Jesus Lifted Up
Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our sermon series on our Lenten weekends is focused on “Jesus on His Way to the Cross.” Three weeks ago we saw Jesus entering his public ministry by submitting first to baptism in the river Jordan and then the devil’s temptation out into the desert. Two weeks ago we heard Jesus speaking hard truths about the necessity of him suffering, being rejected, and getting killed before there could be a resurrection. Last weekend, we watched as Jesus overturned the moneychanger tables, drove out livestock, cleansed the temple, and defended his Father’s house from those who would turn it into a place of personal profit. Today we see Jesus predicting that the Son of Man must be lifted up on the cross, much as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.
“I knew he was rooting for me.” When Serena Williams won the Wimbledon tennis tournament for the first time in 2002, a reporter asked her if she was bothered by the fact that many of the English fans rooted against her. “No,” she said. People had rooted against her all her life. “Besides,” she added, “my dad was sitting in those stands, and I knew he was rooting for me and I wanted to please him.” For Serena, the fact that her father was rooting for her more than balanced off the fact that all kinds of others were rooting against her. Romans 8 language comes to mind, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Our lessons for today are jam packed full of evidence that the Almighty God of this universe has been rooting for us, He is rooting for us in these very chapters of life we are living, He will be rooting for us all the way into eternity. In today’s Old Testament lesson, God was rooting for Israel to repent, in today’s Epistle lesson, He is rooting for sinners to be receiving His grace with the ultimate purpose of them doing the good works he has prepared for them to do in advance, and in today’s Gospel lesson, we find Jesus rooting for Nicodemus to be born again. Jesus rooting for the world to be saved and not condemned, Jesus rooting for evil to be exposed and for the light to be chasing away darkness.
Jesus Lifted Up is our theme for today, three lessons to be learned about how beautiful life can be as we fix our eyes and will not be distracted away from Jesus Christ crucified, buried, risen, ascended, and coming back again.
Lesson #1 comes from Numbers chapter 21 where we see A fiery serpent lifted up for impatient people (dying). Serpents have caused great problems for mankind. It was true in the Garden of Eden, and it was true at this event which took place near Mount Hor. The surface and obvious problem in this story was the poisonous snakes, but the underlying problem was the impatience of God’s chosen people. After nearly 40 years of God providing for their needs, they again complained about he situation that they were in. They were weary of the travel, they detested the food that God gave them each day, they were rejecting the providence of God and his acts of deliverance.
God was in fact rooting for his nation to repent, and his way of getting them to stop their murmuring and to trust in him was to get their attention in spectacular fashion. Luther has this to say about these verses, “In that country, where the heat is so intense, such serpents are called asps. When they bite a man, he swells, turns red, and his whole body becomes so feverish that he is soon past help unless the bitten member is amputated at once. For if such a serpent bites into a finger or a foot, the limb must be amputated immediately. Otherwise the fire or fever will penetrate the whole body and affect all its parts, and death will be inevitable.”
We think of Hebrews 11 language, “11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. We see that it was not the Lord’s will to kill these Israelites. It was his desire to have mercy on their souls. He had made a promise with them, and he would keep his promise, even though they kept on going their own way in life. His remedy was not to crush the serpents, it was to have Moses make a fiery serpent and lift it up for these dying people.
These people were asked to look at the serpent physically, sinners in all generation are invited to look spiritually and in faith to Jesus lifted high on the cross. They were cured of bodily poisoning, we will be delivered from eternal poison. They recovered from physical ailments, we from spiritual disease, and even worse than disease, apart from Christ we are dead in trespasses and sins.
The kingdom of God is like a man regretting so deeply his failed marriage. His habits of drinking too much, working too much, and caring for his wife and children too little had come back to bite and wound all concerned. But once again he looks upon the cross where His Savior died. He’s humbled by his mercy and he’s broken inside. Once again he thanks Jesus for being lifted up, he marvels at a grace which makes him alive, a new day is rising up on the inside of his heart.
Lesson #2 comes out of today’s New Testament lessons, where we see A Father’s Son lifted up for a dead man (walking). Nicodemus wasn’t just a good person with a lousy theology, he was by nature a child of God’s wrath who needed to be born again. He wasn’t just a Pharisee caught up in legalism, he was a dead man walking. That’s Ephesians 2 language, where Paul the former Pharisee had come to understand that he wasn’t just a misguided religious fanatic, he was spiritually dead, the only way he could be made alive would be for the Son of Man to be lifted up on the cross.
Humanly speaking, the crucifixion of Jesus would never have happened if the Jews had been an independent nation when the Sanhedrin found Jesus guilty and condemned Him to death. According to Jewish law, he would have been executed by stoning But the Roman Empire ruled, and the Romans executed non Romans by crucifixion. And so Jesus spoke of being lifted up, and pointed to the bronze snake on the pole as God’s prototype of this. Elsewhere, John quoted Jesus, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to Myself,”, and then John commented, “He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die.”
The kingdom of God is like a young mother who lost her temper with her children this past week, again, and this morning, she is feeling one more time like a bad mom. It’s like a grandpa who has more patience with his grandchildren than he did with his own children. And every so often he wishes he could do it all over again, maybe he could do it better. The kingdom of God is like a successful retired person, who is realizing more and more than so very often over the years he has been full of himself, he has chased the almighty dollar at the expense of his family, and this morning, he wonders if there is some way he can make up for lost time, he wonders if he can somehow make it up to God and loved ones. This morning, one more time, this young mom, this grandpa, and this successful retired person are drawn to the cross where their Savior died. They are humbled by his mercy and broken inside. One more time they thank Jesus for being lifted up, they marvel at a grace which makes them alive, a new day is rising up on the inside of their hearts.
Lesson #3 comes out of our Gospel lesson for today, A Great Light lifted up for people (preferring darkness). Jesus often goes from one metaphor or simile to another, and today’s text is no exception. John 3:16 is one of the two or three most familiar verses in the Bible. Say it with me, if you will, in King James language, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Luther had this to say about this Gospel in a nutshell, “Look at the words, I beseech you, to determine how and of whom Jesus is speaking…No one is here excluded. God’s Son was given for all. All should believe, and all who do believe should not perish. Take hold of your own nose, I beseech you, to determine whether you are a human being, that is, part of the world, and like any other man, you belong to the number of those comprised in the word, all.”
One can imagine the mind of Nicodemus spinning fast as Jesus first explains why he has to be born again, then says that the Spirit is like the wind which blows wherever it wishes, then scolds this teacher of the law for not receiving the very testimony they had been waiting for, then teaching the necessity of the Son of Man being lifted up, then making a sweeping statement about how believing in the Name of the only Son of God, and finally, pronouncing the verdict, “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
On the one hand, Christ died for all, on the other, many are not saved. On the one hand Christ made satisfaction for everyone, on the other, salvation requires the tgift of faith that holds to Christ. Although the light is for everyone, many, for one reason or another, or for no particular reason, will prefer darkness.
The kingdom of God is like a couple in their 60’s who came to church as little children, pretty much against their will. They were drawn to the church when it was time to get married, drawn to the church which is like a city of lights set on a hill when it was time to get their children baptized, drawn to the church when it was time for their teens to be catechized, drawn to the church when it was time for weddings and funerals, but other than those special occasions, they are realizing this morning they have preferred darkness, they have wandered into lukewarm Christianity, in so many ways they have lived in the shadows instead of letting their Gospel lights shine. This morning, they hear one more time that which they have heard a thousand times, they are saved by grace, through faith, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any should boast. They drawn to the cross where their Savior died. They are humbled by his mercy and broken inside. One more time they thank Jesus for being lifted up, they marvel at a grace which makes them alive, a new day is rising up on the inside of their hearts.
Dear friends in Christ, know that no matter how often, as Pastor Muther would say, you have slapped away the gift of your God’s grace, no matter how frequently you have preferred darkness, it is still the truth that your God is rooting for you. He is rooting for you to repent, to be in the Christian faith, to be strong in that faith, to be growing in that faith. Even more than that, to know that you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for “Good works prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Story of a pastor friend of ours and his wife who has since August of last year been walking through the valley of brain cancer. Walking through more doctor visits and chemotherapy treatments than can be counted, walking through stem cell cancer, through nausea upon nausea, in these very days through tiredness, frailty, and more days of trouble than the average. A few days ago we explored Ephesians 2:8-10 together, I suggested that the sermon they were preaching as they suffered patiently the afflictions laid on their shoulders was a powerful sermon, more powerful than sermons preached by pastors traveling through smooth sailing times in their life. The good work prepared in advance for them is one they would not have chosen, but by the grace of God, they are doing it well. May God give everyone of us the grace necessary to do well our own good works, prepared by God in advance, in all the chapters of our lives. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Distractions: Jesus, Herod, and Amusements 3/7/2018
Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 // Luke 23:8-11
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
On Ash Wednesday, we saw Jewish religious leaders distracted by their preconceived notions on how God should act, but we rejoiced in the very idea that God’s great desire is to have mercy on our souls. Two Wednesdays ago, we saw Judas distracted by a love for money and all of the social and political pressure on him, but we rejoiced that our God is never distracted from keeping us as the apple of his eye. Last week, we saw Peter distracted as he followed the train wreck at a distance, as he hug out with the wrong crowd, but we rejoiced to see Christ as the life of all the living, in the life of little Leona, whose absolute joy was how her God was visiting her in her trouble, making sure that her days of suffering and dying were the opposite of a train wreck.
Today/tonight, I want to begin with a story. One of my not-so-proud moments, in fact, one that I remember to this day as a lesson, though I didn’t think of it that way at the time…. Third grade… I wanted to go to McDonalds and perceived that I had extracted a commitment to do so from my parents…. Not sure that I actually did now that I think about it, and when the hour came we didn’t go, and I did what I still remember to this day. I remember hot tears running down my face. I remember running from the kitchen. I remember doing what I did when I got frustrated, crying into the corner of the living room couch.
I was – and here’s the point, the point that I have remembered for the rest of my life – I was crying over the wrong things. There are times to cry in life, and that was not one of them. There are times to spend your hours and your energy longing and desiring things, but McDonalds on a Wednesday night shouldn’t be at the top of the list.
Herod is seeking amusements. He is looking to consume media. He was looking for a tame lion to do tricks. He was looking at Jesus and loving Jesus for reasons that had nothing to do with Jesus. Instead of falling down in awe of the Living God in his midst, he pokes and prods him for a miracle. For some water into wine for him. For walking on the water of his pool. For multiplying his feast.
It may have looked like Jesus was on trial here. It may have looked like Herod held the power. But in the paradoxical and strange way that our God works, it was actually Herod who was on trial. Will he be ruled by his amusements, or will he be ruled by God?
And this isn’t new. Solomon in Ecclesiastes does the same thing. He says, I tried to satisfy myself with good food and good wine. I tried to satisfy myself with sex and the pleasures of the body. I tried to build gardens and great works, but after I built my empire, I found that in the end it is all vanity. It is all chasing a thing that cannot be caught. It is meaningful, but it only meaningful when it finds itself filled with a greater meaning.
If not, you are just indulging yourself.
One of my indulgences is running. If it came down to being healthy in the way that I choose to be healthy and being a father and a husband, I would absolutely choose to be fat and slow, or, what is more likely, I would absolutely choose to be healthy in different ways than I want, and be with my family.
So, let’s make this argument from the lesser to the greater. If this is true – and, of course, that’s debatable – if this is true, then does it logically follow that as we seek to focus on the highest good, loving the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, then we will have to see much of our lifestyle as our indulgence for the moment?
That there is a time when I can go snowmobiling and there will be a time when that is taken away. There is a time when I can go hunting, and there will be a time when that is taken away. There is a time when I can run and there will be a time when that is taken away. I will love them for the moment, but I will love them for what they are. Momentary pleasures that come and go in the face of eternal joy.
How much more should we love, should we look to, should we care about the greatest joys, weep over the deepest sorrows, laugh at the grandest ironies, care for the deepest hurts, because as any knee-replacement survivor knows, the more you flex, even if it hurts, the more flexible you become. The more you cast your eyes up, the larger your world will become.
Let us lift our eyes from all the media around us that consumes our attention and bids us sit and stay and be passive, and in this setting, in the setting of the church where you are listening and I am speaking, let this be a refuge, a sanctuary, a resting place, from which you go out and you do and you love and you learn and you act and act and act, so that you are absolutely exhausted not from consuming, not from staying passive, but from really and truly striving to love those who are around you, whether you like them or not, striving to serve those in your workplace, in the ways that make them communicate better, be more honest, let forgiveness flow in a way that heals our organizations.
Jesus Defending His Father’s House
Third in a series of six, “Jesus on the way to the cross” 3/4/2018
John 2:13-25 // Exodus 20:1-17 // 1 Cor. 1:18-31
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Dear friends in Christ,
We are three weeks into our six-week journey toward the cross in this Lenten season. We’ve been seeing Jesus in his baptism and temptation. We’ve been hearing Jesus speaking hard truths. And today, we see Jesus cleansing the temple, defending his Father’s house.
There are two parts to our text today. First, we have the action of Jesus in the temple, and second, we have the discussion that happens afterward.
The first part could be summarized in just one phrase, the phrase that the disciples remembered from Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Notice from where Jesus drives the money-changers and animal sellers out. He is in the temple, in the court of the Gentiles. This is where the Gentile people could come and join the people of God to worship God. Jews could advance beyond here and the high priests could even come into the Holy of Holies, but the purpose of the court of the Gentiles was that the Gentiles could pray and participate. When the Jews used this space for selling sacrifices and exchanging coins, they were distracting from the main purpose that the place had. When they did good things but they did them in the wrong places, when intermediate things became ultimate things, they did themselves harm and distracted themselves from the reality of Christ.
How many of you heard this text and wondered what Jesus would think of a door offering? How many of you thought of the silent auction we have in the Discipling Center today? But I’ll say this – Jesus doesn’t say that money in the church is bad. No, you remember he praises the widow for her gift of money into the temple coffers – that’s the same temple that he is crashing through right now. Money is a part of the way we live life, a part of the way that we express our values. The problem of the temple, and the problem for us, is the love of money, the addiction and distraction of power.
How often we get distracted by power! I think about how it’s easy to think, the Christianity of medieval times is when we had the chance to make things right – we had the majority in every way… and look what it got us! It brought us to the Enlightenment. The Christianity of early America had the chance to get things right – we had the majority in every way, and look where it got us! Many would look on what Christendom has done with the power it has had and say, “You’ve done alright, even good. But not good enough to be called ‘the only way to heaven.’” The Christianity of the 1950’s had the chance to get things right, if you want to talk about it that way. There was social pressure to go to church. The pews were filled to the brim, but look where it got us! I could imagine some saying, “You’re good, but it was Christian teaching and the Christian world that gave way to postmodern thought. We are past that now (have you ever heard people say that? Treat Christianity like an outmoded dated religion?). Christianity has tried to rule by power and failed.”
Here’s the strange and paradoxical thing about our Christianity: a Christian’s calling is to the margins. A Christian’s calling is to give away authority. A Christian’s calling is to upend convention for the sake of love – and let me remind you that our reading is in John, and for John, love is another name for the God-man Jesus Christ, in all of his strangeness and all of his glory…
A Christian’s calling is to remember that (and these are Paul’s words) the foolishness of Christ is stronger than the wisdom of men.
In the second part of our text today, the Jewish leaders said, “Do you have the legitimacy to make this critique? Do you have the credentials?” They call Jesus out to “prove it!” They tell him to give them a sign for the act he just committed.
Prove it! A few years back, I went to the house of a dear couple, a woman who had dementia, and her husband. She was having a particularly bad time. She thought that her husband had left her and that she was all alone in her house with a stranger there. Now, this distressed her husband (who, by the way, had never left her), he tried to prove who he was to her. He showed her his driver’s license. He showed her their marriage license. He showed her pictures from their wedding, pictures of their children, pictures of their decades of life together, but still she said, “I know that’s my husband, but you, you’re a stranger to me.”
So, I came in and sat down. We talked for a time. I heard her story. She ended it all by saying, “My husband left me 3 weeks ago. You’re not my husband. You might look like him, but he left.” What would you do with that?
No amount of proving would change her mind. What we did was something different. I asked her, “Is your husband good to you?” Yes. “Is this man good to you” Yes “Would you trust your husband?” Yes “Do you trust him?” Yes, of course.
As painful as it sounds, as much as we want her to know the little answer, the intellectual truth, the right facts, it is far more important, not that she know it with her brain, but that it affects the disposition of her soul, to trust, to receive care. To be loved. And though the little answers had fallen away, she knew the answer that mattered.
And I tell you all that to tell you this: in our text for today, when the Jews call Jesus out to prove it, when they ask for a sign, when they ask for the little truth for the rightful critique of their commercialism, Jesus points to the sign of the resurrection.
The sign that Jesus gives them, it’s almost as though it was too big. They were looking for fleas and Jesus gave them an elephant. They’re only looking at the physical sign. Jesus was giving them the linchpin of history. They were looking for a healing, or, perhaps, a jug of wine from Cana. Jesus gave them the once-and-for-all only miracle you’ll ever need. They were looking for the destruction of the temple; he was pointing them toward the death and resurrection of God.
Many times, we aim too low. I went to a new high school, started up my sophomore year, so we got to do a lot of fun and strange things. One year, someone donated 20 compound bows, so we had an archery class. We set up the targets, pulled back the bows and shot. And as most of you know, the closer you are to the target, the easier it is to aim. You start getting 20, 50, 70 yards away, and you don’t aim at the target anymore. To get the hang of it, you need to shoot a lot, and you need to aim high.
Many times, as we think of success in a church, we think in terms of dollars and cents. We think in terms of people in the pews, people coming to worship, in terms of participation in meetings, in terms of checklists getting crossed off and positions being filled, when the whole bounty of God’s truth and love and justice and grace are being opened to us day after day, week after week. We sit stoic faced in the back of our church, waiting for the preacher to stop preaching, when in these shallow and inadequate fragile and finite words an unknowable God is doling out the unfathomable riches that only God can give – the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
The calling, the challenge of our God in our text for today is to aiming for what God aims for. I had a recent conversation with my brother where I was lamenting my own great vanity. I can say that a decade ago, I was running about 2 minutes per mile faster than I am now. Now, I know that even in my heyday, I was still nowhere as fast as Al Dekruif in his day, but I was faster than I am now, and that can distress me. Now I was blithering and blathering. But my brother asked me, “Are you healthy?” Yes.. but. No buts. Full stop. You are healthy and that is worth something.
In that moment, he helped me to slow down and see what I was quick to pass over.
In the same way, our God would have us slow down. He would have us remember our worth. He would have us think again how sweet the name of Jesus sounds. He would have us think on what peace and strength come from the cross and the cross alone. He would beckon us to remember that we are shallow and half-hearted creatures searching after a God who has fallen headlong in love with his creation. He would bid us join him on the way of the cross, throw off all the sin that clings so closely, and run the race marked out.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town that remembers how sweet the name that Jesus sounds on a believer’s ears. They find that they need reminding every day that our God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his plans are far more than our plans, and the more that they remember this, the more God imprints his image on their hearts, and the more God imprints his image on their hearts, the less and less they aim at the ground, and the more and more they aim for what God is aiming for, the day when all creation is brought to right.
Amen and amen.
Jesus Speaking Hard Truths
Sermon Series – Jesus on His Way to the Cross
February 24 and 25, 2018
Mark 8:27- 38
Dear Friends in Christ.
On these weekends in Lent, we see Jesus on his way to the cross. Last Sunday, we saw Jesus submitting to baptism by a mere mortal, we saw Him as the Son in whom his father in heaven was well pleased, we saw the Spirit casting him out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, we saw Jesus as both true God at the same time. Jesus Baptized as he begins his public ministry, Jesus tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin. Today we see Jesus speaking hard truths on his way to the cross.
Saying yes just once. It was Sunday, January 21, 2018, at approximately 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time when I said yes to Debi’s request to have a puppy. It had been nine years, seven months, and approximately 15 days since we had laid our last dog Kandi into her eternal rest. I had said “no we’re not going to have a puppy for nine a half years in a row. I had resisted the kind and gentle requests from Debi to think about it. She would talk about how cute and cuddly this puppy would be, I would think about cleaning up the messes and standing outside in bitter cold temperature coaxing her to go poop. She would mention the grandchildren squealing with delight and a fluffy puppy wagging her tail and sitting by the fireplace, I would mention veterinary bills and the monthly cost of replacing chewed up shoes and other treasures. But this afternoon was different, the Vikings were getting destroyed by the Eagles, our daughter Michelle was sending across the nation pictures of one cute little puppy named Gabby, our other daughter Heather was promising to watch over her whenever necessary, but after I had said no for nine and a half years in a row, Debi mentioned that little Morgan was crying her eyes out because Grandpa wouldn’t let Grandma have a puppy…. I said yes just once.
As Pastor Muther would say, I tell you all of that to tell you this. There are all kinds of hard truths that come along with saying yes just one time to a puppy. Saying yes just one time is easy, the road that lies ahead for properly training and caring for a puppy, not so much.
So also for anyone who would dare to say, “Yes, I will follow Jesus Christ.” Saying yes just one time is easy, the road that lies ahead for Christian disciples, not so much. …
31 And he 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.
Hard Truth #1 – Divine love can’t be (sugar- coated). Up until this point in their life together as disciples of Jesus, the road had been full of signs and wonders. The preaching was strong, the crowds were enthused, and the miracles were amazing. Jesus had been driving out demons, cleansing lepers, and healing all kinds of sicknesses. The paralyzed were walking, the blind were seeing, dead people were sitting up and breathing, Jesus was walking on water, thousands of hungry people were getting fed in miraculous fashion. The kingdom of God was near, hopes were high, and the multitudes were getting ready for a kingdom of glory and power to come to their rescue!
Jesus starts the conversation in our text by asking who people were saying he was. The answers came back, John the Baptist come back to life, Elijah come back to life, one of the prophets come back to life. Jesus wonders who the disciples are thinking, and Peter speaks first, “You are the Christ.”
One great task had been accomplished. The disciples had been brought to the full realization that Jesus was divine, He was in fact the very Son of God, the promised Messiah. And now the hard work would begin. From this time forward, Jesus began to teach them that the Kingdom of God was exactly the opposite of what they were thinking. Instead of earthly glory there would unbearable brutality. Instead of military victory, there would be death by crucifixion. As was true in the Old Testament, it was true in the New – if there was going to be the forgiveness of sins, there would have to be the shedding of the blood. This good shepherd wasn’t just going to be making his flock lie down in green pastures and be leading them beside the still waters, he was going to be the sacrificial lamb himself led to the slaughter.
Hard truth #1 today is God’s love for us can’t be sugar coated. Jesus wasn’t one of these earthly kings that swatted down the opposition, he was going to be the one swatted down. He wasn’t going to be the leader of a government that punished evildoers, he was going to suffer in the place of evildoers. He wasn’t going to inflict the death penalty on the masses who deserved it, the plan was for him to have the death penalty pronounced and carried through on him. Life was going to get ugly in a hurry, as ugly as it could get, and Jesus needed those first disciples to understand that.
The same hard truths Christ would have us understand this morning. There are those who would sugarcoat God’s love in these days. They would suggest that God is love, that God loves everyone, and therefore at the end of all time, pretty much everybody is going to be alright. You can call that universalism or you can call that “in the end everybody’s going to be just fine because God is love” movement, but all of that comes crashing down when we hear Jesus teaching that the way of salvation is narrow with few on it, while the road of destruction is wide and traveled by the many…..or by the last verse of our text, “whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Hard Truth #2 – Human love can go wrong (in a hurry) Peter no doubt loved Jesus as much as anybody could love Jesus, but our text for today is proof positive that human love is frail at best and downright embarrassing at worst. One minute Peter is confessing Jesus as the Christ, in the next he is rebuking the Christ for carrying out the very mission for which he was born.
Go all the way back to The Garden of Eden. One hour Adam and Eve are in strong and perfect fellowship with God, no doubt they love their Maker with a strong love, and yet the next hour, they are listening and then persuaded by a talking snake to eat that which is forbidden, they are tasting what it feels like to be ashamed and coming up with excuses. Human love can go wrong in a hurry.
Go to the palace of King David. One night, David is loving God, he is as grateful as he can be for his position and his power, he is presiding over the people of God with honor and dignity, the next night he is summoning a beautiful and a married woman into his bedroom, he is falling into adultery, he is tasting how awful life can be when the devil himself gets ahold of you and you set your mind on the things of man. Human love can go wrong in a hurry.
Fix your eyes on this very communion rail, and see there rows and rows of white robed confirmands. They’re on their knees a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago, 20 years ago, 40 years ago, they are saying yes to following Jesus Christ, but a week later, a year later, dozens of years later, they have wandered, for many of them God is a distant and far away kind of a God, some aren’t even sure if there is a God anymore. Human love can go wrong in a hurry.
The Good News, of course, is that God’s love is for sure, it’s as steady as it can be, it is ours for the long run. God’s love has never wavered, it is the same yesterday, today, and into eternity. God’s love has been poured into our hearts in the waters of Baptism, it has been poured into our hearts in words of absolution, it has been poured into our hearts in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, it has been poured into our hearts again and again in the eating and the drinking of the Supper, and all of it for this purpose – that we would spend our days denying ourselves, picking up our crosses, and following Him wherever He would lead.
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross (daily) and follow me.
Hard Truth #3 – If you’re going to pick up your cross, you’re going to have to (put a few things down). Jesus said it this way to his first disciples, If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well;
That rang true for early Christians who suffered at the hands of Rome, and it rings true in these days as well. According to the Center for Study of New Religions, 90,000 Christians were killed for their believes this past year, one third by Islamic groups such as ISIS. The torture and the brutality, even the beheading of Christians is particularly prominent in countries such as Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, India, and Iraq. Christians numbered 1.5 million in Iraq in 2003, today the number is less than 300,000, and some suggest they will be completely eradicated in that country in the near future.
In our day, in our protected and safe little corners of the kingdom, the crosses we carry aren’t quite as obvious. But it is still true that whenever we suffer for saying and doing what is right, we are picking up our crosses.
And it is still true in every generation and in every locale that if your cross, you’re going to need to put a few things down. For young people, carrying your cross may mean saying no to the party crowd, saying no to sex outside of marriage if you’re going to say yes to Jesus Christ. For husbands, it means laying down your life as Christ laid down his life for his bride. For wives , it means forgiving that which is truly hard to let go. For married folks and single parents raising up kids, it may mean saying no to a crowded schedule so you can say yes to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, for retired folks, carrying a cross may mean saying no to certain purchases and lifestyles so that you can say yes to supporting the kingdom of God. For me, in this Lenten season, (it may not sound like much), carrying my cross may mean saying no to that extra hour of sleep in the morning so I can say yes to an hour of reading, treasuring, and holding onto Holy Scriptures and the promises I have learned from my mother’s knees.
Saying yes every day. The Good News is that Jesus Christ not only said yes to us on the cross, he not only said yes to us in the water of baptism, he says yes to us every day. Christ is, in fact, the yes, he is the amen to every one of God’s promises. Every day, he creates, he preserves, and he sustains us in a thousand and one ways or more. Daily and richly he forgives our sins. Daily and richly he sends his angels to watch over us, he leads us into the green pastures and beside the still waters, he follows us around with goodness and mercy.
The kingdom of God is like a man who understands that if he says yes to a puppy just once, it means he and his wife will be saying “yes, I could do that” every day for a long time to come. It’s like confirmation class students who understand that saying yes to following Jesus Christ on the Day of Confirmation is a lifetime commitment. It’s like a large church in a small town full of folks who go home on a snowy weekend in Lent first of all praising and thanking God for saying yes to them countless times and in amazingly generous fashion. They praise and thank God that he keeps on holding out salvation as a gift no matter how many times people slap it away. They go home determined never again to be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they go home rejoicing in their sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and they go home wondering what it is they need to be laying down these days so that they can be picking up their assigned crosses and following Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dangerous Distractions 2/21
Jesus, Judas, and Money
Matthew 26:1-5, 14-16 // 1 Timothy 6:6-10
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I am not fast. I’ve never been fast, and I am coming to the realization that I will never be fast. But that didn’t stop me from running and from joining Cross Country my senior year of college. I had never run competitively (and even when I was in Cross Country, it wasn’t what you would call competitive). I only beat one guy, now that I look on my records, Brian Valenti, except for one race when he must have been sick, so I came in last.
But, I remember the first race that I ran: it was in Ripon College in Ripon Wisconsin. We had trained for a month or more, and even though it was September, it was hot. 80, 85 degrees, with only a slight wind and lots of humidity. So I remember lining up with everyone else, looking down the line and thinking, “This is going to be a bad race.” And, it was.
It was hot. It was slow. There was just enough wind, that when you went around the cornfields, it could kick up the dust into your mouth, sapping your moisture. I remember at one point I was so far behind everyone else that the critters had started to come out again, and I almost stepped on a garter snake that was sunning itself before it skittered away into the cornfield. But what I remember the most was the humid, close, oppressive heat. Even if you ran, you couldn’t feel a breeze. It was just hot, and there was nothing to keep you from it.
Here’s the point: The heat was a distraction, a very real distraction, that was sapping my will to do what I knew needed to be done. It was a distraction that put pressure on me, luring – more than luring – pushing me to abandon my focus.
With that image in mind, we turn to our text. We don’t now much about Judas, but this we do know: he was one of the twelve. He wasn’t one of the 120 disciples that followed Jesus from town to town. He wasn’t one of the more than 500 people that would come out if they knew that Jesus was near. He wasn’t one of the thousands that came out if they hear Jesus was giving out bread or if they heard he was healing people. He was one of the twelve: one of the few that Jesus had called directly. After he had sent the 500 away, after he had taught the 120, Jesus would take the 12 further and give them special instruction, special time together.
Second, we know that Judas was the money keeper. He had a position of power and authority within the twelve. He was the one who would pay for the Passover expenses. He was the one who would give alms to the poor and pay the taxes.
Third, we know that Judas is the one who betrayed Jesus. There are many commentators and authors that could wonder about this, and we could too – what brought Judas to the point of betrayal? What pressure was on him? Was he psychotic? Was he a bad apple from the beginning? What happened here? But one author puts it this way: “We could guess and explain his actions, but this is what we know: betrayal and money often go together.”
Consider this: how man young men and women enter the business world with high ideals, with a moral compass, with the idea that they are going to do it right? And yet, as they enter the day to day, they find that there are opportunities for them: Stick to their guns, or get ahead. Be true to what they believe, or become one of the boys. Do what they know is right and stagnate, or look the other way, accept the promotion, and become more successful. And the sweet, sweet voice of power and influence start to put real pressure on them – who doesn’t want to feed their family and be more successful? – and they compromise their ideals for material gain, slowly but surely.
And you wonder, what kind of pressure was on Jesus and his disciples here? What kind of pressure would Judas have felt from the powers that be?
We see here in our text that the Sadducees are looking for a way to kill Jesus. Let’s remember who the Sadducees were: they were the ruling class of Jerusalem. They were the ones who had compromised with the Romans just enough to keep their status, some for personal reasons, but others so that they could have a say in protecting the Jewish people. They were the ones playing the teetering game of power, where they fought tooth and nail against the Roman system to maintain their Jewish identity, just so far as they didn’t go too far and upset the system. They were working within the structures of power to preserve the Jewish state. And Jesus was upsetting that.
You remember, Jesus calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers. These were the pastors of the day, the teachers and wise men of their towns, the ones that people would go to for counseling, for marriage advice, for preaching on Sundays, these were the ones who had in a way reinvented the Jewish faith so that it could survive their dispersion to the nations. But for their power without their repentance, Jesus calls out one of the most devout groups of his day to say, if your righteousness doesn’t far exceed that of the Pharisees, surely you will not enter the kingdom of God. He takes the pressure, takes the power structure of his day, and he upsets it; he turns it on its head.
The point is, that the Gospel, the kingdom of God, takes power dynamics and flips them on their head. One author, Tim Keller, calls this the ‘upside-down kingdom.’ “The world’s emphasis on power and recognition seems right-side-up and natural, while Jesus’s approach of service and sacrifice seems totally impossible and unnatural.”
“What Judas and those with him do not understand is that Jesus is indeed leading a revolution, but it is a different kind of revolution, and a much greater one than history has ever seen. What happens in the kingdom of this world is that revolutions basically keep the same old thing on top of the list… money and power and politics always stay at the top… But Jesus isn’t just putting a new set of people in power; he is bringing a totally different administration of reality – the kingdom of God” (188).
The kingdom of God turns power structures on their head. Let me give you an example, from one of the few places where I have experience, in premarital counseling. There’s a point when we turn to husbands to be and wives to be and talk about what wife-ing looks like, and what husbanding looks like. Usually, we start with the husband we go over the biblical language, that the man is the head of the household. He is the one who speaks for the household. He is the one with whom the buck stops…. And many times, the guy will get this look in his eye, “Yeah, I ‘m on top. You have to listen to what I say. When I want bacon, I get bacon. There will be no deviation.”
But it is, to be head of the household, like Christ – laying down his life for his bride, the Church. Headship is the privilege you have to be the first to lay down your life for your bride. Headship is the responsibility to be looking for every opportunity to serve the other. Headship is the calling to never rest until you have done everything that could be done, served in every way that service is needed, listened to every word that your wife is saying to you, and put every one of the needs of your family before your own, so that you might look like a picture of Christ laying down his life for his bride, the Church. Power turned upside-down. Power and influence used for service. To do what your family needs, not necessarily what they want, not what we want them to want, and not what we think they deserve, but to do what your family needs.
And to wives, it is your calling to first acknowledge and receive your man’s service, where he gets it right, and even when he gets hit wrong. Gratefully receive it, and then give it back to him. To do what your family needs, not necessarily what they want, not what we want them to want, and not what we think they deserve, but to do what your family needs.
Every piece of influence we have is a calling to serve. Every bit of power we have is the power to speak for those on the margins, those who are falling through the cracks. Every time that we have an opportunity, it is an opportunity to show that the powers of this world – the heat, the dust, the pressure that they put on – real though they might feel -- do not mean anything in the upside-down kingdom of God.
So, what influence do you have? We all have some. What power do you have? What do you control? These are all callings for us to serve, to do what a person needs, not necessarily what they want, not what we want them to want, and not what we think they deserve, but to do what a person needs.
The kingdom of God turns us around, topsy-turvy. The people of God do not seek power and influence, but when they come, they use them freely. The people of God do not seek honor, but when it comes, they use it freely. The people of God seek those on the margins, those in the shadows, the least of these, because the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men, because my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect, not in strength, not in honor, not in the cream of the crop rising to the top, but it is made perfect in your weakness.
Amen and Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther