Crying for Mercy

Sermon for Reminiscere based on Matthew 15:21-28

Dear people crying for mercy: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus did not answer her a word. The Canaanite woman begged for help for her daughter. She knew she had come to the only one who could help. She had heard of His healing of others. She had heard that He is kind and loving; that He is full of compassion and pity. She knew He had the power to help, so she cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But He did not answer her a word.

When we experience silence from God in response to our prayers, our flesh responds with thinking that what we have heard about Christ must not be true. The flesh grows impatient when things go wrong. The flesh trusts what it sees and feels, but does not trust the Word of God.

The Canaanite woman would not believe that Christ did not hear her. She would not believe that He would forever remain silent. She would not believe that He would refuse to help her or deal harshly with her. His silence did not drive her away. She continued to beg Jesus for mercy.

The disciples got embarrassed. They were probably confused. Why is Jesus not helping this poor woman? Why is He not even answering her? He’s been teaching us, “Ask, and it will be given to you,” (Matt. 7:7) but here is this woman asking and Jesus is not giving. He’s just ignoring her.

Then she started to call after them. The disciples are perhaps embarrassed for her. She seems so pathetic. She’s being ignored and everyone can see it, but she’s still crying out for help. So the disciples ask Jesus to send her away. What good does it do anyone to have this public spectacle as they travel along their way? If Jesus is not going to help or even respond, why should she keep calling after them? If He is going to help, then do it already so that she will stop calling after them!

Jesus answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” So, the woman got a response, but it went from bad to worse. She called Him the Son of David, acknowledging Him as the promised Saviour of the world, and when He finally responded to her, He said that He did not come for anyone except the house of Israel. She has no right to expect help from Him.

The Canaanite woman did not claim the right to expect help. She fell down before Jesus and begged Him, “Lord, help me!” She knew that He could help her. There is no one else who could help. She had no right to expect help, but she still believed that He would help. She believed that He is merciful.

Still, it only got worse. Jesus responded, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” The bread which belongs to the children of Israel is for them to eat. It is not for the unclean Gentiles, like her.

Where all we hear is insult, she hears hope. Where we hear no, her faith hears yes. She is not a child of Israel, but she belongs in the house. Even the dogs get fed in their master’s house. It may be scraps that fall from the children, but that was enough for her.

She was unclean. She was sinful. She was unworthy. She did not present her prayer to Jesus based on her cleanness, sinlessness, or worthiness. She presented her prayer based on Jesus’ mercy and compassion. She knew that with Jesus, there is no shortage of bread. The children can all eat enough, and there will still be some for her. She was content with the crumbs from the floor, knowing that even they would satisfy her; that they would be more than enough.

Jesus did come to save the lost house of Israel, but He also came to save the whole lost world. He came to save you.

He came to save you from your uncleanness. He came to save you from your sin. He came to save you in spite of your unworthiness. Jesus’ death in your place covers your uncleanness, sin, and unworthiness. He doesn’t just give you crumbs on the floor. He doesn’t just give you bread for children, but He gives you Himself, His risen body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Jesus’ forgiveness is not finite. It is infinite. It doesn’t run out. He is the Bread of Life. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever (John 6:51).

Your uncleanness, sin, and unworthiness will not prevent Jesus from hearing your cries for mercy or your prayers. Repent of your sins and throw yourself upon the mercy of Christ. He is merciful. You know that He is merciful because He has had mercy on you. Instead of punishing you for your sins as you deserve, He took your sins on Himself. He suffered and died for your sins. He has saved you eternally and you have no punishment waiting for you when you die from this life.

Since Christ has earned eternal life for you, do you think He will withhold lesser things from you? After grief, He will give relief. He will strengthen your faith through the trials of this life even if you experience it as silence, insult, or harshness. Throw yourself upon His mercy. He will bring you through it all to the joys of eternal life.

Yet even though I suffer The world’s unpleasantness,

And though the days grow rougher And bring me great distress,

That day of bliss divine, Which knows no end or measure,

And Christ who is my pleasure, Forever shall be mine. (LSB 713 st. 6) Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

Jesus Calms Your Storms

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany based on Matthew 8:23-27

Dear disciples in the boat with Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

On a nice, calm day, the disciples followed Jesus into the boat. If you would have asked them at that point if they trusted Jesus, they would have responded strongly in the affirmative. Of course they trusted Jesus. They had just witnessed Jesus healing the leper, the centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and many others. They were of good cheer and content, thinking that because Jesus was with them, they would have no trouble. They had no fear, apprehension, or uneasiness. Jesus, weary from preaching and teaching, laid down to sleep.

Then, the storm hit. A great storm with waves swamping the boat. The disciples were overcome with fear and fright. They were in a panic as the amount of water in the boat increased and increased, even as the howling winds and great waves tossed it back and forth, completely out of their control. Jesus remained sleeping, seemingly unaware of what was happening.

Jesus remained sleeping to bring the weak faith of the disciples to light. Faith is revealed to be true or false precisely through crosses and trials.

Saint Peter had boasted that he was ready even to die with Jesus, but when tribulation came, Peter fell away and denied Jesus three times. We, too, know how to talk big about the Gospel, cross, and patience, but when the cross is upon us, and we get hit by the storms of life, then it becomes clear how weak our faith is.

“Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Jesus asks.

The winds and the sea obey Jesus. This of course means they obey Him not only when He rebukes the winds and the sea and tells them to be calm, but also when He tells them to rise up and storm. Jesus is the one who commanded the storm to start and to toss the boat and swamp it with water. The storm struck because of Jesus. So also our storms strike because of Jesus.

One way to end the storm is to throw Jesus out of the boat. That’s what the sailors did to Jonah. The Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land sent a great storm because Jonah was fleeing from the presence of the Lord. To quiet the storm, the sailors hurled Jonah, the one who was responsible for the storm, into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.

Throwing Jesus out of the boat to calm the storm is the easy way out of affliction. Scripture tells us, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (II Tim. 3:12) So, walk away from Jesus and your afflictions will end. The devil will stop harassing you at every corner. He will stop lying in wait for your thoughts, heart, soul, spirit, and conscience. The world will stop hating you, slandering you, and speaking evil of you. You will no longer have the constant battle with the desires, passions, lusts, anger and pride of your sinful flesh.

This is what many churches have done. They were beaten down by the social justice warriors of the world, so they caved to their every demand. Regardless of what Christ our Lord says on the matters, they wanted to avoid affliction, so they have fully embraced abortion, homosexuality, women pastors, and every other godless doctrine from Satan.

See, the world tolerates all the teaching and preaching of the heathen, the Muslims, and false Christians, but it cannot stand Christ’s teaching and preaching. As long as you preach what the itching ears of the world want to hear, everything will go smoothly for you. But when you begin to follow Christ, every calamity strikes. Then you invite against yourself the devil, the world, and all ungodly men. Then, because of Jesus, you face great storms and fierce winds, and suffer affliction.

But if you throw Christ out of the boat – out of your life – you throw out with Him all grace, salvation, and blessedness. You throw out eternal life.

Instead of throwing Jesus out of the boat, go in your anguish and distress to Him like the disciples did and say, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” Be patient and commit your cares to God until He is roused from sleep by your calling and crying.

The truth is that God never sleeps. Sometimes it seems to us as if God is sleeping. Psalm 44 says, “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Rise up; come to our help!” (vv. 23,26) Psalm 35 prays, “Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication, for my cause, my God and my Lord.” (v. 23)

As a man, Christ did sleep according to His human nature. According to His divine nature, He did not sleep, but was awake. As Psalm 121 says, “Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (v. 4) Even sleeping, Jesus was not only aware of the storm, but commanding the storm. Even sleeping according to His human nature, Christ was awake according to His divine nature and keeping watch over His disciples in the boat.

Upon being roused by the disciples, Jesus did rebuke them for their little faith, but He calmed the storm. The storm and the calming of the storm were to strengthen the disciples’ faith; that they would trust that Christ alone is Lord of heaven and earth, who made the sea and the dry land; that they would trust that, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” (Ps. 34:19) Jesus desired them to know that they can find comfort and help in all dangers, be they physical or spiritual, by water or land, as long as they are with Him in the boat, that is, incorporated into Him by faith.

Even though He sometimes takes a long time, and it seems to us that He has fallen asleep, forgotten us, and will not hear us, we should not therefore despair, but cry out with the disciples, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” Then we will quickly find verification of David’s words, “Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” and “When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him.” (Ps. 91:15)

What we should always remember is that our death is our victory. Then we will be in no more trouble. We will face no more storms or afflictions. Because of Jesus’ death for our sin, our sin has been paid for, and our death is precious in God’s sight. Through the storms of this life, Jesus also teaches us to pray for death – that sweet release from the evils of this life. Jesus’ death has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. The kingdom of heaven is thus open to you.

No troubles or afflictions can keep you out of heaven. Sin, death, and the devil cannot keep you out of heaven. Christ Jesus fulfilled God’s Law for you in thought, word, and deed, and He suffered and died for you, taking the full punishment of your sins on Himself. He has defeated all that would bar the gates of heaven to you, and He has promised to be with you until the end, through everything you must face.

With Jesus in the boat with us, the world must rage against us as it rages against Him. Let the world rage and storm. The winds and sea, and all things must obey Jesus. Trial and trouble will last no longer than Jesus wills. He is Lord over all, and He can change it all in a moment. To Him be worship, glory, and honour forever! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[This sermon borrows from Johann Spangenberg’s questions and answers on the Gospel reading.]

The End of Suffering

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany based on Matthew 8:1-13

Dear suffering and afflicted saints: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” With this short, simple phrase, the leper prayed to Jesus. “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”

By calling Jesus “Lord” the leper confesses that he believes that Jesus is Lord and ruler over all creation; that He is the Lord of heaven and earth, the Lord of sickness and health, the Lord of life and death.

By saying, “if you will” the leper is submitting his will to Jesus’ will. He is praying for cleansing from his leprosy only if God so wills it.

By saying, “you can make me clean” the leper confesses that Jesus has the power and the authority to heal him. He confesses that he is unclean and only Jesus can make him clean.

In other words, he is saying to Jesus, “You are God. Because I have leprosy, you obviously willed me to be a leper and I deserve my illness. You have given me this illness because of my sin or to reveal your glory. I deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment and I would rather have this illness and your favour than to be healthy and have your wrath. I know you can heal me, but thy will be done.”

This is a prayer of faith. True faith trusts in God even when He does not heal you. True faith trusts that God knows better than you about what is good for you.

Jesus responded to the leper with the words, “I will; be clean.” Jesus willed him to be clean, so he was cleansed by the word of Jesus.

Can Jesus still heal today? He healed many during His earthly ministry from various illnesses and diseases. He even raised the dead. Can He still do it today?

Scripture tells us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8) so we know that He certainly can still heal.

Jesus said that He willed the leper to be clean. Does He will any less for you? Does He love you any less? Assuredly not! Jesus wills you to be clean of all illnesses and diseases, and He promises you that you will be cleansed. But He has not told you when. He has given you no firm date or time. He can heal you now. He may heal you now. He will most certainly heal you in the life to come. In heaven, you will have no ailments of body or mind.

He will bring you into heaven and give you a new body and mind not because you deserve it. You don’t. You deserve only temporal and eternal punishment. Jesus will bring you into heaven because He died for all of your sins. Jesus will raise your body from the grave because He has cleansed you of the dirt of your sins in your Baptism. Jesus will bring you into heaven because He continually absolves you of your sin and gives you His body and blood to keep you cleansed.

As the Roman centurion realized, Jesus has the authority to do this. As the Roman centurion had authority to send his soldiers to come and go according to his orders, he knew that Jesus has all authority in earth and heaven (cf. Matt. 28:18). This means that if Jesus commands a leper to be clean, he will be clean. If Jesus commands the centurion’s servant who was lying paralyzed and suffering terribly to be healed, he would be healed. If Jesus commands His minister to forgive you your sin in His name, it is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with you Himself (SC V.6).

He does cleanse you of your sins so you will be eternally in heaven with Him, and He will ultimately cleanse you of all illnesses and diseases and save you from every trial and tribulation.

When you pray, be careful that you don’t desire to be released from your trial against the will of God. Say joyfully, or at least firmly, “Not my will, by thy will be done.”

In fact, Scripture says we should rejoice in our suffering because God works through our suffering to strengthen us, to form us, and to increase our faith (Rom. 5:3-5). We should thank God for suffering because suffering teaches us to pray and pay attention to God’s Word. If we only knew the great good for us that is hidden under our trials, we would gladly give up all our days of joy for them.

Do not for one moment think that you are the only one under great trial. In First Peter 4, you learn that such trials are common to Christians, and in the next chapter that sufferings come upon all your fellow Christians who are in the world (I Pt. 4:12, 5:8-9). When a person begins to imagine that he alone is suffering, or that his sufferings are greater than those of others, it is a sign of a vanity and of being self-absorbed.

Finally, do not resist God when He drives you to His Word in suffering. Do not avoid His Word and thus sink and entangle yourself in your own thoughts or feelings, throwing yourself into the enemy’s camp that is besieging your soul. Cling to the words of Scripture. Ponder them in your heart. Repeat them again and again and direct the thoughts and emotions of your heart to them. Sing them in hymns of comfort and praise.

And pray. Pray saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. If you will, you can heal me. If you will, you can remove my trial and my affliction. But not my will, but thy will be done. If you know that this affliction is for my good, grant me to accept it, to rejoice in it, and to thank you for it. For I know that you desire only my eternal good – that is why you gave your life for me; that is why you suffered and died for me; that is why you have granted me to be baptized, and to hear your Word and absolution, and receive your body and blood in my suffering and affliction. And according to your promise to me grant me the resurrection of my body and life eternal according to your good and gracious will. Amen.”

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[Portions of this sermon are adapted from “Brief Counsel for the Suffering and Afflicted” by W. Loehe.]