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Category: Sermons

Jesus is the Gospel

The gospel is not:  a decision to receive, believe, retrieve your own personal Jesus.

The gospel is not: making Him Lord, re-dedicating your life, saying a “sinner’s prayer”

In fact, the Gospel is completely outside of your (or my) activity.

The Gospel is ALL God’s activity through Jesus Christ.

What is ‘Gospel’?  It means ‘Good News’.

It is Jesus dying on the cross for your sin and my sin, and being raised in resurrection, so we can have the gift of resurrection in Him.

What’s the bad news?

First, the world is fallen and it can’t get up

Second, the devil is a fallen angel, not an archaic, pre-logical myth

Third, we have fallen into our coffin, and are bound to a horrible eternal end unless there’s an intervention

In other words, the situation is hopeless.

God loves hopeless situations.

God loves hopeless sinners.

Because Jesus was given as a sacrifice for sin.  He came to seek and save that which was lost.  Jesus came for sinners (including me).

And, He continues to be the good news for us.

When we confess our sin (not a feeling), He is faithful and just to forgive us based on His bloody death.

When we have doubt (by the way, doubt means you have faith to begin with), He remains faithful as a priest before the Father in Heaven.

When we are hungry for good news, we can find it in the promise that God has sent a deliverer in Jesus.  He hasn’t come for “good people”, but for those who have no hope in themselves.

He is hope fulfilled.  Both now and forever.  Amen.

Matthew’s mundane miracles

Matthew’s Mundane Miracles

The year was 1980. The place was Lake Placid, New York. I bet you can remember what happened at that time.

Wikipedia notes:

The “Miracle on Ice” is the name in American popular culture for a medal-round men’s ice hockey game during the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York, on Friday, February 22. The United States team, made up of amateur and collegiate players and led by coach Herb Brooks, defeated the Soviet team, who were considered to be the best ice hockey team in the world at the time.

Unfortunately, if you weren’t alive back then, you wouldn’t realize how emotional this hockey game was. I can remember watching it on t.v., and feeling the tingles go up my spine and make my hair stand up on end. Sports Illustrated called it, “the top Sports Moment of the 20th century”.

It was an unlikely story of unknown amateurs doing something no one thought possible. It was a moment of glory for the people of the United States in the midst of the oppression of the “Cold War”.

Our passage for today recounts the miracle of Jesus multiplying loaves and bread. It was such an important story that all four Gospel writers included it in their accounts. This is good, too, because we can get a “fuller picture” of all that happened on that day.

Although the section begins with Jesus hearing about the meaningless execution of John the Baptist (his cousin), this is really a portion that is “in the middle” of Matthew’s thoughts. In fact, it is “in the middle” of the book of Matthew which contains 28 chapters. So, it’s a good idea to look at Mark’s version of events starting in chapter 6 verses 12 and 13. This tells us about how the disciples were sent out in pairs to tell people to repent (please turn with me there).

12So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

As they returned from doing these things, they hear about John the Baptist, and Jesus goes with them over the Sea of Galilee. Jesus wanted to pause in the middle of things to retreat with His disciples.

And this makes sense. Matthew tells us the gruesome story of John’s beheading in the section before Jesus feeding the 5,000. Jesus must have felt a deep sorrow in the loss of His cousin. Although the disciples had many stories to tell, Jesus wanted them to “get away” and go to a solitary place as a group. Some of them had been John’s disciples before they left to follow Jesus. You can’t get further from the exhilaration of healing someone with some oil to hearing of the death of your former mentor and friend. One word comes to mind, confusion. Jesus wanted them to go away to sort out their thoughts and feelings.

But, their plans to retreat would end the moment they stepped off the boat and got onto shore. A crowd of people, who had been with Jesus on the other side of the Sea, came over to this side on foot. There, they greeted Jesus with their sick and ill. Although He was going through a very personal time of mourning, the scripture tells us, “He had compassion on them, and healed their sick.”

Sometimes, you and I are tempted to believe that our God is disconnected from our suffering. We pray for healing, yet do not receive it. We pray for relief from pain, yet the pain remains. We ask these things for loved ones and acquaintances, but they are not always relieved.

Our peace of mind depends on God’s healing work, and when it doesn’t come, you and I feel disappointment. We are disappointed with God. Maybe we feel other things toward God, too. Anger, hurt, resentment. In our emotion, we are tempted to believe God is not there at all.

Well, here He is. Jesus is next to the Sea of Galilee healing people. It seems random and unfair to us. I mean, every average Joe got healed on that day. Why not us? Why is He withholding this work for our family members, for us, or for our friends?

A critical point is missing here. Jesus doesn’t heal people without a reason. Jesus heals people to make a declaration. That declaration in first-century Israel was “I am the King of all creation. I am the God who reverses the effect of illness, sickness, and even death.” And yet, since then people have had illnesses, sicknesses and to a person, all have died. Even Jesus died. But, that’s not the end.

Jesus is not a distant God who has separated Himself from our suffering like some plaster statue. Instead, He is the God who became a man in order to wholly experience the sorrow, suffering and death of this world. The creator became the creature and continues to feel for us in our pain, sorrow, and suffering. We are told from the author of Romans that He is currently interceding for us before the Father.

The suffering we endure then, is not empty and meaningless to Jesus. He joins with us and “feels our pain”. We must also remember that the people who were healed that day died from something later. if Jesus was just some fantastic doctor, then His life didn’t amount to much. But, that’s not the case.

We are told that, “when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves”. These guys had their eyes wide open. They saw that there were 5,000 men, and more than double this amount when you count women and children. The disciples lacked food, they lacked money, and there was no time left. They were emotionally spent, tired and probably wondered if the crowd would riot from lack of food. Their minds told them the only solution was to send them away.

In John’s story of this event, we read that the disciple Andrew found a boy who had five barley loaves and two fish. These loaves weren’t what you and I might find at Ralph’s. They were more like small cakes of bread. It was a pathetic situation. It was an impossible situation smack dab in the middle of the story. Andrew did his best, but there’s no way to feed thousands and thousands of people on what amounts to a couple meals for one person.

Or so the disciples thought. Jesus’ response to them was, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Jesus was testing the disciples’ faith. They thought in their minds and then said, “We have only five loaves here and two fish”. It was an expression of logic, but it was also a declaration of their unbelief.

Their reason could not imagine how the few food items they had could feed all these people. What was Jesus going to do? Call for take out? Order a pizza? Maybe He knew a guy who owed him a favor and owned a fast-food restaurant. Even if that was true, there were thousands who needed to be fed, and the need was urgent.

Aren’t we a bit like those disciples, too? I mean, they were completely stumped on how to give all of these people even a bite of food. You and I would have thought the same thing. And that is exactly the problem.

If you remember the beginning portion of this sermon, you will recall that the disciples had just come back from healing sick people, casting out demons, and calling on people to repent. They had just seen people be healed one at a time by Jesus. The miracles, it seems, had become mundane for them. Can you see them standing around while Jesus heals people? Can you hear them yawning? Jesus healing people was just a part of everyday life.

You might remember some magician performing a magic trick you have never seen before. The first time, it is amazing. When you grow up, though, you understand how the trick works and it takes a lot more to surprise you. You and I can become apathetic.

We lack awe even as we read this story. We’ve read it before, we know how it ends, so let’s keep moving on to the next part. “I know, I know, Jesus feeds all the people and there are 12 basketfuls of parts left … So?”

Has it even occurred to you that the miracle that follows has never been seen in our lifetime? I have never seen a person take five slices of Wonderbread and a couple of trout and feed over ten thousand people, have you? The passage doesn’t test the disciples’ faith only, it tests our faith.

Returning then to the story, Jesus answers these disciples in this way, “Bring them (that is, the bread and the fish) here to me.” As He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, we get the sense that there was silence all around Him. Some were probably asking, “What will He do next?” Or, “Has He lost His mind?” He then does three relatively mundane things:

First, He says a blessing over the bread.

Second, He breaks the loaves.

Third, He gives them to the disciples to give to the people.

Up to this point, even the most skeptical person could say, “Yeah, I believe Jesus did that … sure.” What comes next, though, confronts the minds of even the faithful. Jesus hands out this food to the disciples who then distribute it to the people … thousands of people. A stadium full of people. A concert hall full of people. A university full of people. All of these people ate and were full.

Not only this, but there were twelve baskets FULL of leftovers. Now, if you didn’t think this was a fairy tale before, you certainly are convinced that it’s a fairy tale now. What fool could believe such a story? Who in their right mind joins a religion based on such stories? This must be some kind of prank or joke that someone played on people who didn’t have a good education.

This story, however, was written down by Matthew at around 50 A.D. That’s about 20 years after these events occurred. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can remember the day Reagan was shot, the day the space shuttle blew up, and the Miracle on Ice. I know those events happened. And they happened publicly, so if my memory is wrong, I’ll get an earful after church.

Jesus’ ministry was public, too. As I said before, all of the four Gospel writers record this event. It happened.

Our problem is that we can’t explain it. That’s not because we’re bad communicators. It’s because we worship the mind in our culture. We think that we can understand all things simply by the application of our minds.

It’s not to say reason is bad. Reason is very good, in fact. God has given us reason and logic so that we can live lives that are elevated above the animals. Illnesses are cured, food is more reliably produced and safer to consume, and people are protected from dangerous diseases. But reason could not feed the people that day. Reason could come up with questions and options, but couldn’t solve the problem.

The ancient Israelites of the Exodus from Egypt had the same experience as they were in the wilderness. They did not have enough provisions to survive. They wanted to return to their slave owners in Egypt where they had plentiful food. They had no faith.

But God provided something that had never been seen before; manna. God told them in advance that He would “rain bread from Heaven for you.” Not only this, but He sent quail to them, as well. This wasn’t simply a carbohydrate diet.

And, as Exodus 16:18 points out, the people had more than enough to eat. They were satisfied. They weren’t hungry anymore. God took care of His people. Thousands of people.

You think this is a good religion for the simple minded? Consider the parallels between Jesus and the crowd with Moses and Israel from Exodus 14-16:

  1. Both cross a Sea
  2. God promises to be Israel’s healer; Jesus heals all who come to Him
  3. In Exodus 16, the Israelites wander in the wilderness; Jesus disciples called this place “desolate”
  4. Then, the Israelites complain that they have no food; The Disciples in our passage tell Jesus that the people should be sent away to get food
  5. Lord promises to rain bread from Heaven; After John’s version of this story, John quotes Jesus calling Himself, the true bread of Heaven, “the bread of God”, “the bread of life”, “the living bread” and, “not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
  6. God promises Israel meat and bread to eat; Jesus gives them fish and loaves
  7. In both cases, the people had more than enough to eat
  8. Thousands were fed in both cases

This is not coincidence. Matthew is such and intelligent writer that He sees the parallel to ancient Israel, and writes in such a way that the Jewish-Christian audience would immediately recognize the comparison.

Jesus is the New Moses. But He didn’t come to lead the Jews out of their Roman captivity. He came to lead them out of Sin, Death, and a future Hell. And He didn’t just choose certain people to come with Him. He healed all who came to Him here, and He fed all who stayed to eat.

Jesus did not discriminate. He fed the faithful, the faithless, the old, the young, the fools and the wise, the rich and the poor, the righteous and the unrighteous, the amazed and the bored, the disciples and the unknown thousands who came. He fed them all.

And later on the cross, He died for all. He died so that all could come and feed with Him in the Heavenly banquet. He died so that the only death we would have to face was in the waters of our baptism. His death was not the end, though, it was the beginning. He was resurrected. And He continues to intercede on our behalf. He puts Himself in the middle for us. And, He does this fervently.

He continues to serve us and identify with us in this life. The mundane things you see here on Sundays, like bread, and wine are the very means of grace by which He serves you Himself! We taste a cracker and some wine, but He is forgiving us, healing us and feeding our faith in this physical act. You hear a sermon with the words of Scripture, and He is feeding your faith.

And, He directly confronts reason with the statement about the bread and wine at communion by saying, “This is my body … this is my blood”. Although the mind searches for ways to “figure out” how this works, it is faith alone that understands and accepts what He says. These ordinary elements become the very life of Christ for us.

He is also in the middle of our circumstances, too. We may feel like our tithe is so small, our income is too small, the number of people coming to church is small, or our faith is too small. It’s easy to become disheartened and discouraged. But, to Jesus, it is more than enough. He comes to bless your tithe, bless this church and increase your faith and mine. Cast all your cares upon Him.

This Bible is God-breathed; meaning that He dwells in regular paper pages with some print on it. Reading it is not like reading a manual, because God dwells in the words.

He continues to bring the miracle of re-birthing people into this world through ordinary means like water and words. This Jesus is the God who works miracles in the middle of the mundane. All we need do is ask, and it shall be given.

And, His miracles are not just one-time actions. He is the God who is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is Jesus. He is our savior. In fact, He is the savior of the world. To His own eternal glory now and forever, Amen.

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

the wheat and the weeds: the sermon I wrote for today

About a month or so ago, I began to notice some weeds growing in my backyard. Although

I knew I had to do something about them, I waited to take some action. I knew the day was

coming that I would have to pull out my gallon sprayer of Roundup, cover my face, put on my

gloves and spray the entire 7 feet of dirt that makes up our back yard.

Finally, the day came. I suited up, got the sprayer and began to spray everything green that

wasn’t in a pot. I sprayed every square inch of open area. As I came around toward the outer

wall of the house, I ended up spraying before I looked, and hit a tomato plant. A day later, along

with all of the weeds, the plant began to die.

In the Gospel portion for today, Jesus tells us about the Judgment Day through a parable about

a field of weeds and wheat. He also explains the parable to the disciples.

We know who the landowner is, the enemy is, and even who the servants are.

The fire is hell, and the Storage barn is heaven. The looming question in the back of our minds is “are we the wheat or the weeds?” And we must keep in mind that the wheat comes from “good seed”. This means the weeds come from “bad seed”.

The first time we read about a place where plants grow is in in the book of Genesis. Adam

and Eve live in the Garden of Eden. As the story goes, the serpent comes and tempts Eve.

She convinced Adam to eat the fruit of a tree God told them not to eat from. Once God found

out about it, He curses the serpent, the woman, and the ground (which would have thorns and

thistles). God pronounces judgment for Adam’s sin, all people will die (Romans 5:12,


But, in the midst of these curses, God gives a promise of ultimate judgment of the serpent by a seed of the woman. This judgment is a gospel promise to us. He tells the serpent in Genesis


And I will put enmity

Between you and the woman,

And between your seed and her seed;

He shall bruise you on the head,

And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

From now on, there will be hostility or hatred between the two seeds. Sometimes, they grew up in the same family. The wheat and weed show up in the next chapter of Genesis, where the Bible tells us about Cain and Abel. As we read on, we come across Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his

brothers, Moses and Pharoah, and eventually Jesus and the religious leaders of His day.

In fact, the book of Matthew is full of the conflicts between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day. This would certainly comfort those Christians in the early church who were meeting up with opposition from religious leaders in the cities they lived in. And so, the good seed continued to grow next to the bad seed.

Of course You probably have heard the phrase “bad seed” before. It usually refers to someone

who behaves badly. They are born to “good parents” but end up in trouble for the bad things

they do. They can be found doing time in the principal’s office or in a “time out corner” at home.

Over time, if they are left to continue their pattern, they may end up “doing time” in prison

because they have never changed. Once this happens, we call them unredeemable: we give

up on them.

Time and time again, the bad seed grows up with the good, attempting to dominate, kill or

destroy the good. Because if the bad seed kills the good, the serpent wins.

For us this may seem like some distant cosmic struggle. We understand what a bad seed like

Cain looks like. He’s mean, dangerous, and hateful. He’s the guy who ends up in jail, and even

his own family wants it that way. He’s a mistake of genetics. He’s the child who we don’t talk

about. We’re ashamed of him.

We would rather talk about the good child who has achieved so much, lived in obedience and

respect with his parents and has “turned out so well”. He’s the one we’re proud of. We might

say, “It’s hard to imagine that he came from the same parents as the other brother”.

When Jesus was talking about wheat and weeds, His audience included people from many

different walks of life and the religious leaders of the day. These leaders might have

considered themselves the “good seed” since they were following God’s law to the letter.

Certainly, they lived according to God’s commands and would be rewarded for their efforts.

As a result of all of their Law-keeping, and their sinful self-righteousness, they became judgmental.

They didn’t see that their drive to make themselves right before God, and the demand that their

fellow Jews do the same, burdened the people. People who already felt defeated by the occupation of

the Romans.

The Pharisees believed their “Law-keeping” would bring back a time of God’s favor to Israel. They were going to “save themselves”. But this adherence to rules to manipulate God made them compassionless towards others. Jesus later address a Pharisee with these words in Matthew chapter 22, 37‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38“This is the great and foremost commandment. 39“The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40“On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Christ was saying that their law-keeping was actually the rejection of God in favor of their own self-righteousness. Fallen Adam is brought back to life in the form of a religious zealot.

We can be judgmental at times, too. We read about people in the paper or watch them on t.v., and think to ourselves, what an idiot! Why are they doing that? Or we talk to our spouse judgmentally, criticizing them when they’ve had a hard enough day already. Or maybe we sit in judgment of other people whose kids don’t seem to be behaving on a particular day, assuming it’s because they’re bad parents.

It’s easy to believe that “we’re right and they’re wrong”. That we’re somehow objective. The truth is that you and I can see other people’s sin, but are often blind to our own. But it is for this reason that God has given the Law, so that we could rightly see ourselves in light of God’s Holy Perfection.

And this Holy God judges judgment. If you ever want to know which is worse, gross sin or judgment, read 1 Corinthians were there is gross sin, and compare it to Galatians, where Paul tears apart the Judaisers.

Christ has some very direct words for the Pharisees, as well. Instead of bringing back a time of God’s favor, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were piling up evidence at a trial where they would be judged, “for our God is an all-consuming fire”.

They felt that they didn’t need Jesus. They might have said to themselves, “God, I’ve done everything I was supposed to do. Why aren’t you holding up your part of the bargain? I’ve been a good, obedient child. Why don’t you rescue us?”

But this was a patent denial of God. He is the one who declared at the beginning of the Ten Commandments, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” He alone is the saving God, He alone is the savior. And God will not share His Glory with anyone.

Jesus is the perfectly obedient child who has sacrificed His life for ours. And if He has not spared His own life for us, will He not listen to us when we face these trials of life?

Or, we might find ourselves in a second category: We tried all the religious stuff. We tried to live morally good lives, but things still haven’t gone the way we wanted or needed. Instead of beautiful flowers, we have a pile of manure.

Maybe your retirement plan has gone down the drain. Maybe your health is failing. Maybe you can’t provide for your family. Or perhaps you beat yourself up for real or imaginary sins that happened in the past, and the guilt is eating you alive..

But how can weedy sinners like you and I become wheat? How can a dandelion seed bear

roses? If we all are born of the seed of Adam, how can we stand before the judgment throne?

We realize that we have failed at reaching the goal of saving our

situations. We come to understand that righteousness is much more than attendance and effort.

It is the requirement to live a perfect, sinless life. And we can’t call on purgatory to save us,

either. Christ leaves no room for that in the parable.

The hope of being good is met with the Law of God which states, “Be holy for I am holy”. This is not a request, but a requirement. God demands perfect obedience. In light of this, we wilt in hopelessness and despair.

Many of the people gathered around Jesus to hear the answers. They were crushed under

the weight of the religious requirements. They were occupied by a cruel foreign

country. They were poor and lacked hope. They were the powerless people of society. Some were sick. They were people who felt the weight of judgment in their current situations.

They needed someone sympathetic to their plight to save them. And He does. The divine gardener who created Eden was there speaking to them

He is the seed that God was speaking of in Genesis 3:15. He is the sower from the parable before this one. He is the living water who gives us to drink. He is the miraculous bread in the desert who feeds us at His table. He was the only good seed ever to be born

He suffered for our sake. The serpent spoke into men’s ears saying “crucify, crucify”. He was executed on a cross outside of Jerusalem. He was buried like a seed in a garden tomb. His resurrection is the sprouting of new eternal life.

Jesus Christ has applied this death and resurrection to us, too. The wrath that we deserved God the Father has poured out on His only Son (“it pleased the Father to crush Him” Our judgment day has already past because His judgment day was the only one we would face as we we were buried with Christ in our baptism.

And now, when we sin, we can confess our sins, “And God who is faithful and Just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”He promise to be with us on that great day, “Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age”

He has ended the reign of the devil, death and sin through his death and resurrection. Unlike Adam, Christ’s work goes both forward and backward in time. This Jesus is the eternal firstfruit who justifies the ungodly. He has redeemed the unredeemable. We can now loudly proclaim, “Our God is a Justifying God”

To Him be the Glory forever and ever,


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