is working in us, & through us, to do battle against the Devil & our own sinful nature.
St. Paul alludes to that as the Epistle reading from Romans concludes, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, & if children, then heirs – heirs of God & fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16-17 ESV)
Don’t believe the lies of Satan when he tempts you with thoughts that you must be doing something wrong in your Christian life because you still sin. Paul wrote of himself:
“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)
Numerous Christians actually teach that when Paul writes those words, he must be writing of unbelievers. They’re being tempted by Satan to think that no one who struggles so mightily with sin could be a child of God. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s those who don’t struggle with sin that are likely to not be children of God. Satan has no need to attack them. As Paul concludes the Epistle lesson, he writes to clarify:
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, & if children, then heirs – heirs of God & fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” (8:16-17 ESV)
Doing battle against sin is a large part of that suffering which Paul writes of. Our doing battle against sin does not mean that we eliminate our sins. If it did, then Christ died for nothing, because His death was to pay for all the sins that we commit. However, our suffering, our struggles with sin, will come to end when we physically die.
When we are raised from the dead, then perfect glory will be ours. God will raise our bodies in some kind of glorified state & sin will be no more. With word of the amputations, as a child of God, Gary had a choice to make – to despair or to hope – to deny his Creator or to trust in Him still. Even in his severe struggles, Gary chose to bless the name of the Lord.
That’s a good example of death by the Spirit. Gary was, by the power of God’s Spirit, choosing to die to his selfish wants & to live in Christ Jesus. Living as a child of God is not possible without the power of the Holy Spirit, & Paul is, in this text, encouraging us to lean upon that Spirit completely in order to live the life of freedom that Jesus calls us to.
Every day you & I need the encouragement of the Gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Our need for that power never ends in this life & our Savior never stops offering it. Amen.
Let us suffer here with Jesus & with patience bear our cross. Joy will follow all our sadness; where He is, there is no loss. Though today we sow no laughter, we shall reap celestial joy; all discomforts that annoy shall give way to mirth hereafter. Jesus, here I share Your woe; help me there Your joy to know. LSB 685:2.
5th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 8) LSB #’s 656, 856, 662
Text – Matthew 10:34
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
WAR & PEACE
It’s a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy. Even if you haven’t read the book, you may have heard his name. War & Peace was published 154 years ago, yet, it remains one of the internationally praised classics of world literature. Opening in the city of St. Petersburg, it covers the years from 1805 to 1820. By 1812, Napolean has invaded & war has come to Russia.
Tolstoy revolves a major portion of the novel around the war with the characters of five leading families coming & going between the war & the home front. After the final battle the characters move on with rebuilding Moscow & their lives. Across a wide spectrum, War & Peace chronicles the struggles of life, & how human beings respond to those challenges.
Not surprisingly, Jesus is able to do the same thing, & He covers vastly more than a 15 year span of Russian history. The 1st two chapters of the Bible cover the perfection & harmony of all that Yahweh created. By the 3rd chapter, Satan has invaded & war has come to earth.
The Holy Spirit revolves major portions of Holy Scripture around the war that Satan is waging against God’s creation. God’s Word also informs of us of leading families who come & go throughout the battles between good & evil. Adam, Noah, Abraham & David all play important roles. The Bible chronicles the struggles of life & how human beings respond.
It only takes one word to describe the results of all human struggle – failure! Sure, human beings do have temporary successes, but none of it lasts for long, & all of it is the result of the heavenly Father’s blessing in the 1st place. As the hymn verse says, “All that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.” (LSB 781:1) All that we have apart from the Lord is brokenness & failure corrupted by sin. In the book of Ecclesiastes King Solomon speaks emphatically of that:
“Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content… We don’t remember what happened in the past, & in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now… The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief.” (1:8, 11, 18a NLT)
Knowing the hopeless & helpless nature of our condition, Jesus comes to earth for the purpose of saving us from hell. Yet, that looks completely different than people expect it to look. Jesus says that He came not to bring peace, but a sword. Instead of peace, He brings war.
Sadly, many people who believe they are on the side of Jesus would rather surrender to sin than engage in the battle. They prefer to redefine evil as good with the claim that this redefinition will make everything good again. Many sins are being redefined. We’ll look at one.
In places like San Francisco, drug addiction is destroying the lives of many people. The government there wants to eliminate the stigma of drug addiction by redefining it as something that is not evil. They believe they can limit the damage to the community by openly supporting the addicts in their habit. Rather than engage in the battle against sin, they have surrendered.
Things are not improving in the “City by the Bay.” People & businesses are leaving because of it. But more importantly, human beings, created by God, are physically & spiritually dying because of it. Granted, even before the government took this approach people were dying.
The question is, “Should the government, should the church, should individual people, engage in the battle against sin, or should they just surrender?” The battle is never easy, & people die either way. The drug addiction problem in San Francisco is an accurate illustration of the sin problem all across God’s creation. That battle also is never easy & either way people die spiritually. Should we just redefine evil as good, look the other way & then hope for the best? Or, do we engage in the battle against sin & endure the scars that come because of it? Many Christians are tempted while considering the scars in the hands, side & feet of Jesus, to conclude that, “Yes, we must follow the example of Jesus & engage in the battle against sin!”
The danger with that conclusion is at least twofold. One, human beings often believe the battle is very straightforward. In the 1990’s, our federal government decided to just lock ’em up. Put all the drug dealers in jail & everything will be good. Another danger is to conclude that if we just love people enough, & follow Jesus’ example, then we can save the drug addicts.
In essence, the 1st attempt, locking up all the drug addicts, is waging war by killing all the enemy soldiers. The 2nd attempt, just loving people enough, that also leaves Jesus out of the equation. At John 16:33, Jesus gave us the answer, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
What that tells us is also twofold. We can never kill all the enemy soldiers, & we can never love people enough to save sinners. God came into the world so that He could save sinners. In the Gospel reading today, Jesus is effectively expanding upon His statement that in this world we will have tribulation. This is something of what that tribulation can look like:
“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, & a daughter against her mother, & a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, & whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34b, 35, 37 ESV)
That tribulation is full-blown warfare. It has crushed the hearts & souls of human beings throughout history, beginning with Adam & Eve as their firstborn son murdered their second born. Raising children should make it very clear that the battle against sin is seldom straight forward. Even serving God in His church makes that clear, whether you are volunteering on the altar guild or the school board or as an elder. You & I do not have the wisdom to fight that battle, nevertheless, Jesus calls us to it: “…whoever does not take his cross & follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38 ESV)
In that light, what are you & I supposed to do with these words of Jesus, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”? (Matthew 10:34b ESV) First of all, know that Jesus did bring “peace on earth.” (Luke 2:14) That peace is for you & for all mankind, & our response to it should always be one of repentance & thanksgiving. With them we should begin every day.
The problem is that so many of the world’s people do not respond to God’s peace with repentance & thanksgiving. Rather, they respond at best with indifference & self-centeredness. At worst, they respond with outright hatred that anyone would dare to suggest that they need to be saved from themselves.
As a result, when Jesus comes with God’s peace, warfare breaks out. Some people follow Satan’s lead & seek to kill Jesus. They are often completely clueless to what they are doing, but war is still the result instead of peace, because they refuse to accept that gift from God. Repentance & thankfulness are the last things on their mind.
For us, who know people in those shoes, repentance & thankfulness are exactly where we are to begin each new day as we seek to take up our cross & follow Jesus. In divided families, any believer will sooner or later face this challenge from unbelieving loved ones: “Choose me & my ways rather than your Jesus & His ways.” That is tribulation in spades.
When the warfare reaches that point, it is well to remember two things. The first is from Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh & blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (ESV) Your unbelieving loved ones are the not the enemy, although they are certainly being used by the enemy. Even in the warfare they are conducting, we are to love them in the battle. The 2nd thing to remember is 2 Corinthians 4:16 (ESV), “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
And what is renewing that inner self, it is the certain promise of our heavenly Father, in Jesus Christ our Lord, that our sins have been paid for & that Jesus did bring peace on earth between God & all mankind. As the book War & Peace chronicles the struggles of life, & how human beings respond to those challenges, so does the Word of God.
As Ecclesiastes honestly describes the condition of mankind without God, the Gospel reading describes the condition of mankind with God, “…whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (10:39 ESV) Eternal life is gift that cannot be earned, but it can be lost. If we cave to family pressure to reject the teachings of Jesus, we then lose the only real life there is.
Paradoxically, when a child of God accepts the warfare, carries the cross, suffers the loss of relationships, status & reputation, perhaps even bodily life – because of clinging to Jesus in faith – that believer will discover real life that neither moth nor rust nor warfare can destroy. Then they will know the peace of God that surpasses all human understanding. (Philippians 4:7)
As you & I struggle to respond to the challenges of life, the sorrow & the bitterness, God’s Holy Spirit responds by comforting us with His love, power & wisdom. The warfare of following Jesus is real & at times it is brutal. Even our family members may be the source of it.
Losing our life for Christ’s sake is something we never become good at. Our sinful nature is too strong, yet we take heart because Jesus has overcome not just the world, but our sinful nature as well. Whether you volunteer on the altar guild, the school board or as an elder, whether you serve God through being a parent or child or sibling, all along the way your Savior is forgiving your sins & making your service pleasing to the heavenly Father. You may never build an ark like Noah, or reign as king like David, yet God is still working through you in the battle between good & evil. He is using you to accomplish good as the Holy Bible defines it. He never promises that life will be painless, but Jesus does know what all our pain is like.
He willingly endured that for the joy of eternal life set before Him. With His resurrection from the dead, Jesus set that joy before us & it will never end. When we refuse to confess Christ out of fear of opposition & rejection, there is a remedy – repentance & thankfulness for the life that Jesus gives to us – now & forever. That is God’s promise to you. Amen.
O Christ, who called the Twelve to rise & follow You, forsaking old, familiar ways for ventures bold & new: Grant us to hear Your call to risk security &, bound in heart & will to You, find perfect liberty. O Christ, who led the Twelve among the desolate & broke as bread of life for all Your love compassionate: Lead us along the ways where hope has nearly died & help us climb the lonely hills where love is crucified. O Christ, the apostles’ Lord, the martyr’s strength & song, the crucified & risen King to whom the saints belong: though generations pass, our tribute still we bring, our hymns a sacrifice of praise, our lives an offering. Amen. LSB 856:1, 3, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet