"The Jesus Protocol"#87-47
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 19, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Matthew 7
Renee sat there stunned. Her radiologist pointed to the huge white mass against the black background of the mammogram. "Ninety-five percent certain that it was cancer," she said. Renee had been here just four years ago with the same radiologist. That time she said she it was 95-percent certain it wasn't cancer, but she was mistaken, as doctors sometimes are. It turned out to be a very treatable form of cancer, the protocol was relatively simple, no chemotherapy. And they went through with it, and she was cured. But now four years later, it looked like it was back. And the radiologist was 95 percent certain that it was. And she was right this time. Renee remembers hearing the words, "Invasive," "fast growing," "heavy chemo."
The protocol for this kind of cancer would be much more difficult, and it would consume the next year of her life. Recently, I talked with Renee about this. Now, you need to understand something about Renee, before I go on. Renee is an optimist. She is a highly optimistic person, so much so that her husband says that she is "pathologically optimistic." And I think Renee takes that as a compliment, which is exactly what you'd expect an optimist to do. She's so optimistic that the glass isn't just half full for her; the glass is too small. It is too small for all the adventures and blessings that are sure to come. Renee is contagiously optimistic, but when I asked her about that year, she said, simply, "It was really hard." But she entrusted herself to her physician. She went with the standard protocol, and a year later she was cured. But no one ever said that a successful protocol would fix everything.
"Even cancer free, my body is still falling apart," she told me. And she still mourns when she gets news of another friend who lost their battle with cancer. And she mourns the fact that we still live in a world in which far too many cancer protocols are unsuccessful. She mourns that we still live in a world gripped by pandemic fear. She mourns that we live in a world where it's so difficult for people to do something so simple, for people to do something as simple as treating others the way they would like to be treated. Optimist, though she is, Renee mourns her own too-small capacity to love others the way God would have her love them.
Even successful cancer protocols don't fix everything. No one promised that they would. Still, when you talk to Renee, you can see her eyes sparkle with that contagious optimism. It's like she can't help it, and maybe this is why her husband says that she's pathologically optimistic. She's afflicted with it, and she's contagious. Renee is a follower of Jesus, and she's been taught from the Bible to expect good things from Jesus. "Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you." And whatever cup you have to catch them in, you can bet it's too small. Renee does not expect this life to be without suffering just because she's a follower of Jesus. She's not pathologically optimistic in that way. But she does believe something about the world that may be abnormal if you don't know Jesus Christ. I would say that Renee is Christologically optimistic. Renee actually believes that Jesus is who He says He is, and that He has a plan. He has a protocol to fix everything, to heal everyone who trusts in Him and follows Him. She's entrusted herself to His care and like her cancer protocol, it's a difficult path. And what may be the hardest part about Jesus' protocol is the diagnosis—the diagnosis about what's wrong with the world? You've heard people ask this question, "What's wrong with the world?"
A prominent newspaper once put out a competition to its readership, "Calling for essays," it said, "answering the question, 'What's wrong with the world?'" And as you can imagine, lots of people wrote in, with lots of things to say. But the newspaper received one response that it didn't quite know what to do with. A prominent author lived in the city where the newspaper was based and sent in an essay, but it was only two words, answering this question, "What's wrong with the world?" It said, simply, "I am." That's what's wrong with the world, I am, and this isn't too different from the diagnosis that Jesus gives.
Jesus believes that the world is afflicted with a kind of spiritual cancer, and spiritual, not in the sense of a little compartment of your human nature that may or may not be important to you, but spiritual in the sense of the core of what it means to be human—made for a relationship with God, your Creator. And Jesus diagnoses us as "poor in spirit." Matthew 5:3, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, and poor in spirit, not in the sense of merely under-resourced or under-privileged, but sick, diseased. Jesus believes that we, you and I, are afflicted with a kind of spiritual cancer called self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is this tendency for you to be quick to see the faults of other people, but too often blind to your own. Self-righteousness is this tendency to put yourself as judge in the place of God.
And the thing about cancer is that you might not realize you have it. But even if you don't notice it, your condition is still serious, and without treatment may be deadly. And so, Jesus is very interested in curing us, helping us with this condition, this spiritual cancer: self-righteousness. And you might not think you have it, you might say, "Well, I'm not judgmental, not like those people." Don't you see, that's just another subtle form of self-righteousness. You're sick. I'm sick. We are sick. We put ourselves in the place of God, and that's why we need Jesus to heal us. We need Him—not just for a moment, not just for a sinner's prayer, and then you're done, but a whole lifetime, a lifelong protocol that will continue until you take your dying breath.
The Jesus protocol is a two-part treatment plan. In my church tradition, we have a shorthand to refer to this: Law and Gospel. Law and Gospel are words that God speaks to us—words of confrontation: Law; words of restoration: Gospel—heavy chemo to destroy the disease. Law, administered by a caring Physician who wants not to harm, but to heal, Gospel, that's the Jesus Protocol, breaking down and building up, killing and making alive, Law and Gospel. And I want you to listen for it. As you hear this closing of Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7.
Jesus says, "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged, for with the judgment by which you judge others, you will be judged. And with the measurement, by which you measure others, it will be measured to you. Why then, are you trying to see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but you do not consider the plank that is in your eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Please let me take this speck from your eye.' But look, there is a plank in your eye. Hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you'll be able to see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
"Do not give what is holy to the dogs. Do not cast your pearls before swine otherwise they may trample them under their feet and then turn to attack you.
"Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you because everyone who asks, receives, and the one who seeks, finds, and to the one who knocks, it will be opened.
"If there's a man among you and his son asks him for a piece of bread, he will not give him a stone, will he? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? Now, if you, even though you are evil, you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?
"So, then all things that you desire that people would do for you, in this way also, you do for them, because this is the Law and the prophets.
"Enter through the narrow gate. The narrow gate, because wide is the gate and spacious, easy is the way, that is leading to destruction, and many are entering through it. But narrow is the gate and hard is the way that is leading to life, and few are those who are finding it.
"Watch out for false prophets, they come to you wearing sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will recognize them. People don't pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles, do they? Likewise, a healthy tree produces good fruit, and a diseased tree produces bad fruit. A healthy tree is not able to produce bad fruit, and a diseased tree is not able to produce good fruit. And every tree that doesn't produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So, then by their fruits, you will recognize them.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the rule and reign of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, by Your Name we prophesied, and by Your Name we drove out demons, and by Your Name we performed many miracles, didn't we?' And then I will say to them, plainly, 'I never knew you. Depart from Me you who work lawlessness.'
Therefore, whoever hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock, and the rains came down, and the floods came up, and the wind blew and beat against that house, but it did not fall, because it stood founded upon the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand, and the rains came down, and the floods came up, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell. And its fall was great."
"Now, after Jesus finished saying all these words to the crowds, the crowds were amazed at His teaching because He was teaching them with the conviction that He had authority, not as their scribes taught.
"And when He had come down the mountain, many crowds followed Him." The Word of the Lord, Matthew chapter 7, and the very beginning of chapter 8.
"Heavy chemo and aggressive treatment," were words that Rene did not want to hear, and for a moment she considered other options. There were plenty of people giving advice. There were promises of newer, better, easier treatment plans, experimental protocols, and in the medical field, it's perfectly okay to weigh your options. Doctors—even when they're 95 percent certain—can be wrong. And even the best medical care can't save you in the end. But in this case, after talking it over with her husband, Renee decided to go with the standard protocol, and the gate was narrow and the way was hard.
"The side effects," she said, "were really hard." Sores in her mouth, sores on her throat, fever, nausea, fatigue. It was like the cure was killing her. The way of Jesus also passes through a narrow gate, along a difficult way. His words, they cut our malignant self-reliance, His words incapacitate our cancerous self-righteousness. And some days it feels like the cure is killing you. And it's true in some way, but it's not true in the way that you might be thinking. It's not like Jesus is killing you with criticism, telling you again and again that "You're what's wrong with the world, and that the world would be better off without you." No, that's not His protocol. He came not to condemn, but to save, to heal. He came to carry your condition. He came to assume your sickness. He came to take your disease into Himself and die with it.
His cure was to let your cancer kill Him so that the disease would die with Him and that you in turn, by Baptism, would die in Him. And just as He is risen from the dead, so you live a new life. He proved His protocol by undergoing it Himself, not because He needed it, but because you did. It's His Law and Gospel protocol. They're not empty words, but real death and real resurrection. Words upon which you can build a life, an eternal life, starting now.
I asked Renee, "What have you gotten to know more deeply about Jesus through this ordeal?" And she told me that, "He has a plan, and He is worthy to be believed." He has a plan, and He is worthy to believe. And that is just as much as true for you as it is for her. Jesus has a protocol for your life, with full and perfect healing, guaranteed, promised at the end of it.
Renee says, "I'm just looking forward to being with Jesus. And I don't mean dying and going to heaven and all that. I mean I'm looking forward to Him coming again and raising me from the dead, and giving me a new body, and eradicating the disease of sin, and renewing His whole creation." And as she's saying this, you can see her eyes sparkling with that optimism. She's on the Jesus Protocol.
For the last seven weeks, we've been listening to the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. If you've been listening each week, you've been able to hear from a professor, Jeff Gibbs, in the interview portion of this program, and you'll get to hear from him again today. Jeff is my friend and my teacher, and he's the author of a wonderful commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, which I've been blessed by as I've prepared these sermons. And in the preface of that commentary, he writes the following, "Dearer to me than life itself is my wife Renee."
She's the Renee I've been telling you about today.
Jeff and Renee are an inspiration to many, and to me. Their Christological optimism is contagious, and I hope, I pray, that you are greatly afflicted with it.
Let's pray now, Lord Jesus, thank You for Your teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, recorded by your servant Matthew. Help us to hear it and learn it, help us to read it, mark it, inwardly digest it so that when the rains come down, and the floods come up, and the wind blows and beats against us, we will stand firm, founded upon You, our Rock, and our Redeemer—because You live and You reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Reflections for July 19, 2020
Title: The Jesus Protocol
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. Now back to our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. Joining me again is Dr. Jeff Gibbs, long-time pastor and professor for the Lord's church. So Jeff, we're closing out a seven-part series on the Sermon on the Mount today. Now that we're at the end, at the conclusion, kind of review for us what are the highlights, the key moments, of the sermon.
Jeff Gibbs: Yeah, that's another great question, and I should start by saying that lots of people have asked this question. There's not universal agreement on how to answer it, right? But I'll tell you a little bit of what I think. I do think that you have to get the Beatitudes— "Blessed are the—I think you have to understand them properly. Because I think they're intended to be good news. They're actually blessings. And not all Christians would agree with this. There's a long-standing tradition that would take them kind of as basically, "You should do this ...."
Mike Zeigler: Be like this.
Jeff Gibbs: Yeah, exactly. But see, if you enter into the sermon, as I like to call, through that doorway, of blessing, then when you hear Jesus say, "You are the light of the world, and you're the salt of the earth," you don't think that you have to do that in order to earn your place with Him. No, no. He's already given you your place. And then there with Jesus He says, "Oh, because you're Mine, your salt." He doesn't even say, "Try to be salt," right? He says, "You are," and He says, "You are light," which strikes us as odd until we remember, oh, wait, I'm here with Jesus.
Mike Zeigler: Tell us a little bit about the language. This is something that Christians have scratched their heads over and wrestled with: strong language, memorable quotes. But man, sometimes it's just what do you do with these things? "Tear out your eye; cut off your arm; be perfect." Really strong language.
Jeff Gibbs: Right. Right. I'll say this, and I'll try to explain it because I don't want to be misunderstood. When the Lord Jesus Christ teaches, He doesn't always speak literally, right? It's like when He says, "It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the reign of heaven." See, you hear it sometimes said, there is a gate in Jerusalem—called the
Mike Zeigler: Called the "eye of the needle."
Jeff Gibbs: That's just made up. You know? Jesus, again, He's the greatest Teacher ever. And so, He exaggerates. We call it hyperbole, right? "I've told you a million times."
Mike Zeigler: Right. Yeah, that's a good example.
Jeff Gibbs: So again, I think on the one hand, you have to keep that in mind. Secondly, for all that, it means that the teaching is still really important. Why is He exaggerating? Because you know what—if there is something that's causing you to sin, you need to identify it and get rid of it. It's not going to be your eye because my eye doesn't cause me to sin. But if it's a habit or a relationship or a sinful desire, I need to get rid of that, right?
Mike Zeigler: It's not a joke.
Jeff Gibbs: It's not a joke. But the other thing about Jesus' teaching that I really love is how many times in the Sermon on the Mount He asks a question, and He does this repeatedly. I think there are more of them in chapter 6, but they're kind of sprinkled throughout the Sermon on the Mount where He often asks a question where He expects the answer to be yes, sometimes no. But it's this gentle invitation for us to think about what He just said. So, you're worth more than the sparrows, right?
Yeah, I forgot. I do think that if we slow down and we can be drawn in by the Lord to consider profound truths about how much He loves us, how much the Father cares about us, and why this can invite us to a new way of choosing, a new way of living new priorities, etc.
Mike Zeigler: And if the listener is wondering—I've been following your translation—you've prepared a whole translation of the whole Gospel of Matthew, but specifically the Sermon on the Mount. So, I like how you've captured the "divine duh," as you say.
Jeff Gibbs: Yeah, because we can do that in English. We can say, "Well, you're going to make it, aren't you?"
Mike Zeigler: Yeah.
Jeff Gibbs: And we all know the answer is supposed to be "Well, yeah!" Or we can say, "You're not going to make it, are you?"
Mike Zeigler: No.
Jeff Gibbs: And then we know the answer is supposed to be no. Well, Greek can do the same thing, and Jesus does that.
So, to end the sermon the way Jesus does, it's very much like St. Paul, no other foundation can be laid than that which is laid, even Christ Jesus, right? Built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus Himself the Cornerstone. Jesus is staking out a claim here. No one can provide a foundation that will last forever, but Me. I can do that. So, if you hear My Words, believe them, put them into practice, then you're building your house on a foundation that will last forever. It's an audacious claim unless it's true, which it is.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you so much for joining us.
Jeff Gibbs: You're very welcome, Mike.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"In Holy Conversation" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)