Come, Follow Jesus
3rd Sunday after Epiphany – January 21, 2018
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15”The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” 16As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17”Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18At once they left their nets and followed him. 19When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:14-20)
Sometimes in your life, something bad has to happen to you in order to bring you something better. Someone beats you in getting that deal you were looking for on a vehicle, or a house – and then you find an even better deal on a far better vehicle, or house. The person you fawned over in high school rejected you – or dumped you – but then years later you met the love of your life. If the that bad moment hadn’t happened, then the much-better event never would have either.
Elise O’Kane was a flight attendant. She wanted to work her usual trip from Boston to Los Angeles, but when she scheduled her flights for the next month she accidentally typed in a wrong number. She wound up with the wrong schedule and was forced to be the flight attendant on the flight to Denver. Driving to work that morning she was so angry. Such a dumb, little mistake changed her entire month! She tried to trade with someone to get back on that flight – but no one would. She flew away to Denver, and the plane she originally should have been on crashed into the World Trade Center.
Sometimes in life, something bad has to happen to you in order to bring you something better. One little mistake changed O’Kane’s flight, made her angry, disrupted her month, and saved her life.
The beginning of Jesus’ ministry was marked by something very sad. The Gospel of Mark tells us that “John was put in prison.” This was John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, the last prophet who pointed ahead to Jesus. He was also a cousin of Jesus. As we saw last week, John even baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. And for all of his faithful service and proud proclamation of God’s Word, he was thrown in prison.
The Gospels make a big deal about this. The Gospel of Luke goes so far as to tell us why John the Baptist ended up in prison. “John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done.” Soon things got much worse for John. While in prison, Herod had John the Baptist beheaded.
What a blow to the Church! Just when the Lord had begun speaking to his people again, just when things were starting to look up, John was imprisoned and killed. There didn’t seem to be anything good that could come from such an awful act.
And this wasn’t the first time that happened. In fact, John the Baptist’s imprisonment and death was just the next example of the grim circumstances that surround the Lord’s prophets. Here’s a summary of what that job entails: They “were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated.”
I bet your life has felt like that, too. Think of all the awful moments: the days that fell apart, the happy moments dashed by tragedy. Those are the events that lead men and women, children and elders, pastors and prophets to say things like this: “You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived.” The prophet Jeremiah cried those words out to the Lord after facing death. Here’s what Job retorted in his anguish: “I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.”
What’s the point? Believing in Jesus seems to bring only heartache and ridicule and sadness and loneliness and anger, and perhaps in the end, even death. You could fill an ocean with the tears of Christians…yours included.
Those were the spiritual depths John’s followers found themselves in after his imprisonment and eventual death. His words that had seemed so fresh and vibrant now ingloriously ended. The bad had once again outweighed the good.
But sometimes in your life, something bad has to happen to you in order to bring you something better. All at once, the people begin hearing those same words of John come from the mouth of someone else. “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
Jesus was that good news. And he was looking for followers who could share that good news, too. “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ’Come, follow me.’” And then Jesus tells these brothers what he is going to make them: “Come, follow me…and I will make you fishers of men.” Then he found James and John, and the Gospel of Mark tells us, “Without delay he called them.”
They would follow him through a ministry of hardship, persecution, and seeming disaster at every turn. The end of Jesus’ ministry would look as tragic as the beginning. While John the Baptist’s imprisonment and death marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus’ own death would seem to mark its end.
And that certainly was the low point for Jesus’ disciples. Their Lord had died – crucified, no less! The same might happen to them. Perhaps at that moment some of those disciples wondered why they ever followed Jesus in the first place. If it only entails tragedy and grief and persecution, maybe they should have stayed fishermen instead of becoming fishers of men.
But, sometimes in your life, something bad has to happen to you in order to bring you something better. Christ’s death took away the sins of those disciples. It paid the price for your sins as well. His resurrection the following Sunday won your salvation.
And now the Lord once again calls to you this morning with an outstretched hand saying those beautiful, loving words: “Come, follow me.” And here is why: “I will make you fishers of men.” It wasn’t easy for those disciples, and it won’t always be easy for you as a believer in this world. Sadness will still come. Persecution and hardship will stalk you. But even in those awful moments, remember what the Lord is able to do: sometimes in your life, something bad has to happen to you in order to bring you something better.
That’s what happened to Elise O’Kane. Her life didn’t end on September 11, 2001. After that tragic day Elise felt the guilt of being a survivor. She took a leave of absence from the airline. She couldn’t fly again after everything that had happened. But her story didn’t end there. She went to nursing school and graduated three years later. Now, she specializes in cardiology and has helped saved countless lives.
In all of your tragedies, through all of your dark moments as you walk through this valley of the shadow of death, remember that you are not alone. You are never alone. The Lord who called you to follow him, who called you to share his word will lift you up under every trial and temptation. And one day, he will call you home – away from this sin-filled world, away from the pain, and away from death itself…from earthly strife to eternal life. Because sometimes something bad has to happen to you in order to bring you something better. Amen.
Don’t Overlook Your Baptism
The Baptism of Our Lord – January 14, 2018
Now the Lord had said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead.” 20 So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand. 24 At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. 26 So the Lord let him alone. (Exodus 4:19-20,24-26)
Moses may have had the most eventful life of any man in the Old Testament. Born to a slave family in Egypt, his mother and father hid him from their Egyptian masters in order to save his life. When he became too old to hide, Moses’ mother placed him in a basket and floated him down the Nile River, where none other than the Pharaoh’s daughter herself found him! From then on, Moses was raised in the Pharaoh’s palace by perhaps the wisest teachers on earth. What more could a family hope for with their son?
Then, as a young man, Moses saw the slavery of his people and fought against it. He killed an Egyptian slave-driver and hid the body in the sand. The murder was discovered and Moses fled his Egyptian home. He traveled far away to the land of Midian where he became a shepherd and married a woman named Zipporah. Moses must have been happy to be out of the spotlight, away from the troubles of Egypt and the Israelites.
Then one day he noticed a bush on fire, but the bush did not burn up. Approaching the strange sight, Moses then heard the voice of God himself calling him. Removing his sandals, Moses heard this command from the Lord: “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” After some convincing, Moses finally agreed.
Had that been the entirety of Moses’ life, he still would have been one of the most interesting people in Scripture. But it was only the beginning. Moses would go on to stand before Pharaoh, perform ten plagues, lead God’s people for 40 years through the wilderness, and write down all of God’s laws and commands.
But before all of that comes a little-known account in Moses’ life. It might just be the most dangerous situation Moses ever found himself in. Something he overlooked nearly cost him his life, and the lives of his family, too.
“Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt.” Moses was walking back home to Egypt with his wife, Zipporah. She was leaving her home. They had their two boys in tow. The trip seemed to be going well. Then, all of a sudden, the Bible tells us, “At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him.”
What happened?! We hear no words of warning from the Lord. There are no ominous clouds foreshadowing disaster. We simply read that the Lord came to meet Moses, and was about to put him to death!
The following two verses give us a few details. We aren’t told what led up to this, but it seems Moses’ wife, Zipporah, knew exactly why the Lord was about to end Moses’ life. “Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it.” Then she angrily said to her husband, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me.”
Here’s what happened: Moses had not circumcized his sons. It may not have seemed important to him, but it was vitally important to the Lord. In fact, not circumcising his sons was so important to the Lord that he was about to end Moses’ life!
It might sound silly to us, but circumcision was a big deal for the Israelites in the Old Testament. The Lord first commanded this of Abraham: “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.” This marked God’s covenant with his people. It meant that Abraham and Isaac, and Moses and his sons belonged to the Lord, along with women in their families. It meant that they were now a part of God’s family.
Unlike Moses with his sons, Joseph and Mary faithfully brought the baby Jesus to the temple to be circumcized. “When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” It had to be done to fulfill the law.
But no longer. For us in the New Testament, circumcision is not a command. Jesus fulfilled that Old Testament law. And as he always does, when he fulfills one command, he gives us a new one. The book of Colossians tells us what that is that replaced circumcision: “Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
God took circumcision seriously. He must, he almost ended Moses’ life because he had not circumcized his own sons. Now, the Lord takes Baptism just as seriously. But do we? Do we, like Moses, wait and wait to have a child or grandchild baptized? Have we put it off? Or for us who are baptized, have we taken that blessing for granted from the Lord? Do we even remember why we were baptized?
This is how the devil works. He knows Baptism has true, lasting power. He can’t change that. But he does the next best thing – he gets us to forget all about that power of Baptism. He gets us to doubt whether our Baptism really did give us faith and strengthen that faith. He makes us wonder if we really do belong to God’s family.
This morning, Jesus removes all doubt. “Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Just like Jesus’ circumcision, he wasn’t baptized because he needed forgiveness. Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. He gave Baptism its power!
Now watch what happens next: “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’”
At the Baptism of our Lord, each person of the Trinity is represented. God the Father spoke from heaven. God the Son, our Savior Jesus, was baptized to begin his ministry. God the Holy Spirit descended like a dove.
Each person of the Trinity was there at your Baptism, too. As the pastor poured the water over your head, the Holy Spirit entered your heart – giving you faith. Jesus himself washed away your sins. And God the Father made you his dearly loved child.
We don’t say this very often in church, but don’t be like Moses. He overlooked circumcision, and it almost cost him his life. Don’t overlook your Baptism. Through it you have eternal life! Let your baptism be a daily comfort in this difficult, plague-ridden, sad life. Say with the hymnist: “Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I’ve traveled, All your might has come unraveled,
And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord unites with me.” Amen.
Come See God’s Greatest Treasure
Epiphany Sunday – January 7, 2018
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” 3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5”In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6”’But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:1-12)
It has been said that no man is an island. I bet Daniel felt like one. At a young age in the Old Testament, Daniel had been pulled away from his family, his home, his people, and his kingdom. He was forced to serve the foreign king of Babylon. Locked away behind enemy walls, Daniel must have felt like an island. He would never again see his loved ones, his temple, his home again.
And he knew exactly why. “I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures…that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” Realizing his situation and understanding God’s judgment, Daniel “turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.” And these were the words of his prayer: “We have sinned and done wrong…Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem.”
Daniel may have looked like a lonely island of a man. But he wasn’t. “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act!” And the Lord did act. He sent the angel Gabriel to speak this message: “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding.”
That insight and understanding, the wisdom of the Lord, pointed Daniel to what was to come. In one of the most puzzling prophesies in all of Scripture, the Lord showed Daniel that the Jews would return to Jerusalem. He showed Daniel how they would rebuild the temple. He showed Daniel the disasters that were still coming.
And then he showed Daniel what it all would lead to. After all of these things, “the Anointed One, [the Messiah], the ruler” would finally arrive. Daniel himself wouldn’t live long enough to see it himself, but it seems he passed that faithful knowledge on to other generations in the East.
Everybody else seemed to have forgotten God’s promise to send his Messiah. When Jesus finally was born in Bethlehem, only shepherds came to see him. No kings bothered to arrive. The crowds stayed home.
No one gave Jesus’ earthly family a room in the inn. It seemed that like Daniel in Babylon, this family, Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, had become an island unto themselves.
The Gospel of John summarizes the scene with these ominous words: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.” We don’t always understand it either. We just celebrated the birth of Christ at Christmas, but here we are now back into our busy routines. Like Bethlehem and Jerusalem at the birth of Christ, we have become too involved with the world around us. And when we get wrapped up in our daily lives, God and the light of his word get pushed to the side.
Even our new year’s resolutions illustrate how quickly our priorities get messed up. Did you make one of those this year? New year’s resolutions can be good things, as long as our priorities remain where they should. People make resolutions about food, exercise, drinking, working more, working less…but what about the things that really matter?
Did anyone make a new year’s resolution to be more faithful about their personal devotion life? or about attending Bible Class in the new year? or being more faithful about coming to church?
New year’s resolutions can be a good thing, but if they have the wrong focus then we have already started the new year on bad footing. Without Christ at the center of our life this year, things will start to fall apart. Loneliness sets in. And you might start to feel like an island of solitude.
No one in Jerusalem was looking for the newborn Christ. But there were some in the East, perhaps descendants of Daniel’s wise men, that saw the light of the Savior. Making the long, arduous journey to Jerusalem, they asked King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Surprisingly, Jerusalem’s religious leaders knew the details about the coming Savior. When Herod asked them where the baby was born, they said, “In Bethlehem in Judea…for this is what the prophet has written.”
They followed the star until it stopped, right over Bethlehem. “They were overjoyed,” Scripture says. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” It is not often the wisest people on earth bow before a little boy. But these men knew the importance of the situation. And to show their appreciation for the arrival of the Lord, “They opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”
They gave their best to the Lord, because they understood that their Father in heaven had given the world his very best. His one and only Son, born into this world, would suffer and die. And it all went back to Daniel’s prayer in the Old Testament: “We have sinned and done wrong
This morning we join those believers of past ages, men like Daniel and these wise men, people like Joseph and Mary, and we come before Jesus with repentant and thankful hearts. We implore the Lord as Daniel did: Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act!” He has. And this year, he will continue to listen. He will continue to forgive. And he will act, working all things for your good.
This year, make it your new year’s resolution to live for your Lord with a thankful heart. You are not alone. You are not an island. Your Father in heaven gave you his very best: his Son. Now we can give him our best in return. Amen.