Click here for the reading: Luke 18:31-43.

The blind man cannot see the sons of Jesse pass by, but he knows Who Jesus of Nazareth is and what He can do. The blind man cannot be impressed by how people look or how they are looked at by others. The blind man cannot see the things on which the seeing man fixates. The blind man could not see that the fruit in the garden looked wonderful. But the blind man can hear about Jesus.

The Bible’s preference for hearing over sight is a temporary one. Some day we shall see Him and love His appearing, but for now hearing is far better, even as the prophecies of Scripture are more sure for Saint Peter even than the vision on the mountain he, James, and John were granted (2 Pet. 1). When the blind hear, they too believe and cry out to David’s Son.

David’s Son is able to do all things well. He is coming into His kingdom, and the blind man believes in His power to save and to heal. These wonders have still more to follow, but what follows is strange even to His closest disciples. What follows is what He has determined in His heart to do: the suffering and the death He must face at His own people’s hands. Why is this strange even to His disciples?

“Everything that is written about the Son of Man” should have prepared the disciples to receive His teaching and to understand what had to occur – how necessary for the world’s salvation and renewal is His glorious death, how much His resurrection will mean for a change in all things forever. They should have understood what the Scriptures say and what the Lord teaches, “but they understood none of these things.”

For now, these things are “hidden from them.” The knowledge of the Lord and the love of all He teaches and all He is a gift. No one comes by it naturally, and both His work of salvation for us and His opening of our minds and hearts to grasp His salvation are gifts. The Lord does not give or do or teach according to our expectation anymore than He would choose Israel’s king from among the candidates presumed likely to inherit the throne. All His works and all His ways are His own, and He chooses to reveal His Son and all things to us from sheer grace.

So we do not pray to know all and to surpass all others in our knowledge. We do not pray for might and power. He will give knowledge, might, and power in His Spirit as He sees fit and to whom it is His pleasure to give. Instead, we pray to know our blindness and to ask for grace and light. We pray for our eyes to be opened and for our minds to be opened to understand the Scriptures. We pray to receive our sight and for Him not to keep hidden His whole counsel of wisdom, truth, and grace.

Click here for the reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.

The irony of this passage’s use at weddings is that marriages are among the good gifts of this life that will pass away along with prophecies, languages, and knowledge. The things now so highly and rightly prized are ours for a time and for a purpose. We have husband or wife to love and to cherish until death us do part. We have prophecy to proclaim the oracles of God as we find them in Scripture. We have languages to speak the Word of God in people’s own languages. We have knowledge to proclaim the knowledge of the Lord throughout the earth.

But this must all pass and shall pass. All this will be eclipsed. It will not be burnt up and destroyed, but it will be swallowed up and surpassed. Death will end along with all these things, when we are changed in the twinkling of an eye at the Lord’s command. I cannot fixate on my marriage or anything I have to exclusion of the love of God because everything except the love of God shall be subsumed. The weight of glory will overwhelm all else.

The reason love can bear and believe and hope is that only love knows what remains. Only love knows the fruitlessness of all effort apart from the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Only love comprehends how futile and petty our fixations and our resentments and our bickerings are. Only love recognizes that Christ shall truly be all in all, and for His sake, love believes and bears everything for the sake of and in view of the Day of the Bridegroom’s returning.

Paul’s words are not saccharine sentiments, tiresomely sweet and unnatural, wrapped in a sickly pink paper packet. His words flow easily and purely from love’s spring. In Christ there is already resurrection and life and perfection. In Christ there is already victory over sin and death, and in Christ death is already mocked. Knowing this, how can care and fixation and bickering and self-aggrandizement consume me? Am I Christ? Am I the firstfruits of them that sleep? No, we are in all things more than conquerors over sin and death and everything else solely through Him Who loved us and gave Himself up for us.

So love can be patient. Love can be kind. Love can believe and bear and hope. Love can wait as long as it has to. Love knows what’s coming and how partial and petty and light this life will prove to be when the weight of glory and the splendor of Christ enter in. Love knows we shall not all sleep but we shall all certainly at long last be changed. Then we shall know all as we are even now fully known by Him. Love knows Him, and love never ends.

Click here for the reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13.

The parade of the sons of Jesse features names entirely unknown. How many congregants or preachers can rattle off Eliab, Abinadab, or Shammah? No hymnals are named for Shammah. No archeologists search for evidence of King Eliab’s reign. Abinadab might as well be Shimei or Sheba in their obscurity. Yet at one time, even for a second, Samuel could imagine Eliab and Abinadab and Shammah in their turn as the kings of Israel.

And what about the others who passed before him? Their names don’t make the cut. The Lord does not see nor does He plan as man sees and plans. What is likely-looking to us is nothing to Him. David was not present for the parade, and Samuel’s eyes did not pick out the man after God’s own heart. Man could not see what the Lord has in His heart for His people’s salvation.

The bittersweet selection of a fitting king for Israel cannot be forgotten. This reading should not be happening. Israel has no need of a king like the nations. She has her King already with His royal throne of the Ark of the Covenant and His royal law written down by Moses. He already reigns. He is already mighty for His people. He already drives all His enemies before Him. Why then this parade and this anointing?

Was it to magnify the handsomeness of David? But his handsomeness would lead him into trouble with women. Man does not see the heart. What was in David’s heart was the glory and the name of the living God of Israel. His charge against Goliath would be that the Philistine had blasphemed the only living God. God’s honor would be David’s chief concern, and he would not even build a house for the throne of the Lord if God forbade him to do it. If Israel had to have a king, the king whose heart – not his face or his family name or birth position – was after God’s own heart was the one the Lord would choose.

David was anointed to rule but only under the King’s command. What David’s mighty men were to David, David would be to the Lord: loyal in all things, ready to serve his master, ready even to die for his master’s name as the young men risked their lives to get David water. Israel would have a king under the royal Law of God. He would not exalt himself too highly or speak laws in his own name, but he would serve the Lord in the Spirit of the Lord.

David’s Son, the unlikely Shepherd of Israel born in David’s royal city but raised in Nazareth’s obscurity, now reigns. He speaks with authority, not as the scribes, because His royal law of liberty comes forth from His lips with sweetness and power. He does not listen for the instruction of another as Samuel did. He does not wander after the evil desires of his heart as David did with Uriah’s wife. He is Himself the Truth, and the Spirit of the Lord rests upon Him forever. David’s anointed Son reigns as King without end. All will hear of His glorious Name.

Click here for the reading: Luke 8:4-15.

The difference between hearing and understanding is especially clear in Luke’s gospel, where the crowds are the recipients of Jesus’s story but not its meaning. Parables do not all confuse their hearers; the ones told closer to Jesus’ passion are often all-too-clear for his opponents. But if they do not confuse, they do not clarify themselves. More must be said, and what was told must also be explained. Explanation and clarity are gifts for the disciples that the crowds do not receive.

The working of the kingdom of God is through the word of God. The reign happens through preaching. As the word is spread, the kingdom spreads, and the parable is an explanation of what happens when the gospel is preached. The fact that the gospel is preached, that sowers go out to sow, and that the word spreads throughout the whole creation (as it does in the Acts of the Apostles) requires no explanation whatsoever. Nobody has to be ginned up to go out and spread the gospel. The parable presumes that the man who has seed will sow it.

The parable’s German title of “the parable of the fourfold soil” is illuminating for its meaning. Jesus is not explaining what’s wrong with the word of God since it’s perfect. He is not explaining why the sower sowed so profligately or why the devil opposes mankind’s salvation. All these are givens. The word is perfect, the word is sown everywhere, and the devil hates mankind, the crown of God’s creation and the object of His redeeming love. No, what must be explained is how any growth occurs in a world full of resistance to the word.

Some have the word snatched from their hearts before its growth can begin. They do not guard with patience and goodness what was sown. Some cannot endure testing and fall away at the first sign of hardship on account of the word. Some do not reach their full growth because the cares of this life choke out the wholesome word of life everlasting. The dangers to growth and the dangers to fruition are so many that Jesus’s description of them is elliptical, even indirect. How much of a life’s struggle and how many deceptions are summed up in “they believe for a while” or “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life”? How many lives were lived in just those ways, and how many died in their sins with the word all overgrown with weeds?

Luke 8:8 has no distinction among the growth that Matthew’s rendition of this parable does. Everyone who bears fruit bears it a hundredfold. The focus in Luke’s parable is rather on the nature of good soil, more fully described here than in either Matthew or Mark. Once the word is heard, it must be held fast, never leaving, never being choked or swamped. In the soil of an “honest and good heart,” it grows beyond all expectation from one seed to a hundredfold yield.

Click here for the reading: 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9.

Paul’s foolishness is holy wisdom. The wisdom the Corinthians admire is not wise in Christ, whose ways lead Paul into an upside-down life that turns the world upside down. The dizzying world of Paul’s service in Christ is not one for every sermon, but it may be fruitful for the preacher to tackle what happens when the word has its way in a man’s life – the life Paul describes in this pericope. Wisdom abounds in the midst of suffering.

Indeed the only way to the wisdom of Paul is through the suffering of Paul. Therefore he must boast of what he suffers. His resume in 11:22-28 is first of what is useless and then of his sufferings. What proved useless are the very things of which his opponents – likely the judaizers who plagued and perverted his gospel wherever he went – boast. Their ethnic boasts are nothing to him, who could likewise boast. Instead, his CV is suffering after suffering and every last bit of it in Christ’s way. When nothing more dramatic is happening, he suffers the anxiety of his care for the churches in Christ throughout the world. He is a man turned over to suffering so that the nations may be turned over to Christ.

In that way of suffering in Christ even the marvelous vision Paul was given of paradise is not ground for speaking, still less for boasting. What is greatest and most heavenly is occasion for silence. What is lowliest and saddest is the occasion for Paul’s boasting because in his suffering he finds God’s power made perfect. Heavenly visions do not sustain the weak man – the power of God perfected in his weakness sustains the man weak for Christ’s sake.

Strange to say, even that weakness has been a part of God’s delivery of Paul from service of sin to the service of Christ. The thorn in the flesh is at once “a messenger of Satan to harass” and divinely given to prevent Paul’s conceit – to keep his resume of suffering from becoming a resume in praise of Paul. If Paul’s labors are greater than all others, his thorn is so peculiarly his that it keeps him peculiarly humble for an apostle with so many grounds for boasting.

The thorn sent by Satan thus also works for the purposes of God. Truly, all things work together for good for them that love Him, that are called according to His purpose. If He purposed Paul’s salvation and Paul’s calling to service for Christ, then even Paul’s thorn will serve those holy purposes. If He purposed all Paul’s sufferings, then even Paul’s sufferings shall serve His gospel. All things shall serve Paul’s salvation and through him the salvation of the nations called by the gospel. So that Paul’s salvation and the salvation of the nations may not be of him who runneth nor of him who willeth but of God who showeth mercy. In our weakness, how great is His power to save!

Click here for the reading: Isaiah 55:10-13.

Creation tells out the Creator’s might. The rain and snow come down from the Creator’s hand, who has promised not to send so much at once that life on earth is extinguished. The rain and the snow come down by measure, and in their sending they make the earth fruitful and gladden the heart of man with what the earth yields. The sower and the eater are both provisioned by what comes down from above.

Thus the word comes down heaven from as the rain and the snow do. What is familiar in creation will be gloriously unfamiliar in new creation. A people stranded in exile will have the word from heaven preached to them, and the word will prove true. The nagging doubt of fruitlessness – that all this would come to naught like a field sown but not harvested – is dispelled through the promise that the word of God will accomplish His purpose and will prove fruitful at last.

Creation then becomes more than a way to grasp what the word of God does. Creation itself must turn in joy to praising the God who does these wonderful things with His word. The people of God will have joy and peace, and in their peaceful rejoicing the mighty things of creation – the mountains and the everlasting hills – begin to sing. The trees that are mightier and older than any man will clap their hands as all creation becomes a temple where the servants of God praise the God whose word is so mighty.

This word and this rejoicing will change creation itself from a bearer of evil and sadness – a place for thorns and for briers – to a place of quiet joys and peaceful shade – a place for the cypress and for the myrtle. What was inhospitable and dangerous will become garden-like and homey. Everything will be changed at His word.

This will be His everlasting fame – that He has made from the thorn a cypress and from the brier a myrtle. He has changed a fallen creation into a new creation that sings His praise and shelters His people. The word’s effect on creation is far greater than the rain and the snow, which water for a time and are good for a season. The word will work such changes in all creation that it will become an “everlasting sign” of His goodness and His wonders. Through the sign of Jonah – the sign of the Son of Man three days in the belly of the earth and then raised – the Lord will work a change in the earth – from death to life, from thorn to cypress – that will never be cut off, never change with the seasons, that will be forever fruitful.

Click here for the reading: Matthew 20:1-16.

This parable is an expansion of the assertions Jesus has just made in Mt. 19:28-30 about the apostles who have given up all things and followed him. The forsaking of what was familiar and comfortable will result in the attainment of hundredfold gifts and the inheritance of eternal (19:29). This will turn upside down what was everyone’s expectation, so that the rewards given to the apostles and the wages rendered to the laborers are both instances of the first being last and the last being first (19:30, 20:16).

Turning things upside down happens according to the Master’s pleasure. He has lordly freedom to do what He desires with what is His (19:15). The existence of the vineyard, the fact that there is work to do, and the calling into that work are all His doing. Anyone’s being in the vineyard, whether from sunrise or from much later in the day, is at His good pleasure. He keeps His freedom in all things. He does not submit to His workers’ expectations.

Submission is the laborers’ business. He is clear about this, “whatever is right I will give you” (20:4). He will be the Judge of right and wrong, not the laborers. They have work to do, and as the day passes, He will find others and bring them into the labor as well. The laborer is one among others, called among others, awaiting a reward among others in a labor not his own.

So the objection the laborers have – their Massah and their Meribah – is that the Master of the vineyard is unjust in rendering to a man according to His choice. Their basic issue is that He is free and does not reckon the situation according to their expectation and sense of fairness. “You have made them equal to us” (20:12) is not about a modern legal equality of opportunity but about an unjust equality of outcome despite the smaller efforts of the later hires. What’s wrong with that accusation?

They agree on a denarius (cf. 20:2 and 20:13) as the wage. In His generosity (20:15) the Master has chosen to render to everyone who labored the same denarius. He is giving more than He needed to give. His gift is far beyond expectation. This enrages the laborers who want to dispose as they see fit with what is not theirs. They want to say to the King how the kingdom should be. They want Him not to be free with His grace.

The overturning of expectation and the shock it occasions will happen again when the Son of Man is delivered over to His enemies, crucified, and raised on the third day (20:19). The unready disciples will have been told all these things and yet will flee in fear when they occur. His kingdom comes always as a surprise even when He has explained or shown in a story how He is and what His ways are with His grace and mercy. On the third day and on the Last Day the first shall prove last, and the last shall prove first – to the surprise of many!

Click here for the reading: 1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5.

With greater foresight than his forefathers Paul considered that he could fall along the way. Paul does not often employ sports metaphors probably because a pious Jew would have little knowledge of the nude contests of pagan antiquity carried out under the benediction of strange gods. The metaphor he uses in 1 Cor. 9 would be well-known to everyone because the Greek cycle of four years, the Olympiad, was named after the winner of the medium-distance footrace at the Olympic Games. The dedication to their sport and the singleminded pursuit of glory those athletes famously displayed are commanded by the apostle here.

If someone displays dedication, singlemindedness, and laudable devotion to his task in something that perishes with use, something that comes and goes again, why would a Christian be less demonstrably dedicated, singleminded, or laudably devoted in the attainment of eternal life? The crown that awaits him fadeth not away, so where is his intensity, his drive, his refusal to be distracted in the pursuit of the glories of the resurrection to life? Self-control in earthly things is laudable, but how much more in refraining from anything that would put an obstacle in the way of salvation?

Paul’s body is not neutral. He must keep it “under control.” Like an athlete his body can be his own worst enemy. Lust, sloth, and devotion to ease all prove eager jailers for the Christian, waiting to lock him down and lock him in to their demands. Paul is master over these things and considers them real dangers because should he not practice this self-control and discipline of his body, he the great preacher of Christ could be “disqualified” like a runner who had coached others but could not himself compete well.

Paul’s forefathers, who are our forefathers (10:1) in following Christ (10:4), exemplify failure and disqualification. God “was not pleased” with them and their ways, their testing and their quarreling and their grumbling and their weak-minded suspicions. They were baptized into Moses, but we who are baptized into Christ could also be overthrown. They ate the same Spiritual food and drank the same Spiritual drink, but we who eat the Spiritual food and drink of the Lord’s Supper could also be overthrown. The graces of manna and water from the rock did not overturn the reign of blasphemy and evil suspicion in their hearts and minds, and they fell as evildoers. Woe to us if we likewise fall! Woe to us if we likewise blaspheme and presume upon God’s grace!

Paul opens up the Scriptures and the hearts of the fathers to show that beneath their idolatry and blasphemy was the desire of evil (10:6). Blasphemy and idolatry come forth from the deeper well of evil desire, and the discipline of Paul’s body is the purification of desire – the pruning back of the otherwise wild growth of desire so that it does not choke out the seed of the Word.

Click here for the reading: Exodus 17:1-7.

Questioning the Lord’s servant is always questioning the Lord’s faithfulness. Did He send the right man? Does He know what He’s doing? In Ex. 17:3 the responsibility for thirst is deflected from the Lord to His servant Moses, but since the Lord is the Author of salvation, the salvation from Egyptian bondage was His doing with Moses as a mere instrument. To question Moses’s integrity and goodness is to question the Lord’s integrity and goodness.

Moses’s despair is understandable, “What shall I do with this people?” (v. 4) They prove impossible – quick to judge, quick to accuse, slow to consider what the Lord has ordained. An indirect report of their demands makes clear their readiness for blasphemy: “Is the Lord among us or not?” (v. 7). The Lord’s instructions for Moses to carry out the provision of water very publicly shows that the problem is the public provision of lies and blasphemies in Israel, not their thirst. The same staff that cursed Pharaoh could bless Israel, and it will according to the Lord’s command. All things happen at His command. The sense of being abandoned in the wilderness Israel displays can only come from a dullness and hardness of heart against the Lord and His servant Moses.

Quarreling and testing go hand-in-hand. The strife is always for the sake of the suspicions, slanders, and blasphemies. Quarreling and grumbling come forth from blasphemy and doubt like evil, poisonous waters issuing from black springs. All of it tumbles out at the least occasion of an encampment without water. Rephidim is the occasion for quarreling, grumbling, misery, and testing, but the source of these things was a cancerous doubt of the Lord’s goodness and Moses’s guidance that was already consuming Israel before they came to Rephidim.

Suspicion of the Lord – the shadowy sense that He is not Who He has promised to be and may in fact not do what He has promised to do – links Ex. 17 to Mt. 20 and Israel of old to the laborers in the parable. What are the sources of suspicion in the Bible and in our congregations? Doubt, ignorance, a high-handed sense of one’s destiny apart from the Lord’s guidance, sheer ignorance of the magnitude of His grace. For the grumbling and the suspicious water came forth from the rock. For the blasphemers the Lord was in their midst and gracious in His provision. His servant’s staff struck the rock, and water gushed out in their midst. The dark memorial Moses sets with his words and then in his book is of their quarreling, calling the place Massah and Meribah. “Testing and Quarreling,” the place where the people doubted the Lord’s goodness and yet the Lord was good.

If we use the ways of the children of Israel as examples as the New Testament does, we find them almost altogether negative. So many fell in the wilderness, and only Caleb and Joshua persevered to the land of Canaan according to God’s promise. In testing and quarreling they passed their days, and they fell in the desert without water, without the milk and honey of Canaan.