Archives - September 2018

To the Pain ... and More

September 30, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert


+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel reading, specifically where Jesus tells His disciples, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

I’ve probably referenced the movie before, but for those of you who have seen The Princess Bride, you will remember a scene toward the end of the movie where Cary Elwes’s character Westley is in the process of rescuing Princess Buttercup from the evil prince that’s trying to marry her. Problem is, he’s unable to move, as he’s still recovering from being “almost dead.” This makes for a bit of suspense when the evil prince charges into the room and draws his sword, challenging Westley to a fight “to the death.” Instead of cowering in terror, Westley, still lying on the bed and unable to move, confidently retorts, “No! To the pain!” Unfamiliar with the phrase, the prince asks him what he means by “to the pain.” Westley explains, “To the pain means the first thing you’ll lose are your feet below the ankles, then your hands at the wrists. Next your nose. The next thing you’ll lose is your left eye, followed by your right!” The prince impatiently quips, “And then my ears! I understand, let’s get on with it!” Westley roars, “WRONG! Your ears you keep, and I’ll tell you why: so that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out, ‘Dear God, what is that thing?!’ will echo in your perfect ears. THAT is what to the pain means; it means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever.”

I thought of this scene quite a bit as I read through our Gospel reading—perhaps a bit odd of a thing to think about, but you can probably see why. Jesus’s words about the temptations to sin seem as gruesome, if not more so, than Westley’s description of “To the pain!” Hear Jesus’s words again:

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’”

That’s pretty graphic, and we might be tempted to think that this was an exaggeration, that Jesus couldn’t possibly have meant that! If He meant it, then that would mean that sin is pretty serious. If He meant it, then we’re in some serious trouble here. After all, Paul tells us in his letter to the Roman Christians that “the wages of sin is death.” Make no mistake, Paul wasn’t speaking in hyperbole. Jesus wasn’t joking. Sin is that serious. It’s serious enough that, if one of your body parts leads you into sinning, that body part should be removed! That man or woman who’s not your spouse that you were gazing at lustfully? That’s an eyeball. The gossip that you spread last Tuesday? Say good-bye to your tongue. The mental gymnastics you do to make yourself look innocent? Well, I guess it’s time for a lobotomy. The hate you feel toward someone, hoping that they would die and burn in hell forever? Better find a cardiologist who’s willing to remove your heart without putting a new one in. Yes, sin is that serious, and when we look at our lives and the sins we commit, our thoughts, words, and deeds in what we’ve done and left undone, it wouldn’t take long before we had no body parts left to remove. We are, all of us, so wholly corrupted, so completely tainted with sin, that there’s not a body part that would remain!

Over the past few weeks, as we’ve been going through Mark, Jesus’s words have been pointing us to our wholly corrupted nature and thus our truly despondent situation. The truth is, we cannot keep ourselves from sinning, much less keep the perfect mandates and requirements of God’s perfect Law. Any breaking of the law, regardless of the type or scope, is an iniquity which is rightly damning; as we heard a few weeks ago from James, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” By ourselves, we are abjectly without hope, without redemption, without salvation. We deserve to be, as Westley described, left in “anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever.”

That’s what we deserve. But before you run off to IU or St. E to ask for a bone-saw or a rib-splitter, stop and think. Yes, it is what you and I deserve, but we no longer have that punishment spoken over us. Why not? Because Someone took it for us. Someone did fight to the pain for us—Isaiah wrote that “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and His form beyond that of the children of mankind.” He was made to wallow in misery, but more than that, He was put to death, an agonizing, prolonged, horrific death on a cross. No sacrificed body parts of ours could ever atone for the evil that we commit on a daily basis. Only the death of a sinless one, taking sin into and upon Himself, could do this.

This is the truth of it. We deserve to be maimed and put to death; but Jesus was marred and killed in our place! We deserve the freakish misery described in The Princess Bride, and worse, but Jesus takes it for you and gives you His righteousness instead! It was done for you; it was done for me. We look at what He did, and we are confronted by, not only the just penalty for our sin, but also the love of a God who cared so much for us, that He was willing to endure this -- the pain, the sorrow, the sin, and the death. How can we help but marvel and ask, “What wondrous love is this, o my soul?”

The Princess Bride does have a happily ever after, but it does not compare with the one that awaits us! It doesn’t always seem that way -- the world is still broken, our loved ones still die, and we still sin -- but we have the promise from Jesus Himself that He will return to set everything aright! He proved it when He Himself rose from the grave and gave His Word that the same would happen to His children on the Last Day! So we wait, we pray, we live a life of repentance and forgiveness! He who fought to the pain and fought to the death for us is faithful, and His promise will be kept!

+ In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Mark 9:38-50

The Greatest of All

September 23, 2018
By Rev. David French


At this point in the Gospel of Mark, there’s a dramatic change in focus.  In fact, all the Gospels have this change of focus.  The beginning of the Gospels all focus on the teachings and signs that point to Jesus as the promised Messiah.  These signs and teachings fulfill all the promises that were spoken through the prophets in the Old Testament.  They are witnesses to the multitudes that Jesus is, in fact and truth, the promised Messiah sent from God.

There comes a point, however, when there is a change in the focus as Jesus begins to prepare His disciples for Good Friday. Over the past few Sundays, we’ve heard that Jesus began to seek solitude so that He could teach His disciples in more private settings.  He spent more time in Gentile territory in order to get away from the crowds.  He still performed the signs and He still proclaimed the Gospel, but His main focus was on preparing the disciples for His upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection. 

That’s why Jesus went to the areas of Tyre and Sidon, Caesarea Philippi, and the Decapolis.  That’s why today’s reading from Mark begins with the words, “They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples” (Mark 9:30–31).

All four Gospel accounts make it very clear that Jesus prepared His disciples for Good Friday by regularly teaching them about His upcoming passion, the very heart of the Gospel promise.  As we read, He was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31).

But while Jesus was being very clear, the disciples were just not catching on.  As we read, … they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him (Mark 9:32).  But before we’re too hard on the disciples, remember that no one had ever done this before.  There are accounts in the Old Testament of prophets raising people from the dead.  They had seen Jesus raise people from the dead, but no one had ever come back from the dead by his own power.

This was totally outside the disciples’ experience and they had experienced a lot.  But we can’t say they didn’t want to understand Jesus, they simply did not have the mental, emotional, or spiritual tools that are needed to understand what Jesus said.  And we, before being made alive in Christ, are no different.

How much they misunderstood is highlighted by the argument they had among themselves about who was the greatest in the kingdom.  Maybe it was because Jesus only took three of them for the transfiguration, but bottom line it was their own selfishness and pride that was exposed.

Just think about that.  Jesus was teaching them about the single greatest event in the entire history of the world: salvation for all people secured by His death on the cross.  And they’re arguing about who will take over when He’s gone.  How filled with shame they must have been when Jesus asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” (Mark 9:33).  Jesus used this moment of shame as an opportunity not to punish, but to teach them and us what it means to be a leader in His church.  He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35) .

You see, in God’s family, the leader serves.  The one who is the highest makes himself the lowest.  The leader in God’s family sacrifices not to get power, but to serve others.

Then to emphasize His point, He took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:36–37).

So, Jesus lovingly connected the child to Himself and then connected both Himself and the child to our Father in Heaven. That is, to receive or to willingly and lovingly provide for all a child needs is to receive God the Father Almighty.

The Greek word translated as child implies a child whose age would be somewhere between pre-school and second grade.  At that age children can feed themselves, get dressed, understand simple sentences, and so on, but we are still talking about an age when children need a lot of help just to survive.  This child can do a few things for himself, but for the most part, this child on his own is pretty much helpless. 

From the time that Adam and Eve sinned until now, people have wanted power and control, at a minimum, over their own lives.  If we look at our other readings for today, we see that each speaks about the problems we have because we always want people to serve us.  In the Old Testament lesson, people want to kill Jeremiah.  In our epistle, James considers the reasons people fight. 

We’re no different. Our culture praises people who are determined by whatever standard to be the best ... the most beautiful, the strongest, the richest.  Google “List of most powerful people” and you get over 500 million options.  Sooner or later, we all fall to this temptation because the temptation never, on this side of heaven, goes away.  It’s the reason Cain killed Abel, and it’s the reason gunman terrorize our schools.  That means that the things Jesus teaches His disciples are certainly relevant for us today.

Jesus continued to show service to His disciples and us beginning that very evening.  He served you and me by allowing a band of soldiers to arrest Him so that He could endure a day of torture and shame as He took your sin and mine upon Himself and carried it to a cross and His death.  He served you and me by enduring God’s holy wrath against our sin while He hung on that cross.  He served you and me after His friends laid Him in a tomb by rising from the dead and proclaiming His victory over sin, death, and the power of the Devil.

Jesus said that the greatest is the servant of all.  And so, He is the greatest because He served the entire world by offering Himself as the payment for all of our sins.  And Jesus still serves us as the Holy Spirit offers us forgiveness through the Gospel … the Gospel we hear in the Absolution and in the preaching of His Word … the Gospel combined with the water of Holy Baptism … the Gospel combined with bread and wine as Jesus Himself enters us one at a time with His forgiveness.

Jesus, who is the greatest, now serves us who are helpless … helplessly trapped in sin and facing eternal death.  We, who are great in greed, receive the mercy of a Savior who willingly and joyfully serves.  Now that Jesus has served us with the ultimate service, He is able to work through us to serve others.  He gives us the power to share His service with the people in our lives.

Finally, it is the will of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to serve us with new, holy bodies that will rise from the dead just as He rose.  On that day of resurrection, we will, in His presence, serve one another in perfect holiness and with such pure joy that the question, “Who is the greatest?” will never need to be asked.

In His Name, Amen.

Tags: Mark 9:30-37

The Faith That Saves

September 16, 2018
By Rev. David French


The words that explain who the “they” in our lesson are begin: And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them (Mark 9:2–3). That means that Jesus, along with Peter, James, and John, were just getting back from their time on the Mt. of Transfiguration as our lesson begins. The disciples at the foot of the mountain were the nine apostles who didn’t go with Jesus and were waiting for Him and the others to return. It was while they were waiting that a father brought his son who was being tormented by an evil spirit looking for Jesus to do what He had done for so many others, that is, cast it out.

Now, if a father came to you with that request, you’d no doubt be more than a little confused, perhaps even dumbstruck. On the other hand, these particular disciples should have been able to help this father and his son. The difference as we read in Mark 3 is Jesus had appointed the twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons (Mark 3:14–15).  Jesus has not given you or me that authority, at least not in the same measure He gave it to them. And yet, even though the nine had this authority, they still were unable to help the boy.

There were also spies, if you will, who were waiting for Jesus to show up. You see, by this time in His ministry, the Pharisees and Scribes always had a few of their people keeping an eye on Jesus. When the disciples failed to drive the demon out of the boy, a few of those spies began to argue with the disciples, and that’s when Jesus, Peter, James, and John show up. Jesus asked what the problem was and the father answers, Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able (Mark 9:17–18).

Jesus makes His disappointment with His apostles very clear: "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me” (Mark 9:19). The problem is, Jesus had given them all they needed to help this boy, but they didn’t trust His promise.

When they brought the boy to Jesus, the demon’s response reminds us that every demon knows who Jesus is. When the evil spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Why? The demon knew, and in a strange way, had faith in Jesus; faith that Jesus was the One who would bring about his eternal punishment.

The father also had a kind of faith. It’s the kind that shows itself when we think, “I’ve tried everything else, I might as well try Jesus.” Remember his words, "… But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). The father had enough faith to bring his son to Jesus, but it was the faith of desperation, not of hope or confidence.

Jesus’s rebuke of the boy’s father is gentler than that of His disciples, but it is still a rebuke as He says, "If you can! All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23). This father had believed in the past, and everything he had believed in before had failed. He seems to be preparing himself for the inevitable disappointment once again.

The lack of faith seen in the disciples and the father represent the two possibilities for the faith that comes by human power. The disciples had faith in past success. The father had faith in past failures. The disciples had driven out demons in the past, but now they couldn’t. Like many who have had success, they begin to believe that success is the result of their own skill and ability. The disciples had begun to rely on what they think is their own power instead of power of God’s Word and promise. Like many who experience God’s blessing, with time they began to forget about the giver of the blessing. The father had, in the past, found no one was able to heal his son. When he asked for help, the disappointments of the past came through. He said, “But if you can do anything ….” The world had disappointed him so many times that he expected disappointment once again.

The struggles that the disciples and the father had with faith remind us that the war with satan, the world, and our own flesh never ends. Alone or together they work to convince us that we are responsible for our faith … that our relationship with Jesus depends on us. A lie which Paul says, "… itching ears want to hear."

The idea that any part of salvation, including our faith, depends on us usually produces one of two reactions … self-deception or despair. Despair asks questions like: “Is my faith really strong enough?” or “Do I even really believe?” Self-deception, on the other hand, simply refuses to think about all these problems and is content to go merrily along in ignorance.

The truth is, if our faith really did depend on us, we would never have faith. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2, we were dead in our trespasses and sins. And dead people don’t do anything including working faith in our hearts. To the Romans, Paul wrote, The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God …. And so, not only is it impossible for anyone to produce faith within themselves, but the person without faith is hostile to God, and that’s true whether we know it or not.

The only way out of this is for the Holy Spirit to put our old sinful nature to death. When Jesus drove the unclean spirit out of the boy, He said, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose” (Mark 9:25–27). The corpse-like appearance of the boy reminds us that the Old Adam within us must die. Then, just as Jesus took the boy by the hand and raised him, so the Holy Spirit brings forth new life within us.

The faith that the Holy Spirit creates is saving faith in Jesus alone … the same Jesus who drove the demon from the boy in today’s reading. Just as Jesus was the only solution for the demon-possessed boy, so also Jesus is the only solution for you and me. Jesus doesn’t ask us to pay the debt for sin that we owe. Instead, He pays the price for us. Jesus alone overcame sin with His suffering and death and then conquered death by rising from the grave, and since that day, Jesus has freely offered the cure for sin to all mankind through His Word and Sacraments.

That brings us to the post rebuke prayer of the father: I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24) When Christians pray this prayer, we confess that our faith is weak and we can do nothing to maintain it, let alone strengthen it. We are crying out to God in helplessness and begging Him to keep us in the one, true faith until He comes to take us home to be with Him in heaven forever.

You see, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to create in us saving faith, the faith that holds to or trusts God’s grace alone, the faith that holds to or trusts in the One who alone is the way, the truth, and the life.

The faith that comes from within us will fail. The faith that comes from the world will fail. It is through the faith that comes from God the Holy Spirit alone that we receive freely from our Heavenly Father: forgiveness, life, and the fullness of our salvation, all because of the life and death of Jesus, His only begotten Son and our only Savior for sin.

In His Name, Amen

Tags: Mark 9:14-29


September 09, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert


+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our epistle lesson, where James writes, What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

If you were squirming in your seat a little right then as I was reading that passage, it’s not that surprising. The epistle of James, in general, is a tough nut to crack, especially as Lutherans who have been steeped, raised and fed on Pauline theology. We’re more used to those great words from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. That’s what we’re used to hearing, and the apparent contrast between these two words from Scripture is grating, perhaps even cringe-worthy or laughable. One might even be tempted to think that these words … contradict.

Well, if they do contradict, then we’re in a bit of trouble here! We would have only a few options. We could be like the higher critics of Scripture, who say that the books of Scripture are uninspired, simply written by mortal man, so of course there are going to be contradictions! … Well, no, we believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures, that each word is inspired – God-breathed – so frankly, that option is off the table. Maybe we can do what the ancient Ebionites did, and scrap all of Paul’s words! That would make the apparent contradictions go away, right? Pfth…asking a Lutheran to give up Pauline theology is like asking a fish to give up swimming. We can’t lose a word of Paul’s letters! They are vital for the Christian faith! Well, okay, maybe we can jettison James, like Luther wanted to – yes, Luther did not like James, calling it an “epistle of straw” and wanting it taken out of the canon! That would certainly remove any apparent disagreement, but tempting as that may be, consider the words you heard and spoke in response to the reading from James’s epistle: “This is the Word of the Lord; thanks be to God.” Like it or not, Luther’s distaste for this epistle does not invalidate its standing as part of the canon of Scripture! We cannot lose this letter, either! It is the Word of God! So, what are we to do?

There’s another path altogether that we must take. These words … do not contradict, but of course, the question becomes … how are they in agreement? How do we hold texts like Ephesians 2, with its talk of salvation by grace through faith, and James 2, which boldly proclaims that faith without works is dead, to both be true? Oddly enough, Luther gives us the answer, in a sermon he preached in 1518 called, “The Two Kinds of Righteousness.” I won’t read the entire thing, but I will read a snippet. Hear his words:

“There are two kinds of Christian righteousness, just as man’s sin is of two kinds. The first is alien righteousness – that is, the righteousness of another, instilled from without. This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies through faith … Through faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours. … Therefore this alien righteousness, instilled in us without our works by grace alone—while the Father, to be sure, inwardly draws us to Christ—is set opposite original sin, likewise alien, which we acquire without our works by birth alone.

“The second kind of righteousness is our proper righteousness, not because we alone work it, but because we work with that first and alien righteousness. This is that manner of life spent profitably in good works – in the first place, in slaying the flesh and crucifying the desires with respect to the self, of which we read in Gal. 5, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” In the second place, this righteousness consists in love to one’s neighbor, and in the third place, in meekness and fear towards God. … This righteousness is the product of the righteousness of the first type – actually,.its fruit and consequence.”

Today, we call this doctrine, not surprisingly, “two kinds of righteousness,” or 2KR for short. As Luther said, we Christians are righteous twice. First, in our relationship with God, we are righteous entirely without works. It is something we simply receive, passively, purely by God’s grace for the sake of Christ. It is His gift to us, not earned, but given. When the Father sees us, He sees only His perfect and righteous Son, Jesus. This is the reality we see in Ephesians 2, Titus 3, basically the entirety of Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians – we are justified, saved, solely by God’s grace. He does it all, and we cannot do anything to earn it! By His grace, your sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ and you are declared righteous! This is our vertical righteousness, if you will, because it flows down from God to us, and it is one-way only!

However, we are also righteous in our relationship with the rest of this world – with our neighbor, in our vocation and service to others. This is what Luther calls our “proper” righteousness. We call it our horizontal righteousness, because it flows out from us to the rest of creation, and this righteousness … is entirely active! We don’t just sit back and allow our neighbor to suffer in wanton squalor; we are called by God to do something about it! We are called to serve them, just as Christ has served us! We love because He first loved us! We don’t do it to earn our salvation – that’s already been accomplished! Rather, we do it because our neighbor needs our service! We cannot sit by and be passive; we simply must act!

Apparently, those who James calls his “brothers” were failing in this regard; thus, his reason for writing them! They weren’t serving their neighbor faithfully; instead, they were showing partiality, favor, to some and not others. This is likely only one of their collective transgressions, but James is pointing out to these Christians – who had supposedly heard and believed the Gospel – that they were living as though they were not Christians at all! It is true that after baptism, we still sin – we are saints, redeemed by God, and yet are still sinners – but from the sounds of James’s writing, these “brothers” were undisturbed by their sin. Their actions did not reflect the faith which they supposedly held.

What James is writing here is not a prescription to be saved (as some of our heterodox Christian brothers and sisters may believe). Hear it more as a warning! So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. If you are saying “I believe that Jesus’s crucifixion has atoned for all my sin” and yet you go about happily engaging in blatantly sinful behavior, be warned! You may be making a shipwreck of your faith, and your faith may be … dead! As Paul writes, Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? The Christian doesn’t stop sinning, but neither does he take joy in his sin! He hates it! He despises it! Is this you? Do you despise your sin … or revel in it? Do you beat your own chest and say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” or do you say, “Father, thank You for not making me like those sinners there?” If the latter, be warned – your faith may be dead.

Now some of you may live in terror because you do not see yourself doing good works. Perhaps you are thinking more along the lines of what Matthew wrote of certain Christians when they ask Jesus on the Last Day, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” Let me assure you: if you’re worried about it, you have faith, and since you have faith, you can be sure that there are works being done through you, whether you see them or not! Those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb cannot help but serve their neighbor! It is God’s grace flowing down into you, and out through you, as you serve your neighbor. It is just something that we do as Christians – not in and of ourselves, but by the Spirit of the Living God Who dwells within us! While we may not see it, we will trust in the many promises given to us by our crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus, including that promise that He will say to those He has saved, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

If you’re like me, you have no delusions of grandeur. I do my best to serve my neighbor, but I know that I fail miserably on a daily basis. I’m sure you do, too. But that is the Christian life – it’s lived in this tension of Law and Gospel, of two kinds of righteousness, of our state as Christians being simultaneously saint and sinner. We serve our neighbor, we fail to do so perfectly, we remember that we are claimed and redeemed to God by Christ Jesus, and we get up the next day to try again! We will do this until our Lord Jesus calls us to rest, or until the blessed Day when He returns! So take heart, my brothers and sisters – while we may not serve our neighbor perfectly, our perfect Lord Jesus has served you perfectly! Because of Him, you are forgiven; now go and serve!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

The Traitor Within

September 02, 2018
By Rev. David French


In 1977, George Lucas released the first Star Wars movie. In the Star War series, one of the plot devices was something called “The Force.” People who were strong in “The Force” were basically wizards. They could anticipate other people’s actions, move objects with their minds, control other people’s thoughts, and so on. Using “The Force” required a great deal of training and skill.

Proper control of “The Force” depended a lot on feelings. The trainers were constantly telling the learners to search their feelings … trust their feelings … feel, don’t think … trust your instincts etc. Eventually, the main character learned to trust his feelings … control “The Force” … win the day … and become a hero.

Now all this trusting in instincts and feelings certainly makes for popular movies. Unfortunately, there are people who believe that trusting your feelings and instincts can work in real life; that if you just listen to your heart, it will lead you in the way you should go.

Jesus, however, teaches the exact opposite. He says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20–23).

It’s in the book of Judges that we find accounts of some of the darkest, most immoral days of Israel. Cruelty, obscenity, and hardness of heart all reach their deepest depths in this book. The book of Judges ends with these words of judgment, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Some of the ugliest, most horrible things described in the Bible were considered “right” at that time because people judged by what was right in their own eyes. And that is just another way of saying that they were following their hearts.

If we take a few moments to think about it, common sense will tell you it really is dangerous to trust our feelings as a guide to ultimate truth in this life. I mean, do you feel the same way about everything every day? If your feelings can change on any given day, does that mean that truth changes as quickly?

What about other peoples’ feelings? If you interview a hundred people on any given topic, the odds are better than pretty good that you’ll get at least four or five different opinions. If you interview those same hundred people a year later, many of them won’t agree with the answer they gave the year before. If that’s true, and I believe you know it is, do you really want to stake your eternal life on a feeling that you have … a feeling that more than likely will change over time?

This idea is a real problem, not just in the world today, but also in the church. Many in the church base their ideas of right and wrong on God’s Word looked at through a lens of human feelings we think of as wisdom. They don’t ask, “Is this the right thing to do?” Instead, they ask, “Is this right for me?” “Does this make me happy?” Hey, we all know God wants you to be happy, so you should focus on what makes you feel good … at least today.

On the other hand, never looking to be popular, Jesus says, “… evil things come from within ….” In the book of Genesis, we read, “… For the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth,” and in Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). And yet, human wisdom would have you believe that there’s a little good in everyone, or people are basically good. Perhaps that is true when we compare ourselves with each other, but the Scriptures teach and life confirms that mankind is evil to the core. This is one of those teaching that frightens me, because I also have to fight against it every day, and I’d be lying if I said I won every battle.

The truth is, while we live in this sin-filled world, we carry around inside of us a traitor that is the old Adam, our sinful nature. As long as we breathe, Jesus says that deep down in our hearts there is nothing good, only the source of all the evil we still find in our lives. Jesus, who loved you and me enough to die for us, says that we can’t trust our hearts for truth or justice or even good, that our hearts have been corrupted by the traitor within.

But the worst thing about the rot of sin within us is that we can’t do anything about it. Every righteous deed we try to do … every pure thought we try to have is polluted by the evil that is within us. We simply cannot help ourselves because our own heart betrays us and works tirelessly to separate us from the love of God in Christ. As Paul says, and I know can only echo, “What a wretched man I am.” What hope do we have against such a traitor? We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation by a salvation that comes from outside of us. And so, we pray: God have mercy on us, your sinful children.

But, my friends, take heart for God in His grace and mercy has already answered our prayer by sending His Son Jesus into the world to take on our human flesh. Jesus, the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary was without the sin of Adam, that is He was born with a clean heart. He experienced all the temptations we experience, yet He never sinned. In fact, what He did was add to His perfect life all the sin of all our hearts and He carried them to the cross. Hanging on the cross, Jesus paid the price that God’s justice demanded for all sin, that is the blood of one without sin. And we know that He paid the price in full because the grave could not hold Him. His resurrection from the dead proves that God is now ready to create, as we pray in Divine worship 3, a clean heart within each of us.

But to create a clean heart God must first put our old sinful hearts to death. As the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to ask, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” And, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And again, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Romans 6:8). The Holy Spirit puts to death our hearts of sin and creates a new and clean heart within us; that is, a heart of faith that trusts God’s Word of Forgiveness.

And yet we still live in a sinful world. We still have a sinful nature. Temptations still attack us from inside and out. We still often lend a hand to satan in our own defeats. That’s when our new hearts convict us with the Law, just like they should, and drive us back to the cross for mercy and forgiveness.

There we again and again confess our sins, and confidently, through God’s Word of absolution, receive forgiveness for them all. This is how God keeps our new hearts clean until He brings us out of this world of sin to be with Him in the joys of paradise forever.

Each and every one of us was born with a heart that loved sin and hated God, a heart that could not be trusted to guide us in the truth. Mercifully through our baptisms, God has given us new hearts – hearts that, even when battling the traitor within, hold to Christ and through Him are credited with fearing, loving and trusting our gracious and merciful God above all things.

In Jesus’s Name, Amen.

Tags: Mark 7:14-23
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