Sermon – March 28, 2021 – Palm Sunday

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Pastor Mark R Jacobson  ~  Palm Sunday/Confirmation  ~  Mark 11:1-10

1As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” 4They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 10“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”



In your opinion, what would be better? A two-hour worship service or a twenty minute worship service? If I announced a two-hour worship service today, I imagine I would see you move to the edge of your seat, sit up straight, and say, “I’m all ears Pastors. Preach!!” Or if I announced a twenty minute worship service I imagine you might slouch in your seat, kick the pew or chairs in front of you, look at the clock on your phone, and mutter, “We only have 8 minutes of church!” It has happened that a worshipper told me, “That service was too fast!” I don’t remember who said it, but you don’t forget a complaint like that.

Some people think church is boring, and some people are afraid that heaven is going to be one endless worship service. They think that when ‘we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun,’ we will still be singing from the new hymnal published 10,000 years ago. They say there will be no fun and no games. No Xbox. No fishing. Just singing and speaking, sitting and standing, over and over and over again like here in church.

Today is Palm Sunday, one of the greatest days of worship for the whole year! It’s not only a day when we join in praise for God, but it’s also a day when we learn how to praise God. We don’t only praise God by coming to church and singing some songs and saying some prayers. Today we learn how we can praise God all day, every day with hands of praise.

All the Palm Sunday praise of Jesus Christ took place outside of God’s house, the temple. Some of the greatest praise took place before the people began moving their lips. The first praise came from the obedient hands of the disciples. Jesus asked them to go and get a colt, a young donkey. Jesus told them they would find the colt tied up in the town ahead of them and they should just take it. If anyone said anything, they should simply say, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.” Not only did the disciples do what they were told without question, but the men to whom the animal belonged would also raise their hands in praise by giving the colt to Jesus without question. The obedience of the disciples equals enthusiastic praise of Jesus.

Our world does not give Jesus that kind of praise. They question why God and his Word have a right to tell us what to do at all. They would question why they have to go to church when they feel just fine without it. They question how God can send troubles into our lives and still claim to love us. They accuse the Bible of favoritism when it names man the head of woman and woman the helper of man. They question why men and women can’t live together without marriage and they question why men and men or women and women can’t be married and enjoy biblical approval from God. And in our weak, sinful condition we may have some of these same questions as well. But believers praise God with their obedience. Believers confirm their faith not only by acknowledging what they have found to be true from their study of God’s Word in front of an assembly of other Christians, but by living their faith every day in every place and in every way as God gives them strength. Believers don’t just pray, “Your will be done.” Believers obey so that Jesus’ will is done on earth. That is praise. That is worship which pleases God.

We worship and praise God with obedient hands. We also worship and praise God with generous hands. The crowds on Palm Sunday were not tight with their praise of Christ. They were generous with their material possessions. One person happily gave the use of his donkey. The disciples took off their own cloaks and put them on the donkey on which Jesus rode. Many people took off their cloaks and put them on the ground so that the donkey on which Jesus rode would not get its hooves dirty. Still others, having nothing else to give, cut down palm branches and spread them along the road. They all gave Jesus the royal treatment without this king ever issuing a royal tax.

How is your giving to Jesus? Are you giving Jesus the royal treatment of generosity? And if you are, does your giving feel like a voluntary gift or does your giving feel more like a mandated tax? Money is a touchy subject because it’s hard for our hands to let go of money. Money is valuable to us. We’re protective of money and rightfully so. Money buys us everything we need. Money is our food and our home and our transportation. Money also buys us pleasure, things we enjoy. We run into problems with money, though, when we start to think of our money as OUR money. Earlier in this service we easily sang, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” but living that truth is more difficult. “Mine! Mine! Mine!” is not only the mouth of a two-year-old. “Mine! Mine! Mine!” is also the tug we all feel on our hearts when it comes to our possessions.       

January 31st was an important date as a congregation. January 31st was commitment Sunday. On January 31st we challenged ourselves to be more generous with our giving to the Lord for 10 weeks. Today is week 9, and the difference is noticeable. Our money counters tell us our congregational giving in the month of February was up 36% from last February. That’s $20,000. Remember in February 2020 we still had every row open and we still passed the offering plate, but this year we are voluntarily giving Jesus the royal treatment. The Gospel is working in our hearts and God is still providing for physical needs and on Confirmation Sunday we have some new people with envelopes. Now when I was a kid, I don’t remember ever not having church envelopes. I’m pretty sure when I was a baby, I went home from the hospital with church envelopes. I can double check with my father today, but I’m pretty sure the nurse asked my father, “Did you bring a car seat? Do you have your diaper bag? And don’t forget to take home your son’s church envelopes.”  Here at Grace, church envelopes come with Confirmation, and our prayer at Grace is if you are generous with your gifts and your allowances and your minimum wage jobs, you will also be generous when God blesses you with greater blessings.

Praise God with hands of obedience, with hands of generosity and with hands of proclamation. The proclamation we hear on Palm Sunday was more like what you would hear at a basketball game than a worship service. “And now starting as Savior from Nazareth in Galilee, the God-man Jesus Christ.” And the crowd goes wild! “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 10“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Give me a “J”, “E”, “S”, “U”, “S!”  “What does that spell?” “JESUS!”  I say, “Jesus,” you say, “rules” “Jesus”! “Rules.”

We have every reason to cheer on Jesus this way. No one was ever more obedient than Jesus, and Jesus was obedient for us. No one was ever more generous than Jesus, and Jesus gave his life for us. And no one has ever spoken or shouted better words than our Savior Jesus. This week we will hear Jesus say to us, “This is my body given for you…This is my blood poured out for you and the forgiveness of sins.” This week we will hear our Savior shout with all of his strength, “It is finished!”      

I don’t exactly know what we will all be doing ‘when we’ve been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun.’ Will we forever be singing from the choir loft, or will we be free to go fishing or participate in other activities we enjoy here? I don’t know what we will be doing, but I know this. Whatever we are doing 10,000 years from now, we won’t be wishing that we were doing something else. And the same can be said as we confirm our faith in the truth of God’s Word here on earth. “Blessed are YOU, dear Christian, when YOU come in the name of the Lord.” Let people see your positive, ‘can do’ attitude. When there’s trouble, pray. When there is opportunity, be a part of the solution. Encourage your brothers and sisters in Christ and let your encouragement be seen and heard by those who are outside the body of Christ. Perhaps they, too, will be saved. In all you do, praise the Lord. In your obedience, in your giving, in your proclamation, praise the Lord. Worship him with endless praise. Amen.

Sermon – Wednesday, March 24, 2021 – Midweek 6

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Midweek 6 Sermon  ~  March 24, 2021  ~  Pastor Myrl Wagenknecht

Hands of Self-Preservation (Pilate)

15Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him. 19While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” 20But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. 21“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. 22“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” 23“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” 24When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” 25All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” 26Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. – Matthew 27:15-26

You know a lot about Pontius Pilate. You say his name every time you confess the Apostles’ Creed – “Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate.” What do you know about his hands? Most likely you think about how Pontius Pilate washed his hands saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”  Tonight I want to tell you ten things about Pilate’s hands to show that they are HANDS OF SELF-PRESERVATION.

Sometime after Christ’s resurrection, Peter and John healed a lame man who had been lying outside the temple in Solomon’s Colonnade. When his leaping and singing praises gathered a crowd, Peter addressed them, and accused them of crucifying Jesus. He said: “You are guilty of killing the One who made this miracle possible. You disowned Jesus. You shouted for him to be crucified. You handed Jesus over to Pilate to be crucified, though he had decided to let him go” (Acts 3:13).  Pilate had decided in his mind to release Jesus. Peter said these words: “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go” (Acts 3:13). 

Our text from Matthew 27:15-26 tells us of Pilate’s involvement in the Passion. So you are familiar with Pontius Pilate and his hands. We will see that Pilate did many different things on Good Friday, but there is one thing he didn’t do. He didn’t release Jesus. Instead of letting Jesus go even though he was convinced that Jesus was innocent and that he had decided to let him go, he gave in to the enemies of Jesus. Under pressure he capitulated. He compromised his integrity. He was concerned with self-preservation.

What happened? What made Pilate change his mind? Where did he go wrong, and how did he try to preserve his judicial integrity? The Romans were famous for their legal system, and judges were also judged on their honesty. Pilate knew what was at stake in this trial of the famous rabbi from Jerusalem. He knew the political pressure that the Chief Priest could use against him. All four gospels share details about the interaction between the King of the Jews and the governor of Judea, but only Matthew mentions something Pilate did before he handed Jesus over to be crucified. To protect his position, to proclaim his innocence, Pilate washed his hands. We will call these Hands of Self-Preservation

Pilate had ten good reasons to release Jesus.

#1) When Pilate first met him, Jesus said nothing. The chief priest and elders were accusing him of anything and everything, but Jesus said nothing. He didn’t protest his innocence. He didn’t plead for mercy. He didn’t say a word in his own defense, and Pilate was amazed.

#2) Jesus did open up when the two men were alone, and the things he said made an even deeper impression on Pilate. “My kingdom is not of this world….the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth….you would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 18:36,37; 19:11). No one spoke to the Roman governor like that. Come to think of it, no normal person ever spoke like that. And Pilate was beginning to realize that this man was no ordinary human being.

#3) If Pilate found those statements a bit unsettling, imagine how he felt when he received that message from his wife. She couldn’t wait for him to come home. She didn’t need anyone to interpret her dream because the meaning was clear. Don’t get involved with that man. Don’t have anything to do with that righteous man (if he did, he would regret it).

#4) Pilate was a well-educated politician. He didn’t get to his position by being naïve and easy to manipulate. He could see what the Jewish leaders were trying to do. He knew that they were jealous of what Jesus had become. Pilate was convinced that Jesus was no criminal.

#5) After weighing all the testimony, after examining all the evidence, it should have been an open-and-shut case. Pilate should have set Jesus free and sent the Jewish leaders home. But he didn’t. Pilate didn’t want to touch this political hot potato, so he tried to pass the buck. First, he told the chief priests that if he was guilty of blasphemy, to judge Jesus according to their own law.

#6) When that didn’t work, he sent Jesus to Herod, hoping that a Jewish court would handle the case. That didn’t work either. Herod said that he found no fault in Jesus.

#7) Pilate was running out of options, at least any options that would allow him to protect the innocent and protect his position at the same time. His last and best chance was a Passover custom to release a prisoner chosen by the people. To make the choice obvious, Pilate proposed two men: Jesus and a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. Barabbas was a criminal, guilty of rebellion and murder. He was so bad that he would make anyone else look good. At least that’s what Pilate was hoping. But Pilate’s plan backfired when the chief priests and elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas’ release.

#8) Pilate must have been stunned as he watched his foolproof plan fall apart. Pilate must have been at a loss for other words when these desperate words came out of his mouth, “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (verse 22). Then Pilate had Jesus scourged and brought him out bloodied and crowned with thorns hoping to evoke some sympathy pointing to Jesus and saying, “Behold! The man!” But the crowd immediately called for his crucifixion. And when Pilate tried to reason with them, it was too late. They kept shouting, “Crucify him!” (verse 23). Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!

Pilate was responsible for keeping the peace, but his attempts to free Jesus had almost started a riot. He needed to do something. He needed to decide: “Do I do what I know is right, or do I do what I think is best for me?” Self-preservation was his only concern.

#9) In the end, Pilate chose himself over Jesus. He sentenced the world’s only truly innocent man to die, while maintaining his own supposed innocence in the process. “He took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’” (verse 24).

Pilate as the Roman governor in the occupied land of Israel was the law of the land. Pilate was the only person who could authorize Jesus’ execution. In spite of his claims to the contrary, Pilate was responsible, and history has held him responsible. Two thousand years later our creeds still confess that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” No amount of water or public washings will ever make those guilty hands clean.

It was bad justice that Pilate condemned an innocent man. He condemned the sinless Son of God. It was bad enough that Pilate blatantly disregarded justice. What made his actions even worse was that he did everything for his own self-preservation. Pilate was a pagan, and his actions prove that protecting his own power and authority was more important to him than anything else. In the final analysis, an unbeliever acted like an unbeliever. We shouldn’t be surprised by that. In fact, we should probably expect that. What is a greater concern is when people who know better, people who know Jesus, people who call themselves Christians, follow Pilate’s example. They hang their hands in silence.

In the safety of this sanctuary, surrounded by fellow saints, it is easy to sing God’s praises, but out there in the world, it is a different story. When we are with our coworkers or classmates, when we get together with a group of our friends, not all of them are Christians; and some of them can be pretty outspoken. They aren’t afraid to question what we believe. Sometimes they even make fun of us for what we believe.

When we find ourselves in those situations, we know we should say something; but how often have we said nothing? It is an act of self-preservation. After the opportunity has passed, when we have time to think about it, and are feeling guilty about it, we might try to come up with excuses for our silence: “It wasn’t the right time…I didn’t want to get into an argument…I don’t want to lose my friends…I don’t want to lose my job.” We have no excuse and when Jesus declares, “Whoever denies me before others, I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33 EHV), we have to realize that those condemning words are aimed at us. How about boldly confessing, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” Witness to the power of the cross in your life.

Pilate didn’t do what he could have, and should have, done on Good Friday, but he wasn’t the only person on the Stone Pavement who was in a position to take action. Jesus could have come to his own defense. Jesus could have called down legions of angels to destroy his enemies. Jesus possessed the divine power to do everything Pilate failed to do and more, but he chose not to use it. He could have raised his hands in self-preservation, but instead he lowered his hands in submission. Jesus allowed his enemies to arrest him. He allowed the soldiers to mistreat him and humiliate him. He allowed a crooked court to convict him and a weak judge to wash his hands of him. He allowed himself to be numbered among the transgressors to fulfill prophecy and to pay for the world’s sins. Jesus allowed his own life to be taken as the atoning sacrifice that allows us to live in his presence forever. Praise God! “He has for all a full atonement made.” CW376, stanza 4

#10) We have been looking at all the things Pontius Pilate didn’t do, but he did do one thing on Good Friday that could be considered positive. When Jesus was crucified, Pilate had a notice fastened to the top of his cross that read “THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Matthew 27:37). We don’t know what Pilate meant by that. Was he tweaking the beard of the chief priest? Was he making a final statement to that crowd that yelled for the crucifixion? Was there a part of Pilate that wanted to believe that? Probably it was just one more attempt at self-preservation.

We believe what Pilate’s hands put on that sign. We believe that Jesus is the King. We believe that Jesus is our King. Our King’s rule extends all around the world, and yet his kingdom is not of this world. His rule is primarily spiritual. He claimed us to be his own through the washing of rebirth. He rules in our hearts through the faith he created on the day of our baptism. And the gracious way Jesus loves us and leads us, moves us. As his humble, grateful subjects, we offer our hands to serve him. We eagerly seek out opportunities to serve him. As we pray for his kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth, we look forward to the day when we will enter his Kingdom in heaven.

Before our Savior-King we confess: “Nothing in my hands I bring; Simply to thy cross I cling.” Amen.

Sermon – March 21, 2021 – Lent 5

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Pastor David Clark  ~  John 12:20-33  ~  March 21, 2021  ~  Lent 5 Sermon


20Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 23Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 30Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.


Dear friends in our Savior Jesus,

          In June of 2014 at the age of 92, Robert Read, a high school graduate and WW II veteran passed away in Brattleboro, Vermont. Mr. Read had worked most of his life undistinguished as a janitor and gas station attendant. Imagine the surprise of the residents of Brattleboro who found that in his will he had left six of his eight million dollars to his local library and hospital. A quiet unassuming man in life. He was glorified by many in death.

          Jesus looked like a pretty ordinary guy. He consistently asked his disciples not to tell people he was more than that. But a discerning few saw through all that, including some Greeks who came to Jerusalem for Passover and deemed Jesus as worthy of great glory.

  1. Because of his purpose.

We don’t know how they heard about Jesus, but it is clear they knew why he had come.

 23Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.31Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (verses 23-24, 31-33)

We do with seeds the same thing we do when people die. We bury them. The seed sprouts and produces much more. One seed produces stalks with many, many more seeds.

Jesus is that kernel of wheat. Although he taught, he didn’t come to be a teacher. Although he set an example, he didn’t come as one. Jesus came to crush the head of Satan, so that Satan no longer has the power over death, and death is no longer something to be feared. Although his death looked humble, he produced many more seeds – all of us who believe in him.

  1. Shown by his Father’s approval.

That request of the Greeks gave Jesus the opportunity to remind his disciples they weren’t the only ones to give Jesus glory. 27“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 30Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. (verses 27-30)

At Jesus’ baptism recorded in Matthew 3:17, the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” At his transfiguration recorded in Matthew 17:5, the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” The resurrection says the same thing.

We all want the approval of our fathers. We are used to moms spending a little more time with us than dads. Moms tend to be a little more nurturing than dads. But when dads speak, it usually carries a little different weight. That’s why “Wait until your father gets home” has so much authority in a child’s heart.

Jesus’ father was not a sports guy or a music guy or a gamer. Jesus’ father is the perfect God of all creation with a standard that is impossible for any of us to ever live up to. It’s called perfection. That means never talking back, getting a perfect grade on every single test, and always being helpful around the house – especially to Mom.

Jesus’ father says he is worthy of glory when he says, “I approve!”

  1. As we follow him.

We see that! 25Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (verses 25-26)

It’s pretty exciting to visit a foreign country. But after a while the difference in the customs, the language, the habits, tend to become awkward. And when it does, we sound like Dorothy, “There’s no place like home.”

          You are living in that foreign country. The longer we are here the more temptation there is to start picking up the local color – the customs, the language, the habits. That’s not what we are about. Our home is heaven. We are about serving the one who came to serve us, and that’s not always comfortable. Jesus’ cross was heavy, painful, and misunderstood.

          This is one time to not fit in. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in COVID fear or COVID laziness that we forget to follow Jesus. Following Jesus means having the same priority for worshiping him as he had for saving us. It means we live in joy and hope rather than pessimism and fear. We see tomorrow as another day to give glory to him in the way we drive our cars, post on social media, or talk about our church. We don’t think of ourselves first. We think of Jesus first and others second. Following Jesus means serving him. As we serve him, we glorify him.

          Those Greeks wanted to see Jesus. So do we. We do when we hear his word, see a child baptized, take communion. Others do when we live the way he wants us to. All of these things show the same thing. Jesus is worthy of glory. Amen.

Sermon – Wednesday, March 17, 2021 – Lent 5

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Midweek 5  ~  Matthew 27:27-31  ~  Pastor John Sprain  ~  February 17, 2021

 27Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Mom and Dad took pride that they had raised a happy kid. She was ten years old now and growing into a decent young lady. It was during her fifth-grade year, though, that her parents began to notice a change in personality. The youthful exuberance, her joy for life, and the permanent smile on her face gave way to sullenness. During that school year she grew increasingly distant. Her parents approached her. They took an interest; they asked, “What’s wrong?” and said, “It’s okay to talk about it.” The behavior continued. It wasn’t until the bruises started showing up that they called a meeting with the school principal. Only after hours of prodding did their daughter break down crying, admitting that she was being bullied by a group of mean girls in school.

Bullying is such a widespread and real problem that our government has set up a website, It happens in our classrooms, it happens between spouses in our homes, in the workplace, on the subway. The site describes bullying as a pattern of behavior that is used to leverage power or control over another. It identifies three types of bullying. Verbal bullying involves name calling and threats of violence. Social bullying happens when a person is deliberately excluded or ostracized from a group, or others are encouraged not to befriend someone. Physical bullying occurs when property is damaged as a threat of further violence, or when you actually lay your hands on someone else by pushing, kicking, tripping, or using your fists to fight.

If you accept the website’s description, then we’d have to admit that Jesus was the victim of all three types of bullying during his time on earth. His enemies, primarily religious enemies like the Pharisees and Sadducees, routinely engaged in patterns of verbal bullying. Their regular attempts to catch Jesus with trick questions is just one example. There was also the social bullying. Jewish leaders discouraged people from following Jesus, spread rumors about him, and tried to embarrass him publicly. After reading Matthew’s words, Jesus’ physical bullying is unmistakable. What happened at the Praetorium goes way beyond bullying to utter contempt and outright assault.

It’s one thing for a teenager who has had a growth spurt to steal a smaller person’s lunch money, or for a jealous fifth grader to bully the teacher’s pet. It is entirely another thing to bludgeon a man nearly to death for the “crime” of preaching forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Throughout his ministry Jesus was bullied verbally and socially. Beginning late Holy Thursday evening the physical violence escalated. Tonight, we see Jesus suffer the soldiers’ Hands of Brutality.


Hands of Brutality (Soldiers)

 What Matthew records for us is actually the second instance of the hands of brutality in the Passion History. Jesus was now in the custody of the Roman governor, but in the early darkness of Friday morning, the Jewish leaders had conducted their own court trial where they abused him. At their illegal meeting, the Jews were trying to manufacture evidence to sentence Jesus to death but couldn’t make anything stick. In their zeal, they stopped trying to pin blame on him and just mocked him mercilessly. These church leaders blindfolded Jesus, slapped him across the face, and demanded he identify the man who hit him. They blasphemed against him, spit in his face, and sent him on to Pontius Pilate.

Pilate interviewed Jesus and was determined to set him free. But Pilate was a politician first and foremost. The angry mob of Jews screaming that Jesus be crucified pressured Pilate into doing what he did.  Perhaps if Jesus were brutalized the Roman way, the Jews’ rage would subside, and they would be satisfied, and Pilate could release an innocent man. So he handed him over to his whole company of soldiers—an estimated 600 men—to do their worst.

The first thing the soldiers did was to whip Jesus’ naked back. This lead-tipped whip was called a flagrum, and it was designed to break open the skin, cause bleeding, and weaken the person, so he couldn’t resist any further punishment. This scourging was so violent that the Jews limited the number of lashes a person could receive. But Jesus was in the hands of the Romans now, and they had no such limit. A cruel piece of irony, this treatment so hard on the individual that many considered it to be an act of mercy. You were so weakened by the beatings that you’d die more quickly when crucified.

After his brutal whipping, the soldiers turned to ridicule. The Jews’ whole case against Jesus revolved around his claim to be a king. The Romans threw a scarlet robe on him—probably a soldier’s coat. They twisted together a bramble of thorns and pressed it into his skull as though it were a crown. They placed a stick of some kind into his weakened hands, and “they knelt down before him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews’” (v. 29). The company of soldiers took turns spitting on him and beating him over the head again and again. And with every blow of the flagrum, with every spray of spit, with every taunt and jeer, Jesus fulfilled God’s Word. “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).

A lot of us would fight back and try to punch the bully. If not, we might try to get in a few choice insults. Jesus didn’t do that. The same man who taught his followers to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44), and do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12) is now the man under the microscope. Would he practice what he preached? He did more than that; he fulfilled Scripture. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth, he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

Jesus let himself be brutalized. He offered his back. He didn’t object to his oppressors, because he was the King of the Jews. He was the King of the Gentiles! He’s King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16), his name is above every name and to him every knee will bow (Philippians 2:9-10).

Why would our almighty King let himself be brutalized? Why doesn’t he stand up and punch those bullies in the mouth? He did it for YOU. Jesus let himself be treated that way for you. He did it for all the times we have hurt others with our hands and our mouths.

Jesus knew it ahead of time; this was the cup of suffering Jesus asked God to take away! But God wouldn’t take it away; he made Jesus drink every last drop. “It was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” (Isaiah 53:10). Christ was brutalized for you as your perfect substitute. If Jesus hadn’t endured this shame, if he had retreated from the cross or refused to drink even a drop of suffering, then there is no forgiveness of sins for you. God’s wrath would still be on you and me. And suffering at the hands of God would be worse than any bullying by any soldiers.

Listen to Matthew’s words and hear how much Christ sacrificed for you. Look how thoroughly he was brutalized. That’s how thoroughly you are forgiven! An ancient church father who lived in the days just after the Nicene Creed was written, John Chrysostom, head of the church in Constantinople, explains why Christ’s whole body had to suffer at the hands of brutality.

Not only one of the Lord’s members, but his entire body had to suffer the most dreadful pains…His entire body was scourged, stripped, and arrayed in a robe of shame; his hands held the reed; later, his tongue had to taste vinegar and gall. Because sin dwells and is active in all our members, therefore Christ desired to suffer for our sins in all his members.

A bully tries to use power to control a person. When you’re the victim of bullying, you feel alone and powerless, as though you have to obey the bully. Sin is a bully; it tries to coerce us into crimes against the commandments. The devil is a bully; Satan tempt us into bad behavior. Our brother Jesus was bullied in our place and was brutalized, for all, and we belong to Christ. Now our spiritual bullies can’t demand our milk money and have no say in our morality. “Sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Since the forgiving love of Christ lives in our hearts, we happily submit to his gracious rule rather than to the empty threats of any evil bully. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

Freedom from sin and Satan is reason enough to rejoice! But as we join Jesus in his gracious rule, we really begin to see what liberty looks like. “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. (We hate sin.) As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2). Taking on Jesus’ attitude enables us to turn the other cheek, pray for our enemies and persecutors, and treat others as we’d have them treat us. Because Jesus made peace with us through the brutal suffering in his body, in him we are able to live peaceably with all people (Romans 12:18)

It’s no wonder why the world is so unhappy. So many people are still living without Christ. They’re being bullied by sin and Satan. They feel alone and powerless as the bullies dictate their lives. How much better is it to have God as your Father? He raises happy kids! Our brother, Jesus, suffered under the soldiers’ hands of brutality, and as a result we will never have to suffer God’s wrath. And, as happy kids in God’s family, we delight to bring our brother’s peace to people who are still being bullied. Amen.

Sermon – March 14, 2014 – Lent 4

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Pastor Mark R Jacobson  ~  Lent 4  ~  March 14, 2021  ~  John 3:14-21

14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” 16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.



Of the many things I have enjoyed throughout my ministry, one has been the opportunity to stop by the homes of World War II veterans. Those visits have allowed me to look at their World War II medals and memorabilia, and most importantly, those visits allowed me the opportunity to hear their stories. World War II stories have been told and retold countless times through books and movies. One of those movies is called, “Hacksaw Ridge.” Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Desmond Doss. Desmond Doss was a combat medic. Desmond Doss was also a conscientious objector to war. He refused to fire a gun at another person, but became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor, for service above and beyond the call of duty during the Battle of Okinawa. Doss ran into the line of fire to render medical care to the wounded and to bring the wounded back to their military base. Desmond Doss saved 75 lives during the Battle of Okinawa. Every time Desmond Doss would go back into the line of fire he said a prayer, “Lord, help me save one more.”

Today’s Gospel jumps into a conversation already in progress. Jesus had been talking back and forth with a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus belongs to a religious group that was clearly opposed to Jesus, but Nicodemus was also an individual trying to figure out what Jesus Christ was all about. As Jesus closes his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus makes a comparison between himself and the snake we heard about in the first lesson. The simple comparison is “The snake saves; The Son of Man saves.” Here are those words of Jesus: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life.”

This is where the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus ends and this is where the commentary of the Apostle John starts. John is going to talk about how faith saves, but before John talks about how faith saves John first talks about why faith saves. That answer is summed up in these familiar words, “For God so loved the world.” “World” is a key word in John’s gospel and in all of his writings. Of the 184 times the word “world” is used in the New Testament, 105 of them are in John’s handwriting. And it’s not just the frequency of John’s use of the word that is so stunning. John uses the word “world” as the epitome of God’s perfectly ordered creation gone sinfully mad. Listen to these Bible passages from the Apostle John: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him” (1:10).” “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (3:19) “I have given them (the disciples of Jesus) your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (17:13). So let’s review: The world does not recognize Jesus as their Savior. The world loves the darkness of sin more than the light of God’s love. And the world hates God’s Word and all who dare to speak it. Exactly why does God SO love the world? The answer has absolutely nothing to do with the goodness of the people of the world. The answer has absolutely everything to do with the goodness of God’s love. It is by grace you have been saved.

John 3:16 is an important Bible verse, but I don’t know if we should memorize John 3:16 without also memorizing John 3:17. John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” There are many reasons to be here today. There are many reasons to be watching online. We are here to praise God for all that has done for us. We are here to be encouraged in our faith and to be equipped for a life of Christian service in God’s kingdom, but let’s not forget the first reason we need to be in God’s house today. We need to be saved. The mission of Christ is first of all a rescue mission. The mission of Christ is to save sinners, not make nicer sinners in this world. And so when I look at the people of this world and make a comment like, “What’s wrong with people?” without any intention of helping people, am I not guilty of condemning the world and not saving the world?

Listen. There are a lot of problems with our world. Its ancient history that the world looks at a pregnant woman and thinks she is only carrying a fetus or additional tissue. Today, you could hold up a baby and the world can’t decide whether or not the baby is a boy or a girl. There are a lot of problems with our world. As Christians, God calls on us to call sin a sin in the same way the Bible calls sin a sin. That’s what Jesus does. Last week in the service we heard how Jesus overturned tables. The week before that Jesus scolded Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” Our saving mission does not mean we become soft on sin. Our saving mission means we address sin head on, but we address sin only for the purpose of saving souls. That’s why God gave his one and only Son – to save sinners. That’s why Jesus talks to sinners. God wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. And the truth is we, as Christians, are as guilty of sin as anyone in the world, and one way we show that is with a condemning attitude and not a saving attitude for our world. And yet as much as God loves the world so also he loves each of us. God sent his Son for us so that whoever, even me, believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The word “believes” jumps off the page here, but I want you to notice the next two words, “in him.” Maybe you want to circle those words with a life preserver. The reason is simple. Can a drowning man hang on to any old thing if he just hangs on hard enough. Can just about anything be placed in the mouth of a starving woman? Will any grown-up do for clinging if you have lost a small child? Can you really believe “whatever you want” and be saved as long as you believe? The answer is “no.” We believe in him.

We believe in his love for us. We believe he lived perfectly according to the Ten Commandments as our substitute. We believe he was lifted up on the cross to die as an atoning sacrifice for us and for our sins. We believe he talks to us in the Bible, and we believe as Jesus talks to us in the Bible, the Holy Spirit creates saving faith in us. We also believe the Holy Spirit will strengthens faith through the means of grace, the Bible, and the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, and finally bring us to heaven. The first and foremost mission of Christ is to save us from our sins. And when this mission of Christ also becomes the mission of the church, then we start to pray like Desmond Doss once prayed, “Lord, help us save one more.”

It would appear that the man named Nicodemus was saved. Nicodemus is not recorded in the Bible as saying, “I believe in Jesus.” But in chapter 7, Nicodemus speaks up for Jesus in front of his own religious group. And in chapter 19, Nicodemus was one of the two men who asked Pontius Pilate for the body of Jesus, and in the presence of many people, buried Jesus in an act of serve and love.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus saves. If it helps, slap that bump sticker on your car. If it helps, tattoo that truth on your forehead. If it helps, make a corny little cross out of those two words. I don’t really care what we actually do with those two words, but I pray that we would believe them, and until Jesus comes back to judge the living and the dead, I pray those two words would guide the primary purpose of everything we say and do as a church. “Lord, help us save one more.” Amen.

Sermon – March 10, 2021 – Lent Wednesday 4

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Pastor David R. Clark  ~  Mark 14:55-65  ~  March 10, 2021  ~  Midweek 4 Sermon


55The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. 56Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. 57Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” 59Yet even then their testimony did not agree. 60Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 61But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 63The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. 64“You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him.


Brothers and sisters in Christ,

Every good story needs a bad guy and the passion of Jesus has plenty. Judas betrayed Jesus for a few pieces of silver. Peter denied he knew Jesus. Pontius Pilate sentenced an innocent man to die. Each showed an inner struggle over their betrayal.

Unlike Caiaphas. When Caiaphas puts on the black hat, it is a perfect fit. He is cold, calculating, and completely ruthless. The man who held the highest spiritual office, the man to represent God, wasn’t going to let anyone stand in his way, not even Jesus.

There is a word for pretending to be something you are not – a word that fits Caiaphas:  hypocrite. Today we examine the hypocrisy of Caiaphas. Taking a closer look at him will force us to take a closer look at our own HANDS OF HYPOCRISY.


Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin in the middle of the night. The intended goal was a quick conviction, no matter the evidence.

But the Sanhedrin couldn’t come up with any evidence. How do you pin a capital crime on someone who has never done anything wrong? Some testified that they heard Jesus make the claim, 58I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands. Jesus did say that (John 2:19), but he was talking about his body, not the temple.

Presiding over this mess was Caiaphas who seems angry at everyone. He’s disgusted that his false witnesses don’t agree, so he takes matters into his own hands. He addressed Jesus directly, 60Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?

When Jesus gave no answer, he put Jesus under oath (Matthew 26:63) and demanded, 61Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One? It was a simple yes or no question but also devilishly clever. Saying nothing would be a tacit denial. Saying no would be an actual denial and answering “yes” would give Caiaphas what he needed.

Jesus understood and yet he declared, 62I am…And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven. It was time to testify to the truth and carry to completion God’s plan of salvation.


Caiaphas must have been ecstatic when Jesus uttered those words, but he couldn’t show it. Instead, he tore his clothes and asked the Sanhedrin, 63Why do we need any more witnesses? 64…You have heard the blasphemy. Blasphemy. Claiming to be the Messiah, the Son of God. That was all the Sanhedrin needed to be rid of Jesus once and for all. And in response to Caiaphas, we see this was really just an unruly mob: 64…They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!”

What would you say today about spitting in someone’s face? Or attacking a blindfolded man who couldn’t defend himself? And why such a brutal reaction?

It was partly political. The Jewish leaders were afraid that people would forsake them to follow Jesus. Then they would lose their authority and autonomy.

There was also a spiritual reason. Caiaphas represented a religion that believed God rewarded people for being good. They were convinced that they were doing enough good to get into heaven on their own.

And then Jesus turned their comfortable world upside down. He called them to repentance. He called them whitewashed tombs, a brood of vipers, children of the devil. He called them out for their hypocrisy because he wanted them to see he was the only way to heaven.

You know what the fruit of faith is. There is also the fruit of hypocrisy. The hypocrite wants to project a shiny image to keep other people from seeing what’s on the inside. The hypocrite believes that he has nothing for which to repent.

God’s Word says something far different. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) Are you guilty of hypocrisy? Have you ever thought, “I may not be perfect, but at least I’m not as bad as ______”?

You have probably heard unbelievers say the church is full of hypocrites. We don’t like that. But should we complain about that or should we be saying, “You’re right”? We want people to see us a certain way, but there are still things we don’t want anyone to see. Even if we hide them from people, we can’t keep anything from God.

If you sin, you are guilty of hypocrisy. So what makes us any different than Caiaphas? Jesus! Out of his love for us, Jesus calls us to repent. Jesus calls us to stop pretending that we have no sin and look to him to remove it. When we come clean and confess, he is faithful and just and will forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Every good story needs a good villain. In this story we are all villains. But every good story needs an even better hero. Jesus knew he would be mistreated. He knew Caiaphas would try to trap him. He answered anyway because he was on a rescue mission. Thanks be to God that our hero is even better. Our hero, Jesus, washes the hypocrisy right off of our hands. Amen.

Sermon – March 7, 2021 – Lent 3

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David R. Clark  ~  John 2:13-22  ~  March 7, 2021  ~  Lent 3


13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.


Dear friends in Jesus,

          If you have a sibling you have played this game. If you are the oldest, it’s probably humorous. If you aren’t, it probably isn’t. The game? “You’re not the boss of me!”

When my father died, one of my sisters, trying to bring a little levity to a sad time, informed all of us that Dad had left her in charge when he died. Obviously there’s a difference between being the boss and being bossy.

The Jewish leadership tried playing a deadly serious game of “Who’s the Boss” with Jesus. To the average person they were the ultimate authority. So who is the boss?


  1. Jesus has authority over our worship.

13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

What makes good worship for you? Is it a familiar hymn? Is it a sermon that strikes you right between the eyes or lifts you up? Is it a sense of humor or a sense of reverence? We have some important feelings in common in this regard and a few different ones. What if the value of your worship was based on your ability to give an offering? And what if you could not give a valid offering unless you stopped at a little table in the narthex where you were required to write a check for “Grace Greenbacks,” because we didn’t accept the American dollar? What if that one “Grace Greenback” cost two American dollars, and the extra dollar went to your pastors?

Would you be offended? Would you be angry? Jesus was. If you were a Jew traveling from some distance to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice, it was much easier to buy an animal in Jerusalem than it was to transport it all the way from Rome or Ephesus.  But these people had set up a market in the temple courts, a place meant for worship of the true God. So Jesus made a whip and drove the animals out of the courts. He also turned over the tables of the money lenders. Jewish priests wouldn’t allow an offering of Gentile money, so you were forced to exchange it for “temple” money.

Jesus was so offended he drove them out of the temple courts. A place that was dedicated to sacrifices for sin and approaching God had become a marketplace. They cheapened worship of the true God. As Luke says in chapter 6 verse 5, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus did this twice during his ministry.

I suppose that an account like this could make us wary of “fundraisers” where a simple offering is not good enough, or of people who will buy some baked good or spaghetti dinner but won’t give an honest offering. As Jesus shows, offerings are worship, and Jesus is the authority of true worship.

          There are many distractions that can devalue true worship. In fact, anything that distracts us from approaching God does that. Worship is not play time or business time. It’s Jesus time. We don’t “fit worship” into our busy lives. We organize our lives around worship. We come to show reverence to Jesus and to hear what he has to say to us. We come here with hearts overflowing with guilt for our improper priorities, anxiously looking forward to Christ’s absolution. We come here with planned heart-felt generous thank offerings so that we can continue to support Christ’s ministry. Why? Because that’s the way the Boss wants it.


  1. Jesus is the source of our hope.

Not everyone likes to hear that. Not now. Not then. 18The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Different words, but they said it, “You’re not the boss of me.”

So Jesus loved them and gave them a sign to prove his authority. The sign was his own resurrection from the dead after three days. He had the power to do something no mere man could do, to raise himself up from the dead.

Ultimately that is why he is the boss, and it’s why worship is so key for believers. It is here that you and I find Jesus. It’s in his house, hearing what he has to say, receiving hope in a world that has gone hopelessly mad. How many times have you have said or heard, “I just want this to be over,” or “I have had enough,” or “I just want my life back.” As genuine as they are, each show a need for something more important than different rules for wearing masks or a couple of vaccine shots. They show a need for hope that goes beyond any earthly authority. Jesus is that hope.

While his own mother watched through tear-choked eyes, Jesus died for you. With heavy hearts, two distraught men buried his body the best they could in a borrowed grave. Three days later he rose victorious and destroyed the power of sin, death, and hell. The disciples saw and believed and put their hope in him. He is our hope, and that’s why he is the boss. Amen.

Sermon – Wednesday, March 3, 2021

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Pastor Ben Foxen  ~  Midweek 3 Sermon  ~  March 3, 2021  ~  John 18:4-11    

Hands of Misguided Zeal (Peter)

4Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” 5“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they said. 8Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” 10Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Of course it was Peter. Of the four gospel accounts that record what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday, only John identifies Peter as the disciple who grabbed his sword and gashed the right ear of the high priest’s servant. But if John would have omitted that little detail, if the disciple who was responsible would have gone unnamed in all four gospels, if you would have been left to guess the identity of the guilty party, is it possible that your initial reaction would have been, “That sounds like something Peter might do”?

Simon Peter was one of the Lord’s first and closest followers. Because he so often took the lead, Peter had also taken on the unofficial role of leader among the disciples. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. When Jesus asked the Twelve who they thought he was, it was Peter who confessed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). When Jesus approached his disciples by walking on water in the middle of the night, Peter was the only one to jump out of the boat to meet him (Matthew 14:29). And in the upper room, after Jesus predicted that all the disciples would abandon him, Peter was the first to pledge that he would rather die than disown his Savior (Matthew 26:35).

But there were other occasions when Peter’s react-before-you-think attitude didn’t serve him so well. Shortly after Peter made his beautiful confession of faith, he took Jesus aside and tried to convince him that going to Jerusalem and dying on a cross should not be a part of the Messiah’s mission. Do you remember how Jesus responded to Peter’s attempts to persuade him? He said, “Get behind me, Satan! (Matthew 16:23).

I am confident that Peter never forgot this stinging rebuke, but I am also convinced that he didn’t fully understand it—because we find him going down a similar path in the inspired words before us tonight. The only difference is that instead of using words to impede God’s plan of salvation, this time Peter resorted to using brute force.

We know why Jesus’ enemies came to the garden. They hated him. They were armed with swords and clubs because they intended to kill him. But Peter wielded his weapon for a very different reason. He loved Jesus. He wanted Jesus to know that he was serious when he said that he would give up his life for him. Peter was full of what he believed to be a righteous zeal, but that zeal turned out to be misguided.

You and I love Jesus, too. We become upset, even angry, when our Savior’s name is dragged through the mud. And when we see how his Word is ignored and ridiculed in our world, we want to do something about it. We want to protect Jesus. We want to defend Jesus. Those are good and godly impulses, but we need to be careful that we don’t go too far, that we ourselves don’t do something that goes against God’s Word, that we don’t become guilty of having hands of misguided zeal.

Besides identifying Peter as the disciple who assaulted Malchus, only John reports something else that happened that night, something that clears up any confusion about who was in control of the situation in the garden…and it wasn’t the Jewish officials or the small army of soldiers who had come to arrest Jesus.

Instead of hiding in the shadows or heading for the hills, Jesus went out to meet his would-be captors. And the One who knew everything that was about to happen to him also knew the answer to the question he asked the soldiers, “Who is it you want?” (verse 4). They wanted Jesus. They had been wanting to get rid of him for a long time. The only reason this attempt would be successful was because Jesus’ time had come.

Jesus declared, “I am he” (verse 5), and the soldiers rushed at him, bound him, and led him back into the city. But that’s not exactly what happened, is it? Something else happened. Something totally unexpected and unexplainable happened. When Jesus announced that he was the man they were looking for, they drew back and toppled like bowling pins. Without raising his hand, without lifting a finger, Jesus demonstrated his divine power with only his powerful Word.

But Jesus wasn’t finished, yet. Even though he was vastly outnumbered, he was the one giving the orders. Even though he would have had every right to defend himself, he was more concerned about the welfare of his followers. He told the crowd, “If you are looking for me, then let these men go” (verse 8), making good on his promise to protect his own.

And Peter was right there taking it all in. He had seen how the mob had been forced to bow down before Jesus and how quickly they acquiesced to the Lord’s terms of surrender. But instead of taking advantage of the peaceful release Jesus had negotiated, Peter decided to take matters into his own hands. Without any warning he drew his sword and “struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear” (verse 10).

What was Peter thinking? We can understand that question in a I-can’t-believe-Peter-would-do-something-like-that sense, or we can take it more literally. When Peter raised his sword, what was he really thinking? One possibility is that he wasn’t thinking. He saw his friend surrounded by hostile men who wanted to harm him, and his instincts and emotions took over.

Another possibility is that Peter did think things through before he sprang into action. He had replayed in his mind his pledge to defend Jesus to the death. He had convinced himself that this was going to be the night he would give up his life. He could see that his Savior needed help, and in spite of the odds, he was going to come to the rescue.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to help a friend in need, except for the fact that Jesus doesn’t need any help—because Jesus is true God. He is omniscient (he knows all). He is omnipotent (he controls all). Of all people, Peter should have known that. In the garden (and for three years before that) he had been given many convincing proofs of that. Peter was guilty of assaulting another human being, but his decision to strike with his sword was only a symptom of a much more fundamental problem. By deciding that he needed to do something to help Jesus, Peter demonstrated a lack of understanding, or even worse, a lack of trust in God.

It could be a struggle for us to find parallels to what Peter did, to come up with examples of Christians who used force to defend or advance the Christian cause. We might think of things like the Crusades or the Inquisition (which were some of the darkest days in the history of the church) or more recently, a Christian extremist bombing an abortion clinic. But for the most part, modern Christianity is a peaceful religion. And I think that I speak for the rest of us when I say that any kind of violence directed at another person (in the name of God or for any other reason) is a clear violation of the Fifth Commandment.

But doubting God’s power, that’s something to which I can relate. Not trusting in God is a sin my sinful nature understands very well. Believing there is something I can do to help God, thinking I need to do something to help God, that is a trap Christians fall into far too often. “If we would only elect the right political leaders or pass the right legislation, then we could get back to the good old days when our country was a Christian nation.” “If our church only initiated more programs for families or talked less about sin or was more like that church in town, then our congregation would grow.” If we only did X, Y, or Z, then we could make things better.

If you want to identify the problem, look at the pronouns. Or better yet, look in the mirror. You don’t have to hold a sword in your hands to be able to identify with Peter. You probably don’t have to try too hard to remember times in your life when your thinking was misguided. Yes, God wants God-fearing leaders. Yes, God wants healthy churches. Yes, God wants Christians to be filled with a godly zeal, but before we put our faith into practice, he wants us to put our trust in him. He wants us to make God’s Word and will our guide. And he wants us to understand how quickly things can go sideways when we don’t.

Jesus reprimanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (verse 11). Why was Jesus so upset? Why was Jesus so adamant? Because he knew what was at stake. Because he understood that there is only one way for sins to be forgiven, that there is only one path that leads to heaven. God the Father’s plan demanded that his Son be arrested that night and executed the next day. And that plan was carried out to perfection when our perfect substitute died in our place. Jesus willingly took that cup of suffering into his hands and drained it to the dregs to demonstrate how much he loved his misguided disciple—and how much he loves you and me. He did it to rescue us from hands of misguided zeal and set us on a path where our hands might do some actual good—and what good might that be? He himself demonstrates it for us.

John provides us with several unique details about what happened in the garden that night, but he doesn’t tell us what happened to the man Peter struck with his sword. He doesn’t tell us what happened to Malchus. The gospel of Luke reports that Jesus reached out his hand and touched the servant’s ear and healed him (22:51).

It was Jesus’ final miracle before his crucifixion. So why did he do it? Why did he heal this man’s ear? Why was he so eager to help his enemy? Because that is who Jesus is. Because that is what Jesus does. Jesus came into this world to seek and to save. Jesus has a burning love for lost souls. Jesus is full of compassion and mercy, which explains why, a few hours after he healed Malchus, he reached out his hands one last time. He stretched out his hands on the cross to redeem us from our sins, to fulfill Isaiah’s prophetic words, so that by his wounds we might be healed (53:5). Acting in love towards others—even our enemies, especially our enemies—that’s what Jesus did for us. That’s what he has rescued us to do. That’s the kind of zeal that is never misguided. Amen.

Sermon – Sunday, February 28, 2021 – Lent 2

Printable PDF:  2-28-2021 Lent 2 Sermon

Pastor Mark R Jacobson  ~  Lent 2 Sermon  ~  February 28, 2021  ~  Mark 8:31-38

31He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” 34Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”


 What would you consider the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities? In years gone by, I think those answers would include a car, cell phone, coffee, and a pool in summertime. In these last 12 months, I think we have learned again about the bare necessities:  air to breathe, food to eat, water to drink, some sort of covering from weather elements, and at least some kind of human interaction are the bare necessities of life.   

In the Gospel today Jesus introduces his disciples and us to what we might call the Christ necessities. The Christ necessities include everything that is truly necessary for Christ to be Christ and everything that is truly necessary for disciples of Jesus Christ to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

  1. For Himself

Today’s Gospel presents a major shift in the ministry of our Lord Jesus. From Chapter 1 of the Gospel of Mark through verse 30 of Chapter 8, Jesus had been teaching the wonderful Word of God and had been demonstrating his divine power through mighty miracles. And just a moment before our lesson, Jesus was asking his disciples about his google review. “Who do people say I am?” The disciples told Jesus what was on his Wikipedia page:  “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Those are positive comments, a pretty good review, but not as good as what the Apostle Peter says. Peter said, “You are the Christ!”

Peter was spot on with the identity of Jesus. The wonderful words of Jesus and his mighty miracles worked on Peter. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter knew Jesus was a prophet and more than a prophet, the Christ. Peter was spot on with his identity of Jesus, but Peter’s rebuke of Jesus demonstrates how Peter was spot off with his understanding of the work the Christ would do. Jesus clearly enumerates what the Christ came to do. Did you catch the list of the Christ necessities, the words that came after “must”? #1 Must suffer many things. #2 Must be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law. #3 Must be killed.

Without these necessities Jesus would not be the Christ. Jesus had to suffer many things. These many sufferings will be spelled out in the coming chapters and will include the sins of his very own disciples, but look at the people Jesus includes here:  the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law. These people hated Jesus. These people also hated each other. They were religious rivals, but these religious rivals would be united in their effort to kill Jesus. And because they didn’t have the political power to kill Jesus, they needed the help of the Roman government. They hated the Roman government. These Jews prayed for the Christ to be like a second David and overthrow the Roman government, but they needed political permission in order to carry out their plan to kill Jesus. For Jesus to be the world’s Christ, it was necessary for the whole world to be in on his death, and that whole world would include Peter and the disciples, and that whole world would also include Pastor Jacobson and the members of Grace. 

Are you familiar with that hymn, “Were You There?” “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? OH, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” What would you have done if you were there? What would you have done differently than Peter? Peter, being Peter, spoke up. Peter even drew a sword in an effort to defend his Savior. Would you have died for your Savior, and even if you did, how would that have helped Christ be the Christ? I think Mel Gibson got it right in his movie, The Passion of the Christ. I’m not talking about the gory and gruesome death he depicted on the screen although that too was very moving. No, I think Mel Gibson got it right when it was Mel Gibson’s hands in the movie that drove the spikes in Jesus’ hands. If you were there, if we were all there, we could do nothing better than what we are doing right now. We’re not here to feel sorry for Jesus. We’re not here to wish things would have been different. We are here to listen to Jesus and to thank and praise Jesus that the Christ necessities were perfectly fulfilled as planned. These Christ necessities forgave our sins and opened the doors to heaven for us, and if we are to follow Jesus through those doors, we need to listen carefully to what Jesus teaches next.

  1. For Disciples

The Christ necessities for disciples: “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” At this time of year many people talk about denying themselves or giving up something for Lent. Maybe you have done that, but have you ever thought what giving up something FOR LENT really means? The word “Lent” is a shortened word for lengthen. During Lent we lengthen the time we spend with Jesus. So give up whatever you wish, but does your giving up or your denying of self, lengthen your time with Jesus? And is this quality time? Are you taking what Jesus says in his Word to heart? Are you merging your concerns and at times making a U-turn with your concerns so your prayers are flowing with the same traffic and as the concerns of God?

Martin Luther used to advise his students: “God does not want us to search for misfortune and to choose it ourselves. Walk in faith and love. If the cross comes, accept it. If it does not come, do not search for it.” Jesus did not pick out his cross like it was a Christmas tree. Jesus did not seek out his cross, but as Jesus denied himself and followed the holy will of his Heavenly Father, his cross certainly found him. Jesus teaches, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must…take up their cross.

The world puts a cross on us. The world loves evolution, not creation. The world loves many paths to any god you want, not the one way of Jesus to the only true God. The world loves whatever-floats-your-boat morality, not only a man and a woman united in marriage. The fallen world is a cross we must bear or we are not really Jesus’ disciples. The fallen church is a cross we must bear, too. We could talk about the false teachings of the teachers of the law here, but let’s talk about the failings of Peter. Peter was a cross Jesus had to bear. Pastor Jacobson is a cross you have to bear. I will never know you like Jesus knows you. And what you know of me will never measure up to the holiness of Jesus. I am a cross especially to those who have been commanded to honor their father, and I am a cross especially to the one has been commanded to be faithful to me as long as we both shall live. At times, I am a cross to you and so are other Christians. The world can put a cross on you. The church, this church, can put a cross on you. God can put a cross on you, too. Financial hardships and physical pain are not technically crosses because even unbelievers suffer in these ways, but when financial hardships and physical pain start to affect our faith then they, too, become crosses God puts on us for a loving purpose. What positive purpose can all these crosses possibly serve? These crosses of the world can teach us what it means to sing “Take the world, but give me Jesus!” The cross of the church can teach us:  It’s not about the man in the pulpit. It’s about the message from God. The cross God puts on us can teach us:  It’s not just about the here and now and living a few more years. It’s about keeping our faith and living forever and ever in heaven. Our individual crosses are necessary for us to keep following Jesus.

And to where does this following of Jesus lead us? The ultimate answer to that question of course is heaven, but there is also an immediate answer to that question. Jesus taught, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” As Christians we lose our life before we lose our life when we were baptized. As Christians we lose our life before we lose our life when we repent of our sins. As Christians we lose our life before we lose our life when we believe the gospel of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of ours sins and for the salvation of our souls. As Christians, we get a head start on eternal life when the gospel convinces us to live for Jesus and not for ourselves. That’s how Peter and the Apostles lived after Jesus ascended into heaven. They faced death on a regular basis as Jesus did and yet they continued to live and serve him without ever being afraid. That’s how we can live, too. We don’t have to worry about hitting another milestone birthday or about surviving another health scare or financial hardship. We have the Christ necessities. We have everything we need for the forgiveness of our sins and for the salvation of our souls. And as we grow through our crosses, we give a witness of Christ to this world and to our church. Amen.