First Congregational Church
March 13, 2015
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Genesis 22:1-14, John 1:29-34
“Amazing Grace for the Faithful"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
In this Lenten season’s theme of Amazing Grace, we have looked at the promises of that Amazing Grace for the Faithful, the Tempted, the Healed, the Free, the Filled, and today it is Amazing Grace for the Faithful.
It may seems a bit odd to think of grace for the faithful, particularly when the first three verses of that famous hymn speak more to a “prior-to-faith state” of soul. It isn’t until the fourth verse of the hymn that we get to the faithful. Even famous Abraham needed grace for the breadth of his life.
Genesis 22:1-14 Cheryl Acklin
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife.
So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
My name is Isaac, which means “he laughs.” There was a lot of laughter surrounding the circumstances of my birth. My father Abraham laughed when God promised that my mother Sarah would give birth to a son, me. “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Genesis 17:17). How could he help but laugh?
Years passed, and there was still no natural-born son. My father’s nephew, my cousin, Lot would be his heir. But my father and Lot separated their vast herds and moved to opposite sides of the Dead Sea. My father was sad to see Lot go, but God assured father, “I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth,” so many it will be impossible to count (Genesis 13:16).
But it wasn’t happening. More years went by and more words of promise came from the Lord, but still my Mother had no children. My father named his faithful steward Eliezer of Damascus as his heir. But again, God intervened. “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir!” (Genesis 15:4).
This was not just a problem for my father; it was a problem for my mother Sarah as well. So in accordance with ancient custom, as a desperate measure, she gave her slave girl Hagar to my father. If Hagar could bear a son to father, he would become the lawful child of my mother and the heir Abraham needed. Both my parents agreed that this must the solution.
Hagar’s son, Ishmael, became the heir, until at last God Almighty spoke again. God appeared to my father again, repeating the promise of a son to be naturally born to my mother. “I will bless [Sarah], ” God proclaimed, “and will give you a son by her.” (Genesis 17:16)
That’s when my father fell to the ground laughing, an old man rolling about, guffawing loudly. Then his laughter became tearful despair, “Oh, that Ishmael might have been born after this promised child of Sarah!” (Genesis 17:17). But the Lord could not be dissuaded. “As for Ishmael … I have blessed him,” God told my father, “but I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you this time next year” (Genesis 17:20-21).
Not long after that, accompanied by two angels, the Lord visited both my parents. By then my mother was 89 and my father 99. Abraham was sitting by the door of his tent when they came. After the usual hospitality of a feast for the visitors they all got down to business, except for my mother. She eavesdropped from a respectful distance. God spoke, “I will surely return to you this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” When my mother heard this news she burst out laughing as my father had done before her and asked, “After I am worn out and my husband is old shall I have pleasure?” (Genesis 18:12).
God was not laughing. “Why did Sarah laugh?” God asked. My mother denied it, saying, “I did not laugh.” “No, but you did laugh,” God answered.” And it came true, just as the Lord said. When I was born, my mother laughed for joy. To commemorate all the laughter, I was given the name Isaac, “he laughs.” Abraham disinherited Hagar and Ishmael and cast them out of our family, leaving them to fend for themselves with nothing but a skin of water and a loaf of bread. They nearly died in the desert before God rescued them (Genesis 21:10-19). Now I was the sole heir, the promised child.
It was customary in those days for nomadic princes like my father Abraham to fill many roles in their family. My father was like a king with his own army. He was a trader and merchant with thousands of animals. He was an absolute lord with life-and-death power over all his household. He was also a priest, interceding for others, receiving and speaking revelations from God, building altars and high places to offer sacrifices.
So nothing unusual seemed to be afoot that day when my father and I, two servants and a donkey loaded with firewood and a firepot set out for Mount Moriah to offer a sacrifice. I was not included in the conversation my father had with God. Only later would I learn from him that God had commanded my father to sacrifice me on the mountain.
But I was the child of promise! Repeatedly God Almighty had promised my father a son, born to his wife Sarah, through whom the whole world would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6; 17:1-8). I was that child and there was no other. And now the Lord wanted my father to slay me? My father obeyed the Lord. How could he do that? He could only sacrifice me because he had come to trust God fully. He had learned that the Lord would keep his promises. If God could give a son to a man of 100 years old and a woman of 90, he could even raise that son from the dead and so keep his promises.
In fact, that is exactly was the Bible says, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, …[because] he considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead ...” (Hebrews 11:17-19). I knew my father was a man of faith, but here was a man who believed in the resurrection of the dead thousands of years before it was revealed to anyone else.
But at the time, I knew none of that. I was just a boy trusting his father and going up a mountain for a routine sacrifice. We weren’t too far along though when I began to realize this would not be routine. “My father,” I said, “the fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” He replied, “God will provide for God’s self the lamb for a burnt offering ...” (Genesis 22:7b-8).
Like most boys I adored my father; I completely trusted him. We came to the place of sacrifice. I even helped my father collect the stones to build the altar. Together we untied the bundle of wood and arranged it for the fire. Everything was ready for the lamb. But where was it? There was none. There was only me. Still I trusted my father as he took cords and bound my hands and feet and laid me on the stone altar we had built together.
Perhaps it was a game. But at the last moment, I knew this was no game. With his left hand my father pulled back my head, exposing my neck. With the other he took the knife he had brought and placed it against my throat. With one swift motion, he could have sliced through my throat and I would have bled to death in seconds.
But God Almighty stopped it. At that very moment, “The angel of the LORD called to father from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham! ... Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son from me’” (Genesis 22:11-13).
Suddenly, there was a bleating from a nearby thicket; a ram was caught there by its horns. My father cut me free, and together we wrestled the ram to the ground, tied it up and laid it on the stone altar. The knife that would have killed me now killed the ram instead. As my father had promised, God had provided the sacrifice. And so that all Israel would never forget what happened there, my father named the place “The Lord provides - Jehovah Jireh.”
Thank you, Isaac. What happened that day is a picture of what God has done for all of us. God promised to bless the whole world through one of Abraham’s descendants, and so God has done. Centuries after the events on Mount Moriah, another sacrifice took place on a hill outside of Jerusalem. Isaac’s flesh-and-blood descendant, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was offered up as a sacrifice for the sin of the world. God’s only Son willingly took our place on the altar of the cross, but no angel appeared to spare his life. Because he suffered and bled and died, our sins are forgiven and we are no longer eternally separated from God. No longer do the sacrifices we make happen on alters, but in our hearts. Because Christ rose again on the third day, we, too, will be raised to life on the Last Day.
Although Christ didn’t deserve to take on our sin, God in grace—God’s amazing grace—through faith in Jesus, God’s Son, we receive the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life.
Let us pray. God who provides, we are truly and deeply grateful for this ultimate sacrifice that Christ took on for all of us. We may have trouble believing it sometimes, and we may not understand it at all. But our limitations do not bind you and what you have ever been able to do. Help us to be mindful of living a life as a people blessed with such a gift. Encourage and strengthen us in the ways that can help others better understand your provisions and blessings. Most especially, God, thank you for your amazing grace. And all your people say, Amen.
By Don Neidigk. © 2015 Creative Communications for the Parish, 1564 Fencorp Dr., Fenton, MO 63026. 800-325-9414. www.creativecommunications.com. All rights reserved.
First Congregational Church
March 6, 2016
Fourth Sunday in Lent
“Amazing Grace for the Filled”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
If you’ve not been here, our Lenten theme this year is Amazing Grace, particularly as it applies to certain individuals and situations. So the themes have been “Amazing Grace for the Tempted,” for the Healed, for the Free and today it is for the Filled. As I thought about this morning’s title, it was a bit intriguing, because I think I - and maybe a good many others - may equate the idea of amazing grace and being filled - like the two mean the same thing. Or if you are “filled” with the Holy Spirit, filled with God’s love, or filled and overflowing with joy, then why would you need God’s amazing grace? So, Julie, please lead us in the idea of what Amazing Grace does for the Filled of God’s people.
John 6:1-15 Julie Hirschfeld
After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Steve Elrick: My name is Philip. I was one of the first four disciples Jesus called. I met him through my friends, Andrew and Simon Peter. We were all from the town of Bethsaida a few miles southwest of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee.
We’d been with Jesus over two years when the “Big Picnic” took place out in that remote place near Bethsaida. Jesus took us there to get away from the crowds for a while. That didn’t last long! The crowds watched us get into the boat at Capernaum.
Assuming Jesus was in the boat with us, they raced along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, meeting us as we arrived. I was exasperated. Jesus wasn’t. Barely awake from a short nap in the boat, he welcomed them. He greeted and embraced everyone who managed to get near him. Then we hiked out into the grasslands, all those thousands trailing along behind. One could imagine this was Moses leading the children of Israel into the wilderness. Actually, I think that’s exactly what it was supposed to look like.
All day Jesus was preaching and teaching in his simple way, followed by healing the sick. He talked about the Kingdom of God, the need for personal repentance, for godly living, for loving one’s neighbor and for preparation for judgment. But mostly there was the good news of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Jesus.
He seldom came right out and said that he was the Messiah, the Savior; he left people to think about it, to wonder and to make up their own minds. Given the signs and wonders that followed him everywhere, it shouldn’t have been too hard to draw the correct conclusion—the blind received their sight, the lame walked and demons fled at his word!
And then there was this great sign, this miracle, the one in which I played a small and almost embarrassing role—this amazing miracle of multiplied loaves of bread and fish.
The crowd had spent the day listening to Jesus teach, unmindful of the passing of time or even that they had not eaten since morning. Now it was late afternoon. Soon the sun would be setting. The people really needed to go to their homes to eat and Jesus really needed to rest. I was concerned. “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over,” I told Jesus. “Send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves” (Matthew 14:15).
Jesus didn’t seem to hear me, “Where are we to find bread, so that these people may eat?” he asked me (John 6:5). It was as though he expected us, his disciples, to feed them, all those hungry people, thousands upon thousands of them! I protested, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little” (John 6:6). That was a working man’s wages for nearly two-thirds of a year! But Jesus persisted, “You give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37)
Andrew spoke up, offering a desperate suggestion. He’d found a little boy offering to share his lunch. Might it help? Even he didn’t seem to think so: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (John 6:9). I agreed. If two hundred denarii couldn’t feed all these people, how could a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish? But that was all Jesus needed. He was just as pleased as if it had been a camel caravan loaded with food. That’s what I would have needed had it been up to me. But Jesus wasn’t me; he was the Son of God, and with God, all things are possible.
Then Jesus had all the people sit down. Having blessed the loaves and the fish Jesus broke them and gave the pieces to the disciples to pass out to the crowd. He kept breaking them and the disciples kept giving the food to the people. Dozens of times they came back for more, handing out bread and fish until everyone ate all he or she wanted. And still there was bread left over, twelve baskets full!
After the people were filled with bread and fish, the murmuring grew to shouts of approval. “This is the Prophet who was to come into the world!” (John 6:14). “This is the Son of David, the Messiah! He’s come at last! We’ll never be hungry again!”
The joy and mystery of the moment now turned into something that was not pleasing to God. The people had seen the signs, they saw the miracles and they just wanted more, more healing, more bread. And Jesus was just the king to do it.
How disappointing this was to Jesus. “Perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:15). He was gone before the crowds realized it, staying on the mountain till it was dark and they’d finally gone home.
The next morning, Jesus was again mobbed by the crushing crowds, all with hands in the air, some shouting for bread, some wanting to make him king. Jesus had to shout to be heard, “You are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27).
It seems that wherever there was an adoring crowd, there were also suspicious religious leaders. They were there too. The great mass made its way to the synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus continued teaching, saying strange things like, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35), and “I have come down from heaven … to do the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:38-40).
His enemies asked, “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” (John 6:42). The things this man says are preposterous! This man didn’t come from heaven; he came from Nazareth, just a few miles from here. Ridiculous!
To those who heard with faith, it was not ridiculous at all. Clearly Jesus was speaking of bread in a very different way. “The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54)
Now the mood of the crowd started changing. The talk of taking Jesus and making him king started to die down. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they were asking (John 6:52). It was sounding almost cannibalistic. How indeed could Jesus be the bread of God who gives his life for the world? How could one eat his flesh and drink his blood? So offensive did these words sound that the once adoring crowd began to thin.
“This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” they asked one another (John 6:60). “Many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Jesus” (John 6:66). But we twelve didn’t leave; we stayed. So Jesus asked us, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68).
Giving himself for the life of the world? His flesh being real food and his blood real drink that if one eats and drinks of it he has eternal life? I can assure you, at that moment what Jesus said made no sense at all. Now, long after the institution of the Holy Supper, now, long after his suffering and death on the cross, I have an idea of what Jesus is talking about, but not then. Then I just knew that Jesus was from God and that he loved me, and that his heart was filled with compassion for the hurting and hungry.
That was enough for me to love him and believe whatever he told me, even though I didn’t understand it.
And to be honest, I’m not sure I understand it yet. Somehow Jesus is the bread of God, bread that fills a need in my heart that all the barley loaves in the world could never fill.
Somehow I feast on Jesus when the bread and wine at his table are blessed and his promises spoken. Somehow in that mystery my sins are forgiven and I have eternal life. Somehow.
Thank you, Phillip. It’s interesting that sometimes those who are “filled,” or have something precious, like say, a full belly, sometimes forget the miracle of food being there when and where we’d like it.
It’s easy, on days when the sky is blue and the breeze is warm, that all we really want are more days like our version of a perfect day. It’s really easy, to glance at the newspapers and tv, observing all that is going on in this world, even within the realm of our own country, and to be scared out of our minds, especially when it comes to government and power. When those things come on us, we tend to forget that we are a filled people - filled with God’s love and joy and mercy and most especially God’s amazing grace.
Phillip said it so well, “long after the institution of the Holy Supper, now, long after his suffering and death on the cross, I have an idea of what Jesus is talking about, but not then.”
It was true of the crowds at that time, too. They sat right there for that mammoth miracle, and forgot about crossing that “provision” over to their political world - realizing that if Jesus could literally feed so many from such a small amount, how much more would Jesus provide when it came to the political side of life, or the farming side of life?
It’s easy for us to get caught up in the fear of our modern political world. But God’s amazing grace for the filled is about reminding ourselves that whatever happens, not matter what, no matter how it may look to us, even if we don’t understand it at that moment, God will be with us. Despite our objections, God will continue to feed us from God’s abundance until we want no more. And by that time, we won’t need or want ever again. Let us pray.
God, from your fullness, you fill us and sometimes we forget the magnitude of your extravagance. So fill us, God, that we will want no more and that our eyes will see you, rather than that which fills the world. Forgive us when we think all is up to us, when it really isn’t. Help us to trust what you see in the future. For leading and guiding us all these years, all your grateful and humble people say, Amen.
By Don Neidigk. © 2015 Creative Communications for the Parish, 1564 Fencorp Dr., Fenton, MO 63026. 800-325-9414. www.creativecommunications.com. All rights reserved.
First Congregational Church
February 28, 2015
Third Sunday in Lent
“Amazing Grace for the Free”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
For those who have been away, our Lenten theme this year is Amazing Grace, particularly as it applies to certain individuals and situations. So the first Sunday in Lent the theme was “Amazing Grace for the Tempted” and last week it was “Amazing Grace for the Healed”. As it says in the bulletin, this week’s theme is AG for the Free.
Luke 11:14-28 Naomi Kolehmainen
Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled.
But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
Call me Damon. I was demon possessed. Damon is only one letter away from “demon.” But believe me, that one letter is the difference between freedom and slavery, between life and death.
Freedom and life came to me at a simple stone house with an earthen roof in Galilee, home to Peter and his family, near the sea. This was early in Jesus’ ministry, but already he’d changed the lives of many of my neighbors. He’d burst on the scene teaching with power and authority, not like the scribes and Pharisees. They would go on forever, quoting each other, piling up rules and regulations on the backs of the people, a weight no one could bear.
But not Jesus—his teaching was liberating. He swept away the traditions of centuries and brought the fresh breeze of God’s Spirit to the lives of many. “But I say unto you,” he would proclaim over and over, contrasting his words with those of his enemies, speaking words that freed from guilt and brought joy to the heart.
Chains of captivity were breaking and falling everywhere Jesus went. First it was in the synagogue at Capernaum. A man possessed by demons was shouting and interrupting Jesus as he taught. “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!” Jesus paused, looked at the man intently and spoke one simple command, “‘Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him” (Mark 1:25-26).
That man’s symptoms and mine were different. He screamed, but I was blind and mute. The origin of our illness was the same—sin, a fallen and broken creation, a powerful evil force within us from which we could not free ourselves.
Nor could Peter’s mother-in-law. She lived with Peter and his wife in their house near the sea. Jesus and his disciples were enjoying the hospitality of the home. One person who wanted to serve them could not—Peter’s mother-in-law. She was sick in bed with a fever, hearing all the activity but unable to help. Friends told Jesus about her. Leaving his audience, he went to her bedside, took her by the hand and helped her up.
Immediately her fever left and she began waiting on the disciples.
I had heard that news, as had every other sick and demon-possessed person and their families in Capernaum. Overnight practically every infirm person in the community showed up outside Peter’s house, crying out, “Jesus, help your servant!” “Jesus, Lord, have mercy!”
And Jesus did have mercy, from dawn till dark, day after day. So busy was Jesus teaching and healing that his family worried about him. His mother Mary and his brothers arrived and tried to take him home, declaring he was out of his mind. He wasn’t; this is what he was sent to do, to free the suffering from Satan’s chains.
I came too. I couldn’t cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” like the others. The demon in me had muted my tongue; I could say nothing. I couldn’t even find my way to the house; I was blind as well. Others who knew of my suffering led me by the hand through the pressing throngs to the door of the house, where they shouted out my need.
As busy as he was, Jesus was not too busy for me. He stopped his teaching. He came to the door. He touched me. He spoke a simple word of grace. He healed me. And he healed not just my mind and spirit of its demons, but he opened my mouth and eyes as well. The first thing I ever saw when he opened my eyes was his kind face. Excitedly the people chattered among themselves asking, “Could this be the Son of David?” Could this be the Messiah?
Who else could it be? Who else fits Isaiah’s description so perfectly? “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the compensation of God. He will come and save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:4-6).
Freed from my demons, my eyes opened and my tongue unbound, I knew who he was. I had no doubt that the One who had vanquished my darkness and set me singing was the Messiah. And all who had witnessed the healing I gained that day would agree, wouldn’t they? Sadly, not everyone did.
No sooner could I see my Lord and sing his praises than others opened their mouths to ridicule Jesus and deny the divine power behind his work. “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” they shouted derisively. The Pharisees were using the most derisive epithet they could think of. “Beelzebub” meant Satan, who, according to the Pharisees, was the one behind Jesus’ power to heal.
It was ridiculous of course, and Jesus calmly shows them the false logic of their reasoning. “If Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” he asks.
It was impressive watching Jesus deal with his critics. With the simplest logic he demolished their objections, leaving them speechless. Clearly a greater power than Satan was at work here. How else could Satan’s territory be invaded and those he held captive set free? Clearly, Jesus is that greater power. “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you,” Jesus tells them.
Did you hear that? “The finger of God,” Jesus said. In Jesus, God’s self dwells fully. Jesus has come to set the demons running and shut the mouths of all his enemies.
Jesus goes on to say, “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven ... in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32). In other words, never. These are perhaps the most chilling words Jesus ever spoke. He’s talking about the unforgivable sin.
What exactly is the unforgivable sin, this blasphemy against the Spirit? It is this; it is ascribing to Satan the redemptive work of Jesus and refusing the witness of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is the Son of God. If this is your hardened belief there is no way for you to be saved. You are rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit. You have condemned the very Savior God sent to save you.
Now if you are worried that you have committed this sin, relax. The people who do commit it don’t care. They scoff at the very idea there is such a sin. The fact that you are concerned about it and troubled that you might unintentionally have sinned against the Holy Spirit is abundant evidence that you haven’t committed it. No one who confesses Jesus as Savior, no one who daily seeks the forgiveness of the Lord, has committed this sin.
No one but God knows when a heart is beyond hope. Surely there were many who thought I was beyond hope. Thankfully, Jesus did not. He cast out my demons, cleansed my heart and so filled me with his Spirit that I confessed Jesus as Lord. Today, by his grace I’m a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
But many who came to Jesus for help got what they wanted and nothing more, like some lepers who came to Jesus for cleansing. Do you remember their story? Ten lepers came to Jesus for cleansing. He told them to go and show themselves to the priests. As they went they were cleansed. But only one, a Samaritan, bothered to come back, praise God and thank Jesus. Only to him did Jesus say, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19).
You see there are two kinds of cleansing, two kinds of healing, one is cleansing and healing of the body; the other is cleansing and healing of the soul. When the soul is cleansed and healed, the Holy Spirit takes up residence there. But when only the body is healed and its demons cast out, a vacuum remains. Something will fill that vacuum again. Sometimes it’s the same demons who were previously cast out, and more.
That’s what Jesus is talking about when he says, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first” (Luke 11:24-26).
Perhaps you know someone who struggles with addictions, the demon possession of your day: sexual addictions, addictions to drugs or alcohol or gambling. What could be better to replace an object of addiction than God, God’s Word and God’s Spirit?
When one’s heart is filled with these, many discover there’s no room for the objects of addiction. Praise and thanks be to God for not only casting out my demons but filling my heart with God’s self! As Jesus has done for me, he will do for you. Only ask him; he will never turn you away. The Holy Spirit will fill your heart.
Thank you, Damon. Let us pray. Gracious God, we are grateful for the healing you have done in each of our hearts and those we love. We are not so naive to believe that the demons that have plagued us or our loved ones are simply banished because we wish it to be. So we pray for more faith, more belief, most trust in you, that you fill our hearts and thereby our hearts and minds empty of demons and evil, to be filled with you and your Holy Spirit. Forgive those things that we now lay before you. ___ Fill us with the pricelessness of your forgiveness and encourage us to envision how we can live our lives - free of those things that otherwise bind us. For your love and forgiveness and especially your amazing grace, all your people say, Amen.
Lord Jesus, forgive our sins and fill us with yourself, your Spirit and your truth and By Don Neidigk. © 2015 Creative Communications for the Parish, 1564 Fencorp Dr., Fenton, MO 63026. 800-325-9414. www.creativecommunications.com. All rights reserved.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.