Monday, April 16, 2018

Sermon on 1 Peter 1:21-25, for the 3rd Sunday of Easter (1 YR lectionary), "Our Shepherd's Example"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Discipleship is the word we use to describe following Jesus and all that means for our life. To be a disciple is to be a follower of Jesus. Our reading from 1 Peter 2:21 begins: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” We follow in the example of Christ’s suffering for us? A good Lutheran question to ask is, “What does this mean?” First of all, clearly only Christ can redeem us from our sins by His suffering. Following Christ’s example does not include redeeming ourselves by suffering for our own sins. Jesus has already finished that for us! That chapter of salvation is already completed, the ink is dried, and it’s done! A chapter earlier, Peter tells how Christ ransomed us from our old sinful ways by the price of His precious, innocent blood.
So following Christ’s example in suffering, is not about paying for our sins or anybody else’s. Thank God He’s done that for us already! But what it does mean, is that God is doing something both incredible and challenging in our lives. He is modeling us after Jesus in the way in which He suffered. He suffered unjustly, for doing what is good. Jesus didn’t let His suffering become an opportunity for bitterness, hatred, or revenge—but responded with grace and forgiveness. This is how we “follow in His steps.” We learn from His example, and the Holy Spirit molds us and transforms us into His image.
Peter explains several times that there’s a difference between suffering for doing good, and suffering for doing evil. Obviously, he warns, there’s no credit for suffering for evil things we have done. If we suffer for something criminal, immoral or unethical that we have done,  that’s really our own fault, and we reap what we sow. But even in suffering for bad choices we may still learn “life lessons,” or may learn by the consequences of our actions why obedience to God is indeed the right path. Honestly much of our suffering falls into this category. And of course God forgives the repentant, and gives us strength to bear through this kind of suffering also—but it’s no credit or glory to us to suffer for doing what is wrong.
But to suffer unjustly for doing good—Peter tells us—this is “a gracious thing in the sight of God.” God shows His favor on those who endure such suffering. This is the category of most everything else. The suffering Jesus endured, where He was insulted, reviled, spat upon, and crucified—even though He had done nothing wrong. Or the suffering that a person endures for standing up and doing the right thing—even when it is unpopular. Or the suffering of Job, who experienced intense loss and grief, without ever knowing why. And the suffering of many Christians who have trouble or hardship in their lives—not by their own fault, and not with any attached “explanation tag.” And the suffering of our many Christian brothers and sisters around the world who are persecuted for their faith.
Perhaps you are cast into suffering like this. Recall what Christ endured, and know that we share in His sufferings. We need His strength to endure it. We need His Spirit to mold us, so that we don’t react in the predictable, sinful ways that are so easy and natural to us. The reading says “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly”. It’s amazing that Jesus never cursed or grew angry with those who tormented Him. His mouth remained pure and without sin.
In similar situations, how easy and tempting it can be for us to fly off the handle and give someone a piece of our mind! The level of insult that Jesus faced was simply extraordinary. Chances are good that what we may experience is usually much lower. But in any case, how we respond is what is important. Responding to evil with more evil is never productive. Romans 12:21 says: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Good is the right weapon against evil. Good brings the true defeat of evil. Not evil defeating evil. If evil defeats evil—what’s left in its place? Just a new form of evil! So the “good” that overcomes evil is to follow Christ’s example. Kindness and forgiveness in the face of cruelness and sin. Truth and humility in the face of lies and pride. Patience in the face of impatience. Love in the face of hate. These are the tools and the gifts of the Spirit, to overcome evil with good.
To follow after Christ’s example, walking in His steps, is an incredible call and challenge. But it’s no good to throw our hands up and say, “well good luck imitating that! He’s God, after all, and I’m just a lousy human!” That would be to treat God’s calling for us as an absurdity, as though God were unaware that we are frail humans. Rather, as Luther would say, we should give the Holy Spirit credit for being more learned than we are, and trust in His Word. And have faith that God knows our weakness, as one of my favorite verses from Psalm 103:13–14 says: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” And because we are dust, God baptizes us into His Son Christ Jesus, so that He lives in us, and we live in Him. And so that His Holy Spirit dwells in us, sanctifying us and pouring His gifts into our lives. Our concern is not to obsess about the progress we are making, but to continually have our eyes turned up to Him, knowing that grace and every blessing comes from His hand. Far from an absurdity, God does really and truly begin to shape and mold us after the pattern of Christ’s own suffering, using our sufferings to refine us like gold tested by fire. It’s His work in us.
The reading continues: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” Our sin is dealt with already at the cross. Now we daily die to that sin, and live to righteousness. We “detoxify” from our sins by confession and absolution—getting the bad stuff out of our system—and we are sanctified and made new as we rise and walk with Christ. “By His wounds you have been healed” is part of the amazing Isaiah 53 prophecy, that described Jesus’ death in astonishing predictive detail, 7 centuries before it happened. That simple fact, that God endured wounded-ness on our behalf, because of our sins, is too great to fathom, and we could ponder that mystery for all time. God, who is the Highest and Most Holy, incarnated or took on human flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, and He let us wound Him with our sins. He endured our slander, insults, and mockery, carried the weight of sins aimed at Him, and not aimed at Him—but He bore them all anyways. And in His wounds, we find healing.
Interestingly, after Jesus rose from the dead, we heard last week how His scars from the nails, were the sign to His disciples, that He was the same Jesus, alive, and in the flesh. And what is a scar, but a wound that has healed! Jesus turns our wounds into scars also, as He heals the wounds that sin has left on us. In Jesus, we find the hope that all the injustices that we have endured will be made right and taken care of by God, who judges justly. Remember how the verse says that Jesus endured His suffering, by trusting that God judges justly? So also we trust, when we don’t see the solution or resolution of our suffering. God gives us strength, and all things are in His hand, to judge according to His justice, in His own time.
“For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” How do sheep come home to their Shepherd? They’re not known for their “homing devices” like homing pigeons, or salmon, who have an uncanny knack for finding their way home. But sheep wander away and get stuck, and are helpless—endangering their own lives, away from the tender care of their Shepherd. No, sheep don’t find their own way home—but as Jesus’ parables teach us, He, the Good Shepherd, goes and retrieves His lost sheep. He finds the lost sheep and carries it home on His shoulders, rejoicing. We have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for us. He is an Overseer, a faithful watchman, who steers us away from harm, and leads us in the right path. And ever rescuing us from our foolish wandering.
We began by reflecting on the walk of discipleship—following in Jesus’ footsteps, walking after His path. It’s an awesome challenge and an incredible work that Jesus is doing in our lives. Viewed from God’s perspective, we see the grace and the glory of what He is doing in our lives, shaping us to be like Christ. Yet viewed from our human perspective, we often see the hardship and suffering that God uses to refine us like gold in this life. With only the human perspective, we can let suffering and trouble grind us down in this life. But with eyes opened by faith, to see God’s perspective, and to know that He’s at work, even in our sufferings—we can be encouraged to follow in His steps, and die to our sin, and live to righteousness. We can know that God has a greater purpose for us, even in our sufferings. By His wounds you have been healed! All glory be to Christ. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
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  1. Read 1 Peter 2:19-25. Why is a Christian called to endure suffering while doing good? What is our natural instinct about how to react against unfair bad treatment? Contrast our instinct to vs. 23. What example did Jesus set, by how He responded?
  2. 1 Peter 2:22 is one of several passages that affirm Jesus’ sinlessness. Cf. Hebrews 4:16; 7:26; John 8:46; 2 Corinthians 5:21. Why is it necessary that Jesus would live a perfectly sinless life? 1 Peter 1:18-19; Galatians 4:4-6.
  3. Jesus endured His suffering by “entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” How do we learn to do the same? What does that free us from? Romans 12:17-21. What does it free us to do for others?
  4. 1 Peter 2:24 speaks of the death and life that we experience in Christ. How does this reality come to us? Romans 6:1-14. How does Jesus’ resurrection from the dead assure us that sin can be defeated?
  5. By His wounds you are healed” is a powerful verse from Isaiah 53:5, that prophesies in amazing detail Jesus’ crucifixion. How does it affect your perception of God, knowing that He endured wounded-ness and death for you? Jesus’ wounds turned into scars (i.e., “healed” wounds). He heals our “wounds” also. What hope does that give us?
  6. 1 Peter 2:25. How has Jesus returned us “sheep” to His fold and His care? John 10; Luke 15:1-7. What is the watchfulness and the care of our Good Shepherd like?
  7. Read through 1 Peter 2, the whole chapter, and identify all the statements that speak to God’s purpose for your life. How does knowing this encourage or challenge you? How does it make you depend all the more completely upon God and His grace?

Monday, April 09, 2018

Sermon on Ezekiel 37:1-14, for the 2nd Sunday of Easter (1 Yr lectionary), "God of the Living"

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia! Amen. The beloved old Lenten hymn, “Go to Dark Gethsemane” shifts from the darkness of the crucifixion of Jesus, to His Easter resurrection in the final verse: “Early hasten to the tomb where they lay His breathless clay; all is solitude and gloom. Who has taken Him away? Christ is ris’n! He meets our eyes. Savior teach us so to rise.” That poetic phrase, “His breathless clay” refers to the dead, lifeless body of Jesus, buried in the tomb. But it also reminds us of God creating Adam from the “breathless clay” of the earth, when God created the body of Adam from the dust of the earth, and then breathed into Adam the “breath” or spirit of life (Genesis 2:7). Adam, the valley of dry bones, and Jesus’ resurrection all in turn show who is the God of the Living. Who has power to make breathless clay breathe life again. Death could not hold Jesus any more. The breath or spirit of life returned to Him, and He rose, never to die again!
Ezekiel’s sees a grim sight: a great valley filled with scattered dry bones. Probably a dead army, after some horrible battle—as he calls them “these slain,” and later a great army after they are raised. In this scene of defilement and uncleanness God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel wisely answers, “O Lord God, you know.” In a few verses, we learn that these bones represent the “whole house of Israel” in their hopelessness and discouragement. Discouraged about what? The whole book of Ezekiel is about the exile of Judah. In the first chapter, Ezekiel is already 5 years into life as an exile in Babylon. By chapter 33, Jerusalem had fallen to the relentless assault of the Babylonian armies—now 12 years into Ezekiel’s time in exile. Like a sickening free-fall into darkness, and the sudden “thud” of hitting rock bottom, God asks Israel in Ezekiel 33, “Thus you have said, ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’” Sounds a bit like our reading from ch. 37. Dried up and without hope. In ch. 33 God answers, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
Chapters 33 and 37 share the heart of God. God does not want our despair and death. He does not want us rotting away in our sins, thinking that there is no way to live. He does not delight in wicked people dying in their evil ways or for His people to live in hopelessness and despair. No! God wants life! “He is not God of the dead, but of the Living!” (Matthew 22:32b). So God calls the wicked to turn back to Him, to repent.
So according to Ezekiel 37:11, these bones “are the whole house of Israel. Behold they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.” The enormous scene of physical death in the valley of dry bones is a picture of their spiritual death and despair. As exiles in a foreign land, under foreign gods and under rulers who had devastated and destroyed your homeland such despair is no surprise. But God shows by this picture of physical resurrection from the dead, that He commands power over life and death—and if raising dry bones to living people is no problem for Him, then those defeated exiles can still hope in the Lord for life and restoration. In a little more than a generation or so, they would be returning home to Israel, as God promised.
It’s curious, that Ezekiel first prophesies to ‘dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones’ and they come rattling together, and flesh and skin grows back on them, and they transform into lifeless bodies. All because these bones “hear the word of the Lord.” But they are still lifeless, there is no breath in them. Then a second time, God tells Ezekiel again to prophesy, but this time, instead of addressing the bones, he addresses, in Hebrew, the ruach. Ruach is used 10 different times in this passage, just like “bones” is used 10 times. Ruach can mean spirit, wind, or breath. So Ezekiel prophesies to the ruach and the four winds of the earth blow on these bodies, and the breath of life comes into them, and they stand up alive—an exceedingly great army! Amazing! It’s like the creation of Adam times 10,000! Adam’s breathless clay, the shape of his body with all the bones, tendons, ligaments, flesh and skin, lay on the earth after God had created him—and then God breathed His ruach into Adam, and he stood up and became a living being! The parallel is obvious, but what does it all tell us?
It tells us again, that He is not God of the dead, but of the Living! Only God can raise the dead. Only God can breathe His spirit and life into those whose bones are dried up and their hope is gone. And God did it again on Easter morning, when all hope had gone, just as He did it 5 or 6 hundred years before, in Ezekiel’s generation, when the downtrodden exiles came home to the land of Israel. Their homecoming taught them what God said: “I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord. (Ezek. 37:12-14) God is in charge, and when He speaks, He does what He says.
God’s Word draws the bones together, and God’s Word sends the “breath” or ruach to stir and awaken life, where none seemed possible. Whether what Ezekiel saw was a literal raising of an army of dead people, who reentered biological life on this planet, or whether it was simply a visionary experience, we are not clearly told. But the clear point of the vision is that God does indeed have the power to make this happen. It’s God’s Spirit that breathes in the Word of God, and calls people up out of their graves. God’s Word and Spirit are intimately bound together and when God’s Word goes out today, His Spirit moves in and with it. Can these bones live? O Lord God, you know. And now we know too—never doubt that with God, all things are possible. Jesus walked out of His open grave, and He has opened our graves also! We may go into our graves, at the end of our biological life—but He has opened them, so there is a way out of them! And the life that God gives us, out of our graves, will be no different than the physical, fleshly resurrection of Jesus. As 1 Corinthians 15:49 tells us—we will bear the image of the man of heaven—Jesus. Our mortal body will put on immortality (15:54).
Of course we don’t face an “exile” quite like the house of Israel, in captivity with a shattered homeland. But we are away from our true homeland.  Our citizenship is not on earth, but in heaven. So we are in a “foreign land” in a spiritual sense. This week I read an article that pointed out an obvious truth that many Christians don’t like to accept—that in today’s society and culture, to be a Christian is a mark of “low-status.” Even while Christians may theoretically be in the majority, to hold to the beliefs of the Bible is something that will get you ridiculed and mocked. One student at an Ivy League school reflected that many people look down on those who are religious as “peculiarly bad, dangerous, or silly.” Of course, those attitudes toward people of faith are as old as the Old Testament, and the invading kings who mocked the Israelites’ trust in God, or Goliath mocking David for the same, or at the death of Jesus, those who mocked Him on the cross, saying “He trusts in God! Let God deliver Him now, if He desires Him. For He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matt. 27:43).
Mockery of faith in God is ancient and modern. It’s nothing new or unique to our times. But it’s common in “spiritual exile” where we lack earthly power, size, authority, or impressiveness. Jesus responded to mockery with silence and forgiveness. But then the biggest “comeback” to that mockery, was when He rose from death, and walked out of the empty tomb. God delivered Him after all! But not before Jesus had delivered us from our sins. Not before Jesus had dragged down the whole towering fortress of sin, death, and fear to the grave. Not before Jesus had breached the gates of hell and thrown down the power of Satan, and showed that He is the “stronger man.”
The same Lord who called Israel out of their graves and brought Ezekiel’s exiles home, is the same Lord who calls us today. Same as then—when the Lord speaks, He will do it. Pastors preach so that God’s Word—His speech, gets out to the lowly, the despised, the down-trodden, and the fallen. And where God’s Word goes out, so also goes the Spirit of God, His ruach, to call us to repentance, to life, and to hope. For all who say “we are rotting away in our sins”—the call is to repentance and turn to the Lord. For all who say “our bones are dried up and our hope is lost, we are indeed cut off”—the Lord calls us to rise up from our graves and He pours out His Spirit into us today. God is no less generous with His Spirit today. Jesus said we can be certain that God the Father will “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:13).
Whether we are in spiritual despair and hopeless in life, or literally lying dead and moldering in our graves, only God is able to “make these bones live.” We should never look at ourselves, as a church, or as individuals, and fear that we cannot live. For the power is not ours, but God’s. For we worship the God, not of the dead, but of the Living! Only His Spirit can breathe life back into us, and show that He is in control of everything. It takes faith to trust in God, and not know when He will give relief—whether in this life, or only in the next. But we can be sure that we are not forgotten, and that God does not desire death or despair, but life and hope. And God is not limited by physical death, from keeping our hope alive. So let those dry bones hear again this Word of the Lord: Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at

  1. The hymn Go to Dark Gethsemane (LSB 436) talks about the “breathless clay” of Jesus. What does this mean, and how does this image relate to Ezekiel 37, and Genesis 2:7?
  2. What was going on with Israel, during the time Ezekiel prophesied? Ezekiel 1:1; 33:21. How does that relate to the way that the Israelites felt? Ezekiel 37:11; cf. 33:10.
  3. In two stages—what power 1) stirs the bones to connect together, and cover with flesh; and then 2) causes life to return to these bodies? 37:4, 9
  4. How do passages like Ezekiel 33:11 and 37:12-14 show the heart of God? What kind of God is He? Matthew 22:32. Over which type of problem does God have control—physical death, or spiritual discouragement?
  5. The Hebrew word ruach, like the Greek word pneuma, both can mean “spirit”, “breath”, or “wind.” When Ezekiel prophesies to the “breath” or “wind” and it fills the bodies, how is this again parallel to Genesis 2:7, and also suggestive of Jesus’ own rising from His grave?
  6. What kind of resurrection do we look forward to? 1 Corinthians 15:49, 54. Whose body and resurrection is a “template” for ours?
  7. What sort of mockery and ridicule “goes with the territory” of being a Christian? How did Jesus respond to mockery? What do “exiles” remember when they are mocked, and have little or no earthly power?
  8. Why can we be confident that God still sends His Ruach or Spirit out to make us alive and viable today? Luke 11:13

Monday, April 02, 2018

Sermon on Job 19:23-27, for the Resurrection of our Lord, Easter Sunday (1 Yr lectionary), "I Know that my Redeemer Lives!"

Note: this sermon is revised and expanded by myself, from an original sermon by Rev. Dr. Reed Lessing, part of a purchased series of Lent and Easter sermons titled "Job: Blessed Be the Name of the Lord." The entire series is available for purchase through the Concordia Seminary Store as an inexpensive download. Our congregation has greatly appreciated the study of Job in both Sunday Bible class and midweek services, concluding with this message. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
For a child, the dark can be frightening—even and especially the dark bedroom, dark hallway, or dark bathroom at night. And that’s all on “familiar ground” inside the home! Not to mention plenty of other dark and scary places outside the home on unfamiliar ground! No, a child doesn’t want to go alone. Even reassuring words from a tired parent: “There’s nothing to be afraid of. No, there are no monsters. Just go! You’ll be fine!” often aren’t enough to convince a child to go alone into the darkness. Some particularly demanding youngsters won’t budge until you come with them, in the flesh. They’ll tug and pull on your hand until you relent. They don’t want just your words or the vague nearness of your presence; they want a hand they can hold, and someone in front of them in the dark. The child wants a strong hand guiding him and a tender heart loving him. They want you there in the flesh!
Job is a familiar friend on Easter Sundays. His famous confession of faith in the Bible reading: “I know that My Redeemer Lives” gives the title to one all-time favorite Easter hymn. These past weeks in Lent, in Bible class and midweek services, we’ve been learning the backstory of this famous example of faith and endurance in the midst of suffering.
Just a moment to review: Job knows all about long, dark hallways. Come with me, to a God-forsaken, ash heap. There sits Job with a shaved head and sores all over his body. His ten children have all died when a tornado destroyed their home. Raiding bands from neighboring lands and lightning from the sky have taken all his animals and killed all his servants. It has all reduced Job from his former position as the greatest man in the east to being a pitiful, ghastly sight, scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery. Any number of giants had jumped out and chewed Job up for a late-night snack. This wasn’t just a bad dream or fright—fear had already been realized in the most horrible ways for Job.
There are a couple of startling passages of brilliant faith where Job appeals to God to give him a mediator, an umpire, a referee. Someone to stand between Job and God and settle their differences justly. He longs for eternal life and trusts it’s coming. He’s confident he’ll be vindicated, and that his fate will not be with the wicked. Job cries out to God for a witness in heaven who will argue Job’s case before God. Each of these passages are mountain peaks that rise above the sunken valleys of Job’s despair; and each of them yearns for the very hope we find realized in Jesus Christ.
On this day of days, Resurrection Day, we wrap up our sermon series on the book of Job, on the mountaintop of Job 19:25, spoken right in the midst of Job’s fervent wrestling with God. “I know that my Redeemer lives,” Job affirms. What’s it mean? It means we aren’t insulated from life’s tragedies, but neither are we intimidated by them. It means we aren’t captive to fear, of the real or imagined; and neither do we face the dark alone. It means we have someone to walk with us through life’s long, dark, winding hallways. And he’s in the flesh! This verse is the Mt. Everest of Job! Let’s take in the view.
As we climb the mountain, we begin at the first base camp. “I know.” Job is living his worst nightmare. Job 3:25: “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” And yet Job doesn’t say, “I kind of think . . .” or, “I sure would like it if . . .” or, “Wouldn’t it be nice if . . .” No way! Although Job has been severely assaulted, he is not defeated. Although he has lost much that was valuable to him, he still has what was most precious. Job could have sung these words sincerely against the devil’s assaults: And take they our life, goods fame, child, and wife. Though these all be gone, our vict’ry has been won; the kingdom ours remaineth.” He would not abandon faith in God, because he knew that God is his deliverance. Although he is down, he is not out!
Job dares to confess, “I know.” Even with the enormous uncertainty around him, this was one thing he knew for sure. There are plenty of things we don’t know. We don’t know why we had to bury the love of our life. We don’t know why that child turned against us. We don’t know why we lost that job. We don’t know why our parents emotionally abandoned us. We don’t know why we got that inexplicable illness. Often we just don’t know what God is doing in our lives. But instead of living in whimpering sadness, and letting the giants consume us, with Job, we dare to say, “I know!” “I know” . . what? “I know that my Redeemer.” We are getting higher! Job doesn’t say, “His Redeemer. Her Redeemer. A Redeemer. Their Redeemer. Or your Redeemer.” No. It’s personal and particular. It’s intimate and individual. It’s, “my Redeemer.” Job will not let go of God and His mercy.
In the Old Testament a redeemer was a close relative—someone in the flesh!—who would rescue, ransom, recover, or redeem anyone who had been, or was in danger of being removed from the family by poverty, war, death, or a poor economy. So, for instance, if someone had fallen into debt and had sold himself into slavery in order to pay back debts, the redeemer bought him back and set him free. If a piece of property had to be sold, the redeemer made sure that the title to the property remained in the family. And if a member of the family was hurt or killed, the redeemer pursued the legal options and collected the damages assessed against the offender.
Whatever goes bad your redeemer will make good. Let me repeat that. Whatever goes bad your redeemer will make good. What is broken will be mended, what is sick will be healed, whatever is lost will be restored and what is dead will be made alive! When sin has broken us and left us for dead, and our situation seems beyond hope—we still have a Redeemer, when no other hands can rescue us. Really? That’s what Job 19:26 says, “And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” “I know my Redeemer.” His name is Jesus. Jesus is not a mystical, abstract, impersonal vague idea. He does not send us into the dark alone. Jesus is the strong hand guiding us and a tender heart loving us when we are faced with a long, dark hallway. But He is not just the Redeemer of “last resort”—but He is my Redeemer, day in and day out, giving me His strength and mercy.
As our Redeemer, Jesus comes not simply to see that justice is done, but that mercy is given. Jesus bears whatever needs to be borne and carries whatever needs to be carried in order to see that our wrongs are righted. If a sentence needs to be served, he will serve it. If a fine needs to be paid, he will pay it. He does whatever it takes to set us free, even if it means giving his life for ours. Jesus forgives my guilt and Jesus destroys my grave. And he did it all in the flesh. Flesh that felt the Roman whip at a place called Gabbatha—the Stone Pavement. Flesh that felt the blazing Palestinian sun while He carried his cross-piece on the Via Dolorosa. Flesh that felt the thorns on his head and the hammering of the nails into his hands and feet. Flesh and muscles and nerves that, for six hours, bled on a cross all alone in a long, dark, God-forsaken hallway called Golgotha. And you can bet that there were giants who jumped out and chewed Jesus up like a late-night snack. Romans. Scribes. Pharisees. And there was Satan who stalked our Savior, took aim, shot straight, and killed. Jesus walked alone into the darkness—deep down into the throat of death.
Three days later this cry rocked the world, “I know that my Redeemer . . . lives!” Now we stand on the top of the world. We can see everything! The angels announced, “He is alive!” John outran Peter to the tomb. Mary cried out “Raboni!” The Emmaus disciples recognized the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread. And when he saw the scars on the living Redeemer Thomas climactically said, “My Lord and my God!” Death is dead. The grave is defeated. The free gift of eternal life is absolutely all yours forever and ever and ever!
People saw Jesus, literally. They didn’t see a phantom or experience a feeling. They didn’t experience a “figurative” resurrection like the blooming of springtime as a reminder of renewal, and make up some story about Jesus. Eulogies often include such phrases as, “She’ll live on in my heart.” Christ’s followers didn’t say this. That’s because they saw him in the flesh. He wasn’t still dead, but now cherished in their hearts—He was literally alive! Physically and factually resurrected from the dead—in the flesh. Heart and blood pumping, lungs breathing, brain and neurons firing, scarred hands extending greeting to the disciples—in the flesh.
And interestingly, that’s just how Job describes his confidence—that after his skin has been destroyed—i.e. long after his body has returned to the earth in the grave—“in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Just as fleshy and real as Jesus was at his resurrection—just as fleshy and real does Job understand he will be, when on that future day, long after death, he is alive again in the flesh to see God with his own eyes. Job gives us the most marvelous confession of the resurrection of the body, long ago in the Old Testament. Even though Jesus was generations away from being revealed—Job knew that His Redeemer would not fail him.
And the disciples and women that morning walked to a dark tomb, expecting to see death—but were surprised to discover life! Surprised to be the witnesses of Job’s Redeemer, who at the last stood upon the earth, and greeted them ALIVE! Job, them, you and I together can call Him—my Redeemer, and confess that He truly LIVES!
There’s a word for all of this. Grace. Grace is the amazing gift God gives us that says even when it’s all wrong around us, at the very core of our lives, where we really are the most wrong, God has worked to make it right by the forgiveness of all our sins. Our Redeemer “rights” what has been wrong because of sin. He turns us in repentance back to Him, and away from the death of sin. Grace frees us to be the person God wants us to be—unchained from sin and the power of death, and free to walk after Him in newness of life. Grace sustains us on the days when we can barely cope with life, because we have faith that God’s promises and mercy have not come to an end, but His faithfulness endures. Grace is the love poured out for us so that all our debts are paid, we are released from slavery, and our brokenness is repaired.
What’s it all mean? It means that whatever your dark hallway looks like and whatever your giants are saying, you do not walk alone. You can say adios! to the irrational fears of darkness, worry, and anxiety—and for the real fears that have already been realized—the diagnosis, the layoff, the foreclosure, whatever—you can firmly grab the hand of Christ and follow Him through the valley of the Shadow of Death and know that He won’t leave you, that He’s gone ahead of you, even to death, and that He lives, Yes He Lives! “He lives, all glory to his name! He lives, my Jesus, still the same. Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives: ‘I know that my Redeemer lives!’” Alleluia! Amen!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Meditation on Mark 14:27-31, 37-38, 66-72, for Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion (1 Yr lectionary), "Willing Spirit, Weak Flesh"

Out of the flood of images that pour out of the Passion reading, seize on the person of Peter for a moment. At the Last Supper, Jesus says “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Jesus is quoting from the prophet Zechariah, explaining how all His disciples would abandon Him in His hour of greatest need. But also, that Jesus would rise up from death, and rendezvous with them in Galilee (this of course they forgot until after the resurrection). But Peter is eager to proclaim his undying loyalty to Jesus: “Even though they all fall away, I will not.”
Probably many of us at one time or another have imagined ourselves doing something heroic in the midst of danger. Or showing our loyalty to the extreme, or standing up bravely when others failed. But how will we be tested? And would we stand the test? Jesus soberly answered Peter’s boast: “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. They could not imagine their betrayal or denial of Jesus—but when it came down to it, Jesus was right. They all abandoned Him.
The next scene, in Gethsemane, Jesus calls them to fervent prayer. Certainly not the most strenuous test they would face. A simple call to prayer and spiritual discipline, in the face of the coming crisis. Yet even in this modest test, sleep overcame them. Sorrowfully, Jesus says to Peter: “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
These words capture our human condition with the sheer honesty, accuracy, and authority of God living in the flesh. Our spirit is willing. We want to follow, to be loyal, to be brave, to be spiritually self-disciplined and to stand the test. We want to walk faithfully on that path of discipleship, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and restraining our sinful desires and impulses, and we want to choose what is good and pleasing to God. We want to be brave like Peter promised, but to succeed where he failed. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. Those words of Jesus are haunting. They tell us that in spite of our best intentions, our sinful flesh is apt to get the better of us. Sometimes we may struggle and win, by God’s grace. Other times the flesh may prevail because our flesh is weak. Our weakness may or may not show up as cowardliness, as it did when Peter denied our Lord three times. It may show itself as a weakness to resist temptation. It may show itself as a stubbornness against the goodness of God’s will and design. A weakness that is blind to the self-injury of sin, and its moral and spiritual cost.
I don’t need to recount to you the vigor and determination of Peter, when he denied ever knowing Jesus. When he turned His back on his beloved Lord, teacher, and friend. But when Peter heard the rooster crow, and remembered Jesus’ words, he wept bitterly. The hymn “Jesus, Refuge of the Weary” has this line: “Do we pass that cross unheeding, breathing no repentant vow, though we see you wounded, bleeding, see your thorn encircled brow?” When we have succumbed to our weak flesh, when our willing spirit has lost the struggle to our weak flesh, do we weep? Do we utter a groan of repentance? Or do we pass the cross of Jesus and His suffering without noticing? Unaffected? For one who has tasted the goodness of the Lord, who has known the depth of God’s mercy, our sins and betrayals, our foolish choices and wrongs are a bitter taste in our mouth. We know the taste of goodness, and long for it. But oh our flesh is weak!
Today we also remember that the scenes we hear and witness, are just two chapters of the relationship between Peter and Jesus. There was much more to be written in the story of Peter’s life of discipleship, as there is for ours. This chapter ended badly for Peter. Jesus went, as He knew He would, alone to the cross. Abandoned, betrayed, denied. The hymn writer finishes the verse: “Yet Your sinless death has brought us life eternal, peace and rest; only what Your grace has taught us calms the sinner’s deep distress.” Thanks be to Jesus, that His Spirit was willing and His flesh was strong—in the end, all that counts is that Jesus was able to do what we were unable. For the bitter weeping of Peter, only the grace of Jesus calms that deep distress. For our wanderings, when we spit out the bitter taste of sin in our mouths, only what God’s grace has taught us can restore and comfort us. The consolation of Jesus on the cross for our sins, is that He has accomplished everything for us—the full disposal of our sin and it’s bitter guilt—and the full declaration of our forgiveness by faith in Him. He left nothing to chance—He did not leave it to our fickle abilities or willpower, nor to our weak and sin-prone flesh. His sinless death brings us life eternal, peace and rest. And He puts the good taste of His mercy back in our mouths with the Covenant of His body and blood, given for you. For this consolation of Jesus—for this hope for every sinner—for our baptism into His death and resurrection to be made new—for this, we ever praise and glorify Jesus—the Name above all names. Amen. Pray: Lord give us a clean and willing spirit, and a strengthened and renewed flesh, to serve you truly. Amen.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Sermon on Hebrews 9:11-15, for the 5th Sunday in Lent 2018 (1 Yr Lectionary), "The Blood of Jesus"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Our reading today from Hebrews gives us more than enough to chew on, that could keep us occupied for hours, with the many connecting lines between the Old Covenant and New Covenant in Jesus Christ. The Biblical concept of “covenant” is very important in Hebrews. A “covenant” is like a contract or binding agreement between two parties. So our reading is a contrast between the Old and New Covenants. What are those? The Old Covenant is what God made with Moses and Israel on Mt. Sinai. Including the 10 Commandments, but also the whole system of sacrifices and worship. This involved the blood of goats and calves, the ashes of the heifer, the high priest and the tent, all mentioned in the reading.
These are all elements of the Old Covenant. God ransomed Israel from slavery in Egypt, and was in the process of establishing them as a new, free nation, set apart to serve and obey Him. And this was His binding contract with them—the covenant on Mt. Sinai. It promised great blessings—but it depended on their obedience to Him. You could describe it as a “conditional covenant”. Under these conditions—obedience, repentance, and trust in God, and He would bless and prosper them. But if they broke those conditions (as they surely and quickly did), then God’s blessings would cease—and the more disobedient and unrepentant they became, the more they would face God’s curse and punishments. Those were aimed at turning them back to repentance, like a cold bucket of water to shock someone out of a stupor.
This Old Covenant involved a divinely designed center of worship, called the Tabernacle—which was a richly decorated tent, that was very large, but mobile. It went everywhere the Israelites traveled, through 40 years in the wilderness before they inherited the land of Canaan. At this Tabernacle, or tent of worship, priests made animal sacrifices to the Lord, to make atonement with God for the sins of the people. Priests could only enter the tent by the blood of the sacrifices. It’s a gory picture, and a reminder of the painful lesson that the Israelites observed whenever they sinned—sin is costly, and deserves punishment in death—but it’s also a glory picture, because it reminded them that God provided an innocent substitute on their behalf. Hebrews 8 says that all of these various details—the priests and what they did, the sacrifices, the design of the Tabernacle or tent—these were all copies and shadows of the heavenly things. In other words, they communicated heavenly truths and pointed to something greater than themselves—which is Jesus Christ and the New Covenant. Walking into the tabernacle was like walking into a picture lesson filled with meaningful symbols.
The Old Covenant of Moses and Israel, the 10 Commandments and their worship and sacrifices, points to the New Covenant in Jesus. Who came not as the New Lawgiver, but as the book of John tells us: “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth come through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Jesus brings redemption and forgiveness from the sins committed against the broken first covenant. Jesus is the Grace-giver. “Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come”. Jesus was not only a superior high priest, to those who had come before Him—He is the sinless and eternal Great High Priest, who serves us forever. He brings all good things—forgiveness of sins, life everlasting, the abundant gifts of His Holy Spirit.
It goes on to say that He entered through the “greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places.” The greater and more perfect tent of Jesus is His own body! How do I know this? Because in John 1:14, describing Jesus, it says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father.” But the word “dwelt among us” is actually “tabernacled” or “tented” among us, in Greek! Both Hebrews and John use that “tenting” word to point back to the place of Old Testament worship—but connecting it forward to the incarnation  of Jesus Christ. Why the two are connected is this—the tabernacle or tent, was God’ dwelling place or tangible presence among His people. But now in Christ Jesus, that’s located in a human person, not an impersonal tent. And Jesus’ “greater and more perfect tent” was not made with hands or of this creation, because He is God’s Divine Son!
When it says that Jesus entered once for all into the holy places by means of His own blood, securing an eternal redemption—this tells what the priests under the Old Covenant entering the tabernacle were never able to secure for the people. Their work was repeated over and over. An endless stream of sacrifices and blood of bulls and goats, but never finally removing sin. But it was an important picture of how Jesus would perfect and complete their work—entering once for all, by His own pure, precious, holy and innocent blood, and finally removing all our sin, achieving our eternal redemption. No more repetition, no more sacrifices, but Jesus died for our sins, once and for all. He alone had access to what was inaccessible and unattainable under the old covenant.
Compare the sanctifying blood of Christ to the blood of the animals in the Old Covenant. Their blood was only able to purify the flesh—an outward cleansing from sin—but Jesus’ blood cleanses much deeper. “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Jesus’ blood cleanses our conscience—the inner guilt and shame that clings to our heart when we have done wrong, and have been defiled or made unclean through our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. This, Jesus’ blood cleanses away. A deep, spiritual, internal cleaning, that leaves us washed and whiter than snow. A clean and renewed conscience. Our conscience is an inner courtroom that judges our actions right or wrong, or an alarm that sounds to keep us from doing wrong. But when our conscience has been violated—when we have violated God’s law—the cries and distresses of the conscience can only properly be addressed and washed with the blood of Jesus. The conscience that is not at peace can throw us into an inner torment or despair; or even be warped into self-justification and hypocrisy. Jesus’ shed blood is the only cure for the troubled conscience.
My kids, just like me when I was young; and maybe just like you, are always puzzled by the statement that Jesus’ blood purifies us and washes us clean. They say things like, “but blood is messy and makes you more dirty or yucky!” Better than any detergent or cleanser, Jesus’ blood purifies and washes out the stubborn stains of sin. Only Jesus’ blood, shed on the cross, can get that sin out of your life—to wash and drain out all the filthy grime of sin, and leave you better than new. From our earthly vantage point, that seems impossible, as we continue to struggle with sin, but from Jesus’ vantage point, “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 5:11). This is Jesus’ work in you. He purifies deep down to your very conscience, and makes you alive to God in Him. No better washing we could ask for! And at the price of His blood!
And this cleansing by Jesus’ blood is for God’s purpose—that our conscience would be purified from dead works to serve the living God. The difference between dead works and living works is whether we have faith in God. God is not pleased or served by works that are not done in faith. Going through the motions of obeying God, or walking through rituals and commands without faith, is not pleasing to God. But purified from dead works, with our sin washed away and a conscience freed in Jesus, then we are called to serve the living God. Our lives are made instruments of His service, and we bear living fruit as our lively faith drinks in the nourishing Life of Jesus, the Living Vine. Living faith in a Living Lord bears living fruit in service to others. Your lives become a beautiful service as you find creative, compassionate, and courageous ways to serve those around you, and to bring Christ’s love and light into their world.
The last verse of the reading is this: “Therefore He is the mediator of the new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” Jesus calls us to an eternal inheritance, just as it earlier said that Jesus secured for us an eternal redemption. Lasting, unfading, never spoiled or destroyed—eternal. All by Jesus’ death.
We began today by talking about how important the word “covenant” is to the author of Hebrews. A contract or binding agreement. Jesus’ death sealed this new covenant in His blood, for the forgiveness of sins. A very particular kind of covenant—Jesus’ last will and testament. An unconditional covenant—not like the old covenant that was broken, and that depended on our obedience—but a new covenant based on His obedience and His promises. Jesus celebrated the establishment of that covenant in His blood when He ate His last Supper with the disciples, saying, “Drink of it all of you, this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” And it was ratified and sealed when He died on the cross, so that we now share in His eternal inheritance. Such a love our Father has for us, that Jesus, His Son freely made such a covenant of blessing and good things for us. A new covenant of forgiveness that is shared with us and brought forward each week in the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. This is God’s covenant of forgiveness with us. God’s plan, stretching from Old Testament to New, all folds together perfectly centering in Jesus Christ. Give thanks for such a great High Priest! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at

  1. Read Hebrews 9:11-15. What is the “old covenant” (implied in the reading) and the “new covenant” referring to?  What place of worship did the old covenant direct Moses to build? Exodus chapter 25ff.
  2. How was the old covenant “conditional?” Under what conditions would they receive blessings? Curses? Deuteronomy 28. What eventually happened with Israel, concerning this covenant? Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 9:15.
  3. What lesson did the old covenant believers learn about sin, when they witnessed and participated in the sacrifices? What lesson about substitution?
  4. Jesus is not the new lawgiver, but the bringer of what? John 1:17. What are the “good things” (Heb. 9:11) that He brings?
  5. How is Jesus the “greater and more perfect tent?” John 1:14; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:1-4. Why does it say it was “not made with hands” or “of this creation”?
  6. How deep a cleansing does Jesus’ blood give us? Hebrews 9:14; 10:22; Isaiah 1:18; 1 John 1:7.
  7. How permanent is Jesus’ role as mediator and high priest? How permanent is the redemption that He has secured for us? Hebrews 9:12, 15, 25-26.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Sermon on John 6:1-15, for the 4th Sunday in Lent 2018 (1 YR), "God can work with that"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. It’s worth noting that the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 is the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded by all four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—outside of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which are the main focus of all four. In all four retellings of the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus turns to His disciples to provide for the food, and they are in disbelief. How can we possibly feed this multitude? Only John’s Gospel records Jesus’ specific question to Philip: “Where are we to buy bread that these people may eat?” and explains that Jesus was testing him, because He already knew what He was going to do.
We don’t often appreciate being tested—especially if we’re caught by surprise. Pop quizzes are sure to make any student groan and panic. In work and personal relationships, if we find someone is testing us, we’re often suspicious of their hidden motives. In our faith life, we often question why God is testing us. But God sure seems to do it a lot. In the Old Testament reading, also about a miraculous feeding with bread from heaven, God was testing the Israelites to see whether they would obey Him or not. Well, like it or not, at least we know in general God’s motives when He tests our faith—it is to deepen our trust and dependence on Him.
So when Jesus tests Philip and the disciples to feed a multitude of people (5,000 men, plus women and children), it’s obvious to human wisdom that He’s asking far too much of them. But by God’s own wisdom, and by His knowledge and calculation, He’s not asking too much of them at all—because He knows what He’s going to do. Philip is quick to do the math and reply that 200 denarii, more than half a year’s wages, wouldn’t buy enough bread for everyone in the crowd to have a bite. Isn’t this just like us, to face a test or challenge that God has placed before us in life, do a self-inventory, and think that we come up short? We might even protest, like Philip—“God, you really haven’t given me much to work with—how do expect me to get the job done? Honestly, do the math and you’ll see it can’t work.”
Next comes Andrew, and you can sense his embarrassment to offer up for the service of Christ—these humble gifts of a small child. “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” What a tiny inventory to feed a crowd totaling probably 15-20 thousand! But in Jesus’ hands and by His wisdom, this was just the thing! Why did Jesus want these small gifts—this small offering of food that was already on hand? To show that it is not in our might or resources, but in God’s power and generosity to give. Perhaps Pastor Fricke’s best known quote is: “You can’t out give God”. And Pastor Roschke loves to point out from this text that “what’s on hand is enough.” Jesus takes a look at what God in His goodness has already provided us, and says, “I can work with that!”
What service is God now calling us to do? What hungry multitudes to feed, or what restless and needy people, does Jesus lift up His eyes upon, and have compassion on? What is testing or challenging your faith right now, that demands your resources—but you inventory them to be too small? God is reminding you to trust in Him, not in your own wisdom or resources. We don’t have to look far to find places where Christ’s compassion calls us to serve—as near as our neighbors, our families, our schools and communities, there are needs to be filled, and people in need of God’s love. And beyond these, there are limitless opportunities to serve the poor, the suffering, and defenseless.
What are the gifts of our children meant to be offered for? Among these children, students here at Emmanuel, among your children, or those of your friends and neighbors, those whom you mentor, or grandparent, or encourage—what are their talents, gifts and abilities that Christ is calling forward to be offered, to be multiplied and blessed in the service of others? Jesus does not think little of these gifts that He has already given, and He knows His intent and purpose to multiply, bless, and use them for His service. Our test is to lean into Him, and trust and follow His lead.
Let us not, like Andrew, be embarrassed to imagine the possibilities of those humble gifts, or like Philip to doubt what could be done with so little—but like Jesus, be delighted to work with, multiply and increase those gifts to the glory of God! Let us each bring our gifts, however lowly and humble they may seem, and place them into Jesus’ hands to bless and multiply, and be given to serve others. Life is infinitely better (even with all challenges it brings) when lived according to God’s wisdom, instead of our human wisdom. Human wisdom is small and short-sighted, while God’s wisdom is infinite and sees beyond all horizons. Human wisdom picks up on obvious details—mostly the problems and our scanty resources. But God’s wisdom perceives the solutions, even if He doesn’t clue us in on them, we can trust that He knows all that He is ready to give and to do when we work for His purposes.
Jesus performed a miracle—multiplying and increasing the food so greatly that 12 baskets were filled with the leftover pieces. There was more leftover than there was to begin with, and everyone was filled and satisfied, and nothing went to waste. Also unique to John’s telling of the story, is this detail: that Jesus’ miracle made them realize that Jesus was the great Prophet that Moses had foretold. They saw themselves standing at the brink of history being made—and they were right about that—but they misunderstood what would happen. They tried to take Jesus by force, and make Him king. What’s that all about?
For centuries Israel was in turmoil as a nation—currently ruled by the powerful Roman empire, which they hated, and many other empires before that. Revolutionaries came and went, always promising to restore the kingdom to Israel, but all of them failing. So here they thought they had their man. With His bread-making miracles, and other great signs and wonders He had done, they figured their problems were solved! Make Jesus their king, and they’d be unstoppable, and could return to the peace and prosperity of the good old days.
And unlike almost any other person offered such power, Jesus turned it down and went away into the wilderness by Himself. To understand why, we need to relate this miracle to Jesus’ cross. The rest of John chapter 6 is a lengthy sermon that follows the miracle, after the crowd tracks Him down and finds Him somewhere else Jesus tells them “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Jesus tells them to stop thinking only about their stomach cravings—but to hunger instead for spiritual food that leads to eternal life. The lengthy sermon that follows is about how He is the Bread of Life, and who will give up His life for the life of the world.
So Jesus rejects being made king by the popularity of the masses, but instead offers Himself up to eventual mistreatment, betrayal, abuse, and death on the cross. There, at the cross, He would bear the title of king—though He said His kingdom was not of this world. He came to rule a greater kingdom. While they wanted their stomachs filled and their nation freed, what Jesus was really ready to do for them, and saw that they truly needed was for Him to suffer and die for their sins. That’s what He was sent to do. That’s what He was going to do, so that we might have life. But they still couldn’t wrap their heads around it. Of course it’s easier to recognize the hunger of our belly than the emptiness of our soul without God. It takes some introspection to see and recognize our spiritual hunger, sin, and need.
Jesus turns away from human wisdom, with its limited perception, and invites them into His heavenly wisdom. He calls with words like these: John 6:51, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” When Jesus left them that day, without the bread-king that they wanted—He left to serve them in a far more significant way, as His steps traced the path to His cross. That was His destination and the throne of His coronation, not with gold and jewels, but with thorns. He went there because humanity needs so much more in life than food to fill our stomachs for a day, or a better leader to rule our nation. Like that crowd, our attention might be drawn to those things. And the Lord knows that we need them, and generously provides us our daily bread.  But Jesus knows that we have an even deeper need for total rescue from our sinful condition. We need spiritual food to satisfy the deepest hunger of our soul. And only Jesus—no other king or leader—can provide both. Only Jesus offers up His perfect, costly life as the Son of God as the sacrifice for our sins. Only Jesus is the Bread of Life that gives us eternal life, when we believe in Him.
The crowds weren’t going to just stumble upon this truth and figure out for themselves—it wasn’t a point that they could grasp without guidance—but everything in the Gospels pointed this direction, to the cross. Only after He gave Himself up on the cross, and physically rose up, alive again, after three days dead in the grave, did it become clear what Jesus’ Kingship was. This is what I mean that the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 “sets the table” for greater things. Jesus came as the Bread of Life, to feed much more than a multitude on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, 2,000 years ago. Jesus offers Himself as Bread of Life to all mankind, a multitude that stretches far beyond the shores of that remote lake in Israel. “For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (6:33). Still today, Jesus’ followers—you and I, are distributing His life to the world. Whenever we carry the Good News that Jesus died for our sins, and rose to defeat death, we carry it out to a world of hungry souls. Jesus tests us, “Where will you get bread so these people may eat?” And we learn by faith to answer: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” (6:68). He is the Bread of Life, and He is more than enough to feed a world that is hungry for eternal life with God. Jesus looks around at each of us, and all the gifts He has blessed us with, and sees that it is enough, because He has already planned in His heart what He will do. Go out in joy, knowing that God will bless and multiply all the work that is done for Him, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at

  1. The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle (outside of the cross and resurrection) found in all four Gospels. John records some unique details. What does John 6:5-6 tell us about what Jesus was doing?
  2. How did Philip and Andrew respond? What do their answers show?
  3. How do we often respond when we are tested, or meet a challenge that seems too big for us?
  4. What opportunities and needs are in front of us, in our families, schools, and communities, where God is calling us to have compassion and help?
  5. What are the gifts, talents, and abilities God has already given you? How can Jesus tell us that this is enough, or that He can work with what we have available? John 6:6. How much was left over after the miracle?
  6. What idea did the crowd suddenly have, about what to do with Jesus? John 6:14-15. Why is it unusual that Jesus resisted this (compared to other leaders, and people offered power)? What did Jesus want or plan to do instead?
  7. Keep reading the rest of John 6. What problem did Jesus say the people had, with what they were seeking? John 6:26-27.
  8. How was Jesus planning on doing a much greater “feeding” than the miracle they just witnessed? John 6:51. How many are fed by Jesus’ death on the cross? John 6:33; 68.
  9. How do we continue to feed the world? Where do we get this ‘bread’ to feed them?