April 11, 2018 Jesus Brings Real Healing- Acts 3:1-10, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

peter and john lame man

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms.   And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.”  And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.  But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”  And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.  And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. Acts 3:1-10 (ESV)

There have always been false prophets and unethical teachers who prey upon people by promising miraculous physical healings. Because claiming the ability to heal people of incurable illness or lameness is a tragically common scam perpetrated by those who would make money from “faith healing,” we read this passage and it seems a bit surreal.

However, this miracle of physical healing is real. It is an act of Jesus through the apostles Peter and John, recorded for us in Scripture. No money exchanged hands on either end. There were no strings attached. There was no “seed offering” required. The lame man was only anticipating the charity of some pocket change, or a bit to eat.  He was not expecting the greater gift that Jesus had for him.

We come to Jesus in some ways like the lame man- we know we are broken and not able to fix ourselves, but we can’t see beyond our immediate need. We ask for pocket change, or a quick fix for a bad situation, when Jesus comes to us so he may heal our fatal weakness.  We don’t even know what we need to ask for, but God still provides for our needs.

We cry for bread for today, (and we should, as we are told to ask God for our provision) but Jesus has already gone far beyond that. In His suffering and death on the Cross He has covered our essential, fatal weakness- our sin.  He has defeated the death and the grave that we deserve, and won eternal life for us.  He gives us abundant life today as well as life forever. Jesus’ aim for us is to be with Him and to live forever, and that is the approach that He always takes in our forgiveness, healing and formation.

We are baptized into His suffering, and we are marked with His Cross forever, but we are also raised with Him into eternal life. (Romans 6:4)

In this life there are conditions that we must endure, and there are thorns that God will not always choose to remove from our flesh in the short term. Our healing doesn’t always become apparent in the short term, or even in this lifetime. Even so, in Christ we are made whole.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)

Jesus our Provision and our Healer isn’t about just tossing us leftovers now and then. He meets our every need. We have our life and salvation and everything in Him.

April 10, 2018 Daniel, the Lions’ Den, and God Wins- Daniel 6:16-24

daniel lions' den

Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him.

Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever!  My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.  And the king commanded, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and cast into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. And before they reached the bottom of the den, the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.  Daniel 6:16:24 (ESV) 

Most of us are familiar with the story of Daniel in the lions’ den. On one level it is an encouragement for us to trust God and follow Him even though we may face extreme consequences for doing so. The Book of Daniel is of a genre known as apocalyptic literature, which means it is telling or revealing events that will occur in the future.

Merriam Webster- definition of apocalypse-

1 a : one of the Jewish and Christian writings of 200 b.c. to a.d. 150 marked by pseudonymity, symbolic imagery, and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom.

The important thing to remember about the apocalyptic Books is that the point is always that no matter what the disaster, no matter what the challenge, no matter what the gory imagery, they point to the victory that Jesus has won over sin, death and evil.

Daniel trusted God instead of simply paying lip service to the king. Trusting God and doing what God wants can get us into plenty of trouble here on earth. It is easy to follow the ways of this world and chase after all the things the world tells us are important. It is not as easy to stand for things that please God when they conflict with the world and its demands. The world makes demands on our time, our resources and our loyalties. As much as we would like to think we put God first in our lives, if we are honest we realize that we are easily distracted and we don’t stay firmly focused on God no matter how hard we try.

We aren’t even able to trust God in any way apart from His grace. The story of Daniel tells us and encourages us that God is faithful and all-powerful. Was the angel who shut the lions’ mouths a foreshadowing of what Jesus would do to save us from certain eternal death? It does point us in that direction! Jesus saves us from sin and death and the penalty we deserve as surely as God closed the mouths of the lions for His servant Daniel.

God is faithful. Even in the face of hungry lions.

April 9, 2018 Forgive and Be Forgiven- John 20:19-23, Luke 23:33-34, Matthew 11:25-30

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On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:19-23 (ESV)

So what could Jesus say to us today about forgiveness?

Most Protestant Christians, including Lutherans, don’t practice regular confession and absolution. Since every human alive is also a sinner, it might be a good practice for us to revisit. While Lutherans don’t view confession as a sacrament like Roman Catholics do, we are called to confess our sins and to hear the words of absolution proclaimed to us. When Pastor proclaims the forgiveness of our sins during corporate confession in worship, or in private confession, he is simply passing along the forgiveness and absolution that Jesus has already won for us.

It is not possible to go through life without being offended in some way or another. It is also not possible for us to go through life without offending others. We sin without thinking about it, all day long. We make comments, we forget to do things we should do, and we break the Law all day long whether we know it or not.  Other people do the same things to us that we do to them, because they are lawbreakers too.  We are iustus et peccator (saint and sinner at the same time) indeed.

Someone might cut us off while driving, or take the last donut that we really wanted. Those are fairly easy offenses to forgive.  Other offenses are not so easily forgiven.  Those of us who have suffered physical or emotional abuse, or have otherwise endured serious harm from another have a lot harder time forgiving.  If the petition of the Lord’s Prayer that affirms “Thy will be done” is the most difficult of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, the petition to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” is the second most difficult petition.  It’s not easy to let go of a grudge, even though it’s hard to see how hanging on to our angst against someone might somehow punish them in some way.  It’s like taking poison in the hopes of making one’s enemy ill.

Even though on examination we find holding a grudge doesn’t make rational sense, the pain of suffering from serious offenses is nothing to trivialize. Everyone who has spent much time on this planet in the company of other sinners is a member of the “walking wounded” to some degree.  Some of us suffer from unspeakable wounds both deep and profound.  How are we supposed to forgive the most evil of offenses?  Just ignoring things and failing to acknowledge our pain is not a valid answer. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or not feeling, rather it is a choice to let the offense go and to leave our pain and anger to God.  Sometimes we also have to seek other believers who can pray for and with us, and offer us spiritual and emotional care, as God ministers to us through the Body of Christ (as in other Jesus followers!)  We who have the same hope and the same Lord need to encourage each other and give each other strength. (1 Thessalonians 5:5-11)

We follow Jesus’ example when we forgive, Jesus who forgave His tormentors (as they were rolling the dice to divvy up His clothes,) even while He was enduring the unfathomable and unimaginable suffering of the Cross.

And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:33-34 (ESV)

When we forgive as Jesus forgives us, not only are we forgiven, but He gives us His peace. Because He has taken the punishment that brings us peace, and bears the wounds that bring our healing (Isaiah 53:5) we can endure.  We can surrender the burden of our pain to Him.  We look to the Cross for our healing.

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30 (ESV)

It may sound simplistic and silly to simply trust Jesus and surrender our sins, our burdens and our pain to Him. But it is only in Him- and in entrusting those who offend or “trespass against us” to Jesus. We look to the Author of our salvation to find forgiveness, healing and rest.

April 3, 2018 – Jesus Died for All- Acts 10:34-43

I am the way

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.  As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:34-43 (ESV)

Jesus didn’t die and rise again just to save the Jewish people. Jesus didn’t die and rise again just to save white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.  Jesus died and rose again for the salvation and redemption of all humanity – for everyone who would believe in Him.

It’s easy for us to speculate on “who’s in and who’s out” based upon a person’s ethnicity or on a person’s faith tradition, or upon a person’s history or lifestyle. The reality is that we don’t get to decide who is in or who is out.  That’s God’s decision.

Jesus Himself sought out some unlikely company- tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, etc. As much as we would like to think that our ancestry buys us something, or that our good conduct, or social standing buys us something, it doesn’t. If anything there is a danger in taking comfort in one’s ancestry or conduct or social standing as if it somehow imparts superiority on us. The Pharisees thought that their history and their traditions and their displays of piety made them better in God’s eyes.  Jesus saw right through their window dressing and called them “whitewashed tombs”- clean on the outside but filthy on the inside. (Matthew 23:26-28)

God doesn’t work on the brownie point system. One of the major rediscoveries of the Reformation was the reality that there is nothing we can do to earn or deserve forgiveness or salvation. Only Christ alone, through faith alone, according to the inspired word revealed in Scripture alone can do the job. The good news is that there is no one beyond His grace and redeeming power.  It doesn’t matter if a person is born into a non-believing family or raised with pagan beliefs. It doesn’t matter if a person is mired in all kinds of immorality or drug use.  Jesus finds and claims His own no matter whether they were raised in Christian homes or whether He calls them from the most forsaken of pigpens and dens of iniquity.

We are iustus et peccator – saint and sinner at the same time.  It is better for us to simply admit that we are powerless to live and serve God in our own strength. When we confess our sin and come clean with God, God Who is faithful and just forgives our sins and gives us what we need to live the way He designed us to live. (1 John 1:9)

We need Jesus. Everyone needs Jesus. It doesn’t matter where someone comes from, but that Jesus loved that person enough to go to death on a cross for them.  Jesus went to the Cross for me and for you, but He also suffered and died for that foreign person who has been deceived by a death cult, for that tattooed biker, for that kid who decided to shoot up a school with a gun, for the crazy North Korean dictator- for all of us flawed humans.  We have no way of knowing who will ultimately join us in eternity, but the potential is there for every human being.  God alone makes that distinction.  We are called by God to live in response to His priceless gift of grace- and to love others as He has first loved us.

April 2, 2018 – “Silly” Women, Hush Money, and Faith in the Risen Christ- Matthew 28:1-15

Cross

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”  So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place.  And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. Matthew 28:1-15 (ESV)

Mary Magdalene and the “other” Mary encountered the angel at the empty tomb. So did the guards. The women were afraid. The guards were afraid. Both the women and the guards encountered the angel, but both groups had very different responses to the message from the angel.

The angel spoke directly to the women, who were shown the place where Jesus lay, and who followed the angel’s instructions to go and tell the disciples that Jesus wasn’t there, and that He had risen from the dead. Along the way Jesus met the women, and told them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee to meet Him.

The angel didn’t speak directly to the guards.   The guards responded differently than the women.  Out of their fear they trembled and became as dead men.

The women were afraid, but they still believed the angel and they followed his directions in spite of their fear. They followed the instruction to go and tell the disciples.  They met Jesus along the way.

The guards went back to Jesus’ adversaries, who paid them for their silence. The chief priests’ bribes to the guards attest to the veracity of the appearance of the angel and to the women’s story. Who pays hush money to silence a lie?

Jesus said that no one can come to Him unless that person is drawn to Jesus by God the Father (John 8:43-48). This is a hard reality and part of the paradox we have to wrestle with if we take Scripture at what it says.  Yes we must believe and have faith, but even faith is a gift of God that does not come from ourselves, but from God alone. (Ephesians 2:8-10)  Apart from the Holy Spirit we are not able of our own power to come to faith or believe God.

The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24-25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23-25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law, or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us…Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31) – Martin Luther, from the Smalcald Articles

When we hear the message of the empty tomb, do we have doubts about the reality of the risen Christ? Are we like Thomas who had to see where the nails pierced Jesus and where the spear entered His side? Are we afraid to go and tell because we know that some people simply will not believe no matter what we say?

Certainly there were people at the time of the Resurrection who thought these women were nuttier than fruitcakes. The witness of a woman was not taken terribly seriously in Jesus’ time.

It goes with the pattern that God establishes throughout Scripture that He would choose the least likely, the weaker vessels, the ones considered to be less to see His risen Son first. God who chose the stone the builders rejected to be the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22) and who uses silly things and weak people to counter the wisdom of the wise (1 Corinthians 1:18-31) is in control here.

The Good News of Jesus Christ, who died to save us from our sins, and who rose to bring us into eternal life is silliness and fairytales to people who just live for this world. Thankfully this world is not the end for those who are in Christ. We have been included in real life, God-life. Through the water of baptism we are marked with the Cross of Christ forever. We are forgiven, set free, and made whole in Christ.  Because He has risen, we live!

March 30, 2018 – Good Friday- By His Wounds, We Are Healed – Matthew 27:45-54, Isaiah 53:5

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From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.  The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:45-54 (NIV)

The promise of Isaiah 53:5 comes to fruition at that moment. He was pierced because of our transgressions.  He was crushed and broken for our iniquity.  His punishment purchased our peace.  He was wounded so that we could be healed.  It is important for us as Jesus followers to see and understand that His sacrifice for us was no small or inconsequential feat.  As we embrace the theology of the Cross, we take up our crosses as well.  Because of Jesus we are free to die to ourselves and live for Him.

The Lutheran tradition can be a bit divided on the imagery of the crucifix. Some find it a bit macabre and gory to have a crucifix displayed in the church, or a bit too solemn and joyless for to focus upon the Body of Jesus as He dies on the Cross.  Crucifixion is macabre. Jesus’ death was painful and dirty and humiliating. His grace- and our salvation- was infinitely expensive. We have no way to imagine the cost to our Savior.  We cannot fathom the weight and the agony of carrying the sins of the whole world, for all of time.

Jesus would no more have been remembered than any other common thief or insurrectionist, except for Easter morning. Good Friday would commemorate nothing more than one of many men being crucified for being an enemy of the Roman Empire, if it weren’t for Easter morning.   There was no shortage of crucifixions in Jesus’ day.  Public crucifixion was common, and there were plenty of dissidents and criminals who met their death in ignominious fashion on Roman crosses.  The difference is that for Jesus, crucifixion was not the end.  The Cross could not defeat Him.  The tomb could not hold Him.

We need to be shocked and appalled and brought to sorrow by the imagery of the crucifix just as much as we need the triumph of the empty cross and the empty tomb. It is good for us to regard Jesus as He is dying on the tree, as long as we understand that His death on the Cross is not the end of Him.  Isaiah was completely right about Jesus. The age old prophecy has been fulfilled.

May the Holy Spirit bring us to the same conclusion as the centurion today: “Surely this man is the Son of God!”  By His wounds, we are healed.

March 29, 2018- Life, Wisdom and Salvation (Maundy Thursday) Mark 14:22-25, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

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While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.  “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:22-25 (NIV)

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;     the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (Isaiah 29:14)

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (NIV)

Several years ago there was a scandal involving a United States president and the meaning of the word “is.” In the English language, few words have a more definitive meaning than the word “is.” It is a concrete word.  It is not abstract, and Jesus intends for us who follow Him to believe He is who He says He is.

Definition of:  IS

  • present tense third-person singular of be (this is the link to the Merriam Webster Dictionary definition)

Jesus tells us that the bread of the Last Supper (or the real First Communion) is His Body. Not that it might be, or it represents, but it is. He makes the same claim for the wine that was poured at the Last Supper, that it is His Blood. It sounds absolutely insane to the rational mind. On the surface it even sounds as if Jesus is proposing cannibalism. He is not proposing cannibalism, but a radical inclusion for us. In this meal where we eat His Body, His body becomes part of us. We receive His life in His Blood. It may sound like insanity, but coming to the altar to eat and drink the Body and Blood of the risen Christ is truly wisdom.

Jesus’ Body, broken and given for us as He died in our place. Jesus’ Blood, shed to cover and wipe away our sins. These realities are foolishness for the rational mind, but they are life and salvation for those who have been named and claimed by God in Christ.

The apostle Paul reminds us that our life is centered on Jesus- Jesus crucified, poured out from the Cross, for the redemption and salvation of all.