GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST.
I have often thought – and even publicly expressed – my envy of those original twelve disciples who were with Jesus throughout those years when God Himself as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ ministered, preached and taught throughout the Holy Land.
Those twelve saw Jesus give sight to the blind, healing to the deaf and lame, speech to the mute and health to the ill. They saw Him calm the stormy sea, feed 5,000 people with five barley loaves and two fish and even cast out demons.
Day after day, those twelve heard Jesus explain the meaning of life and God’s Will for us. They experienced first-hand Jesus’ perfect Power, Love and forgiveness in their own lives and in the lives of those around them.
In the verses immediately preceding our Gospel sermon text this morning, Jesus’ disciples were gathered around Him at Caesarea Philippi– in the midst of the symbols of pagan idol worship in its most dramatic and bountiful expressions – in the midst of the symbols of what the world recognized as the greatest of all political power and of those earthly treasures and material possessions which the world values most highly – then and there, through the Enlightenment and Empowerment of The Holy Spirit, Peter confessed, “You are The Christ, The Son of The Living God.”
In that wonderful moment of Divine Communication and Inspiration, God revealed to Peter what it meant – Jesus giving sight to the blind, healing to the deaf and lame, speech to the mute and health to the ill, calming the stormy sea, feeding 5,000 people with five barley loaves and two fish, casting out demons and even raising the dead – it was all pointing to Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah – The Christ, The Son of The Living God. In that wonderful moment of Divine Communication and Inspiration – with that clear vision only God can give – Peter recognized and confessed Jesus as truly The Christ, The Son of The Living God.
What a heady experience it must have been! How the disciples must have wished that moment of Enlightenment could last forever! How their deepest thoughts and desires must have echoed Washington Gladden’s popular hymn “O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee” - “O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee now and forever. Let me journey with You and follow You every step of the way You go.”
How bright the Enlightenment must have been – how great their new level of understanding! But wait there was more to be revealed.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS THE CHRIST.
Throughout all of human history he has been here – invisibly or as the serpent or the kind appearing old man – in the Garden of Eden - in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus ... in the crowd as Jesus moved through the streets of Jerusalem to the cross ... in the trials and in the barracks and while Jesus was on the cross. The tempter’s face is a mingling of evil and false compassion that says "I feel your pain. I know what you are going through and what lies ahead. I can help if you'll only follow where I lead."
We know how the tempter rejoiced when Adam and Eve ate the fruit and brought sin, separation from God, guilt, fatigue, illness, and death into paradise – things from which only God Himself can save us.
We see the tempter in our Gospel text this morning. Where he met Adam and Eve in paradise, he met Jesus in the wilderness at the end of a forty day fast and totally vulnerable - as Jesus was led up by The Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
Thirty-five miles long and fifteen miles wide, they call it "Jeshimmon" - "Devastation". Such an accurate name! "The hills are like dust heaps. The limestone looks blistered and peeling. The rocks are bare and jagged. At times the ground glows like a vast furnace. It is a lifeless wasteland with no shade to guard against the merciless rays of the sun - no place to rest - no food or water.
And the tempter came - "I feel your pain. You are fasting ... cleansing Your body and mind to enrich Your spirit - to put You in total communion with Your Heavenly Father. How hungry You must be - is it really necessary to deny Yourself. If You are The Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” How the tempter would have rejoiced to see Jesus command the stones to become loaves of bread for His defiant meal.
Jesus answered the tempter with The Word of God - a weapon which is available to every single human being - “It is written, ‘Man can not live by bread alone., but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”.
Jesus spoke the words which God gave Moses to speak when the people of God were in the final days of their forty years in the wilderness — “God made you feel the need of God, God let you hunger and then fed you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, that God might make you know that man cannot live on bread alone but lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (DEUTERONOMY 8:3)
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST.
Last Sunday, we focused on Jesus in the Capernaum synagogue casting out evil as it brings temptation, sin and death. Immediately Jesus left the synagogue and entered the house of His neighbor and soon-to-be disciple Simon and healed Simon’s mother-in-law. Early the next morning following His private prayers, Jesus went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
This morning our text takes us to a sermon in which Jesus describes the lives of people for whom He has conquered temptation, sin and death - placing us on the only path to true blessedness and happiness and describing how our redeemed lives areto impact the world.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth ...”
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth ...”
In Biblical times salt was the preservativein food. As salt was essential in preserving food, Christ is essential in preserving our very lives now and eternally.
A newborn baby was rubbed with salt – medically to cleanse the body and ward off germs – spiritually to ward off evil like Jesus cast out in our text last Sunday. As salt was sprinkled on newborn infants to ward off assaults on human life, Christ is victorious on the cross over sin, death, and the devil for us on the cross.
A salt covenant was a permanent covenant – even involving the death penalty for violators - as eating salt with someone signified being forever bound to that commitment. As salt played so central a role in the sealing of covenants between people, Christ seals the Ultimate Covenant between God and us and gives the assurance that all who believe in Jesus Christ and are baptized in the Name of The Father and of The Son and of The Holy Spirit will be saved. (MARK 16:16)
It you work for someone and receive something called a salary – “salari” is from the Latin for “salt” – referring to the salt paid to Roman soldiers and others. As salt was the original salary for many in Biblical times, Christ places the salary sin pays alongside the Gift God freely gives “for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST.
I will lift up my eyes to the hills…
My help comes from The Lord
Who made heaven and earth.
God shows His Love for us
In that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
It had been a long and busy day for Guenther’s Aunt Sara and she wanted nothing more than sleep – but her neighbors had left their two dogs out in the yard and they kept barking throughout the night. Finally, Sara had had enough. Jumping out of bed and grabbing her robe, she raced out the bedroom door, shouting to her husband, “Enough is enough. I’ll take care of this.” Several minutes later she returned – quite satisfied with her efforts – but the dogs seemed louder than ever. “What did you do?” her husband asked. “I showed them. I moved the dogs over into our yard. Now, we’ll see how they like it.”
It’s all about location.
In our Psalmody this morning, David called us to “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His holy hill.” Throughout our Biblical history people of God erected altars up toward the heavens seeking spiritual mountaintop experiences as they worshiped God. No high place experience so over-powering it has a Sunday named after it and its text is one of the few texts read every year.
And after six days – six days after Peter, at Caesarea Philippi, confessed that Jesus is The Christ, The son of The Living God – Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. We all know that these three disciples were among Jesus’ original disciples – a disciple being someone who is totally committed to studying all they can from one brilliant teacher.
This past week I was thinking about how few youth we have – and then I heard that among those few we have three – Emily, Brooke and Arleigh – who were initiated into the honor society last week. Quite impressive.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOUR - JESUS THE CHRIST.
It's was late fall and the Indians on a remote reservation in South Dakota asked their new chief if the coming winter was going to be cold or mild. Since he was a chief in a modern society he had never been taught the old secrets. When he looked at the sky, he couldn't tell what the winter was going to be like so being a practical leader, after several days, he went to the phone booth and called the National Weather Service to ask, “Is the coming winter going to be cold?” “It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold,” the meteorologist at the weather service responded. So the chief went back to his people and told them to collect lots or firewood to be prepared.
A week later, he called the National Weather Service again. “Does it still look like it is going to be a very cold winter?” “Yes,” the man at National Weather Service again replied, “it's going to be a very cold winter.” The chief again went back to his people and ordered them to collect every scrap of firewood they could find.
Two weeks later, the chief called the National Weather Service again. “Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?' “Absolutely,” the man replied. “It's looking more and more like it is going to be one of the coldest winters we've ever seen.”
“How can you be so sure?” the chief asked. The weatherman replied, “The Indians are collecting a ton of firewood!”
On our calendar it was a Saturday in the year 29AD. It was the Sabbath. When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue.
Not much is left to remind us of that synagogue – just some of the ruins unearthed in the 1970s and a hastily drawn sketch. In its day it was quite impressive.
To this day – looking across the ruins of the midrash – you can still see the artifact of the Torah wagon - the place where those sacred texts were stored. Standing by those ruins, you can almost feel how it must have been for those fishermen in Capernaum when Jesus regularly went into the synagogue and began to teach.
The people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching, because He taught them as One Who had authority, not as the teachers of the Law. The Greek word translated “were amazed” originally meant to be struck with a powerful blow to the head – and, in the context of our text, means to be struck with absolute amazement. How could anyone teach with such absolute authority? He came not as a teacher of the Law – but as God Himself as The vulnerable flesh and blood Word of God Christ.
But how could there be such absolute authority in Someone they were growing to know so well?
There in those Baptismal waters God as The vulnerable flesh and blood Word of God Christ responded to humanity’s plea to God to defeat temptation, sin and death.
From those Baptismal waters Jesus remained in the wilderness for 40 days and then faced the ultimate tempter with three temptations Adam and Eve had faced in Eden and failed to resist. All of those temptations to which we yield can actually fit into those major temptations Jesus faced and conquered. Since the temptation in Eden, the forces of evil have brought sin, guilt and death. Even the secular dictionary recognizes evil as “profound immorality, wickedness, and depravity, especially when regarded as a supernatural force.”
Could The Authority in Someone they were growing to know so well defeat something as powerful as evil? They were soon to find out.
Just then a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What do You want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know Who You are—The Holy One of God.”
Notice whose lips are moving – whose vocal chords are being used - a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out. And notice whose words are being spoken - “What do You want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? They are the words of the evil spirit in the man.
The power of Jesus’ message compels the evil spirit to respond “I know Who You are – The Holy One of God!” Messengers of the tempter - that they are, of course, evil spirits know Jesus is The Holy One of God.
They know why God has come as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ. Have You come to destroy us? they asked in that Capernaum synagogue. They know Jesus has come to destroy evil and its power.
The force of evil in the world is real and always seeks to create alienation between God and humanity. In each of us the struggle goes on – between God and the tempter – between good and evil.
When the forces of evil rear their ugly head in the world, the world seeks to avoid the subject. A member of ISIS or some other fanatic kills scores of people and the world screams “Take away all the guns” instead of calling evil evil and dealing with it. We speak of evil in the world in terms of injustices perpetrated against people – but the discussion is always on the basis of the people identifying themselves as victims. The identity of the group changes but the self-centeredness of the injustice never does.
And the forces of evil always seek to reproduce themselves. Remember how Eve passed the forbidden fruit to Adam. Why do sinners seek Christian endorsement for their sins by forcing a baker to design a cake celebrating a worship service he sees as idolatrous and sinful? Why do sinners always attack Jesus and His Word?
Discussing the presence of evil in the world, Chuck Colson asked, "Can man be good without God?”.
Colson knew the answer to his own question. "The answer I would submit is no. Oh, yes, maybe they can be good for a time but they can't stay good. Who is to make them good? Who is to bring virtue into our society? If I am right, that in the twentieth century we have been able to improve the condition of life in America, western civilization and around the world, but haven't been able to do anything about the sin within us which causes hatred, anger, rivalries, bitterness, moral decay and crime, then who can make us good? Can government do it? No. Scientists and laboratories? No. The media? No. Schools? No. It comes only when the power of God begins to work in our lives and brings forth righteousness. It is something which happens from the inside out and not from the outside in. It is the one thing man can't fix — the condition of the heart."
Does evil as successfully reproduce itself when people listen to God? “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly, “Come out of him!”
The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching – and with Authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey Him.”
Colson is right and I would carry Colson's question into an even deeper and more foundational territory - beyond that very foundation and basis of all ethics and morality - to the very foundation and basis of all human belief and lifestyle. Can a human being be righteous without God? Can a human being be what God created us to be without the Redemption of Jesus Christ?
That question answers itself. No one can be what our Creator created us in His Own Image to be without God’s conquest of evil and our redemption – purchased on the cross and proclaimed from the empty tomb.
Every day brings us news of what the world becomes when it rejects God and The Word of God for our ethics, our morality and the only valid faith to live by.
G. K. Chesterton was right when he said, "The doctrine of original sin is the only philosophy empirically validated by thirty-five hundred years of human history." I remember a certain wise man who was fond of saying, "Every time I point an accusing finger at someone I am reminded that three of my remaining fingers are pointing directly back at me." As God Himself proclaimed through Paul's EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS (3:23) "All people have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God."
How richly blessed are we that God proves His Love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. As God declares through the apostle Paul, “For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed rarely will anyone die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves His Love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
The first event that took place in Jesus’ earthly life after He entered our struggle through His Baptism was His defeat of the greater tempter Satan. The second event is our text this morning – casting out the evil spirit in the synagogue. God is the only One Who can defeat evil and death – that is why God came among us as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ – and where His battle on our behalf began. There is no more perfect and total forgiveness and reconciliation possible than that - from God Himself.
THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH PASSES ALL HUMAN UNDERSTANDING KEEP YOUR HEARTS AND YOUR MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS - OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR WHO MAKES SAINTS OF ALL WHO BELIEVE IN HIM. AMEN.
4th SUNDAY OF THE EPIPHANY SEASON
January 28, 2018
Dr. Kurt Borows
Pastor, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Catawba Island, Port Clinton, Ohio