Tag Archives: Lent

Sermon: Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People?

You can listen to the audio of this sermon here.

God’s grace, mercy and peace be with you from Him our heavenly Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Why is there suffering in the world? Why do good people suffer? Is suffering a punishment on those who are guilty? Questions like these beg to be answered and are often in the front of minds and find their way into conversations on life and God. The bad things that take place in the world and in our lives leave us asking the question what did they do to deserve that!?

Jesus faced similar questions and it may seem that he skirted the issue with His answer but in reality, Jesus puts the questions into perspective that shows us there’s more going on than just the obviously tragic events and unwelcomed accidents that leave people dead and scarred.

Everyone is going to die. It is one of the things like breathing that all humans have in common. Whether it’s expected as in the case of an elderly person who has lived a “good, long” life. Or if it’s in the case of an unexpected accident, a tragic inappropriate action of another, or an unwelcome diagnosis of health failure that brings it about, everyone is going to die.

The only real question that matters for eternity is not the why of death or the how of death or even the when of death but the question that matters is who we die with. Dying with Jesus is the only thing that can save us and in the lesson today, Jesus is warning the people around him against the danger of dying alone. There’s more going on than tragedies and accidents, Jesus reminds the people questioning Him today that eternity is on the line — every day.

Jesus was told about some Galileans who were killed by Pilate while they were bringing sacrifices. There’s no question given by the text of our Gospel from the people, but it is as if they have told Jesus this news along with the question of why did this happen? Did they have it coming to them? They must have been worse than us for God to allow this to happen to them, right Jesus? We don’t know what question the people may or may not have asked but we don’t have to speculate too much because the text of the Gospel of Luke does give us Jesus’ answer to their unrecorded question.

Jesus says, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” Jesus asks the question for them and then answers the question. Simply put he used a common word many learn early in their life, He told them, “No.” No, they did not suffer in this way because they were worse sinners than all the other Galileans. No. Jesus doesn’t give them the why. God doesn’t have to tell us the why, but more important than why they died, more important than how they died, more important than when they died, Jesus doesn’t even get into who they died with.

He wasn’t as concerned about those who were dead and the circumstances around their deaths as He was about those who were alive. Let the dead bury their own dead. We don’t pray for the dead because they are out of our hands. Jesus wasn’t concerned about those who were dead because there time of struggle was over. It was either won for them by Jesus or lost by them because of unrepentance. You couldn’t sweet talk the dead to life, you can only leave them to God. Jesus was concerned about the ones who were alive and listening to Him, Jesus is concerned about you, so He turns the question around to have those around Him think about who they would die with. Would they die alone, with their life and works to save them or would they repent and die with the savior who defeats death?

“Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” He told them. Jesus wasn’t looking to teach the people around him about the problem of evil in the world. The people were familiar with that from at least one direct account they were familiar with. Jesus wasn’t worried about defending God’s name against the notion that He caused the spilling of the blood as a punishment on the people. No, Jesus wasn’t worried about those things. Jesus was worried about the salvation of those standing around Him. Jesus is all about saving people from dying alone.

Jesus makes the point even louder to them, that they have an opportunity to repent now, and He makes this point by beating the crowds to the next question. Knowing the people were likely unsatisfied with the “you can repent today answer” He heads them off by bringing up another tragedy. He says, what about the 18 on whom the tower in Siloam fell? They died. Were they worse sinners than all the others who lived in Jerusalem and that’s why they died?

We could apply Jesus statements to any number of tragedies that we are familiar with, were the ones who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks deserving of it because of what they’d done or not done with their lives? Were the inhabitants of Louisiana who died in the Katrina hurricane deserving of it because of their many sins? Are those being slaughtered at the hands of ISIS getting what they deserve? And the children who never see the light of day and die to make a family planning goal, they must have some evil streak deserving death in them right? The individuals shot in Kalamazoo last weekend and in Kansas this past week must have had it coming right? We can insert any number of situations into this reasoning. You know those who have cancer have it coming to them because of the filthy people they are. Wrong, wrong and wrong. Jesus simply says, “No!” but unless you repent you too will likewise perish.

We don’t know the status of the souls, the salvation of those who were killed in the mingling blood incident, nor do we know the eternity in store for those who had the tower fall on them. But we do know that they perished. What did they perish from? Well, they perished from the opportunity to repent. No longer would they have the opportunity to turn from their sin to the God who saves them from everlasting condemnation. So Jesus wants the people around him, and He wants you to realize, that the day is coming the day when your struggle is over is coming and He wants to win the struggle for you. He wants you to die with Him.

We often fall into the trap of speculating, why do bad things happen to good people. Well. There’s a flaw in that question that we should be familiar with, there’s no such thing as good people. There is a good person, though and that person has the power over death and that person desires to make things good for all people.  And He makes things good by letting his blood become the sacrifice, He makes things good by letting the tower of the law fall on him. He makes things good for all people by taking the punishment for all sins in the one place that the punishment for sin is given by God once and for all.

Jesus goes to the cross. And on that cross the evil of the world is paid for once and for all. All the things that are done that deserve everlasting condemnation are dealt with by God as He pours out His wrath against the one who hung in your place. The church ceiling doesn’t cave in when filthy sinners walk into church. We had that proved to us once again today when we all sat safely in our pews. The lightning bolts don’t fall from the sky against the wicked ones of the world, we may wish it in one breath and thank God for it in the next. God’s wrath is not a sin seeking missile targeting sinners all over the world but finds its target as the cross hairs level in on the one place where every sin is gathered and claimed by the only one who could atone for everyone. Jesus died so that we do not have to die alone.

Following the response of Jesus to two tragedies, Jesus goes on to tell a parable of a fig tree. A fig tree is planted in a vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and found nne. And the owner of the vineyard says to his vinedresser, “Look, it’s been three years and there’s stil no fruit. Cut it down and use the ground for something not so evil, not so wicked, something that does what it is supposed to do.” The vinedresser buys some time for this tree and says, let it live this year, let me fertilize it with manure and aerate the soil around it , then if it bears fruit, it has done what it is supposed to do. If not, then cut it down.

In this parable we see that judgment is leveled against the non-fruit bearing ones. John the Baptizer spoke this way of trees as well in Luke 3:9 he said, “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” In Matthew 3:8 John is recorded as telling the brood of vipers around him, “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Every day we have is a day given to us to bear fruit and before you start thinking of your abilities and opportunities for bearing fruit alone: think about your track record. How has it gone for you? Have you had enough years to be bearing fruit worthy of giving you life? I will caution you lest you think too highly of yourself. Consider yourself according to the ten commandments. Have you loved God perfectly with all your heart putting Him before yourself and everything else in this world? Have you loved your neighbor perfectly, better than you love yourself? Have you done everything you can for everyone out of love? I know you haven’t. God knows you haven’t and if this frightens you, good it should because the ax is lying at the root of the tree and it’s only a matter of time before the time to bear fruit is gone. Repent.

So how can we be fruitful with the Lord? It’s by His grace, by His mercy, by His life that we live and move and have our being. It’s by us living not in ourselves but in Him that anything good can come at the end of these days the Lord has granted us. And God grants us everything we need to have a life in Him. He calls us to repent. He moves us to repent. He gives us the fruit of repentance and with that the evil we are is no longer ours to take care of. By the repentance God grants to us, we have a place with Jesus who takes care of everything that would keep us from God. He takes care of everything that would have us die alone. He takes care of our death so that eternity with Him is ours.

Realizing who we are what we are, we are left to wonder, Why do good things happen to bad people? And the answer is a love that doesn’t quit. The Lord God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires that the wicked turn from his way and live. Each day of life we have is a demonstration of the Lord’s patience. By His love, through His power He moves us to Himself. By the Spirit’s it is given to us that we would repent, that we would live because of Jesus’ death. And with this truth even when disaster may strike us we need not fear because we do not belong to the world and it’s disasters. We belong to the one who overcomes it all. He is here to save us. God loves you through Jesus to overcome anything that would keep you from Him. And as He loves you, He loves the world through you so that many may come to repent and know His goodness.

He doesn’t want us to die alone. He wants us to turn from sin to Him and live. And as He turns us to Himself, we have life that lasts beyond the grave.

In Jesus’ name.

Amen.

Sermon: Jesus Overcomes Temptation

Temptation is something that we all face. Temptation is something that we all fall to. Temptation is something that we all give in to. Temptation is something that God has done something about. Jesus overcomes temptation — for us.

Jesus being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days followed on the heels of His baptism. His baptism and the subsequent fasting and temptation was the beginning of His public ministry as the Father in heaven audibly spoke of His Son and who He was. “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” These were the words spoken for all to hear at Jesus baptism as the Holy Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove. These words of commendation were heard by John the Baptist, and all the other witnesses to Jesus’ baptism. These words were also heard by the devil and all the demons who seek to do the will of the deceiver. In these words, game on was called in the cosmic battle between the all powerful good and the ever nagging evil.

Certainly Satan is aware of God’s pleasure with His only begotten Son. Satan wants to see if he can cause some displeasure to the father and comes to Jesus in the midst of his 40 day fast and we have recorded for us three times he tempts Him. In the first temptation we find a likely hold for satan to wedge into. This man Jesus has been 40 days without food and He is hungry. Here is a clue about Jesus humanity we do well to lay hold of. Jesus was not using His divinity to overcome temptation. If this were the case, Jesus would not hunger but in Luke 4:2 it tells us that at the end of 40 days, Jesus was hungry. Jesus was not using his divine nature attributes to fast or to overcome temptation, he did it for us as a human.

So the first temptation is towards this empty human stomach. Satan comes to Jesus and says, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” This is an obvious temptation to fill the stomach that is growling for food but it is so much more that is being poked at here. The devil is tempting Jesus to doubt that God will provide for His physical needs.

The devil tried to plant doubt in Jesus’ mind.  God has forgotten you.  He is willing to let you die of hunger.  Back when you were baptized, He said that you were His beloved son, but did He really mean it? After all, what loving father would allow his son to wander around hungry in the wilderness? His promises mean nothing to you. Your concern is for bread; forget about God’s Word. Take matters into your own hands.  Don’t rely on God. If you really are the Son of God, God would want you to have bread, wouldn’t He? The devil hoped that thoughts like these would win out in Jesus’ mind when he said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3) Our perfect Jesus would not be undone.

This temptation is still around today. The devil would love us to be convinced that the world has everything we need. That bread and money and status and relationships provide all we need and if we have them in the way we want we will find full and final fulfillment. And we give in to this temptation. We give up trust in God to trust in ourselves to do whatever we can to get whatever we feel we need. We abandon our vows in marriage to satisfy lusts. We fudge the numbers a bit to make the bottom line better for us. We fib in our relationships to make ourselves seem better for others in our lives. The temptation to turn from God’s provision is ever in front of us and we flee from our faith and fall into believing that we can get what we really need on our own. This we do, but not Jesus – Jesus overcomes temptation.

In the next temptation the devil takes and shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment and says, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory for it has been delivered to me, and  I will give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Here a clue that we would do well to pay attention to is given. The devil says “it has been delivered to me” and in this we are reminded of the wretched result of the fall into sin. Adam and Eve turned from God to find what they felt they needed and in doing so the world fell into Satan’s lap. Satan would love Jesus to believe that because the world has fallen it is no longer within the care and concern of the creator. This is false. And Jesus knows it. Satan wants Jesus to turn His back on the father’s plan to save the world and to instead take a place in Satan’s limited reign. Hey Jesus, let’s make peace now, you don’t have to go through the shame and suffering of the cross, I will make peace with you now if you just worship me just once. Can’t we just get along to make this happen?

This temptation is still around today. The devil readily tells us that we can be at peace with all people. All we need do is surrender our faithfulness to God’s Word.  So what if not everyone agrees with the Bible one hundred per cent. The important thing is that we all get along, right? As long as we make this a better world where everyone is happy, we’re all good, right?  That’s the important thing … worshipping the true god is not really that important. The temptation to abandon God’s word for an idea of momentary peace is ever in front of us and we turn from God seeking a limited love that really isn’t a love of others or of God but a love of self. This we do, but not Jesus – Jesus overcomes temptation.

Finally, the devil comes to Jesus quoting scripture. He took Jesus to Jerusalem and put him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’” The devil quotes scripture but only part of scripture. He takes a psalm which proclaims God’s promise of protection and makes it into a psalm of permission – permission to do whatever you want. That’s not what God was saying in Psalm 91. But this is what Satan wanted Jesus to buy into.

This temptation is still around today, we pick and choose what words of God we will listen to and which words we will throw away. Even though Jesus told the disciples to teach all that He commanded, we can only learn so much … and we decide what is enough.  In doing this we forget that telling God that we don’t need any more of His word is the same as telling Him that we don’t need any more of Him. We make ourselves god by editing God’s word of life by finding words that support our way of life or words that make the most sense and leave the rest of His words in a grey area.  This we do, but not Jesus – Jesus overcomes temptation.

The young and young at heart among us are tempted by the flesh – tempted to satisfy the earthly urges we carry whether for filling our stomachs or for satisfying our lusts or by finding earthly comfort, as age causes the novelty of fleshly fulfillment to fall away we are tempted to believe that our standing in the world is of utmost importance and greed and deception seem likely means to deliver us to safety. Those granted a strength of faith by God to rise above and to withstand some of the temptations of the world may be tempted to believe that it is because of their strength of will and resolve that temptation is overcome. We can be tempted to believe that we are able on our own to deliver ourselves from evil. However these attacks may come, we know without a doubt that we all face temptations and we know from experience and from scriptures light, that we cannot face them faithfully alone.

Dear friends in Christ, we are not led into temptation alone. We pray in the Lord’s prayer, lead us not into temptation, and we know that this prayer is being answered. We may sometimes despair feeling the Lord has led us into temptation, but the prayer that Jesus teaches us to pray is a prayer that we would not be led to temptation alone and left to deal with it on our own.

Thanks be to God he does not leave us unarmed for the battle. The first step toward winning in any battle is to realize the reality and the scope of the war that is being waged. To deny temptations exist is to give in to them. We cannot live as if the devil is far away from us leaving us to only wrestle with our minds and by our own strength to overcome temptations. Saying they are not real or not powerful does not make temptations go away or help us overcome them. Overcoming one temptation can leave us to be tempted to believe that it is by our own reason or strength that we have overcome them. Then the tempters attack is no longer to draw us to pervert the world around us but rather to pervertedly believe that we have overcome on our own. The foothold of the temptor becomes even stronger and the attack becomes even more nuanced and dangerous when our faith is placed on our doing rather than in all that is done for us.

Jesus faces temptation perfectly for us. The temptation to doubt God’s provision. The temptation to get along to feel strong. The temptation to pick and choose from God’s word to meet our ends. All these temptations and more, Jesus faced perfectly for us and overcame for us.

We regularly fall to the devil’s lies, but Jesus never did.  Jesus fought back with a strategy that is available to all of us.  He quoted from the Word of God.  Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” (Luke 4:4) from Deuteronomy 8.  Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” (Luke 4:8) from Deuteronomy 6.  Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Luke 4:12) also from Deuteronomy 6.  God’s Word is the weapon Jesus used to stop the devil.  It is the weapon God has given us.  How sad it is that we often doubt this weapon and fail to use it as we should. Jesus used a strategy for fighting temptation that is available to us. But in perfectly overcoming temptation, Jesus gives us more than just a strategy. He gives us Himself.

Today’s Gospel tells us that when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:13) This means that the devil did not depart forever, but only until an opportune time.  The devil tempted Jesus over and over again.  He did not quit until Jesus was dead.

Even while Jesus was on the cross, we hear the devil speak through his servants saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matthew 27:40) There is that phrase of doubt once again: “If you are the Son of God …” Even at the cross, the devil still tried to sow seeds of doubt.  Even as Jesus died, He fought off the temptation with the word of God.  His last words were a psalm: “Into your hand I commit my spirit. (Psalm 31:5)

Even on the cross Jesus did not and had not given into temptation. We so often fall to the devil’s lies, but Jesus never did.  Jesus withstood the devil’s temptation for us, in our place.  He is our champion.  He never sinned.  He stayed on the hard road to the cross. And on that cross he took everything from us.

Eventually, the World was given to Jesus again, but not through compromise.  Jesus fulfilled every promise God made.  Jesus withstood the devil himself in the wilderness of hunger.  He endured temptation even to the cross.  Jesus never wavered.  In the end, Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil.  He rose from the dead. He bought us back with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death that we might be His own and live under Him in His Eternal Kingdom.

In Him is the strength to overcome temptation because He has done it perfectly, so too in the eyes of God have we perfectly overcome temptation. We have more than a strategy. We have a new life. We have Jesus. There is no record of our failures to withstand temptation as we are in Christ. On the cross, Jesus took every sin of yours — every time you have abandoned you marriage vows, every number fudged, every relationship fibbed, every false peace sought by compromising God’s word, every ignoring of God’s word — has been taken by the perfect one to the grave. And now His perfection is ours and there is nothing that can keep us from the Father because He has given us everything we need to be with Him.

With His victory on the cross, Jesus earned forgiveness for us. And on the cross he gives us everything he did. His perfect withstanding temptation becomes ours as if we perfectly always overcame temptation. … And because of the cross we have everything that Jesus was. The Holy Spirit brings forgiveness to us and along with it a perfect record in the eyes of God as He works faith in us through Word and Sacrament. And moving forward we have the perfect one with us so that we do not have to use our own thoughts and resources to overcome temptation. No, Jesus overcomes temptation. Every temptation He faced and by the Power of the Holy Spirit, every temptation we face will be overcome by Jesus.

Until we live in eternity with Jesus free from temptation, Jesus overcomes temptation.

In His name. Amen