In One Way and In Two

Text: Job 33

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“God speaks in one way and in two…” That is the message that Elihu, the young man who is speaking in our reading today, wants us to take out of what he says. God speaks in two different ways.

At this point in the story Job is frustrated, really frustrated. He has been sitting in the ashes from some time now. He has poured out his lament to God. And he has endured the miserable “comfort” that his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar tried to bring him. Their “windy words” seemed to never end and they just brought Job more misery. But now Job’s three friends have run out of things to say. Their “windy words” are finished. They have given up. But Job doesn’t feel any better. He is still sitting there in the ashes. He still has nothing left. He still is covered in sores. And he still has no answers. “Why isn’t God answering me?” Job wonders as he sits there in silence once again.

In the midst of that silence a voice speaks up. A young man who, until now, has been holding his peace. Elihu is his name. He is kind of a mysterious character in the story because no one ever tells us where he comes from. We are three quarters of the way through the book of Job now and until now no one has mentioned anyone called Elihu. All of a sudden he is just there standing by the ash heap with Job and his friends. It seems that he had actually been standing there the whole time. He seems to have been listening to the whole conversation up until this point. He has something so say, but he has been holding his peace because he was younger than all the others who were there. As the youngest he had to wait his turn. That’s how things worked in the ancient world. “Age before wisdom,” you could say. But when Job’s three friends had run out of things to say to him and when Job himself seemed to have nothing left to say Elihu finally gets his turn to speak.

“Listen to my words, Job,” Elihu says, “and hear my speech.” The first thing worth noting here is that Elihu actually uses Job’s name. He calls him by name, Job’s other friends never did that. But this is just the beginning. “I have heard what you’ve been saying, Job,” Elihu says, “and you don’t have it all right.”

Elihu identifies two complaints that Job has against God. First, Job believes that he is righteous and blameless and complains that God has treated him like an enemy. Job believes that this is not fair. Elihu says that Job is “not right” about this. We will talk more about that next week. For this week Job’s second complaint will be our focus. Job believes that God refuses to answer his complaints. Job has laid it all out to God time and time again, but to Job it seems like God is not answering. “Why won’t God speak up?” Job wonders. Again, Elihu says that Job has it all wrong. “You think that God is not answering you,” Elihu says, “but you don’t understand how God speaks! God speaks in one way and in two even if we don’t understand it!”

That little phrase that Elihu uses is a curious one. It sounds almost like a riddle. But it clearly lays out the truth of how God speaks to us His people. He speaks in one way and in two. What Elihu means here is that even though people do not always perceive or understand it, especially when they are in the middle of it, God speaks two very different but connect messages to His people. These two messages are what Martin Luther would many centuries later distinguish as God’s Law and Gospel. “God speaks in one way and in two,” Elihu says, “He speaks Law and He speaks Gospel.” The rest of this chapter and the speech from Elihu that it contains is a lesson about how God speaks Law and Gospel and what it means.

First, Elihu says, God speaks His Law. God speaks His Law and “he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings,” Elihu says. God speaks with commandments, the 10 Commandments are an example of that and there are others. In His Law God threatens to punish those who do not obey Him. He lays down His Law and punishes the evil doers. This is the first way that God speaks.

God, of course, speaks His Law to us through His Word. That is where we find His commandments and the threats that come along with them. But God also speaks His Law to us through our suffering, Elihu says. Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed and with continual strife in his bones, so that his life loathes bread, and his appetite the choicest food. His flesh is so wasted away that it cannot be seen, and his bones that were not seen stick out. His soul draws near the pit, and his life to those who bring death.” This kind of language is particularly relevant to Job. Job is suffering terribly. He is in pain. His flesh wastes away with sores. His bones stick out and you could count his ribs if you wanted. This is another expression of God’s Law. Suffering in general and Job’s suffering in particular remind us that we are dust, sinful rebellious dust, and to dust we shall return.

Why does God speak this way? Why does He speak Law and terrify men with His commandments and threats? Elihu explains “[God speaks his law] so that he may turn man aside from his deed.” In other words, God speaks his law to turn us away from sin. To call us to repent, which means to turn away, and to save us from death. No one wants to hear the threats and punishments of God’s Law, in fact God does not really even desire to have to speak this way with us, but He does it so that we might repent and return to Him.

When God’s Law has laid us low, when we have been thoroughly overwhelmed by the demands of His commandments, when the last leg that we think that we have to stand on has been stripped away, God speaks a different word. Remember, “God speaks in one way and in two,” Elihu said. Now, for the other way of God’s speaking to us.

             “If there be for him an angel, a mediator, one of the thousand, to declare to man what is right for him, and he is merciful to him, and says, ‘Deliver him from going down into the pit; I have found a ransom; let his flesh become fresh with youth; let him return to the days of his youthful vigor’; then man prays to God, and he accepts him; he sees his face with a shout of joy, and he restores to man his righteousness.”

This is a very different message. The fear, the terror, the punishments, the death that draws ever nearer is gone all of a sudden. All of a sudden Elihu is talking about a mediator and this mediator is merciful. This mediator steps in and says, “Deliver him from going down into the pit (that is to hell); I have found a ransom.” 

Elihu speaks here in hypothetical language. “If there be for him an angel, a mediator…” he says. We know, and so did Job, who that mediator is. It is no mere angel, but Jesus Christ the Son of God, the messenger (which is all the word angel means!) of God “par excellence.” He steps in for you and me who are crushed under the weight of God’s Law and says, I have found a ransom, a payement that will cover their sins and transgressions. What is that ransom or payment? His life given as a ransom for many on the cross at Calvary (Mark 10:45).

Jesus Christ, our mediator, give us life. He restores to us the vigor of life here and now and in eternity where we will have glorious risen bodies like His glorious risen body. He fills us with the joy of His kingdom. He opens up heaven itself to us and pours out the joy of heaven even now as we languish and suffer in this life.

Because of Christ, our mediator, God hears our prayers and He accepts us. He receives us as His children and pours out righteousness from heaven on us. God shouts for joy over us because we are in Jesus. This is a very different message, you see, than God’s Law. The Law kills, but the Gospel, good news about Jesus, makes us alive.

As Job suffered he heard only the Law. He felt God’s Law in his very bones as he suffered. Elihu reminds Job that God does speak this way, He speaks Law to us. But God speaks in one way and in two. The Law only ever drives us to the Gospel, the good news. There is a ransom for us. When we hear God’s Word we need to hear with ears that listen for Law and Gospel, the two ways that God speaks, so that we can rejoice in what Christ has done for us.

When we hear God’s Law and His Gospel we can say, as Elihu does, “I sinned and perverted what was right, and it was not repaid to me. He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit, and my life shall look upon the light.” Thanks be to God for His Words of Law and Gospel! In Jesus name, Amen.


Do You Feel It?

Text: John 3:14-21

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Do you feel it? Do you feel the snake’s bite?

I’ve never been bitten by a snake and I pray that I never will. My fear of snakes and the possibility of being bitten by one is one of the reason why I will probably be content to live in some of the colder climates in the world most of my life. Going somewhere warm seems like a nice idea until the reality of what might bite me comes into my mind. I’m assuming that you have never been bitten by a snake (at least not a deadly venomous one) either. If you have feel free to tell me about it after church. The only person I know who has experienced anything like that is a professor from my days at seminary who recently told me about how he had been stung by a scorpion multiple times on the ankle. There was, of course, the initial stinging pain of the sting itself, but then his leg began to go numb. The numbness progressed up his leg and along with it came paralysis. After a while he pretty much could not move or feel his entire leg. He was rushed off to an emergency room where they watched to see if the venom would travel any farther. If it did things were going to start to get dangerous really fast. Luckily for him the numbness and paralysis began to fade and he was fine in the end.

The people of Israel, at least some of them, were not that lucky. In our Old Testament reading today many people were bitten by snakes. They did not experience numbness and paralysis, however. Those who were bitten by these snakes felt instantly a burning pain. That is why Moses describes them here as “fiery serpents.” The snakes were not on fire or something, it was their bite that was fiery. No one seems to have survived these snakes bites either. Those who were bitten died. This was not a situation where people had the luxury of hospital rooms, doctors, antidotes, and the possibility of everything being fine in the end. The snakes bit, their venom burned, and people died.

Why did it happen? Because the people of Israel once again grumbled against the Lord their God. They had done this time and time before. In the past they complained about a lack of food so God provided bread from heaven. They had also complained about a lack of water so God gave them water from a rock.  Now, after God had provided food for them for many years they complained that there wasn’t more variety to the food God gave them. When they had stood on the verge of the Promised Land they complained that there were too many strong people living there and they were afraid to go in. They complained that God had ever saved them from slavery in Egypt. Because of this they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Now, as they wandered in the wilderness and experienced the reality of that punishment they still had not learned their lesson. They complained again, “Why did you save us from Egypt God? Did you bring us out here to die? Could we not have just died in Egypt?” The grumbling went on. God had had enough. He sent the snakes. People got bit. People died.

We’ve been bitten too, do you feel it? Our snake bit feels different than theirs, we don’t necessarily feel the burning pain of deadly venom coursing through our veins, but we have been bitten, the poison is there. Do you feel it?

You might not recognize it, but you do know the feeling of that poisonous venom all too well. It really is all too familiar. You feel the burn of that venom every day. You feel it in the broken relationships in your life. In the relationships which you once held dear but have now fallen apart over something so trivial and insignificant that it hardly matters, really. You feel it when people say awful things to you and when you, in anger and frustration, lash out at them with your own awful things to say. You feel it your hurt feelings and in your efforts to hurt the feelings of others. You feel it when guilt and shame over a lifetime of mistakes just won’t go away. You feel it in the temptations that threaten to lead you astray. You feel it everywhere.

Ultimately, however, you feel it when you come face to face with death. You feel it when a loved on dies and the bitter pain fills your heart for days, weeks, months, and yes even years on end. You feel it when your own mortality starts to become more real than you’d care to admit. You feel it when you walk into the doctor’s office uncertain and uneasy about the outcome and you feel it when you walk out of his/her office with a timeline, overwhelming treatment schedule, or an expiration date. Then you really feel it. These feelings and experiences are symptoms of the snake’s bite.

The snake, of course, that I am referring to is no ordinary snake. In fact, he isn’t really a snake at all. But way back in the Garden of Eden that is how he appeared. He didn’t bite Adam or Eve, but by his deception he injected them and all of us with the deadly, poisonous venom of sin. When they bit the fruit the poison of sin entered the world and our bodies. Ever since that day the deadly venom has been coursing through our veins. Our own actions, thoughts, and words are so poisoned by it that they just drive it deeper into our being. We are full of it, the poison of sin, and it brings death to us all. Do you feel it? Do you feel the sting? It seems hopeless sometimes, doesn’t it? The poison and its effects are overwhelming. But there is an antidote. There is hope. There is salvation.

The people of Israel out there in the wilderness without hospitals, doctors, medicine, or any other kind of life saving solution realized there was only one course of action that could save them from the deadly poison. They came to Moses, God’s representative to them, and they begged Him to pray. James 5:16 says, The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Moses’ prayer on behalf of the people had that kind of great power. Moses prayed and God answered. He gave Moses instructions: “Make a snake out of bronze and put it on a pole. When the people are bitten by the snakes, when they feel the fiery venom coursing through their veins, when they feel the sting of death itself, they can look up at that serpent on the pole and live.” And so it was. The people looked and lived.

In our gospel today Jesus gives us the same hope. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Jesus was lifted up for us. He is our bronze snake. He is the hope for our salvation. He saves us from the deadly venom of sin. God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son and He threw Him into the gaping jaws of the snake. He allowed the deadly venom of that snake’s bite to fill His Son’s veins. He caused Him who knew no sin to be filled with our sin. He gave His Son into death, death on a cross. He did it so that everyone, and I mean everyone, who believes in Him, who looks up upon Him there, might have eternal life. Jesus is the antidote for the deadly poison of sin and today we come to His table to receive that antidote again. His blood shed for us and His body given for us. They save us from death.

Back to the Old Testament reading for a minute. When Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness for the people to look at when they had been bitten do you think that all the people who were bitten looked? Moses doesn’t say anything about that so I’m speculating a bit, but I would be willing to bet that some people didn’t. You don’t have to know much about human nature (sinful human nature!) to recognize that possibility. People are stubborn and difficult. The people of Israel are a prime example of that. Some people just won’t look. In the same way, some people just won’t look to Jesus.

There is much that we could say about that and how we reach out to a world of people who refuse to look, but one thing is most important: we need to fix our eyes on Jesus. In a world where so many people refuse to look to Jesus we can only be witnesses to Jesus if we have our eyes fixed on Him. These were the words of the gradual that we spoke/sang earlier: “O come let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

When we feel the sting of sin, when circumstances in life make the reality of death all too real, when human relationships break down, when temptations seem to overwhelm, when guilt and shame won’t go away, whenever we feel that sting however it comes, we ought to fix our eyes on Jesus. Do you feel the snake’s bite? Look to Jesus and live. There is poison in our veins, but salvation flows from His. In Jesus name. Amen.

Christ Our Comfort

Text: Job 16

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Imagine, you’re having bad day; a really bad day. Things went badly at work or you’ve been sick or in pain for weeks and months on end or you’ve just heard that a family member has died or maybe you’ve just come from the doctor’s office with some bad news. All you want is someone to listen. Someone who cares. Someone who will sympathize with you. Someone who will share your pain even just for a moment.

You go to the grocery store and there you see a friend wandering up a down the aisles. As you approach them the pain and sadness on your face is obvious. You couldn’t hold it in even if you wanted to. You try to talk with them and hope they will listen just for a few minutes, but they are busy and distracted by the task at hand. The conversation goes nowhere.

You go home. You walk in the front door thinking that your husband, wife, child, sibling, or whoever else lives there might be that one who can listen to you and show sympathy. They ask about your day and you spill it. You pour out all the awful feelings inside and lay it out there. They look at you and say, “It’ll be alright, everything will work out,” and they walk away. So much for that.

Still searching you pull out your phone directory and dial up a friend, someone you’ve been able to confide in before. After you take a minute or two to exchange pleasantries you share what’s burdening you. Again, you lay it all out for them, tears and all. They sit there and listen, taking it all in, but in the end they just say, “It could be worse! It could always be worse! Keep your chin up!” It sounds nice, but there is no sympathy there either.

That’s a little bit like how Job felt in our reading today. As Job sat in the ashes three of his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, come for a visit. They know how much Job has lost, they know how much he is suffering, and the come to offer support and comfort. When they first arrive they don’t even recognize Job. His appearance has been altered so significantly by his grief and sorrow and the sores all over his body have disfigured him badly. Job doesn’t even speak when they get there. All four of them, Job and his 3 friends, just sit in silence for 7 days. Then, after the 7 days are up Job lets out his words of lament that we read last week. He curses the day that He was born. The silence has been broken. Job has spoken. He has laid out his sorrow for them to sympathize with Him. The spotlight falls to the three friends, how will they respond to Job?

Eliphaz goes first (Job 4). He speaks up. “Job,” he says, “you are a smart guy. You know a lot of stuff. You know better than this. We are all sinners. Bad stuff happens to us. You should just pray to God, say you are sorry for whatever it is that you did, and God will take this all away.” Not much sympathy or comfort there.

Then Bildad takes his turn (Job 8). “You know, Job,” he says, “God does not pervert justice. God always does what is fair and just and right. You deserved all of this. If your children sinned against God then they deserved what happened to them.” Wow! That is downright insensitive and hurtful!

Lastly, Zophar says something (Job 11). “Job,” he says, “you say that you are good and right, that you are righteous and holy, but you’re not. If God spoke to you right now He would tell you what an awful person you are. Really, you deserve much worse than this!” Again, no sympathy, no love, no comfort.

In our text today Job responds to what his friends have said so far and he does not hold back. “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all. Shall windy words have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer? I also could speak as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you and shake my head at you.  I could strengthen you with my mouth, and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain.” Job’s had enough of Eliphaz, Bidad, and Zophar. “You are miserable friends!” he says, “Your words bring no comfort. They just make my pain even worse. Why do you keep talking?!?”

The first thing to take out of our reading from Job today is that we need to think about how we try to bring comfort to people who suffer. The words of Job’s friends that I summarized for you seem so obviously wrong and unhelpful that we might think that we would never say something that insensitive or hurtful, but without even realizing it our words are often just as insensitive and damaging. Sometimes it is because we are too preoccupied with our own lives and problems that we are unwilling/unable to take time to sympathize for others. Other times it is because we are too intent on “fixing” the problem that we can’t just take the time to listen and sympathize. And other times it’s just that we use our mouths and ears out of proportion venturing to speak without having taken the time to listen. I know I have been guilty on many occasions of all three.

Those who suffer don’t need answers, even if they say that they want answers. They don’t need fixing. They don’t need wise words. They need a sympathetic ear that takes time to listen. They need a person who is simply there, there to hear them and support them, there to pray for them, there to love them, there to be Jesus to them.

The failures of Job’s friends and our own failure at comforting others brings us to something much more important, however. Where does true comfort come from? When we are the one who is suffering, when we are the one who longs for a sympathetic ear that will join us in our suffering, where do we find it? When earthly helpers fail where do we turn? Job has the answer: “Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high.”

Someone “on high” “in heaven” is there for Job. A witness who testifies for him, a friend. Who is this one who is “on high”? If we look to the New Testament the apostle John has a really clear answer for that one: “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is the propitiation (sacrifice) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).

Job has an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one, and so do we. When other friends, helpers, and supports fail this friend, this witness, never fails. His love is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” His ear always hears and His heart always pours out compassion on lost sinners like us. He knows the suffering that we know having suffered that and more on the cross in our place. He knows the pain. He knows the sadness. He knows it, but He does not lecture us on how to get through it, He does not coach us to overcome it, He simply listens, hears, and comforts us with His love. He has given His life as a sacrifice for our sins. He has paid the entire price for us. And now He sits at God’s right hand in heaven and prays, intercedes, for us. He brings the cares and concerns of our hearts, the ones that we can’t find a single person on earth to listen to, to our Father in heaven.

It is because of this witness/advocate in heaven that Job knows even in his suffering that he is righteous in the eyes of God. Job’s friends harangue him for thinking that he is righteous and good. “We are all sinners, we deserve to suffer!” they all insist. In one sense they are right. We are all “poor miserable sinners” who “justly deserve [God’s] temporal and eternal punishment.” But in Christ, baptized into His death on the cross, we are righteous and holy people of God for whom there is no punishment because that punishment has been laid on the shoulders of our Lord Jesus. This ultimately is the source of our comfort. What a friend we have in Jesus! What a comfort He brings! Thanks be to God! Amen.


You Belong

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Olympics are over now, but there are many names and stories from the games that will stick with us for a while. People will remember Virtue and Moir, the ice dancers. People will remember the heartbreak of the gold medal women’s hockey game ending in a shootout. People will remember the Canadian men getting beat by Germany in hockey too. People, at least some people, might also remember a woman named Elizabeth Swaney.

If that name does not sound familiar I don’t blame you. Elizabeth Swaney was not a Canadian athlete at the Olympics, she competed for Hungary. She did not win a medal, far from it actually. She did not do anything particularly impressive that was worth noticing or remembering. In fact, I am not even sure if her Olympic efforts were even televised here in Canada.

Elizabeth Swaney competed in the women’s ski halfpipe event. In the halfpipe the athletes ski at high speeds up the walls of a chute that resembles a pipe cut in half from top to bottom. They launch themselves into the air and perform all kinds of acrobatic tricks. It is an amazing thing to watch. Elizabeth Swaney, however, was somewhat less amazing. She skied up those walls at a much slower speed than the others, hardly went up into the air at all, and really did not perform any tricks. Her accomplishment was making it to the bottom of the hill still standing on her own two skis.

Elizabeth Swaney isn’t really what you would normally think of as an Olympic athlete. She kind of snuck into the Olympics through the back door and took advantage of some loopholes in qualifying. Her very presence at the Olympic Games drew the ire of many people. People were offended by her being there. “She made a mockery of the Olympics,” some said. “She doesn’t belong here,” others said. I have to admit that I felt the same way. When I first saw a video on the internet of her less than impressive halfpipe run I thought it was funny. The more I thought about it though the more offensive it seemed. Is it really fair for someone like Elizabeth Swaney to be competing at the Olympics side by side with real athletes? Does she belong there?

This question of belonging is what I would like us to think about this morning. Whether or not Elizabeth Swaney belongs in the Olympics is not really all that important, but her story presents another question for us: Who belongs in the Kingdom of God? Who belongs in the Christian Church on earth? Who belongs in the Christian Church in heaven? Do we belong?

In our epistle reading today Paul talks about the scandal and foolishness of the “word of the cross.” The cross is “folly to those who are perishing,” Paul says, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” “We preach Christ crucified,” Paul goes on, “a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the gentiles.” What about the word of the cross is folly or foolishness though? What about the cross do “those who are perishing” not understand? What about Christ crucified is a stumbling block?

Well, on the one hand it does sound like foolishness to talk about someone dying on a cross and rising from the dead. Even more so, it sounds like utter foolishness to talk about the Son of God dying such a miserable death. For many people this kind of talk is utter foolishness. Many people cannot get past this foolishness and they refuse to believe. The foolishness of the word of the cross and the scandal of Christ crucified is much more, however, than the simple historical fact that Jesus died on a cross and rose again. The foolishness of the cross and the scandal of Christ crucified is that because of what Christ has done, because of the cross, people who don’t belong in the Kingdom of God (on earth or in heaven) are welcomed into it.

            Elizabeth Swaney offended people by her presence at the Olympics. Jesus likewise offended people by His presence in the homes of tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes and petty thieves, liars and cheats. “These people do not belong,” the crowds objected, “they are outside the Kingdom of God, outside the people of Israel, and outside the Church!” How could Jesus talk, eat, pray, and even live with people like that? This is the folly, the scandal, of the cross. Sinners, outsiders, are welcomed in to the Kingdom of God.

We today need to guard ourselves against any kind of thinking that would set a human standard for who belongs in the Kingdom of God. We need to guard ourselves against this kind of thinking because it can be destructive in two ways. First of all, we can come to see others as unfit for the Kingdom and therefore reject them as outsiders like the people did in Jesus’ day. Secondly, and just as dangerously, we can come to see ourselves as unfit for the Kingdom of God.

In this epistle reading today Paul is attacking any such thinking that might set into our minds. He says to us, “consider your calling (consider yourselves and who you were and how God has called you!), brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. Consider your calling, Paul says. Consider who you were before God called you to faith. Consider who you are. God did not call you to faith in Christ Jesus because of how great you are, how wise you are, or anything like that. He called you, lowly though you are, to make you His own through the blood of His Son, our Saviour, Jesus. You belong because of Him.

I read a book recently by a fellow named Chad Bird. Chad was a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. After a while he became a professor at one of the LCMS seminaries. Chad was a smart man, an energetic pastor/professor, and a powerful teacher and preacher of God’s Word. He was what seemed to be the ideal Christian: wise, strong, and great. If anyone belonged in the Kingdom of God he did. Then his life fell apart. Chad was married and had two children, but he became involved with another woman. When his wife found out about his infidelity she took the kids and left. Because of what he had done he lost his position teaching at the seminary and was asked to resign his call as a pastor in the synod. He was left alone in an apartment without his family, without a job, without everything he had worked for. These were all the rightful consequences of sin. His actions had brought all of this upon himself. His life was in pieces because of his own sinful actions. He was broken and he felt as if he did not belong anywhere let alone the Kingdom of God.

Chad talks in the book about how he tried to come back to church after many years away. For years feelings of guilt and unworthiness had driven him away from church and now as he tried to go back they blocked his return also. He talks about going to church and not being able to stay through the whole service. He waiting in his car until the opening hymn started then he snuck in and sat at the back. As the service wore on guilt and shame continued to build up. Eventually they drove him away from the service and he left right in the middle as the people were going up for communion. Surely he did not belong there, he thought.

Before he could be comfortable in church Chad needed to understand more deeply what the Christian church, the Kingdom of God on earth, really is. It is not a collection of people who belong because of their list of accomplishments and it is not a place that excludes those whose rap sheet is too long either. If we think that we belong in the kingdom of God because of who we are and what we have done then we have it all wrong. Nothing in us, and I mean nothing, belongs in the kingdom of God. But, on the other hand, if we think that we don’t belong in the Kingdom of God because of who we are and what we have done then we also have it all wrong. We belong in the Kingdom of God because of who Christ is and what He has done for us. This is the scandal, this is the foolishness, of the cross that sinners like you and me, like Chad and all other kinds of people, belong in the Kingdom of God in spite of who we are.

We belong in the Kingdom of God because of God the Father’s love for us in Christ. Paul says as much in our text. “He (that is God the Father) is the source of your life in Christ Jesus whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” God the Father has given you, undeserving though you are, life in Jesus. He has given you, foolish though you are, wisdom in Christ Jesus. He has given you, unrighteous though you are, righteousness and goodness in His eyes in Jesus. He has given you, unholy though you are, sanctification and holiness in Jesus. He has given you, trapped in sin though you are, redemption and freedom in Jesus. In Christ we, undeserving though we are, belong in the Kingdom of God.

To be honest, I really don’t think someone like Elizabeth Swaney belongs in the Olympics. If you disagree with me on that you are entitled to your opinion. But we know this with certainty: we belong in the Kingdom of God. We belong for the sake of Jesus. Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord! Thanks be to God in Jesus name! Amen.


Learning to Lament

Text: Job 3:1-26

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

What a difference a week makes. Last week we were gathered here and we heard the beautiful words of Job as he embraced and accepted the sufferings and loss that had come upon him. Just moments after hearing about all the terrible things that had happened to him Job said, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

When Job took up his place in the ashes after his body was afflicted with those loathsome sores three of his friends came to visit him. They wanted to show sympathy and offer support. We will talk more about how that went next week, but the for today it is worth nothing that they just sat there with Job for 7 days and 7 nights. No one said a word. Job didn’t say anything either. For an entire week he sat there in silence mourning and grieving over what had happened to him.

Then finally, when the 7 days were over, Job finally spoke. After 7 days of silence and 7 days of sitting in the ashes, after 7 days of heavy grief and pain without relief, Job’s words had changed. The “blessed be the name of the Lord” kind of talk was long gone by now. Job wasn’t blessing anybody. Instead, Job was cursing and complaining. Job did not, however, curse God. Job began by cursing the day he was born. “Let the day perish on which I was born,” Job said, “and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness!”  Under normal circumstances we celebrate the day of our birth. Often it is one of the happiest days of the year for us. Job’s suffering however, has brought him so much misery that he wishes that he had never been born. He wishes that his birthday could be wiped off the calendar altogether.

Job’s complaint keeps going. He speaks about gloom and darkness, thick darkness, covering over the day he was born. Job’s suffering has driven him into such grief and sorrow that he wonders aloud why he didn’t just die that day. “Why did I survive birth?” Job wonders, “Why did the knee receive me (that is the knee of his father receiving him as his child)? Or why the breast, that I should nurse? Why did I live just to suffer this terrible fate?”

Finally, Job concludes his complaint by saying that his worst nightmare has come true. He has no ease, no comfort, no rest, no peace, only sorrow and sadness. He has no appetite. Instead of eating food he just carries on groaning and sighing. Job is a broken man and he is not afraid to tell you all about it.

As much as Job’s words here might make us uncomfortable and as much as might rather stick with his faithful “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” stuff from last week, Job’s words here have something to teach us. Job shows us that it is okay to lament and complain when troubles come. Job shows us that we can even bring our troubled, broken, and bitter thoughts and words before the throne of our God in heaven and trust that He hears and answer us for the sake of our Lord Jesus.

Often times when I visit with someone who is in the hospital or someone who is suffering in some kind of way they say something like “I don’t want to complain too much, but…” or “I know I shouldn’t complain, but…” Some of you here today have said those kind of things to me. Why do we say that? Why do we think that it is wrong to complain? Where in the Bible has God forbidden us to complain when things are bad?

We have this mistaken idea that complaining is a bad thing. This is, in part, a product of our North American/Western European mindset that is bound and determined to march through life without showing any kind of weakness. We think that we should “keep our chin up,” “stay positive,” and keep our “stiff upper lip” in the face of adversity. However, is this really a good and healthy way to deal with pain and suffering in life? More importantly, is this really a God pleasing way to deal with pain and suffering in life?

God has invited us to pray to Him in every circumstance. He has given us His name so that we can use it in prayer. When God commands us to keep His name holy He is, in fact, commanding us to pray and use His name to call out to Him from the depths of our despair. Explaining the Second Commandment Martin Luther says this, “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”

Praying, praising, and giving thanks make perfect sense to us. Of course we should use God’s name for those things. But God commands us here to do more than that, He commands us to call on His name in every trouble. That does not mean calling on God’s name in the midst of minor problems or after we have worked through the solution ourselves. It means calling on God’s name in the midst of the worst kind of trouble, when grief and pain seem overwhelming, when we cannot hold back our sorrow anymore, when we are ready to curse the day of our birth or wish that we had never been born. In those times God is ready and waiting to hear our prayers, as full of cursing and anger and frustration as they might be. He earnestly desires to hear those prayers because His the God who created us, loved us, and sent His Son to die for us. He knows the pain and suffering we feel and He wants us to share that pain with Him.

Our work ethic and determination to work through the challenges of life serves us well in life, that is how we succeed in this world, but it can do untold damage to our hearts, minds, and souls too. We were never created to be independent creatures who would conquer the world alone. We were never created to be self-dependent creatures who burry their burdens away deep inside. We were created to be God’s creatures who live day by day, moment by moment, under His tender care. We were created to be His creatures who cast every burden upon Him for He sustains us (Psalm 55:22).

The amazing thing calling on God from the depths of our suffering and anguish like Job did is that God knows this suffering as well as we do. Our Lord Jesus suffered all that we can suffer and more on the cross. There as He suffered the pains of Hell itself he too called out to God, “My God, my God why have you forsaken Me?” These are the opening words of Psalm 22. Psalm 22 is a psalm of lament. When you read through the whole thing it is clear that the whole thing (not just the opening words) are Jesus’s words from the cross: I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” Jesus laments. Job laments. We can lament.

But even in this lament, in Jesus’ lament from the cross, there is hope. Psalm 22 goes on: You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”

God hears the cries of the afflicted. He does not despise or abhor our cries of suffering and sorrow. He listens to our cries. He hears them. Christ, the Son of God who suffered in our place, was not left in the “dust of death.” God the Father has raised Him from the dead. There is hope for us in the midst of our despair. He is risen and we will rise with Him.

Let us learn from Job and Jesus how to lament and call out to God in our sorrow. Even when the words seem bitter and angry, even when our complaint is raw and painful, even when all we can do is complain, let us call on Him who answers prayer because He hears our prayers (even the painful ones) and He will raise us up. In Jesus name. Amen.


An Uncomfortable Calling

Text: Mark 8:27-38

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today makes me uncomfortable. It starts of easily enough as a story about who Jesus is. Jesus and His disciples journey away from the familiar territory of the Sea of Galilee and its surrounding area and they head up north to a place called Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi is a really nice place. There are springs there, pools of gently flowing fresh water, where even today people like to go for a swim to cool off during the day. For the disciples this trip to Caesarea Philippi may have even seemed like a holiday, a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of life with Jesus in Galilee. Jesus wasn’t taking a holiday, however.

Somewhere outside of Caesarea Philippi itself, in the surrounding villages, Jesus asks His disciples a question. “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples have a lot of answer to that question and they start sharing them right away. John the Baptist. Elijah. One of the prophets. These are just some of the ideas that people have. “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks next. The answer doesn’t seem to come quite as quickly this time, but Peter steps up and answers the question. He hits a home run on this one, actually. “You are the Christ,” he says. Short, sweet, and to the point. You are the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, the Saviour.

If we could just stop there everything would be great and nothing would be uncomfortable about this story. Along with Peter and the other disciples we can all agree that Jesus is the Christ and get on with the nice little holiday in Caesarea Philippi and with our own happy little lives. But Jesus will not leave it at that.

No sooner has Peter rounded the bases after his homerun answer than, without warning, Jesus started to make things uncomfortable. Mark tells us that Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly.” All of a sudden this nice little conversation about who Jesus is has turned into an uncomfortable, discouraging, frightening, and downright alarming discussion of crosses, suffering, and death.

Peter will have none of it. Peter, the same Peter who nailed the answer to Jesus’ identity question, rebukes Jesus. “No, this will not happen to you. We will have none of this cross business, Jesus. You are making us uncomfortable.”

But Jesus doubles down. First, he rebukes Peter. “Get behind me Satan. You don’t have your mind set on the things of God, you are thinking about the things of man.” And then it gets worse. Jesus calls the entire crowd together, the eleven other disciples plus everyone else who had been tagging along with them on this excursion to Caesarea Philippi thinking that they might as well make a holiday of it too. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

Now it just got really uncomfortable. Jesus isn’t just talking about Himself going to the cross to suffer and die, now He is talking about them, the disciples, anyone who would come after Him, having to suffer the same fate. It could not get more uncomfortable. The nice little holiday to Caesarea Philippi is officially ruined. There will be no going back to our old happy lives if we want to be disciples of Jesus.

By virtue of our attendance here this morning it is my understanding that you and I, like the disciples and crowds that day, would like to be a disciple of Jesus. The disciples and crowds following Jesus wanted to learn from Him and they believed Him to be the Christ, the Saviour. We too want to be His disciples. We believe, like they did, that He is the Christ. We believe that He is the Saviour. We believe, as Jesus Himself says in another place that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through Him.”

We want to be disciples of Jesus, but we would like our life of discipleship to be like a nice comfortable, relaxing holiday. In pretty much everything our human nature seeks the “path of least resistance” and this is no exception. We desire the easy life, the comfortable life, the life without too many significant challenges. Life as a disciple of Jesus is not like that, however. Life as a disciples of Jesus is uncomfortable. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Being a disciple of Jesus means denying ourselves, taking up the cross, and following Him.

When we hear Jesus’ call to “take up the cross” we likely think of suffering and how Jesus has called us to suffer through the pain and difficulty that this life brings as we seek to follow Him. There certainly is an element of that here in the words we hear from Jesus, but Jesus is calling us to more than just patient endurance through suffering. Crosses are not just instruments of suffering, they are instruments of death. When Jesus calls on us to “deny ourselves” and “take up our cross” He is calling us on us to die. Jesus is not talking about a literal, physical death, mind you, but He is calling on us to put to death our sinful self.

With these words Jesus is calling on us to “deny ourselves” by putting to death our self-serving way of life. He is calling on us to “deny ourselves” by putting to death our obsessions with our rights and prerogatives. He is calling on us to “deny ourselves” by putting to death our insistence on being treated fairly and getting “our share.” He is calling on us to “deny ourselves” by putting to death our desire for revenge and justice whenever we are slighted. He is calling on us to “deny ourselves” by putting to death our own ideas, opinions, and theories that conflict with His Word. He is calling on us to “deny ourselves” by putting to death our own will, our own identity, our own self determined destiny for the sake of being conformed as His disciples to His will, His image, and His identity. He is calling on us to put ourselves to death (spiritually, not physically) so that we can live in Him. That is uncomfortable to say the least.

After Jesus had said these things we have no recorded response from the disciples. The next thing Mark tells us about is the Transfiguration up on the mountain which he says happened “six days later.” The silence from the disciples and the crowds is deafening. They are not prepared for this kind of self-denial. They are not prepared for the cross. They will demonstrate that as they flee the moment Jesus is arrested. They are not ready for this and neither are we. That’s what makes it so uncomfortable.

But here is the beautiful thing: Jesus brings the comfort. Whether we are ready or not, whether we are prepared to follow or not, Jesus goes. Our epistle reading today said, “While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” While we were still staggering and dumbfounded at the idea of this kind of suffering and death, while we were unwilling to make those kind of sacrifices or deny ourselves in that way, Jesus, the Christ, the Saviour of the world, went and did the very thing we were unwilling and unable to do.

He denied Himself laying aside the authority and prerogatives of the Son of God and was treated shamefully at the hands of sinful men like us. He denied Himself and endured the lies and false accusations brought against Him not offering a word in His own defense. He denied Himself, took up that cross, and carried it out to the place of the skull. He denied Himself and allow them to nail Him to a tree where He, the Son of God in human flesh, would bleed and die. He denied Himself because of His love for you. He denied Himself to make you His disciple. He denied Himself to make you His own. He denied Himself so that you could follow Him through the cross and the empty tomb right into life everlasting.

Having watched our Lord, our Master, our Saviour, deny Himself for us like this we can’t help but be changed. It is uncomfortable still but having watched His deny Himself for us how could we, His disciples for whom He died, continue to cling to ourselves and this world? How could we not begin, day by day, to deny ourselves and follow Him? How could we not deny ourselves for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ and our neighbours all around us? How could we not sacrifice our wills for His? How could we not deny ourselves? Christ has done it all for us. He has denied Himself for us. Knowing this and rejoicing in what He has done let us take up our cross and follow Him. In Jesus name. Amen.


Accepting the Ash Heap

Text: Job 1:8-21

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last week we began with the book of Job and we talked about the tremendous losses that Job suffered. Just to refresh your memory here is a quick recap: In a single day Job lost 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 female donkeys, almost all of his servants, his 7 sons, and his 3 daughters. In a single day all of it was gone.

The amazing thing about the first chapter of the story of Job is not, however, the tremendous loses Job suffered or how quickly they happened. The truly stunning thing about the first chapter of the story is how Job responds to it all. When messenger after messenger came running towards him with more and more terrible news the tremendous weight of all of this loss must have been overwhelming for Job. We could hardly blame him if some off color words slipped out of his mouth or at least popped in his head. I can only imagine the kinds of words that could come flying out of my mouth if I were in Job’s place. I dare say I would not want to repeat those words here. But Job says no such words. Job does not curse or swear, there is no foul language, and there is not even a single angry word. Job simply says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I shall return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

How could Job speak this way after he had lost so much? There is only one explanation. Job’s words here are not really Job’s words at all. These are the words of the Holy Spirit speaking through Job. These are the words of faith, faith created, nurtured and sustained by the Holy Spirit, in Job’s heart that hold fast even in the midst of so much suffering and misery. Though God has allowed the devil to take his shots at Job, though God has allowed everything except Job’s own life to be taken from him, God has not abandoned Job. Even here in the ashes God stands by his beloved servant Job and strengthens his faith so that he can bless the name of the Lord who has allowed all of this to happen to Him. The Holy Spirit give Job faith to believe that though some of God’s earthly gifts have been taken from him and even though he suffers in this life nothing can take away the gifts of eternity that God has given to him in Christ Jesus. It is this faith, is faith in Jesus Christ, which makes Job able to accept the suffering that has come upon him.

Accepting suffering is no small matter. Job’s words and his willingness to accept what has happened to us amaze us because we know we would likely not react the same way. We know that if we were in Job’s place that our words would not likely be so ready to accept this suffering. Perhaps we’d say something like, “Why me? Why is this happening to me? Why are you doing this to me, Lord? What have I done to deserve all this?” This is what Job can teach us here: how to accept suffering.

The first key to Job’s acceptance of his suffering is that by the working of the Holy Spirit he understands that everything he had in life was a gift from God. Even here in the midst of his sorrow he understands that God has given him everything that he has. In the Small Catechism Martin Luther says that,

“God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.


Clearly God has given each of us a great deal of good in this life. Everything that we have comes from Him. He gives all of this to us freely as a gift. We don’t deserve any of the good gifts He gives to us and yet, out of Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy God continues to give us our “daily bread.”

Job, strengthened by the Holy Spirit and recognizing that God has given and continues to give us so much, understands that it is only reasonable that if we want to accept the good that our Lord is so eager to give us we will also have to accept the bad that comes from time to time. This is only reasonable.

So often, however, we lose sight of this reality and we begin to think that we are owed something. This is especially true when we suffer. We begin to think that God owes us an explanation or that God owes us a cure or that God owes us an apology. The reality, however, is that no matter what befalls us, no matter how much we suffer, it is us who owe God a life time of thank and praise simply for the life and breath that we have in us.

The second key to Job’s acceptance of suffering is that the Holy Spirit has given him faith to see beyond his earthly suffering and loss and to trust in the promise of Christ Jesus for life everlasting. If all Job knew about God is that He gives earthly gifts for this life and sometimes takes them away there would be little hope there. Who knows whether or not God will give or take today? Where is the assurance? Assurance and hope come from another place, from another gift that God gives, a gift that will never be taken away. That gift, the gift that gives assurance and hope even in the bleakest of circumstances, is our Lord Jesus Christ. God has given us His Son and through Him has given us eternal gifts: forgiveness, life, and salvation. Though so much has been taken from him in his earthly life, though he suffers so much, Job knows that the gifts of life and salvation, the gifts of eternity, which have been to him through Christ will never be taken away.

We can see everyday the gifts that God gives to us: food, clothing, house, home, and everything else. But God our Father gives us more than just earthly gifts for life in this world. He has given us a far greater gift in the gift of His own dear Son who gives life in eternity. Through His death and resurrection we have been given a new lease of life in this world through the complete and total forgiveness of our sins and we have been given the sure and certain hope of a new life in eternity. The Lord has given this to us as well without any merit or worthiness in us. To say that the Lord gives is an understatement!

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered for sin in our place, we have, literally, everything. Though we may be poor in this world we are rich. Though by worldly standards we may be fools we are wise. Though we may be weak we are, in fact, strong in Christ. We have the Kingdom of God. Nothing, no amount of suffering, pain, or anguish in this life can take His gifts away from us. Martin Luther said in his famous hymn, “Were they (that is, the powers of evil in this present world) to take our house, goods, honour, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day, the Kingdom’s ours forever.” Lots of things can be taken from us in this life. We could lose 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 donkeys, and all 10 of our children in a single day. We could lose our health, our wealth, and our prosperity and still we would have the good gifts of the Kingdom of God through Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing can take that away from us.

“The Lord gives.” He gives a lot, more than we can begin to imagine and understand. He gives us life in this world, forgiveness in this world, and life in the next world. He gives and gives and gives. And yes, “the Lord takes away.” But He never takes His Kingdom and the life that we have in it for the sake of our Lord Jesus from us. As we suffer in this life may these realities remain in perspective. May the Holy Spirit gives us faith with Job to accept the sufferings that befall us and say with faith, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In Jesus name. Amen.




Text: Genesis 22:1-18

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

There are many reason why I am not and will never be an Olympic athlete. If I started listing all the reason now we could be here until next Sunday. But, aside from the simple fact that I lack the necessary athletic skill required to compete at such a high level in any sport, I think that the biggest reason I am not and will never be and Olympic athlete is that I am completely and totally unwilling to make the sacrifices that Olympians make to get to the highest level their respective sports.

When you watch the Olympics you hear the stories of the sacrifices those athletes have made to get to where they are. Some moved away from their families at a young age to be closer to coaches and training facilities where they could hone their skills. Others had to segregate themselves from their friends and peers as they chose a more rigorous and disciplined life than the average teenager or young adult. All of them put in hours of training and working out to build their strength and skill so that they could compete with the world’s best. All of them had to make the healthy lifestyle choices that we all know that we should make so that their hard work would not be undermined. They all made sacrifices. For me the sacrifices would be too much.

All the sacrifices that Olympians make to reach the pinnacle of the sporting world, however, pale in comparison to the sacrifice that God askes Abraham to make in our Old Testament reading today. God doesn’t just as Abraham to train and work harder in life. He doesn’t ask Abraham to make healthier lifestyle choices. God doesn’t just ask Abraham to lead a more disciplined life than the people around him and shun the frivolities of life. God doesn’t even just ask Abraham to move away from his family. Abraham has actually done that already at God’s command. No, this time God askes Abraham to sacrifice, to kill, his beloved son Isaac. If ever there was a sacrifice that was just too much this was it.

For many, many years Abraham and his wife Sarah had no children at all. God had promised, however, that He would make a great nation out of Abraham’s descendants. “They will be as many as the stars of the night sky,” God had promised. And God promised that Abraham’s descendants would be more than just a big family. Through the great nation that would descend from Abraham God had promised to bring a savior for all mankind, our Lord Jesus Christ. One of Abraham’s descendants would be the one who would crush the head of the serpent, break the curse of sin, set free those trapped in the devil’s might, and destroy death itself forever. This is the promise above all other promises! But for many years Abraham and his wife Sarah didn’t even have one child let alone many.

In their impatience and distrust of God’s plan Abraham and Sarah came up with a plan of their own. Abraham had a child with Sarah’s servant Hagar. Ishmael was his name. But this still wasn’t the descendant that God promised. About 13 years later Abraham and Sarah finally had that child that God had promised. Isaac was born. The child of the promise. The descendant of Abraham through whom the savior would come. Now Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, and through Isaac’s descendants God had promised to send a savior into the world. Everything was looking up.

But family tension got in the way. Sarah became jealous of Hagar and Ishmael and she pressured Abraham to send them away. This broke Abraham’s heart, how could he send away Ishmael his son? But God promised to care for Ishmael and his mother so Abraham, broken hearted though he was, sent them away. At least he still had his son Isaac and the promise from God for a savior remained intact. Then the unthinkable happened.

God, the same God who promised to give this child to Abraham and Sarah and who promised to send a savior from Isaac’s descendants, commanded Abraham to make a sacrifice. Take your son, your only son Isaac (remember Ishmael had been sent away already!), whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

Think about what Abraham is being asked to do. He is being asked to do more than simply kill his own son. To kill his own son would be an unimaginable sacrifice, but Abraham is being asked to do more even than that. He is being asked to kill his son through whom God has promised to make a great nation and send a saviour. He is being asked to kill the hope of a saviour for all mankind. This is a truly impossible sacrifice.

Each of us, I think, would be unwilling to make that sacrifice. Each of us would be unwilling to sacrifice our own child and would be unwilling to kill the child from whom the saviour of the world is promised to come. But Abraham sees more than we do. At many points in his life Abraham gets a lot of stuff wrong. He does a lot of things that he should not do, but in this moment Abraham gets it right. In this moment Abraham fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things. Abraham fears God and knows God’s Word is to be obeyed. Abraham loves God even more than he loves his own son. Most importantly, Abraham trusts God and believes that even in something as terrible as this God can and will bring about good. Abraham trust that even if Isaac is dead and buried God will raise him from the dead and keep His promise to send a saviour through Isaac.

Abraham fears, loves, and trusts in God as he sets out with two servants and his son Isaac for Moriah. Abraham fears, loves, and trusts in God as he sees in the distance the fateful mountain and commands the servants to stay behind. Abraham fears, loves, and trusts in God as he answers his son’s heart wrenching question, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering, father?” Abraham fears, loves, and trusts in God as he lays out the wood, binds his son, and prepares to offer the sacrifice. Abraham fears, loves, and trusts in God as he stands there with the knife in his shaking hand ready to do something that he will never be able to life down.

What would you do if you were in Abraham’s place? I can only speak for myself, but I know that I could not do what Abraham was asked to do and I imagine that you couldn’t either. And what it comes down to is this: unlike Abraham we do not fear, love, and trust God above all things. That is the first commandment. You shall have no other gods before me. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. But we don’t.

There is good news for you today, however. First of all, God has not and will not ever ask you to do what He asked Abraham to do. He will not ever ask you to make that impossible sacrifice. God does not desire the death of any sinner nor does He desire any kind of human sacrifice. Secondly, Abraham didn’t have to actually make that sacrifice either. Instead God provided the necessary sacrifice. Finally and most importantly, the ultimate good news for you is that God has provided a sacrifice for you as well.

As Abraham stood there over his beloved son Isaac ready to do the unthinkable an angel of the Lord appeared and commanded Abraham to stop. “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him,” the angel said, “for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” Notice the change in voice there. This angel says, “You have not withheld your son, your only son, from ME.” This is no ordinary angel. The angel of the Lord speaking to Abraham is none other than the Son of God Himself. This is Jesus before he took on our flesh and blood in the womb of the virgin Mary. Jesus steps in, “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” He says, “because now I know that you fear and love and trust in Me above all things.”

Abraham had passed the test. At God’s request he had been willing to do the unthinkable. He really did fear, trust, and love God above all things. Abraham turned around and there, caught in the thicket, was a ram. Abraham untied Isaac, helped him off the wood pile, and sacrificed the ram in his place.

That ram that was trapped suddenly in the thicket behind Abraham was just a ram, but it symbolizes so much more. While we struggle with sacrifices in our own life and marvel at Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son; while we rejoice that God stepped in at the last minute to save Isaac from being killed; while we thank God that we will never be asked to do what Abraham was asked to do we need to realize that God our Father has done this very thing. He has indeed sacrificed His only begotten Son. He sacrificed His Son who just last week we heard God’s voice from heaven declare to be His beloved Son. He laid this, His beloved Son, on the wood of the cross and allowed wicked sinful men like ourselves to kill the Son of God. No one stepped in that day. No one intervened. There was no animal to be a substitute. There couldn’t be. The Son of God had to die for my sin and yours. He was the sacrifice in our place.

There are sacrifices in our lives as Christians. Jesus, the Son sacrificed for us, calls us likewise to take up our cross and follow Him. That is a calling to a life of sacrifice. Like Abraham it is a calling to fear, love, and trust God above all things as we sacrifice things in this life that we value, love, and cherish for the sake of following Jesus. But above all our Christian faith is not about our sacrifices. It is about God’s generous, loving sacrifice that would save us from sin and death. For us, who fail daily to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, He has provided the sacrifice that brings forgiveness and life. Thanks be to God in Jesus name! Amen.


Welcome to the Ash Heap

Text: Job 2:1-8

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Why the ashes? Have you ever wondered that? If you have you are not alone. The ashes of Ash Wednesday are often misunderstood. Some people think the ashes are like a blessing or an evangelistic tool as we go out into the world with ashen crosses on our heads for the world to see us. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I remember getting excited last year at the beginning of Lent because the host of a sports talk show that I like to watch had written an article about why he wears ashes on his forehead on Ash Wednesday. He is a Roman Catholic and for him the Ash Wednesday ashes were so significant that he would even wear them on TV as he hosted the show, so I thought that he might just lay it out once and for all in a way that people might finally listen and understand. When I started reading, however, I was disappointed. He talked about the ashes being an important part of his culture and religious heritage. He talked about it being an important part of his family’s traditions. He talked about it without ever really talking about what the ashes themselves really meant.

When you get right down to it the ashes represent death. Those of you who came forward to receive ashes this evening heard me say the following words to you, “Remember you are to dust and to dust you shall return.” Those words might sound familiar. At the cemetery when we bury our loved ones we hear the pastor say, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” as we commit the body to the ground. Those words trace even farther back to Genesis chapter 3 as God speaks to Adam after he and Eve had been deceived by the serpent, disobeyed God, and eaten the fruit from the tree. There God says to Adam, “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Because Adam and Eve had disobeyed God they would surely die. They would die and their bodies, which had been formed from the dust of the earth, would decay and return to the dust. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

So you see, the ashes on Ash Wednesday are a pretty somber thing.  They are not a blessing or a tool for telling people about Jesus, they are a bitter reminder that each of us, just like Adam and Eve before us, have rebelled against the Lord our God and are dying. They are a reminder that life is short and difficult. They are reminder that we all will die. We wear ashes on Ash Wednesday to remind ourselves of these things and to repent, confess our sinfulness, and seek God’s forgiveness.

As we journey through Lent this year with Jesus towards Calvary, the cross, and the empty tomb on Easter we will journey alongside a man named Job. Job lived many hundreds of years before Jesus was born, but he knew well of the promised savior who would die for the sins of the world. Job also knew ashes. He knew ashes really well.

Job was a righteous man in the eyes of God. He wasn’t sinless, but he knew of God’s forgiveness and trusted in that forgiveness. The devil made it his mission to destroy Job’s faith, however, so he attacked Job in every way imaginable. In a single day pretty much everything that Job loved and cared about in the world was taken away from him. First one of Job’s servants came running from the field to tell him that his oxen and donkeys, along with all the other servants in the field, were all dead. Then another servant came to tell him that fire had rained down from heaven and killed all of his sheep and shepherds. Then another told him that all his camels had been stolen and the servants working with them killed. And then, if all that were not enough, last of all Job was informed that his children, all ten of them, had died when a great wind tore down the house in which they eating a feast together. In a matter of minutes everything Job owned, all his servants and animals, and his entire family was gone.

Amazingly, all of that was not enough to shake Job’s faith. The devil had not succeeded in his quest. After all of that Job still worshiped the Lord. So the devil, relentless as he is, took one more shot at Job. There was nothing left to take away from Job now, so the devil attacked his body. In an instant the last thing that Job had left, his health, was taken away from him. He was covered from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head with painful bleeding, itching, cracking, and oozing sores. With every movement a new sore cracked open and started to bleed. There was nothing left for Job to do now – everything had been taken away from him – so we grabbed a piece of broken pottery and sat down in the ash scrapping his sores.

None of us have had it as bad as Job, but we all know a bit of how that feels. We’ve all been those kinds of circumstances that, like Job, drive us to the metaphorical ash heap where we realize that we are frail human beings and everything we love most is fleeting. It is there we see the effects of our own sinfulness and what rebellion against God has brought us. When a loved one dies and we weep and mourn there we are alongside Job in the ashes. When life falls apart and our livelihood is ripped away from us there we are with Job. When our bodies begin to fail and we start to realize that they are breaking down faster than we would like we are right there beside Job in the ashes. Honestly, somedays we hardly need the ashes on Ash Wednesday to remind us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Life does a pretty good job sometimes keeping our frail humanity in view. The effects of sin, the ashes of life, are all around us.

As somber as the ashes are, however, and as much as Job felt the bitter sting of what those ashes meant, there is a blessing in them. As these ashes remind us of our human frailty, the fleeting nature of life itself, and our own sinfulness we find in them a Saviour who came to rescue us from the ashes. This Saviour, the one whose journey to the cross we begin to follow this evening, threw Himself into the ash heap for us. He came, not under compulsion or force but out of His abundant love, into this ash heap of a world and took on the frailty of our human nature so that he could rescue us, sinners though we are, from this bitter life of ashes, dust, and death. And this is what He has done for you and me. The ashes are ashes and they are bitter, but those ashes on your forehead form a cross. The cross of Christ who died to save you from death. You are dust, you are ashes, but from the dust and ashes you will rise with Jesus.

Even Job, as He sat there in the ash heap, knew this truth. In the midst of his turmoil he cries out with hope, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” Job knows his Saviour, his Redeemer, his Jesus lives. He is risen from the dead to give the hope of new life to all who are in the ashes of death.

Today we remember this good news in the bitter ashes. In life, when we end up in the ash heap with Job, we recall this good news as well. It doesn’t end with ashes. The pastor at the cemetery says, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” but it does not stop there. The pastor goes on, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus.” We are ashes. Our lives are fleeting. We are all dying. We are all sinful. But we have a Saviour, Christ Jesus our Lord, who has rescued us from this fleeting, sinful life. He has died and risen again to give us life. In His name. Amen.


Like Moses But Better

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our Old Testament reading today is one of the most important parts of the Old Testament. We read from the book of Deuteronomy and we heard Moses tell the people of Israel that God would raise up from them a prophet like himself (Moses) to lead them. “To him you shall listen,” Moses sternly commanded them.

The entire book of Deuteronomy is essentially a farewell sermon given by Moses. Moses is saying goodbye to the people of Israel and using this opportunity to teach them one last time the ways of the LORD. The people will be entering the Promised Land very soon and Moses knows that he will not be entering that Promised Land. God has made that abundantly clear to Moses. Despite Moses’s pleas that he be allowed to enter that land God has repeatedly said no. So standing near that Promised Land and knowing that his remaining time on this earth is short Moses speaks to the people to remind them of everything that has happened to them so far and how God has saved them time and time again. Moses goes to great lengths to remind the people of God’s commandments for them. Most of the book of Deuteronomy is a rehashing of God’s law, but in the middle of this farewell speech, shoved in between various laws that Moses is remind the people of, is this promise that God will raise up a prophet like Moses to lead his people.

The very last chapter of the book of Deuteronomy records the death of Moses. When Moses had finished his farewell sermon he appointed Joshua to take over as the leader of the people of Israel in his stead and the he sang a song and blessed the people. After that he went up a mountain where God let him see from a distance the Promised Land that he would never be allowed to enter and there, up on the mountain, Moses died. With Moses gone the people of Israel were left waiting for this “prophet like Moses” that the Lord God had promised to raise up for them. This last chapter of Deuteronomy ends on a somber note as the author of this final chapter of the book laments that “there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses whom the LORD knew face to face…”

To be sure, in the years, decades, and centuries that followed God raised up many prophets for His people, but none of them was like Moses. None of them were known face to face by the Lord. None of them went up on the mountain like Moses did time and time again to talk with God. None of them spoke God’s Word with the authority with which Moses spoke. That is, however, until we come to our gospel reading today.

In our gospel today Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. In the gospel of Mark this is the first recorded instance of Jesus teaching. The people in the synagogue that day were amazed when they heard Jesus teach because they had never heard anyone teach like that before. “He teaches with authority!” the people marveled, “Not like the scribes and the other teachers.” Not only that, but when an unclean spirit starts to speak out against Jesus, Jesus simply speaks that the spirit is cast out of the man it has been possessing. Jesus’ word is so authoritative that even the unclean spirits, the demons, obey it! The people are in awe. “Could this be the prophet like Moses that was foretold so long ago?” they wonder. Indeed it is, this Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy One of God, is the prophet “like Moses” that the LORD promised to raise up for His people hundreds of years before.

There are many prophecies in the Old Testament about Jesus. Many of them are familiar to us too. But this one, the “prophet like Moses,” might not be so familiar. For us today it is helpful, I think, to ponder a little bit how Jesus is “like Moses” and what that means for us. In many ways Jesus is “like Moses,” but in many other ways Jesus is so much more than Moses.

The similarities between Moses and Jesus start in their infancy. Before they could walk, talk, or so anything else Moses and Jesus found themselves is eerily similar life threatening situations. When Moses was born the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt. They lived under harsh conditions and the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, tried to repress the people. Despite his best efforts, however, the people of Israel continued to increase. So the Pharaoh decreed that every male child born to the people of Israel would be thrown into the Nile River. This despicable plan put Moses’ life in danger. God, however, preserved Moses and kept him safe floating among the reeds in a basket until he could be found and rescued by the Pharaoh’s own daughter.

When Jesus was born Magi came from the East seeking to worship Him. They stopped in at the palace of Herod to find out where the child who was “King of the Jews” had been born. Herod, jealous of any other who would claim to be king and paranoid about any threat to his throne, ordered that all male children in Bethlehem under the age of 2 were to be killed. Jesus and his family escaped to Egypt where they were kept safe until Herod was no longer a threat to the child.

The more significant similarities come when both Moses and Jesus are fully grown and begin to carry out the work that the LORD has prepared for them to do. Moses is sent to Egypt to rescue the people of God from slavery to the Egyptians. Through him the LORD would thwart the evil plans of the Pharaoh and bring His people out of slavery into a new land where they could live as the people of God.

Jesus did not come to set us free from some earthly power or overlord, but He came to set us free from the power of a far more dangerous enemy. Christ came to set us free from slavery to sin and death and to thwart that evil plans of the devil himself who would destroy us. Christ gave His life as a ransom, a payment, to free us from slavery to sin and by His resurrection destroyed the power that the devil would claim to have over us. In Christ, like the people of Israel led out of Egypt by Moses, we are free.

Moses led the people of God through the water of the Red Sea on dry ground and the LORD used that water to wash away the Egyptians who had oppressed them. Jesus rescues us through the water of our baptism where, just like the evil Egyptians who pursued the Israelites, our sins that haunt, plague, and pursue us were washed away and drowned, never to be seen again.

Out in the wilderness Moses went up on the mountain where he saw God face to face (at least kind of…). When he came down from the mountain after 40 days his face glowed with the reflected glory of the LORD in whose presence he had been all that time. The people of Israel were afraid to even look at Moses because they knew that his face shone with the reflected glory of God Himself. After Moses told them everything that God had said to him he put a veil over his face to cover that reflected glory so that the people would not be afraid to look at him.

Jesus too shows us the glory of the Father. His glory, however, is no reflected glory. He shows us the face of the Father Himself. When one of Jesus disciples, Philip, said to Him, “Show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus replied saying, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” And the glory of the Father that we see in Christ is not a glory that causes us to tremble in fear. It is not a glory that we need to cover with a veil so that we will not be afraid of it. Jesus shows us the loving, forgiving, merciful face of the Father as He hangs on the cross bleeding and dying for the sins of all humanity, for our own sins. There we see the Father’s face and we know most clearly His love for us.

Moses came down the mountain with a message from God. That message was carved into two tablets of stone. Ten Commandments spelling out the very basics of their relationship with the LORD their God who had rescued them from slavery. You shall have no other gods. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD you God. Remember the Sabbath day. Honor your father and mother. You shall not murder. And so on. These commands set an un-keepable standard. Even before Moses made it down the mountain the people had already broken the first command crafting an image of gold that they could worship. For such disobedience there would be consequences, eternal consequences. For our disobedience there are consequences.

Christ comes to you and me today with a different message. His message does not abolish the message of Moses, the Law that condemns and punishes disobedience, but instead it fulfills it. Christ Himself keeps the Law and the commandments that you cannot keep. He lives them perfectly throughout His life. And then, according to the will of His Father in heaven, He dies for your disobedience. Taking your punishment on Himself. As a result, Christ comes to you today with a very different message than that of Moses. Christ’s message says, in short, “You are forgiven.”

We could go on and on comparing Moses and Jesus. The similarities are many. But this is the key point. Christ comes as the prophet like Moses, to bring you the authoritative word of God’s forgiveness. Way back when Moses told the people that God would send this prophet like himself he said, “it is to him you shall listen.” Christ is that one, that prophet like Moses, it is to Him we shall listen. Listening to Christ is no burden, however. His message, His Word, is of forgiveness and life. Let us gladly listen to those words and rejoice in Him. For Jesus sake. Amen.