Sermon Options: February 18, 2024 First Sunday in Lent Year B

August 1st, 2021


First Week in Lent

Scripture: Matthew 9:18-31

18While Jesus was speaking to them, a ruler came and knelt in front of him, saying, “My daughter has just died. But come and place your hand on her, and she’ll live.” 19So Jesus and his disciples got up and went with him. 20Then a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came up behind Jesus and touched the hem of his clothes. 21She thought, If I only touch his robe I’ll be healed.
22When Jesus turned and saw her, he said, “Be encouraged, daughter. Your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that time on.
23When Jesus went into the ruler’s house, he saw the flute players and the distressed crowd. 24He said, “Go away, because the little girl isn’t dead but is asleep”; but they laughed at him. 25After he had sent the crowd away, Jesus went in and touched her hand, and the little girl rose up. 26News about this spread throughout that whole region.
27As Jesus departed, two blind men followed him, crying out, “Show us mercy, Son of David.”
28When he came into the house, the blind men approached him. Jesus said to them, “Do you believe I can do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied. 29Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “It will happen for you just as you have believed.” 30Their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly warned them, “Make sure nobody knows about this.” 31But they went out and spread the word about him throughout that whole region.


Sermon Title: Do You Believe That I Am Able to Do This?

I imagine it took about twenty minutes after the bumper was invented for someone to apply a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus Is the Answer.” My usual and immediate response is, “Yes, but what was the question?” There are questions for which the answer is “Jesus.” What is my greatest source of encouragement? Who is the hope of my salvation? Who is the Son of God? Still, some clarification seems needed.

It might be better to say that Jesus is the “Answer Person.” Indeed, the Gospels are crowded with stories of people coming to Jesus seeking answers to their questions. “How can I enter the kingdom of heaven?” “My daughter is ill. Will you come?” “Will you heal me?” Sometimes his answers were like riddles. Often though, Jesus’answers far exceeded the questioners’expectations.

Is Jesus the Answer? Yes. Is Jesus the “Answer Person”? Sure; but Jesus is also the “Question Person.” Jesus asked questions of his own, and sometimes when he answered others’questions, he did so with a question. In Matthew alone, Jesus asked more than forty different questions. Some are basic, almost rhetorical. “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” “Don’t you understand?”

Some of Jesus’questions are more specific, heart-stopping kinds of questions. “What is your name?” It sounds innocent enough, but I remember how I felt in second grade when I was hauled into the principal’s office and she asked, “What is your name?” Or, “Who do you say I am?” Suddenly, with this question, we can no longer point to others or cite the experts. There comes a time when we have to speak for ourselves.

It seems right to consider questions Jesus asked as we move through Lent. Jesus’ questions often cause us to consider how it is with us, how our faith is coming, or how our relationships with Jesus fare. If Lent is a time for somber introspection, Jesus’questions force us to take a spiritual inventory.

“Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Jesus asked two blind men wanting him to restore their sight. This is in a portion of Matthew in which several people approached Jesus asking for miracles (Consider the events in Matt. 9:18-31).

There are three stories of faith here. The first is a story of faith as a last resort. A synagogue leader would have avoided any association with Jesus and would surely have first tried every possible cure for his daughter’s illness. Nothing worked. Finally, grasping at straws, he came to Jesus. How Jesus must have longed for people with enough faith to come to him first! Second is a story of a woman with severe bleeding who seemed to treat faith like a good-luck charm. “If I can just touch his robe!” she thought. She wore her faith the way people might wear a good-luck charm on a chain around their necks. Jesus allowed that her faith had made her well, but surely Jesus longed for people who would come to him face-to-face rather than sneak up behind him.

A third incident illustrates faith based on bad theology. Two blind men called out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” While Jesus is a son of David, Jesus is so much more. Besides, there were lots of sons of David; so many, in fact, that there had been no room for the holy couple at the inn in Bethlehem, David’s town.

The blind men came seeking mercy, hoping Jesus would restore their sight. Jesus asked, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Two things must be said about this question.

First, Jesus did not ask the question until he had taken them into the house where they were alone with him. It is good that Christians gather to sing God’s praises, pray, recite the creeds, hear the Word of God proclaimed; but there comes a time when each of us must go into the house with Jesus and face him alone. We must stand before Jesus on the strength (or weakness) of our own faith. When we stand before Jesus and he asks, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” it will not do to answer, “My mother thinks so,” or “My Sunday school teacher says so.” We will have to answer for ourselves.

Second, it makes a difference how we answer this question. Did the blind men believe Jesus could heal them? Faith is always the deciding factor. No doctor can heal a person who does not believe he can be well. No counselor can heal a person who does not believe she can be well. Jesus could do nothing with these men unless they believed he could make them see. Just because you believe does not mean everything will always go your way, but without faith, nothing will happen. When Jesus gave them sight, he told them not to tell anyone. They immediately went out and told everyone! We’ve seen faith that was weak or ill-informed, and now we see blatant disobedience. Still, the miracles stood.

This means we don’t have to wait until we are perfect to approach Jesus. We don’t have to wait until we are giants in the faith. We can come to Jesus as we are, without understanding perfectly, without a complete grasp of theology, and even from our positions of disobedience and sinfulness. It doesn’t matter how we come to Jesus. What matters is that we come. What is it you need Jesus to do for you? Jesus said to the blind men, “According to your faith let it be done to you” (Matthew 9:29).

Whatever it is you want Jesus to do for you, do you believe that he is able to do it? Either way you answer, you are correct.

—Douglas Mullins

First Sunday in Lent, Year B

Sermon on the Old Testament Reading

Scripture: Genesis 9:8-17

8God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9"I am now setting up my covenant with you, with your descendants, 10and with every living being with you—with the birds, with the large animals, and with all the animals of the earth, leaving the ark with you. 11I will set up my covenant with you so that never again will all life be cut off by floodwaters. There will never again be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12God said, “This is the symbol of the covenant that I am drawing up between me and you and every living thing with you, on behalf of every future generation. 13I have placed my bow in the clouds; it will be the symbol of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, 15I will remember the covenant between me and you and every living being among all the creatures. Floodwaters will never again destroy all creatures. 16The bow will be in the clouds, and upon seeing it I will remember the enduring covenant between God and every living being of all the earth’s creatures.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the symbol of the covenant that I have set up between me and all creatures on earth.”


Sermon Title: Our Covenant God

The idea of our covenant relationship with God is a major motif in the Scriptures.

• God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17.

• God made a covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, where he gave them the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20.

• God had his prophet Jeremiah promise a new covenant (31:31).

• God in Christ said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” when he instituted the Lord’s Supper in the Upper Room (1 Cor. 11:25).

I. God’s Covenant with Noah (vv. 8-11)

Noah lived in an evil time that brought divine judgment on the human race. The forty-day flood was sent to punish evil and destroy all flesh. (See Gen. 6:5-8.) Noah and his family found favor with the Lord and were spared by building the ark. In this passage we see God taking the divine initiative to establish a covenant with Noah, his descendants “and with every living creature” (v. 10).

Basically, a covenant is an agreement between two parties. It may take the form of a contract or treaty. In the case of covenants with God, God is the superior party and takes the initiative to establish the agreement. God made a covenant with Noah, not the other way around.

God promised Noah that “never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (v. 11). God initiates our salvation and covenant relationship with him. We do not find God—he finds, calls, and saves us. We are saved by divine grace, not by our human initiative.

II. The Sign of God’s Covenant (vv. 12-17)

Ancient people thought the rainbow was God’s weapon from which his lightning arrows were shot. (See Ps. 7:12-13.) The rainbow in the sky after a storm was a fearful sight—a symbol of fiery destruction.

God made the rainbow a symbol not of destruction but of deliverance. It was to be a reminder of his gracious covenant with Noah and with us. The rainbow reminds us of divine mercy: “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (v. 16).

The rescue of Noah’s family from the flood was an act of divine grace. God saved a family and the ark became a symbol of divine mercy and salvation.

The early church did not initially use the cross as a symbol of their faith. The humiliation of Jesus public execution was too fresh in their memories. Instead, early Christian art often depicted the ark. It stood for the church and salvation for those within it, by faith. By the ark God gave the human race a second chance, even as the gospel gives us the opportunity for redemption. As Lent begins, let the rainbow and Noah’s ark symbolize our gracious God and his covenant promises.

—Alton H. McEachern

Sermon on the Epistle Reading

Scripture: 1 Peter 3:18-22

18Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. He did this in order to bring you into the presence of God. Christ was put to death as a human, but made alive by the Spirit. 19And it was by the Spirit that he went to preach to the spirits in prison. 20In the past, these spirits were disobedient—when God patiently waited during the time of Noah. Noah built an ark in which a few (that is, eight) lives were rescued through water. 21Baptism is like that. It saves you now—not because it removes dirt from your body but because it is the mark of a good conscience toward God. Your salvation comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who is at God’s right side. Now that he has gone into heaven, he rules over all angels, authorities, and powers.

Sermon Title: That He Might Bring Us to God

Some people think they cannot come to God. One man committed sins in the past for which he was sure God would never forgive him. He had been involved with some atrocities in wartime. I can see how such people, who are having trouble forgiving themselves, could wonder if God could ever forgive them.

Another person was an older man who was dying. All his life he had rejected God’s will for his life. Toward the end of his life, I offered him God’s gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. He refused, saying it just would not be right to wait until the end.

As logical as what these people said appears, look at what Jesus did in order to bring people just like them to God.

I. Jesus Suffered That He Might Bring Us to God

If we could grade sins on a scale of 1 to 10, could we then say Christ died for sins that rank 7 or less, but not 8 or more? Murderers, rapists, and such would not be included? Only those with lesser sins, such as lying or stealing, could be forgiven?

The Bible knows no such grading. Jesus says that to look at another person with lust in your eye is no different than committing adultery. Calling a person a fool is as sinful as killing them. All sins rank 10. Thus, if the murderer cannot be drawn to God, neither can the liar.

Through what Jesus did on the cross—through his sacrifice and death—he has overcome the power of sin: any sin. Nothing stands between us and God, because Jesus has bridged the gap.

II. Jesus Preached the Message of Deliverance for the Captives

Who are the spirits in prison? Some say they are people who died before Jesus lived. Jesus preached to them and gave them the opportunity they had not had in life. Others say they are fallen angels, the spirits cast out of heaven with Lucifer when he rebelled against God. Jesus preached to them and simply told them what he said on the cross: “It is finished!” God’s plan of redemption is accomplished.

Possibly. But I know some other spirits who were formerly disobedient and were imprisoned in bonds of slavery to their sin. Paul was one, according to his testimony in the Bible, and I was another. Jesus preached to me, and told me, “It is true. I suffered for your sins that I might bring you to God. Now, will you come?” Fortunately, I did!

Whatever holds you captive, Jesus Christ is ready to loose the bonds and free you to experience new life.

III. Jesus Gave Us Baptism as a Sign We Can Be Brought to Him

We receive that “good conscience” when we begin with a bad conscience, or conviction for our sinfulness. By faith we desire to turn away from sin and live for God. We desire to see the old sinful self crucified as Christ was, and buried. By faith we desire to see God create in us new hearts and a new spirit, and be raised from the dead to live for him. Then by faith we act out this spiritual drama in water, burying the old and being raised anew. The entire process, everything baptism means—repentance, believing, trusting, obeying, and hoping—is the faith that saves us.

IV. Christ Now Calls to Us from a Position of Supreme Authority

Can you come to God? Can your sins be forgiven? Only if you have heard the preaching of Jesus. Only if you admit being oppressed by your own sinfulness. Only if you want to be set free to follow Christ.

You may know Jesus suffered that he might bring you to God, he preached to you, he has given you baptism for a sign, and his call has come with authority.

—Bill Groover

Sermon on the Gospel Reading

Scripture: Mark 1:9-15

9About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. 11And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
12At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.
14After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, 15saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”


Sermon Title: Knowing the Son

It is important to Mark for the reader to know that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. This is one of the major themes running throughout Mark’s Gospel. That identity is proclaimed boldly in the events surrounding the baptism of Jesus.

These events signify the beginning of something radically new and different in terms of God’s self-revelation to the world. Mark wants to make it clear that through the life of Jesus, God is seeking to bring a new kingdom into the reality of the world.

I. We See Who Jesus Is Through His Baptism

The powerful image of the heavens being torn apart and the descending dove provide for the reader bold, authoritative proof that Jesus is no less than the Son of God.

This text lends itself to a powerful dialogue of all the encompassing claims that are made upon one’s life by God through the church at baptism. According to Mark, baptism identifies who we are as God’s children. Mark’s story of baptism and of what it means describes vividly a life identified and led by God.

II. We See Who Jesus Is Through His Temptation

Immediately following his baptism, Jesus faced a time of temptation in the wilderness. Despite the harshness of the surroundings and the seductive nature of the temptations, Jesus withstood the experience.

It is important to recall that Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the spirit of God. Many times in the church we emphasize the justifying grace of God in baptism, but forget the sanctifying grace of God in baptism. Mark seems to be saying that it is not enough just to know

to whom we belong; we must realize that such a claim has far-reaching implications as to what we do and where we are willing to be led. Jesus life and authority in the kingdom were expressions of how and where God was leading.

III. We See Who Jesus Is Through His Proclamation

Jesus not only lived in the reality of the kingdom’s presence, he also proclaimed the kingdom’s arrival. In announcing the kingdom’s arrival, he challenged his listeners to respond in repentance and faith.

The kingdom of God is here in the person and identity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Following the time of temptation, Jesus lays out the formula for how one comes to such saving and life-giving knowledge. The kingdom is here, Jesus proclaims; repent, and follow where the kingdom of God is seeking to lead. This proclamation becomes the heart and soul of all that Jesus is and does.

Lent is a time of soul-searching in light of the truth of the gospel. It is all about knowing whose we are and allowing that knowledge expression in all that we do.

Catherine Ann Powers is the student who was an accomplice in a bank robbery in Boston in 1970, when a policeman was murdered. For twenty-three years she was a fugitive from justice. In 1993, after all those years of running, she turned herself in to the authorities. What makes her story interesting is she had put together an enviable life. She was married, had a daughter, and held a good job. All the ingredients of happiness were there, except one: she was not whom she appeared to be.

In answer to why she turned herself in, she responded, “Because I had to reclaim my past in order to live with full authenticity in this moment—in openness and truth instead of hiddenness and shame.”

In this passage, Mark reminds us who Jesus is—through his baptism, temptation, and proclamation. And because of who he is, we can be all God wants for us—to experience life at its best and most meaningful!

—Travis Franklin

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