Monday, July 27, 2015

Sermon on Mark 6:45-56, for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, "From Hardness to a Trusting Heart"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Unbelief is really the chief and greatest sin of all, and the hardest sin to overcome. When we think of what the worst sin might be, our mind rarely lands on unbelief—but unbelief is really the sin against the first commandment. God says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Believing in God is the first and most important command. Unbelief shows itself in a variety of symptoms, ranging from outright rejection or anger toward God, to making substitute gods or idols, to take the place of the One True God, or hardness of heart and distrust. The last one, hardness of heart, is the core problem in today’s reading.
What does the Bible say about hardness of heart? Frequently in the Old Testament, this is described as a sin that is common to rulers and kings. Pharaohs, Kings of Israel, and Kings of Babylon all suffered from this sin. They became proud in their spirit, stubborn and resistant to God’s will, and became set in their sin. This was not only the sin of the rulers, however, as the Israelites in the wilderness hardened their hearts again and again, and fell into disobedience. Forty years of wandering in the desert was largely the result of their hardness of heart in not trusting God. Proverbs 28:14 talks about the outcome of hardening one’s heart: “Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” Hard hearts lead to bad things, but turning to the Lord leads us into mercy. Job, in the Old Testament, faced many bad things that were not the result of his hardness of heart, but nevertheless he observed correctly that no one can harden their heart against God and hope to succeed (Job 9:4).
With that background on “hardness of heart”—it might be surprising that Jesus’ own disciples are described this way. They, after all, believed in God—but in the circumstances they were in, they doubted, distrusted, and didn’t understand. After seeing the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, from last week, and today after seeing Jesus walk across the lake and calm the wind, it says this: “they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” Jesus’ own disciples were fighting with that same sin of unbelief and hardness of heart. It wasn’t in the form of unbelief in God, but doubting and disbelieving His works and Jesus Christ His Son. The implication seems to be that if they had believed and understood the lesson about the loaves—then seeing Jesus walk across the water and calm the wind and see would have made perfect sense. You would think that after seeing Jesus miraculously feed the 5,000, walking on water should have come as no surprise. The big clue is—you are dealing with God here, in Jesus Christ! Who else but God walks on water?
If the miracles themselves were not already enough evidence, it becomes even clearer in the words that Jesus speaks as He arrives at their boat: “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” Now if you read this in the Greek, it’s directly, “Take heart, I AM.” I AM would have rang out in the disciples’ ears as a clear echo of God’s own words in the Old Testament, as He revealed who He was to Moses. “I AM Who I AM” God spoke to Moses, from the burning bush. Jesus speaks God’s own words, and tells the amazed disciples, as He’s walking across the waves to them, “I AM.” But does the fact that God is approaching them make it even more scary, or would they be less afraid?
In some ways, if we look at personal encounters with God in the Bible, we’d expect them to become even more afraid!! It’s not a ghost, or any mere man, it’s God Himself walking toward us! We know the kind of fear that creates in the Bible. Fall down on your face in the dust fear. What does God want with me, a poor, miserable sinner fear? I’m going to die right now fear. That’s how people often reacted in the awesome presence of the Holy and Almighty God. They want to shrink away in fear. But Jesus call to us not to be afraid. He wants to fill your heart with courage, and to see that He comes for us, for our good, for our life, for our salvation. God coming to their boat didn’t mean more trouble, it meant that fear, the raging of the wind, and the anxiety of the disciples was ending. It meant the threatening powers of nature had to be calm and obey their master. It meant that their horror of seeing a ghost, was unfounded and foolish. He was their Lord, and He was with them. In the presence of Jesus, the Great I AM, who calls us not to be afraid, fear is turned into trust. The scary, frightening situation is transformed into a situation of calm and security, because the Great I AM is in control.
And yet that nagging unbelief is still a challenge. Even after this, the hardness of heart continues. And doesn’t get better until after Jesus’ cross and resurrection. What to do about hardness of heart? What about our own stubbornness or settling into our own will, contrary to God? The apostle Paul speaks about hardness of mind in 2 Corinthians, and specifically being blinded to Christ as one reads the Old Covenant. He states that there is only one way that this blindness and hardness is lifted. It’s through Christ, when one turns to the Lord, that it is lifted (2 Cor. 3:14-17). Hardness of heart is not a medical condition with a prescription drug cure. It’s not a psychological condition with a counselor cure. It’s a spiritual condition and Jesus is the cure. The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel foresaw Jesus’ solution to the hardness of heart. In Ezekiel 36:26, God says these words, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
Jesus’ solution to our hardness of heart is to give us a new one. A new spirit and a heart of flesh. The thought of having a heart transplant is every bit as fear inducing as what Jesus’ disciples experienced on the Sea of Galilee. But Jesus stands on the restless waves and calls to us, “Take heart, I AM; do not be afraid.” Jesus gives us our new heart and new courage. He gets in the boat with us, and the storm ceases. Obviously, Jesus being in the same boat with them, and with us, is supposed to make us feel calm, and trust in Him—but just like the disciples we wrestle with that hard heart. But like I said last week, thank God that Jesus is a Good Shepherd and a patient teacher, and that He bears with us through our weaknesses. He has not abandoned us to struggle helplessly in the wind and waves, but is there beside us to see us through. And we will safely make the shore with Jesus.
Living with faith, living with trust in Jesus, and spiritual sight that recognizes Jesus for who He is, and what God’s power can do, is a whole different matter. Crowds are starving, and we’re out of bread? Put it in God’s hands! Jesus sent us across the lake, and now we’re stuck exhausted from fighting the wind? Put it in Jesus’ hands! I’m living day to day and don’t know how I’m going to take care of all the problems that are going to show up tomorrow? Put it in Jesus’ hands. It’s so simple, but when Jesus isn’t even on our radar, or we imagine Him to be stuck someplace far away and unable to help, or when we even see His hands at work but still don’t trust—it’s all that same fruit of unbelief. And there’s only one solution for that hard heart trouble. Back to Jesus. Eyes back on Him. Prayer and trust committing the problems and cares to His care and keeping. It’s not an empty promise, but a promise rich with hope and peace, when we are invited to cast all our anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.
And you can rest assured that Jesus’ eyes are on you. He sees and knows your struggle, and He cares, because He truly knows all about your needs. You can rest assured that He who sends us trials and crosses to bear, knows how best to end them and carry us through. Listen to the words of a beloved hymn: “When life’s troubles rise to meet me, though their weight may be great, they will not defeat me. God, my loving Savior, sends them; He who knows all my woes knows how best to end them.” (LSB 756:2). With Jesus’ faithfulness to us, and by trusting in Him, the weight of life’s troubles is carried by His strong arms. With Jesus, the Great I AM, by our side, we know that He will bring us to a faithful conclusion of our troubles—even if death should come, it cannot snatch us from His arms.
Jesus’ eyes constantly were turning to His disciples in their trouble. He put them in situations where they could be challenged, learn, and grow. But He didn’t abandon them or walk past them on the water and let them sink. He gave them courage and a new heart when fear paralyzed and unbelief filled them with doubt. My fear, paralysis, and sinful doubts and unbelief must also be thrown down at the cross of Jesus. Jesus must speak that courage and fearlessness into my heart, so that I may have a new heart and trust to walk with Him. To face storms, trials, seemingly impossible circumstances and to face them with the Great I AM by our side and in our boat. To know that the One who commands the wind and the waves has power over the troubles I daily experience.
That trusting heart that Jesus gives leaves us moldable, open and ready to be called into His service and shaped into His image. The trusting heart that Jesus gives leaves us equipped to be a disciple who follows, who listens to Jesus and knows that He will lead us faithfully and for our good. The trusting heart that Jesus gives knows that there will be peace after the storm, that He is in control, and that He really is listening to our prayers, even when we feel like we’re stranded. This is the faith that can move mountains—the faith that trusts in God, the mountain-mover. The faith that trusts in Jesus, who buried the mountain of our sins in the grave, and rose in life again, proving that with God, nothing is impossible. Join with me in prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, according to your promise, give us new hearts and spirits. Remove the heart of stone from within our flesh and give us a heart of flesh. Grant us courage and fearlessness to trust in You, for You are the Great I AM, and You are with us. In Your Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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Listen to audio at:

  1. How does it cause you to reflect on challenges in your own life, that Jesus sent His disciples across the lake, knowing that they would become overpowered by the wind, just as He gave them the seemingly impossible task of feeding 5,000? What was He teaching them/us? 2 Corinthians 12:8-10.
  2. What is significant about the fact that Jesus also needed time alone for rest and prayer? When we neglect rest and prayer, why does it cause us to trade peace and rightness with God for restlessness and worry? How does devoting time to rest and prayer restore that? Matthew 6:25-34
  3. If you were in the boat with the disciples, would the choppy waters have seemed an impassible obstacle or barrier between you and Jesus’ help? When do we fear that we are beyond the reach of God’s help? Why is this foolish to think? Psalm 77 & 78; Numbers 6:21-23. Is Jesus’ arm shortened or does He face an obstacle in helping us, since He has ascended to our Father in heaven?
  4. How do you see signs of superstitious fear, like that of the disciples, still today? Does the Bible reinforce or discredit the idea of ghosts and phantoms? Luke 16:19-31; 24:36-43; Hebrews 9:27. On the other hand, what are demons able to do? 2 Corinthians 11:13-14
  5. Read Mark 6:50. Jesus says, literally, “Take heart, I AM; do not be afraid.” How does this statement connect or borrow from God’s language in the Old Testament? Exodus 3:14-15. What is remarkable about the fact that God in Jesus commands them not to fear? What response does God want from us instead? Trust!!
  6. Hardness of heart reflects the sin of unbelief, and perhaps surprisingly, it persists, even in the face of miracles and evidence of God’s hand at work. Mark 6:52. How did the disciples’ unbelief continue, going forward to Jesus’ cross? Mark 9:32; 10:32. What is the ultimate solution for our hardness of heart? Ezekiel 36:25-27

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Sermon on Mark 6:30-44, for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, "Lessons and Loaves"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Today we hear the well-known miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Today we are also installing a new principal and teacher, and rededicating our staff for the upcoming school year. It’s interesting to see in the story the pattern or cycle of teaching, followed by hunger and tiredness, and how that turns into more teaching, healings by Jesus, more hunger, and finally a meal. A miraculous meal, which provides yet another teaching lesson. I’m sure we won’t have to stretch for teachers to relate to teaching, hunger, and fatigue, both on their part, and on that of their students. Often hunger competes with learning.
It also reminds me of the fact that there are all types of learners. In the early verses of Mark 6, we heard the last two weeks, about those who resisted and defied Jesus’ and John’s teaching of God’s Word. Today we have crowds racing ahead of Jesus just to get more teaching, and experience more of His healing power. In the midst of it are Jesus’ disciples who need rest themselves, get stretched again, and are at a loss to figure out how Jesus is going to feed a multitude with their meager resources. With all the different learners that must have been there that day—the slow, the eager, the confused, and all the different learners that are gathered here today, and will soon be gathering in our school—there are many lessons and loaves in store for us in God’s Word. I pray for the Lord’s blessing on all of us—teachers, students, parents, children, pastors, and all hearers, that we daily receive our bread, both in our stomachs through a meal, and in our hearts through God’s Word.
Let’s begin where Jesus does in this reading, in urging His disciples to rest. This follows after their important mission of teaching and performing miracles in the surrounding villages. They come back with reports of all they had done, and are tired and hungry—not even having a chance to eat. “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Jesus echoes God’s 3rd Commandment, which commanded both rest and worship. Throughout His ministry, Jesus sought this time alone for rest, rejuvenation, and prayer. Jesus’ and His disciples never fully get that rest at the beginning of our reading—but the vital lesson for us is that we need rest. Too often we drive and drive and push and work and worry, and never get rest. We end up stressed, depleted, cranky, and unable to perform our jobs efficiently or well. It spills over negatively on family, friends, co-workers, students, or the person who holds up the line in front of you at the store.
When we don’t have rest we are impatient and vulnerable. C.S. Lewis pointed out that when we are physically worn and frazzled like this, it’s a prime opportunity for the devil to work temptation and sin. So God actually has a rest commandment for our own good. And you’d think we’d all willingly commit to following it—but we so often give into the tyranny of the urgent, and don’t set aside time for rest. But not only rest, the commandment also concerns worship of God. This too is part of our rejuvenation and restoration—to be in a proper relation to God, and refreshed by Him. The Psalms are filled with rich images of hunger and thirst in the soul, finding satisfaction in Him. In worship, God pours out His rich gifts of grace to us, so that we can be fed and satisfied from His goodness.
The next big lesson in the reading is how Jesus responded to the massive crowd that raced ahead of Him and the disciples, and beat them to their intended peaceful retreat. “When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.” Here were the eager, the desperate, and the hungry students, clamoring for Jesus’ help. The world never runs short on need, though at times we are not nearly as sensible or aware of our need as we should be. We should, like those crowds, be running to Jesus for His help and supply, but so often we are full, lazy, and complacent.
But look at Jesus’ response to the crowd—He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew’s Gospel adds that He saw they were harassed and helpless. All of us here today, whether we realize it or not, need Jesus as our shepherd. Those who are not with us—those who have gone astray from the church like lost sheep, or those who have never yet been brought into the fold, those children and families to whom we will teach and serve this school year—they need Jesus as their shepherd too. And there’s more than enough in life to leave us harassed and helpless too. Too many lives are broken and suffering through sin. You hardly need to cross your doorstep before seeing or hearing the need of your neighbor. Sin leaves us broken, deprived, bitter, and helpless. We cannot transform ourselves into God’s likeness and design, and instead we conform ourselves to the brokenness of the world.
But thanks be to God we have a Good Shepherd! Jesus sees our brokenness, our need and our sin, and He has compassion on us. He not only wants to help us, if we receive Him, but He is able to help us, and does! As our Good Shepherd He teaches us, He shows us that the harassed and helpless life does not have to be our portion. As the Psalmist sang, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). Sheep, whom Jesus gathers into His fold, taught, fed, and nourished by His hand, have the Lord as their portion. Don’t you want that? And He gives it freely! Those crowds may not have had all the right motivations, but they were coming to the right person when they came to Jesus! And His compassion pours down on us in rich measure.
The immediate need of the crowds was for food. And Jesus’ disciples, seeing no way to feed such a massive crowd, wanted to send them away for food. Jesus seems to give the disciples the impossible challenge of feeding the crowd themselves! He turns down their suggestion of buying 200 denarii worth of bread, which was 200 day’s wages. He asks them to inventory their resources. 5 loaves and 2 fishes. Hmm. That’s doesn’t seem like it’s going to cut it. Not enough for everyone to even get a crumb and a fish bone. Who could blame them for feeling woefully undersupplied for the task! No one but Jesus! He was about to teach another lesson, that He could use what they had, and multiply it to meet and fully satisfy the hunger of the whole crowd.
When we look at our resources, when we “inventory” our time, talents, and treasure, or our material possessions and resources, and try to imagine how we can use them to meet the overwhelming needs of a world filled with brokenness and sin, don’t we get just as discouraged and doubtful as the disciples? Aren’t we subject to the same mentality of disbelief or even sarcasm, that there’s no way it can be done? What might we be doing with our 5 loaves and 2 fish? Keep them to ourselves?
Jesus explodes our small thinking, and takes 5 loaves and 2 fish, and turns it into a meal to feed a multitude. Not a person was left hungry, everyone ate and was satisfied. He looked up to heaven before He blessed and broke the food. Why? Who gave it? God provided. And God would provide more until the need was met. Pastor R once said about this passage, something that jarred my thinking in such an awesome way: “What is on hand is enough.” Jesus used what was available, and by God’s supernatural intervention, blessed and multiplied it so that it was enough. Instead of being depressed by the seeming poverty of our circumstances and what we have on hand, we should open our eyes to see that if God is providing us with this, it will be enough.
Jesus makes no promise here of riches and wealth, or whatever we might wrongly crave for, but the simple lesson of trusting in God’s provision, and that He can bless and multiply what we have to our good.  Give us this day our daily bread”, Jesus taught us to pray. The same simple lesson. Look up to heaven, to God who provides these loaves. His daily provision is enough for us. We want to see five years or maybe even just five meals into the future, but He’s got us taken care of right now. Daily bread is His supply. He knows your needs, and will provide them. It is right to give Him thanks and praise.
A crowd with almost nothing saw Jesus multiply loaves and pour out His gifts in overflowing abundance, so that there were 12 heaping baskets left over—more than they had to begin with. We too must work with what we have been given, rather than what we don’t have. And trust in God that what is on hand is enough, that if we are faithful with the little He has given us, and put our thanks and trust in Him, that He can bless and multiply it and entrust us with more. We’re all a little slow when it comes to learning, but thanks be to God we have a compassionate and amazingly patient Shepherd and Teacher. When we don’t get it or deserve it, or our attitude is sour or our faith is dim, He doesn’t crush us or extinguish us, but He nurtures the faith and flame to full brightness again. Jesus is our compassionate Shepherd and Teacher. He knows our needs and well provides us, and loves us every day the same, even calls us by our name. His compassion means He knows and understands our needs. And by His mercy He calls us to Himself and He fills and supplies them as He knows best.
And greatest of all, our Good Shepherd lays down His life for the harassed and helpless sheep. His compassion opened His heart to our deepest sin, brokenness, and need. So He laid down His life on the cross, swallowing up our sin, healing our brokenness, and supplying our need. Our same Lord who multiplied the loaves, also rose from His grave, proving He is the Living Son of God. So come running, come running to the hands and feet of Jesus to receive lessons and loaves. For He will provide all that you need in body and soul, your daily bread and His mercy and forgiveness for all your sin. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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

  1. Do you find it difficult to get the rest and restoration you need, amidst the demands of life? Why did Jesus insist on this for His disciples? Why has God given us a commandment (the 3rd) concerning weekly rest for our bodies, and worship of Him? How is it detrimental to us if we do not rest or worship?
  2. What need drove the people to Jesus? Are we also driven by our need? What makes us feel that need more deeply so that we hunger and thirst for Him?
  3. What moved Jesus to compassion for the people, even though He was worn out? Mark 6:34; Matthew 9:36. How does Jeremiah 23:1-6 contrast the neglect and harm of Israel’s “shepherds” to the future care and righteous leading of their new shepherds, and the One Good Shepherd? Compare John 10.
  4. When it came to feeding the 5,000, how did the disciples view the situation? John 6:5-9. How did Jesus view the available resources?
  5. How do we often measure our resources? Do we think they are sufficient for the ministry and tasks we have been given? Are we looking and trusting in God’s supply and providence, or our own? How do you think God views our available resources?
  6. How do we know this was a miracle, and not just an act of sharing meager rations of bread and fish? How was the appetite of the people when they were finished? Mark 6:42. What was left? 6:43.
  7. Do we know the ways and the amounts of what God will bless us with? What are we instead responsible to do? What does the prayer “give us this day our daily bread” remind us to do?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sermon on Mark 6:14-29, for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, "Misidentified"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. As we’ve gone through the chapters of Mark these last weeks, it continues to hit me how the experiences of the community in Jesus’ day mirrors in many ways our present day world. Even the grisly executions done by ISIS echo and multiply the violent death of John the Baptist for standing for the truth. This Gospel reading is marked by rejection and misidentification of Jesus—so that right from the first verse, King Herod and the community are mistaking the miracles and works of Jesus and His disciples, for John the Baptist risen from the dead. With misidentification, superstition, scandal, incest, a prophet speaking the truth and righteousness, a conflicted conscience, a murderous grudge, rash vow, persecution, and gory ending, this story has all the elements of a modern movie drama.
The reading explains through a flashback, that Herod had recently killed John, and he and the people were frightened that this was John the Baptist back from the dead. Perhaps John was coming back to haunt Herod and judge him for his innocent death. So right from the start, Herod and others mistake the works of Jesus for John the Baptist. Apparently Herod’s troubled conscience wouldn’t leave him alone for what he had done, and Jesus’ teaching and miracles were a painful reminder of what he’d done to John.
Herod wasn’t the first, and certainly wasn’t the last person to hear the Word of God through a prophet or from Christ Himself, and be fascinated by it, and troubled at the same time. Herod heard the prophetic words of John the Baptist, calling him to truth and repentance, to leave behind his adulterous relationship with his sister in law, and it says he was “greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.” He recognized that John was a “righteous and holy man”, and for a time at least, “he kept him safe.” Herod is a picture for us of the person who is wrapped in the midst of serious sins, and is unwilling or unable to leave them behind and repent, yet is intrigued by God’s Word of Truth. Herod ignored or suppressed the voice of his conscience, to his own hurt and ruin. Today we do much the same when sin is too pleasing or enticing, or when we simply give up and fear it’s too late for us.
This story also reminds you of the saying, “Don’t shoot the messenger”. Herod’s partner in sin, Herodias, his sister-in-law, vented her murderous grudge against John by asking for his head. Her hatred and Herod’s fear were not ultimately about John, the messenger, but God’s truth that exposed their sinful pleasure as evil. She was not going to let this messenger get in the way of what she wanted. Likewise, John standing for the truth, even in the face of death, is a little picture and foreshadowing of Jesus’ unflinching stand for truth before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate and all the rest, at His own trial, crucifixion, and death. God’s Truth has an amazing power to stir and challenge us to our very core, making for fear and perplexity mixed with gladness like Herod, or hatred and animosity like Herodias, or joy and gladness from those who hear the Word, are humbled and moved to repentance, and receive Christ’s free gift.
We are seeing an increase around the world in persecution and hatred against the Truth, and against Christians who stand for it. ISIS and the persecution of Christians in the Middle East is just one small, and very advanced example of it. The point is, that when sin and defiance of God’s Word increases, if you stand for God’s Truth, you can expect resistance. John the Baptist had no physical, legal, or military power over Herod, yet it is amazing that Herod feared him. It was the Truth, that deep down Herod could not deny, that made him fear John, and ultimately resist God. Likewise, Christians who still believe and confess God’s Truth are a painful thorn in the side to those who can’t bear to hear it. We are quickly approaching a time where people are going to be penalized for holding to biblical marriage between a man and a woman. It’s already happened to some in our country, photographers, cake artists, florists, etc, who have refused to act against their conscience and their belief in God’s Word have been sued and lost businesses. Standing for the truth when the truth is unpopular or even hated, requires great courage.
Jesus told His disciples, and would tell us the same, that the courage and the ability to speak the truth in the face of opposition comes from His Holy Spirit. Pray that God open your mouth to speak the truth in love, and to speak it winsomely, and that the Holy Spirit would give you the words and the opportunities to speak whenever you are called to answer for the hope you have. Sometimes we tell ourselves that “we’re not made of the same stuff” and that only some great heroic people can have this courage. But God promises to use even weak and lowly people to put to shame the strong and powerful (1 Cor. 1:27-28). If we believe in Jesus, we are “made of the same stuff”—as every gift we have, we have received from God in His grace and mercy.
The story of Herod and Herodias is an example of how bad sin and its consequences can become, if left unchecked, and if God’s Truth and conscience are continually ignored. It’s a picture of the evil that human kingdoms and power that protects corruption and falsehood can become. Jesus’ kingdom, power, and glory stands in stark contrast. John was a herald or messenger of that kingdom. Jesus, though misidentified again and again, is the true King of that Kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom show us righteousness and the power of God’s Truth to confront evil and lies. Not in this passage, but in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we also see that even killing the messenger, can’t silence the Word of Truth. Jesus’ rose in His body from the grave, showing that He is the bona fide King of the Kingdom of God—that sin, death, and the devil are no match for the Truth. And the amazing thing about the Kingdom of God is that Jesus is constantly seeking to win converts and believers from the kingdom of His enemy. His Word of Truth is that powerful, that it can even shake enemies of God out of their resistance, and make them see the light. While sin, its consequences, and the kingdoms of this world careen toward death—Jesus’ kingdom is the only way to light, life, and truth.
Jesus’ kingdom is the only way out of the sin that traps us, willingly or unwillingly. Whether we are wrestling and fighting against sin that we don’t want, or whether we’ve willingly chosen or given into sin, the only way to freedom is Jesus. Jesus said, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin…so if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34, 36). There was a hard way out of Herod’s sin, but he didn’t want to take it. Jesus sets us free from our sins, and only He has the power to change our desires and begin to mold them after Him, in His image. We may be frustrated at times with our seeming lack of progress, but the same God promises that He who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has to see the job through to completion because He has committed to you and pledged His Holy Spirit to you by faith and in baptism. If you are still wrestling with sin in your life, you know who to take it to—to Jesus—and that He is faithful to save you.
If this whole Bible passage began as a misidentification of Jesus, we can come to a correct identification of who Jesus is. But we can’t come to it on our own. No person will come to the right conclusion about Jesus on his or her own. But God can bring us to that conclusion. He did it for the disciple Peter, who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven”, Jesus answered (Matthew 16:16, 17). He did it for Thomas, who confessed Jesus as “My Lord and my God!”, after he saw the risen Lord Jesus. He did it for Saul, who was persecuting Christians, before he was struck blind on the road to Damascus, and converted. Saul, later known as the apostle Paul, confessed after his conversion and baptism, that Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:20). If you believe and confess the same about Jesus as the Son of God—that is, if you correctly identify Jesus as Lord and Savior—this too comes from God. God has given you the correct faith to believe and trust in Jesus for your salvation.
Jesus would persist with misidentifications and rejections, right up to His death on the cross. The misidentifications and hostility to Jesus’ truth continues till today, with those who still hold to Jesus’ Word. But take heart, Jesus has overcome the world. His kingdom is the One that is built and bound to last for eternity. The kingdom of Herod has long since gone by the wayside. Kingdoms and thrones will continue to rise and fall, but Jesus’ throne will never pass away. It stands and grows forever, until the day when every knee shall bow, and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And we can still hear and still echo the call of John the Baptist, to prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. God’s Word makes it’s inroads in difficult and mountainous terrain, and through the crooked road. Jesus traveled those roads to His cross and glory. He calls us to follow the same. One day the Truth will be plain to all, whether they received it or not. May God prepare our hearts for a glad reception of His Word, and an eagerness to follow Jesus in faith, and boldly confess the Truth. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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

  1. Mark 6:14-29 begins and continues with a misidentification of Jesus. Who did Herod and the others think that Jesus was, and why? How does this reflect Herod’s state of mind (and conscience)? See also Mark 6:20.
  2. How does God’s Word and truth affect a troubled conscience? 2 Corinthians 7:10-13. What is the result when we listen to God’s Law and repent and receive His free gifts? 1 Peter 3:21-22. What is the result when we ignore it and harden our hearts? Hebrews 3:12-15; 4:2.
  3. Herod made a foolish vow or oath to the young girl, that he later regretted, but foolishly kept. What does Scripture urge us to do with regards to making vows, etc? Matthew 5:33-37. What propelled his sin further down a road of destruction?
  4. Who alone is able to get us out of our trouble and sin? What does it cost us? Revelation 22:14-17. Jesus’ free gift of forgiveness is the only way out of sin, no matter how horrible or enslaving it is. Had Jesus not suffered the same fate (innocent death) as John the Baptist, we would still be dead in our trespasses and sins. But because Christ is alive, we can have new life and be a new creation also!
  5. The right “identification” of who Jesus is, comes from whom? Matthew 16:15-17. Putting our trust or faith in Him to save, is a gift from whom? Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:17. New life in Jesus Christ is a gift from whom? Galatians 3:2-11.
  6. Where does the courage come from to stand up for the truth? Philippians 1:19-21; Romans 1:16. John the Baptist stood for the truth and died for it, Jesus did the same. How was Jesus’ death more than just an example for us, but accomplished something for us?