Friday nights are usually movie nights at my home.  But as we were about to put the movie into the DVD player, I asked my wife to wait.  “What’s on TV right now is better than any movie,” I told her.  “This is real life, and I want to see how it ends.”

I’m sure a similar scene played itself out over the last week in homes all across America.  Eyes were glued to TV sets as the plot lines unfolded in Boston.  First the horrific tragedy of terrorist planted bombs which killed three and wounded countless others.  Then the surrounding uncertainty as speculation ran rampant as to what – or who – was behind the attack.  Fingers pointed in every direction, blaming just about every possible group, as pundits debated the reason for the senseless violence.

And on Thursday evening, as families everywhere were preparing their Thursday night dinners, the FBI held a press conference and revealed photos of two men, younger than I even am, and asked the public to notify authorities if they had any leads on these men.  The plotlines thickened, the story deepened.

When most of us woke up on Friday morning, one suspect was dead and the other at large.  Considering this suspect armed and dangerous, the FBI and local authorities did what is seldom done in America and never before in Boston: they issued a Lockdown order for the entire city of Boston and its suburbs.

As I had the TV on in the background yesterday, I found myself (more than once) trying to imagine what it must have been like to be in Boston on Friday – to hear the mayor, the governor, police chiefs and FBI agents warn people to stay inside until further notice; to try and find activities to do inside (one on of the first “spring-like” days in some time!) with family members; an unexpected day off of work.  I wondered how I would handle that situation.  The unanswered questions (where is this guy? Why haven’t they caught him yet? Is there another bomb?), I think, would have left me cowering in the basement; windows and doors locked…shades drawn shut…almost huddled in the fetal position as if I was awaiting the inevitable.  The sense of fear would have been heightened as agents in bullet-proof vests, armed with assault weapons knocked on doors, asking to search the premise to see if (knowingly or otherwise) the fugitive was there.

Kinda makes you wonder how those disciples felt the weekend of Jesus’ death and resurrection, huh?  The Sanhedrin saw Jesus as a sort of terrorist, executed a manhunt for him that resulted in his execution.  Now, they feared that the manhunt was on for them.  So they huddled together, with the doors and windows locked, waiting for the inevitable.

I don’t think we would have been any different – whether in that Upper Room some two thousand years ago, or kept inside for a public safety day in one of America’s most prevalent cities.

I’m fairly confident about that, because it doesn’t take a lot to make us feel threatened.  It doesn’t take a lot to shut us down out of fear.  It can be as simple as spiders and bats – as my daughter told me yesterday – or bombs in Boston; there are those things in life which are just able to make us shrink back in fear and (even inwardly) recoil into the fetal position.

Have you wondered what frightened John? Here’s a guy that had seen it all.  He was there when Jesus was threatened with stoning and other abuse during his ministry.  He watched as Jesus was arrested, put on trial; he was there when they drove the nails through his hands and feet.  He huddled in the Upper Room that holy weekend.  He was arrested, abused, mocked.  If tradition be true, he was even poisoned!  But, by God’s grace, here he was – some 80, maybe ninety years old, stranded on a scarcely populated island, waiting out the days until he died of old age.

Maybe there wasn’t a whole that threatened John anymore.  There wasn’t much which could be thrown at him that he hadn’t already survived.  But his last letter, the Revelation on the island of Patmos, frightened him.  The terrifying images, symbolic of the attacks against the church led by Satan, more than once made him gasp in horror and fall in fear.

But then…then he saw the vision before us this morning.  An entirely different scene: not one filled with war and destruction and death.  The devestation seen in other parts of his vision gave way to the pristine image of a host arrayed in white.  A number uncountable, surrounding a throne. On that throne?  The God of Creation, and the Lamb.  From their mouths came not the screams of fear and terror but the gleeful shouts of praise and thanksgiving.  Countless voices banded together, singing as one: Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.  Amen!  Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen!

The question was inevitable.  These in the white robes – who are they, and where did they come from? John was stumped, either because of the glorious scene before him or because he truly did not know.  I don’t know, was his de facto response, but Sir, you know. You’re going to have to tell me.

He wasn’t made to wait or guess.  These are the ones who have come out of all those horrific things you just sawThey have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 

I’m not sure whether John saw the faces of this countless host arrayed in white when he first looked, but I like to think that after he was given the answer to the question, “who are they” that he looked a little closer.  Perhaps, then, he began to recognize some familiar faces.  Maybe he saw Peter, or Paul, or his brother James.  His mother.  Mary Magdalene.  Any other number of faces of friends who had long since been taken from the world.  All joining together, singing the praises of the Lamb who was slain and had risen from death! Singing without fear, for the troubles that threatened them were now gone, and there they stood in the glorious life free from fear.

You and I don’t need a miraculous revelation to see what John saw.  We see it every day, don’t we?  That tribulation which John witnessed, recorded in other places of this same book – we’re living in the middle of it, just as John was even back then!  War and threats of war. Terrible tragedies.  Natural disasters.

There’s enough in this life to make us huddle in our basements with the doors and windows locked and shades drawn closed, waiting for the inevitable destruction to end.  Boston.  West, TX.  Newtown, CT. Aurora, CO.  Benghazi, Libya. North Korea. And even our own homes and lives.

Look around you, and what do you see?  A great tribulation, escalating…its enough to make you wonder if this world is spinning out of control.  Who would place a bomb right next to an eight year old boy?  A freak accident at a fertilizer company that devastates an entire town.  Fighting families.  The wrong that we are all so guilty of – it’s enough to draw into question the certainty of our futures, isn’t it.

And every last one of those threatening situations is one more attack by which our great enemy, none other than Satan himself, seeks to lure us out of the sheep pen where our Good Shepherd protects us…and out into the open where snarling wolves wait to devour.

When you feel that urge to hunker down and live in fear, then Behold!  A host arrayed in white!  Look closer, my friends.  Do you see any faces you recognize?  A parent?  A dear friend?  A coworker?

Look even closer.  Do you recognize that face joining together with so many others in singing praise to the Lamb who sits on the throne?  It’s yours.  Yes, yours.

Yes, there you are, dressed as every last one of them is dressed – in a glorious robe of white.  There you are, because the Lamb came to rescue you from this world which seeks to destroy.  There you are, because the Lamb fought your fight for you.  He sacrificed himself on your behalf. He shed his blood to save you from bloodshed and from an eternal tribulation.

And you who, like so many others, have been led to trust him as the author and provider of salvation – your scarlet robes of sin and guilt have been laundered in the Lamb’s blood…by which they are made as white as snow!

Whatever it is that seeks to pry you from the Shepherd’s flock, look closely at this host arrayed in white.  They aren’t there because they’re somehow different from you.  They’re there because the Lamb has kept his promise to them, just as he will keep it to you, too!

Yes, he promises you now that he is watching over you – that even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, there is no reason to fear since he is with you; his rod and staff shield you.  He promises you that whatever threatens you here, nothing can snatch you out of his hand.  He promises you an everlasting life, free from all the perils of this world.

Just listen to the song sung by the host arrayed in white:

He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.  The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

What a wonderful home this is!  The place where we never have to huddle in our homes, doors locked in fear.  The place where the great tribulation of this life is gone.  The place where nothing threatens, nothing destroys, nothing terrifies!

It’s the place where life will be what it was always meant to be: the perfect home, the joyful home, the everlasting home!

And best of all, it’s free!  Paid for, already won – and all by the victorious Lamb, our Good Shepherd Jesus!  Thanks be to God!  He has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!  In him, our robes are washed spotlessly clean; in him we have the certain hope that one day he will bring us, too, out of the great tribulation into the land where springs of living water flow!  Behold a host arrayed in white! – and God speed the day that he will bring us to enjoy the life he has already given us!  Amen.


The Road to Damascus

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to live at the time of Peter, James, and John?  To live at the time of the Apostles, at the time of the first century Christian church?

In some aspects, it would have been a wonderful blessing.  How many of us wouldn’t have loved to take a Bible class taught by John, or listened to a sermon preached by Paul?  To have had the opportunity to learn the Christian faith from those who learned it from the Savior himself – such a time must have been a wonderful time!

But what about the flip-side?  There’s always a flip-side, isn’t there?  While such a time would have been a wonderful blessing, it wasn’t always peaches and cream.

Those first-century churches didn’t have the luxury of worshipping in church buildings or out in the open.  They worshipped in secrecy, holding their services underground, marking their locations with secret symbols like fish.  They had to be careful about those whom they welcomed into their midst, because spies were everywhere.

Yes, those first century Christians didn’t have the luxury of something we call First Amendment rights.  There wasn’t freedom of religion or freedom of worship.  Christianity wasn’t even tolerated back then!

There were those who wanted nothing more than to stamp out the spreading flame which was the Way.  The Sanhedrin tried it by throwing the Apostles in jail.  The Jewish zealots tried it, as they persecuted those who confessed Jesus Christ as Savior.  Their efforts had two results – some Christians became martyrs, put to death at the stake; they were rounded up, thrown into prison with no hope of parole.

Perhaps no one was more zealous in his persecutions of the Followers of the Way than a man named Saul.  A Pharisees Pharisee, Saul hated the group that would later be known as Christians.  He saw them as perverters of his religion, as blasphemers of his God.  To Saul, these Followers of the Way were abominations that needed to be exterminated!

So he led the stoning of Stephen; he led groups of temple guards into the homes of Jesus’ disciples.  He earned himself a reputation as top persecutor for the Sanhedrin manhunt.  But he wasn’t satisfied with just rounding up Christians in Jerusalem.  He wanted to expand the Sanhedrin’s sphere of influence, because the other result of the persecution was the spread of the Way.  Jesus’ disciples fled the Jerusalem persecution and settled in distant cities like Damascus.

So Saul’s goal?  Get those Christians, too.  After asking for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that he might have religious jurisdiction, in order that he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 

But something happened along the way.  It was supposed to be a simple horse-ride over the some 200 miles from Jerusalem to Damascus.  But after crossing the mountainous terrain surrounding Jerusalem…after pushing his crew through the hot, arid wilderness…as Damascus grew closer and closer…

Bang!  A bright light flashed around Saul, taking him completely by surprise.  Saul fell backwards, falling off his saddled horse.  As he landed on the ground, he fell face-down to the ground.  And then the voice, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?

Can you imagine the sinking pit that Saul felt in his stomach at that point?  Who are you, Lord? he asked with trembling fear, hoping that the answer which he would be given was not the one he was expecting.  Then it came: I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting, Saul heard the radiant figure in front of him say – and then waited for the inevitable, and now I will do to you as you have done to those who follow me.

For Saul, there was no escaping reality now.  He had wanted to deny Jesus’ statements during his earthly life.  Up to this point, when Saul heard Jesus’ disciples quote him, I am the way and the truth and that life; no one comes to the Father except through me, he wanted nothing more than to stick his fingers in his ears and drown their voices out.  When they preached of Jesus as true God made flesh, he wanted to scream with every ounce in his throat, No!  Blasphemy! 

But now?  There was no escaping the fact that what they said was true.  That what Jesus had taught while on earth was true.  He was God, and now he had to face what that meant: he had defied the God whom he sought to serve.  He had killed those who followed God.  Thinking he was serving God, he was acting to eradicate the world of the true God.

And for that, he had to pay.  For that, he deserved death.  He was a sinner, and now he was in the presence of the holy God – more than that, he was in the presence of the one whom he had persecuted by persecuting those who followed him.  Death was certain, because he had earned it for himself.

But that never happened.  Those words he expected to hear never came from Jesus’ mouth.  Faced with the reality of his sin, the completeness of his transgression, Saul heard Jesus speak a word of peace.  No get up and go.  You will be told what you must do. 

That’s when Paul realized that he had been squeezing his eyes shut.  As the bright light faded, Saul slowly opened his eyes…only to see nothing but pitch black darkness.  Oh, the sweet symbolism that blindness presented.  Up to this point, Saul thought he had seen things truthfully and that these followers of the Way were the ones who were blinded.  Yet, all along, he was the one who had been blind.  Blind by his own zealotry; blinded by his own hatred of Jesus; blinded by his own sin.

Now, now he was physically blind.  Left to wander the road of Damascus only by the assistance his comrades offered.  Left to sit on the dirt floor of a house owned by someone named Judas, on a street called Straight, in the darkness of his own blindness. Left to sit and do nothing except pray.  Pray that the Lord who had shown himself to Saul would have mercy on the sinner who persecuted him.  To pray that his blindness would be lifted, and he might be given a new life.

For three days he prayed.  For three days he sat, eating nothing, seeing nothing, and in nearly constant prayer.

And then came the knock at the door.  Saul leaned his ear toward the front door and listened to his gracious host speak with an unknown voice.  Then he felt two hands place themselves on his shoulders, and that same unfamiliar voice spoke again, Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me to you so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. 

And just like that, it was as if scales fell from his eyes.  The suffocating darkness that had been his world for three days was gone!

The Lord had granted him a new life.  The Jesus whom he had been persecuting had shown him mercy, even though he had deserved death!

Something had happened to Saul over the last few days.  Once a hardened persecutor of Christ and his followers, the same Lord whom he persecuted had shone into his heart and changed him.  He no longer hated Christ – he loved him.  He no longer abhorred the message of salvation through Jesus because this message meant life.

You almost wonder – don’t you?  What did Jesus see in Saul that made him desire him?  Why would the Lord of life intervene in the life of the one who hated him with every breath?  Why did the risen Jesus bother using his power to change the spiritually dead and blind Saul into Paul who lived by faith?

To ask that question is really to ask what Jesus saw in us, isn’t it?  After all, the difference between Saul and each one of us is non-existent.  The details of our stories may have played themselves out differently, but we, too, were just as much of an enemy of Jesus.  We, too, hated Jesus with every fiber of our being; we, too, wanted to stick our fingers in our ears at the name of Jesus and drown him out.  We, too, wanted nothing to do with the message of salvation through the life and death of Jesus Christ.

And as such, like Saul, we were marked for death.  Our hatred of the Savior-God meant that we would spend an eternity without him.  An eternity of suffering.  An eternity in the fires of hell.  An eternal death.  An eternity that we would have liked to ignore.

But then, the risen Jesus intervened in our lives just as he did with Saul.  No – not with the blinding light and personal revelation, but through the Word.

He intervened as he sent the Holy Spirit to us at our Baptisms.  He intervened as our parents read devotions to us as children.  As they taught us those songs of Jesus’ love.  He intervened through Catechism classes when we were barely teenagers, or through the coworkers with whom we share office space.  He revealed himself to us through a church-mailed postcard or a friend’s invitation.

And through that Word of Sacrament, he revealed why he came in the first place: not to judge the world, but to save it. That though we deserved death, God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son Jesus, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Yes – Saul’s story is our story.  The details may be different, but the point is the same.  This faith which, as we heard last week is blind but not without evidence, is not a faith we made for ourselves.  Its not even a faith which we gave ourselves!

This faith which we share – a faith that grasps Jesus’ sacrifice and victory on our behalf! – is a faith which was given to us.  It’s the faith which was worked in our hearts by the power of the risen Jesus.  It is he who has changed us from spiritually dead to those who will live forever!  It is he who has shone into our hearts through the blinding light of his Gospel.

And yes, Saul’s story can be the story of others, too.  If there’s one thing to learn from today’s lesson, it’s this: Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can change even the most apparently hardened of sinners into the most faithful of followers!  He did it with Saul; he did it with you and with me; and he can do it with those you know, too!

Yes, he can change those hearts of the people whom you know; the twenty-something who was raised in the faith, but has since fallen away in complete denial.  Those more willing to accept the theories of science than the truth’s of God’s Word.  Those who doubt God could love such a wicked person as they have been.  The risen Savior can not only change their hearts with the power of his Gospel; he desires to do nothing less!

And he uses us to share that life-changing message with them.  He uses us to take the message of Christ died and risen for salvation to those whom he has placed in our lives, so that he might shine into their hearts, too, through that wonderful truth.

The story of Saul continues, as you already know.  He went from being known as a Pharisee’s Pharisee to being a missionary’s missionary; the greatest missionary ever, he has been called.  Through Saul – who became known as Paul – the Lord shone into the hearts of countless individuals.  In fact, it is through the Lord’s work in Paul that you and I ultimately had the Gospel shared with us.

Lord, thank you for changing us from death to life through the power of your Gospel.  Use us just as you used your servant Paul.  May we share that same Gospel with others, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; and as we share that Gospel, change many, many more from death to life, too!  Amen.

Do you know how old Abram was when God first came to him and spoke with him?  75!  75 years old, right there around the same age as some of you.  75 years old when God came and spoke with him, telling him to leave his family behind, to pack up his belongings and to start walking towards an unknown location which God himself “would show to Abram.”

How many of you would so easily follow in Abram’s footsteps if God came and asked the same of you?  Pack your belongings, leave your house and family, and start driving.  Don’t worry; I’ll show you the way!  I’ll tell you when you get where I want you to go. Yeah, I don’t think I would be able to do that, either.

And that’s not to mention the fact that God continued his conversation with Abram: You will be a great nation.  I will bless you; I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.  All nations of the earth will be blessed through you.  And not one word of Abram doubting; instead he took God at his word, trusting God’s promises.

Now, maybe it doesn’t seem that far-fetched to see Abram trusting such wonderful promises – but don’t you think that over time some doubts would have creeped into Abram’s mind? As days became weeks and weeks became months and months became years and years?

Sure, there were moments of weakness – attempting to bring about the fulfillment of these promises through his wife’s maidservant, trying to pass his wife off as his sister (twice!) – but at the end, what does the book of Genesis say but how the first lesson today ends: Abram believed the LORD.

Have you ever found yourself wishing, hoping, even praying for a faith like Abraham’s – a blind faith which trusts, sight unseen?  I remember being a kid, not much older than some of you, praying for just that: Lord, give me a stronger faith like that of Moses, or Abraham, or David.  So do you want a blind faith?  Or – is your faith blind already?

It’s a show-me generation we live in, isn’t it?  Things like gentleman’s agreements don’t exist anymore.  You can’t buy a car on a handshake.  Even contracts don’t always stand for what they once did.  Over and over again – especially in the world of sports – organizations, coaches, even athletes worm and weasel their ways out of the signed dotted line.

Show me, we say.  Prove it.  I won’t believe it until I see it.  Got a whopper on the line?  A monster buck that you shot?  Better have a picture to prove it, or the skeptics will come out of the woodwork.  And broken promise after stretched truths just add to the skepticism and lack of trust.

King Solomon once wrote There’s nothing new under the sun, and I guess that applies to this situation, too – doesn’t it?  Because for every Abraham…there’s a Thomas.

Next to the betrayer, Judas, perhaps no disciple is known more for something negative than Thomas.  Doubting Thomas, we call him – and maybe for good reason; Thomas’ statement isn’t far from our minds when we hear his name.  Unless I see the nail marks…and put my finger…and my hand…I will not believe it.

We’re quick to give Thomas’ looks of shame, aren’t we?  Thomas, Thomas.  You should have known better.  Your closest friends just told you they saw him, why didn’t you believe?  But don’t we forget that the disciples themselves scoffed at first when the women told them the tomb was empty?  Don’t we forget the doubts in the minds of Peter and John as they ran to the tomb, or the two on the road to Emmaus?

They weren’t all that different from Thomas, were they?  Sure, it wasn’t until after Thomas got to rub his thumb over that gaping hole in his wrist or stick his hand into the spear-hole in Jesus’ side or look upon the face of his beloved Teacher with his own two eyes…only then did Thomas believe.  But the rest of them?  Their doubts lingered, too, until tangible proof was presented…only when Jesus was standing there in the middle of them that first Easter evening did they believe.

Because you have seen me, you have believed, Jesus said to Thomas – and really to all who were gathered with Thomas.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

Who have not seen and yet have believed.  Jesus is advocating blind faith – right?  Believe what you haven’t seen, what you have no evidence of, without the “show me” aspect.

Blind faith?  Let’s consider the evidence.   Just look at the things which we hold dear – the central truths of our Christian faith.  Who among us was there when God said, let there be…and it was?  Or, raise your hand if you were there when Jesus was conceived by Holy Spirit.  Better yet, as the hymn says Were you there when they crucified the Lord?  Have you seen the empty tomb, or the folded cloths…touched the scarred wounds?

No – none of us were there.  None of us heard him cry at his birth or cry out at his death.  We didn’t see the empty tomb.  Yet here we are – worshipping a man we have neither seen nor heard.  Here we are, celebrating the life, death and resurrection by which our eternal salvation was secured.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed, Jesus said.  Was he talking about us?  You bet.  But, blind faith?  I’m not so sure…

Yes, we believe without seeing his wounds.  We believe without seeing his empty tomb or hearing his voice.  These eyes have not seen him and these ears have not heard him.  Yet we call him Lord, Savior, Friend, Brother. But faith without evidence?  On the contrary – the evidence is overwhelming!

Consider this: why did the Holy Spirit have the Apostle John include this story of Doubting Thomas?  Perhaps – without trying to delve into the depths of the mind of God – this account was recorded for  your benefit and mine.  Imagine the doubts that would creep into our minds if we did not have this account.

Was this really Jesus?  The nail marks and spear hole prove it!  Had Jesus actually risen from the dead, or was this just his spirit – as some would claim?  As we see, through Scripture, Thomas touching those scarred wounds of our Savior…any doubt dissipates.

Is our faith without evidence?  Absolutely not!  We have overwhelming evidence right here in Scripture…right here, in God’s Word.  As Peter wrote: we have the word of the prophets made more certain

Have we seen our Savior alive?  Maybe not with these two eyes – but the eyes of faith lay hold of the evidence in Holy Scripture.  Have we heard our Savior speak?  Maybe not with these ears – but the ears of faith hear our Savior say, I am the way, and the truth and the life…I am the resurrection and the life.

No, my friends – our faith is not blind!  The Word of our God recorded on these pages of Scripture for the benefit of the generations following our Savior’s saving work.  Yes, God made sure that the account of our Savior’s life, death and resurrection were recorded in Scripture so that our faith did not have to be blind!  Blind faith?  Absolutely not.

So why is it that we doubt?  Why do we live as though we are unsure of our faith, unsure of whether our Savior lives?

Isn’t that exactly what we’re saying about our faith when we live in ways which contradict our God’s Word…that we’re not sure about our faith, or at least we have our doubts and are more willing to take what we see with these eyes and hear with these ears than what our Savior tells us in his Word?

My dear brothers and sisters in the faith, there really isn’t any difference between us and the Apostles in that Upper Room.  Yes, we too can say, We have seen the Lord in Scripture!  And what we have seen there leads us to cry out with Thomas, My Lord and my God!

Is your faith blind?  Some may say that it is, and in some way they may be right.  But entirely blind? Absolutely not, my friends!  We have all the evidence we’ll ever need, right here.  We have seen our risen Savior, in Scripture.

And yes, we’re like Abraham.  Abraham couldn’t see any reason to trust God’s promises other than the fact that they were God’s promises.  There may not be anything that we can lay hold of as reason for us to trust God’s promise of salvation and forgiveness and life everlasting – but we have God’s Word, his promises recorded there.

No, our faith is not blind.  Yes, we are blessed: through the eyes of faith we have seen our risen Savior.  And yes, one day, we will see him with these physical eyes, too!  Amen.

If you’re even the slightest bit interested in sports, you know that this weekend marked the start of one of the year’s biggest sports events – typically called “March Madness” for its exciting games, surprise finishes, and buzzer beaters; the NCAA College Basketball Tournament is underway.

And so, on Monday, April 8, a National Champion will be crowned, the iconic theme song “One Shining Moment” will be played and one team will celebrate their spot at the top of the college basketball world.

And then they’ll return home as champions.  Their home town will throw a victory parade.  Fans will line up on the sides of streets that serve as the parade route, shouting for the team’s attention, hoping to get a glimpse of the championship trophy, maybe even an acknowledging glance in their direction.  The cheers of adoring fans will be so loud that they’ll be heard from miles away.

If you’re a fan like me, then maybe you even tuned in last Sunday evening when the brackets were announced on CBS.  Perhaps you watched with eager excitement to see where the Michigan Wolverines would play or who would be Michigan State’s first opponent.

No doubt there were certain amounts of cheering when the pairings were announced, especially for those teams whose tournament futures were less-certain than others.  However, I’m not sure that there were any ticker-tape victory parades thrown last Sunday.  I’m not sure that fans lined the streets to cheer their teams for making it into the tournament. To use an over-used cliché, throwing a victory parade before any tournament games were even played would be “putting the cart before the horse.”  Even in this world of star athletes making guarantees of victory, you just don’t throw a parade until that victory actually happens, because nothing is certain.

That’s what makes the scene of today’s Gospel reading so surprising.  This wasn’t just your everyday, ordinary trip into Israel’s capital city for Jesus.  This was his trip towards his final battle in the spiritual war for mankind’s soul; yet before the final battle was even fought, here was Jesus riding in to Jerusalem on his victory parade!  And what a parade it was: in fact, it was a victory parade unlike any other.

You know the scene and the back-story.  Jesus and his disciples were heading to Jerusalem, like so many other Jews, to celebrate the most important of Jewish religious festivals – the Passover.  As Jesus and his disciples gathered outside Jerusalem, on that famous mountain known as the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave a few instructions to two of them.  Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden.  Untie it and bring it here.

That might seem a bit of a strange request from our Savior.  It might seem that he’s almost encouraging “borrowing” something that didn’t belong to him.  Yet, knowing that Jesus never committed any sin, we can understand that a few possibilities might be more realistic.  Perhaps, Jesus was good friends with the colt’s owners; they might have even some of his disciples.  Maybe, Jesus had even set up a little arrangement with them, and had asked them ahead of time if he could borrow their colt for just this purpose.  Finally, however, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

Jesus even prepared his disciples for the answer they were to give.  If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?, tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’

And so the disciples did just as they were told.  And imagine that – despite any skeptical thoughts they may have had, everything was just as Jesus promised.  There was the colt, tied up as Jesus said.  And sure enough, as they were untying it, its owners asked them what they were doing.  And what a surprise, they even allowed them to borrowed it as they responded the way Jesus told them to!

Fast forward to the top of the Mount of Olives where these disciples had brought the young donkey to Jesus.  Watch as Jesus’ disciples remove their outer cloaks – likely their finest pieces of clothing – and lay a few of them across the donkey’s back to create a make-shift saddle.  Watch as the others lay their outer cloaks on the dusty, dirty, rocky road ahead of Jesus.  Others cut palm branches and laid them down, too.

And as Jesus’ began making his way down the mountain, the word began to spread that Jesus was making his way into Jerusalem.  People from all over began to gather along the roadside.  Some had seen Jesus’ miracles: maybe they had been there for the feeding of the five thousand or the wedding at Cana; maybe they had heard of his miraculous healing, or his driving demons out of the possessed.  Some had probably even come from the nearby village of Bethany, where not too long ago they had been grieving outside the tomb of Lazarus when Jesus miraculously raised that young man from the dead.

Now, they gathered, hoping to catch another glimpse of their favorite teacher.  One by one, voices joined together until the shouts became one: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!

As faithful Jews, they had likely memorized the Old Testament promises regarding the promised King of kings, and they knew this scene looked familiar.  The whispers in the crowd may have aided their memory: remember what the prophet Zecheriah said?  See your king comes to you…riding on a donkey, on a colt – the foal of a donkey.  Do you see what this is?  Here’s the one we’ve been waiting for! 

But I don’t think that they really understood the significance of this victory parade for Jesus.  You see, he wasn’t riding into Jerusalem as a king; he was riding into Jerusalem as the Savior-King.  He wasn’t riding into Jerusalem to fulfill their wildest dreams – be it freedom from Rome, a daily supply of their basic desires and wishes, or the restoration of glory days long-gone.

No, Jesus – as the Savior-King – was riding into Jerusalem to fulfill their deepest need.  And so, he was riding into Jerusalem to die.  Jesus knew it; in the verses following today’s lesson, Jesus mourns the Jewish rejection that would happen four days later.  Yet he rode in anyway.

Why? Because he knew that this was a war that we could not win.  Try as we might, the stage was too big and the task was too much to handle.  We were overmatched and dead in the water.  So Jesus mounted that donkey, rode into Jerusalem through cheering crowds – all to make his way toward’s Calvary and his death.  As the Apostle Paul once wrote in Romans: at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Yes, Christ rode in to Jerusalem this Palm Sunday so many years ago that he might lay down his life – the ultimate sacrifice – in order to win the spiritual war for your soul and mine.

But this isn’t the way that you would imagine for a Savior-King riding on his way to war!  In times of war, Kings rode war-horses, not donkeys!  But Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey was a symbol of peace. You see, donkeys used for the everyday tasks of transporting grain or plowing fields, tasks more often during times of peace than times of war.  So what’s the Savior-King doing riding a donkey on his way to war?

You know that answer too.  It’s because the battle was as good as done already!  Yes, from the very moment that God promised our salvation in the Garden…even now as Jesus’ rides into Jerusalem…the end result was never in question, but always as good as done!  Why the Palm Sunday victory parade?  Because from God’s perspective, victory was already won and in hand!

It was that victory which was announced at Jesus’ birth, where the angels sang words similar to those shouted by the crowds lining the streets for the Savior-King.  Thirty-three years earlier, the angels sang, Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests above the hills outside BethlehemVictory was just as certain then as it was here on the path down the Mount of Olives; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!, the people shouted as Jesus made his way into Jerusalem. 

Had the Savior-King’s enemies remembered this, then perhaps they might have been cowering in fear instead of bold in defiance.  Yet, the devil even then was at work, using the religious leaders of Israel to come up with bloated charges false charges of religious blasphemy.  Even now, the Savior-King’s enemies plotted his death while dreaming of their own victory.

But any victory that they imagined would be short-lived.  For on this day, from the back of a donkey, surrounded by waving palm branches, the Savior-King announced victory over his enemies – a victory for you and for me! A victory that meant peace in heaven; peace between God and man.

This Thursday night, as the altar is stripped and words sung which remind us of our Savior’s abandonment in the Garden of Gethsemane – remember that he had already held his victory parade!  As we remember our Savior crucified on Golgatha, the blood, the agony, the suffering of hell which he endured – let us remember our Savior’s victorious ride into Jerusalem!

Yes, he rides into Jerusalem this morning to declare the war won for you and for me! It’s in the bag!  It’s a victory parade like none other: The Savior-King is victorious before its even begun!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen!

I warned you – when I first started this blog, I included the disclaimer: I’m no good at this “diary” thing.  And here’s why: it starts out with good intentions, but you have to keep yourself on task.  Blame it on whatever you will: the demands of fatherhood and marriage, the Lenten season, or my own slip of the mind; each and every excuse probably has its own share of the blame.  For whatever reason, I neglected to post the promised weekly review of the Bible mini-series on the History Channel.

But here’s part of what I think the reason may have been – I just didn’t know what to write.  As I watched the last two episodes (four hours worth; I still haven’t watched the March 4th episode), I enjoyed watching the portrayal of the Bible stories.  True, I disagreed with some of the portrayal (since when was Samson of African descent instead of Jewish?!) and there were stories I wish would have been included (I remember commenting to my wife that I wish they would have shown the story of Gideon), but overall I was interested to see how the producers would Old Testament stories.

But when I finished watching each of the episodes, I walked away with an empty feeling.  It wasn’t that the portrayals were entirely inaccurate, as there were definitely inaccuracy; it was, as I saw one clip describe, that the stories were almost portrayed as individual events loosely connected by the fact that they were all Old Testament stories that depicted men and women who gave devotion to God.  What was missing was the context of the whole Old Testament Scriptures: the drumbeat (thanks, dad!) of the Old Testament, “The Savior is coming! The Savior is coming!  THE SAVIOR IS COMING!”

Where was the promise of God about his promised one?  Two and a half episodes, and never once was there a mention about God’s promised Savior.  Never once was there a mention of God’s grace through the Promised Messiah.  Never once was that glorious truth even alluded to.

It wasn’t for lack of opportunity; the Tenth Plague and the first Passover celebration (which pointed ahead to Jesus’ sacrifice as the true Passover Lamb) and the reason for which David could be forgiven his indiscretions (which, by the way, was one of my biggest beefs – where was the call to repentance by the prophet Nathan?  Where was the repentance by David, and thus the promise of forgiveness by God through the mouth of his servant?) are just two of the many opportunities through which that promise could have been mentioned.

I said this in my first review, and nothing has really changed.  If Jesus is taken out of the Old Testament, then what’s the point?  The Old Testament simply becomes a bunch of stories that are included to set examples for people to live by.  Is that the point of the Old Testament?  Absolutely not!

Scripture – all of Scripture! – is to reveal God’s plan of salvation through the sending of his Son, Jesus Christ.  Take Jesus out of the Old Testament, intentially or otherwise, is to rob it of its meaning.  Let the stories show God’s grace in the lives of sinners (yes, believe it or not, men like David and Samson and Abraham and others were just as sinful as you and I are!), and the beauty of forgiveness is stunning!

We’ll see what the March 24th episode (I’m about to watch it) and the Easter Sunday episode will say about God’s grace.  I pray that it shows the beauty of salvation through Christ alone; but even if this series doesn’t clearly show this – rest assured that God’s Word does.  And what better way to see forgiveness than from the Word of God itself?!

To quote a completely unrelated commercial, “Stay thirsty my friends.”  Stay thirsty for the Gospel, for it is the Gospel message of salvation through Christ – from beginning to end of time – that saves!

Tom Sawyer white washing the fence is one of those iconic scenes from American literature.  Even if you’ve never read Mark Twain’s famous novel, you can probably imagine the scene.  Tom has a problem.  He has to complete a task that is unpleasant.  His solution?  “Misery loves company.”  He tricks his friend into believing that whitewashing a fence is an enviable experience that he wants to share.

Isn’t that exactly what Satan’s been doing since the Garden of Eden?  It was there when he attempted and succeeded in making knowledge of sin and death something that Adam and Eve envied enough to partake of.  Day after day, he does no different with us – getting us to envy sinful actions and thoughts enough to join in the “fun.”

In our lesson today, the apostle Paul does the exact opposite.  With no deception, he holds out the beauty of forgiveness and life to a guilty and dying world in hopes of making them envious of these gifts of God to man.

You remember last week’s sermon, don’t you?  Ok – maybe not every detail, but you remember the general gist.  Son leaves home with his early inheritance, spends it foolishly hits, hits rock bottom, comes home repentant, and is thrown a party.

Had you been part of the crowd listening to Jesus telling this parable, you might have picked up the reason that Jesus told this parable.  He had just heard the religious leaders mutter under their breath, This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.

You might have walked away, knowing that this parable was told to wake up these religious leaders from some delusions of spiritual grandeur.  In this parable, the Jews were the disgruntled older brother,  the one who needed to be called to repentence, while the lost-and-found brother were the social outcasts of Israel and the “heathen” nations that surrounded them.  In the end, Jesus’ point was that you didn’t have to be a “good Jew” to be welcomed into heaven; God’s grace was just as much for the heathen Gentile who repents as it was for those who were part of God’s specially chosen people.

Now, if you put the parable of the Prodigal Son immediately next to the verses before us this morning, you might notice that Paul has done a little loop-de-loop.  You see, when Paul looks at the parable of the Prodigal Son, it’s the Jews who are the Prodigal Sons – not the Gentiles.

You see, it was the Jews that needed to be won back to the fold, not the Gentiles.  Why?  Because they had fallen!  You know the tragic tale.  It was Abraham and his descendents whom God had hand-picked to bring about the salvation of the world.  It was Abraham and his descendents – the Jews! – who were supposed to be the prime recipients of God’s gospel blessings.

But they shoved it away.  They turned their back on it.  When God sent his Son, who would bring about the fulfillment of thousands of years of promises made to the Jews, the Jews rejected him; they bound him, mistreated him, condemned him to death, and made sure that death sentence was carried out.

It’s the kind of rejection that seems like it would be the last straw.  Paul even anticipates those questions: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?  It seems logical; after all, they should’ve known better!  They should have seen what was right in front of them.  They should have believed him when he revealed who he was, when he told them why he came.  If anyone should have been on the Savior’s side – it should have been the Jews!

But like the prodigal son who ran away from the open arms of grace, so the Jews crucified the King of kings and Creator of all that is.  They nailed to a tree the one who had come to be their Savior.  What hope could there be for them, right?

Paul uses the Jews as an example of pointing out just how God can take sinful actions and work good through them.  Their transgression – the crucifixion of the Lamb of God – means riches for the world.  What a wonderful reminder: that as we begin next week to walk with our Savior to Calvary’s cross during Holy Week, God was always in control.  The Jews might have felt like they had the upper hand, the devil might have seen victory on Good Friday – but God was using the sinful actions of everyone involved to bring about the blessing first promised after Satan’s first deception; God used the Jewish rejection, Pilate’s cowardice, Judas’ betrayal, every bit of it to bring about the salvation of the world!

That might seem shocking, but here’s the kicker: Salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.  Paul wasn’t speaking hypothetically; he was sharing what he was told and what he was seen.  You know the story of Paul’s conversion, how Jesus called him on the road to Damascus to be the missionary to the Gentiles.  Perhaps you might even recall one of his first stops as a missionary: desiring to share the Gospel with all, he proclaimed Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins to the local synagogue.  But when they rejected that message, Paul responded sharply: We had to speak the word of God to you first.  Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles (Acts 13:45,46).

That was always Paul’s hope – not just that God would use him to bring Gentiles to faith, but that through him reaching out to Gentiles, God might call more Jews back to himself.  I make much of my ministry, he says, in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 

Because, the truth is – outwardly Jews and Gentiles might be different.  They may have different skin tones, different languages, different facial features, different hair color, you name it.  But deep down – I mean, really deep down, at the “heart” of it all – Jews and Gentiles of all nations are the same.  Dead in sin and unbelief; doomed to hell because of their status as God’s enemies.

But that’s why God sent Jesus, isn’t it?  As we heard last week, God sent Jesus so that Jesus could be our Brother and Substitute, so that through his perfection and his death our everlasting forgiveness might be won for us!

So what a wonderful thing, that God might lead us to see Jesus as that Savior we need!  Because that’s how God brought us in, isn’t it?  Through faith, which lays hold of Jesus’ sacrifice, God has kneaded us into the batch of dough, he has grafted us to the root.

Through faith, which lays hold of Jesus’ sacrifice and perfection – what he is what we have been made!  If part of the dough is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.  Because Jesus never once sinned, we who trust him as our Savior, are declared perfect in God’s eyes.  Because Jesus is holy, God gives us the verdict, Not Guilty, too!

Isn’t that something that people should be envious of?  Is that the way you feel about the gift of salvation you’ve been given – that it’s the most prized treasure of all, and that others should be jealous that you have it and they don’t?

Or has the gift of forgiveness become something that you tend to take for granted?  Paul warns us to not make that same mistake: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.  You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.”  Granted.  But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith.  Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. 

If you find yourself taking for granted the gift given to you through Jesus – saying something like It doesn’t matter what I do, Jesus has forgiven me already, anyway! – then be afraid.  If you find yourself thinking that God somehow owes you something because you believe in him, remember that is the mistake that the Jews made.  They felt that God owed them a special place in his kingdom because they were “Abraham’s children.”  Whether Jew or Gentile, the result is always the same: the unbeliever is snipped off the root, separated from the batch of dough. God will not spare anyone who rejects him.

If destruction is the other option, isn’t salvation – escaping the eternal destruction of hell – something that people should be envious of?!  It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?  If we have the greatest gift that humanity has ever been offered – everlasting life with our God, our Savior, our Creator – why aren’t people more envious of it?

If you talk to the “cool” pastors – you know, the ones who wear skinny jeans and cool button down shirts, who give sermons while drinking lattes and have a rock band behind them – they might tell you the reason is because we don’t make this gift “appealing” enough.  That you need to make the Christian faith appealing by modernizing it.  That if Christianity becomes more 21st century, then we’ll need to add pews to our churches because they’ll be so so full each and every week!

I don’t think they’re right, in many cases, anyway.  Yet, I do think that part of their message might be alright – because they say the same thing that Paul does.  In essence, maybe the world isn’t envious of our gift, because they don’t always know what that gift is!  Maybe they aren’t jealous of us, because they don’t see what makes us different from them.

See, that’s Paul’s encouragement: make the unbeliever envious of what you have (forgiveness through the blood of Jesus) by making your blessings known!  It’s something we teach our children from early on: this little gospel light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.  Hide it under a bushel – NO! – I’m gonna let it shine, we teach them to sing, don’t we?

And the end goal is this: that their envy leads them to learn more about Christ; that as they learn more about Christ, they come to know what he has done for them; that when they realize the gracious gift Jesus has for them, they too are brought in to the lump of dough and grafted on to the root!

And what a cool thing that would be, right?  That as we hold out the Gospel as something we value beyond all else, more are added to our number?  That as we present our Savior Jesus as the gift of gifts, the treasure beyond all treasures, that lump of dough grows.

What’s your hope, my friends?  That you’re born, live, come to faith and die in that faith?  Or that as you live out your faith, others become so jealous of what you have that they seek it out, too – so that through you, God grows the family of believers and welcomes home more and more prodigal sons?

I’m confident that you want more than to just be a good Christian; I’m confident that you want God to use you to grow his kingdom.  So, let’s start today.  Let’s start holding out our faith for others to see – praying that they grow envious of its blessings so that they might be grafted onto the root, just as we were! Amen.

It’s a simple truth of life: parents love their children.  Talk to any new parent, and they’ll show their love as they gush about their child.  They’ll tell you that there’s no greater blessing in life than the little one they’ve been blessed with.  Any working parent will tell you that there’s nothing greater than the warm embrace of their child after a long day at work, accompanied by the voice, “Hi daddy, I missed you!

It’s that kind of love which a parent has for their child which leads their heart to break when their child is in trouble, which tears them in two when they see their child putting themselves in harm’s way.

Perhaps it’s no wonder, then, to see Jesus use the relationship between a father and his two sons to describe the relationship between the heavenly Father and the humanity he created.  For as much as any earthly parent may love their child, the Father’s love for the people of this world is that much greater.  And in this parable of the Prodigal – or lost – Son, Jesus urges each of us to See the Father’s love!

There are times when earthly parents might give their children an early inheritance, especially when the financial benefits outweigh the penalties.  But it’s not that often when you might see a child approach a parent and beg for that inheritance early.

And yet, that’s exactly what one of these two boys did.  The younger son went to his father, gave his best puppy-dog impression, and pled with his father – give me my share of the estate. 

You can imagine the heartache this request must have caused the father.  After all, there’s really no reason to request an early inheritance other than to leave the homestead and go out on your own.  The father knew why the son wanted his inheritance early, and you can bet the father was hesitant to give it to the son.  You can imagine that the father had all sorts of fears run through his mind regarding how his young son would manage these finances, and yet the father granted the request.  He divided the property between them.

And it didn’t take long for the son to pack his bags.  Putting his clothes into suitcases, some food into a cooler, and his finances into a money-bag, the son set off.  It was time to be his own man, to make his life away from his father’s house, to make his own choices and live his own life.

And what happened, except that the son found himself making one bad choice after another, squandering his wealth in wild living.  Late night party after late night party.  Superfluous purchase after superfluous purchase.  A new hot date every night.

No doubt, the son found himself enjoying life.  No doubt, he found himself as the life of the party.  No doubt, he was living the kind of life that many only dreamed they could live.  That is, until he woke up one morning and realized that there were only a few pennies left in his money bag.  That is, until he found himself pawning his possessions and clothes just to feed his belly.

And then things went from bad to worse.  When there was nothing left, this son found himself far away from home in country suddenly struck by famine.  Not only did he have nothing left, but the cost of food and living sky-rocketed as food shortages rose.

You might imagine the kind of panic that he went through.  The questions as to where his money went, as to how he had fallen so far, as to how he was going to last another day.

The young man who had once lived the life of luxury and who had never had to work a day in his life, found himself scrounging around for a job.  Any job.  Something that could pay the bills.

But the only thing he could find was a pig farmer who hired him to keep the pigs fat and healthy.  Day by day, he carried bags of slop that he poured into feeding troughs for smelly pigs – and all for a measly paycheck that barely paid the rent for his shack of a home and a daily meal of bread and water.

How many nights do you think he dreamt of the party lifestyle he lived, of the sharp clothes he wore – all while sleeping alone in the same clothes he worked in?

It got so bad that one day he found himself licking his lips as we poured the slop into the troughs.  Here he was, eating nothing but bread and drinking nothing but water – and look how well the pigs were eating!  He had become so skinny that he could count each one of his ribs, but these pigs?   They looked more like large bowling balls they were so fat!  Why were they so well fed but he was starving to death?  Oh, if only he could get down on all fours and throw his mouth into the trough right there with the pigs!  But no one gave him anything. 

That night, the young man realized how bad things had gotten.  What once had been so unappealing to him – pig’s slop for crying out loud! – he now craved just to stay alive.  Where was the luxurious life he once enjoyed: the feasts, the fine clothes, the laughter?  It all seemed like a distant memory, one that he could only remember having in his father’s house.

Ah, that was the life, he thought.  Life was so good, even the servants of my father were considered rich. 

Right then…right there, he made up his mind.  When the morning sun broke on the horizon, he would get up and make his way home.  But he knew that he could never go home and ask for his place back in his father’s family.  But maybe, just maybe, he thought, he could go back and ask to work in his father’s household.  He even practiced his speech along the way: Father, he planned to say, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.  Over and over, he rehearsed the speech as he hitch-hiked his way home.

Finally the day came when he could see the smoke of his father’s warming fire on the horizon.  His soon-to-be coworkers littered the fields, laboring for his future boss.  In nervous fear, his steps became slower and smaller.  How would his father react?  Would he take him back – even as a servant?  In shame, he hung his head as he made his way to the place he once called home.

When he was finally brave enough to lift his eyes towards the homestead, he saw a wondrous sight.  There was his father running – not walking, not stomping…RUNNING! – towards him.  As the young man’s father grew closer, the boy slumped to his knees in shame.  He opened his mouth to speak, but before any words could come out of his lips, he felt his father’s arms squeeze his thinning chest.  He felt the warm drops of his father’s tears run down his own cheeks.  His father’s familiar hands loving embrace his face, and the loving lips kiss his forehead over and over and over.

A bit taken aback, the young man mustered up the courage to speak.  Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But it was as if his dad never even heard him.  Franticly waving a servant over, the father said, Quick!  Bring the best robe and put it on him.  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it.  Let’s celebrate!  My son has returned home!

You know the story, don’t you?  Probably just as well as the back of your hand.  But how often do you put yourself in that young man’s tattered, dirty clothes?  How often do you feel his malnourishment and suffering?

Because that’s the point, isn’t it?  That young man is each one of us.  That son is us, for each one of us is part of our Father’s family through the waters of baptism and promise of grace through faith.  That young man is us – for each time we sin we are doing nothing but asking to leave our heavenly Father’s homestead and make it on our own.

Have you felt the way that sin drains you?  The way it takes the joy out of life, the way it robs you of the luxurious life that is meant to be your inheritance?  For that’s the other side of the coin: at first, sin may look appealing at first.  Yet, before too long you begin to realize that you’ve given up the peace between you and God; that you’ve exchanged the future of everlasting life for a certain, excruciating, death; that once repulsed you now seems better than the way things are.  Sin lures you in with the promises of freedom, only to let you down in the end.  And before too long, you’re at rock bottom, realizing just how far you’ve fallen – deserving every bit of the misery you experience and have coming to you.

But did you see your Father’s love?  Do you see the promise he makes – that when lost, dead, and fallen sinners come to him in repentance – pleading for his mercy, recognizing just how much they need his grace – he welcomes them back with open arms!  No questions asked.  Not even after promises of faithfulness.

When sinners repent, God offers unconditional forgiveness.  When sinners plead for his mercy, he restores them to their places as his sons and daughters.  Freely.  Unconditionally, with over-whelming abundance!

But let’s not also forget about those times that we’re more like the second son.  When our sin isn’t so much open rebellion and disobedience…but grumbling and ungrateful hearts.  You heard the second son’s complaint, right?  All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.  Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But this brother of mine?  When he comes back after years of open disregard for you, then you reward him?!

How often haven’t we been just like that son: ignorant of the many blessings that our Father bestows upon us, all while wanting him to withhold his mercy until these other “sinners” prove they are worthy of it!

Even then, see your Father’s love!  My son, he tells you, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  I give you blessing after blessing, grace after grace; mercy after mercy.  Even this sin of an ungrateful heart I freely forgive.

It bears mentioning, but it’s not that God doesn’t care about the sinner’s sin.  God never turns a blind eye towards that sin.  He very much cares about it; sin angers him more than maybe we’d like to know.

It’s just that when sinners repent, he no longer holds those sins against them.  That’s because there’s an unmentioned third son in this parable.

He’s the Son who bore the punishment deserved for the rebellion of the first son.  He’s the Son who suffered for the ingratitude of the older son.  He’s their brother, who was like them in every way except one, for he was always obedient and always grateful.  Truly, he never once disobeyed his Father’s orders and always submitted to the work his Father had for him.

He’s my Brother and yours.  He’s the one who took on human flesh to take your place and mine.  As we’ll read in just over two weeks: Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.  And the result of what he endured?  The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).

So, do you see your Father’s love?  It’s a love he graciously extends to you, a grace and mercy he freely offers you – all for the sake of his other Son – our Brother – Jesus Christ.

Let us rejoice in that love!  Let us be grateful for that love extended to us, and to others!  And let’s reflect that love in our everyday lives.  Amen.