Archive for the ‘Deuteronomy 18:15-20’ Category

Do You Know Who He Is?

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

4th Sunday in Epiphany B, January 29, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28

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“The Lord Your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to Him you shall listen”. [Deuteronomy 18:15]

Ask ten different people who Jesus is and you’ll most likely get ten different answers.  Some will tell you that He’s their higher power.  Some will say  that He’s their source of peace.  Some will answer, it’s not who He is but who He was as an historical figure that matters.  I think one of the funniest  answers became popular in the early 90’s on bumper stickers: “Jesus is my co-pilot.”  And then several years later, another bumper sticker declared:  “If Jesus is your co-pilot, move over.”  And from that bumper sticker came the ever popular country song, “Jesus Take the Wheel”.

Do you know who He is… do you know who He really is?  He is the one that God raised up, a prophet like Moses from among the Hebrews, and it is to  Him we must listen!  And what’s His message?  Well, it’s a new message with authority and power; a message that’s clear, and concise; a message that  drives out demons with a single Word.

Can you imagine being in that synagogue in Capernaum when Jesus taught his simple message of repentance and forgiveness.  While He was declaring  that the kingdom of God was at hand it broke out right before them in power!  Everyone was astonished at His teaching, because it was new and it had  authority.  It was new because it declared God’s forgiving love for repentant sinners.  And it had authority because it had the power to drive out  demons.  “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit (a demon).  And he cried out, “What have you do to with us, Jesus of Nazareth!  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”  And what did Jesus do?  With authority and power, He commanded the demon to shut up and leave the poor man.  And immediately the demon did exactly as Jesus commanded him!

I wonder how many people there that day knew who Jesus really was?  They should have known, because what they went out and told others, were the very words that were prophesied long ago.  They said that what they heard and witnessed was “a new teaching with authority!”   But prophecy can be a tricky thing.  As the Chinese wise man once said, “It’s very difficult to prophesy, especially about the future!”

In a sense, prophecy is a little like space travel.  We’ve learned a lot about our past and gained insight about the future of our world by going into space and looking down on our earth.  We’ve learned about weather patterns, location of past and present oil and other natural resources, and we’ve even learned a lot about how our climate is changing.  In a sense, we’ve learned things we never could have until we were given the proper perspective.  And in a similar way, prophecy takes us out of the limitations of our current perspective and allows us to take on the big picture.  And that’s what God was doing through Moses when He promised that a new prophet was coming, a prophet that would speak a new Word from God!

Why did the people need a new message?  Well, because they just weren’t getting the old one.  When God spoke the Ten Commandments to Moses, He was speaking something about His own nature.  He was speaking in Spirit and in truth.  He was teaching them that He alone was holy, perfect, and righteous, and His people must become the same.  How?  By hearing God’s Word in spirit and in truth.  They had to first be honest with God and then themselves; they had to confess that they couldn’t be as God commanded them to be without His divine help.  Soon, God’s sinful people realized this very truth.  In Exodus 19, they cried out to Moses: “Speak to us yourself and we will listen.  But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

And yet God must speak and they must listen, because it’s only through His Word that forgiveness and new life can come to sinful men and women.  But why must God’s Word make us afraid of Him?  Because our fear to force us to see and deal with our own sin.  That is always the primary purpose of God’s law.  But our sinful nature tries to twist the purpose of His law to fit our sinful desires.  So at first we might try to ignore our sins, which the law shows us, or maybe down-play them.  We might incorrectly see the law as a self-help tool and say, “Finally, some teaching I can sink my teeth into.”  But this kind of approach to God’s Word lacks spirit and truth; it stops us from realizing just how perfect God is and how sinful we are!  So God’s law like a great spotlight keeps shinning His truth into our sinful lives until we realize that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will always fall short of the demands of His Law.  After we fail over and over again to be perfectly good, it’s God’s will that we’ll finally arrive at this frightening conclusion: There is no hope for me unless God is the one who brings it to me.

Now the devils don’t want us to hear this new Word from God, so they work very hard to replace His new Word with a different message, a false gospel.  This is where false prophets come in.  Led by the devils and their own sinful pride, they teach that a happy life, a life that pleases God is possible if we just keep working at it.  These false teachers have an assorted array of “easy steps” that we can follow which will ensure happiness and peace with God and our fellow man if we just keep working the plan.  They will gladly share their new message with melodious voices and a big smile on their face.  They claim to have all kinds of messages that are sure to give your life meaning and make you feel complete!  They have a plan for a healthy marriage, a promising career, obedient children, and just about everything else you could ever want, it’s all yours if you will just follow their “easy steps.”  The only problem with that teaching is that it never gets rid of the one obstacle that stands in our way… our own sin and our lack of spirit and truth!

I’m afraid that this teaching of techniques only gives us false hope from an eternal perspective.  And these steps prophets are new prophets alright, but they are not the ones that Moses prophesied about long ago.  These step prophets are false prophets because they bring false hope that always leads to suffering and eternal death.  Why?  Because their teachings aren’t centered in repentance and forgiveness of sins, but on the ingenuity of other fallen men and women.  And if you aren’t careful, these false prophets will have you traveling with them to a new paradise of their own making, in a foreign land, gathered around cyanide-laced Kool Aid.  “Drink of it, all of you,” they say, “and you will find a beautiful death” that is until you wake up in hell!”

So how are we to know the true message of God?  Well how did the people of Capernaum know it when they heard Jesus speaking?  They knew it because not only was it different than the law centered message that Moses gave, but it came with power and authority.  What power?  The power to forgive sins and the promise to make everyone who received it right with God!  What was the authority?  Well, the type of authority that sets the captives free!  Free from what?  Well, Jesus answered that when the demon was cast out.  Coupled with the greater promise of forgiveness of sins, they knew, and we can know also that in Jesus, God was giving them not just a new message, but the only prophet who can provide complete victory over sin, death, and the devil!

So, while we must still hear what Moses and the Law of God have to say, we must then let the Spirit of God move us from a message of death to a message of life!  It’s this new message alone that will be our only source of hope and power in this life and the life to come!  This new message is of course the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is the only message that God’s prophets are to speak unto eternal life.  It isn’t a message of steps or strategies, but a message of forgiveness and hope.  It is the Words of Jesus and His true prophets.

Listen to some of this hope and let it’s message breath new life into you: “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven”” (Luke 10:20)  This is a message of certainty that those who hear Jesus Words and believe them are saved from their sins. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “You are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” [1 Cor. 6:11]  And Peter declares this message to Christians scattered throughout the world: “You were like sheep going astray; but you are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [1 Pet. 2:25]   Likewise, John speaks this Word of hope and peace to the church: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is.” [1 John 3:2] Nowhere in God’s Word do you find the prophets creating the perception that salvation can be found by following a series of strategies or steps.  Instead, the consistent message is that this new prophet that Moses promised would come has come, and He alone makes us right with God through His Work and teaching of forgiveness of sins.

This new teaching, the good news about forgiveness of sins is a simple one.  The Kingdom of God is here through the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Fully God, yet born of a woman so that we can call Him brother, He was sent by the Father to save you from the evil presence of the devil; He was born to die upon the cross for you.  He was born to suffer at the hands of sinful men so that by His stripes, His suffering and death you might be free forever from your fears concerning your own sin that separates you from the love of God; so it’s stripes, not steps that bring you an eternal and abundant life!

What is the abundant and eternal life?  It is freedom from not just your sins, but also death and the devil!  Jesus has come to set the captives free!  By a Word of command He silenced the devil that day in Capernaum, and with that same power, He proclaims that in your baptism, your old sinful nature along with the Devil has been destroyed.  Through your baptism, He casts out all things demonic and pronounces you clean.

This morning I proclaim to you that there is one stronger than the devil and your own sinful flesh that is with you this very moment.  His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living and faithful God, and where He is you shall one day join Him, because He has washed you clean; forgiven all of your sins.  He has given you freedom from your old sinful nature, victory over the devils, and peace and joy with your Heavenly Father.  That is who Jesus really is.

The demon in our gospel reading knew who Jesus was and he identified Him immediately as the Holy One of God.  The people who saw and heard everything that day stood in amazement.  They knew that they had heard and seen things that were new and powerful; they knew they had witnessed the authority and power of God in action.

It is my prayer that you will know these things also, and that you will, like the people in that Capernaum synagogue, leave here and at once spread the good news about who Jesus Christ really is, and what that means for the people in our community.  I pray that you will tell them about a holy and perfect God who cannot tolerate sin, but made a way out of it, so that they could be free of not just sin, but also shame, addictions, and death.  I pray that you will be enabled by God to declare to your neighbors that Jesus is the only way to God’s forgiving love.  Tell them, and then invite them to come to church with you and see for themselves.  I ask this in Jesus name, AMEN!