Monday, January 30, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 8:23-27, for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, "True Sense of Security"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Did you notice in our Gospel reading, that everything was calm and fine before Jesus and His disciples entered into the fishing boat, to cross the Sea of Galilee? Jesus was leading them into the storm. It reminds me of how the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness after His baptism, to be tempted. Undoubtedly Jesus did so for this reason—to test their faith, and show them who He was in a yet more marvelous way. Do we acknowledge that God may intentionally lead us into some rough sailing, some real, humbling difficulties in life? Not because He wants to harm us, or even that everything has a hidden “life-lesson”, but that God in His own mysterious ways, has crosses for us to bear, and wants us to lean completely on Him? If Jesus lead them into the storm, you see there is no promise or guarantee that we will be spared the storms and dangers of life, or even that we will be rescued from them as the disciples were. But we are promised that nothing, not even death can separate us from the love of Christ.  
While it’s a fact of life that we face dangers, threats, and storms—like losing everything in a house fire, drowning on a ship in a storm, or having a loved one killed in a car accident—none of these should cause us to stop trusting God. Rather, they should drive us to trust Him all the more, especially to find strength in Him to endure and face any outcome. It’s unwise, and even dangerous to our faith, to try to mystically interpret such events as some sort of coded message from God trying to punish us for some wrong or teach us some lesson. Rather, the Bible reminds us that the ravages of nature, both natural disasters and diseases, are proof of sin’s corruption of creation. Our epistle reading says the whole of creation is subject to futility and in bondage to decay. The whole world groans under this weight of sin and suffering. We ache with it and lament that God’s creation is not as it once was.
But even if we shouldn’t read into our own life events some secret, personalized meaning, this storm at sea and wild boat ride for the disciples was obviously recorded for our instruction. And it should teach us the kind of faith that endures all things and faces challenges and danger on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. The Bible does have many lessons on hardship.
A theme running through the stories just before the storm on the sea of Galilee, is the theme of Jesus’ authority. Crowds marveled at the great authority of Jesus’ teachings. His disciples saw His authority over leprosy, paralysis, and fever, as in short order He heals several different illnesses in Matthew 8. Then He casts out demons, showing His authority over evil. The miracle at sea completes the picture to show that Jesus even has authority over the raw forces of nature—the stormy wind and waves are obedient to His command—but even with all that so soon before, they still lacked faith in His power.
In the bulletin quote, John Gerhard points out that we always “glue our hearts” to other things instead of faith clinging to God alone, and that God uses great adversity or misfortune to strip away this false foundation, so that our faith is preserved and rests on God alone. Think of how easy it is to “glue our hearts” on to extra supports and objects of trust, that can actually weaken or replace our real trust in God. No doubt the seasoned fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James and John, normally put great faith in their navigational and sailing skills. They knew the waters and rough weather common on the Sea of Galilee. But now they were utterly beyond their abilities and confidence. Any false sense of security in good conditions, the trustworthiness of their vessel, or their own strength and ability, was all stripped away, and they were genuinely terrified. When we glue our hearts to something else, and then these fail us or prove incapable—we learn real fast that nothing or no one (and certainly not our strength) can take God’s place. Glued to something else, pretty soon we stop truly trusting in God, and rely on whatever other false securities we have constructed in His place.
Meanwhile, Jesus is doing just what you would expect in a storm where waves are swamping the boat, right?? He’s sound asleep, (just like Jonah, by the way). If you just ponder how astonishing this is—not that Jesus was really tired—but that He was able to sleep through all that tumult—it shows a beautiful picture of His complete peacefulness in the hands of God. Our sermon hymn, “Jesus, Priceless Treasure” sings of the peace of the Christian at rest in the arms of Jesus: In Thine arms I rest me; foes who would molest me cannot reach me here. Though the earth be shaking, ev’ry heart be quaking, Jesus calms my fear. Lightnings flash and thunders crash; Yet though sin and hell assail me, Jesus will not fail me” (LSB 743:2). The hymn contrasts terrifying danger surrounding us with the peace, calm, and rest in Jesus. No storm or danger frightened Jesus, as the Psalm says: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone Oh Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). A believer can find that perfect peace in God, just as Jesus displayed in this storm, because in Jesus nothing need frighten us. He is our true security. Jesus will not fail me.
On the one hand, in many situations in life we need that false sense of security stripped away. But then should we be vulnerable, exposed, and cowering in fear or cowardice? No! This is the very thing that Jesus reprimands His disciples for—their fear and their little faith! Fear and helplessness against the storm had stripped away their false security—but Jesus strongly implies that fear and cowardice should NOT have taken its place. “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” I imagine we all can feel the sting of those words.
All the times we have wavered and faltered in faith, and gave up hope that God was in control. All the times when we could only manage a shaky fear and cry for help, when life’s troubles overwhelmed us. Were the disciples just showing what it meant to be human, in their fear? Are we doing the same, when fear threatens to overwhelm our little faith? Or is what it truly means to be human found rather in these words: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding”? (Proverbs 3:5). Is not the true humanity that God desires instead, for us to have a sober sense of not leaning on our own understanding (false security)—but trusting in God with all our heart (true security!)?
Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to bring the boat safely to shore, or to quiet the storm themselves—He knew they couldn’t do that—this expedition showed that plainly enough. But He did expect them to trust that with Him in the boat, they didn’t need to fear. What was the worst that could have happened to them? Certainly, the boat could have sunk and they all could have drowned. But were they not His disciples? All they needed to know was that their true security was in Him. He would not fail them, even in death. Did Jesus not teach His disciples that they could store up treasures in heaven, that could not be lost? Are we not taught by Scripture that nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus? Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation? (Romans 8:38-39). None of this can separate us from Jesus! NOTHING!
So in other words, what Jesus did desire of them—what He desires of us, is that we find our true sense of security in Him. That no matter what we face, that we can face it with boldness and trust in Him. We don’t need to cower, but to stand! We don’t need to trust our own strength or understanding—we need only to trust His! This is the same spirit that St. Paul encourages young Timothy to have, “for God gave us a spirit, not of fear, but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). Consider what it means to live with such a spirit!
For Jesus, it meant peaceful sleeping in the boat, while the storm rages. For the disciples it might have meant a calm reliance on Jesus to carry them through. For us it may mean that we can endure whatever lays before us, because nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus. Paul preached to crowds of disciples, “encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Who gives this spirit of power, love, and self-control but Jesus Christ?! And with that spirit, we don’t have false security in ourselves, but true security in Him. We know that we can endure all the tribulations and trials that we will face before we enter the kingdom of God, because Jesus is our strength and refuge. And who is He?
He is the Lord with complete command and authority over all of creation. The One who woke to make the storm be still, and to hush the waves (Psalm 107:29). The One who rebukes the waters and they flee (Psalm 104:7). “Jesus rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him?’” This man is Jesus, the Son of God, with complete authority at His command. He is Sovereign over all creation, yet man in human flesh. He is near to us as an offered prayer. He is our access to the throne of God’s grace. And once more, while He does lead us into storms in life, and doesn’t promise that we will always escape unharmed, He does promise that nothing, not even death can separate us from His love.
His love for those of “little faith” is to give them a greater measure of trust in Him. His love for those of little faith is to never refuse the prayer for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). His love for us of little faith is to take our fear and cowardice, and to replace it with a spirit of power, love, and self-control. His love is to create courageous disciples who know just how powerful and mighty our Lord is—who plunged Himself into the fiercest storm of death and the grave, and emerged alive and victorious. Who went down into the belly of the earth, and in three days arose. No less than Jesus’ love and power that gave spiritual growth and courage to the disciples, Jesus is working the same in you. Look to His power and know that since He can manage all things, then you are truly in good hands. Your true sense of security is in Him! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In Matthew 7:28-29 the crowds marvel at the authority of Jesus’ teaching. As chapter 8 begins, Jesus shows His authority over leprosy, paralysis (and has a discussion about faith and authority with the centurion), fevers, and evil spirits. Now in Matthew 8:23-27, what does Jesus show He holds authority over? What does this combined picture tell us about who He is? Cf. Matthew 8:27.
  2. Notice that the lake was calm before Jesus got in the boat to cross with His disciples, and the storm rose after. What does this suggest about Jesus’ intention for bringing them into the storm? What about the likelihood of facing danger and storms while Jesus is with us?
  3. What is amazing about what Jesus is doing at first? Cf. Jonah 1:4-6. What does Scripture tell us about God? Psalm 121:4; but why does it sometimes seem like He does? Psalm 44:23-26.
  4. Why did the disciples not need to fear the storm? Psalm 46:1-3. Would the disciples have been “ok” even if they had perished, with Jesus in the boat? It’s worth considering that if we have Jesus with us, and we believe in Him, not even death can separate us from God’s love. Romans 8:38
  5. Read the other instances where Jesus rebukes the disciples for having “little faith”: Matthew 6:30; 14:31; 16:8. Why should trusting in God be the logical thing to do in each of these situations? Why is trust so hard for us? How does lack of faith cause us to act differently?
  6. What can be the results of trusting Jesus more boldly and more confidently? In whom does our security or confidence rest? What can we ‘afford to lose’ if we are secure in Him? Matthew 16:25-27
  7. What does this miracle tell us about the extent of Jesus’ authority? What does that say about who Jesus is, and why we should trust Him?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Sermon on Ephesians 6:10-18, for Life Sunday, "Here We Stand"

[The following sermon is adapted from sermons from Rev. Lyndon Korhonen and Rev. Michael Salemink on  You can find more encouraging, life-affirming materials and resources on their website].
If we did not have the Word of God, wouldn’t we wonder what is going on in our world? Life, as many of us have known it, is under attack. Over 40 years ago, our nation legalized the killing of babies in the womb. The “right to death” is seemingly being treated as an enshrined right, rather than the “right to life.” In several states, people have been given the right to end their lives through legal suicide. The value that we place on the elderly continues to decline. Marriage has been redefined by the U.S. Supreme Court. The sex one is born with is now up for change. The world is ever pushing to redefine even fundamental realities. And yet with all this so-called “progress” in getting what we want, people are profoundly unhappy and discontent.

Jesus unmasks the confusion: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). There are two opposing forces in this world: One is the culture of death and one is the culture of life. What a contrast between these two! We see around us the restlessness, the immorality, the despair, the violence, addiction, and how death is treated as a solution in this culture of death. Meanwhile, Jesus offers to us abundant living, and calls us to stand up against evil. Jesus opens our eyes to the spiritual battlefield that we live on, and equips us for the schemes of the devil.

We must remember that Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is writing to believers in Ephesus when he calls them to stand. The believer has spiritual armor available (Ephesians 6:14-18), but it must be put on, if it is to protect us. But it’s not by our strength that we stand. Vs. 12 reveals that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities …”. Our enemies are not other people, but the devil. And we are no match for the devil. We need the strength of another.

That is why Paul’s exhortation in verse 10 is to “[B]e strong in the Lord …”. Our Lord Jesus Christ disarmed the devil of his victory when He shed His blood for us on the cross. If we focus on ourselves we see sin and failure, but in Jesus there is righteousness and perfection. He is our perfect substitute, so we are strong in Him. The rest of verse 10 says to be strong “in the strength of his might.”

Our youth especially need to be constantly reminded of who they are in Christ. Young people, your world is a very different one than your parents and grandparents faced. You will need to put on your armor because the battle will be fierce. The easiest thing to do is slip into the comfortable ways of the sinful world. It takes no effort to ignore the lessons of God’s Word or the morals and values you have been taught. On the other hand, it takes a determined effort to learn God’s Word and to hold to what you believe. Few people in life will encourage you to strive for sexual purity, or to make the tough choices to take responsibility for the mistakes you have made, and to seek always to do the right thing. The “easy” road of the world leads to a lot of heartbreak; bad consequences, and a guilty conscience. But taking instead the path of Christ Jesus, we can seek a life that conforms to Him, and not to the world—a life that is blessed with better choices and consequences, and a clean conscience that finds forgiveness for our sins. A life that knows to find reconciliation with our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ His Son. A life that can find restoration and healing, even when we have made the worst choices, and lived to regret them. Every life is valuable and precious to God, and He alone can restore and forgive.

Look at our resources for battle. If you have enough firepower, you need not fear any enemy. Wow, does the believer have resources! As Lutherans, we call them the “Means of Grace.” God didn’t write His love and mercy in the sky, but He gave it to us through means. Chief among the means of grace is the Bible, God’s holy inerrant Word. In His Word, God detailed for us His plan to save us from sin by sending His only Son into this world. In verse 17 we are reminded that we have “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Because of this, we need to stand up for what God says about life. When assaulted by doubts or sins in our past, we stand on the promises of God. In your past you may have given into the devil’s temptations sexually, outside of the sacred bond of marriage, where God intends. Perhaps you have a guilty conscience that the devil still holds a claim on you, because of your past sins. But if you have repented of your sin, God’s Word says that sin is gone.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The devil has no claim on you; but Christ does! “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). You can stand for life today, even if you have had an abortion. You can stand for the sanctity of marriage, even if sexual sins are in your past. Whenever you bring any sin into God’s light, Jesus disarms the enemy, and sets you free. The devil can no longer hold that sin over you. Christ is your righteousness, and you stand in Him. God’s Word declares it to be so.

Not only has God given His Word, but He has given us two powerful, visible means to remind us that in Christ we are forgiven and new creatures. When we were baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, His death became our death to sin. Also, His resurrection became our resurrection to a new life. We can only stand by faith in that relationship with Jesus. When you are with others and a life issue comes up, don’t fear to speak up for life because Christ lives in you. It’s His courage and strength that enables us to stand in the gap.

Furthermore, God assures us when we come to the Lord’s Supper that Jesus gave His righteous, spotless, blameless life for us. His body and blood are offered to us to guarantee us that in Christ our sin is forgiven. We come to the communion table as repentant sinners, confessing no confidence in the flesh but utmost confidence in our Savior who took all that the devil could muster in our place. It is Jesus who stood against every temptation of the devil as He quoted, “It is written” (Matthew 4:4a).

So, yes, we are in a battle, but Here We Stand as we put on the armor of God. There’s no need to go and take out a loan to get such armor. It too has been supplied by our Savior, and it is not missing any parts. We need the “full armor” (Ephesians 6:11 NASB) and it is repeated in verse 13 for emphasis: “take up the full armor.”

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints …” (Ephesians 6:14-18 ESV). Think of how vulnerable a soldier is who is missing protective equipment. Every missing piece is a weak spot that the enemy will exploit.

You who are in Christ, put on the armor, take up the full armor! Parents, you have an important role to play with your children. You have brought them to the Lord in baptism, but have you taught them how to use the armor they have been given? God’s Word is absolute truth. Most of our culture does not believe there is any such thing as absolute truth today. Your children live in a world of relativism. Teach them what truth is when they hear the news. Teach them how to deal with a suggestive billboard or an advertisement during a television program. Teach them how to defend themselves against the fiery arrows the devil launches at us. Plant their feet solidly on the truth of God’s Word. Fathers, instruct your boys to keep their eyes and minds away from turning women into objects; to hold women in honor and reserve their sensitive minds for the one woman to whom they will cherish and to vow their life before God. Mothers, teach your girls the value of modesty, and how precious they are to God, and not to accept dishonorable treatment or to objectify their own bodies, but to seek a godly husband.

We also must realize this armor comes from God. The armor to choose the better way than the broken path the world offers. This armor has been tested. Jesus dealt with the devil for 40 days and nights in the wilderness before He began His public ministry. He dealt with the devil by using the Word of God. “It is written” was His main defense. That’s good armor. Believers, we must use the Word of God as our standard for what God calls good. He created life and called it “good,” and after He created man, He said it was “very good.”

Who would have thought that such fundamental issues of life would ever be challenged in our world, but we have God’s Word to stand on. And stand we must, for there is a war going on. The two opposing forces of death and life are very active. There’s no neutral ground to hold and we are not called to hide or escape in fear, but to stand firm with the full armor of God.

Our text says the activity of the devil is described as “schemes” (6  :11). These are not random situations that believers face. These are clever and strategic schemes. The devil was a high-ranking angel before his fall. He schemes are planned and age-tested through many human failures. So we must pray against his strategy today. That is the last, but not least, piece of armor that we need to put on. In our churches, we need to gather to pray against the forces of evil in Jesus’ name. What power the believer in Christ has available by using the armor of God! And let me remind you that our God has not changed, nor has the point of access to His throne changed. His children have direct access through Jesus their Savior.

And lastly, with what attitude should we stand? Ephesians 6:13b tells us: “Stand firm”!  What picture comes to your mind when you think of someone standing firm? Perhaps a U.S. soldier in combat? How about a person trained in karate? If you watch carefully, they do not stand with feet together but apart, so they can withstand an attack from any direction. That is what the armor of God does for the believer. It makes him invincible in Christ! The devil cannot overcome the believer. Remember: It is the strength of our Lord Jesus Christ that empowers us. What a blessed place the believer has to stand—in the righteousness of Christ!

So, believer, daily put on the armor that is supplied to you in Jesus. You have no strength of your own, but the Word of God tells you of all the armor that is required to stand—the full armor of God. Here We Stand against the schemes of the devil, and against those schemes we can all stand firm in Christ.

Here we stand, neither stampeding nor strutting. Here we stand in joy and not out of anger, in hope and not out of fear, because we stand to forgive and not compare, to save and not compete. Here we stand to relieve and release, not to accuse. Here we stand to listen, assist, accompany, embrace, and befriend, not to attack. Here we stand speaking truth and sharing love because we stand overcoming sin and selfishness, death and the devil, and not against one another. Here we stand firm but gentle, strong but humble, even against such great enemies as the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. Here we stand, Gospel-motivated voices, Lutherans For Life, because we can do no other, God help us. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points

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  1. Read Ephesians 6:10-18 and John 10:10. What do these passages make clear to the believer about what challenges we face in this world, and where they come from? What are the devastating consequences we experience in life when the devil comes to “steal, kill and destroy?”
  2. In what ways could one describe our culture today as a “culture of death?” How does the Bible promote a contrasting culture of life?
  3. Where does the believer’s strength come from? Ephesians 6:10. Why do youth need to be constantly reminded of their identity in Christ? What challenges do they face? Are you praying for them?
  4. What are the ways in which God arms and equips us for the spiritual battle? What power and comfort come through God’s Word? Baptism? Communion? Prayer?
  5. How do we know the devil has no claim on us? 1 John 1:9. Who does have a claim on us, and what does that mean for us? 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
  6. Ephesians 6:11, 13 both exhort us to put on the full armor of God. Why should we be wary of leaving a “chink in our armor” or not being on guard? How does the devil work, and what are his aims? Ephesians 6:11; 4:14; 2 Corinthians 2:11.
  7. When we stand as believers, why does taking our stand take on a humble, hopeful, helpful, and courageous nature? Who is at the center of our Christian identity, and how did He help the suffering and lost?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sermon on Exodus 33:12-23, for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, "Favor in God's Sight"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The book of Hebrews says this about the prophet Moses: “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.” Today in our Old Testament reading, we see Moses interceding for God’s people in a Christ-like way, but also throwing himself completely upon God’s mercy and help. He models Christ, our mediator between God and man, but also models a persistent faith that hangs onto God and seeks His favor and promises.
Why was Moses so earnestly seeking assurances of God’s help? This was just after a serious crisis. A short timeline: Moses had given the 10 Commandments to the people at Mt. Sinai. After that, he went up to the mountain to continue to receive God’s Law. Then, in chapter 32, while Moses was up on the mountain, the whole terrible incident of the golden calf took place. The Israelites fell into gross worship of an idol and sinful revelry, and when Moses came down and saw how they had so quickly abandoned God, who delivered them out of Egypt, he smashed the stone tablets of the 10 Commandments in his anger. But then Moses threw Himself upon God’s mercy and sought forgiveness for them. But at the start of chapter 33, where our reading is found, God swears that He will still keep His promise to bring them into the land He promised to Abraham and their fathers, but God refuses to go with them personally. He refuses because He does not want to destroy them on the way, because of their stubbornness. The next verse says, “when the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned…” (33:4).
It was disastrous to think that the God who had been their deliverer from Egypt, would not go with them to the Promised Land. God did promise to send an angel with them to drive out the nations before them, but He would not personally accompany them. This was a devastating rejection, and while all Israel mourned and repented, it struck Moses the deepest. Our reading begins with Moses begging God to reverse His decision, and amazingly, by the end of the reading, he has been successful! Moses appeals to God’s mercy, and overcomes God’s fully deserved righteous anger.
Would you envy Moses his job of leading the Israelites, who, through 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, would repeatedly disobey, rebel, and complain against him and against the Lord? Do you envy either our outgoing or incoming presidents, in their jobs of leading a divided and conflicted nation? Moses was not only the chief civil leader of Israel, but he was their spiritual leader as well, and coming off the mess of the golden calf incident, he was sure he couldn’t face this job without God’s help! Even the Israelites realized it would be disastrous to not have God with them. Would that all of our leaders would seek God’s help as earnestly as Moses! Would that we were as earnest in prayer and faith as Moses, to seek after God’s favor and blessings! Would that we would recognize how disastrous it is to face life without God’s presence and favor!
Moses, appealing to God, says, “Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 5 times we hear the phrase, “found favor in your sight.” Moses needs, he insists, on reassurance that he has found favor in God’s sight. Favor describes God’s attitude or disposition towards someone; it’s how He looks upon us—which is why it says this favor is found in God’s eyes. Favor is to be pleased with someone, or to show kindness or mercy toward them. The opposite would be to be displeased, unfavorable, or angry with someone—which is the very thing God had felt towards the idol-worshipping Israelites when they flaunted His first commandment: You shall have no other gods before me.
We too seek after God’s favor, for God to be gracious to us, to look upon us with His favor, and give us His peace. We seek God’s favor because we know that we have sinned, and surely deserve His present and eternal punishment. We should not ask the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but rather should ponder, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” Namely, why would God show mercy and kindness to us sinners, who daily forget or worse, ignore and flaunt His commandments? Why would God show favor? In Christ Jesus we know the answer, and that is for the sake of His Son Jesus. Because Jesus came and interceded for our sins, just as Moses interceded for his people. Because Jesus came and sacrificed Himself as the payment for all of our guilt before God. Because Jesus sends His Holy Spirit into our hearts to produce fruits in keeping with repentance—a genuine sorrow over our sins, a faith that seeks His mercy, and the beginnings of a new life that turns away from sin. God shows favor, even to notorious sinners, because they turn to God our Savior and find that He forgives.
Moses humbled himself and asked for assurance of God’s favor. But also notice that he asks if he has found favor, that God would “please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.” A deepening of his relationship and understanding of God and His ways. To know God better. Psalm 25 prays the same; for God to show us His ways and His paths, for God is the God of salvation and forgiveness. The Psalmist sings that God teaches the humble, He shows His steadfastness or loyalty to those who keep His covenant and testimonies, and that God forgives and befriends those who fear Him. Moses was asking for just this, and he received it! The same prayers should be on our lips, to deepen our relationship with God, for us to lead and teach us in the ways of His salvation. That we would learn His just laws, and with a humble and repentant heart that we would seek forgiveness and friendship from God.
The first wonderful turn of events in Moses’ conversation with God is that God agrees with Moses’ request and says Yes, He will send His presence with Moses, and give him rest. Moses successfully prayed for God to reverse His decision, not to go with the Israelites. In several places in the Old Testament where God “changes His mind” like this, it is from judgment towards grace. This shows that at the heart of God, grace takes priority. God does not eagerly desire to judge or punish, but in response to sin, He often must. But when people turn their hearts to God in repentance, God shows many times that He is eager to show mercy. He even says this is part of His very character, in Joel 2:13, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” God willingly relented because Moses and the Israelites repented, and sought His favor. God would now go with them!
We must likewise take our own sin seriously as we seek to know God’s ways, to understand both His will and commands, but also His mercy and love. Humble yourselves and return to the Lord, and seek God’s presence with the earnestness of Moses. And take comfort in knowing that just as God promised His presence with Moses and the Israelites, so also has Jesus given His disciples this baptismal promise: surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age. We have been called into the waters of baptism and Jesus tells us to learn everything He has commanded. We stand in the favor of God because of the forgiveness of our sins, and because we are known by God (Gal. 4:9).
After two successful requests for God’s presence and favor with His people, Moses makes an even bolder request from God—“Please show me your glory.” Moses learns that God cannot completely fulfill this request—because “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” The unsettling truth is that our sins are deadly baggage before God’s holiness. Hebrews 12:14 tells us that without holiness, no one will see the Lord, and later, that we should worship God with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (vs. 28-29). Standing before God with our sins is something like approaching a fire when your clothes and skin are soaked with gasoline. The holiness of God is something too awesome for us to grasp, but it describes His total purity and separation from sin. His total goodness. With our sins, we would perish in God’s presence. Knowing this, for Moses’ own good, God did not grant the request.
But this is what God did allow—He showed Moses His goodness, proclaimed His Name, “The LORD”—which in Hebrew is Yahweh—the Name God revealed Himself by in the burning bush; and God declares to Moses that “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” Finally, God places Moses in a cleft, or small space in a rock, shields him with His hand, and God’s glory passes him by. Moses gets as close to God’s glory as God can safely allow, and as He is walking away from Moses, God removes His hand, so Moses can glimpse the back side of God’s glory, but not His face. Here it becomes clear that Moses is seeing God’s glory in the form of a person. Who is that person? He is the One whom St. John calls the Word became flesh, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known (John 1:17-18).
Jesus is the revealer of God, He is full of God’s glory as the only Son. He is the One who became man so that we can see God’s glory, that we can know God. Jesus is the One who teaches us God’s ways and His paths. Jesus is the One who reveals God’s grace and truth. Just as Moses so earnestly sought to find favor in God’s eyes, for himself and for God’s people, so Jesus has sought and brought God’s favor to us. Not only is He appealing God’s mercy, but He Himself accomplished it for us, by His death on the cross and resurrection. He delivers His salvation to you by faith, through channels of His Gospel proclaimed and believed, through the death and resurrection of baptism into Him, and through His body and blood given and shed for you. God accompanies us, His people, He places His Name upon us and promises His favor to us, as we press on to the promised land of heaven. For all of our sins and failures, for all of the times we have needed the earnest, faithful pleadings of Jesus for our sins, God has answered us faithfully and He is present with His people. Go with Him bold in faith to know that He is with us always, and that in Him we find favor in God’s eyes. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. What major sin crisis had unfolded with the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, in Exodus 32? Fresh after this terrible event, God declares His anger with them and His unwillingness to go with them, in Exodus 33:1-5. In our reading, 33:12-23, how does Moses appeal to reverse God’s decision?
  2. Five times in the reading, it refers to finding favor in God’s sight. Cf. Genesis 6:5. Explain what God’s favor is. Why is it found “in God’s eyes” or “in His sight?” What is the contrasting attitude that God can have toward sinners or the unrepentant?
  3. Read Exodus 33:13 carefully, and examine Moses’ request from God. What did he desire to learn about God, and why? Why is this a model request for us to pray and seek after God? What does it mean for us to learn God’s ways? Psalm 25:4-14.
  4. Moses seeks God’s mercy not only for Himself, but also the nation of Israel, and assurance that God will really be with them. How will this show that Israel was set apart from the other nations? Exodus 33:16; Numbers 14:13-14; Exodus 19:5-6; Psalm 147:19-20.
  5. How has God extended His grace to all nations, and for what reason? Isaiah 49:5-6; Romans 1:16.
  6. After two affirmative answers from God for his requests, Moses makes a third, even bolder request, to see God’s glory. How does this illustrate the boldness of faith? 2 Timothy 1:7. Why should we be bold to make our requests before God? James 1:5-6; Mark 11:24
  7. God shows Moses the “back” of His glory, as He passes by Moses, hiding him in the cleft of the rock. Read and meditate on the hymn “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” (LSB 761) and reflect on how it uses the imagery of Moses seeing God’s glory, to our relationship to Jesus.