Sunday, February 26, 2012

First Sunday in Lent, Series B

Sermon on Mark 1:9-15
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
February 26, 2012 (The First Sunday in Lent, Series B)

What is the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer?  “And lead us not into temptation.”  What does this mean?  “God tempts no one.  We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.”  Okay, we can see where Luther got that explanation from the section of James that was read as our Epistle lesson for today.  But what it doesn’t explain is what happened to Abraham and Isaac in our Old Testament reading, or for that matter that it was the Spirit which drove Jesus into the wilderness in order to be tempted.  How can we say that God tempts no one if it was God the Holy Spirit who drove Jesus Himself, God the Son, into the wilderness precisely in order to be tempted?  How can we say that God tempts no one if it was He that put a test on Abraham to see if he would obey God or not?  After all, the Greek and Hebrew words for “tempt” and “test” are actually the same word.  Is it really true, as the Catechism and St. James teach us, that “God tempts no one?”  For that matter, isn’t it supposed to be Satan, not God, who does the tempting?  How can God and Satan be involved in the same activity together?

Let’s bring this a little closer to home.  If God is good, and He is almighty, how is it that we are allowed to wander into situations where sin beckons to us and crouches at our doorstep?  Can’t He stop us from being put into situations where someone has left their belongings unguarded?  Or where we know a bit of juicy gossip about someone that we can hardly resist sharing?  Or where someone else besides the one God has joined us to looks more attractive or even like a better fit than our own spouse?  Or when a loved one is dying and we have prayed with all our might that He would heal them, with seemingly no response, and it looks to us like perhaps God doesn’t even exist?  If God is almighty, can’t He simply prevent us from even experiencing the opportunity for “false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice,” as Luther puts it?

The fact is, however, if we were outwardly sinless and perfect (because temptation simply never came our way) that itself would be a temptation.  For us, the descendants of Adam and Eve, even keeping the Law is itself a form of temptation.  Look how good I’m doing.  Look how righteous I am.  I thank you that I’m not like that tax collector over there.  And instead of praising God, we praise ourselves.  In keeping us completely away from the more obvious temptations, God would then be tempting us with the subtle and most dangerous temptation of all, namely the temptation to put ourselves instead of Him on the throne of our hearts.

The problem of temptation is simply the problem of sin.  It’s not God’s will that sin be in the world in the first place.  It wasn’t His will that Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  It’s not His will that we face difficult choices in our lives, in which even though one path is clearly right and the other clearly wrong, the wrong path looks so much easier or more attractive.  It’s not His will that we face those even more difficult choices where both paths involve an element of sin and the only thing we can do is, as Luther put it, “sin boldly.”  None of this was what God created us for.  None of it is what He wanted for us.

But that’s where our Gospel lesson comes in.  It is precisely the sin, the brokenness, the hardship, the helplessness, and the hopelessness of living in a sin-filled world with sin-filled hearts, that our Lord became man in order to take into Himself.  He was tempted precisely because we are tempted.  He who knew no sin became sin for us.  And He won the victory over it.  The small victory he won over Satan in the wilderness foreshadows the much greater victory He won by staying on that cross and giving His life as a ransom for many.  The only way to deal with the problem of sin, and therefore the problem of temptation to sin, was to take it upon Himself.  The only way to deal with Satan was to defeat him so thoroughly that even his worst weapons, the temptation to false belief and despair, are now tools that He uses to bring us closer to Him.  Luther was fond of saying that the devil is now “God’s devil.”  The worst he can throw at us is now a tool God uses to drive us to His Word and Sacraments, to draw us closer to Himself.

And so it’s precisely when Satan tempts us that God is testing our faith, not in order to weaken it, but in order to strengthen it.  It’s precisely when we are given the occasion for false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice that we also have the opportunity to further refine and temper the true faith, trust, and righteousness that is now ours in Christ Jesus.  God doesn’t tempt us, but at the same time He does.  He tests us, not in order to knock us down, but as training so that we learn all the more to lean on Him and His righteousness when we know our own is completely worthless.  It is precisely when we are weak, in other words, that He is strong.  He uses testing to teach us that He is the one who is our strength, and we can’t learn that unless we first see how weak we ourselves really are.

God allows us to be knocked down so that He will be able to raise us up.  God puts Abraham in a no-win situation so that Abraham will rely solely on God’s promises that He will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.  It is precisely when Abraham thinks he has no choice but to murder his own son, that God puts faith in him that even so God will still fulfill His promise to provide the true Lamb who will take away the sins of the world.  It’s possible that he thought Isaac was that Lamb, that Messiah.  But the lamb caught in the undergrowth nearby served as the substitute, just as Jesus is our substitute, the one who undergoes temptation, suffering, and even death in our place.  God did provide the Lamb for the burnt offering.  God did take our place in the trackless desert of temptation, where we can’t find our way and it looks like all paths lead nowhere.  In His stead, then, we receive the straight road that leads to eternity, the road marked not by our own fleeting mirage of victory, but by His cross and seeming defeat.  Does God tempt us?  Did He tempt His Son?  In one sense, yes.  But in view of His ultimate purpose of salvation, no.  He only knocks down so that He can raise up.  He only breaks so that He can heal.  He only kills so that He can make alive.  He doesn’t tempt us for the sake of judgment, but for the sake of fixing our eyes on Jesus who won the victory for us all.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday, Series B

Sermon on Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
February 22, 2012 (Ash Wednesday, Series B)

Image is nothing.  Thirst is everything.  Obey your thirst.  This is the slogan of a  television advertising campaign from several years back for Sprite.  The point of the campaign is that the important thing about a soft drink is not the image the soft drink has in people’s minds, and it isn’t whatever special offers or contests go along with buying the soft drink, but whether or not the drink quenches your thirst that is important.  The campaign was aimed at members of “generation X” who have grown up with manipulative advertising campaigns and who have a built in resistance and even hostility toward being manipulated by advertisers or anyone else for that matter.  It’s not the advertising or the image that’s important, it’s whether or not the product does what it’s supposed to.  Of course, by doing this, Sprite is trying to project a “generation X” image for themselves, and so they’re still doing what they criticize.  Such is the way of the world.  But it is common sense.  Products should be evaluated on how well they do their job, not on whether the brand name is popular or by what kinds of gimmicks and contests the company attaches to the product.  Image is nothing.

In today’s text, Jesus is also making the point that image is nothing.  But He isn’t talking about advertising and commercial products.  He is talking about the things that people do in connection with religion.  Too many people do things in connection with the worship of God that aren’t really directed at God at all.  Instead, often people do things to look pious or holy to other people.  They do things like fasting or giving up something for Lent, or even something as simple as going to Church, not because it’s a good thing to do or because it’s a good spiritual discipline, but because they want to be able to say, “Look at me!  Look at how good and holy I am!”  But that’s not the reason to do these things.  We aren’t supposed to be concerned about what others think of us; rather we are to be concerned about our relationship with our Father in heaven.

Today is the first day of the season of Lent.  During the next forty days we will be focusing on repentance and renewal of our Christian faith and life.  One way that many Christians do this is to give up something during this season, whether it be desert or smoking or drinking or not eating meat on certain days or whatever it may be.  It might also be that you give a little extra to the Church during this time, and in so doing you have less money for yourself and are able to discipline yourself that way.  All of these different ways of observing lent can be good and beneficial for us as we observe this season.  Unlike certain other denominations the Lutheran Church doesn’t require anyone to give things up for Lent.  It’s up to you what you want to do.  But whatever you do, don’t make a big deal out of it.  Don’t make yourself look like you are suffering in order to make yourself look more holy to other people.  Fasting and giving up things for Lent is something that is done to benefit you in your relationship to God.  It is not something that is done in order to impress other people.  If you do something to impress other people, you are still focused upon this world, and that defeats the purpose.  We give up things in this world to remind ourselves that our true happiness, our true treasure, is in eternal life.

And that’s the point of today’s Gospel lesson, too.  We are not to be concerned about what we look like to other people in this life.  We are not to be concerned with whether or not we have blessings and happiness in this life.  This life is passing away.  We will return to the ashes and dust from which we were made.  That’s why today is known as Ash Wednesday.  Now, at the beginning of Lent, we remind ourselves that no matter how great the blessings we have in this life, we will leave them behind.  Our bodies will return to ashes, and all the blessings of this life will be ashes as far as we are concerned.  Our true treasure is in heaven.  Our true home is in heaven.  You can’t take it with you, the old saying says.  Everything that God has given us on this earth will pass away, and those who we so often try so hard to impress will die just like the rest of humanity.  And so we see that if we focus our attention on this life, if our treasure and our heart is in this world, all we will inherit in the life to come is ashes and dust.

But if we are supposed to have treasure in heaven rather than on the earth, what does that mean?  What is the treasure in heaven?  The treasure we receive in heaven is the fellowship of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Father.  We will eternally be with a God who loves us and cares for us and provides our every need.  He will not allow death or sickness or hunger or pain ever to touch us again.  Even the richest, most content person in this world will be seen as very, very unhappy compared to the person who is living the eternal life with Christ.  We cannot imagine what this will be like for us, but it is there, to eternal life, that our attention and our priorities are focused.

But we’re not just talking about something that’s a long ways off in the future.  The first and foremost blessing of eternal life is being with Christ and His Father.  But our God is already with us even now.  Our heavenly treasure, our heavenly banquet of fellowship with our Creator, is already ours through Baptism, His Word, and His body and blood.  Already now we have the beginning of that eternal life.  We may not be able to see or hear or taste Christ’s Presence among us in His Preaching and His Supper.  But He is here, and He is real.  What we see and hear is the Pastor and his words, the bread, the wine.  These things will pass away.  But the Christ who comes to us through these things is more real than anything that exists in this old sinful world.  In, with, and under earthly things that will be destroyed on the last day, Christ comes to us and gives us a new life, a new reality which will not pass away but will last forever.  Christ has now caused you to hunger and thirst for His own body and blood through the preaching of the Word.  Image is nothing.  Eternal life, for which you hunger and thirst, is everything.  Obey your hunger and thirst.  Receive Christ who is your true heavenly treasure.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Transfiguration, Series B

Sermon on Mark 9:2-9
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
February 19, 2012 (The Transfiguration of our Lord, Series B)

We are a fairly small church.  That goes without saying.  Now, there are advantages to being a small church, such as you get to know everyone better and the congregation is a much more close-knit group.  I personally prefer it that way.  But there is a certain amount of embarrassment that sometimes goes along with being a small church, too.  When you talk to certain church officials and certain pastors of larger churches, there is often an implication that if a congregation isn’t growing by leaps and bounds, that church isn’t doing its job and probably ought to change the way it does things in order to attract more people.  Of course, getting warm bodies in the pews isn’t the point, bringing them Christ is the point, and often what some churches do to attract people, meeting felt needs and so on, focus attention away from Christ and on the people’s own selfish desires and tastes.  But it is tempting to be jealous of their numbers, and to feel shame when the pastors of such churches brag about how “successful” they are, by the world’s terms anyway.  And of course, many of you remember that there have been times when our congregation had considerably more members than she does now.  But in this old sinful world there are good times and bad times, and this congregation has seen its share of both.  Even though we long for a return to the “good old days” when many more people were coming to Church than are right now, we can’t go back in time.  We can only go forward.  We can work to see to it that more people join our congregation; we can confess our faith to our friends and neighbors and invite them to come and see where it is that our faith and confidence in Christ is strengthened and nourished.  But rebuilding the numerical size of a Church in a healthy way is usually a long, slow process, one in which there is no guarantee of success, because only God can turn a person’s heart, and in the meantime our lack of numbers and our lack of growth can sometimes be depressing, especially for those who remember days gone by.

But we see in this text that we need not be depressed or discouraged about our church.  For Christ is with us.  And where Christ is, there are the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  There are more Christians here today than any of us realizes.  In fact, the number of those who worship with us is more than anyone can number.  Even if there were only two of us gathered for worship, myself and one other member, Christ would still be with us, because where two or three are gathered in His name, He is in the midst of them.  And that means that the whole Church and all the hosts of heaven are also with us when we gather around His real presence.

In today’s text, we see Jesus choose His three closest disciples and lead them up onto a mountaintop.  This is the point in Jesus’ ministry when He sets His face toward Jerusalem.  He begins the long, slow journey that will eventually result in His death for our sins.  This journey would be a depressing and confusing one for the disciples, since to them it would seem like their Lord had gone crazy.  He is heading toward the one place where human wisdom and common sense tells them He absolutely must avoid.  He is heading straight for a sure and certain death at the hands of the chief priests and the Roman government, and that’s suicidal madness as far as worldly thinking is concerned.  And so the disciples would be sorely tried and tested over the next months, as they will have to face a series of events that will seem like the defeat and collapse of everything their Master has being doing throughout His ministry.

To prepare them for this, to strengthen them for this, Jesus undergoes the transfiguration we see in today’s text.  Because to the disciples it will look like their church is falling apart and being destroyed by their leader’s supposed mistake of going to Jerusalem, Jesus strengthens them and reassures them by letting them see the heavenly reality of Who it is that is with them.  He lets them see some measure of what He looks like to those who have been glorified in heaven.  He lets them see two of the saints who are with Him in eternal life, Moses and Elijah.  He does all this because the disciples need to know that there is more going on than what they will see with their own eyes.  They are not being misled or betrayed by Jesus when He gives Himself up into the hands of the authorities.  Instead, all these things are happening according to God the Father’s plan.  Jesus cannot truly be defeated because He is God the Son.  The cross is not a defeat for Christ, even though that is what it looks like.  Instead, death is swallowed up by death.  It’s sting is lost forever.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon, it may be tempting for us to be troubled when things aren’t going as well for the Church as we would like.  It may be tempting to feel that God has turned His back on us or that we are somehow doing something wrong in terms of the way we worship or the way we live as Christians.  It can be tempting to think that God has abandoned us.  But make no mistake about it, to think this way is a temptation is from Satan.  No one else but Satan would want us to think that God has abandoned us or is punishing us in some way because our congregation isn’t outwardly as strong or as healthy as we would like.  God has not abandoned us, even if we aren’t where we would like to be as a congregation right now.  He hasn’t abandoned us, any more than He abandoned His disciples.

There is one thing needful in our lives as Christians and as a congregation.  That one thing needful is Jesus Christ.  And with Christ comes a multitude of blessings.  With Christ comes the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.  Giving us these things is the purpose of the Church, and so if we receive the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation from God here, our church is doing what it is supposed to.  Yes, it would be good to see more people here, especially younger people, and we should all encourage our friends and neighbors to join us here so that more do come to receive God’s salvation.  But if even only one person comes to faith through the preaching of the Word and administration of the Sacraments here—even if only one person is transferred from the realm of eternal death and hell into the blessedness of eternal life, our Church is serving its purpose.  Even if we don’t gain any new members, simply the fact that this Church is helping those members we now have to continue to be strengthened in their faith and kept on the narrow road that leads to the kingdom of God—this fact itself indicates that Christ is present with us and doing His work among us.  And that’s all we need to know.

And as I mentioned before, there are far more here than you can see and count.  The true number of those gathered here today is greater than anyone knows except for God alone.  For where Christ is, there all the saints are present as well.  Where Christ is, there are Moses and Elijah.  Where Christ is, there are Peter, James and John.  Where Christ is, there are Augustine, Luther, and all the other great theologians of Church History.  Where Christ is, there is the incredible number of nameless ordinary Christians who have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith over the course of the centuries.  Where Christ is, there are our own loved ones who have died in the faith.  Where Christ is, there are our loved ones who are still living and continuing in the Christian faith in other places.  Where Christ is, there are the angels and the archangels and all the company of heaven.  And Christ is present among us now, as we have gathered in His name.  He is present not only in His Word but also and especially in His body and His blood.  We gather here to be strengthened by Him in their presence.  We join with them in their songs of “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.”  We join them as they celebrate the victory feast of the lamb who was slain.

So, are we a small Church?  I’d say that, no, we aren’t.  For there are thousands upon thousands worshiping with us today.  We all gather around the true altar where the Lamb makes Himself both the host and the meal in the victory banquet which is held in His honor.  This heavenly reality is revealed to us through God’s Word in order to strengthen us as we face the trials of life in this sinful world, where we cannot see or hear this great cloud of witnesses.  Our congregation is nothing less than a visible manifestation of the otherwise invisible one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church which we confess in the Nicene Creed.  Are we a small church?  Of course not!  How can our Church be small, when all the host of heaven can fit in here with us?  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Epiphany 6, Series B

Sermon on Mark 1:40-45, 2:1-12
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
February 12, 2012 (The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Series B)

“Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us.”  These words, known as the Kyrie when they occur in the Divine Service, are a summary of our entire relationship with God.  He is the Giver, we are the receivers.  He is perfect and holy, we are sinful and unclean.  He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and eternal.  We are limited  and finite and mortal.  The only relationship that can exist between us and the almighty God is one that is characterized by mercy on God’s part.  Martin Luther, in the last words he wrote before he died, put it this way: “We are all beggars, this is true.”  We are all beggars when it comes to our relationship to our God.  We cannot do anything for Him or give anything to Him in exchange for what we get from Him.  After all, everything we are and everything we have is His already, so there is nothing we could use to bargain with Him.  Not our time, talents and treasures, not our good works, nothing earns us any consideration at all before God.  Everything we receive from Him is solely the result of His mercy, His charity, His compassion, His love.

In today’s text and in the text for Epiphany 7 (which we don’t celebrate this year because Transfiguration and then Lent come too soon), we see two examples’ of Christ’s mercy toward those who are afflicted with bodily diseases.  The first case, the man with leprosy, reminds us of what the stain of sin has done to all of us as human beings.  Leprosy is contagious, incurable, disgusting to look at, and spreads and grows until it ultimately results in death.  When you put all of these things together, leprosy isolates those who suffer with it from their fellow human beings.  Especially in Jesus’ day lepers were cut off from normal human society, so that they were not able to experience even the normal human compassion that is ordinarily such a comfort to those who are sick and dying.  When you think about it, sin is the same way.  It disfigures a person on the inside, it is contagious, and there is nothing that any human being can do to remove a person.  It results in death.  And worst of all, it causes divisions between persons, so that a person who suffers under the guilt of his sins often suffers alone, cut off by the very offensiveness of his behavior and by his own sense of guilt from those he would ordinarily seek out for comfort.

Sin even causes us to doubt that God is merciful towards us, just as the severity and disgusting nature of leprosy caused the leper in today’s text to doubt whether or not Jesus really wanted to heal him.  But instead of berating the man for his lack of faith in God’s mercy, Jesus simply and clearly proclaims His mercy to the man once again.  “I am willing, be cleansed.”  And that is how God deals with our sin, as well.  That is how He deals with our lack of faith.  Instead of further tearing us down and making us more miserable when we are already tormented and broken by the guilt of our sins, instead of berating us for our lack of faith when we are already feeling guilty and worthless, Jesus simply and clearly proclaims His mercy to us.  “I forgive you all your sins.”  Our sins have been paid for by Christ on the cross; he bore that guilt and that shame for us.  His mercy is unaffected by the severity of our sin, but rather His forgiveness is far more powerful than even our worst and most shameful misdeeds.  His mercy will not fail.

In the second part of our text, we see a different picture of how sin has affected us.  Where leprosy shows us how guilt of sins we have already committed makes us sickly and disgusting to ourselves, and makes us fear that others see us with the same disgust, paralysis shows us the opposite problem.  The fear of doing something wrong often makes us afraid of doing something right.  The knowledge that we are sinners, that we have within us the potential for some pretty horrific and hurtful words and actions toward our fellow men, can make us afraid of doing or saying anything at all.  And this itself is sin, because by going to such great lengths to avoid doing anything bad, we fail to do that which is good, and so we end up committing the very sins we are afraid of, only in reverse.  In the words of the catechism, we may not “hurt or harm our neighbor in his body,” but if we’re paralyzed by the fear of that sin we also don’t “help and support him in every physical need,” either, and so we indirectly hurt him.  We may not “take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way,” but if we are paralyzed we also don’t “help him to improve and protect his possessions and income,” and so we are still indirectly stealing.  We may not “tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation,” but if we are paralyzed we also don’t “defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way,” either, and so whatever lies are being told about our neighbor are still able to hurt him and destroy his reputation.  Paralyzing fear of sin, paradoxically, leads us to commit the very sin that we are afraid of committing.

Even in the midst of this paralysis caused by guilt and fear Jesus comes to us.  After all, if all our sins are forgiven we don’t have to be afraid of what we might do in the future.  While it is true that we shouldn’t use the Gospel as an excuse to continue doing things we know are sinful, on the other hand the Gospel frees us from the fear of falling into sin accidentally when we are trying to do the right thing.  One of my seminary professors, Dr. David Scaer, put it this way in his commentary on the book of James: “Christian freedom means a certain recklessness in doing good.  Without the fear of the Law’s accusation in his life, the Christian becomes uninhibited in accomplishing what God wants done in His Law.”  The paralysis is broken and we are healed.  Absolution applies not only to specific sins in the past, but also to the present and the future.  We can move again because Christ removes the fear of sin which holds us down.

Which is easier to say, “Rise and walk,” or “I forgive you your sins”?  Actually, it’s easier to command the paralyzed man to rise and walk, because that’s a miracle that is temporary, and only removes one physical symptom of the disease of sin.  The miracle of the forgiveness of sins is actually much greater, because that miracle carries with it an eternity of health and prosperity, living together with our God who will provide all our needs before we ever are aware there is a need.  It is the forgiveness of sins that breaks our paralysis, not just in terms of our fear of sinning, but also in terms of our eternal life with Him.  You have the forgiveness of sins.  You need not fear the punishment of the Law.  God has healed you for eternity, and reunited you with Himself.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Epiphany 5, Series B

Sermon on Mark 1:29-39
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
February 5, 2012 (The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Series B)

One thing that is somewhat unique about St. Mark’s Gospel is that he uses the word immediately (well, actually the Greek word that we usually translate as “immediately”) very often to connect one event to the next.  Large chunks of St. Mark took place in only a few days or even a few hours.  The first part of today’s Gospel lesson takes place later on the same Sabbath as last week’s Gospel, in which Jesus cast a demon out of a man right in the middle of the Synagogue service.  Now he heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever, and then goes on to heal others and cast out more demons.  These are great and impressive miracles, of course.  Casting out demons, and healing people simply by speaking the Word is certainly not something you see every day.  It is a testimony to just Who Jesus is, that He can do this.

But there’s more to it than just the fact that Jesus is doing miracles.  Remember why it is that people get sick in the first place, and why it is that demons can possess people at all.  The creation itself has been fundamentally corrupted by the sin of its inhabitants.  All disease, hunger, thirst, injury, disaster, and, yes, even demon-possession, are symptoms of the fact that mankind, the crown of creation, is now subject to death, and therefore creation itself is subject to futility, instability, and breakdown.  Jesus’ mother-in-law’s fever, and the possession of various people by fallen angels, are things that are only symptoms of the basic disease of sin that was brought into the world by Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden.

And so, Jesus’ ability to heal people and drive out demons is more than just merely a miraculous demonstration of the fact that He’s God.  It’s more than just a rather dramatic way of proving His claim to be the promised Messiah.  It is, in fact, part and parcel of what He came to do.  He came to put to death the old creation in His own body, and raise up for us a new creation, in which we, cleansed and purified of sin and all its effects, will live forever.  He came, not just to do away with the effects of sin temporarily for a few people back in first-century Palestine, but to do away with sin itself, forever, and restore the creation to what it was originally intended to be.

Now, St. Mark actually hints at this in his choice of words to describe what Jesus does for Peter’s mother-in-law.  He comes to her and “raises her up,” says St. Mark.  Now, that doesn’t mean that she was actually dead and that He resurrected her.  But it is interesting that Mark uses the same word as what is later used to describe Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and our own resurrection.  And then he says that the fever left her.  This one isn’t as easy to see in English, because Mark uses a Greek word that can be translated all sorts of ways, but the verb that is translated “left,” as in “the fever left her,” is actually the same word that is translated “forgive” when the object of the verb is sin.  Forgiveness and raising up go together.  Death is only in the world because of sin, and so the forgiveness of sin (and therefore of death, and therefore of disease that leads to death), results in the raising up, the resurrection, of those who are forgiven.

I mentioned last week, in connection with the fact that Jesus cast out, or exorcised, the demon in the synagogue, that Holy Baptism is actually an exorcism, a casting out of the chief demon himself, Satan, in order to make room for the Holy Spirit.  The same thing is true of Holy Absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, and the Holy Supper.  That which is corrupted, and desecrated by sin is destroyed to make way for the new creation that God will “raise up” to live before Him in righteousness and purity forever.

And I’m not just speaking of purely spiritual things, either.  Peter’s mother-in-law eventually died.  So did everyone else that Jesus healed during His earthly ministry.  But when Jesus forgives us and raises us up, He raises us up not just spiritually, but physically as well.  He makes us part of the new creation, the new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells.  Peter’s mother-in-law, we can assume, was a believer, and so even though she died, yet she lives.  Even though Peter himself was crucified upside down under Roman persecution, he lives in eternity.  You and I also, because our sin has been forgiven, are also raised up.  We will live forever, not just spiritually, but also bodily.  When Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead, we will be raised up from the dead to live forever with Him in the new creation.  Compared to this, the miracles recorded in our text are actually not all that spectacular.  They are merely dim foreshadows of the greater miracle that happens here every Sunday, where your sins are forgiven and you are raised up to eternity.  You become part of the new creation when you eat and drink the first-fruits of that new creation, namely the risen body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Instead of being granted temporary healing, we receive here a new and eternal life where neither sickness nor demons will ever come near us again.  You are forgiven.  You are raised up.  You will live forever with your Creator.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +