Third Day

Resurrection of Our Lord—Easter Sunrise
Hosea 6:1-3
April 1, 2018
Camp Trinity—New Haven, MO

“Come, let us go back to the LORD.
      He has torn us but He will heal us.
      He has struck us but He will bandage our wounds.
After two days He will revive us.
      On the third day He will raise us to have us live before Him.
Let us earnestly seek to know the LORD.
      He will come out as surely as the dawn.
      He will come to us like the rain,
      like the spring rains that water the ground.”

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of + Jesus.

3.

Theologians make a distinction between two works of God: His alien work and His proper work. God’s alien work is the work He performs that is foreign to Himself, work that does not align with His nature. God’s proper work, on the other hand, is the work He does that is most true to Himself and completely aligns with His nature. These two works are not equal. His alien work is subordinate to His proper work, it is in service to it. God performs His alien work for the sake of His proper work.

The first verse of Hosea’s sixth chapter is just such a distinction. Come, let us go back to the LORD. He has torn us but He will heal us. He has struck us but He will bandage our wounds. On the one hand, God injures and strikes His people with afflictions. These are works that are not proper to God’s nature; they are alien works. God’s nature is not to injure, harm, or kill. And so when He performs these works, He is not acting within Himself.

On the other hand, God also heals and bandages our wounds. Love and tender care completely align with His nature. His greatest joy is to return His people to health and wholeness. This is His proper work. Notice which comes first. God’s alien work precedes His proper work. Injury precedes healing; striking precedes bandaging. The first is for the sake of the second.

Often people ask the difficult question, why God would allow a terrible tragedy to happen. Whether it’s something on a more national or social level—like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting—or things of a more personal or private nature—the hidden afflictions that you don’t want to share with anyone else. But asking that question puts God’s proper work before His alien work. If God’s works are good, how do we account for this affliction? The answer to that question is not good. To be honest, we don’t know why God allows injury when He does, or why He allows afflictions the way He does. But we know that this work is not proper to who He is, and when injury and affliction come, God’s proper work is to heal and to bind up. And so He is the one who brings us back to Himself for restoration

2.

But making this distinction doesn’t tell us why this distinction must be made in the first place. Is God sitting on His throne, arbitrarily deciding who and when to afflict, and who and when to heal? If that were any other person, we’d rightly be concerned that he’s psychotic. Why not skip the injury altogether?

Perhaps an illustration might help. Is this good or evil? A man slices open a woman’s stomach. It would be evil if it were in the context of a domestic assault. But in the case of a doctor operating to remove a cancerous mass, then he causes injury for the sake of healing.

Like cancer, our affliction precedes God’s alien work. The need for healing isn’t because God has made us ill, but because we are ill by nature. It’s a sin-sickness. God’s alien work is often to make us feel our sins more acutely, so that we would turn to Him for healing and restoration.

But there is yet more to His alien work. He applies it to Himself. Jesus, the Son of God, undergoes every injury and affliction common to man. Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, we sing. Just like us, Jesus feels the full force of sins (even though they are not His own). But where the alien work of God has never been applied to us in its fullest—we have never been forsaken by God—while He hangs on the cross, Jesus becomes a complete alien to God.

It would seem there is no worse situation for a person to be in. Stricken by God, abandoned by God, left for dead by God. But the story doesn’t end there. After two days He will revive us. On the third day He will raise us to have us live before Him. The affliction is only a short time. Three days later, God revives. New life. But it’s not even three whole days, not even 72 hours.

In the Jewish reckoning of a day, it’s evening and morning that make a day. We’d already be halfway through this day at sunrise. Jesus dies a bit before sundown on Good Friday, and by the time the women appear at the tomb early in the morning before the sun rises, He’s already risen. So the third day is only slightly longer than 24 hours.

Likewise, God follows the same pattern of these three days for you: affliction – rest – revival. When you go through your worst, know there is rest and new life that follows. This is God’s proper work.

1.

If you are still unsure of God’s nature, take a look at nature. Spring has only just sprung, and the dead world around use is showing signs of new life. The sun is shining longer, and the rains have been saturating the earth. Certainly creation bears some mark of its Creator. Let us earnestly seek to know the LORD. He will come out as surely as the dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rains that water the ground.

Like the spring sun and rain that fall on the dead ground, God’s third-day grace descends in order to raise up new life. It’s the pattern of our lives, patterned after the One who died and rose again on the third day. Death and resurrection. The pattern continues until God’s alien work puts us in a grave of our own, so that He can do for us the same thing that He did for Jesus. After two days He will revive us. On the third He will raise us to have us live before Him.

In the name of + Jesus.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

  1. God’s alien work is for the sake of His proper work.
  2. God raised Christ on the third day; all of our afflictions have their three days.
  3. Like the spring sun and rain that fall on the dead ground, God’s third day grace raises up new life.

[Seek to Know the Lord as the One Who Revives the Dead]

The King Is Dead; Long Live the King

Good Friday
John 19:19
March 30, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

In the name of + Jesus.

4.

For centuries, only the pagans had kings. Apart from the enigmatic Melchizedek, God’s people were a free people under the kingship of the Lord. From time to time, God sent prophets and judges to preach repentance, but His people were not ruled like other people. “The kings of the Gentiles rule over them, and those in authority are called workers of good, but not so with you,” says Jesus to His disciples on the night in which He is betrayed. The kingdom of God is ruled in a way quite different from other kingdoms.

Yet, the people of God clamored for a king of their own. God resisted for a time, because a king who rules with an iron fist is antithetical to His kingdom. But eventually, God will turn people over to their sins if the insist. He gave them a king. But that did not work out so well. King Saul, the first king of Israel, was everything you’d ask for in a king—tall, strong, a military man. But he lacked faith in God. A summary in 1 Chronicles says, So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord, because he did not keep the word of the Lord, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of the Lord; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse (1 Chron 10:13-14 NKJV).

Even before Saul met his demise, David was anointed as the succeeding king. In David, Israel now had a king close to the heart of God. That doesn’t mean that he was without his troubles—David’s claim to fame is that he was a murderous adulterer. But what set him apart is his repentance, precisely what King Saul lacked. Psalm 51, the Psalm that concluded tonight’s Psalmody, is David’s song of repentance, which we take up for ourselves each week in the Offertory.

But David’s reign was not eternal. Even though he was a forgiven sinner, he was still a forgiven sinner, and the wages of sin is death. The corrupted flesh he inherited brought him to an end. So David rested with his fathers, and was buried in the City of David. The period that David reigned over Israel was forty years; seven years he reigned in Hebron, and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty-three years. Then Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established (2 Kings 2:10-12).

The king is dead; long live the king.

3.

David’s son was also a king after God’s heart. And Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David, except that he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places (2 Kings 3:3). King Solomon was known, though, not for his repentance, but for his wisdom. During one of those sacrifices, the Lord offered to grant him a gift, Solomon requested wisdom—which was itself a wise request.

But even though Solomon walked in the statutes of his father David, he also contracted the same corruption of his father. Like his father, Solomon’s weakness was women. His wisdom waned, and he took 1,000 wives—which is the Bible’s way of saying that he took many women as wife or mistress. This introduced another complication: For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David (1 Kings 11:4). After a long and troubled life, Solomon has no explicit record of repentance like his father, King David. Yet, the book of Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon reveal contrition for a rebellious life, and imply faith in the promise of God. Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel forty years. Then Solomon rested with his fathers, and was buried in the City of David his father. And Rehoboam his son reigned in his place (2 Chron 9:30-31).

The king is dead; long live the king.

2.

If the reign of David and the reign of Solomon were troubled, what followed was a downright failure of rule. The kingdom was split, and many kings succeeded their fathers. Most were evil and some spectacularly so. Only a half of half of the remaining kings were good kings, and of them, they only are considered good because they repented of sins and unbelief.

The reign of kings in Israel and Judah became progressively worse until God sent a foreign power to take Israel captive. The last kings were either imprisoned or put to death.

The king is dead; long live…well…there were no more kings.

1.

For four centuries there was no king in Israel. Even after the return of the exiles in Babylon, there wasn’t a true king like David or Solomon, or even one of the later kings. Some took the name of “king” like Herod and his son, but they weren’t truly kings. By that time, Rome was running the show, and Caesar ruled Rome. The “kings” of Israel were more local rulers with limited power.

And this is what made Palm Sunday so exciting. Zechariah had prophesied that Israel’s King would come riding on a donkey. And sure enough, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. People shouted, Hosanna!—exactly what you would say when a king enters the city.

But this is what got Jesus killed. The religious rulers wanted Jesus dead because of His blasphemy (which wasn’t blasphemy; He was upsetting their entire religious order). But Caesar really didn’t care about religious squabbles. The accusation that could stick with the people who had authority to put Jesus to death was that He had designs on being a King. This is the charge made to Pontius Pilate, and the line of questioning he pursues when Jesus is before him.

It’s interesting that when Pilate asks Jesus if He is the King of the Jews, Jesus doesn’t come right out and say yes. “You are saying it,” responds Jesus. He doesn’t take crown for Himself. At least not the way that Pilate is thinking of it. Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews. But now My kingdom is not from here. Then Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king? Jesus answered, “You are saying that I am a king” (Jn 18:36-37).

So, having committed no other crime, this is the charge for which Jesus is crucified. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Of all the troubles of the kings of old, none of them had ever been crucified by their own people for the simple fact of being their king. But there hangs Jesus, the Crucified King—crowned with thorns, robed in purple, enthroned on a cross.

The king is dead…

The long history of Israel’s kings comes to a close. The very thing they begged for, they now put to death. There is no son of the king to take over, no heir apparent to the throne.

But this King is different from all the other kings who came before. Even David, the prototype of Israel’s kings, rested with his fathers—and still does so to this day. But the rest of the Crucified King is much shorter. He needs only a Sabbath day, and very early on the first day of the week, is the return of the King.

The King Is Dead; Long Live the King

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Sorrow that Gives Birth to Joy

Good Friday Tre Ore
John 19:25-27
March 30, 2018
Blessed Savior Lutheran Church—Florissant, MO

III

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her,

“Woman, here is your son,”

and to the disciple,

“Here is your mother.”

From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27).

In the name of + Jesus.

To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Gen 3:16). This is the curse that God announces following the woman’s sin. The blessing that God first gave to be fruitful and multiply is now tarnished by rebellion and disobedience. Childbirth means pain. Not just physical pain, but a kind of sorrow, as well. In order to bring new life into the world, woman must have a small taste of death.

But Jesus also reminds us that the sorrow of childbirth is soon overwhelmed by the joy of a new life born into the world. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world (Jn 16:21). Yet that joy is tempered by the fact that the child is born into a fallen world, and must suffer many things. The sorrows of childbirth extend into the days, weeks, and years that follow.

Jesus was not the only One who suffered on that Good Friday. His mother, who had borne Him in her belly, who had nursed Him at her breast, who had clothed Him, fed Him, nurtured Him, loved Him. Who sang of the Lord’s great and majestic work to Him. She knew this day would come, yet it couldn’t numb the sting she felt in her own heart. Old Simeon prophesied to Mary as she held the baby Jesus in her arms: This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” The soul that once magnified the Lord is now pierced every bit as much as the hands of her Son. It’s not right for a mother to watch her son die.

Even in His greatest pain and agony, Jesus cared for His mother. He kept the Fourth Commandment for all of us rebellious children. Woman, here is your son…Here is your mother. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, took Mary into his home as his own mother that day. Tradition is that John settled with Mary in the city of Ephesus, where she fell asleep in Jesus. And she who received and bore the eternal Word was received by her Son into His eternal kingdom on account of His Word to her.

Jesus gave His mother the gift of adoption, even as He hung dying on the cross. But He doesn’t reserve such love only for her. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Gal 4:4-5). The death of Jesus means a new household for you. Not of flesh and blood or shared genetic materials. The new household is a household established by His Word, just as His third Word from the cross established a new household for John and Mary. Such a household is one of faith.

Even as darkness descended during those three hours, the promise of John’s prologue comes to pass: The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:9-13).

The death of Jesus reverses the curse of Eden. His desire is only for the salvation of those whom He loves; He is enthroned on His cross to rule over them in grace. Jesus labors in pain for all women who give birth to children in painful labor. And by His obedience and honor of not only His mother on earth, but His Father in heaven. Jesus sets the rebellion right. In three days, the sorrow of His death will give birth to new life.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Often

Holy Thursday
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
March 29, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

In the name of + Jesus.

3.

On the night in which Jesus is betrayed, the disciples join together in taking a last Passover Supper. This was the meal that commemorated God’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt, and on the evening before their release, they took a special meal, which consisted of a sacrificed lamb, unleavened bread, and a salad of bitter herbs. The meal was commanded by God, and it was to be eaten in haste while dressed for the upcoming journey.

When God established the first Passover, which was the night the Angel of the Lord struck down the firstborn in Egypt, but passed over the Israelites, who were marked with the blood of the lamb, He also decreed that it would be a repeated meal to commemorate this event. “Remember that day and keep it as the LORD’s festival,” says the Lord, “You and your descendants in the coming generations are to celebrate it forever” (Ex 12:14).

The Passover had a definite time. Once a year on the 14th of Nisan (the first month of the Jewish calendar), the Passover lamb would be sacrificed and the meal set before every practicing Jewish family. The Passover was then followed by a week-long Festival of Unleavened Bread, with definite times and ceremonies connected to it.

But Jesus does something new at this supper. During the meal, He takes bread and says, “Take, eat, this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” And after supper He takes a chalice of wine and says, “Drink of it, all of you, this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” The Passover was a meal of the Old Testament, but Jesus establishes a New Testament. Not the flesh and blood of a lamb, but the flesh and blood of the Lamb of God. The old meal gives way to the new, and with the new comes something else that’s new.

“This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” Jesus adds one little word in there with a ton of significance. ὁσάκις in Greek. “As often as.” For emphasis, He repeats it. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup…” The Passover was once a year; what does Jesus mean by “as often as”?

Martin Luther teaches in the Large Catechism: However, you may say, “But the words are added, ‘As often as you drink it’; there He compels no one, but leaves it to our free choice.” I answer, “That is true, yet it is not written so that we should never do so. Yes, since He speaks the words ‘As often as you drink it,’ it is still implied that we should do it often. This is added because He wants to have the Sacrament free. He does not limit it to special times, like the Jewish Passover, which they were obliged to eat only once a year. They could only have it on the fourteenth day of the first full moon in the evening. They still must not change a day.” It is as if He would say by these words, “I institute a Passover or Supper for you. You shall enjoy it not only once a year, just upon this evening, but often, when and where you will, according to everyone’s opportunity and necessity, bound to no place or appointed time.” But the pope later perverted this and again made the Sacrament into a Jewish feast.

So you see, it is not left free in the sense that we may despise it. I call that despising the Sacrament if one allows a long time to elapse—with nothing to hinder him—yet never feels a desire for it. If you want such freedom, you may just as well have the freedom to not be a Christian and not have to believe or pray. One is just as much commanded by Christ as the other. But if you want to be a Christian, you must from time to time fulfill and obey this commandment. For this commandment ought always to move you to examine yourself and to think, “See, what sort of a Christian I am! If I were one, I would certainly have some small longing for what my Lord has commanded me to do (LC V 46-50).

2.

As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death. The main thing in the Sacrament is the reception of the Lord’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. But there’s a secondary benefit. It’s the congregation’s sermon. You are kind enough to let this preacher get up each week and speak God’s Word (there’s no such thing as a non-sermon Sunday), but the congregation also has a sermon to preach. By eating the bread and drinking the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death.

Body given. Blood shed. Our Lord didn’t die in hospice care of old age. He didn’t contract some unfortunate disease. He didn’t meet His end in a freak accident. He willingly gave Himself over to violent men who pierced Him with whip, thorns, nails, and spear. They shed His blood. The first Supper foretold His suffering, but every Supper ever since recalls the way He died. Your eating and drinking preaches Christ crucified. Do not let it become a stumbling block, as it is to Jews, or foolishness, as it is to Greeks. The Supper is the power of God and the wisdom of God because it proclaims the Lord’s death.

1.

As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. This Supper is not a one and done deal. It is given to be eaten and drunk often. Until He comes. This meal is the sustenance for walking the way of Jesus. If you run a race, it will do you no good to starve yourself. I’m not a runner, and I know that. You need to eat, and you need to eat right. The idea of food alone will not sustain you. Remembering a meal that someone else ate won’t give you the strength to make it to the end. The Supper is your sustenance to run the race, and thus win the crown.

But there is a promise embedded in these final words. The Lord will come again. This meal isn’t a memorial meal (although it does recall the Lord’s death), it’s a now and not yet meal. We partake of a nibble of bread and a sip of wine—not enough to fill even the smallest belly. But this little Supper is a foretaste of the feast to come, even as Maundy Thursday is a foretaste of Easter joy.

On this mountain the LORD of armies will prepare for all people a banquet of rich foods, a festival with wines kept on their sediment, rich foods full of marrow, wines kept on their sediment and filtered. On this mountain He will remove the veil of grief covering all people and the web covering all nations. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces.

The Last Supper of Jesus with His Disciples Is the First Of Many Suppers of Jesus with His Disciples, Propelling Us to the Eternal Supper of the Lamb

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

 

Your King Is Coming


Palm Sunday
John 12:14-15
March 25, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

Zechariah prophesied during the exile of the Israelites when there were no kings in Israel. Even when Israel had kings, less than a half of a half of them were any good—most chased after the false gods of other nations. But Zechariah looks to the future. Be very happy, people of Zion! Shout aloud, people of Jerusalem. You see, your King will come to you, He is righteous and victorious, poor, and riding on a donkey, on a young burro, the colt of a donkey (Zech 9:9). Zechariah’s vision is fulfilled when Jesus goes into Jerusalem. Jesus found a donkey and sat on it, as it is written: “Don’t be afraid, daughter of Zion! Look! Your King is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt!”

But Zechariah doesn’t see the first Palm Sunday only. He sees every Palm Sunday that follows—indeed every Sunday that follows. Because your King still comes to you, though no longer on the donkey. He comes to you in the ministry of the Church. And He comes for a very specific reason. At the end of His Palm Sunday journey lies His throne—the cross.

Look, Your King Is Coming

I.

It was a sight to behold, to be sure. People energized with the thought of a king, and with the king the return of the kingdom. Just like the days of old, when David ruled in power, and Solomon in wisdom, and, well, after those two it gets a little sketchier. Some of the kings were good, but most turned away from God. A couple of them repented, but overall, the age of the kings in Israel was not one of its shining moments. But memories are short, and selective. Look, your king is coming—He’s riding on a donkey.

This was maybe unexpected, although it shouldn’t have been for any student of the Old Testament. It was maybe a striking counter-point to the crowds waving their palm branches and laying their coats on the street and singing a Psalm of ascent, which just so happened to coincide with the cries that one would give for a king—Hosanna! Salve! Hail! Save us! But the King that comes comes on a donkey.

The, donkey is an entire book about this King. But let’s highlight just two things revealed by the King’s choice of vehicle. First, the donkey is low and humble. It’s not a majestic destrier that the King rides, armor flashing in the sunlight, chariots and army in His train. The donkey isn’t known for running down the enemy. They’re known more for their difficulty and refusal to obey. But it’s with this humble mount that the King comes with power greater than those who ride war horses and chariots, who wield the most advanced armor and weaponry.

The second thing the donkey teaches about this King is that He bears a burden. The donkey most often is utilized not in war but in work. He carries things that are too heavy or too inconvenient for his master to carry. This donkey carries a Man who Himself bears a burden—the donkey bears the One who bears the sins of the world.

The donkey tells us that the reign of this King will be far different from any other king on earth, far different even from the kings of Israel. His reign is not power, but weakness; not strength, but humility. His reign is to bear the burden to His own throne, to wear it upon His own head, draped over His own shoulders. Look, your King is coming—He’s riding on a donkey.

II.

I’m sure somewhere, someone has brought a live donkey into their church for Palm Sunday. I’m not one to tempt fate like that, especially given the reputation donkey’s have. Although, perhaps it would take away our romanticized view of the triumphal entry that we see depicted in paintings. Rather, we might realize what a comedy it would have been, what a halting, meandering path the donkey probably took. But whatever it looked like in person, that’s not what it means for us. The donkey is gone. But that doesn’t mean that the King doesn’t still come to you. He just chooses different vehicles (though for the same reasons). Look, your King is coming—He’s riding on the word and the water, the bread and the wine.

Perhaps it’s even more unexpected than a donkey. How should our Lord and King come to His people? In great power and majesty and might, in a mode suited to a king? He certainly could—all of His enemies are now under His feet. But to come in great power and majesty and might, as the conquering King, would mean that He comes as a judge. That’s bad news for us.

Let us examine ourselves according to the donkey. How’s your humility? I think Muhammad Ali sums it up for us: “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” No, a donkey wouldn’t do for us. That part of God’s kingdom is a bit distasteful. What about bearing your burden? No, we pile offense upon offense, and then we try to pass the guilt off on anyone but ourselves. That’s the Adam and Eve blame game.

It is a blessing to us that our King still comes mounted on humble vehicles, though not on the donkey. The vehicles our King chooses now are the Word, water, bread and wine. That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake (AC V). The instruments of the Holy Spirit are also the vehicles of our King, because the Spirit’s job is simply to bring us Christ. That’s what Jesus promises.

These vehicles are humble—nothing flashy, and nothing threatening about words, or water, or bread and wine. These are fundamental to human existence. But the more gracious nature of these vehicles is that Christ comes in them to bear the burden of your sins. Today, Jesus came to Graham in the water to make Himself Graham’s King, and He did so by taking the burden that Graham cannot bear on his own. That’s the Word that’s added to the water—the promise of forgiveness.

Your King also comes to you today, mounted on bread and wine, to give you His body and blood. Why? Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This is why we sing again, Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! during the communion liturgy. Look, your King is coming—He’s riding the word and the water, the bread and the wine.

III.

But we mustn’t yet turn our attention away from the first Palm Sunday, because there was a purpose to the King’s entry into Jerusalem. There was a definite end to the journey on the donkey. Because a King needs a coronation and to sit on His throne. But just as the donkey is an unexpected vehicle for a king, so is this King’s coronation and throne unexpected. Look, your King is coming—and He’s going to the cross.

Just as His mount was a donkey and not a destrier, the King’s crown is not gold and jewels, but thorns. His robe is a blood-soaked piece of purple. His throne is a couple of pieces of lumber, fixed with nails. Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews, read the sign above His head. And while it looked like anything but a king, the sign couldn’t have been more right. Jesus is the Crucified King.

And that means something for you. Jesus still comes to you as the Crucified King. Graham’s baptism (and yours) crucifies you with Christ. The Supper you eat proclaims the King’s death. The purpose of His coming to you is to bring you the cross, rather, the benefits of His cross. But in one week, that death will give way to resurrection. Look, your King is coming—and He’s bringing the cross.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

 

 

Of Faith and Sacrifice

Lent 5
Genesis 22:1-14
March 18, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

1.

What kind of faith does it take to slaughter your own son? Not only that, but your one and only son, the son for whom you waited and hoped, the one who finally came in your old age. What kind of faith does it take to lay a knife at his throat? The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, in his mediation on the story of Abraham and Isaac, Fear and Trembling, contemplated what it must have been like for Abraham to make that journey to the mountain at God’s behest, knowing all the while it meant his son’s death at his own hands. What kind of faith is that? I don’t know if anyone here has that kind of faith. In fact, if someone today would commit such a horrendous crime in service to God, we’d rightly prosecute him to the furthest extent of the law.

2.

The Genesis narrative doesn’t tell us about what was going through Abraham’s head between, “Then he started out for the place God told him about,” and, “On the third day Abraham looked and saw the place in the distance.” But those three days must have been excruciating. How many times did Abraham think about turning back, about finding a new god who didn’t demand such horrible things? How often was he given the choice to take Isaac and flee to another country, one far, far away from this God who demands blood?

At its must subjective, faith is a crisis that demands a decision. Do I stay, do I go; do I obey, do I rebel; do I believe, do I doubt? Abraham was faced with decisions of faith when he saddled his donkey, when he cut the wood for the offering, when he took the knife in his hands, but he was also faced with a crisis of faith every step of his journey.

We are likewise faced with crises nearly every day of our lives. We don’t often call them crises; we tend to reserve that word for really big decisions. But there are little decisions we have to make day in and day out, like Abraham’s thousands of footsteps on his way to Mt. Moriah. A crisis of faith isn’t just whether to try out a new cancer drug that might end up killing you—a crisis of faith is when you make a decision to spread gossip, or to tell a half-truth to make somebody look bad, or to entertain a married coworker’s flirtations, or to “borrow” some money from your work’s petty cash.

But the decisions of faith are not always so clear-cut. Not everything has an identifiably God-pleasing decision. Abraham’s experience was even more muddy. If he would have chosen to do what was God’s will—that is, choosing not to kill his son—he would have been disobeying God and would have failed the test of faith. This is why Kierkegaard calls Abraham a knight of faith: after resigning himself to losing everything, including his son, he’s willing to do the unthinkable in faith.

If, then, faith is a crisis—an either-or decision—what happens if you’re wrong?

Our problem so far has been defining faith as a matter of making decisions. Faith isn’t about making decisions; making decisions is a matter of the Law. The Law commands this or that, and you had better do this or that. God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son, that’s Law if I’ve ever heard it. The Law also commands you not to spread gossip and to speak kindly about your neighbors, the Law commands you not to hide part of the truth, the Law commands you to honor your and your coworker’s marriages and to live a chaste life.

The Law is what makes the crisis. The Law is what puts a choice in front of you. But the Law is not always as clean-cut as we would like. There are often times when we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, when either decision would be to disobey God. Like Abraham. To sacrifice his son is murder. But to refuse is to disobey God’s direct command.

This is in fact, the reason why God gives His Law. The Law was given to increase the trespass. This is part of God’s test of Abraham. Either decision that he makes, he’s forced into a reckoning with God. Every step he takes toward that mountain is a step toward that reckoning. I wonder what would have happened had the voice of the angel not stopped Abraham—would he have gone through with it? We’ll never know. And that’s the point. Abraham’s faith wasn’t based on his choice. The Law demands a choice, but the choice is never satisfactory. We need a better definition of faith. We need to sift something else from this story that tells us what faith is.

3.

We will, of course, never know what was going on inside of Abraham’s head, or what stirred in his heart. The only thing we can know is his confession. God leads Abraham along that journey in order to get him to confess his faith. Then Isaac said to his father, “My father.” “Yes, my son,” he answered. “We have the fire and the wood,” said Isaac, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” “God will provide Himself with a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. Now Abraham has come to the point where every other choice is removed. That’s faith in God. God has the choice; He will provide Himself with a sacrifice. Actually, let’s make that a little more pointed:

God Provides Himself as a Sacrifice

Now we have come to faith: faith is belief in the promise that God Himself makes and keeps.

4.

As Abraham reached for the knife and took it in his hand to sacrifice his son, the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes,” he answered. “Don’t lay your hands on the boy,” He said, “and don’t do anything to him. Now I know you fear God: you didn’t refuse to give Me your only son.” When Abraham looked around, he saw behind him a ram caught by his horns in a bush. So Abraham went and got the ram and sacrificed him as a burnt offering instead of his son. Abraham called that place The-LORD-Will-Provide. Today we still say, “On the mount of the LORD it will be provided.”

So where is this lamb? It’s not Isaac. It’s not on the altar. It’s not caught in a thicket (that’s a ram, not a lamb). In fact, the story closes without the lamb being sacrificed. But He is present. The Lamb is the One who speaks from heaven. The Angel of the Lord, Genesis names Him. God told Abraham to sacrifice His son Isaac, but it was really one of the sons that Isaac would produce.

The story goes on: Again the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven: “I swear by Myself, says the LORD, because you did this and didn’t refuse to give up your only son, I will bless you richly and give you many descendants, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, and your  descendants will capture the city of their enemies. In your Descendant all the nations on earth will be blessed, because you did what I told you.” Actually, Moses didn’t write that Abraham did what God told Him—that’s a bad translation. Moses wrote that Abraham heard what God said. Abraham’s faith—and thus his blessing—wasn’t because of what he did. It was because of what God said. It was God’s gracious Word. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ, writes St. Paul.

Tradition is that that same mountain would be where the sacrifices were offered in the temple. That’s why it was still said in that day, “On the mount of the Lord it will be provided.” Year after year, lambs were brought in to be sacrificed, but none of them were the Lamb that God provided. Until the Angel of the Lord—the Son of God—stands in the temple. He is set apart as the Sacrifice once and for all. God makes good on His promise and He does what Abraham confesses—He provides Himself as the Sacrifice.

5.

So that means that faith for you is not a crisis of decision. It doesn’t mean absolute resignation and being willing lose that which is most near and dear. For you, faith is rest in the promise that the Lamb of God became the Sacrifice also for you. The Law demands your choice, but God has made the choice you could never make. He gives you the promise—the same promise given to Abraham—that in his Descendent, you are blessed.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Born of the Promise

Fourth Sunday in Lent
Galatians 4:21-31
March 11, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

Tell me, you who desire to be under the Law, do you not listen to the Law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons—one of the slave woman and one of the free woman. But where the one who was of the slave woman was born according to the flesh, the one of the free woman was through the promise. This is an allegory, for there are two testaments. One is from Mount Sinai, for begetting slavery—this is Hagar. Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, which corresponds to present Jerusalem, for she is enslaved with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, which is our mother, for it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one, who does not bear children, break forth and cry out, O one who is not in labor, because the children of the deserted one will be many more than she who has a husband.” Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of a promise. But just as then, when the one born according to the flesh pursued the one according to the promise, so it is also now. But what does the Scripture say? Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman will not inherit along with the son of the free woman. Therefore, brothers, we are not children of a slave woman, but of the free woman.

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

It’s always important to be very careful with allegory. Allegory is when a story signifies some greater meaning. The stories may or may not be true, but they usually serve to illustrate timeless truths. Aesop’s fables are examples of allegory; short stories that teach common sense morals. But allegories can be tricky, because it’s easy to invent some secret meaning and to soar off into flights of fancy. The British author J. R. R. Tolkien was not fond of allegories. And Lutherans in general have always been suspicious of allegorical readings of the Bible, because of the excesses and abuses of that method in the medieval Church.

But today we get an honest to goodness allegory. It’s right there in the text, although many English translations find a similar word to translate it. This is an allegory, writes St. Paul about the sons of Abraham. Allegoroumena. And the significance of this allegory is that there are two testaments. One of them corresponds to Ishmael, the son of Hagar, the slave woman; the other corresponds to Isaac, the son of Sarah, the free woman.

The first testament is the slave son. The original story goes like this: after years of failing to have children, even when God had promised to make Abraham into a great nation, Sarah had the bright idea of having one of the slaves, or household servants, act as a surrogate mother. She chose Hagar, and Abraham took her as a mistress and, sure enough, had a son, Ishmael. But Abraham and Sarah were taking God’s promise into their own hands and forcing the outcome, not to mention breaking the 6th Commandment. Eventually, Abraham and Sarah would have a son of their in their old age, against all odds (except God’s odds), and Isaac would be the son that God had promised. When Ishmael was a young man, he and his mother were expelled from the household into the desert to wander. Incidentally, God did make a great nation of Ishmael also—Islam traces its lineage to Abraham, but through Ishmael, the son of the Law, the son of slavery.

This is an allegory, for there are two testaments. One is from Mount Sinai, for begetting slavery—this is Hagar. Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, which corresponds to present Jerusalem, for she is enslaved with her children. There are actually two levels of signification here. The first correspondence is between Hagar and Mt. Sinai. Hagar precedes God’s activity on that mountain by about 450 years; she is a prototype of God’s giving of the Law. God was indeed at work in Ishmael’s birth, and was with him as well (the text never says that Ishmael abandons the faith of his father, but his descendants certainly did). Likewise, the Law is God’s good work. But it is not the promise. Ishmael is not Isaac, and the Messiah does not descend from Ishmael.

St. Paul then makes a surprising move to a third level of signification and says that Hagar, who corresponds to Mt. Sinai, also corresponds with present Jerusalem. This would have really offended the religiously sensible in Jerusalem, because they considered themselves descendants of Abraham via Isaac, and heirs of God’s special favor. But they only claimed a physical descent, which is essentially the same claim that Ishmael has. They may only claim an inheritance by the Law, and the result is that they are cast out. They are sons of slavery.

But there is yet a third level of signification, which Paul establishes at the beginning of today’s reading. Tell me, you who desire to be under the Law, do you not listen to the Law? The Jews who claimed Abraham’s ancestry were the immediate recipients of this allegory, but it also extends to everyone who would be under the Law. And this offends the religiously sensible among us as well. While we Gentiles may not be able to claim descent from Abraham either through Isaac or Ishmael, we are spiritual heirs of slavery. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin, says Jesus. And it is the Law that shuts the door and turns the key on sin’s slavery.

Yet Christians—yes, Lutherans also—are so quick to flee back into the Law, to reenact Abraham’s adultery in new and creative ways, to force God’s promise by works of the Law. But these works are never the real deal. Ishmael was probably a sweet boy, but he wasn’t the heir. The Law begets slavery.

1.

But there is a second part to this allegory. But where the one who was of the slave woman was born according to the flesh, the one of the free woman was through the promise… But the Jerusalem above is free, which is our mother, for it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one, who does not bear children, break forth and cry out, O one who is not in labor, because the children of the deserted one will be many more than she who has a husband.”

It’s left unstated, but the first level of significance is that Sarah corresponds to another mountain, Mount Calvary. Where Mount Sinai was God’s activity of giving the Law, Mount Calvary is the location of His activity of accomplishing the Gospel. The death of Jesus and the blood shed on that mountain confirm a New Testament, just as we hear every week in the communion liturgy. This cup is the New Testament in my blood. This mountain gives birth to the promise of forgiveness of sins.

The next level of significance is that this corresponds to the Jerusalem above, the heavenly Jerusalem. It’s the Jerusalem to which we refer when we invoke angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in the communion liturgy. They are the residents above, heirs of the promise like their spiritual father Isaac. The Old Testament Reading for today is a reminder that the Law is not the only thing that God gave to His people in the wilderness. There was also grace in the shape of bread from heaven. And so we receive the living bread from heaven, the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, given under bread and wine for us to eat and to drink along the way.

But the further significance is for those who have been freed from the slavery of the Law by the promise of the Gospel. Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of a promise. But just as then, when the one born according to the flesh pursued the one according to the promise, so it is also now. But what does the Scripture say? Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman will not inherit along with the son of the free woman. Therefore, brothers, we are not children of a slave woman, but of the free woman.

When the promise of the New Testament in Christ’s blood comes, the Law is cast out. Not that it no longer exists, but that it is no longer defining. The Law is not your mother, and you should not expect any sustenance from it. Rather, your sustenance comes from your mother, the Church: comfort, protection, rest, food and drink. Jerusalem descends from above in the Sacrament and the promise is born again. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This is the promise that gave a second birth to Isaac and to you. And this promise begets freedom.

You, Like Isaac, Are Children of a Promise

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

God’s Finger

Third Sunday in Lent
Luke 11:14-28
March 4, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

While only water and God’s Word are essential to Baptism, there are other ceremonies that extol what God does in this Sacrament. Two ceremonies common in today’s Baptism are the baptismal candle, to remind us that Baptism enlightens with the light of Christ, and a white cloth, to show that Baptism clothes with the righteousness of Christ, the sign of the cross shows that Baptism works forgiveness of sins. The essential parts of Baptism, though, are water—because to baptize means to wash with water—and God’s Word—because it is God’s Baptism, with His command, His promise, and His name attached to it.

The additional ceremonies as well as the prayers and liturgy that go along with it, are all secondary. In fact, if you look on the last printed page of your hymnal, you can find “A Short Form for Holy Baptism in Cases of Necessity,” which states, In urgent cases, in the absence of the Pastor, any Christian may administer Holy Baptism. Take water, call the child by name, pour or sprinkle the water on the head of the child, saying: I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. If there is time, the baptism may be preceded by the following prayer and the Lord’s Prayer. If there is time. It’s a pretty stripped down Baptism, but still a Baptism nonetheless. Water, Word. If there is time, the Lord’s Prayer.

So why all the ceremony, then? The Large Catechism teaches: So, and even much more, you must honor Baptism and consider it glorious because of the Word. For God Himself has honored it both by words and deeds. Furthermore, He confirmed it with miracles from heaven. Do you think it was a joke that, when Christ was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended visibly, and everything was divine glory and majesty? (LC V.21). The ceremonies are because of God’s command and promise that’s added to the water. And ceremonies are necessary to teach.

So the candle and the white cloth and the cross and the prayers are all designed to teach something about Baptism. But those are not the only ceremonies that have been used in Baptisms. In fact, the first Lutheran order of Baptism included a lot of ceremonies that would be quite foreign to you. It included three—count ‘em, three—exorcisms; salt was put into the baby’s mouth; the pastor touched the baby’s ears and nose with some spittle and said Ephphatha; a procession; and an anointing with oil. It was a good thing that the Wittenberg worshippers didn’t need to get home to watch Sunday football.

While these ceremonies might seem excessive to our modern, streamlined sensibilities, and even strange, they were not included randomly or haphazardly. They taught an aspect of Baptism—one that is illustrated in today’s Gospel.

1.

And He was casting out a demon, who was also mute. And it happened that, when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds marveled (v 14). This is one of the many miraculous healings that Jesus performs, but one of the few that is actually reported with any detail. The evangelists report typical healings, and give them some theological significance; they aren’t just wonders to ooh and ahh over.

As is often the case, a person with physical maladies is also oppressed by a demon, or an evil spirit. Not every illness is directly linked to a spiritual cause, but all spiritual afflictions manifest themselves in physical afflictions as well. This particular man was mute, and along with being mute, a person is also often deaf, because hearing and speech go together.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus heals a deaf and mute man and we get the gritty details. He touches the man’s ears and tongue and spits and says “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” One could imagine a similar situation happening in this situation as well, Jesus addresses the man’s tongue, and all of a sudden he begins to speak.

The onlookers try to account for this strange turn of events, and some stoop to accusing Jesus of using dark arts and satanic powers to perform His works. Briefly, Jesus explains that the devil cannot be against himself, or else he’d be bound to fall. Jesus is, in fact, the one who has come to disarm Satan, and render him powerless. But what He says next is of great importance to our story today. He says, But if by the finger of God I am casting out demons, then the kingdom of God has come among you” (v 20). This is an interesting metaphor, and one that’s a bit obscure. Does God literally stick His finger out of heaven to bring His kingdom? Well, yes, in the case of the man whose deaf ear was introduced to the finger of God in Jesus Christ. But to get a deeper understanding of what Jesus is saying here, we have to turn to Matthew’s Gospel. He tells the story with a slight change. Jesus says there, “But if by the Spirit of God I am casting out demons, then the kingdom of God has come among you” (Mt 12:28). Precisely the same, but instead of finger, Matthew reports Jesus saying, “Spirit.” So the finger of God is the Spirit of God. And this is true when Jesus sticks His finger in deaf man’s ear, when He cures this mute man, and whenever He ministers to the sick and the demon-oppressed. The kingdom of God is invading the devil’s kingdom by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The phenomenon of the mute man starting to speak causes everyone to marvel, but Jesus’ gives some commentary on what cannot be seen. “When the unclean spirit has gone out from a person, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and when he does not find it, then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it having been swept and arranged in order. Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself and after going in takes up residence there; and the end of that person is worse than the beginning” (vv 24-26).

What kind of place does an unclean spirit seek out? Anhydrous. Waterless. A waterless place could be just about anywhere, but one place it cannot be is Baptism, because water is essential to it. And what’s more, Baptism is the union of water and the Spirit of God, who comes through the Word. It is a washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. And it casts out the devil and the evil spirit that are inhere in us since birth.

But Jesus’ commentary should also warn us that Baptism is not a once and done thing. We must continually return to our Baptisms, remember our Baptisms, and nurture our Baptisms. Or else, that same evil spirit will return and find everything set in order for him.

How do you prevent this from happening? Two ways. First, by confessing your sins and hearing again the Absolution. As the Large Catechism teaches, Here you see that Baptism, both in its power and meaning, includes also the third Sacrament, which has been called repentance. It is really nothing other than Baptism (LC V.74). So repentance—confessing sins and believing the absolution—is just Baptism reapplied. It’s not necessary to find new water and get rebaptized. Just remember your Baptism, and what it means for every day of your life. Repent. Confess. Believe.

Second, is by catechism. Catechism is the word we use for the way the Church teaches the faith. It’s teaching by conversation, by questions and responses. Catechism is the unfolding of the name in which Baptism is administered. Catechism shouldn’t just start in junior high, but it should begin as soon as the water dries from the baby’s head. Read the Commandments, confess the Creed, pray the Our Father, use the Daily Prayers. Junior high is the time to start digging deeper. Notice, though, it’s the start. Catechism doesn’t end with confirmation. It goes on. Every day of our lives.

In this way, we can keep ourselves well watered with baptismal grace and remain occupied with the Holy Spirit. And our ends will be more blessed than our beginnings.

The Spirit of God Given in Baptism Is the Finger that Casts Out the Devil

 

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Conquering God in Two Easy Steps

Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 32:22-32
March 20, 2011
Emmanuel Lutheran Church—Dwight, IL
Revised February 25, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

Life throws a lot of things at you. The season of Lent is a time meant for you to reflect on your life and your faith, and one thing that should quickly become apparent is that both your life and your faith are constantly under attack. You struggle with finances. News of disaster comes from all parts of the world and you wonder how a loving God can allow such things to happen—and if you’ll be next. Meanwhile, our society is systematically deconstructing every Law God has revealed in His Word and written on our hearts and reconstructing them to suit our own fancies.

Satan is indeed mounting a mighty assault on our Lord and your faith. But what about when it appears that God is also on the offensive? What about those times when you feel that God’s attacks are more unbearable than anything the world throws at you? What about when you pray and the only fruit you see is the exact opposite of what you pray for?

If God is your opponent, you have an impossible task trying to subdue the Almighty. Yet, when God appears to be on the attack, when He seems to be most stern and angry, there is one thing that will restrain His judgment, for He Himself has promised to submit to it.

God Allows Himself To Be Conquered by Faith and Prayer

I.

The story of the patriarch Jacob is an example for us. Our story begins with Jacob getting up in the middle of the night and sending his entire household across a river and being left alone. The reason he does things this way is because he’s going to meet his brother Esau, and he’s afraid. If you remember, Jacob and Esau were twin brothers, Jacob being the second-born directly behind his brother. But Jacob had stolen his brother’s birthright by deceiving his blind father and had fled to another land. Now, following God’s command, Jacob was returning, but he first had to go through his brother.

When Jacob is left alone, there is no doubt that spent time praying to God about his upcoming encounter with his brother. “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day: (v 24).

Some people think of prayer as God’s big payout—that if you pray hard enough and believe strongly enough, God will reward your efforts with untold blessings. But Jacob’s experience shows us otherwise. Prayer is less of a divine slot-machine and more of an invitation to God to wrestle with Him. For as the majority of Christians interpret this story—and as Jacob himself later realizes—he is wrestling with no ordinary man, but with God Himself.

The tendency of our prayer is to try to subdue the Lord by wrestling Him to the ground by the strength of our works. That’s why so many people despise true prayer. Either they believe that it’s pointless to pray when you believe that you can get anything you want by good, old-fashioned hard work, or they’d tried to pray in the past and had not gotten the results they wanted.

The prayer of the natural man is a bit like a man going to his boss to ask for a raise. We lay before God everything that we’ve done on His behalf, how we’ve worked hard for Him, how we make His kingdom a better place overall. For all of these things, we think we have a right to get what ask for. The prayer we most naturally want to pray is a prayer of works.

Yet just as God comes to Jacob as He prays to wrestle with him, we also invite God into a wrestling match with our petitions. However, we fail to realize that our opponent is the almighty and omnipotent God; He cannot be subdued by our strength. Jacob, who was undoubtedly a strong man wrestled to daybreak without overcoming Him. The Man makes His strength known in that with a mere touch to the hip, His throws His leg out of socket.

II.

Yet, the fact that this contest lasts all night tells us something about the Man who wrestles with Jacob. Even though He could have easily disabled Jacob, or worse, He allowed him to continue wrestling. Like a father who does not use his full strength when wrestling with his son, the Lord Almighty set aside His almighty power so as to allow Jacob this chance to wrestle with Him. Even the blow to the hip is not enough to keep Jacob from holding on until daybreak.

This is the way of our Lord Jesus. He sets aside His glory to be born of the Virgin, to suffer under Pontius Pilate, to be crucified, dead and buried under the hands of men. He allows Himself to be held by our mortal flesh.

Even though Jacob wrestled with God all night, he cannot ultimately subdue Him with his own strength. At dawn he has reached a draw at best. His opponent is only finally conquered when Jacob asks for a word of blessing. “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ And he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him” (vv 25-29).

When Jacob asks for a blessing, he asks for a Word from God, and the Word of God can only be grasped by faith. Thus Jacob subdues God by faith and prayer. But it is not a prayer of His own works or a prayer for strength, but a prayer for God to be faithful to His Word. For God had promised Jacob that He would return him to his own country for his good.

Because Jacob prevailed over God not by strength, but by faith in His Word, God changed his name to Israel. You’ve heard that name countless times, but do you know what it means? It means, “conqueror of God.”

You, like Jacob, have also been given a new name—the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit placed on you in your Baptism. With that name, you are also incorporated into a new Israel—not an Israel of the flesh, but rather of the Spirit. Thus you are more than a conqueror in Jesus Christ, because you have been given the means to subdue the almighty God of all creation—namely the promises that He’s made. And the Lord loves nothing more than to be subdued by His own promises.

Know that no matter how stern and angry and unrelenting the Lord may appear, He invites you to wrestle with Him in prayer, to hold His Word until the daybreak of a new creation.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Join the Resistance!

First Sunday in Lent
Matthew 4:1-11
February 18, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

1.

Join the resistance! We’re looking for a few good men and women who are up to the challenge—some Lent warriors who are ready to take that next step in their spiritual journeys and make a serious effort to resist sin. That’s what the season of Lent is about, after all—resisting temptation. So stand up if you’re ready to join the resistance!

The pervasive problem with Lenten disciplines, though, is that we can only succeed if we make it easy on ourselves. That’s why you’ll often hear someone who’s giving up chocolate or soda for Lent. Yeah, it doesn’t take too much to resist Hershey’s or Sun Drop for 40 days. But if that even sounds too tough, you could always give up broccoli for Lent. Except none of the more common Lent disciplines usually benefit anyone other than yourself. Perhaps we can make it a little harder to succeed—for Lent you can give up repeating gossip.

2.

We’re only a few days into Lent, and if you chose a discipline that’s even just a little more substantial than giving up broccoli or soda or chocolate, you might have already broken it. Sin—real sin, not just bad habits—is notoriously hard to resist. Some might claim that it’s just a matter of mind over matter, but that’s a modern fantasy that neglects, 1) that the body and its passions are strong, and 2) that the mind is just as corrupt as the body, and in fact every sinful act begins in the mind and in the heart.

That’s the nature of sin since Adam’s fall. The more you try to resist it, the more it takes a hold of you. This is why the last two commandments are added. St. Paul highlights this problem in his letter to the Romans:

What will we say, then? That the Law is sin? Absolutely not! But I did not know sin except through the Law. For I had not known covetousness, except that the Law says, “You will not covet.” But taking the opportunity through the commandment, sin produced in me all covetousness, for without the Law, sin is dead. At one time I was living without the Law, but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life. I died, and the commandment which was for life was found to be death for me. For sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it, killed me. So the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and right and good (Rom 7:7-12). Covetousness—the 9th and 10th Commandments—are added to show that sin is too large a problem for simple willpower.

Sin and the Law come into a violent clash in the life of a Christian. Lent isn’t an occasion to remove this conflict, but a time for a more intense look at it. It’s a time to be more honest with yourself. The Lenten fast and any Lenten discipline you may adopt is to show you that resistance is futile. It’s like drowning in quicksand—the more you struggle, the deeper you sink in it. So, should we just give up and give in?

That’s the real crisis today. Lent presents a catch-22. If you try to resist sin, you end up sinning. If you don’t try to resist sin, you end up sinning. Literally, you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. This is the point that St. Paul was driving home. The only resolution to the crisis of the Law and sin is death. That judgment was leveled millennia ago when God said to Adam, You are dust, and to dust you will return (Gen 3:19). Sin seized its opportunity, and death is the result.

3.

Adam was created without sin, and still he could not resist Satan. What does that say about the prospects for us, his sons and daughters? Satan’s temptations exhibit a remarkable influence over the flesh; he knows right where to place them—at our weakest spots. The flesh is weak, and now amount of discipline is going to strengthen it to resist temptation. The Lenten crisis caused by the call to join the resistance, only to find that resistance is futile, is only resolved by looking outside of ourselves.

It takes divine power that exceeds Satan’s persuasion to resist temptation. And I’m not talking about a spiritual spark from on high. The flesh is weak, and in order for the flesh to resist the desires of the flesh, it must be pervaded in every fiber, every molecule, with divinity. 100% Body. Soul. Mind. Heart. And this is the resolution that only God Himself can provide.

4.

This is the solution provided by God Himself, and which is on display in the wilderness. It should first be noted that Jesus faces temptation following His baptism, after He is disclosed as the Son of God, and the mission of the cross is laid upon Him. That is the Father’s good pleasure. After assuming not only the mantle of the Son of God, but also the Son of Adam (which is to say, the Son of Man), Jesus goes to where Adam was banished—to the wilderness. His first order of public business is to confront the first cause of sin.

In the wilderness, Jesus encounters the old, evil foe, who now means deadly woe for our Lord. Three times Satan lays a temptation before Jesus. It only took one to get Adam to fall, but Jesus withstands three. Not only that, He does so at His weakest. The flesh is weak to begin with, but after forty days of fasting, it’s even weaker. If you give up chocolate for Lent, by the time Easter rolls around, you can’t wait to tear into that chocolate bunny. After forty days of fasting, Jesus in the flesh was most susceptible to temptation.

So that’s Satan’s first avenue of attack—the flesh. “If you are the Son of God, speak, so that these stones would become bread.” He who once overcame by a morsel of food, now tries to overcome in the same way. But to speak to stones to change them into bread means that you are not receiving your daily bread with thanksgiving. Jesus responds, “It is written: ‘Man will not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds through the mouth of God.’”

Again the devil makes his move. This time he doesn’t even twist God’s Word, he quotes it straight up, but invites a misinterpretation and misapplication: Then the devil took Him along into the holy city and stood Him upon the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it has been written that He will command His angels concerning you, and they will lift you on their hands, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.” Where the first temptation was for the Epicurean, this one is for the religious. This temptation is to pit God against His Word, to put the Bible above Jesus. Lutherans, beware! And Jesus said, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”

Third time’s a charm, so the devil thinks. Again, the devil took Him along into a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory. And he said to Him, “These all I will give to You, if You would fall down and worship me.” This would fit well in our Wednesday evening set of ironies. The devil offers Jesus something that He already has. You can be the King of kings, the devil says. This temptation isn’t for worldly glory, as the devil suggests. It’s to deny Himself, to renounce His Baptism, to set aside the cross, to trade a crown of thorns for a crown of gold. But Jesus will have none of it; He cannot deny Himself. He will not take what is rightfully His by force. Rather, He must suffer and die to establish His kingdom, which is not of this world. Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan, for it has been written, ‘You will worship the Lord your God and Him alone will you serve.’”

After 40 days, the devil is out of tricks; he’s exhausted every last lie. And Jesus has resisted them all. The devil must depart. Angels come and minister to Him. Now is the time to

Join the Resistance; Jesus Is Your Resistance to Temptation

5.

You are united with Christ, and with Him you not only can, but do resist the devil. The person of Jesus is the union of divinity and humanity. He alone has the power of Himself to resist the devil. You are united not in a personal union, but in a mystical union. In your Baptism, you are united with Christ, you join Him in His baptism, in His death, in His resurrection. You join Him in the wilderness where He resists the devil. In the Supper His body and blood become a part of you, and you become a part of His body. His defeat of the devil becomes your defeat of the devil.

This is the purpose of all Lenten discipline: to point you to Christ, who is your resistance to temptation.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA