Peter Nafzger (Ph.D. Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO) is Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He is the author of "These Are Written: Toward a Cruciform Theology of Scripture."
[This text] describes a journey to a foreign region where Jesus engages in a confrontational conversation with a legion of demons, performs a violent and scandalous exorcism, and leaves behind a community gripped by terror. Apparently, the only thing more frightening than a naked, graveyard-dwelling demoniac is this visitor from Nazareth who reigns over everything.
After teaching his disciples many things about himself, the world, and the things to come, Jesus concluded his last evening with his disciples in prayer to the Father. And he concluded his prayer with the words in this text. As the old saying goes, you can learn a lot about a man by listening in on his prayers.
When you are not experiencing this kind of tribulation, the promise of “you will” hardly seems comforting. But when you are in the midst of it—when the pressure of this world is bearing down on you—it is comforting to know it has not caught God unawares.
We also have reasons to grieve, and it should not be hard to think of causes for sorrow in your congregation. But, because of the Resurrection, we do not grieve as those without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Our joy is a gift here and now, but it will not be complete until Jesus’ return.
Jesus makes two extraordinary claims in this text. One has to do with His relationship to the Father. The other has to do with His relationship to His followers. The preacher on this text would do well to recognize the magnitude of these two claims, and then choose one (or both) to proclaim without apology or reservation.
John records three separate post-resurrection appearances to the disciples. We read about the first two last week. They both centered around the disciple who doubted Jesus. This week his appearance draws our attention to disciple who had denied him.
The second Sunday of Easter (and the entire season of Easter, really) offers the preacher an opportunity to help hearers reflect on the significance of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead for their own lives. Thomas reminds us that there are only two responses to Easter. Either you believe it, confess it, and conform your entire life to it. Or you…
In Luke 24:1-12 we don’t get a carefully constructed theology of the resurrection. The evangelist doesn’t work out all the implications of Easter for our life and faith. He doesn’t offer a logical argument for why we should believe Jesus rose physically from the dead. Instead, he simply describes what happened.
It’s the following that caught my attention this week. It seems especially appropriate to consider this Sunday, for Holy Week is designed to help Christians follow Jesus through his last and consequential days.
We’re tempted to try and connect the dots. Something bad happens to someone and we can’t help but wonder about the cause. Even if we don’t say it out loud, we are tempted to think they must have done something to deserve it. They must be guilty of something. God must be punishing them for something we don’t know about…
I don’t think the people of Jerusalem designed to reject God. They didn’t wake up one day and decide that, instead of listening to God, they would make it their mission to kill him. They were deceived. Blinded. Deluded by sin and its author. As a result, they were unable and unwilling to hear the Word of the Lord…
There are two ways to think about what’s happening when someone is tempted. The first is to imagine temptation as enticement toward something bad and wrong. This is probably the more common of the two. But there’s another way of thinking about it. Temptation could also be seen as encouragement away from something good and right.
This week Jesus continues by discussing the behavior of his people. He’s particularly interested in the way his people treat others—especially those who mistreat them. Like last week, the only way to describe it is backwards.
Backwards. That is the only way to describe the world Jesus portrays in Luke 6. Consider what He says about blessings. The blessed, He says, are the poor, the hungry, those who weep. It is those who are hated, excluded, reviled, spurned. Who among us wants to be “blessed” like that?
During Epiphany we reflect on the things God has revealed about the world and Himself through His Son. The Gospel readings, which come from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, serve as introductions to Jesus—both for the people of His day and ours.
This text reminds us that Jesus was a preacher. He also healed and worked wonders, delivered from danger and forgave sins. But here, immediately following his baptism, Jesus came to his own people in the synagogue of his hometown, and he preached.
And there is Jesus to save the day. With a little prodding from His mother, and some help from obedient servants, He swoops in and solves the problem before anyone even knew it existed. That is what we are looking for from God, right? To swoop in. To save the day. These are good reasons to like this text, but…
The first Sunday after Epiphany is traditionally a time to think about the baptism of Jesus. It is common on this Sunday for preachers to make connections between Jesus’ baptism and our own. That seems like a natural move, for most sermons are directed primarily to the baptized.
On Christmas morning many congregations sang Isaac Watts’ familiar hymn, “Joy to the World.” My home congregation was among them. I was already thinking about Epiphany and Matthew’s account of the magi as I sang, which is probably why the third verse caught my attention.
But here we are again on the other side of a Christmas celebration. This inevitably involves a sense of let-down, even for preachers (Warning: Do not check the attendance numbers this coming Sunday). If Christmas is as significant as we say, it is worth reflecting with your hearers on what comes next. What is on the other side of Christmas?
It is the day before Christmas Eve. The trappings have taken their toll. Despite your valiant attempts to hold the Advent line, members of your congregation (and perhaps you, too) have grown weary of the Christmas season. One of the primary culprits, of course, is the ubiquitous Christmas playlist.
It is a question that emerges from deep inside. It comes from mounting fears, nagging doubts, and unsettling uncertainties. It is the question asked by one who can no longer pretend that things will work out nicely and neatly. All thinking Christians face this question at some point, but few have the courage to give it voice.
I must admit, I have never liked preaching on (or reading) a Palm Sunday text to begin Advent. All three years in the lectionary include this option, but in nine years of pastoral ministry I went this route only once (It was my first year). Why did I not do it again?
Christian preaching always has an eschatological ring to it. It takes place during the “in-between” times—the days between Jesus’ first and second comings. But this eschatological perspective tends to fade into the background as Christians (and preachers) go about their business week-in and week-out. The end of the church year provides an opportunity to reorient the Christian life around Jesus’…
Both the scribes and the widow were in the temple that day. They were close in proximity, but, in relation to the kingdom of God, they could not have been farther apart. Jesus himself highlights the contrast, which invites us to pay close attention.
There is a man in this text—a scribe, nonetheless—who is not far from the kingdom of God. Jesus says so himself. That is no small thing, especially considering what had been happening to Jesus ever since his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
So, in keeping with Mark’s focus on discipleship this Fall, your Reformation Sunday sermon on John 8 might reflect on what it means to be a disciple. As you proclaim the commands and promises of Christ, you might invite your hearers not only to believe his Word, but also to abide in it. To hear and mediate on his promises…
The heart of a sermon on this text, therefore, would be fairly basic. God alone graciously saves. We, in response, do what the rich man didn’t do. We follow Jesus humbly. As we do so, we cling to the promises of eternal restoration.
Of all the reactions Jesus elicited during his ministry, sorrow was notd common. It was more typical for people who encountered Jesus to be filled with hope, and to leave everything and follow him. Or to be filled with rage, and to pick up stones to kill him. People usually responded with the extremes. Marveling or mocking. Rejoicing or renouncing…
At this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is “on the way” to Jerusalem with his disciples. He’s been teaching them about what it means to follow him. The recurring theme is discipleship as no small matter. It involves a whole new way of thinking about such concepts as greatness (9:33-36), judgment (9:42-50), and, now, marriage.