Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 27, 2015

Sermon on Mark 6:30-34


  1. We need a time for refreshment
  2. Others need refreshment, too

Text: Mark 6:30-34

Service Video (sermon starts at 32:30)


After today, we will have just one more month in this church sanctuary before we move worship into the gym for two months while the long-promised sanctuary refresh project takes place. On Monday, August 31, the pews will be taken away, the wood repaired and refinished, the padding recovered, the ceiling repaired, and the walls repainted and redecorated with wall sconces and a few appropriate Bible passages. When we return to worshipping in the sanctuary, Lord willing on October 25, I think you’re going to be very pleased and excited with the final outcome. And if our fiftieth anniversary thank offering is able to support it, in a couple of years there could be stained glass windows along these walls, beautifying this sanctuary even more and proclaiming the gospel through art and symbolism etched in glass.

Even without the refresh project, we are blessed with a fantastic church sanctuary. Space for plenty of worshippers, good acoustics for singing, a good location—these features alone make many other congregations a little envious. But the facelift that the refresh project will give this sanctuary will undoubtedly be—well, refreshing!

It is time for a church refresh project. Notice now that I didn’t say sanctuary refresh, but church refresh. Those of you who were here last month for our fiftieth anniversary service may remember from Pastor Bill Tackmier’s sermon that he emphasized that the church really isn’t the sanctuary or the building, but the congregation or the people. Just as there is value refreshing our sanctuary with a new look, so there is great value giving the church and the people who make up the church some refreshment. That’s what we’re going to learn this morning as we take a look at the Gospel reading that is appointed for today’s service. Jesus teaches us that it is time for a church “refresh project.” We, the members of the church, need a time for refreshment, and there are many others outside the church who need that some refreshment, too.


Jesus and his disciples needed some refreshment also. Today’s Gospel occurs immediately after the account we heard last Sunday (Mark 6:7-13), when Jesus sent out the Twelve in pairs to preach and teach and even perform miracles to back up their message. And now they came back to Jesus, gave him a full report of all they had said and done and how people had responded to their gospel message. By now, quite a “buzz” has been created around Jesus. Mark said, “So many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat.”  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 13, 2015

Sermon on Mark 6:1-6


  1. See an amazed rejection of Jesus
  2. See an amazed reaction from Jesus

Text: Mark 6:1-6

Service Video (sermon starts at 24:00)


There is an unwritten rule among pastors that you never accept a call to serve the congregation in which you grew up. Four years ago, I came to St. Mark’s to serve as one of your pastors, but the year before you called me, I had a call to a church that would have placed me just down the street from our seminary, mere minutes from my parents’ house, and within reasonable driving distance to more than one Lutheran high school. Some friends thought I was crazy to decline that call until I tell them that the church that called me five years ago operates the Lutheran grade school that I attended. To be the pastor of your grade school classmates and their parents would present challenges that could cause problems to the ministry. People remember the child, and it would be awfully difficult for them to accept—let alone respect—a man as their pastor that they primarily remember as a little boy.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Jesus didn’t seem to fare so well in the Gospel for today. Chapter six of Mark’s Gospel begins with Jesus visiting his hometown, Nazareth, and serving as the guest preacher for a synagogue’s Sabbath Day service. Jesus was only the guest preacher, not the resident rabbi, but instead of being treated as a hometown hero, Jesus, the hometown prophet, was rejected by the synagogue crowd. None of us claim Nazareth as our hometown, but this account from Mark’s Gospel contains a warning for us lest we reject Jesus, and it also contains a unique glimpse into the grace of God. As we work through today’s Gospel, we will see an amazed rejection of Jesus, but also an amazed reaction from Jesus.


There is always a certain feeling of excitement when a son of the congregation preaches in a service. In September we will welcome back Pastor Keven Boushek who will preach for our final fiftieth anniversary service, and a couple of years ago we had Seminary student Gunnar Ledermann preach for us, who is now only a year away from his ordination. Those occasions offer a sense of pride not just for the parents but for the whole congregation.

If we look at Luke’s account of this incident, it seems that there was some initial excitement when Jesus came to guest preach in his hometown’s synagogue. But it didn’t last long. Mark takes us right to the rejection. “When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. ‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.”

Mark tells us that the crowd was “amazed.” Later on in this reading, Jesus is also described as “amazed,” but in each case a different word is used in the original language. Here the word “amazed” pictures the crowd as being overwhelmed by what they witnessed. You can year it in their words. “Where did this man get these things?” We’d say, “Who does this guy think he is?” This Jesus fellow had been a carpenter—a profession that wasn’t always thought of so highly at that time. Some of these people probably had furniture in their homes that Jesus made! They mention his brothers by name and the fact that his sisters were right there in town. And he preaches to them that he is the Messiah? That was too much for most of them!

Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 13, 2014

Sermon on Matthew 10:24-33


 Text: Matthew 10:24-33

 Service Video (sermon begins at 26:15)


The pastor had made repeated attempts to contact a member who had fallen away from church and had fallen into a sinful situation without any sign of repentance. Phone calls were not returned, emails were not responded to, and every communication attempt was met with unresponsiveness. So the pastor sent a final letter, a last attempt to express the seriousness of her sin and how her soul was danger of being lost. Later that week an anonymous caller phoned the church, asking to speak to the pastor, berating him for the letter he had sent his acquaintance and saying in his best tough guy New York accent that he was “going to come over there and take care of business!”

The college student was engaged in a conversation with another student about religion. He confessed his faith that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life,” and that “no one comes to the Father except through [him]” (John 14:6). The response from his classmate took him for surprise. He said, “If everyone had that kind of attitude, there would be nothing but hatred and war and bloodshed in the world!”

Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” But it doesn’t take too long to respond to that rhetorical question with a sincere objection. “I can think of a lot of people I’m afraid of, people who will give me a hard time or maybe even threaten me because of my sincerely-held Christian beliefs!” Whom shall I fear? The list is longer than we’d care to think about!

Verses 24-25

The Gospel for today comes in the middle of words that Jesus spoke to disciples that were about to be sent out on a missionary journey. Prior to today’s Gospel, Jesus had told these commissioned missionaries, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves,” and went on to describe the kind of opposition and persecution they could expect. Whom shall I fear? I suspect these disciples had more than a few real answers to that rhetorical question from the psalms!  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 6, 2014

A Higher View of Church Musicians

I’m teaching a class on the book of Psalms right now for my Sunday morning Bible class at St. Mark’s. The first three weeks are covering “background information” on the book of Psalms (types of Psalms, the organization of the book, poetry, the church’s use of the psalms), and then we’re going to study selected psalms (some chosen by the class) over the last seven weeks of this study. In the course of reading about some of the lesser-known authors of a few psalms, I came across the following quotation from one of the volumes in the People’s Bible, a WELS-produced Bible commentary. And since I haven’t been saying much lately on the blog, I figure that it can’t hurt to quote someone else — in this case, our seminary‘s president.

I appreciate the higher view of church musicians represented by this quotation. We could view our musicians as “hired hands” — and in the days before MIDI, a church without an organist or pianist in its membership would need a hired musician for there to be any music at all during worship. But when the musicians who accompany us in worship share a common confession of faith with us and express that confession by the music they select or the way they bring out a hymn’s message in its performance, we have so much more than a practical service provided to our church. We have a musical expression of faith and fellowship that stands alongside the proclamation of the gospel in Scripture and sermon and sacrament. Surely that deserves our encouragement and support!

With that, here’s a quote worth pondering from the volume of the People’s Bible on 1 Chronicles. This paragraphs come from the comments on 1 Chronicles 6:31-53.

For the first time in our book, we meet David as the great organizer of Israel’s temple worship. We will meet him again later in this same capacity. Noteworthy too is the high prominence given to music in the worship of the one true God. Of all the duties of the Levites, the ministry of music is listed first. There are many artistic gifts that God gives, and there are many forms of service. None serves the message of the gospel better than music.

It is worthwhile to note that the Levitical musicians were regarded as much more than simply blowers of horns, bangers of cymbals, and pluckers of strings. They were viewed not as entertainers or performers but as servants of the Lord. Under David they had a call into a type of public ministry. They delivered God’s message to the people through words matched with music. As we glance at the titles over Psalms 39, 42, 44 through 49, and 73 through 88, we notice that many of the same names listed here reappear there as authors of those psalms. These musicians were inspired biblical poets as well as composers. …

What can we take away for ourselves from all this? Certainly we are not bound by Old Testament forms and regulations. It would be a misapplication of Scripture to say that we must have called musicians just as David did. That was then. This is now. The Christian is free to choose, to select, to adapt, to create.

Yet isn’t it a good idea to prize and develop musical talents among us? Rather than taking a low view of organists (“anyone will do; all they do is depress keys”), shouldn’t we cultivate an attitude among us that sees them as offering great service to the Lord? Are we quick to criticize our instrumentalists because they hit a couple of wrong notes or play a hymn faster than we might like it? And are we slow to recognize the humble spirit of service that they display Sunday after Sunday? What kind of hymn writing is being done among us? Do we leave all that sort of thing to those whose doctrinal pedigree is suspect? What place does music take in our church budgets? Is it somewhere behind office supplies and parsonage upkeep? The prominence given to musicians in Israel suggests we ask ourselves questions like these.

Few things serve the gospel like good words matched to good music. God understood that. David understood that. It is good for us to understand that too.

-Wendland, Paul O. 1 Chronicles. 2nd ed. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 2002.

Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 30, 2014

Sermon for the Commemoration of Sts. Peter and Paul (2014)


  1. We share their same faithful confession
  2. We struggle with their same sinful condition

Text: Mark 8:27-35

Service Video (sermon starts at 23:40)


What is the oldest holiday or celebration in the Christian church? I suppose Easter wins that award, since the very first generation of Christians chose Sunday as their day of worship in light of Jesus’ Easter Sunday resurrection. The First Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. set the practice we western Christians observe today, celebrating Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21. The fourth-century doctrinal controversies about Jesus that our Christian forefathers faced contributed toward setting a day to remember the birth of Jesus, and so December 25 became the day to celebrate the Nativity of our Lord in 336 A.D. in Rome.

It doesn’t surprise us to hear that those key Christian holidays became holy days early in Christian history. What might surprise us as twenty-first century Christians is that the occasion we’re celebrating today has been a Christian holiday as long as Easter and Christmas have been holidays! According to Christian tradition, Paul and Peter were martyred on the same day of the year, and some believe it was also in the same year. On June 29, 258 A.D., their remains were moved to the catacombs in Rome during a time of persecution, and since the fourth century, June 29 was observed as a day to remember Peter and Paul.

Today we are not here to worship these key saints as secondary saviors. The spirit of today’s celebration is much like our celebration last Sunday when we honored a pastor who had served us for a quarter century and thanked God for his service among us. Today we remember two saints who served the church in its infant years and we thank God for their service and what he accomplished through these apostles. We won’t turn Peter and Paul into secondary saviors, but we do want to learn some lessons from their lives, and we’ll do that by focusing on the Gospel for today. That’s where we’ll see these two lessons we can learn from the saints. First, we share their same faithful confession. Second, we struggle with their same sinful condition.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | May 25, 2014

Sermon on 1 Peter 3:15-22


  1. Be prepared to defend the gospel of Christ
  2. Find comfort in the resurrection of Christ

Text: 1 Peter 3:15-22

Service Video (sermon starts at 36:00)


Persecution of Christians is on the rise in our country. Perhaps the number one issue that demonstrates this is the very sudden increase in the public promotion of same-sex marriage. A family-owned bakery in Oregon had to close its doors and the business is now run out of the owners’ home because of the heat they took when they would not agree to make a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony. A photographer in New Mexico was sued and forced to pay a $7,000 fine because she wasn’t comfortable and wouldn’t agree to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. It seems that practicing your faith is only allowed inside your church building—and I pray God that this right not also be taken from us!

And yet, if we think persecution is ramping up in America, we need only to look at other countries around the world to realize that we really don’t have it that bad. A news story that is gaining attention especially on social media is about a Sudanese woman who has been given the death sentence for leaving Islam and marrying a Christian man. She was raised by her Christian mother and has always been a Christian, but her father was a Muslim, although he left her family when she was young. Her faith in Christ has earned her the death sentence and a brutal, inhumane stay in prison until she gives birth to her child, after which she is to be flogged and then hanged.

Persecution is very real today. It takes different forms at different times in different places, but it appears to be hitting closer to home and increasing in intensity around the world. And that makes today’s Second Lesson that much more significant. The apostle Peter wrote to first century Christians who were scattered around ancient Asia Minor due to persecution. The words Peter wrote for those ancient believers are as applicable to us modern Christians as it was to Peter’s original readers. Today St. Peter encourages you: When persecution comes, look to Christ! Be prepared to defend the gospel of Christ—in other words, direct others to look to Christ. And then also find your comfort in the resurrection of Christ—in other words, look to Christ for yourself and your faith’s comfort.


Our Second Lesson actually begins mid-sentence in the original language and in many translations. We’ll use the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) for our translation today, since there are a few difficult spots in this reading to translate, and I feel the HCSB has done a good job translating them and making those spots a little clearer. Our excerpt begins, “Honor [Christ] as Lord in your hearts.” Peter was just writing about the fact that sometimes Christians suffer for doing the right thing. As the saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” In contrast to their persecutors who denied Christ, Peter told his readers to honor Christ and set him apart as Lord in their hearts and minds. That would show itself in many different ways, but one way Christians do that is when we defend our Christian faith. Peter says, “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” The word “defense” in the Bible’s original language looks like the word “apology.” In certain contexts, “apology” means “defense. For example, one of the Lutheran Confessions is called the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1530). In that case, the word apology doesn’t mean that our Lutheran forefathers wrote that they were sorry about what they had publicly confessed; rather, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession defended what the first Lutherans said they believed in the Augsburg Confession (also 1530). Peter urges Christians to do something similar. Our faith is built on historic facts, not fiction, and so there is something we can defend and articulate to others. Apologetics is a worthy field of study, but you can hardly defend the facts of your faith if you don’t know them well to begin with. So Peter’s words call for constant study of the Scriptures so that we are prepared to defend the gospel of Christ.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 1, 2014

Sermon on Romans 8:1-4


Text: Romans 8:1-4

Service Video (sermon starts at 34:40)


“Free at Last!” When you hear that phrase, what comes to mind? If you are at all in tune with American history, the phrase “Free at last!” brings to mind the conclusion of the famous “I Have a Dream” civil rights speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. If you are in tune with the African-American music tradition, you know that “Free at Last” is an old spiritual. If you enter “free at last” in a web search engine, you will see that phrase used to promote an addiction treatment support group, to describe a particular political action committee, and to advertise a bail bonds company.

“Free at Last” could just as easily be the theme of the opening verses in today’s Second Lesson. In that reading from Romans chapter eight, the apostle Paul gives a spiritual “Free at Last” speech. But it’s kind of an ironic “Free at Last” speech, because these words follow a chapter where Paul sounds like he is anything but spiritually free. Romans chapter seven could be called the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” chapter of the Bible, because Paul laments the ongoing spiritual struggle inside him between his old sinful nature and his new Christian nature. Just a couple of verses before the start of today’s Second Lesson, at the end of that “Jekyll and Hyde” chapter, Paul wrote, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” So how can Paul go from that to a spiritual “Free at Last” speech in just two verses?

That question isn’t just a theology question. It is a very real and practical question. Is there anyone here who has never struggled with guilt? Aren’t Lutherans supposed to be the ones all about grace and forgiveness and salvation! Then why should the power of sin and the pangs of guilt still plague my heart? Perhaps that is why Paul’s “Free at Last” speech deserves our attention—if for no other reason than that we ought to understand how Paul could make such a bold claim about his spiritual freedom when earlier, in the same breath, he acknowledged his ongoing struggles with sin.


Today’s Second Lesson begins: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Let me get this straight. Two verses earlier, Paul called himself “a wretched man.” Now he boldly and emphatically says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The word “condemnation” focuses on the punishment that comes from a verdict or judgment. To those who believe in Jesus Christ, Paul says there is no future punishment coming because of the guilty verdict we deserve for our sin. That’s great, but doesn’t that contract Paul’s own words two chapters earlier when he said, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a)? How can Paul say that, and then say two chapters later that there is no condemnation? How can we talk about grace and love and forgiveness when my life’s story and your life’s story are not very worthy of grace and love and forgiveness from God?  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 20, 2014

Sermon on Matthew 27:25


Lent Sermon Series: Sermons Preached by Jesus’ Enemies

Text: Matthew 27:25


Tuesday, February 24, 2004: the day before Ash Wednesday, ten years ago. My church office phone rings. It’s a reporter for the local paper where we used to live, the San Mateo County Times. The reporter wants to ask some questions about the movie that is scheduled to be released the next day, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. A few questions into the phone interview came the predictable question: “What do you think about the controversy surrounding the movie?” I played dumb. “Controversy? What controversy?” “You know, the controversy from the fact that some say the movie is anti-Semitic.” The claim that The Passion of the Christ spoke negatively about Jews came from the statement blurted out by the Jewish crowd in the verse that forms the springboard for tonight’s “sermon” preached by Jesus’ enemies—“Let his blood be on us and on our children!” It’s kind of strange that this verse, which was omitted in the final cut of the movie, was viewed as anti-Semitic. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, is painted in a pretty bad light by the Gospels and yet no one claims that the Bible or the movie is anti-Italian! But somehow The Passion of the Christ was deemed controversial even after editing out this statement from the crowd: “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”


There is controversy in this account, but it is not anti-Semitism. The controversy is the trial and the verdict of Jesus. The verses prior to tonight’s verse reveal the real controversy, at least as far as proper justice is concerned. Pontius Pilate knows that the Jewish religious leaders have handed Jesus over to him for the death penalty without just cause; the only cause was their intense envy and hatred for the Messiah that their people had waited for over many centuries but they failed to recognize before their eyes. Pilate tries to devise a way to free Jesus, reverting to a custom he had of releasing one prisoner back into the population, and giving them two choices: the innocent Jesus, or the known and notorious Barabbus. Surely this would bring the crowd to its senses! As Pilate concocts this plan, a message comes from his wife: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” When the crowd rejects Pilate’s plan, he asks them point blank, “What crime has he committed?” Everything is screaming toward Jesus’ innocence, but the crowd before his palace shouts, “Crucify him!” And there is the real controversy.

Pilate knew he had an innocent man before him. More than once he used the brutal force of his position and the military forces at his disposal to put people in their place. But now he had a riot on his doorstep. Caesar back in Rome would not look too favorably on him if this crowd got out of control. Well-known Anglican theologian N.T. Wright wrote in his popular commentary on these verses, “Pilate commanded troops. He had sent them to quell riots before and could do so again. He didn’t have to be pushed around. But, like all bullies, he was also a coward. He lurches from trying to play the high and mighty judge to listening a little too much to the growing noise of the crowd.”

And what did the growing noise of the crowd shout out when Pilate literally and figuratively washed his hands of responsibility? “‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ [Pilate] said. ‘It is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, ‘Let his blood be on us and on our children!’” How ironic that at the start of the Passion History, the Jewish religious leaders made their plans to arrest Jesus, but with a caveat: “But not during the Feast…or there may be a riot among the people” (Matthew 26:5). And now, in the midst of the Passover celebration, the Jewish religious leaders work up a rioting crowd before Pilate that blurts out in utter shamelessness, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 10, 2014

Sermon on Romans 5:12-17


  1. Adam condemned us
  2. Jesus acquitted us

Text: Romans 5:12-17

Service video (sermon starts at 29:25)


Christian WorshipWho has been a major influence in your life? Who has influenced you in a way that has helped to shape you into the person you are today? Lately I have been thinking a lot about the influence of one particular pastor in my life. Choir members and participants in my Bible class have heard me mention the name Kurt Eggert quite a bit. Pastor Eggert was the project director for Christian Worship, the hymnal that sits before you in the church pews. As a senior in high school, I called up Pastor Eggert to audition to sing in the Lutheran Chorale of Milwaukee, a choir that he founded, made up of WELS members in the Milwaukee area. I got to sing under his direction for the last of the 36 years he directed the choir. As a 17-year-old I was exposed to music by great composers like Bach and Handel and Mendelsohn—not just listening to it, but drilling it for hours and hours and then singing it in live concerts. Two months after the final concert he directed, the Lord called the 70-year-old Kurt Eggert home to heaven. The Lutheran Chorale sang for his funeral service. I’ll never forget that day. It seemed like the entire Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod was there. I’ll never forget the sight of important pastors and synod officials crying at his graveside committal service. That event made me realize what a great privilege I had to sing for him during that previous year. At some point during my college years, thinking back on that experience, I thought to myself that if I ever have a son, I’m going to name him after Kurt Eggert. Twenty years after that experience, and after meeting my wife in the same choir that Pastor Eggert founded, I now have a son named after him. And I’ve been thinking about him a lot more lately now that I’m serving on one of the committees that is producing the next WELS hymnal, scheduled for publication in a decade from now. The rites committee met for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and the name of Kurt Eggert and his insights came up quite a bit during that meeting. So if you asked me right now, even though I only had one year of interaction with him and I was only a teenager at the time, I’d say that Kurt Eggert has been a major influence to me.

Who would you put at the top of your list of people who have influenced you? Your mother or father? A former pastor or teacher? A close neighbor or trusted friend? Most of us wouldn’t have too much difficultly coming up with a list of people who have influenced us. But our lists could also easily miss a few names. Typically we think of people we know directly as the ones who have influenced us the most. But sometimes there are people we never meet in person who influence us in significant ways.

This morning I would like to suggest that the two most influential people in your life are people that you have never personally met, even though you are acquainted with both of them fairly well. The two most influential people in your life are Adam, the first person to ever live, and Jesus, the first sinless person to ever live. Today’s Second Lesson from Romans 5:12-19 bring together the other two readings for today’s service (Genesis 3:1-15; Matthew 4:1-11), readings that reveal Adam’s first sin and Jesus’ perfect holiness. We’re going to study St. Paul’s words in today’s Second Lesson and realize how true it is that Adam and Jesus are the two most influential people in our lives.  Read More…

Posted by: Johnold Strey | February 16, 2014

Sermon on Matthew 5:27-32


  1. Realize the damage it can do to you
  2. Realize the damage it can do to others

 Text: Matthew 5:27-32

Service Video (sermon starts at 38:15)


I realize that we are in the middle of Epiphany, but I spent a good chunk of last week making sure the season of Lent is ready to go here at St. Mark’s, so my mind is in “Lent planning mode.” Even with the extra services we offer during Lent, it seems like there are never enough services to get in all the good hymns for Lent. One of the hymns we’ll sing during one of the Wednesday night services this year is, “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” (Christian Worship #127). Like many Lent hymns, that hymn pictures the agony and suffering Jesus endured for us as he died for our sins on the cross. One of the stanzas begins, “If you think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great, here you see its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.” To put that in plain English: If you think sin is no big deal—if you think of sin but lightly—then look at the hellish suffering Jesus endured to remove sin’s guilt from you; see how much your sin cost him!

That line came to mind as I prepared today’s sermon. Maybe that line came to mind because I was also in Lent planning mode, but in the Gospel for today, taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we have a very hard-hitting, soul-searching section that is bound to make you shift and squirm in your seat. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount gives us a very sober and serious examination of what sin does to a person’s heart and life. If you think of sin but lightly, Jesus warns us, then realize the damage it can do to you, and realize the damage it can do to others.


New Testament Illustrations 022This is the second of three Sundays in a row where the Gospel comes from Matthew chapter five and Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus has a certain pattern he uses in this chapter as he moves from one matter to the next. Each section begins, “You have heard it said…but I say to you.” Jesus first quotes the Old Testament or the rabbis’ interpretation of the Old Testament, but then he goes on to explain the full force of the Old Testament’s laws and commands which the religious teachers of his day missed so often.

At the start of the section we are considering today, Jesus shows the full extent of what God intends with the Sixth Commandment. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Someone putting their own spin on the Sixth Commandment might assume that he has obeyed it because he hasn’t had an affair. But Jesus teaches that the sins against this commandment are not just the outward actions but even the inward thoughts of the heart. With Jesus’ authoritative teaching, who would dare to suggest that he has actually kept this commandment? Jesus treats lustful thoughts as actual sin, not just some possible evil. Sins of the heart are just as much “sin” as sins in words or actions.

And yet even God’s people are prone to treat sin lightly. And so Jesus goes on to explain the great lengths one should undergo to avoid sin’s deadly destructiveness. “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Jesus is speaking in hyperbole. He’s overstating his case to make a point. Gouging out eyes and chopping of limbs is not his goal. His goal is to get us to understand that anything and everything that leads us into sin must be removed from our lives!  Read More…

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