Saturday, March 27, 2021

Palmarum (Palm Sunday)


Matthew 21:1-9, 26:1 – 27:66; Philippians 2:5-11; Zechariah 9:9-12


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Today God’s Son makes His way to the mountain of sacrifice, the Lamb of God’s own offering for the sins of the world. Today, Abraham’s son is spared, and so are you and all the spiritual children of Abraham. Today is the day Abraham rejoiced to see when he spied the ram caught in a thicket and quickly exchanged it as a substitutionary sacrifice for his son Isaac. Today Jesus entered Jerusalem as had Jehu and Solomon before Him, riding on a donkey, with cloaks and palms strewn upon His path. He is the Anointed of the LORD, the LORD’s Messiah and Christ, a man after the LORD’s own heart like His father David. He is the LORD’s Servant, the true King of a kingdom not of this world, who leads His subjects into battle with Satan and defeats him by dying for them and their guilt. He is the Blessed One who comes in the Name of the LORD. He is God’s salvation and deliverance from sin and death and the devil.

Though He was in form and essence God, at His Father’s bidding He made Himself nothing and took up the form of a servant, being conceived and born as a man that He might suffer and die for the sin and guilt of all humankind and redeem them. There is no higher kingly duty and vocation than to die for his subjects, just as there is no higher love possible than to lay down one’s life for his friends. Yet the kings of men are the exact opposite of such humility and sacrificial service. When Israel cried out for a king like the nations around them, the LORD gave them precisely what they asked for. “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you,” says the LORD; “He will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.” He will take, and he will take, and he will take…. Did you catch that? Such is the way of the kings of men.

However, a true king is the servant of his people. The children of Israel were to have the LORD as their king. He would care for them and protect them even as the Good Shepherd knows His sheep, seeks them when they stray and get lost, and brings them safely home, even to the point of laying down His life for His sheep. But, the kings of men are not true shepherds, but hirelings who abuse and take advantage of the LORD’s sheep and flee when the wolf comes. Not so our Good Shepherd and King Jesus. Thus Jesus enters the Holy City in lowliness and humility as a Servant King. He processes, not to Herod’s throne or Pilate’s, but to the throne of His cross. He is robed in humility, scourged and torn for the sin and guilt of His people, crowned with cruel thorns and pierced with biting nails. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep and saves them from the lion’s jaws. He does not take, and take, and take, but He gives, and He gives, and He keeps on giving, even when mocked, spat upon, scourged, crucified, and rejected and abandoned by all. The crowds that praised Him on Palm Sunday were right to sing Hosanna, God Save! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD! But, they were wrong about the kind of king He would be. Jesus is King, but He is not a king like Saul, or even David, but Jesus is the LORD’s Servant and true King, His anointed Messiah and Christ, and He lays down His life for His people, even for those who reject Him.

Christ the King comes to take His throne. He rules from His cross for you and for all the world. The Word from His mouth kills and it makes alive. His holy, innocent blood cleanses from the uncleanness, disease, and death of sin and guilt. The water that pours from His pierced side is healing and forgiving and restoring. Throughout His ministry He cast out demons, healed diseases, and raised the dead, all the while taking the world’s sin and guilt upon Himself. This is how the true King rules and reigns. Laying down His life for you and all humankind, He died for you. His death in your place He gives to you; it is your death, even as His resurrection is your resurrection. Now, raised from death and ascended to the right hand of His Father, He reigns through His Church exorcising demons, healing, and raising from the death of sin and guilt in Holy Baptism, feeding, strengthening, protecting, equipping, and sending through His Word and Spirit and Supper.

His reign is for you, and His reign is through you. By Thursday evening, the crowds that received Him today began to reject Him. When He was arrested in Gethsemane, even His closest disciples and friends began to fall away. But, He continued on alone, for them, and for you, and for all the world. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Thus, Passion Sunday is a perplexing day, beginning in Palm Sunday joy, but quickly turning to Thursday’s betrayal, Friday’s trials and crucifixion, and Saturday’s burial in the tomb. Such is your fickleness, hardness of heart, and unbelief, and such is your God’s love for you that He would send His own Son to die for you that you might be restored to Him and live. Though He dwelt in unity and glory with His Father and Holy Spirit, He humbled Himself to become a man that He might be your King and Redeemer. He was rejected and abandoned by all, even His closest disciples, friends, and family. When the women came to the tomb Sunday morning, they came to anoint a dead body. It was necessary. Jesus had to be forsaken by humankind and by His Father and die alone – for the wages of our sin is only and always death. Moreover, ultimately, no one was saved because they saw His miracles, His power over demons, His healings and resurrections – all who saw these things still abandoned Him and considered Him dead. Truly, as Jesus said to Thomas after His resurrection, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

This is good news for you and for me. Oh, we might like to dream about what it would have been like if we were there. We wouldn’t have rejected Him. If only we could have seen what they saw and heard what they heard, we would believe. Don’t kid yourself. Besides, that’s not the point. The point is that Jesus did all this for you. God did all this for you. God the Father sent His only-begotten Son into your flesh that He might be your King and Redeemer by suffering and dying for your sin and guilt. He did this for you, wholly apart from your faith or unbelief. It’s an objective fact. Because of this, His Father raised Him up and bestowed upon Him the Name that is above every name, “that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This, too, is an objective fact, wholly apart from your faith or unbelief.

But, blessed are those who believe and trust in Him. For you, your King Jesus came, not only then, but He comes to you now under the humble and lowly forms of bread and wine to forgive you anew, to strengthen your faith, to protect, preserve, equip, and send you as His subjects, His people, His very own body, to reign with Him here on earth and in heaven – “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Still, your reign with King Jesus is no more glorious in the eyes of men than was Jesus’ ministry and cruciform coronation on earth. As many rejected Jesus, so will you be rejected because of Him. If you will be Jesus’ disciple, then you must take up the cross appointed for you and follow Him. Truly, the life of a Christian is a cruciform life. You will be mocked, ridiculed and rejected by the world, your neighbors, friends, and family. In humility and lowliness you will endure hardship, want, suffering, even persecution, and, finally, death. But, because your King has endured these for you, and even now He accompanies you through them, you will persevere. And, already, there is laid up for you a crown in heaven that will be placed upon your head on the victorious day of resurrection – a crown that can never be taken away. Therefore, be comforted and have hope in the truth that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Let us follow in the way of our King Jesus, the LORD’s Suffering Servant, this Holy Week through rejection, betrayal, suffering, crucifixion, death, and burial, and let us rejoice in the victory and redemption He won for us as we celebrate His glorious resurrection on Sunday. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you!” “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Wednesday in Judica - The Fifth Week of Lent


The Passion History – Part 5: Calvary


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

After eating His Last Supper with His disciples in the late hours of Thursday, Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, as was His custom. In the early morning hours of Friday, Jesus was betrayed by Judas, arrested, and then tried before Annas and Caiaphas in the palace of the high priest, likely between the hours of 4:00 AM and 6:00 AM. After that, Jesus was sent to Pilate, then to Herod, and then back to Pilate, likely between the hours of 6:00 AM and 8:00 AM. After numerous attempts to release Jesus, Pilate finally succumbed to the pressure of the chief priests and the crowds they had incited against Him and handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Jesus was made to carry His own cross along the way known today as the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows. Having been savagely scourged so that His flesh was torn and mangled and His loss of blood was critical, Simon of Cyrene was chosen from the crowd and made to follow behind Jesus carrying His cross. The slow march to Golgotha, the “Place of a Skull,” likely took between 30 to 45 minutes as Jesus made His way through the crowd-lined streets of Jerusalem. Women bewailed and lamented Him, and mockers derided Him. When He finally arrived at Calvary, Latin for skull, there they crucified Him. It was about the third hour, 9:00 AM.

At first hearing there appears to be a time discrepancy between the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the Synoptics) and the account of John. With a little cultural understanding, however, it is clear that there is no discrepancy: The Synoptics are using the Hebrew reckoning of time, the first hour of the day beginning at 6:00 AM, whereas John is using the Roman reckoning of time, the first hour beginning at 12:00 AM. Thus, all four Gospel accounts agree that Jesus was crucified at 9:00 AM, that the sky was darkened for three hours from 12:00pm to 3:00pm, and that Jesus died at 3:00 PM. And so, Jesus’ time upon the cross from crucifixion to death was six hours – which, while horribly long enough, was actually an incredibly short period of time by the standards of crucifixion.

Crucifixion was literally excruciating, a word that literally means “out of crucifying.” Crucifixion was a uniquely Roman punishment usually reserved for slaves, foreigners, insurrectionists, and those guilty of the vilest of crimes. That is why Pilate sought to release Jesus. Pilate could not find that Jesus was guilty of anything that warranted crucifixion under Roman law. The chief priests tried their best, notwithstanding. By falsely claiming that He forbid the people to pay taxes to Caesar and that He was a king in place of Caesar, they were charging Him with insurrection. They threatened Pilate saying, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

Crucifixion was designed not only to kill but to dissuade others from criminal actions. Victims of crucifixion were to be humiliated, often left to hang completely naked. Crucifixion was an “excruciating” way to die because it was a very slow and painful means to death. Depending on the circumstance, some people could live for days after being nailed to a cross. That is why, as sunset was approaching and the Sabbath was about to begin, there was a rush to get the whole thing over with. Thus, soldiers were ordered to break the legs of the crucified so that they would die quickly. Death by crucifixion was not typically due to blood loss, pain, or other means as you might suppose, but the crucified died of asphyxiation as their strength wore down and they could no longer raise up their bodies on the cross. If the legs were broken, then there was no longer any way to push oneself up, and the body collapsed, compacting the diaphragm, making it impossible to breathe. Death then came quickly. The centurion was surprised when he saw that Jesus was already dead. There was no need to break His legs as He had already died, and so the Scripture of Psalm 34 was fulfilled, “Not one of his bones shall be broken.”

I think that when we consider Jesus’ Passion there is a temptation to pity Him. Jesus said to the women who bewailed and lamented His suffering, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” What we see in Jesus’ suffering and death is what we truly deserve to suffer. Jesus didn’t suffer and die for His own transgressions, but for yours and mine and for all men. Further, He wasn’t taken by force or one minute earlier than He willed, but He suffered willingly out of love and obedience to His Father and out of love for you whom God loves so much that He gave His only begotten Son over unto death that you might live with Him forever. Jesus knows the Scriptures and He fulfills them willingly and intentionally.

From 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM there was darkness over the whole land. St. Luke tells us that it wasn’t merely overcast, but that the sun literally failed to shine. About the ninth hour, that is 3:00 PM, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” After this, knowing that all things were accomplished, Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, “It is finished. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Then He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

It is finished means it is completed, fulfilled, that there is nothing left that needs to be done. Absolutely everything that was necessary to restore man’s relationship to God was accomplished, fulfilled, and completed. The proof of this is manifold: At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. No longer was there a separation between God and man, nor was there a need for the sacrificial system, but we have access to God the Father through Jesus Christ and can bring our petitions and living sacrifices to Him directly without fear. The earth shook and the rocks split. The earth trembled and shook at the death of its Creator and also in response to the New Creation He ushered in. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. Perhaps most astonishing of all there was an immediate resurrection of many saints, for death had been defeated in Jesus’ death and the grave can hold us no longer. Those who die in the Lord face death as gentle sleep from which they know that they will awaken at the resurrection on the Last Day to life that cannot die. Even a Roman centurion, a Gentile, had to confess, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

It was the Day of Preparation for the Passover. The lambs that would be eaten that night at the Passover feast were slaughtered at the very hour Jesus died on the cross. This was Jesus’ Day that Abraham saw when he was provided a ram to sacrifice in place of his son Isaac. “God will provide for Himself a lamb for the sacrifice.” As John the Baptist bore witness, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Golgotha, the place of a skull, where Christ was crucified was Mount Moriah, the very place where Isaac’s life was spared as a God-provided ram was sacrificed in his place. Now God has provided the sacrificial lamb of His only begotten Son, fulfilling all the sacrificial victims that came before. Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God, the end of sacrifice, the end of the Passover observances, who has left us the New Covenant in His blood which we receive and remember in the Lord’s Supper, proclaiming His death until He comes.

Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for Jesus’ body that he might begin the preparations for burial. Together, Joseph and Nicodemus anointed Jesus’ body with a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds, and wrapped His body in fine linen cloths as is the burial custom of the Jews. Joseph took Jesus’ body and laid it in his own new tomb hewn out of the rock. He rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and departed. The burial was done in haste as the sun was setting and the Sabbath was about to begin. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were nearby. They saw where the tomb was and the haste in which Jesus’ body was prepared. They went home and prepared more anointing spices and ointments that they might return to the tomb early Sunday morning. Then they and all the world rested as Jesus fulfilled even the Sabbath.

However, the chief priests and the Pharisees were not resting. They went to Pilate and said to him, “Sir, we remember what that imposter said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore, command that the sepulcher be made secure until the third day to stop his disciples from coming and stealing him and saying to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ making the final deception worse than the first.” Still, they feared their power being taken away and so they used lies and deceit to achieve their goals. Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go and make it as secure as you know how.” Perhaps unwittingly, Pilate prophesied that nothing would be able to keep Jesus in His tomb – not a band of guards, not the chief priests, not Pilate, not even death or the devil himself.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Judica - The Fifth Sunday in Lent (Lent 5) - Passion Sunday


John 8:42-59; Hebrews 9:11-15; Genesis 22:1-14


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The Latin name of this Fifth Sunday in Lent, Judica, means to judge. It comes from the first words of Psalm 43, verse 1 which serves as the Antiphon to the Introit today, Judica me Deus, “Judge me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people.”

Now, typically, when you ask God to issue a judgment, you are looking for His judgment upon someone else, someone that you have already judged to be wrong, sinful, unholy, or unrighteous. But today, however, you are asking God’s judgment upon yourself. Now, it would surely be a reckless and a foolish thing to ask your Holy God for a judgment upon your sinful self, that is, unless you were confident that His judgment was going to be in your favor. Thanks be to God, because of Jesus Christ, God’s judgment is in your favor! Indeed, that is why modern English translations of Psalm 43 use the word vindicate in the place of judica, for God’s judgment of you is a judgment of vindication.

But, how can you be so confident that God has judged you righteous? You can be confident because it is finished“It is finished” – those were God’s words spoken through His Word made flesh, His Son Jesus Christ, upon the cross as He gave up His Spirit and He died the death that you had earned as the wages of your sin. God made Him who knew to sin to be sin, to be your sin, to be the sin of the world, to be accursed for you and the world, and to die upon the cursed tree of the cross. Thus, in Jesus’ death, God judged you, God judged the world, to be innocent, righteous, not guilty, and vindicated.

Of course, it was King David who wrote the words “Vindicate me, O God” about one thousand years before Jesus’ death. How was it, then, that David could be so confident that God’s judgment of him would be in his favor so many years before the moment of God’s judgment in the death of Jesus? The answer to that question is the same as it was for Adam, for Noah, for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for Moses, and for all of the Old Testament saints: God had promised. God had promised Adam (and Satan!) that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. God had promised Noah that He would have mercy upon man despite his sins. And God had promised Abraham that through the offspring of his own flesh all nations of the world would be blessed.

Indeed, this is what Jesus was speaking of when He said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” But, when did Abraham see Jesus? And, what was Jesus’ “day” that Abraham saw? What Abraham saw was the mercy of God as his only son Isaac, the son of God’s promise, was spared and God provided a ram caught in a thicket as a substitute for Abraham’s only son. Of course, Abraham believed that the LORD would do something, even if he had no certain idea what that something might be, because Abraham believed the LORD’s promise – Abraham believed God, and God counted that to him as righteousness. When the Angel of the LORD commanded Abraham to stay his hand, and when he lifted up his eyes and gazed upon the ram caught in a thicket, Abraham beheld Jesus’ day, that is, the day of man’s vindication, as the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, caught in the thicket of man’s sin, willingly laid down His own life in place of ours. And, to be sure, Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day!

Jesus’ day is the day of God’s judgment on your behalf, the judgment of your vindication. It was a day promised by God upon man’s fall into sin and repeated and reconfirmed again and again through the patriarchs and the prophets. All the sacrificial blood of bulls and goats pointed to that day. Each and every Passover Lamb pointed to that day, the day that God would pass over man’s sin and spare him death by laying down His own life in death on the tree of the cross. Jesus’ day is a day of divine, sacrificial mercy and love for you and for all the world. God does not pronounce upon men the judgment of death that we deserve, but He gives us what we do not deserve – grace, mercy, forgiveness, and peace.

The day of Jesus’ death was the day of life for all men. Jesus promised that anyone who keeps His Word will never see death, for He is God’s Word of promise in human flesh. His life is given to you as a free gift, there is nothing to do, it is finished. All that is necessary is that you keep His Word, that is, that you believe in His Word and trust His Word for your life and salvation and not yourself and your works. Keep what has been given to you, and you will live and never see death, that is God’s promise to you in Christ Jesus.

Judica Sunday is the beginning of Passiontide, the two weeks preceding Easter when the Church focuses intensely upon Jesus’ Passion, suffering, and death for the life of the world. In John’s Gospel, which is featured prominently during Passiontide, Jesus states plainly that it was for judgment that He came into the world, even as He also says that He did not come to judge the world but to save it. Both statements of our Lord are true and they do not contradict each other. Jesus did come into the world for judgment, namely that the world would be judged innocent, vindicated, in and through Him. Thus the judgment that Jesus came into the world for was upon Him in our stead and so the world has been saved.

Soon we will commemorate and remember that specific day of our vindication, Jesus’ day, a Friday that we universally declare Good. It was a day that Abraham saw and rejoiced in. It was a day that God made in which we still rejoice even today as we eat and drink the fruits of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and share with Him in His victorious resurrection and life now and forever.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Wednesday in Laetare - The Fourth Week of Lent

The Passion History – Part 4: The Praetorium
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

By and large, the Romans permitted the Jewish people to live and worship according to their customs, culture, and laws. What the Romans wanted above all was order so they could collect the nation’s taxes and resources. If the Romans oppressed the Jews too much, then all of these would surely be compromised. So it was that the Romans were content to have the Jewish Sanhedrin rule in matters of religious law, Herod in terms of public law, and the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate to oversee them all.

The Romans didn’t give two hoots about the charge of blasphemy the Sanhedrin brought against Jesus. They were polytheists. They worshipped a pantheon of gods. One more couldn’t hurt. Thus, Pilate wanted to send Jesus back to the Sanhedrin or to Herod that He should be judged by Jewish laws. However, one thing the Romans prohibited the Jews from exercising was capital punishment – they couldn’t put anyone to death, only the Romans could do that. Conviction of blasphemy under Jewish law warranted death, but the Romans didn’t care about blasphemy against a Jewish god. If they were going to sentence Jesus with death, they were going to have to accuse Him of a crime that the Romans would agree warranted death. So, they accused Jesus of forbidding the paying of taxes to Caesar and of claiming to be the Christ, a king in opposition to Caesar.

This peaked Pilate’s attention a bit, after all, it was his neck that was on the line if there was a disruption in taxes, and he had recently been on the outs with Caesar in the first place. “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate questioned Jesus. “Your own nation and the chief priests have given you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered Pilate saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.” “I was born and I came into the world that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” Then he went out and proclaimed to the people, “I find no fault in this man,” and he sought to release Him.

Nonetheless, the chief priests kept laying one charge after another against Him, but He remained silent so that Pilate was amazed and sought even more vehemently to release Him. Pilate thought that he had an out when he learned that Jesus was a Galilean. That was Herod’s jurisdiction, so Pilate sent Jesus to Herod hoping that would be the last he would see or hear of Him. Herod was a puppet-king: Idumean by birth (an Arab), religiously a Jew, culturally a Greek, and politically Roman. Herod was delighted to see Jesus for word of Him had spread throughout Galilee. He hoped that Jesus would perform a miracle for him. Once again, the chief priests and the scribes hurled their accusations upon Jesus, but He gave no answer. Disappointed that Jesus wouldn’t put on a show for him, Herod and his soldiers mocked Jesus, put a splendid robe upon Him and sent Him back to Pilate. Pilate and Herod became friends that day whereas before they had been at enmity with one another.

Again, Pilate proclaimed that he found no guilt in Jesus and that neither had Herod, and he sought to release Him. It was a custom at the Passover for the Governor to release for the people a prisoner. There was a man in prison for insurrection and murder by the name of Barabbas. When Pilate proclaimed that he would release Jesus for them after flogging Him they cried out, “Not Jesus! Release Barabbas!” “Then what shall I do with the King of the Jews?” Pilate asked. “Crucify Him!” they shouted, “Crucify Him!” “Shall I crucify your King?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” they answered, “His blood be on us and on our children.”

Several times throughout the Passion History Jesus’ enemies unwittingly prophesy the truth. The High Priest Caiaphas had said, “It is better that one man should die for the people than that the whole nation should perish.” This was, of course, true, in a way that Caiaphas could never have imagined. Jesus is God’s Passover Lamb who would be sacrificed on Calvary’s altar having drunk the cup of God’s wrath against the world’s sins to the bitter dregs. Then the crowd cried out, “His blood be on us and on our children. Once again, the people were prophetically speaking the truth, though they didn’t know it at the time. Jesus’ blood was shed for them and for all the world, that whoever is marked with His blood by faith and trust in Him, God’s wrath against sin passes over them and they are spared. For Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God’s offering who takes away the sins of the world. But then, on the negative side, the people also prophesied the truth when they answered Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar,” for they had rejected and handed over the Son of God, their Christ and Redeemer King, for a mortal man who did not worship the true God, but who claimed to be a god himself.

Though he believed Him to be innocent, and though he knew that the charges against Him were bogus, Pilate handed over Jesus to be crucified. Then, he released from the prisons Barabbas, an insurrectionist and a murderer. The name Barabbas means “son of a father,” thus the murderous, mortal son of a father (all men) goes free, while the sinless and innocent Son of God the heavenly Father goes to death – It is better that one man should die for the people than that the whole nation should perish.

It was the devil, of course, the father of lies, working through Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pilate, Judas, and the crowds. The charges were false, Jesus was not guilty, but innocent, they literally exchanged God’s truth for a lie and for lies. And the people were persuaded; they were like sheep without a shepherd. And so are we. If we do not know the Scriptures, the Word of God, and the power therein, then we are like “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Therefore, we must “put on the whole armor of God, that [we] may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Laetare - The Fourth Sunday in Lent (Lent 4)


John 6:1-15; Galatians 4:21-31; Exodus 16:2-21


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

There is a saying, “The devil will find work for idle hands to do”. That’s because the devil is always busy; he never rests, and he wants you to be always busy and never resting too. In contrast to the devil is your God and heavenly Father who wills for you to have a regular and consistent times of rest. He Himself worked for six days in creation and then He rested on the seventh day and sanctified that day to be a day of rest for all generations. Rest is a necessary and important part of our lives. We need our eight hours of sleep each night to keep our bodies healthy and our minds sharp. Most of us get much less than that. But, even during our waking and working hours we need to take a break and sit down, or lie down, and rest a bit.

Your God and Creator knows this about you, and so He designed your bodies to take rest, even if you try to resist it and continue working. But, what about rest for your soul, rest for your spirit? Yes, you need spiritual rest as well, but that doesn’t happen automatically. You have to make that time, you have to take that time, you have to set that time apart and keep it sacred and holy. Perhaps this is because your spirit doesn’t count hours, days, months, and years, for the life of your spirit has no end. Thus, it is in conflict with your flesh, which is dying, which is all too aware of the passing of time. But still, your spirit needs rest, and that rest is not found in sleep or in taking a break, but it is found in the Lord, in His Word and in His presence, in His Sacraments, and in prayer, meditation, and contemplation upon these.

Ultimately, rest is about faith and trust in God, that God will provide, that you will have enough of whatever it is that you need, that you will persevere, no matter what may happen, that eternal life with God cannot be taken from you, even if your physical life perishes. Satan wants to keep you so busy living this life, which is really death and leads only to death, that you lose sight of the promise of true and lasting life with your heavenly Father.

It was this lesson about rest that the Lord wanted the children of Israel to learn in the Exodus, to put their fear, love, and trust in God to provide and protect and to keep His promise of deliverance from their enemies and the hope of a promised land of milk and honey in which to dwell. But, not long after the Lord delivered them from harsh slavery under the hand of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, the Israelites began to grumble that they had no food and they longed to be slaves again in Egypt where at least there was meat and bread. In response to their grumbling, the Lord literally caused bread to rain down from heaven upon His people. Each morning a flake-like substance appeared on the ground as the dew dried. The Israelites did not know what it was and so they called it manna, which means, “What is it?” They were commanded to gather as much as each of them could eat for the day. And, when the amount gathered was measured against an omer, both those who gathered less and those who gathered more found that they had the amount that they needed. No one had lack or need, but all had as much as they could eat for the day. The Lord provided them their daily bread just as Jesus taught His disciples and you to pray for – literally, bread for the day. Still, the people did not trust in the Lord. They tried to leave some of the manna till morning, but it bred worms and stank. And, later, the children of Israel began to grumble again saying, “there is no food and water, and we loathe this worthless food.”

All this fretting and worrying about food for the body – Your Lord would have you find rest from these. He says to you, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus, the New Moses, had lead a large crowd of people into the wilderness after performing wondrous signs in the towns and cities in the region of Galilee. It was near the end of the day and the Passover was about to begin when the people could do no work. To test His disciples, Jesus asked the question they all were thinking, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” The disciples answered according to the ways of the flesh, exclaiming the hopelessness and despair of unbelief – “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said to them, “Have the people sit down.” In the midst of their despair and hopelessness, when their minds and hearts were overwhelmed with impossible concerns about feeding the flesh, Jesus tells the people to rest. The Lord will provide what is needed; as it was in the beginning, so it is now, and ever shall be.

“So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.” St. John further tells us that there was much grass in the place, a subtle reminder that, as God provides for all living things, like cattle and livestock, the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, so too, and how much more, does He provide for men created in His image. Jesus took the meager offerings of bread and fish, gave thanks to God for His providence, and gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. He did not wave His hands. He did not speak a magical incantation. He did nothing to draw attention to Himself or to glorify Himself, but, in the distribution of the bread and fish, miraculously, by God’s providence, all ate their fill and were satisfied. Then Jesus instructed His disciples to gather the leftovers into baskets. When all the fragments were gathered, twelve baskets were filled to their brims.

When you take rest in the Lord, in His Word, and in His gifts, you will find that you have all that you need and more. You receive plenteous forgiveness, plenteous mercy, plenteous grace, and plenteous love. You have food for your bellies, clothing for your body, and a roof over your head. As David sang, “My cup overflows”. And, as Jesus taught, “Give, and it will be given to you, a good measure, shaken together, pressed down, filled to overflowing will be put into your lap. For, with the measure you give will it be measured back to you.” For, taking rest in the Lord and in His gifts means trusting in Him to know your needs and to provide for them because He is your God and Creator and He is good. Taking rest in the Lord means living freely and not in bondage and slavery to the desires and passions of your flesh and the values and virtues of this world. Do not sell yourself into slavery once again as the children of Israel were ready to do in order to fill their bellies with Egyptian meat and bread. Satan is always tempting you to feed your flesh and to live not by the Word of God just as He tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread as He tempted Him in the wilderness. Jesus resisted that temptation and defeated the devil, and He obeyed His Father’s will and trusted in His Word for you. Thus He did for the five thousand what He would not do for Himself, He took man’s meager offering of bread and fish and He miraculously fed them till they were satisfied, trusting that the Lord knew their need and that He would provide.

Of course you know that there are starving people in the world, even in this rich and abundantly blessed country. You know that there are people who do not have adequate clothing and shelter. This is not because God has not provided, but this is because of man’s sin, greed, and lack of compassion and mercy. There is enough food in the world, perhaps in our nation alone, to feed the entire world’s population and have multitudinously more than twelve basketfuls leftover. But men would rather let food spoil or destroy it rather than give it away. And the same goes for clothing and shelter. Greed and selfishness, mercilessness and lack of compassion are the fruits of unbelief that you bear when you do not take rest in the Lord and confess Him as the good giver of all things needful. Your heavenly Father would have you take rest in Him and receive His gifts. And, from the abundance of your blessing He would have you bless others that they may take rest in Him and receive His gifts also. This is the true worship of your God and Lord, for the highest worship of God is to receive His gifts.

In the beginning, the Lord created the world and all things in it in six days. On the seventh day He rested and He sanctified the seventh day to be a Sabbath, a day of rest. Our First Parents were tempted by the devil to forsake that rest and to strive and desire food for their bellies in defiance and unbelief of God’s Word. The result of their rebellion and disobedience was that the providing of bread for their bellies would become difficult and grueling work and that the end result of our striving for food would be death. Thus, in His mercy and compassion, God set Himself to work again, to recreate the world that man, His creation, cast into ruin. He sent His Word, His Son, to be conceived and born as a man, under the Law, to be obedient to the Law and to suffer and die for the sins of men. Jesus fulfilled all that God’s Law required. He did it in perfect faith, love, and trust, without grumbling, out of love for God and out of love for you. He suffered and died on Good Friday. He rested in the tomb on the Sabbath. And he rose again on the Eighth Day, having fulfilled the Law, having destroyed the power of death and the grave, and having fulfilled the Sabbath rest of God’s command. Now, there is no need to observe the Sabbath on any particular day, for it has been fulfilled, but Jesus has become for you God’s Sabbath rest. Through faith in Jesus, you have rest from your labors. Through faith in Jesus, you have the forgiveness of sins. Through faith in Jesus, though Holy Baptism, you have died and have been raised in Jesus, a new creation. Through faith in Jesus, you live, now, and forevermore. His mercies are new every morning. To receive them in faith is to worship Him in the highest way possible. Let us be glad to come to the House of the Lord. Let us be glad to remember His Sabbath Day of rest and keep it holy.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Christian Funeral for Betty Jean Struck (May 4, 1937 - March 7, 2021)




John 14:1-4; Revelation 21:3-4; Isaiah 41:8-10


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

About 8:00pm Sunday evening I received the phone call from Ann. She said, “My little sister has died.” Like all of you, I was shocked and saddened. Chuck and Betty were just in church Wednesday afternoon, and they looked great. Everyone was happy to see them. In the days following, I spoke with Ann a couple times and each time she referred to Betty as her little sister. Well, Betty was younger – one year younger, in fact. However, Ann explained to me that “little” was in reference to a number of things about Betty. Yes, she was younger than Ann and Eugene, but she was older than Clarence, and Larry. But Betty was little in size. I have observed that as being a bit of a Huck family trait. So, even among those who might be considered little, it seems Betty was littler still. Because of this, she received special care and protection, of a sort from her older, and bigger, brother and sister. There are even stories of Betty being carried at times, like a little lamb, particularly on the snowy day of her confirmation in March.

Betty may have been little, but she wasn’t small. No, Betty’s faith was large, even giant size. Betty’s heart was large too. Indeed, the word most used to describe Betty is not little, but spunky. She was kind and compassionate, open-hearted, lauded for her grace and virtue and for her hard work ethic, and she was forgiving – all the things that a child of God should be and more. She loved her gardens and gardening, both flowers and vegetables, even those stubborn carrots and eggplant, which she planted again each and every year though they caused her frustration – that was Betty too. However, a gopher in the garden brought out another side of Betty – fierceness and determination. Threatening both the foundation of the house and her beloved garden, Betty went after that gopher shovel in hand. The gopher escaped, but her prized hosta did not.

Chuck and Betty were a fixture in Friday morning Bible Study, and afterwards at Hy-Vee for kaffeeklatsch with their dear friends in Christ. In these days of pandemic, Chuck and Betty still attended that same Bible Study via Zoom video meeting while safe at home. Betty counted offerings for the church, was active in the Dorcas Society, and helped out at the Bartels worship services – yes, she went to church twice a week, Sundays and Thursdays! For Betty, faith wasn’t something that you were supposed to talk about, it was something you were supposed to do, and she did. Her home was as open as her heart as Chuck and Betty welcomed in foreign exchange students and folks visiting from out of town for the horse sale.

Betty loved the simple things of life – family, faith, home, garden, friends – and she didn’t take them for granted. She knew that they were all gifts from God and she was grateful. She grew up in Jefferson Township in rural Bremer County, the middle of five kids close in age – a home, a Christian home. A child of the Great Depression, things were not always easy. Those were times that forged character and faith. Like others of her generation, Betty was frugal, a realist, knowing how to be content with plenty or want. The promise of the LORD to Israel in captivity in Babylon rings true for Betty as well: “You are my servant, I have chosen you and I will not cast you off; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Indeed, for the Christian, for the baptized, for those who put their fear, love, and trust in the Lord, for Betty, God is with them, even in times of trouble, trial, and tribulation – especially in times of trouble, trial, and tribulation. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” Not only has their Good Shepherd passed through the valley of the shadow of death before them, victorious over sin, death, and Satan, He accompanies them as they follow Him and make their way through the valley. For, Jesus has gone to His Father’s house, and there He has prepared a place for them, giving this promise, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Our God and our Good Shepherd Jesus have been with Betty all through her long life, unto and through death, and now Betty is with our God and our Good Shepherd Jesus living a life that cannot die. Yet, still we are waiting, hoping, expecting, and anticipating more still, the resurrection of our bodies and a blessed reunion with those we love who have died in the Lord. Then you will see Betty with your own flesh and blood eyes, hear her with your own flesh and blood ears, and hold her in your own flesh and blood arms, and no one will take your joy from you.

Chuck; Stephen, Carolee, Jeff, Charles; Ann, Clarence; grandchildren and great-grandchildren; brothers and sisters in Christ; friends, let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Jesus. He is your Good Shepherd, your Redeemer, your Savior, and the true and life-giving way to God and His kingdom. He has called His little lamb Betty home to His heavenly pastures where His sheep may safely graze. There is no mourning, no crying, no pain, and no death, for the former things have passed away, but there is life and light and joy and peace in the presence of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Let not your hearts be troubled. You will see her again. Until then, remember and give thanks for Betty’s faith and life and love and imitate her. Look at the blessings the Lord has given you and know that He is with you, guiding you, protecting you, leading you home.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Wednesday in Oculi - The Third Week of Lent


The Passion History – Part 3: The Palace of the High Priest


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

They wanted to put Him to death. But how do you convict an innocent man? Oh, there are ways. It was not a fair trial. They had already determined the verdict: guilty. Likewise, they had already determined the sentence: death. That’s not how a trial is supposed to work. In order to achieve their desired verdict and sentence they were seeking evidence that would make the case for death, but they couldn’t find any. Though a few witnesses came forward, their testimonies did not agree. “We heard him say, ‘I shall destroy this temple made with hands and after three days I shall build another, not made with hands.’” But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Frustrated, the high priest attempted a different tactic. He asked Jesus directly what it was that He was guilty of, hoping to evoke from Him a confession. But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again, the high priest questioned Him, this time dropping all pretense concerning the verdict and sentence he was seeking, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” If Jesus answered yes to this question, they could convict him of blasphemy, the sentence for which was death. Jesus answered, “I am.” He wasn’t lying. It was the God’s honest truth.

Jesus was on trial that night before the Sanhedrin. But that wasn’t the first time He had been put on trial. The first time He was tried by Satan in the wilderness immediately following His baptism by John in the Jordan. He had been fasting for forty days and He was hungry. Then Satan came to Him and tempted Him. Satan tested His faith and put Him on trial. However, then, as now, Jesus was innocent; there was no charge that would stick. Moreover, His defense was the Word of God in which He stood immovable like a mighty fortress. The Word served as defensive armor against the attacks of the devil. Like the false witnesses that night, Satan used lies and deceptions to test Jesus, but Jesus remained firm upon the Word of God. Then He tried to catch Jesus by a serious omission from God’s Word. Still, Jesus remained resolute. Finally, in frustration and rage, like the high priest, Satan dropped all his pretense and offered Jesus all worldly authority if He would bow down and worship him. Jesus dismissed him derisively saying, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

However, Jesus wasn’t the only one on trial that night. Peter too was on trial. Peter was accused and questioned three times by the high priest’s maidservants and the crowd in his courtyard. In contrast to Jesus, Peter was not innocent but guilty. He was guilty of being with Jesus. Now, you and I know there is no true guilt in being with Jesus. Why then did Peter deny it three times, denying that he even knew Jesus to the point of invoking a curse upon himself? Because Peter was guilty. He feared what men would think of him. He feared what men might do to him. He feared those things more than he feared denying his Lord and master, his teacher, and his friend. Moreover, Jesus had told him beforehand that he would do this. “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” At that time Peter had sworn that he would never deny Jesus, but that he would die for him. However, as the words of denial were still falling off of his lips, Peter heard the cock crow. Jesus turned his head and looked at Peter, and Peter remembered the words that Jesus had said to him earlier that evening.

Judas also was on trial that night. Judas had already betrayed Jesus. He agreed to the blood money offered by the chief priests to hand Jesus over, identifying Him with the sign of a kiss. As with Peter, Jesus had told Judas beforehand that he would do this. It’s difficult to know for certain what motivated Judas to do this – other than Satan. It could have been selfishness and greed. Perhaps he was a zealot and sought to move a Jesus-lead revolution forward. Whatever his motivation, clearly Judas had not envisioned that it would go so far as Jesus being sentenced to death by crucifixion. When he saw that Jesus had been condemned, Judas was sorry. He brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. Before them he confessed, “I have sinned. I have betrayed innocent blood.” Judas threw himself upon their mercy, but they were not a merciful court. But this is what Satan does: He tempts you to sin. Then, when you do, instead of praising you and rewarding you, he relentlessly accuses you and steals from you any hope of relief. Judas couldn’t live with his guilt. He didn’t have to live with his guilt, of course, but Satan had robbed him of any hope of forgiveness. He would rather die than live with the guilt of having betrayed his master, his teacher, and his friend. Therefore, Judas carried out the sentence against himself – death. He went and hanged himself.

But the chief priests, the elders, the crowds, even all humanity, were also on trial that night. We exchanged the truth of God for a lie. The chief priests and the elders had set themselves against Jesus. They had made themselves to be His enemies. It seems evident from the Scriptures that they knew what they were doing. They knew that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecies. They knew that His teaching and miracles fulfilled the Scriptures. They had seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears, and what they saw and heard threatened them, threatened their power and authority, and it exposed the hypocrisy of their hearts. Though they knew that He was innocent, they had to kill Him. They were guilty – guilty of innocent blood – and they were not sorry. They knew what they were doing. Their hearts were hardened against the Word of God and against the Holy Spirit working through that Word, and their hearts were hardened against the Word made flesh, Jesus, as they convicted Him of blasphemy and sentenced Him to die by crucifixion. What they did, their guilt, was covered by darkness for a time, but it would soon be exposed in the glorious light of Jesus’ resurrection.

We also were on trial that night, in the person of the crowds, who were persuaded by the chief priests and the elders, and Peter and the other disciples who, in various ways, denied Jesus. When asked by others to give our witness, our testimony, our confession of faith in Jesus, too often have we kept silent, dodged the question, or even denied Him. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will strengthen our faith that we should persevere through temptation and make a good witness and confession. But do not be afraid, and do not carry that guilt, but rather flee to Jesus in repentance and confess your sins. His blood was shed for you to make you clean, and forgiveness is yours through faith in Him.

Though innocent, Jesus willingly suffered the false accusations and condemnation of men. Everything He was falsely accused of, we are truly guilty of – We have made ourselves to be god and have blasphemed His holy Name in thought, word, and deed. We deserve the sentence of death, but Jesus has taken our sentence upon Himself and suffered and died in our place. And, because He was truly innocent and righteous, He has destroyed the power of sin and death, and being raised from the dead, has guaranteed our resurrection and life everlasting.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Oculi - The Third Sunday in Lent (Lent 3)



Luke 11:14-28; Ephesians 5:1-9; Exodus 8:16-24


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Is it any wonder that the Church and the Christian faith are under attack today? Simply listen again to the Words of Jesus from today’s Gospel: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” That’s pretty black and white. No shades of grey there. This saying is decidedly not post-modern. Our world, our culture, despises and hates such black and white distinctions: Good and evil; right and wrong; legal and illegal; male and female. Truly, they do not believe such distinctions can be made, for they do not believe that absolute moral truths even exist, but that what’s good and evil, right and wrong, legal and illegal, male and female are but the product of one’s culture, personal context, and personal belief.

For example, I remember a discussion I participated in some time ago concerning the morality of ISIS cutting off people’s heads. The majority of the folks involved in that discussion – not pastors or even Christian laity, for the most part – were not able to say that the act was immoral, but only that, it was moral for them, it was moral for ISIS, within their culture and personal context, to cut off the heads of those persons they considered to be infidels. If you find this shocking, you should be reminded that this kind of thinking is not new. For, if you deny moral facts and absolutes, what you truly deny is truth itself. According to this logic, all truth is the result of cultural and social constructs and personal experiences. Carrying this logic to its logical end, the result is that, what’s true is what’s true for you, or for your community, or in your context. No, this kind of foolishness is very, very old. It goes back as far as Pontius Pilate who famously quipped, “What is truth?” It goes back as far as the ancient Greek philosophers like Protagoras writing in the 5th century B.C. And, it goes back all the way to the first question about truth ever asked: “Did God really say?”

Truly, when Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” he should have known that he was staring the Truth right in His incarnate face. And, when the serpent asked Eve, “Did God really say?” he knew the truth very well, he knew what God had said, and that His Word alone is true, and the Truth, in contrast to which every other word is false and a lie. God was, is, and ever shall be the Beginning, and the End, and, well…, everything in between. Likewise, He is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” And He, and His Word, and His Spirit were before all things, His Word being the very source and the origin of all things, who also sustains all things and holds them together until the very end. Truly, the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology are reflections of God, set in place by His design, not the other way around. Likewise, goodness and truth are measured by the standard of God in His holiness and righteousness, not by the subjective and limited reason, wisdom, and perceptions of men and women whom He has created.

And so it was that Aaron could cause gnats to arise from the dust of the earth by the Word of God and by the Finger of God, His Holy Spirit. And, so it was that Jesus could cast out demons, heal the sick, make the paralyzed to walk, the deaf to hear, and the blind to see, could raise the dead, and forgive sins by the power of the Word of God – whom He was and is and ever shall be – and by the Finger of God, His Holy Spirit, who works in and through the Word of God, Jesus, and who always, and only, points to Jesus, to the glory of God the Father. And, so, when Jesus casts out demons, there are two, and only two, possibilities – either Jesus casts out demons by the Finger of God, the Holy Spirit, through His Word, or He doesn’t. And, if He doesn’t, then, the crowds were indeed right, He must, necessarily, cast them out by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. “Whoever is not with me is against me.”

But Jesus does not cast out demons by the power of Beelzebul. In fact, He offers an impeccable piece of logic to demonstrate this truth saying: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore, they will be your judges.” You see, it was not a question of whether or not there were demons to cast out, or if Jesus had the power to cast them out – no, those are modern questions, the result, not of scientific discovery, as most suppose, but of the decline and attrition of faith in the Word of God. No, they believed that there were indeed demons, and they saw that Jesus did indeed cast them out. The question for them was, from whom did the power come? Did it come from God, or from Satan? Jesus’ words inevitably caused them to remember Aaron and Moses and the magicians of Pharaoh. In that story of old, even Pharaoh’s magicians had to confess that Aaron caused the plague of gnats by the Finger of God. That was precisely the power they believed to be at work when their sons, their own exorcists, cast out demons. And they could not conclude otherwise than that Jesus cast out demons by the same Finger of God, the Holy Spirit, communicated through the Word of God, even the Word of God made flesh, Himself.

There is a lot going on in today’s Gospel – Jesus’ authority over the devil and his demons, the clear line of demarcation between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil, keeping one’s spiritual house in order, what it means to be part of Jesus’ family, and more – however, I believe that Jesus’ final statement in this pericope sums it all up: “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Yes, truly, it all boils down to this point. For, Jesus’ authority over the devil and his demons comes from the Word of God alone. The line of demarcation between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil is trust in God’s Word. What enables you to keep your spiritual house in order – that is, your soul – is that you remain focused upon, and trusting in, God’s Word so that you are not lead astray by the devil’s deceptions and lies, as appealing and attractive as they often appear to be. And, most of all, what it means to be a part of Jesus’ family – His brother, sister, mother, father – His Bride, is to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, in, and through, His Word, and His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Before, after, and through all of your life, even all of creation, His Words remain true: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” It truly is that black and white. The difference between the two ways is a clearly demarcated as the difference between light and darkness, life and death. You must trust in God’s Word, you must trust in Jesus, in this way. There is no fence straddling. There are no shades of gray when it comes to the Truth.

This is why St. Paul exhorts you to beware of worldly and fleshly desires and deeds. Sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, foolishness, crudeness – these are doorways to the household of your soul beckoning the devil and his demons to come and setup shop. Be certain of this – they will come. And the more you practice these things and give yourself over to them, the more will come, and the stronger their foothold will become for you. Though they were once cast out of you in Holy Baptism by the Word and Finger-Spirit of God, if you let them back in and do not continually cast them out by returning to your baptismal purity in repentance, confession, and absolution, your last state will be worse than your first.

Therefore, let Christ be your example, and imitate Him as beloved children imitate their loving father. “For, at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.” And remain constant in faith, hope, and knowledge in the Word of God, being not deceived by the devil’s and the world’s “empty words.” “Because of these things, the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore, do not become partners with them.”

You can resist them so long as you keep your eyes focused upon Jesus. The devil knows this, and that is why his only goal and purpose is to divert your focus and attention. He doesn’t need you to bow down and worship him. If he gets you to look away from Christ, towards anything else, he knows that he has you. Like Peter, who in faith walked on the water towards Jesus, but began to sink when he looked away, apart from Christ and His Word, you will sink in the mire of sin and death. Whoever is not with Him is against Him, and whoever does not gather with Him scatters, and is scattered. Therefore, let your focus now, and always, be on His Word, and on His visible Word in the Blessed Sacraments He has provided you that you may not falter, but embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of His Word. For, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.