Laying Down Life

Text: John 10:11-18

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

There are some Bible passages that become so familiar to us that we almost don’t actually hear the words anymore. On this Good Shepherd Sunday we have a couple of readings which fit that bill. First, Psalm 23. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” I don’t even have to finish the rest, you know the words and could probably keep going from there. But also our gospel reading today from John 10. “I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus says, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Again, familiar words. Nothing in there seems particularly stunning or surprising. But try, if you can, putting yourselves in the shoes of the people who were standing there listening to Jesus when He first said those words 2,000 years ago. That will give you a different perspective, I think.

Imagine you are in Jerusalem way back then before Jesus died and rose again. Imagine you are there in the big city hearing this countryside teacher from Galilee talk to the big shots. Imagine you are standing there beside Him in a large crowd of people and you hear Him say, “I am the Good Shepherd…” What would go through your mind when you hear those words?

I imagine a lot of people that day, just like us today, would have immediately started to think about Psalm 23. Some others might have thought about a passage in Ezekiel 34 where God said that He Himself would come and be the shepherd of His people, but I imagine most people had Psalm 23 in mind. With Psalm 23 in mind what do you think they would be expecting Jesus to say next? After Jesus said “I am the Good Shepherd…” how do you think that they would have finished the sentence?

Maybe they would have expected Jesus to say, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd causes his sheep to lie down and green pastures and leads them beside still waters.” In other words, He feeds and provides for His sheep. Or maybe they thought He would say, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd restores His sheep and leads them in the right path.” The Good Shepherd cares for the needs of the sheep and leads them in the way they ought to go. Or maybe they thought He would say, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd comforts His sheep with His rod and staff as He guides them through dangerous times.” The Good Shepherd protects His sheep from danger.

Any of these would have been reasonable, logical conclusions. In Psalm 23 the LORD, the Shepherd, does all of those things. All of those conclusions, however, would have been wrong. Jesus doesn’t say anything like that. What does Jesus say? “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”

John does not tell us here how the crowds reacted to Jesus’ words, but I imagine there were some puzzled looks. “He does WHAT?” the people probably wondered, “Why in the world would a shepherd die for His sheep?”

Leah, Hannah, and I lived on a sheep ranch for one year while I served my vicarage internship during seminary. We lived in the guest house on the sheep ranch. The owners of that ranch had been shepherding for a long time and they loved their sheep. They demonstrated their love for the sheep every morning when they got up before the crack of dawn and went out to feed and care for them. They demonstrated their love for the sheep each evening when they went back again to make sure that the sheep were all settled down in the barn for the night. They demonstrated their love for the sheep when the lambs were born too early that spring and they went out in the bitter cold to help the mothers and little lambs make it into the safety of the barn. They demonstrated their love for the sheep when they called each one by name, knew who its mother was, and could recall when it had been born. They loved those sheep. But would they die for those sheep? Would they lay down their life for sheep? I doubt it.

There are very few things in life for which people would be willing to lay down their life. There are very few things for which we would be willing to die. Husbands and wives might say that they would be willing to lay their life down, to die, for their spouse. Parents might say that we would be willing to lay down our life and die for our children. But other than that there isn’t much we would be willing to die for. We certainly would not be willing to die for farm animals like sheep. But Jesus says that is what the Good Shepherd does. He lays down His life for His sheep. He lays down His life for you.

Why? Why would the Good Shepherd, lay down His life for a sheep? It’s not because the sheep are such good sheep that they deserve it that is for sure. Nothing about sheep deserves this kind of care. Why would Jesus lay down His life for you and me? Not because we deserve it, but because of His love for us. Love, that is the reason. A little later on in the Gospel of John Jesus says, “Greater love knows no one that this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends.” The Good Shepherd’s love for His sheep, our Lord Jesus’ love for us, runs so deep that He would call us, sheep though we are, His friends and willingly lay down His life for us to save us from the wolves around us, to save us from death, to save us and give us life.

This love goes beyond any love that you and I could really ever know. Like I said, we might love someone so much that we would die for them, but for the most part we love ourselves far too much to let that happen. Christ Jesus, our Good Shepherd, on the other hand, loves each and every one of us, each and every one of His sheep on this sin filled planet so much that He would lay down His life for each and every one of them. Greater love knows no one than this! The King of Love our Shepherd is!

Our epistle reading today says, “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” There is only one response to the kind of love that has been shown to us, only one way live in light of this love that would send our Good Shepherd to the cross laying down His life for us. We ought to lay down our lives for one another. In each day, circumstance, and relationship that might look different. One day it might mean laying down our priorities and desires in order to care for someone in need. Other days might mean laying aside our own thoughts and ideas by taking the time to listen rather than spouting off with words of our own. Another day it might mean forgiving someone who has wronged us and laying down our “right” to be angry and hold a grudge. Christ, our Good Shepherd, has laid down His life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for one another!

But the laying down of His life was not the end. No, that was only the beginning. He took up His life again. Jesus is emphatic about that here in John 10. “I have authority to lay it [my life] down,” Jesus says, “and I have authority to take it up again.”

The betrayal, the scorn, the whips, the beatings, the violence, the miscarriage of justice, the crucifixion, the nails, the death, the tomb, and the stone rolled across the entrance all happened under Jesus’ authority. And when all of that had been completed, when the work of our salvation, the forgiveness of our sins, had been completed, He took up His life again. Living now eternally as the Shepherd of the sheep.

And that is where Psalm 23 fits in. Having laid down His life and taken it up again Jesus our Good Shepherd feeds us in green pastures and waters us with still waters in His Word as we hear it and read it. He restores our souls and leads us in paths of righteousness for His names sake with the forgiveness He won for us on the cross and the righteousness that He pours out from heaven on us in our baptism. He walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death and comforts us with His presence because He has already walked that road and overcome the sharpness of death itself by rising from the dead. He sets a table before us today in the presence of our enemies, the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature, and feeds us with the very body and blood that He laid down into death and then took up again. And because He, our Good Shepherd, has laid down His life for us and taken it up again we can be sure that goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life in this world and we will, beyond any shadow of a doubt, dwell in His house, the house of the LORD, forever.

The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. The Good Shepherd laid down His life for us. It is absolutely amazing. What shepherd would do that for his sheep? Surely only Jesus, the Good Shepherd, whose love knows no end! Thanks be to God for the undying love of our Shepherd, Jesus! Amen.

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Clinging to Christ

Text: Acts 3:11-21

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

Our first reading today from Acts begins right in the middle of a pretty dramatic scene. The apostles Peter and John are standing in a part of the temple in Jerusalem called “Solomon’s Portico” and a crowd of people is rushing toward them. Standing there with them or perhaps sprawled out before them on the ground at their feet is another man. This man is some forty odd years old and he is clinging to Peter and John with all his might.

What is the cause of all this commotion? Why is this forty year old man clinging to Peter and John? Well, Peter and John had been walking into the temple that day when they came across this forty year old man begging at the gates. This man had been crippled since birth. Every day for many years his friends had been bringing him each day to the temple gates so that he could beg for a living. This poor fellow saw Peter and John approaching and asked them, as he asked everyone who walked by, for a little change. Peter looked at this poor crippled man and said, “I don’t have any change, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth get up and walk.” Peter then grabbed this fellow by the hand and pulled him to his feet. His feet, ankles, and legs were strong, stronger than they had ever been, and he stood there on his own two feet. Immediately that man began leaping and running all over the place. He walked with Peter and John into the temple.

The crowds in the temple that day all knew this crippled man. They had all seen him before perhaps some of them had given him a little change and perhaps others had shrugged him off day after day. Now they see him standing, walking, and even leaping into the air and they are amazed. They rush over to Peter and John to see what has happened and the poor crippled man is so overjoyed that he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He clings, Luke says, to Peter and John as the crowd starts to form around them.

As the crowd forms, with a grown man still clinging to his leg, Peter begins to preach. Now, I imagine that it was somewhat awkward for Peter to preach like that. I have never had to preach with a grown man clinging to me, but when I am washing dishes at home I often end up with two little hands grabbing my pant legs. When I look down Olivia is standing there holding on tight. She can’t stand on her own yet, so she clings to my legs for stability and I am forced to hold my position without moving too much so that I don’t send her careening to the ground. It’s not a problem at first, but the longer this goes on the more awkward it gets. Likewise, I imagine that the longer this man clings to Peter the more awkward it gets.

Amazingly, however, Peter does not do anything to loosen this fellow’s grip. He does not politely ask him to stop and give him space, he doesn’t try to shake his leg loose from his iron grip, and he certainly doesn’t chastises the man for clinging to his so tightly. No, with that man still clinging to his let Peter starts preaching.

In many ways Peter’s sermon that day was directed towards the crowds that had gather round, but I think that Peter’s words were also directed in a kind of indirect way at the man who clung to his leg. Peter starts off his sermon like this, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this (that this formerly crippled man has been healed), or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?” Peter perceived (the grown man clinging to his leg might have made it abundantly obvious) that the people that day (the crowds and the man who had been healed) were under the impression that it was Peter and John who had by their own strength or power accomplished the marvelous feat. Peter wants everyone there that day (including the man clinging to his leg) to know that nothing could be farther from the truth.

“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus,” Peter says, “whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate… you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by His name (that is the name of Jesus) – by faith in His name – has made this man strong whom you see before you.”

That man who clung to Peter’s leg was so thankful for what had been done to him that he did not know what to do with himself. He was so filled with thankfulness and joy that all he could do was hold onto Peter and John as tightly as he could. He was thankful, but Peter is very gently telling him here that his thankfulness is misplaced. Peter and John are just men, they are nothing to be clung to. “It is the Lord Jesus who has been glorified by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Old Testament people of Israel, who healed you. It is to Him that you should give thanks,” Peter says, “and it is to Him you should cling.

Peter’s words here are helpful and relevant for us. They are not revolutionary. Unlike the crowds or the man who was healed we are not surprised to learn that this miraculous healing was the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. We know He is risen from the dead and we know His power to heal and save. But we, like that man who had been healed, need a reminder sometimes that Jesus is the one to whom we should cling.

Too often in life we place our hope in all the wrong places. We cling to people, to family member and friends, to leaders and mentors, to community leaders and sometimes even to pastors, when really the only place where we can find hope is in Christ. Psalm 146 says,

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

 

The Holy Spirit speaking through the Psalm writer is encouraging us here to place our trust, our hope, our faith, in someone who can really save: our Lord Jesus. He opens the eyes of the blind. He gives food to the hungry. He sets the prisoners free. He lifts up the broken hearted and distressed. He died to forgive our sins. He rose to give us life everlasting. He comes to us today to forgive and restore us. To Him, and to Him only, should we cling!

As I was thinking about this this week I was reminded of a picture that has been circulating since the Humboldt tragedy last weekend. It was a picture of three hospital beds lined up side by side with an injured hockey player in each of them. Each of these hockey players was clinging to the hand of his teammate laying the bed beside him. They clung to one another for love and support.

It is a beautiful image. I portrays the support that we can offer to one another in times of tragedy. It illustrates the love that we ought to have for one another and the blessings of having friends, family, neighbours, teammates, and all kinds of other people around us to support us.

But at the same time, this image portrays our helplessness. As much as we cling to one another, especially in the face of such unspeakable tragedy, we are unable to save one another. We can comfort one another with our love for each other, but we cannot undo the terrible pain. This week, even as the entire country reached out and clung together to support the Humboldt Broncos, the families of those involved, and the town of Humboldt itself, another person, a young woman who was on that bus, died. We cling together in love and support, but no matter how hard we cling together we cannot prevent tragedy. We cannot fix the pain. We cannot undo death. There is only one who can and we must cling to Him. That is exactly what Peter in his sermon in the temple is encouraging all of us to do.

In his sermon Peter encouraged the crowds, the man clinging to his leg, and each and every one of us hearing his words today to cling to Christ and Christ alone. It is through faith in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who endured the shame of the cross, was laid in a tomb, and has been raised from the dead, that the crippled man was made well and it is through faith in this same name, the name of the Lord Jesus, that we receive the forgiveness that His death on the cross won for us and the new life that flows from that forgiveness. In the face of tragedies in life this is the hope to which we cling. In the face of guilt and shame this is the source of forgiveness to which we cling. In the face of death itself this is the good news for new life to which we cling. We cling to Jesus and no other because there is no other who saves as He does. So, let us cling to Him, in His Word and Sacraments, day by day and find healing and life in His name. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The Perfect Church

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

What would your perfect church look like? If you could have a congregation or church family that was everything that you always wanted it to be what would it be like? I imagine it would be at least a little bit different than the congregation or church family that you see around you right now.

At very least, I imagine that your ideal, perfect church would probably have more people in it than ours does right now. Even if it’s just a few more people, as many as we had in the “good old days” when the building was a bit fuller on Sunday mornings, it would be closer to your ideal, perfect church.

I also imagine that in your ideal, perfect church everyone would get along a little better than they do now. It’s not that we don’t get along now, but surely we could get along better. In your ideal, perfect church I imagine people wouldn’t get bent out of shape over silly little things and we would all be more understanding of each other.

I imagine that in your ideal, perfect church everyone would pitch in and do their share of the work. Everyone would know what was expected of them and because everyone lends a hand no one would have to do more than they are comfortable doing.

I imagine that in your ideal, perfect church the pastor’s messages each week would be timely, relevant, engaging, powerful, creative, and Scriptural all at the same time. As your pastor I must admit that I strive for all of those things, but heaven knows I fall short of them more often than not.

Yes, I imagine that your ideal, perfect church would be a little bit different than the church we see around us today and I don’t blame you. I too have an ideal, perfect church in mind and my ideal, perfect church is not all that different than yours.

For that reason, when I read our first reading today I get a little jealous. Here in Acts chapter 4 Luke gives us a little glimpse of the church in Jerusalem and, boy, does it seem like a perfect church. 40 days after Jesus rose from the dead He ascended into heaven. Before He ascended He told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they had received “power from on high.” 10 days later, 50 days after Easter, it happened. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down from heaven in the sound of a great rushing wind and tongues of fire appeared over the heads of Jesus’ disciples. Peter and the other disciples started preaching and thousands of people believed and were baptised. The church was born.

As Luke tells us today about what that congregation or church family was like in the early days it sounds just about as perfect as it could be. “The full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul,” Luke says. They were in perfect harmony with one another. “And no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” They were one in heart and soul with one another to such a degree that they literally shared everything. No one held back anything from his or her brothers or sisters in Christ. “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all.” The disciples of Jesus, on whom the Holy Spirit had descended, were preaching with “great power” in this church. They were filled with God’s grace and they preached to the people time and time again the good news that Jesus is risen from the dead. “There was not a needy person among them, for as many who were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet and it was distributed to each as any had need.” Wow. The people in this church loved each other so much that those who had property that they could sell sold it and gave the money to the church so that the poorest members could be cared for. They did not merely give from their excess, they gave sacrificially. They sacrificed part of themselves, their livelihood, for the sake of their brother and sister in Christ. No one was forced or compelled to do this, but they did it of their own accord. If that wasn’t the perfect, ideal church then I don’t know what is.

Our reading today stops right there while things still seem perfect. If you read a little farther, however, you soon see that the veneer of perfection was pretty thin. In the verses that follow our reading two members of that church, a couple named Ananias and Sapphira, decided, like some of the other did, to sell their property and give the money to the church. Ananias and Sapphira, however, didn’t really want to give all the money from the sale of their property to the church, they wanted to keep a bit for themselves. And, to be clear, they were totally within their rights to do so. There was no rule or requirement that said that everyone had to sell their property and give all of the proceeds to the church, after all. But Ananias and Sapphira didn’t want everyone at church to think that they were cheapskates either, so they lied about the money that they gave to the church from the sale of their property and insisted that it was the full amount that they had received from the sale of their property. Things got messy after that and the glimmer started coming off the perfect church.

Then, just a couple chapters later in the story, a dispute breaks out in this church along ethnic lines. One group of people was complaining that their poor widows were not being cared for as well as the other widows were. The food and financial assistance wasn’t being distributed evenly, they claimed.

Then, a little while later there are disputes and argument about teaching and theology. These argument had to be settled too. The church in Jerusalem, the perfect, ideal church, wasn’t so perfect after all.

So what do we learn from this? Well, the perfect, ideal church that we dream of doesn’t really exist. At least not in the form in which we are looking for it.

Why? Because the Christian Church on earth (as long as it is on earth) is made up entirely of sinners. The Christian Church on earth is made up of men and women who know that they ought to love one another with their whole heart, but who have a very hard time loving anything or anyone more than themselves. The Christian Church on earth is made up of men and women who know that they should fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but fear many other things, love many other things, and really struggle with trust at all. The Christian church on earth is made up of men and women who want to give sacrificially, but can’t quite bring themselves to do it. The Christian Church on earth is made up of men and women who lie and gossip, men and women who have grown lazy and complacent, men and women who bicker and argue, and the list could go on.

For this reason an English poet by the name of Percy Shelley who was a known atheist once said, “I could believe in Christ if he did not drag along with him that leprous bride of his – the church.” Indeed, it might seem like a good idea to all of us from time to time to give up on “church” and just cultivate a personal relationship between us and Jesus. It’s a tempting idea to be sure, but there is one big problem: Jesus really loves the church.

Jesus loves the church, his leprous bride as Shelley put it, so much that He would die for her. He loved her so much the He rose from the dead to give her hope. He loved her so much that on that very same day on which He rose he appeared to her, his little band of disciples, while they were locked away behind closed doors in fear. He loved her so much that as He stood in the midst of them He did not chastise them for their lack of faith but said, “Peace be with you.” He loved her so much that when, a week later, they were still hiding away in fear even though He had commissioned and sent them He appeared among them again and again said, “Peace be with you.” He loved her so much that before He ascended into heaven He promised to be with her even unto the end of the age. He loves her so much that He has promised to be present among her always. Even if her membership were to dwindle down to two or three members there He is among them, He says. And even today He loves her, He loves you so much that He comes to us today and places into our imperfect hands and mouths His body and His blood to make us perfect in His sight.

No, the perfect church does not exist. Not in the way that we would like it to exist anyway. But make no mistake, Jesus does have a perfect church. It is the church for which He died and you are in it right now. Yes, it is imperfect by our standards, perfectly imperfect in fact, but He has given His perfection, His holiness, His righteousness to her and to you forevermore.

So what then are we to do? What are we imperfect sinners though we are who have been graciously made members of His perfect Church to do? Well, the example of the first Christians in Jerusalem is a great place to start. Let us be of one heart and spirit with one another. Let us all unite ourselves, heart and spirit, around the new life we have in our Lord Jesus. Let us dedicate ourselves to the Lord’s Word as handed down to us in the Scriptures by the apostles’ themselves for in that word we find our perfect Saviour, the Lord Jesus. And let us give to one another sacrificially as our Lord Jesus has given His life sacrificially for us that we might be perfect in His sight. We will never do these things perfectly in this life, but by God’s grace we will begin day by day to be the perfect, holy, people He has made us to be and in the end it is the perfection of our Lord Jesus which has ensured that we will live in His perfect peace and rest into eternity. Thanks be to God in Jesus name! Amen.

Certainty and Hope

Text: Job 19:23-27

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

During the season of Lent we here at Christ Our Saviour/Redeemer have been following the story of Job. Job was a man who lived hundreds (more than likely thousands!) of years before Jesus was even born let alone risen from the dead, but Job has a profound insight into the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus that we celebrate today.

Job was surrounded by death on all sides. Everywhere Job looked death was there. When he looked down at his own body he saw death. His once healthy, strong body was covered now, from head to toe with sores that continually bled, cracked, and oozed. His bones, which were once hidden away under layers of healthy toned muscle and flesh, were now sticking out so prominently that you could easily count every single one. His body was dying.

When Job looked around his household he saw more death. His ten children, 7 sons and 3 daughters, were all dead. They died when a tornado ripped down the walls of the house they were in.

When Job looked out into his fields that were once filled with flocks and herds he saw more death. The field were empty. There wasn’t an animal left to sell. Even if Job survived he had no hope of making any kind of living like this.

Everywhere Job looked there was death. He was as good as dead. His wife thought so too. She called a spade a spade and said to Job one day, “You may as well just die.” Death was all around him.

Yet, in the midst of all this death, with death surrounding him on every side and seemingly taking over his entire life, Job shouts forth one of the most beautiful, heartfelt, joyous confessions of faith that you will ever hear. Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For 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!”

Two things stand out to me about Job’s words here. Two things about his confession of faith are particularly stunning. First of all, I am amazed by Job’s certainty. “I know…” Job says. “I know that my redeemer lives!” Job isn’t just hoping and praying here, he doesn’t just have a hunch, he knows. Secondly, I am amazed by Job’s hope. In the midst of his suffering, surrounded by death, Job has real, solid, concrete hope for his future.

We may not realize it, but our circumstances in life are not all that different from Job’s. Like Job we are all surrounded by death. Death stares us in the face on every side. For the most part we have conditioned ourselves not to notice it or to chalk it up to something else so that we feel more comfortable. We’ve done this to such a degree that when death does become a reality in our lives, when a loved one dies or when we ourselves are very near death, it comes as a shock. It’s like we somehow never saw it coming. But if we honestly look at ourselves and our surroundings we can see that it is happening everywhere.

We see it when we watch the news or check our newsfeeds online and find out that there have been more deaths, school shootings, and violent crimes in some distant (or perhaps not so distant) place. We see it when we look in the mirror and see more wrinkles and more grey hairs. We see it when our bodies just aren’t up to doing what they once were. We see it when loved ones die and when deaths of people close to us start to pile up to the point that it feels overwhelming. We see it all around us, death is everywhere.

For this reasons the 23rd Psalm, perhaps the most famous Psalm (“The Lord is my shepherd…), calls this world the “valley of the shadow of death.” That is where we live. You may as well tack it on to the end of your address: Hamilton/Stoney Creek/Grimsby, Ontario, Canada, Valley of the Shadow of Death. That is our reality.

So, the question is, where do we find the certainty and hope that Job had in the midst of this valley of death? Where do we find the certainty and hope that Job expressed as he confessed so boldly and clearly that his redeemer lives?

First let’s talk about the certainty. Where did Job find the certainty, the absolutely certain knowledge that his redeemer lives? Job didn’t find that certainty in his feelings. He didn’t find it in a gut instinct that told him that everything would work out in the end. He didn’t find it in good vibes or positive thoughts. He didn’t find it in his rational thoughts about the world and how things ought to work. And he didn’t find it by reaching out to God in some kind of mystical way. Job found the certainty, the certainty of knowing that His redeemer, the Lord Jesus, lives and is risen from the dead, in the Word of God.

Job lived hundreds or even thousands of years before Jesus was even born, but he knew God’s Word of promise about this Saviour. As soon as the man and the woman had eaten the fruit and disobeyed God’s only commandment for them God started speaking to His people about His plan of salvation through His Son. He spoke to Adam and Eve of a man, a descendant of Eve, who would crush the head of the serpent. Yes, the serpent would strike his heel. Yes, the Son of God would have to die a bloody brutal death on the cross, but He would emerge victorious. Job knew this promise. He knew it well. And He knew that God is not one who reneges goes back on a promise. God’s promise is sure, Job knew that, and Job would take that promise to the bank. There he found his certainty, “I know that my redeemer lives!”

So where do we find certainty? We find certainty in God’s Word, in His promise. We have a great benefit over Job, however. We have the benefit of looking back into the past for all of this rather than looking vaguely into the future. We look back and hear the stories of how our Saviour died. We look back and hear the stories and testimonies of how He is risen from the dead and therein we have certainty.

Our epistle reading today is tremendously helpful in this regard. Paul tells us there that after He had risen from the dead Jesus appeared to Cephas (that is Peter), to the other 11 disciples, to more than 500 others, to James, and to Paul himself. This is no small collection of witnesses. We look back and can know with certainty, the kind of certainty that Job had, that our Saviour is risen, our Redeemer lives!

And with that certainty comes a certainty of hope. Hope flows from the certainty of God’s Word of promise. Job’s hope is clear, “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!”

What is Job’s hope? The resurrection of the dead. At the end of the story of Job God restores to Job everything that he had lost and God even doubles it. Job’s 7,000 sheep becomes 14,000. Job’s 3,000 camels become 6,000. God even blesses Job and his wife with 10 more children. But this is not Job’s hope. Job knows that these worldly things will not last. Job knows that even with all the possession and treasures that the world has to offer he will die someday and all that treasure will be meaningless. Job has a better hope than this. Because Job knows that his Redeemer lives, because he, living hundreds of years before Jesus, knows that his Saviour will bleed, die, and rise again, Job knows that he too will rise.

“At the last, on the last day,” Job says, “He (that is Job’s Redeemer, the Lord Jesus) will stand upon the earth and after my skin has been thus destroyed (that is after Job has been long since dead and his body has decomposed to dust) in my flesh (that is with a risen, human body with skin and bones and everything else that rightly belongs to a human body from eye lashes right on down to toenails) I shall see God.” Job believes and knows that Jesus, the risen one, the first-born of those who have fallen asleep in death, will come again. He, the risen, exalted Lord Jesus, will stand upon the earth and as He does He will call forth from the grave all those who have died. Job and all of us will rise on that day; our bodies will rise. We will stand before our Saviour and in our flesh, that is with real human bodies, we will see God. This is hope, this is real hope.

On that day all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus, all who trust in Him for salvation, all who have been washed in His blood shed on the cross in the water of baptism,w ill be given a place at the great feast described in our Old Testament reading today. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death (the very death that surrounds us on every side and strikes fear in our hearts!) forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”

Job hopes for that day. Job longs for that day. Job is certain that this day is coming because He knows that the God who has spoken this promise is one who does not go back on His word. He knows that day is coming because he Redeemer lives. What a joy to have this certainty, this hope, even as we walk through this valley of the shadow of death! Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!

Father Forgive Them

Text: Job 42:1-9

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

“You want me to do what?” If I were Job I think that is what I would be thinking when I heard what God was asking me to do. “They kicked me when I was down and now I am supposed to pray for them?!? Why would I even want to pray for them? Do I even want God to forgive them?”

During our Wednesday Lent services we have been following the story of Job. Today, as we prepare to hear the story of our Lord’s Passion, we will continue with the story of Job. The story of Job is a story full of suffering. Job suffers in ways that for most of us a totally unimaginable. In a single day he lost everything that he had. His massive herds of sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys all died or were stolen from him. That same day his children, all ten of them, died in a tragic accident. Job’s health was also taken away from him and his entire body, from his head down to his toes, was covered in terrible sores.

To make matters worse, three of Job’s friends showed up to comfort him but they were rather useless. Rather than providing real comfort and showing Job the love and support that he desired they blasted him with their own ideas and solutions to Job’s problems. One of them told Job that he was getting exactly what he deserves. Another told him that his children probably had done something to deserve to die too. The third friend concludes that Job should be thankful that he has only suffered this much because he surely deserves much worse.

Now as we pick up the story today, very near its end, God is speaking. God is speaking to Job and he has a job for Job. God looks at Job’s three friends, the ones who came to comfort him but really only heaped scorn upon his head and caused more suffering, and says “my servant Job will pray for you.”

You see, Job’s three friends didn’t just say unhelpful things to Job. They did not simply fail to be good friends to a man who was suffering. As they blasted away at Job with their “windy words” kicking him when he was down and heaping scorn upon his head they also spoke wrongly about God. They misrepresented God, taught falsely about Him, and described God as a cold, cruel, angry tyrant who punishes people in exact proportion to their sin. They told Job that he must have done something terribly wrong in order to deserve this treatment. They could see no other reason why God would allow such terrible things to happen to Job. They were trying to defend God’s honor, goodness, and holiness, but in doing so they spoke very wrongly about God and made Him out to be a heartless, oppressive judge. Because they had spoken so wrongly about Him God’s anger burned against Job’s three friends.

God, however, does not desire the death of any sinner and does not want His anger to burn against Job’s three friends forever so he give Job the job of praying for his three friends and asking for their forgiveness. He looks at the three of them and says, “My servant Job will pray for you and I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your foolishness.” And nobody would blame Job if he was sitting there thinking, “I will? What makes you think I want to pray for these guys, God? What makes you think I want You to forgive them? Honestly, I don’t even want to forgive them!”

We wouldn’t blame Job if he thought thoughts like that. These three men had made his life, which was already a living hell, much worse. Heaven knows we would think thoughts like that if we were in his place. But, amazingly enough, Job does nothing of the sort. Job did pray for his friends, his friends who kicked him when he was down and heaped scorn upon his already suffering head, and God accepted Job’s prayer. Job prayed for his friends and they were forgiven.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, that Job would be willing to do that. It’s amazing, but it will do no good to just sit here today and marvel at what Job did. The story isn’t really about Job. No, Job, as he prays for his friends who have treated him so badly and asks God to forgiven them, really is just pointing us forward to Christ and what He has done for us.

In the 23rd chapter of his gospel Luke records some of the most amazing, beautiful words that Jesus ever spoke. Just moments after the nails had been driven through His hands and feet and He had been lifted up on that cross, having not too long before been beaten nearly to the point of death by a blood thirsty crew of Roman soldiers who more than likely literally kicked Him when He was down and injured him so severely that he was unable to carry his own cross out to Golgotha, the place of the skull, having endured their taunting and mocking, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for the know not what they do.”

And it’s not just the soldier the Jesus prays for. He prays for his countrymen, His fellow Israelites who have rejected Him, their promised Messiah. He prays for the chief priest and the teachers of the law, the very men who should have known and recognized him from the Scriptures as the promised one, who handed Him over to Pilate now shake their heads at him and goad him to “come down” if he is the messiah. He prays for Pilate who didn’t have the guts to stand up for what was right and gave in to the demands of the crowds. He prays for the criminals on either side of Him who have earned their punishment and now join in the mocking. He prays for his disciples who, despite their protestations to the contrary, had abandoned him all too quickly when things started to go sideways. He prays for Peter who insisted that he would die with Jesus rather than deny him but had cracked under the pressure three times. He prays for you and me whose sins are the reason he is hanging there. He prays, “Father forgive them!”

That, after all, is the point, isn’t it? The point of all of this is our forgiveness. It will not do if we hear the story of our Lord’s Passion and take to heart all he suffered and leave here today just feeling guilty.

Certainly, we should feel guilty. It is our sin, our willful disregard of the Lord’s Word and commandments and our insistence on living in whatever way seems right in our own eyes, that caused the innocent, holy, righteous Son of God to suffer. Guilt is a Godly, sorrowful, repentant response to what Christ has done for us. We, like Job, ought to despise ourselves and repent in dust and ashes when we see the price of our sinfulness. But it should never end there. The purpose of Christ’s death on the cross is not to leave you feeling guilty. He did not die to leave you in the hopelessness of despair despising yourself. He did not die to leave you with the burden of His death upon your shoulders. He died so that you would be completely, totally, 100% forgiven. His voice still cries out, “Father forgive them.”

And make no mistake, His voice has been heard. Our epistle reading today calls Jesus our “great high priest.” As our great high priest Jesus prays for us and His prayer is heard. His blood calls out for our forgiveness and God answers. God hears the cries of Jesus and forgives.

There on the cross your guilt, your shame, your punishment is taken away and you are really, truly, in every way imaginable forgiven for all of your sin. There on the cross every hurtful and careless word, every selfish deed or action, every wayward vengeful thought is taken away and forgiven, removed forever as far as the east is from the west. Our sins, every single one of them, the lies, the grudges, and the anger, died with Jesus on the cross and they lie buried in His body. He is risen, but they are not. They are gone. Gone forever. And we, washed in the precious blood of Jesus that flowed from that cross stand pure, clean, and holy in the eyes of God. Every sin forgiven.

And so as we contemplate our Lord’s Passion today and the forgiveness that He has won for us by his death on the cross let us take this forgiveness to heart. Let us rejoice in what Christ has done. Let us rejoice in His prayers for our forgiveness and His death that accomplished it. And let us pray today, as Job did, for our friends, neighbors, family members, and all others. Let us pray for everyone who has wronged us in life in any way. Let us pray that they, like us, would find the free gift of forgiveness in Christ and His death on the cross. Let us pray also, however, that we too might have the strength to forgive them. Let us pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In Jesus name. Amen.

On Earth is not His Equal

Text: Job 41

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

I’ve never really been one to have much sympathy for bad guys. Growing up as a kid my favorite show was Batman, the old one with Adam West. What did I like about it? Well, Batman fought bad guys, drove an awesome car, and climbed up the sides of buildings, but the best part was that Batman, the good guy, always won.

As I grew up a bit I was amazed to find that some of my friends liked to root for the bad guys. Many of them watched wrestling. I didn’t watch much wrestling, but I knew enough to know who that bad guys, the heels, were and who the good guys, the heroes, were. I was amazed to find that many my friends cheered for the bad guys, the heels, to win! These same friends surprised me later on in our friendship when I found out they were cheering for the Russian hockey team in a gold medal match against Canada! “How could they do that?!” I wondered. No, I’ve never been one to cheer for the bad guys. Its good guys all the way for me. That being said, I think I am developing a bit of a soft spot for Judas.

If ever there was a bad guy worth rooting against, worth despising, it’s Judas. Judas, one of Jesus own disciples who watched on as Jesus taught, healed the sick, and performed miracles in Galilee and who followed Jesus from Galilee down to Jerusalem, was so callous and hard hearted that he would sell out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. 30 pieces of silver isn’t chump change, but we are talking about Jesus, the messiah, the savior here. No matter what the price was nothing can justify what Judas did. His greed stands behind the greatest atrocity and injustice ever committed. His greed caused the Lord of Glory, Jesus the Son of God full of grace and truth, to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. He is a villain, a bad guy, if ever there was one.

And yet, I have sympathy for Judas. I feel badly for him. Not because he really was a good guy at heart or because his mistake wasn’t really that bad, but because Judas, in one sense at least, was actually a victim.

Judas was a victim of the great deceiver, the serpent, the enemy, the devil, Satan. In our gospel this evening we hear about Jesus and His disciples in the upper room. Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and He shares His last supper with them instituting the same supper that we celebrate this evening. Judas, the villain, the betrayer, is among them. He is there at the table eating with them. His feet get washed by Jesus. But during the course of that meal something terrible happens. When Jesus had handed Judas a piece of bread dipped in wine indicating to John, the beloved disciple, that Judas was going to be the one to betray Him John tells us that at that moment Satan entered him. Satan, the great villain above all other villains, overwhelms Judas and puts it in his heart to do the unthinkable: betray Jesus.

Now, to be clear, as he betrays Jesus Judas is not doing anything that he himself does not want to do. He is not being forced against his will to do this evil thing. No, he is acting according to his own will. It is not my intention here to minimize the evil that Judas has done. But it is the devil, Satan, who tempts Judas, plies him and tries him, overwhelms him, and convinces him to do it, to betray Jesus. Satan stands behind this great betrayal the same way he stands behind Adam and Eve’s deception in the Garden of Eden all of our sinfulness.

For this reason, you and I should all feel some degree of sympathy for Judas, I think. We have all been there. We have all been overcome by the devils temptations, schemes, and tricks and have all too willingly gone along with his suggestions. We have fallen for his lies. We have been deceived. We have sinned most grievously against our brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, and against our Lord.

“But,” you might think to yourself, “I’d never do what he did! I’d never betray Jesus like that!” Sure, you would not sell Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, but Jesus’ other disciples all said that they would never abandon Him either. What did they do? When Jesus went to pray they all fell asleep because through their spirit was willing their flesh was weak and all too easily overcome by the enemy as they drifted off to sleep. When the soldiers came some tried to fight, but when it became clear that that option wasn’t going to work they were overcome by the fear planted in their hearts by the enemy and they fled. Even Peter, a good guy disciple if there ever was one, when faced with the prospect of identifying himself publicly as a disciples of Jesus while Jesus was still on trial was overcome by the enemy and denied His Lord Jesus three times. All the disciples are overcome by the enemy.

This enemy, the devil, is a dangerous foe. In his first epistle Peter describes the devil, our great enemy as “a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Our enemy is strong and dangerous. In our reading from Job tonight we another description of our enemy. God is speaking to Job and He talks about something called the Leviathan. From the way God describes it the Leviathan seems to be some kind of great and terrible sea creature that rages uncontrollably. The Leviathan causes the waters of the sea to boil, God says. Out of his nostrils comes smoke. His breath kindles fire. No weapons known to man can harm him, not swords, not spears, not javelins, nor arrows. On earth there in nothing like this Leviathan or equal to him, God says.

What is this Leviathan? The better question is who, who is this Leviathan? This is not simply some prehistoric sea monster that threatens sailors as they crisscross the high seas, this Leviathan is far more dangerous, more sinister. This Leviathan, this beast, this enemy is none other than the deceiver, Satan, himself. God uses picture language here to describe for us what our enemy, the devil, is really like. He is like a terrible sea monster who threatens to destroy us all by the temptation us to sin. This Leviathan is a creature so great and terrible that none can match him. “On earth,” as Martin Luther says in the hymn we will sing shortly, “is not his equal.”

“Can you defeat this Leviathan?” God asks Job. “Can you defeat the roaring lion?” The example of the disciples and our own lives makes the answer clear: no we cannot.

But that is what all of this is about, isn’t it? We can’t do it. If we could Jesus would not have needed to come into this world to be our Savior. If we could defeat the enemy ourselves Jesus would not have needed to die in our place on the cross. If we could do it ourselves we would not need the Holy Supper that He feeds us with this evening. We cannot do it ourselves, but Christ has done it for us.

“But for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected,” Martin Luther says in the hymn, “Ask ye, who is this? Jesus Christ it is, of Sabaoth Lord, and there’s none other God; He holds the field forever!”

On earth there stands no one who is equal to our enemy, the roaring lion, the Leviathan, Satan; no one who can stand up to him and defeat him. No one, that is, until the Son of God steps down from heaven into the fray, into the battle, and wins the victory for us. Marching across a battle field covered with sleeping, fleeing, and denying disciples, defeated sinners, and you and me who are all too easily overcome by the devil’s temptations, this Son of God throws Himself into the jaws of the beast and defeats him forever. Even the great betrayal, the fall of Judas and his evil kiss of betrayal, is part of the plan. Through betrayal and death our Savior wins the victory over our enemy.

Tonight at His table our victorious Savior feeds us with the fruit of His victory, the one thing that can give us strength to live out our lives in the face of such a dangerous foe, His body and His blood. His body, which hung on the cross dead and seemingly defeated by the great Leviathan but then rose from the dead in victory, is here for you. His blood, which was poured out on the battle field of the cross in victory, is here for you. In it is His strength, His might, His power, and they will sustain you and give you the victory over the enemy. On earth is not his equal, but our Saviour comes from above and gives us the victory.

The tragedy of Judas is not that he betrayed Jesus. That was a wicked, evil thing to do, but we have all down wicked and evil things. The tragedy of Judas is that he died, he killed himself, because he did not believe the good news of this Savior. When he betrayed Jesus he did not believe anymore that Jesus was the Savior. Afterwards in his guilt Judas did not believe that Jesus could be the Savior for someone like him.

We know our Savior. We know our Lord Jesus who has come to give us the victory. We know and so we do not despair when the evil for seems to be winning. We know our Saviour and we trust in His victory. Thanks be to God that He has defeated our old evil for, the devil, for us and given His victory to us! Let us come to His table this night and receive the fruit of His victory, His own body and blood. Amen.

The King

Text: John 12:23-26

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

When Jesus climbed onto the back of that donkey He made a bold statement, a kingly statement. When Jesus climbed onto the back of that donkey and rode it into Jerusalem he announced to the world that he is the king.

The crowds that day had already made up their minds, Jesus was to be their king. Everything that they did to welcome Jesus into town had an air of kingliness about it. They cut palm branches from the trees and waved them at Jesus. Palm branches had by this point in Israel’s history become a bit of a nation symbol kind of like the maple leaf for us today. This would be the symbol of a true Israelite king who comes to liberate his people. John doesn’t share this detail with us, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us about the people spreading their cloaks on the road. This too was a response to incoming royalty. In the Old Testament when a man named Jehu was anointed king over the northern kingdom of Israel his companions spread their cloaks before him so that he, their new king, would not have to walk on the bare ground. Finally, if there was any lingering doubt remaining about who the people gathered that day thought Jesus was their words remove it. “Hosanna!” they shout, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the king of Israel!”

            When Jesus, seeing and hearing all that the crowds were doing and shouting, climbed onto the back of that donkey it was as if he was embracing their appointment of him as their king. He was accepting the position, as it were. The prophet Zechariah had also prophesied about a day when the people would see their king come to them “humble and mounted on a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). At least a few of the people that among the crowds that day must have known the prophecy and watched in awe as Jesus fulfilled it. To us a donkey isn’t really a kingly animal, but to the people back then a donkey was exactly the animal that the incoming king should be riding. Solomon, the king who succeeded David in Israel and reigned over the most prosperous time in the nation’s history, rode a donkey (his father David’s mule to be precise) out to the place where he was anointed king. Now, as Jesus rides a donkey into the royal city, the people can’t help but notice the connection. Even before Jesus sat on the donkey I imagine that this was a pretty loud and hectic scene, but when Jesus climbed on the donkey’s back and started riding I imagine a great roar from the swelling crowds, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Even the King of Israel!” It was a bold statement, climbing onto that donkey, to say the least.

It was a bold statement, but also a surprising one. Not too long before, in chapter 6 of John’s gospel, the people had already tried one time to make Jesus their king. They were out in the wilderness and were convinced that Jesus was the prophet sent from God, the Saviour. They had seen His miracles and they wanted to crown Him right then and there, but Jesus basically ran away from them. He slipped away from the crowds and went up a mountain to pray alone. They wanted Him to be their king, but He refused. But now, as Jesus rides into Jerusalem, the royal city where the kings of Israel had ruled, there is no slipping away. There is no escaping. No, now Jesus embraces the kingship that the people ascribe to Him. But why? What has changed?

Out in the wilderness the people wanted to make Jesus their king because He had just fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. They watched as He performed this incredible miracle and decided that He should be their king. Surely anyone who can feed so many people with so little food would make a great king, the people thought. They wanted a breadwinner king, a golden ticket to prosperity king, a king who would usher in years and years of happiness, peace, contentment, and joy right here and right now. They wanted a king who would give them their best life right now. But Jesus is not and will not be that kind of king.

So, when Jesus rides into Jerusalem and embraces the role of king what has changed? The people haven’t changed. Presumably some of these people are the same ones who were out there in the wilderness and tried to make Him king last time. Their expectations haven’t changed either. This time they are all worked up because Jesus just raised a man named Lazarus from the dead. Surely, anyone who can raise a dead person to life like that is from God and would make a great king, they likely thought. No, the people haven’t changed. They still want a breadwinning prosperity king. But the fullness of time has come for Jesus to take up His throne and reign in a way that none of them ever would have expected.

We know what happens within just a few short days of Jesus riding royally into town on a donkey. We know the story. He will be arrested, put on trial, shamefully treated, unjustly sentenced, crucified, and killed. Amazingly, throughout all of that, throughout His Passion and suffering, the title of king will follow Jesus. When Pilate questions Jesus he will ask repeatedly, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus’ answers will be frustratingly evasive, but He never denies it. When Pilate brings Jesus out before the crowds he will say to them, “Behold your king!” The people will reject the king that the crowds hailed on Sunday. When the soldier mock and beat Jesus they will dress Him in a royal robe and twist a crown of thrones around His head. “Hail, King of the Jews!” they shout. Even when they crucify Him, even when His body hangs there dead on the cross, the title king will follow Him as the sign over His head reads: “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews.”

So what has changed? Well, this is the kind of king that Jesus has come to be. He is not a breadwinner king, not a golden ticket to prosperity king, not a best life now king, but a crucified king. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,” Jesus says, “it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus has come to be a king who dies. A king who dies to bear much fruit. A king who lays down His life for His subjects and, by His death, gives them a place in His eternal Kingdom. A king who dies to establish a kingdom of forgiven sinners through His blood and give us, sinners though we are, a place in His kingdom. A king who establishes a kingdom of righteousness and holiness that will last forever. A crucified, dead on the cross, king. A risen from the dead never to die again, but still with glorious nail marks in hands and feet king. A crucified king. That is the kind of king that Jesus is.

This leaves us, I think, with a question we need to ask ourselves: What does it mean to be a subject/disciple of this kind of king? If Jesus is our king, if we are His subjects living under Him in His Kingdom, what does life look like for us? If Jesus is a crucified and suffering king what does that mean for our lives in this world?

Jesus answers that question for us. Immediately after His words about the grain of wheat that falls into the earth and bears much fruit He says, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” Jesus our King is a cross king, a suffering king, and a dying king. If we are to be His subjects, His disciples, we too will have to be cross people, suffering people, and dying people. If we love our lives in this world so much that we are unwilling to be cross people, suffering people, and dying people then we run the risk of not having a place in His Kingdom.

Jesus calls on us here to follow Him, to renounce worldly success and power, the pursuit of happiness at all costs, and the desire to live our best life now. He calls on us to reject the ways of this world and live as disciples. He calls on us to put to death the sinful desires that linger in our hearts. He calls on us to embrace suffering. He calls on us to see beyond the world laid out in front of us and look forward, above all things, to the Kingdom that His death on the cross has prepared for us.

Life in that Kingdom, His Kingdom, is the fruit that His cross has born for you. It is given freely as a gift to you. He rode into Jerusalem and carried on out to the cross, a King all the way, to give it to you. He, the seed, was laid dead in the ground and now, risen from the dead, has born much fruit. You, the life you live now in His grace and the life you look forward to in eternity, are that fruit, the fruit of His death. What joy, what a tremendous gift!

So “Ride on,” Lord Jesus our King, “Ride on. In lowly pomp ride forth to die. Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain, then take, O God, Thy power and reign” (LSB #441 v5). Blessed be our King who comes in the name of the Lord to die for us that we might live. In Jesus name, Amen.

Who do you think you are?

Text: Job 38:1-11

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

We are nearing the end of the book of Job now and much has been said. We heard Job say to his wife, “Shall we receive good from God and not evil?” We heard Job say, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” We heard Job curse the day he was born and cry out with painful words of lament over the tragedy that has befallen him. We heard Job’s friends offer their words of wisdom to Job and we heard Job complain about the “miserable comforters” that they were. Last week we heard Elihu teach Job and his friends about how God speaks in “one way and in two.” And now, at last, we hear God speak.

When God starts speaking He doesn’t waste any time. He gets right to His point. Immediately He starts peppering Job with questions. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who determined the earth’s measurements, its size? On what were its foundations laid? Who set limits on the sea and caused dry land to appear?” “Who do you think that you are, Job?” That is essentially what God is asking Job. “Who do you think that you are?”
In order to understand why God is speaking this way to Job we have to go back to what Job has been saying. In his blessing the name of the Lord Job certainly didn’t say anything wrong. Even as he complained so bitterly Job did not really say anything wrong, he did not speak against God. But, as the story wears on and the frustration, pain, and anguish of Job’s suffering continues, as his friends heap more and more scorn upon His head, Job does begin to speak against God. If we had time we could read through all of Job’s words and we see it for ourselves, but Elihu, the speaker that we heard last week, sums up Job’s complaint against God for us. He says, “Job, this is what I have heard you saying: ‘I am pure, without transgression; I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me. Behold He (that is God) finds occasion against me, he counts me as his enemy, he puts my feet in the stocks and watches over all my paths.” This, Elihu says, is a summary of Job’s complaint against God.

Job’s complaint against God has two parts. These two parts themselves are not wrong or sinful, but the conclusion Job draws from them is. First Job insists that he is innocent. In this he is not wrong. He is innocent. Not because he is not a sinner, but because, through God’s forgiveness in Christ, Job is blameless in God’s eyes. The beginning of the book makes this point very clear. Job is not suffering because he is a bad person or because he has sinned in some particularly grievous way.

Second, Job says that God is treating him like an enemy. While this might not be the best language to describe the situation, it is not entirely untrue. God has allowed terrible things to happen to Job and, from Job’s perspective, it feels like God is treating him like an enemy.

Nothing in the two parts of Job’s complaint is untrue or sinful, but the implication he draws from it is. “I am innocent,” Job says, “and God has treated so terribly. This is not right. This is not fair.” In drawing this conclusion Job has put himself in the place of God and claims to have the authority to determine what is right or wrong, fair or unfair, just or unjust. This is what causes God to show up and ask Job, “Who do you think that you are?”

Job is not God. He was not there when God laid the foundations of the earth. He does not know the measurements of the earth. He does not know on what its foundations were laid. He was not the one who set the boundaries for the sea and caused dry land to appear. Job is not God and Job does not have the authority, prerogative, or right to determine and decide what is right or wrong. Neither do we.

Job’s problem and our problem is that we insist on being the highest authority. We insist on determining for ourselves what is right and wrong, fair and unfair, just and unjust. We insist time and time again throughout our lives on being God and determining these kind of things for ourselves.

When the serpent tempted Adam and Eve in the garden he told them that if they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that they would be like God, knowing the difference between good and evil. Since that day human beings have been claiming the authority of God as their own. You and I are no exception.

You and I claim to be God when, like Job, we judge God’s behavior and accuse Him of wrong doing. You and I claim to be God when, like Job’s three friends, we claim to speak for God without knowing what we are talking about or bothering to consult God’s Holy Word recorded in the Scriptures first. You and I claim to be God when we read His Word and don’t like something and decide to throw it out, ignore it, or try to explain it away. You and I claim to be God when we say that things God has called sin really aren’t that big a deal. You and I claim to be God when we make value judgements about other people without looking in the mirror to see our own sinful mess. You and I claim to be God when we decide that this person or that person are unworthy of forgiveness. You and I claim to be God when we refuse to forgive one another. You and I claim to be God when we insist that our ideas, reason, and feelings are the highest authority and that God needs to bend to our desires and meet our demands. You and I claim to be God every day and as we do it we break the very first commandment: You shall have no other God’s beside me.

What does God say to that? “Who do you think that you are? Where were you when I made the earth? What were you doing when I formed everything that exists out of nothing? How did you contribute to the creation of this world and all that is in it? Who do you think that you are?” But that’s not all God does. God does not simply say, “Who do you think you are?” and slam us with His law. No, He responds to our outlandish claims to His authority by lowering Himself down and becoming one of us.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, who was begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.”

Jesus Christ our Lord, the Son of God full of grace and truth who was there in the beginning when the Heavens and Earth were made, who did lay the earth’s foundations, and did set the boundaries for the seas so that dry land would appear, became man. He became one of us. He took on our flesh and walked among us. He, being full God and fully man, walked among men and women just like us who claim the authority of God as their own. He talked with men and women just like us who think that our own ideas are the highest authority. He ate at table with men and women like us who claim to be God. And He allowed men and women like us to claim authority over Him, judge Him, condemn Him, and crucify Him. He became one of us so that He could die for us. And He did it to forgive us for claiming His authority as our own.

So, who do you think that you are? Are you God, are you the highest authority? Surely you are not. But we must confess to living as if we were. Who are we though? We are children of God through Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became like us in every way in order to save us. We are children of God who have been forgiven for our claiming of His authority as our own. We are children of God who by the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts will rejoice to live UNDER Him and His authority in His Kingdom forever. That is who you are, a child of God. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus, Amen.

 

Service

Text: Mark 10:35-45

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

Our Gospel reading today and the request that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, bring to Jesus reminds me a bit of my time in high school. At the high school I attended there were four hallways lined with lockers, two on the main level and two on the upper level. Each student got to pick his or her own locker at the beginning of each school year. Choosing a locker would seem like a rather insignificant thing, but in reality it carried a great deal of significance. The location of your locker said something about who you were and who your friends were. There was one hallway on the main floor, for instance, that only people of a certain level of popularity dared claim a locker in. Many students (myself included) could only aspire to someday have a locker in that hallway. The hallways on the upper level of the school building were quite different. One of them was kind of dark and dingy and the lockers were all funny, mismatched colours. Nobody wanted a locker in that hallway. You only ended up there if you did not fit in anywhere else. When I started at that school in grade 10 my friends and I were in that hallway. By grade 11 we had migrated down to the main floor, and by doing so we had moved up in the world. We never did succeed, however, in claiming a locker in the “popular” hallway.

I imagine there were dynamics like this at play when you were in school too and you’ve probably encountered them in other places in life too. This seems to just be part of human nature. We seem to naturally sort ourselves into groups and we very quickly come to understand our social standing within the group and our group’s social standing within the world. Many people are content simply to remain in whatever social standing or position they find themselves, but others are keen to move up. This desire to move up is what drives politics, business, athletics, and many other aspects of human life.

James and John know had the same kind of aspirations. They desired to move up. They are disciples of Jesus. Massive crowds of people are following Jesus at this point in the story. They are all travelling with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem where they will celebrate the Passover. Among the crowds of travelers, however, James and John have the distinction of being disciples of Jesus, the miracle worker and teacher that everyone is talking about. Not only that, they are kind of part of an elite group of disciples. Often when Jesus does something really significant calls three of His disciples aside. James and John and Peter are inevitably the group of three. These three were the only ones invited up on the mountain when Jesus was transfigured, for example. James and John are in elite company already, but they have designs on moving up.

“Lord,” they say to Jesus, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you?”

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus replies.

“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory,” they say.

Do you notice what James and John are trying to do here? They are among the disciples of Jesus already and they have been the privileged group of disciples that has seen the most remarkable things that Jesus has done. Now they want more.

The other ten disciples saw what James and John were trying to do and they will have none of this. When they heard about this attempt by James and John to get ahead of the rest they were indignant. “Who do you think you are!” they may have shouted, “What makes you think that you are better than me?”

Amazingly, Jesus does not respond indignantly to James, John, and the other disciples here in the midst of this little controversy. No, Jesus uses their outlandish question to demonstrate for them again how His Kingdom is not like this world. “In the world,” He says, “the rulers, authorities, and important people of the world lord it over everyone else. People climb the social, political, and economic ladders and they hold on to their power, authority, and influence with all their. But it shall not be so among you.”

Instead Jesus says, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” This is how things work in the Kingdom of God. It is not a place for upwardly mobile ladder climbers, it is a place for lowly servants. The values of the world are inverted in the Kingdom of God. The ones who are important by worldly standards are laid low and the lowly servants are lifted up. The ones who are too bad, too sinful, too dirty for success in the world are perfectly at home in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not something that you can climb up into, the Kingdom of God is nothing like the social structures, business structures, political structures, or status structures of this world. The Kingdom of God is not like the hallways of my high school. The Kingdom of God is free of all of that nonsense. “Whoever would be first among you,” Jesus says, “must be slave of all.”

Jesus’ words here are revolutionary. This kind of talk undermines everything that James, John, and the rest of the disciples thought they knew about God’s Kingdom. It undermines our own ideas too.

This is revolutionary stuff, but it is not new. God has always spoken this way to His people. The Ten Commandments teach us to be servants and slaves of one another, they teach us to set aside our desire to move up in the world and to lower ourselves in service of others. The second table of the commandments (commandments 4-10) teach us that we ought to serve one another rather than serving ourselves. The 4th Commandment teaches us to serve our parents and other authorities by obeying them. The 5th Commandment (murder) teaches us to serve our neighbor by looking out for his/her health and well-being. The 6th Commandment (adultery) teaches us to serve our spouse by being faithful and loving through thick and thin. The 7th Commandment (stealing) teaches us to serve our neighbor by protecting and caring for his/her property and income. The 8th Commandment (lying) teaches us to serve one another with our words. And the 9th and 10th commandments (coveting) teach us to think about serving others rather than serving ourselves. This kind of thinking is not new, but it is revolutionary.

This kind of thinking is revolutionary because it goes against every fibre of our sinful nature. It may sound like a simple thing to be the servant of others, but in practice we see differently. Parenting, I think, is a prime example of this. I have three daughters. They are my pride and joy. Serving them, you’d think, would be easy. But it’s not. Selfish human nature pushes back against the knowledge that these children need me to serve them and I, like other parents, get angry, frustrated, and resentful toward my children. If I struggle to serve my own children how can I be a servant and slave to all? Serving doesn’t come easy to us, it requires a revolutionary change in thinking.

But this is more than a revolution in our way of thinking about our service toward others. Jesus statement to conclude our gospel is really where the revolution begins. “For,” Jesus goes on, “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” This revolutionary statement beautifully epitomizes and summarizes God’s Kingdom. God’s Kingdom is based on service, but not our service. Yes, in response to what Christ has done we serve others, but only because He has served us with His life on the cross. Only because He has given His life as a ransom for us. Otherwise our service would be meaningless. Otherwise we could toil away day and night selflessly serving others and would be no nearer the Kingdom of God. But He has given His life in service of us. His life pays for ours. His life buys our entrance into His Kingdom. How do sinners like James, John, the other 10 disciples and us get into the Kingdom of God? Through Christ’s life given in service as a ransom for all mankind. Where do we find the love that impels our hearts to serve others? In Christ’s life given in service as a ransom for our own.

Christ serves you even today. He serves you as you hear His Word preached and read. He serves you when we come to His altar and receive His very body and blood. He serves you as you read the Scriptures at home and ponder them in your heart. He serves you as you pray in His name and He carries you prayers before the Father in Heaven ensuring that they are heard for His sake. He serves you every day of your life with forgiveness won for you in the giving of His life as a ransom for you.

What a joy, what a relief to see that there is no need to climb, to lift ourselves into His Kingdom. What a joy, what a pleasure, to be set free from that struggle and to be free to serve. May we who have been served by the Lord Jesus and His life given as a ransom for our own, gladly serve one another now and into eternity. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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.