Monday, September 24, 2012

The Lamb of God is Led to the Slaughter

17th Sunday after Pentecost, September 23rd, Year of Our + Lord 2012
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Isaiah 50:4-10 and Mark 9:14-29  - The Lamb of God is Led to the Slaughter
 Vicar Jason Toombs

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  The cry of John the Baptist in the wilderness when Jesus came to be baptized by him.  It’s all about the Lamb of God, as it should be.  In the Old Testament, the blood of lambs took away the sins of the people, but the Day of Atonement had to take place every year.  It isn’t so in the New Testament because the blood of the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world forever.  It doesn’t need to be done every year because it is a perfect, complete, eternal offering for the sin of the people.

Jesus, the Lamb of God, was teaching His disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.”  This was the second time that Jesus prophesied His death and resurrection.  But His disciples did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him.  They were afraid because this meant that they would lose their teacher, their leader, their friend.  They were afraid because they didn’t know what would happen to them.  We are afraid of much the same things.  We are afraid that we could lose friends if we share our faith.  We are afraid that if we share our sins with the pastor that he might tell them to others.  We are afraid that we could lose our life if we say the wrong thing to the wrong people.

Jesus is not afraid. Jesus is the Lamb of God who was led to the slaughter.  The Prophet Jeremiah prophesied, “But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.”  The Lamb of God “was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” 

Jesus was delivered into the hands of men in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He was put on trial, a fixed trial where the outcome was known in advance.  The chief priest was the judge and the Jewish council was the jury.  Jesus was brought before the High Priest and the Jewish council who sought false testimony against Him so they could put Him to death.  There were many false witnesses, but none of their testimony agreed.  Finally, they were able to get two false witnesses to come forward to say, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’”  But Jesus remained silent.  Jesus opened not His mouth in reply.  He was led to the slaughter and remained the gentle Lamb.  He knew what He had to accomplish.  He prayed that His Father’s will be done.  He knew His task.

The Jews wanted to “destroy the tree with its fruit, ... that His name be remembered no more.”  They wanted to cut Jesus off from the face of the earth.  They wanted to be rid of the one who was upsetting the status quo.  They thought that if they could get rid of Jesus they would be able to continue teaching the people that the way to salvation is based on their keeping of a modified law.  If they could keep the traditions of the elders, they would be saved.  They, like us, naturally look inward or to our works for our salvation.  We do things for our neighbor and chalk that up as a good work that is pleasing to God.  Repent of your self-righteousness, for your works are no sacrifice for sin.  Repent and turn to Christ and what He has done for you.  Repent and marvel that even this repentance and turning to Christ is not something that you do, it is something that God does to you. 

The Jews unjustly condemned the Lamb of God.  So did Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.  The Jews had lost their right to put anyone to death, this could only be done by the Romans.  So the Jews took Jesus to the ruler, Pilate, who had the authority to put someone to death.  They delivered Jesus over to the hands of the Romans.  Jesus was accused of many things by the chief priest and the Jewish council.  He could have told Pilate that He was innocent of everything that was falsely charged against Him.  That’s what we do whether our accusers are right or not.  Desperate to avoid condemnation, we look for any loophole that we can use to justify ourselves and avoid punishment.  Not Jesus.  He stood there for you.  He opened not His mouth.  He remained silent, not offering a defense in His name.  He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.

The Lamb of God was led to the slaughter on the cross.  On the cross, the Lamb of God shed His blood for the sin of the world.  The Lamb of God, the Son of Man, was killed on the cross.  He died on the cross to pay for the sin of the world.  He was pierced for our transgressions, our sins.  Out of the side of the Lamb of God poured forth blood and water.  He was killed on the cross and buried in a tomb.  After three days He rose from the dead.  He paid for the sin of the world on the cross and rose victorious on the third day.  He rose and can never die again.  He ascended into heaven and is the Lamb who had been slain who is blessed, honored, and glorified by all the saints.

There was yet one more trial.  This time it is heavenly trial.  The Lamb of God was led to the slaughter for you.  The Lamb of God takes away your sin on the cross.  His death on the cross was a one time payment for the sin of the world.  The Day of Atonement has been done away with in Christ’s once for all perfect sacrifice.  He paid the price for all of your sins.  His death happened 2000 years ago but it remains a present reality, it continues to pay the price for your sins.  He covers your sin of keeping silent when you have the opportunity to share your faith.  He atones for your sin of arguing with one another.  He forgives you for your sin of trying to be greater than other people.  He purifies you for your sin of trying to be first or the hero of the day.  He took all of your sins upon Himself and paid for them.  And because He paid for them, you are declared innocent before God in  the heavenly courtroom because of His blood and death.

You are declared innocent because of the blood of the Lamb of God.  His blood covers you in your baptism.  You are baptized into His death and raised with Him.  Whenever the devil tries to accuse you because of your sin, point to your baptism and say, “Yes, I have sinned, but I am baptized into Christ. I am covered with His blood.  He paid for my sins on the cross and I am a child of God.”  The blood and water that flowed from the side of Christ are for you.  They are for the forgiveness of your sins.

In your baptism you are born from above, you are born again.  You become a child again.  This time you are born a child of God.  This is the reason that Jesus took a child and put him in the midst of His disciples.  You are just like this child, you are a child of God.  Jesus tells His disciples that anyone who causes a little child who believes in Him to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.  This is a harsh word from Jesus because children need to be taught, loved, cared for, and nurtured.  Children are easily influenced, misled, and corrupted.  When you are feeding your kids, feed them good things.  Feed them the Word of God.  It is the only good thing because it contains the only one who is good.

Jesus took the child in His arms.  His wrapped the child in His arms.  He hugged the child.  He showed His love for all of humanity by His action with this child.  He loves you so much that He came to earth to die for you.  And He didn’t stay dead.  After three days He rose.  He rose for you.  He showed that death and the grave have no power over Him.  He also wraps His arms around you in your baptism.  He clothes you in Himself, you are clothed in His righteousness.  He washes you in His blood and makes you pure and holy.  Whenever God looks at you He sees Christ.  He sees Christ covering you.

Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but Him who sent me.”  The church receives the baptized into membership, they receive the child who was baptized into the Trinity.  The church is the bride of Christ because He has made her, He has claimed her as His bride.  She receives not only Christ and His gifts but the entirety of the Trinity.  She receives the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  She receives everything that He gives to her.  She washes her children in the blood of the Lamb of God who was led to the slaughter.  She feeds her children the body and blood that the Lamb of God gave her before He was led to the slaughter on the cross.

Behold, the Lamb of God is led to the slaughter on the cross and takes away the sin of the world.  The Lamb remained silent while He was being persecuted.  He opened not His mouth but patiently endured everything that was set before Him.  So now is the time for opening your mouth and rejoicing, for the Lamb of God has done everything for you.  Amen.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lord I Believe, Help My Unbelief

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 16, A+D 2012
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Lord I Believe, Help My Unbelief – Mark 9:24

     Jesus has been gone.  Just prior to our Gospel reading today, Mark reports the Transfiguration, Jesus taking Peter, James and John up on a mountain, where He is transfigured, suddenly becoming dazzling and bright, Jesus allowing the glory of God, which has always been hidden within His human body, to shine forth for just a few moments, while God the Father declares from a cloud:  “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”  The Transfiguration insures Peter, James and John will know Who it would be, hanging on the tree, pouring out His lifeblood.  God, become man, but still God, the only begotten Son of God, who holds the glory of heaven within His Body, this is the One who would die at Calvary.  For this important, necessary, wonderful reason, Jesus has been gone, leaving the other nine Apostles alone for a couple of days. 

     With Jesus out of the picture, things don’t go so well.  Jesus returns to a scene of arguing, of turmoil, doubt and confusion, with Jewish Scribes, the teachers of the law, arguing with the nine, arguing about a problem the nine could not solve.  These other nine Apostles had already been sent out by Jesus, sent with authority over unclean spirits, sent to proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom.  So, not surprisingly, during Jesus’ absence people continue bringing problems to them, including a man who brings his son, a boy tormented for years by an unclean spirit.  Interestingly, the man says to Jesus, “I brought my son to You,” even though Jesus wasn’t present when he arrived.  This father expected Jesus’ disciples to be able to do the things that Jesus did.  But they failed.  They could not drive the demon out, causing great disappointment, which somehow led to an argument with the Scribes, and to turmoil in the crowd.  Jesus was out of the picture, and the nine apostles failed. 

     It’s not as if they didn’t try – they tried very hard to be Christians.  Christian means “little Christ,” and the nine tried very hard to do the things Christ Jesus does, in His absence.  They tried, but they failed. 

     Not like us.  Sometimes we try to be Christians, to do the things we know we are called to do, as baptized believers in Christ.  Sometimes we try, and do some good.  Sometimes we try, and fail.  But far too often we fail to try.  We fail to even try to be Christians.  Far too often we speak and act as though we have never heard of Christ, as though we just don’t care. 

     A little over a week ago I unintentionally overheard one of you.  I didn’t mean to hear you; believe me, I didn’t want to.  But I did.  You didn’t know I was there, stuck where I could neither avoid hearing you, nor find a way to let you know I was hearing you.  I was stuck, listening to one of you go out of your way to sound as un-Christian as you possibly could.  Vile language, and hurtful words.  A baptized and confirmed member of one of our congregations, speaking evil, and also denigrating another member, in front of other people.  As James warns us this morning, the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness, … staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. … no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God, and even people who have been re-born in Christ.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be so.

    I overheard one of you prove James right.  Perhaps more than one of you think I’m talking about you.  But it’s not important that it was just one of you, because we are all guilty.  Not one of us is immune to this curse.  Not you, not you, not me.  Maybe through self-discipline you’ve learned to swallow the curses that rise to your lips.  Maybe.  But we have all been guilty of thinking Jesus is away, of thinking that if no one from Church is around, if I’m only with my non-church friends, then I’m free to say and do whatever I want.  We imagine Jesus isn’t in the picture, we think God isn’t looking, and we all too often betray the confession of faith we make here Sunday after Sunday, failing to give the slightest impression we are believers.  Jesus says that all things are possible for one who believes, so you’d think we could at least avoid doing things that completely deny Him.  More often than we care to admit, we do the opposite, and it is a frightful thing. 

     Faith is hard.  Confessing Christ before a hostile world is scary.  The desperate plight of his demon plagued son focused the father in our Gospel reading on truly important things, driving him to seek out deliverance from Christ, regardless of what his friends might say or think.  But still, even so focused by the attack of an unclean spirit, believing in Jesus was a struggle for him.  Jesus directs these words: “All things are possible for one who believes,” specifically at this man, because he doubts even Jesus will be able to help his son.  “If I can?” asks Jesus.  “All things are possible for one who believes.” 

     So why couldn’t the disciples drive out the demon?  For that matter, why couldn’t this father drive out the demon?  Jesus will go on to explain that this kind only comes out with prayer.  So why could none of them pray correctly?  Surely the father had been praying long and hard for his son, to no avail.  Surely the nine disciples included prayer in their efforts to cast out the unclean spirit.  But they failed.  All things are possible for one who believes.  Faith as small as a mustard seed should be able to move mountains.  But no one can help this afflicted boy.  What’s going on?  Don’t they believe at all?  The father cries out to Jesus, speaking for himself, but also for every sinner-saint, every believer, struggling with doubt and rebellion:  “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!”  And Jesus does.   

     This kind of unclean spirit can only be driven out by prayer.  What kind of unclean spirit?  The real kind.  A real demon, a real tormentor from Satan can only be driven out by prayer, because only God is stronger than Satan and his demons.  Doing real kingdom of God work, actually fighting against evil, requires faithful prayer, because only truly faithful prayer is heard by God our Father.  And so, Jesus prays for us.  How long must Jesus be with us?  Forever and ever, because we are weak.  So Jesus prays for us, and joins Himself to us, promising to be with the baptized always, to the end of the age, and beyond.  All our strength, all our works, all our faith, all our hope for deliverance depend entirely on Him.  “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”  This must be the daily cry of every Christian in this life, for apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. 

     Jesus does pray for us, and He also lives for us, just like He died for us.  Everything the Man Jesus did was to make it possible for us to pray rightly, to make it possible for us to call on His Father, even to call the Father of Jesus our Father.  Jesus considered it a privilege to stand in for you, to be falsely declared a guilty sinner, by Pilate, even to be considered the sinner by God His Father, for Jesus this was a privilege which now enables Him to declare you are forgiven, not guilty, righteous and pure, by His blood. 

     Even though you are still a sinner, in and through Christ, you are pure, washed clean, the beloved child of God.  And so also, in and through Jesus, your prayers are faithful.  Of course, on their own merits, our prayers falter, our desires are not always God’s will.  But we do not pray on our own.  We do not pray in our own strength and right, but only as beggars, asking God’s mercy and grace, always praying through Christ.  Any other prayer is not truly a prayer.  We pray through Jesus, trusting in Him and not ourselves, and He is like a holy filter, removing all that is fallen or false in our prayers, making them righteous, faithful, and heard by His Father. 

     Whether you think I overheard you deny Christ the other day, or whether you have to think back a little while to remember the last time you realized you were publicly betraying God by your words and deeds, all of us must confess that James’ warning about our tongues is true.  And when we let our tongues burn with unrighteousness, we spread the stain of sin as far as our voice carries.  Repent; just close your mouth if you must; pray to the Lord to give you discipline.  But also remember and confess that what James applies to our mouths, Jesus applies to our hearts.  Our sinful thoughts are already a betrayal and denial of God, and if we insist on our way, if we continue denying Christ, He will in the end deny us.  Day by day, every one of us must cry out:  Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. 

     However you may have denied Christ, hear this Good News: your sins, even your betrayals of God, are forgiven, covered by the blood of Jesus, removed from you as far as the east is from the west.  And so all things are possible for you.  Indeed, you already have all things, in Jesus, the One whose faith never falters, the One whose works always shine, the One who intercedes for you, the One who died and rose, and has given His forgiving death and new, everlasting life to you, the One who feeds you with forgiveness, found in His true body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of all your sins. 

     Bring your demons and bring your sins to Jesus.  Confess them, and rejoice in His sure promises, for He will surely cast them out, and raise you up with His hand, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

God Comes and Saves You

15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 9th, Year of Our + Lord 2012
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
God Comes and Saves You, Mark 7:31-37, Vicar Jason Toombs

“Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”  The opening words from the Prophet Isaiah for us today.  The important thing that you should remember is that “God will come and save you.”  God made this promise to the Old Testament saints and fulfilled this promise when He came down to earth in the person of Jesus Christ.  Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah, the anointed one, would perform many miracles.  Jesus performed many miracles throughout His ministry and today we see two miracles that Isaiah prophesied.  The ears of the deaf were unstopped and the tongue of the mute sang for joy. 

St. Mark writes that Jesus returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.  He was healing the sick, teaching them in parables, and with a word casts out a demon.  A man who was deaf and had a speech impediment was brought to Him.  They begged Jesus to lay His hand on the man and heal him.  Jesus took the man aside from the crowd so that He could heal him.  He didn’t do this in front of a large crowd to draw more attention to Himself but took the man aside so He could heal him privately. 

The way in which Jesus healed this man was different.  Jesus healed some people with His touch and a word.  He healed many people with only His word.  This healing was different.  This time Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears.  Jesus touched the source of the man’s ailment.  The man could not hear and Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears.  Jesus spits.  Then He touched the man’s tongue.  Jesus touched another of the man’s ailments, his tongue.  The man had a speech impediment and could not speak.  His tongue was bound and he couldn’t communicate with others.  Jesus had touched the non-working ears and tongue of a man who was both deaf and mute.

And looking up to heaven, Jesus sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  Jesus looked up to heaven to show the man where the source of the healing could be found.  Jesus, the man who came down from heaven, is the source.  Then Jesus sighed, that is, He groaned.  He groaned in much the same way that we sometimes do, where the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  He opened His mouth the same way that the man would in a moment.  He sighed and His tongue was loosed and said to the man, “Ephphatha, be opened.”  He said this to the man’s ears and tongue, “Be opened.”  He confronted the ailments of brokenness in this man’s life and opens and releases them.  An amazing miracle is performed where this man can hear and speak. 

But it wasn’t just the man’s physical hearing and speaking that Jesus touched and healed; He opened not only the outer ears of the flesh, but also the inner ears of faith.  He loosed the man’s tongue, not so that it could wag or gossip or worship a false idol, but so that he could confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  But if Jesus loosed the man’s tongue to confess, then why does He command the man and his friends to keep silent?  In part because it is not yet Jesus’ time for glory and honor.  And even more because no one can understand the true significance and meaning of this miracle until a greater miracle of healing and restoration has taken place on a cross and in a tomb outside of Jerusalem.  Jesus heals this deaf and mute man as a foretaste of His passion when He takes more than broken ears and a mute tongue upon Himself.  He will do more than speak a healing word, He will shed His perfect blood and give up His life for the sin of the world.  On that first day of the week, a new creation dawns as Jesus’ resurrected body bursts forth from the grave as the perfect man, a perfect living specimen of restored humanity. 

We are not born into this restored humanity.  We are born into a world where there is deafness, blindness, and mouths unable to speak.  We are born into a world where sin rules.  Sometimes babies are born physically deaf, blind, or mute, but everyone is born deaf, blind, and mute, just not in a way that we normally think about.  We are born with a deaf ear to the gospel, a blind eye toward faith, and a mute tongue to our neighbor.  We are born only to care about ourselves and those closest to us and this love is not, of itself, a bad thing.  It can be a bad thing when we don’t love other people as God has called us to love them.  The devil, with his limited power, tries to keep it this way.  He tries to keep everyone from hearing the saving message of the gospel.  He tries his hardest but ultimately has no power.

The devil has no power because Jesus has all the power and authority in heaven and earth.  Jesus opens the eyes, ears, and mouths of His chosen people in Holy Baptism.  God comes and saves you in your baptism.  He opens the eyes of your heart so that you can see Him as the Savior of the world and the One who went to the cross to take away your sins.  He opens your ears so that His saving message can be implanted in them.  The little seed of the gospel is powerful and active.  It can bring unbelievers to faith because it contains the Promised One, our Savior.  It needs to be constantly in your ears because the world focuses on anything but Jesus.   He opens your mouths, the mouths of His saints, to spread this message.  His message is spread wherever the Bible is read and His saving gospel is proclaimed.  His message is spread by His blessing now. 

In today’s gospel lesson Jesus charged the man and his friends to tell no one.  That no longer applies.  It no longer applies because Jesus has overcome sin, death, and the grave in His death and resurrection.  Now is the time of Jesus’ glory and honor.  He took the sin of the world upon Himself on the cross.  He took man’s blindness, deafness, and all of our other infirmities into Himself and put them to death.  His death and resurrection are at the center of His saving message, He died and rose for your forgiveness.  And in His resurrection He has made all things new.

By His shed blood on the cross you are healed and redeemed and made new in baptism.  Yet your sin still clings to your flesh, the devil continues his attacks on you, and the world presses you to look to anything but Jesus for salvation.  Your sicknesses, diseases, and pains continue to be real struggles for you. You and I live in the world with all of our struggles.  But remember, we are saved out of the world by Jesus.  He who overcame the world through His death and resurrection has come and saves you from this fallen world.  He has begun this new work in you and will bring it to completion on the last day. 

“He has done all things well.”  He has done everything perfectly.  He perfectly kept all of the commandments and restores you to perfection and holiness.  What was lost in the fall has now been restored, but we can’t see it with these earthly eyes that we have.  We won’t be able to see it until the last day when He returns and makes all things new for us to see.  Then we will see with our own eyes the new creation that Jesus Christ has made in His death on the cross for us.  On the last day, God will come and raise you up to live in that new, perfect creation where sin and satan no longer have power, because in the new creation, God reigns.  

God comes and saves you from the sin of closing your ears to the saving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He comes and saves you from the sin of not sharing the faith of Jesus with those around you.  He comes and saves you from all these sins and so many more.  He comes and saves you through the washing of water combined with His saving Word.  He comes and saves you through His body and blood given for you in His Holy meal meant for broken, sinful, repentant people with painful, shattered lives, and hurting hearts.  Hear your Lord’s Word, “you are forgiven, I love you,” and come and be healed and strengthened in body and soul.  Then with your believing heart and comforted conscious confess that the Lord your God has “done all things well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”  Amen.