“Then if it should bear fruit next year,
well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”
Pity the fig tree. It has no idea whether it is a good tree that produces fruit if it is properly tended, or whether it is a bad tree that produces no fruit even if it is properly tended. Jesus orders its removal. The vinedresser proposes an alternate solution: Let it be. The vinedresser takes responsibility for tending to the fig tree properly. Proper tending would give the pitiful tree every opportunity to bear fruit if it was a good tree. Should the fig tree be a bad tree, even proper tending would not entice it to bear fruit. Jesus is the judge of trees; John the Baptist said so (Lk. 3:9). Fruit production is the sole criteria, do they produce, or don’t they? Good trees properly tended to produce fruit. Bad trees, even if properly tended, do not. What sort of fruit; fruit worthy of repentance. What is repentance; the move from unbelief to belief… the move from death to life… being established as a new creature in Christ instead of remaining the old creature in sin. Pity the fig tree. It has no idea whether it’s a good tree or a bad tree. Even its proper tending comes from outside of itself—the vinedresser.
Prayers from one who is a fearful fig tree and must trust in the proper tending of the vinedresser…
Father in heaven, you have claimed me through your Son, Jesus Christ. Without Him and his proper tending of me, I am but a bad tree with no fruit. For Jesus’ sake. Amen
Father in heaven, you sent your Son, Jesus Christ, to be your love for me. As I am held in that love and receive Christ’s life, I am confident I will bear fruit. For Jesus’ sake. Amen
Father in heaven, your Son, Jesus Christ, is my life as I live out my mortal days. Grant that the demise of this fleshly body does not strike fear within me but instead grant relief from the sufferings of this sin-broken body and world. For Jesus’ sake. Amen
Father in heaven, your Son, Jesus Christ, gathers all my vision to Him. He opens my ears to hear the Word of God. Through Him I both see my neighbor and hear my neighbor so that I might be useful to them. For Jesus’ sake. Amen
Father in heaven, your Son, Jesus Christ, sent out apostles in the same manner in which you sent Him. Grant that such an apostle come to be my preacher… my preacher of Christ, Him crucified, and Him alone handed over to be the life of this dead sinner. For Jesus’ sake. Amen
Father in heaven, you have appointed the Institute of Lutheran Theology to be a place of training, educating, and raising up such preachers. Continue to uphold it in its task. For Jesus’ sake. Amen
Father in heaven, your Son, Jesus Christ, has promised to come again in his glory and take me, this pitiful fig tree, to be with Him and to bear fruit for all eternity. For Jesus’ sake. Amen
“Behold, your house is forsaken.”
Jesus laments over Jerusalem. The high holy city of Israel and Judah has by its own actions become the death of prophets and the executioner of those who were sent to it. Jerusalem, the city of the Temple, enjoyed the presence of Yahweh, Adonai, El Shaddai, and Elohim—all names by which the Most High God of the Israelites and the Judeans was known. Within the Temple, this Most High God sat on his mercy seat in the Temple’s Holiest of Holies. The glory of his presence, the “Shekinah,” filled the chamber and emanated outward to bless the city. Even as Jews extolled the city and wrote psalms of praise to it, its institutions turned aside God’s gathering (vs. 34) and put to death the messengers God sent to it. Jesus laments over Jerusalem because it cannot help itself: it will be the death of him.
Jesus does not stop with lament. He continues to bring a prophetic judgment upon this city which holds the heights of Jewish religious piety… which holds the might of the occupying Roman military… which holds the site of the governing powers… Jerusalem, home to the religious, military, and political institutions of the day, had become corrupt… corrupted by sin… corrupted by the need for self-preservation that resides in all sinners and their institutions. Jesus announces a prophetic judgment upon all this sin… upon all these sinners… upon all their sinful institutions… upon this city, killer of prophets and executioner of messengers. The judgment? “Behold, your house is forsaken!” The Lord’s Shekinah, the glory of his presence, will depart from the city.
The Shekinah “brooded” over the people and their activities in the same way that the Spirit of God “brooded” over the waters of chaos at the very beginning (Ge. 1:2). The Shekinah protected the people and blessed them in a manner like the hen’s wings stood over her brood of chicks. The people had heard words similar to Jesus’ prophetic judgment before: Jeremiah had pronounced it, too. “If you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.…” (Jer. 22:5-6). Liturgically, the Shekinah, otherwise hidden behind the masks of creation, cross, and faith, is seen… is received at the pulpit, the font, and the altar—where our Lord is clothed in his Word and Sacrament… where we sing together, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Table Talk: Discuss why sinners need a hidden Shekinah.
Pray: Father, grant me to heed your Word and enjoy your presence. Amen
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you. 32 And he said to them, Go and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem. 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
“Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you”
These words from the Pharisees tell us that Herod wants to claim the power of life and death. As king, Herod has set himself up as someone who determines who gets to live and who gets to die. This is the prerogative of an absolute monarch in this worldly kingdom broken by sin. As societies developed, this sort of absolute tyranny was modified so that some system of law and some system of judiciary stood in judgment over those claiming to exert such tyranny. God has always stood over such claims to absolute tyranny as the ultimate authority and the ultimate power. He relegates all human claims to power over life and death to the penultimate realm. Every death-dealing and life-ordering agency in this penultimate realm carries out its work under God’s exclusive claim, “I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal…” (Dt. 32:39). Even Herod in his tyranny acts by God’s appointment (Ro. 13:1). Luther reminds us that this is one more of the masks that God wears as he hides in creation and its ordering. In that hiding, God retains the ambiguity of his presence: Is he there for us? Or is he there against us? The hidden God both takes life and gives life, but we have no certainty in any given situation whether he is taking or giving. Only as he has promised to be known… only as he comes clothed in his Word, not hidden beneath his masks, do we have certainty that our God, in his Word Jesus Christ, is for us unambiguously!
Prayers from one who inveterately seeks to peer behind God’s masks, trying to discover what he’s up to…
Father God, remove me from the temptation to just “take a peek” behind your masks. Give me, instead, the satisfaction of receiving your will through the preaching of your Word. Amen
Father God, as I am satisfied receiving your will through the preaching of your Word, grant me the assurance that you are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Amen
Father God, as you carry me in your steadfast love and faithfulness, grant me the forgiveness of my sin and the certainty of your faithfulness even as I am unfaithful. Amen
Father God, with my sin forgiven and your faithfulness certain, turn me loose upon the world that I would live from the confidence of having a God who does not lie. Amen
Father God, as I live in the confidence of your constant truthfulness, grant that my neighbors be the beneficiaries of the works of my hands. Amen
Father God, as my neighbors benefit from my works, grant that one neighbor—the Institute of Lutheran Theology—benefit from both my promotion and my prayers. Amen
Father God, as I and my neighbors live out these days of our baptism in faith and hope, grant us such great anticipation of their ready fulfillment that we greet each new day as the day in which our mighty Lord Jesus will come… Come, Lord Jesus. Amen
“If you are the Son of God…”
Vs. 3 & 9
Twice the devil challenges Jesus’ identity. The first time comes as the devil takes advantage of Jesus’ hunger. The deceiver-in-chief sets before Jesus a satisfying temptation: His hunger would be solved if he simply used his divine authority to make bread out of the ever-present stones (vs 3). The second time comes as the devil takes advantage of Jesus’ promised protections as the Son of God: Surely the angels would not let any harm come to him (vs 10-11)? Jesus turns aside both challenges to his identity as the Son of God by quoting Scripture itself back at the devil (Dt. 8:3 & Dt. 6:16)
The devil lays a third temptation before Jesus: the kingdoms of the world and all their authority in exchange for Jesus’ worship of him. This temptation does not issue a challenge to Jesus’ divine Sonship. The challenge comes against his human identity. Rather than teasing him into exercising his divine authority, the devil puts before the very human possibility of glory and authority in this sinful world (vs 6). The price, worship the lord of this world, the devil himself—that is, the Father of Lies. Jesus turns this challenge aside with another quotation from scripture (Dt. 6:13).
The lectionary connects Jesus’ time in the wilderness to his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. On Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, Jesus admonished against public displays of piety and against the accumulation of worldly wealth. On this, the First Sunday in Lent, Jesus is tempted to display the piety of his divine Sonship or to claim earthly authority and glory. Both sets of texts address the hiddenness of the divine life for Jesus and for the Christian. Both sets of texts caution against the rewards available in this world in favor of the treasure of the world to come.
In like manner, challenges come against your identity, your identity as a Christian. “If you are a Christian, you would love me… If you are a Christian, you’d support my charity… If you were a better Christian…” The challenges come and, like Jesus, you turn them aside with the promises received from the Word of God handed over at the pulpit, the font, and the altar.
Table Talk: Discuss the various challenges against your identity as a Christian.
Pray: Father, hold me secure in the promise of your Word. Amen
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread. 4 And Jesus answered him, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone. 5 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours. 8 And Jesus answered him, It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.
9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
11 and On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.
12 And Jesus answered him, It is said, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“…for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
Hypocrites! Jesus addresses issues of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy, a word originating in the Greek word for “actor,” receives an earthly reward rather than a heavenly reward. Hypocrites “act” pious but have no piety in their heart. Jesus reveals three sorts of hypocrisy: the giving of alms (vs. 2-4), the practice of prayer (vs. 5-6), and the practice of fasting (vs. 16-18). Hypocrites, when they practice these pieties, seek the attention and admiration of others. That attention and admiration are their reward, not a reward in heaven. After admonishing the crowd to reject this earthly treasure of human adulation and admiration, Jesus turns his attention to the accumulation of other earthly treasures such as fine garments, rugs, and other weavings (all subject to moths), such as filigreed and decorative panels (subject to rust), and such as coins and other items of gold and silver (subject to thieves). Store not these vulnerable treasures says Jesus, but the invulnerable things of heaven.
An early biblical story exemplifies Jesus’ teaching here. In the story (Ge. 25:29-34) Esau so desires the food Jacob has prepared that he “sells” his birthright for a bowl of stew. Esau willingly trades away the blessing his father has in store for him, coveting instead the immediate reward of receiving satisfaction for his hunger.
So, too, you… you who trade away the birthright of your baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, your adoption into the family of God. Your Father in Heaven, the Father of our brother, Jesus Christ, now claims you as a daughter… claims you as a son. Yet, the allure of earthly treasure, whether it be the acclaim of your neighbors or whether it be the accumulation of earthly wealth, looms before you and its immediacy—like the immediacy of Esau’s hunger—brings out the coveting always present among sinners… a coveting immediate, strong, and overwhelming. It overwhelms you with desire and, before you know it, you’re spooning up that delicious stew, delighting in the immediate satisfaction of your hunger, and not giving a thought to the birthright you just traded away.
Discuss “delayed gratification” vs. “immediate gratification”
Pray: Heavenly Father, grant me to trust your Word that my life is hidden away with Christ, in you so that I do not need to force it into visibility by my public piety. Amen
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 English Standard Version
6 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5 And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you…
16 And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“…he departed from him until an opportune time”
The devil leaves Jesus, waiting for a time when Jesus would be vulnerable to attack once more. There are some who advocate that the devil does not reappear again until “Satan enters Judas” (Lk. 22:3). This is unlikely given Jesus’ confrontation with the Gerasene demoniac (Lk. 8:26-39) and his casting out of the mute demon (Lk. 11:14-23). The devil’s “opportune time” is those occasions in which the devil speaks through his intermediaries. We know these voices as “the devil, the world, and our sinful selves,” as Luther would put it in the catechism. Through this triumvirate of evil, the devil speaks—sometimes directly, as in this temptation in the wilderness scene, sometimes through the intermediaries of demonic voices, or of the world, or of our own sinful selves. The devilish voice of temptation rings loudly as the religious leaders around Jesus (Lk. 22 & 23) first shout for crucifixion and then shout for him to “save himself” (Lk. 23:35-37). The devilish voice of temptation rings loudly in your ears as that triumvirate of evil shouts unique variations of “save yourself” particularly tailored for you to hear. Jesus has the only victory over them. Only the Word of God, Jesus Christ, silences them. Jesus gives you his victory as he is handed over at the pulpit, the font, and the altar.
Prayers from someone who needs Jesus’ victory again and again…
Heavenly Father, you have sent your Son Jesus Christ to be my life, grant that he so fill my ears with your Word that I do not hear that devilish voice of temptation. For Jesus’ sake, hear my prayer.
Heavenly Father, you have sent your Son Jesus Christ to be my life, grant that he so fill my mortality that I enjoy the fruits of the Blessed Exchange: righteousness, holiness, and immortality. For Jesus’ sake, hear my prayer.
Heavenly Father, you have sent your Son Jesus Christ to be my life, grant that he so fill my days that I wait in hope for his glorious return. For Jesus’ sake, hear my prayer.
Heavenly Father, you have sent your Son Jesus Christ to be my life, grant that his clean heart replaces my sin-blackened heart that my selfish exploitation of my neighbors would end, and I treat them with spontaneous generosity. For Jesus’ sake, hear my prayer.
Heavenly Father, you have sent your Son Jesus Christ to be my life, grant that I take advantage of opportunities to preach the life of Christ into my neighbors’ ears. For Jesus’ sake, hear my prayer.
Heavenly Father, you have sent your Son Jesus Christ to be my life, grant the Institute of Lutheran Theology the gift of teaching this truth to all its students. For Jesus’ sake, hear my prayer.
Heavenly Father, you have sent your Son Jesus Christ to be my life, continue to grant that my life would be hidden with Christ in you, a treasure in heaven safe from earthly depredations and decay. For Jesus’ sake, hear my prayer.
I commend these prayers to you, Heavenly Father, and trust in your mercy. Amen
Calling all graduates of ILT. We will be holding an All-School Graduation Ceremony on June 16, 2022 at 4 p.m. in Brookings, SD.
This graduation ceremony is for anyone who has or will graduate from ILT and wishes to participate in the ceremony. You are welcome to bring your friends and family to share in the graduation event. A dinner for those who graduate, and their guests, will be provided that evening.
If you wish to participate in the graduation ceremony, please RSVP by March 31, 2022 to Leon Miles firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Alumni and Graduate Association (AGA) will be hosting a dinner with the ILT Board of Directors on June 15, 2022 at 5:30 p.m. The dinner will be held at Hilcrest Park, 1520 6th St, Brookings, SD 57006. It will cost $20.00 a person and all are welcome. Please RSVP by March 31 by emailing us at email@example.com.
Jesus most often prayed alone, in solitude among the rocks or hills. But at least twice he prayed in the presence of his disciples. We are told that their entire company was with him when he prayed at Gethsemane. We have in our text today, Jesus accompanied in his prayer time by Peter, John, and James. On both occasions, something unusual occurred, something that might be called miraculous. There, in the Garden of Gethsemane (which, at the time of our current text, still lies ahead in Jesus’ future), Jesus sweats great drops like blood and an angel comes to strengthen him (Lk. 22:43-44). Now, here, on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus’ entire appearance changes: his face altered… his clothes become dazzling white… and his conversation partners are Moses and Elijah—men long dead.
This reference to blood and the occasion of dazzling whiteness anticipate the scene depicted in Rev. 7:9-17. There, a multitude too numerous to count, comes wearing white robes and praising God. They are identified by one of the elders as those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14). They have the dwelling place of God spread over them. They will no longer endure hunger, thirst, blazing sun, or debilitating heat. But, because the Lamb will be their shepherd, they will enjoy springs of living water and God himself will wipe away their tears (Rev. 7:16-17). These blessings anticipate those of the New Creation as depicted in Rev. 21:1-6.
Now to us, you and me, we don’t hear a voice from the cloud, but we do have our preacher. Our prayers are not accompanied by wonders and miracles, but we do have their fulfillment in faith through Jesus Christ. While we must contend with the impossibility of any clothing made white by being washed in blood, the dazzling purity of our righteousness in Christ already exists because he shed his blood for us.
Table Talk: Discuss the connection between blood & righteousness and blood & forgiveness.
Pray: Heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus’ blood shed for me, forgive my sins, and make me righteous. Amen
28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.