When Life Hands You Lemons

Text: Genesis 22:1-18

They say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. This means that, when life gets you down, just well up your strength, and pick yourself up. When life deals you a bad hand, you make your own luck, right? Good people can make the best out of the worst situations. Okay, one more and I’ll be done with the clichés. People say that when life hands you lemons, you best make lemonade. All of these sayings imply that when life gets hard, if you just dig in deep, you’ll barrel on through it. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Take Abraham for example. God told him to leave everything behind and go to an unspecified place, and he did. God told him that he would be blessed, and he believed it. Scripture says Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. But, Abraham was old. His wife was old, well past the age for bearing children. They had resigned themselves to the fact that they will die childless. And then, God promised to Abraham, “’Your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’[1] God promised a son, and that is what Abraham got. Isaac.

But here in our text today, it seems that life is turned upside down for Abraham. Isaac, his beloved son and gift from God, is demanded by God to be sacrificed, as a test. Not knowing it was a test, Abraham obeyed God and went to sacrifice his son. This is because he knew the promise of God, and he believed that, even when life looks contrary to the promise of God, it is especially then that He remains true. You see, when God hands you lemons, you’ve already got lemonade.


What an unthinkable request! God had just promised Abraham, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be blessed.”[2] We know that it’s a test, but Abraham didn’t. In this situation Abraham might’ve wondered if this was a trick of Satan. He could’ve said that God’s promise about Isaac is sure and clear, but then wondered why God wanted him killed. Even worse, Abraham was the one who is to do the slaying and not a robber or bandit in the woods. Maybe Abraham could’ve figured that God is going back on His Word, or that he himself committed some grievous sin against God, and for that reason God is taking back His promise.

By nature we all have a habit of thinking this way, too. Whenever our lives go to the gutter financially or personally, whenever our health or relationships fail, our conscience goes to work within us. The devil torments us inside, telling us that these bad things are the sum of our lives, or that we offended God and now He is punishing us by ruining our lives. When faced with the contradiction of a loving God and a painful existence in this world, our sinful flesh will never make sense of the conflict. Very rare is the person who goes their entire life without thinking that maybe God isn’t good, or that He doesn’t exist.


In Hebrews 11 we read more about the Sacrifice of Isaac: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead.”[3] In hope, Abraham believed God. He knew that as God was able to give him a son in his old age, God would just as easily be able to raise up offspring from Isaac. Abraham believed in the resurrection of the dead, that from the ashes of the sacrifice God would restore Isaac and make good on His promises. He knew and believed that when God handed him lemons, he already had lemonade.

It’s a silly saying, I know. But it’s true. God can never go back on His Word. It is contrary to His character. The Word that He gave you in Baptism will stand true for all time. In Baptism you were given the name of the Triune God as you were washed in the water and the Word for the forgiveness of sins. In Baptism, God claimed you as His own and made a promise to bless you and keep you. God does not go back on His Word. We all struggle in our lives. We do not always struggle with the same things, nor do we share all the same suffering, but we do know one who shares equally in all our sufferings. This One is Jesus Christ, whom Scripture says, is the propitiation for our sins.

Though the world gives way around us, we have a great Lord and King who remains steadfast with us in our suffering. The Son of Man was tempted in every way, including the despair of being abandoned by His God and Father as He hung on the cross, forsaken. He bore those temptations, and the guilt of our sinfulness and despair, and died for our forgiveness. Thus, even when life appears to be stacked against us, He remains true. In His forgiveness we are made more than conquerors and His promise will always stand true, even as He says to us: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[4] Therefore, when God gives you lemons, you already have lemonade – salvation through faith in Christ, who remains beside you until the end of the age.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Gen. 15:4–5.

[2] Gen. 21:12

[3] Heb. 11:17–19.

[4] Matt. 28:20.

The Reason He Came Out

Text: Mark 1:29-39

The Gospel reading this week picks up from the text last week where Jesus was teaching in the Synagogue in Capernaum. Everyone in attendance was astonished that Jesus taught with direct authority and not with the quotations of the scribes. He spoke directly for God, as He had been anointed for that purpose by His Father, so we learned in Isaiah 61 this last Advent. Jesus demonstrated His authority as the Holy One of God by casting a demon out of a man, commanding it to be silent and come out of him. At once Jesus’ fame spread throughout Galilee.

Today we pick up that evening as Jesus left the synagogue. Beginning with Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus healed many sicknesses and cast out many demons. He provided deliverance from illness, disease, and the devil. All of these things have the same root source: sin. In delivering the people from these afflictions, Jesus gave evidence of the real reason He took on flesh – He came to deliver us from the powers of sin, death, and the devil by His death on the cross. By His death He shattered the hold that sin and its effects had over us and now strengthens us with His Means of Grace.


The text begins, “Immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”[1] Immediately after Jesus threw a demon out of a man in the synagogue, He left and entered the house of Peter and Andrew. Peter’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and they bring word of her to Jesus, knowing that He can heal her. Jesus approached her, and taking her by the hand, raised her up. Immediately the fever left her. This word for “left,” is ἀφίημι, which is also the word for forgiveness. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Mark connects the forgiveness of sins we have in Christ with physical healing. There was more than just healing going here. Sickness and ailments are the result of the Fall into Sin. Scripture says that sin was introduced through the Fall, and death through sin. Various sickness are the result of a broken world.

We see the connection between forgiveness of sins and healing ahead a few verses, in Mark 2. Jesus heals a paralytic man by saying to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”[2] Some of the scribes scoff at Jesus, saying that no one can forgive sins but God. Jesus said, “’That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.’”[3] The man got up and went home. Jesus forgave the man His sins, but what do people latch onto? The healing, of course. And so, in our text we read that at sundown people brought Him all who were sick or possessed by demons. It was such that the whole city was gathered at the door. Jesus, ever compassionate, had mercy and healed many who were sick and cast out many demons. And yet, the healings were not the real reason that Jesus came.


Mark continues, “Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.”[4] Jesus rose very early in the morning to withdraw from the crowds and pray. As Jesus was fully human, He may have needed time to rest and rejuvenate, and especially to be in prayer with His Father. But there may also be another reason He withdrew, and this comes out in saying that Simon and those who were with him searched for Jesus. This is actually the word for when you would hunt something, or someone. It’s like looking for something eagerly or searching for it because you want something from it.

Jesus wanted to keep people from latching onto the wrong thing. The crowds of people had been accustomed to there being so called “faith healers,” from time to time. And now, here is Jesus healing people to a degree and on a scale previously unheard of. He heals everything completely. Peter’s mother had been beset with a fever, Jesus touched her, and all of a sudden she was up and caring for the group – completely healed. The crowds saw Jesus healing, and they wanted it, too. If not for themselves, then for those they knew. But they didn’t quite get the real reason why Jesus came, and neither did the disciples at this point. They wanted to take what Jesus had rather than receive what He freely gives.

That’s something that we can relate to, a trap we can fall into as well. Our lives are filled with wants. We all have lists of wants and needs, and sometimes the wants begin to carry the day. We want a new truck; we want a new TV. The sin inside us then takes it to a new level and we carry our selfish wants into the church. I want better, easier hymns. I want something more relevant to me and my life. I want a worship service tailored to outsiders. I want commune anywhere, because I deserve the Lord’s Supper. Or maybe that is going too far. Sometimes, even in church, our selfish desires and ambitions drive us. We do the things we want to do, not always the things we’re called to do. Our natural tendency, even in these things, is to take, rather than receive. This is getting close to the reason Jesus came.


The text goes on, “They found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ And he said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’”[5] Jesus says, let’s go on so that I can preach elsewhere – for that is the reason I came out. The real reason why Jesus took upon Himself our mortal nature was to redeem our fallen race. Jesus came to preach the forgiveness of sins through His active obedience of God’s Will in place of our failure, and His death on the cross as the once-for-all-time payment for our sin. He who had power over sickness and demons, suffered on our behalf to secure our redemption.

These healings and exorcisms give us a picture of the forgiveness we have in Jesus. His forgiveness is not just a Band-aid. It’s not something that we just put on a cut or scrape to cover up until our body heals itself. Rather, it is a complete reality changing forgiveness. Through His death, by the gift of faith, Jesus has transferred us from the realm of darkness into His marvelous light. The Church Fathers referred to this as something called recapitulation. This means that Jesus is restoring creation to what it was created to be. This we will see fully at His return. But we get glimpses of it in these healings. Being forgiven their sin, their bodies were restored from the effects of sin in the world.

So what was the reason that Jesus came out? According to Jesus in our text, it was so that He could preach the forgiveness of sins. For some, this was manifested in the healing of their bodily ailments. This was a foretaste of our future in the heavenly kingdom where there is no sickness or decay. The real reason why Jesus came was to deliver us from the powers of sin, death, and the devil. He did this through His death on the cross as the payment for our sins. He gives us that forgiveness freely through the gift of faith and in the Sacraments until the time when we will be with Him in heaven, where there is no crying, or mourning, or pain.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 1:29–31.

[2] Mk. 2:5.

[3] Mk. 2:10–11.

[4] Mk. 1:35–37.

[5] Mk. 1:37–38.

The Freedom(s) of a Christian

Text: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

St. Paul writes in Romans 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”[1] Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he also wrote in 1 Corinthians 9, “Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”[2] In Romans it says that we have been set free in Christ from the laws of sin and death, but then in 1 Corinthians it says that we have been made servants of all. So which is it? Are we free or slaves? The answer is yes, both. In 1520 Martin Luther wrote a small booklet titled, “The Freedom of a Christian.” The heart the material is two sentences that seem to contradict each other, yet go together perfectly. First, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none,” and second, “A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”[3]

We are at the same time, both free and slaves. In regards to salvation, we are completely and totally free. We are no longer bound by the chains of the Law, the chains which say, “Do this and live.” Instead, Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law perfectly in our place, and then died for our sins. No longer do we live in fear of being punished for our guilt, for Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God who has the authority to command demons to flee, has put away our sins as far as the east is from the west. He has freed us from the works of the Law for salvation so that we may live in love towards God and our neighbor. We have been released from our sin, and yet in love remain subject to neighbor in Christ.


The past few weeks, the Epistle readings have been from 1 Corinthians, which is a rather difficult book. It’s difficult because the reason it was written was to settle the many issues that divided the Corinthian congregation. These issues included leadership, sexual immorality, whether to marry or not, lawsuits among believers, and many other things. Some of them, particularly the one today about food offered to idols, may seem out of date. But rather than let these teachings fall into distant history, God has preserved His Word throughout the millennia for our learning.

So this issue is, what is the big deal about eating food sacrificed to idols? Paul writes, “We know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”[4] We who have knowledge, who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, know that idols are nothing. Statues of pagan gods, whether Greek, Roman, Hindu, you name it, are nothing. They are not alive, they are just objects made by human hands. We know this, so what’s the big deal?

Corinth was, much like the United States, a religiously plural society. Pick a “god,” and you could worship it there. Part of the worship of a few particular false gods in Corinth was eating. Mostly that was done in the inner parts of the temples, so only really committed people were involved with that. But, every so often, they would have public festivals were the community was invited into the courtyard and they passed out free meat to everyone, meat that had been sacrificed to whatever “god.” It turns out that these courtyards were also restaurants and gathering spaces, basically like a convention center. So, outside of the free food, the more well-to-do would conduct business there and eat the food, which had been sacrificed, like it was nothing. This could be bad.

The deal wasn’t that some had a stronger faith than others, for all who believe in Jesus are strong in Him, but that not all of them were able to separate the pagan from the true Faith. Think about it this way: Beer is a gift of God. It is a wonderful gift that many like to enjoy. But, what happens when a recovering alcoholic who is a new Christian, sees that his fellow Christians have a habit of getting schnockered every Sunday night? Now, you aren’t necessarily breaking God’s Commandments by having a number of beers, but you may be causing offense to your brother in Christ. Though you are free in Christ, Paul writes, “By your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.”[5] This applies to any number of situations; you can probably pick them better than I.


Jesus said in Matthew 20, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[6] He Himself gives us the most perfect picture of Christian life. A Christian life is one of freedom, yes, but also one of service. Our freedom is not just that we can do anything we want, rather it is the true freedom, the peace that comes from sins forgiven. Apart from Christ, our sins hang around our necks like great boulders pulling us down into the ocean. No matter how hard we kick our legs and flap our arms to try and pull above water, it’ll never happen.

Instead of leaving us to drown in the damnation we created, Jesus came to save us. He came to pull us from the depths. And how? By becoming a servant. He came in perfect meekness, perfect humility, to subject Himself to the demands of the Law and in perfect service to His neighbor. This is most especially true in His death on the cross as payment for our sins. By His death and resurrection He has made us truly free and lords of all. That’s what Paul means in Romans 8, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”[7]

You have been bought with a price. You have been purchased with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and are set free from sin. So now, as Scripture says, “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”[8] These are the freedoms of a Christian: 1) In Christ we are free from the guilt of our sins, and, 2) In Christ we are free to serve our neighbor in love. What does that look like? What does love look like? It could be something as simple as saying hello to someone new on the way out of church. It could be inviting someone to come to church or a Bible study. It could be sharing with your friends that, even when your life goes to crap, you have a Savior that is with you there to life you up with His Holy Spirit. It could be loving and forgiving your husband or wife even when you really don’t want to, because Jesus died for their sins, too.

Will doing any of these good things get you to heaven? No, but by doing so you will have witnessed to the faith, love, and truth of Jesus Christ – and that is exactly why we’re here.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Rom. 8:1–2.

[2] 1 Cor. 9:19.

[3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 31: Career of the Reformer I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 31 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 344.

[4] 1 Cor. 8:4–6.

[5] 1 Cor. 8:11–12.

[6] Mt. 20:26–28.

[7] Rom. 8:28.

[8] Gal. 5:13.