Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sermon on 1 Peter 1:22-25, for Lent 2, "I'm Being True to Myself"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Last week we talked about how life is better when we entrust it into the hands of our God. Tonight I invite you to reflect on the question of “identity.” Is our identity something that we create ourselves, and that’s subject to and shaped by the changes and chances of life? Or is our identity something graciously given to us by God, that anchors us and shapes who we are? Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

You’ve probably heard people say before, “I’m being true to myself!”. Usually it comes in somewhat of a defensive mode, when someone’s defending their actions. “Hey, I’m just being true to myself.” It sounds like “I’m doing my own thing, and if you don’t like it, that’s fine with me.” But how can you say you’re being true to yourself unless you know your true identity? In today’s world it would seem that more than ever, our identity is up for grabs. It used to be that identity was more strongly determined by your family or culture or community. But today we’re led to believe that we can’t really know who we are. So we’re told that we’re made up of so many different influences and changing circumstances that our identity is akin to a constantly changing patchwork quilt made of our shifting desires, fashion tastes, relationships, experiences, pieces of our parents, pieces of the Bible, pieces of the media.

Perhaps that’s even an appealing view of our identity for some people, in our increasingly fragmented and disconnected world where bonds to family, to hometown, to community are more and more tenuous. We’re even encouraged in many ways to create our own identity, especially through the virtual world of the computer. Facebook, MySpace profiles, dating services and social networks that connect people with common interests all allow us to create and modify our “profile.” We can project ourselves however we want to be seen. By selecting what pictures will be seen, by choosing different descriptions and affiliations, by associating with certain groups, we shape and project the identity we want to be seen. We don’t even need a computer to do this. In our work place, in our social relationships, in our church, we also let people see only the certain identity that we want to be seen. We may be consciously or subconsciously changing that as time goes by. It gives us a sense of control, and ability to put aside old identities and choose new ones.

But is this really being true to ourselves? Or more importantly, does it allow us to be true to God? It does not. To find our identity in these ways, is to drift aimlessly on the changing currents of our desires, of society’s pressures and influences, and all the other unexpected circumstances of life. This is a recipe for an identity crisis.

Jesus said heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Our reading from Peter quotes from Isaiah, “The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25). We’re assured that change and decay are constant. The world and all that’s in it is temporary and perishable. But the word of Jesus will never pass away—our Lord’s word remains forever. In a world that’s constantly shifting and changing, there’s one thing eternal that’s an anchor for our soul and for identity. That’s God’s Word. How’s that related to our identity? Hear again those verses from 1 Peter: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” That living and abiding word of God that’s imperishable, that’s eternal and unchangeable, is the seed by which we’re born again. Whether by hearing the Word as an adult, or being baptized with the Word and water as a child, we’ve been born again for a new and living hope.

Guess what? Being born again by God’s Word means that we have a new identity! Whatever fragmented or patchwork identity or identities we’ve created for ourselves, whatever posturing we’ve done, genuine or disingenuous, whatever old identities we’d really rather be free of, these are all part of the old. They’re all the fragmented pieces we tried to put together to make ourselves into whatever image we thought best. It’s the ‘old you’ produced by thinking that life is better in my own hands. But for all who’ve been baptized into Christ Jesus, we’ve been gifted with a new identity. We have a grounding, a foundation of who we’re, that centers us and gives us meaning and purpose in our life. The identity of being ‘Christian’ means that first and foremost, who we are is shaped by Jesus Christ. We’re set apart from the world. We don’t take our cue or define who we are by what the world dictates to us. And it’s not true that we can’t really know who we are.

Our identity is given and shaped by God’s Word and His forgiveness. Jesus invites us to learn who we are as God’s children, and what that new identity means for our lives in this world. This new identity is God’s new creation in you. It’s the blossoming of that imperishable seed of God’s Word into a life that’s wholly given to His purposes. A life bearing fruit of the spirit that shows we’ve been transformed from the inside out. A life that’s washed clean of old sins and desires; no longer shifting, changeable, confused and lost. But now a life that’s anchored on God’s Word. A life that knows the guide between right and wrong, laid down in God’s Law. A life that’s shaped and motivated by the desire to love unceasingly, and to be a neighbor to whoever we meet.

All of this new identity is possible for us because of what Jesus has done for us in dying on the cross. In our baptism we were reborn into that event of Jesus death on the cross. Our identity as a condemned sinner is changed to an identity of forgiven saint in Jesus Christ. Our identity of trusting no one but ourselves is changed into an identity of trusting our heavenly Father who has given us an eternal salvation. Our life is bound to Jesus Christ. That’s true for you, for me, and for us all. Our “Life Together” is about our identity as children of God! We don’t have to pay for this identity and cannot earn it through hard work. God sees you and me through His Son Jesus.

Our new identity in Christ will be under constant challenge and attack. We’ll be tempted to obscure it. Especially for those of you who work outside of the environs of the church and its schools, you may spend most of your time surrounded by non-Christians. Will we choose to be identified by the perishable things of a world passing away, or will we choose to hold fast to the imperishable seed of God’s Word that will outlast all? It’s in God’s Word that we find that God is always true to Himself and true to His promises. And if He’s true to His promises, then we can anchor ourselves and our identity firmly on Him, because He will always be true to us. Therefore, living in that new baptismal identity, daily and weekly fed and nourished by His Word, may we be true to our God by holding fast to Jesus in faith and in Christian life together.

And may the Word of God grow in you richly through “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:16-17). Amen.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sermon on Luke 4:1-13, for the 1st Sunday in Lent, "Devil's Food?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Welcome again to Emmanuel for our Children’s Sunday. I pray that God’s Word may richly bless you and your families today. Today’s Gospel lesson tells of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. This took place immediately after Jesus’ baptism with water and the Spirit in the Jordan River. It was the beginning of Jesus’ public teaching ministry in the land of Israel, that lasted about 3 years before His death by crucifixion. This lesson is very important for us, because it shows us an example from the life of Jesus where He underwent temptation to sin. Of course these weren’t the only temptations Jesus faced—as the reading says at the end, the devil departed from Him until an opportune time. The devil was watchful for the right opportunities to resume his tempting. Today we learn from Jesus how to face temptation, and how He faced temptation for us. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Temptation is our daily struggle between good and evil. Our daily life is surrounded with possibilities, great and small, to do good or evil. From dishonesty and little lies, to stealing in all its many forms, to sins of the greatest magnitude—temptation is the lure, the seduction of evil. It’s the bait on the hook, dangled before your eyes. Temptation turns into sin when we swallow the bait and hook, when we give in to doing what is wrong. For that reason, and since Jesus’ first temptation was with food, let’s call temptation the “devil’s food.” It can look delicious and taste sweet, but when we eat the devil’s food, when we give into temptation, it sours our stomach and brings an unpleasant aftertaste. What do I mean by that? Simply that when the devil tempts us with doing wrong, it may promise a short-cut, an easy way out, or simply earthly pleasures, but it always ends up for our harm, rather than for our good.

To take a step backward for a moment, perhaps we try to deny that there really is this daily struggle between good and evil. We claim that we can’t really know what’s right or wrong. We even wish to believe that we determine what’s right and wrong. But while this is a convenient excuse for our actions that are immoral, dishonest, or hurtful—this kind of thinking is flawed logic. If we can’t know what’s right or wrong, or if we claim that morality is relative, then on what basis could you condemn, or even object to the actions of a tyrant like Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot? Clearly, we know the difference between good and evil. It’s just when we apply it to ourselves, it’s more convenient to have a ready excuse.

Or, on the other hand, we could admit that good and evil exist, but excuse our wrong actions on the grounds that “well, nobody’s perfect.” Of course it’s true that none of us are perfect. The Bible says that more than mere imperfection, we have rebelled against God by sinning. It says “none is righteous, no not one.” (Rom 3:10) and “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ (Rom. 3:23). But imperfection is a poor excuse for failing to strive for what is good. Say you were sitting on your recliner in your living room, watching thieves make off with your neighbor’s jewelry and flat-screen TV, and did nothing to stop them or call the police. When asked why you didn’t do anything, you said, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” Would anyone accept that excuse? While we usually don’t try these excuses in such obvious ways, we try to make them stick in many other areas of life where we’re given the choice between right and wrong, in big or small ways. But excuses just don’t wash. Whether from weakness or from willingness, when we sin, it’s our responsibility to own up to.

So we come back to the temptation of Jesus, and we see how it’s an antidote to excuse-making and complacency. The Bible tells us that Jesus is “not unable to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, but… in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He faced temptation just like us, and it was not without human weakness. Was temptation easy for Jesus to face, since as He said and the Bible testifies, He was the Son of God? He alone among all humanity, was perfect; as it says He was “without sin.” But temptation was not simple for Jesus to face. When the devil tempted Jesus to make bread to feed Himself, Jesus was truly hungry. When Jesus later faced His own impending death, it was real human fear of pain and death that tempted Him to turn away in the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested. Jesus felt real human emotions of sadness, grief, pain, and fear. It wasn’t simply a matter of fact that Jesus would live a perfect life—this episode of temptations was just one of many places in life where He could have turned away from His Father’s will and disobeyed.

Learn from how He faced temptation. He didn’t rely on supernatural power to deliver Himself from temptation. He didn’t use something that we have no access to, in order to resist temptation. Instead, He relied on the same spiritual weapon that’s readily available to each one of us. In each of these three recorded temptations of Jesus, He silenced the devil by God’s Word. And although Jesus’ particular temptations were unique to Himself, as are the temptations we face—He was tempted with the same simple things that tempt us. Hunger, thirst, power, wealth, fame. How much better would the world be if there was no hunger or competition for food and water? What if neither governments nor individuals fought for power and used corruption and violence to attain it? What if greed didn’t make us obsessed with wealth, and if self-centeredness didn’t push us toward fame? It all seems unrealistic, but I think we could all agree that the world would be far better if that were the case.

Just as we can recognize what is evil, we can also recognize what’s good. We even see that it’s desirable, but we cannot reach it—certainly not to the widespread degree that I described. But instead of excusing ourselves due to imperfection or complacency, let’s engage in that daily battle against temptation, and daily seek to do what is good. Face the innumerable daily struggles to choose between right and wrong, armed with the same weapon that Jesus used against evil. The Word of God.

But the Word of God, the Bible, is not just a book of quotes to whip out against the devil. Jesus’ first temptation shows that the Word of God has a much greater use in facing temptation than being an encyclopedia of quotes. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We don’t just memorize the Bible for quotes to use against temptation, rather we live by the Word of God. Jesus chose instead of eating the devil’s food, to eat His Father’s food: the Word of God. God’s Word was the bread and the food that sustained Jesus against temptation. So also we make God’s Word our daily bread and constant guide. When we’re offered the devil’s food of temptation, with all its hollow promises, we feed ourselves instead on the Father’s food. Our heavenly Father who’s Word is our life, and gives us power to resist temptation, gives life and hope and comfort. God’s Word is the source of all goodness, the goodness we could not attain on our own.

But if you think that the temptation of Jesus just sets up an impossible example that we could never follow in our own faltering efforts to resist sin, think again. True, many times even when we’ve fought to resist what’s wrong, we’ve given in. Many times we sinned without even knowing it, and without realizing the consequences. We’ve done things we regret. We’ve hurt those we love by what we’ve said or done. We’ve looked back and seen the bad record of our failures against temptation. Clearly when left up to us, we cannot resist or overcome evil alone. But thanks be to God that Jesus’ defeat of temptation did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. What we couldn’t achieve, He won for us. Jesus’ victory over temptation in the wilderness was repeated throughout His life, as He resisted every temptation. At every turn in life where He was tempted as we are, He didn’t sin, but sought what was good.

Jesus’ victory over temptation was repeated again and again until His greatest victory over evil was achieved on the cross. When Jesus died on the cross, He once and for all broke the devil’s power, which was sin. He won because He lived on a constant diet of God’s Word. He fed on the heavenly Father’s food that is available to each one of us in the Bible. And His victory over sin and all evil at the cross means forgiveness for all of our failures. It means that the regrets and guilt that we have over sin can be taken away, if we’ll trust in His forgiveness for us. It means that Jesus didn’t just conquer sin and temptation once for us, but once and for all. Jesus won the victory against evil that the rest of sinful humanity could not. He supplies us by faith in Him with the goodness we couldn’t get; He supplies us with the peace that the world cannot give; He brings justice to a world that twists evil and good. When Jesus promises us forgiveness, life, and salvation, these aren’t hollow promises like the devil’s food of temptation. Rather, God’s Word is always true to what He promises. It’s a healthy and wholesome food that nourishes the soul. And it conforms us toward the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29), so that we’re equipped to resist temptation. So eat well and often from the Father’s food! In Jesus’ name, Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. How does Romans 2:12-16 (esp. vs. 14-15) show that we all know the difference between good and evil? Why does the logic of saying “there’s no right and wrong” fail?

2. How does the Bible affirm that no one is perfect, but in fact we are all sinners from birth? Read Romans 3:10, 23; Romans 5:19; Psalm 51:5. What does this imply about our responsibility for our actions? What’s the penalty? Rom. 6:23

3. Read a description of temptation in James 1:12-15. How does temptation lure us? Why is “devil’s food” an appropriate label for temptation? What’s the result of falling into temptation?

4. How does Jesus’ facing of temptation aid us in our struggle against sin? Hebrews 4:14-15; Hebrews 2:14-18. What experiences does He share with us? In what way is He different?

5. What did Jesus use to resist temptation? Is it available to us or not? How can we put it into use? Read Ephesians 6:10-20.

6. How is the Word of God our food and our “bread”? Matthew 4:4; John 6:22ff.

7. What was Jesus’ finally victory over evil? Romans 5:12-21. What does this victory mean for us? What good is brought to us through His victory, that was inaccessible to us?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sermon on 1 Peter 2:13-25, for Ash Wednesday, "Life's Better in my hands!"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In our western, American culture, we have a great admiration for the icons of “rugged individualism.” There’s something that appeals to us about the pioneer spirit of those who forged their way westward across our country, and were tough, self-reliant individuals. They took their destiny into their own hands. In the wild West some of them even took the law in their own hands. But whatever the merits of self-determination may be, individualism pushed to its extreme can lead us into isolating ourselves from others in our community. It can lead us to pursue things harmful to us, against God’s guiding. The mindset of many today is that “life is better in my hands.” When I’m at the control seat, things will be better. As we contemplate our reading from 1 Peter tonight, I want us to see why those words: “Life is better in my hands” are better heard coming from God than us. It’s better for us to hear God’s calling, and to trust Jesus when He says to us, “No, Life’s better in my hands.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Peter wrote to the “elect exiles” scattered through Asia (1 Peter 1:1). Christians facing persecution for their faith. Some of that persecution would’ve come through their fellow citizens, employers, and neighbors. Some of it would’ve come through the government. So you can imagine that when they heard the words of tonight’s reading, it would have been a difficult pill to swallow. “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” (1 Pet. 2:13, 18) Now it should be no problem to submit to a good ruler, or a gentle master. Work is pleasant when you have a fair and honest boss. Being a citizen is pleasant when the government is just and effective.

But what about when the government is corrupt? What about when your master or boss is crooked and unfair? Even so, God urges us to respect the office and to be subject to them. Now, this doesn’t extend so far as to mean blind obedience to authority, even when it commands you to do reckless, immoral, or God-forbidden things. Peter faced this when he and the disciples chose to “obey God rather than men” when he was told they couldn’t preach in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:19). But we show respect and honor to the office which is held, not necessarily to the character of the man or woman who occupies that office, honorably or dishonorably. It would be so easy for us to say in such a situation, that “Life’s better in my hands.” It would be easy for a servant in the household of a unjust master to high-tail it out of there. It would be easier for an employee who feels they’re suffering unjustly to quit. Peter goes on to clarify that he doesn’t mean suffering because of some sin we’ve committed. So if we have acted wrongly or unethically, there’s no credit in suffering for the consequences we deserved. But he means when we suffer for doing good, this is a gracious thing.

Can we wrap our heads around that? Enduring hardship or suffering for what is good and right, is actually a grace from God? The only way that we can understand this is to have the mind and example of Christ who suffered for us. Interesting that it says to be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake. It’s actually for God that we do this, that we put our life in God’s hands by enduring hardship and difficulty under earthly rule. Why? It’s God’s will that by our good behavior the accusations of those who mistreat us would fall silent. But of course as we just mentioned, this only works if we actually do good, and not evil.

This Ash Wednesday we should let God’s Word of law drive us to realize that contrary to the way things might seem, life is not better in our sinful and fallible hands. It’s at the foot of the cross of Jesus that we learn that our life isn’t better in our own hands, even when mistreated for doing good. There we hear Jesus say at His death, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” Jesus who prayed, “Not my will, but Your will, O Father, be done.” Jesus truly entrusted His life into His Father’s hands, even when it meant the greatest injustice of suffering for doing what is good. His innocent life earned no part of the punishment He received. He could easily have left the suffering behind, in a way that none of us sinful humans could. But He willingly stayed, because He entrusted Himself to His Father’s hands, even to the point of death.

So as we reflect on our sin and our mortality today; when we reflect on the shortness of our life and the short-sightedness of our wisdom and perception of life, we confess that we don’t know what’s best in the big picture. We can’t see beyond the short 70-100 years we live on this planet. We don’t see eternal consequences. But we can entrust our life to someone who does. We can put ourselves into the hands of Almighty God and His gracious Son Jesus Christ, who will guide and lead us. The benefit of this, as it says, is that we “die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” We die to our old sinful nature and rise as new children of God, able to live for righteousness. We live in the freedom of Christ, not using that freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as servants of God to do good.

Our freedom is not exercised in selfish pursuits, it’s not exercised in pursuing our own good at the expense of others. It’s not exercised in isolation and extreme individualism, where we cut ourselves off from Christian community. Rather our freedom is to be used in service to one another. First to the household of faith, or fellow believers, and then also to every person in need. We don’t remove ourselves from the world of unbelievers. We don’t avoid working with or suffering under injustice when we’re doing good. Rather we bear witness in our callings and act honorably and truthfully and with gentleness and humility, so that those who
falsely accuse may have no grounds against us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who died at the hands of the Nazis, wrote this about community and isolation: “Beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray. If you scorn the fellowship of brothers and sisters, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you.” When we take the words, “Life is better in my hands” onto our own lips, then we are headed down a path to loneliness and isolation. If we cut ourselves off from brothers and sisters in Christ, we lose that benefit of sharing one another’s sufferings. And ultimately, we pull ourselves away from Christ and His plan for our lives. On the contrary, if we believe in God, that His call tells us “Life is better in my hands”—we’ll find ourselves in fellowship with God who has a better plan. We’ll find ourselves loved by the merciful Savior who set us an example by entrusting His life to God. We’ll find ourselves in fellowship with other Christians who can share our burdens and build us up in Christ. Come and see that life really is better in our Father’s hands. Amen!

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sermon on Luke 9:28-36 for the Transfiguration of our Lord, "The New Exodus"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. On this day of Transfiguration, we finish the season of Epiphany with one final miracle that reveals Jesus as both God and man. The three Gospels that record the transfiguration, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each tell us that Moses and Elijah appeared together with Jesus when He was glorified on that mountain. All three tell us that they were talking together while the disciples Peter, James, and John were looking on in dazed awe. But only Luke records for us the topic of their conversation. Today we’ll explore what this holy conversation was about. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

So what occasioned this strange encounter on the mountaintop? Jesus had set this time aside for prayer in seclusion. It’s a lesson we’d do well to follow. If the very Son of God regularly set aside time for prayer, how much more should we? I personally know, and perhaps you do as well, how easy it is to neglect our prayer life, and fall asleep praying like the disciples. But the disciples got more than just a quiet experience of praying alone with Jesus on the mountain. They were witness to such an amazing sight that if there only been one of them present, they might have doubted their own senses as to what they saw. The sight of Jesus’ glorious transfiguration, from an ordinary robed and sandaled Jewish teacher into a glorified, gleaming Lord, clothed in dazzling white clothes, was bewildering enough to keep them quiet about this until well after Jesus’ resurrection. Who would believe or understand them if they told about what they had seen? At least not until Jesus fulfilled His death and resurrection, would anyone believe or understand.
Clearly Jesus arranged this prayer time on the mountain as a “setup” to reveal Himself to the select few of Peter, James, and John. But why didn’t the rest of the disciples get to see this? Why don’t we get such awe-inspiring visions of God in His glory? Wouldn’t it be easier for our faith if God made personal appearances to people all the time? Well, Peter himself, one of the privileged three to see this event, wrote about it later in his letter 1 Peter. He said:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Peter was an eyewitness to the majesty of Jesus, he heard the voice of the Majestic Glory, and was with Jesus on that holy mountain. Undoubtedly a life-changing event for Peter. He could easily claim this as the turning point of his faith, the event that “sealed the deal.”

But amazingly, Peter says that “we have something more sure” than this. We think, “what could be more sure than seeing this miraculous transformation with your own eyes!?” However, as excellent as this experience was, Peter says that what is more sure for them and for us, is the prophetic Word. The Word of God that we would do well to pay attention to, as a lamp shining in a dark place. We don’t have the miraculous visions of God to rely on, but we have something even more certain and worthy of our hope and attention. God’s Word. And really, this was the whole point of the “setup” where Jesus had His disciples witness this holy conversation with Moses and Elijah. For when it was over, God the Father gave the reason for this encounter by saying: “This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to Him!” This transfiguration identified Jesus as the true Son of God, loud and clear. Pay attention! Listen to Him!

Though we don’t have the miraculous opportunity like Peter did to see Jesus in this glory, we do have the same opportunity that they did to listen to Him. We have the more sure prophetic word; Jesus’ Word recorded in Scripture by the faithful eyewitnesses. So what about the holy conversation that took place between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus? In the original Greek, Luke tells us they were talking about Jesus’ “exodus” which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. Not just Jesus’ “departure,” but His exodus. Strange that only Luke tells us what their conversation was, and that he only described it with less than 10 words. But this one word “exodus” is so heavily freighted with meaning, that it speaks volumes in itself. The Exodus was the most significant Old Testament event. So much of ancient Israel’s history is seen through the lens of this event, and so many things are related back to it. The Exodus was when the Israelites were miraculously delivered from their slavery in Egypt under the cruel rod of the Pharoah. Moses, was God’s chosen servant to lead them out of Egypt, and he led them from fear and slavery through the waters of deliverance when God parted the Red Sea. Their Exodus continued through 40 years of wandering in the desert because of their disobedience, before they finally entered the Promised Land of Canaan, their new home.

So what did any of this rich history of the exodus have to do with the “exodus” Jesus was to undertake in Jerusalem? Well, Moses was a spiritual precursor to Jesus. He served as God’s chosen deliverer for his people, as he led them out of slavery in Egypt. Jesus’ new exodus was another divine rescue event, but He was God Himself delivering us from our slavery to sin. Moses led Israel through the parted waters of the Red Sea, which Paul calls their “baptism” (1 Cor. 10:2). Jesus brings the new Israel of believers in Him through the waters of baptism where we’re delivered from our slavery to sin. In that washing the old enemies of God are crucified with Christ and buried with Him in our baptism. Our sinful nature is drowned in the seas of baptism just as Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the Red Sea.

Where are you on your spiritual exodus? Are you still enslaved to sins, and haven’t put your trust in God, and are left behind in the Egypt of your sinful way of life? Sin is such a powerful slavery that we even crave it, and willingly stay in that slavery even if our cage is opened. The free food of slavery was all it took for the Israelites to wish they were back in slavery after they had set out in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. It seemed better to go back to captivity for free food, than to travel through the wilderness to the real freedom of the Promised Land. Do we shy away from the challenge of living as pilgrims in the spiritual wilderness of life, when we accept that we’re strangers in this world, headed for a new homeland? Have you crossed the seas of your baptismal waters, but turned in rebellion and distrust of God to wander on your own way—with your stomach
lusting for the “free food” of slavery and the earthly pleasures of sin?

Or are you following your Lord and Deliverer Jesus Christ, repentant of your sins and looking ahead with faith and trust to the promised land of heaven? As the Israelites traveled through the wilderness, God fed them with a daily provision of manna. He didn’t give them enough for a week at a time, or a month. You couldn’t go to the Costco and get a 3 month supply of manna. Now why did God do that? Why did He only give them enough for one day, and then a double portion once a week so they wouldn’t collect on the Sabbath day? He did it to teach them a daily trust in His provision for them. Just as He teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” God provided for all your needs yesterday—trust Him to provide for you today. Trust Him one day at a time and every day. Travelling in this spiritual wilderness will mean that we encounter hardship and difficulty, but we have Christ our leader who goes before us.

You could be nearing the end of your spiritual exodus also. Jesus our deliverer has led you safely from the waters of baptism through the wilderness of life so far, and through the trials and temptations of life. You’ve been brought near to the entrance of heaven by the blood of Jesus, and only crossing that final portal of death remains before you enter the promised land of heaven. Anyone at this point in life, hold fast to Jesus, knowing that with Him your approach to God is sure, certain, and unshakeable. The richness of the promised land of Canaan was described to the Israelites as a land “flowing with milk and honey”. The promised land of heaven is far beyond comparison as a place of perfect peace, rest, and joy. This is the final destination for us all on our spiritual exodus, through the various stages in life where we stand.

Moses and Elijah stood on that mount of Transfiguration bearing witness to Jesus, our spiritual guide who completed His exodus in Jerusalem. Christ undertook that New Exodus alone for us. He suffered the agony of death forsaken and alone, so that He could break the chains of sin that held us in slavery. He took the heavy yoke of sin’s slavery on Himself, so that we could carry His light and easy yoke, by faith in Him. To know and believe in Jesus as this deliverer, as this Messiah and Son of God, we don’t need to have a mountaintop vision. We don’t need to have miraculous experiences to confirm it. We have the more sure prophetic word that Peter points us to. We have the Word of Scripture that testifies of the whole of God’s salvation story, that testifies of the whole of Jesus’ exodus of His life, death, and resurrection. The Scripture records that whole record that could not be contained in one or even several persons eyewitness or lifetime. And we’re reminded that no prophecy of Scripture came from man’s own interpretation, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

That’s why it’s so important that God told the disciples, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!” He didn’t command them to linger and prolong this experience of watching Jesus in His glory, He didn’t command them to perpetually meditate in silence on that vision—He told them to Listen! And you and I can listen. We can hear God’s prophetic Word and have that continual reminder and encouragement of our faith. And we take that word of hope and encouragement with us as we travel through the valleys and plains and spiritual wilderness of this life. Marching after our Lord in the great and swelling crowd of His New Exodus—saints journeying home to their Promised Land. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

1. Read the account of the Transfiguration from Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-9; Luke 9:28-36. What unique information does each Gospel writer add to the account?

2. What can we learn from Jesus’ habit of constantly setting aside time for private prayer? Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28; 11:1; 22:31ff. What does it tell us about the need for prayer? When are some times that you can designate for prayer alone?

3. Read 2 Peter 1:16-21. What did God the Father and the Apostle Peter say deserved the greatest attention?

4. Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, and so figuratively stand for all the Old Testament revelation that points forward to and culminates in Christ. How did the Exodus foreshadow Jesus’ new exodus? 1 Cor. 10

5. Describe where you are on your spiritual exodus. What trials do you face? When have you doubted? When have you seen God’s hand active in your life? Where does your trust lay?

6. What did Jesus accomplish on His New Exodus? How did He achieve it? What is our Promised Land? How are we brought as members into His covenant?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Sermon on Luke 5:1-11, for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany, "Captain or Lord?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Recently the poem “Invictus” was prominently featured as the title of a movie about Nelson Mandela. These famous lines from that poem gave inspiration to Nelson Mandela while he spent years in a South African prison: “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Those last words, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul,” capture the strong emotion of what many people feel about their life and destiny. I am the captain of my soul. I set the course for life, no one else is my master; I answer to no one. In today’s Gospel reading, we’ll see that Jesus leads us to a very different conclusion about who’s ultimately in control of our life, and who rules the soul. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thank God that the saints in Scripture were no flawless, pristine personalities, who never made a mistake or wavered in their faith. Thank God that the saints and disciples shown in the Bible were real, frail, and earthy characters like Simon Peter—someone we can relate to; who was a work-in-progress, like us. When we catch up with Peter in today’s reading, he’s come a few days past the miraculous healing of his mother-in-law, and so has a healthy amount of respect for Jesus. But he’s still got a lot to learn in his new faith, and his “catechism class” has just begun. Peter had just finished a long, tiring night of work, fishing all night, with no success. Ever had one of those days? Jesus is still sort of a curious figure to Peter. Probably not sure what to make of Him yet. Seems to be a powerful prophet and teacher. Has great wisdom and is bold to the crowds. When Jesus jumps in the boat and asks Peter to put out from shore a little, to make it easier to teach the crowds, Peter is willing to help. He didn’t yet notice that Jesus, a carpenter from the hill-country of Nazareth, had come into his boat to start “fishing for men.” Little did Peter know that he was going to get “caught” as well.

Jesus finishes teaching, turns to Peter and makes a request that would have seemed ridiculous. Using his fishing boat as a mobile pulpit was no problem—it wasn’t work hours anyhow. But put out into deep water for a catch in the daytime? This was laughable. Something a landlubber carpenter might suggest, but certain not an experienced fishing captain like Peter. Peter was the master of his trade, he was the captain of his fishing vessel. He didn’t need anyone telling him how to do his job. Even less, giving him bad advice. Everyone knew that the best fishing was at nighttime, when the fish were feeding, and in the shallow waters, not the deep. Also the fishing nets would be easily seen in the daylight, in the empty water.

Peter’s skeptical answer to Jesus is this: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” The title ‘master’ is the equivalent of ‘chief, captain, or commander.’ Perhaps a hint of sarcasm, as if to say, “Ok, captain, we’ll follow your orders!” Secretly knowing that no one can catch fish this way. Peter’s spiritual growth was at such a stage that he had enough trust, or felt obligated enough to obey Jesus at His Word to let down the nets. He was ready enough to accept that Jesus knew a lot about spiritual matters, but what did He know about my daily life? My profession is my area of mastery. He didn’t yet trust Jesus enough to concede that Jesus knew what He was doing and could steer him better in all areas of life.

Isn’t that like us? We all have some areas of life where we feel we’re the master. Sure, we can have Jesus in one compartment of our life—let’s call it Sunday worship—but the rest of my life is my own. After all, what does Jesus know about or have to do with the rest of my life? We’re afraid that we’ll lose our freedom if we give our whole life over to Him. What need does God have for my particular talents and skills? I’m not a preacher or a teacher. I don’t have all the answers. But Jesus found use for Peter’s strength of arm to row the boat so He could preach. He found use for Peter’s fishing abilities, though Jesus was going to show whether Peter really was the master of his own profession. Jesus simply asked Peter for his help, and had a genuine need for his assistance, so that Peter was drawn into a service with Jesus. A service where his skills were used, but eventually to a greater purpose. God wants to draw us into service too.

Maybe we’re reluctant to hand over the control of our life to Jesus; we may want to continue in the belief that we’re the master of our fate, we’re the captain of our soul. But whatever our skills and abilities, great or small, God has a purpose for them. He gave them to you for a reason, and you are part of His body that He desires to use in His service. How can our common life skills be transferred from the ordinary world to the service in the kingdom of God? The doctor who cares for the body can point people to the physician of our soul. The banker or accountant who manages people's earthly treasure, can teach people about the true heavenly treasure, and how God teaches us to be good stewards. The farmer, landscaper, or gardener who nurtures the life of plants can illustrate how God's Word works when it is planted, grows to bear fruit, is pruned and harvested. A caretaker of a building or home can teach what it means to be entrusted with what isn't yours, and be faithful in carrying out your duties. Do whatever your job is with diligence and consistency as a task entrusted to you for God’s glory.

When Peter finally did let Jesus take charge of his life for a moment, it was a stunning and frightening revelation. Up to this point, he thought he managed this area of his life pretty well. Then suddenly Jesus, who he thought didn’t know anything about fishing, filled his nets till they were breaking. At first Peter was focused on winning the fisherman’s jackpot. This kind of big haul would mean a big payday. But after signaling his partners to help, and finding that both boats were sinking under the weight of the fish—Peter became awestruck and terrified at Jesus’ power. Hear the emotion in his voice when his pride is instantly reduced to nothing. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O LORD!” All he thought he was master of in his life was suddenly shown to be a weight far beyond what he could manage. He thought he managed this task, but suddenly it was clear that he was just a sinful man, and he was overwhelmed to see the true master and Lord of the fish in the sea. Now there’s no hint of disbelief in calling Jesus “captain” or “master”—He is LORD! He expects destruction from one with so much power. One who could with a word display His Lordship over all that Peter had thought he conquered, and lay bare Peter's inexperience and foolish pride.

Finally he was like a fish caught in his own fishing boat. Here he was, netted by God’s Word—bare, exposed. All his thoughts, intentions and private life laid bare. He thought he was on his own turf, but was suddenly a fish out of water, gasping for air. He expected judgment—go away from me, for I’m a sinner! “I’m not fit to be around you LORD! Not this mess of a life. I’m lost and unworthy of you.” Have you felt the same? Won’t Jesus leave my sins alone? All the fears and failures, the doubting, the secret struggles and weaknesses? We’re not worthy of the Lord, and we fear His judgment. Despite our best efforts we’ve never given ourselves fully to Him. But instead of death and judgment, we receive a Savior! Jesus doesn’t fish to kill, but He fishes to catch alive. The net of His Word that catches Peter and us whole is not a net of judgment to bring us death. Rather it is a net of grace that captures our whole lives and brings us wholly alive out of sin and unbelief into God’s kingdom.

Jesus reassures Peter with the forgiving word, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men.” If there’s anyone here who will say together with Peter, “I’m a sinful person,” then let that person hear those same words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid.” God’s grace has netted you whole, and that means forgiveness for all your sins, and your life is now brought into His service. Your salvation comes not by how perfectly you gave your life to God, but how perfectly Jesus Christ gave His life for you and me. His death on the cross purchased us whole. Whatever abilities, talents, or skills you have are brought into His service. He sends us out as fishers of men, sharing the good news with other so they’re caught in His grace net. You too can catch people live, and teach them to breathe the air and freedom of life in Christ.

In that salty sweet air we can finally see life with clarity, and cast off the block and tackle of sin and guilt that trap us in fear. We’re no longer stuck in the delusion that we’re the master of our fate and the captain of our soul, thinking like Peter did that we control and manage our own life best. That path leads us to banging our head against the wall when we do everything our own way and making no progress because we haven’t sought the Lord’s help. However, once we’re caught and hauled up into that fresh air we make the big shift that happens when we’re catechized with the lesson that God is really in charge, and He’s no captain barking orders and rules and dealing out punishments, but He’s the Lord of all creation and our Savior. He’s the one who commands the fish and the seas with His Word, He’s the one who absolves our sin with His Word, He’s the one who dissolves our fear with His Word. He takes us whole into His boat and has a purpose and use for every one of us, however great or small we value our talents.

Jesus’ word: “Do not be afraid” pulls sinners close to Him at His cross, where He forgives us and commissions us to service under His Lordship. Rather than pushing Jesus away because we’re sinners, let Him draw near to you to forgive, and to call you into a new venture of faith together with Him as the Lord of your life and the captain of your soul. In Jesus’ name. Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

1. Is it true that we answer to no one, and that we’re the “captain of our soul”? Hebrews 9:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10

2. What was Peter’s assessment of Jesus at first? How did the title he first addresses Jesus with in v. 5 reflect this? What was the point at which Peter felt self-confidence or pride?

3. What area of life do you protect as “your own,” and try to keep separate from God? How did Jesus show a need for Peter’s help? How did he respond? What part of our life are we reluctant to turn over to God?

4. What are some of our talents and abilities (great or small) that can be turned over from ordinary purposes to service to God? What do you see in a fellow Christian that can be also?

5. Why did fear strike Peter after the miracle of the fish? God’s Word of Law acts like a mirror to show our sin. What response to this realization should we have together with Peter?

6. How does Jesus turn us forgiven sinners into live catch fishermen? Does the fact that we’re sinners mean that we should keep Jesus at a distance in our life? How does He accomplish forgiveness for us?

7. Who is the true captain—even LORD of our soul? 1 Corinthians 2:8; Hebrews 12:2; Romans 10:12.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Sermon on Luke 3:15-22 for the Baptism of our Lord. "Living a New Life!"

A sermon by Pastor Scott Benjamin of Resurrection Lutheran Church, Detroit, MI. Preached at Emmanuel Lutheran Church of Maui, 1/10/10.

With the start of another year, the news magazines run their traditional obituary page--listing all the famous people who died in 2009. People like Michael Jackson, Ted Kennedy, Patrick Swayze, and Ed McMahon. Everyone on the page had been a part of this world, but are here no longer.
An interesting way to begin a new year: To list all of those who would have no earthly part of the new year, because their earthly life has ended. They are all dead and buried.

The Church on the other hand, is celebrating Epiphany and the Baptism of our Lord. The Light which came into the darkness 2,000 years ago and brought new life to all who believe in Jesus Christ as the Savior, continues to bring new life to all people.
The movie stars, and politicians listed in the obituaries for 2009 all came from men. They were all purely human. The light that comes from the movie screen and TV set made them all famous; that flickering light can even preserve their image for years to come, but it could not prevent their leaving this world.

Jesus Christ was true man born of the Virgin Mary, but He was also true God, begotten of the Father before all time. He was sent from heaven specifically to be the Savior. He needed no TV, no movie screen to make Himself known, for He is the very Word of God. “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” He needed no flickering light to preserve His image, for “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

But the world does not understand this Light. Especially those who choose to live in the darkness do not know Jesus. But even we who have been baptized into the Light struggle to comprehend this Light. We can understand many gods, but how do we understand one God but three persons? We can understand a god portrayed in a statue or a tree, but how do we understand a God who is both true man and true God? We can understand a conquering victorious god, but how do we understand a God Who sent His Son to suffer and die to atone for all of our sins?

The darkness we can understand. It’s principles are quite simple. Power rules, corruption benefits, individual rights dominate, pleasure is all important, fame is sought after, and wars never cease. We may not like the darkness, but we understand it. We may not like the deepest recesses of it, but we live daily in its shadow. We see people all around us who are consumed by the darkness. The only light that enters their lives are temporary flickering earthly lights that soon are extinguished.

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato postulated a cave with a fire in it. The people kept their backs to the opening in the cave so they could look at the shadows cast upon the back wall of the cave by the fire. Outside was the bright yellow sun, the blue oceans, the green grass and beautiful flowers. Inside were only dark shadows of things. But the people would not leave the cav. Even when someone came to tell them of something better outside, they refused to leave. They were comfortable with the darkness and shadows because that was all they knew.

Some portray Jesus as just someone coming into the cave to tell us of a better life. There are people like this. They offer a myriad of ways for you to work your way out of the darkness. But the sad reality is that they do not come from the Light outside the cave. They simply come from another cave. They simply lead people from one shadowy existence to another. They remind me of the coach’s pep talk before the big game. He gathers his players around and tries to inspire them to play better than the other team. He gets them hopping up and down; he gets them fired up to play their best; he seeks to instill in them the desire to win.
Sometimes he is successful and sometimes not. But it doesn’t matter because the next week, or the next year, there will be another game, and another game, and another game that they must work hard to win.

Jesus Christ is not a football coach, He is not someone who comes into the cave to persuade people to come to a better life; Jesus Christ is the true Light. He is the Son and He comes as the Light to dissipate the darkness. When His light shines, all the shadows disappear, and all the evil which has been lurking in the darkness is revealed for what it is and is defeated. Even death cannot overcome the Light of God.

We know this not because we let our reason be persuaded by Him, not because we are emotionally hyped up, but because God the Father and the Holy Spirit declare it to be so. At His Baptism, the Father declares, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased.” And the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove.

Jesus does not need Baptism for forgiveness of sins, for He is sinless. Movie stars need fans, politicians need voters, you and I need a Savior, but Jesus needed nothing. He is baptized to be revealed to Israel. The Light shines in the darkness.

On one side of His Baptism we have the Trinity revealed, on the other side is the Church. Christ’s Baptism is right in the middle of these two realities. At His Baptism, the Trinity is present. In His Baptism, Jesus identifies Himself with His church that is to be.

If we try to approach the Baptism of the Savior of the world from our usual linear way of reasoning, we will be at a loss to understand its meaning. The Baptism of our Lord is one of those epiphanies when the spiritual realm and the physical realm are revealed together. Baptism is not simple water only, it is the water combined with God’s Word. Jesus Christ is the Word of God, which reveals to us that we too are included in this:“Therefore we were buried with Him through Baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:1)

Simply put, Baptism is our death, our burial, and our resurrection in union with Jesus Christ and the entire godhead. It is a rite of passage, given by Christ to the Church, as an entrance into the Kingdom of God and eternal life.

Not just moving from one cave to another, not just throwing another log on the fire to make the shadows a bit more distinct, and not just a pep talk to get us fired up. Baptism for us is a passage from darkness into the eternal Light of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is the beginning of living a new life.

Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. His Baptism reveals that, His Life confirms it, and His death finishes it. We don’t just follow Jesus into the kingdom of God, we walk through His sacrifice into that Kingdom.

In Old Testament times when two men made a covenant, they would slaughter an animal, cut it in half and both men would walk between the two halves to signify the bonding of the covenant. Moses led God’s people out of bondage through the Red Sea which had parted. The last prophet of the old covenant, John the Baptist, baptized in water unto repentance. John’s baptism was received by Jesus, who thereby transformed the water and baptism itself.

In the New Covenant, Baptism is the means by which we enter the Kingdom of God, and are joined to Christ, and are granted the remission of our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the Didache, an early second century church writing, it is stated that Baptism should be done in cold running water. Not because water standing in a basin is not valid, but because of the image the running water carries with it. Living here in this place you have a unique understanding of water. You are surrounded by it. You know the power of the waves crashing in. You know the lush rain forests the rains bring and just a few miles away the dessert like conditons when there is too little rain.

In so many ways you see how dynamic water is. It is the same way with Baptism—it is dynamic. Without it there is no life. With it there is a powerful conversion.

But Baptism is not an end in and of itself, it is a passage into a new life: An active, vibrant life. I fear too many today see Baptism as a life vest and Jesus as the person who will through it to them. They just have to swim to it and put it on and then float until someone hauls them up into the helicopter.

Running water, powerful water, cold, invigorating water: those are much better pictures to fix in your mind. You are placed in this water and you never leave. Instead you follow the stream, you are carried along, over all the stones, around the boulders, through the rapids to the fountain, the source of all good things.

No life preserver to float you along, no island to isolate you, just wonderful, life-giving water that is God’s kingdom.

When the Roman soldier pierced Jesus’ side as He hung on the cross, blood and water came out. Jesus’ blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins and the water into which we are baptized, both flowed out. They had not pooled in Jesus body, they flowed out from Him to us.

We are united with Jesus in His death through the waters of our Baptism. Flowing water, moving water, vibrant water, invigorating water that carries us into the kingdom of God.

Jesus suffered and died, but there was no obituary written about Him. For on the third day, He rose again. Death defeats every living thing, but it could not defeat the very Life of the world, and it cannot defeat those who are baptized into that Life.

Yes, our old Adam drowns. That sinful part of us that is so comfortable with the ways of the world, so content to sit and look at shadows, is to be drowned daily, so that the new man in us may rise again to live in Christ’s Church: the only one that worships the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as true God.
Obituaries, eulogies are mere memories. New life is in Jesus Christ. Now and forever. Amen.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Sermon on Luke 4:31-44, for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, "What is this Word?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Evil can be frightening in its power, and unexplainable to us humans. Watching too much of the evening news can numb you with the frequency of acts of violence, crime, accidents and disasters. Often we feel powerless to do anything about it. But in today’s reading we witness One who boldly took on the powers of evil and commanded them to stop with a simple Word of rebuke. Jesus Christ, who could command the storms and waves with His rebuke, here commands the demonic forces of evil and the various sicknesses and diseases that people had. Jesus’ Word carried a whole different power and authority than we’re used to seeing. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus was fearless in the face of evil. He came teaching and preaching in His home region of Galilee, and there in the synagogue, a place of worship, He encountered a demon-possessed man. Perhaps it strikes us as a surprise that a possessed man was at a synagogue. Were the rabbis unable to help him? But then again, should we be surprised that the devil is most active where God’s people gather, and where the Word of God is heard and prayers are offered? It’s often said that where God builds a church the devil builds a chapel; and also the church is not a sanctuary for saints but a hospital for sinners. The devil doesn’t need to work so hard where faith and God’s Word are absent. He already has those. So it should be no surprise that when Jesus began preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God, evil was close at hand.

However, the dark, disordered world of evil is lost when Christ the Light appears. Evil loses ground when God’s Word approaches. This was what the people of Galilee found so astonishing about Jesus. His Word and teaching possessed authority and it wasn’t borrowed or derived authority. Jesus didn’t draw His teaching from someone else, like the rabbis of His day, but He spoke with authority: “I tell you…” as if He were very God Himself, who commanded the Word. He was God Himself and He did command it. And when the demon-possessed man confronted Jesus—it was the demon, not Jesus who was fearful. With nervous defiance the demon questions whether its own dreaded fate is nearer than it thought. The dread of the demons when they encounter Jesus reveals that they know that an awful destruction awaits them for their constant evil. The book of Revelation describes the eternal lake of fire and sulfur where the devil, death, and Hades suffer torment day and night (20:10, 13-15). The demon knows its standing in the presence of the Holy One of God—and it knows the game is over.

But Jesus is in complete control of the situation. He won’t even accept the confession of His name and identity from the mouth of an unclean demon. With His Word of power and authority, Jesus silences the word of the demon, setting evil on the run with His Word in hot pursuit. The demon is muzzled and makes one last gesture as he throws the man to the ground, but uninjured. Jesus’ power and control over the situation prompted the onlookers to ask in amazement: “What is this Word?” They hadn’t witnessed such a powerful Word before, that needed no appeal to some other authority, that didn’t rely on someone higher up to enforce it.

Contrast this to today. Do we see such power in authority in anyone’s words? We’re surrounded with a flood of words in our media culture. We hear the silky smooth words of politicians, or alternatively the bold, impassioned rallying cries to draw support and enthusiasm. We hear rhetoric from commentators and analysts. We hear denunciations of evil, we hear calls for peace, we hear cries of complaint. But do any of these words, or any of these speakers command even a fraction of the power and authority that Jesus’ Word did? When governments rebuke a rogue nation, or decry the evils of an enemy like Osama Bin Laden, does evil turn tail and flee, or even surrender? When protestors raise a million voices together in opposition to war or unfair taxation or abortion, does evil wither and fold before them? Philosophers, scientists, historians, lawyers, politicians—all those who should be best with words, still cannot achieve through their many words what Jesus could achieve with one single word. I love this verse from the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” which fits perfectly with our reading: “Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill; they shall not overpower us. This world’s prince may still, scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none. He’s judged the deed is done; One little word can fell him” (LSB 656). One little word—the name of Jesus, can topple the devil and all his raging army.

Consider the power of the Word even on the lips of Christians today. I think of the example of a young Korean man who lived in China near the North Korean border. He helped smuggle refugees across the border and trained Koreans to go back and secretly evangelize people. He knew that he would eventually face imprisonment for what he was doing, and resolved that when he would be arrested, he would set out to share the Gospel with the judges, prison guards, soldiers, and fellow prisoners. When his expectation became reality, he spent 5 years in a Chinese prison facing torture, drugging, and consistent attempts to brainwash and discourage him that there was no God. But he had only the power of the Word of God, and the repeated confession that he believed in the One True God and that Jesus Christ was his Savior. This Word of God alone enabled him to endure such cruelty and hatred, and show such love to the guards.

This story has been repeated again and again from the persecuted saints in prison throughout the ages. From Joseph in Egypt to Jesus in Jerusalem to Paul & Silas in Philippi. The Word of the Lord was their strength in the face of evil. And the Word of God alone has the power of love to change hearts filled with hatred. Time and time again, it has been the Word of God, spoken with love, that was the only force powerful enough to counter overwhelming evil and hatred. When we face evil, that same Word of God spoken in love can disarm evil and set it on the run. The people who carry out acts of hatred and evil can only be set free by the Word of God—what Jesus says: “The Truth will set you free!”

When Jesus spoke the Word of God to command sickness and demons to be gone, Jesus showed that the real battle was a spiritual battle, and sin was the common cause of both. At the end of the Gospel reading last week, it said that the people were so angry about the sermon He preached to them, that they wanted to throw him off the cliff. The spiritual battle line ran right through their hearts. Whether sick or healthy, demon-possessed or in their right mind, the force of God’s Word confronted evil in their own hearts as well. And it made them more than mildly uncomfortable. It provoked them to the point of wanting to kill Jesus. Silence this Word. And when Jesus’ earthly ministry reached its climax in Jerusalem, and He purged the Temple that had become a marketplace and seedbed for dishonesty, they really did all in their power to silence this Word. They used words of betrayal to arrest Him. They used words of slander and false accusation to accuse Him. They used lies to hide their real intentions.

And for 3 short days, they thought they had silenced the Word. What is this Word? This Word is Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh. And for three short days, the Word was buried; silent in a tomb. Evil thought it had won! Evil charged full force against innocence and surprisingly met no resistance. Jesus didn’t even put up a fight. “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he didn’t revile in return; when he suffered, he didn’t threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1Pet. 2:22-23). Evil killed the Word! But the Word become flesh, Jesus Christ, didn’t remain silent or trapped in the tomb. The Word broke forth, and the Word Spoke forth on Easter morning, when the word heard on angel’s lips was “He is Risen! He is not here!” The killing of the Word was not victory for evil—in fact it was defeat for evil and victory for God.

The Word that was life and that was now alive again took on new vitality and won over even the hearts of many who at first had doubted Jesus. That vital Word of life, that Jesus had died for sinners and rose to life, now became the good news that would go out to all the world. Just as Jesus was moved by the Divine Necessity to preach the good news of the kingdom of God to “other towns as well,” so also after His resurrection, He moved His disciples and ultimately also us by that same necessity as well—to proclaim to other towns as well, the Word of His good news. The vital Word of life is carried on our lips to far and distant places from where the Word was first spoken. When we look at our own church and our community here—do we see places where the Word has not yet been spoken? Are we looking for mission opportunities to sow the Word where before there has only been silence?

When we encounter sin and evil in life, are we equipped with God’s Word, which alone can resist all evil in life? When our own lips and speech are sinful, and we have spoken unjustly or without patience, kindness and love—are we prepared to have our own speech cleansed by God’s Word that purges away sin, and fills our speech instead with love and truth? Wherever our paths in life take us, whether we encounter great evil and have to make a bold stand for our faith like the Korean man, or whether we live in a time and place of relative peace and comfort—we must never forget the spiritual battle line that is drawn through our own hearts as well. We must never forget that evil still has a stronghold in our lives as long as our sinful flesh breathes. So we must be watchful for the root of evil both within us and without. But know that when the “fight is fierce, the warfare long” (LSB 677 v. 5), our hearts can again become brave and our arms strong, when we remember that even if death should take us—where the Word stands, the victory belongs to Christ alone. Then what do we have to fear with this Word at our side?

What is this Word? The Word is Jesus Christ, the only Word, the only Light that stands firm against a world of sickness, darkness, physical and spiritual evil. But the Word that endures through evil and suffering in this life, is the same Word that will be fully revealed in glory, when Jesus, the Word returns. When Jesus returns, the last remaining glimpses of evil will be driven back permanently, and the fears of the demons that they are destroyed will be realized, and God’s Word will draw together all believers to Himself. The kingdom of God will not always be shadowed and surrounded by suffering and evil. The day is coming and will come where victory through the Word will stand forth, and we’ll participate in that victory. Rejoice in that Word and its power over evil, and take that Word on your lips and in your heart today. In the name of Jesus, the Word made flesh, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. Where should we expect that the devil will be most active? Why does evil flee at Jesus’ Word? Read John 3:16-21. Why were demons fearful of Jesus? Revelation 20:10, 13-15

2. How was Jesus’ Word different from what the people were accustomed to? What did it have? See Mark 1:27; 4:39-41; Matt. 7:28-29; (note in Matt. 5 the pattern: “you have heard it said…but I say to you…”)

3. For more stories like the man from Korea, go to the website For information about writing letters of encouragement to Christian prisoners, go to

4. How does the Word confront evil in our own hearts, as well as around us? Rom. 7:14ff; Matt. 15:18-19; John 2:23-25 What response should we have when the Word lays open our sin?

5. What was the perceived victory of evil over the Word? Who had the real victory instead? When will only glory surround the Word, and not suffering and evil as it is now?

6. How does the Word aid us in our facing sin and evil? What necessity moves us to speak the Word in “other towns as well?” Where in our “neighborhood” has the Word not been heard?