[Luke 7:11-17] Soon afterward [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.
Getting Them Back
I don’t know, in New York traffic, what percentage of drivers stop for a funeral procession. Though I could take an educated guess. (It might be a low number.) Nevertheless, in theory, when you’re one of the ones grieving, that funeral line is a blessing. You have a crowd. You’re not going on your own. You don’t have to watch every turn so closely. You’re being guided along.
If you’ve ever been the bereaved, hopefully you’ve experienced the fullness of all those things that go on around you that are meant to help. Family or friends bringing meals. Sympathy letters in the mail. The funeral home and all the work they do to make things happen. Your congregation and the prayers offered. Visits and phone calls. Also, a sufficient crowd at the funeral and graveside services.
Sometimes all this happens. Other times it doesn’t. Yet, even when it does – even when all that crowd around you does all they can – as much as that may help – they still can’t do for you the one thing you really want. They can’t give your deceased loved one back to you. They can’t even give you one more minute with that person. What you really want, they cannot give.
The dear woman in our Gospel reading this morning had a good-sized funeral procession leading her out of town to the grave site. The Lord does stop for her.
Towns then were often closed in, secured in some way. You went in and out through the gates. As Jesus and His disciples are nearing the gates from the outside, this woman and the crowd around her are heading out through the gates.
The woman is a widow – husband deceased – and pallbearers are carrying her one-and-only son, dead, on what is called a “bier” (pronounced like ‘beer’) – which was essentially a stretcher. Her son is lying on top wrapped in linens.
The crowd processing out with this woman is called a “considerable crowd” – from the Greek you might call this a sufficient crowd. In a good way, this crowd is sufficient. This woman has all the support she could rightly expect from her community on this tragic day.
Maybe this crowd will stick with her for the days to come. Or, maybe she’ll be quickly forgotten. But no matter what they do – no matter how good they may be to her – even the most sufficient crowd is still insufficient for what she really needs. She needs her son back. He’s dead. She wants him back. The crowd cannot do that for her.
But this is exactly what Jesus, the Son of God – God who has become man for us – can do. And so He does. Jesus gives him back.
“When the Lord saw her – when He saw the grieving mother and widow – He had compassion on her – the word means gut-wrenching compassion, the kind you can feel in your stomach – and He said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And He said – He spoke to the dead man – ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”
Jesus gave him back. The voice of Jesus penetrates the dead ears and gives life. “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out” [John 5:28-29].
The Lord has always been raising the dead. He raised the widow’s son in Zarephath [1 Kings 17:17-24] when Elijah called upon His name. Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from death [Luke 8:40-56] when Jairus called upon His name. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead when Lazarus had been buried four days [John 11:1-44]. And Jesus raised this widow’s son. She got him back.
It’s noteworthy that in today’s Gospel, it doesn’t say, “Jesus had compassion on the deceased man” – though certainly He did – but it says, “Jesus had compassion on her”, on the mother. “When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her…” and then He said to the dead man, “Arise”. In the same way, Jesus does not ignore your grief.
The resurrection of our bodies is the answer to our anxieties about death – ours and that of others. Jesus’ own death and resurrection is the answer to our grave.
On my own, death would hold me forever. When Jesus died, death could not hold Him. Instead, the bonds of death were burst apart by His resurrection. Death and the grave now lie broken open forever. Upon His return, the voice of the Son of God will awaken our bodies and we will exit.
We fear physical death and the grave and the failing of our bodies. Yet, there is an even worse death, the threat of which is much more imminent. Death comes from sin. There is physical death and there is spiritual death. Our sins are killing us daily, even as we live. There is resurrection unto eternal life and resurrection unto judgment [John 5:29,24].
Our own sin – our sinfulness, our sinful hearts and minds – along with the wrong we do and the good we fail to do – these kill us daily.
Just as I cannot dig my own way out of the grave, I also cannot free myself from my sinful condition. I need – and have – a Savior. Jesus, God’s Son, suffered both your physical death and your spiritual death - in your place - in His agony of both body and soul on the cross.
Just as Jesus spoke to the dead man in today’s Gospel, and His voice raised the man to life, so Jesus speaks His Word to you and raises you from the death of sin. He speaks to your spiritually dead ears, “I forgive you”. This powerful word of the Gospel raises your soul back to life daily.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” [John 5:25]. Jesus, every day, has the power to raise the dead. To return you to Himself. And to return to Himself, and to you, those estranged because of sin – theirs and yours.
Jesus is able to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” [Ephesians 3:20]. He doesn’t pass us by. He stops for this crowd here every week, restores us to life, and gives us all we need for our grief. Thanks be to God. Amen.
[Matthew 18:21-35] Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Forgiven Much and Many Times
How much and how many times? How often? “Up to seven times?” “No”, Jesus says, “but seventy seven times.”
Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wishes to settle accounts with his servants. As he settles accounts, there is a servant who owes him “ten thousand talents.”
Ten thousand talents. These are not “talents” like when you’re good at somethings. Talented at floor hockey, or talented at math. No. A “talent” here is a measurement of money. We have dollars and cents. They had “talents” and “denarii” and other measurements of money.
A denarius – the plural is denarii – was a day’s wage for a laborer like the servant in this parable. A denarius a day. This servant owed his master ten thousand talents. So how much did he owe?
Doing the math – which I didn’t do; but historians have – doing the math, ten thousand talents is equal to about 200,000 years of wages for a laborer like this servant. Quite a debt!
The point is this: It’s an un-payable debt. His works will never pay it off. Yet it is owed. So, he will lose everything. It will cost him his wife and children – and he will still owe. Unending years after his death, he will still owe. He will never be able to pay it. He will never be able to say, “It is finished”.
This “debt” Jesus speaks about isn’t about money. “Debt” is used as a word for sin in Scripture. As in, “Forgive us our debts…” [Matthew 6:12; Luke 11:4]. The debt is the debt incurred by our sin. We owe a price because of the wrongs we’ve done – and because of the wrong that we are.
There really is a God. We are created. God really does call us to account. He settles accounts and demands payment. It is right and just. We owe God our obedience to His will, His commands. Not our own ideas.
We are in ever increasing debt as we continue to fall short: “None is righteous, no, not one… All have turned aside… no one does good, not even one.” [Romans 3:10-12,23-24]
We owe a debt – a price – for our wrongs in thought, word, and deed. God has created body and soul, mind and emotions, speech and everything else about us. He commands what we are to do and what we are to be. He is judge of our whole person.
The criminal owes. The person who has done wrong owes. And we owe God.
Ten thousand talents. Two hundred thousand years’ wages. An un-payable debt. You cannot work your way out of it. You cannot bargain your way out. And God is not the God we make in our minds who fits who we are. God is the God He is – and He is right and just.
So what is there to do? Is this a forgivable PPP loan or a student loan? Or does our debt to God really require payment? Is there just a more lenient payment plan? Or, does God become our coach to coach us out of it?
Jesus continues with His parable, telling us what the kingdom of heaven is like: Since the servant could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
His master had pity from the heart. Mercy. He didn’t say, “Pay what you can. I’ll cover the rest.” The master forgave His servant in full. He loved him. The debt was gone. The servant owed nothing more. It was finished.
How? Payment is not forgotten. But God Himself provided the payment when He provided Jesus who willingly satisfied the debt with payment of His life. Instead of you, Jesus – the one who tells this parable – voluntarily paid the price.
On the cross, Jesus offered up His perfect life as the God-pleasing sacrifice in place of your imperfect life. And, on the cross, He suffered the full payment owed for your wrongs. On the cross, having paid what was was owed on behalf of the world, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
It is finished. Yet, the servant in the parable, having been forgiven so much, then went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred denarii. One hundred days wages –not a small amount. But it doesn’t even compare to what his master had just forgiven in him.
Yet this servant will not forgive. And, in refusing to forgive another, he forfeits the forgiveness he had received. So will it be for “every one of you,” Jesus says, “if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
The point is not to say that the sins committed against you are a small matter. The point is that what Jesus is asking you to forgive in others does not compare to what God has already forgiven in you.
It is a weightier matter that I’ve sinned against God than that someone has sinned against me, a sinner who deserves hell. As God has forgiven, I also must forgive.
Joseph, in our Old Testament reading, is a man shaped by this love and mercy of God. Joseph was greatly sinned against by his older brothers who, when he was a teenage, threw him into a pit, faked his death, and sold him into slavery.
Later in life, through a course of events, Joseph became a powerful man in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. In those later years, and after their father died, Joseph’s brothers feared him, certain that he must hate them for what they had previously done.
But Joseph, instead of hating them, wept for them, saying, “‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good… So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”
Our Lord Jesus is a man like Joseph, yet even greater. He is betrayed by our sins – yet He says to us, “Do not fear – My death is for your good – I have all authority in heaven and earth to take care of you and your little ones, and so I do.”
Jesus has forgiven us our un-payable debt of sin, and so we also are to forgive those who have sinned against us – much and many times – and are to care for one another. Amen.
[Matthew 18:10-14] “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”
Cherish the Little Ones
Who are the “little ones?” Are they children, literally? Or little ones in the faith? Or, sheep who stray? Or, are the little ones the humble, the lowly? “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.” Or, to say it the other way, cherish the little ones. Who are they?
The little ones are, first, literally little ones, children. Matthew chapter eighteen begins with children. The disciples came to Jesus saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus replied by calling a child forward, putting that child in the center, and saying, “If you were like this child you would be the greatest.”
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus points to a child and is teaching the adults a lesson. Children know they are the children. We adults have to learn that we are God’s children and not assume the place of grown-ups over and above each other.
Nevertheless, Jesus does speak about His concern for literal children in this passage. With that child still standing there, Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me – we receive children in Christ’s name when they are baptized in Christ’s name – and we are to cherish them, not only as our own, but as God’s sons and daughters.
So these next words apply: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin – to stumble – to fall from the faith even – “it would be better for him to have a great millstone tied around his neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Jesus cherishes the little ones. He does not take it lightly when they are neglected.
Causing our children to stumble – even when they’re older – can be by what we do. Our harshness. Our immoral deeds. Or, our negativity and grumbling. And causing children to stumble in their faith happens – maybe most of all – by what we fail to do.
What must we do? We must raise children in the faith at home – and be their examples in the faith after they are out of the home. We must give them a biblical foundation when they’re young. We must teach them and then be their guides and guide them in God’s commandments.
And we must treat them with the love and patience of Christ. And when they fall, we must actively seek to lift them up in the gentleness of the Lord. We must above all tell them – and keep telling them – of Christ undying love for them and His forgiveness of their sins.
Whether your children are young ones or middle-aged ones, they are God’s little ones entrusted to you. You are called by God to cherish them and not to neglect doing these things.
Nevertheless, our chapter in Matthew goes on and it is clear that “little ones” refers to more than children. It is them but more. You have all kinds of “little ones” to be cherishing.
A little one among you might be that one who is fragile in faith. Maybe they are suffering something hard – going through a divorce or they lost a child or some other difficult thing. Like eggshells, you may crush them more easily than you realize by a careless word or mean look. Or by your silence or absence in their life or at church.
Therefore, take time to be good to others – especially those you may not usually converse with – take time to do so. Check in on the absent. And be careful and aware that others may be hurting even when you can’t see it. Assume there are “little ones” around and therefore make it a point to act and speak with the love and kindness of Christ in every interaction. Give good attention to each other.
A little one may also be one who is little in the faith. New to the faith. Just learning. They need a positive church environment like a plant needs light. They need kindhearted explanation about things they don’t know about. They need to see the best side of God’s people.
There are, in fact, little ones in the faith who may have been in the faith their whole life. They’ve always heard the faith, but, for whatever reason, it is just now clicking – it is just now growing. There are always little ones among us. Just as we are all always children.
Also, there are those little ones in spirit. Humble and lowly by nature. Innocent and quiet. Pleasing to God. They are the first to be bruised and scandalized when God’s people show their worst side. Their angels are always before the face of the Father, and God does repay.
Finally, we come to the section of the chapter I read at the beginning of the sermon. The little ones here are clearly who? Sinners. Those who go astray. Jesus teaches us, cherish these little ones – the ones who have strayed – just as He has cherished them:
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”
He is the Shepherd who finds the sheep who has strayed and brings him or her home. To stray is to sin. Elsewhere Jesus says these same words in response to those who grumbled that He was spending time with “sinners and tax-collectors” [Luke 15:3-7]. Immoral and doers of wrong – heaven itself rejoices, Jesus says, when they are returned to God.
To be a Christian who doesn’t like to work with sinners would be like being a doctor’s assistant who doesn’t like working with sick people. You forgot to read the job description. Jesus is a Physician for our guilt, our sins, our inward and outward evils and wrongs – He is a healing hand for us.
He’s the Physician – He’s the Shepherd – you, yes, even you – you are the patient, the sick, the sinner, the one who is straying. He has and is saving you. He calls you to forgive and to be painstakingly patient with your fellow little ones. You are all children to Him.
Jesus – THE Child of God – the Son of God – is the only Righteous One, and He has gone to great lengths to save each of your brothers and sisters in this place. He died for them. And He has died for you. He loves you. He took the millstone for you around His neck and died in your place – suffering the very depths of hell – upon the cross for you.
What He has done for you, He has done for all. God, in His Son Jesus, loves His little ones. He cherishes each of you individually.
The littles ones are those who have sinned. And, lastly, the little ones are those who have sinned against you. In the next part of the Gospel, Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you” – and Jesus shows us how we are to cherish – and not despise – those who have sinned against us by our painstaking efforts to win them back.
It’s about serious sin that endangers their soul – so Jesus says, “If your brother listens to you, you have gained your brother.” It can all be summarized in these words, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” [Galatians 6:1].
Children, the young in faith, the fragile and the humble, the straying sheep, and those who have trespassed against you – they are in your care to do them good and cherish them as Christ has and does cherish you. Amen.
[Matthew 16:21-28] From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? 27For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Glass Mostly Full
“Is the glass half empty or half full?” You know how it goes. If the glass is half empty, you are pessimistic – negative outlook. If the glass is half full, you are optimistic – seeing things in a positive light. Seeing the good in your situation sooner than the bad.
Of course, another option is “unrealistic”. Positive or negative, you may be seeing good or bad that isn’t even there. We often have a very limited view of any given situation in life, and much of what we think of it – good or bad – is actually just what we are imagining about it. Our imagination goes on and on, but imagination is not reality.
A true alternate option to blind optimism or cynical pessimism is faith. Faith in God’s promises.
Christian optimism is not a blind hope. It’s the natural result of believing who God is in Christ. The new man of faith born in you from your Baptism knows God your Father as one from whom we expect every good. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”[Romans 8:32]
And, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” [Matthew 7:11]. And, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8:28]
Our daily bread. Care for our body and our souls. The forgiveness of our trespasses. Every mercy. Every second chance. Every seventy-seventh chance. Out of His fatherly, divine goodness, without any merit or worthiness in us.
Pessimism about the life of the church – or that wild imagination that all is going wrong – and our tendency to have an inflated view of the things going wrong – instead of a confident trust and expectation that God is good to us sinners – comes from our old, unbelieving nature – the old man of the flesh in us – that doesn’t believe God has forgiven our sins and intends to do us good.
Another reason for a negative outlook on the life of the Church in the world is that we are too often setting our minds on the things of men instead of the things of God.
In today’s Gospel, our Lord Jesus tells Peter of the things of God when He speaks to Peter about His cross. “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Peter responds: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Why this outburst? “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
In regards to the Messiah’s role in this world – the role of the Christ, Jesus – Peter had expectations that did not align with God’s purpose. Peter expected the Christ to be a Lord of influence in the world, a Lord of power, a Lord that – in a this-life-centered way – would exercise the greatest dominion, over and above all others.
This is often our same expectation for the Church in the world. That the Church will dominate the culture. That the Church will wield great influence. That the Church will have a place of prominence on the world stage. And when this isn’t the case – or when these realities are in decline – the glass is half empty.
In our own situation, as the Church in this nation, there are two things to consider. The first is this: that the cup is not nearly as empty as we sometimes think it is. There are some serious and negative changes in our world – a rejection of things that truly are of God – and a decline in the Church’s prominence – this is true. Yet, our imagination tends to run wild.
In truth – even with the wrong turns our culture has taken – there has likely never been a time or a place where Christians have enjoyed as much unhindered freedom to speak the things of God – even in regard to all things moral, and especially in regard to the saving Gospel of salvation by faith alone in Christ – as you enjoy even today.
More than likely, most of you, could spend all the time you could find and take advantage of all the opportunities you could – within your vocations and neighborly relationships – and within the life of your church – to speak of the things of God without ever being imprisoned, stoned, starved, or killed. You have freedom that many of your brothers and sisters do not have.
In other words, though there are new wrongs in the world around us, and new difficulties, the Church’s cup in our part of the world is still mostly full. Our pessimism, our over-active focus on the negative, paralyzes us. Our belief that the world is stopping us stops us more than the world actually stops us. If the assumption that our neighbors won’t be receptive to the Word of God stops our mouths from ever speaking, then how will we know how many ears may have actually been open?
Christian optimism believes the promise of God that He is effectively calling sinners to repentance, that He is delivering the lost out of darkness, that Christ’s sheep do hear His voice and will be led home [John 10:3,14,27-28], that God’s Word does accomplish the purpose for which He is sending it [Isaiah 55:10-11]. Faith in God’s promises knows our cup is always full, even under the cross.
And that’s the second thing to keep in mind. Christ’s purpose in the world wasn’t glory. His purpose was not to be exalted on an earthly throne but to be lifted upon a bloody cross for the sins of the world. This won for the guilty a heavenly kingdom. New, eternal life.
Just as Christ’s purpose was the cross, not the throne, so also the Church’s role in this world is a heavenward role, not a role of worldly prominence and earthly influence. The church – the believers in Christ – is a flock of sheep following the voice of their Shepherd and also suffering the cross for His name and for the sake of their neighbor, so some of them can know Him too.
If the Church’s role is glory and a throne in the world, then we are right to be stressed out that her cup isn’t fully full. But if the Church’s purpose is that of the Cross of Christ, then her cup is more overflowing the emptier it gets from a worldly perspective.
That’s easy to say – but the cross is not easy to suffer. We haven’t suffered it much yet. We are still very much like Peter – “Far be it from us!” But that same Peter would later rejoice, in the book of Acts, that he was found worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. By the Holy Spirit’s power, which can subdue our worldly flesh, may we also become men and women of such love for Jesus and His heavenly purposes.
In other words, may God grant it – as only He can – that we would set our minds more and more on the things of God, and less and less on the things of man which are passing away. And may we live with holy optimism, knowing that in Christ our cup is overflowing [Psalm 23]. Amen.
Jesus Heals Ear and Tongue
In today’s Gospel lesson [Mark 7:31-37], Jesus heals tongue and ear. He heals the body and the ability of the senses:
“[Jesus] returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis” – a region of ten gentile cities – “And they brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him. And taking him (the deaf man) aside from the crowd privately, Jesus put His fingers into the deaf man’s ears, and after spitting, touched the man’s tongue” – Jesus uses His own body, His own self, as physical means to heal this man’s ailment – “And looking up to heaven, Jesus sighed and said to the deaf and tongue tied man, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened’ – we see here the power of God’s spoken Word to do what it says - And the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”
We believe in the resurrection of the body and the power of the crucified and risen Christ to make our broken, lowly bodies whole and complete like His resurrected, glorious body. Jesus is the sure and certain hope for those suffering inabilities in their body, senses, or mind.
The healing of this man in the here and now is a foretaste of the full and complete healing we will receive, in Jesus, in the resurrection, at His return. Come Lord Jesus.
This healing of the deaf and tongue-tied man also shows us that we ought to commit every need to Christ – and that we ought to acknowledge the hand of Jesus at work in the medical advancements, procedures, and medicines that benefit us and our neighbor so greatly in the here and now.
God’s fatherly love and care for His creation is active and at work through those medical vocations which help our bodies. God works through His created means. We are effective witnesses in the world to God our Savior when we give Christ the credit and the thanks.
Let’s also be reminded not to take for granted the abilities we have. God gives us our body and soul, eyes, ears, hands and feet, our reason, and all our senses, and still takes care of them. Yet, many people – old and young – lack gifts and abilities of the body that we consider normal.
What’s behind the inabilities and deficiencies of the body or the senses? What’s behind all maladies and illnesses, whether physical or emotional or mental? What’s the cause?
God is not the cause. God did not create malady, illness, deficiency, lack, want, sickness, nor did He create death. God created life and fruitfulness and increase. In God’s original creation there was no death or lack, bodily or otherwise. Paradise was not separate from earth nor was it a thing to come, but it was part of life. Our home.
Death and decline – and the bad effects on our bodies and minds that come along with death and decline, and the deterioration of our human nature – including what the deaf and tongue-tied man suffered in today’s Gospel – these were not created but are the result of what we call Original Sin.
Original sin is not the sins we commit – the deaf and tongue-tied man is not suffering because of some thing he did. Original sin is the fallen condition of the whole human nature, affecting our souls and our bodies.
Man and woman were created in what we call a state of Original Righteousness. Human nature was, by nature, good and righteous. Life, health, longevity, ability, fruitfulness – and eternal life – are the natural result of Original Righteousness.
But man and woman fell into sin. Original sin is the lack, the absence, of original righteousness – the absence of fear, love, and trust in God – and the presence of distrust and disobedience to God.
We are not made from nowhere, disconnected from everyone else. In body and soul, we are all made out of the fallen human nature of those who came before us – our parents and their parents, back to fallen Adam and Eve. Born of the flesh [John 3:3-6].
So, original sin is also sometimes called “inherited sin” – it’s the sin-brokenness inherit in human nature.
Original sin has broken us, not just morally, but physically, biologically. All the hurtful things in life, and the lack of wholeness and health, are the natural result of original sin, of our human nature’s absence of original righteousness. This affects the whole creation. A declining world, no longer paradise [Romans 8:18-22].
But God’s mercy has been at work all the more. God is God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – three persons, one God. God the Son, the Son of God, in willing agreement with the Father, became Man, became Jesus, born of Mary.
Jesus, the holy Son of God, God and man in one person, was a man with what? With the original righteousness we lack. Righteousness instead of original sin.
He is the one and only Righteous Man – who by nature would never die or suffer in body or soul. Yet, on the cross, this Righteous Man suffered all things – in body and in agony of soul – and the Righteous died for the unrighteous - the whole for the broken.
Jesus traded places with us. He traded His paradise for our hell to give us paradise again. The one who loved the deaf and tongue-tied man and healed him using His own body loved all men and gave His body on the cross for all – to be raised for all, giving to us the resurrection of these broken bodies to become like His now risen and glorious body. He has done it.
Jesus, by the death and resurrection of His body in your place, has won for you what we confess at the end of the Apostles Creed – “…the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
At the end of our life, we each suffer the loss of all things – in us and around us. But, in Jesus, this loss of all things is the gateway to the acquirement of better things yet to come – for soul and body.
And Jesus, who has healed our ears and tongues physically, has also healed them spiritually. He has forgiven the sins of ear and tongue – which are so often quicker to listen to and speak of the negative rather than the good.
Jesus has forgiven ear and tongue and is healing our ears and tongues to hear good of one another and to speak to build each other up. To hear with the filter of forgiveness and with love of neighbor.
Jesus begins the renewal of paradise in His baptized people now. He completes it in the resurrection of our bodies – in which bodies we will forever be full of ability, life, completeness, and righteousness.
Thanks be to God for all the good He has done in and through Jesus, here and now, for body and soul, and for eternity. Amen.
[Luke 18:9-14] He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
“God, Be Merciful to Me, the Sinner”
The one said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” The other had said, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other men.”
Have mercy on me, a sinner.
Martin Luther once pointed out – in a slightly humorous way – that each age in life has its own sins, its own temptations. He said, “Young fellows are tempted by girls, men who are thirty years old are tempted by gold, when they are forty years old they are tempted by honor and glory, and those who are sixty years old say to themselves, ‘What a pious man I have become!'” [Table Talk]
An older pastor I once knew said the same thing to me this way – “Every age in life has its own sins. The sin of the elderly is that they don’t believe they’re sinners anymore.” He could say that because he himself was a little elderly.
He said it not to be insulting but because this is the most dangerous sin – not believing that we need to repent. In truth, at every age, the hardest sin to crack is that sin of not believing we’re sinners.
Jesus, our Lord, doesn’t tell us about the old and young in today’s Gospel but about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. This parable is a warning for us at every age in our life – “He told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”
He told this parable to those who were convinced that they were just (righteous). And they saw others as the sinners, as those who need to change.
The Pharisee enters God’s house. He prays, “God, I thank you that I’m not like the other people here. They’ve been dishonest. They’ve been unjust. They’ve been adulterers – sexual sins, failed marriages. And I’m really glad I’m not like this one guy, this tax collector” – “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get”– “I give it my all. I do what we’re supposed to do.”
The Pharisee measures himself according to what he does best and measures others according to their faults. He counts those things in life that he happens to be good at as the things that really count for righteousness – and he looks down on those who don’t measure up to those same handpicked standards.
The Pharisee refuses to see himself in the mirror of God’s Law, God’s Commandments, which certainly show that he is a sinner. And if the Pharisee were hearing this sermon, he (or she) would be saying right now, “Yeah, those other people are just like that Pharisee!” “I’m surrounded by Pharisees!”, says the Pharisee.
“I’m surrounded by hypocrites”, says the hypocrite. No, you’re surrounded by sinners. And you’re in like company. We all have different symptoms, but the same disease. Sin.
This Pharisee is the perfect embodiment of our own sinful nature. THE sin of our sinful nature is that we believe we are righteous by a righteousness of our own and not by faith alone in a Savior. A Savior who only saves sinners.
The tax collector is the embodiment of faith in the Savior.
If we’ve heard the Scriptures enough, we’re used to the idea that the Pharisee is the bad guy and the Tax Collector is the good guy in the parable. But for Jesus’ original audience this wouldn’t be so easy to accept.
The Pharisees were actually respected teachers of the people. They stood for the Law and the customs the people valued. They were known as upright citizens, faithful to Israel.
Tax Collectors, not so. It would be just as hard for them to see the Tax Collector as the good guy in the story as it would be for you to see the IRS auditor as the good guy in your life – (though they might be a good guy!). But the tax collectors in Jesus’ day were notoriously fraudulent, and that on behalf of a nation occupying their own.
The point is, the Tax Collector is not a good guy. He really is a sinner. Guilty of real wrong that would be hard to forgive and look past. Yet Jesus says, “I tell you, this man – the tax collector - went down to his house justified – reckoned righteous by God - rather than the other.”
We are not saved by our works, merit, or righteousness, but by faith in the Savior who has forgiven us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. You don’t measure up. So, you don’t need to convince yourself or God that you do measure up. Instead, Jesus’ work on the cross has measured up for your salvation.
The sinner who went home justified relied on nothing in himself but only on the salvation won for him. “The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”
And there’s more! In the Greek text, there is a definite article – a “the” – that doesn’t make it into the English. This tax collector said, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” He counted himself as THE sinner in the room. “Chief of sinners though I be.” May we all see ourselves this way in God’s house and rely only on Jesus our Savior.
The Temple was the place where lambs without blemish were slain to atone for the blemishes, the sins, of the people. The Tax Collector knew what he was there for. Jesus, the true unblemished Lamb of God, has now been slain for you – He died once for all [Hebrews 7:27; 9:12,26; 10:10; Romans 6:10] – that’s what you’re here for.
Jesus, the only righteous man, took the place of the guilty on the cross. There, He died for your sins. He put away God’s wrath against you by suffering it for you. On the cross, Jesus was counted THE sinner and died to set sinners free.
In response to His love for us, let us thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
Let us not gather to confess other people’s sins, as the Pharisee did. But let us each truly say and sing of ourselves, “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me; Died that I might live on high, Lived that I might never die. As the branch is to the vine, I am His and He is mine.”
At any age, you are a forgiven, redeemed sinner – wholly counted righteous to God through faith alone in Jesus Christ who has died and is risen for you. Amen.
[Luke 19:41-44] And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
The Things that Make for Peace
Peace be with you!
Peace is written right into the rubrics of our divine service – printed in the hymnal – the recommended words for the pastor to end his sermon with are, “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” [from Philippians 4:7].
And in the Service of the Sacrament – after the pastor consecrates the bread and wine at the altar to be the body and blood of Christ – he then turns to the congregation and says, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”
And to end the service: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”
In each case, the liturgy of our service has the congregation respond with “Amen”, which means, “Yes, it shall be so.” The divine service is for peace.
Jesus has come for your peace. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” [John 14:27]
When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter, that evening He showed the nail marks in His hands to His disciples and said, “Peace be with you.” [John 20:19-21]
“Peace” is written throughout the pages of Holy Scripture and is communicated through those same words of Scripture, spoken and expounded upon in the service. The Word of God gives peace.
To give the peace that Jesus gives, the liturgy of the divine service points you to what Jesus has done. We sing, “O Lord, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us. Thou that takest away the sin of the world, receive our prayer.”
In the liturgy, prayers, and Scripture readings - in the hymns, in the sermon, in the words of absolution – we are pointed to Jesus who gives peace.
The peace offered is delivered through the words spoken. “All scripture” – the entirety of the Bible – “is breathed out by God” [2 Timothy 3:16]. The words of Scripture are not mere information about God but are God’s Word – His speaking.
God’s Word has power to do what it says, to accomplish what it speaks. God’s Words of peace and of the forgiveness of your sins – breathed out in the Bible – spoken to you in the divine service – those words accomplish what they say. His Word of forgiveness forgives your sin. His word of peace makes peace.
Peace be with you. Your sins – of this week, this day, this life – are forgiven. Peace.
What’s the source? Two thousand years ago, on a hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, Jesus, God and Man in one person, died upon the cross – not for any wrong He had done – but in your place for your sins. His death in your place, for your sins, made peace – Peace between Holy God and sinful men and women, and children who also sin. Forgiveness. Peace. Jesus did it.
In today’s Gospel reading – Luke 19:41-48 – that peace is about to be accomplished. Jesus has just ridden into Jerusalem – it’s Palm Sunday – He has ridden in triumphantly, not on a warhorse, but on a donkey – a symbol of peace – as the people wave palm branches of victory.
Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem to win the victory of peace for the Jews first, and for the whole world. Upon arrival, as we read, Jesus looks upon that city and weeps. The Lord cries. He is there for their peace. But He knows that they will refuse peace.
“When he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!”
How could they not know? He was their Messiah. All their prophets spoke of Him [Isaiah 53]. Moses pointed to Him [Deuteronomy 18:15]. The psalms in Scripture sung of Him [Psalm 22]. All this in countless passages. He was promised from the beginning [Genesis 3:15]
Yet the things that make for peace were “hidden from their eyes” – they did not see what was right in front of them – because they were not willing. Their focus was upon their own works instead of on God’s promise of forgiveness.
Holy Scripture explains it this way in our Epistle reading: [Romans 9:30–10:4] “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works…” “being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own…”
People are hungry to find peace. But our natural tendency – a symptom of our fallen nature – is to look to ourselves and what we can do, or not do – to be curved in on ourselves – to be always measuring ourselves (or others, their works).
This is seeking it by works – just as the Israelites sought to be right with God by their works and deeds. This fails. We are sinners. What you do – who you are – what you try to become – these won’t give you peace or make you right with God.
What God has done in Jesus Christ gives you peace. He is the good one. He is the one who measures up. His work alone gives peace.
Because Jesus has died for you, God remembers your sins no more and, therefore, is at peace with you. “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more” [Hebrews 10:17]. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” [1 Timothy 2:5-6]. “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” [Titus 3:5].
How is it given? How is it delivered? His peace is with you always in your Baptism. His peace is with you through being instructed in His Word [Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:16]. His peace is with you always, weekly, in the divine service, in the hearing of God’s Word preached, and, for those instructed and prepared for the Supper, in the eating of it.
Baptism, Word, Supper – these are our life-long “things that make for peace” from Jesus our risen, living Savior.
Now, brothers and sisters, I’ll end with this question: Is the house of God where we receive God’s peace also a place of peace among each other? It must be. Because what I, a sinner, receive from God, I also must give to those who have sinned against me – “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Think of the cross. It has how many beams? One vertical beam, going up and down. A second, horizontal beam, going side to side. This signifies that the cross makes peace between me and God – up and down – and that that peace is to then flow side to side to my neighbor.
Considering that I have sinned against God Himself, is it an earth-shattering surprise that someone has sinned against me? No. I’m a sinner against God. Why shouldn’t I be sinned against sometimes?
I hope you can each think this way – because you are each sinners against God, but God has forgiven you. He is at peace with you. He loves you. God even likes you. All because of what Jesus has done for you on the cross.
So, brothers and sisters, the peace you receive from God above in this service, give to each other side to side. And God’s peace will be with you and among you always! Amen.