Bearing a Cross

Sermon based on Mt. 16:21-28 for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost


Dear followers of Jesus who bear crosses: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Following Jesus means bearing a cross. It means to deny yourself and take up your cross. We may have all kinds of ideas about what this means. But it doesn’t really mean to suffer difficulty or hardship. Nor does it mean to carry the burden of illness or loss. These may be part of the cross we are to bear, but they are not the essence of the cross.

Crosses are used only for one thing: dying. You don’t just get sick or suffer hardship on a cross. You die on a cross. You don’t just lose something on a cross. You die on a cross. So Jesus is calling for you to die; to lose your life for His sake. But any mention of dying, and we want to rebuke Jesus like Peter did: “Far be it from me Lord! This shall never happen to me!” We are so attached to this world that we fight the very thought of death. We fight the very thought of a cross. We think we know better.

That’s all Peter was thinking. Peter’s rebuke of Jesus follows immediately after Jesus had said that He will build His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Now Jesus says that He is going to suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and be killed. Peter just wonders how Jesus can build His Church if He is dead. Isn’t it better that His enemies would be dead? Peter is looking forward to fighting alongside Jesus as He conquers His enemies and brings in His kingdom. That’s why he said to Jesus at another time, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Lk. 22:31). He’s so ready to say this because he doesn’t think it will ever happen. He’s on Jesus’ side so he’s got nothing to worry about right? No cross to bear. But Peter had his mind set on the things of man, not on the things of God.

Like Peter, we don’t want to bear our cross. We don’t want to die to ourselves. We don’t want to die to our desires. We desire to be in control. We want our will to take place since we think we know what is best.

Jesus says to us what He said to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 23). When we fight the will of God, we are being Satanic. When we fight the will of God, we support the will of the devil. When we fight the will of God we are setting our mind on the things of man, not on the things of God.

Our will is so stubborn. We think we know better than God. We don’t want to lose our life. We don’t want to give up control. We want to gain the whole world and give up nothing. But Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v. 24).

Denying ourselves means refusing to acknowledge our will and seeking only God’s will. Denying ourselves means to not assume or believe that God’s way of working in the world will conform to our expectations or definitions of success and glory. There is a cross involved in denying yourself. Denying yourself means praying, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” It means not clinging to this life or the things of this life.

The point isn’t to determine what kind of cross you will have to bear, but to relinquish control – to deny yourself – and submit to God’s will since He knows better than you. It means praying, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

What is this will of God? First and foremost it was for Jesus to die; for Jesus to suffer on the cross. Jesus explained this. “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (v. 21). He must suffer many things. It is necessary that He die.

This is the language of prophetic fulfilment. Something is necessary because God has planned it to happen. Something must happen because God has promised it through the mouths of His prophets. It is necessary that Jesus suffer and die and be raised on the third day. It was necessary for our sakes.

Because it was either going to be you or Him. It was necessary that either you suffer for your immoral thoughts or Jesus suffer for your immoral thoughts. It was necessary that either you suffer for your thoughtless words or Jesus suffer for your thoughtless words. It was necessary that either you suffer for your shameful deeds or Jesus suffer for your shameful deeds. Because of God’s love for you, He made a promise to send His Son to die in your place. Because of His promise, it is necessary that it happened according to His promise.

There is nothing man can give in exchange for his life, but there is something God can give in exchange for man’s life – God gave His own life. Jesus died your death on the cross in exchange for your life. There is only one thing you do on a cross – die. And that is what Jesus did for you – He died for you.

Since you were baptized into Jesus’ death (Rom. 6:3), His death is your death. His cross is your cross. But Joined to Christ, your cross is also His cross. He strengthens you to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him. He gives you eternal life so that you are ready to lose your life for His sake. He gives you the benefits of His cross so that your cross is also borne by Him.

Joined to Jesus’ death means that His blood covers those times that you thought that you knew better than He does; those times you have set your mind on the things of man instead of the things of God. Joined to Jesus’ death means that His forgiveness covers those times when you didn’t want to die to yourself and fought to be in control instead of submitting to God’s will. Joined to Jesus’ death means His love covers those times you have not denied yourself and have not followed Him.

Now, joined to Jesus’ death, we have no need to fight death. We can sing with the psalmist, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Ps. 116:15). We can say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). And we can take comfort in hearing the voice from heaven in Revelation saying, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!” (Rev. 14:13)

So not only does Jesus bear our cross, but He also prepares us to be ready to die from this life because of His cross. We can embrace death because we are joined to Jesus’ death. Our eternal life is the will of God, so we can pray, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” Since God has promised us eternal life, He makes us ready to lose our lives for His sake. And since it was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross for us and we are baptized into His death, we are dead to ourselves and alive in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Keys to Heaven’s Gate

Sermon based on Mt 16:13-20 for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Dear absolved children of God: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Heaven’s gate has keys. This of course means that you cannot get into heaven without the keys. There’s no sneaking in the back door or climbing over the wall. The only way to get into heaven is through the use of the keys. And Jesus gave these keys to His Church on earth. He said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (v. 19). This is the same as what Jesus said in John 20, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (v. 23).

So there’s a key that locks heaven and there’s a key that opens heaven. Both have been given to the Church. Those who are unrepentant have their sins retained as long as they do not repent. This means their sins are bound to them. Their sins are not forgiven. If one does not seek to turn away from sin and live a life pleasing to God, there is no forgiveness. If one is not sorry for his sins and thinks that he can do whatever he wants despite what God commands, he is not forgiven. His sins are bound on earth, which means they are bound in heaven.

On the other hand, those who repent of their sins and are sorry for their sins are forgiven. Their sins are loosed. Their sins are removed from them as far as the east is from the west. This happened after you confessed your sins this morning. In response to your confession, I said, “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I… forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Since Jesus has commanded me to speak these words of absolution to you, it is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ Himself spoke these words to you (Lk. 10:16, SC V). What I have loosed here on earth is loosed in heaven.

But this forgiveness can be rejected. It is rejected by the person who thinks that they don’t need forgiveness. It is rejected by the one who plans to continue doing what God has forbidden. It is rejected by the one who does not believe that his sins can be forgiven. That is the devil’s work. The devil wants you to think that you have done something unforgivable. When you hear the absolution in church on Sunday morning, the devil wants you to think that it doesn’t apply to some horrible sin that you’ve committed. He whispers in your ear, “If the pastor knew what you had done, he would never have forgiven your sin.” But this is the devil’s lie.

Knowing the devil’s tricks and the frail nature of man in dealing with sin and guilt, Lutherans have always sought to preserve Private Confession and Absolution. When there is a particular sin that weighs you down; when you hear the General Absolution but doubt whether it is for your particular sin; when guilt overwhelms you and makes you feel crushed by its weight – then go to your pastor for Private Confession and Absolution.

Luther, in the Large Catechism, writes, “When I exhort you to go to confession, I am doing nothing but exhorting you to be a Christian” (LC VI.32). For the Christian who seeks to be free from guilt and have a joyful conscience, Jesus gave this key to the Church.

But do not misunderstand. Individual Confession and Absolution is voluntary. No one can or should coerce you to go. Lutheran Confession and Absolution has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic variety, where you are compelled to confess every sin you have ever committed, greatly burdening and torturing the conscience with enumerating all kinds of sins. There you confess in fear lest you forget something you have done. There you confess even if you don’t want to. Further, there you receive no full absolution, but are given penance to perform as if by doing something assigned to you by the priest you can appease God or undo the sins you have committed.

No, unlike under the pope, we have the freedom to go to confession without coercion. We know that we cannot even list every sin we have committed this morning, much less this year. Thus we pray in the words of Psalm 19, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.” We are free to confess only those sins that are weighing on our conscience.

And Jesus gave no partial keys. Jesus didn’t give a half-key to His Church saying that we need to do something to earn the other half-key. He said, “Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Jesus did not say, “whatever you kind-of-a-little-bit-slacken on earth shall be kind-of-a-little-bit-slackened in heaven.” Absolution isn’t partial, it is complete. Forgiveness isn’t partial, it’s complete. Absolution doesn’t partially cover your sins, it completely covers them. They are removed from you as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12).

Jesus’ death for you paid for all of your sins completely, and absolution gives that forgiveness to you personally and completely. And Jesus instituted the Church in order to give that absolution, that forgiveness to you.

And despite what you see going on in the church around the world, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. This Jesus has promised. Despite the fact that the church is aging and shrinking, the Church will stand. Despite the fact that what is preached in the Church is hated by the world around us, the Church will stand. Despite the persecution of the Church around the world, especially right now in Iraq and Nigeria, not even the gates of hell will prevail against the Church. This we sang just before the sermon saying, “Built on the rock the Church shall stand, even when steeples are falling. Crumbled have spires in every land; bells still are chiming and calling, calling the young and old to rest, but above all the souls distressed, longing for rest everlasting” (LSB 645:1).

The devil will continually attack the Church. Church steeples will fall and spires crumble, but the Church still stands. The loosing of our sins on earth still stands in heaven. The keys Christ gave to His Church on earth still open the gates of heaven. The keys Christ gave to His Church on earth still give distressed souls rest everlasting.

But having keys is of no use if you don’t use them. David writes that before he confessed his sin to Nathan the prophet, “my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” (Ps. 32:3-4) But then he confessed his sin and writes, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Ps. 32:5) David is thus able to sing later in Psalm 32[:11], that he can now be glad in the Lord and rejoice.  He can now shout for joy!  His bad conscience and guilt had been replaced with a good conscience and a joy without compare.

Absolution is the same for us. It forgives the iniquity of our sins. It opens the gates of heaven for us. It removes our sin from us. Thus, absolution gives us a good conscience and joy without compare, knowing that we are forgiven. And absolution gives our distressed souls rest everlasting. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Pray Like a Dog

Sermon based on Mt 15:21-28 for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear children of God: Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

One of the most heart-wrenching things to see is a small child seriously ill, especially as the parent of the child.  You stand by, not knowing what will happen.  You feel completely helpless because there is nothing you can do for the poor child.  You cannot heal them.  You cannot make them feel better.  You feel desperate to find a solution for the illness, to find someone who can help.

The woman in our Gospel reading was in this position.  Her daughter was demon possessed and there was nothing she could do for her.  There was nothing anyone could do… except for Jesus.  Jesus is the only hope this woman had for her daughter to be healed and to be released from the demon.  So she did the one thing she could do when Jesus came near.

As soon as Jesus arrived in the area, the woman immediately fell down at His feet, and she continually begged for Him to cast the demon out of her daughter, beseeching Him for help.  She poured her heart out, telling Jesus about her little daughter and pleading for mercy.  But Jesus did not answer her a word. He gave no indication that He even heard her pleas for mercy. He showed no sign of care, or that He would respond in any way.

This leads to the disciples’ suggestion that Jesus send her away because she’s following them around crying out after them. Finally Jesus responds not to the woman but to the disciples by saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She nevertheless continues her prayer, saying, “Lord, help me.” Jesus answered her prayer by saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (v. 26).

This woman was a Gentile, a Canaanite, not from the seed of Abraham, not a member of the people of God to whom the Messiah was promised.  It is not right to take the bread away from the children of promise in order to throw it to the dogs.  She is not worthy of having her prayer answered.  She is an undeserving dog.  Jews considered dogs to be the most despicable, insolent and miserable of creatures.  Dogs were considered unclean.  Calling someone a dog was very derogatory and demeaning. And yet, Jesus says that she is not a child of the household, but a dog.

Is this the kind of answer we expect from God when we pray for something?  Or what kind of an answer do we expect from God?  Do we expect a “Yes”?  In the very least, we hope for Him to answer, “Not right now, but later.”  We don’t really expect the response, “You are an unworthy, undeserving dog”!

Are we any different than the Canaanite woman?  Our sins are so great, and the way we have lived our lives makes us the most despicable, insolent and miserable of all creatures.  So do we pray demanding from God that He take away our sickness and pain because we deserve it?  Do we pray like we have a right that our child be healed from a debilitating illness?  Do we pray like God owes us health and wealth in this life?  Do we pray like we do not deserve the pain and suffering in our life?

Jesus tells this sinful woman that she is not worthy to receive anything from Him as she begs at His feet.  She does not argue or disagree.  She acknowledges her unworthiness and seizes on what Jesus says, responding, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (v. 27).  She does not base her request on her worthiness to receive anything from God.  She bases her request on her faith in Jesus’ love and mercy being so overabundant, that they overflow the children’s table and are more than enough for her, the dog under the table.

What faith this woman had!  She knew that Jesus was the only one who could help and make her daughter whole.  She acknowledged that Jesus is God by calling Him “Lord” and by recognizing that He had the authority to cast the demon out of her daughter.  She believed that He would help her.  She realized she was asking for a blessing that she did not deserve and that did not rightfully belong to her, yet she believed that out of Jesus’ love and mercy, it would be given to her.  Although Jesus came for the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt. 10:5-6, 15:24), this Gentile woman trusted that all nations would be blessed through the Messiah of Israel as prophesied in the Old Testament, including our Old Testament reading this morning.

So we return again to us.  How do we pray?  How should we pray to God?  Like this woman, we should realize our unworthiness and pray to Him not on account of our worthiness, but on account of His promise to hear us. In our confession and absolution this morning we also heard the same: “Let us first consider our unworthiness and confess before God and one another that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition” (LSB, 203).  We confess that we are unworthy to receive anything from God and deserve nothing but hell and eternal punishment.

The suffering we experience in this life is due to our sin and the sin of everyone else, and we have no right to expect anything else.  We are undeserving dogs.

Yet, the Son of God left heaven and became man.  He came to save us, even though we are miserable, undeserving dogs.  He came to be despised and rejected by us (Is. 53:3) and to die for our sins.  And He did this in order to give us what we do not deserve.  He came to give us the forgiveness of our sins.  He came to give us new life.  He came so that we might no longer be dogs, but be adopted as His children (Rom. 8:15).

As His children, Jesus has taught us to pray to God the Father, calling Him “Our Father”.  So we do not need to be anxious about anything, but through prayer and supplication, let our requests be made known to God our Father (Phil. 4:6).

So, even though we are unworthy, we can expect God to answer our prayer.  Not because we deserve it, but because He has promised to answer our prayer.  We can trust God’s answer to our prayers, because He always hears our prayer and answers how He knows best.

And what kind of an answer can we expect?  Like the Canaanite woman, perhaps the first answer we receive may be no answer at all. It may seem to us like He does not hear us. Perhaps the answer we receive will be like the second answer the Canaanite woman received – an answer to humble us, to make us realize that we do not deserve that for which we ask.  And perhaps, like this woman, God will eventually grant us our request.

But sometimes, we ask for something which will not be granted to us.  The apostle Paul pleaded with God that he would have the thorn in his flesh removed, that it would leave him.  God responded to Paul by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).  So Paul says he will therefore gladly boast of his weaknesses, so that the power of Christ might rest upon him (2 Cor. 12:9).

The world is filled with suffering and illness and poverty because of our sin, and Christians suffer along with unbelievers.  But God’s power is shown in you, when you suffer loss, yet say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).  God’s power is shown when you suffer sickness and still thank God for life and breath.  God’s power is shown to the unbelieving world when you suffer trial and tribulation, yet you say, “This all I deserve, I am an unworthy dog, yet God has taken me into His house, forgiven me my sin, and made me His child.”  This is the power of the Gospel.  Through God’s way of answering our prayers, He prepares us to receive more good from Him than we ever thought possible.  His love, mercy, and good gifts are so generous, they overflow the table and fill the floor.  And He picks us up off the floor and seats us at His table.  He seats us at His table, where He gives us the bread of life in His Son’s body and blood.  He also prepares an eternal banquet for us to celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

While we are undeserving dogs, God’s love and mercy are overflowing in abundance to us.  So when you feel helpless and desperate, seek Him Who answers prayer.  Pray like an undeserving dog for what you do not deserve.  Fall at the feet of Jesus, relying on His love and mercy. Not only do His love and mercy overflow the table and spill onto the floor, but Jesus picks you up off the floor and seats you at His table. On the cross He took the punishment that you deserve so that you will receive what you do not deserve – eternal life.  And He is now preparing your place at His eternal banquet table, where He will feed you forever as His dear child.  Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds on Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Stay in the Boat

Sermon based on Mt. 14:22-33 for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear disciples in the boat: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Don’t do what Peter did. Don’t get out of the boat. Stay in the boat.

Some preachers might exhort you to get out of the boat and have your “walking on water moment” like Peter had. Don’t do it. Stay in the boat.

Matthew tells us that Jesus made the disciples get in the boat. He actually uses quite strong language to say this. Perhaps it would be better to say that Jesus compelled them to get into the boat, as He sent them to the other side of the sea.

This follows immediately after the feeding of the 5,000 which we heard about last week. Jesus dismisses the crowds after feeding them, and then goes up on a mountain to pray by Himself. We don’t know exactly how long the disciples were fighting with the wind and the waves that were beating against them, rowing as hard as they could, but it was from sometime in the evening when Jesus compelled them to go, up until the fourth watch, that is, somewhere between 3 and 6 in the morning. So seemingly it had been a good 6 to 8 hours of fighting with the wind and the waves.

Jesus knew what He was doing. He knew there was going to be a storm. He knew the disciples would be fighting with the wind and the waves. Yet He still compelled them to get into the boat and go.

Now if Jesus compels you to do something, you can rest assured that it is for your good. But what’s the good here? Jesus sends the disciples to fight against the wind and the waves in a storm for 6 to 8 hours while He goes onto a mountain to pray. And then, in the wee hours of the morning, He walks out to them on the sea.

I don’t know about you, but if I had spent 8 hours exhausting myself rowing against the wind, with rain beating down on me and waves trying to turn the boat around, and I saw a figure walking calmly on the water out there on the sea, I’d freak out like the disciples did! I’d be terrified and scream out with fear, too!

But Jesus immediately addresses every concern the disciples had. The disciples are troubled – Jesus says, “Take heart.” The disciples say He is a ghost – Jesus identifies Himself by saying, “It is I.” The disciples fear – Jesus tells them, “Stop being afraid.” Jesus knew what was going on in their hearts and minds, and He comforts them with His Word.

But why would Jesus send the disciples into a storm, and then come and terrify them? Well, what was going on with the disciples even after Jesus’ words of comfort? Peter is often ready to speak his mind, so we can learn from what he says. He answers Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He is still questioning who is really walking on the water: if it is you, and if what you say is true, then prove it by telling me to walk on the water.

Jesus responds with one word, “Come.” And Peter does. Peter walks on the water to Jesus. He is looking to Jesus as he walks on the water to Him. But once He’s there, he starts to look at the wind and the waves instead of Jesus. He sees the storm whipping around him – terrifying storm clouds, huge waves, lighting, and thunder. And he knows he should not be able to walk on water. He realizes he doesn’t have the faith to walk on water. So Peter sinks and cries out, “Lord, save me!”

As soon as Peter looks away from Jesus and at the storm, then he sinks. As soon as he looks at himself, he realizes he doesn’t have the faith to walk on water. So he sinks.

This is the same for us. As soon as we start to look at ourselves and our faith, then we begin to sink. If we look to see how strong our faith is, we will see that it is weak. That’s why we don’t look at our faith, we look at Jesus. We don’t look out at the storms in our life, we look at Jesus. We know the storm is there, we cannot ignore it, but we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Jesus sent the disciples into the storm and then terrifies them. He terrifies them out of trusting in themselves, or even trusting in their own faith. Jesus knew that Peter’s faith would not keep him above water, yet He invites Peter to come to Him on the water. It wasn’t until Peter begins to sink that he finally calls out in faith, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately grabs hold of him and saves him.

Instead of testing Jesus or asking Him to prove who He is when you are facing life’s storms, just stay in the boat. If He put you in the boat, He is with you in the boat, even if seeing Him near terrifies you. So stay in the boat.

The Church has oftentimes been spoken of as the boat that carries us through the storms of life. It is in the boat where the other disciples are. It is the boat that receives Jesus. It is the boat where Jesus brings Peter after he is saved from drowning. It is in the boat the disciples worship Jesus as the Son of God. It is in the boat that Jesus compels us to be. Don’t test God by leaving the Church only to sink.

Instead of looking at life’s storms and seeing how weak we are, we should look to Jesus in the midst of our storms. The storms of our life move aside all our fake gods to which we’d like to cling – they all show their powerlessness to save us. Jesus compels us into situations that leave us nothing else to which we can cling.

The fact that Jesus compels us into a storm; that God Himself sends us into a storm, is not a bad thing. It means that our suffering is not just bad luck or by chance. If it is merely by chance that we are in the storm, it must be merely by chance that we make it through the storm. However, if God sends us into a storm, we know He does it for a reason. If God sends us into a storm, He will also save us from that storm. So stay in the boat.

But what if I find myself doubting? Will Jesus answer? How will He respond? What if I have failed to believe His promises before? Will Jesus renounce me and abandon me? Will He let me sink? What if, in my weakness of faith, I test Him because I do not believe His Word? What if I leave the boat?

Sometimes, in our weakness of faith we do not trust Him during the storms of our life, and we leave the boat. In our weakness of faith we begin to sink. Out there, in the midst of the sea, out of the boat, there is nothing else to grab hold of. There’s nothing else to stand on. We must cry out with Peter, “Lord, save me!” Even though our faith may be little like Peter’s, we can call on the name of the Lord to save us. Then, we don’t even see the wind and the waves. Sinking under water we look up only at Jesus. And note that it is not Peter who grabs Jesus – it is Jesus who grabs Peter. It’s not us clinging to Jesus, it is Jesus clinging to us.

His death on the cross has given you forgiveness of sins. Through your Baptism, Jesus has brought you into His boat, the Church. Through the Lord’s Supper He strengthens you to stay in the boat. So even in the midst of storms – especially in the midst of storms – stay in the boat. Jesus knows what’s going on in your heart and mind and comforts you with His Word. Let Jesus’ Word be enough for you in the midst of the storm: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Impossible Needs

Sermon Based on Mt. 14:13-21 for the Eight Sunday after Pentecost

Dear crowds looking to be fed: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Let’s just talk about facts. Let’s talk real numbers. When we analyse a situation, isn’t that what we try to do? We focus on facts and make our calculations to analyse a situation. For example, we sit down and look at our budget and see if we can afford that vacation we could really use. We look at our savings and see if we can afford to retire. We calculate how many days we will be camping, how many people will be there, and thus determine how much food and beer we should bring along with us. We look at facts and make calculations.

That’s what the disciples were doing in our Gospel reading. They were looking at the cold hard facts of the situation, and they decided to share these facts with Jesus to let Him know what the situation was.

The disciples describe the situation not as difficult, but as impossible. The crowds had followed Jesus a great distance, but now the disciples want Him to dismiss them because of this impossible situation. They say Jesus should just send the crowds away.

The disciples start to list the facts to Jesus. This is a desolate place. We are in middle of nowhere. The day is over and night is here. The crowds are hungry. They’ve followed you here, but there’s no McDonalds here. There’s no Taco Time here. So send them away. Tell them to go elsewhere. Tell them to go to the surrounding villages and wish them luck in finding food.

In response, Jesus says to the disciples, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat.” Well, maybe Jesus just needs more facts. Maybe He’s just not understanding the situation, so the disciples give Him more facts. They want to explain that this is not just a difficult situation, it is an impossible situation. We’re out in the middle of nowhere with a hungry crowd. There are about 5000 men besides women and children. Figuring one woman for every man and two children for every couple – even though back then people had more children than we do today – that means that there were upwards of 20,000 people in the crowd. And all they have is five loaves of bread and two fish.

The apostle John records in his gospel that the disciples had done some additional calculating of facts. They told Jesus that two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to eat a little [Jn 6:7]. That’s 200 days wages! If you figure 4 ounces of fish per person and 3 ounces of bread, you need 5,000 pounds of fish and 3,750 pounds of bread. The median fish at the grocery store last week was around six dollars per pound, and the average bread was around one and a-half dollars per pound, so we’d be looking at 35,625 dollars to feed the whole crowd. Considering the median wage in Saskatchewan, that’s 257 days’ wages – pretty close to the disciples’ calculations in today’s dollars also.

Boring statistics, you might say, but that’s what the disciples did. They ran their numbers. They checked out what they have, which is 5 loaves and 2 fish, and they’ve done their cost calculations. There is nothing to conclude except – this ain’t gonna work – send the crowds away. Their calculations concluded that it was impossible to do what Jesus had told them to do – which was to give the crowds something to eat.

How often do we analyse situations in this way? We look at our human limitations and impose them on God! We look at the facts and make our calculations, and conclude that because something is impossible for us, it must be impossible for God.

We know the facts of our illness and our family’s medical history. We know the limited capabilities of doctors and medicine. We know the statistics for others who have our condition. We know our facts and we’ve done our calculations. We conclude from our facts that the situation is an impossible one for us and for God.

We may also do what the disciples did and want Jesus to send people away from Him. It is so much easier for us to see the sins of others than our own sins, so we may look at the sins of others and see an impossible situation. We calculate their sins and conclude that they are far too great. They’ve brought scandal and shame to their families and even the community. It is impossible for them to be restored to the church. Send them away.

Or, we may look at ourselves and our sins and think the same way. We may see that we have offended God yet again and broken His commandments. Maybe we should stay away from Him because we want to avoid His fierce anger. It is an impossible situation that I should be looked upon favourably by God after what I have done. I should be sent away. I know how much I need to be forgiven and how difficult it is for me to forgive. I know all the facts. I’ve done all the calculations.

But Jesus doesn’t go by the facts of impossible situations. If Jesus went by facts, He would have just given up. The situation was impossible: thousands upon thousands of hungry people in the wilderness and no money to buy food. And even if there was money, there was nowhere to go buy the food.

But Jesus does the impossible. He feeds the thousands upon thousands. Taking only five loaves and two fish, Jesus fed over 20,000 people, and there were twelve baskets of leftovers! Jesus satisfied the impossible needs of the crowds, and there was still more! He overflows in His giving and feeding even beyond the seemingly impossible needs.

Before Jesus fed the crowds, Matthew records that He healed the sick because He had compassion on them. It didn’t matter what their illness was. Their family’s medical history wasn’t important. The fact that doctors couldn’t help didn’t mean that Jesus couldn’t heal them. And heal them He did. He did the impossible despite the facts and the calculations of those who were sick.

Jesus doesn’t look at the facts as we do. He doesn’t do calculations as we do. If you want to talk about an impossible situation; if you want to talk about really impossible facts, don’t look at what is going on in your life, but look at your sinfulness. Look at your very nature and what that nature produces. There is no situation that is more impossible or unsolvable. All the facts and calculations show that we have fallen short of the glory of God and deserve punishment in this life and the life to come. The facts bury us in our sins and the calculations pile on and cover us.

If Jesus went by the facts, He would have stayed in heaven. If Jesus would have gone by our calculations, He would have concluded what we conclude – that we are hopeless. But Jesus did not stay in heaven. Instead, Jesus came from heaven and became man. He took on Himself all of our sins without calculating them. He just took them all. He didn’t conclude what we conclude about our hopelessness – He came to be our hope.

And He doesn’t want to send us away. He doesn’t want to send anyone away. He wants to do the impossible and give us what we need. He wants to give us the bread of heaven and feed us forever. He doesn’t calculate the greatness of our sins or our many transgressions. He simply forgives us and invites us to come to His eternal banquet.

So this we know is true also for our other needs. Jesus knows our needs. Compared to our need for forgiveness, our other needs are minor. Jesus isn’t bound by the facts and calculations that we make. Jesus isn’t bound by medicine, family history, or statistics. Jesus is the Lord over life and death. Jesus can heal us from our illnesses in this life. But if Jesus does not heal us, it is because He has something better in store for us. Though we bear the cross now, should our illness lead to our death, this is nothing more than a victory for us because Jesus did the impossible and wiped away our incalculable sins. Our death is a victory because the facts and calculations of our sins are zeroed out. Our sins are no more.

And Jesus has not stopped doing things that human calculations indicate to be impossible. He still provides miraculous food to us in His Supper. Whatever our calculations might indicate, when Jesus says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood”, it is as Jesus says. When Jesus says it is for the forgiveness of your sins, it is as Jesus says. So throw out your calculations and come and receive the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus will feed you, satisfying your impossible needs. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.