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I’ll Take Care of You! Trust Me!

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St. Mark 10:17-22

A seeker.  He comes to Jesus.  Can’t get any easier than that!  Calls Jesus “good.”  A man of moral integrity. He’s no domestic terrorist!  No January 6th insurrectionist!  Hard worker.   Earned his money and property without stealing from others or defrauding them.  Speaks well of people.  Honors his parental units and other authorities.  He’s squeaky clean.  We’d love a guy like this at Trinity.  Every parent here would let his daughter go out on a date with this hard working, clean-cut, polite gentleman.    

Double bonus round!  He’s quite religious too! Takes the Ten Commandments seriously.  Been that way all his life.  He’s a doer.  Talks the talk but he also walks the walk.  

Now it’s time to put the finishing touches on his eternal welfare.  Got everything right with others.  Now it’s time to make sure that he and the Man Upstairs are OK.  Or that the Man Upstairs is OK with him.  And so the young man asks Jesus the salvation question.  “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?”  

Did you catch who’s doing the main verb in his salvation question?  “What must I DO?”  With the question he insists on being the big cheese.  That he’s in the salvation driver’s seat.  He’s a salvation control freak.  He’ll do it.  “Just tell me what to do Jesus!  And I’ll do it!”  He’s blind to the fact that eternal life is a gift.  Eternal life is an inheritance – therefore it is a gift.  But he insists:  “Good Jesus, what must I DO to inherit eternal life?”  

Jesus loves him by going to the heart of this man’s do-it-yourself religion. Jesus says:  “I’m here to help you son.  You’re spirituality lacks something.  Here’s what it is.  Sell all your stuff.  All of it.  Liquidate all your assets and bank accounts.  Add it all up.  What is the total? Millions?  Impressive!  Give it all to the poor.  Sure, you won’t have all your stuff but you’ll have heavenly treasure / eternal life by trusting in Me. I’ll take care of you even if you have nothing.  Because I am everything!  Learn a new spirituality!  I’m the Giver.  You are the receiver.”  

“I repeat.  I’ll provide for you.  Not only now but forever.  I promise.  One of these nights, a Passover night, a night when I’m betrayed, I’ll draw up my last will and testament.  I’ll spell it out this way.  Bread and wine.  With the bread My Body.  With the cup of wine My Blood.  The new testament in My Blood. All for you.  All sin forgiven.  Pure gift.  No strings attached.  In order to put my last will and testament into effect I will die on a Friday afternoon that my disciples will call ‘Good.’”

“When it comes to the salvation job young man, I’m the only game in town.  The salvation verbs belong to Me!  I achieve it. I do it.  I will say when IT IS FINISHED. And I dish out its benefits.  I am the Lord your God.  The eternal life inheritance is my gift to you.  So, come along.  Follow Me. Be given to.”   

Saddened, the rich young man turns his back on Jesus and walks away.  Won’t be given to by Jesus.  Jesus won’t let him do anything to get eternal life.  That’s a complete let down for a dyed in the wool salvation community activist.  He was all hyped up about doing the salvation job himself.  Even enlisted “good” Jesus’ advice.  “Sell everything, give it all to the poor, and then trust Jesus?  No way!  Not a snowball’s chance in . . . !”  

He trusted his stuff.  Feared, loved, and trusted in his wealth and possessions but not Jesus.  If he unloads all his stuff . . . well . . . he just can’t take that chance.  Won’t trust Jesus.  Can’t.  Even if he ends up with that snowball in . . .     

What about you?  Are you going to walk away from Jesus?  What do you fear, love, and trust above Jesus?  What hinders you from trusting Jesus’ promise to take care of everything both now and forever?  What idol forbids you from following Jesus?  From receiving gifts from Him?  Is it property?  The love of money?  Or something else that won’t give you a Sabbath Day’s rest?  

Whatever the idol is it will crack and break under the pressure you put on it.  Your idol can’t handle all your fears.  Your concerns.  Your guilt.  Your sin.  It can’t give your eternal life, that is, salvation.  Oh yes, the idol promises you heaven.  But it only delivers hell.  It promises life but it only bestows death.  It promises freedom but it keeps you chained in its prison.  It claims to be your god but it lies.  

Jesus doesn’t.  He tells the truth.  He is the Way, the TRUTH and the Life.  “I am the Lord your God.”  That’s His promise.  He gives Himself entirely for you.  With all that He is and all that He has.  Reconciles you to the Father with His Blood.  The Father is not angry with you.  He does not hate you.  He loves you for Christ’s sake.  Forgives you for Christ’s sake.  Gives you eternal life for Christ’s sake. You are saved in Christ.  He is your Lord.  

The Good Friday lordship of Jesus sets you free from the love of money or whatever it is that poses as god — like leisure, work, or sports. Jesus doesn’t command you to sell all you have and give it to the poor.  But He does command you to Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.  That means  gladly hearing and learning His Word.  Like Martha’s sister Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet hearing His Word.  

Jesus doesn’t command you to sell all you have and give it to the poor. However, He expects you, His died for Christians, to eat and drink His Body and His Blood.  He tells you to:  “Do this.”  “It’s for you.  For the remission of all your sin.”   In the Supper He promises to be God FOR YOU.  To take care of you.  No matter what.  Even in and through your death.   The Good Friday lordship of Jesus also frees you to use your property, wealth, or possessions in service to the others.  That’s your family, your congregation, your community, your country, and the world.  Even if they don’t deserve it.  Even if they’re not so lovable.  

What you have, whether a lot or little, is all from the Lord.  He gives you all your stuff not for you to idolize it.  Instead, you are His instruments to use all that He gives to help those in need and those who are helpless.  And as you use your stuff to help your neighbor you do it to Jesus.

Happy following Him as your faith is toward Him and your  love is toward others.

In the Name of Jesus.        

Jesus & Holy Marriage

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St. Mark 10:2-16

Well, once again, just like every Sunday, the Lord is out to repent us, faith us and lead us in holy living.  Settle in.  This won’t be a woke-ity woke sermon.  No watering down the Lord’s Word here from this pulpit.  He who has ears to hear let him hear.

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  A gotcha question! In order to discredit Jesus.  Cancel Him.  Ruin Him. Some rabbis would say: “Of course!” but only for marital infidelity. Some rabbis would say: “Yes” for any reason. Even if she burnt the toast or roast. What say you Jesus? Whatever answer He gives will trigger folks. The haters will hate.  People will take sides and the Twitter mob will blow up calling for Jesus to be boycotted and/or destroyed! 

The Lord answers their question with a question!  “What did Moses command you?”  Their answer is:  “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” Well, that’s not quite accurate. Moses says in  Deuteronomy 24 that if a man gets married, finds something “indecent” about his wife, writes a bill of divorce, sends her out of his house and she marries another man and her new husband likewise divorces her or dies, then she can’t go back to the first husband. Moses says that would be an abomination to the Lord. In other words, Moses regulates divorce and remarriage, not allowing it! 

The Pharisees assumed that as long as you had your legal paperwork in order before you told your wife to not let the door hit her, then everything was kosher in God’s sight. The Pharisees were loophole-ers.  Always pushing excusable ways to throw out their wives and then justify themselves before God. They excused divorce this way:  as long as the attorney drew up the official paperwork, as long as there was a proper certificate of divorce signed, sealed, and delivered, then God would say: “Okay dokey.”

Jesus, however, goes to the heart of the matter. “Because of your hardness of heart Moses wrote you this commandment.” Did you catch that?  Hardness of heart.  Divorce is a matter of the heart, not red tape. Hard hearts are calloused hearts. Hardened against the spouse. Hardened against God. Hard hearts are unbelieving hearts. Hearts that refuse God’s gifts. Hearts that push excuses in order to justify the refusal of God’s good giving. 

Hard hearts need to be hemmed in by the law. That’s what Moses did. Women were not to be treated like livestock that could be traded back and forth. Divorce severed the marriage bond, and if the woman married another, there was no going back to the first husband. The law protected Israelite women from the callousness of their husbands. But in the hands of a self-justifier, this same caring rule developed into a license for divorce.

Jesus has to address this.  Listen.  He quotes Moses correctly.  “But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female.” He goes back to the Creator’s will. Back to the “very good” of Genesis 1-2. 

God’s giving Eve to Adam and his receiving her as bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh is the basis for marriage. Moses says: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” That’s more than simply a figure of speech. “One flesh” expresses a deep and profound reality between husband and wife. Jesus repeats it for emphasis. “So, they are no longer two but one flesh.” Marriage is the closest communion that can possibly exist between two people. It is the complete and committed union of a man and a woman into one – physically, emotionally, spiritually. And it’s a closed communion – no one is permitted to drive a wedge between a husband and a wife.

In addition, marriage is the only proper and healthy place for sexual intimacy. Only within the estate of marriage can a man and a woman be “naked” together and not be “ashamed.” 

Marriage is intended to be lifelong union. Only within a lifelong union can two people be completely open to each other without fear of one or the other leaving. No other human relationship comes close to this “one flesh” relationship of husband and wife. It is completely unique. The only thing closer is the relationship between Christ and the Church, between Christ and the believer.

This one flesh union of marriage is God’s doing; His gift.   This is why Jesus categorically declares: “what therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”  It is why the wedding vows have the promise: “until death parts us.”

Now, whereas the Pharisees pushed escape clauses to justify sin, Jesus extols God’s very good gift and His will for husband and wife. One flesh by God’s Word they are. Anyone who dares to get between them is answerable to God. Bottom line, Jesus doesn’t answer the Pharisees’ question. He didn’t have to. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Why would you even ask?

Yet the conversation continues. In the house alone with Jesus, the disciples about this again. Jesus pulls no punches as he always does with his hangers-on: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

Only believers can hear what Jesus says here. To divorce a spouse and marry another is to commit adultery. End of discussion. In Matthew, Jesus makes an exception where adultery or “sexual immorality” has already occurred. So it bears repeating, God’s will for marriage is that this one flesh relationship of husband and wife is “until death parts us.” Anything short of that falls short of God’s intent.

If you are single gal or guy, (are you listening kids?), marriage doesn’t belong to you.  It’s God’s gift to be used properly according to His Word. So, you ought to know the person you intend to marry. You better know the family into which you are marrying. You had better share the same faith in Jesus so that you can pray, worship and commune together at the same altar. You need all the help you can get when it comes to marriage. You need to be very picky about the kind of person you choose to marry.

In addition, what Jesus says today should also make us think very hard before filing for divorce. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). It’s never His intention.  Divorce is like doing heart surgery with a sledge hammer.  It’s ugly. Never clean. It always leaves open wounds and scars. Ignore the grass is always greener stories that divorced people tend to tell. They tend to exaggerate. You don’t get the whole story. Divorce is extremely painful. It’s a close second only to physical death in terms of pain and loss. Divorce is a kind of death. After all, when sin has had its way with God’s gift and one flesh is torn in two. Many of you know the pain first hand.

Well, I’m not done yet.  There is much more to say.  I need to as your pastor.  So here goes.  Divorce happens. We aren’t Adam and Eve in Paradise. Sin and death have had their way with marriage. We live in a divorce-oriented world. If the car has a scratch, we get a new one. If the house has a leaking roof, we move. If the congregation hurts us, we go to a new one. If the marriage is hard, we leave. Divorce has become an accepted part of life in every respect. 

Divorce does happen. Sadly it happens too often and too easily with Christians. We need to be honest about this. We need to talk frankly. Most of all we need to confess it and use Jesus properly for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever divorce happens sin is involved. If there were no sin between husband and wife, there would be no divorce. The danger is that hardened hearts tend to become calloused hearts toward God. I’ve never met anyone go through a divorce who wasn’t affected spiritually. Loopholes in the Law won’t help the hurt, either. They just contribute to the hardening.

All that we can do is what a child does when he breaks something of great value. There’s no use hiding it. No use making excuses or blaming someone else. The little one picks up the broken pieces, and with runny nose and tears flowing he sets the broken pieces at Mom and Dad’s feet and confesses the truth: “Daddy, I broke it. I’m so sorry. Forgive me!”

If you are troubled by what Jesus says today, confess it. That’s what believers in Christ do with the brokenness of their lives, including their broken marriages and their divorces. They gather up the broken pieces, set them at the feet of their heavenly Father and humbly say, “Daddy, we’re sorry. We broke it.  Please, forgive us for Jesus’ sake.” No excuses. No finger pointing. No loopholes in the law. Confess it before God. Bury it in Jesus’ death. Drown it in Baptism. Receive Christ’s forgiveness. Live as one who has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. God is gracious to His children. He rests his hand on our head and says, “My Son died for you.  I forgive you.”

Isn’t that wonderful?  Jesus gave His life for all of you– the married, the single, the divorced, … and the little children. He reached out in mercy to a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, five times married and living with number six because she was no longer permitted to marry. He defended a woman caught in adultery from her stone-throwing accusers and He forgave her. He bore all our sin including our adulteries on the cross. Bearing all sin (did you hear me?) – bearing all sin — He became the adulterer in our place so that in Him we have His holiness.

All you married folks, I beseech you, let Jesus be in the middle of your marriage. He is the Source of forgiveness between husband and wife. He must get between husband and wife to soften your hearts, to sweep away your sins, to bind you together as one flesh. As sinners we dare not deal directly with one another. We would destroy one another. Jesus must mediate. Just as He mediates between God and us, so He must mediate between each other, especially husband and wife, working reconciliation and peace. Only through Jesus can husband and wife forgive one another. Only through Jesus can husbands and wives receive each other as gifts from God. Only through Jesus can two sinners live repentantly and  faithfully as one flesh and properly use marriage in the way God gave it.  Receiving it in the way He gave it.  Like little children receive gifts.

No wonder then that the last part of the text deals with little children!  They’re the only ones in Mark 10 that get it right.  Check it out.  People bring little children to Jesus so that He could touch them and bless them.  To be simply given to by Jesus!  To be given to like a little baby is the way of faith. But the disciples didn’t like it.  Jesus rebuked them. “Let the little children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then Jesus took the little ones in his arms, laid his hands on them and blessed them.

Only the little ones get blessed by Jesus. They don’t come to Him looking for legalistic loopholes. They don’t try to trap Him in His own words. They don’t quibble with the hardness of His teaching. They can’t even come on their own. They have to be brought, like a tiny baby is brought to Baptism. And Jesus says, “Look at these little ones. That’s the way of the kingdom of God.” It’s the way of a little child being given to by Jesus.

In the way of a little child we receive everything as a gift from God: the saving bath of Holy Baptism; the forgiving words of Absolution; the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, eternal life, salvation, forgiveness, peace.

And in the same way of childlike trust in the One who gives good gifts to His children, we receive the gift of our spouses, those with whom we are one flesh, “for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death parts us” and we are with the Lord forever.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen

Don’t You Dare Stop Him!

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St. Mark 9:38-50

Remember last week’s reading from Mark? The disciples are bickering about who is the greatest among them.  So, Jesus takes a little boy.  He says that when you kneel down to serve this little one that is what greatness in God’s kingdom is all about.  And that to receive a little child in Jesus’ Name is to receive Jesus Himself.  And the Father too!  Remember?  He turned the friends-of-the-world-disciples’ view of greatness upside down and declared that greatness is measured by service.  You, now, like His Good Friday death-on-the-cross-service!  To be the greatest is to be the least! 

Then, all of a sudden, John, still not getting it, just like the rest of the disciples, reports on something that troubles them. “Teacher Jesus, we saw someone casting out demons in your name. We ordered him to stop!  Why? Because he wasn’t following US!” NOT FOLLOWING YOU JESUS BUT US!  The disciples!  The arguing amongst-themselves-about-who-is-the-greatest-disciples!  “Yeah Jesus!  This guy was horning in on our territory!  Our turf.  We’re the only ones supposed to be doing exorcisms. Not him!  We asked him if he had a TEAM APOSTLE OF JESUS passport! He didn’t. So we issued an apostolic executive order to cease and desist. We made sure that none of that stuff goes on behind your back, Jesus. No unauthorized casting out of demons will ever go on behind our apostolic backs!  We’re in control!  We’re in charge!”

You’d think that the apostles would be thrilled and overjoyed that someone was doing this and that people were believing in Jesus as the Savior. They weren’t. Why? Because this guy wasn’t a member of the apostolic team. He was an outsider with no credentials. So he had to be stopped. Never mind that he was doing it all in the name of Jesus. Never mind that only Jesus has power to silence the demons. So, obviously Jesus was working through this man. But since he wasn’t one of the chosen twelve …

The church has been acting like the confused apostles in Mark 9 for centuries. We try to silence people for speaking the gospel or telling sinners that they are forgiven in Jesus’ Name.  As if the church is some kind of exclusive country-club. We push credentials more than content. We act like we have to have a bunch of bylaws and rules more than proclaiming the good news that Jesus died for sinners. We act as though Jesus doesn’t show up until we arrive. And then we’re surprised when people know and believe the gospel before we arrive. We’re surprised by this and wonder, “How can this be?” Well, let me remind you that God is sometimes quite sneaky and subversive and has His gospel agents scattered all over the place.

And now I want to make another important point.  When it comes to Evangelism the first primary part IS LISTENING.  Yes, that’s right, listening.  In order to discover what God has been up to before we showed up. Listen for the surprising signs of God’s amazing grace. Like with the anonymous exorcist in Mark 9 without the proper papers. Or perhaps, like in Siberia, when for most of the 2oth century Lutheran churches were bulldozed or burned and all the pastors brutally murdered, it was up to the grandmothers to make sure their grandkids got baptized and heard the gospel.  Or the stranger who speaks a gentle word Jesus’ death for someone while sharing a cup of cold water on a hot Nebraska afternoon. God can be and is sneaky and subversive sometimes. He has gospel speakers lying in wait all over the place. No one is absolutely necessary to the success of the kingdom.  Not even me!  Not even John and the rest of the apostles. 

And that was the hardest for them and me and you to swallow. Our own absolute non-necessity. There were others besides the twelve who could cast out demons in the name of Jesus. If they didn’t, others would. If they couldn’t, others could. They weren’t absolutely necessary, just as none of us is absolutely necessary. Important, yes. Beloved, yes. Died for and redeemed, certainly. But not absolutely necessary. You can’t bear the burden of absolute necessity. Try it. It will break you down. Burn you out. I’ve seen it decimate many pastors over the years.  The opposite is the freedom to know that the salvation of the world doesn’t rest on your shoulders, mine or the apostles, but on the shoulders of the Lord Jesus died Good Friday-ly. Only He can bear the salvation job.

John and the other apostles fully expected Jesus to give kudos to their cease and desist order.  He doesn’t.  “Don’t you dare stop him! For no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.” 

As Jesus speaks these words He is on His way to do His Good Friday death on the cross in order to take the entire world with Him. His disciples see things exclusively — if you aren’t for us, then you’re against us. Jesus, however, looks at things inclusively – if you aren’t against us, you’re for us. The disciples see themselves as an exclusive club. Jesus sees Himself as an inclusive Savior. He dies for the sin of the world. He is the Savior of the world. He reconciles the world to God. When He is lifted up on the cross, He draws all in His death.

When we fail to understand that Jesus has Good Friday-ly worked redemption for the world, we wittingly and unwittingly put stumbling blocks in people’s faith in Him. This is why Jesus gives the dire warning in the text – heavy weight millstones tied around necks and an eternal deep dive for anyone, even a disciple, who would cause one a little believer in Jesus to stumble from their faith in Him.

Brothers and sisters, causing someone to stumble or fall from being one of the Lord’s hangers on, a faith-er, a trust-er, is a huge concern for Jesus.  In verse 42 Jesus literally says: “Whoever causes one of these littlest ones who believe in me to stumble.”   The Greek word is skandalizo, from which we get the English: “scandalize.” Skandalizo means  to cause to stumble or fall. Not as the English translation has it “causes to sin.”  No!  It’s causing someone to stumble or fall from believing in Jesus! 

He categorically declares that anyone who causes the littlest believer (Greek = mikrōn / like microscope), to stumble in faith, ought to have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown overboard into the sea. Now, it is true that some folks are scandalized by the preaching of the gospel. When I preach or teach that every sin and every sinner is forgiven in the Good Friday death of Jesus, or that baptism saves or that the Lord’s Supper gives forgiveness, many are scandalized. But I try my best that if they are scandalized, it by the gospel and not by me.  Same goes for you too!

Well, I hope this helps you understand what Jesus says in verses 43-48.   You have to understand what I just taught you.  The Greek word skandalizo has to be translated properly as to stumble or fall — from faith. So, if your hand scandalizes you, that is, causes you not to believe in Jesus, you’re better off amputating it and then enter eternal life with one hand than to burn in hell with two. Dittos for your foot and your eye. But not ear! Faith comes by hearing – not by seeing, doing, or walking.

So I repeat.  If the work of your hands scandalizes you, that is, causes you to doubt that you are justified by faith in Jesus and not by works, it would be better that you not be able to do anything at all with your hand. If what you see with your eye causes you to doubt God’s promise that you are saved in the death of Jesus, it would be better that you not see at all with that eye. And if your feet take you along a path that make you doubt that Jesus is the way through death to eternal life, then it would be better that you not walk at all. Better to lose everything – eye, hand, foot – your whole life, than to stumble in your trust in Jesus. That’s because Jesus is the only way. His death and resurrection are all you have, and all you need to make it through your death to resurrection. The alternative is really no alternative at all – hellacious undying worms and the unquenchable fires of hell itself, all of which is entirely unnecessary thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross.

Finally, Jesus makes this remark. “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be a peace with one another.”

What does Jesus mean here?  This is hard for us to understand.  Why?  Well,  we don’t know much of the ancient world, the Old Testament and its sacrifices. Sacrifices were sprinkled with salt before they were burned up. Salt purifies, flavors, and preserves. Salt was a symbol of purity. “Everyone will be salted with fire,” Jesus says. Everyone dies. Everyone is offered as a sacrifice to God. The wages of sin is death. No one misses. And what purifies the sacrifice of our death, what flavors it and preserves it and makes it acceptable to God is the salt of Jesus’ own death and resurrection. He is that salt we are to have in ourselves – the salt of His dying for our sin and His rising for our justification.

The salt Jesus had in mind was the mineralized salts dredged from the shores of the Dead Sea – a mixture of gypsum and sodium chloride (salt). Its saltiness comes from the key ingredient (sodium chloride). If you took away that key ingredient, what is left would be bland and bitter. In the same way, Christianity without the saltiness of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the life of the world becomes bland, tasteless, insipid religion. No sting, no bite, no purification for sin.

So have salt in yourselves – have Jesus season you with His Good Friday sacrifice for you and for all your sin. And be at peace with each other. After all, God is at peace with you. So when it comes to salvation, don’t trust the works of your hands, your eyesight, or your walking feet. Instead, trust Jesus and His promise that He died FOR YOU. And if you would happen to run across a person working in the name of Jesus, don’t stop him. Rejoice.  Be amazed. The gospel of Jesus is better and bigger than you thought it was.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

Heavenly Wisdom

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St. Mark 9:30-37

In the Epistle, James speaks of two kinds of wisdom – wisdom “from above” and wisdom “from below.” Heavenly wisdom and earthly wisdom.

The wisdom “from below” is an arrogant, self-centered sort of wisdom. James calls it “earthly, unspiritual, dark, and devilish.” We’re accustomed with that kind of wisdom. It’s “in our genes,” so to speak. It comes naturally to us. “Don’t get mad, get even.” “Do unto others before they get a chance to do unto you.” “Might makes right.” “Me first; look out for number one.” We know it all too well. The will to power, to control others, to make others bend their will to our will and our way. “My will be done,” if we could get away with it. James puts it this way: “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

But there is another wisdom.  From above.  This is God’s wisdom. And that is the wisdom of the cross. It is the way of dying and rising. Jesus preached it. “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days He will rise.” That’s God’s Wisdom Incarnate.

The disciples are baffled. They were afraid to ask about it. So, they resort to their own wisdom — their own way of thinking. Consequently, they argue with each other about who was the greatest. Imagine that! Jesus preaches His death and resurrection and the disciples bicker over who is the greatest among them. The wrangle about who will have the top cabinet appointments in Jesus’ kingdom. About which of them will get the most recognition for a job well done. Will it be Peter, James, John? Certainly not the bottom rung disciples like Thaddaeus or Bartholomew or that tax collector Matthew!

We know that game all too well ourselves. We play it at work, at home, at church. Wherever two or three are gathered, there will be a power struggle.

Jesus sits down and teaches the twelve, and us, a thing or two about greatness in the kingdom. It’s not about being first, but being last. Literally dead last. The lowest slave. The bottom rung. The servant of all. That’s Jesus’ place. He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom. An atoning sacrifice. Not for the religious and the good, but for sinners. Not a king crowned with gold sitting on a throne, but a king crowned with thorns hanging on a cross.

He takes a little child and has him stand among all the adults. In Jesus’ day, childhood was not something idealized, but something you got through as quickly as possible to productive adulthood. Children were considered losers until they grew to pull their own weight. They knew nothing of the modern invention of adolescence. That’s when Jesus blows everyone’s minds!  Did you catch it?  Did you.  He identifies with the littlest of the losers and says, “Whoever welcomes one of these, welcomes me, and in welcoming me, welcomes the Father who sent me.”

The disciples’ jaws probably hit the flow.  That not their wisdom.  Nor is it ours.  Coming in last. Identifying with the little. With those who have nothing and receive everything in trust. On another occasion, Jesus said, “Unless you become as a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” Childlike, not childish. Childish is the way of the old Adam – self-centered, bratty, all about me. Childlike is the way of Christ – trusting, receiving, becoming the least.

What causes fights and quarrels among you, James asks in the Epistle. The early Christians had fights and quarrels. Think about that. There has never been a perfect church, a pristine Christianity. Not even among the first believers. What causes fights, quarrels, divisions? What goes on inside us. We want but we can’t have. We pray self-centeredly instead of Christ-centeredly. Then we complain that we don’t get what we pray for. We make our alliances with the world. We betray our baptisms — the mark of ownership God branded on us in the water.

There has to be a better way. There is! It is the way of heavenly wisdom. The wisdom that comes down from above. Pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, sincere. It’s the way of peacemakers who sow in peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. It’s what Jesus called “blessed” in the beatitudes. Blessed are the spiritually poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted.

The world cries out, “That’s the way of losers!” And God cries out, “That’s the way of life in Jesus.”

Now let’s be clear.  This is not something you produce on your own. This is what Paul calls the “fruit of the Spirit” – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22). As Paul says, “There is no law against these.” These are the fruit that happens when the Spirit of God has His way and we get out of the way. This isn’t something that you do to be saved, but something God does because He saved you.

It’s there in that tiny little word spelled G-R-A-C-E. “But He gives us more grace,” James says. Undeserved kindness toward you and me the sinner. Forgiveness, life, and salvation! Gifts in abundance. The gospel that is the power of salvation to those who believe!  It’s all there for you, dear child of God. Complete and perfect forgiveness for all of your sin. Life in abundance in the death and life of Jesus. His own Body and Blood FOR YOU to strengthen and sustain you. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound. “He gives us more grace.”

This isn’t grace as in power to do good. This is the grace of the heavenly Father who embraces his wayward, loser sons and daughters in the hold of His Son’s Good Friday unconditional forgiveness. This is the grace that seeks and saves the lost. This is the grace that invites the uninvited to the wedding feast. This is the grace that welcomes a little child as a picture of greatness in the kingdom of heaven.

This is the grace that embraced you in the poverty of your sin, your selfishness, your desire to power and control. This is the grace that picks you up when you are humbled, broken, kicked, stepped on or sinned against. Grace. Amazing grace. Undeserved kindness toward sinners. “While we were still weak … Christ died for the ungodly … saved by Him from the wrath of God,” (Rom 5). That’s the wisdom of God, the wisdom that comes “from above” – pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, fruitful, impartial, sincere. That’s the wisdom that is yours in Christ Jesus.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Behold the Cross!

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“Behold the life giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the world.”  That’s one of the versicles spoken three times in a row at the Good Friday service!  Rightly so!  For on a Friday afternoon on 33 AD the salvation of the world, Jesus the Christ, hung on the cross!  If only the cross could talk.  What a sermon it would preach.  Instead, you’re stuck with me.  A rube, hayseed kid from Wyoming.  And most of you are saying that as a pastor I’m out over my skis.  And you may be right.  Nonetheless, I better get to it.  I’ll do the best I can.  Hang on tight! Fasten your seatbelts.  It may be a surprisingly wonderful ride.      

First, I want to say something about the cross.  It is wood and large masonry-like nails that must be hammered — pounded.  Raw materials of a carpenter. Yet, it is a device of extreme torture – of ruthless execution.  The Persians invented it.  But the Romans used it to extreme perfection.  Designing a cross shows the innovativeness of mankind’s barbaric vicious brutality!  Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ captures the absolute viciousness of crucifixion.  It’s no wonder that after people watched the film it brought them to tears, sobbing and weeping. 

To be crucified in the ancient world was the cruelest way to die.  Crucifixion was for anarchists, insurrectionists, terrorists and slaves!  Cicero, the renowned Roman statesman and philosopher called crucifixion the supreme capital penalty.  The most painful, dreadful, and ugly!  We’d call it cruel and unusual punishment: unconstitutional.  The Jews said that anyone who was hung on a tree was cursed (Gal. 3:13)!  And lo and behold in the hands of God the cross is the instrument of the world’s freedom, forgiveness, life and salvation!  It is the wisdom of God.  It is the power of God!

“Behold the life giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the world.”   

Why?  Well, because Christ’s Good Friday cross is the altar of sacrifice!  Jesus is the perfect and unblemished Lamb of God offered as THE whole burnt offering.  You remember Genesis 22?  Right?  Isaac asked father Abraham, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?  Where is the sacrifice that would be put on the wood?”  Little did Isaac know that he was like a lamb being led to slaughter!  And faithful father Abraham – trusting God’s promise – believing in God in the face of utter contradiction!  How could God ask Abraham to sacrifice his only son of the promise whom he loved so dearly?  The father of nations was asked to sacrifice the son he loved.  God appeared to contradict Himself!  Yet Abraham trusted.  “God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” 

And just as Abraham was about to plunge the knife into Isaac’s heart, the Angel of the LORD intervened.  Caught in a thicket was a ram.  A substitute sacrifice.  God will provide.  And He did!  On the wood of the cross is God’s Lamb named Jesus!  Caught in the thorny thicket of the law.  Offered up on the wood of the cross He IS THE SUBSTITUTE SACRIFICE for you all!  He is God’s whole burnt offering for the sin of the world!  Perfect.  Unblemished.  Consumed in a double fire.  First, the fire of God’s wrath against all sin and every sinner and at the same time the fire of His burning passion TO SAVE YOU!  Never has wood raised up such a sacrifice as the wood on which the beloved Son of God was offered up for your salvation.  For the world’s salvation. 

Christ’s cross is also the doorpost of the world.  Remember the Passover in Exodus?  That night in Egypt when the first born were struck dead?  And more!  The wood of every Hebrew doorpost, smeared dark red with the blood of the lamb was their only safeguard from death.  God’s promise was:  “when I see the blood I will pass over you,” (Ex 12:13). The Passover lamb was the substitute for the first born of Israel.  Its blood painted on the wood guarded against death. 

The Good Friday cross is stained dark red with the blood of THE PASSOVER LAMB – Jesus the Christ.  His Blood shelters you from death.  Never has wood been so gloriously stained as the crimson wood of His cross!  Where His Blood is smeared – death passes over!

“Behold the life giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the world.”   

Why?  Well, because Christ’s cross is the pole that lifts up God’s banner of salvation or standard in the battlefield.  We heard of the bronze serpent in the OT reading.  God’s antidote to the sting of the fiery snakes.  God told Moses to make a serpent of bronze.  Put it on a pole.  Lift it really high so that the snake-bitten Israelites could look on it and be cured.  The cure resembled the disease.  A snake of bronze on a pole of wood.

Jesus categorically declared of Himself:  “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life,” (Jn 3:14-15).  And more:  “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” (Jn 12:32)!

The sting of death is sin.  The power, the poison, of sin is the law.  But Jesus is the antiserum to death’s venom.  The cure resembles the disease!  Bearing the sin of the world in His Body on the cross, Jesus was made your sin and death so that in Him you have His righteousness.  Behold the sweet swap!  God laid all your sin on His Son and nailed Him to the pole of the cross and lifted Him up for all the world to see!  On the cross you see your sin and God’s wrath endured by Jesus.  He hangs dead.  Forsaken by His Father.  And yet you see your healing and God’s mercy. 

Never has wood been so regally adorned as the wood to which the Body of God’s Son was stapled.  No flag of any country or king can come close to matching the beauty of this Good Friday cross.  This is the royal banner behind which the church of newborn soldiers of the crucified march through death and the grave to eternal life!  You bear on your foreheads from your baptism on the sign of the cross – the mark of the Crucified Jesus – FOR YOU!  It’s why here at Trinity, Murdock we preach Christ and Him crucified. 

“Behold the life giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the world.”   

Why?  Well, because Christ’s cross is the tree of life for sinners.  Don’t forget that Adam and Eve, when they rebelled by wanting to be little divinities, were condemned and barred from eating.  Eating from what?  The Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden!  Remember?

But now, you Good Friday-ly died for sinners may freely eat of Christ’s cruciform tree and live!  Jesus promises:  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, has eternal life,” (Jn 6). And more:  “And I will raise him up on the Last Day.”  The cross of Jesus is the Tree of Life.  Eden restored.  And you’re welcome to eat from it.  His Body with the bread.  His Blood with the wine.  In the Lord’s Supper.  Forgiveness, life, salvation!   

Never has wood borne such magnificent fruit as Christ’s cross!  Without it there would be no baptism, no absolution, no Supper, no forgiveness for sinners.  His cross is the life-giving tree that gives life to all who believe!

“Behold the life giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the world.”   

Why?  Well, because Christ’s cross is His glory – His triumphal hour!  “Now my soul is troubled.  And what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” His death on the cross is His crowning achievement.  It is the consummation of His salvational work. Victory over sin and death.  “It is finished,” He proclaimed from the cross! Christ’s preaching and all His miracles all find the consummation on Good Friday.  Christ’s death on the cross is God’s power to save hidden under weakness.  It is God’s sublime wisdom disguised as utter foolishness!

Never has wood so gloriously triumphed in battle as the cross on which was hung the Victor who conquered death by dying!  The evil one who once overcame by the tree of knowledge of good and evil is now overcome by this triumphal tree of the cross!

The church of today is tempted to deny the cross and what Jesus did there.  Like the Jews and Greeks of Paul’s day, people in America clamor for signs of power for proof of God in the world.  Other want to make religion reasonable. Rational.  Logical.  Palatable for a cancel culture mind. 

Signs for Jews.  Wisdom for Greeks.  Americans push practicality.  Whatever works.  Because if it works, it must be from God.  Right?  “Never mind all that preaching of the cross Reverend!  That doesn’t fill the church.  That doesn’t pay the bills.  Impress us Reverend.  Amuse us.  Entertain us.  Make us feel good about ourselves.  Help us feel spiritual.  Don’t say anything that would offend us, trigger us or that we might hear as a micro aggression  and make us feel unsafe!  And never – ever — preach in order to put our old Adam to death!  Let us do whatever floats our boat!  Don’t cramp our self-justifying style!”

Run with that and what you end up with is a cross-less, Christ-less religion.  Forgiveness without repentance.  Absolution without personal confession.  Baptism without daily dying and rising.  Joy without sorrow.  Easter without Good Friday.  Life without suffering.  Never forget what Jesus says:  “Whoever loves his life  loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  To a world addicted on its own self-esteem, self-worth, and self-fulfillment, those words from Jesus are absolute heresy!  Foolishness!  Stupidity!  Absurdity!  But to a faith-er, a hanger on, a trust-er, the cross and the LORD Jesus who hangs on it is God’s power and His wisdom to save you! 

At your baptism, the pastor, perhaps it was even the pastor you’re stuck with here at Trinity, said, “Receive the sign of the cross upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.”  Baptized in the Name of Jesus you have been given all that Jesus died to win on the cross for you.  Buried with Christ into death through baptism to live a new life. That’s how Paul proclaims it in Romans 6!  And from the drowning of the old Adam in the baptismal font comes forth a new creation spelled: 

F-A-I-T-H!

Marked you are.  Branded.  Tattooed with the seal of Him who died FOR YOU!  You belong to Christ crucified and He to you.  You no longer live but Christ who is in you with His resurrection power lives.  The life you now live is by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself up FOR YOU. 

So brothers and sisters, when you get up in the morning or when you bed at night, make the sign of the cross and say:  “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Confess the Apostles’ Creed.  Pray the Lord’s Prayer and the little “I thank you prayers” in the catechism.  Daily die to sin and rise to new life in Jesus who died and rose FOR YOU.  Daily live by faith.  Faith only in the Crucified Christ. After all, He is the power of God and the wisdom of God. He will keep you in His nail-scarred Hands for the rest of your life all the way through death and the grave to the glorious resurrection of the body on the Last Day.

Then you will see Him with your eyes.  His Good Friday wounds still showing.  What He did on the cross FOR YOU! And all its eternal benefits.  What joy!  It will be magnificent! 

In the Name of Jesus.   

He Does Everything Well!

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Mark 7:31-37

They beg Jesus.  That’s the faith point!  Faith-ers are beggars. Always relying on Jesus.  When you believe in Him you pray to Him. “Please Jesus, lay your hand on our friend.  He can’t hear.  He can barely talk.  We believe you can help him.”  

Incredibly, Jesus takes the man aside. Away from the crowds. This is no time for a show.  This isn’t for the TV, the internet, Facebook or the Twitter-verse.  Jesus is not like the so-called millionaire celebrity “faith healers” in America. Jesus doesn’t want celebrity. He never uses the misfortune of others to draw attention to Himself. He is completely there for this man who cannot hear and speak. Jesus is God FOR HIM!  He has the Lord’s undivided!

Now, of course, Dr. Fauci and the CDC would be outraged.  Jesus isn’t vaccinated.  No double, triple or quadruple masked.  Violates the infallible six foot social distancing.  No gown.  No gloves. Reckless!  Irresponsible!  That’s not the half of it.  Jesus dares to poke His unwashed,  unsterilized fingers into the man’s ears!  Then the unthinkable!   The inconceivable!  The unimaginable!  The unbelievable!   Jesus dares to … SPIT or hawk drool on his fingers and take hold of the man’s tongue with the slobber dripping from his digits!  Dentists at least glove up and use a piece of cotton cloth.  But not Jesus!  “Someone call the health department!  No!  Someone call the police!  This has to stop!  Saliva droplets are flying around in the air! Spittle is purposely applied to the man’s mouth and tongue!  A pandemic could break out any second!  And millions will die!”

Take deep breath folks.  Relax Dr. Fauci.  Enough already with the overreaction CDC!  Jesus is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of fallen creation’s restoration.  When “they shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God … and the tongue of the mute [will] sing for joy.”  Jesus is that Lord.  He touches broken ears and mouth with His divine, creative, restorative, life-giving touch. The Good Physician – the Savior — is at work! “Hands on!” Not distant and removed. His fingers are God’s fingers. His spit is God’s spit. The glory of the Lord – the majesty of our God is fingering his ears and tongue to recreate. To restore.      

Jesus looks up to heaven.  That’s where your help comes from!  From heaven.  From God.   And Jesus is the one true God who has come down from heaven to do just that.  He is the go-between.  The mediator between God and man. He prays for us. His touch is the divine touch. His sighing and groaning are divine. The God-man Jesus knows how deep our brokenness is.  He knows what price He will have to pay to fix it. It is His Good Friday bloody death on the cross.

Then Jesus speaks. In Aramaic. “Ephphatha!” Be opened. Be released. He’s not only speaking to the man’s broken ears and tongue. He was speaking to the whole enchilada of the man. “Be released from your bondage. Be free.” Jesus was releasing him from everything that held him bound and captive. “Be released.” Jesus came to proclaim release to the captives. He came to speak a liberating Word to those bound in sin and death. Or as Isaiah prophesied:  “Behold, your God will come … He will come and save you.”  

His divine words do and give / give and do what they say.  Ephphatha!”  And the man’s ears could hear. His tongue was set free. He could speak plainly. Clearly.  

Then Jesus barks out some orders! No one is to speak of this.  How odd.  Especially when He just fixed a man’s tongue so he could talk. The man can now speak clearly, yet Jesus puts a gag order on him and the others. Jesus didn’t want to be known as a celeb Hollywood like wonder worker. If all that people see in Jesus is a cure for their temporal problems, an ear and tongue specialist, they miss the point. If all we see in Jesus is quick therapy, we miss the point. The apostle Paul said that if our hope in Christ is only for this life, if all we look to Jesus for is a solution to our earthly problems, then we are of all people most to be pitied.

There is more to Jesus than miracles. The miracles are signs that God had come to us to touch us. Again, Isaiah spoke of it centuries prior. “Your God will come,” he prophesied. “He will come to save you.” The eyes of the blind will be opened. The ears of the deaf will be unstopped. The lame will leap like the agile deer. Mute tongues will shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the dry wilderness, streams of water in the desert. Burning sand will break out in bubbling springs.

That’s Jesus. He came to save you by absorbing into himself all the sin, evil and brokenness, all that is wrong with you. All that had come into the creation because of your Fall in Adam. He came to take up your sicknesses and diseases into His own body. To battle the demons that darken your lives. To take up the devastation that crushes you. He came to free you from everything that binds you, that imprisons you, that keeps you from being God’s free children. He came to unchain you from sin, from death and from the devil. He came to bring in a new creation with His own dying and rising. A new creation in which blind eyes see, mute tongues speak, the lame leap, and water flows in dry desert places.

This is exactly why Jesus didn’t want anyone to say anything about what happened. It was too small, too soon. There was much more of Jesus to come. Namely, His Good Friday death on the cross. And His open, empty tomb. And more! His ascension to glory. And even more!  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Then His disciples would speak openly and plainly.

Nonetheless, the people of the Decapolis told everyone about what happened. The more Jesus tried to quiet them, the more they spoke. People were overwhelmed at the power of Jesus’ words. With a simple word Jesus did what no man could do, and yet he did it in such a human way. Through His humanity came the power of God to save, to set free and to release from bondage. People just had to talk about it. “He has done all things well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”  “Done all things well.”  Sounds like the “very good” of Genesis 2!  Well, that’s on purpose! 

You have even more to say about Jesus than they did. Greater things even than making ears and tongues work again. Jesus has died for you! Risen from the dead for you! He reigns over all things for you. He lords His death and resurrection over all your sin and death. You are His new creation.  Spelled: F-A-I-T-H!  Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation (2 Cor 5)!  You have passed from death in Adam to new life in Christ!  That’s something to talk about!

Jesus said, “Ephphatha” to you in your baptism. He opened your ears to hear His Word. He anointed your tongue to sing His praises, to pray to Him and to proclaim Him. And more. He continues to put His forgiveness into your ears with His body and blood on your tongues, His Word on your minds and hearts, in the same earthy incarnate way of fingers in ears and spit on tongues.

Yes, Jesus, He is the One who opens ears. loosens tongues. He forgives sinners. He raises the dead. He gives eternal life. He’s does everything well. Trust Him to do everything well with you.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

The Whole Armor of God

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Ephesians 6:10-20

You, as the Lord’s faith-ers, face enormous challenges and hellish enemies.  St. Paul knows this. He knows the enemy. This is precisely why he tells you today to:  “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His strength.”

“Strong in the Lord.”  Not in yourself.  Jesus is your strength.  He is your power.  And that is a divine power that is perfected in weakness! The power of His Good Friday cross and the open tomb. This is your strength.  Left to your own devises, abilities, methods, you’re doomed. So I repeat.  It’s only in the strength of the Lord that we can “be strong.”  I am weak but He is strong! 

Consequently, to be strong in the Lord you need to have the proper attire.  Or outfit.  As a soldier of the Crucified Captain.

Speaking of a faith-er as a soldier in Christ’s army is an old one. The early church fathers loved it. We have it in the hymn Lift High the Cross: “All newborn soldiers of the Crucified, bear on their brows the seal of Him who died.” The soldiers in Caesar’s Roman army had a mark, a tatoo, on their foreheads. It meant that their life belonged to Caesar. Christians too bear the mark of their Master.  It’s the sign of the cross by which sin and death are defeated. The “seal of Him who died.” You belong to Christ; you are His foot soldier.

A soldier needs to know the enemy. Paul says your struggle is not against “blood and flesh.”  Yes, that’s the order.  Flesh and blood is what you’re used to hearing because translators are always trying to improve on the apostle and the Holy Spirit. “Blood and flesh” is the order.  Paul’s point is that you’re not fighting your fellow human beings. The enemy is not people – not atheists, Muslims, politicians, whatever. Remember, Christ died for all people inclusively without exception. Christ embraced all of humanity in His Good Friday death. That was Paul’s whole point in chapter 1. There is no one for whom Christ did not die. Your battle is with the forces of darkness, the devil and his demons, the “powers and principalities” as Paul calls them. You’re in a spiritual battle and the battle is fought with weapons of the Holy Spirit.

For this reason, you need spiritual armor, the “whole armor of God.” Without this, you cannot withstand the powers of the enemy. Don’t even dare to try because your enemy is the devil.  Satan.  And all his hellish angels.  On your own you are no match for these powers and principalities. You need all the protection you can get.

So, having the whole armor of God means to stand with the truth tied around your waist like a belt. Truth is the belt of God’s armor. Truth is the foundation of your faith. God’s people speak the truth. You know the truth – that your sins are forgiven in the death of Christ and you live in His life. That’s the truth, a truth in which you can stand firm.  By God’s grace, you know the truth. His name is Jesus! You know the truth of God’s love, His forgiveness, His mercy in Jesus. Tie it around your waist. It’s your lifeline.

You also need body armor.  Let’s call it spiritual Kevlar or a spiritual bullet proof vest. This is the breastplate of Jesus’ righteousness which He gave to you in your baptism. At your baptism you were clothed with Christ (Gal 3:27). His righteousness is your body armor. No charge can stick. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Your feet need to be ready to move. Soldiers don’t stand still. Your shoes are the gospel of peace. “How beautiful are the FEET of those who preach the good news” (Rom 10:15)!  When you have good news you want to run and tell others. The salvational good news of Jesus’ death and His resurrection activate your tired, aching feet. You just can’t wait to run and tell others. The word “gospel” comes straight from the battlefield. When the fight was over and the battle won, the army sent a runner to bring the gospel, the good news, back to the king. That’s how the marathon was invented. Pheidippides ran 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to tell the king the gospel, the good news of victory over the Persians. And then he dropped dead. How about that! 

Now, did you observe that the good news is the message of … PEACE. Soldiers of the cross are not waging war. They’re waging peace! Their feet are propelled by good news from the Prince of Peace Himself. God is reconciled. He is at peace with the world in the death of His Son Jesus. The enemy is already defeated. The holy war was waged on the cross and won when Jesus died and cried out:  “It is finished!” The hymn that we all love sing misses the mark. “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war.” Well.  No!  You’re on a peace march! You’re telling the world to put down its weapons. The fight is over. The battle won. Christ has conquered. God is at peace.

In addition, don’t forget your shield. You don’t want to get hit or nicked by stray arrows. The Roman shield was made of leather and could be soaked in water to extinguish flaming arrows. Your shield is the shield of THE faith. I say THE faith because Paul is referring to THE faith, the teaching or the doctrine of Christ. This is what repels the flaming arrows of your enemy, the devil. When he accuses you or causes you to doubt, THE faith repels his flaming arrows.

So, I beg you.  Say the Apostles’ Creed daily.  When I make hospital calls, home visits or speaking to unbelievers I always recite it. When you are sick, when you are dying, when you are caught in doubt, take up your shield, soaked in the water of baptism, and say those ancient, sturdy words that recall your baptism: “I believe in God, the Father almighty … And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord …” Living in the world without THE faith confessed faithfully in the creed is like going into a battlefield without a shield and you won’t stand a chance. Take up THE faith once delivered to the saints. Make it your own. Confess it.  It faithfully speaks THE biblical truth! 

Your head needs cover too. So put on the helmet of salvation. Wrap it in the salvation Christ has won for you. By the way, it’s already yours.  You already possess it. Salvation isn’t simply something coming later when we rise from the dead. Salvation is yours now, as we speak, something to be worn on your head, guarding your mind when your thoughts lead you astray. The cross is yours. The open tomb is yours. Sin and death are defeated. Christ has saved you. The battle is not over salvation. That’s already been fought and won. The battle is over whether you will trust it. Live in its freedom. Proclaim this good news to others.

Then there’s a weapon that you’ll need. A spiritual one. It is the sword of the Spirit. And that’s God’s Word! Nothing but the Word! That’s all you have to defend yourself.  But it’s all you need. The two-edged Word of the law that convicts and the gospel that comforts. You don’t need political power. You don’t need military might. You don’t physical or even intellectual strength. The Word is all you need. “One little Word can fell him,” namely, the devil, are the words from the great hymn “A Mighty Fortress.” One little Word of Jesus spoken by a believer can send Satan scurrying like a cockroach when the lights come on.

To take up the sword implies that you know how to use it. Be careful. Swords are sharp. This sword can separate the inseparable – joint and marrow, soul and spirit. So, you need to study the Word. Read it. Mark it. Learn it. Digest it. Learn it to use it carefully and responsibly. We have gun safety classes because weapons are dangerous. We have driver safety classes because driving is frought with perils.  We ought to have Bible safety classes so no one gets hurt. Oh! Wait! We do! We call them Sunday school, catechism and Bible studies.

There you have it: The whole armor of God provides what you already have at your disposal: truth, righteousness, the good news of peace, the faith once delivered, salvation, the Word. Everything you need to withstand the powers of darkness. It’s not exactly the most fashionable clothing in the fall collection of American religions, but it will be the only one standing on the Judgment Day.

Finally, Paul gives marching orders for you, a soldier of Christ.  “Pray.”  Pray in the Spirit. Pray with all perseverance. Pray for all the saints, for your brothers and sisters in Christ, especially for those who live under the political beast of communism or the religious beast of Islam. Pray for your fellow believers in China, in Cambodia, Vietnam, in the middle east, in places like Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Pray for them all. Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ in this congregation, especially those who are AWOL. I beg you, take the congregation’s directory and pray for each person by name. I wonder what would happen in a congregation that intentionally prayed for each other?

In addition, Paul says, “Pray also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel … that I may declare it boldly as I ought.”

I ask the same from you.  I beg you.  Pray for me, your pastor. Pray that the word I preach and teach be God’s Word. Pray that I have the courage to tell the truth, even if it means we lose members or even face hard persecution from the authorities. Pray that I have the energy, the zeal, the boldness to speak the good news all over this community. And I pray the same for you – that you speak the truth of Jesus with boldness and courage wherever and whenever God gives you opportunity. You’re His ambassador too. You’re His soldier – equipped, well-armed, well-defended. You’re soldiers of peace in a world at war. I exhort you. Proclaim the peace of Jesus!

In fact, I’ll speak it to you right now.  Peace to you and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

The Gift of Holy Marriage

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Ephesians 5:22-33

Today is about, as the kids say, keeping it real … about marriage.  I’ll mention a few things that God says about it in Ephesians 5.  I know.  I know.  The alphabet mafia will fly into a rage.  The woke-ity wokes will throw a tantrum.  The snowflakes will melt.  Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird will be incensed. Your old sinful flesh, the old Adam, will be incensed and will rebel.  So be it.  I must preach.  And preach faithfully.  No matter what the cost.  No matter what the ridicule.  The haters will hate.  So here goes!  Are you ready?  Wonderful! 

Marriage talk is man and woman talk.  One man.  One woman.  A husband.  A wife.  The pronouns are “he” and “she” not the neopronouns “ze” and   “zir.”  Like at the “very good” of creation.  Adam a he / a man / a husband.  Eve a she / a woman / a wife.  A man leaves his father and mother and in the estate of holy marriage becomes one flesh with a woman – his wife.  

As we all know, marriage is not a means of grace but it is in desperate need of God’s grace!  Seriously!  Put two sinners together in a 24-7-365 close-quarters-life there will be trouble.  As you all know.  Husbands fail in loving their wives.  They love themselves selfishly.  They abandon and abdicate headship in the home. They don’t serve.  They bully, boss, and dominate.  Then add all the worldly and devilish temptations that would diminish and destroy a marriage.  Good grief!  We desperately need God’s grace in Jesus Christ for our marriages.      

So the Lord today would repent us, faith us and lead us in holy living especially in the estate of holy marriage.  The text says:  “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church His body, and is Himself its Savior.”   “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”

It bears repeating that marriage is not a man-made Eurocentric construct.  Marriage a gift from the Lord!  A gift of His gracious creation from the beginning.  This is foundational.  It is the building block of society.  It is part of the “house, home, spouse, and children” blessing that God gives to support our body and life. It is a celebration of our being made “male and female” (Genesis 1) by the LORD.   

In addition, marriage is not eternal. It is temporal.  It is for this life.  This world. Just like our clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, home, children, farm ground, or whatever else is part of this earthly life. I repeat.  Marriage is divinely instituted for this world, not the next.  Jesus teaches this quite clearly in Luke 20: “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage … but in the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Let’s not forget that Jesus is the expert on the subject of resurrections and eternity. So, with all due respect to the Mormons or country western ditties, there are no eternal, celestial marriages. Just temporal, earthly ones with both feet grounded in the rough and tumble of this life.

Now, because of what God did with Adam and Eve in the beginning a man leaves his father and mother.  He is joined to his wife in a wonderful, intimate union.  “One flesh” it is called.  This “one flesh” union is closer than any other bond we have in this life, except for our eternal union in Christ. From this flows the heartbeat of a marriage, namely, the promise of fidelity that audaciously vows: “It’s you and me Babe! For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until we drop dead!” There’s the temporal part. Death ends marriage. It is “until death us do part.”  And that’s why when a beloved spouse dies it’s so painful and the heart just aches and aches. 

The estate of marriage is also like a fence that God builds around the profound mystery of man and woman / husband and wife. “The two become one flesh.” So, with marriage, there is much more going on than what a biologist, the supreme court or the experts on Facebook or Instagram talk about. Marriage is a celebration of being male and female.  A celebration of counterparts coming together in intimate union as “one flesh.”

This raises our humanity beyond just biology and bodily functions.  The birds and the bees “do it.”  Monkeys “do it.”  Dogs and cats “do it.”  A man and a woman become “one flesh.”  Sandhill Cranes, beavers and macaroni penguins mate for life, as do many other animals. But a man uniquely becomes “one flesh” with a woman in marriage. And it is precisely this one-flesh-ness that the estate of marriage protects from any form of adulteration.  This is exactly why God says in the Sixth Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.” 

As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you who are married will not want to do anything that would adulterate your marriage.  You will fear and love God so that you lead a sexually pure and decent life in what you say and do and honor and love each other.

Now.  As if what I have preached hasn’t done it already, the next thing that I’m about ready to say will totally blow your mind!  In an edifying way I pray.  Check it out.  Marriage is based on FIDELITY not feelings!  Really!   Marital love comes as close as we get to that kind of love of which the Bible speaks most often: Agape. This is love as an act of will. Voluntary and on purpose love.

Agape love is not romance novel love, a “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette” erotic love or warm, tender feelings about someone. Agape love as a deliberate act. This kind of love says “I love you” even when you don’t feel like it!  It is the act of love even when the other person is unloving and unlovely. It’s “love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be,” as the Lenten hymn puts it (LSB #430:1)! It’s the love that the apostle Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. Love that is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude; love that doesn’t insist on its own way; love that isn’t irritable or resentful; love that rejoices in the right and not the wrong; love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

This is the love of God for the ungodly, sinful world in His Son Jesus. It is the love of Jesus for His church.  Good Friday love! It is the love that lays down one’s own life for the sake of the other. This is the kind of love that marriage approximates and exercises, albeit imperfectly, in us. Marital love transcends feelings and circumstances. Marital love sticks with it for better or worse, richer or poorer, in health or in sickness. It stays when you want to leave.  It embraces when you want to push away. A very astute old man told me once: “Brent, if you want to stay married, don’t get divorced.” When you stay with it, when you are determined to love the other, you begin to have a peek of agape, God’s Good Friday love for you in Jesus.

I know you’re getting sleepy and your minds are wandering.  I know that I’m going to make you late for whatever it is that you just have to get to.  But I beg you to hang on tight for just a few more remarks.  Thanks!

Marriage is an ordering. It puts our being male and female back into order again. Sin brought disorder and chaos into the creation and into every aspect of our humanity including our sexuality. Nothing so illustrates how deep the condition of sin is, than how distorted and perverse the desire of the sexes for each other has become.  Especially the deviancy and depravity of supposed “same sex marriage.”   Marriage according to God’s Word puts order back into our being male and female.  Get it?  Marriage is given by God to be for one man and one woman. 

The ordering also goes like this:  “Wives, submit to your own husbands.” The wife is second in rank to her husband. This isn’t a power thing.  It’s not a micro aggression. He is not the boss. He is the head. She is not a slave. She is the body. The two work together! Like when you dance. He leads. She follows. When the husband leads, he doesn’t force her to steps she cannot take or to rhythms that are foreign to her. Instead, the husband is completely attuned to her moods and needs. He conforms his steps to her gait. He leads, but never with power or force or coercion but always gently and wisely, moving in conformity with her graces.

The wife is to follow. Your old sinful nature, your old Eve, however, wants to lead!  The body wants to be the head! But that will not work. Adam was created first.  Then Eve.  So Eve follows Adam. Being subordinate or “to submit” does not mean the wife is inferior. It is the same with Jesus. He, the Son, is subordinate or “submits” to His Father.

So, in marriage, the wife follows the husband’s lead. Receives his sacrificial love.  Trusts him. Let’s him watch out for the traffic on the dance floor so that she can enjoy the dance. If two lead, they will stumble. If no one leads, they’re not dancing. The subtlety of order is that you never get the glory, the other one does. When the husband leads, his wife gets the glory. When the wife follows, her husband gets the glory. It’s never about you. It’s always about the other. That’s the way of love: agape!

Here is where we all need to repent.  Why?  Well, that’s a no-brainer.  Our sinful nature doesn’t want it that way. Our old Adam wants things done “my way.” It’s all about “my needs, my wants, my satisfaction.” We want to control with power. Subdue the will of the other. Tear each other down. Belittle and nibble away at one another until marriage becomes like a long simmering hostility with occasional or never any moments of love. Certainly not the way to dance, not even the tango, and certainly not the way of the “two” as “one flesh.”

For those who are trust-ers or faith-ers in Jesus, the “two become one-flesh” holds an even greater, higher, and deeper mystery than our own union as man and woman. And that is the union between Jesus and His bride, the church. Jesus leaves His Father at the throne of heaven and His mother at the foot of the cross, in order to be as one flesh to His Eve, His bride, the church.  The church is created out of His wounded side from which flows the water and the blood.  The water of baptism.  The blood of the Lord’s Supper. The pattern of earthly marriage comes from the blueprint of Christ and His marital relationship with His bride the church.

Again the pattern for marriage is in Jesus’ self-giving and the church’s subordinate or submitting receiving. Christ is the Head; the church is His Body — “one flesh” unbreakable! St. Paul calls this a “profound mystery.” Profound indeed!  Utterly profound! 

Of course, the world knows nothing of this. When it comes to marriage the world speaks only of rights, privileges, tax breaks, social security benefits, medical benefits, equality, and equal protection under the law. Legal rights and privileges have nothing to do with the essence, the core, or the mystery that is marriage. That’s for the church to talk about and to proclaim. And we need to proclaim it from the rooftops!  We don’t need supreme court rulings or state legislatures to tell us what marriage is.  We have God’s Word!  It tells us what is going on “in, with, and under” this estate divinely instituted in the beginning called marriage!

There are two profound mysteries going on here. Under all the legalese of wedding licenses and marriage certificates – under all the outdoor ceremonies – under all the lavishly high-priced dresses and rental suits – under all the sumptuous dinners and dances — under all that “stuff” there is a profound creative mystery of God.  And it’s this: male and female / man and woman / he and she in an intimate communion with one another as “one flesh.”

There is nothing else in this world like it. You may have close, loving, committed friendships and relationships. But nothing is like the union of man and woman, a husband and a wife, as “one flesh.”  Oh, and by the way, since the men have been studying 1 and 2 Samuel on Monday nights I have to mention something.  The love that David had for his dear friend Jonathan, which according to the Scriptures “exceeded that of the love of a man for a woman,” is absolutely not this “one flesh.” This is the first mystery of marriage, the temporal mystery.

The second mystery is the eternal mystery. It transcends time and place. It is found in Jesus Himself. He is the Bridegroom, the Head. The church is the bride, His body. Jesus laid down His life for her. He sanctifies her. Cleanses her. Washes her. Speaks well of her. Justifies her. Presents her to Himself and to His Father spotless, blameless, sinless, and holy. That’s what Jesus has done and does for you out of your Baptism. He loved you to death on a cross that He might cleanse you, forgive you, raise you, glorify you, join you to Himself and all believers.

And in view of that marriage between Jesus and His church, with faith firmly fixed on Jesus, receiving every good and perfect gift from Him by grace, it seems almost an afterthought, a trivial thing, to say, “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” 

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Jesus Has the Words of Eternal Life!

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John 6:51-69

There He goes again.  Will His Bread of Life sermon never end? Most of those listening don’t like it.  Not one bit.  Grumbling about preacher Jesus and His sermon.  Arguing among themselves about His extended homily.

Scandalous sermon!  Offensive sermon!  Riling people up sermon!                                              

In fact, the majority of his disciples, after hearing this sermon “turn their backs, leave, and no longer follow him.”  Jesus even speaks of the one who would betray Him and those who do not believe in Him.

What did preacher Jesus say in the sermon that was so scandalous?  So offensive?

It’s that He claims to be the “living bread come down from heaven.”  And that this breadis His “flesh that will give for the life of the world.”  That’s quite an assertion!  And more:  “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you.”   And yet more:  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”  

Good grief!  Sermons like that are what get preachers fired!  Jesus must be out of His mind to proclaim something like this from the pulpit.  Is He serious?  If He is, then it’s time to have a special meeting with all the church authorities and demand Jesus’ resignation!  After all, He’s scattering the flock.  People are leaving in droves!  Look at how many disciples have dropped Him like a bad habit!  They can’t stand to hear sermons like this anymore!  He started with a mega church of 5,000 at the beginning of chapter six and now He’s down to only twelve!  And even one of the twelve will be the devil’s instrument to betray Him.  Such hemorrhaging membership stats are enough proof that Pastor Jesus should be defrocked immediately!  Or perhaps crucified! 

And more.  Inviting people to eat His flesh and drink His blood?  That’s not just disturbing.  It’s extremely dangerous!  Better hide the women and the children from such a preacher!  Someone call the police! Pastor Jesus should be put in a pink cell with cushioned walls and stuffed in a straightjacket.  Or perhaps crucified!

Does Jesus’ sermon offend you too?  Are His words too hard for you?  Too scandalous?  Ready to call it quits with this Jesus?  Do you want to leave too?  Then Jesus says:  “you have no life in you.” 

Will you trust Him?  Especially when He preaches a sermon that appears to go too far?  The answer to this question is a matter of life – or death!  Eternal life – or eternal death!   

Peter’s answer for the twelve remaining disciples is this:  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

The twelve will be given to.  Trusting that what Jesus says is exactly what He gives. 

After all, Jesus is THE SACRIFICE that atones for the sin of the world.  He offers up His Flesh, His Body on the cross.  He sheds His Blood on the tree.  He gives His life for your life.  He is the substitute sacrifice – the vicarious Victim.  To pay the price for your rebellion against God.  To make peace between God and all of us.  His promise is this:  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  THIS BREAD IS MY FLESH which I will give for the life of the world.” 

Jesus’ flesh is indeed real food.  His blood is real drink.  In the Sacrament of the Altar Jesus nourishes you with His Good Friday body and blood together with the bread and wine. 

How do you know that?  He says so!  His words of promise are Spirit and they are life!  “Take this bread and eat it; it is My body.  Drink from this cup.  It is the new testament in My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”   

Jesus’ promise to you today at the Sacrament is that, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day.”  Eternal life.  Resurrection of the body.  These are the fruit or benefits of the Sacrament of the Altar because of Jesus’ words that are Spirit and life.  Words of Jesus and Holy Spirit go together.  And in the words of Jesus the Holy Spirit is at work “giving life,”  that is, raising sinners from the dead.    

And more.  His giving and bounty overflow.  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”   Holy Communion!  Jesus is not far away.  He abides in you and you abide with Him.  He is in your mouths and in your hearts as you eat His Body and drink His Blood in the Sacrament!  And your bodies then are temples of the Holy Spirit. 

The Epistle’s exhortation to “be filled with the Spirit” comes about as you hear Jesus’ words and receive in faith what His words promise.  After all, His words are Spirit and they are life.

“Do you want to leave too?”   Oh please don’t ever go there!  That would be hellacious!  Hellish!  Instead be like Peter who asks and declares:  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

And the words of eternal life are these:  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

In the Name of Jesus.         

More Jesus Bread of Life!

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John 6:35-51

More from one of the most incredible chapters in the Bible.  Jesus’ sermon from John 6.  Jesus has been pushing salvation by faith alone in Him! Or to put it another way:  faith saves only because it is given or passively receives Jesus the Savior through the preached gospel!  Read the NT.  You’ll discover that.  St. Paul contends that the entire OT teaches salvation only by faith in Jesus.  Read his letter to the Romans or Galatians.  But Paul had to learn that essential teaching from Jesus. And that’s what WE get from JESUS in John 6!  

 “I am the bread of life,” Jesus promises. “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Hunger, of course, is the absence of bread. Thirst is the absence of drink. Emptiness waiting to be filled. Emptiness!  That’s what faith looks like before God. EMPTY hands. EMPTY stomachs. EMPTY mouths. Jesus blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  In fact, He says “they will be satisfied,” (Mt. 5)!  In other words, Jesus will fill them with Himself – FOR SALVATION!

To “come” to Jesus is to believe in Him.  And let’s not forget that no one comes to Him or believes in Him unless the Father draws him. Your brains, your brawn or will power do not get you close to Jesus. That’s because there is nothing good in you, that is, in your old Adam-ic sinful flesh. The Bible teaches in Psalm 51 that we are conceived and born sinful, turned inward, deaf and blind to God and His Word. Dead in trespasses and sin, says St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. So, the Father must draw you by the Holy Spirit whom He sends to preach the saving gospel of Jesus into your deaf ears. To breathe life into your dead clay.  “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ,” (Rom 10:17). 

So, there’s more from Jesus.  Listen.  He speaks this to you.  “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the Last Day.” The salvation that Jesus gives to faith is eternal life and the resurrection of the body on the Last Day.  This is as certain and sure as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. 

Moses fed Israel with manna for forty years.  But the people still died.  Manna could sustain them for this life but not for the next.  Elijah ate bread in the wilderness too and it sustained him for forty days.  But Jesus gives different bread.  The bread that Jesus gives is Himself!  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” In other words, He is salvational food!  Salvific bread!  In the flesh!

This is magnificent!  To you that hunger and thirst for God’s gift of righteousness, Bread of Life Jesus brings words of hope and joy. “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Like Israel and Elijah living in the wilderness of this world saps our energies. We’re hungry, we’re thirsty. We need food and drink that endure. We’re dying. We need life. We’re sinners seeking forgiveness. We’re captive to sin and death. We seek redemption, release, freedom.

So today Jesus comes to us. The Son of God in the flesh comes to us by way of His cross and tomb. He extends His hand from the right hand of God and says, “Here. Take and eat this bread. This is my body given for you. My flesh which I gave for the life of the world. Here Take and drink this cup. This is my blood of the covenant, poured out for you and for the world. My life for your life. My death for yours. Eat this bread, drink from this cup, and I will raise you on the Last Day.”

Jesus cannot deny what He did FOR YOU ON THE CROSS.  He cannot deny His own Body and Blood nor will He abandon it to the grave.  He has bodied and bloodied you.  Therefore, He will raise you up on the Last Day as surely as He Himself is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

To which faith says:  “This is most certainly true!”