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Epiphany 3 – Matthew 8:1-13

by pastorjuhl ~ January 28th, 2014

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

There are actually three miracles in today’s Gospel. The first is the healing of the leper. The second is the healing of the centurion’s servant. The third and greatest miracle is the faith of these two men, especially the centurion. Even Jesus was astonished at this Gentile’s faith. If Jesus Himself is astonished at the centurion’s faith, then this must be a miracle and worth contemplating. True faith in Jesus Christ is a divine miracle.

First, let’s consider the leper. He had little opportunity to hear and learn God’s Word because of his leprosy. He was excluded from the community because of his disease. Perhaps he heard the Word as a youth, but as he grew older and leprosy contaminated his flesh he was not able to hear the Word with family or with neighbors. Maybe he had only heard our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, which concluded in Matthew chapter seven. At any rate, this leper truly believed Jesus could and would make him clean from leprosy. The leper believed Jesus is God and Messiah. This is a miracle – a miracle of faith.

The centurion had even greater obstacles to faith. He was a Gentile, a soldier, and lived in Capernaum, a very wicked city. Jesus says about Capernaum in Matthew chapter 11: will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. Even with three strikes against him, this centurion has great faith, so great that Jesus cannot help but be astonished about it. The centurion believes Jesus can help where no other man can help, for his servant was sick unto death. Doctors gave up on him, but he believes Jesus is able to do what doctors cannot do.

What is more, the centurion adds these words to his request: Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. This is truly remarkable faith! No wonder Jesus was astonished. The centurion believes Jesus does not need to be present in order to heal his servant. This is as much a divine miracle as the healing itself.

Consider these words from the author of the epistle to the Hebrews: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith has to do with nothing but unseen divine things, yet faith is certainly irrefutable. You have by nature a heart that is set apart from God and all heavenly things, a heart that is full of unbelief, hatred of God, pride, self-righteousness, blindness, and folly, Though you recognize yourself as an accursed sinner before God, you, like the centurion, embrace God as your dear Father with confidence because of the merit of Jesus Christ’s blood and righteousness. Jesus is your Savior just as He is the Savior of the centurion and the leper. That is as much a miracle as the two healings in today’s Gospel.

Though faith has to do with unseen divine things, it is worked through means: the seemingly inconspicuous Biblical Word, the Gospel of a crucified Christ. Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter two: The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. No wonder so many wise men of the world laugh at Holy Scripture. They want to master the Word rather than let the Word master them. Faith is also worked through the easily despised means of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. Every baptism, every word of absolution, every time you eat and drink Christ’s true Body and true Blood, is a miracle. Consider an infant baptism. It is amazing that a little child comes to faith through baptismal water. That little child has the kingdom of heaven, just as Jesus says: Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.

Consider also the effect of faith on the leper and the centurion. The leper came to Him and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” The leper completely submits to God’s will. He is ready to suffer patiently for a while longer if that is the Lord’s will. That last part about patiently suffering is something we often forget as Christians. God’s will may be for you to endure an affliction patiently for a while in order to humble you. He also may be trying to teach you patience under the cross. Whatever the reason, we still pray that difficult, yet comforting petition, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

The centurion is not used to humbling himself before anyone. Usually it is the other way around. He tells Jesus, I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, “Go,” and he goes, and to another, “Come,” and he comes, and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it. The centurion does not have to be kind to the people of Capernaum. He is a Roman soldier. He could have nothing to do with them. Yet the centurion does care for his slave as other Gentiles perhaps would not. Consider also in Luke’s account of today’s Gospel that some Jewish elders came to our Lord to ask Him to heal the centurion’s servant. The reason why is that [the centurion] is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue. Whoever heard of a Gentile showing such love to Jews? We do here. This centurion puts all of us to shame.

Faith brings a change of heart. We see this in all the good things the centurion does for the people of Capernaum. Martin Luther saw the unbroken connection between faith and good works in his preface to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Faith is a living, daring confidence on God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad, bold, and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures; and this is the work of the Holy Ghost in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace; and thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers, who would be wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God to work faith in you; else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think or do.

True faith in Jesus Christ is a divine miracle. Only God can work such faith in His Gifts. This faith then shows itself with love toward both God and men. Though we are not worthy of this gift, we receive it in hearing and keeping His Word in preaching. We receive what the Word bestows: forgiveness of sins and eternal life. These are greater gifts than healing from leprosy or sickness unto death. Healing from earthly illness is the icing on the cake. We have everlasting healing of our soul because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Believe it for His sake.

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

Epiphany 2 – John 2:1-11

by pastorjuhl ~ January 28th, 2014

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

Psalm 107 says, He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. Our problem with that verse is that God’s time and our time are not the same. If there is something that is difficult for us in times of tribulation, it is when we seek help and can’t find it. There are times when help is absent just longer than we want it. These are the times when true faith shows itself. True faith waits patiently for the Lord’s time.

We are impatient with God. We murmur and blaspheme Him when He’s tardy with help…or never seems to show up with help. This doesn’t mean that we should never ask the Lord to hurry up. Daniel once prayed to God, O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name. What is not true faith is when we put time constraints on God or, worse yet, stop asking for His help. Patient endurance is a characteristic of true faith in Jesus Christ. He lets us sweat it for a while in order that we rejoice in His merciful goodness when He answers prayer. The delay of divine help is an exercise of faith in Christ.

Our Lord’s first miracle at the wedding in Cana gives clear evidence for divine delayed gratification. The lack of wine at the wedding is a picture of all of our distresses, all our days of suffering, the tests and temptations that come over us. Our Lord’s answer to all these ills is My hour has not yet come.

Perhaps the first thing we think when our Lord delays help is that He will not help or that He could not help. Maybe we think that His loving hand that always remains open to us has now closed into a fist. Worse yet, perhaps His love for us has cooled.

Not so. Consider how Jesus deals with His mother. We’ve been taught, and rightly so, that it is improper to talk back to your mother. Jesus seems to talk back to Mary when He tells her, Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come. Jesus is putting her faith to the test here. Jesus wants to see whether she believes that her Son is also God and Lord. Is Mary willing to put aside her motherly privilege and take instruction from her Son? The answer is yes.

Are you willing to take instruction from Jesus when He delays His help? In happy days, being a good Christian seems easy. After all, we have a faith that can move mountains even if faith is as small as a mustard seed. Jesus Himself says so. Then God puts a cross on us. When we beg for help, Jesus suddenly seems to be deaf. When we bear our crosses and ask Jesus for help, then the rubber hits the road, so to speak, when it comes to patient waiting. This is what separates heroes of the faith from fair-weather Christians.

Mary casts off all signs of being a fair-weather believer in her Son. She tells the servants, Do whatever He tells you. She knows He will help, but only in His hour and not her hour. What seems to be a setback for Mary actually helps her to realize her unworthiness. The same thing happens to us when help is delayed. We seem only to ask God for something when we need it. When we ask, and what we ask for doesn’t appear right away, we perhaps notice that God owes us nothing. Nevertheless we ask, for Jesus wants us to ask. He tells His disciples in Luke chapter 11, Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

The most striking proof of strengthened faith in divine delay is the fact that His disciples believed in Him after Jesus changed water into wine. Before this moment they believed, but their faith was a smoldering wick. Now that they saw that He desires to help, but only in His time, their faith is strong. So it is today with us. Our faith in Jesus wanes when it seems that He won’t help. But when that help comes, even when that help is not exactly what we asked, what joy we have in believing!

Notice again what Mary tells Jesus: They have no wine. She makes her request, but she doesn’t dictate anything to Him. Mary gives her Son a free hand. We also give the Lord a free hand. We make our requests known to Him, but we let the way, time, and hour of His help to His discretion. We are unafraid to ask for what we desire because we believe Jesus hears us and will answer us. King David says in Psalm 27, You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.” Even when Jesus does not answer right away, we wait with patience for His answer. He promises to hear. He promises to help, even when crosses burden us with suffering and pain.

Consider Mary again when Jesus seems to sass her. She doesn’t slap Him. She doesn’t reprimand Him in front of the wedding guests. She doesn’t grumble when Jesus tells her to wait. She embodies Solomon’s proverb: Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. All of us have seen this play out in our lives. We have our own hopes that we lay before the Lord in prayer. We would like to see those hopes come true soon. But nothing happens, at least the way we see it. When our desires are fulfilled, we give thanks to God for His never-ending mercy. We also believe that we can return to Him in prayer at any time to ask again.

The prophet Isaiah says, In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. When divine delay occurs, do not despair. Listen again to King David in Psalm 27: Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! Simeon waited for the Lord many years, and His patience was rewarded as God kept His promise to Simeon. He would not die before seeing the Lord’s Christ.

At Cana it happened with the miracle of water into wine. At Golgotha it happened with the shedding of blood. At Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb it happened with Christ bursting from His three-day prison. In bread and wine and Word we eat the modern-day miracle of Christ’s Body and Blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. In water and Word we are united to Christ’s death and life while our sins are washed clean. Faith is gloriously crowned on those who wait for His response to our prayers. While we wait for His next appearance, we cling to the words of Psalm 66: Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.

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

Epiphany 1 – Luke 2:41-52

by pastorjuhl ~ January 28th, 2014

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

The greater majority of the Gospels focus on three years of the thirty-three years Jesus Christ lived among us. Where are the other thirty years? You would think that someone would have written an exhaustive account of the life of Jesus Christ as the God-man. More biographical accounts of what Jesus said and did, especially in His younger years, perhaps would make for a more believable God.

All we receive about Jesus before the age of thirty is that He was born, was visited by wise men around the age of one, fled to Egypt and then to Nazareth in Galilee some time later, and then went with His parents to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover at the age of twelve. The rest of Jesus’ life with His parents is summarized in one verse: And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

All sorts of false gospels proclaim phony stories about Jesus’ childhood. Have you heard the one about Jesus raising one of His playmates from the dead? Or maybe Jesus grabbing a hunk of dirt, fashioning a bird out of the dirt, blowing on the dirt bird, and the bird comes to life and flies out of His hand? There are all sorts of stories you can find about “the missing years” of our Lord’s life on earth. What’s important, what is truly inspired by God, about Jesus’ life is that He increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. In other words, Jesus’ childhood, outside of this one event in Luke chapter two, is mundane…maybe even boring. He obeyed God and His parents, in that order.

A lot of good comes from that obedience to His heavenly Father and His earthly parents. This seems not to be the case when they all go to Jerusalem for Passover. Mary and Joseph are heading back to Nazareth with a group. They get twenty or so miles outside Jerusalem when the worst thing that could happen to them happens. Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it. Today an event like this would get you in trouble with the Department of Children and Family Services. What sort of parents are Joseph and Mary? They are not able to keep track of a twelve-year-old boy. They assume He is among their group. Yet He is not there!

They return to Jerusalem and search for three days. When they do find Jesus, He is in the temple listening to the doctors of the Law and asking questions. It’s as if Jesus is attending catechism instruction, but who is instructing whom? Seems as if Jesus is the one doing the instructing. All who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.

At first glance, this account seems to be a “gotcha”. How can Jesus be obedient to His parents when He abandons them and stays behind in Jerusalem to hear and talk to the teachers in the temple? An obedient child would have been right by His parents’ side. There would be no frantic three-day search in a large city looking for Him. The difficult thing for us to believe about this account is that Jesus is obedient to His heavenly Father and His earthly parents at the same time.

How is this so? It is so because Jesus is, above all things, obedient to His heavenly Father. This is why Jesus is surprised when His parents scold Him about disappearing from them. Our Lord responds, Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Another way to say it is, Did you not know that I must be in the place where My Father is? The heavenly Father dwells in the temple. There the Word of the Law and the prophets reigns supreme. Jesus must be where this Word dwells. He is there not only to hear it, but also learn from it and, when necessary, to correct earthly teachers about what that Word says about Him.

Here we recall the third commandment about preaching and the Word of God. Jesus gladly hears and learns from the Word, even as He is the Word made flesh. Our thoughts and prayers about the Word are soiled in sin. Even when we gladly hear and learn the Word, we still want our itching ears scratched. Perhaps this is why we love to hear stories about so-called Biblical scholars finding new evidence about Jesus that contradicts what Scripture says. This is also why we tend to trust our own thoughts and opinions about God’s Word, especially when it proclaims the free, full forgiveness of sins because of Jesus Christ. We are always on the lookout for something new, something that sets us apart from others.

Though Jesus amazed those who saw Him listening and questioning, it should not amaze us that this is the extraordinary Savior doing something quite ordinary. He is about His Father’s business, just as He would be almost two decades later. He is about His Father’s business by being submissive to His parents. Our sinful selfish nature only cares about ourselves. Jesus, on the other hand, did as He was told by His earthly parents. But what about this incident? He seems to run off and do His own thing. Not so. We must obey God rather than men. His first priority, our first priority, is to hear preaching and the Word of God. Then comes submission to our neighbor. Where these two things are in conflict, submission to God’s Word always comes first.

We fail in both realms of submission. We choose other words over God’s Word. We care about our own self rather than our neighbor. Where we fall short, Jesus does not fall short. His perfect obedience is for our sake. By God’s merciful grace, through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, we receive the benefits of our Lord’s unfailing obedience to both His heavenly Father and His earthly mother and father. When Jesus is about His Father’s business, when He is where His Father is, He is there for us, doing what He is given to do in order to redeem mankind.

His is an extraordinary life wrapped in ordinary flesh. One minute He confounds people in the Jerusalem temple. The next minute He fetches carpentry tools for Joseph and perhaps helps Mary clean up after supper. When our submission to God and to neighbor fails, Christ’s submission to both never fails on our behalf. In Him there is forgiveness and life, even when that life seems all too mundane. Once again, God is at work in the little things of life. In the little things, in hearkening to the Word of God, in water, in bread and wine, there are great things, even forgiveness of sins and perfect righteousness.

Blesséd be the Lord, the God of Israel, Who alone does wondrous things.

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

Christmas 2 – Matthew 2:13-23

by pastorjuhl ~ January 28th, 2014

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

The life of Christ has a twofold purpose. First and foremost, it is substitutionary. Everything that Christ did and suffered happened in our place, for our own good. As a result, we are saved from our sins, reconciled to God, and have true righteousness before God. We are saved by God’s grace and appropriate His salvation in faith.

Now that we are justified by faith and have peace with God, Christ’s life also serves as an example for us. This does not mean that we merely do as Jesus does in holy living, but also in cross and suffering. Everything we suffer redounds to steadfast faith in Christ as we bear the cross, knowing that God brings all suffering to a wonderful, glorious outcome. It is this side of our life in Christ that we consider today as we hear of our Lord’s flight to and from Egypt as well as the slaughter of the Innocents in Bethlehem.

What seems to be another bummer this week actually shows how life as a Christian plays out among us. Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt because King Herod became paranoid that his throne was in jeopardy from an interloper Who was called the King of the Jews. Our Lord’s journey to Egypt was an arduous trip. His life was in danger. It was a long trip. Look at a map of that part of the world and you’ll see just how far it is from modern day Bethlehem to modern day Egypt. There were no airplanes, no trains, no automobiles, and no buses. The family had to stay in Egypt more than just a few days. They had to wait out Herod. When Herod died, an equally evil leader took his place. The family relocated to Nazareth in Galilee to avoid another bloodthirsty leader.

The only-begotten Son of our heavenly Father deserves better than these humble accommodations. He shouldn’t have to flee cities and countries because of a king worried about his earthly throne. Yet Jesus is, as Isaiah prophesied, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. What greater grief to be acquainted with than the death of many innocent children in the search for the Christ Child. Everything seemed destroyed. The joy of Christmas is soaked with blood and humiliation.

That’s the way it is this side of eternity. Consider the great heroes of the Old Testament. They did not walk an easy road to where God wanted them to go. Joseph suffered greatly in prison before becoming the second most powerful man in Egypt. Moses fled the Israelites before meeting the Lord in a burning bush and returning to his own to lead them out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land. King David, after he was anointed King of Israel, had to flee from King Saul as an outlaw. The three young men in Babylon were thrown into a fiery furnace for confessing the true name of God. Daniel was thrown in a lion’s den. Even Saint Paul had to be shown how much he had to suffer for the sake of Christ’s name.

Christian suffering continues today. Instead of everything becoming easier now that Jesus is born, things only seem to get worse. Misfortune is only beginning. As it was with Jesus, so it is with us. Just when we think things should get easier, life becomes more difficult. Where there was once honor, now there is ridicule and shame. Where there was blessing in your vocation, now everything goes against you. Where there was good health, now you have more illness. Where there was once happiness in your family, now there are painful deaths and separations, wayward children, poverty, and debt. In all suffering, God is making you similar to the suffering image of His Son.

There is a silver lining to these dark clouds. Almighty God protected Mary, Joseph, and the little Child Jesus on their journeys to and from Egypt. Three prophecies are fulfilled in today’s Gospel. These are reliable, yes, true indicators that Jesus is the promised Messiah. The blood of the innocent children that died at Herod’s hands confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Their death spares them from all kinds of grief in this life, yet gives them blessed rest as they wait for the return of Messiah to raise the faithful departed.

As God led the innocent children out of this vale of tears, so He will do the same for you. He saves you through the perfect life and all-sufficient death of His Son Jesus. His Word is certain and precious above all things, just as Saint Paul says in Romans chapter eight: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

We have a glimpse of this future glory that awaits us here in the Divine Service. Here we rest in Jesus Christ as He forgives our sins and strengthens our faith in preaching and the Sacrament. When we leave His presence here, we live in His grace as we turn away from worldly things and live in self-denial, patience, and prayer. There is an end of every cross, and it comes in God’s good time. Everything we suffer strengthens faith in Jesus Christ. Consider those Old Testament saints mentioned a bit ago. There was an end to their suffering and an ultimate end to their lives. Yet the ultimate end wasn’t a final end. It was only the beginning. They sleep in peace, awaiting the return of Jesus to raise them from the dead.

So it is with us and our faithful loved ones. They wait in hope. We wait in hope. We wait in the promise that all crosses have an end in Jesus Christ. He is well acquainted with suffering. He knows what it is like to walk the lonely way, a more lonely way than we’ll ever walk. So we cling to Him above all things, believing that patient endurance brings everlasting hope. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

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