Sunday, 18 February 2018

Lent I B [Mark 1:12-13] (18-Feb-2018)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Today we are celebrating the First Sunday of Lent. And for many centuries, it has always been a custom of the church to read about Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness. Our Gospel reading today is from the Gospel of Mark. Mark actually doesn’t tell us very much about Jesus’ temptation. He simply says: The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and angels were ministering to him. That’s it. In the Gospel of Matthew and Luke we find much more detail of the exact conversations that Satan and Jesus, and what the specific temptations were. So in our sermon today we’re also going to look into those passages in Matthew and Luke.

Jesus temptation happened immediately after his baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. Even though Jesus was true God and always lived in unity with the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit now comes upon Jesus for a special purpose: to show that Jesus is the true Son of God, and to anoint Jesus for his work of preaching, healing, comforting, suffering and dying. We read that this same Holy Spirit then immediately drives Jesus out into the wilderness. John says in his first letter that the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. As soon as Jesus is baptised, he is driven by the Holy Spirit to confront the devil, and destroy him, and to show us for all time how he is defeated.

In Hebrews 4 we read that Jesus has been tempted as we are in every respect, yet without sin. Today we see Jesus being tempted, and tempted just as we are. However, Jesus does not fall into sin, but fights off the temptation, and overcomes it. Jesus has a real fight with Satan—the temptations were real and sharp and cruel. And yet there is no doubt who is going to win. Sometimes, people think that if Jesus were a real human, it must have been possible for him to fall. But that’s not true, because Jesus is not just a human being like us, but also true God. And yet, the temptation was real. The devil can only fight battles that he is going to lose, and yet he fights them anyway.

The amazing thing about this is that Jesus didn’t have to suffer, or feel weakness, or hunger, or experience temptation, if he didn’t want to. When he was arrested Jesus said to Peter: Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? Jesus also said: No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. And so, even though Jesus is true God, he experiences hunger, feels pain and endures temptation because he wants to encourage us and sympathise with us. He wants us to trust him, not just as our God above us, but as our brother alongside us.

And so, this reading teaches us something very confronting: you are not immune to Satan’s attacks. The devil didn’t hold back from seducing Adam and Eve, even though they were sinless, and we are not. After the last Supper, Jesus said to Peter that Satan wanted to have him to sift him like wheat. The apostles weren’t immune to Satan, and he destroyed Judas. Even at Jesus himself—who is both man and God—the devil didn’t hold back from firing his darts. And so, this reading today is very important, because if want to get the devil off our back and win, we can’t do it by ourselves. We need to have Jesus our army General on our side, and we need his weapons. Then we can win, because we are saved by the winner.

So let’s now read about the first temptation of Jesus, and how Jesus fights this temptation off.

I.                   The first temptation.

So we read: [Jesus] was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Satan wants Jesus to prove himself. But Jesus doesn’t need to prove himself to him! And you too never have to prove to Satan that you are true Christian. The devil wants to sow doubt: If you are the Son of God. If you are really God’s Son, then do what I tell you. Jesus is hungry, and Satan tempts him to eat. But instead of Jesus just going home and eating some bread, Satan wants him to use magic powers, to change many stones into a banquet of bread, so that Jesus will not just eat, but pig out and make a proper fool of himself.

Now here’s what’s amazing: Jesus doesn’t silence the devil with supernatural power. He fights him off with something that all of us have access to: the clear word of God, a simple little bible verse. He says: It is written, Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. This is a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3. And one little bible verse like this skewers the devil in his tracks. You see, God’s word has power. It has divine authority, and the bible requires the same obedience as we would give to God himself, because this is God’s word. Jesus says: If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples. And so Jesus shows us that all the power against Satan is contained in God’s Word.

Jesus says: It is written. Jesus shows us here just how highly He views the Scripture, the bible, God’s Word. Even though Deuteronomy was written by Moses long before this event, it was not simply Moses that Jesus was quoting, but the Holy Spirit himself, because the Holy Spirit inspired Moses. 2 Timothy 3:16 says: All Scripture is inspired by God. It could also be translated: breathed out by God, or breathed out by God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus also said once that the Scripture cannot be broken. When Jesus was praying to his Father, he prayed for his disciples and said: Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. And so, because the Scripture has all this power behind it, Jesus doesn’t need to use supernatural power against Satan—all he needs is the Word.

Now it has always been a practice in the church until recently for Christians to learn bible quotes from memory. In Deuteronomy 6, it says: These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You can see from our reading today how useful it is for us to learn bible verses and to commit them to memory, not just to be intellectual, but to be equipped and armed and to have weapons against the devil in our hearts and minds. Jesus doesn’t have a theological argument with Satan; he just quotes the Scripture. He says: It is written.

Jesus quotes the words: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. This passage from Deuteronomy talks about when God sent manna—heavenly bread—to the Israelites in the desert. God wanted to teach them that their daily bread comes from him. But God also provides us with bakers, and with flour, and wheat, and so on. But when those means are taken away, and there is no one to make bread, then we can start to think: God has abandoned me! Now I need to use the devil’s tricks—and lie and cheat—to get bread and money and stuff. No—God provides for us, his word says it, and we can ask him for what we need. He is faithful and will provide everything.

Now, let’s come to the second temptation, and how Jesus fights off this one.

II.                 The second temptation.

We read: Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple. Sometimes we look back on something that happened to us and we think that the devil must have orchestrated the whole thing. Notice here in our reading that the devil takes Jesus up on the top of the temple. The devil seems to have even physical power over people’s bodies. But we learn also from the book of Job that Satan only causes mischief as God allows it, and if God allows it, then it is not for evil, but for good. At the end of the book of Genesis, Joseph says to his brothers: You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. In the same way, Satan takes Jesus up on top of the temple for evil, but God allows it for good, to win a victory over Satan.

Now also it says that the devil set him on the pinnacle of the temple. The temple was the holy place which God had told his people to build so that they could have access into his sacred presence. But Satan doesn’t take him inside where the holy ceremonies and sacrifices are going on, but puts him on top. The temple may as well be a big-top or a circus tent, and devil turns this holy building and this holy place into a play-thing, into a jungle-gym, into a trapeze-show. This is a temptation that the devil often sends: to get people to despise and profane holy things from God, and treat them like they are nothing.

Now what does Satan say to Jesus? He says: If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “’He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “’On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Satan wants Jesus to give up his mission to save the world from sin by dying on the cross and to go “splat” on the pavement below. Then everyone would say, not “Behold, the Lamb of God”, but, “Tsk, tsk. What a tragic, silly early death of a promising young life!” Or Satan wants Jesus to prove just how powerful his prayers have been, so that when he jumps, the angels will catch him and provide a safety net. If Jesus is the Son of God, then surely the angels must come.

Now to add to the temptation, Satan quotes the bible. Just like Jesus before, Satan says: It is written. And he quotes from Psalm 91: He will command his angels concerning you. Actually, this is a misquote. Satan leaves out some words. The psalm says: He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. Now, Jesus has been anointed by the Holy Spirit to be our Saviour. That is the way he is to follow. And as long as he continues in that path, God will send his mighty armies of angels for his protection. And the same for us: God doesn’t promise angelic protection whatever we do, but he does promise to send the angels to guard us in all our ways, as we walk with God.

Sometimes people think the bible isn’t reliable, because even “Satan can quote the bible”. The devil only twists the bible, and turns thing around to make it says what it doesn’t say. Jesus doesn’t argue with the devil, but just quotes the Scripture: Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” God gave Jesus a calling: to be the Saviour of the world. And God has called you to follow Jesus wherever you are in life: to be a faithful spouse, or a parent or grandparent, or a child, or a citizen, or whatever. God sends angels to protect you daily as you trust and follow him wherever he has called you. He won’t prove that he looks after you by you jumping off buildings; He has promised it.

Now, let’s come to
III.              The third temptation.

We read: Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me.” Now the devil pulls out a particularly nasty trick. He pretends to be God, he pretends to be an angel of light. St Paul says that Satan even manifests himself as an angel of light. He shows Jesus a beautiful view, the wonder of God’s creation, great forests and lakes, great cities and beautiful things. And Satan makes himself into an inspirational speaker. He says: All these I will give you. Do you like it? You can have it! You can have it all: riches, fame, glory. Ask what you want and it’s yours.

But there’s always a catch with old Nick… He says: All these I will give you, if… He’s like one of those slick salesmen who says: “Absolutely free!” But then in the footnote there’s this fee, and that fee, and every other fee. When the devil gives something to someone it always comes at the expense of their soul. He says: All these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me. Every false God demands a sacrifice. Jesus says: What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? And even in the church, the devil always tries to make falling away from the faith into the most holy Christian work. He makes apostacy and denying Christ into a beautiful work of Christian piety and worship.

And so Jesus once again quotes the Scripture. He says: Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Here the devil comes straight out, and tempts Jesus to worship him. But Jesus also shows us here that worship belongs to God and to him alone. Many people won’t go all out and worship Satan, and become Satanists. But then they’ll pray to angels or people who have died or even saints or their ancestors. And because they’re not worshipping the devil, they think it’s OK. But behind anything that is not the worship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the devil is hiding. And so Jesus calls us all back to the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. 

Now Jesus also says: Begone, Satan! Somewhere else Jesus also says: Get behind me, Satan! You don’t argue with the devil. Sometimes we can sit around for hours, days, weeks, months, being harassed by Satan. We didn’t need to argue with him, we didn’t need to reason with him, we didn’t need to think everything through. All we needed was to tell him to rack off! (Or whatever colourful language you prefer!) Jesus says: Be gone, Satan! Clear out, get out of my face, hit the road! This is a very important thing in what we call “spiritual warfare”. James says: Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Here Jesus takes the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, like a fly-swat, and smacks him. The job is done. That’s all it takes.

At the end of our reading, it says that Jesus was…being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. In Luke it says: When the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. This opportune time was when Satan put it into the minds of different people to work to have Jesus crucified. But Jesus’ death was not Satan’s victory, but Jesus’ victory over Satan. And so Jesus was out in the wilderness there with wild animals. Since the devil had been silenced, the wild animals couldn’t be used by the devil to attack Jesus. So they were silenced too. Even a den of lions couldn’t harm the prophet Daniel, and Jesus could quietly sit with any wild animal that came along.

Also, it says: And the angels were ministering to him. There are only two places where the angels come and help or assist Jesus: here, and when Jesus sweat blood during his bitter prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. It seems as though the devil’s attacks “took it out of” Jesus, and took its toll. Sometimes the devil attacks us as Christians, and through Jesus and his word, we are able to win the victory. But it can leave us exhausted. And so we see in our reading that even Jesus was assisted by the angels. Likewise, when we are feeling weak and exhausted and beaten about by the evil one, we can rest in the wonderful truth that Jesus has won the victory, and he surrounds us with the mighty protection of the heavenly hosts.

So let’s thank Jesus for that victory, and sing to him: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts! Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest! Amen.

Dear Jesus, the old prince may still scowl fierce as he will. He can harm us none; he’s judged forever undone. One little word can fell him. Amen.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Ash Wednesday [Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18] (14-Feb-2018)

This sermon was preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, Tuesday 13 Feb, 7pm, and St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, Wednesday 14 Feb, 7.30pm.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Tonight for our Ash Wednesday service, we read a very helpful reading from Matthew 6. This chapter is from what we call the Sermon on the Mount, which takes up all of chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew. The Sermon on the Mount has many well-known passages and verses, which many of us will know well. And tonight we’re going to focus on the three topics which Jesus talks about:
I.                   Giving to the poor.
II.                 Prayer, and
III.              Fasting.

However, before we get there, let’s just go back and see what Jesus is talking about before our text tonight so that we understand the context. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus particularly preaches very strongly the law of God. Much of what Jesus says is what we should do, and what we shouldn’t do, and how God threatens to judge people who don’t think, speak and act according to his will. A few weeks ago, we were talking about how Jesus went out and said: Repent, and believe the Gospel. We have two things here: the preaching of the law, when Jesus says, “repent”, and the Gospel, where Jesus calls us to believe in it. Much of what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount is a call to repent.

Jesus says many things in the Sermon on the Mount, where he cuts his knife right into people’s hearts, and shows them the very depths of their sinfulness. He says: I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And then Jesus goes on to preach the law of God right in the hearts of people, to jab in that sharp knife and twist it. He preaches about anger, lust, divorce, speaking the truth and taking oaths, about vengeance and retribution, and about loving even our enemies and those who hate us. He shows us the very depth of our sinful condition and wants to lay us complete bare before God’s judgement. Now this is what the season of Lent is about and Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It is a call to repentance, as we remember Christ’s suffering and death, and look forward to the celebration of Easter.

Now, before we look at what Jesus teaches about giving to the poor, and prayer and fasting, let’s remember the words that Jesus says: I have not come to abolish [the law and the prophets] but to fulfil them. Now, how did Jesus fulfil the law? What did he do? He made a complete, perfect, sufficient sacrifice on the cross for us, and he has made atonement for every single sin that anyone has ever even conceived and thought of in the whole world. So because of Jesus, and what he has done for us, there is absolutely nothing that we can do to earn God’s forgiveness. Everything has already been paid for, and there is absolutely no reason for it to be paid again by you. Everything is given to you completely and totally freely, without any of your works. Jesus preaches the law and he shows you your sin because he wants you to know how much you need him. If you don’t know that you are a sinner, why would you need a Saviour? And so, Jesus has taken every single sinful thought, word and deed on his shoulders, and he has died for all of it, in total, in full. And so when you look to him and put your salvation and your trust in him, then it’s all yours. You have done nothing, he has done everything, just as he raised Lazarus by the dead and spoke to him. Lazarus did nothing because he was dead—Jesus did everything because he is the giver of life.

And so—as Christians, there are certain things that Jesus teaches us about, and what we should do. Now that we believe in him, and he has given us the Holy Spirit, we are made free, and we have a wonderful opportunity to do all kinds of good things for people. But we do all these things, not because we are trying to earn God’s grace, or because we’re trying to get God to notice us, or because we’re trying to twist God’s arm to do what we want. The sacrifice for sins has already been made and now we do all kinds of good works freely, without condemnation, without needing to be afraid of messing them up.

And so in our reading tonight, Jesus says: Beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Here, Jesus is addressing the whole group of people, altogether. And what he’s doing here is setting before them the final judgment. In the creed, we say that we believe that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. From thence he will come to judge the living and the dead. Our life and how we have conducted ourselves on this earth will be judged by God, and for everything we have done well, he will reward. For everything that we have done badly, Jesus has died for. And so, what Jesus is telling us is that just because he has died, doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter what we do anymore. If a prisoner has been let out of jail, it matters what he does when gets out, because otherwise he’ll go back in. And so in the same way, when we are set free from sin, from the devil, from punishment, from hell, what are we going do? Are we going to enjoy our freedom and use it for sin, or are we going to fight sin and use our freedom for good?

And so, Jesus puts this question to us: who do we want our lives to be judged by? By people, or by God? How we answer this question will completely change the way we act. God watches everything we do, but people don’t watch everything we do. Even the people with whom we live don’t watch everything we do. And so, Jesus says: if we practice our righteousness only when other people are watching us, then we are basically saying that God doesn’t exist. If God exists and if he judges our works and if he will reward us, then we should live our lives to be pleasing to him, not simply to please people at the expense of our faith and in such a way that we ignore God.

And so, Jesus talks about three things: giving to the poor, prayer, and fasting. By themselves, these things don’t accomplish anything before God. Because there can be bad giving, bad prayer and bad fasting. Jesus wants to show us how not to give, how not to pray, and how not to fast, so that he can show us how to do in a way that is pleasing to God.

The bad way to give, the bad way to pray, the bad way to fast is when we do it to earn our salvation, and to earn favour and grace with God. Jesus has already accomplished this, so if we do these things to earn salvation with God, then we kick Jesus out of the picture. We don’t need him as our Saviour, and we make people our Saviour instead, and we make them our judge.

And so let’s first of all look at:
I.                   Giving to the poor.

Jesus says: When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Many Christians don’t help the needy at all, or don’t think they need to. Here Jesus tells you that you should, and that it’s a good thing. But in Australia especially, people think that the government should help people in need, and that if they’re poor, it’s their own fault. But your sins are your own fault too. What if God took that attitude with you? Jesus says: You always the poor with you. There is always someone who falls between the cracks. There a lot of people in our community who are in desperate need of help, and I’m not talking about money. Sometimes money doesn’t help people at all—like drunks, or drug addicts. Money can sometimes fuel their addictions.

But here’s something for you to think about. As Christians, we often give the impression to the community that we are poor and we need their money. But we have been given heaven and earth by Jesus himself who is the Lord of heaven and earth, and the resources of the whole world belong to him. He knows how to solve every single problem of every single person in our community. The government doesn’t know these things, but Jesus does. We often write people off and think they’re beyond help—especially drug-addicts or ice-addicts, and people like that. But what if we placed these people into Jesus’ hands, and asked him how we can help them, and what we can do for them? I don’t know the answer, but we have a Saviour who can do everything.

Many people make a big deal out of the all the good things they do for the poor and for the needy. It’s common for people to say what a good person they are, because they fund an orphanage in Asia, or they give to World Vision, or they work at a charity, or whatever. But any pagan unbeliever can do these things. Doing things like this doesn’t make you a good person. A good Saviour makes you a good person. He’s the one who cancels your sins—you can’t do that yourself.

And so, Jesus shows us another way. He says: When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Jesus shows us just how easy it is for us to think we’re so good because we do something good. Our hand goes into our pocket to pull out the wallet, and then afterwards we give ourselves a big tick and a pat on the back with the other hand. Don’t even let that other hand even know about it, says Jesus!

Some people think also that what makes a good work good is their good intentions. That’s not true—people do all kinds of stupid things with the best of intentions. The thing that makes a good work good is that it’s done by a person whose sins have been taken away. Then every good thing they do has been scrubbed clean. And Jesus has taken your sins away, because he has died for the sins of the whole world, and that includes you.

Let’s have a look at the next thing, Jesus teaches us about, which is:
II.                 Prayer.

This is a very sensitive issue. People often don’t pray because they think they can do everything by themselves. And people don’t pray because they don’t think they do it right or don’t do it well. However, Jesus tells us we should pray. But first he tells us how not to pray. He says: When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues at the street corners, that they may seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

These people don’t need anything from God—they just need praise and accolades from other people to say, “Isn’t he a holy person?” “Isn’t she a real woman of prayer?” But prayer is asking our heavenly Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit for help. We need God’s help, and often God puts us in a corner and at a dead-end so that we can see no way out. Then we can go to God and tell him about it, and ask for him to solve the problem. If God wants us to ask for his help, why are we so surprised that we so often feel so helpless?

And so Jesus says: When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Don’t make a show and tell about it—let God in on the problem, and he will solve it in his time and in his way.

Also, Jesus tells us something more about prayer. He says: When you pray, do not heap us empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. When Gentiles pray, they have techniques. They think: if I do this, I will get this. If I say this over and over again, I’ll get what I want. They pray because they think they will earn something by it, they think they can twist God’s arm to get what they want, if only they pray long enough, if only they pray enough times, if only they pray hard enough. Jesus says: Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. If God already knows what we need, why should we ask for anything? Because he wants us to pray, and he wants to demonstrate his help to you when you ask him. He wants to show you what you need, so that when you see that you need it and you can’t fix the problem by yourself, you can go to him. And if this is the case, it means that a good prayer is a short prayer. Ecclesiastes says: God is in heaven and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few. And because we are weak, often we need to tell him our short prayers again. But we know that when we leave things in his hands, they are powerful hands and loving hands. Jesus here even teaches us the Lord’s Prayer to give us the words and the model for prayer, and even specific topics for prayer.

Lastly, Jesus teaches us about:
III.              Fasting.

Many Christians today don’t practice fasting, which means going without something, whether it be food or drink or some kind of luxury. Plenty of people can fast, or diet, or practice self-control, but it doesn’t make them Christians. Also, fasting doesn’t make us worthy of God’s grace. Jesus has already paid the price.

And so, Jesus says: When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But here is a very interesting thing: sometimes there are Christians who think that it is a holy thing to be gloomy. Now, sure: Christianity is a serious thing. The world will end, there will be a judgment, we need to repent, and Peter says on Pentecost for us to save ourselves from this crooked generation. There is a lot to be sad about in this world, there is a lot to cry about and lament. But there is nothing holy about putting on a gloomy face. Sometimes we can think: I must be a real Christian, because I look really serious and gloomy and disapproving, and my brow is really furrowed. Now remember the Pharisee who went into the temple and said: I thank you that I’m not like that tax collector. I fast twice a week.

Now, Jesus says: When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

We can fast and practice self-denial with joy and gladness, because we do not have to worry about if we’ve fasted enough. Because Jesus had paid for our account, and he has died for us, and has risen for us. And so because of this, he has given us the victory in advance, and this brings us great joy. We sometimes may really be sad and need a lot of encouragement in our Christian life. That’s fine. Sadness is a good thing and Jesus cares for us in our sadness, but having joy and happiness and gladness in the Gospel is also a good thing, and Jesus shares in our joy.

So as we begin this Lent, let’s hear the call to repentance, and let the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts and show us where we are amiss. But whatever we do, whether we have the opportunity to give to someone in need, when we pray, or when we fast and practise self-denial, we are not paying for our sins, because they are already paid for. Our fellow humans are not our judge, God is our judge. He has sent his Son as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We have no need to fear condemnation for our sins because they have been paid for, and God who sees what you do in secret will reward you. Let’s thank God for this wonderful promise. Amen.

Dear Jesus, thank you for teaching us about our sin and your righteousness. Cover us with your blood, and set us free for a life a good works which a purified and made holy by you. Amen.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Transfiguration B [Mark 9:2-9] (11-Feb-2018)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am (lay-reading), and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 9am.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Today we are celebrating an event recorded in the Gospels which we call the Transfiguration. In this reading we read about how Jesus appeared to Peter, James and John in a particularly amazing way, where his face and clothes became to shine with bright white light. We also read about how Peter, James and John also saw Moses and Elijah, two well-known figures from the Old Testament who have lived long ago, talking with Jesus. And then, we also read about how a cloud covered them, and God the Father spoke, declaring Jesus to be his Son, and giving the command that we should listen to him. And so, we’re going to look at these three things in our sermon:
I.                Firstly, the amazing light that came across Jesus and changed his appearance.
II.                 Secondly, the fact that Moses and Elijah appeared, and
III.              Thirdly, the words that God the Father spoke from the cloud.

So let’s come to the first part of our reading, where we read about
I.                   The amazing light that came across Jesus and changed his appearance.

We read in our Gospel reading today: Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and let them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. This is how the evangelist Mark describes it in his gospel which we read today. He makes a particular emphasis about Jesus and his clothes. Matthew also tells us that his face shone like the sun. And also Luke, says that Jesus was praying, and that the appearance of his face was altered.

This is an amazing thing that happened. John also makes mention of this event, when he says the well-known words at the beginning of his gospel: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory… Here in our reading today, we get a little picture of that glory that John saw, together with Peter and James. Peter, who was also there on this occasion, wrote about this event in his second letter, where is says: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honour and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. Do you see what kind of an impression this event made on John and Peter? You can almost sense that their amazement hadn’t worn off even by the time they wrote it.

This event in our reading teaches us something wonderful about Jesus. It teaches us that Jesus is a human being whom we can see and touch, but that also he is true God. He is the light of the world, who existed right from the beginning of time together with his Father. The Book of Hebrews calls Jesus the radiance of the glory of God. Jesus is 100% man and 100% God 100% of the time, but he most of the time, he hides his glory and his majesty and his brightness under the humble form of a human being like us. It’s almost like a burning coal, or a hot piece of iron that a blacksmith uses. Jesus is true God, and this divinity of Jesus shines out through his human body, just like fire and heat make a charcoal or a piece of iron glow red hot.

But the miracle of the Transfiguration is not this happened to Jesus. The miracle is that the disciples were allowed to see it. Everything that Jesus did or said glows and radiates and shines with all of his wonderful divine power and energy. Here in our reading, Jesus makes it clear to the disciples exactly who he is. Like a true man, made in the image of God, he prays, he has a face, a body, clothes. But as true God, shining with brilliant light, he glows and shines and sends out his rays. When Jesus asked Peter who the Son of Man is, Peter replied: You are the Son of the living God. The Son of Man is the Son of God—this is who Jesus is. When Thomas after Easter saw Jesus standing in front of him, with the wounds in his hands and his side, what did he say? He said: You are my Lord and my God.

We learn here just who this Jesus is that we worship. He came down from heaven to live a life among us. This is the Jesus who lives with us each day, who baptised you personally, and who gives you the Lord’s Supper each Sunday. You are his bride, and he is your bridegroom. And all of this wonderful glory and power he shares with you, he uses this power to die and cancel your sin, he unites himself with you, and he shows you a little taste of what he will be like when you see him in heaven. But we might think: but I am so ordinary, so sinful. I carry a lifetime of burdens, and shame, and sadness, and worries and guilt. Does this Jesus with all of that brilliant heavenly light want to enter into my life? Yes—he has died for you, he has shed his blood for you, that body shining with light was nailed and pierced and whipped and crucified for you, and now he is risen from the dead. He gives you his forgiveness and his promise of eternal life and his victory as a wonderful robe and clothing of righteousness and holiness, so that you can stand before God, and wrap yourself up completely in that robe. You can stand before God the Father, not because you are so holy and perfect. Far from it—you are not holy and perfect. But this Jesus is—and let’s you wrap yourself up in his robe of righteousness, that righteousness, that holiness, that purity, that brilliance and radiance that belongs to him.

But also, we get a little taste of what our bodies will be like when Jesus raises us from the dead. In the Apostles’ Creed it says: I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Sometime after we have died and gone to be with Jesus in heaven, he will gather up all of the dust and ashes of our bodies and transform them and glorify them. Paul says in Philippians: Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body. Just think about that for a moment—the wonderful glory that we see in our reading today of Christ’s body, he won’t only keep to himself, but he will share that glory with you, and transform your body at the end of the world.

The other thing that happens in our reading today is that it’s not just Jesus’ face that shines with brilliant light, it’s not just his body, but it’s also his clothes. Our reading today says: His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. Now the wonderful thing about Jesus is that, now that he has ascended into heaven, he still wants to meet us and speak to us and be with us even now, here in this lifetime, on this side of the grave. And so he clothes himself. He hides himself here on earth, in such a way that you would only know he were there if he told you. Do you know what these things are, where Jesus clothes himself? First of all, he clothes himself in the words of the bible, the Holy Scripture—not just in the printed words on paper, but also when we read it aloud, and preach it, and sing it, and pray it, and think about it. Jesus clothes himself in the words of the Scripture, and these clothes of his shine with all the brilliance of his divine light. We read: Your word is a lamp—a bright, shining lamp!—to my feet, and a light—a brilliant light!—to my feet.

Also, he clothes himself in the words and the water of Holy Baptism. To us, it looks like just a bit of water in a bowl. But this water and the words of Jesus that we speak—I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—this baptism is full of wonderful divine light and energy and power, because your baptism gave to you the forgiveness of sins, rescued you from death and the devil, and gave you eternal life. You can put your trust in this solid rock, because Jesus himself has promised that he will clothe himself there, and hide himself there. Also, on Sundays, we hear those wonderful words of absolution spoken by the pastor: I forgive you all your sins. Jesus had said to his apostles: Receive the Holy Spirit! If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness, they are withheld. And so, Jesus has promised to hide and clothe himself in these words of forgiveness, so that when we hear them we know that this is not the words of a mere man standing on earth, but the words of the Lord of heaven and earth himself, our Lord Jesus Christ. And if he has clothed himself with these things, we know that his clothes shine with brilliant divine light.

But then also, he has promised to give us his body and blood to eat and to drink. He clothes himself in this bread and wine, and this bread and wine shines and glows in such a way that they are connected and united to the body and blood of Christ himself, so that when we eat this bread, we are eating Christ’s true transformed, glorified and life-giving body and when we drink this wine, we are drinking Christ’s true, transformed, glorified, and life-giving blood. And Jesus knows that if we came on our own, we would die and be completely overwhelmed by his holiness. Jesus knows our sin and our weakness, so he says to us not just, This is my body, but that it is given for you. He says not just, This is my blood, but that it is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. And so we can trust him and his words and joyfully receive the wonderful gifts that he gives to us.

So there are so many wonderful things that we learn in our reading today from the fact that Jesus was transfigured, that his face shone like the sun, and that even his clothes become radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.

Let’s come to the second part of our reading where we read about where
II.                 Moses and Elijah appear.

Moses and Elijah were two historical figures which we read about in the Old Testament. Moses lived about 1500 or 1600 years before this event, and led the Jewish people out of Egypt through the Red Sea. Elijah was a prophet who lived many years later about 800 or 900 years before this event, during the years of one of the worst kings in Israel’s history, King Ahab. And in our reading today, they show up, and they are standing there on the mountain with Jesus.

One of the very strange things about Moses and Elijah is that nobody knew where Moses was buried. His bones were never found. Also, Elijah didn’t die in the normal way, but was carried into heaven with chariots and horses of fire. We also read about another figure in the Old Testament, Enoch, who also didn’t die in the normal way. It simply says: Enoch walked with God, and he was not found, for God took him.

In our reading today, we get a little glimpse of two saints of the Old Testament, who enjoy being in the presence of Jesus and talking with him. This gives us also a little picture of the way in which we who believe in Jesus will one day enjoy being in the presence of Jesus and talk with him.

Peter at this point, just goes a bit crazy for a while. He is completely overwhelmed and dithers around and doesn’t know what he’s doing. He says to Jesus: Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah. Mark also tells us: For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Of course, they were terrified! Here was Moses and Elijah! Did Peter, James and John think that maybe they were even entering into heaven itself?

But there is one thing that Peter’s ramblings teach us. Peter recognised Moses and Elijah—he had never met them before, but when they were there, he recognised them. And this is a wonderful comfort to us about when we enter heaven is that we will recognise people: we will recognise all those people we loved who died with Jesus and that we now miss, and we will recognise all the saints and all the apostles and the martyrs and the prophets, and everyone. It will be a wonderful family reunion, where we won’t need to wear nametags!

But also there is something else that is special about Moses and Elijah. Moses is the person who wrote down God’s law in the Old Testament. Elijah is considered to be one of the most important prophets. And often we read about the Law and the Prophets. In Romans 3, Paul says that Law and the Prophets bear witness to the righteousness of faith in Jesus Christ. Here we see Moses (who represents the law) and Elijah (who represents the prophets) pointing to Jesus. After Jesus rose from the dead, we read in Luke: Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. What this shows us is that the whole of human history, and all of God’s people, were all looking forward to this moment, and this person, Jesus Christ. And even today, he is our wonderful Saviour, our King, our Lord, our Mediator, our Advocate, and our Redeemer. When we look to Jesus and point to him, we even have Elijah and Moses on our side.

But let’s come to the last part of our reading, about where:
III.              God the Father speaks from the cloud.

We read: And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

Here is God the Father’s voice: and he points to his Son, and tells us not simply to look at him, or to touch him, but to listen to him. All the power is in Jesus’ words. John calls Jesus the Word of God. He says: The word became flesh. But Jesus is not the word of God who keeps his mouth shut. He is the word of God who continually opens his mouth. He was speaking even through Moses, and Elijah, and throughout the Old Testament. And when he rose from the dead, he sent out his apostles to give an eyewitness of him. He says: He who hears you hears me. And this Jesus calls takes every that Moses said and everything that Elijah said, all of God’s law and all the cries of the prophets, and preaches it right into the very centre of our hearts, and calls us to repent, to completely change our lives, and our whole way of thinking. But God the Father also points to his Son, and says: Listen to him, because of a new word that will be spoken. This word is the Gospel, and this word shows us Jesus as our Saviour, as the one who has fulfilled the whole law for us, and now gives forgiveness and eternal life as a gift completely and totally freely to everyone who believes in him.

And so, when God spoke to Moses, he gave him the Ten Commandments. The First Commandment says: You shall have no other Gods before me. And now the same God who spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai now speaks from the cloud and says: Listen to him. If you want to have me as your God, you must listen to my Son. You will get to me and come to me in no other way! This is my beloved Son. Jesus says: I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. Peter said: There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

And so, the disciples look up and see Jesus by himself, alone. They see his kind face, and a gentle hand on their shoulder of a friend. But more importantly, they have a word from the Father: Listen to him. And Jesus says: Rise, and have no fear. Have no fear, for I will suffer and die for you, I will rise for you, and I will forgive you, and lead you, and strengthen you, and bless you, and be with you always to the end of the age. This is Jesus, our wonderful Saviour! Amen.

Dear Jesus, how good it is to be here with you today, together with all the angels and saints of heaven, in your glorious presence. Speak to us in your word, and fill us with your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Funeral for Brenda Avis [1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a] (5-Feb-2018)

This sermon was preached at the Maryborough Crematorium, 1pm.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and form our Lord Jesus Christ.

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, send to all of us your Holy Spirit, to me that I may preach well, and to all of us that we may hear well. Amen.

At a Christian funeral, we come together to hear about two things. The first thing is that we come to remember the life of a person who has died. Today we have heard the life-story of Brenda, who was a wife, a mother, a grand-mother and friend to all of us who have gathered here today. She lived a particular life that no-one else has lived.

But also there’s a second thing that we also come to hear about at a Christian funeral, and that is that we come to remember the life of Jesus Christ, who also died, but three days later, rose again from the dead. Jesus also lived a particular life that no-one else has lived, and because he has risen from the dead, he is still living, he is still alive, and is the Saviour of the world.

And we might think: what has Jesus got to do with a funeral? We’re not having a funeral for Jesus. However, when we come to a funeral, the death of our loved one, the death of Brenda, is sad news. But the death of Jesus and the fact that he rose again from the dead is good news. The fact that Brenda has died is the reason we have come together today in our grief. But the fact that Jesus has died and rose again is the reason why we have comfort.

When we sit and write a eulogy or an obituary for a person, we like to give a picture of that person, and we have been given a bit of a picture today of who Brenda was and the impact that she had on us. Also, there are certain facts about her life: her mum gave birth to her in Kingaroy, she was baptised there—here’s the beginning of her life. But also in the last few days, her earthly life has come to an end.

And also, we read in the bible about the life of Jesus Christ. He was born at a certain time, not in Queensland, or in Australia, but in Israel, in a small town near Jerusalem, called Bethlehem. He was born of a human mother, but didn’t have a human father. God the Father was his Father, and his mother was a virgin. And just as many people today are born in very humble circumstances, Jesus also was born in a stable, and put in the feeding trough that the animals would eat out of. Christians believe then that Jesus was both a true man, and a true human being like each of us, and also that he was true God, at the same time. He is both a true man and true God in one person. Everything that Jesus did was God’s work. When he touched someone or spoke to someone, it wasn’t just a man touching or speaking to someone, but this was God. He had God the Father as his Father, and also a real human woman as his mum.

Now, all of us are not God. We have two human parents—and we all know that all of our parents have their faults. And right from childhood, no-one ever needs to teach a kid to be naughty, they do it completely by themselves. So when we were born, we were born as sinners. Sin is not just doing wrong things, but includes wrong words, wrong thoughts, and also sin is the way in which our whole thinking and our minds and our hearts are turned away from God from the very start. Just as we inherit all kinds of good things from our parents, we also inherit a family debt, which is passed on from generation to generation. We are all part of the human race, and even though God created us, and was pleased with human beings, the human race fell into sin. So when we come to the funeral of a person who has died, we have many things to be thankful for which we received from their unique life. But also, as Christians, we don’t pretend that the person was sinless, or perfect.

Now, when we look to Jesus, the exact opposite is the case. Because Jesus was not just a man but also true God, he had no sin at all. There was nothing wrong in anything that he thought, that he said, or that he did, and his whole mind and heart and thinking was completely in harmony with God the Father in every single thing that he did. The book of Hebrews in the bible says that Jesus in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. So with us, we were created and made with a body and a soul at a particular time in our mother’s womb. So was Jesus in his mother’s womb, but unlike us, he also existed right from before the beginning of time, because he was God, and so when he was conceived in his mother’s womb, he entered into the world and he took on a human body and human flesh.

Now, even though Jesus was not a sinner like us, he took on himself all the sin of the world. You see, a crime needs to be punished. If we find ourselves in a situation where someone has committed a terrible crime against us, and they do not serve their time in prison for it, we think that justice wasn’t done. And we might look at our life and have some really serious regrets for the things that we did or didn’t do. And then we start to think, “Now I have to live with it.” “I did the crime, now I have to do the time.” Or we think, “God’s already done with me. There’s no hope for me. There’s no turning me back. I’m getting my come-uppance. I deserve this.” And then we start to think, “I have to carry all of this by myself, because no-one can pay off someone else’s wrongs. I have to do the time for my own crimes.”

But here’s where Jesus comes in. All of that come-uppance, all of that payment, all of those loads that we all carry around, all the time for the crimes, all of that, Jesus took upon his shoulders. And what did he do with it? He made a payment. He was crucified, he was nailed to a cross. Getting yourself nailed a cross was the punishment that the Romans gave to rebels. If Ned Kelly or someone like that lived in Roman times he would have been crucified too. Jesus wasn’t a rebel, but he died the death of a rebel, and died for all the rebels in the world like you. We’ve all rebelled against God. And all that rebellion against God is on Jesus’ shoulders.

Now with Brenda, she was sick for a long time and struggled with bad health, and when she died, she died a very quiet and peaceful death at home in bed.

Jesus died quite a different death. He was whipped, beaten, flogged with whips, stripped of his clothes, made to carry his wooden cross, and then they nailed him to it. And in enduring all of this, Jesus suffered and died for the sin of the whole world. He made a perfect sacrifice for you. All your debt, everything in your life that you’ve ever completely stuffed up, every single second of the time for your crimes, all your come-uppance was put on him and came down on him. When someone says to you that you’re getting your come-uppance, you can say that what has “come up” on me “came down” on Jesus. That’s what the little verse means that I read at the beginning of the sermon: You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.

But here’s the next thing: After Jesus died he was buried. And he didn’t stay buried for long, but he rose again three days later on Easter Sunday. He’s not a ghost, he’s not an angel, he’s not a disembodied spirit… but his body and soul came back to life, he walked out of the tomb, and he will never die again. And he goes to his Father with all of our accounts, with all of the debts of our sins and crimes, and all of our rebellion, and he presents it to his Father, with a red stamp on it. This is the red stamp made with his blood which he shed for you. And the stamp says: Paid in full. Nothing owing. You were bought with a price. You belong to me.

And sometimes, we might think: Yeah… maybe Jesus died only for the good people, but not for me. That’s not what the bible says. It says: God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. It doesn’t say: God so loved the good people. It says: God so loved the world. Also John says: He is the propitiation for our sins—propitiation means atonement, or sacrifice, or payment—and then he says: and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And if it says: the whole world, it means, that your sins have been paid for too.

You are not your own, but you were bought with a price.

And so, here we see how when we come to grieve a loved one, like Brenda today, because God created her, we see a life full of blessings that we have received, and we also see because of sin a life with debts still owing and payment still to be made.

But all of our debts and payments that all of us have, were never going to be paid by any of us individually, because that would be completely impossible. And so at a Christian funeral, we also remember the life of Jesus Christ, because he is our Saviour, and he is not just a true man, a human being like you and me, but also true God. And because he is God, we know that there is going to be nothing owing, nothing still to be paid, nothing wanting, but everything paid in full, everything dealt with, everything stamped and sealed with his holy and precious blood.

You are not your own, but you were bought with a price.

And that same Jesus says to us today: Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. Amen.

Dear Jesus, we commend our hearts and our minds, our bodies and souls, into your hands. Strengthen us in the comfort of your word in our time of grief, and send to each one of us your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Epiphany V B [Mark 1:29-39] (4-Feb-2018)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and form our Lord Jesus Christ.

That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door.

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

In our reading today, we follow on from where we left off last week, where we read about Jesus preaching in a synagogue in Capernaum and then he cast out an unclean spirit from a man. And we read at the end of our reading from last week that as soon as he had this, at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. This sounds like this was something that might have happened over days or weeks, but we read later in our reading, that news must have spread among many people within only a few hours.

We read in our reading today about very specific times when things happened in the day which followed this event. We read at the beginning of our Gospel reading today: And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. After having gone to the synagogue, we read that Jesus went around to Peter’s house, probably for a meal. Then later in the reading we read: That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. So let’s say Jesus went to Peter’s house in the afternoon, now we read about what was happening in the evening, where Jesus was healing people. Then later again in the reading it says: And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. So here we read about what Jesus was doing in the very early hours of the morning of the next day. And that really summarises what’s going on in our reading today. So we’re going to look at three things in our reading today:
I.                   What Jesus did on Saturday afternoon.
II.                 What Jesus did on Saturday evening.
III.              What Jesus did on Sunday morning.

So let’s come to our first part, where we read about
I.                   What Jesus did on Saturday afternoon.

We read: Immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. And what does Jesus find at their house when they get there? Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay in bed with a fever, and immediately they told him about her.

Here we find a wonderful encouragement about how we should deal with our family and relatives as Christians. Many Australians have all kinds of troubles with their families. There are many families who have people who don’t speak to them. Sometimes people are easily offended, and they blame their parents for all kinds of problems. Sometimes people just don’t know how to solve their problems without yelling in each other’s faces. It’s a great thing if people are able simply to sit down and talk about difficult issues without being personal, without attacking, without yelling.

But families are a gift, and we have all kinds of people in our families, and people with all kinds of different opinions about religion and politics, and all kinds of things. But also, even though our families can be people who are quite different from us, we find ourselves connected to them in a particularly special way, even if there’s some kind of estrangement and people are not really talking to each other much anymore. In our reading, Peter’s mother-in-law is in trouble: she is particularly sick. She is laying ill with a fever. And what does he do? He and the other disciples with him simply tell Jesus about her.

This gives us such a wonderful example, because when our relatives, our parents, our children, our spouse, our parent-in-law, our grandparents, our grandchildren, our aunties and uncles and our cousins are in some kind of trouble, what should we do about it? First, simply tell Jesus about them. We often don’t have any power to help them, but Jesus does.

And so we read in our reading: And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. These words are so simply, it almost sounds like this was just so normal and natural for Jesus, the kind of thing he could easily do every day with no fuss or bother.

Now, we pastors often go around visiting people, and praying for people. And it’s very common if we ask people what they’d like us to pray for that they say to pray for good health. Now, good health is a good thing. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray: Give us today our daily bread. And good health is part of what we need to do our daily tasks for each day. But sometimes we can make a bit of an idol out of health, and we can carry on as if it’s the most important thing in our life. It’s not. It’s a wonderful gift, but it’s not the most important thing. Even more important that the health of our body is the health of our soul. At the beginning of John’s third letter, he writes: Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.

And so what are the things that are good for our soul? Sometimes people say a good walk or a good cup of coffee is good for the soul. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the word of God. In order for our souls to survive, we need the word of God. The word of God is that thing that we put our trust in, that when we hear it and believe in the gospel, that we have a saving faith created in us, and God looks at us and sees not us and all our sins but he sees his Son Jesus and his righteousness completely covering us over. God sees our faith in the word of God—that word of God which never lies, and that word of God which shows us our Saviour—God see that faith and he counts it to us as righteousness. Even if our lives are completely full of sin, it is the word of God in the Scripture preached in its truth and purity that has all the power in it to create a new heart and a living faith in us, because this is the word from God’s own mouth himself.

And so we should pray for the Holy Spirit for ourselves that we would hear the word of God and understand it, we should pray for our pastors that they would also preach the truth in the power of the Holy Spirit, and we should also pray for the members of our church to receive the Holy Spirit and believe the word so that we may also be drawn together. We should also pray for unbelievers that their hearts would be converted by the power of that same word and the Holy Spirit.

All these things are more important than physical health, because even if we ever find ourselves in hospital, or having chemotherapy, or coughing up blood and phlegm, or hooked up to a dialysis machine, or generally be “as sick as a dog”, we can always continue this holy Christian work of bringing the needs of our friends and our fellow Christians and the world to Jesus.

However, even though the things of Christ’s kingdom are more important than physical health, it’s not as if physical health is not important. Christ healed many people, who would go on to die. Even when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Lazarus died again someday. So what was the point?

But when Jesus heals people, he shows a wonderful truth and a wonderful reality. Our bodies are his creation. He formed us in our mother’s womb, and our bodies were shaped and formed with his hands. But then after we die and we go to be with Jesus in heaven, we also have the promise in the Scripture that at the end of the world there will be a resurrection of the dead. Just as Jesus takes this woman who is burning up with fever by the hand and cools her down, so also he will gather all the dust and ashes of our rotted and decayed bones and bodies and he will raise them up with the same effortlessness as he does with the woman with the fever in the reading. And it won’t be as if he simply resuscitates us, so that we’re still the same ugly mob that we were on earth, but we will be completely transformed to be like Jesus. In Philippians, St Paul writes that Jesus will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body. In 1 Corinthians it says: Behold! I tell you a mystery, we shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

So when we die, we believe that our soul will go to be with Jesus. Jesus said to the thief on the cross: Today you will be with me in Paradise. And St Paul says: My desire is to depart and to be with Christ. But also, our bodies are not simply the leftover bits. Sometime later there will be a resurrection of the dead, and those who believe in Christ will experience a complete and total healing of our bodies and a glorification and transformation of our bodies so that we will be like Jesus. Our bodies were created by God, and he will also redeem them. How we will experience the timing of these things once we die, we have no idea, and the bible doesn’t tell us these things. We leave that up to God.

So let’s come back to our reading. It says: The fever left her, and she began to serve them. When we or someone we know is sick, we should pray for healing. Even in James, we are told that we should call the elders of the church, and let them pray over us, and even have them anoint us with oil, as a special marker for committing the sick person to God, in the name of the Lord, and pray for us. Also, in the church, pastors also speak God’s word and bring the Lord’s Supper to people in their times of sickness. Whatever happens, whether we are healed now or not, we know that there will always be a miracle. At least we know that on the last day Jesus will completely heal and transform our bodies, because he has died on the cross and risen from the dead and forgives us all of our sins. There will always be a miracle. But whether or not we experience a miracle of healing in this life, on this side of the grave, is not promised to us. We should ask for it, but if we don’t receive it, that’s OK. We will wait for a more glorious time in the next life. What we read in our reading is that Peter’s mother-in-law began to serve them. If we do receive a great miracle of healing, the purpose is so that we can serve, and particularly to serve Christ and his disciples, his church, in his kingdom. But if we remain sick, the question is still: how has Christ called me to serve his kingdom here in my condition? How is God’s name glorified through this, whether I am healthy or sick? That’s the wonderful thing we learn from this event so very simply told to us in our reading.

So let’s come to the second part of our reading today, about
II.                 What Jesus did on Saturday evening.

After Jesus had cast out an unclean spirit from a man in the synagogue, the news spread fast all around the place. We read: That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Last week, I spoke in detail about unclean spirits, and demons, and what exactly they are and how Jesus went about casting one out from a man. I won’t say it all again, but I’d like to make a couple of comments about our reading here. Two things are mentioned: diseases and demons. Jesus heals people with diseases, and the demons he casts out. There are two categories here—not everyone who is sick is demonised, and not everyone who is demonised is sick. Jesus deals with both situations.

But the reading tells us something specific about the demons. It says: He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. The demons here have personalities, and they speak. And it’s a strange thing that at the same time as Jesus is revealed as the Holy One of God, and at the same time as Jesus begins his ministry, all these demons are revealed. All of a sudden there are all kinds of people with demons.

And the thing about demonic powers, and unclean spirits, is that because they are supernatural creatures and belong to the devil, they have some access to certain knowledge that normal people like us wouldn’t otherwise know. This is, for example, where psychic power comes from. And so, sometimes, the people with demons know something that people otherwise wouldn’t know, and sometimes these things are true. But in the reading, it says: [Jesus] would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. The demons knew him, but Jesus doesn’t allow them to share their secret, hidden knowledge. Even though they know the truth, they are not allowed to speak. The reason for this is that once the devil leads people along with something true, he starts to take the truth away by mixing in errors with it. The only thing that can silence the evil spirit is the word of God, which is the living words of Jesus. And we need to be so careful that we don’t mix in half-truths with God’s word. But this is what the devil does: he feeds on the word, and adds things in, but then ultimately he takes the truth away, and people are left with nothing but emptiness and lies. Proverbs 30 says: Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.

So it’s a wonderful demonstration of Jesus’ love for us and his power that he comes into the world, and he deals with evil and silences it in its tracks.

Let’s come now to the third part of the reading about
III.              What Jesus was doing on Sunday morning.
We read: And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you”. And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogue and casting out demons.

Jesus gives us a wonderful example here. He has had a busy day the day before, and he has a busy time ahead of him. And so in between, he spends some time alone and prays. He debriefs with God, and he prepares himself with God. When something wonderful happens in our life, we should remember to spend some time to tell God about it and commend it to him. When we are about to do some difficult work, we should also ask him for the strength to carry it out with his blessing and power.

Isn’t it funny how Jesus prays? He created the world together with his Father and the Holy Spirit. Why would he need to pray? Because he is a true man, a true human being like this, and this is what humans were created for: to talk to God and to live in fellowship with him.

But then also when Peter finds him, Jesus tells him that he’s eager to go and do some more preaching, and says: for that is why I came out. What does he mean by this? Where was he coming from? Jesus is talking about the fact that he came down from his eternal glory with his Father and entered into this world as a tiny baby born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus had existed right from before the beginning of time, in eternity with the Father. And he came forth into, he came out from heaven into the world, took human flesh, for what purpose, that he could go out and preach. And we see how the kingdom of Jesus goes from one town to the next town, with Jesus preaching his word all the way. And this Jesus came down from heaven just for this purpose, and he is true God. And as a true man, he prays to his Father, drawing all his strength from him. We see here the wonderful mystery of the fact that Jesus is both true man and true God in one person. He is the same Saviour who has suffered and died for us, and risen from the dead for us. And even today he comes to meet us, to preach his word to us, to come to our home in the afternoon, to help in all our troubles and to look after us in all our sicknesses, to spend the evening with us, and even before we have even woken up and thought about him, he has already gotten out of bed before us and has committed us and our day to the Father. What a faithful Saviour we have! Amen.

Dear Jesus, we thank you for the wonderful way in which you look after us each day and at each part of the day. Teach us to bring our needs to you, and bless us so that we may serve you each day for your kingdom. Amen.