Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

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

Tag Archives: gospel

Heresies in The Shack, Part 2 – The Source of Religious Knowledge (and the Nature of God)

A great deal of the movie’s themes are wrapped up in the idea that man cannot know the mind of God.  This is truly Scriptural, as St. Paul writes, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11).  So in the film, Papa (the nickname for God) declares, “You have no idea how much I’m doing right now,” while appearing to the main character, Mack, to be sunbathing.  Likewise, the personification of Wisdom convinces Mack of this moral: God’s job is very, very difficult, so don’t act like you can do what he does.

In the midst of all this unknowability of God’s mind and thoughts, Papa directs Mack (and the audience) to a faith-understanding, or trust, based on feelings.  When Mack asks questions, frequently he is directed to look inside himself and investigate how he feels about it.  Never is Mack directed to the Word of God to understand God’s will.  Instead, the Word is often dismissed and belittled.  For example, when Papa appears to Mack as a large, comforting woman, he asks her name.  Her response is, “I am known by many names.  One of my favorites is Elousia.”  Then, when “I AM” is brought up, Papa jokingly says, “I AM that I AM,” dismissing the Scripturally revealed name of God. The name God reveals of himself in Scripture is therefore dismissed in favor of a man-made name that Papa presumably cherishes because one of his children invented it for him (depicting God as a glorified loving parent who frames up the terrible mac-and-cheese art made by his children, not because it’s good, but because he loves them).

On another occasion, Mack interrogates Papa on why he abandoned his Son Jesus on the cross.  Mack even quotes Jesus’ words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).  Papa brushes this quotation off and says, “You don’t understand the mystery.”  She then shows Mack the nail scars that she has on her hands, seeking to prove that she (God the Father) was with Jesus in his death. (More on this specific event later.)

If this isn’t enough evidence to demonstrate that The Shack directs the audience away from Scripture for God’s revelation, Mack receives his communication from God via an unmarked envelope in his mailbox, not from God’s Word.  St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy: “[C]ontinue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:14-17).  The Shack at least implies that something else is needed to supplement Scripture – and if you’d like to put a name to what that other thing is, it’s “Subjective Feelings.”

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Feasting with God #56 – “Drinking My Tears”

Feasting with God #56 – “Drinking My Tears”

Text: Psalm 42:3-6a

“My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.”

Life is hard.  Bills to pay; money to earn to pay the bills; hours to work to earn the money to pay the bills.  And that’s just the difficulty of material things.  What about the difficulties of emotional distress?  What about depression, anxiety, and everything in-between?  And what about the difficulties of interpersonal relationships?  What about friends who are distant and unable to help, and enemies who are near and seeking actively to harm?  Or what about those oblivious people who are even nearer that aren’t actively seeking to harm you, but by their ignorance do more damage than enemies?

Amid this life of pain and tears, of dullness and apparent meaninglessness, the question is asked, not just by your enemies, but by your own soul, “Where is your God?”  Where is God during trial and hardship?  Why does God allow suffering?  These questions have tormented people for millennia.

This song of Psalm 42 sings of a memory amid suffering:

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.

The memory of the singer is a sweet one, when he would dance in front of the mass of thousands of worshipers coming into God’s house, singing songs of praise to God, all eager and excited to come and worship, to receive the spiritual blessings of God.  The memory’s sweetness serves to make the current situation—he is away from the festivals of praise, he is suffering, he is surrounded by enemies and tormented by them—all the more bitter.  But the memory also serves to encourage him:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Remembering the worship, the hymns he sang, the singer who suffers now encourages himself that he “shall again praise” God.  He recognizes that the situation of suffering in which he finds himself now is temporary, fleeting.  He had a foretaste of the eternal joy and glory he would experience when he worshiped.  The hymns he had sung told his soul that he would sing hymns of praise to God in heavenly bliss.  “Even in this life, we as Christians will travel showing that our citizenship is in heaven, that we’re bound for the promised land.  The Bible pictures our earthly life like a camping trip.  We are just tenting here as Israel did for forty years.  We are waiting to be free from the vanity of this prison house.  Therefore our hope and confidence are not based on how large our tents are here but on the fact that heavenly mansions are waiting for us.”[1]

Remember your worship when you go home.  Remember the hymns we sing, and the joyful message of salvation that they sing to you, melodiously providing the hope of your eternal life when you will sing to your Lord in heavenly bliss.  Let the notes of song lift you above this terrible existence, this foul campground, and provide you a glimpse of heavenly bliss.  Your God has become your salvation in the person of Jesus Christ, who died, taking all our bitter tears into himself, and rose into life amid the joyous song of angels just as we will rise into eternal life to join that angel song.

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy pow’rful hand.
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises I will ever give to thee. Amen. (ELH 262)

[1] Gaylin Schmeling, “Our Citizenship is in Heaven,” From Wilderness to Promised Land (Mankato, MN: Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary Press, 2012), 114.

Feasting with God #38 – Who Are the Laborers for the Harvest?

Feasting with God #38

Who Are the Laborers for the Harvest?

Text: Luke 10:1-3

1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.  2And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.  3Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”

Trees are changing this year, as they did last year and every year before, into fiery and warm colors, while the air around them is growing cooler, and already frost has touched the ground in some places.  It’s this time of year that we can expect to see pumpkins, gourds, corn and other crops freshly plucked appearing on the market, and even decorating our houses.  The seeds that were planted last season have sprouted and grown and produced fruit, and now it’s time to harvest.

This is a picture that Jesus used to demonstrate what the work of the Kingdom of God is.  Seeds have been planted, according to this picture, but the harvest is coming, and the work requires workers.  This is the very work for which Jesus sent out these seventy-two.  They were the harvesters being sent out.

How do we interpret this picture?  Elsewhere in Jesus’ parables the harvest seems to be the picture of the Last Day, when the faithful are harvested to be gathered into barns (eternal life in heaven) while the wicked who have rejected the faith are bundled up as weeds and thrown into the fire (eternal death in hell) (Matt. 13:24-30).  But that’s not the picture here.  The laborers of the harvest Jesus speaks of now are not the angels, for there is a fixed number of angels, and yet Jesus encourages the disciples to pray for more laborers.  These laborers, instead, are the seventy-two themselves, and others who perform the same work of harvesting.  This is the harvesting of souls for salvation within this life.  This is the work of evangelism, of sharing the good news.

Think of what a comfort this picture means: the seed is already planted.  Nothing new needs to be spread out.  The work of evangelism is merely to reap what God has already sown.  This takes a great deal of weight off of the one who is a laborer in this harvest: our task is simple, for we only put into action what has been prepared before.  We only share the Word already written, as Jesus said to his people when he ascended: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).  The message that is proclaimed by the harvesters is not one that we invent.  It is one already spoken by our Lord, by Christ, and we merely teach that same Word.

And this is a necessary work.  Souls cannot be saved if the laborers of the harvest will not do their work.  And these laborers, Jesus says, are few.  So we do pray to the Lord that he will send out laborers into his harvest—but be careful what you wish for!  Those who have received the Word (that is, all Christians), are the ones who will be sent as laborers into the harvest.  If you believe in this Word, you must be prepared to be placed into a position by your God in which you may do the work of the harvest.  You will be placed into a position in which you will share this Word you believe.

And here is where Jesus gives his warning: the laborers of the harvest are also lambs, defenseless, innocent creatures, and the crop they are sent to harvest is also a pack of ravenous wolves who may fall onto these lambs at any moment to tear them apart.  Our harvest is not an easy task of plucking inanimate objects.  We bring the enlivening Word of God to souls which are hardened against it.  There are, in fact, only two types of people in the world: believers and unbelievers.  The believers are the lambs and the laborers of the harvest.  The unbelievers are the field of crop and the pack of wolves.  The work of the harvesters, the believers, is to go into dangerous territory and to seek to make lambs out of these wolves.  This is not only a dangerous task; it is humanly speaking an impossible one.

Praise the Lord that he doesn’t leave us alone to it: even as he sends us out he promises, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).  Paul understood the situation when he wrote, using a different image, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth….  For we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:6, 9).  You see, the responsibility is not laid on our shoulders to actually cause a transformation in the heart.  That is only possible by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Our work is to go into the field God prepares for us bearing the Word; that Word is our harvesting tool, our scythe with which we cut the stalks of the crop, so that souls may be brought into eternal life before God.  This is a blessed task, allowing us to share our joy at our salvation, so that God may bring others the same salvation.

Lord, send laborers into your harvest.  Equip each and every one of us to be such laborers.  Encourage us to know that this work, although dangerous, will never defeat us, for we are guided by you, and the work is actually accomplished by you through us.  Let us be your tools through which you win more souls for eternal life, that the harvest may indeed be plentiful.  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 #27 – A Banquet in Paradise

Feasting with God #27

A Banquet in Paradise

Text: Genesis 2:15-17

15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  16And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Can you picture what life was like in the garden of Eden?  It’s difficult to do so, because we have to put it into terms we understand.  Adam and Eve “worked” the garden.  When we think of work, we think of hours clocking in and out, toiling and laboring to make a buck.  Perhaps we enjoy our jobs, but there are still bad days when we come home exhausted and sore and dread having to go back the next morning.  Many people enjoy gardening, working the ground, getting dirt under their fingernails, being in nature.  But even so, mosquitoes bite, the hard ground makes our knees sore, the sun burns our skin.  The garden work in Eden was without any of this exhaustion or soreness.  That’s hard to picture.

A life without hunger and thirst is hard to picture as well.  Adam and Eve surely never felt hunger pains before the Fall, never were so parched that their lips cracked.  Why would they have the need to eat, then?

God gave our first parents the run of the garden, telling them, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden.”  The world was new!  Adam was experiencing this paradise with the eyes of a newborn.  Imagine how those colors must have struck him, how beautiful!  Think of his other senses: all the sounds of the birds and beasts, of the rivers that came through the garden, the wind blowing through the trees!  All the sensations against his hands, of cool water, warm sunlight, soft animal fur and flower petals, smooth stone!  All the smells, of mud, of flowers and fruits!  He of course would be curious to experience God’s world with all his senses, including the sense of taste.

Imagine tasting an apple for the first time, an orange, a pomegranate, a strawberry.  Adam could explore this home, tasting every part of the banquet God provided for him.  His life would be filled with discovery and rediscovery, never growing tired of the task, never struggling to satisfy a hunger he never felt, never growing uncomfortable because of the food he ate.

God never meant for us to feel hunger-pains.  But the boundary he set—“of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat”—was broken by Adam and Eve.  Therefore the result of their trespass broke in—“in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  Death has entered God’s perfect world, because of sin.  Therefore all God’s creation is corrupt.  The creatures who once lived in peace now hunt and kill one another.  The water that bubbled softly through the rivers to irrigate the garden now floods and drowns.  The food that was once a source only of enjoyment and discovery and fellowship now becomes a necessity for staving off death, sometimes causes stomachache, and is never quite enough, for all men die.

By corrupting the gift God gave man of food and eating, mankind has corrupted all of God’s gifts.  But thanks be to God that he did not abandon us to our fate; instead he immediately began working restoration.  In his Son, Jesus, he took all the corruption of the world onto himself and paid the price for our trespass, “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).  To provide for us the blessings of that payment, among other things (the Word, Baptism), Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, a fellowship meal of his true body and blood that feeds our souls for eternity.  With it also comes the promise of a new paradise in heaven, which is frequently referred to as a great banquet (Luke 14:7-24).

Dear Lord, we have corrupted all the gifts you have given us, and we have brought death and sin into your perfect world.  But despite our wrongdoing, you have provided a way for us to receive new blessings once again, in the work of your Son, Jesus Christ.  Lead us to an ever firmer faith in that Son, and feed us always on the great blessings of your Word and Sacraments, until we may come into the new banquet in paradise with you for all eternity.  In the name of that Jesus 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 #19 – Communing with a Betrayer

Feasting with God #19

Communing with a Betrayer

 

Text: Luke 22:19-23

19And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying,“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.

The Lord’s Supper is often called simply “Communion.” We refer to it in this way because in this meal, as we eat and drink our Lord’s body and blood we find ourselves in communion or fellowship with him. This meal brings us so close to Jesus, it is as though we are sitting down to an intimate dinner with family and close friends.  And not only are we in such close communion and fellowship with Christ, but we are with our fellow communing Christians – those who stand or kneel next to us at the altar rail, those in all other churches around the world, and even those who have died, the saints in heaven.  This sacrament is a sacrament of community, by which we confess that we share in the beliefs and mission of those we commune with.

But the first communion hosted an intruder.  It should have been the most intimate of suppers: Jesus and his closest followers, his twelve disciples.  But among them was the one who would betray their master.

Paul warns other Christians against the same thing in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Whoever, 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” (1 Cor. 11:27).  The Lord’s Supper brings us forgiveness, and where there is forgiveness there is also life and salvation.  These are brought to those who are in true communion with their Savior and with one another, but anyone who eats and drinks as though he is part of this communion and yet is not “eats and drinks judgment on himself” (11:29).  This difference we see between Judas and the other disciples, when we examine their ends.  Judas, who betrayed him, hanged himself in sorrow, unwilling to accept any forgiveness that would be offered to him.  The other disciples, after Jesus’ resurrection, were sent into the mission of their Lord, to make disciples of all nations and baptize them, and to teach them Jesus’ doctrines and truths.  This they did joyfully, because the forgiveness that was offered to them on account of Jesus’ death – the forgiveness tangibly fed to them in this communion, inspired this new life in them.

Let us be aware of the forgiveness we receive in this communion, and of the closeness of our relationship with our Lord and one another.  Judas sought silver to replace all that, but what could be a greater treasure than forgiveness, life, salvation, and communion with God and our fellow Christians?  All that is possible because of the sacrifice Jesus made and the Supper he instituted.

Dear Jesus, thank you for the great gift you have given us in the Sacrament of Communion.  Guide us to see the wonder of the forgiveness, life, and salvation we receive there, and move us into ever closer fellowship with you and one another.  Make our faith and new life sincere, and strengthen it by this Supper.  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 #18 – Our True Passover

Feasting with God #18

Our True Passover

Text: Exodus 12:3b-11

3b[E]very man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.  4And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the  lamb.  5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old.  You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.  7Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.  8They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.  9Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and inner parts.  10And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.  11In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand.  And you shall eat it in haste.  It is the Lord’s Passover.

Passover is almost universally considered to be the highest of all the Jewish festivals.  Every year when it is celebrated, it recalls the first time it was celebrated, when the Israelites were preparing to be freed from their slavery in Egypt.  It is a festival to commemorate the Lord’s providence and care for his people, and his promise for their deliverance.

But this festival has been fulfilled.  At its institution it was designed to prepare the Israelites to be delivered from bondage, and each celebration thereafter was to prepare them again for the greater deliverance.  Look closely at the recipe for this festival, and we’ll see what it means.

Each household was to take “a lamb…without blemish”: a perfect lamb without any defect or imperfections to be found.  Then this lamb was to be killed, its blood used to mark the doorposts and lintels of the houses, then roasted and eaten entirely by the family—and eaten “in haste,” “with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand.”  So, being ready to get up and leave at a moment’s notice, the families were to eat the meat of a perfect lamb whose blood marked their houses.

Of course, we know from the rest of this story in the book of Exodus, at midnight while these people were inside celebrating the Passover, all the firstborn in the land of Egypt were being killed by the angel of God.  But this death passed over the houses that had the blood of the lamb marking them.  This all foreshadowed something greater, and that greater thing has been fulfilled.

The true Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, was killed just after the celebration of a Passover around 2000 years ago.  His disciples had been given his flesh and blood to eat and drink when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.  Then, a night that seemed to last from Friday evening until Sunday morning left Jesus’ disciples in fear.  But when the dawn came on Easter Sunday, their Teacher came to them and led them out of their hiding places, taught them about the joy of God’s deliverance, and told them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).

You see, Jesus was the perfect Lamb of God, whom God selected to be sacrificed for the sins of the world.  Now, those who are marked by Jesus’ blood will be passed over by death, so that our deaths lead only to eternal life.  We come out of our temporary, earthly homes, in bondage to this sinful world, rising to new life in our Lord Jesus.  Because our baptisms have washed us in the blood of the Lamb, we are delivered by God.  Because we are strengthened by the meal of Christ’s body and blood, we are prepared for the journey through this world to our resurrections.

For Christians, the festival of Passover is a reflection of the time that God delivered his covenant people from slavery, and also an illustration of how God ultimately delivered the whole world from slavery to sin.  With our belts around our waists, our shoes on our feet, and our walking sticks in our hands, we can now be ready to go through this world in the confidence of our Savior, who leads us to eternal life.

Dear Jesus, our true Passover Lamb, help us always to look to your sacrifice for our confidence in this sinful world.  Help us to look to our baptisms, to your holy Supper, and to your Word for our strengthening as we march on to our resurrections.  Help us to deliver that same message to others, so that when the Last Day comes, many others may be marked in your blood and brought into eternal life.  In your name we ask all this.  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.

“Finding Christ in the Psalms” Lesson 1

Missed the first class for our “Finding Christ in the Psalms” Bible Study? Never fear! The PowerPoint presentation, along with an audio file of the class, is available to you now.

Instructions:
  1. Download the file: Finding Christ in the Psalms – Lesson 1 – Watch
  2. Start the slideshow: 
  3. Let the presentation do its work (the slides and animations will transition automatically on a timer).
  4. Let us know your questions and thoughts in the “Comments” section on this page.

This class will continue every Thursday evening at 6:00 p.m. at Redeemer Lutheran Church, 125 North St., Iola, WI 54945.  Hope to see you there!

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.