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[1 Samuel 3:1-20] …And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” 11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.13 And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”


Too Lightly Corrected

Who is this young man, Samuel? When did he live? Where and how did he serve? Samuel, a young boy in today’s reading, grew from here on out to be a great judge and prophet of God’s Old Testament people, Israel. When was this?

The time is a little less than eleven hundred years before Christ, around 1080 B.C. This is about four hundred years after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt. They then entered the land promised to them, the land of Canaan. By God’s command, they drove out many of the nations who were there before them.

After the people of Israel had settled in the land, they were ruled, not by kings, but by judges, deliverers, whom God raised up every so often to deliver them from their enemies. So, this is after the people had settled into the promised land – Moses and Joshua are long gone – but figures like King David and Solomon are not yet around, not quite yet.

The time period of Samuel’s life and service to God is at the tail end of the period of judges, as they transition into being ruled by kings. Samuel himself rules as a judge, yet as a prophet he also anoints the first kings of Israel, Saul and then David.

But right now, Samuel is a young boy. He is serving in the tent of meeting, the tabernacle, that served as Israel’s temple in a city called Shiloh, years before the center of their religious life eventually moved to Jerusalem and the Temple built later there by King Solomon.

Samuel lives in the tabernacle and serves the Lord from childhood onward because he was dedicated to the Lord by a vow that his mother, Hannah, made. Hannah was barren. She had no child, though her husband’s other wife did. Hannah was distressed. She prayed in the tabernacle for a chid and vowed to the Lord that, if He gave her a son, she would dedicate that son to Him.

The priest Eli tells Hannah that God has heard her prayer. And God had. God granted Hannah a son. Hannah, after weaning the child, hands her son, Samuel, over to the Lord to serve God for life. Year after year, Hannah visited Samuel at the tabernacle where he grew and served. Each year she made a new linen robe for him. There Samuel stayed, being raised in priestly service.

Samuel was raised in priestly service, but was not like the priests. The leading priests at the time were Eli and his sons, who are referred to as worthless men. Eli’s sons, priests in the tabernacle, lived in sexual immorality even as they served the Lord. They also stole portions of the sacrifices for themselves, and took for themselves the best portions which were meant to be offered alone to the Lord.

Eli, though he did correct them by word, corrected them too lightly and did little about it. He allowed his sons to continue to serve, even as their service was really treachery and blasphemy against God. Eli’s first love was not God but the approval of his sons.

Eli corrected them too lightly, the blasphemy continued – God’s name continued to be dragged in the dirt by their actions – and God judges Eli for this.

In our time, what is God’s temple? Who is judge, prophet, priest, and king? We know that Jesus Himself, God’s Son made man, is our Judge, our final Prophet, our once-for-all High Priest, and forever our King. He alone has done it right and is perfect.

And Jesus has made your body the temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, by His sacrifice on the cross, made purification for your sins and washed you clean in your Baptism. Now you yourself are set up as a dwelling place for the Lord. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have made their abode in you.

Our Epistle lesson tells us, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. And, by your Baptism, you are all priests of God, each of you – “A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” [1 Peter 2:9]

We too correct ourselves too lightly. We don’t take into consideration that we are not only sinning against a lump of flesh and blood but against God’s own possession, against God’s own temple, against His dwelling place – when we sin with those bodies – and when we sin against one another.

What I do to my brother or sister in Christ, I do to the temple of the Holy Spirit, the blood-bought, redeemed dwelling place that God has chosen as His own. How I ought to treat the house of God is how I ought to treat these true houses of God around me, these baptized sons and daughters.

And, just as it would be a disgrace to bring any indecency or cursing or unclean, immoral behavior or speech into God’s house of stone, how much more of a sin is it when I bring such things into my own body, which is the true sanctified temple of the Holy Spirit?

We all sin. But we need to tell ourselves the hard truth about our sin. In thoughts, words, and actions, sinning with this redeemed body and soul is a double sin – against God’s command and against God’s special house, bought with the blood of Christ.

We should not correct ourselves too lightly, therefore. In God’s presence, we should face up to our need for repentance. We should not be content to be like Eli or his sons. Let’s address our sins before God and seek His help in doing better, every day.

God does help you. He has given you a Savior and the Holy Spirit, who are mighty and who love you. It’s their will to keep you as a pure temple – to forgive you and to do repairs.  

Samuel, the young boy, was called by the Lord for the first time in today’s reading. The first message He was sent to deliver from the Lord – the first of many – was not easy news to share. But Samuel shared the truth.

Eli encouraged him to do so, which is a good thing we can say about Eli. He too knew that the truth of God had to be shared without us holding anything back or adding anything to it.

Above all, let’s remember in our day that we do now have the Savior, Jesus. There is a sacrifice for your sins – Jesus who gave Himself for your sins upon the cross, once for all. It is finished.

He died for your sins so that you won’t. You stand and move and go through your life and trials forgiven, in a state of His grace, under the umbrella of His atoning sacrifice.

You are still alive today, which means Jesus isn’t done with you yet. As we come forward to His Supper today, to receive Him, let’s each come to be corrected strongly, to be forgiven fully – as He always does – and to be helped by His careful and willing hand, which is building and renovating you – bit by bit, more and more – into temples fit for His dwelling. Amen.

[Matthew 2:1-12] … behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.


Prophet, Priest, and King

If you were to ask people what their basic needs are, you might get a smattering of various answer. Some may be thinking in physical terms – food, water, shelter, physical safety.         

Others may think in terms of emotional needs – a sense of security, joy, happiness. While others may list things like meaning, a purpose in life, identity. Or, the need to be something good – how can I be a good person?

As varied as the list might be, the ways of attempting to obtain these needs varies even more. Though you may be able to boil it down to the search for a prophet, a priest, and a king.

A prophet. A messenger. From advice and opinion columns, to the self-help section of the bookstores, to the ever-growing emphasis on education – to the many wild theories and conspiracy theories – to a person’s attachment to this or that talk radio or tv host.  

The world fills its ears with prophets. Messengers to be a compass and give us an identity, something to believe – but let it be something that suits me! To satisfy itching ears [2 Timothy 4:3].

A priest. A spiritual connection. We sometimes think in terms of secular vs. religious. In truth, the world has always been overflowing with religions and spiritualities – organized and not. Mankind has always been very religious and still is – from spiritual practices or rules to charismatic personalities. Though none fits the bill of what we really need.

And a king. A ruler. A president. A party. That one man who will finally set the wrongs right. One who will give security and prosperity. One who will bring might to my side. Or one who will promise me bread and shelter. Or one who promises peace and civility. They disappoint and their goodness doesn’t last.

The world’s many options leave you grasping at an abundance of straws and standing on ever-shifting sand. On Epiphany, the Rock of our salvation, our bedrock on which to stand, was revealed to the nations.

Magi, the wise men – whether there were three or more – men of great learning from the “east”, came to worship this one newborn King. They brought to this child, Jesus, gifts fit for a prophet, a priest, and a king, and they worshiped Him.   

Myrrh was used in anointing oils. The prophets of old anointed the kings of Israel and Judah. In this child is the one who is both prophet and the anointed king. Likewise, Jesus is both God’s messenger and the content of the message.

Jesus is the final prophet who proclaimed and fulfilled God’s promises. In Jesus’ words, actions, life, death, and resurrection, we see God revealed and proclaimed – shown forth – to the whole world.

Jesus is King. He inherits the nations. He saves all peoples. He is the one to whom all must look for both physical and spiritual security. He Himself is our fortress and provider who does not fail. He is the trustworthy one – the one in whom we really can trust – who will right all wrongs, with knowledge and justice.

And Jesus is priest. He is our One, last, final High Priest who fulfills our need forever. Jesus has reconciled God and man by offering Himself as the perfect and only God-pleasing sacrifice, once for all.

When Jesus gave Himself as sacrifice for all, He fulfilled our greatest need – He purified us from our sins and closed the gap between us and God. God and sinners reconciled by the one, final offering of Jesus on the cross.

And, as almighty God in human flesh, He conquered death, hell, and the grave. He secured eternal life for soul and body, rendered our graves temporary, and gave our bodies and souls life with God.

The nations seek after their needs. On Epiphany, the answer to all need and desire sat on His mother’s lap, received gifts, and was worshiped by those who sought Him. Other’s chose the unsure promises of what this world can offer.

“I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come” [Haggai 2:7 KJV]. “O Come, Desire of nations…” [O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, stanza 7, Lutheran Service Book].

The one thing needed [Luke 10:41-42] has come and remains yours today. Jesus remains your High Priest, forever interceding for us at God’s right hand [Romans 8:34].

Jesus remains your prophet – proclaiming His Word in Scripture, in sermon, in Bible Study – to be the message which guides you in truth. The way, the truth, and the life [John 14:6].

Jesus remains your King. “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to Me” – therefore, we go and “make disciples of all nations” [Matthew 28:18-20], revealing to others the One in whom all need and desire is met.

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” [Psalm 118:8-9]. Don’t spin your wheels forever looking to what this world has to offer. Bow down, worship, and receive from Jesus Christ, who is the One thing needed. 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.

Pastor and preacher at Trinity Lutheran Church

Pastor Curtis Stephens was born in Flint, MI. He completed his M.Div. at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN and has served congregations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Pastor Stephens began serving at Trinity in July of 2023. 

rinity Lutheran Church

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