Jesus, Do You Not Care?

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 4:35-41

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

“Teacher, do you not care?” The disciples were fighting just to keep the boat afloat. The great windstorm brought waves crashing into the boat. The boat was already filling with water. Soaked and tired, the disciples fear that they are perishing. Doesn’t Jesus care? He’s in the stern sleeping! The disciples are fighting for their lives while Jesus takes a snooze. “Teacher, do you not care?”

We’ve been there. We have faced the storms of this life and wondered whether or not Jesus cares. When the diagnosis of cancer comes, does Jesus care? When the loss of employment comes, does Jesus care? When health deteriorates and death seems inevitable, is Jesus sleeping?

In Psalm 44 we pray, “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!” (v. 23) Sometimes to us it does seem like God is sleeping. We pray, but the wind only seems to get stronger and the waves bigger. We pray but hear no answer. Our boat is getting filled up and we are at the point of despair. Does God even know what I’m going through? Where is He? Is He sleeping?

Psalm 121 tells us, “He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (vv. 3-4) God does not sleep as we do. Here we see the distinction in the persons of the Trinity. God the Son was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He became man.

Only by becoming man could the Son of God suffer and die for us. Only by becoming man could He fulfil the Law of God on our behalf. Only by becoming man could He become tired and require sleep.

God the Father does not sleep. Yet, Jesus, God in the flesh did sleep. He tired Himself serving mankind. He wore Himself out teaching the crowds, dealing with hatred and opposition. Jesus exhausted Himself carrying our sins, sorrows, and sicknesses. Jesus was so worn out that He could sleep through a great storm in a small boat while waves beat upon it and great waves crashed inside of it.

Yet Jesus did what we should all do in such a situation. He entrusted Himself to God the Father who will neither slumber nor sleep. Jesus knew that everything is in the Father’s hands. Human though He was, Jesus had no fear. He slept soundly through the storm because He feared God more than the storm. He knew the Father’s will was good, even if it meant His death.

Jesus is the only one who has ever kept the First Commandment – You shall have no other gods. Whatever we fear, love, and trust above all things is our god. Jesus did not fear, love, or trust in anything other than the Father, even while the disciples cried out in fear. The disciples feared the storm more than anything else. At that moment they did not love or trust God.

This we have to admit of ourselves as well. In the storms of our lives, we have often not feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things. We have had fear of our situation instead of fearing God. We have loved what we were losing instead of loving God. We have trusted in what was being taken away from us instead of trusting in God. We have cried out, “Jesus, do you not care?” when He is right there in the boat with us.

Scripture tells us time and time again, that we have nothing to fear. Ps 27 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Isaiah 41 says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God”. Matthew 28 says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” We are only to fear God.

We don’t need to fear loss, illness, or even death. Unbelievers fear such things. We don’t need to fear natural disasters, war, or plague. Those who do not fear God fear such things. We do not have to fear any of these things. Instead of sleepless nights worrying about such things, we should be able to sleep soundly even in the midst of whatever storm is crashing into our boat. While others around us despair about perishing, we should be calm, trusting in the Lord who created all things and still takes care of them and controls them with His powerful Word.

Our solution, however, is not in our ability to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Our solution is that Jesus did fear, love, and trust in God the Father above all things. Jesus didn’t keep all the Commandments as God, but He kept them all as man. He kept the Commandments for us, so He had to keep them as a man. He is our only solution. He did what we have failed to do.

Jesus also suffered as a man for us. He had to become man so that He could suffer and die on the cross in our place. This also was no easy task, because Jesus was true man. Jesus was true man, that’s why He was in such agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was true man, thus His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground (Lk. 22:44). He prayed that if it was the Father’s will, He would not have to drink the cup of the anger and wrath of God (Lk. 22:42). Yet, Jesus was ready to do the will of the Father even in this. Jesus did drink the cup for us and suffered hell for us. Jesus took our punishment on Himself, suffering for us and for our salvation.

Baptized into His name, we have nothing to fear. Whatever storms of life we must face in our boat, we know that Jesus is with us. We don’t need to fear the wind or the waves. Jesus will rebuke the wind and say, “Peace! Be still!”

Jesus might not say this when we want Him to say it. We may cry to Him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He may seem to us to be sleeping. But because Jesus feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things and died for our failure to do so, the storms of this life will cease. Through death we will awaken to the peace and stillness of Paradise. Through death Jesus takes us from the storms of this life to the great calm of our eternal home. Jesus does care. “If the boat goes down, He goes with us. We couldn’t be safer.” (Quote from Rev. Norman Nagel) Amen.

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

The Seed of the Kingdom

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost based on Mk 4:26-34

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

Every earthly kingdom comes only through military might. Weak nations are not great kingdoms. Consider a few of the largest earthly kingdoms:

The Persian Empire grew through military might. Persian military campaigns starting with Cyrus the Great in 550 B.C. successfully subdued most of the world’s advanced civilizations of the time. Defeating other kingdoms including the Egyptians and Babylonians, the Persian Empire was the largest kingdom the world had seen up to that time.

The history of the Roman Empire is filled with battles, civil wars, assassinations, and great feats of military strength. Without the military strength of the Roman armies, there would have been no Roman Empire. Whoever had the greatest military strength ruled the Empire, unless of course he was assassinated.

The Arab or Muslim Empire founded by Mohammed also grew through violence. Mohammed and the caliphs that followed him brutally massacred even women and children who would not convert to Islam. Cities and nations were taken with the edge of the sword and the Muslim Empire expanded from the borders of China and India, across Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa all the way to present day Spain and Portugal.

All earthly kingdoms have grown through military might and power. Whoever has the greatest military has the power.

The kingdom of God, however, does not come with military force. God does not send His hosts of angels to convert nations by the edge of the sword. God doesn’t come in His full force and might to conquer; otherwise not one of us would be left standing.

Rather, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” (vv. 26-27) That’s not very forceful. Sowing seed isn’t exactly coming in great might. It is God’s kingdom coming in humble form.

We know from the sower parable earlier in the same chapter of Mark that the seed, which is the Word of God, can be rejected. In the earlier parable, the seed was scattered even along the path, and birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, and when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain (vv. 4-7).

Jesus explains this parable by saying that Satan can snatch away the Word of God from the hard-hearted. Those who think they can stay rooted in themselves without the forgiveness of sins given in the Lord’s Supper and Holy Absolution immediately fall away when hardships or persecution arise. The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things can also enter in and choke the Word, making it unfruitful (vv. 14-19). The Word of God comes in such a humble way that it can be rejected; it can be despised; it can be trampled underfoot.

This can make us frustrated. Maybe we should start using a different seed. Why should the Church preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins if it is being rejected by so many, even those of our own households? Why preach the Word of God if people don’t want to hear it? Why preach the humble Gospel if it can be rejected?

Well, if it’s not the Word of God being scattered, but a different seed, then it’s not the kingdom of God that is spreading, but the kingdom of Satan. Any other seed, other than the Word of God, is the seed of Satan. This is seen in the parable of the weeds. The good seed of the Word had been sown, but Satan went and sowed weeds among the wheat during the night. The weeds and the wheat grow together until harvest, that is, Judgment Day, when the weeds are bound and burned while the wheat is gathered into the barn (cf. Matt. 13:24-30). We’re not going to start sowing the seed of Satan, but only the seed of the Word of God, because it is the Word of God which brings to us the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God comes in humble form, without military force or strength. Yet, it is not without power. The seed that falls into good soil produces grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold (v. 8). The sower sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how (v. 27). It happens automatically. The Word of God, though coming in humble form, has great power! It has the power to save!

There’s a great quote from Martin Luther about the power of God’s Word in which he says, “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing.  And then while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer… the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.” Luther witnessed the Word of God bringing souls into God’s kingdom from the earthly kingdom of the papacy despite the papal armies with all their threats and military strength.

Yes, the Word of God can be rejected; it can be despised; it can be trodden underfoot. But the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone that believes (Rom. 1:16).

Holy Baptism, in humble form in a sprinkling of water has the power to make you a child of God and an heir of eternal life. Holy Absolution, in humble form from the lips of a sinful pastor has the power to declare you righteous. The Sacrament of the Altar, in humble form in bread and wine has the power to forgive sins and strengthen you in the faith.

Jesus Himself came in humble form. He did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philip. 2:7). And how do you get the benefits of Jesus’ death on the cross for you? You cannot go to the cross. You cannot go back 2000 years to the foot of the cross. And even if you could, there is nothing to be received there. All the benefits of Jesus death for you are given to you in Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. These are God’s Word for you. These are the humble seeds that are sown. Like the mustard seed, which is one of the smallest seeds on earth and yet grows to become larger than all the garden plants, so also the Word of God accomplishes huge things – it brings you into the kingdom of God.

God’s kingdom is the biggest, most powerful kingdom anywhere, but it comes to you in the humblest of forms. It does not come with force or military might. Eternal life is distributed in the seed of the Word of God. Yet this humble seed has the power to save. It sprouts and grows, we do not know how. It grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that birds of the air can make nests in its shade (v. 32). It grows and is the largest kingdom in existence, saving people from every tribe, language, and nation.

The seed of the Word of God comes to you and grows in your life, bringing forth good fruits of faith. God’s Word works in your heart and produces first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. God works in you to bring about good works in service to your neighbour. God works in you to bring about repentance from sin. God works in you to give you faith and to strengthen you in your faith. The seed is sown humbly, yet produces such great things. The seed of the Word produces life unto salvation.

Military might comes and goes. Nations rise and fall. But even amidst the rising and falling kingdoms of this world, we have nothing to fear, because we are part of the everlasting kingdom of God. Even as our nation has become so wicked and evil that its fall seems inevitable, we are part of the everlasting kingdom of God, which will never fall. The seed, the Word of God, endures forever. The seed, the Word of God, brings us into God’s eternal kingdom. No military might can snatch us from the kingdom of God. Amen.

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

The Strong Man Bound and His Goods Plundered

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 3:20-35 (Gen. 3:8-15)

Dear people rescued from Satan: grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Our Gospel reading contains one of the scariest verses in the Bible: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (v. 29). This verse is meant to be scary. It’s meant to scare us from blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

On Pentecost Sunday, we heard about the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts and bears witness about Jesus. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and points us to Jesus as the one who has taken our sin away. The Holy Spirit calls us to repentance through the Word of God.

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is to reject His call to repentance. It is not about any particular sin, but it is refusing to turn away from any sin and receive forgiveness. Every other sin can be forgiven. No other sin is an eternal sin. We are all sinful and we all commit sin every day. Some Christians even fall into great shame and vice in their weakness. But these sins are not the same as blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is refusing to turn away from sin when you are called to repentance and faith through God’s Word. Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is not any act of sin, however heinous, but a state or habit of sin which someone wilfully choses and in which he persists in opposition to the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 5 says, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who practise such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19-21) We’ve got a list that includes everything from orgies to strife, and from idolatry to anger. In a list that contains grievous sins, it might be a little shocking to hear sins we are guilty of committing appear in that same list. But the point here of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God is again the same as with the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Those who practise such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Not just those who fall into sin because of their weak and sinful flesh, but those who make a practice of sinning, who live for the sake of sin, who refuse to turn away from sin when the Holy Spirit calls them to repentance and faith.

We are sinful, so we sin. But we have been given the Holy Spirit, and thus we battle and struggle with sin. The Holy Spirit that dwells within us does not allow sin to rule our lives. There is a continual war going on within us because we have the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 7). Christians do not live in sin without turning away from it because we have been given the Holy Spirit, and thus Satan is not able to hold us captive to sin.

Satan is the strong man Jesus mentions in our Gospel text. As Jesus said, Satan doesn’t attack himself or rise up against himself (vv. 23-26). His kingdom is not divided against itself nor does it capture itself. Satan does not cast out his own demons. Rather, Satan seeks to attack us. He seeks to capture us. He prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8). We are weak, unable to defend ourselves from him. Indeed, without Christ, we are hopeless, captured prey in Satan’s house.

Jesus said, “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.” (v. 27) How is Satan defeated? He does not defeat himself. Rather someone must first bind him, and then plunder his goods. Someone must render Satan powerless and then save the captured prey from Satan’s house.

This is exactly what Jesus has done. Jesus has rescued us from the devil. Jesus bound the strong man and plundered his house (cf. also Isaiah 49:24-26). He bound Satan and rescued us from his captivity.

In our sins, we were hopeless to save ourselves and escape from Satan. Because of our sins we deserve to spend eternity with Satan in hell. But Jesus would not have it so. Jesus is the stronger one (cf. Mark 1:7) who bound Satan. Jesus “took captivity captive” (Eph. 4:8) and plundered Satan’s house, saving us from under his power. Our sin which held us captive under Satan has been forgiven. We have been released from the Law which would accuse us (Rom. 7:6).

Satan’s reign over us has been destroyed by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our sins do not keep us captive to Satan. Jesus bound Satan and he is thus powerless to hold us captive. And since Jesus took captivity captive, captivity itself is captured. There is no longer any captivity to threaten God’s people. Christ has conquered sin, death, and the devil and He has made us free. The threats of hell to capture us are powerless.

Our sins are wiped out. Our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). Every grievous sins we are guilty of committing was put on Jesus. Every sin of which we are not even aware was put on Jesus. Jesus took our punishment in our place, thus plundering the strong man’s house. Jesus plundered us from Satan’s house. Jesus saved us from eternal death by His death. Jesus rose again to show Himself victorious over the devil and to open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

This is the promise God made already to Adam and Even when they fell into sin in the Garden of Eden. God promised that although the serpent would bruise the heel of the offspring of Eve, her offspring would bruise the serpent’s head. Indeed crush his head. What joy in the middle of such tragedy!

Adam and Eve’s sin resulted in them being barred from paradise. They were kicked out of the perfection of paradise. Instead of the bounty of the garden feeding them, Adam had to start working for their food, all while God cursed the ground and it started to bring forth thorns and thistles to work against Adam and his descendants. Eve and her female descendants had the pain of childbearing multiplied and have to struggle against the desire to rule over their husbands against the order of creation.

Yet, in the midst of this tragedy, God gave the promise of a Saviour who would defeat the serpent who brought mankind into sin. God gave the promise that a mightier one would come and crush the serpent’s head, binding the strong man and plundering us from his captivity.

Jesus is the fulfilment of this prophetic promise. Satan’s reign over us has been destroyed by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our sins do not keep us captive to Satan. Jesus bound Satan and he is thus powerless to hold us captive. The Holy Spirit that dwells within us does not allow sin to keep us captive. Our sins are forgiven like they never existed.

This forgiveness is not a one-time event. Yes, in your Baptism you became God’s child and received the forgiveness of sins. But God also continually gives you the forgiveness of sins through Absolution and through the Lord’s Supper. He doesn’t bar you from the Lord’s Table because you’ve fallen into sin again this week. Rather He continually compels you to come and receive forgiveness. God knows the struggle you have with sin, that’s why He is so overflowing with His forgiveness. God knows your weaknesses. That’s why He gives His Son’s body and blood to strengthen you. God knows what you need and He gives it to you freely.

God gives it to you freely because Jesus earned it for you. By Jesus’ death and resurrection, He earned forgiveness for you. By His death and resurrection, Jesus conquered sin, death, and the devil and He has made you free. Captivity itself is captured. There is no longer any captivity to threaten you. Christ has bound Satan and plundered you from his house. You belong to Christ and you have to fear nothing. You are free. Amen.

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