January 15, 2020 – The Desert Blooms, the Fearful Are Comforted, and the Way of Holiness- Isaiah 35:1-10

desert bloom

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 35:1-10 (ESV)

The Gospel is found all through out Scripture. Both Old and New Testaments direct us to Jesus and His love for us and His redemptive work for us.

Isaiah brings us beautiful news. Jesus succeeds in turning everything upside down for the people of Israel after many years of occupation, defeat and suffering.  The barren desert comes to life with color and flowers.

Those of us who belong to Christ who are living in fear and darkness can rest. We can put aside our fear.  Jesus is with us.  Jesus champions our cause and protects us- not because we are “good” or “deserve it,” but because we belong to Him.  He has made us His own.

We learn in the Gospels that Jesus did fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of opening the eyes of the blind, restoring hearing to the deaf, healing the lame, and giving the mute a voice again.

The most important emphasis of this chapter is that God acts upon His people. We cannot choose God. God chooses for us and draws us to Him:

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

How many times do we do foolish things? In spite of ourselves we are simul Justus et peccator. (saints and sinners at the same time.) We try to do the right things but fail.  We give in to temptation.  We make poor choices. We do things that hurt ourselves and others.  Even so, Jesus walks with us and gives us what we need to keep walking with Him.

Isaiah foresees the same vision for us as the apostle John did- “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

Faith is a gift of God.  We have every confidence that in all things Jesus is with us and He will not abandon us.

Thank you, Lord for Your gift of faith.  Draw us closer to You.  Comfort us, restore us, equip us to serve you as you keep our way straight on Your highway.  In the holy Name of Jesus we pray.

 

 

December 21, 2019 Advent 21, Luke 21- The Widow’s Mite, Destruction, War, and the Coming of the Son of Man

widow's mite

Read Luke 21.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,  and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1-4 (ESV)

At this time of year we are often concerned with giving gifts.  Most of us are giving out of our abundance.  It’s neither good nor necessary to give lavish gifts we can’t afford to people who already have too much stuff to begin with.  It is good to give generously and to those who have a genuine need.

God doesn’t need anything of ours.  Even if we were to have the resources to build a fine cathedral or to give large sums of money to the church, we don’t give in order to earn favor with God.  Jesus has done that for us as a gift.

Giving is an act of faith.  Some of us are capable of giving much, but others of us can only give a widow’s mite.  The motive behind our giving is our faith.  Do we trust God with all that we have and all that we are? (the answer is no, we can’t…)

The rest of the chapter is not very cheery.  Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and of the things that will come to pass in the end times.

And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” Luke 21:5-9 (ESV)

It can be said that there have not been too many periods of time that the world (especially the Middle East) has been peaceful.  Since Jesus walked the earth there have been countless empires that have risen and fallen.  There have been wars, skirmishes, tumults and takeovers, coups, assassinations, intrigues and so much more man-made evil and violence. We long for peace and we pray for justice and mercy, only to see more wars, corrupt governments and injustice go merrily along.

We hear those who come to the table with false gospels- the false gospel of prosperity, the false belief that there is salvation in “social justice,” the name-it-and-claim-it, “best life now” self-help preachers, or the cults led by false prophets such as Jim Jones or David Koresh who claimed to be God, but were anything but. Jesus has warned us against those pseudo-christs that cannot save.

Christian people will face persecution for speaking out for Jesus.  In some places believers are martyred simply for standing up for Jesus and not backing down from their faith..  Jesus has warned us about this also:

This will be your opportunity to bear witness.  Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death.  You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your lives. Luke 21:13-19 (ESV)

The Holy Spirit will give us the words to say if we are persecuted for our faith.  Jesus is faithful.  In the grand scheme of things, He has promised to keep us faithful to Him.

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:25-28 (ESV)

There will always be war and dissent in this world, at least until Jesus returns.  The natural disasters, wars and other unrest will only escalate until that day. Yet our hope, Jesus is coming to redeem us and remake our world. For believers, this will be a day of great joy.

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34-36 (ESV)

As we come closer and closer to the celebration of Christmas- the Incarnation, Jesus coming to earth as a helpless child, we remember that Advent is also about being ready and awake for Jesus’ return.  He is the One Who holds us up and makes us able to stand. We pray that in Christ we will stand firm and that we will join the everlasting celebration on that day when He returns in glory.

December 16, 2019- Advent 16, Luke 16- Is This Our Best Life Now?

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Read Luke 16.

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Luke 16:10:13 (ESV)

We are all too familiar with the concept of quid pro quo.  In this world’s economy, one hand washes the other.  Favors are given and received.  Influence is used to enrich one party, usually at the expense of another, and so the cycle of politics and corruption continues.

Jesus reminds us that it is not possible to serve God and money.  In God’s economy it is God Who freely gives.  Apart from Him we do not have the ability to earn our own livelihood, nor to give to others. If all we care about is today’s greedy gain, then we forfeit the better, eternal provision that God provides us.

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.“The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void. Luke 16:14-16 (ESV)

The Pharisees fail to understand that Jesus didn’t do away with the Law, He fulfilled it.  We have no way to justify ourselves apart from Him.  The Law still stands, and we are still subject to it. It is only by the grace of God in Christ that we are given salvation, a gift we cannot earn or deserve.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” Luke 16: 22-31 (ESV)

Jesus does not teach us that faith in Him will lead to worldly success, a buff bod, or a hefty bank account. Jesus does not go by the quid pro quo system that is so prevalent in our society.  We have nothing to offer Him.  He freely gives and provides for us without an expectation that we can do anything for Him in return.  What can we give to the Creator of the universe anyway? Even our very best efforts are tainted with our sins and ineptitude and failure.  Jesus teaches that in this world He is with us, but even so, we will have trials and we will suffer.  Lazarus did not have his “best life now” on this earth.  The rich man did have good things here on earth- so much so that he neglected what really matters.

This world is temporary. No much time or money or effort we invest in anything is going to last. This is why Jesus tells us now, while the day is today, to store our treasures in heaven where they will last.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Luke 12:32-34 (ESV)

Jesus is our “best life.”  Even though we may not be successful or important or influential according to the world’s standards, in Christ we have treasure with Him, where our hearts are.

Dear Jesus, remind us always that You are our treasure, and that in You our best life is yet to come.  We await Your return, when You will make all things new, and suffering and crying and mourning will be no more.

 

December 7, 2019 Advent 7, Luke 7- Faith in Jesus, Healing, Forgiveness and Grace

jesus-mercy-compassion

Read Luke 7.

Jesus came to earth to be the perfect sacrifice, the only one who could take away the penalty for our sins, the only one to justify human beings before God.  Jesus heals the servant of the centurion- not because the centurion was such a good guy but because the centurion (a gentile who would not have had a blood inheritance into the family of Israel) had faith in Him.

And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. Luke 7:6-10 (ESV)

Faith has a source as well as an object- Jesus is both the source of our faith and the object of it.  Jesus raises the widow’s son, not as a witness to believers,  but as testimony to those who do not have faith.  In Jesus’ compassion He raised the young man.  The Lord, the giver of life gave those who were blind to Him the evidence that proves He is Who He says He is.

And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”  And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.  Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”  And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. Luke 7:13-17 (ESV)

At this time both Jesus and his cousin, John the Baptist were preaching and discipling people. John’s followers kept questioning John, “Are you the Messiah, or is there someone else?”

So John sent his followers to Jesus to find out if Jesus really was who He claimed to be.

And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Luke 7:22-23 (ESV)

There were those who questioned John the Baptist as well as those who questioned Jesus.  John was the last prophet, the one who was to make a highway in the wilderness.

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” Luke 7:33-35 (ESV)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10, Isaiah 11:12) The Pharisees had put their faith in outward appearances and works of the Law rather than putting all of their faith and trust in the Son of Man.

The “sinful woman” who came to Jesus washing His feet with her tears and drying them with her hair knew her desperate need for Jesus. She knew that her works condemned her. Our salvation is not in how well we can obey the Law or how good we can make ourselves look.  Our salvation is entirely outside of ourselves.

The Bible speaks of salvation in the passive voice, a work that is done to us, and for us.

Luther teaches in the Small Catechism in his explanation of the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church, He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

Faith is a gift. Jesus gives us the faith to trust in Him and in His sacrificial death on the cross for our salvation.

November 13, 2019- Jesus Christ and Him Crucified- 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

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And I, (the apostle Paul speaking) when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (ESV)

Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The apostle Paul was not after the world’s wisdom, or the vastness of the cosmos or the wealth of human knowledge, but the stark and lonely truth of the God-man, humiliated and bleeding, dying a criminal’s death on a Roman cross.

Paul was a learned man, a Pharisee, who was carefully catechized and taught the Scriptures from his earliest memories.  He knew all the ins and outs of the Mosaic Law, the Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms.  He had the intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures, yet his essential message- also known as the folly of Gentiles, and a stumbling block for Jews-is the crucified Christ.

It’s easy for Christians to get caught up in the sticky points of theology and miss the whole point of it all.  John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets and the great forerunner of Jesus got it clear as he exclaimed:  “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:28-30)

This is not to say that Christians should neglect the study of the Bible or of the Catechism, because God speaks to us through His Word and faith is imparted to us by hearing (Romans 10:17.)  It is a beautiful pursuit to study and learn God’s Word.  He strengthens our faith and gives us food for the journey as we study and internalize His Word. Yet study should always begin and end at the foot of the cross. Everything that we do, everything that we learn,  everything that we internalize, is a gift from God to us- gifts that we find at the foot of the cross.

We don’t bring people to faith…including ourselves. God gives us faith, and we respond to His gifts. He transforms us.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

We don’t persuade others to believe in God by putting together clean logical arguments or by citing historical evidence.  While there are valid intellectual arguments for the truth claims and the veracity of Christian teaching and history, the primary focus must always be Christ, and Him crucified, the One Who took the punishment we earn and deserve and Who gives us the gifts of repentance and faith and salvation.

Our faith rests in the power of God rather than in our own wisdom or designs.

 

 

 

October 16, 2019 – Be? or Do? James 2:14-26, Ephesians 2:1-10

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What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?  (see Joshua 2)  For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. – James 2:14-26 (ESV)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.   For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

Lutherans don’t usually make a habit of quoting the Book of James, because on the surface it may appear that James advocates the concept that we can earn salvation through the things we do much as a worker earns a wage or we exchange money for items we buy.  There is no exchange.  God has already acted on us. Our wages have been paid in full, through the merit of Christ.   However, faith (knowing who we ARE in Christ) always results in action.  As we believe, so we respond. What we do is a result of our faith, a response to the work of God within us.

We believe that faith is a gift of God.  Jesus teaches us in John 6:44- “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Jesus gave the church (meaning all believers) its marching orders in Matthew 28:18-20:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

All of the other activities the church gets involved in are secondary to making disciples. Yes, it follows that we as Christians would seek to help our neighbors with their physical needs.  Yes, it follows that we would strive to be good stewards of the environment and that we would care for animals, land and water, which are good gifts from God.

But if we simply focus on doing we can forget from whom comes our being. If we neglect to preach and teach the Bad News- that all of humanity is born dead in trespasses and sins and that we cannot save ourselves, followed by the Good News that Jesus took our penalty and paid the price we all owe when He died on the cross, and that we who belong to Him will live forever with Him, then our good works have no lasting value. This world is temporary.

Without Jesus, there is no point. We can and should encourage people to do good things for each other.  We should be good stewards of our world which is a gift to us from God.  But a message and a life that is not focused on the cross of Christ is no life at all.

The cross of Christ is central to who we ARE. What we do for others springs from the reality that there is nothing we can do to earn favor or repay God for what He has first given us.

Without Jesus, serving others is a chore, an endless to-do list that wears on the body and burns the conscience.  We are not capable of doing enough to earn our own way.  But in the light of His mercy, serving others becomes a delight.  In the light of His mercy as we serve, we are being served.

 

October 13, 2019- Message- Responding to Jesus (Y’all Need Jesus!)

y'all need Jesus

On the way to Jerusalem he (Jesus) was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 17:11-19 (ESV)

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:8-15 (ESV)
The relationship of a parent to his or her child can be a strained and complicated one. Some of our children are easy to love some of the time. Some of our children can be difficult and hard to manage from day one forward. Most of them are a little bit of both- a little sweet, a little sour, just like the Sour Patch kids. We do things for our kids not because we want them to be grateful for what we do, but because they’re our kids. We love them even when they don’t care whether we love them or not. We love them when they are unlovable. We love them even when they are ungrateful. We love our children even when they don’t respond to our love in the way that we hope.
There’s a popular T shirt that states: Y’all Need Jesus. It’s fun to wear t-shirts with catty sayings such as this as a conversation starter. In one way the saying on the shirt is supposed to imply that others’ behavior is so bad that they need Jesus to straighten them out. In another it reveals the truth that we are dependent upon Jesus- and for far more than to keep us from saying or doing things we shouldn’t.
Our need for Jesus is just as profound and essential whether we are people needing healing from leprosy or people dealing with the turmoil of the 21st century. We ALL need Jesus. Our very lives, the heartbeats within us, the air that we breathe, the very existence of all matter depends on Jesus, whether we acknowledge His hand and His sovereignty or not. A lot of the time we are like the nine guys, the former lepers who were healed and just went along their merry way, not considering the amazing thing Jesus had just done for them.
All good gifts of God, including healing, are gifts- given not because we are worthy, but because Jesus is worthy. God does not give gifts expecting anything in return from us. What does God need? Is there anything we can give to God that He didn’t give us first?
The rain falls on good and bad people alike, as Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:45. – For he (God) makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
That’s not the message we expect to hear. We instinctively gravitate to the wisdom of the world that says, “one hand washes the other.” Quid pro quo. You get what you deserve, which is the concept that some of the world’s religions refer to as Karma, the principle that every world religion, with the exception of Christianity, believes. Because of Jesus we don’t get what we deserve, and that is good news considering that every human being deserves death and hell.
Cause and effect logically follow in our minds. Cause and effect are powerfully evident in the natural world. Good and bad things happen to good and bad people alike. But Jesus’ economy isn’t our economy. Jesus is the Giver, the Sustainer, the Lord of Life, whether we understand or acknowledge that or not. As we learn in the book of Job, God gives and takes away as God wills, not according to what makes sense to us.

Some of us pray for physical healing and will never see it this side of eternity. Some of us grieve the loss of someone precious to us who we will not see again until Jesus returns. All of us are crying out for some sort of deliverance or comfort at one time or another. The human condition since the Fall is such that we will all suffer. Some of us get respite from our torments, while others of us can only take comfort and strength in knowing that Jesus walks with us even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4.)

We will share in the cross of Christ just as we will share in the resurrection and life of Christ.

The Samaritan leper understood the mercy and grace given to him by Jesus. He may have understood it even more profoundly than the Jewish lepers because he wasn’t “born into” the promise. It was only by faith in Jesus that he was healed. He knew that there was no way that he deserved or earned healing and that his healing was indeed a free gift of God.
Jesus tells us a story of a Pharisee – a guy who thought that he earned “having it made with God” and a tax collector, who acknowledged being a sinner in need of a Savior, in the temple.
He (Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)
The Pharisee’s prayer was not as much in praise of God as it was in praise of himself. “Thank God I am not that prostitute, or that tax collector, or that guy.” He might as well have said, “Thank God I go through all the right motions and say all the right things.” The Pharisees even had prayers in which men thanked God that they were not born women. Today we still find ourselves trying to compare ourselves to others, saying things like, “at least I’m not an addict or a criminal,” without realizing that only by the grace of God we could be the ones trapped in addiction or mired in a life of crime. We have no idea to the extent and depth we are beholden to God’s grace.
We see the mercy of Christ when we see how completely and often we break God’s laws, yet He is still good to us. He still forgives us for all the times we break the Law. It is only because of His grace and mercy that we can stand, and He is the One Who chooses to make us His own. We do not choose God any more than children choose their biological parents.
We are invited to come to Him, to confess our sins and to be forgiven. No matter how many times we have broken God’s laws. No matter how horrible a sinner we may believe we are, even a sinner like the apostle Paul who claimed to be the chief of sinners, as he tells his protégé Timothy : The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 1 Timothy 1:15 (ESV)
Jesus bled and died to pay for the sins of ALL. There is no one beyond the scope of God’s grace, unless we choose to put ourselves there. We can choose to ignore God and fail to acknowledge Him, but ignoring God is not a good choice, as we learn from the Psalmist (possibly King David) who teaches : The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. Psalm 14:1 (ESV)

There is a big difference between assuming the grace of God because of what we do or the tradition we follow, and knowing one’s sinfulness and undeserved favor before a holy God.
We learn from the writer of Proverbs that the fear (fear meaning: a reverent respect) of God is the beginning of wisdom.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)
In our baptisms we are made children of God- some of us are the easy children who smile and hug and cooperate and make our parent’s heart glad. Some of us are the difficult children who are incorrigible and frustrating and are the children who make us question our choice to become a parent. All of us are both- saint and sinner- some of the time. A lot of the time we are like the nine lepers who didn’t give God a second thought. Yet God gives His gracious gifts to us all, for the sake of Jesus Who died to save us from our sins and to reconcile us to the Father.
We all desperately need Jesus. Seeing this need is wisdom, and living in thanks to God for life in Jesus is a gift of faith.
Whether we are healed here and now or whether we suffer here and now, or we live a life of both suffering and of being healed, we live in thanks to Jesus. We look to the Suffering Servant who gave His life so that we may live with God forever. We believe Him and take Him at His word. We thank and praise Him, not as though there would ever be anything we could to do to repay Him, but simply as a response of thankfulness and praise to the Author of all things who has delivered us from death and brought us into ultimate healing- the healing and peace of eternal life with Him.