Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Trust in the God Who Provides… (A sermon based on Genesis 22:1-18)

Are you giving up something for Lent? What sacrifice are you making for God? Actually, you know what? Never mind. Your sacrifice isn't really all that important. The important thing is God's sacrifice for you. God has provided for you. He's provided his promises to strengthen you. And he's provided his only Son to save you. That sacrifice is what counts. Now put your trust in the God who provides. Then we'll be eager to live for God every day. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Genesis 22:1-18 and be encouraged to trust in the God who provides...

The Covenants that Culminate in Christ: The Ram

Trust in the God Who Provides…

A sermon based on Genesis 22:1-18

Sunday, February 26, 2012 – Lent 1B


Why do teachers give tests? Is it just to figure out the grade for the report card? Is it just to find out how much the students are learning? Is it just so the teacher can evaluate how well he's teaching?

Tests can be a good way to evaluate how the students are learning and how the teacher is teaching. But there's another reason to give a test…

Do you have a guess what last week's confirmands were doing the Saturday before their examination? I'd be willing to bet they were studying. Tests are a good way to force students to study, a way to get them to review and solidifying the things they've learned.

That's how God uses tests. God doesn't need tests to evaluate what you know. He certainly doesn't need tests to see how well he's teaching. But he does test us to help us to review his promises and to solidify and strengthen our faith. Abraham is a prime example of how God does that…

Abraham was tested his whole life. When God called him, his only directions were to "Get up, leave your home, move to a place where I'll show you." Even though Abraham had no idea where he was going, he obeyed God and left home to live in tents like a stranger in a foreign country. He passed that test.

God promised to bless all nations through his offspring, but he tested Abraham and made him wait. When Abraham grew impatient and tried to make his servant his heir, God gave him another promise. He told Abraham that the offspring of the promise would come from Abraham himself. It wouldn't be an adopted son.

Abraham waited. And God continued to test him. When Sarah got impatient, she urged Abraham to have a son with her servant woman. And Abraham agreed. It seemed he was scoring low on the test. But God was patient with Abraham. He gave him another promise. The child would come from Abraham and his wife, Sarah, not from a maidservant.

Abraham continued to wait. And God continued to test. Finally, twenty-five years after God had made the promise to Abraham, when Sarah was barren and Abraham was as good as dead, God allowed Abraham to become a father because he trusted in God and his promise. But now when Abraham had thought he was finally done; that he had finally passed the test, God gave Abraham the biggest test of them all! Let's read about it Genesis 22:1-18...


Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!"

"Here I am," he replied.

2 Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you."

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?"

"Yes, my son?" Abraham replied.

"The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"

8 Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.  

I. His Promises to Strengthen You 

After twenty-five years of waiting for a son, Abraham finally received his beloved Isaac. Now God asked him to take that son, his only son, who Abraham loved so dearly, and sacrifice him. And Abraham made no delay. He got up early the next day and made the preparations necessary for a sacrifice. He cut the wood, the very wood on which his own son's body would burn. He loaded it up, along with a knife, some rope, the bedding, the cookware, and put it all on a donkey to carry it on the trip. And the next morning Abraham, two of his servants, and the son which God had promised him, all set out on the long fifty mile trip from Beersheba to Moriah, the place where God had told him to go.

Fifty miles. That's roughly from here to Cooper Landing. Can you imagine slowly plodding along step by step, mile by mile, thinking about what awaited you at the end of the trip? The trip took Abram three days to complete. He had some time to think. To watch his son, now almost in his teens. To contemplate the command which God had given to sacrifice that boy. I imagine Abraham laid awake at night, watching his son sleep, knowing that each step closer to Moriah meant one step closer to his son's death.

Perhaps Abraham wondered why God would ask him to give up the very child that he had waited so patiently for. Why God would have him kill the child through whom all nations on earth were to be blessed? But Abraham plodded on. He knew that God had made that promise; that God had planned the future around Isaac, his son. God himself told him that all nations on earth would be blessed through Isaac. Now God wanted Abraham to sacrifice the child of that promise. To Abraham it may have seemed like these two facts were irreconcilable. But Abraham continued until he reached Moriah. He wasn't sure how, but he knew that God could reconcile the two and work it out.

Notice what he said to his servants in verse 5: He said, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you." He didn't say, "We will worship, then I will return alone," but, "WE will come back to you." The book of Hebrews tells us that Abraham's faith led him to trust that God would bring his son back. It says that Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead. There was no other solution he could think of.

Now Abraham finally put his faith in God completely. He knew that God was good at his word. God had been proving that to Abraham his entire life. God promised that he would take care of Abraham if he left his home to go to a place God told him. And God made good on his word, not only taking care of Abraham, but making him prosper and flourish. God promised that all nations on earth would be blessed through Abraham, through his offspring from his own seed and Sarah. Abraham waited patiently and God did come through after 25 years of waiting. God had always been faithful, so Abraham would trust him now.

When Isaac asked him, "The fire and wood are here… but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" 8 Abraham [simply] answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." Although he may not have understand God's purpose in giving him this command, Abraham still obediently did as God told him and left it to God to handle the details. Look what his faith moved him to do in verses 9 & 10:

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

Abraham passes the test with flying colors! But he didn't pass by himself. God led him to trust in his promises again and again. Testing Abraham to strengthen his faith until Abraham could fully rely on God.


What about us? How do we respond when God tests us? When we know what God wants us to do, but aren't sure of the outcome? Or just don't like what we know the outcome will be? How do we respond when God asks us to sacrifice a friendship for him? Or put him above a loved one? When we are asked to sacrifice what is most precious to us to serve him? Do we willingly obey and act boldly trusting in his promises? Do we gladly do what is asked of us trusting that no matter what happens God will work all things for our eternal good just as he's promised? Or are we more like Abraham earlier in life? Trying to do things our way instead of God's way? Or on our time schedule instead of God's?

When you do forget to trust in God's promises and do things on our own, repent of your sin. Then turn to God and trust in his promises again. Trust in the promise that you are forgiven. And you can be certain that you are forgiven because on the mountain of the Lord God did provide… 

II. His Only Son to Save You 

When Isaac asked his father where the lamb for the offering was, Abraham told his son not to worry about the sacrifice. God would provide. Though Abraham didn't understand how at the time, God did provide. Look at verses 11-14:

11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!"

"Here I am," he replied.

12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided."

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, "I swear by myself, declares the Lord , that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."


Just as Abraham was gripping the knife, ready to bring it down on his one and only son whom he loved so dearly, at just the right time, the Angel of the Lord stopped him. He said, "Don't lay a hand on the boy! Don't do anything to him! You've passed the test! You've demonstrated that you love me above all else!" Perhaps just then for the first time Abraham heard a bleating behind him and as he turned he saw the ram caught struggling to free itself. What joy he must have felt knowing that God had spared his son! His only son who he loved with all of his heart! God had provided a substitute to take Isaac's place! He would no longer have to die! And so Abraham called that place "Jehovah Jireh!" "The Lord Will Provide!" And God strengthened Abraham's faith once more by repeating the promises of many descendants and the promise of the Savior: "Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed."

But notice carefully what Abraham called that place. After God provided a ram to take Isaac's place, Abraham called the place "The Lord Will Provide." Though Abraham didn't realize it at the time, God would provide for his people on that very mountain! 2 Chronicles 3:1 tells us, "Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah." Right there, on that same mountain, God provided for his chosen people, Israel. He provided them with priests to offer sacrifices on their behalf. Those sacrifices, like the ram, were substitutes for the Israelites. But both sacrifices, the ram for Isaac and the bulls, sheep, goats and rams for all of the people, were pointing ahead to the ultimate Sacrifice.

From Abraham to Moses the expression went the same, "On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided." Not too far from the temple site lay another hill in this very same chain of mountains; Mount Calvary. And on this mountain of the Lord, God intervened to save all mankind and provided a savior from sin. We can't help but see the similarities between the sacrifice Abraham was willing to make and the sacrifice God was willing to make.

Out of love, both were willing to give up their one and only son, their long-expected sons who came in a supernatural, miraculous way, their sons whom they both loved so dearly. Just as Isaac carried the wood to the altar and obeyed his father instead of running for his life, so too, Christ carried his cross to Calvary and prayed to the Father, "Not my will, but yours be done," and willingly gave up his life.

 But here the similarities end. Abraham was obligated to love God above everything else in his life, including his own son, for God had given him all that he had, including his son. But God loved his enemies. He loved us sinful humans who hated him and rebelled against him in every way that we could. He loved us so much that he sacrificed his one and only son that we might not suffer in hell, but might have eternal life with him. Isaac was only sacrificed figuratively. Christ was sacrificed literally. It is an accomplished fact. Isaac's sacrifice saved no one. Christ promised forgiveness of sins and salvation from an eternity of damnation in hell to everyone who believes in him. Isaac was brought back from death figuratively speaking. Christ rose literally and assures us that he is victorious over death and promises that we too will rise again!

Believe those promises! God is good at his word! He has proved it time and time again. Just as Abraham let go of his own ways and trusted in God and passed the test of faith, so you too, abandon your own works for your salvation, abandon your own efforts for your  happiness, stop doing things your own way, and trust in God's promise of salvation through faith in Christ, our substitute. He promises, "To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness."


Abraham said, "On the mountain of the Lord he will provide." The Lord did provide. The Lord still does provide. He promised to send a savior and he did. He promises that we have salvation through Christ and we do. He promises that he will work out every situation in our life for our eternal benefit and he will. Just as Abraham trusted in God's promises, you too trust in God's promises. As Abraham's faith led him to live his life in service, you too live your life in thanksgiving and praise to the Lord who has provided his promises to strengthen you and his only son to save you. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen. 

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Go Mountain Climbing with Jesus (A sermon based on Mark 9:2-9)

What a view! Climb to the top of a mountain on a clear day and see the breathtaking view! One day Jesus took his disciples mountain climbing to see an even more spectacular view: He showed them a glimpse of his divine glory. We too see that view in the pages of Scripture. And when we see this view of the top of the Mount of Transfiguration, what comfort we find when we follow Jesus up another mountain: the Mount of Crucifixion. For we know that it wasn't just some man who suffered and died, but God himself who died for us on the cross. Come, read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Mark 9:2-9 and go mountain climbing with Jesus!

Go Mountain Climbing with Jesus

A sermon based on Mark 9:2-9

Sunday, February 19, 2012 – Transfiguration & Confirmation


I was exhausted, dripping with sweat, and hurting all over. But it was all worth it for the view. Last summer I climbed Skyline trail when some family came to visit. And as we made our way up to the saddle, the clouds burned off. I was amazed that from that height I could see the Turnagin Arm and beyond it the city of Anchorage. If I turned around I could see Skilak Lake, Mt. Redout, and Mt. Illiamna in the distance. The view was incredible.

Peter, James, and John also went up a high mountain. Most believe it to be Mt. Tabor, the only high mountain around Galilee, which, much like Skyline, just rises out of nowhere. It must have been a steep, strenuous, exhausting climb. But the view at the top was well worth it. They could see Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee on the one side, the blue Mediterranean on the other, and the lush Jordan valley down below. But far more exciting than the view from the mounting was the view on the mountain.

There on that mountain Jesus pulled back his humanity for a brief moment to give them a glimpse of his divinity. There he was, the Light of the World, lighting up the night sky, not reflecting the sun, but shining from within as if he were the sun itself.

And this experience on the Mount of Transfiguration and the view the disciples got there, prepared them for another experience on a different mountain. It prepared them for the crucifixion on Mount Calvary. And this morning, I invite you all, and especially you, confirmands, to join those three disciples and go mountain climbing with Jesus. Climb the Mount of Transfiguration, where you'll get a sneak preview of Jesus' divine glory. Then come back to the valley below for a while. But soon, we'll go up to the Mount of Crucifixion, to see Jesus' sacrifice for us. Listen again to Peter's description of Jesus transfiguration as Mark recorded it for us in Mark 9:2-9…


2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) 7 Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" 8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  

I.      From the Mount of Transfiguration 

One day Jesus took his three closest friends, Peter, James, and John, mountain climbing. He wanted to spend some time with them in prayer and quiet instruction, but after a tiring climb, the disciples were tired. Luke tells us that once they reached the top, they were starting to drift off.

But when they woke up, how startled they must have been! There was Jesus, but boy did he look different! He had transformed or transfigured. This is the Greek word from which we get our English word metamorphosis. He was completely changed—all lit up in brilliant light!

Have you ever been asleep in the dark when someone suddenly turns on the brightest lights in the room? It takes a minute for your eyes to adjust and at first it's so bright that it hurts your eyes. You have to look away. That's how it must have been for Peter, James and John. Mark says that, "His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them." And Matthew and Luke tell us why. Jesus himself was shining as bright as the sun. Matthew says "His face shone like the sun," and Luke, "His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening." How spectacular! But that wasn't all…

Two men were standing with Jesus, talking to him. We don't know how the disciples recognized them, but somehow they knew who the other two men were—Moses and Elijah—the two great prophets of the Old Testament. No wonder the disciples were terrified!

And bold, impetuous Peter, scared half to death, couldn't just keep quiet. Though he didn't really know what he was saying, he interrupted Jesus' conversation with the prophets to suggest that they put up three tents to put the glorious scene on hold.

And then, just as amazing as the Transfiguration, God the Father interrupted Peter! "This is my Son, whom I love." The other gospels add, "whom I have chosen," and, "with him I am well pleased." Then, "Listen to him!" Peter and the others understandably grew even more terrified, since, after all, Peter was just told off by God himself. "Don't speak, Peter. Don't interrupt. Listen to him."

And yet, as terrifying as it must have been, how exciting it must have been! Peter was right when he said, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here." They got a glimpse of Jesus' divine glory! There was no doubt in their minds that Jesus was the Son of God, the one and only eternal God, Jehovah himself!


When you hear about Peter, James and John's experience, do you wish that you could have been there? Do you wish that you could see a glimpse of God's glory now? Well, if so, you're in luck! Those three disciples aren't the only ones who get to see God's glory! Because they recorded these events for us, we get to see his glory too.

Through the Word of God recorded in the pages of Scripture, summarized in Luther's Small Catechism, through the Word that you've been studying, we get just as great a view of Jesus' divine glory!

Peter later wrote of this transfiguration experience, "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain and we have the word of the prophets made more certain…" (2 Peter 1:16-19)

We have the Word made more certain since we have seen God's full plan of salvation completed. We see his glory when we see that Christianity isn't a new religion created in the hundreds AD, but the only true religion given to Adam and Eve, to Moses, to Elijah, to every true prophet. We see Jesus' glory when he reveals himself among us, not in a cloud that envelops us, but in the quiet whisper of a sermon, in, with, and under the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper, in waters of Baptism where he makes us his own.

And what comfort we have in climbing that mountain with Jesus and seeing his glory there! Jesus is God's Son, God himself in the flesh. He did please God in every way in our place. We can trust every word that he says. He is with us always, even when we have to go back down the mountain. Dear friends, when you see God's glory, zip it! Don't speak, but listen. Observe and marvel at the glory of our God! 

II.            To the Mount of Crucifixion 

Now, while there could no longer be any doubt to the disciples that Jesus was the only true God, they still didn't really get what his mission was about. As quickly as it began the transfiguration was over. Moses and Elijah were gone and Jesus looked like he usually did once more. But the disciples were confused. What did this all mean?

Well, Jesus had just told them what it all meant only six days ago. Mark tells us in chapter 8, "He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this…"

Whenever God appeared to his people in a cloud, it meant that he was about to act in some supernatural way. When he appeared to Abram in a smoking fire pot, he was about to make a new nation. When he appeared to the Israelites in a pillar of cloud and fire he was delivering them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. When he covered Mount Sinai in the cloud he himself inscribed the 10 commandments on the tablets of stone. When the cloud settled over the Tabernacle, God himself was present among his people acting on their behalf.

Now that he appeared again in the cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration, he was ready to act in a supernatural way again. From the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus set out toward Jerusalem one last time. Again and again he told his disciples what would happen there, "We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise." (Mark 10:33-34)

Even that evening of the Transfiguration he, Moses and Elijah were discussing Jesus death on the cross. Luke tells us, "They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem." And though the disciples were listening in, they didn't seem to get it. Peter rebuked Jesus. The three discussed what exactly does he mean by, "Rise from the dead"? Though he spoke to them plainly, they didn't understand what he meant and were too scared to ask him about it.

But even though they didn't get it that night that they saw Jesus glory, even though they didn't understand the night of Jesus' betrayal or the day of his crucifixion, imagine what comfort that climb up the Mount of Transfiguration would later bring Peter, James and John. They would know without a doubt, "Jesus is God. We were there. We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. We have seen his glory; the glory of the One and Only!"

What comfort they had when they realized that as true God, he could have stopped the crucifixion from happening at any moment. He could have called down an army of angels to defend him, but instead he went to die, to suffer hell, willingly and he did it all for them. What comfort they had when realized that since Jesus is true God his death on that cross could pay for every one of their sins. God's death on one end of the scale far outweighed the sins of the whole world of all time on the other end. And what peace they found in the events that took place on that Mount of Crucifixion, strengthened by their experience on the Mount of Transfiguration.


Dear friends, blessed with the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament, we have "the word of the prophets made more certain." And with 20/20 hindsight, we understand what the disciples at first did not. But even though we get why Jesus had to be handed over, killed and rise again, often times when we leave the mountain top and come back down to the plain of day to day living we're still tempted to doubt too aren't we? When you lose your job, your health, or a close friend or family member, you may be tempted to wonder "Is Jesus really in control of the situation? Is he really God?" When the guilt of your sins weighs you down you may tempted to think, "Does the death of some guy who lived 2000 years ago really pay for my sins? Am I really forgiven?"

And when we do start to think this way, we need to go mountain climbing again. It's not by accident that the Last Sunday of Epiphany, Transfiguration Sunday, where we see Jesus in all his glorious splendor, comes right before the season of Lent. Because the Mount of Crucifixion means nothing without the Mount of Transfiguration.

What comfort we find when we first climb the Mount of Transfiguration where we see Jesus in his glorious splendor. Yes! He is true God. Is in control at all times! What comfort we find when we follow him from that mount to the Mount of Crucifixion and see that though Jesus, the One and Only God, could have easily stopped the crucifixion at any time, he didn't. He suffered willingly for us. What comfort we find when we remember that as true God his death on the cross does count for us and for all people. His death was not just the death of "some guy who lived 2000 years ago," but the death of the living God in our place. We are forgiven. We are at peace with God.

This Lenten season, and throughout your Christian life, as you climb with our Savior to Mount Calvary and watch him go to the cross to pay for our sins, don't forget the first mountain, the Mount of Transfiguration, and remember what you've seen. Our Savior is the God of Glory! It wasn't weakness that took him to the cross, but love—his great love for you.

And finally, remember one more mountain: The Mount of Ascension. At least four churches on the Mount of Olives claim to mark the very place where Jesus ascended into heaven. But no matter where it took place, know that Jesus didn't leave us alone when he left us physically. Though unseen, he is still with us everywhere we go.

He's there when we're sad. He's there when we're scared. He's there when we're struggling here in the plain. He's there to remind us who he is by the Mount of Transfiguration. He's there to remind us of what he's done by the Mount of Crucifixion. And he's there to remind us of our own ascension into heaven one day soon. So hang in there. Keep climbing with Jesus all your life. In his name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Run, Christian, Run! (A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Do you like running? Do you like working out? I'll admit that while I enjoy the feeling I get when I'm done, it's often a struggle to get up off the couch and start moving in the first place. But with the encouragement of others, so far I've completed six weeks of working out six days a week! (That's a first for me!) Today, the Apostle Paul, gives us the encouragement to get up off the couch spiritually and get into the game. He encourages us to get the spiritual exercise we need to keep the prize that Christ won for us. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and hear Paul cry out to you...

Run, Christian, Run!

A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Sunday, February 12, 2012 – Epiphany 6B


In 1994, the movie character, Forrest Gump hardly ever stopped running. As Jenny encouraged him, "Run, Forrest, Run," he did. In spite of braces on his legs, in spite of the defense in a football game, in spite of already scoring a touchdown, in spite of a "cult" of joggers behind him, in spite of getting shot, he didn't stop running.

This morning, Paul encourages us to have that same determination to never stop running. Paul knew that the things he'd been encouraging—giving up your rights and conveniences to serve others—was not easy work. He knew that the Corinthians would continue to struggle with their sinful natures just as Paul himself did. He knew the race wasn't always easy and that it was easy to grow tired and give up. So he encouraged them to keep their eyes fixed on the prize ahead. And through his epistle, Paul still encourages us to Run, Christian, Run! Keep your eye on the prize that Christ already won for you by grace. And keep training hard to keep your sinful nature in check with the power that God gives… 

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

I.              In Christ, You've Already Won the Race 

Paul knew his people well and he knew how to make the right illustration to reach them. You see every year in Corinth that the Olympic games weren't held, they held their own games—the Isthmian Games. And to the Corinthians these games were far more than a mere amusement. It was like watching some NFL fans when their team makes it to the Superbowl—it was almost an obsession. So Paul pointed to those athletes, to those heroes of Corinth…

"Look at those professional athletes," Paul says, "and model their dedication. Look how much they struggle. Look how hard they train, even though they might not win. In fact, in any competition there can really be only one winner.

"All the runners run," Paul said, "but only one gets the prize." Only one team can win the Super Bowl. Only one team can win the Stanley Cup. Only one team can be the champions. And yet, in spite of such uncertainty, look how hard they train.

Dear friends, with the Corinthians (and with you) no such uncertainty exists. When it comes to the race of faith—that struggle that we face every day—we know with certainty that we'll win. Why? Well, not because of what amazing spiritual athletes we are. If the race were up to us, we'd certainly lose. We'd lose for each time we failed to fight the good fight of faith and gave in to our sinful selfish desires. We'd lose for each time the devil scored a point by getting us to side with him. We'd lose for laying down in the middle of the track by our spiritual apathy. And the losers don't just miss out on the prize, they deserve punishment as well. No, it's not because of our spiritual prowess that we can be certain we'll win. Instead, it's because of our Savior…

Do you remember a quarterback named Rohan Davey? Not too many people do. He was drafted as the 117th pick in the 2002 NFL draft. He was a backup quarterback for his entire NFL career. He threw zero touchdowns and didn't even reach the 100-yard passing mark. Yet, he has two Super Bowl rings. Mr. Davey contributed nothing to those Super Bowl championships, but he still got to celebrate the victories and could show you his championship rings as proof.

In a similar way, we know that we win, even though we contribute nothing to the win. Jesus won for us. He not only joined our team as the sure ringer, but he took our place as the perfect sub. He stepped in on the cross and said, "I'll be the loser so you can be the winner. I'll take your detestable sin so you can have my perfect righteousness. You just sit the bench and watch." And in doing that, he freed us from our leprosy of sin and won the race for us.

Now, we don't run the race in order to win. We run the race because we've already won. And what a prize we've won!

Paul said that those who ran in the Isthmian Games weren't even like professional athletes of today. Professional athletes get paid millions of dollars to play even if they lose. But these runners ran to win a relatively worthless prize—a crown of pine leaves that would soon wither and rot.

And all too often we too struggle hard to win a prize that's not worth that much. We struggle hard to advance our careers. We work day and night to increase our wealth. We spend endless hours chasing after pleasures and toys that we know won't matter 100 years from now and so ultimately are as worthless as the pine or olive wreath that withers and rots.

And how foolish that we struggle at all when the one prize that is worth something has already been won for us! And ours is a prize that's worth something. It's worth everything! Ours is a crown that is incorruptible, one that will last forever. Jesus won for us a crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8). He won for us a crown of life (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10) and a crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4). There is no better prize than these. And they're ours—already won for us by Christ in his grace.

With that certain confidence that we've already won in Christ, that we are winners in Christ, we now press on to claim our prize and train hard to keep it…


II.            In Christ, Train Hard to Keep the Prize 

Even though there's a lot of uncertainty that they'll win and even though the prize is really worth very little, athletes go into strict training in order to win. Paul says "everyone who competes," which is literally "Everyone who [agonizes]…  goes into strict training." In the Isthmian games participants had to swear by Zeus that they had followed ten months of strict training which included abstaining from unwholesome foods, wine, and even sex before they were allowed to compete.

Today athletes do the same. They give up years of their lives to train hard before they enter the Olympics. They give up free time, stick to stringent diets, have vigorous workouts multiple times a day, and give up countless pleasures just to have a shot at winning the gold.

"How much more then, won't we Christians," Paul writes, "go into strict training to keep what Christ already won for us!" Using his own life as an example he says, "Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

Paul wouldn't run aimlessly, chasing after perishable crowns like wealth, comfort, and luxury—crowns that would soon spoil and fade. And he wouldn't just beat the air. If Rocky Balboa had only trained by shadow boxing, by just punching the air, it wouldn't have been enough. If his punches didn't connect with his opponent, but only hit the air—a swing and a miss—he would have lost in the first film and there wouldn't be fifteen sequels. Paul says his punches wouldn't miss. He's wasn't just hitting the air, but his target.

But it hardly seems like an improvement when he says, "I beat my body." Was Paul fighting himself? Yes, actually. He was. Paul was in a big struggle with himself. His sinful nature wanted to continue to rebel against God. At times Paul was tempted to lust or have sex outside of marriage. Paul wasn't exempt from the temptation of greed and the love of money and nice things. Paul too, in his sinful nature, desired to take God's blessings for his own benefit robbing him of full devotion to God.

But, Paul would not be mastered those sinful desires. Paul knew that if he left it unchecked, his sinful nature would quickly take over, he'd grow spiritually flabby, then downright unhealthy, and eventually even lose his faith in Christ. Then he would be disqualified from the race and lose even the prize that had already been won.

So instead, he would work out. He would force his body, his sinful nature, to conform to his new nature—one that longed to thank God for that crown of life that he won. He would grow stronger in his faith by his spiritual training. Then he wouldn't lose that faith, but would receive the prize that Christ had won for him.

And we too enter strict training. We stick to a strict diet of the Word, reading, learning and digesting it every day. We give up the toxins of sinful pleasures that harm our bodies and our souls. We exercise our faith daily with regular workouts as we put God's Word into practice. These things train our souls to cling to the promises of God so we keep running the race to hold on the prize Christ won for us.

But the struggle's not easy. For the last six weeks now, Ryan Holper, Angie, and I have been working out six days a week. We've been doing a program called Insanity® (I think because you have to be a little crazy to work that hard that often.) And I'll admit, that it's not very easy. Not just is it physically tough, and hard not to collapse on the floor panting, but it's mentally tough too. There are some days that I just don't want to go work out.

The spiritual struggle isn't easy either. It wasn't for Paul, and it's not for us. It's hard not to collapse on the track of life and give in to our lust and greed and sinful nature. It's hard not to think, "Jesus died on the cross. I don't need to do anything. So I don't need to thank him with my life." It's hard to keep going when you're weary and tired of the daily struggle to do what's right in thanksgiving to God for our crown.

But you know what's helped me keep doing Insanity® for six grueling weeks? I know that Ryan and Angie are expecting me to be there. I'm not doing this alone. But I have help and support and their encouragement to dig deeper.

And God doesn't make us run our spiritual race alone either. The one who loved us so much that he sent his Son to hell in our place, will continue to love us and give us the strength and courage to keep running. He will continue to encourage us through his Word. He will continue to forgive us, pick us up when he fall, brush us off, and get us running again.

And so by God's power, and with his forgiveness and encouragement we can keep our eye fixed on the prize, confident that we've already won the race through Christ. We can keep our sinful nature in check and keep on running until we claim that prize that's ours. And God will bless you and keep you in the one true faith until life everlasting while you run, Christian, run! Amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Monday, February 6, 2012

My Hope Will Not Change (A sermon based on Job 7:1-7)

How can God be omnipotent and loving and still allow suffering to come to his people? That was the problem Job faced as he lost all he cared about: his wealth, his children, his health, his wife, his friends, and almost his faith. But he put his hope in God's promises not in his false expectations. We too do well to put our hope in God's certain promises, even -- or perhaps, especially -- when we're suffering. We know that God loves us in Christ. And we know that he will keep his promises to work all things for our eternal good. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Job 7:1-7, or watch the first part of the service through the end of the sermon by clicking here, and find comfort in your suffering by the unchanging hope Christ gives...

My Hope Will Not Change

A sermon based on Job 7:1-7

Sunday, February 5, 2012 – Epiphany 5B


      I had it all. I had the good life. I had the most beautiful wife, who gave me the finest children a man could have. Through hard work and the good Lord's blessing, business was good. But what I valued most, above all else, was the relationship I had with Jehovah! I knew my blessings had come from him, when I deserved none of it. I knew that even greater than all of these blessings was the promise of the Redeemer he made to our first father and mother in Eden—a promise that was passed through the generations to me. And in thanks to him, I did not keep my blessings to myself, but gave generously to all who were in need. And I gave not just of my wealth, but of my time and of myself. I was the eyes of the blind, helping them to see, and the feet of the lame, helping them to live. God had blessed me in every way. Life was good. I, Job, really did have it all!


But then, in one season it all changed. I lost all of my wealth in a single day. Sabean raiders stole my oxen and my donkeys and killed my servants. Fire from heaven consumed my sheep and those servants tending them. And Chaldean raiders took my camels and slaughterd the last of my servants.

And it was all gone! Not some! Not most! Everything! When the economy was strong and thriving I went from riches to rags—by no fault of my own, but at the hand of wicked men and at the hand of God. I was ruined. But it got worse. The day was far from over...

Children should bury their parents; not vice versa. We who are old should not outlive the young and vibrant. But that day I had to line up the lifeless bodies of all ten of my children, the little ones that I held in my arms and bounced on my knees. I would never hear the sweet sound of their laugher again. I would never again see the beaming smiles on their faces. Cruel Death had taken them far too soon!

Naturally, I took it hard. But my wife took it harder. I tried to comfort her, but she shouted, "My babies are in the ground! How can anything bring me comfort?!" Words can't describe the great grief and sorrow that consumed us both.  

I thought I had lost everything that day. But I was wrong. There was still more for God to take.

One morning I rose early to visit the graves of my children as I did every day. But that day, by the light of the lamp I saw the spots on the back of my hands. I visited the doctors and they diagnosed the disease. It was a rare disease of the skin. It would grow more painful than it already was, they told me. The sores would soon ooze and spread across all of my body, they warned, making me repuslive to everyone who saw me. The chance of recovery was slim. God had taken my health.

And then, as if things weren't bad enough, God delivered the harshest blow yet. He took my wife and he took my friends. No, they didn't die. He spared their lives, but far worse, he turned them against me. My wife, the bride of my youth and, next to God, the sole object of my love and devotion... she now hated me. She blamed God and she blamed me for the death of our children. She told me to give up hope. "Curse God and die," she said.

I left. I went to sit alone in the dust in my misery and weep. Then my so-called friends came to offer their miserable "comfort." After giving me the silent treatment for seven endless days, they turned against me! They all swore that I had committed some great and secret sin against God and that I deserved all that I got.

      And now, worst of all, my faith began to slip. I lamented to my "friends" and to the God who so cruelly made me just to bring me to ruin and misery. I said...


1 "Does not man have hard service on earth? Are not his days like those of a hired man? 2 Like a slave longing for the evening shadows, or a hired man waiting eagerly for his wages, 3 so I have been allotted months of futility, and nights of misery have been assigned to me. 4 When I lie down I think, 'How long before I get up?' The night drags on, and I toss till dawn. 5 My body is clothed with worms and scabs, my skin is broken and festering. 6 "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and they come to an end without hope. 7 Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again.


I.      I Hoped for Change


Let me confess to you right now, that not everything I said was godly. But understand what a valley I was in. God seemed hidden. I longed for some change for the better. I longed for the night to come like a slave longs for the end of the day that brings relief from his painful toil. I hoped that in sleep I might find some reprieve from my pain. But as I lay on my bed, sleep did not come easily. I tossed and turned in my misery and longed for the day again. There was no relief of any kind. As my wounds oozed, the worms crawling on my skin ate their fill.

I hoped against hope that this judgment from God migt pass. I hoped for anything that would change my situation, and if not restore things, at least make it more bearable. I hoped for new doctors who could offer, not some cure, for I knew that could never be, but some drug or drink that could at least dull the pain. I hoped for new friends who would not drive me further into despair. I hoped for a change of heart in my wife, that she might show me some pity. I hoped and longed for a swift death that might finally bring me relief.

But above all else I hope for some explanation from God. Why would he do this to me when I had been faithful to him?! I loved my children so much that I would gladly suffer anything to keep them from hurting! If the omnipotent God would let me suffer as he did—and he could surely have stopped it at any time—I wondered if he really loved me. How could he be loving and omnipotent and still let me suffer?! In my pain, in my frustration, in my arrogance, I demanded that God give me an answer. But he gave me none.

God owed me no explanaton. I wanted to put him on trial, but the truth was I was the one who should have been on trial. Eventually God himself appeared to me and confronted me, putting me on the witness stand with dozens of questions. Where was I when the earth was formed? How did he create the stars? How he measure off the depths or scatter the starry hosts? I admitted that these things were too lofty for me. And if I didn't understand them, neither could I understand the purposes of God. I now realize that no matter what I suffered, it could have been—it should have been—much worse. For arrogance that I displayed in the face of a holy God I deserved no change for the better, but hell itself. And for your arrogance before God in questioning his ways and what he does and does not allow, so do you.

I hoped that my situation would change, but when it seemed that it never would, I could either give up in despair or I could change my hope. I did the latter. I pray you do too...


II.    I Changed my Hope


You see, I had some misperceptions. I thought that if I was upright and holy before God that he would then owe it to me to give me good things in this life. I thought that if I would serve him faithfully he would keep suffering and pain far from me. But my hope was placed in wishful thinking and not in the promises of God. You see, Jehovah never promised me that this life would be a life of comfort and ease. He never promised that I would never suffer. He never promised to explain to me why he did what he did. (In fact, he never did tell me  that I suffered such misery and pain because satan, that foul demon, dared him to cause it. At least, he didn't tell me while I was alive on this earth.)

And only later did I realize that because God had not promised these things, my hope in them was poorly founded. I could not cling to promises that God had never made. So while I hoped things would change, God did not promise such change. I had to change my hope. I had to trust in that which he did promise to me.

Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again.

Finally, as I drew close to despair, my desperate plea was simply that God remember me. I knew that I didn't deserve a holy God to remember a lowly mortal like me, a sinner like me, a rebel and an arrogant fool like me. But deserve it or not, God would remember me anyway. He promised he would. Later, long after I died, the Psalmist wrote, "He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations..." (Psalm 105:8) And God does remember and keep every promise he ever made! He remembers that we are but dust, though we deserve to be long forgotten. In fact, the only thing he forgets is our sin.

My friends tried to convince me that I was being punished for my sin. Now I realize that God, being holy and just, must punish my sin. But he was not then, never has, and never will punish me for those sins. Instead the Messiah, who you know as Jesus, took the full punishment for all our sins. He endured hell itself in our place. That's why your prophet, Isaiah, wrote that, "the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)

This hope—of sins forgiven through the coming Messiah—this is where I would put my hope. Since God had promised this, it was certain—as good as done. I've heard it said that when you reach the end of your rope, you should tie a knot and hold on. When I reached the end of my rope, I tied a knot to my Redeemer and let him hold on to me.

Now, friends, I don't know what you've suffered in your lives. I don't know what pain and misery you endure today. You may be suffering as much as I did. But no matter what you are asked to endure I'm sure that at some point you've felt the hurt and the pain that I have. You too surely must have questioned God's love for you. And though it's not wrong to hope that your situation will change, you have no promise from God that it ever will this side of the grave.

So I advise you to change your hope. Don't put your hope in some change of life that God has not promised. Rather, put your hope in what he has promised, in what is certain, in what is sure to be. Put your hope in the Messiah. Put your hope in the forgiveness that he brings. Put your hope in the heaven that he promises on oath to you. And this hope will never be disappointed.

And when things are tough? Well... Whenever we had a draught and rains did not fall, when the wells were bone dry, those were the best opportunities to dig deeper wells. Then, when the rains finally did come again we had more water than we ever had before. When times are tough, when you're hurting and full of pain, coming close to the point of despair, let God dig the well of your faith even deeper than it's ever been. When all else fails, you are forced to rely on God, where you should have relied all along. Then, you will have more trust in him and more strength of faith to bring you through the next tough times.

Finally, dear friends, rejoice in God's great grace. If you must, hope that things will change. But better still, change your hope. Put your hope in the certain promises of God. Rejoice that your sins are forgiven, that heaven is yours, and that you can say with me with all certainty and sincerity, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:25-27) In the name of the Messiah, who gives us real and lasting hope that cannot change, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Be Amazed by Jesus! (A sermon based on Mark 1:21-28)

What things amaze you? A new gadget? Exciting news? How about the Word of God? In the Gospel lesson for the 4th Sunday in Epiphany we hear how Jesus drove a demon out of a man. But it was his teaching with authority, his Word, that really amazed the people. Jesus still amazes us today by his authoritative Word and by his powerful works for us. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Mark 1:21-28 and be amazed by Jesus all over again!

Be Amazed by Jesus!

A sermon based on Mark 1:21-28

Sunday, January 29, 2012 – Epiphany 4B


            In 1973, the popular movie, The Exorcist, hit the theaters. The whole plot is about a priest battling a demon that has possessed a little girl. It was so popular that several sequels and a prequel were created over the next three decades, and in 2005 the same script was remade with new actors, new styles and Dolby Digital surround sound. And The Excorcist isn't the only movie that's grossed millions of dollars by alluring audiences to the theaters and video stores with the intrigue of demon possession and the occult. Let's face it, many people are fascinated with the devil and his forces.

Of course, this fascination is spiritually unhealthy and potentially very harmful, but the opposite is equally dangerous. In the book, Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, an older more experienced demon, Screwtape, gives advice to a younger inexperienced demon, Wormwood, telling him to deceive his "patient" into believing the devil and demons are nothing but red-painted, long-tailed, pitch fork-carrying fairytales…

He tells Wormwood, "If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in your mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you." Then, Screwtape reminds him, it will be much easier to discount all supernatural and make him a materialist and a skeptic.

Both extremes—fascination with and denial of—evil supernatural forces are very dangerous. The devil is very real. So are demons. They sometimes bring terror, but I think more often masquerade as angels of light. To deny their existence is to be susceptible to a surprise attack. But to fear them and be fascinated with their power is equally dangerous and can rob you of your faith. There is no need to fear demons. Though they do have supernatural powers, they no longer have any power over us… no control. Jesus has robbed them of that hold.


In the Word of God for our consideration this morning Jesus clearly reveals that he has power and authority over the devil and every demon. Jesus has ultimate power over everything. He demonstrated that power by his Words with his powerful teaching. And he demonstrated that power by his works, forcing a demon to obey that word. Listen now to Mark 1:21-28 and be amazed at Jesus as he reveals who he is by his powerful word and by his powerful work…


21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" 25 "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. 27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.


I.              Be Amazed by his Powerful Words


Jesus loved God's Word and remembered the Sabbath day, going to the synagogues each week to hear it and preach it to whomever would listen. But don't think of a first century synagogue like a 20th century church or even like a 20th century synagogue. Unlike churches and synagogues today, they had no resident rabbi. The members of the synagogue took turns reading and expounding upon the books of Moses and the Prophets and they invited any guest rabbi to speak while he was in town. Often then, with a new teacher each week, they encountered conflicting views and frequent debates as to how to interpret the Law of God.

But this Sabbath was different. The guest Rabbi in Capernaum this week wasn't like the others. His message was different than the rest. He spoke with absolute authority. No one could challenge a thing he said and it all made perfect sense. They had never heard anyone speak like this before! Clearly he was a great prophet of God! Perhaps even the Great Prophet God had revealed to Moses would come and speak his Word perfectly. "The people," Mark tells us, "were amazed at his teaching…"

And no wonder! This Rabbi didn't just study the Torah, he wrote it! He was God himself existing in eternity past, inspiring Moses and the other authors of the Scriptures to write exactly what they did. He was omniscient and knew exactly how every one of these verses would be fulfilled. He knew, of course, that they would be fulfilled in him. What an amazing sermon he must have given! And it wasn't received without an impressive effect. All who heard it were amazed, they marveled, at the things he said.


And though Jesus doesn't walk among us today, or stand in the pulpit as a guest preacher, he still teaches us with that same authority. Through the written Word in the Bible, still the most widely published book in the world, through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, through faithful pastors and teachers throughout the world, he still teaches with the same powerful, authoritative Words he did that day in the synagogue.

Through his Word and his amazing teaching, he confronts us in our sins—those sins of neglecting his Word and leaving the Bible sit on the shelf while we pick up a magazine or the remote instead, those sins of thinking his Word is not all that powerful and while, sure, it's good for those ancients Jesus mingled with, it can't really help us in our present day problems, for those sins of knowing the power of his Word, but refusing to share it with others coming up with lame excuses to stay in our comfort zones.

And his powerful Word does even more. After confronting us in our sin, that same Word assures us of our forgiveness, not by anything we do, but what he's already done—by his powerful work on the cross. That Word literally changes every aspect of our lives through and through! It changes the direction of our lives by giving us the desire to no longer live for ourselves but for him, serving him directly and by serving others. It gives us the power to resist sin, and get out of the rut! It gives us excitement, zeal, and encouragement in all we do! It gives us courage to say, "I trust that whatever happens to me, God is in control!" It gives me courage to die for that message! How amazing! What powerful words Jesus has!

And he reveals that amazing Word to us! Be amazed! Trust that power! And spread the Word! We don't need gimmicks to get people into heaven. We've got Jesus' amazing Words. When we share the gospel, confronting people in their sins and comforting them with the gospel, we convey the same amazing message and teaching that Jesus did. It's no less impressive or amazing when Jesus speaks through us. In fact, it's more amazing! It's amazing that Jesus works through us! It's amazing that when we share our faith with someone else, those words have the power to forgive sins. Be amazed at Jesus powerful Words and use them!


II.            Be Amazed by his Powerful Works


Now of course it wasn't just his words that amazed the people and left their jaws dropped. It was also the powerful works that accompanied his Words. As Jesus was amazing the people with his teachings, a demon possessed man in their midst cried out, "24 "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" And Jesus had opportunity to reveal his power again. The people were amazed at his powerful works… 25 "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. 

While the people were amazed at Jesus teaching, they may not have fully understood who he was. But there was one among them who did. Who knows how many times this man evil spirit had been to the synagogue without revealing that he was possessing this man. But this time the demon couldn't contain himself. He cried out in fear, terrified that Jesus would send him back to hell. In fact, what the NIV translates as a question may not be a question at all, but a statement. "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? …[You have] come to destroy us!" For the demon knew what was not necessarily evident to the crowds. He knew that Jesus of Nazareth was (and is) the Holy One of God.

But Jesus knew that the people weren't ready to hear that he was the Messiah. They didn't really understand what the Messiah was about yet. If this truth was broadcast now it would do more harm than good. That's why Jesus commanded his disciples not to tell anyone this truth when they came to realize it and that's why Jesus commanded the demon to shut up. Literally he said, "Be muzzled!" And he commanded the evil spirit to leave the man. No elaborate incantation. No special holy water. Just the command of Jesus and the demon had no choice. He cried, "Leave me alone, Jesus!" in vain. Throwing the man into a convulsion one last time in protest, he shrieked in despair and frustration at being forced to do what he didn't want to—and he left.

What impressive power Jesus displayed! And again the people were amazed! They couldn't contain themselves! They had to tell everyone they saw about this Jesus. 27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.


With this, the first of his "exorcisms," Jesus began his war on Satan and his forces. Time and time again he drove evil spirits out of their victims with his divine power, demonstrating that he was and is God. And finally, he defeated Satan, crushing his head, when he went to the cross. And he defeated Satan for us…

You see, just as that man in the synagogue had no control over the evil spirit that possessed him, so we too had no control either. We had no control over the sin that infected our lives. We were slaves to sin, as Paul describes it. We could do nothing but sin. While we had a free will, that free will was limited. Right now, I can choose to stand still, or walk, or run, but I can't choose to fly. It's not possible for me. In the same way, we were unable to choose to do what is right. We were unable to do any good, but only hate God, rebel against him and live to serve our selves. And, therefore, in a certain sense, we were possessed by Satan—he owned us, made us his possession.

But just as Jesus had complete control over the evil spirit that possessed the man in the synagogue, so Jesus had complete control of the enemies of sin and Satan that took us captive as well. He is the Holy One of God. Yet for us, he became a man. He took control of our sin and made it his own. And he suffered the torment and the hell that should have been ours. In vain, Satan cried, "Leave me alone!" because on that cross, as Jesus endured the punishment for every sin ever committed, he crushed Satan's head and undid the work Satan began in the Garden of Eden. There he defeated Satan and all his forces once and for all!

What impressive power Jesus displayed! And we too are amazed! Give thanks to God that though they are very real, there is no need to ever fear Satan, his demons, or any evil spirit, for Jesus has completely defeated them all with his amazing work! Give thanks that he's revealed himself to you by his powerful Word and by his powerful works!

And be so amazed at Jesus and his grace that you can't contain yourself, but have to tell others about him. Tell them the undeniable fact, proven by his powerful teaching and his miraculous works, that he is the Holy One of God. Tell them the truth that he is the Savior of mankind, as you show them his amazing work on the cross. Spread the Word wherever you can that they too might be amazed by Jesus and put their trust in him. God be with you as spread the news about him quickly. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611