Monthly Archives: April 2022

Dealing with Conspiracy, Fear, Doubt, and Your Lord and God


“…these [words] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” 

– John 20:31


Today, this second Sunday of Easter, there begins a bit of an odd run in the church year…

As you heard, starting today and for the next six weeks, our first reading – typically an Old Testament reading – comes from the book of Acts, which covers the history of what happened after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, following Holy Week and Easter! 

And we, I think, are very blessed by this.  

The book of Acts was written by the physician Luke who also wrote the Gospel by the same name, and I think it is not only a very encouraging but a very interesting book. 

We certainly see evidence of this in today’s reading, as we are given an intriguing and dramatic account of how the Apostles that Jesus chose carried on His mission, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God and also performing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people near the Temple!

And when the high priest and his associates, members of the Sadducees, get wind of all of this they are filled with jealousy and throw the Apostles in jail.

But an angel of the Lord frees them during the night and tells them to go back to the Temple courts and “tell the people the full message of this new life”!

Eventually, the high priest and his associates arrive at the Temple to discuss this situation concerning the Apostles, only to find out that somehow, there has been a covert prison break and they are in the Temple courts preaching yet again!

This leads to their being brought into the Sanhedrin, something like a Senate chamber, where the Apostles are questioned by the high priest.

Eventually, we get Peter’s dramatic answer: 

We must obey God rather than men! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

To say the least, I’d recommend reading the book of Acts. 

There, you will see how the Christian church, in the vigorous stages of its youth, gains a foothold in the world against the Kingdom of Darkness.

You will see the initial skirmishes between God’s church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and Satan’s kingdom, as the Prince of Darkness looks to hold onto the territory that he has dominion over and to suppress the influence of the Kingdom of God. 

Nevertheless, as we are reminded at various points in the book of Acts, “the Word of the Lord grew…” as its power and influence claimed ground in the hearts and minds of the people of Jerusalem, eventually spreading, as chapter 1 says, to Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth….” 

The “many convincing proofs” that Luke talks about, we are told, first claimed the hearts of 3,000 men on the day of Pentecost, in chapter 2, and then an additional 2,000 in chapter 4. 

These were exciting times if you were a follower of Jesus Christ, to be sure! 

It is no surprise that Christians in search of vitality in their own churches often go back to the book of Acts, seeing it as a model of sorts and hoping to learn from it. 


The text I chose for today’s message, from the Gospel reading, goes hand in hand with the book of Acts is all about. Again:  

“…these [words] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

That said, we know, sadly, that not everyone does believe…

Even when men are full of great courage, say “we must obey God rather than men,” and proclaim the word in great power, Martin Luther reminds us that 

“One of these two things has to happen: either the Word of God will abide and conquer them; or at least they will be unable to suppress it, even if they refuse to accept all its grace and goodness and salvation” (AE 21:121).

What I find interesting about that quote from Luther is this: when he talks about men being unable to suppress the word of God here he is talking about their not being able to suppress its influence as it conquers the world around them! 

Even as personally, they might still refuse to accept it…

And yet, it sure often looks like they succeed in suppressing it in the world around them though… in society… doesn’t it?

Yes it does, even if God would have us see all of this through the eyes of faith. The book of Hebrews says: God left nothing that is not subject to [His people]. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them…” 

And in the book of Acts as well, we see mention of this kind of thing: about how men try to suppress the influence of the word of God… 

When Peter and the other disciples are driven to prayer in chapter 4 of the book of Acts, They make this very clear:

“Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

“‘Why do the nations rage

    and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth rise up

    and the rulers band together

against the Lord

    and against his anointed one.

27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”

There is a lot of good stuff in that prayer, but we note specifically who the enemies of the Gospel are in this passage, those who are trying, seemingly successfully, to suppress it:

“Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed…”

I recently read the following from a pastor who rather colorfully and I think relevantly unpacks this. Pardon a bit of extended quoting:

“…this was a conspiracy with deep roots.  It involved many of the conservative Pharisees and lawyers and scribes, as well as their rivals, the liberal priests and Levites and Sadducees, as well as the hated politicians known as the Herodians.  And all of these groups conspired with the pagan Romans, whom they considered to be a hostile occupying force.  It involved the provincial ruling council, the Sanhedrin, which was also a Jewish religious court.  It involved the Roman governor, a military captain, a detachment of soldiers, and one of our Lord’s leading disciples as well, who was the group’s treasurer.  This cabal also included the mobs of ordinary people, who were whipped up into a frenzy by their leaders and by the fake news of the day.

They were so brazen, that this collaboration between Big Religion and Big Government with what was essentially the Big Media of the day, placed the charge over the head of Jesus in three languages at a busy crossroads – the equivalent of airing the execution of Jesus on live TV on all of the news channels.

Indeed, they pulled off what seems to be the most unlikely coup in history: the murder of God, the assassination of the King of the world, the lynching of the one man in history who fulfills all of the prophecies of the Old Testament, and who promised to restore Paradise.  This conspiracy seemed to foil God Himself….”

…[There was] indeed quite the conspiracy. It even drew in our Lord’s inner circle of disciples, who abandoned Him – even St. Peter, the head of our Lord’s disciples, betrayed Jesus in a shameful way, just as Jesus predicted.

Perhaps most surprising of all is that Jesus knew every bit of the conspiracy. He did not use His divine power to evade what was to come…”


I said earlier the book of Acts shows us these were exciting times. They were also perilous.

And the book of Acts also isn’t just about exciting moments of action-packed church growth and continuous and conspicuous conspiracy… 

It also talks quite a bit about the topic of fear. Yes, fear. 

For in the beginning of our reading from Acts today, what do we read?:

“The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.”

Why were some not daring to join together – to basically become culturally united with or one with – the believers meeting in Solomon’s Colonnade, that is, the Temple courts where all this preaching was going on? 

On the one hand, it was no doubt because the Apostles were performing great miracles, and were greatly respected by the people. But men like the high priest and his associates had their own power to protect, and again, were jealous. They recognized how the Apostle’s influence worked against their own desires and designs, and even if they would hear them they would not listen and believe. 

On the other hand, it was also because, as the text says, “no one else dared join them”. And this was because of fear. Fear.

Some, no doubt, feared the religious leaders and did not have “the courage to attach themselves to those with whom they really sympathised…” (think of Joseph of Arimethia and Nicodemus)

That is not the kind of fear that the text primarily has in mind here though…

Right before our reading in Acts today, the book explicitly says “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events….”

What events? 

Well, it might be somewhat understandable if you don’t know this, because – and not to get conspiratorial or anything – I’m talking about an important account that, oddly enough, is never covered in the church’s lectionary, or weekly readings… 

I am talking about the dramatic deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, two of the wealthier members of the church who had also been involved in a conspiracy. 

Not a conspiracy to directly undermine the Apostles or their message. But a conspiracy, that is, a deliberate agreement, to deceive the Apostles regarding the extent of their own charitable giving. 

Ananias and Sapphira decided to sell some land and to give the proceeds to the church. They also decided, however, to keep some of the proceeds for themselves but to tell the church that they were giving all of the profit.

And for this, God struck them both down. Let’s just go to the Bible to pick up some of that story. 

Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

Summing up the effects of this, one man put it succinctly: “Unbelievers [would be] deterred by the fate of Ananias [and Saphirra] from uniting themselves to the church under false pretences,” or, as another put it, “from mere curiosity or with any idle purpose…”

Be not deceived, God is not mocked. 

He means business. 

In order to stop those who conspire against Him and His people He can’t have those who conspire to lie in order to promote their own advantage undermining His church just as it is gaining a foothold!

I said the book of Acts was exciting in that it has exhilarating stories about the church’s early success and dark conspiracies, to be sure… But again, it also speaks of this fear… 

And not just here. As far back as chapter 2, we read this: 

“Everyone was filled with fear at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.”

Later, in chapter 9, we read this: 

“…the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers….”

When we think about the word of the Lord growing, people coming to faith, what role does fear play in our thoughts? 


What is it that brings men and women to faith in Jesus Christ?

Here, I want to step away from all the excitement and even fear I mentioned the book of Acts telling us about…. It is all, in some ways, perhaps a bit too uncomfortable….

Let’s get to something though that is related to all this, and that perhaps more of us can identify with.

Doubt. For instance, the doubt of Thomas. 

I think it is probably obvious that Thomas, like Peter in His betrayal of Jesus, does not mean in any way to support those who oppose Jesus and his church or who perhaps try to subtly undermine Him.

Thomas just really has trouble believing, trusting. 

Maybe Thomas is somewhat like a number of men today, very cynical and skeptical of a lot that happens in the church. 

You say your church has how many members? How do we know this isn’t just vulnerable people being taken advantage of by leaders who really aren’t that different then others eager to make a buck?

And some of the biggest churches are well-known for having bands that produce powerful worship music that many say shows the power of the Holy Spirit. But how different really is this Feeling than that can be produced at most any rock concert? 

And what about the weakness and maybe even hypocrisy of Christians? We’ve all heard about abuse scandals in churches, after all. 

…and this past week, I was let down by a man I greatly respect, a man who basically said that God had told him that his marriage was no longer worth fighting for and that his wife was intelligent and brave for filing for divorce, in spite of no infidelity at all in this situation. 

By doubting, Thomas doesn’t mean to lend aid and comfort to God’s enemies – to those who conspire against him….

I think he actually might remind us that questioning things around you is sometimes important….

All that said, I want to make clear that it is nevertheless true that Thomas – who I admit I identify with – was without excuse for his unbelief

After all, he had seen Jesus fulfill the Messianic prophecies!

Heard Him promise that He would be raised from the dead! 

…and even had the eyewitness testimony of this from men he knew to be reliable and true!  

One thinks about how what Jesus said to the discouraged men on the Road to Emmaus could have just as easily been meant for Thomas!:

“‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ 

27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself….”

And the rest, as they say, is history – even if modern historians might squeal that they can’t prove this to their satisfaction, as if they could actually prove all of the things they don’t doubt about the past! (or even yesterday)

No, our Lord Jesus condescends to Thomas and other sinful and ignorant doubters…

To condescend can have a negative meaning, as when someone shows feelings of superiority or is patronizing. 

It can also mean, however, to waive the privileges or rank and “to descend to a less formal or dignified level…”

This is what Jesus, mercifully, did for Thomas. 

This is how He loved him and no doubt even showed him respect as He said: “Stop doubting and believe.” 


In truth though, doubting Thomas gets a bad rap. 

Again, it is not bad to ask yourself questions about some things! 

It is not bad to wonder, for example, about why you believe what you believe, to be concerned about what actually happened and happens, about matters of reason, matters of evidence. 

About pondering and seriously reflecting on what we can really know, even if it is just in part for now…. Finally, asking who you should trust and why.

For the past, evidence, reason, and persons who prove to be reliable are all things that are not meant to work against God’s purposes, but things the Spirit of God uses and works through!

And the world knows that this is true, even if this, more and more, is internally suppressed. 

For they are at war with the God who commands you to love Him with all of your mind..

The world will tell you over and over again that they are right, and that you must listen to them, and that you must not question them or their authority. 

The world will tell you you are foolish or even worse for giving the time of day to this or that “conspiracy theory” – even as their own views of the world clearly can be found to be not just wanting, but truly deplorable.

The world will even look at you with a straight face and assert that you are a dangerous extremist if you want to:

“1) let kids live

2) keep kids’ education apolitical and age-appropriate

3) [insist] kids are too young to choose life altering surgery or chemical treatment”

Even though Thomas really had no excuse for doubting His Lord, I think, in one sense, it is safe to say that today we need more doubting Thomases…

Because, you see, our Lord is not like the false and impotent lords of this earth, who cannot be questioned!

Our Lord not only has answers and reasons but our Lord has truth!

He is The Truth! 

And so, it is Thomas, not Peter, who we attribute the first confession of our Lord’s divinity to:

“My Lord and my God!”

You better believe it!

And you do, right? 

You trust in the words of this Credible One who pays the price for your sin on the cross! 

And then gives you the most important and reliable news that you will ever hear:

“I forgive you. You are mine. Forever.”

Yes indeed. This is most certainly true! 

The divine conspiracy – that is, the Mystery of our salvation in Jesus Christ – is a fact. 

“…these [words] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” 


For message with footnotes see here:

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Posted by on April 25, 2022 in Uncategorized


The Great Riches of Good Friday


“Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…”

– Hebrews 5:8-9


In this evening’s Epistle reading, we read what I believe to be one of the most encouraging passages in the New Testament: 

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

What a wonderful word of hope this reading gives us this Good Friday! 

Brothers and sisters! 

…Hold firm because we have a priest who can empathize with our struggles… and who does not hesitate to give us mercy and grace in our time of need!

Even though the first Adam threw the creation into chaos with his sin in the glorious garden of Eden, the second Adam endured the pain of the Garden of Gethsemane – “offer[ing] up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death” – en route to His being crushed by our sins that He took into Himself on the cross…

…so that the curtain of the Temple might be ripped and we sinful people might enter into the Presence of God in joy and peace!

As Hebrews 2:10 had put it: 

“In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation[, Jesus,]  perfect through what he suffered.”

And so Jesus, the book of Hebrews also asserts, endured all of this “because of the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2)! 

He did this all because of the Triune God’s heart of love that not only seeks justice for the earth – dealing with man’s sin as it must be dealt with!but that is also full of gentleness, tenderness, and compassion….. 

This, let’s never forget, is the God who even says from the cross [!] “Father forgive them for they know not what they do…”!

Like His faithful follower Stephen, who as he was being stoned cried out “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)!

“Amen!”, right? 

“What wondrous love is this?” as the old Gospel hymn puts it, right? 

What more is there to say on this Good Friday!?


Well, there are more great riches in our readings for tonight!

And so let us meditate a bit more about what the book of Hebrews goes on to say here, perhaps having our view of this wondrous love expanded some more!

 Let’s unpack a bit the text I chose, starting with the first word of verse 8: 

“Son though he was…”


What do you think of when you listen to the word “Son” here? Well, on the one hand, we know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God by nature! 

The words “Son of God” put us in mind of the divine nature of Jesus Christ. 

We should all know that somehow, someway, Jesus Christ is not half God and half man, but fully God and fully man, or 100% divine and 100% man if you will.

This is why, for instance, the book of Hebrews begins by saying that the Son was “… appointed heir of all things, and [the One] through whom [God] made the universe.”

And also that…

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature, upholding all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” 

Another part of the text I chose talks about the Son being “the source of eternal salvation…”

Well, what does this mean? 

First of all, it goes without saying that Christians believe that only God Himself could pay for the debts of every man’s sin. 

Luther said this:

“We Christians should know that if God is not in the scale to give it weight, we, on our side, sink to the ground. I mean it this way: if it cannot be said that God died for us, but only a man, we are lost; but if God’s death and a dead God lie in the balance, His side goes down and ours goes up like a light and empty scale. Yet He can also readily go up again, or leap out of the scale! But He could not sit on the scale unless He became a man like us, so that it could be called God’s dying, God’s martyrdom, God’s blood, and God’s death. For God in His own nature cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is called God’s death when the man dies who is one substance or one person with God.” (see LW 41:103-104 and FC SD VIII, 44-45).

And this, really, is where the book of Hebrews is focusing in chapters 4 and 5. It is saying that the very Son of God, divine through and through, is offering, actually being our sacrifice, as our divinely-appointed high priest…

Luther is right here but there are even more reasons God needed to become a man to save us!


What do I mean? 

Well, only one who was truly man could, as we learned in chapter 4, sympathize or empathize with our weaknesses.

The Triune God could have never been tempted like us much less sin, but when the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, took on human flesh – entering into solidarity with us by truly becoming one of us – this was a different ball game. 

There, in any particular situation, the concrete person of Jesus Christ could operate more or less according to each nature, human or divine, and often freely chose to forego all His divine privileges and prerogatives…

And so, somehow, someway, that historical person crucified under Pontius Pilate, though fully God, really was tempted in every way that we are and yet did so without sin… fully obeying His Father’s will… and, as Hebrews says, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted….” (2:18)

He was faithful to His Father’s mission all the way to the cross… that He and we might experience the reality and fruits of the obedience that God ordains and blesses!

“It is finished!” we hear from the cross…

And so, as a result of the Son’s trust and submission to His Father, His Father’s mission for the sinless Son of God to be the “Source of our Salvation” was completed!


Still, we might be struggling with what comes before the words: “source of eternal salvation…”

Namely: …and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation…”

We also might not really understand what the text says about the Son learning obedience from what He suffered…  (as well as how the Father heard Him “because of his reverent submission…”)

Let’s start here: remember the text Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered…”? 

Why is that phrase, “Son though He was,” there? 

It is there because what good earthly father wants to see his son to suffer? 

None does, and yet God the Father determined that His Son would suffer on the cross for our sake… and this suffering is then what the Son, being the Son, gladly embraced because of the joy set before Him…. 

And how did he “learn obedience from what he suffered…”?

Well, it does us well to think about suffering in two senses here: First, like Mary, we freely receive, or “suffer,” what God allows: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Second, what God allows – especially in our fallen world! – creates difficulties for us, and forces us to call out to Him, look to Him, depend on Him!

….like Jesus did in reverent submission…  

Sinless Adam and Eve were tempted in Eden to sin and failed the test, but our Lord Jesus Christ not only endures  temptation without sin, but actively relying on God, fulfils the mission that the Father had appointed for Him!

And He did not stop or falter…

…but went all the way to the end, trusting and depending on His Father and embracing death on the cross that we might be freed… 

For without the shedding of blood, Hebrews re-asserts from the Old Testament, there is no forgiveness of sin…. 


It had to be this way. 

It had to be this way. 

Jesus Christ, being the man without sin, had to obey for the sake of our salvation.  

In much the same way that the Son of God eternally proceeds from the Father, this man Jesus Christ follows in the paths, the plans, laid out by His Heavenly Father. 

And so He embraces the fullness of what it means to be man, the crown of God’s creation.

He becomes one with us, sharing our human nature, our humanity! 

And so He gets hungry. 

He experiences exhaustion, and becomes tired…

And He experiences not sin itself but many of sin’s consequences all people experience as well. 

So He knew thorns and pain and sadness and discouragement… and death.  

And so yes, He not only demonstrates to us but experiences Himself what it means to suffer… and what it means to be driven to prayer and to go all the way in spite of that suffering… to reach the goal that God had set for Him, and ultimately, for us…

He prays “Thy Will be Done” and His prayer is answered in the affirmative. 

And in the midst of the pain of man, with the joy set before Him, He knew also of the fruits of the obedience that would come. The obedience that God blesses… 

That we might as well. 

“God is love,” we know. 

Strangely enough, this is how love wins. 

By the submission of the God-Man to His Father’s will, which entails enduring man’s cross of shame…. 

He was “content with death and shame…”


Let’s move on to this part of verse 9: 

“…and, once made perfect, he became the Source of eternal salvation…” 

So just when we thought we might be getting to what verse 8 means this passage comes along to perhaps confuse us a bit more! 

Maybe the learning obedience through suffering stuff makes sense, but what about implying that there was a time when Jesus Christ was not perfect? 

Was not Jesus perfect to begin with? How could He then, at some point, be made perfect? 

And has not the Son of God, being the second person of the Trinity, always been the source of our eternal salvation?

Again, He has always been the source of our eternal salvation but the answer lies in that fact Jesus Christ not only needed to be fully God, 100% God, but also fully man, 100% man. 

Because of His completing the Father’s mission, He likewise becomes “perfect” or, as we can also translate it, “complete” according to His human nature…

So what does this mean practically? 

It means that post-Ascension, not only is everything then prepared for Him – He who is no longer limited by time or place or matter! – to be closer to us (not further from us!) than ever before on earth through His means of grace, the word and sacraments…. (Kleinig). We receive Christ not according to His divine nature only but as the One who continues to be a human being!

…all is also prepared for the final day when the exalted God-Man, in accordance with His representation of mankind as its Head, will also submit Himself to His heavenly Father, that “God,” i.e. the Triune God, “may be all in all” or “all-Supreme.” 

So in this way, the God-Man who has become mankind’s King on earth, paves the way for both the Father and the Spirit also to rule and be present in person, in the new heavens and new earth! 

Earth and heaven, man and God, fully united (I Cor. 15:28, Rev. 21:3; see Lenski, 685-87)!

This is the great victory that the cross leads to and that we partake of when we are baptized into Him!

The victory that we know by faith.


So, with that said, let’s finally look at one more potentially confusing line: “…for all who obey him…”

“….he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…”

What does this mean? 

Obedience can be understood in a broad and a narrow sense in Scripture. And in the Old Testament, the root of the Hebrew word we often translate “obey” simply means “listen…”

Listening which inevitably leads to action!

And so, in the broad sense, obedience entails all of the actions that result from simple faith and the love for God and neighbor that grows from that faith…. 

And that faith and love submit and obey! Not just in an external sense, reluctantly, but in joy! 

For Christian faith and love know that obedience not just to some of God’s commands but to all of God’s commands is to be offered up with a willing and happy heart!

That’s all true. That, however, is not the only thing that our text is getting at here. 

Here…we need to realize first and foremost that God commands us to simply rest and just listen to Him, for this Teacher and Brother’s yoke is easy and His burden light! 

And so we might think here of the story of Mary and Martha – Mary was commended for simply resting and sitting at the feet of her Lord Jesus ! 

“She has chosen the better thing”, He said…

…for the sake of us all!

And is this not exhilarating? God commands us to “stay put” and “abide in Him”? 

Always remember that the Apostle Paul says “Now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God”…. 

To be known by God!

(we can especially see this justifying and regenerating work of the Lord’s in holy baptism, can’t we?)

And remember always the very beautiful and encouraging words in I Thes. 2:13:

“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.”

In other words, what we ultimately need is to be justified and delivered and comforted in Christ – to know the sheer Loving Majesty of the King who has stormed the castle and rescued us, dying for our sins and giving us a new identity in Him! 

And when it comes to this teaching of justification, particularly but not limited to when we think of infants, the Spirit gives us faith, causing us to consent in a way that is primarily passive

We first simply receive – here I think about a mother nursing her child… a picture that Scripture uses to talk about faith or trust as well!

So when you hear “obey” here, think first of just this kind of thing!


With that said though, of course, persons like the Apostle Paul do go on with more and different kinds of exhorting….

For example, even as it accuses me as often as I hear it, I absolutely love his command in I Thes. 5:16-18: 

“Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

Our Lord has given up everything this day, suffering the greatest pains and sufferings for your sins which put Him on the tree.

But, you see, don’t think that that means He doesn’t want to be close to you, to love you, to talk with you, even hold you… 

Don’t ever think that when He determined to go to the cross for you He did that reluctantly at all! 

Years ago there was a TV movie called “Eric” where… 

“…we watch [very] young Eric struggle with cancer[, cancer..]. There is a scene in which he stands on the beach of the family’s summer home with his father. ‘Daddy,’ he says, ‘remember how I wanted to swim across the bay with you? We got halfway across, and I said I couldn’t make it. Remember how you reached out and helped me? Well, Daddy, I don’t think I can make it now.” Eric’s father quickly spread his arms around him and said, ‘I’ll help you.’ That is God’s promise to us.” (Encyclopedia of Sermon Illustrations, #604)

He is more than willing to do this for us every day… 

He does this for us every day… 

…and – remarkably given what He has endured because of usHe did this for us on this darkest and most consequential of days, Good Friday, above all.

Thank you, Jesus. 


To see sermon with footnotes, go here:

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Posted by on April 16, 2022 in Uncategorized


Vineyard’s Gonna Vineyard?

“A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time…” 

–Luke 20:9


What does the word “institution” mean?

That’s a word that represents a big idea. One definition is “a society or organization founded for a religious, educational, social or similar purpose.”

Another definition is “an established organization or corporation of a public character specifically”.

Why do I bring it up institutions here? Well, because in the parable from our Gospel reading today, the vineyard represents God’s assembly, or church.

And the church, along with the natural family, is one of His core institutions in the world.

That might not be what you thought of right away when I brought up institutions. Perhaps when you hear the word “institution” your mind goes to things like schools, companies, the military, and other political, well, institutions…

And perhaps you also think about how these things often become corrupted.

Especially today, many of the institutions we might think about seem to be losing their way, as they fight against God’s institution of the family, which of course is produced by His institution of marriage between one man and one woman for life…

And yet, even if they aren’t at war with God’s natural institutions, many go astray in a more common way.

What do I mean?

Well, even relatively good institutions seem to lose their way, that is, they stray greatly from the needs they were created for, from their original purposes…

They often seem to be seeking to preserve themselves for the sake of the people who run them. To both survive and thrive primarily or even just for those people.

And they seem to do everything they can to do protect themselves against all the things they perceive to be threats to their power, their status, their privileges…

They just show that institutions are gonna do what institutions are gonna do…  

And this even happens among God’s people! His society, His assembly, His church…

We see this in Martin Luther’s day, for example, don’t we? During the Reformation?

Luther lived during a time when the leader of God’s church in the Western world, the Pope, was actually saying things like “since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.” 

And not only this, but some of the top defenders of Rome were saying that because the church essentially owned the Bible they could decide how it was to be used and interpreted! Some of Rome’s highest-ranking theologians even claimed the authority of the Gospel existed because of the Pope’s authority,  

And you can bet that when Luther insisted that Christians really could be sure that they were Christians – that is, that faith in Jesus Christ could give them certainty, many in Rome were not happy.

For how would the church’s power and influence continue without the offerings from people trying to earn their peace with God? 


And as in the days of the Reformation… so also in the days of the Old Testament and in Jesus’ day as well. 

We see something similar happening in our Gospel text for today, don’t we? Again, we see a corruption of the church, the institution God had established, an institution failing to do what it was intended to do.

To say the least, right?

The parable talks about how no less than three servants were sent by the owner of the vineyard and all were beaten! These represent God’s prophets.

In the Old Testament, we see how the Lord entrusted the spiritual care of His people Israel to patriarchs, priests, and yes, prophets (and, yes, even a few political rulers like David, who basically doubled up as a prophet!). 

And what does the New Testament go on to tell us about God’s direction of His people? 

By way of summary, perhaps we can’t do much better than what the book of Hebrews says:

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe….”

And as our Lord Jesus Christ is our ultimate authority He too understood and respected authority… 

For instance, even though we remember Him looking out over the crowds of lost people and mourning because they were like sheep without a shepherd…

…we also should not forget that Jesus nevertheless says this of the religious rulers: 

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach…”

“Do everything they tell you?” Was He joking? 

Not at all. 

Is not the patience, forbearance… tolerance of our Lord remarkable? 

Surely, even as Jesus goes on to sharply criticize these men, He also desires for them to be the shepherds God meant them to be… even ordained them to be… in the institution that God had established.

To be like Elizabeth’s husband, the faithful priest Zechariah! Or the Pharisee Nicodemus and Sanhedrin member Joseph of Arimathea…

Instead, though, what do we see from almost all of those who were in charge of the temple, the synagogues, the Sanhedrin… the core institution and sub-institutions of Israel…?

We see abject hostility towards Jesus and His ministry!

…they persecuted the one Hebrews goes on to say is the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” – this One who came to reveal the Triune God’s heart of love, gentleness and forgiveness!

“How could they miss such wonderful truth?” 

How in the world could they miss the import of what they were planning to do? 

How could they not see that there was something greater than institutional success – their success – at stake here? 


Well, to get our answer we might want to look to the Apostle Paul here, who at the beginning of Romans 10 tells us that those in Israel, having a “zeal without knowledge,” sought to establish their own righteousness and hence did not submit to God’s righteousness.

Not only this but the Scriptures also tell us that they were envious of Jesus and hence handed Him over!

For these men had a twisted pride related to their status as God’s stewards… and they loved the praise of men that status afforded them!

Institutions are going to do what institutions are going to do…

They were not about to sacrifice their influence and privilege!

So what do these religious leaders end up doing? 

They sacrifice the true Lamb of God, the Heir to God’s Kingdom….

As the hymn “My Song is Love Unknown” puts it: 

“…But men made strange, and none

  The longed-for Christ would know…

…[t]hey rise and needs will have

  My dear Lord made away;

A murderer they save,

  The Prince of life they slay….”

Again, their pride and their envy and their works-righteousness could not see it… 

Even if, at some level, they really knew who Jesus was and what they were doing…

For the parable directed at the teachers of the law and chief priests had said: “…[b]ut when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’

And yet… and yet!

God actually used all of this evil for good – even telling us that He planned on doing a new thing though this: He planned on saving us through their terrible actions even from before the beginning of time…. 


“Well, preacher…” you might be thinking, 

“These are some good points… and I can see why God would then give the vineyard to others, which I assume are His disciples and us Gentiles… ”

At the same time, though, how bad are things really today? How relevant is all of this extreme stuff about corrupt spiritual institutions for us?” 

Well, I pay some attention, and I think it can be pretty bad.

Apart from the power and grace of God, institutions are going to do what institutions do…

Even so, I know there are standout churches! 

I know there are faithful pockets of faith, hope and love! 

That said, let’s always remember that even in the best churches today… we all fall short of God’s glory…

-We might not be relying on our own righteousness, but it’s easy to take an unhealthy pride in our involvement, even sometimes feeling that we might well be doing God a favor by participating in the work that He invites us to find joy in!

-And it’s easy to get so excited about letting others know all the good that we are doing that we forget about emphasizing the most humble and simple and wonderful gifts of them all, that make it all possible… 

-Knowing “I am Jesus’ Little Lamb”… 

-Remembering “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

-Believing “God loves me dearly…loves even me…” 

-Praying “Jesus, Savior, wash away; All that has been wrong today…” 

-And we might not be filled with envy or jealousy, but it’s easy to get caught up in busy-ness and want recognition. So much so that we might come to resemble Martha more than Mary, who Jesus said had “chosen the better thing”.

And we, buoyed by pride, might not be fixated on our status in this or that institution, but we might perhaps be too willing to ignore, and hence forget, our deep roots and heritage found in the fullness of the Scriptures, in the church’s rich history… just like the prophet Isaiah warned God’s people in chapter 8 of his book: 

[Run] to [God’s Word] and to the testimony! (2x) 

If [others] do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them!” 

How ready are we to be students not only of the world and of our culture but, first and foremost, God’s word? 

That we might be able to recognize opportunities to bring it to bear? 

How ready are we to, as Peter says, give an answer for the hope that is within us? 

Or, as Paul exhorts us, to take every worldly philosophy captive for Christ? 

Well, some might say here:  

“Yes, there’s always work to do, but at the same time, things can be much worse in the church and often are! Have you paid attention to the news about…!”  

Yes, I get it – none of us can ignore great public scandals. At the same time, let us magnify our own sins first and take the specks out of our eyes!

For there is more than enough for us to repent of every day, brothers and sisters, so let us not hesitate to do so here too, and in joy!


In the book of Isaiah we hear “The grass withers and the flowers fail, but the word of our God endures forever.”

And in our Gospel, standing among those who got lost in their desire to survive and thrive in the midst of life’s riches, cares, and pleasures…

-Jesus was simply upholding this word, glorifying His Father simply for who He is and proclaiming His deeds with all His might!” 

-He was fulfilling the prophecies God’s institution was supposed to be focused on!

-And He was, therefore, simultaneously meeting the deepest longings and needs of faithful men and women like Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, Nathaniel, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea!

Even if the Chief Priests, Pharisees and others felt their world being turned upside down, they shouldn’t have.

For Jesus was no political revolutionary… radical as He surely was!

He was doing just what God had planned from the beginning!

Faithfully passing on like a baton the Promise that gives life, true life!… and that was finally fulfilled in Him!


“Lord, please renew and revive us always, and give us your peace. That we not only conserve for ourselves and our children your Holy Word, but do so for all people, all nations, far and wide! 

Make us those who pass on the church’s song!”

Don’t doubt for a minute that He hears and answers that prayer and gives us peace in His Son!

The peace that passes all understanding, and the peace that makes it possible for us not only to be the church that can meet our neighbor’s physical needs, but the most important needs… our eternal needs as well!

Even in the midst of the worst kinds of sufferings!



They rise and needs will have

  My dear Lord made away;

A murderer they save,

  The Prince of life they slay.

    Yet cheerful He

    To suffering goes,

    That He His foes

    From thence might free.

Never forget. 

The Father looks into the eyes of His Son, the Only Begotten Son whom He loves… And He says: 

“They’ve now killed one servant after another… I want You to go now…” 

And the Son cheerfully goes, en route to walking out of that grave in victory!

But in the midst of that true earthly glory – that resurrected glory that ushers in the coming new heavens and earth and where we will reap with songs of joy! – let us not forget to fix our eyes on the cross….

Never was love, dear King,

  Never was grief like Thine.

    This is my Friend,

    In whose sweet praise

    I all my days

    Could gladly spend.

O Lord, thank You for Your forgiveness and life that You give us even now through your cross! 

And Lord, grant us that we may know you even more, evermore!

And that we… that this institution… ever pass on this sure hope until You come again!   


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Posted by on April 4, 2022 in Uncategorized