Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

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Feasting with God #16 – Eating Abominations

Feasting with God #16

Eating Abominations

Text: Deuteronomy 14:3

3You shall not eat any abomination.

Has it ever struck you how strict the diet was for the Israelites?  Sure, today we see things labeled “Kosher,” and we know that Jewish people don’t eat pork.  But I suspect that unless we’re a part of that demographic, the restrictions of their meal plans don’t really stand out.

This verse today from the book of Deuteronomy serves as the overarching theme of what the nation of Israel was not to eat: no “abomination.”  The meaning of this word depends exclusively on the perspective of the person who speaks it, so as God is the one speaking it, what he means is that the Israelites were forbidden to eat anything that God would deem offensive.  Maybe his rules on their food were a little bit arbitrary, but he was grooming this nation to be one that was exclusively his, one to be separate from all the pagan nations of the earth.  The nation of Israel would have the true God, while all these other nations would have false gods.  One way this distinction was to be outwardly shown was through diet.  In worshiping the true God, the Israelites would obey God’s commands for what they were and were not to eat.

Now why don’t Christians follow these dietary laws?  It’s fairly common for Christians to eat things like pork and shellfish, but since we believe and follow the whole Bible, including the Old Testament, it seems we ought to make ourselves aware of these laws and do our best to follow them, so that we can be God’s pious people just as ancient Israel was.  But the answer comes in Acts 10:13-15.  Peter was given a vision of animals, all kinds of animals that would be called unclean or abominations.  “And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’  But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.’  And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’”

This new church of which Peter was now a part was no longer restricted to the nation of Israel.  The Gospel message was to be taken to all nations, and disciples made of all the people throughout the world.  There was no need for a diet to distinguish the people of God’s nation from all the heathen nations, because all nations were to be God’s.  And more than this, these laws of diet were given as a requirement to enhance the holiness of God’s people.  But because of what Jesus had done – keeping all the law perfectly, and dying for the sake of all uncleanness and abomination – there is no need for us to try to save ourselves by any law.  We are saved by grace and faith.  This is given to us freely, and that sets us free.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” Paul writes (Gal. 5:1).  No laws can burden us, no special diets are required.  Instead, now, we are free to live and act in love – free to “eat or drink, or whatever you do,” but in every case, whatever we do, to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

Yes, there are still things that will distinguish the Christian Church from the rest of the unbelieving world, but it’s not obedience to any law.  Instead, what set Christians apart are the fruits of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23).  We live free from all laws, so we live in love toward God and one another, and that – not what foods we eat or don’t eat – marks us as God’s people.

Lord, guide us to a greater understanding of our Christian freedom, and to an appreciation for what a great gift it is you have given us.  Although we are no longer bound by any laws, O Lord, lead us to submit ourselves to the law of love, in which we can share the Gospel message of your Son who set us free, that others might also rejoice in this freedom.  In your Son’s name we ask it.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #15 – The Tree Is Known by Its Fruit

Feasting with God #15

The Tree Is Known by Its Fruit

Text: Matthew 7:16-20

16[Jesus said,] “You will recognize them by their fruits.  Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  17So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  18A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.  19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  20Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

I can remember, when I was little, my parents and I would walk around town, and occasionally there’d be a bush with some bright red berries growing on it.  I only ever had to ask once whether I could pick some to eat, though, because the danger that the poisonous fruit posed was impressed upon me by my parents.

It’s important to know what kind of food is good for you, and what might be not so good, or even dangerous.  In the text above, Jesus was speaking of the danger that is posed by false prophets.  In today’s world, when a buffet of teachings are easily accessible from the library, T.V., the radio, and the internet, this warning is all-too applicable.  There are some good and nutritious teachings, but mixed in with them are some poisonous and deadly ones.

But we can know what to watch out for if we pay attention to the fruit.  As a child, I didn’t know the difference between a delicious cherry and a poisonous little red berry.  Thankfully, my parents were there to teach me the signs.  In the text, Jesus demonstrates to us that we also need to be able to recognize the signs: “You will recognize them by their fruits.”  What fruits are these?  They are what the various preachers and teachers do, how they live their lives—but more than this, it is what they preach.

St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).  That’s how we are to judge whether what is being preached to us is healthy or poisonous: does it match up with the true Gospel that we already know?  Does the preacher tell me of my sins?  Does he point out how inherently flawed is human nature since sin entered the world?  Does he emphasize above all this the work Christ did to live a perfect life, and then to die on the cross in my place?  Does he tell me that that Jesus Christ rose again from the dead, to lead me and all believers to new life in him?  Does he tell me that I am promised by God, out of no worthiness on my part and due to nothing I have done or ever can do, that I will live eternally in heaven?  Does he tell me of grace alone?  If to any of these questions the answer is “No,” then recognize that fruit, and avoid that teaching.

God wants to feed our souls.  He is personally concerned for our spiritual well-being.  Because of that, he has created a garden for us to live in, where we can find plenty of nutritious fruit to strengthen our faith.  It’s like a new Garden of Eden, and we can take the fruit of his true and saving Word, of his Baptism, and of his soul-nourishing Lord’s Supper.  These are the healthy fruits, and they are given to us by healthy trees.  Avoid the poisonous, diseased trees and their deadly fruits, holding instead to these gracious things of God.

All the true and healthy trees—the pastors, teachers, and loved ones who tell you the Gospel Truth—are planted as branches of the vine of Christ, as he says, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5a).  When we cling to that truth, therefore, we become branches as well, and of us Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b).  Nourishing ourselves on these true things, we grow strong in our foundation in Christ, and are also then enabled to bear fruit to nourish others.  In this way, God feeds his people on earth.

Hear the prayers of your people, O Lord, who desire to be grounded in your saving truth, to be nourished by your gracious Word and Sacraments, and to serve you by bearing fruit to others.  Do not abandon us to the wolves and diseased trees, but keep your Word and Sacraments with us forever, for in them we come to and remain strong in our faith in your Son, who lived and died for us.  In his name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #14 – When You Fast

Feasting with God #14

When You Fast

Text: Matthew 6:16-18

16[Jesus said,] “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  17But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Fasting, or giving up some or all food for a period of time, was a practice common among the Jews of the first century, intended as an exercise to focus one’s mind in prayer or spiritual discipline, or to punish oneself for sin.  However, the practice was often misused hypocritically.  Some would fast, but not to focus their minds or discipline their spirits; they fasted so that other people would notice and admire their spirituality.  In the text above, Jesus was pointing out this hypocrisy, showing how it really defeated the purpose.

Any spiritual practice—not just fasting, but praying, attending church, doing charity work, or anything you can think of—is not something that a person should do to gain admirers.  These spiritual practices are to be done because one feels the need to come closer to God.  That’s why Jesus emphasizes, “that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.”  In the same vein, Jesus said, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:3-4).  When we do good things as Christians, we don’t do them to impress others.  We do them because we truly, sincerely, want to do these things out of thankfulness for God.

In this season of Lent, fasting is a common practice.  Some people give up meat for these forty days, only eating the occasional fish.  Some people give up certain meals out of their day.  Among others, “giving up something for Lent” is a common practice, and they forego video games, T.V., internet, sugar, or any number of other things for the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Notice that Jesus does not say that fasting is a bad practice—in fact it seems that he assumes that his disciples will fast.  But if fasting is not done properly, one might as well not do it at all.

Think of the idea of “giving something up” for God.  Realize then what God gave up for you: he sent his only Son to live as a weak human being, to suffer the worst tortures, to die the death of the worst criminals.  Jesus suffered hell in our place, “giving up” the right to stand in God’s presence (as he said on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Matt. 27:46]).  What can we give up that would be worth all that?

Fasting is a fine practice, if it is done correctly and sincerely.  Jesus explains what that looks like above: “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.”  This is as much to say, “Take your regular shower in the morning, brush your teeth, wear your regular perfume or cologne, and dress as you normally would.”  Essentially: Don’t give any indication to anyone that you’re fasting.  The only ones who should know are you and God.  To bring the focus of your fasting on yourself, steals the concentration of others away from where it should really lie: on Jesus.  If we focus on what we do, we miss the point.  Rather we should focus on what Christ has done.

Christ fulfilled the law in our place, because we could do nothing to pay the great debt of sin we owed—not even fast.  And Christ died in our place, because we deserved the punishment of hell for all our sins which defiled God’s law.  And Christ rose from the dead for us, proving that all those payments have been made, and eternal life now awaits us, because death is destroyed.  Let what Jesus Christ has done for us be our focus this Lenten season, and always.

Dear Father, to you belongs all praise, honor, and glory forever.  May our deeds reflect your mercy and your glory.  Lord Jesus, from you have come all blessings, for you and you alone have kept the law.  May our lives now be lives that reflect what you have done, because of the great blessings we have received from you, although we deserved none.  Holy Spirit, through the Word and Sacraments you continually bring us the grace won by Jesus and the faith to believe it.  Let those gifts strengthen us in our new lives, so that we may praise our God and live in thankfulness to you.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #13 – Feasting in the Heavenly Kingdom

Feasting with God #13

Feasting in the Heavenly Kingdom

Text: Matthew 8:11-12

11[Jesus said,] “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

See in these words a blessed picture, and also a stern warning.  Jesus had just encountered the faith of a Roman centurion, and marveled at its strength, saying to those gathered around, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matt. 8:10).  This was a significant statement, and pointed out the biggest problem in the Jews’ way of thinking.

The Jews, those genetically of Israelite descent, believed that because of their physical heritage they would inherit all the blessings promised to Abraham, their ancestor.  But Jesus here was telling them, Your genetic heritage does not matter, if you don’t have faith.  This point is punctuated and emphasized when Jesus said that “the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.”  The great sin of these Jews was that they believed that their ticket to heaven was guaranteed, that they were entitled to it by virtue of their ancestry.  Here came Jesus’ warning: they would receive a rude awakening.

The “many” who would “come from east and west” are the Gentiles, the non-Jewish nations, those who could not trace their physical ancestry back to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.  Many of these Gentiles would be the ones given the right to “recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”  While the Jews believed in maintaining the purity of their bloodlines, and valued their racial birthright as the most important thing, Jesus was telling them that that really didn’t matter: what got someone into this kingdom and this heavenly feast was faith alone.

The Jews could not understand what faith they were to have.  They believed in the power of their bloodlines.  Paul writes about the imperfect way the Jews understand the Scriptures, how, “to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away” (2 Cor. 3:14).  Only if we read the Scriptures and understand that they point to Christ—only through our faith in Christ—do we receive the grace and forgiveness that the Word of God gives.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all had this faith, that God would indeed bless all nations through their Descendant, and that salvation would come for all people through them.  And that faith is realized in Christ—he was the one promised who would save the world through his death in our place; and now we who believe in his salvation are those “many” who have received the ticket of faith granting us the right to “recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

Already at our baptisms, at the very moment faith is nurtured in our hearts by the Word, we are placed into the kingdom of heaven.  On earth we walk in Christ’s body, the Church, partaking of that heavenly feast of the Lord’s Supper, which strengthens that faith and grants us continued forgiveness of our sins; and that lets us look forward to the greater fulfillment of the heavenly feast, when after this life will come our eternal life in a glorious heaven, sitting at the same table as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as Moses, Elijah, all the apostles and martyrs, our Christian loved ones, and even God himself!

Lord, give us the grace to rely on nothing in ourselves, not our genetic heritage, not our stations in life, not our works of piety.  Instead, O Lord, direct us to the places you give us your grace and forgiveness freely: in baptism, where our sins are washed away, in your Word, where the message of your Son is declared and our faith is established, and in your Supper, where we have a taste of the heavenly feast to come.  Keep us in that heavenly kingdom while we live here on earth, and when our last hour comes, bring us to the full and glorious kingdom of heaven in your presence.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #12 – To Prepare Me for Burial

Feasting with God #12

To Prepare Me for Burial

Text: Matthew 26:6-13

6Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7a woman came up with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.  8And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?  9For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”  10But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman?  For she has done a beautiful thing to me.  11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.  12In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.  13Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

What gifts do you have that you can give to Jesus?  He has taken all your sins on his head, and accepted the punishment that should have been yours.  What can you do to repay him?

The text above finds Jesus in the home of Simon the leper, one of the many Jesus had healed while on earth.  Simon, out of thanks for what Jesus had done for him, was providing his Lord a meal.  And as the disciples were all there eating, this woman came in with very expensive ointment and poured it on Jesus’ head.  The disciples thought this was a waste.

It would indeed be a fine and loving thing to have sold that perfume and given the money to the poor, but what this woman did was a far greater thing.  She knew of Jesus, and knew what he would do for her.  She had faith in him, and her faith is what drove her to pour this oil on Jesus’ head.  This woman, like all the rest of us, was saved by Jesus, was granted forgiveness for all her sins, and therefore was rescued from hell.  What gift could she give that was worth all that?  This simple act was the greatest thing she could have done, as Jesus said, “In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.”

When a person died, he was prepared for burial by having some sort of perfume poured over his body.  This was done mostly to mask the stink of death.  And as we see later in the Gospel, after Jesus had died several women “went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared” (Luke 24:1).  They were going to pour these spices and perfumes over Jesus’ body, as the tradition demanded.  So this woman in our text today was planning for the same thing.  Pouring the oil on Jesus’ body, she was pointing ahead to his burial.

So really, the act of this woman was an illustration proclaiming the Gospel message.  By pouring the perfume over Jesus, she demonstrated his death.  He would die, and he would be buried.  Jesus defends her against the disciples’ disapproval, because her action points to the action he would take in saving the world.  In a sense, she served as a sermon illustration for Jesus.

Do we have anything we could give Jesus that is worth the great gift he gave us?  No.  But Jesus doesn’t ask us to give him anything.  We have that gift from him, our forgiveness, free of charge.  But because this gift is so massive, we can show our thanks for it in any way we are able.  Out of faith, we can give thanks by how we live our Christian lives.  That may mean giving aid to the poor, but more than this, it may mean pointing to the death of Christ: telling others about the Gospel message.  We can say the words of the Gospel: “Jesus Christ died for you”; and we can live as a sermon illustration, showing through our lives what that Gospel means for us.

Dear Lord Jesus, we can’t thank you enough for the great gift you have given us, winning forgiveness from sins, eternal life, and salvation.  We receive this gift in faith, and we live our lives now devoted to you.  Use our lives to spread the message of the Gospel, to extend your kingdom, and to bring more to forgiveness and faith.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #11 – Worthy Partaking

Feasting with God #11

Worthy Partaking

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:27-29

27Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  28Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

God’s people have been blessed with a glorious gift.  The Lord’s Supper was instituted for our blessing, so that whenever we eat or drink of it, we receive the forgiveness of sins that Jesus’ very body and blood won on the cross.  Who would ever wish to ruin such a wonderful gift?

But in this text St. Paul gives us a warning: if anyone eats or drinks “in an unworthy manner” he is “guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.”  The guilt here ought to be given its proper weight.  Rather than receiving forgiveness, those who eat and drink unworthily are sinning and racking up guilt.  This guilt is guilt against the body and blood of the Lord, which means that those who eat and drink unworthily are guilty of the same sins that the Pharisees and Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers were guilty of: of crucifying the Lord.

Consider those guilty of killing Jesus.  They looked at the cross and saw a man whom they had killed, and many thought he deserved it, while some knew that he didn’t but were happy nonetheless because his death meant something good for their positions.  Those who looked at the cross that way were guilty of killing God.  But consider those who follow Jesus.  We who believe who he is and what he has done for us look at the cross and see his selfless act which won our salvation, and so we are no longer guilty of any sins.

This is the same as those who eat in an unworthy manner.  No, that doesn’t mean those who eat or drink sloppily, or without shaving first or putting on their best Sunday clothes.  Those who eat unworthily are those who have not properly prepared to eat and to drink this holy meal, and those, as Paul says, who eat “without discerning the body.”  Those who do not believe that what they are receiving is the true body and blood of Christ, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins, are the ones who eat unworthily.  Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, wrote, “He is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins.’  But he that does not believe these words, or doubts, is unworthy and unfit; for the words ‘For you’ require altogether believing hearts” (SC VI, 10).  It is the eyes of faith that makes one worthy to receive this sacrament.

Be prepared, therefore, when you next receive the Lord’s Supper.  It is a blessed gift for you.  It is Christ’s own body, which was born from Mary and then was hanged on the cross.  It is Christ’s own blood, which bled from his hands, feet, and side.  And it comes to you with the forgiveness that his life, death, and resurrection accomplished.  Stand in wonder of this gracious gift, that you may always receive it worthily.

Jesus, Sun of Life, my Splendor,
Jesus, Thou my Friend most tender,
Jesus, Joy of my desiring,
Fount of life, my soul inspiring—
At Thy feet I cry, my Maker,
Let me be a fit partaker
Of this blessed food from heaven,
For our good, Thy glory, given.  Amen. (TLH 305:7)

 Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #10 – Feeding the Five Thousand

Feasting with God #10

Feeding the Five Thousand

Matthew 14:16-21

16But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”  17They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.”  18And he said, “Bring them here to me.”  19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing.  Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  20And they all ate and were satisfied.  And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.  21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Did you notice that, at the end of this passage?  We call this story “The Feeding of the Five Thousand,” but that’s not entirely accurate.  Five thousand was only the number of men there: there were women and children besides.  So this may very well have been “The Feeding of the Ten Thousand”!  But it doesn’t matter how many people were there.  It was an enormous number, and Jesus performed a great miracle.

A similar miracle he did at a separate time.  In Matthew’s Gospel we find “The Feeding of the Four Thousand” just a chapter later, and there as well he says, “Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children” (Matt. 15:38).  Twice, great crowds of thousands of people followed Jesus, and Jesus had compassion on their hunger, so he performed a great miracle to fill their stomachs.  So this miracle ought to teach us how Jesus is able to provide for our bodily needs.

But Jesus’ care for our needs does not stop with our physical hunger.  He fills our spiritual hunger as well.  Jesus had been teaching these people for days, and when he went off to be alone, they followed him (Matt. 14:13).  But rather than be annoyed, Jesus recognized their need and knew he could fill it.  So he continued to teach them, and to make them able to remain with him, learning from him, he provided for their stomachs.  Jesus is the provider for both body and soul!

Beginning with five loaves of bread and two fish, and ending with twelve baskets full of leftovers, Jesus proved how far his almighty power extended: He is God!  In fact, if he wished, he could have simply created the food out of thin air, made it miraculously appear in their laps, or even in their stomachs so that they were immediately filled and no longer hungry.  But the way he performed this miracle was purposeful.  He began with material the people could see, and the miracle expanded outward from that point.  This is the way God always deals with people: he humbles himself and stoops to our level, so that we can see him and his working.  This is what he did when Jesus became a human being, conceived in Mary’s womb, and then born in a stable.  This is what he does in baptism, using the water that is washed over us to wash out our very souls.  This is what he does in the Lord’s Supper, using simple bread and wine to bring to us his very body and blood with the forgiveness of sins.  And this is what he does in his Word, using language that we human beings can understand, remember, and believe, in order to teach us his truths.  So in this miracle of bread and fish, Jesus demonstrated his power, as well as his humility and care.

Lord, we thank you that you provide for our every need, both physical and spiritual.  We praise you that you decided to look upon us with compassion and to come to our aid.  Continue to come to us through these means that you have promised to use, so that we mere humans are able to see you, hear you, taste you, and feel you.  Daily, we ask, bring to us all your blessings to feed us on our daily bread, and to forgive us all the sins we commit each day.  We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #9 – Bread Alone

Feasting with God #9

Bread Alone

Matthew 4:2-4

2And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  3And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  4But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

After Jesus was baptized, he went out into the desert with a very distinct—and very odd—purpose: “to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1).  He had just stepped into his public ministry, had just revealed himself to people as the promised Messiah, and his first public act was to seclude himself in the wilderness and to face temptation.

For forty days and forty night Jesus went without food.  Luke says, “And he ate nothing during those days” (4:2).  It seems impossible that someone could go so long without food and still survive, let alone walk and talk.  And yet Jesus was not only true man, but also true God, and his divine nature, with all the power of the Son of God, could have sustained him through this time.  But do not let that detract from the trial Jesus underwent.  The Gospel writers tell us that “he was hungry.”  And so it was from this angle that the devil made his first attack: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

It would not have been wrong for Jesus to make food for himself in the wilderness, but here the devil is asking for proof of his divinity.  To do what the devil said would first of all have been to obey Satan rather than God.  And, more than that, it would have demonstrated a lack of trust in God.  Jesus knew God’s plan: that he was to come into the wilderness and be tempted, even as all we human beings are tempted, and so earn the perfection that we could not.  Later that perfection would become ours when this perfect Jesus would die the punishment for all who were imperfect.  On the cross he took what we deserved for every time we listened to the devil and followed the desires of our sinful natures, and he provided for each of us the reward for never obeying the tempter’s voice.

Jesus suffered this bodily hunger as an illustration, to make clear the statement Moses made in Deuteronomy 8:3: “that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  Jesus, refusing to put his bodily needs over the spiritual needs of the whole human race, demonstrates for us that we, even amidst our temptations and our sufferings and hunger pains, we are safe and secure in the life we have because of the Word of God.  It is in that Word, in fact, that the reward Jesus won for us actually comes—when we hear and read and recite and believe the words of Scripture, Christ’s holiness comes into our hearts, and we are fed on that Word and nourished not merely for an earthly life, but for an eternal, heavenly life.

Lord Jesus, thank you for bearing up under temptation when we could not.  Thank you for providing perfection where we earned only damnation.  Thank you for blessing us with your Word and your works, through which we are saved and come to be sons of God.  Bear us up as we continue to face temptations and suffering, and never let your Word be taken from our presence.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #8 – The Wedding at Cana

Feasting with God #8

The Wedding at Cana

John 2:6-11

6Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  7Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”  And they filled them up to the brim.  8And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”  So they took it.  9When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”  11This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.  And his disciples believed in him.

Wedding receptions are meant to be joyful events.  The feasting and the drinking of wine are all intended to honor the estate of marriage, and specifically to commemorate the joy of the now-wedded couple as they enter into their new life together.  It would have been rather awkward, therefore, at this wedding in Cana, if the wine ran out at an inopportune time.  No, the bride and groom wouldn’t have been driven out of town for failing to supply adequate wine, but they definitely would have felt embarrassed, and been viewed in an embarrassing perspective by the guests.  When Mary initially came to Jesus, she had the comfort and well-being of the happy couple in mind.

And Jesus, too, had sympathy on them.  Really, this is the point of this miracle.  Throughout his ministry on earth Jesus had sympathy on those in need.  He felt what they felt, and he yearned to make them better.  This miracle, being “the first of his signs,” was where he began to show the public who he was, what power he had, and for what purpose he had come.  From here on out, Jesus’ sphere of influence really began to radiate outward into a wider and wider circle, but for now, his blessings came upon a simple family, a newly wedded couple.

John takes note first of all of the immense quantity of wine that was made: “six stone water jars… each holding twenty or thirty gallons each holding twenty or thirty gallons.”  Then, he also notes the remarkable quality of that wine created by Jesus: “You have kept the good wine until now.”  This was a very fine wedding gift granted by Jesus to the happy couple.  And it foreshadows the rest of what he would accomplish here on earth.  Jesus’ work was the salvation of mankind; in other words, Jesus came to transform the plain and grimy nature of man into the holy and glorious forms made in his image; he came to take what was base and unworthy of consideration and turn it into something noble.  This he did with the water used for ceremonial washing, turning it into wine, and this he did with our sinful human natures, turning them into his own righteousness.

It has been said that Jesus joins us in all our sorrows, all our joys, all our temptations (cf. Hebr. 4:15).  At this wedding he sought to join in the joy, and to enhance it.  He came into this world to increase our joy.  What joy can be greater than that of the knowledge of our salvation, won for us by the one who lived a perfection we could never reach and then died to take the punishment meant for us?  This miracle is called by St. John a “sign,” and what it signifies is both the divine power of Jesus as god, and the great delight he takes in lending a helping hand to his fellow man.

Dear Lord, you have suffered as we have suffered, and you have rejoiced as we have rejoiced.  But never let us lose sight of the great joy we have since you have won for us the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation from a wicked world.  Let us look on this your first miracle as a sign of your divine omnipotence and so find we can trust in you, and also as an indication of your great love for us, so that we can come with confidence to you in prayer for all our needs.  In your blessed name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #7 – What Comes Out of the Mouth

Feasting with God #7

What Comes Out of the Mouth

(Fountain for ceremonial hand washing before entering a synagogue)

Matthew 15:17-20

17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?  18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  20These are what defile a person.  But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.

One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year is to lose weight, or to eat healthier.  Many people are very concerned about what they eat, because they know how different nutrients affect their bodies.  In Jesus’ day, there was another idea about the food one takes into his body, and the way he eats that food.  The Pharisees and Jewish leaders had very strict regulations about how a person was to take his meals in order to live the holiest life he could, to cleanse himself of sins, to purify himself.  But Jesus told them and his disciples that what goes into a person’s body makes no difference spiritually.  It is what comes out that defiles.

Since Adam and Eve fell into sin, all humanity is corrupt through and through.  Because of sin’s beginning, we cannot help but sin.  We are full of sin.  This is what Jesus means when he says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.”  We wash our hands before we eat to avoid ingesting harmful bacteria and materials.  But what really needs washing is our hearts, our very souls.  The most deadly bacteria lives in our veins.  This sin that has become a part of our very existence will not only cause us to die and leave this earth, but it causes us to die eternally, forever separated from our heavenly Father.  This sin, which festers in our hearts, manifests itself in actions, words, and thoughts that are harmful to ourselves and others, and omission of actions, words, and thoughts which would be helpful to ourselves and others.  Because our hearts are so filthy with sin, everything we do becomes sin.

It is easy enough to wash our hands.  We have water and soap: simple things to find and use.  But how can we wash our hearts?  The answer, again, is water, but water and the Word.  Through baptism, which takes the Word of God and applies it to the water, our hearts are washed clean of sin’s impurities, and we are given forgiveness, new life, and the salvation that Jesus Christ won for us on the cross.  Jesus’ heart was never corrupted by sin, and he never committed an evil act.  Yet he suffered the punishment for the sins all of us committed – he suffered hell’s torment.  When we are baptized, we receive faith in him which is what takes ahold of what he won: perfection.  Yes, while we live on this earth we still commit “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander,” and other sins.  But because of our faith in Jesus and what he has done, because our hearts are washed clean, we face no punishment, but rather reward.

Dear Lord Jesus, continue to come to us through your Word as you came to us in our baptisms.  Let our hearts each day be made pure toward you, prepared to leave behind our sins and go forward in the doing of good works in your name.  Let us rely not on ourselves or on our own abilities which are themselves corrupted by sin, but let us rely instead on you and your Word of promise.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.