April 18, 2019 Maundy Thursday-The Lord of Life, Given for Us -Luke 22:7-23

jesus and the disciples

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.  So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?”  He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him.  And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.  For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”  And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. Luke 22:7-23 (ESV)

The disciples are sharing the Passover with Jesus in the upper room. Judas has already betrayed Jesus to the chief priests (Luke 22:1-6) but the others are not aware that he has done this.

Theologians and scholars have speculated on Judas and his fate for centuries. It was appointed before the world began that Jesus would have to die and to be the sacrifice for fallen humanity.  To be Judas, the one who would betray the Lord of Life for a few coins, is hard to imagine.

The hard reality is that we are all guilty in the same way as Judas. Every fallen human being, in our sinful nature and in our inability to stop sinning, betrays the Son of Man.  Every lie, every covetous thought, every time we put ourselves and our idols above the One True God, every time we fall into resentment and hate, we too are the ones who surrendered Jesus to the chief priests.  Our sins consigned Jesus to the Cross.

Even with the knowledge that His betrayer sat at the table with Him, Jesus still gives His body for us to eat and His blood for us to drink. In, with, under and through the elements of bread and wine, Jesus is truly present and truly given in the Sacrament.  His Body and Blood, given, even for His betrayer.  Given for the remission of the sins of the world, for even the most vile sinner who looks to Him in faith will be forgiven.

Maundy Thursday is a day of promise for the disciples, but also a day of worry and uncertainty. Where is this Supper heading?  Jesus knows what He must encounter the next day.  Judas knows Jesus is going to be put to death, and that he was the one who set the wheels in motion.

None of us can claim moral superiority to Judas. We learn in James 2:10 that anyone who violates even one teeny tiny point of the Law is guilty of violating all of it.  Yet Jesus gave Himself and took our place so that our sins don’t stick to us.  By faith in Him alone, we are brought to the font.  We come to the Communion table.

April 10, 2019- The Great Exchange: Give Us Barabbas, the Son of His Father, for the Son of God-Mark 15:1-15

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And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate.  And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And the chief priests accused him of many things.  And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.”  But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the feast he (Pilate) used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked.  And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”  For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.  But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead.  And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”  And they cried out again, “Crucify him.”  And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.”  So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.  Mark 15:1-15 (ESV)

Pontius Pilate certainly was not a Jew, but he did have to be somewhat aware of the meaning behind the Passover celebration. He had to see the danger of a conquered people celebrating their past freedom. The number of people coming into Jerusalem for Passover created a logistical nightmare and an opportunity for violence and riots to break out.  His assignment was to enforce the pax Romana in his jurisdiction by whatever means were expedient.   If freeing a known murderer would mollify the crowds, so be it.  If it took crucified bodies still on their crosses lining the roads to keep the peace and to remind the vanquished who is in charge, so be that too.

The chief priests saw Jesus as a threat to their authority, so they had no problem with sending Jesus to Pilate to do their dirty work. The Romans weren’t exactly known for their benevolence.  If anything Pilate was a pragmatist- using whatever methods necessary to get the desired results.

The name Barabbas means “son of the father.”  And this Barabbas was a guilty man, a murderer who had earned the earthly punishment of death.  Yet the crowd (in which all of fallen humanity is represented) begs for the vindication of Barabbas, who was very clearly guilty as sin. We are all children of fallen man, offspring of the first father, Adam.  The cries to free Barabbas were cries for our own vindication as we are all sons of Adam.

Our sins put Jesus on the Cross- not because He was forced to take our punishment, but because He chose to. Out of His amazing love and mercy for fallen humanity, He took on the sins of the world, even as the crowd demanded, “Crucify Him!”

Free Barabbas, who is truly a son of his father, Adam. Crucify Jesus, the sinless, eternal Son of God. The irony of the Great Exchange is made crystal clear here.

Jesus was the only man who ever lived who was qualified to take on the redemption of humanity. While Barabbas- and every other human being except Jesus- deserved eternal death and punishment, only Jesus’ death would suffice to answer the wrath of God and break the curse of Adam.

…Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! – John 1:29 (ESV)

April 9, 2019- Peter Betrays Jesus, and We Do Too- Mark 14:66-72

peter-denial

And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”  But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.”  And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:66-72 (ESV)

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Peter. He thought he had the inner fortitude to confess Jesus even when it could mean his hide.   There are times when we all think that we can be confident to confess Christ, and then our old Adam comes out and our words and actions betray Him.

The ability to remain faithful is not within us. This may have been the lesson that Jesus had for Peter as well as for us. Whether we stand or fall in the faith is not reliant on on our own desire, willpower or merit.  If Peter, the apostle, who walked and ate and lived with Jesus, could betray Him, who do we think we are?

The saint side of us (which is a gift of God, a result of God choosing us as His own) wants to cling to Jesus and wants to live for Him, even when it means our own personal discomfort or sacrifice.  We as sinners want to be God and we insist on having our own desires fulfilled- our own personal comfort and our own advancement and benefit.  It is inevitable that the saint and the sinner will have some skirmishes.

The apostle Paul discusses this struggle in Romans 7 – the things he wants to do he does not do, and the things he does not want to do, he does.  It is the struggle we all have and will have as long as we live in this lifetime.

Yet God gives us the gift of repentance. He gives us the Good News that Jesus died for ALL of our sins- even the times when we are faithless, when we fail, when we outright break His law.  No one is “too bad” for God’s grace and forgiveness.

Jesus forgave Peter and commended him to service and ministry even though Peter betrayed Him. We still sin and our actions betray Jesus every day.  Even so, we are still, by faith in Jesus, by the grace of God, named and claimed as His own children.

Thankfully Jesus doesn’t just leave us to the consequences of our sins. We are baptized, washed, covered in His righteousness, because we believe He is who he said He is and that we trust that He is enough.

April 4, 2019 – The End of the World? Jesus Says Stay Awake- Mark 13:21-37

end of the world

(Jesus was teaching His disciples:) And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.  But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.  It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.  Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.  And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” Mark 13:21-37 (ESV)

Jesus tells His disciples: Stay awake.

Our culture is fascinated with eschatology or the study of the end times. There are a variety of differing Christian teachings on the end times, but Lutherans generally take the Bible, especially what Jesus says about the end of days, at face value.  The traditional Biblical understanding of end times is called amillennialism, in which we contend that Jesus began His rule and reign upon His ascension into heaven, and that He will come again to remake heaven and earth. This view is supported and affirmed in the Ecumenical Creeds and in Article XVII of the Augsburg Confession.

So why are there so many people out there claiming this or that inside knowledge on the end of the world when Jesus Himself does not know the day or the hour?

Jesus gives us a clue when he warns us about false teachers. There are people who claim that they have hidden knowledge, but how can a fallible human being know something that Jesus doesn’t claim to know?  How many date setters have there been who have failed to accurately predict Jesus’ arrival back on earth?

The apostle Paul also gives us some insight on how to verify what is true and what is not. He commended the Bereans for taking his words- the Holy Spirit inspired words of an apostle no less- and holding them to the light of Scripture.  (Acts 17:10-15) If we are intimately acquainted with the real thing- God’s Word as it is given to us in the Bible- it becomes easy to spot false teachings and counterfeits.

Perhaps the reason why we have no way of knowing when Jesus is coming back is so that we will focus on being God’s people now. How do we know if today is our own personal last day? Jesus talks about the foolishness of relying on ourselves and in our own wealth for security in the parable of the rich fool- Luke 12:13-20.  We rely on God’s provision, whether today is the last day or if the world does not end for another thousand years.

We should not follow false teachers who promise prosperity in this life or listen to wolves in sheep’s clothing who preach a theology of glory rather than a theology of the cross. We aren’t going to have our “best life now” just yet. Our life now is a life with one foot on the fallen earth with all its sin and brokenness, and one foot in the heavenly kingdom, living in the promise of the life to come.

By faith, we trust Jesus at His Word. Stay awake.

“Keep your lamps trimmed and burning /For this old world is almost done
Brother don’t you stop prayin’/ Sister keep right on prayin’
Don’t you stop prayin’ /for this old world is almost done” – from the Spiritual, Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning- Rev. G. Davis

April 3, 2019- The Widow’s Mite, the Shema, and the First Commandment-Mark 12:41-44, Deuteronomy 6:4-8, Matthew 22:34-40

poor widow

And he (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44 (ESV)

Jesus’ account of the poor widow isn’t meant to guilt trip us into putting all of our money in the collection plate. Jesus isn’t really even talking about just our money.  While we should be good stewards of what God provides us, and we should be mindful of our giving of time, talent and resources to the mission of the church, Jesus is really talking about the First Commandment and what it is to take it seriously.

We can all agree that the shema – which is the primary prayer and petition of the Jewish people- is good.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-8 (ESV)

Jesus underscores the shema as being the foundation of God’s Law as well:

But when the Pharisees heard that he (Jesus) had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV)

So the question Jesus asks of us is, “Do you really love God with all your heart and soul and mind? Do you really love other people like you love yourself?”

The answer to this question is, “No, we don’t.”

We don’t love God with all our heart and soul and mind – and we certainly don’t love others like we love ourselves because we can’t. No matter how hard we may try, we fall short.  Cats meow, dogs bark, and sinners sin.  As long as we live this life in these imperfect bodies, we will still be subject to the curse of sin. We are powerless to love perfectly, and we cannot love God and others in and of our own strength.

We can only love God and others, as imperfect and fallen as we are, by the grace of God in Christ.  We, like the poor widow, have nothing to offer God but ourselves in our weakness and poverty.   Jesus loves God, and loves fallen humanity perfectly in a way we are not capable of.  He gives us the faith we need to be able to give even our imperfect selves.

This isn’t to say that the Law is a bad thing. The Law is a good thing because it shows us our desperate need for Jesus.  Jesus lived out the Law perfectly, not only in love toward God, but also in love for us.  He gave His life- which was all that He had here on this earth- so that God would see us as being justified under the Law.  He freely took the punishment that brings us peace (Isaiah 53:5.)

That is what love is, and why it is so difficult for us to trust God so fully that we give freely of ourselves for the good of others. In Christ, we know love.  In Christ – by His grace, through faith, we are free to give all that we are and all that we have to Him.

March 29, 2019-Sitting in Jesus’ Glory or Taking Up Our Cross? Mark 10:35-45, Luke 9:23

request of james and john

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.  And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:35-45 (ESV)

Many people believe that God works on a quid pro quo system which means, “If I do this, then you will do that.”  Examples of this mindset are.  “If I do great works of penance for all the sins I committed, then God will forgive me,” or “If I give ‘beyond the tithe’ to Christian ministries, then God will bless me with wealth and health and so on.”

We learn from Jesus and from the apostle Paul that God does not work on the quid pro quo system. We cannot earn our place in God’s economy. No one can follow Jesus unless the Father draws him- John 6:44. God doesn’t need anything we have.  He is the Giver.  Anything we have to give should be given in service to our neighbors, with thanks to God who gives us everything.

James and John are asking the wrong question of Jesus. Jesus’ mission has nothing to do with two guys arguing over which one is more special. They don’t realize that Jesus is the only one qualified to drink the cup that was prepared for Him. Jesus is the only acceptable and holy sacrifice to pay the ransom for fallen humanity.  James and John did not understand that the greatest in God’s kingdom are those who serve and glorify God and not themselves.

Jesus came to save sinners (Mark 2:13-17) and to rescue the lost- lost people like us who are powerless to save ourselves no matter how many good works we do.

Following Jesus has nothing to do with our own glory. It has everything to do with God’s glory. We can’t earn, deserve or bargain for God’s love. Faith in Jesus alone- which is a gift of the Holy Spirit- is what is required.  We respond to this gift in humble service, from a grateful and joyful heart.

Jesus is the one who paid our ransom. Jesus is the one who covers us with His righteousness, so that when God looks at us in judgment He does not see our sins.  All He sees is Jesus.  It is in Jesus’ strength and because of His love that we can dare to follow Him.  He is with us even through the valley of the shadow. He has taken the cup of death for us, that we may live.

And he (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (ESV)

March 27, 2019- Who is the Greatest? Mark 9:33-50

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And they (Jesus and His disciples) came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”  But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:33-50 (ESV)

So who is the greatest? It’s a very human question. If we were to answer that question from our own perspective, would we look to historical “greats” such as Abraham Lincoln, or Winston Churchill or Mahatma Gandhi?  We like to categorize people and things- the top 40 pop songs, the 10 greatest visual artists, the 5 top movies of the season.  It seems silly that the disciples argued over who was the greatest among them, but we do the same thing to each other all the time.  We speculate over who has the most prestige, the most money, the best car, etc. and so on.

Jesus has different categories than we do. Who is greatest in the kingdom of God?  The helpless child, the one who quietly and humbly serves, the person suffering from dementia who doesn’t remember who he is, or the mentally challenged person whose only real ability is to smile- these are normally people considered among the “least.”  Yet in Jesus’ economy, these are the greatest, the ones to be considered first.

Jesus takes educating children in the faith (catechesis) very seriously.  As parents, grandparents and concerned people of God, we should care about our children’s Christian education.  Public schools are not permitted to teach anything regarding Christian faith.  Kids will NOT hear the Word of God or be taught about Jesus in public school.  If our children are going to know Jesus they need to learn about Him at home from parents and grandparents.  If children aren’t learning about Jesus from parents and grandparents then we as the church need to offer a safe place for kids to come to learn with solid resources.  Kids’ Worship, VBS, Day Camp, Scouts and Catechism all are ministries designed to bring the Word of God to our children. (Romans 10:17- So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.)

Jesus uses some very harsh language to describe the plight of those who mislead or mistreat children or who take advantage of people who are ignorant about Him. He also uses harsh language to remind us just how ugly our sin is, and to underscore how it separates us from Him.

He does not mean for us to literally put our eyes out or cut our limbs off, but to avoid those things that lead us to sin. The wages of sin is death, death that manifests itself in so many ways.  Therefore we should work together with other Christians and we should strive to help each other live in a way that is pleasing to God.

We are not able to live perfectly without sin. We live with one foot in an imperfect world and the other in the kingdom of God. Jesus has made us perfect in God’s sight- by faith.  By faith we respond by sharing the Good News with our children.