Matins Devotions - October 3-7 (Vicar Doebler)
Matthew 7: 14-29
Listen for five seconds to any part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount and you will begin to get the sense that following Jesus requires a level of dedication that is superhuman. For starters, Jesus says we must be meek, merciful, peacemakers who are willing for forego revenge and love their enemies. As if that weren’t hard enough, Jesus tells us that our angry outbursts and lustful thoughts are enough to put us in danger of the fires of hell. And just in case any of us still feel like we might still make the cut, Jesus tells it to us plainly…”be perfect as you Father in Heaven is perfect.” Well, there go our chances.
Just so that we don’t miss the point, Jesus finishes his sermon with the parable of the wise and foolish builder. The wise man—the one who builds the foundation of his home on solid bedrock—that man is like someone who hears Jesus’ words—those impossible demands—and somehow obeys them. The foolish man—the one who lays his foundation over a bunch of sand—that man is like us—someone who hears Jesus’ words—those impossible demands—and doesn’t obey them. Both men get their houses built, but after a big storm—only the house built on the rock is left standing. The other man’s house—the one that looks like ours—that house gets crushed. It never stood a chance against the storm.
It's impossible to follow Jesus under your own steam. Your best efforts aren’t going to cut it. If you try to build your house on the foundation of Your own righteousness, then one day the thunder will sound, the wind will howl, the water will rush in, and your house will be crushed under the weight of God’s Holy and perfect law.
Put down the tools. Leave the house you’ve been building. Because Jesus is the wise builder who has heard those impossible demands and has obeyed every single one of them. He’s built a house on a foundation that will never crumble—on a rock that will never be moved. The good news is that wants to give that house to you. By the blood of his cross he has settled your debt—the debt you incurred every with every brick you laid on that faulty foundation. You can walk away free and clear from your house on the sand—the one that stands condemned—and come live under the roof that Jesus has built for you…in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Jesus, the master builder, is inviting you come live with him in a place he’s prepared for you—in a house that will stand forever.
At the end of yesterday’s reading St. Matthew tells us that the people who hear Jesus’ teaching—what we commonly call his Sermon on the Mount—are amazed and astonished because they hear Jesus teaching with authority. Unlike the scribes, Jesus doesn’t appeal to human authorities or traditions in order to authenticate his teaching. Rather, he speaks prophetically—as one who speaks directly for God. To be even more accurate, Jesus doesn’t simply claim to be one of the prophets—another voice in a long line of “thus says the Lord.” Rather, Jesus points to himself as the fulfillment of all that the prophets proclaimed. He doesn’t just bring a word from God, but points to himself as the definitive Word of God.
The implication is unmistakable. As C.S. Lewis once said, either Jesus is a “liar, a lunatic, or he is Lord.” Either Jesus’ teaching is the height of human arrogance or he really is speaking for God—with God’s own authority. This is what left the people so astonished.
But astonishment isn’t the same thing as faith. And faith is what Jesus has come to find. Jesus isn’t satisfied that the people hear his word and gawk in amazement or admiration. He’s not satisfied with being an influencer who builds a massive base of novelty-driven followers. What Jesus is listening for aren’t cries of astonishment but confessions of faith. He’s not looking for people who praise his words, but for those who hear his words and believe. And that’s what he finds in this centurion. In the one who believes that “Christ [has authority] not only to overcome death as if it were a slave, but [also the authority] to command [death] as its master.” Jesus praises the faith he finds in this centurion—a faith that stakes everything on the word and promises of Christ.
This faith is the same faith at work whenever we hear the absolution and the proclamation that our sins are forgiven. I suppose that when non-Lutherans hear that our pastors pronounce the forgiveness of sins, it leaves them somewhat astonished—maybe even a little angered. “Who is that pastor to forgive my sins?” they may even ask. But what this ultimately reveals is that, while they love the idea that Jesus forgives our sins, they don’t actually believe Jesus’s word when he gives the power of the Keys to his Church and says: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:23) But true faith isn’t about loving an idea—it’s about believing a promise. And because that promise has been spoken by Christ, who proved his authority by his death and resurrection, then the forgiveness of our sins when we hear that word of absolution is sure and certain.
May God be gracious to us and strengthen our faith so that we trust in the word of Christ which declares to us that our sins are forgiven, and may it be done for us according to our faith.
 John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople on the Gospel according to St. Matthew,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. George Prevost and M. B. Riddle, vol. 10, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 179.
WEDNESDAY Matthew 8:18-34
These days it seems unthinkable—even foolish and dangerous—to go through life without having multiple layers of insurance protection. We can tell how ubiquitous this attitude has become simply by noting how insurance commercials have all but replaced beer commercials as the most entertaining and memorable ads shown during football games. We insure our homes against fires and floods, we insure our bodies against sickness and injury, we not only insure our cars against collision damage, but we even insure ourselves against other people who might be foolish enough to drive around without insurance.
Now, I want to be clear, there are certainly many situations where having an insurance policy is certainly the wise, prudent, and even loving thing to do for the sake of our neighbors—to protect those who depend on us or who might be unduly burdened by experiencing a sudden, catastrophic loss. But, when it comes to Jesus. When it comes to hearing his call to leave everything and follow. When it comes to being his disciple…Jesus is quite clear—You’re either all in with me or you’re not with me at all. There’s no such thing as discipleship insurance with Jesus. You can’t follow Jesus and have a backup plan just in case it doesn’t work out.
This is at the heart of what Jesus means when he responds to these would-be disciples. So to the one man who boasts that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes, Jesus confronts him with the ugly reality of such a pledge. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” In other words, you can follow me, but if you think its going to raise your stature in the eyes of the world then forget about it. Be prepared to spend your entire life not feeling at ease in this world, because when you follow me this world will no longer be your home. Then another man comes to Jesus and tries a different tactic. This potential disciple begs for more time so that he can set his affairs in order. Essentially this man wants to use his inheritance like an insurance policy. He probably figures that, if this following Jesus thing doesn’t work out, then at least he can return to inherit his father’s estate. He’s not willing to follow if it puts his financial security in jeopardy. Jesus responds with a curtness that makes us uncomfortable—in a way that, at first, sounds very un-Jesus-like. He tells the man: “let the dead bury their own dead.” Essentially what Jesus is saying is “Look, you can either find security in an earthly inheritance or you can find your security in the heavenly inheritance that I’m promising. You can either be devoted to an earthly life that will one day perish or you can be devoted to a heavenly life that will never end. But you can’t have both. So choose.
Jesus calls us out of our ease so that he may give us true rest. He calls us away from reliance on earthly wealth so that he may give us a true and unfading treasure. It’s hard for us to believe this from the comfort and safety of the shore. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are expert actuaries who will always try to convince us that we need the insurance. That’s why Jesus calls us to follow him into the boat, into the open sea, and even into the heart of the storm. Not so he might frighten us to death, but so that we might experience the comfort of his presence and witness the power of his Word. That word that rebukes the wind, calms the sea, forgives our sins, and promises us eternal life with him. As Paul Gerhardt wrote in that beautiful hymn we sang just moments ago:
Though billows tower
And winds gain power
After the storm the fair sun shows its face
Joys e’re increasing
And peace never ceasing
These shall I treasure and share in full measure
When in his mansions God grants me a place 
You don’t need insurance when you follow Jesus, because you have his promise, his Spirit, his seal, his guarantee that—no matter the cost to you now—your future is completely secure.
 "Evening and Morning" LSB 726
Our reading this morning from Deuteronomy contains one of the most well-known statements from the entire Old Testament. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This confession of faith is commonly known the Shema—which comes from the Hebrew word meaning to hear or to listen.
Here, perched right at the entrance to the promised land, Moses has renarrates to the Israelite people the story of how God delivered them from the house of slavery in the land of Egypt and brought them to Mount Sinai--how he manifested his presence to them by means of fire and a thick cloud of darkness --and how his thundering voice—the voice of the living God—spoke to them and how he gave them his ten covenant words and his promise to lead them into a land flowing with milk and honey.
And now, on the eve of entering into that promised land, Moses charges them to listen—to hear again the name of YHWH—to meditate anew on who their God is. In saying the Lord our God, the Lord is one—Moses isn’t simply teaching the people that they must be monotheists—people who only worship one God. But he is teaching them to confess that YHWH—and YHWH alone is worthy to be called the one absolute God. The Shema declares that YHWH alone is King over all the earth. YHWH is no territorial or national god. He’s not a Phoenician god like Baal, or a Moabite god like Chemosh, or a Philistine god like Dagon. YHWH is capital G-O-D. YHWH alone. He has no limits. He has no rival. He has no equal.
Yet God was not simply satisfied to reveal himself to his people through the cloud and the fire to which they could not draw near, but as we learn through the unfolding of Scripture, he ultimately reveals himself through the person of Christ—the king over all the earth takes the humble form of a servant—the God who has no limits clothes himself in the limits of human flesh—the God whose voice thunders from the holy mountain speaks compassionately to a paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” The God whose holiness is too pure to approach himself becomes a curse for us by hanging on a tree. The God who threatens death to all who transgress his commandments, allows himself to sink into its gaping mouth so that he can destroy death from the inside out.
Hear, these words dear saints. Listen! There is no God like our God. Our God is one—the only God who gives us the gift of life and salvation through the blood of his Son, who justifies sinners through faith in the promise of his mercy, and who will raise us up from death and give us eternal life with him in his kingdom. His mercy knows no limits. His saving works have no rival. His name has no equal. Jesus Christ is Lord of all!
And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’
So concludes our Old Testament reading for this morning. And I’ll admit, it’s a little confusing. What makes it confusing is that it sounds as if Moses is preaching to the people of Israel that their righteousness before God is, in some way, tied to their performance—to their ability to do what the Lord has commanded them to do. In fact, as we’ve been reading through Deuteronomy this week, a lot of Moses’ preaching has sounded this way.
You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. (5:32)
“You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may go well with you…(5:33)
“You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God… (6:17)
So what exactly is going on here? What exactly is Moses saying about the relationship between righteousness and keeping the Lord’s commandments? Well, I think one of the keys to hearing Moses’ preaching rightly is to understand who he is preaching to. And who is that? Note what he says a bit earlier in the reading:
When your children ask you later on, “What are the stipulations, statutes, and ordinances that the LORD our God commanded you?” you must say to them, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt in a powerful way…He delivered us from there so that he could give us the land he had promised our ancestors.
Did you catch that? Moses is preaching to former slaves. Those who were once in bondage, but now they have been redeemed. The Lord has delivered them and is leading them into a new land. In fact, Moses says, when your children ask about the Lord’s commands make sure that you first tell them about all that the Lord has done to deliver you and make you his people.
This is how we as Christians should understand the relationship between grace and God’s law. The God of the Ten Commandments is also the God who has called us by the gospel, enlightened us with his gifts, who sanctifies us, and keeps us in the one true faith. Yes, God’s law certainly still curbs and convicts that old nature that still clings to us, and yet, God has given us a new nature—has put his Spirit in us so that we now also hear God’s law in light of the redemption that Christ has already won for us by his cross. No one understands God’s law better than Christians—because we understand it from this side of the cross. From the place where the law no longer condemns us because all of its demands have been met. Our new nature finds delight in God’s commands, finds joy in serving our neighbors through our vocations, prays for God’s kingdom to come, and earnestly seeks for his will to be done because we look back at the cross and remember that there God began a new life in us.
Sometimes Lutherans get a bad rap because we’re accused of being soft on sanctification—of not teaching that Christians should do good works. But nothing could be further from the truth. We Lutherans can rejoice in doing good works because we understand them rightly—we hear God’s commands through the ears of grace. We know that our good works don’t earn us favor with God because we look at the cross and we see that everything has already been done. Therefore, knowing that we have been made whole before God, we can now take delight in doing his will. We can joyfully serve him because we know our works don’t earn us anything—because we’ve already been given everything.
May God the Holy Spirit, who has sanctified us by the blood of Christ, cause us to bear the fruit of righteousness.