16th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 20) LSB #599 to tune of 655
Text – Philippians 1:27
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come & see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.
WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL
Joe Delaney & his 8-year-old son, Jared, were playing catch in their backyard, when Jared asked, “Dad, is there a God?” Joe replied that when he was younger he did go to church a couple of times, but he really knew nothing about God. After a short while Jared ran into the house, yelling, “I’ll be right back.”
He got the helium-filled balloon he had from the circus, a pen, & an index card. “I’m going to send God an airmail message,” he explained. He wrote, “Dear God, if you are real, & you are up there, send people who know you to Dad & me.” As they watched the balloon sail away, Joe thought, God, I hope you are real & that you are watching.
Two days later, Joe & Jared pulled into a car wash sponsored by a church. When Joe asked the cost, he was told, “It’s free. No strings attached.” “But why are you doing this?” Joe inquired. He was told, “We just want to show God’s love in a practical way.” So Joe asked, “Are you guys Christians? Do you believe in God?”
That car wash encounter led Joe & Jared to learn about God & His Son Jesus Christ through the people from that church. Demonstrating our heavenly Father’s love to strangers is letting our manner of life be worthy of the Gospel. For the nature of the Gospel is free gift. To live our lives as worthy of it means that our lives revolve around giving.
The season of Christmas is celebrated through the giving of gifts to reflect the essence & nature of the Gospel. That was necessary after The Fall into sin, yet, it’s not the 1st instance of the Triune God’s giving. That happened already in the beginning when God created the heavens & the earth. He was giving of Himself then too, & has never stopped giving. In The Creation the Triune God even gave His own image to mankind:
“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male & female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful & multiply & fill the earth & subdue it, & have dominion over the fish of the sea & over the birds of the heavens & over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:27-28 ESV)
Except for one tree, everything that Yahweh had created was at the disposal of Adam & Eve, to be used according their good wishes. So the man & woman weren’t satisfied. They took even the one thing that had not been given them. Mankind has not stopped taking ever since, as these words to King David demonstrate:
“…This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, & I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, & your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel & Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword & took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.’” (2 Samuel 12:7-9 NIV)
It is the nature of God to love & therefore to give. Our rebellion has twisted & perverted everything God created. Instead of the spirit of giving, the spirit of taking has infected each man, woman & child on this earth. In spite of that, our Lord & Savior has come to earth in the womb of the Virgin Mary, in order to restore every aspect of His good creation.
That work has already begun, as St. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (5:17 ESV) The Apostle elaborates on that today in the reading from Philippians:
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come & see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, & not frightened in anything by your opponents.” Paul wrote this letter from prison & the penalty that had been hanging over him was death by execution. Maybe that threat would help us get our priorities in order as well. St. Paul wants us to ask ourselves, “Is the life I am living worthy of the Gospel of Christ?”
By the language he uses it’s clear – he’s not trying to lay a guilt trip on us. He simply wants you to see by faith in Jesus, rather than by your sin-clouded physical sight – you know, that physical sight which can never get enough & always wants more, & more. How do we encourage one another while not making each other feel guilty, or shamed?
If the shame is legitimate, due to the recognition of our sins, how do we help each other move forward trusting in Jesus to save us? To ask the same question in a more positive light, now that you are a child of God, what kind of life do you live? How do you respond to the giving of God? How do you love your neighbor as yourself?
There are literally millions of ways to do each. Since you are a new creation in Christ, you have God’s Holy Spirit living within you to guide & direct you in moving forward, & in bearing fruit. The trouble is you also have the Old Adam living within you which daily needs to be drowned & die by contrition & repentance.
Guilt is part & parcel of our daily lives, so the hope & joy of the Gospel also needs to be part & parcel of our daily lives. No other human being can make that application in your heart, & mind & soul more effectively than you. That’s what daily & personal devotions are about. They are for applying the forgiveness of Christ to your sins so you can move forward in giving.
Plenty of people in the world today, like Joe & Jared from the opening illustration, also need to know who their Lord & Savior is. They need to know that He loves & cares for them, individually & personally. They need to know that they too can move forward from the guilt & the shame that stains their heart & their mind & their soul. It is that news of the forgiveness of sin that brings people to light & to life even in this broken & twisted culture. Not government, not education, not activism, not even good & free health care can bring healing into our world like the Good News of Jesus will do. Only the news that God, Creator of the entire universe, loves you, one on one, can change your heart so good behavior follows as part of who you are.
In this 1st chapter of Philippians, St. Paul is writing for the purpose of encouraging us in this faith we have in Christ. He knows how difficult the life of a child of God can be, but he also knows that every last moment of that struggle here on earth will be worth it once we arrive in heaven. Amen.
O gracious Lord, with love draw near to these, Your children gathered here; the Spirit’s gift in them renew: The gift of faith that clings to You. Sustain the work You have begun in these united to Your Son, for in that pure baptismal flood they have been cleansed by Jesus’ blood. O Father, grant that by Your grace they may Your will each day embrace; with fruits of faith their lives now bless, till they at death Your name confess. Amen. LSB 599:1-2, 5.
17th Sunday after Pentecost – A LW #’s 201, 366, 231, 216
Text – Matthew 18:34-35 TLH #’s 3, 652, 320, 52
In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back everything he owed. Jesus continues, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Two small boys have an older brother who’s a bully, and he’s always beating up on them. One day, they’re walking home from Sunday School. The lesson had been on Peter asking Jesus how often one should forgive his brother when he has sinned against him. Christ replied not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Now as the two boys walk along they’re puzzling over how to apply that lesson to their bully of a brother. One says, “We’ll get a book, and we’ll write it down each time we forgive him.” “Yeah,” says the smaller child. “And when it gets to seventy-seven times he’d better watch out!” PAUSE
Can’t you just picture their excitement as they figure out the solution to their problem? Yeah! Then big brother will get what’s coming to him. Paybacks. Revenge is sweet, isn’t it? However, it seems that the boys missed the point of the bible lesson.
Jesus wasn’t trying to establish a minimum number of times you have to forgive someone before you can make them pay for their sins. Instead, our Savior was establishing that you must forgive someone an endless number of times.
In those days, it was Jewish tradition to stop forgiving at only the third offense. Peter probably felt he was being extremely generous by allowing as many as seven occasions. After all, if you forgive too easily, or too often, you can guarantee that people, being sinful as they are, will take advantage of you. They’ll misuse your forgiveness.
No, revenge seems the more logical option. It’s also one of the most powerful
motivators. People that otherwise will hardly lift a finger will go to all kinds of extremes in order to punish someone that’s hurt them. They may not be willing to carry the groceries to their car, but they’ll carry that grudge to their deathbed, even if the grudge itself kills them.
Revenge is a reflex. We get hurt, and we hit back. PAUSE
The parable in today’s gospel lesson illuminates that side of our nature very well. A man who owes ten thousand talents is brought before the king. That amount is the equivalent of billions of dollars in our day. It was an impossible amount to repay. It was ludicrous to even suggest it, and yet the debtor does exactly that.
He falls on his knees and begs, “Be patient with me, and I will pay back everything.” The king, no doubt realizing the foolishness of what the man is promising, takes pity on the fool, and he cancels his debt. The man should have been ecstatic. His joy should have had no boundaries. Celebration was in order.
Yet what does he do? He finds one of his fellow servants, one who owes him about $20, and he starts choking him. “Pay back what you owe me!” That man also falls to his knees, begs him to be patient, and promises to pay back what he owes. But the fool refuses to have mercy. He has the man thrown into prison until he can repay the debt.
That kind of attitude makes me sick. And that was the intent of Jesus in telling it. He wants us to see the injustice, the hypocrisy. That’s what sets up the point of the parable. Our debt before God is so great that it staggers the imagination. We can never hope to pay it off. We are guilty before God of hell and of eternal damnation.
But God has had mercy on us, for the sake of Jesus, and has wiped away our debt. Out of gratitude shouldn’t we search for opportunities to forgive those who’ve sinned against us? Even if their sin against us is great in the sight of men, it is nothing compared to the debt that we owe
our Lord, & could never hope to repay.
Consequently, any man that is unmerciful, hardhearted & unforgiving thereby denies & rejects God’s grace & mercy. The just anger of God will deliver him into a merciless judgment, from which there is no salvation, no delivery. Not only will such fools be cast out of God’s presence; they’ll be tortured as well.
In the 9th chapter of Matthew, Jesus says, “But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus desires mercy from us, toward our fellow man. That means forgiveness that is complete and from the heart. Not the kind that keeps track of itself in a record book.
Our Savior is not at all concerned with how hard we work at keeping His commandments, nor with how many sacrifices we make to pay for our sins. They are all far too little to make even a dent in the debt that we owe. Our attempts are ludicrous at best.
Jesus Himself came to pay the debt of the entire world. He doesn’t need our help in accomplishing that. It’s done. He expects us not to withhold that blessing of forgiveness from the people we encounter in life, not even from those who hurt us. Jesus doesn’t want His children to pay for their sins; He wants His children to love each other.
In 1st Corinthians, Paul writes, “If I have the gift of prophecy & can fathom all mysteries & all knowledge, & if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. And the Apostle John writes, “He who does not love abides in death.”
Are you abiding in death? Are you separating yourself from fellowship with God by feeding your desire for revenge? Are you getting weary with forgiving someone for the same offenses, over and over again? Are you taking pleasure in making someone suffer, because of
what they’ve done to you? PAUSE
There’s an old fable that goes like this. A married couple forced the grandfather of the household to sit in a corner and eat his gruel out of a wooden bowl, because he spilled so much and broke so many dishes at the table. One day their young son was whittling on a block of wood. When asked what he was doing, he replied simply and directly, “I’m making a wooden bowl for you, when you get old.” PAUSE
Parables are not designed to describe things that go on in heaven. They’re constructed to tell us what goes on here, among men, while God is reestablishing Himself as our King. If you’ve ever found yourself in the shoes of the foolish and wicked servant from today’s parable, don’t despair. God is waiting for you to simply turn to Him. He’s more than willing to forgive your debt, and no debt is too large.
And though your forgiveness of someone else may seem an impossible task, remember that it’s only impossible for you alone. But as a child of your Heavenly Father you are not alone. He sent His Spirit to empower you, and to pour His love into your heart. And Jesus promised that He will be with us, even unto the end of age.
He’s with us here, in His own holy and perfect Body and Blood, through the sacrament of Holy Communion. By it He strengthens us bodily and spiritually for the warfare that we are engaged in with Satan and his cohorts. That Body and Blood forgives our sins at a very great cost to Christ. It is not something we should regard lightly.
Likewise, we should have mercy on those who offend us, for it costs us far less to forgive than it cost our Savior. He went first and paved the way for us to follow. PAUSE
There was a professor at seminary who taught counseling classes, and he liked to describe our sinful nature with this illustration. It commonly happens when he and his wife get into an argument, that his wife will say that she forgives him. But his sinful nature doesn’t want to be forgiven. It wants to be right. It wants to win the argument.
We are often the same way when it comes to forgiving others. Not only does our sinful nature want to win, it wants to destroy. That is the nature of sin and Satan and ourselves. We want to be right! We want to win and we want to destroy anything that will not bow down to us.
We want nothing less than godhood. We desire to be accountable to no one but ourselves. Forgiveness, that would be weak. PAUSE
Satan does his job quite well, doesn’t he? Yet, the Son of God has done His job even better. Satan was never ever able to conquer Him. Jesus forgave the people who nailed Him to the cross, even while He was yet hanging upon it. He didn’t have to take time to calm down, or to step back from the situation. He didn’t have to get Himself together so that He could forgive.
We don’t want to forgive too often lest we be abused. We don’t want to suffer the humility of having our forgiveness taken advantage of. Yet Christ is called upon daily to forgive you and I, to forgive the same sins over and over again. How often do we abuse His forgiveness? How often do we abuse His suffering and His death on the cross?
Jesus constantly forgives us for the same petty foolishness, stubbornness and pride. He forgives our huge, insurmountable debt and then we plot revenge, because someone inconvenienced us & wasted 10 seconds of our time. Thank the Lord that He is a merciful God, that He is a king who looks upon our foolish promises to pay back everything we owe, & out of love cancels our debt.
Thank God that in His system of paybacks, He took it out upon His only Son. The one
Lord Jesus Christ, crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, who suffered and was buried. But who on the third day rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven. It is because of Him, and only Him, that we can look forward to the resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Come, lay your sins on Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God; He bears them all and frees us from the accursed load. Come bring your guilt to Jesus to wash your crimson stains clean in His blood most precious till not a spot remains. Amen.
16th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 18) LSB #’s 716:1-3, 5, 707, 688:1, 4-5
Text – Matthew 18:15-17
If your brother sins against you, go & tell him his fault, between you & him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile & a tax collector.
HOW WELL DO YOU LISTEN?
That sermon text ends with some harsh words. Gentiles & tax collectors were despised & hated in Jewish society. In our country, where just about anything is acceptable, it’s difficult to find a general equivalent that holds true across our nation & culture. Practically every sort of activity, or person engaged in them, is acceptable these days in some way, shape or form.
Serial killers & rapists find support from segments of our society. Certain psychologists make the case that it isn’t the fault of the murderer or rapist, because they themselves are victims of crimes done to them. As a result, they aren’t responsible for their actions.
From God’s point of view, those psychologists are not listening to what the Word of God has to say on that subject of who really is guilty.
It’s also common for adults to complain that children don’t listen like they used to. A former neighbor of mine, who lived to almost 100, told me this story. When he was about 17, shortly after WWI ended, wristwatches became popular & he wanted one. He asked his parents & they said if he had not begun to smoke by the age of 21, they would buy him a wristwatch.
How quaint is that story? For me it’s driven home how much our culture has changed in 100 years. First off, how many of you as parents are, or were, involved at all in the buying decisions of your teenagers?
And second, how many of today’s teenagers would buy into a deal where they had to refrain from something, like smoking, in order to wait four years for their parents to buy them the latest thing to come into style? We don’t listen nearly as well as people did 100 years ago, not as teenagers, & not as adults. The prosperity of our country has made it simple to buy what I want, when I want, without anyone else’s permission or participation. That economic freedom has made it much less necessary to listen to anyone besides me, myself & I.
When it comes to buying things we are capable of being our own god. After all, isn’t it the essence of godhood to be accountable to no one, to have the ability to act independently of anyone else? To be able to make your decisions stand without interference or having to listen to someone else’s opinion or advice? So I ask, “How well do you listen?” PAUSE
For adults it’s easy to complain how today’s children don’t listen like they used to, but that’s simply hypocrisy. It’s operating with a set of double standards. It’s, “Do as I say, not as I do.” That becomes evident when you look at church attendance. Are adults attending as faithfully as they did in the past?
When my home congregation was founded they had worship services in the morning and in the evening, but I’m not talking about Sundays. They met twice a day every day of the week. That’s how great a desire they had to listen to the Word of God. I could alter the sermon title, “Do you even care to listen?” PAUSE
It’s fairly common to read or hear of someone who is tragically injured in an accident through which they gain a new appreciation for life. From then on they make it a point to enjoy every day to the fullest. They claim to no longer ‘sleep walk’ through life as they once did.
After such an awakening, they come to appreciate more fully the blessings they have in this life. Maybe those are friends & family. Maybe they’re abilities like sight & hearing. Do you appreciate what it means to be a child of the almighty God? How highly you value that relationship is accurately reflected in how well you listen to our Lord. Does it occur to you very often what awaits you outside of a relationship to God as His child? Being treated as a Gentile or tax collector is simply the result here in time; it’s merely the tip of the iceberg. The consequences outside of time are an eternity of suffering & misery.
Are you ‘sleep walking’ through your relationship with your Savior? Are you failing to listen? In John chapter ten, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, & they follow Me. I give them eternal life, & they shall never perish...” (10:27-28 NIV) Are you one of Jesus’ sheep? Are you listening, or are you perishing? PAUSE
That should be an important concern of yours, because the consequences are forever. As your pastor I hope that it is your highest priority, because quite frankly, with your eternal fate hanging in the balance, it doesn’t seem wise to leave all that “religious stuff” to your pastor. I will not be going to hell in your place.
If God’s commands seem too restrictive, too old fashioned or too politically incorrect to buy into, keep in mind that He gave them to us out of love, & He demonstrated that love by dying for you. How many people have you known that have died for you? Are you just going to write off listening to God’s Word as too simple or quaint for a mature person like you?
The words of God’s law are meant to create in you a genuine sense of guilt & sin – very uncomfortable feelings. Those feelings make it difficult for us to listen to what God’s law says. Yet, it’s necessary in order to grasp just how sinful & repugnant we are to a Holy God.
Without that understanding we cannot appreciate what the news of forgiveness means. We cannot appreciate what our deliverance from hell is actually worth.
The knowledge of our sinfulness, & our reluctance to listen to God, should be made obvious by our attitudes concerning divorce, abortion, or living together without marriage. None of those were commonplace back when teenagers still asked their parents for permission to buy things like a wristwatch. But rather than simply bemoaning the collapse of our country’s morals, how often do you get involved in teaching the Word of God to our children, & to our world?
Confirmation class begins this week & it is a perfect opportunity for you to influence the future. One of its goals is teaching our children to hope in the Lord, & how to actually live out that hope. A religion that’s merely an intellectual exercise is simply a dead exercise. Children quickly see through & reject it, as so many of my generation have.
Many parents in the previous generation believed their religion with their head, but struggled to practice it outside the doors of their church. That lack of continuity, from belief to practice, played right into the hand of our adversary the devil. The OT reading from Ezekiel gives you instruction on how to practice your faith during the week:
“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die,’ & you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, & he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. (33:7-9 ESV).”
Warning someone about the possible result of their sin is believing and practicing your faith in Christ. Also, the Hebrew word translated as “listen” means to hear & to obey. In other words, if you only hear the words & do not obey them, then you haven’t really listened. Our split personality, saint & sinner, is coming into play when we are not listening to God.
The saint in us wants to obey, even tries to, but the sinner does not. Are you struggling with listening to God, or with placing your hope in the Lord? Then turn to the Great Physician, the healer of both body & soul. The Gospel of Mark records how Jesus opened the ears of a deaf man by simply speaking the word, Ephphatha, “Be opened!”
Jesus longs to speak that very word to you. He desires not only your ears, but also your heart & your mind, that you might receive Him. He has sent His Spirit to you in your baptism. He strengthens you with His very body & blood in Holy Communion, & He comforts you with His Words & with His forgiveness. Regarding your salvation, Jesus has done everything that’s necessary. There is no more burden to bear. You can relax & rest.
In response to that kind of love, things go much more smoothly if you listen to His Word. That Word has the power to create a universe out of nothing, & it certainly can create love out of fear, forgiveness out of bitterness & joy out of sorrow. It can even create the ability to listen to & understand the message of God’s love in a heart that has been rejecting Him. PAUSE
Have you been communicating with your Lord? If not, like many a marriage ended in divorce, you should expect that relationship with God to wither away & die. But don’t lose hope, because your relationship with God is built not upon your ability to listen, but upon God’s ability. He’s waiting to hear from you right now. In the book of Jeremiah our Lord declares:
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you & not to harm you, plans to give you hope & a future. Then you will call upon Me & come & pray to Me, & I will listen to you. You will seek Me & find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, & I will restore your fortunes & will gather you from all the nations & from all the places where I have driven you.” (29:11-14)
Notice there who is doing the listening? One reason God allows suffering into our lives is that we be reminded to call upon Him, & He always listens very well.
“My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled & do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV) Those are the words of Jesus, your loving Savior. He’s waiting to hear from you. How well do you listen? Amen.
Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways to keep His statutes still! Oh, that my God would grant me grace to know & do His will! Amen. LSB 707:1.
13th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 17) LSB #’s 461:1-4, 490, 917
Text – Matthew 16:22
And Peter took Him aside & began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
TAKING JESUS ASIDE
Years ago I spent a day at church camp during a teenage servant event. In the evening, time was scheduled for growth activities, & that particular night was planned for doing a ‘Trust Walk.’ It’s an activity designed to help you grow in your ability to trust someone else.
Half the group is blindfolded, & each person of the other half gets to lead one of the “blind” without using words. Even laughing is not permitted. The only way for the leader to “communicate” is through touch. We went through several cycles each, of being the leader, & being the led.
I’d never heard of this, so naturally the counselors decided I should be one of the first to be blindfolded. When the whole group was ready we left on our walk. The 1st several steps were very unstable, almost to the point of feeling dizzy. My hands reacted immediately by going out in front of me.
I could feel a strong resistance, to being led, washing over me in spite of my feeble attempts to trust my leader. Without sight, my hearing seemed to be amplified, & the slightest sounds became worrisome. I could hear people stumbling & falling, dragging their feet & gasping at unexpected surprises.
During the entire 1st walk there was a constant temptation to peek, or to ask for words of guidance. My mind was searching for some kind of shortcut, s ome way to lessen the anxiety or the stress. I simply did not want to trust. Nevertheless, in spite of being totally unable to see, the entire exercise was a very eye “opening” experience, exactly as it was meant to be. Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew records what Jesus intended to be a very eye opening experience for His disciples. In the verses just previous, Peter had boldly confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Now it was time for Jesus to reveal exactly what the work of that Son was to be.
Here, He’s not speaking in clever stories, like the parables. In this case He clearly describes His mission; suffering, death & resurrection. It seems that His last words ‘raised to life’ got lost in the shock of what the apostles were hearing, & they’re no longer off to the side mumbling, “What does Jesus mean by this parable.”
Peter immediately takes Jesus aside & rebukes Him: “Far be it from You, Lord! This shall never happen to You!” (Matthew 16:22b ESV) Peter had not yet learned to trust Jesus completely. Peter couldn’t see the whole picture, so he didn’t want to be led to the death of his Lord. He was resisting for all he’s worth. It appeared to be the responsible thing to do.
If a friend of yours started talking like Jesus you might assume that friend had become suicidal, & would want to try & stop it. When it first occurred to me that God might want me to enter the ministry, after that initial impression wore off, I thought I must be going crazy.
I’d never done anything to prepare for it. I had my own business, my own house, & I was living where I grew up & wanted to stay. I was set. To give it all up, to chase off after some whim, would clearly be irresponsible.
God couldn’t want me to be a pastor. I must be hallucinating or going on some kind of ego trip. I had plenty of excuses. Like Moses, I was scared to death of talking in front of people. I didn’t have a college degree. I had a lousy memory for bible verses, & I loved to listen to Heavy Metal music.
I really didn’t like children, & I wanted nothing to do with sitting in an office writing
sermons & Bible studies. I loved being my own boss & earning as much money as I possibly could. Besides, I was already helping people. I was leading Bible discussion groups & serving on the board of trustees & evangelism. What more could God want from me? For six years I took Jesus aside & explained to Him that He must be mistaken.
Obviously Jesus had the wrong guy. Yet when an opportunity came to write my 1st Bible study, I still don’t understand it, but I didn’t refuse. When the chance to attend a layman’s Bible study at the seminary arrived, I went. God was working in my life, slowly but surely, to change my point of view.
What about you? Have you ever had someone really close, who went through a traumatic period of suffering & you wanted to help? But then realized you had no clue how to go about it? You’d probably just mess it up anyway! Better to leave well enough alone. Lord, couldn’t you find someone who knows what they’re doing to help?
Have you struggled with feelings of guilt & had to press them down, to get rid of them; to make them go away? Have you vented your anger on your children or spouse? Have you cheated someone to put yourself ahead? Have you spoken words that you knew should have been withheld, but were just too good a story to tell?
You may not realize it, but you have been taking Jesus aside & reasoning with Him. “Lord, my sin, it’s not really a problem. I can handle it. Besides, I didn’t mean to hurt that person, &, well, apologizing would just stir it all up again. They aren’t innocent either.”
After awhile, the guilt becomes so strong you can no longer even look at the person, let alone talk to them or apologize. The guilt weighs you down & you’ll try anything to relieve it, anything except what God asks you to do.
Didn’t it strike you, how Jesus responded to Peter’s rebuke? He turned & said to him,
“Get behind me, Satan!” You see the devil was using Peter to tempt Jesus just as Satan tempted Him after He was in the wilderness those 40 days & 40 nights. And isn’t it just like the devil to take us aside when he wants to tempt us? ‘Divide & conquer’ is a well-known rule of warfare. Satan uses the same tactics.
If he can take us aside, if he can get us away from our brothers & sisters in Christ, then we are much more vulnerable. Have you been reasoning with Jesus why it just isn’t possible for you to be in Bible study, personal devotions, prayer, or actively serving your congregation? Then recognize this – Satan has been taking you aside, & tempting you.
The Great Deceiver has been reasoning with you, obviously convincing you, to step away from the support system that God has given to sustain our trust in Him. And in taking Jesus aside, to rationalize away our sins, we are becoming the very tool of Satan, & Jesus’ words then apply to each & every one of us: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me!”
Those are harsh words aren’t they? Can you relate to how Peter must have felt as they lit into his heart & convicted him? Facing our sin head on is the most difficult task we have in life, & our sinful nature is to avoid that at all costs.
To top it off Satan is right there helping us to avoid it; reasoning with us, cajoling us, accusing us: “Come with me, step aside; I have something you should know.” Where do you turn for help at times like those?
I talked to a man once who said he’d considered suicide because He just didn’t know where to turn, or what to do. Satan had been pulling him aside for so long that he felt all alone, & too weak to fight the battle any longer. Have you been putting God off because you couldn’t see where He was leading you; & you’d forgotten, or never even learned, how to trust Him?
Maybe you don’t trust Jesus to heal your hurts, so you take it upon yourself to find relief.
You drink just a little. You go anywhere but church to get away from it all. Work begins to consume more & more of your time, as you try to make up for your inadequacies & your failings. You spend time wallowing in self-pity to punish yourself for your sins. Recognize this – Satan has been taking you aside.
That’s why Lucifer used Peter to rebuke Jesus so strongly after He clearly prophesied His suffering & death. Satan knew what the work of Christ was. He knew what Christ’s suffering & death were for, & he wanted Jesus to forsake that mission. He was using Peter, under the guise of caring for Jesus, to tempt our Lord to give up His suffering & the cross.
For it’s only at the cross that our sins can be paid for that we might have eternal life. And it’s only someone holy & perfect whose sacrifice can pay for the sins of the entire world. Jesus was that sacrifice from the dawn of eternity. He’s already paid for those times when you were the agent of Satan, & took Jesus aside to reason with Him.
The Son of the living God has paid for the times you may have left a suffering friend high & dry. He has died for all those angry outbursts & for the gossip. Jesus has suffered in your place for the times God planned some good work in advance, for you to do, but you were too preoccupied with your own self-importance. PAUSE
God is slowly but surely at work in your life this very moment. He’s only asking you not to reject Him, not to turn away. He’s right there beside you & desires to teach you how to trust Him. He’s reaching out with an outstretched arm. He wants to comfort you, & to hold you.
In the trust walk, the most comforting way someone could lead you was to wrap their arm around your shoulders. That’s what God is doing for us through our fellow Christians. Just as each of us has one body with many members, so in Christ we who are many form one body, & each member belongs to all the others. Learning to trust each other helps us learn to trust God. As we learn to trust that Heavenly Father, we can lose ourselves in Jesus, the selves that feel the guilt & shame for our failures. To lose that self is to trust in Christ, the Messiah whose work was to die & then to rise again. That work is done. It’s finished. In trusting Him, & His death & His resurrection, that’s where we are set free of our sins & of this body of death.
It took awhile to learn to trust my leader in the trust walk, yet, by the end of the exercise it was noticeably easier. As you learn to cast your worries on Jesus, as you learn to trust Him for all your earthly needs, as you learn to give Him your anger & your bitterness, you’ll notice that you’ve gained far more than you have lost.
So close your eyes, stop taking Jesus aside, & put your trust in Him. He’s waiting to put His arm around you. He’s waiting with an outstretched arm, to comfort you, to strengthen you, & to guide you. Amen.
Jesus lives! The victory’s won! Death no longer can appall me; Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done! From the grave Christ will recall me. Brighter scenes will then commence; this shall be my confidence. Amen. LSB 490:1.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet