Two Steps on How to Overcome the World


“After me comes the one more powerful than I…”

– Mark 1:7a



I don’t know about you, but power and its significance are on my mind this morning…

Who is this voice crying out in the wilderness, this one who calls himself powerful, or mighty?

…even though he quickly adds that the One coming after him – Jesus Christ – will be even stronger… even mightier than him?

Who is this John the Baptist?

Well, in many ways, he seems to be Jesus’ opposite of sorts, doesn’t he?

We should assume, of course, that both Jesus and John knew well the principal of being “in the world but not of it”.

Nevertheless… while Jesus Christ was in the world eating and drinking – evidently to the point that his opponents thought they could get away with calling him a glutton and a drunkard! – John did no such thing, but lived an odd and austere hermit’s life.

And, as Jesus tells us, “John,” in fact, “came neither eating nor drinking,” and yet those opposing him still  said: “He has a demon.”

And they said this about Jesus as well…


Precisely because of the message that they preached and lived.

Regardless of the differences between them, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ were not the kind of men who brought comfort to certain kinds of people – perhaps even if they wanted to bring comfort – but rather seemed to afflict certain kinds of people… even oppress them… not only with their words, but by their very presence.

On the face of it though, it’s perhaps easier for us to see how John the Baptist – being so different! – might have done this.

For instance, take something as simple as his clothes…

His robe – like the robe of the prophet Elijah before him – was most likely woven from camel’s hair. As such, it had a very course texture much like the garments of many of the most poor

He also had a cheap leather belt, and, interestingly, no sandals are mentioned.

And what of his diet?

Well, Leviticus 11:22 tells us that the Israelites, being God’s special people, were not to eat of the flying insects except for four kinds – all varieties of locusts.

Being abundant in the spring, one could remove their legs and then dry or roast them, perhaps grinding them up, and seasoning them with salt.

The honey would have been the famous wild honey the region was known for…

John literally ate this stuff up… and evidently some pretty large crowds were also eager to pay attention to John…

The commentator R.C.H. Lenski writes some very interesting words about John the Baptist:

“The very appearance of John was… a stern sermon. It was a call to all those who made food and drink, house and raiment their chief concern in life to turn from such vanity and to provide far more essential things. John was a living illustration of how little man really needs here below – something we are prone to forget. In drawing people out into the wilderness after him, John made them share a bit of his own austere life. Men left their mansions, offices, shops, their common round of life and for a time at least gave their thoughts to higher things.”


John, truly, had a peculiar power to turn people to “higher things”.

He’s out in the wilderness – which is also a sign of the fallen world, under the curse of sin and enmeshed in sin – and he attracted people not by his “power ties” and “power suits,” but with a powerful message.

The first prophet Israel had seen in 400 years, he called the people to repent of their sins, and made the way straight for the One who takes us out of the wilderness of the fallen world… and the wilderness of our own spiritual emptiness and barrenness.

He is saying: this fallen world is not our home!

And what did Jesus say about John?:

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.[i]

So John, according to Jesus too, is somehow great and mighty on earth… powerful.

And yet, again, as we heard this morning, John says, here on earth, that Jesus Christ is even mightier than him…[ii]

Hence the comment he makes about being unworthy to remove Jesus’ sandals…

Now “Removing a person’s sandals was a lowly task appropriate only for a slave…”[iii] Actually, this was a task that was even lower than a Hebrew slave’s job…. (France, 70).

We like to say today how Jesus Christ was a servant-leader – and to do so certainly makes some sense.

At the same time, what is John really saying here?

Well, a Master, as much as a servant that he may be, nevertheless has authority over a servant in part because he is, in some sense, mightier, stronger, and greater than the servant.

And this mightiness, this greatness, is connected with the matter of authority. And here the Holy Spirit has a very specific kind of authority is in mind.

It is not necessarily the kind of authority that holds sway in the world – as necessary and even as valid as that kind of authority might often be – but the kind of authority that completely defeats… overpowers… the world.

And here, we might think of the words from the Apostle John – not John the Baptist! – in the book of I John:

“….for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”

This same Apostle John also quotes Jesus saying that He wants us to have peace: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Perhaps, a passage like Ephesians chapter 6 from the Apostle Paul can be of real assistance here:

10 ….be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

But what, you may wonder, is this world that is being overcome, being defeated, by spiritual power?[iv]

Again, it is the Apostle John who tells us that Jesus appeared specifically to “destroy the devil’s work.”

That is why He loved the world as He did, overcoming it.


So, what are some things we should take away from all of this?

Looking to that quote earlier from R.C.H. Lenski, he mentioned how John the Baptist aimed to usher us to higher things… The Apostle Paul also says “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things…”

What does this mean exactly?

It doesn’t mean “being so heavenly minded one is no earthly good.”

It means, first of all, that this world is not all there is.

This world is passing away.

And that means, more specifically, that the “powers of this dark world and… the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” that Paul tells us about will ultimately be completely overpowered, even as now the victory is sure.

So, in the end, we don’t war against flesh and blood, but long for its renewal and cleansing – the new heavens and earth.

Remember that Jesus said to Nicodemus that spiritual things cannot be understood if we do not comprehend earthly things.

What does this mean?

Well, there are “orders of creation” that it is critical we understand.

The orders of the earthly world — that many in our day try to deny, overcome and overpower – can help us as signs that point us to the higher spiritual realities we have been talking about.

The boy blessed with a good father intuitively grasps the notion of the Heavenly Father, and is ready to perceive the spiritual realities that John the Baptist, Jesus, and others of the Apostles are gesturing us to.

The children who have parents that love one another, are loyal to each other…. Where the wife is prepared to submit to her husband and he willing to die for her… are ready to understand the unique and powerful love shared by Jesus Christ, and His Holy Bride, the church.

And the parents who are ready to receive the joy that each and every new human life brings are made ready to hear the great message of the baby boy in Bethlehem who routes the world….


The devil and his demons hate – absolutely hate – all of this.

And in our society especially, they are trying to get you there too.

Hate the Gospel. Hate mercy. Hate the blessing of fathers, marriage, and children… Hate even the very notion of male and female.

This, my brethren, is truly the Kingdom of the World in its full bloom!

In its full hatred of God and His creation.

When God says “up,” this hatred says “down”. When he says “live!,” this hatred says “die”. When he says “good,” the hatred says “evil”….

The book of Mark is fascinating in this way. In that book, on page after page, you will see Satan opposing Jesus at every turn. In fact, we see there all kinds of terrifying and grotesque manifestations – even physically! – of the demonic realm.

While this is not complete unfamiliar in our times and place – many know about the classic film The Exorcist, for example – in the Western world, Satan seems to have thought it wise to keep a lower profile…

As a former student of mine once put it “When considering the impact public demonic displays would have, it would be counter-productive to keeping our minds off of religion.”

…Higher Things…

No, the main thing that we should keep in mind about the devils work among us today, in our time and place, has to do with exactly the same kind of stunt he pulled right in the beginning of creation:

“Did God really say?…”

In other words, the power of the lie.

The injecting of doubt into the reliability, power, and authority of God’s word….

So, again, as we saw from the Ephesians 6, even as we know that Jesus Christ has in one sense has already defeated the demonic at the cross and certainly will mop things up in the Last Day, in the meantime, we get the sense from the Apostle Paul that there’s a fight for us to have as well…

And also, when Acts 10:38 notes “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him….”

That should really get our attention today.


Can we help our neighbors – at least some of them –come out from “under the power of the devil” and his lies?

And should we strive to be powerful in doing this?

Why not?

We heard the Apostle Paul mention the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the blessed feet that bring good news of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, the very word of God…

He then, as we heard, also talked about the importance of prayer, which the demon-infested book of Mark covers in a good amount of depth as well….

And here, Mark 9 strikes me as a key chapter in this book…

It mentions the importance of both prayer and being salty.

Let’s look at both of those briefly now…


First, prayer.

John the Baptist was evidently a prayerful man…

After all, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Prayer is a critical component of spiritual battle. We must realize that while we might not be chosen to be those who encounter demons that physically manifest themselves, Satan is nevertheless having a field day in our culture, as the power of the lie increasingly rules the hearts and minds of men.

What can we do?

We can cry out:

“Lord, increase our faith!

I trust in you that you forgive my sins! Forever save me!

Please preserve the faith of those I love!

And please give me the grace that I might also serve you more!”

In Mark 9, a man comes to Jesus and begs for Jesus’ help in removing a demon from his child….

He says: “I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

Jesus’ rebuke to His disciples is absolutely stinging:

“You unbelieving generation… how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

Jesus says “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

The man immediately replies, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Jesus heals the boy Himself and later, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replies, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”[v]

Recognize two things here:

First, when Jesus rebukes His disciples for unbelieving, realize that He is not treating them this way because they are not really his followers but because they are. They trust in Him – have salvation in Him! – but there is much room to grow!

Second, note well the importance of prayer. Devote yourself to it. Remember Anna at the Temple, who we talked about in detail a couple weeks ago!

Aspire to be more like her, like John, and like Jesus!

My generation exclaimed, “Like Mike [Michael Jordan that is], I Wanna Be Like Mike…”

Let’s pray for a re-prioritization of our models here…


And what is the second key we find mentioned in Mark 9?

It also ends with these interesting words:

Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”[vi]

What does this mean?

Well, there was a well-known ancient saying in Jesus’ day that said “the world cannot survive without salt” (Tractate Sopherim XV.8).

Salt was used for many purposes in that world, including flavoring, preservation, fertilizer, and cleansing (Strauss 415).

In sum though, Jesus is encouraging his followers to not lose the characteristics that bring preservation, life, and real peace to the world.[vii]

How so? From the Word of God that comes from the outside and cleanses and purifies us within.

Sometimes this salt of the word of God will burn like fire, the law burning away the dross of our old Adam, and the Gospel bringing healing to us and those who we touch.

This is how we overcome… overpower, the world.


Brothers and sisters, we are saved by simple trust in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins to bring us to God. Who says “I forgive you” to us again and again…

At the same time though, things like prayer and saltiness are the means that faith in Christ uses to prepare us for real spiritual battle.

These two come about as God increases our faith, and hence, our sheer dependence on Him, our hope expressed in prayer….

In our world, we increasingly feel chaos.

I saw one person say this past week:

“If you’re a common sense person, you probably don’t feel you have a home in this world right now. If you’re a Christian, you know you were never meant to.” (Patricia Heaton).

I could identify with that.

In the ancient world, the ocean was also seen as chaotic, and was greatly feared…

Men who rode the sea knew that it, it’s terrifying depths, it’s great unpredictability, was a heavy, heavy thing… worthy of their utmost respect.


And in like fashion, a battle against the demonic might sound utterly pulse-pounding. Sometimes, I think, it is. In the Gospel of Mark we hear much about shrieking demons being cast out. I have a friend, one Pastor Harold Ristau, who could tell you something about that too…

And what of a biblical book like the book of Acts? It is often quite intense, exciting. The church pushing Satan out, winning territory as “the word of the Lord grows….” The Gospel spreading from Jerusalem, to Judea… to Samaria… to the Ends of the Earth!

Power – and authority!

The fiery flames of Pentecost come to mind here… Baptized with the Holy Spirit indeed!

There are no doubt moments for this, where the intense and chaotic powers of the world are confronted head-on with the intense power of God!

And yet, more often than not though, the battle is much more simple, humble… perhaps even seeming quite dull!

Amidst the chaos of the seas around you, God brings you home, burying you in the baptism of simple water, and raising you from the dead with the Lord Jesus Christ…

And says:




So… keeping this matter about power really simple:

Who are you listening to?

Who are you believing?

In whom, ultimately, are you putting your trust?

Making your God?

How can we be synched up with, connected up with, the odd power that John the Baptist had?

How, can we, like him, be willing to be the Messiah’s slaves, to “deflect[] all the attention from himself and direct[] it to Jesus” (Strauss, 67)?

How can we, like Paul, say “when I am weak then he is strong”?

How can we be a part of the non-violent revolution of hearts that features the power of mustard seeds and yeast working slowly through the dough?

To overcome worldliness, the world, Babylon, the [evil] Prince of this world?[viii]

Well, to be strong, to be spiritually powerful, to be prayerful and salty…. first, remember this:

“You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

You are baptized into Jesus Christ, God’s own Son.

And so the same is true about you as well…

Go in peace, and serve your King.




[i] Shortened the immediate above from this:

I started out today by pointing out that John the Baptist himself said that he was mighty.

In what way though really?

Truly, even by the world’s standards, he has a kind of power… having the kind of influence over men that he did… though it is no doubt a strange, unfamiliar, peculiar power…

Again, the commentator Lenski points out that while it is significant that John is literally in the wilderness, the prophet Isaiah, in his original prophecy, also used the literal wilderness, or the desert, as a sign for the fallen world, under the curse of sin and enmeshed in sin. 

More specifically, it is identified with worldliness… the city of Babylon… a sign of all that is wrong in the world.

In Isaiah, the wilderness, or desert, is the sign of that which should cause repentance, which will in turn lead into the land of milk and honey… the bloom and abundance of the Messianic Kingdom!

That is why John is there… to lead the way to Jesus, who brings with Him “the abundant life”, or life “to the full”!

In other words, though Babylon be great and grand in the world’s terms, it is not our home but a place that should make us realize we are not home

It is actually a wilderness where people are ultimately lost, full of utter godlessness, emptiness, and barrenness…

Going along with the connection between the wilderness and Babylon and the world, one commentator says it is significant that John is in the wilderness, because “the hearts of the people had become a desert region, and they needed to be rescued.” (Wicke, 14 ; see also Lenski, 27) – and many no doubt sensed that John, this first prophet in 400 years! – could be the one to do it!

As Jesus would put it in the book of Matthew, chapter 11:

“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet…

One commentator, talking specifically about the prophet Elijah, said the following: “The prophet’s clothing was rough and basic. He had no need of ‘power dressing’ to impress his audience. The message was sufficient” (p. 293).

I think that this is all pretty fascinating, to be sure. John’s kind of power… his power, evidently, to draw people into the wilderness, and, as Lenki says, cause their thoughts to move to “higher things…”. Jesus, in the book of Mathew, would hence go on to say….

11Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

[ii] Footnote: Clearly, John is expecting God’s Messiah to not be Yahweh himself, but another human being. Strauss says “It would be a truism for a human prophet to assert that Yahweh was ‘more powerful’ than himself.” (66)

[iii] “…The [Jewish holy book of the] Talmud says that the disciple of a rabbi[, that is a teacher,] must do for him everything that a slave would do, except removing his shoes (b. Ketub. 96a). John [therefore,] places himself below the level of the Messiah’s slave…” (Strauss, 65).

[iv] Doesn’t John 3:16, for example say that God sent His only Son to save the world precisely because He loved the world?

So does God love the world or does He want it defeated?

The world God wants defeated is the fallen world. When the Bible says that God loved the world by sending His Son Jesus Christ, it has in mind God’s mercy, His love, towards mankind, the crown of His creation which, by sin, through the world into chaos, destruction, and disintegration.

That is Babylon. Where we must struggle not only against our individual sins, but the sins of our communities as well. Where we must try to “go against the flow” of the world and its worldliness

In spite of the presence of sin in the world, the infection of sin in the world, God desired to save mankind and in fact, His whole creation.

And so Jesus Christ came.

As we know from the season, we just celebrated, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”

With tears He fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield,
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows, looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns, cold and need,
And feeble flesh His warrior’s steed.

His camp is pitchèd in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall,
The crib His trench, hay-stalks His stakes,
Of shepherds He His muster makes;
And thus, as sure His foe to wound,
The angels’ trumps alarum sound.

[v] 1,600 years ago, the church father Jerome even said, quoting Scripture passages like Mark 9:29, that “the more violent devils cannot be overcome except by prayer and fasting.” (ACCS, 118)

Lenski, commenting on Mark 9:29, says: “Matthew’s fuller answer states as the reason [for the failed exorcism] the unbelief of the disciples and adds a promise to faith….”

I also note that Lenski leaves out the fasting part in Matthew 17:21 though (like the NIV and ESV as well) It does seem to only be in the KJV, in that family of manuscripts… (And for more on that kind of thing, see here:

[vi] What does this mean? In the first place, William Lane helps us very much with the part occurring right before this: “Everyone will be salted with fire”. I’ll quote in full:

“…every disciple is to be a sacrifice for God (cf. Rom. 12:1). In the OT the Temple sacrifices had to be accompanied by salt (Lev. 2:13; Ezek. 43:24; cf. Ex. 30:35). The salt-sacrifice metaphor is appropriate to a situation of suffering and trial in which the principle of sacrifice cultivated with respect to the individual members of the body is now severely tested. The disciples must be seasoned with salt, like the sacrifice. This will take place through fiery trials (cf. I Peter 1:7; 4:12), through which God will purge away everything contrary to his will…” (p. 349).

[vii] See, e.g. Strauss, 414-415.


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Posted by on January 10, 2021 in Uncategorized


A Note of Concern from Minnesota

Just took the advice in this post and contacted several politicians [I put this up on Facebook as well here]:

Subject line: A note of concern from Minnesota


[Representative _________],

This is the second time in my life that I have taken the time to write elected officials in our nation, and my first time writing state representatives. But the apparent fraud in the 2020 presidential election demands action. I think you have heard the arguments made, seen the footage, and read the articles. Just take, for example:

-The Fulton County tapes.

-More votes that voters in Pennsylvania.

-The discoveries regarding things like dead and out-of-state voters by Matthew Braynard (enough verifiable data by itself to swing the election)

-Deleted logs and error rates of 68% in the only Dominion machines permitted to be audited in the United States (Antrim County, Michigan).

-Numerous examples of eyewitness testimony of wrongdoing.

-Wildly improbable statistics, put forth perhaps most conservatively by the Dec. 21st paper shared by John R. Lott, Jr., Ph.D.

-And of course: the general stonewalling when it comes to getting basic signature audits in regard to mail-in votes and forensic audits of voting machines that we know, in at least one case, should cause everyone to doubt.

This last point sticks out the most for me. Where is the transparency? Where is the willingness to let the opposition investigate basic, verifiable facts and draw general conclusions?  Evidence does not find itself, after all. The general lack of trust in the media, politicians, and government institutions cannot help but grow and fester under such circumstances.

As an intelligent American who has tried to follow the post-election developments closely – and one who works in the liberal world of academia at that – I find it absolutely devastating that such things can be happening in a country like ours. Those in authority should do something!

This is why I write this morning:  In all of the states where we see disturbing signs of election irregularities and fraud, aren’t the state legislatures controlled by Republicans? How is the right thing to do not to announce the illegitimate nature of your states’ election results and remove the current electors that have been chosen? My understanding is that there are a handful of Republicans in these states who have chosen other electors who are set to vote for Trump but that they are not supported by the Senate and House majorities.

I am saddened by all of this. I am also deeply upset and angry. Please know that I am not angry at you alone. I am angered by all the unpaid bills that are coming due that have put you in this situation. If what this judge says is true (, I suspect I know why it might be hard for you or others to act. Still, who will fight if not you? If not now, when?

I do not envy your charge and calling here, but the right thing to do seems obvious. Best as I can tell, people like you have the authority and power to resolve this – and should! It grieves me that if you do not, democracy is, by all appearances, dead.  All our future elections would be suspect, and I don’t know how anyone in their right mind would consider voting Republican again. It would make more sense to look for a good king.

Thank you,

Nathan Rinne


Note: Luke 12:2, Isaiah 29:15



Posted by on December 30, 2020 in Uncategorized


Like Anna. I Wanna be Like Anna!

Sights set much too low!


“She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” – Luke 2:37



The focus of the reading in the Gospel this morning really is on the Messiah, Jesus.

This is the main thing Luke is writing about of course: here, and beyond in this book as well….

At the same time, in my own view, if we, in a biblical text, come across things that seem unusual to us – that “stop us in our tracks” a bit…

I think it’s worth taking the time to pause and reflect.

And I think that that is what happens here with Anna. For perhaps, what was not so unusual at all and so was readily understood by Luke and his original audience, is no longer readily understood by us.

What am I referring to?

I am not primarily talking about how this Anna is referred to as a prophetess – even as this is interesting too, because I have not met any people recently referring to themselves or others in such a way…

But I am primarily talking about how Anna’s regular pattern of behavior might seem odd to quite a few of us in many ways….

Again, of her, we read… “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”

Who in the world is this woman?

And why does she do what she does?

Perchance, one might respond:

“[Maybe the] key is that she was a widow. Where else would she go? What else would she do? Who does so much work in congregations but widows?”

To be sure, this makes some sense.

And yet, at the same time, why does Luke tell us that she never leaves the temple but worships night and day, fasting and praying?

Truthfully, how many pastors today would encourage elderly parishoners who have time on their hands to do those kinds of things instead of other more “useful” and “practical” actions? (maybe you have heard it, but I’ve never heard it!).

Why not, so long as their basic needs are being met, encourage people like Anna to serve their neighbors in practical ways? Do programs to help the poor and needy in the neighborhood and things like this? Maybe join the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League and do work promoting overseas missions?

Quite honestly, I think many of us hear about Anna and what she does what she is in fact clearly commended for and we don’t know what in the world to do with her…

Is she perhaps confused about God’s will, and trying to be saved by her piety? Earning her way into God’s good graces?

Anna, why do you pray and fast so much? Don’t you know that with this Christ child you are meeting today, the message is “rest”!

Don’t you know that God doesn’t need your good works but your neighbor does?

Really, why would Luke, being guided by the Holy Spirit, focus on lifting up and giving honor to a life characterized by these particular habits and behaviors?


Before talking more about Anna and the specific things she is commended for here, let’s talk about this:

What else do we learn about prayer and fasting in the book of Luke?

Of fasting, we must admit, not much else.

In fact, in the book of Luke people specifically come to Jesus asking why His disciples, unlike the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist, do not fast.

Jesus’ response indicates that there are indeed times for fasting, but there are times for feasting as well, when, for example, the bridegroom – that is Him – is with the wedding guests.

So… while Jesus is with His disciples, they will not fast, which is identified as a sign of sorrow and repentance, but they will rejoice and feast!

Overall though, outside the book of Luke, Scripture does help fill us in on the significance of fasting in the Christian life.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns his disciples not to fast to impress others: “When you fast,” He says, don’t make it obvious to others you are fasting – and then your “Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you…”

We might also think here about how the Apostle Paul speaks about how, he, like a good athlete trying to win a race, “discipline[es] [his] body and keep[s] it under control” (I Cor. 9:27), or even how in I Corinthians 7[i] he urges the Christians there to be “those [people] who use the things of the world [while not being] engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”

Paul’s statements here perhaps help us get why Martin Luther said fasting is also training for the body, “fine outward training.”

Here, the idea is that our body can remind our soul that our first hunger should always be for God and His word even as fasting also teaches us to deny ourselves even essential things like food for a while.

So one commentator says that “Anna,” for example, “represents the physically and spiritually hungry whom God promises to fill with good things (1:53)” (Garland, 137).

And fasting, of course, also has the added benefit of making it possible for you to share more of God’s earthly necessities and blessings with others as well….

Finally, perhaps one of the more important things about fasting to remember these days is this:

If Christian persecution arises, it will help you to be better prepared, giving you confidence that you can indeed go without even essential things for a limited amount of time.

Your faith, mind, and body will all be more likely to agree with one another that, with the Lord, you’ll be able to handle whatever may come.[ii]


Now, what of prayer?

First of all, we learn some very interesting things about prayer in the book of Luke.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is, to be sure, a man of prayer. Even a “prayer warrior,” a term I heard from evangelical Christian friends in college.

We see that, interestingly, he often went to deserted places (4:42). Luke 5:15 and 16 says this, in fact:

“…the news about [Jesus] spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

So, we see here, at times, many, many people wanted to hear Jesus and be healed.

…and yet, He did not run towards them, but away from them: In fact, it was at times like this, we are told, that He went into the wilderness, or “lonely places” and prayed (see Luke 9:18 also).

And shortly after that passage in Luke 5:16, we are told that the day before Jesus calls His disciples He went to the mountain to pray, “and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12).

In chapter 11, He teaches His disciples, at their request, how to pray with the Lord’s Prayer. And as He gives them this great prayer, He also encourages persistence in praying for needs by means of illustrations.

Jesus says that we know that when we ask our friends for favors – particularly when it is to help us provide hospitality to unexpected guests from out of town – that our friends, even if they don’t want to, will nevertheless help us, and even at times that are “inopportune and bothersome” (like at midnight).

God is saying that because of our shamelessness in asking Him for help, we will get what we need. 

Likewise, fathers give their children the things that they need when they ask for good gifts. Your Heavenly Father will do the same…

And in Luke 18, in case we didn’t get the point, we hear about a widow, who merely because of her abject persistence and stubbornness, is able to get an unjust judge to give her justice versus her adversary.

The message is that if justice can be attained from an unjust judge by persistence, how much more will God give His people deliverance?

More specifically, that parable ends with Jesus saying:

“Will [God] keep putting [His chosen ones] off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”[iii]


Also, when the book of Luke gives examples of people calling out to God besides Jesus, it is also illustrative.

There is the well-known story of the blind beggar in Jericho who cries out to Jesus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And how about the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector? Here, standing before God, the Pharisee has the nerve to exalt himself and his deeds (like his fasting twice a week!)… while the Tax Collector beats his breast and says “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Luke says the tax collector “went home justified before God…”

And right in the beginning of Luke, we see people praying in ways that almost seem like they have been given lines from a musical

…and their own prayers remind us about where the real focus should always be, namely, our good Lord who dies for our sins and leads us in prayer (Luke 11)

…that we might watch with Him (Luke 22:39-46),

…that we too might anticipate His coming … And that we might have the strength needed to endure the last days leading up to His glorious reappearing… (Luke 21:36).

And so Mary says:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant…”

Zechariah notes that the Messiah will:

“…rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

And of course, the old man Simeon:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[d] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

In short, “I can die in peace now Lord…”

Presumably, when all of these great examples of faith pray, such words actually pour forth spontaneously from them… as naturally as can be….

A Christian life might began by simply crying out to God in desperation for salvation, but it doesn’t end there…


So now then, let’s finally talk a little bit more about Anna.

The text is stressing her great age, her interesting life, and her devotion to God….[iv]

It seems that if she married at age 14 – a real possibility in those days – she would have been as old as the intertestamental character Judith, 105 years old (Jdt. 16:23) – from the Apocrypha – who also “did not remarry after her husband’s death and is presented as a figure of honour for this reason (Jdt. 8:4-8; 16:22f; cf. 1 Cor. 7:7f; I Tim. 5:5, 19)” (Marshall, 123-124)[v]

And what is the significance of her being a prophetess? Almost certainly in this context it has to do with the fact that she possesses divine insight into things others don’t have, based in part on her knowledge of the Scriptures, and in part on a unique spiritual gift.[vi]

What about her never departing from the Temple? Some suggest that Anna lived in the Temple, and was actually a caretaker there. That may or may not have been true… We just don’t know.

She also might have simply lived nearby the Temple, and made a point of it to be present whenever the prayers were offered, which, in her time, was three times  day: in the morning, in the afternoon (the “ninth hour” [Acts 3:1] or 3 o-clock our time), and at evening.

The language of “never departed” might then be hyperbolic in a sense, but one thing is for sure: Anna was a very pious and prayerful woman… and one whose life demands our respect…

And, interestingly, we see that Anna also fulfills the words that the Apostle Paul says about widows in I Timothy, chapter 5. She is one who “puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help….”[vii]

That advice, of course, is not only good for widows, but for all of us.

And we all have people that we look up to and want to be like — that we want to model and imitate. Anna is such a person!

Now, when I was young, one such person many wanted to be like was the basketball player, Michael Jordan.

I can still remember the popular Gatorade commercial:

“Like Mike… I like to be like Mike… I wanna be like Mike…”

There is nothing wrong with being a gifted basketball player to be sure. And I identified with the popular comment someone made about the commercial which you can find at You Tube. This person said: “And just for a minute, while listening to this song everything in the world seems right. So glad I grew up in 90s…”

But all that said, a person like Anna ought to catch our eye all the more…


So preacher, you might be asking, “How are you doing with this?”

Well, truth be told, my evaluation of my own prayer life is that I have a long way to go. A very long way.

I am often distracted from prayer, even as I recognize its importance in the Christian life. Instead of praying, you’ll find me arguing with people on social media, listening to podcasts or articles I’ve turned into audio files, or telling myself I’m too busy with work or other essential tasks to carve out time to simply pray.

When I pray, it’s often on the run, and I’ve taken much solace in the idea I heard some years ago from, of all people, a Christian rock group: the words “help” and “thanks” are some of the best prayers. If prayer is “breath,” as they say, that’s the way to breathe: “help…thanks…help… thanks..”

And yet, in spite of myself, it’s indeed my charge to urge on you not just the message that God forgives you in Jesus Christ – which He does daily! – but the whole counsel of God.

A few weeks ago, in our Epistle reading, we heard he Apostle Paul urge us to “pray continually” or “without ceasing”. Maybe you remember that, though, at the time, I didn’t preach on it.

I think now, however, is a great time to reflect on that. Just how should we look at this passage? This command to pray?

I think the key thing is this: if we are Christians, we will find that sometimes prayer comes very naturally and is indeed very simple. Hence in our Epistle reading this morning we hear that because we have received adoption to sonship, “God sent the Spirit of His Son into our heart, the Spirit who calls out ‘Abba, Father.’” Paul expands on this in Romans 8:

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children….

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

So Paul says that the Spirit leads us to prayer, and that sometimes, our prayers are not even really words, but just groans. A longing for our full redemption in Christ.

And all this can also remind us of another passage from I Thessalonians:

“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”

Again, the Spirit works prayer in us, leading us to cry out to Him.

And yet, at the same time, this doesn’t prevent the Apostle Paul from also urging us and encouraging us: “[You all…] pray continually”!

He’s telling us this is going to involve some effort on our part – Spirit-led though to be sure…[viii]

Let’s look at the wider context of that I Thessalonians 5 passage again too. Paul says:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.[ix]

And so here, we see that Paul’s command to “pray continually” is nestled between two key ideas: We are also those who he urges to be full of joy, or rejoicing, always, and those he urges to give thanks always… this being God’s will for us in Christ Jesus!

God wants us to be powerful in prayer, and these are the keys![x]


So, should such a passage like this condemn us or encourage us?

Well, it does both, doesn’t it?

On the one hand, how can we not be judged by the words “pray without ceasing”?

Insofar as I am a sinner – and we all still are – I have not feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things. I have not called upon God’s Name “in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks”, as Martin Luther says in his explanation of the second commandment “you shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God”.

No, I have not put off the “old man” and put on the new man when it comes to these things, but have instead often fed and nurtured that “old Adam”….

And yet, what does Luther remind us in his explanation of the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who are in heaven”? He says:

“With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father…”

And this, I think gives us the context that we really need to understand what is going on here…

I think this is the real kind of teaching we need to understand in order to pull through and continue to urge ourselves on to pray even when the feeling isn’t there, when we feel distant from God, like we aren’t getting through… when, perhaps in the midst of real suffering… the desire to pray just isn’t there…

Get behind me Satan!

We can all understand the truth that Luther is bringing to us!


 [Questioning] Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you?

Correct me if I am wrong, but the phrase “pray continually” also tells me, in part, that God actually enjoys hearing from me. Constantly.

I get the impression He is even eager to hear from me – all the time. I am just not an annoyance to Him, like I might be with others.

To say the least, as much as I would like to say the opposite, I am not like that with my own kids.

And if God has told us to ask Him for a castle, for example – if our Father has commanded us to pray and pray like this… and He has – why should we not take Him up on it?

Isaiah 57:15 says:

For this is what the high and exalted One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Truly, God is here with us now!

And so we say “Thank you Lord.”

And “See if there is any offensive way in [us], and lead [us] in the way everlasting.” Shine your searchlight on our lives…

And Lord, we thank you that you forgive us all of our sins through the gift of your Son Jesus Christ.

And still we say: we are so needy God! And so are all of our neighbors! Hear us, and let us be ever satisfied in You…

And, if some don’t feel like they can pray… always discouraged because perhaps they have been tragically deprived of the care of a loving father… they can at least start by remembering how wonderful it is sometimes to just have a pleasant conversation with a good friend who they admire and respect!

In a sense, prayer is indeed simply talking with God. And you can talk to Him in just the same way you can talk to a friend you love and respect…

There’s a lot more to say about this topic. There is a lot more to learn about this topic. And yet, right now, I’m telling you this:

Like Anna. I want to be like Anna.

How about you?




[i] This is interesting to compare with what Paul says in I Cor. 7 about the marital duties husbands and wives have towards one another:

“….since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.”

A few observations: first, it is clear that Paul does expect fallen human beings in marriages to take his advice. Why “advice”? Well, we note the differences in this passage: here Paul explicitly says that what he says here is a concession and not a command per se. Furthermore, note that later on in I Cor. 7, he goes on to say: “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”

Luther handles the passage this way:

“Christians should treasure that eternal blessing which is theirs in the faith, despising this life so that they do not sink too deeply into it either with love and desire or suffering and boredom, but should rather behave like guests on earth, using everything for a short time because of need and not for pleasure. This would mean having a wife as though I did not have one, when in my heart I would rather remain unmarried but in order to avoid sin have found it necessary to have one. But he who seeks not necessity but also desire, he does not have a wife but is himself possessed by a wife. A Christian should hold to this principle also in all other things. He should only serve necessity and not be a slave to his lust and nurture his old Adam.”

[ii] Interestingly, the commentator Green writes: “Fasting constitutes a form of protest, an assertion that all is not well.”

In a way, this makes sense, because we live in a fallen world. He writes of Anna in particular:

“…in this eschatologically charged narrative environment… [her fasting] is an expression of her hope, a form of prayer entreating God to set things right…”

(Green, 151)

One wonders if even in an un-fallen world though there might be a role for fasting, going along with things like discipline, effort, satisfaction in a job well done, etc.

[iii] The greater immediate context:

18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

[iv] There are so many interesting tidbits about here as well. Here are a few of the very helpful things I learned about her, thanks to the older (and excellent) collected commentaries on

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers:

“She is named, as if it were a well-known fact, as having been the wife of Phanuel, and she is not of the tribe of Judah, but of Aser. That tribe, then, though belonging to the Ten that had been carried into exile by Shalmaneser (2Kings 17:6), had not been altogether lost. Some, at least, of its members survived and cherished the genealogies of their descent, as one family of the neighbouring tribe of Naphthali are said to have done at Nineveh (Tobit 1:2). In that family also we find the name of Anna (Tobit 1:9).”

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary:

“…of the tribe of Aser—one of the ten tribes, of whom many were not carried captive, and not a few reunited themselves to Judah after the return from Babylon. The distinction of tribes, though practically destroyed by the captivity, was well enough known up to their final dispersion (Ro 11:1; Heb 7:14); nor is it now entirely lost.”

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers:

“A widow of about fourscore and four years.—The better MSS. read, “up to the point of fourscore and four years,” pointing to the fact that this was the duration of her widowhood. Assuming her to have been married at fifteen, this places her actual age at 106. She had lived through the whole century that preceded the birth of Christ, from the death of John Hyrcanus, and had witnessed, therefore, the conquest of Judæa by Pompeius, and the rise of the Herodian house.”

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible:

“Night and day – Continually – that is, at the usual times of public worship and in private. When it is said that she departed not from the temple, it is meant that she was “constant” and “regular” in all the public services at the temple, or was never absent from those services. God blesses those who wait at his temple gates.”

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:

“In Exodus 38:8 we read of women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: both the Targums of Onkelos and Ben Uzziel render it, “who came to pray”; and the Septuagint version, “that fasted”: Anna did both.”

Meyer’s NT Commentary:

“νύκτα κ. ἡμέρ.] Thus also at Acts 26:7; Mark 4:28; 1 Timothy 5:5. Elsewhere the order is inverted. Instances of both arrangements may be seen in Bornemann, Schol. p. 27; Lobeck, Paralip. p. 62 f., and from the Latin: Heindorf on Horat. Sat. i. 1. 77. In this place νύκτα, is prefixed in order, as in Acts, l.c., and 1 Timothy 5:5, to make the fervency of the pious temple-service the more prominent. The case is otherwise, where it is simply a question of definition of time, at Esther 4:15.”

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges:

“…departed not] She was present (that is) at all the stated hours of prayer; unless we suppose that her position as a Prophetess had secured her the right of living in one of the Temple chambers, and perhaps of doing some work for it like trimming the lamps (as is the Rabbinic notion about Deborah, derived from the word Lapidoth ‘splendours’).

fastings] The Law of Moses had only appointed one yearly fast, on the Great Day of Atonement. But the Pharisees had adopted the practice of ‘fasting twice in the week,’ viz. on Monday and Thursday, when Moses is supposed to have ascended, and descended from, Sinai (see on Luke 18:12), and had otherwise multiplied and extended the simple original injunction (v. 33).

prayers] Rather, supplications (a more special word).”

Pulpit Commentary:

“Verse 37. – Which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. Probably, in virtue of her reputation as a prophetess, some small chamber in the temple was assigned to her. This seems to have been the case with Huldah (2 Chronicles 34:22). It has also been suggested that she lovingly performed some work in or about the sacred building. Farrar suggests such as trimming the lamps (as is the rabbinic notion about Deborah), derived from the word lapidoth, splendor. Such sacred functions were regarded among all nations as a high honor. The great city of Ephesus boasted her name of νεωκόρος, temple-sweeper, as her proudest title to honor.”

From other commentaries:

“There is no place where God hath had a name, but, however it be corrupted and debauched, hath a number that keep close to God. God in Ahab’s time had seven thousand in Israel; and in this most corrupt time there was a Simeon and an Anna, and also others, who had a true notion and expectation of the Messiah; and these the Holy Ghost taketh more notice of than of all the Jewish doctors, all the scribes and Pharisees, whose names are enrolled, while what these persons said and did shall remain for a memorial of them wherever the gospel shall be preached to the end of the world.”

[v] As the commentator Green puts it: “…she exemplifies the ascetic ideal of marrying once and devoting oneself entirely to God in widowhood” (Gospel of Luke, Green, 151)

[vi] More notes on this:

(36)” One Anna, a prophetess.—The fact is in many ways remarkable. We find a woman recognised as a prophetess at a time when no man is recognised as a prophet. She bears the name of the mother of the founder of the School of the Prophets, identical with that which the legends of Apocryphal Gospels assign to the mother of the Virgin.” Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

[vii] A bit more of the context there: “Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

[viii] Doesn’t God give us everything we need in Christ? Doesn’t God give to us His grace freely, and gifts of grace freely? Why then, are we talking about things that might seem to involve some effort, that might seem to include building up habits, that we might, somedays, just not feel like doing?

If these things are spiritually real after all – if we are to be fully authentic in our Christian spirituality – shouldn’t all of these things just come naturally to us? Spontaneously?

I remember telling a friend that I wanted to get to the point where sharing my faith would be more natural for me. He replied by saying, “there is nothing natural about sharing your faith… you’ll never get there.”

I do indeed still think that sharing our faith should be something that is pretty natural for us. If we have known the love of God in Jesus Christ, which eagerly forgives us all our sins and adopts us into the Kingdom of God, this is going to be something that affects us and that we can talk about to some degree, however haltingly.

On the one hand, he was perhaps a bit right. Some effort in doing such things will always be involved…

In Luke 8:15 we read: 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

He gives us a noble and good heart of faith, and then also gives us the power to use it…. Key here also is what is said just three verses later:

“…take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seem to have will be taken from him.”

[ix] Robert I Estienne was the French classics scholar and printer Who divided the Bible up into verses in the late 16th century, and I like what he did here, making that short statement into three whole verses:

I Thessalonians 5:16 is “Rejoice always”.

Verse 17 is “Pray continually” (or “without ceasing”).

And verse 18, is “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

[x] And note that in this passage from Matthew 17 we see that prayer and fasting is connected with spiritual power:

14And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, 15“Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is [c]an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.”

17Then Jesus answered and said, “O [d]faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.” 18And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.

19Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”

20So Jesus said to them, “Because of your [e]unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21[f]However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”

And in Luke 4, when Jesus begins his ministry, people are astonished by Jesus’ teaching because “His word was with authority”. And in the midst of this teaching, that conviction grows stronger, for instance, when a man who has “a spirt if of an unclean” demon confronts Jesus even in the synagogue as he is preaching.

And what does Jesus do? He confronts the demon in the man, rebuking it “Be quiet and come out of him!”. Then we read that the people are even more impressed than before, saying “with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” (see 4:31-37)

Again, how much does the issue of prayer and fasting, I wonder, has much to do with the topic of spiritual warfare? (and regarding this, we don’t want to see a demon behind every bush, but we also do not want to laugh such things off…)

Just because the devil isn’t so overt here in America what with possessions and the like, it doesn’t mean that he is not hard at work among us, undermining God’s truth.

We should struggle and fight to excel in the battle here. That said: some get nervous when we talk this way…

“Who is the greatest?” We know we are not supposed to jostle for position in the Kingdom of God.

And yet, we are human beings, and it will happen.

And evidently, too, this is not an entirely bad thing either! After all, Jesus does say, for example, about John the Baptist, “among those born to women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:28)

All of us are pretty familiar with what earthly authority and power looks like, and how it works… What of this kind of authority and power though? And where does it come from? (must read Harold Ristau’s book here again…).

Is it not more likely that those who exercise such authority and power have lives that are somewhat similar to Anna’s, those characterized by prayer and fasting? Certainly, this is likely the case…

This, I believe, is a firmly Scriptural way of looking at and addressing these matters. Some though, find all of this talk very hard to understand…


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Posted by on December 27, 2020 in Uncategorized


Disarmed by Holy Innocence


“….on earth peace, good will toward men.” – Luke 2:14, KJV


In our reading from Isaiah we just heard:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.

This is no doubt an amazing Christmas text, prophesying the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ…

But look at what comes right before it!:

You have shattered the yoke of their burden,

the bar across their shoulders,

and the rod of their oppressor.

5For every trampling boot of battle

and every garment rolled in blood

will be burned as fuel for the fire.

Now, what is that all about?

Well, Christmas is actually nothing unless it is about the real peace that comes to us in the midst of real conflict on earth…

Even though we may have known a time of relative peace for a good many years, the overriding theme of human history is one of sin and conflict.

Men at war with one another. One scholar described it like this:

As it is in my own life history, so it is in world history, as a part. We should speak more cautiously and soberly in the plural, of world histories: namely, the histories of great social groups or movements; the histories of alliances, nations, and blocs; histories which stand apart and never merge into a world history in the singular. These world histories are nothing but the histories of the seeking, enforcing, denying, or lacking of mutual recognition. They are the histories of vindications and the assigning of guilt. They are one long story of the battle for mutual recognition, a life and death battle. In this regard, then, we can indeed speak of a world history in the singular (Bayer, Justification and Sanctification, p. 4)

And so, in part because of the search for recognition and status (things like pleasures too, right?), oppression occurs. And that, in part, is why Isaiah writes as he does.

At the same time, it is not like life is best described as perpetual misery and suffering.

Even as its true that men war with one another, the Apostle Paul tells us that God also grants all people in this life – not only Christians – a real measure of joy (see Acts 14).

And not only this, but Christians themselves also begin to gain glimmers of hope and peace that passes all understanding, even as they too, sadly, have fought one another on opposite sides in wars…

And, so yes – back to that, to the fact of conflict.

Why, ultimately, are things like this?

It is because mankind, the crown of God’s creation, is at war with God.

This is one of the most important things we can know.

The Bible calls mankind rebels, God’s enemies even…

And so, what does He do?

Does He go to total war against man?


I’ll tell you what He does instead in the form of a little story I once heard.

It begins like this:

“Once upon a time in a large forest there lived a very furry bunny. He had one lop ear, a tiny black nose, and unusually shiny eyes. His name was Barrington.

Barrington was not really a very handsome bunny. He was brown and speckled and his ears didn’t stand up right. But he could hop, and he was, as I have said, very furry….”

As we read on in this story, we discover that Barringon liked winter in some ways, but not others.

He was, we learn, the only bunny in the forest, and therefore couldn’t gather together with family for Christmas like the other animals could….

He consoled himself by “Hop, Hop, Hippity-hop[ping]” in the forest and thinking to himself “Bunnies…can hop. And they are very warm, too, because of how furry they are.”

When it got dark, Barrington decided to go home and came across a squirrel family in the trees and a beaver family by the river, both of which seemed to be having a wonderful time. He asked if he could partake in their celebrations, but they both said no to him.

First, he was told that he was a bunny, not a squirrel, and that bunnies could not climb trees, which is where their house was. Next, he was told that he was a bunny, not a beaver, and that bunnies could not swim, and their house was in the river.

He wished them both a Merry Christmas but went away very sad, consoling himself again that he could hop and was very furry and warm. Nevertheless, he began to grow very sad, and begin to cry, thinking “Bunnies… aren’t any good to anyone. What good is it to be furry and to be able to hop if you don’t have any family on Christmas Eve?”

Suddenly, however, Barrington realizes that a great silver wolf is watching him. He isn’t afraid, but we hear that “The wolf was large and strong and his eyes flashed fire. He was the most beautiful animal Barrington had ever seen.”

After being silent for a while, the wolf “slowly and deliberately” speaks, asking Barrington why he is sitting in the snow. Barrington tells the wolf that bunnies aren’t any good to anyone and the wolf says that they in fact are, because they can hop and are very warm.

“It is very good indeed,” the wolf says…, “because it is a gift that bunnies are given, a free gift with no strings attached. And every gift that is given to anyone is given for a reason. Someday you will see why it is good to hop and to be warm and furry.”

At first Barringon doubts, but the wolf convinces him that all the animals of the forest are his family. And so, thought Barrington, “All of the animals in the forest are my family… It’s good to be a bunny. Bunnies can hop. That’s a gift.” And then he said it again. “A gift. A free gift.”

On the way past the beavers’ house, he leaves a stick at their door, with a note: “A free gift. No strings attached. Signed, a member of your family.” Going along, he thinks “It is a good thing that I can hop… because the snow is very deep.” He also digs up some dead leaves and grass to make the squirrels’ nest warmer and leaves them the same kind of note: “A gift. A free gift. From a member of your family.”

It was late though, and a blizzard was beginning. He gets lost, the wind howls furiously, and the cold sets in… Realizing that he might freeze if he does not get home quickly, he then hears a small “Squeak, squeak”. It’s a baby field mouse, lost in the snow…

I’ll directly quote from the short story now:

“I’m lost,” sobbed the little fellow. “I’ll never find my way home, and I know I’m going to freeze.”

“You won’t freeze,” said Barrington. “I’m a bunny and bunnies are very furry and warm. You stay right where you are and I’ll cover you up.”

Barrington lay on top of the little mouse and hugged him tight. The tiny fellow felt himself surrounded by warm fur. He cried for awhile but soon, snug and warm, he fell asleep.

Barrington had only two thoughts that long, cold night. First he thought, “It’s good to be a bunny. Bunnies are very furry and warm.” And then, when he felt the heart of the tiny mouse beating regularly, he thought, “All the animals in the forest are my family.”

Next morning, the field mice found their little boy, asleep in the snow, warm and snug beneath the furry carcass of a dead bunny. Their relief and excitement was so great that they didn’t even think to question where the bunny had come from.

And as for the beavers and the squirrels, they still wonder which member of their family left the little gift for them that Christmas Eve.

After the field mice had left, Barrington’s frozen body simply lay in the snow. There was no sound except that of the howling wind. And no one anywhere in the forest noticed the great silver wolf who came to stand beside that brown, lop-eared carcass.

But the wolf did come.

And he stood there.

Without moving or saying a word.

All Christmas Day.

Until it was night.

And then he disappeared into the forest.


I just told you an abbreviated version of the already short story “Barrington Bunny” found in Martin Bell’s book The Way of the Wolf.

The story, which I heard read to me at a camp retreat with my church youth group in the late 1980s, became quite well known in some Christian circles, memorable as it is.

Still, I confess that it’s easy for me to be cynical about stories like this…

Like a lot of those Disney films about animals acting like people, in some ways it seems designed to just manipulate your emotions.

And, you know, the Bible reading from Isaiah doesn’t seem to totally jive with it either… with its mentions of warriors’ boots, battles, and blood.

Also, even as the story is designed to get us to think about Jesus Christ, we might wonder how closely Barrington’s sorrows and trials match up with those of our Lord and Savior… (and Jesus was a bit stronger to be sure!)

And yet, and yet… many of us will no doubt find the message of personal sacrifice and love in this story very compelling.

Such a story disarms us. What could be more disarming, less threatening, than a soft, cuddly, loving bunny?

In like fashion, the Gospel of Jesus Christ utterly disarms us.

What could be more disarming, less threatening, than a simple, humble infant?

You know what I am talking about right? Even from just an earthly perspective, people will find themselves taken off guard by how a baby can melt a hard heart.

We are told that the eternal, the immortal, the Almighty God who made heaven and earth and whose name is hallowed – that means, is set apart from all created things – how he Himself “takes on human flesh” and becomes one of us, in the form of an infant.[i]

And we are disarmed!

It is man’s fallen nature to be terrified of God – strenuously suppressing this though we may.

It is God’s nature, though, to disarm us.

He does not desire to hide his tender mercies from you….

Yes, don’t get me wrong:

God is indeed a warrior!

He is the One who fights His battle against those who oppose Him and His people. He will come again in judgment!

but look how He came on the scene… and comes to us now

…as this not only humble and simple but pure and innocent baby who will grow into the pure and innocent Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.


In any earthly conflict, deceiving your enemy is a critical element.

And some people in the early church thought that the Father and Son defeated the devil by deception.

The idea was like the worm on a fishhook, with Jesus being the worm. When the devil bit and swallowed him, that is, sending him to the tomb of his belly, he got more than he bargained for.

Tricked into eating God Himself, his belly could not hold Jesus, and He burst forth on the third day, leaving a slain devil, death, and sin in His wake.

It is no doubt a helpful picture to think about. At the same time, I don’t think that Jesus deceived anyone.

The innocent baby Jesus grew into the innocent Lamb of God who simply lived in accordance with God’s law, who lived by love and who by doing so made everything right.

…whose perfect life and innocent death for the forgiveness of sins now becomes ours.

Through faith in Him we stand holy and righteous before God!

Satan may have misinterpreted what all of this meant – and tragically so for him. This, however, is not because God deceived him but because evil always must destroy itself, deceive itself. For there is no life, light, and love in it….

So again, in many ways, the story of Barrington is really a great picture of how God disarms us, His enemies, with His pure and innocent gift.

Yes, man is at war with God, but this is one of the other most important things we can know.

In a world racked by fear, those of other religions have attempted to appease their god though sacrifice and deeds, but the Bible tells us that it is only through Jesus Christ that man can know the grace of God which overcomes sin, death, and the devil, and  to know true love….

And so, as the Apostle John simply says we love because He first loved us….The world doesn’t know the kind of love that does this.

But we do know such love, and so we can begin to know peace.

We can begin to know trust… and live for Him, like the Apostle Paul describes in our Epistle reading for this morning…[ii]

And then, even as Christians might end up fighting with one another, things happen that remind us of what can, and should

…and will, bring us together.


One more quick story, this time from history.

In the Christmas of 1914, there was a day and a half truce of sorts between some soldiers in the trenches fighting in World War 1. What happened is that one side began to hear the other side singing Christmas hymns. And saw them setting up Christmas trees on their parapets, the walls protecting their trenches. Soon, both sides sang, and then one shouted “Tomorrow you no shoot, we no shoot”…. And so, for the next 1.5 days, the men offered one another drinks and cigarettes, spoke with one another, and even kicked a soccer ball around.

In the midst of a brutal, total war, the presence of the Prince of Peace had brought a bit of a respite. The world was amazed. Even as these men picked up fighting again, as was their duty to their nations, afterwards.

And so as we come out of the Christmas season and face once again all the challenges that lie before us in the world, know that we are some of the most blessed men and women on earth.

For we are among the “all people” who have not only been offered salvation, but given this great, great, gift.

Know that we have the message that gives peace not as the world gives, the tender and gentle and humble and simple love of our God, who, for us, took on human flesh, becoming man, specifically in order to die for our sins and bring us to God.

And hence we sing of this great love in a hymn like “What child is this?”

Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary.

On earth peace, and good will toward men!





[i] One wonders what was going through the angel’s mind when he appeared and made his announcement to the shepherds?:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Joy to the world!

And this is the baby who of course will grow into that 12 year old boy who causes the teachers in the Temple to marvel! Who will grow into the simple carpenter from Nazareth baptized by John the Baptist. Who will begin His world-changing ministry by choosing disciples not from among the elites but from the common man….

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Or as the King James version puts it“….on earth peace, good will toward men.”

[ii]11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.


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Posted by on December 26, 2020 in Uncategorized


There is No True Justice Apart from God’s Vengeance


“He has sent me to… proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God.”

– Isaiah 61:2



In our text from Isaiah today, in the midst of great words of hope, there is this jarring line that might have stood out to you a bit…

God’s messenger is sent, in part,

“to proclaim…. the day of vengeance of our God.”

Mind you, Isaiah is mouthing the words of God’s Messiah here, the one who, just eight chapters earlier was also revealed to be the suffering servant! Chapter 53:

“He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression[a] and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.”

Reading this again the other morning, it occurred to me that the people causing the oppression and affliction here might well be thinking:

“Serves this ‘Messiah’ right! Serves his followers right! They are made weaker by this, and we are growing stronger, and that is good… it is right for us to have our way with them…. And to exact some measure of retribution for the troubles they have caused us…”


Now, when I was young, I remember often hearing in sermons (I’m guessing it was my dad, because he was my pastor) that man is oppressed and man is an oppressor.

Man is afflicted and man is an afflicter!

The idea that we might in any sense be responsible for the oppression or affliction of another person or group is something that doesn’t sit well with any of us, I think.

We really don’t want to think of ourselves this way. So perhaps we might be inclined to close our eyes to some things.

And we might, for example, laugh at the person who wants to know about all of the people involved that made their iced latte – or their iPhone – possible (you know, the slave labor and the like).

Nevertheless, when God’s prophets says things like…

“…justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us.…truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter..” (Is. 59:9, 14)

Or, “[My people] sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals…” (Amos 2:6)

…perhaps we ought to pause for a minute or two…

And do passages like this mean, as people say:

The chickens will come home to roost?

The piper must be paid?

We will reap what we sow?


One also might think that those who really have been oppressed – let’s say because of their religion or their nationality or even their skin color – might be even more tempted to think along lines of retribution:

“For years we bore a heavy yoke and were shown little compassion or affection…. For years we endured your chains, your disdain and contempt, your feelings of superiority, your disregard for our family ties when you broke them up for your convenience, selling them to the highest bidder….”

So why shouldn’t such men and women look for some measure of vengeance?

Many of these who suffered such things also confessed faith in Christ. Why shouldn’t they be like the saints that the Apostle John mentions in Revelation 6, who cry out to God for vengeance?

We read there:

9When [the Lamb] opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, e were killed just as they had been.”

Remember these ones crying out to the One Isaiah says:

“….put[s] on the garments of vengeance
    and wrap[s] himself in zeal as in a cloak….”(Is. 59:17)

And so in the book of Malachai, we hear about the day of judgement “in its fulfillment when the ‘arrogant and all evildoers’ burn like stubble in a fire, while God’s people dance over the ashes of their enemies….” (quote from a pastor’s sermon on Weedon’s blog).


Then why not indeed?

Why should all those who are oppressed and afflicted today not say:

“We, too, in many ways, are like these saints….”

This brings to mind something else that I read this past week… I heard about the death of a great thinker, who, frankly, I knew little about.

George Mason University economist and syndicated columnist Walter E. Williams died this past week, and I read a few articles about this man’s character and depth of thought.

The more or less universal consensus seems to be that Williams was quite a wonderful person.

And he also seems to have had quite a sense of humor. On his web site, one can find a PDF file of a printable certificate which reads the following:

Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon Granted to All Persons of European Descent

Whereas, Europeans kept my forebears in bondage some three centuries toiling without pay,

Whereas, Europeans ignored the human rights pledges of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution,

Whereas, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments meant little more than empty words,

Therefore, Americans of European ancestry are guilty of great crimes against my ancestors and their progeny.

But, in the recognition Europeans themselves have been victims of various and sundry human rights violations to wit: the Norman Conquest, the Irish Potato Famine, Decline of the Hapsburg Dynasty, Napoleonic and Czarist adventurism, and gratuitous insults and speculations about the intelligence of Europeans of Polish descent,

I, Walter E. Williams, do declare full and general amnesty and pardon to all persons of European ancestry, for both their own grievances, and those of their forebears, against my people.

Therefore, from this day forward Americans of European ancestry can stand straight and proud knowing they are without guilt and thus obliged not to act like damn fools in their relationships with Americans of African ancestry.

Walter E. Williams, Gracious and Generous Grantor[i]

Now we might laugh, but of course the certificate also addresses and makes a number of very serious points. I also take note that Dr. Williams was evidently known to have been a devout Christian man.[ii]

So should we expect those who have been wronged in great ways…treated with disdain and afflicted, to cry out for vengeance?

Or, alternatively, should we just expect all persons having the background of Dr. Williams to say the kinds of words he does?

What should Christians think?


I can’t say that all people, even all Christians, should be gracious in just the way Dr. Williams seems determined to be gracious.

I will say however, that even as someone whose ancestors only came to the American north and Midwest from Germany and Finland in the 1860s (so on the one hand, his statement doesn’t seem particularly relevant to my own ancestors or myself)…

I am nevertheless happy to hear him say what he says, given that today the very issue of having lighter-toned skin seems to be an increasingly important factor for many.[iii]

William’s words do, in that regard, communicate real hope when it comes to such issues.

He makes us think that maybe, just maybe, there can be some real hope for the future…

He makes us think that perhaps there is a light at the end of the tunnel – at least for believers – where things will not end in retribution and bloodshed between people at odds.

…I know the issue of hope is on many people’s minds these days… in the midst of the chaos and the many problems we increasingly see in more and more quarters, where is our hope?

This past week, I came across some excellent words on that topic well worth sharing:

Advent is a season of hope. But “watch yourselves,” for the world would draw you away from the hope we have in God’s word. Right now, especially, the world and its evil prince would lure you into many vain hopes. Hope in a man sitting in the White House promising benefits he cannot or may not deliver. Hope in a vaccine that may or may not cure this pandemic. Hope in a “new normal” that is anything but normal, but warped and perverse. Hope in a false unity based not on concord among people, but on fear of exclusion and persecution. That’s on top of all the usual hollow dreams of money, gifts, and gadgets all decorated in glitter and lights this time of year. “Watch yourselves,” do not let your hearts be weighed down with the cares of this life.

Our true hope is in none of these things. Certainly, God may use any or all of them to execute His will in this world; and for those who fear Him, He will work all things for your good, come health or virus, unity or conflict, prosperity or poverty, life or death. But our sure hope is always in His word. In His promises. In the proclamation of true joy and gladness in His Son. It is a gladness without end for you who “live in harmony in Jesus Christ,” even if the world should be set ablaze. In fact, Jesus tells us, “when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”[iv]


Good words!

And our passage from Isaiah this morning, which describes the Kingdom that God’s promised Messiah is bringing, is exactly the kind of passage that offers us the hope that pastor talks about![v]

But again, look at what is embedded within our passage for this morning….


What does the notion of vengeance have to do with hope?

Should this vengeance, this judgment, also give us some hope?….

Today, many talk about the hope found in social justice. To be too brief, social justice is understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.” (United Nations)[vi]

Some politicians also talk about this in terms of equity and equality. Talking about equality suggests that everyone should get the same amount. This can’t happen, however, by giving people equal help because some people start with a greater disadvantage than others do.

And so this is where “equity” or “equitable treatment” comes into play. “Equitable treatment” means doing things so that we will all end up in the same place….

And what does the Bible say? First of all, even as God desires fairness and speaks, though His Apostle, of not wanting the rich to have too much nor the poor to have too little, it never talks about ensuring or securing this kind of equality.

And not only this, but an honest reading of the Bible will inoculate us vs. all utopian ideals, even ones that don’t make the same mistakes that today’s “social justice warriors” do.

Here is a key question though:

If some visions of social justice are things that we should at least have some interest in (and some are), why not also social vengeance as well?

Now, some might think that that is an unfair and loaded question.

After all, justice is a popular word these days… Not so much vengeance or revenge (at least, it’s not so popular out in the open….).

Still, this matter is worth exploring.


With justice more classically understood in the Western world, dependent as it has been on Greek and Roman ideals, we have the idea of a fair and proper scale…

Lady Justice is blind, and makes the good and right and impartial determination of innocence or guilt…

And there is an exacting of either blessing or punishment.

This is not so much the case in our pictures of vengeance, or revenge.

For revenge, we associate this not so much with lady justice, blindfolded and determining things impartially and properly, but with feeling and emotion instead.

Revenge, whether taken on one’s own behalf or on behalf of others, is not so impartial, and not done through a mediator like a judge…

It’s personal… even social…, and first and foremost, we might think of the notion of, the desire for, “payback”…

And also tied up with our impressions of revenge is the desire to cause someone to suffer for what they have done to another…

Interestingly, the prophet Jeremiah says of his “friends”:

“All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying, ‘Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him.’”

In the book of Leviticus, the Lord talks about both justice and revenge in chapter 19:

15“ ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly….

18“ ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.[vii]

Here, we see that when God speaks about revenge, He addresses the feelings that come with it, and immediately pivots us to “love our neighbors as ourselves…”

We desperately need it. The real problem is not vengeance itself, but that our intimations of vengeance are deeply wrong.

And our God shows us this particularly when He takes on human flesh as Jesus Christ.

What was His vengeance like?

No, for God – even as Jesus Christ, the God-Man—there is not a whole lot of light between justice and revenge.

The difference is in us. Our emotionally volatile “impartiality”. God, alone, knows a pure impartiality…

Clearly, the difference between him and us is that his anger – though white hot for the moment before quickly succumbing to compassion[viii] – is never wrong, while ours often is.

Hence, the Apostle Paul urges us, for example, says “In your anger do not sin” and “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…”

So, how does God do vengeance? Perhaps the tone that we can detect in Psalm 99 can help us here:

Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel was among those who called on his name;
they called on the Lord
and he answered them.
He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud;
they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them.

Lord our God,
you answered them;
you were to Israel a forgiving God,
though you punished their misdeeds.[a]
Exalt the Lord our God
and worship at his holy mountain,
for the Lord our God is holy.

The “though you punished their misdeeds” is more accurately translated “though you took vengeance on their deeds”….

In other words, for God, revenge is simply the negative side of justice: giving people their “just desserts” in response to their sinful desires, thoughts, words and deeds.

When good parents punish their children, they might say something like “this hurts me more than it hurts you,” and, as unbelievable as that might sometimes seem to children, Isaiah essentially says the same thing of God, “In all their affliction he was afflicted.” (Is. 63:9).

And when it has to do with His own children, revenge, or the exacting of punishment, is one thing, while it is another thing for those who oppose His children.

For He is also their Avenger, which means that they will receive vengeance, that is, receive justice.

And yes, that finally means hell for their enemies.


Two things we see in the Scripture about this topic that are true:

The Lord is gracious and merciful to those who sin against Him. And the Lord also brings punishment for the wicked and blessings for the faithful…. Isaiah writes:

17 no weapon forged against you will prevail,
    and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord. (Is 54:17)

So you see, the judgment of the nations will not only be Israel’s relief from their enemies but also their vindication.

The saints begging for that under the throne of God in the book of Revelation will be satisfied.

For though God’s servants be afflicted and broken in this world – though they be racked by suffering – they will have glory and favor in the next!

The Lord is indeed impartial, but He is impartial in an important sense.

Impartial in line with the cause of Zion, that is, Zion’s cause (Is. 34:8).

So just how is the Lord impartial?

The Lord is impartial because Zion’s cause, or purpose—namely to fear, love, and trust their God and to proclaim the glories of His goodness and steadfast love—is to be the purpose of all men.

You can pray the Psalms against your enemies. “The imprecatory Psalms” they are called…

But always remember how the Lord says, “Vengeance is mine… I will repay”.

Even as He also wants your enemies to be His — that is His own dear faith-filled children! — as well…

So trust him to work it out!

To quote Abraham, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25).


So what in the end, will win?

Who will be those who are victorious?

Why, those who trust in the Lord and His promised Messiah, and hence those who seek true justice, or vengeance, true righteousness… true reconciliation….

As Jesus says, wisdom will be vindicated by its children.

The world that we face each day indeed will be unjust.

This, however, is why He not only urges us to love our enemies, but does so Himself, dying even for us great sinners.

This is evidently why, when Jesus launches his ministry in Luke 4 by reading parts of our passage from Isaiah today in the synagogue, He stops right before He gets to the vengeance, and then has the nerve to say that He is fulfilling Isaiah 61 in their hearing that very day!

He then goes on to talk about not how God took vengeance on the “nations,” the “Gentiles,” that is, non-Jews, in the O.T., but how He was reaching out to them in love even in the days of Elijah and Elisha!

And yet, it seems that the vengeance part is just what those around Him wanted to hear about.

“God, please take care of those imperialists! Please judge the Romans, won’t you? Take our enemies, take Babylon, down!”

And so, while Jesus goes on to talk about God’s showing mercy to non-Jews in the Old Testament, the people from his own town try to throw Him off the cliff!

Well, it’s like Mary was told, isn’t it?:

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”


It is not just Rome who is fallen, but the world. People in all places everywhere.

And so we must see, from that story in the book of Luke and elsewhere, that the Lord does not ultimately want us to be a people fixated on attaining justice, or vengeance, for ourselves and the communities we call our own — but those who are full of pity and mercy for lost souls.

So, for example, for those who have withheld fair wages from their workers….

For those who have rolled over everyone en route to attaining the status they think will bring them security….

For those who, acting worse than pagans, do not care for their own flesh and blood, perhaps even putting to death their offspring…

For those who treated their employees or servants with disdain and abuse….

For those living for sex, drugs, and violence…

For those who thought peoples should be grateful to them as they colonized and harvested the goods of their world…

For those who finally, in the end, do not begin to fear, love, and trust in God… or who even fall away from Him….

All this is why the Apostle Paul gives us this advice:

…the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will (II Timothy 2: 24-26)

And who, finally, will win in the end? The One who attaches himself to — attach yourself to! — Isaiah’s suffering servant:

“After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life[d] and be satisfied[e];
by his knowledge[f] my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,[g]
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,[h]
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors…”

You see? Because He did this, “I will give him a portion among the great…and he will divide the spoils with the strong…”

You know, it might look like that Lamb of God loses everything.

But in the end, wonder of wonders, by His great act of righteousness which pays the debts of the world and brings life to the many, He gains the whole world.

When He is weak, He really is strong.

And He gains for Himself a people who love Him, and who will enjoy the overflowing fruits of His goodness forever and ever, world without end.



[i] PDF.


[iii] This satirical article speaks to the sentiment:


[v] More good stuff from another pastor preaching from the book of Isaiah (chapter 35):

“He has redeemed me” is so powerful to rescue you from all that, and to keep you safe in God’s arms. So it’s a great thing for you to be called “the redeemed.” We hear it at the end of Isaiah 35: “The redeemed of the LORD shall walk there,” is speak-ing of you. This is a promise, a beautiful Gospel promise spoken to you.

We have to back up, though, and survey the landscape. In Isaiah 35, the prophet pictures it for us as a desert, a wilderness, a wasteland. He goes on to further picture it as a dry, waterless, parched ground, a harsh landscape. It’s the place of deprivation and death.

There are many such descriptions in the prophets. Normally I’ve had to work to reveal how this is the world we live in. But as 2020 goes out, I don’t have to work to show you the bleakness of our landscape, how this is a wilderness. You see and feel it all the time, don’t you, especially all the things you have to say you can’t count on…”

Our Old Testament passage from Isaiah this morning is meant to give us great hope!

61 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

The first thing to realize here is that first and foremost, these words are meant by Isaiah and a spiritual and/or metaphorical sense.

Throughout the book of Isaiah, certain physical realities – such being poor, blind, and a prisoner (see Revelation 3:17: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”) – are meant to stand in for spiritual truths (this is not to say that the people of Israel were not in a wilderness of sorts, not like after the days of the Exodus, wandering in the real wilderness. They were may have well been physically poor and thirsty as well (see 41:11-18, particularly v. 17))

In like fashion, there is no doubt that as Isaiah prophesied, the people of Israel really would be plundered, looted and even faced physical imprisonment from the Babylonians (Is. 42:22,24 ; see also 51:14, 19) – this being punishment from God. Nevertheless, when Isaiah elsewhere speaks the famous words about “those who sitting in darkness who have seen a great light,” echoed also in the Gospel of Matthew, he is not talking about the literal blind and literal prisoners so much as talking about spiritual realities….).

He is, after all, zeroing in on people whose sins have separated them from God (Is. 59:2) …as darkness covers the earth (Is. 60:2).

Therefore, even though Isaiah is constantly talking about the blind and the deaf, He also quotes the Lord commanding believers like him, for example, to “lead out those who have eyes but are blind (In fact, Israel itself is called the blind and deaf servant (Is. 42:18-19 ; see also 42:15,16), but we are told that the Lord’s coming Messiah, the Suffering servant, will be a “light for the nations” (Is. 42:6) and “open the eyes that are blind.”), who have ears but are deaf.” (see 43:1-9, particularly v. 8)

[Again, none of that is to say that those who really are healed from physical blindness and deafness do not make a great illustration of this spiritual truth, just like none of this is to say that the Lord is indifferent to the plight of those who are blind and deaf. We know for a fact that is not the truth.

That, however, is really not the focus. The endgame. The Lord has come to save us not just from temporary problems on earth, but the problem of earth itself ; the problem of Adam that wearies Him with sin.

For we have fallen, and without His aid, cannot get up. Fallen man, what we also call the “old Adam,” is sick not only externally, but internally: to the core.  

And in like fashion, man is not only poor externally, but internally…. spiritually poor.

We might not only feel physical hunger and thirst – and note that He satisfies His people like He did when they wandered in the desert — but we are to sense our spiritual hunger and thirst… to pant for the living God, as the Psalmist says…. (Isaiah 41:17-18 ; 43:20)

This is what Isaiah is on about….]

And the Messiah will “bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Is 42:7 ; see also Is. 49:8-13, esp. vv. 9 and 10, the latter which is quoted in Rv. 7:16-17 as a picture of heaven.)

Even as God has allowed Israel to endure punishment on earth, through their earthly foes, He also promises to redeem them again, and tells them not to fear:

12“I, even I, am he who comforts you.

Who are you that you fear mere mortals,

human beings who are but grass,

13that you forget the Lord your Maker,

who stretches out the heavens

and who lays the foundations of the earth,

that you live in constant terror every day

because of the wrath of the oppressor,

who is bent on destruction?

For where is the wrath of the oppressor?

(It goes on in chapter 51:

“…. 21Therefore hear this, you afflicted one,

made drunk, but not with wine.

22This is what your Sovereign Lord says,

your God, who defends his people:

“See, I have taken out of your hand

the cup that made you stagger;

from that cup, the goblet of my wrath,

you will never drink again.

23I will put it into the hands of your tormentors,

who said to you,

‘Fall prostrate that we may walk on you.’

And you made your back like the ground,

like a street to be walked on.”)

The reasoning seems to be “How can we fear men and their oppression, when our God is so great?”

This is part and parcel of the hope that belongs to God’s people…

[vi] In a Mar 24, 2016 article, the San Diego Foundation offered the following definitions:

  • “Social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.”
    United Nations
  • “Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.”
    National Association of Social Workers
  • “Social justice encompasses economic justice. Social justice is the virtue which guides us in creating those organized human interactions we call institutions. In turn, social institutions, when justly organized, provide us with access to what is good for the person, both individually and in our associations with others. Social justice also imposes on each of us a personal responsibility to work with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development.”
    Center for Economic and Social Justice

The Oxford English Dictionary tries to sum it up more succinctly:

“…justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.”

As in: “individuality gives way to the struggle for social justice”

[vii] More context: 15“ ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

16“ ‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.

“ ‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.

17“ ‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.

18“ ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

[viii] “For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord your Redeemer. – Isaiah 54:7-8 (see also, e.g., 60:10)

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Posted by on December 13, 2020 in Uncategorized


Do Your Righteous Acts Avoid “Filthy Rag” Status?



All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
– Isaiah 64:6



This passage from the book of Isaiah this morning is really a bit stunning.

Who, here, is God talking to through the prophet Isaiah?

Whose “righteous acts” are like filthy rags?

Who are the ones that are “swept away by sin”?

Well, in a sense, He is talking to the nation of Israel as a whole.

He is talking to that assembly of people, basically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who He has called to be His own…

In other words, He is talking about and to that people who should be showing who their God is by their actions, much like that parent who is concerned that their children represent the family well….

That is really who the book of Isaiah is focusing on here…even as the prophet also has talked about, for example, how it is too small a thing for God to only be their God, and how a “Bigger Tent” full of people for Him will be created….

So, let me ask the question again though: “Who is God talking to here through the prophet Isaiah?”

Is his primary audience, the primary ones receiving the message, those who trust in Him?

In other words, is the audience a group of people who really believe in God yet not enough? Who need to try harder?

Is their faith at bottom functional, but they just need to get busy with doing more good? Get their “act” together?

Who need to put a little bit more work into their good works so they will pass muster?

Is this the point of the passage?


Well, if we read Isaiah 58 alone, just a few chapters earlier, we might get the idea that God is primarily angry because He’s just not seeing the output He should be seeing…

The ones He chose are clearly not caring about their neighbors as He intends, and, interestingly, they have total disregard for the Sabbath laws, not showing proper respect for them at all!

So what’s the answer?

Simply hop to it, get to it!?

Deeds not creeds!?

Just do it!?

Well, if we look at things this way, we are really remaining on the surface…

Because… you see… the people Isaiah is talking about have a much, much deeper problem.

And it seems to start at the top. He tells us that their watchmen, or shepherds — that is their priests — have become “blind” and devoid of “understanding” (56:10-11)

Isaiah calls them “animals” (56:9) and “mute dogs” (56:10-11)… people more intent on the next party then fulfilling the function God gives them (Lessing, 147, see Matthew 24:45-51 too).

We might compare these useless Old Testament priests with the New Testament Pharisees, but the Pharisees at least had the pretense of goodness and righteousness!

No, we are actually far from that here… God’s chosen people, Isaiah tells us just a chapter later, are “children of transgression,” the “offspring of deceit”

…“burn[ing] with lust among the oaks under every green tree” for the false gods of the nations.

In other words, these are “people of the lie” who are committing spiritual fornication with other gods…. They’re “making their bed wide”…

And not only do they oppress those under their power, as we also read about in Isaiah 58, but they are also literally “slaugher[ing] their children in the valleys” (57)… offering these horrid sacrifices to their false gods…

Their community is characterized by violence, slavery, accusations, and libel (58: 4,6,9).

Captivated not by Yahwwh, the true God, they are serving their false gods, and so… they have false understandings of who the True God is. What He is like…

The highest worship of the true believer is to confess “Amen. God is right and true.” Convicted and led by the Spirit of God through the Word, the believer confesses sin and receives grace.

On the other hand, the one who does not have the beginnings of true faith can only see God as a Cosmic Butler (see also Malachai 3:13-15) or, alternatively, as an Angry Tyrant to be appeased.

But getting the imagined Cosmic Butler (or perhaps Divine Vending Machine, or Supernatural Sugar Daddy) on one’s side or satisfying His anger through one’s actions… through one’s outward shows of humility even–not to mention outright ignoring things He’s actually commanded!–

…is not, to say the least, a characteristic of the true believer.

This is sheer unbelief.[i]

Now, these people to whom Isaiah speaks really do have some concern about what the God of Israel might do to them.

So… they are hedging their bets and doing works, like fasting,[ii] that they think might win God’s favor — just in case he is the real or stronger God!…

In case there is anger to be appeased… (Cyril of Alexandria)

And this is not only sheer unbelief, but sheer paganism.

These whoring hypocrites should know that they can have no other gods before Him.

Therefore, one chapter after our O.T. reading today, Isaiah speaks for the Lord like this:

All day long I have held out my hands

to an obstinate people,

who walk in ways not good,

pursuing their own imaginations—

a people who continually provoke me

to my very face…



Again, they have a heart problem.

They have no true faith, these men and women who Isaiah says “take oaths in the name of the LORD and invoke the God of Israel–but not in truth or righteousness…” (48:1)

Again, in Isaiah chapter 58, all these peoples’ words about being shocked and surprised at God’s unresponsiveness to their fasts and their “worship”– “daily” or not–are not a lie. 

They really are surprised….

Because as they suppress and flee the true knowledge of God, they can’t help to, at least, “go through the motions”….

To use a very weak but easy to understand illustration…. they are like the web page on your computer that has lost its vital connection to the internet — to that which provides its power, and makes it “fresh”.

I think Scripture says it better:

They are an empty husk…

They are a dead leaf hanging on a tree…. (see 1:30, 28:1)

Such is the situation of this wayward people that will not listen to Him when He calls out….

“Cry out to me!”

That is

“Trust in me. For all your needs. Depend on me… Look to me…  I will make you what it was I had in mind from the beginning. Your delight in me will be contagious. I will make love flow like a river from you…”

Again, in sum, these people, who were indeed the seed of Abraham, His chosen people according to the flesh, are not simply those who were weak in faith and needed His discipline…

They are rank unbelievers.

Rank unbelievers He is nevertheless patiently reaching out to (though He is not above mocking them as well….)


So, as we can see, Isaiah’s primary audience here is actually unbelievers! – even if they are descended from the flesh of Abraham!

And Isaiah, as is right for God’s prophet, is aroused to compassion…

He states:

No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;

for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to[
b] our sins.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.

Again, Isaiah prays not just for himself and those who really do believe, even if only weakly…

He is also praying for all those that God chose and who should be believing…

We might think of Jesus here, who prayed as He entered Jerusalem to die:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Isaiah too, wants all of them to be saved, and hence cries out “for we are all your people” to the Lord.

He prays on behalf of the entire visible assembly of Israel…

He identifies with them, he is in “solidarity” with them. [iii]

No, he is not their savior, but like the Savior Jesus Christ, Isaiah is nevertheless in effect crying out: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing…”

…or Stephen in the book of Acts, who, as he is being stoned says, “Father, do not hold this sin against them…”



“All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…”

So what does Isaiah mean when he says “All of us” and “all our righteous acts” here?

He is deliberately using hyberbolic language to help his hearers understand the seriousness of the situation.

For example, he is not saying that he himself is finally, ultimately, “unclean.”

As if he were without faith in God and full of rank unbelief!

He is not saying that his own righteous acts are not made clean through the faith he has in God’s merciful and gracious promises, ultimately to be fulfilled through the death of His own Son, the coming Messiah, Jesus.

He is saying that God’s very own people—even though they were given special promises unlike the other nations and given the Holy Spirit (and hence faith)—have basically all fallen away, and have become unclean.

It is a general truth that they really do not even begin to seek God rightly, or even seek him imperfectly in the way that someone filled with imminent dread, terror, might be willing to listen to his voice.[iv]

They hardened their hearts, and so God confirmed them in their sin, hardening them some more…[v]

Isaiah though, is hoping for a miracle….


God therefore uses him to convict Israel of particular sins – their so-called “righteous acts”…[vi]

And which sins are these in particular?

Well, there are a number of them, many of which we already talked about this morning.

At the same time, there is indeed one which is at the root…

This one:

“you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.

This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment.”

You see, the core sin here is trusting in one’s own torches, one’s one lights, one’s own way of lighting one’s path before them…

In other words, trusting in one’s own wisdom—or man’s own wisdom.

Our own understanding.

Our own “Enlightenment” if you will.

And this means that when these people hear a Word that points to the exact opposite, like Isaiah 8:20, which says:

“Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.”

…they are going to spurn such counsel and indeed choose to remain in darkness, to live according to their own lights… their own rules.

To trust that whoever the God that is there might be, He’s going to understand…

He’ll “get it”. I’ll make the cut (I hope!) ; I’m not so bad….

Note in the Isaiah passage that it explicitly says “No one calls on your name….”

Again, the point in Isaiah is that the ones being targeted here are not “righteous” at all!

They have no true faith.

Their works are done without faith!

These are those who are “swept away by sin”.[vii]


So where can we find a faithful people?….

As always, we can find them where God is present in His mercy.

Again, our God stands out among all the gods… Unlike them, He really does care for His people, for He is holy…. set apart:

Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways….

Of those of whom we have been speaking, those not believing, God says this:

“…you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me…” (43:22)

Our Psalm for today though is actually quite different… Unlike those in Isaiah, here the people, though suffering, though in distress, really do seem to be calling on His Name![viii]

And why do they do this? Because they are the ones who are eager to learn true knowledge, just like we heard in our Epistle reading for today:

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledgeGod thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you… He will also keep you firm to the end… God is faithful.

God gives us the true knowledge we need. The knowledge of Jesus Christ, His Son, the Messiah, that saves us and the world.


It is the nature of mankind to rebel against God… It was not only men like the late 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant who did this, but Mr. Kant certainly helped…

Immanuel Kant encouraged his fellow “human beings” to grow out of their superstitious infancy, and to “have the courage to use their own understanding,” not trusting in any “external source”… This was called “the Enlightenment”.

Putting Man’s Reason on the Throne, he again fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy about those determined to be the Enlightened ones, who “walk in the light of [their] fires ; and of the torches [they] have set ablaze.”

But folks like Immanuel Kant have always been without excuse.


Because even if you don’t think that something qualifies as proof, God is the One who makes the final call.

This is why He, through His Apostle Paul, says things like this:

  • … [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by [Jesus Christ,] the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)
  • …I am speaking true and rational words… for this [resurrection of the Christ] has not been done in a corner (Acts 26:25,26).”

And, so, in sum:

…And when he comes, [the Helper, i.e. the Holy Spirit] will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11)


  • “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved…” (Acts 4:12)
  • “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)


Interestingly, the whole latter half of the book of Isaiah actually moves right along these lines as well.

It is all about how God has purposes in this world – great and grand and glorious purposes in His Son Jesus which culminate in the new heavens and new earth – and you can either be a part of it or get run over by it.

And, accompanying this, the latter half of the book of Isaiah is all about God’s prophecies — and stubborn Israel and other nations as well being rebuked and accused by God through His predictive prophecies…

They are all without knowledge of the future, which only He has!

And today too, in Mark 13, we see Jesus urging us to recognize the same thing: that only our God, only the true God, has the power to know all things, even what will happen in the future.

Jesus is saying that God is in control and that what He has said is going to happen is indeed going to happen…

In our little mini-Armageddons in this world—where betrayers look to make peace with Christian persecutors—He means for us to see and depend on these truths.

Are you ready? Again, remember!

 Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”

Be ready!

Only He, ultimately, has your back and can back it up…


For years, many of the “Enlightened Ones” mocked those who believed that Isaiah 53, a great prophecy about Jesus Christ, had actually been written before He was born…

But then…

“In late 1946 or early 1947, Bedouin teenagers were tending their goats and sheep near the ancient settlement of Qumran, located on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in what is now known as the West Bank. One of the young shepherds tossed a rock into an opening on the side of a cliff and was surprised to hear a shattering sound. He and his companions later entered the cave and found a collection of large clay jars, seven of which contained leather and papyrus scrolls. An antiquities dealer bought the cache, which ultimately ended up in the hands of various scholars who estimated that the texts were upwards of 2,000 years old. After word of the discovery got out, Bedouin treasure hunters and archaeologists unearthed tens of thousands of additional scroll fragments from 10 nearby caves; together they make up between 800 and 900 manuscripts.”[x]

Remember when Jesus said the rocks will cry out?

Well, these “Dead Sea” scrolls, which date back to 200 years before Jesus was born, more or less contained complete copies of the entire Old Testament.

Including of course, the book of Isaiah.

And with that Isaiah 53.

Remember, just a bit of that reads:

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.


Believe this God who proves Himself not primarily by great acts of power…fireworks… but through simple, humble, subtle, and surprising words of truth foretelling simple, humble, subtle and surprising deeds of righteousness…

Even if the end, though coming like a thief in the night, will be like the Exodus or Jericho or Mt. Sinai as well – quite dramatic…

Well, to further edify our souls, here are just a few more passages from Isaiah to help us close, and they are relevant to the prophecies we look to in our day:

  • “I knew how stubborn you were; your neck muscles were iron, your forehead was bronze. [So] I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, ‘My images brought them about; my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’” (48:5)
  • “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’” (46:10)
  • “Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come– yes, let them foretell what will come.” (44:7)

And what about you here in the midst of these words?

Most importantly, do your righteous acts avoid “filthy rag” status?

The question is, do you have the blood of the Lamb, which pays for all your sins?

The knowledge of the Prophets and the Apostles, my brothers and sisters, is yours!:

Behold again, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”




[i] While there are times that God does deal with others like Isaiah who actually do believe and call upon the Lord in truth, particularly those who are weak in faith (see, for example, chapter 51 and 57:15) in almost every case here from chapter 40 in Isaiah he is dealing with people who are completely turned against Him and who must be pardoned and renewed – drawn again to turn again to Him by the Spirit’s power — so that they have true faith and be like true children (as in 44:5). Not even the remnant that will remain remains because the whole of it was faithful.

No, like the Pharisees, those who should in fact show themselves to be God’s people often seem unafraid of God’s true words and secure in their own righteousness, their own “righteous acts”. Unlike the Pharisees in the New Testament, they do not even follow God’s law outwardly (see examples in sermon). In spite of this, Isaiah knows that God choose them as His own particular people, and like the Apostle Paul does in Romans 9:1-5, closely identifies with them as his and God’s own people. While at times he distinguishes himself from them (see 59:2), he also desperately wants to be in solidarity with them (see the radical nature of Isaiah 63:17 even!), even as he, finally, will not identify with their unbelief (see 65:10 and 13)

[ii] Things being warped like they are for these folks, when they actually do think of their religious heritage and tradition–they can really only ever go through the motions as they, for example, fast….

And God condemns this. It is not that the Lord is against fasting, its just that He will not be one of many gods…

[iii] Do your righteous acts avoid “filthy rag” status? In one sense, maybe you should not want them too! After all, you should, at the very least, be eager to be in solidarity with others. As Paul talks about in Galatians 6:2, we can take on, somehow, the troubles of others, their sins… “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ…” Even as you also must recognize that they will need to, finally, answer alone for their own sins before God.

[iv] See this message here:

[v] See 63:17 and the commentators’ debates about 64:5: “you yourself were angry and [so] we sinned….”

[vi] I note that this passage is often used as a way of describing original sin.

The notion of original sin says that by nature, right from the time our lives get started, man is not faith-filled but rather sinful:

“In sin my mother conceived me” like the Psalmist says or “we[, like [all men]] were by nature deserving of wrath” as the Apostle Paul says. So I too, have inherited the guilt of sin.

I will sin, and sin until I die.

That teaching, that doctrine, is undoubtedly true, as such passages demonstrate. But this passage from Isaiah is actually not describing that doctrine.

The idea that this passage should be used help explain the doctrine of original sin is simply mistaken: this passage is not meant to convey that teaching. It is, on the contrary, meant to convict God’s people—even us today—of particular kinds of concrete sins…

Still, this passage in Isaiah might also make some people think of another passage from Isaiah, spoken of earlier in the book. In chapter 48, for example, God says to his wayward people Israel:

“You have neither heard nor understood; from of old your ears have not been open. Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth.”

Of this passage, verse 8, the Lutheran Study Bible says:

“The Lord… [notes] that they were corrupt from the beginning. You, too, started life in the occupation of sin, which continues to manifest itself in sins like those of Israel. The Lord’s refinement can purge away your sins. As you reflect on your persistent weakness, recall also the Lord’s patience and mercy announced for you in Christ.”

You should also consider buying a Lutheran Study Bible, but in this case, this explanation is mistaken: again, this passage is also not meant to convey the doctrine of original sin. It is, on the contrary, meant to convict us of a particular kind of sin…namely, the sin of trusting in our own wisdom and thoughts about life and the future, and not the God who makes life and the future, and who knows it all before it occurs…

[vii] And hence, with things being so bad, the Lord puts it this way:

Whom did you dread and fear,
so that you lied,
and did not remember me,
did not lay it to heart?
Have I not held my peace, even for a long time,
and you do not fear me?
I will declare your righteousness and your deeds,
but they will not profit you.

(57:11-12, ESV ; in verse 12, the NIV has “I will expose your righteousness and works…”)

[viii] Even though here God’s people are actually praying – seemingly really calling on His name – we have every impression here that the time of their struggles—even the discipline (not condemnation) that God is applying to them—is not yet done…

“3 Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

How long, Lord God Almighty,
will your anger smolder
against the prayers of your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears;
you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
You have made us an object of derision[b] to our neighbors,
and our enemies mock us.”

Is God disciplining you?

Is He disciplining us?

And how might questions about God’s discipline fit in with the significance of the distress that Jesus speaks about in our Gospel lesson today?

[ix] Again, remember this key passage:

11 But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.

This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment.

From mankind’s “knowledge,” or that which is falsely called knowledge, our ideas and actions and goals and strategies proceed…..

Human beings have always been like this. Apart from the guidance of the Word of God, they tend towards disintegration, decay, and destruction.

That thing we call the “Enlightenment” is actually a good way of explaining this what goes wrong. The late 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant said the “Enlightenment” was:

“the emergence of man from his self-imposed infancy. Infancy is the inability to use one’s reason without the guidance of another. [Infancy] is self-imposed, when it depends on a deficiency, not of reason, but of the resolve and courage to use it without external guidance. Thus the watchword of enlightenment is: Sapere aude! Have the courage to use one’s own reason!’” (Immanuel Kant, 1784).

This kind of thinking leads to disaster though. If I question my spiritual inheritance in Christ – and even turn away – it is not because I used my own understanding apart from other influences.

It is because I choose to turn away from one Person and to trust another, namely, the Father of Lies.

If I don’t realize that this is happening I only reveal that I shun adulthood, embrace childishness, and dwell in darkness, like those Isaiah speaks about….

Kant was not talking about an understanding formed, and guided by the Scriptures, by “the rule of faith” (Isaiah 8:20).

He was, instead, at war with this. For all of his many keen insights and observations, this philosopher made claims for men that were far too grand – and frankly, ridiculous.

And it is not just him, of course: this problem has always been there, and philosophies like those of Enlightenment man—whatever their perks and benefits—have only exacerbated this problem!

What is the alternative? Again, Paul’s words to the Corinthians discussed in the sermon. Embracing Isaiah 8:20.


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Posted by on November 30, 2020 in Uncategorized


Discussing Frank Wilderson’s “Afro-pessimism” with Matt Garnett

Come let us reason together?



So, my core take-away on the issues of race being discussed today:

There are definitely other views. What to make of the Critical Race Theory spawn of Afro-pessimism, particularly the one put forth by Frank Wilderson III?:

Here are parts 1, 2, and 3 in podcast form in Buzzsprout, and Matt’s write-ups:

“What happens when ideas from university campuses finally hit the ground? It’s one thing to talk about ideas and it’s something else entirely to make good on them. For those who still question whether or not the approaches of Critical Theory can be adopted by the Church, enter one Frank Wilderson; author of *Afropessimism*. Wilderson talks in a recent interview about what strain of Critical Theory will be able to “end the world” and that strain is the “Race” version of this philosophy. Translation? Critical Race Theory, in Wilderson’s estimation is the best candidate to end the West. If you don’t think that includes the Church…… Nathan Rinne of Concordia St. Paul and I discuss this alarming interview.”

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3: (start around 30 minutes — content from part 2 repeats).

(“These are strange and confusing times especially when you don’t understand how your enemy thinks. This week, Nathan Rinne of Concordia St. Paul continue our saga of helping you to understand and make sense of what’s going on in our culture and world. This is round three of us showing you how the philosophy of Critical Theory aims to “destroy the world” with a seemingly irresistible ideological agenda.”)

On You Tube:

Part 1:


Part 2:


Part 3:




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Posted by on November 27, 2020 in Uncategorized


Trying to Get as Many Heavenly Rewards as You Can

I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”

– Matthew 25:23



In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus indicates to His disciples He might be a while in getting back to them. We hear, in part:

After a long time the master of those servants returned…”

It’s hard for many of today’s disciples to wait for their Master’s return.

For Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and as such, Christians desire to be where He is in utter fullness.

For to Whom else should we go?

He is the Light on the darkened paths of the fallen world which does not recognize Him, and in Him, we are the light as well – the light for the life of the world, a city on a hill…

Where He walks, we walk – and the beginnings of the world’s transformation and the ushering in of the new Creation follow in our wake.

Planting the seeds of His Word, new communities of worshippers are created, joining the heavenly chorus from ages to ages.

This too, is His gift to us. This is our inheritance. This is our calling.

For we are the maidens to whom our Faithful One is betrothed – awaiting the final consummation of all things and the great wedding feast with people from all tongues, tribes, and nations!

This is our Christian faith!

And two of the men in Jesus’ parable seem to get this, seem energized by this

According to the text they get to it immediately!

They leap into their work with true vigor, as indicated by the verbs that describe their actions…

We might compare their energy to a couple young Wall Street sharks eager to get out into the world and make millions under their mentor’s profit-seeking eye…[i]

But not all those we find in the church we see with our eyes feel this way. Some, for example, are like the man who says in our parable, “I knew that you were a hard man…”

I wonder if Judas, though being as close to Jesus as He was, also thought Jesus was a hard man.[ii]

“Jesus, I know you have your mission, your purposes, your goals…. But, be reasonable. You are tearing the world apart…”[iii]

If he did, he would not be unlike a great many “wise” men and women outside the church either, would he?

“Jesus… please. Can’t we just try to allow for people to ‘be authentic’ and ‘be who they are’ as much as possible? Can’t we just look to have human progress and flourishing the way that we think it should be done? Can’t we just focus on ‘peace, peace…’ and ‘safety’? Be reasonable! You are being much too hard… Difficult…”

And so we read, also in the book of Matthew, in the chapter right before this one: “the Son of Man will appear in the sky…! [excitedly]

…and all the nations of the earth will mourn…” [sadly] (24:30).


We are told in the Bible that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

And we see this morning that in our Lord’s parable, the slave says:

“’Master… I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you….”

Now, it might sound like this man did act out of fear – but is this really the case?

On the one hand, it might seem to be… Several Bible commentators think so. When I was young man, I often thought that this is what was happening when I heard this parable…

…and then I often wondered why the Master did not have some pity on His servant…

After all, didn’t Jesus say that He did not come to damage those whose faith was weak? You know, He said of Himself: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out…”?

“Why doesn’t this guy qualify?”, I thought…

On the other hand, does it not seem just a bit odd that this servant actually has the nerve to speak such words to the one he says he fears?

Has he just all of a sudden, after being fearful all this long time, just now gotten his courage up when He faces His Master?

And not only this, if he’s really as fearful as he says he is, why would he have buried the talent in the first place?[iv]

No, things are not always as they initially seem.


I no longer think that this servant was living in fear.

At all.

That’s not why he buried his talent in the ground, and hence, the Lord calls his bluff:

“Oh, you knew I was a hard man? Well, if that is the case, why didn’t you…?”

As one commentator puts it: “Wickedness always argues like a fool when it dares to open its mouth.”

It does us all well to remember that when the Bible speaks of sinful or wicked men and fear, it speaks about them having a lack of fear (Psalm 36). Rom. 3:18, for example, makes the accusation that “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Paul is saying man knew God but have abandoned Him. And man knows the truth about God, but suppresses this truth.

Therefore the real issue, I submit, is what it always is.


The Master is truly patient, kind, good, and especially, generous.

Fallen man is not…

Jesus Christ does not come to make unrealistic and unreasonable demands, but “to serve” and “give his life as a ransom for many.” And the greatest of His followers are those among them who serve, who have begun to give like He does! (Matt 23:11)

He says to all that He comes to offer a yoke that is easy, and burdens which are light….

He even tells us that we who have will receive even more, “and [we] will have an abundance”! (Matt 25:29)… giving us both grace and responsibilities that bring joy, love, and life.

And yet…

…when He comes bidding the world to repent, bidding both “good and bad” to “come to the feast!”

…it is people like the tax collectors and prostitutes who repent, believe, and embrace “the way of righteousness” (Matt 21:32).


Perhaps though, we might think that this servant, while not afraid, was just being lazy. This, however, is not necessarily correct either (the NIV translation here is questionable).

Again, Jesus Christ is the one who at the eleventh hour hires extra workers for His vineyard, making them His servants in good standing as well!

Generous! And making the last first, and the first, last.

….and, as Jesus explicitly points out in Matthew 20:15, people are envious… envious…

…Because He is generous…

Envy, again, is the “desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to another…”

It really comes down to this: people, being envious, ultimately want to see goodness being done to their neighbors according to their own way, and not the Lord’s way…

If they “bless” other people, they want it to be in accordance with their will, their standards, their purposes… their own conceptions of what is just and fair…and just and fair for them.

And Jesus, frankly, ruins all of that…

As we see in the Gospels in fact, His chosen people, the Jews, have very, very little time and/or patience for the heralds who come announcing the good news of the Kingdom.

So it is not that the servant in the parable is necessarily lazy… It is that he simply had other things that he would rather be doing, that were more important to do. 

This man, a member of the church outwardly, is much like the Jewish rulers.

You see, pre-Jesus, things were going pretty well in their world.

They were quite comfortable, they were governing things just fine, and most had the respect of the common people. They liked how people saw them, viewed them… They had the kind of status and commendation from the world that gave them a sense of purpose and meaning…

So this man is not necessarily lazy in that he is unwilling to act or participate in any kind of work. It’s just that when it comes to this work, the purposes of the Master, he is not only unambitious but wholly disinterested…

As the sixth century preacher Gregory the Great put it:

Hiding a talent in the earth means employing one’s abilities in earthly affairs, failing to seek spiritual profit, never raising one’s hearts from earthly thoughts. There are some who have received the gift of understanding but have a taste only for things that pertain to the body. The prophet says of them, ‘They are wise in doing evil, but they do not know how to do good…’” (224)

This man who buries his talent, like the Jewish leaders, didn’t need this Radical Carpenter from Nazareth coming on the scene and turning over everyone’s tables…

On His own mission of love and in effect accusing everybody else of being the bad guys…


And, again, note that it is evidently not only the Jews, God’s chosen people, who are made miserable by Him – but the whole unbelieving world.

…when “the Son of Man will appear in the sky… all the nations of the earth will mourn…” (24:30).

Well, what should God expect if He makes people feel bad? (see John 7:7).

What should He expect if He breaks into everybody’s world and upsets their apple cart? Knocks their ducks out of the “proper” rows?

I mean, if you are God, you should just understand when people say

“Hey… thanks for the invitation to the Wedding Feast, but I’ll pass”


“It’s not like I took the talent you gave me and spent it on my own pleasures… I only buried it after all…”

God, you should just “get it” when people say…

“Look, I didn’t squander the gifts I was given on riotous living, like the prodigal son did… I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m a good person. Ask my peers…”

God, maybe you should just take it a little bit more lightly when people say:

“We don’t really want you here. We don’t need you…Well, maybe we could make something work. What’s in it for me?”

I mean, right?

God, you need to have a “come to Jesus” moment!

Get with the program!

Or maybe, understandably, you as the Master on a Mission get enraged at your useless servants and you throw that worthless and wicked lot outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…

(this what happens in this parable, and it also happens in the parable of the wedding feast to the person who gets into the feast, but isn’t wearing the right clothes…).

Or maybe, you as the Master send your army to destroy those who murder your servants and burn their city down…

(this is what Jesus says will happen to those who not only ignore the invitation to the wedding feast, but kill the servants who bring the message).

And then, of course, the world accuses this Master, the one who served in love, who paid for the sins of His rebellious people with the price of His own blood… of being the worst of impatient and authoritarian monsters…[v]

At the very least, this is what they do in their hearts… the heart which will be fully unveiled, laid bare, at the time of the final judgment…

Where their “accounts” will be settled and individually scrutinized (Origin).

They only condemn themselves here. They only show how they are “projecting,” as we say today… revealing their own hearts as they do.

As the commentator Lenski puts it about the man who buries his talent…

“This fellow imagines his great and generous lord to be as envious and as self-seeking as he himself is…” (980)

And as Martin Fraanzman put it, talking about not only this parable but the message of God’s judgment of the sheep and goats which immediately follows:

“The unmerciful had committed themselves to the unmerciful enemy of God[, that is Satan,] and share his doom (the eternal fire which God did not design for man[, but the demons])” (39, CSSC, 1979).


So what is the contrast?

The wise, the righteous, are those who are about their master’s business, and will be found about such when He returns…

Let’s talk a bit more about some of the details of this parable, and some of its more challenging aspects.

Who is the wealthy man? The wealthy man in the parable is Jesus. Again, He is getting ready to leave His disciples and to go into heaven, where He will be for a long while before returning… (Lenski)

Servants/Slaves? Yes.

And slaves in the ancient world were teachers, accountants, and even treasurers of a kingdom. In other words, not just household slaves or agricultural workers but highly skilled business experts. (Osborne, 923)

What are the talents? Money. A silver talent might be worth 7,300 denarii (and a denarii was a day’s wage). A gold talent could be worth 30 times as much…. And just one gold talent would approximately 800,000 dollars in today’s money! (Osborne)

R.T. France says “the ‘talents’… do not represent… individual ability but are allocated on the basis of [individual ability].” (951) That’s true, though even as this parable deals with money, it also does bring our attention to the abilities of the servant. This then, is where we get the metaphorical interpretation of “talent”, and, in fact, our modern word “talent”.

The text says: “The man…went at once and put his money to work…”

Yes, and “use it or lose it” as they say, right?

Do you have wealth? Use it.

And, also, we should not assume that those who have more talents, and hence more responsibilities, could also not prove unfaithful.

This parable is not teaching that only those with the fewest talents might prove unfaithful in their abilities. Instead, we see clearly that this parable contains a warning for all of us…

It will not do at all for any of us to say, ‘I can’t do much, so it is all right if I don’t do anything. It won’t really make any difference.” (Albrecht).[vi]

Or as St. John Chrysostom put it 1,600 years ago: “Let no one say, ‘I have but one talent and can do nothing with it.’”

Do you have diligence? Can you teach? Speak? Sing? Add and subtract? Negotiate? Are you a good protector or care giver? Do you listen well?

What kind of abilities, what kind of gifts, what kind of material and technological means do you have that you could be generous with as well?

It is better to give than receive! This is the life that Christians have been blessed with!

The wise and righteous do good works, because they have oil, faith, in their lamps!

They notice the signs of the end, and they keep watch for their Master’s return!

They have and will be given more, having an utter abundance!

And this, by the way, goes along with Matt. 13, fourteen chapters earlier, where we read the following:

“The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables…”[vii]

Maybe that is, finally, the most profound way of understanding what the talents represent: the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.

Above all, you have the simple and humble gospel which penetrates this world like yeast through the dough!

What is the world to me!
My Jesus is my treasure,
My life, my health, my wealth,
My friend, my love, my pleasure,
My joy, my crown, my all,
My bliss eternally.
Once more, then, I declare:
What is the world to me![viii]


The talent-burier in our parable today really thinks that he is a believer… but his understanding of who his Master is is dead wrong.

So do not be like the false believer, who has a fake Jesus. Do not be like Judas who asks “Is it I Lord?” (namely, I, who will betray you?).

Let your understanding of Christ, the generous Master, be true!

Be the one who has boldness and joy as the second coming approaches!

See His great generosity… His death on the cross for even your sins! Even today!

You too can hear “Well done!” Fine! Excellent![ix]

“You were faithful with a few things, over many will I station you…”

“Enter into the joy of your Master!”

He has prepared a place for us. There are many mansions there.

You see, our Lord Jesus is eager to comfort His people with the messages about our heavenly dwellings, and yes, even our heavenly rewards.[x]

We see here, in the parable, what He says about new “stations”. This should perhaps cause us to recall Matthew 19:28 also, where He says to His disciples:

“Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

I think at this point, in this day and age, it’s also important for us to say how wrong the ideas of some self-proclaimed “Christian socialists” are.

One for example, in an article I read, says this:

“Our struggle is not to raise ourselves above our enemies, but to love them fully [good so far…], because to abolish class means abolishing what makes them our enemies at all.”

Thinking like that is disastrously wrong.

Actually, as I noted last time I spoke with you, God appreciates hierarchy. And He ranks and rewards accordingly. We can even see that there will be different classes or “statuses” in heaven….

There just won’t be envy any longer, like there is so much of it here….

Had the servant with only one talent fulfilled his responsibility, there’s no doubt he would have been equally commended by His Master.

He would not, however, have received all of the exact same rewards as his fellow believers…

And not only this, but all of us, and any “Christian socialist” friends we might have in particular, should see that Christ’s message is not about attaining absolute economic equality on earth or in heaven but is ultimately about the joy of simply being in good relationships with the others God blesses us with…

All faithful servants will enter into their Master’s joy, with Him being their true Wealth.

For the greatest of the gifts God gives is love, and God Himself is love….


So, here, for example, we should think of Paul, who says these tender and powerful words to the Thessalonians:

“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?” (I Thess. 2:19)

So again, take into account and do not be like Judas who asks “Lord, is it I?,” but trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and His plans for you!

You, who reach others with the joy of this message, and they, who reach you with the message of Christ!

And may we, may all of us, like the good servant go forth in God’s work and be confident: “Master, you delivered to me five (or two, or one) talents; here I have made five (or two, or one) talents more…”

And let us do so always keeping in mind that the good works we do are never meant to be for our own salvation – Jesus has fully won this for us – but for the benefit of our neighbor to our Lord’s glory.

Hence, the Apostle Paul also says:

“Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load….”

Before we say “Paul, that’s not Lutheran!”, let’s realize that he is writing this in one of his greatest epistles explaining justification by grace through faith… the book of Galatians…

So, why would anyone, particularly a Lutheran…

[Try] to Get as Many Heavenly Rewards as [They] Can?

Well, why would we not want our own rewards to be greater and greater?

Such a thought need not be for selfish or evil reasons, but can indicate proper self-interest and concern.

For if our rewards are greater and greater, what does this really mean?

It means that God and His Christ, His Gospel, have been glorified in the world through us all the more. And even though this is not our main priority, this also means that we too will be blessed to know the joy of serving our God all the more in this life….

Just like a man kissing his wife experiences pleasure in that “good work”…[xi]

Our Lord is good. For we know, in our heart of hearts, that we are unworthy of all of the great love He has for us.

“We are unworthy servants” but of Christ we sing “love to the loveless shown that we might lovely be…”

And so, we are compelled by this love and strive. The Apostle Paul puts matters well:

“My dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

We will never get beyond the fact that it is only in, with, through, and by our Lord Jesus Christ that we inherit—not merit—any and all of these blessings.

And… our efforts will not be in vain…




[i] Luz, per Osborne: “The best way to make money quickly in the antiquity was dealing in commodities or speculating in land” (924). The talents, do, after all, literally mean a large sum of money. “[T]his [parable] is not about domestic management, but about high-level commercial responsibility…” “The ‘talents,’ however, do not represent that individual ability but are allocated on the basis of it.” (France, 953, 951). The mood of the parable is definitely far from the reasoning found here: Also vs. Carter and Reid. Carter specifically, per France, “criticizes the parable for taking ‘the perspective of the wealthy elite’ and ‘punishing the one who subverts the system…” The third slave should be commended “for not adding to the master’s wealth by not depriving others”. He is the “honorable one because he unmasks the wickedness of the master.” Matthew is “a creature of his cultural context.” (p. 951)

[ii] BAGD (756) says this means “hard, strict, harsh, cruel, and merciless” (Osborne, 926). One commentator I looked at said this could also mean “strong” as in “powerful”. In other words, it could be a complement of sorts. Perhaps the servant is being deliberately ambiguous.

[iii] Or maybe, as some have suggested, Judas belonged to the party of the Zealots, and he would have been upset that Jesus wasn’t tearing the world apart the way He should have been doing it to counter Rome.

[iv] France: It’s about self-interest and slave perceiving he would not get much out of the deal. “He may also have been afraid of how such a master might react if his commercial venture failed, but, if so, he has chosen his words badly…” (France, 955).

[v] And in order to get the evil authoritarian, who serves us so that He actually can rule us, to try and trick Him… to undermine Him… to subvert him…. some try to crash the feast.

Jesus tells this parable in Matthew 22 – right after telling the momentous parable of the tenants where the tenants kill the Master’s own son. In the wedding feast parable, they are actually going to pretend, in spite of their faithless hearts, that they actually belong there in the same arena with Jesus (related to this, note also what they do next: first, in chapter 22, the Pharisees go on to ask about taxes and Caesar, the Sadducees about marriages and the resurrection, and the Pharisees again about the greatest commandment ; finally, Jesus asks them about “whose son is the Christ”… and goes into the “Woes!” in chapter 23. Chapter 24 begins to get into the “Signs of the end of the age”…).

They don’t realize that they need the wedding clothes though, and face the consequences, as so many do in these chapters where we read of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”…

Again, as noted above, “it really comes down to this: people, being envious, ultimately want to be “good to their neighbors” in their own way, and not the Lord’s way… If we “bless” other people, we want it to be in accordance with our will, our standards, and our own conceptions of what is just and fair.

Jesus, frankly, ruins all of that…His chosen people, in fact — have little time for the heralds who come announcing such good news…

They, after all, have other things to attend to: one “his field, another… his business” (Matt 22:5)

So, naturally, they kill the heralds, including the Master’s own son.

[vi] Most of us would place ourselves in the category of the servant who received only one talent. That may be where most of us belong. But that surely is no excuse for being unfaithful with the talent God has given us. It will not do at all for any of us to say, ‘I can’t do much, so it is all right if I don’t do anything. It won’t really make any difference.” (Albrecht, 364)

[vii] “Those who have accepted Jesus’ gift will receive revelation in abundance; those who have rejected it (the Jewish people) will lose even what they have, namely, their place as the recipients of divine truth. Here it has the broader sense of the reality of the kingdom. He followers of Jesus will have the kingdom in abundance, while the leaders and the Jewish people who have opposed Jesus will lose it…” (Osborne, 928)

[viii] 1 What is the world to me
With all its vaunted pleasure
When You, and You alone,
Lord Jesus, are my Treasure!
You only, dearest Lord,
My soul’s delight shalt be;
You are my peace, my rest.
What is the world to me!

2 The world seeks to be praised
And honored by the mighty
Yet never once reflects
That they are frail and flighty.
But what I truly prize
Above all things is He,
My Jesus, He alone.
What is the world to me!

3 The world seeks after wealth
And all that mammon offers
Yet never is content
Though gold should fill its coffers.
I have a higher good,
Content with it I’ll be:
My Jesus is my wealth.
What is the world to me!

4 What is the world to me!
My Jesus is my treasure,
My life, my health, my wealth,
My friend, my love, my pleasure,
My joy, my crown, my all,
My bliss eternally.
Once more, then, I declare:
What is the world to me!

[ix] Fine, Excellent (Lenski) “No higher commendation can come to any believer from the lips of Jesus…”….

[x] Sometimes, we are afraid to talk about rewards, but as he gives to “each according to his ability” he is also ready to “reward accordingly” (Fraanzman). As Gregory the Great put it:

“All the good deeds of our present life, however many they may appear to be, are few in comparison with our eternal recompense. The faithful servant is put in charge of many things after overcoming all the troubles brought him by perishable things. He glories in the eternal joys of his heavenly dwelling. He is brought completely into the joy of his master when he is taken into his eternal home and joined to the company of the angels. His inner joy at this gift is such that there is no longer any external perishable thing that can cause him sorrow…”

Finally, it is not reading too much into the parable to see heaven as a state “not of indolent pleasure,” as one man put it, “but of active cooperation with the purpose of God as well as enjoyment of his favor” (see France, 955).

[xi] Rev. Christopher Jackson:


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Posted by on November 15, 2020 in Uncategorized


Is Democracy Dead in America?

“…those who once cared about election interference must now allow the investigations to play out, because this is bigger than any candidate.” — Gen. Michael Flynn



I have particular Bible verses that come to mind here, but its probably best right now to keep those to myself. I’ll stick with political commentary.

From where I stand, from all I’ve read, it sure looks to me like there is massive evidence of election fraud. So far, I haven’t found the rebuttals that I have seen about this or that complaint, incident, believable.

Again, other Western democracies, as best I can tell, do not have these problems. Up until about five minutes ago, non-Trumpy sources like the N.Y. Times were telling us that mail-in ballots were a decidedly bad idea. It is not Trump who is making America look bad now, it is certain American cities and media elites that have made us look bad.

Of course I don’t believe a word the media or the politicians say about their denials. What are, to some, “one-off” incidents of problems here and there in these places are just evidence of a “tip-of-the-iceberg” for some of us. The media and politicians both lie for a living, and they have only become that much more brazen, “out in the open,” about everything in recent years.

Isn’t that what Trump is saying too Al?: “The most important principle that I defended 20 years ago, that Joe Biden and many others are defending tonight is: Let’s count every legally cast vote and obey the will of the American people…”


Trump gets lots of traction with “Fake news” for a good reason.

Right now, it seems like Trump and the people around him are fighting hard, and accumulating more and more evidence of fraud moment-by-moment. Despite articles like the NY Times piece the other day saying how hard it would be to pull fraud off, the key matters are this:

-Politicians have successfully been pulling off voting fraud in certain areas for hundreds of years (there are even some well-documented accounts of how this is done).

-Certain areas are known for this kind of thing, they have a culture of fraud.

-It would have been much, much easier to cheat in this election given the presence of so many mail-in ballots, “software glitches” here and there.

-Again, the media and Democrats have only been getting more brazen, out in the open, with their lying.

-Finally, they face no consequences for any of their actions. Of course it is reasonable that many of us feel like they think they can get away with it (not all Democrats).

So… I hope Trump and those fighting with him manage to secure whatever evidence of fraud is available to him. It would hardly surprise many of us if much of that evidence has already been buried, but I hope they find whatever is there.

I might end up agreeing with them now!


And I do want and hope Donald Trump continues to be President. However, given that votes that should not have been counted are not counted and he does not reach the vote total that he needs, what if more and more people believe that there was enough funny business going on not to trust the process (for whatever reason). Then what?

One thing Trump might be able to do is make a deal. I’ll stop fighting only when we get national election reform that ensures that this kind of fiasco can never happen again, that use best practices and methodologies of places that do not have these kinds of problem, that make it impossible to cheat, and that make it as easy as possible to detect fraud in the system when it does happen.

And if this is rejected? If the Republicans at large won’t fight for this? Or if there seems to be no reason to think that the conditions of such a compromise deal would be adhered to?

At best, I’ll probably be a member of the Solidarity Party in the future if I vote at all. And I’ll pick up and loudly promote as true the Washington Post’s tagline that “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” And that I do not accept Joe Biden as a legitimate President of the United States of America.

And at worse, I’ll fully expect the strongmen and kings to arise in an already fractured, broken, and increasingly unsure and unsafe country.

“….networks called the election for Gore as early as 8:00 P.M. E.T. on election night.” — multiple sources online





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Posted by on November 8, 2020 in Uncategorized


Can Christians Legitimately Justify Voting for Joe Biden/Kamala Harris?

And this means what? “On abortion, there is only one Christian position.” – Laurence White


There have been a lot if very interesting articles written in the past couple weeks from well-known evangelical leaders addressing the issue of voting in the upcoming Presidential election. I am thinking about pieces by John Piper, Al Molhler[i], Wayne Grudem, and Doug Wilson (these last two responding to Piper and his concern about the character of Donald Trump).

One of the most challenging articles that I’ve read though came from Felix James Miller, who write a very thoughtful piece at Public Discourse titled “Why Voting for Biden Isn’t Necessarily a Sin—And Why That Matters”.

“I am adamant that a Christian may in good conscience vote for [Joe Biden] so long as it is not because of the evils he supports.” — Felix Miller


Miller himself is not a Biden voter – he thinks “his presidency would do untold damage to our nation and the world” and that voting for him would be “foolish”. He also does not say that he is a Trump voter, but rather shares thoughts like these:

“Joe Biden and Donald Trump both clearly possess great vice and little virtue. There is no getting around that. While we cannot judge a person’s culpability (that is, whether they are accountable for their sins), we should pray for both Trump and Biden to repent from their publicly sinful lives.”

In the article though, he is specifically countering Roman Catholic voices who insist that “any support for pro-choice candidates is always wrong for Christians” (the position recently taken by one Father James Altman, in a very popular You Tube video), and defends a certain kind of person who votes for Joe Biden.

Sit down Father Altman!: “There will be sixty million and counting aborted babies standing at the gates of Heaven barring your Democrat entrance, and nothing you can say will ever excuse you for your direct or indirect support of that diabolical agenda. Period. The end.”
Father James Altman


At the same time though, he makes a number of statements that, were they to be taken by themselves, might lead a person to think that he believes voting for Joe Biden is necessarily sinful. For example, he says:

  • “Any person who has freely committed, or even ‘formally cooperated’ in, either [abortion or euthanasia] is not to present himself for communion until he has repented and been forgiven by Christ through His mystical body, the Church.”
  • “To cooperate in a sin… is to support in any way (whether by guidance about, assistance in, or providing material for) another person committing a sin.”
  • “Biden is a vicious man who consistently supports abortion at all stages of pregnancy, while Trump is a vicious man who has taken action throughout his presidency to protect not only life, but religious freedom, marriage, and myriad other socially conservative issues.”
  • “Joe Biden, if elected president, intends to support laws that allow for the murder of innocents. This is evil.”
  • “By casting a vote for Biden, a person is cooperating with evil.”
  • “Biden’s campaign is heavily tied to a number of grave evils, and thus showing public support (e.g. by wearing a Biden t-shirt) would likely cause scandal to others.”
  • “Joe Biden… should be understood by Catholics to have excommunicated himself through his public support for abortion.”

So how does Miller get to his conclusion – that a Christian may vote for Joe Biden and not be wrong in doing so – in his article? The following paragraph is probably the most important piece of information you need to understand his argument:

“In formal cooperation with evil, a person either participates in the object, agrees with the intention, or both. Material cooperation, on the other hand, occurs when a person does not participate directly in the object of the evildoer’s act—namely “what the person is doing”—or agree with the intention of the evildoer—“why he is doing it”—but still contributes in some way to the act. If a woman purchases a latte at a coffee shop that donates money to Planned Parenthood, she is materially cooperating with the company’s evil practice, but she is not formally cooperating with it so long as she does not specifically intend to support abortion.”

Miller briefly concludes that “one may cooperate with evil only if that cooperation is material, mediate, and remote [(not formal, immediate, and proximate)] and if there is proportionate cause for doing so.” He explains the distinctions that he is using by saying, in part, “[a]n example of someone materially cooperating in evil in a way that is mediate and causally distant is a bus driver who unknowingly provides a ride for a woman on her way to have an abortion.”[ii] And the “proportionate cause” he mentions is people who believe in their conscience that only a vote for Biden (or is it Harris?) will avert the scandal[iii] of Donald Trump (“the belief that President Trump has a corrosive impact on society, America’s constitutional order, and the world”) — and  this the danger of increased chaos and civil war (and with this, of course, the opportunity for no improvements on the pro-life front).[iv]

His final paragraph is a call of unity of sorts among Christians struggling with these matters, and sounds a bit like Albert Mohler’s concerns to maintain good relations between Christians of different races[v] when it comes to political issues (see footnote 1 below):

What the Christian call of unity does demand is that we never allow earthly cares and worries to separate us. When we do, we lose moral credibility and increase fragmentation in the church. We are mistaken if we claim that those Christians who make different legitimate political judgments of prudence are rejecting the call of Christ. In fact, by accusing them of sin, we ourselves are acting against one of our Lord’s final earthly wishes.

My initial impression upon reading Miller’s pieces was that, on the face of it, his argument was strong, even if it bothered me.

At the same time, truth be told, I was kind of happy that the argument seemed so strong because I don’t like the idea of thinking that people I know and love voting for Joe Biden might be putting their souls in peril (yes, I think there are dangers involved voting for Trump as well, though please see this article by Carl Truman addressing that matter).

At the same time, however, I wondered how “air-tight” the argument really was and so I asked a couple of really smart Christian brothers whose opinions I respect a lot. Here is what they said.

“[A]midst the nuances of formal/material, mediate/immediate, and proximate/remote *cooperation*, his analysis completely overlooks blatant *negligence*.” — Matt Cochran


Matt Cochran:

It’s very thorough and methodical in the one facet of the situation it focuses on–cooperation with evil–but it also misses the forest for the trees, in my opinion.

As voters, we shouldn’t be looking at ourselves as merely cooperating with candidates, but also as delegating our authority over the nation to candidates. He’s not thinking in those terms. You can even see it in his illustrative examples, which are all matters of being a consumer or an employee. It’s the thinking of a subject rather than a ruler. So amidst the nuances of formal/material, mediate/immediate, and proximate/remote *cooperation*, his analysis completely overlooks blatant *negligence*.

The perspective of a ruler isn’t how much to cooperate with evil, but rather how much to tolerate evil. He must tolerate some, for he will have neither perfect subjects nor perfect servants. But what he puts up with will depend on how much evil will be caused or goodness damaged by refusing to tolerate any particular evil. As Luther put it, “One must go by the proverb, ‘He cannot govern who cannot wink at faults.’ Let this be the rule: Where wrong cannot be punished without greater wrong, there let him waive his rights, however just they may be.”

As voters with authority, Christians must vote as ones under Authority ourselves. We have a responsibility to oversee the various tasks of government, and protecting our own people from wanton murder is right up at the top of such a list. If we refuse an opportunity to take an action on their behalf that will not lead to an even greater harm, then we have neglected our responsibilities and will need to answer for that. The greater such a failure to condemn evil is, the greater our negligence. And honestly, given the scope of the evil of abortion, a greater harm against which it can be justifiably balanced is really hard to come up with in our present context. (Though I won’t discount the possibility altogether.)

The Priest and the Levite who passed by the man on the side of the road might have been able to quibble about their level of cooperation with the robbers who beat him, but they overlooked the more important point: how loving their neighbor meant taking action to help him. There’s something similar going on with the article’s analysis of voting.

Now, the more cynical one is about American voting, the less relevant that line of thinking will be. Also, the less you believe that any available candidate can protect the unborn, the less relevant it will be. But even so, it’s hard for me to find a way to countenance a Biden vote, as those other lines of thinking would lead to refraining from voting altogether.

“It’s not my job to pontificate with a myriad of distinctions in order to find them loopholes.” — Pastor Andrew Preus


Pastor Andrew Preus:

Very well thought-out, he makes some good points. Here are my two points:

First, I would apply this more often to paying taxes, not so much voting. I do believe there is such thing as a protest vote for someone who you know is not as sound as you would want. For example, I disagree with Trump on his program to extend maternity leave. I don’t believe it is wise to incentivize multi-income families, as this continues to keep people enslaved to corporate greed. And yet, I can see voting for him in spite of this, since he is not by such policy directly attacking the home. He just isn’t helping it. Perhaps it would be material cooperation with evil on his part. One could make the same argument about unwise foreign policy, although I refused to vote for the neo-cons in 08 and 12.

Second, the reason he gives for people to vote for Biden with a good conscience is almost never the case. Christians who vote Democrat almost always do so because they buy into the propaganda, and they care more about their pocket book than about the status of the family, the church, and unborn babies. That’s just a fact. They mostly vote Democrat because of their loyalty to the party. If someone were to follow his logic and vote for Biden, then I suppose I would call it foolish and a sin of weakness. But honestly, I think birth control is also a sin of weakness, at least often. The elect are deceived. I warn them against being deceived. It’s not my job to pontificate with a myriad of distinctions in order to find them loopholes.


At this point, I’m going to just respond specifically to one other thing that Miller says:

“When our moral witness becomes entirely tied to prudential political judgments, we swap our faith in a transcendent redeeming God who offers us salvation for a politician or party who promises to create heaven on earth.”

I think I understand Miller’s concern here, but who, finally, evaluates, or should help us evaluate, when our “moral witness” has become “entirely tied to prudential political judgments”? I don’t really know any people who think they are going to get heaven on earth or utopia by voting for Donald Trump. The impression I often get is that you tend to get people who think Utopia is obtainable via politics and political action the further to the left (or “Left”) you go.

On the contrary, is wanting more jobs for Americans seeking work – particularly for the poorest Americans — necessarily seeking heaven on earth? Even if one does not vote for President Trump primarily because of his pro-life commitments, the increasing amounts of employment under his term in minority communities, for instance, seems like a mark in his favor that should also be recognized. Also, the socialist / communist alternatives facing us. Even if someone reasonable like Andrew Sullivan were right about Joe Biden, he clearly is not going to be running the Democrat party. People know what they are getting with Donald Trump, and not the alternative.



[i] Mohler says that Christians should vote for Trump, but also says of the black community in America: “I also recognize that I know brothers and sisters in Christ who see this differently. The vast majority of Black voters in America vote regularly and predictably for the Democratic ticket, and have since 1960. Like the pattern of white evangelical voting, this is not a surprise. There are long historical reasons why both are so. With my black brothers and sisters, I make my best case for how I see the issues. They have every right to do the same. We each have a vote. Both of us will answer to God for that vote. We earnestly seek to persuade the other. We will likely vote differently in the end. We remain brothers and sisters in Christ.”

[ii] What Miller means by mediate/immediate, and proximate/remote:

“There are two more distinctions that are useful in a fine-grained consideration of this issue: namely, the distinctions between immediate and mediate material cooperation and between proximate and remote cooperation. Immediate cooperation is when a person commits an act that, although not wrong in itself, helps the evildoer in some way to commit sin. Mediate cooperation occurs when a person does something that paves the way for an evil act or helps it to occur (for instance, providing funds that help make it possible for someone to commit an injustice). Mediate cooperation in evil is acceptable so long as it is remote cooperation (which means that evil effect is not brought about directly by the cooperating person’s action, and thus the cooperating person’s action is “causally distant” from the evil) and there are proportionate reasons to cooperate in this way.

(It is worth noting that the question of how voting fits into the distinction between mediate and immediate cooperation leads a small minority of Catholic philosophers and theologians, such as Alasdair MacIntyre, to argue that we cannot in good conscience vote for either major party, a position recently argued in Public Discourse by Brandon McGinley.)

To put it briefly, one may cooperate with evil only if that cooperation is material, mediate, and remote and if there is proportionate cause for doing so. This means that the person does not intend the object (the evil act itself) or agree with its intention, does not cooperate with the evil act itself but only provides something that allows the evil to occur, and is acting in a way that is causally distant from the evil action. An example of someone materially cooperating in evil in a way that is mediate and causally distant is a bus driver who unknowingly provides a ride for a woman on her way to have an abortion. For a visual representation of these concepts, this chart may be helpful.”

[iii] “There is a final consideration when choosing whether or not to materially, mediately, remotely cooperate with evil even when there are proportionate reasons for doing so: whether or not such action is likely to cause scandal. Scandal is defined by the Catechism as “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil.” Thus, if the bus driver’s company began advertising his route as “the most affordable way to get to Planned Parenthood,” continuing to drive that itinerary would likely cause scandal. The bus driver should therefore resign from his route in order to avoid committing the sin of scandal.”

[iv] “If these arguments convince a pro-life person, it seems he potentially has proportionate reason to cast his vote for Biden. One could think that support for Trump will likely, whether immediately or over time, lead to descent into a state of civil war that will be so harmful to our body politic that the possibility of pro-life legislation (or any legislation at all) seems nonexistent. A vote for Biden, according to this logic, is a vote for living to fight for life another day.”


“…a pro-life person who chooses to vote for him does not participate in the evil object (i.e., the person is not casting a vote for or in support of abortion, but is casting a vote to preserve the nation) or agree with its intention (the person does not actually intend abortion), and thus the person cooperates in evil only materially and not formally. Additionally, the voter does not cooperate with the evil act of advocating abortion but only provides something that allows the evil to occur (namely a vote that helps Biden take office), and that act of voting is not itself evil. Finally, Biden’s support for abortion is not the direct means to the voter’s end (preventing another Trump presidency) since the voter is voting specifically to prevent the breakdown of society, civil war, etc., which would presumably also make stopping abortion impossible. Such a vote, then, is remote mediate material cooperation with evil done for proportionate reasons, and is thus morally acceptable.”

[v] Note my concerns about the modern use of the term race:


Posted by on November 2, 2020 in Uncategorized