Archives - February 2021

The Real Jesus

February 28, 2021
By Rev. David French

The reading that we just heard from the gospel of Mark was also recorded by Matthew, giving us what’s known as parallel readings or, we can say, two perspectives of the same event. Now keep in mind, while different perspectives, they both were inspired by the same spirit of God and so both are the infallible Word of God.

So, today we find Jesus and His disciples near Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi is north of Galilee in Gentile territory, which means Jesus and His disciples are pretty much alone. For Jesus, this was a time to be with and teach the disciples who made up His inner circle. Jesus begins by asking a very important question, “Who do people say that I am?” Most of us in the twenty-first century may not realize that just about every family in first century Israel had a son named Jesus. It was a very common name. And if there’s more than one Jesus, it’s important for our salvation that we have the right Jesus in mind. I mean, it’s an eternal consequences kind of important that we know who Jesus is. It’s not enough to just say, “I believe in Jesus.” I mean, Satan can say that. We need to say something about our Jesus so that others will know which Jesus we’re talking about.

You may remember a couple of years ago we had a Bible study on the book Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up. You see, the question Jesus asks is just as important today as it’s ever been. And, according to that inner circle of disciples, the “people” got the answer wrong. They said things like: John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. So, the people’s thinking was very complimentary, comparing Him to all honorable, well-respected heroes of their faith and history. Just about anyone at the time would have been extremely honored to be compared to these servants of God, but not Jesus. The real Jesus is in a category all by Himself, far above that of any sinful human being. Many today also hold the name Jesus in high regard. Some look at Jesus and see a good example and nothing more. Some think of Jesus as a teacher of morality, some as a therapist, others a mystical friend. While Jesus can be all of those and more, if that’s all we can say about Him, then we really don’t have much to say. 

Jesus next asked His disciples, “But what about you, who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Peter opened his mouth and the truth came out. Jesus is the Christ. The thing is, the rest of the reading goes on to show that Peter had no idea of what being the Christ meant. And, I say that because the very first thing Jesus does is tell them not to say anything about Him to anyone. Then He began to explain to His disciples; and that includes us the meaning of Peter’s confession. He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes and be killed … and after three days He would rise again. That, Jesus told them, is what it means to be the Christ; suffering, death, and resurrection. That is, His suffering and the shedding of His blood on the cross is how He will pay for and take away the sin of the world. And, His rising from the dead will confirm the truth of His words. You see, if we are to believe in the right Jesus, it must be the Jesus who died on the cross to pay for our sin and rose from the dead for our justification. If that’s not your Jesus, then you have the wrong Jesus.

At that time, Peter had it wrong. So wrong, in fact, we read that Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. In the Greek, rebuke is just as harsh a word as it is in English. So, we see Peter, a fisherman who was coming to the end (if you will) of his theological training with Jesus, who he just confessed was the Son of the living God; and for some reason, we might even call it love, Peter feels compelled to take the Christ aside and set Him straight, as Matthew tells us, “Never Lord, this shall never happen to You.” Jesus, turning and seeing the other disciples, immediately shuts Peter down saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” His words teach us that Peter’s wrong understanding led him to unknowingly act as an agent of Satan. Peter was actually tempting Jesus to abandon God’s plan of salvation for all of humanity by not going to the cross to pay for our sin.

You see, this is a lesson and a warning for us as well. Peter’s Lord and friend had just told him that He was going to suffer and die, and Peter reacts. I mean, who wouldn’t? Remember, Peter still has a lot to learn, and so it shouldn’t surprise us that he doesn’t know how to think about the resurrection until after the resurrection. Peter was, no doubt, responding out of deep concern and love in the way he thought best, but that doesn’t change the fact that Peter was wrong. Jesus stops him in his tracks with a very hard for us to hear truth; good intentions are not enough.

How often do we make decisions without even considering a prayer first, that is, humbling ourselves before God seeking His wisdom? I would guess it’s something we could all do a little more. How often do people think they know what God says, and yet have spent very little time in the Scriptures, that is, actually listening to Him? As you know, God doesn’t usually tell us straight out in yes or no answers to our questions, except for the ones written on our hearts. You should have no other gods. Do not murder, commit adultery, steal, or covet. Most of your questions, however, will be answered by your big picture understanding of God’s plan for you, revealed in the Bible, as you continue to read, mark, and learn His Holy Word. By His grace we grow in our understanding until His Word begins to help form our thinking without us even thinking about it.

You see, we are blessed because Jesus didn’t follow Peter’s advice and avoid the cross. Jesus finished the work He came to do. He went to Jerusalem; and there the elders and the chief priests and the scribes arrested Jesus, held a mock trial, and then used political pressure to have Him crucified. 

Jesus died just as He said He would, and then three days later He rose … just as He said He would. Jesus did all this that He might take away our sin and give to us, in the waters of our baptism, the robe of His righteousness. Because Jesus didn’t listen to Peter, we now live forgiven with the promise of life eternal.

You see, when we talk about Jesus, it’s very important that we talk about the real Jesus … the Jesus we confess in the Apostles’ Creed. The One who suffered, was crucified, and died on the cross. The One who, after three days in the grave, rose again and 40 days later ascended into heaven. The only Jesus who can save us for eternity is the real Jesus … the only begotten Son of God. It is in Him alone that we have the promise of eternal life. It is to Him alone we give all the glory forever and ever.

In His name, Amen.

Tags: Mark 8:27-38

Return to the Lord: Return to Prayer

February 24, 2021
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 for this fifth Sunday after Epiphany comes from our Old Testament text, especially where Isaiah records, “So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.’” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

Jacob was returning to Canaan, and he had a lot on his mind. He’d just been through the wringer with his father-in-law, Laban, having struggled for two decades to be compensated for his work. He was nervous because it wasn’t just him running; he had a lot of animals and people in tow. There was also the strong possibility of encountering his twin brother, Esau, and Jacob was worried that the affair twenty years prior, when he stole his brother’s birthright for a bowl of “red-red,” might be cause for a full-out battle. It’s little wonder, then, that he splits the whole traveling company into two camps in that hopes that if Esau and his small army encountered one, at least the other camp will be spared. He sent Leah, Rachel, his children, and his servants on ahead and was left by himself for the night.

What happened next was astonishing: a man wrestled with Jacob all night long. Apparently, it was quite a match, because neither came out on top through the whole ordeal. But as things unfold, we slowly realize that this was no ordinary wrestling match. Jacob wasn’t wrestling just anyone; he was wrestling God Himself! More specifically, he was wrestling with the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Word, the only-begotten Son of the Father. Jacob was wrestling with the pre-incarnate Jesus.

This is no allegory; the epic wrestling match in that text certainly happened, and if you’re anything like me, this event may have sounded familiar. Perhaps, too familiar. Let me ask: does Jacob’s wresting with the pre-incarnate Christ remind of your prayer life? Does your prayer life measure up to the ideal that God’s Word establishes? Probably not, and it probably falls short of whatever standard you set for yourself, as well; I know that’s the case for me. You wrestle with God in your prayers. You ask for the things that you believe you need. You struggle with the prayers that are not answered as you hoped or have not been answered yet. You long for God’s clear guiding and directing, and groan under the weight of the trials that you must endure. Generally, we do a pretty poor job of being constant in prayer; we often aren’t even entirely sure how to pray. Maybe you wonder, “What do I say? How can I come before God and speak with any kind of eloquence? Words fail me. My emotions overwhelm me. I’m keenly aware of my shortcomings, and I don’t feel like I have any kind of credibility to ask God for anything.”

I bet we could all easily identify with Peter and the other disciples. We’re certainly more like them than we are Jacob and Jesus: falling asleep when we should be praying, dozing off when we should be alert. Did you feel a sting of guilt at Jesus’s rebuke when He said, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”? Did you feel shame knowing that you stumble in your prayer life in much the same way that they did? We don’t know what to pray for, not even really sure how to pray … so often times, we just don’t pray, or at least not as often as we should, which makes what Paul writes in his letter to the Romans exactly what we need to hear. He tells the Roman Christians that “we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

It’s unreasonable to think that we can fulfill the decree to be in prayer 24/7, much less pray the perfect prayers. Our prayers falter, but the Holy Spirit prays on our behalf. What we cannot do, God does for us. What we are unable to do, God does with ease. Where we fail, God perfectly fulfills. That certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise, since that’s how God operates on a daily basis. You and I falter in our daily lives. We sin over and over again, but Jesus accomplished what we never could – the full and perfect atonement for our sin – and He did so on our behalf. What you and I could not do, Jesus did. What we are unable to do, Jesus fulfilled. Where we fail, Jesus was and continues to be perfect.

The cross is the central focus of our prayer life. It brings comfort and soothing as we speak our stumbling, bumbling petitions to a loving God who sent His only Son to save us. Your failures, your imperfect prayers, do not define you before God; rather, Jesus’s perfection, His righteousness, covers you and all your sins. When the Father looks at you, He sees His Son.

Yes, God commands us to pray, but He doesn’t leave us alone with it. He provides the means to do so and even fulfills what we are unable to do. The command simply brings us to the foot of His cross, where we can look up and see the Gospel reality that covers our shortcomings. In much the same way that Jesus is the primary actor in your salvation, the Holy Spirit is the primary actor in our prayer lives. Your prayers are a means by which God is forming and molding you; and He does intercede where you fall short. When He calls us to pray, when He calls us to do anything, He Himself fulfills what we are unable to do.

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

Beginning of the End

February 21, 2021
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 for this first weekend/Sunday in Lent comes from our gospel text where Mark records, “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

Something huge … was about to happen. At least, that’s the way it always plays out in the Scriptures whenever someone goes out into the wilderness. I love the way Cecil B. DeMille puts it in The Ten Commandments after Moses has been expelled from Egypt: “… he is driven onward through the burning crucible of desert, where holy men and prophets are cleansed and purged for God’s great purpose, until at last, at the end of human strength, beaten into the dust from which he came, the metal is ready for the maker’s hand.” Usually, if anyone goes out into the oppressive heat, the haunt of demons, the place where hunger is not slaked and wild animals menace, it’s to be prepared for an incredible undertaking. Abram, Joseph, Moses, the people of Israel themselves – they all were put through a “burning crucible of desert,” and all their suffering and trial led to an incredible feat of God, something huge, a game-changer.

Which is why Jesus’s being ekballow-ed, literally thrown out, into the desert by the Spirit is so jarring and dramatic. Frankly, I think the enormity of Mark’s rather terse depiction of what happens through the three events in our text is often lost on us; we’ve heard the story, we know what happens. In reality, all that happens in our text is entirely unexpected, not what an original hearer of Mark’s gospel account would expect, so try to hear it through new ears.

Jesus has just been baptized in the Jordan by one of the hugest names in Judea, John the Baptist, but that pales in comparison to what happened when He came up out of the water: “immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” Wait, what? Does this mean that this Jesus, who came to John out of Nazareth in Galilee, is someone important? More important than John? Well, that’s incredible! It sounds like He’s the Messiah! We need to throw a royal robe on Him and lead Him into Jerusalem as the returning king!

That’s what one would have expected hearing the beginning of our text … but that’s not what happens. You go from the high of the Father’s booming proclamation, to the Spirit euthus, immediately expelling Jesus out into the wilderness. That happens when God is preparing someone for a huge undertaking, someone who needs to be “cleansed and purged for God’s great purpose.” And sure, the Messiah was supposed to expel the foreign invaders from Judea and reestablish the throne of David, so maybe that’s why He was sent out there … but then, Mark moves in a very different direction. “And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.”

How could the Messiah, the savior of Israel but still human, be out in the wilderness, that blazing crucible, for forty days? Why is He being tempted by Satan? What does it mean that He was with the wild animals, which apparently didn’t – or couldn’t – slaughter and consume Him? Why are there angels, messengers of YHWH, ministering to Him? Whenever someone goes out into the wilderness, it precedes some huge thing that God was doing through that person … but this is different. This seems more … full, real, like this is the culmination of all those who went out into the wilderness before this Jesus of Nazareth. This is bigger than big; something monumental was about to go down!

Well, surprise, dear hearer. What happens next may not seem all that impressive. The very next thing that Mark tells us is, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” Does that sound like a letdown? He went through all of that purgation and trial out in the wilderness just to return to the place where He had originally been and start preaching? He doesn’t sound like much more than the now imprisoned John the Baptist, and at least he did something more than talk, but baptized people in the Jordan! Jesus isn’t doing that! Is He the Messiah?

Well, contrary to the world’s standards, this is not anticlimactic, it is momentous! Jesus, as He begins His public ministry and proclamation, will immediately begin to gather followers and disciples, those who will hear His words, spoken with authority, a new teaching … and be forever changed. This rapid-fire sequence of events that Mark gives us, almost enough to give you whiplash, is the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry … and it’s the beginning of the end.

The old covenant is passing away, as God no longer needs to speak through His holy prophets like John, but will deal with us Himself. What we see here is the setup for the main focus of Mark’s gospel, which really is the main focus of the season of Lent: the culmination of God’s plan for salvation, set in motion before time began. This is the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry … the beginning of why He was sent into human flesh in the first place … the beginning of the end … of His life.

Jesus’s baptism, His time wrangling with the old evil foe in the wilderness, His proclamation for all to “repent and believe in the gospel,” it will all lead up to what awaits Him, and us, at the end of this blessed Lententide. He would be led into Jerusalem as a conquering king … only to have the same crowds call for His execution a few days hence. He would have a royal purple robe thrown on Him … only to be ripped off again, reopening the wounds of scourging. Something monumental would happen … as the Word-become-flesh was nailed to a cross and left to die.

That was certainly something one of Mark’s original hearer’s would not have expected! The Messiah wasn’t supposed to die; He was supposed to rule! But we, who do know the rest of the story, who are privy to God’s plan being fulfilled in Jesus, know that this was Him ruling – no one takes His life from Him, but He lays it down willingly, for the sake of His sheep. He was not being purged and cleansed for God’s great purpose in that wilderness; He is God’s great purpose, and as He breathes His last and speaks the final Word, “It is finished,” He purges and cleanses the world of its sin, including yours and mine.

That’s what the season of Lent is all about: the beginning of the end of Jesus’s earthly life. However, we know that the story doesn’t end when His lifeless body is sealed in the new tomb of a rich man. After that Good Friday comes Easter Sunday, and the glorious news that He who died is dead no more! THAT is a whole new beginning! As Jesus’s resurrected lungs fill with air, and His resurrected heart pumps resurrected blood through His resurrected veins, He gives us the assurance that this … will be the new beginning for those who trust Him. Yes, this text in Mark’s staccato-style gospel is the beginning of the end … but it’s also the beginning of the endless, the beginning of the eternity Jesus won for us and gives to us freely! It is yours by faith! During this Lententide, as we walk with our Lord Jesus toward Golgotha and His end upon Calvary’s tree, may we remember, with solemn gratitude and humble reverence, all that He did for us, and take seriously the enormity of His Galilean proclamation: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

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

Tags: Mark 1:9-15

Return to the Lord: A Call to Return

February 17, 2021
By Rev. David French

“Return to the Lord your God!” That’s the theme for our Lenten worship series this year: “Return!” We’ll hear God calling out to us: “Return to Prayer,” “Return from Betrayal,” “Return from False Witness,” “Return from Denial,” “Return to the Kingdom of God,” “Return to the Table,” “Return to Truth,” “Return to the Church,” and “Return and See” what God has done for you.

And so, as we begin this series, we gather together first to hear Joel’s prophecy and God’s invitation. Joel sets our direction for the season, highlights the problem, and lays out the solution in all its beauty and simplicity. God calls us to simply return to Him, because He will provide for all our needs and pay for our salvation. Our goal for this evening is simple: First, we’ll consider Joel’s prophecy and the context in which it came. What was going on? How did God’s words speak to the situation? And how might that have sounded to the people? Second, we’ll consider how this prophecy applies to us. And finally, we’ll hear God’s invitation and promise as together we walk the path of this year’s Lenten journey.

We begin by doing a little time-traveling back to ancient Israel, to gain some insight about the people Joel was speaking to and understand more about what was going on in their world. We don’t know a lot about Joel. He was a prophet, likely ministering in the southern kingdom of Judah. The book that bears his name is relatively short—only 73 verses organized into just three chapters. But it is rich and deep and complex couple of chapters. His jumping-off point is a plague of locusts that had or would strike Israel and that served to foreshadow the coming “Day of the Lord.” Whether that plague was literal or figurative is unclear, but Joel’s message is straightforward: a day of judgment will come, and he pleads with the people to turn to God so that they would be found righteous on that “great and awesome day” (Joel 2:31).

Joel’s prophecy has 3 parts: first, there’s an invasion of locusts that will destroy all vegetation. And then Joel calls the people to fast at the temple and offers a prayer of lament concerning the coming destruction. Second, he says there’s something more significant coming something he calls: “the day of the Lord” and he says it’s close (Joel 2:1). Joel describes this day of the Lord’s judgement using the imagery of locusts and issues another call: to return to the Lord, to fast and pray at the temple. Finally, Joel describes how God will answer them. For the locust He will offer healing and restoration. And regarding the day of the Lord, He will give salvation to those who call on His name and pass judgment on those who reject Him and abuse His children.

Our reading for today comes from the center of this prophecy. The imagery of the swarm of locusts has been completed; the comparison to the Lord’s army and the Day of the Lord has been made; and the reader is left wondering what can be done. You almost hear Joel’s audience asking the same of him: “Who then can be saved?” But Joel also brings good news; he brings a promise. And it’s simple: “It shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32).

All they had to do was return to the Lord their God, “for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13). They only needed to stop trusting in themselves and trust in their God. They needed to understand that just as they couldn’t stop the swarming locusts, they would not be able to stop the Day of Judgment. It will come, and humanity’s only solution is to return to the Lord.

But, are those words spoken only for the Israelites? Are you perhaps facing a swarm of locusts that threaten to completely destroy you? My friends, don’t be deceived, you are indeed in the midst of a swarm; and if you don’t know that, then you have learned to ignore them, and so are indeed in the right place.

Locusts are small, unassuming little things that each do just a little bit of damage. But as part of a swarm, they add up to a destructive force that descends on the landscape and decimates everything good in its path. Surely you see, our sins are our locusts. And while one little locust doesn’t seem all that terrifying, together locusts, like our sins, are breathtakingly terrifying. God reveals to the Romans the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and through Ezekiel reveals, “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20), then knowing you’re a sinner living in the midst of sin, it is indeed frightening.

Joel’s words can and should hit you the same way they hit the Israelites. The Day of the Lord will come, and it will be frightening. On your own there is no way to escape it. You know it’s true. I suppose I could run a list of popular sins to try and find yours and play some kind of game of theological dodgeball where we do all we can to avoid getting hit or stung by our sin, but this is no game.

When we decide we know more or at least better than God, something we all do without even thinking, we’re in the midst of that swarm of locusts we live with every minute of every day, and the destruction it brings, eternal death and damnation, should absolutely terrify us lowly sinners, because on our own there is no way to escape it. But Joel brings good news for you too! He brings a promise. “It shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32). “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13).

Despite our continued rejection of God, He is also inviting you, minute by minute, to return to Him and promises to bless you. Stop trusting in yourself, and look to God. Know that you can’t stop the swarming locusts, and you can’t stop Judgment Day. It will come. The only solution is to return to the Lord, something you can’t do on your own.  How good it is to know you are not on your own, but you are a part of the body of Christ, a forgiven child of God.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore more about how God’s call to return plays out in our lives, and we’ll do so by walking in the steps of the disciples and those who accompanied Jesus in the final days of His life. Each week we’ll hear the call to return as it echoes in their ears and perhaps come to understand it the way they did.

In His name, Amen

Tags: Joel 2:12-19

From Beginning to End

February 14, 2021
By Rev. David French

It seems to me that sometimes we as Christians struggle with what we’re supposed to make of the Transfiguration. Unfortunately, like Peter, while we try to look at it with awe and reverence, we can also end up missing the point. Like Peter, we also view the Transfiguration as an occasion to praise Jesus because He showed His glory, or because He is glorious. And so, we change a banner, put a different color on the altar, sing our praises, and pray our prayers to Him, but is that really all there is to the Transfiguration? Is it nothing more than a time we say that Jesus is beautiful and wonderful and glorious and so on? My friends, while Jesus is indeed all of those things, the lesson of the Transfiguration is more than: We and all who believe will one day shine like Jesus shines. But to see the bigger picture, we have to first step back, if you will, and consider the context that surrounds this day when our Lord was transfigured.

Six days before Jesus’s transfiguration, He spoke for the first time to His disciples about His suffering, death, and resurrection. The twelve disciples at that time had been told by Jesus, even if they didn’t fully understand “… that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” Peter, as you know, who did not have in mind the things of God, says, no way. No doubt, thoughts of Christ’s suffering and dying just made no sense and scared Peter.

We would rather be joyfully celebrating God’s love and protection, not living a life of pain and grief. That’s because, like Peter, those things don’t make sense to us either, and so we at times may not share our faith because of the suffering and rejection it can bring into some of our circles, be that at home, work, or play.

And so, it was after a week of thinking about those words of Jesus and being filled with grief, Peter, James, and John hiked to the top of the mountain with Jesus. There, “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” And the glory of Christ was revealed, the glory of the only-begotten Son of God. This was the majesty that belonged to Him by His very nature, the majesty that had been hidden but proclaimed by shepherds on Christmas morning, the majesty that Christ now fully displays at the right hand of the Father.

So, what does this mean, this revelation of His glory? Jesus certainly gives us a clue when He tells His disciples to wait until after the resurrection before they talk to anyone about it. It appears that if they told others right away, then the true meaning would become confused and this blessed revelation misunderstood. So, it is to His resurrection that Christ points us as the key to unlocking the mystery of the Transfiguration. And in that light, first of all, we see this revelation of the glory of Christ was to assure His disciples what the end result of His suffering would be. That He, and all who follow Him, would overcome death and share in His glory in heaven. You see, from God the Father’s perspective, Christ’s end and our end was never in doubt. Christ would indeed suffer and die, but He would also most certainly rise again and ascend to the heavenly realms and be with the Father again. 

You see, His suffering, death, and resurrection are the glory of Christ. As I’ve shared so often in confirmation classes, it was His life that gave His death value. In other words, God became flesh so that He could live and die in your place, and so, with His life He fulfilled the law for you, and with His blood He paid the debt owed by you. In the Transfiguration we see that Jesus was not just a great teacher or mighty prophet miracle worker or even a really good friend, but Jesus is the very Son of God, the promised Messiah in whose flesh all the fullness, all the holiness, all the glory of the Triune God was hidden. 

It’s not that hard to understand, because we also hide things in our flesh. We don’t hide the glory of God, of course, but we hide the depth of our sinfulness. Our sins ... so well-manicured, so at home in our hearts, so subtle in their destruction as they hurt those around us. Surely, the things we hide are not our glory, but in fact, they are our shame. Left alone, they will condemn us to eternal suffering and sorrows unlike anything known on earth. But, thanks be to God for Christ our Lord, whose glory we have also seen, who took our sins and the eternal shame they’ve earned upon Himself and then offered His life as the payment for them all. 

The Holy One of God carried our sins to the Cross, and with His death, achieved the glory of God for us. And now, through our baptism into His death and resurrection, we stand before God as His children and heirs of His kingdom. About that, St. Paul would write to the Philippians, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (3:20-21).

The Transfiguration doesn’t reveal a Christ whom we must praise because He is so glorious and wonderful, as if He were a work of art so beautiful to the eye that we can’t help but praise Him. Instead, He is our beautiful Savior because His glory is our glory made certain through His suffering, death, and resurrection. And so, we praise Him because He gives us the assurance of a glorious resurrection of our own.

Elijah and Moses appear, but not to distract us from Christ. They’re not visiting celebrities, as if we should cry out, “Oooh, look! It’s Moses and Elijah! How awesome!” No, these two are witnesses that Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and all that the prophets have written. Yes, Christ is the fulfillment of all Scripture. The voices of the prophets are speaking of Him. The voice of the Law is demanding that which only He can do. He is the beloved Son of God to whom we must listen! He is the mighty, majestic God who speaks to us not of the punishment we so richly deserve, but He speaks words of gentleness and grace, of compassion and mercy. It is He who is the Word that comforts us in all of our sorrows and assures us we will one day be with Him in heaven.  

Even now as we come together to worship, you don’t come to hear Pastor Heckert or me, you come to hear to the Word of God, who is Christ. And here, through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, you do hear Him as you are reminded again and again what God has done and is still doing for you. How He sent His Son to suffer, die, and rise for you; how He has made you His child; how He feeds, cares for, and protects you; how, through the forgiveness of your sins, He has opened to you the store-house of His glorious riches both now and forever more.

To Him be all glory and honor. Amen.

Tags: Mark 9:2-9

Have You Not Heard?

February 07, 2021
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 for this fifth Sunday after Epiphany comes from our Old Testament text, especially where Isaiah records, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

In the world of contemporary Christian music, there are quite a few big names, some of which have been around a long time. Michael W. Smith. Chris Tomlin. Newsboys. Lafayette’s own Jeremy Camp. And, of course, Lincoln Brewster. His first album was released in 1999, and the most recent came out this past October, but there was one song of his that came out as a single just when I entered college that’s sorta stuck with me: “Everlasting God.” Some of you may know the lyrics: “You are the everlasting God / You do not faint, You won’t grow weary / You’re the defender of the weak / You comfort those in need / You lift us up on wings like eagles.” Perhaps the most memorable part of the song comes at the end when his son, as a young child, simply reads this text from Isaiah’s prophecy. It’s precious, truly – you could even call it a “tearjerker,” hearing that simple child-like faith as he reads. And I think it drives home the point of this entire chapter of Isaiah: YHWH is bringing His faithful people some much-needed comfort.

If you didn’t know, Isaiah’s prophecy was, essentially, written to two different audiences, as many of the prophecies are. There are scathing words of condemnation against the impenitent, the unjust, those who lead God’s people astray … but for those who are faithful, those who trust YHWH Elohim and haven’t bowed the knee to Baal, sweet words of comfort, strength, and hope are given, so that they may endure the time of trial and testing that is yet to come or is presently visiting them. It is no mere sentiment or empty platitude that YHWH gives His people, but real, actual words of comfort.

“Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. … ‘Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken’ … The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. … Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” And of course, in our text, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?”

Before you ask, yes, those last two questions are actually words of comfort. They are not asked in sarcasm or derision, but more in the vein of “Don’t you remember?” So much of the comfort God gives to His people comes from remembering His faithfulness to previous generations, and that’s precisely what He does through Isaiah in our text.

“Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers … Who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when He blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.” YHWH’s people knew how He had both sent oppressors to punish the people … and saviors who would redeem them. His greatness and strength was powerful and mighty to save from the hands of Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, every nation and people hostile to the people of God.

This comes as no surprise, as the Lord of the nations is the very One who created the ground on which those nations stand! “To whom then will you compare Me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see; who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of His might and because He is strong in power, not one is missing.”

YHWH’s power knows no bounds. But His greatness and power and might are not enough to bring that much-needed comfort; after all, in His power and might, YHWH visited utter devastation and destruction upon the faithless and unjust, especially among His people Israel! No, His power alone does not bring comfort to the suffering and sorrowful … but His power, might, and love do. A little before our text begins, Isaiah delivers this Word from YHWH: “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and His arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” Yes, He is powerful. Yes, He brings His justice. But He gives His love to those who trust Him, who say, “YHWH is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” This Word of YHWH was enough to sustain the faithful remnant of Israel because it reminded them of His faithfulness, and it also pointed them to His promise to send His Messiah, His anointed One. Even if He didn’t rescue them from the suffering and misery, even as their eyes closed in death without seeing His Word being fulfilled, they trusted that God would keep His Word … because their remembered His faithfulness in years and to people past.

For the faithful remnant of YHWH’s people today, we too have much to remember of His everlasting faithfulness. We know how He liberated the faithful of Judah from captivity. We know how, in the fullness of time, He fulfilled His promise to send the Messiah, not to rescue His people from earthly rulers, but to deliver them from the prince of this world, who seeks only to destroy. The life, suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ, is the culmination of YHWH’s plan to deal with sin, that all who trust in Him, who remember His faithfulness, may have the comfort and peace that only He can provide, even in the midst of war and pestilence, famine and persecution. His faithfulness endures, and according to His time, He will return to right all wrongs, cease our warring madness, give justice to the oppressed, and life everlasting to the faithful.

“Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

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

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