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Understanding Jesus

3rd Sunday after Pentecost (B)     June 10th, 2018     Text:  Mark 3:20-35     Rev. Jon Nack

            Dear friends in Christ, about a month ago, on Sunday school expo day, I shared an article in the May, 2018 edition of the Lutheran Witness by Kenneth Kremer entitled, “Three Worldviews that Parents Need to Confront.”  One of those worldviews is the dominant teaching and belief that there can only be one reality to our existence and today that must be the reality of the material, physical world around us.  The unbelieving world does not accept a spiritual, eternal reality or a god that rules both spiritual and material realities.  To quote Kremer, “…our dominant culture dismisses God and exiles spiritual realities to the realm of fiction.  The godless myth of only one reality, however, puts children (and I must say, adults) at great spiritual risk.  Promises of heaven, miracles, eternal life, prayer, a physical resurrection, angels (or in the case of our sermon text today, demons), Jesus’ real presence or God’s free grace cannot – will not- resonate without a biblical worldview that sees God as the King of all reality, in heaven and on earth.”  [i]

            If the things of the spiritual realm are nothing more than myths, imagine how strange it would seem if you witnessed someone who so much believed in this reality, that they reacted upon them. 

            Imagine that you happened upon someone in the forest who was standing there having a conversation with a tree!  After a little while, he wandered down the tree to a boulder and had a conversation with it!  Then he went home and was getting ready to pick some produce from his garden.  But before he did that, he cut the head off of a chicken and poured the blood around the outside of the garden.  Then he went into the house, put on a scary looking mask and began to jump around and scream words you couldn't understand.  What would you think.  From our perspective, we would conclude that he's crazy, or out of his mind.  From his perspective, he believes that there is a spiritual world and that everything is inhabited by spirits - or in other words, he is an animist.  

     Someone who lacks a spiritual perspective might watch Jesus too and conclude that He is out of his mind!

            We like our religion when it gives us a God who helps us with problems in this physical world.  We like our religion when we can get help and relief from bodily ailments, with frustrations and challenges of this life, with emotional problems.  But we quickly leave our comfort zone when it is suggested that this God is the ruler of both physical and spiritual realities and that the ultimate issues for human beings lie in the spiritual dimension. 

            Yes, Jesus healed many of sicknesses and diseases.  But He also cast out many demons.  Even when healing people physically, Jesus’ main concern was always for their relationship with God their creator and then their relationship with evil forces that seek to control their lives.  …for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him.  And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.”  (Mark 3:10-11).

            Jesus’ purpose was to come and fight the battle that needed to be fought with the old evil foe, the serpent deceiver who brought death and enslavement, that this strong man might be bound and God’s people released from His evil power and purposes. 

            There is a very real spiritual struggle taking place throughout Jesus’ ministry.  St. Paul would write to the Christians at Ephesus:  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12).

            You could also see this very real spiritual struggle being played out all around Jesus.  You could see it in Jesus’ own family.  They were blinded to the spiritual reality of Jesus’ ministry.  They were blinded to the confrontation between Jesus and the forces of evil arrayed against Him and by extension, all of us.  They did not understand the many early morning hours of prayer before the sun came up.  They did not understand the endless hours of teaching and the large crowds that interrupted their daily lives.  They did not understand what was truly behind the healings.  And they certainly didn’t understand or want to understand what was happening as the demons suddenly cried out when Jesus entered their presence. 

            And can it be, that we too, do not understand the spiritual struggles that are going on in our own families.  We know we have problems, but do we connect them with the forces of evil which would wage against our souls.  When we have problems with our children, we take them to doctors and counselors, but do we see the spiritual battle taking place.  We make sacrifices because we want them to be happy and successful.  But do we spend time in prayer for them because we believe that God is in control of both the spiritual and material realm?

            Then there are the influences of the culture.  We make decisions and fill our lives with things that we think we will enjoy or entertain, or bring happiness.  We accept the world’s understanding of marriage and the purpose of sex, and even our existence.  But what does the world have to say about the eternal nature of these physical bodies?  What does the world have to say about the spiritual damage that can be done by alcohol abuse, drug abuse, pornography, greed, etc,. What are the spiritual effects on myself and those around me when my chief value in life is doing what makes myself happy?

            There was a very real spiritual showdown taking place.  Jesus’ family members were victimized by it.  The scribes who came from Jerusalem were participants in it.  They were pawns in the spiritual battle and they showed as much when they attacked Jesus and His ministry by accusing Him of being in league with Beelzebul or Satan.  This was not a problem seeing the spiritual reality.  This was seeing the spiritual reality of Jesus and rejecting Him.  This is the difference between the blasphemy of men that will be forgiven and the blasphemy of the Spirit that will not.  Jesus is talking about those who are not ignorant of spiritual realities.  (For Jesus Himself said from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”)  Here Jesus is speaking about those who are out to attack Jesus and destroy people spiritually by denying Jesus as the Holy Savior and Son of God.

            Jesus shows that He will not be deterred.  The enmity or warfare is now coming to a fevered pitch.  The devil will indeed bruise Eve’s son’s heal.  But This One will crush the serpent’s head.  He will indeed bind the strong man in His own house and plunder that house, rescuing those who are his wicked bondage and bringing them out to freedom.

            This Jesus accomplished for us during His ministry.  And these very disciples that Jesus called would come and report that they healed the sick and even drove out demons.  This is what St. Luke writes:  The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!”18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  (Luke 10:17-20)

            We need to know that the spiritual reality is very real.  But we need to see, here from Scripture, that our Lord has come to defeat the forces of evil all around us that would destroy our homes, our families, our lives, our minds, our bodies, and our souls.  We can rejoice that we have a Savior who not only is there to help us with our physical ailments and earthly problems of this life, but who stands between us and the devil.  We can rejoice that the One in us is stronger than he who is in this world.  (1 John 4:4).

            We can rejoice that prayer is real and powerful and effective.  We can rejoice that there is the spiritual reality of receiving Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins, the strengthening of our faith, and the defense against the wicked one.  We can rejoice that the promises of heaven and eternal life and the resurrection of the body are real.  And we can rejoice that the full forgiveness of sins is not just a myth but a very real truth because of Jesus who lives and reigns in the heavenly and earthly kingdoms forever and ever.  In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

[i] Kenneth Kremer, “Three Worldviews that Parents Need to Confront”,  Lutheran Witness, May 2018, Concordia Publishing House.  Page 28.

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity (B)     May 27, 2018     Text:  Isaiah 6:1-8     Rev. Jon Nack

 

            Dear friends in Christ, today the church observes Holy Trinity Sunday.  This teaching in the Christian church is important because it lets us know that we are worshipping the right God. This teaching helps us know the true God.  One of the questions in the catechism asks, “Who is the only true God?”  The answer:  The only true God is the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in one divine being – the Holy Trinity.

            As we study the work that is ascribed to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we see the majesty and mystery of the Holy Trinity working for one dedicated purpose:  for our salvation.  We also get a glimpse into the mind boggling awesome nature of God.  He is truly unique and set apart.  When we contemplate the mysteries of the Trinity for even a little while, we quickly come to the realization that He is God and that we are not.

            This certainly was the experience of Isaiah’s vision recorded in our Old Testament reading for today as Isaiah witnesses the awesomeness of God in heaven and is blown away by it.  He also sees the awesome angels the seraphs who are before the throne worshipping and adoring God. 

            To see an angel in his glory is awesome enough.  But Isaiah is telling us something by recording what they themselves were doing.  To make the point, we can go to Revelation chapter 22 where it says that John fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing him all the visions recorded there.  But the angel says:  “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” [1] That angel was to glorious and impressive that John wanted to worship at his feet.  Now let’s look back at Isaiah chapter 6.  What are those angels doing?  They were covering their faces with their wings as they worshipped!  These glorious beings do not feel worthy to be in the presence of God who is Holy.  They were not worthy to be in the presence of the Lord, and their actions revealed their great reverence for him and their great humility in his presence. These powerful and holy creatures considered themselves unworthy to stand with uncovered feet and faces in the presence of God—so great is the holiness of God.

            And the song they sing here and also recorded in the book of Revelation reflects the awesomeness of God’s holiness.  The threefold, “Holy, Holy, Holy” is a confession  that He is set apart, infinitely separate and above all creation. He is absolutely perfect in every respect and exalted above all things—including the angels of heaven. He is perfect in power, wisdom, and majesty.  To further make the point, the whole temple is filled with His train, and the doorposts are reverberating from the thunder of the glorious worship of the angels and the temple was filled with smoke.

            We may have lost the sense of what “holy” means.  After all, we put the word with cows and worse.  We who are believers need to be reminded of God’s holiness that our response too would be one of reverence, respect, and humble worship.  We need to remember that we are the creatures, and He is the creator.

            But more so, God’s Holiness means that He is completely set apart from and opposite of sin.  As a Holy God, He has no sin, no unholiness.  Nor can He tolerate any unholiness in His presence.  He must obliterate it just as antiseptic must attack bacteria.

            God’s pronouncements of judgment flows from His holiness.  The Bible warns against treating God in an unholy way saying that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  Hebrews 12:31. 

            This is Isaiah’s response when He witnesses God’s Holiness:  “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

            We can pretend that we are more holy than we are.  Or we can pretend that God is less Holy than He is.  But while we do, the temple threshold rumbles.  And the truth remains:  “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”     

            But the remarkable thing is is that this Holy God does not immediately annihilate those who offend against His Holiness.  We are now living in the time of Grace.  For God uses His holiness to make Holy that which is unholy.

            He did this for Isaiah by sending an angel with a coal from the altar to purify his tongue in preparation for Isaiah’s holy calling as a prophet.  Because of God’s holiness, he found a way to destroy sin and make sinful humanity holy. In this vision, the Lord is responsible for the purification of Isaiah. In Scripture, the Lord purged the entire world of sin through the suffering and death of Jesus. The holiness of God has done away with sinfulness, uncleanness, and darkness. The declaration that all the world is holy and righteous because of Jesus is an act of this holy God. Those who believe are called saints—that is, holy ones—and are separate from the world of sin and death. They are set aside for the Holy God and receive all his blessings. God has provided the only answer to the sin, rebellion, and perversion that plagues humanity. All sin is purged in Jesus; God included every human being when he declared the world holy because of Jesus. All are invited to believe it and receive its results.

            But God does even more than destroy sin.  He incorporates us into Himself.  He who is completely other and separate from us, joins us to Him in Holy Baptism.  It was Christ Himself who commanded that we be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  And when that happens, the Holy Trinity receives me into communion or fellowship with Himself.

            Therefore, though we too know we are completely unworthy, we are one with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whom angels worship and adore in deepest awe and reverence.  And we too join that refrain and worship our Holy God.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1984, S. Re 22:9

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