Faith Lutheran Church Desboro
The Lord of the Church: The Tree Of Life
Revelation 22:1-6, 12-20. ESV
The Seventh Sunday Of Easter
Arbor day was a month ago, on April 29. The Arbor Day Foundation in Lincoln Nebraska formed 50 years ago, encouraging people to plant a tree. Closer to home, the pine tree growing on the front lawn of the parsonage started as a seedling given to those who took part in a mission event of our church in 1999. Look at how tall it is now. Next to the church parking lot, the red maple was planted in 2003 in memory of Kyla Smith. Each one of the globe maples lining the driveway was donated by our members and recorded in the Memorial Book at the back of the church. These trees all stand as monuments to events in the past. Living memories.
The Tree of Life. That’s the theme of our Vacation Bible School this year. In the Bible, we read about the tree of life in Genesis and Revelation. Martin Luther called Jesus the tree of life. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but His words will not pass away. He is therefore the tree of life” (AE 10:22).
Among the trees God created in the Garden of Eden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9). God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of that second tree (Genesis 2:17). When they rejected His Word, did the opposite of what God said and ate the fruit of the tree (Genesis 3:6), Adam and Eve were barred from eating from the tree of life (Genesis 3:22). From this first disobedience, the perfection of life with God in communion with His people was shattered. Instead of life, sin and death came to all people (Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 15:22a).
The final vision presented to St. John in this last chapter of Revelation shows the layout of heaven. Inside the walls of the new Jerusalem, John sees the throne of God and of the Lamb, the river of the water of life flowing around the tree of life. Outside is judgment, suffering, and eternal death.
Outside, with no access to the tree of life are those who worship idols, false gods, power, money, wealth, fame, happiness, instead of the one true God. Outside are murderers, the sexually immoral, and all who love lies and false words, convicted by the fifth, sixth and eighth commandments (v. 15). Specifically, all who reject God’s Word, the Bible, as Adam and Eve refused to listen to His commands, these are excluded from heaven. Adding to the Bible, as false teachers do today, God will add the plagues described in Revelation. Those who take out parts of the Bible, from them, God will take away access to the tree of life in the city of heaven. Those outside of heaven are like Adam and Eve, evicted from Paradise for rejecting God and His Word. The branches of the tree of sinful rebellion planted by Adam and Eve have budded and continue to sprout and grow through every generation, producing a harvest of death and judgment in our day.
Around the tree of life in heaven, the angel says to St. John, “No longer will there be anything accursed” (v. 3a). The curse of sin and death that Adam and Eve brought on themselves, on us, and all their descendants by eating from the forbidden tree—this curse of sin has been lifted. Not by us. But by Jesus, the Lord of the Church. Christ has lifted sin’s curse by dying on the tree of the cross for all people. So Paul explains in his letter to the Galatians, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’”(Galatians 3:13). Jesus brings us from the outside in: from outside the heavenly city where there is judgment, suffering and death into fellowship with Him, where there is free forgiveness, protection and life. Access to the tree of life comes through faith in Jesus, who died on the tree of the cross for us and for all people.
Here’s the vision John sees of the inside of heaven: three prominent sights stand at the centre: the throne of God and of the Lamb, the river of the water of life as it flows from the throne, and the tree of life, rooted and growing on either side of the river in a rich canopy of leaves and fruit. Twelve kinds of fruit are produced, one for each month, showing that God will richly and daily provide for our every need for all eternity. “To the one who conquers, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). What’s more, there’s healing in the leaves: “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (v. 2). The tree of life will heal the scars of sin in us that we have suffered in this life. Adam and Eve used fig leaves to cover the shame of their sin. They tried to hide their sin, but failed when those leaves withered and died (Genesis 3:7, 21). In Christ, God covers our shame forever. Jesus is the tree of life.
“Come, Lord Jesus.” That’s not just the prayer we pray before meals. “Come, Lord Jesus” is the eager prayer of the whole Church in response to these rich, gracious, Gospel promises of the Lord Jesus to His dear baptized believers. The Holy Spirit gives us faith to cry out from our hearts, “Come, Lord Jesus.” At the sound of these Bible words of promise, all who hear pray for Jesus to return, “Come, Lord Jesus.” The mission effort of the whole Church on earth is to cry out to a thirsty world: ‘Come to the Lord Jesus and drink deeply from the water of life.’ Salvation is His free gift.
The time to call the world to Christ is short. He promises, “Surely, I am coming soon” (v. 20). Time will soon give way to eternity. In heaven, the Lord of the Church will sustain His dear people with the tree of life for all time.
“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (v. 20).
Up, Up, And Not Away
Ephesians 1:15-23. ESV
The Ascension Of Our Lord
Mass Effect 2 Why am I starting this sermon by naming a video game? To get us thinking about Christ’s Ascension. In this 2010 game by Canadian company BioWare, the bad guys are a race of aliens who are busy collecting every form of life in the galaxy, stripping away its intelligence to make it serve them. In one part of the game, an alien leader lands at a human colony and gives the command: “Prepare these humans for ascension.” It is quite clear that he is not saying, in effect, “get these humans ready to go up, up, and away.” His command was to prepare them to change from being human into a different form.
Christ’s ascension also, is not about Him going up a divine elevator to some higher floor in the building. It means, St. Paul says, that He has now been enthroned as King over all creation (v. 20-22). Just as a king or queen “ascends” the throne, so our Lord has now ascended to the throne of God over all the universe. Just as Christ has ascended, so we also will ascend, on the Last Day when we are raised from the dead and are seated together with Jesus in the heavenly places.
The problem is, we think of Christ’s ascension as if He’s gone: like it’s up, up, and away. ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’ And, ‘when the cat’s away, the mice will play.’ Not mice or cats, but our sinful nature. The Old Adam, the Old Eve in us sees the ascension of our Lord as an opportunity to get up to things. For doubt. For worry. For unbelief. It looks like Jesus is not here. So, if the church is going to survive, we had better make it grow. We worry about our lives. We worry about our friends and family members. Will we have enough to make ends meet? Will we always have a place to live? Faith that saves? Like the disciples who watched Jesus go up, up, and away, our sinful selves feel like we are alone in this world. Convinced that everything: life in this world and life in the next depends on me—me alone.
Jesus ascended, went up, up, but not away. With divine approval for His saving work—dying on the cross and rising from the dead—God the Father “seated Him at His right hand... and gave Him as Head over all things to the Church” (v. 20, 22). Christ’s ascension means that His death on the cross fully paid for the guilt of our every sin—including our self-centred fear that the Lord has left us alone to fend for ourselves in this world. Christ calls us to repent of our spiritual independence, and instead to trust in Him. Depend on Your ascended Lord, the true Head of the Church “which is His body” (v. 23). Christ’s ascension means He has all power together with the Father and the Holy Spirit to be with us as He promises. Jesus went up, up, but not away. The ascended Lord tells us, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (St. Matthew 28:20).
These desperate, (post-)pandemic times leave us feeling frustrated, depleted, angry, and alone: much like the Eleven disciples standing on the Mount of Olives, staring at the spot in the sky where Jesus went up, up, and (apparently) away. Christ’s ascension has not left the world alone to fend for itself. He is with us now in His blessed Word (the Bible), and His holy Sacraments (Baptism & Communion). “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Christ’s ascension reveals the divine power of Jesus for us, His dear baptized believers, “that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might” (v. 18b-20). Quite simply, Christ’s ascension fulfills the promise He makes to be with us here in the services of God’s house: “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am among them” (St. Matthew 18:20).
“Up, Up, and away in my beautiful balloon...” That 1967 radio hit only tells part of the story of Christ’s ascension. He went up to heaven, ‘tis true. But not away. He is with us and His dear Church now and always. Amen
The Lord of the Church: Life In The City
Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27. ESV
The Sixth Sunday Of Easter
Pastoral and metropolitan. Rural and urban. The Lord of the Church tells us in the Bible what we can expect heaven to be like using these two sharply contrasting images: the country and the city.
Two Sundays ago, we heard the Lord of the Church call Himself the Good Shepherd, and we, the sheep of His pasture. That divine slideshow of heaven illuminated from God’s Word in Revelation shows us the eternal fields of green pastures, irrigated by the living waters. Recalling the perfection of the Garden of Eden, the tree of life grows in that heavenly garden, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. Saints in heaven can stroll forever through these fields of glory enjoying God’s presence and protection. No extreme weather—neither numbing cold of night, nor withering heat of midday will trouble. No wild animal, red of tooth and claw, will threaten. Heaven is the great outdoors in every way. Because the Lord Christ reigns.
But, country life only tells part of the story. The Bible also shows us life in the city for those who are in heaven. The (six) intervening verses (v. 15-20) of our text from Revelation describe a massive building: a huge, megalithic skyscraper. The cubic city is built out of pure gold. This gleaming, golden city forms a perfect cube, sitting on twelve foundations: twelve jewels. The angel measuring this celestial megastructure shows us that this building has the same dimensions as the Holy of Holies, the Inner Sanctuary of the ancient Temple. What’s more, its gargantuan size allows for billions of inhabitants to live comfortably there for all eternity. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man” (21:3). With this brilliant, gold-glowing edifice, God reveals to our minds’ eye the grand sweep of the truth described by Jesus, the Lord of the Church: “In My Father’s house are many mansions.” And each of us has a personal stake in this Revelation by the gracious promise of the Lord of the Church: “I go to prepare a place for you” (St. John 14:2 KJV).
Sadly, not everyone will go to heaven. Whether pictured in the Bible as country or city, heaven is not for those who reject Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church. St. John sees the twelve gates to the heavenly city, each one massive pearl, always standing open (v. 25). Today, and while these days of grace still stand, Jesus invites the world to come to Him. Through the preaching of His Pastors from pulpits and through the daily witness of His people in the world, Jesus calls everyone to repent of their sins, to receive full forgiveness in His Word and Sacraments. Sadly, every day, many people refuse, despising the Lord of the Church. Those who do not have the Lord in this life will not have Him in the life to come. Although heaven’s gates stand open, still they are being guarded. Twelves angels stand guard to prevent hardened sinners from entering the new Jerusalem by those pearly gates. Twelve angels. Ten Commandments. Picture the angel placed by God east of Eden. His flaming sword turns in every direction (Genesis 3:24). “Nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” (v. 27a).
But then, what about us? Each one of us is convicted by God’s Word of Law, His Ten Commandments. Uncleanness in our thoughts against others, detestable actions and false words would also ban us from entering the heavenly city of God. How do we hope to get to heaven? Do our good works hold the key that unlocks those gates? No. Only Jesus.
The Lord of the Church has gone to the mansions of the heavenly Father to prepare a place for you, for me, for every sinful human being. To unlock the gates to this celestial city, Jesus suffered and died outside the walls of the earthly Jerusalem. In the temple of His body, Christ suffered and died for every uncleanness of our sins, substituting Himself for the world’s detestable rebellion against God and dying for our every falsehood. Christ’s cross is the key to unlock heaven’s gates to us. Just as the stone closing His tomb stood open to reveal His resurrection to the world, so the twelve gates of the heavenly new Jerusalem stand open to His dear saints. Who has access to this eternal city? Baptized Christians have their names “written in the Lamb’s book of life” (v. 27b).
Picture this steadily growing mission field of our congregation: people moving out of major cities to settle into our area and the peaceful life in the country. Moving out of the city means leaving behind convenience and services, like pizza delivered to your door, gas stations and hospitals nearby. The Revelation to St. John shows heaven as the best of both worlds: rural and urban. Eternal contentment; peace of body and soul with the Lord of the Church.
The Lord of the Church: Grief Eraser
Revelation 21:1-7. ESV
The Fifth Sunday Of Easter
Babies cry for many reasons.
They are hungry, so they cry.
Their diaper needs to be changed, so they cry.
They don’t get their way, so they cry.
They are tired, so they cry.
They are angry, frustrated, and show it by crying.
Or, they are just bored, and the only way to express themselves is by crying. Babies cry for many reasons.
Like adults. Martin Luther described life in this world as a “valley of sorrow” or, “vale of tears” (SC III:20). Adults feel pain, like having a tooth pulled, and cry. Adults see their children turning their backs on the Christian faith into which they were raised, no longer coming to the services of God’s house, and they cry. Adults who wind up unemployed, have lost their jobs, or see their life’s work devalued, adding up to very little in the end, cry because of the vanity and futility of this life. For me, whenever I have a Rapid Test, that swab stuck up my nose makes me cry. Adults who love another person, but that love is not returned, cry. Adults cry when simple, everyday tasks become difficult, painful, or impossible. Aging that comes with passing years brings on tears. And, like the Lord Jesus standing outside the tomb of His friend Lazarus (St. John 11:35), the death of those we love brings tears to our eyes. “So also you have sorrow now,” (St. John 16:22), said Jesus to the disciples and to us. We know we are living in this sinful world when we cry.
Jesus knows our tears. He is Lord of the Church. Not one drop falling from our eyes escapes His divine attention. “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in Your bottle” (Psalm 56:8), prays David in the Psalms. But as Lord of the Church, the dear Saviour is not merely watching from afar the ways that grief grips us. Jesus is the compassionate heavenly Bridegroom of His dear Bride, the Church (v. 2). “He lives to wipe away my tears” (LSB 461:5). Over all the sins—ours and the sins committed against us—over every transgression that brings us to tears, Jesus is greater (I John 1:7; 3:20; 4:4). “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (v. 4).
Jesus is our grief Eraser.
The Lord of the Church does not trivialize our tears; Jesus does not make light of our sufferings. In Him, true God and true man, “behold, the dwelling place of God is with man” (v. 3). In His flesh and blood, Jesus feels our pain. “Surely He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4a). On His knees at the Garden of Gethsemane in prayer, and suspended from nails on the cross, “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death” (Hebrews 5:7). See here, the love of Christ for us, His bride, the Church. The Lord Jesus shows how much He loves His dear bride by loading up all of our sadness, sickness, and sin into His holy heart, by carrying our deepest pain upon His innocent shoulders all the way to the cross. This is God’s love for you and me: His suffering cancelled all our sins; His death erased all our guilt. The cross and empty tomb of Christ erased the verdict of hell that we have deserved for our sins. In Jesus, our every tear is wiped dry.
Mr. Clean makes a cleaning pad called Magic Eraser. This white sponge is advertised to be able to wipe away scuffs, stains and other marks on walls, counter tops, and hard surfaces. While this product is called “Magic Eraser,” really, it’s not magic. Marks from dirty surfaces transfer to its white exterior when you scrub with it. Some tough stains simply don’t come off. Magic Eraser cleans like every other product: by your hard work. It’s not magic.
Like the Lord of the Church. He is our grief Eraser. Yet, Jesus does not work by magic. He cleanses our hearts and minds, our bodies and lives by His own hard work: by His dying on the cross to erase our guilt; by His rising to life again to clear our consciences. So, the Lord works in us, not in magical ways, but in the specific ways He promises: Confession & Absolution. Baptism. Communion. Not magic. God’s Bible promises: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” (St. John 20:23); “Baptism now saves you” (I Peter 3:21); “This is My body... this is My blood... for the forgiveness of sins” (St. Matthew 26:26, 28). These are the specific ways the grace of God flows into our hearts and lives. This is the victory God freely gives to the one who conquers (νικάω v. 7) by faith in Christ. Here, using His Holy Word and Sacraments, the Lord Jesus says to your sin and mine, “You have been erased.”
“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” (Ps 126:5)
In heaven, when sorrow and crying, pain and death are no more, the nail-scarred, but living hand of Jesus will wipe away our last tears.
The Lord of the Church: Gentle Shepherd
Rev. 7:13-17. ESV
The Fourth Sunday Of Easter
The only daughter born to noble parents trusted in the Lord: her faith helped when her mother died and her father married again. His new wife had daughters who treated her harshly. The step-sisters took away her fine clothes, dressing her in rags. “[In the kitchen], the girl was obliged to do hard work from morning till night, to get up at daybreak, carry water, light the fire, cook, and wash. Not content with that, the sisters inflicted on her every vexation they could think of. They made fun of her, and tossed the peas and lentils among the ashes, so that she had to sit down and pick them out again. In the evening, when she was worn out with work, she had no bed, but had to lie on the hearth among the cinders. And, because on account of that, she always looked dusty and dirty, they called her Cinderella” (Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Grosset & Dunlap 1945, pp. 153-154).
We are born into this world harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (St. Matthew 9:36). The tribulation caused by the devil, the world, and our sinful nature treat us harshly. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. With His Word and Sacraments, He gently takes care of the sheep of His flock, the holy Christian Church.
Once again, St. John is blessed to see into heaven. A vast number—a multinational crowd, all dressed in white, waving the victorious symbol of palm branches surrounds the throne of God and of the Lamb. A loud cry of adoration rises from this massive sea of people, a surging shout in a great crescendo that crests in one decisive word: “Salvation!” (Σωτηρία).
This surging crowd of white-robed martyrs all has this in common: they have come through a time of tribulation (θλiψις) here on earth. Intense for some, as Job once said, “I have escaped by the skin of my teeth” (Job 19:20). For others, the tribulation has been less severe. But, all the saints in heaven have come through the tight constriction of suffering and now are free, released from tribulation and saved. Not one of them can take credit for being there. They have been saved by the Lamb, Jesus Christ. “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation” (v. 14), the celestial elder explains to John the Apostle. What tribulation? The constricting, unrelenting, persistent pressure from our common enemies: the devil, the world, and our sinful nature (SC III:11, 18). This triple threat bands together for one purpose: to attack and destroy Christians, the dear sheep and lambs of God. Harsh!
The devil, the world without Christ, and the sinful nature inside us all treat us harshly. From them, we are tempted to believe that God does not care for us; that He is not our loving Father in Christ, that only good people are saved and go to heaven, so we better do all we can to obey God’s commands so that we can save ourselves. And when that fails—and it always does—the devil, the world without Christ, and the sinful nature inside us continue their harsh treatment. They press the guilt down hard on our hearts: reminding us at every turn how much we have failed and fallen short of what God and our fellow man expect of us. Day and night, these three foes will let us have no peace on the inside or out. Soul and body, the guilt for our sins would eat us up until we are destroyed. That’s harsh!
Not Jesus. He is a gentle Shepherd to us. He knows our sins, our failures, our weaknesses, and all our flaws. The Good Shepherd loves us all the same. We come to Him weary and burdened. In His own gentle way, the Shepherd gives us rest for our souls. We come to Him battered and bruised from our conflicts with others. In His own gentle way, the Shepherd binds up our wounds and heals us in body and soul. We come to Him foul, dirty and shamed by our sins. In His own gentle way, the Shepherd washes us clean inside and out. Not with detergent, soap, or bleach. But with blood. Normally, that’s a stain you can’t get out. But, the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, is God’s blood. So, it cleanses us for our good. The blood of the Lamb was poured out on the cross of Calvary for you, for me, for everyone in the crowd that John pictures in the Revelation today. His blood pays for all sin. The Gentle Shepherd’s salvation comes at the cost of His holy, pure and divine life. His blood freely forgives the sins of all who believe and are baptized into Him. His life-giving blood, along with His living body are freely given to worthy communicants here, to the sheep of the Good Shepherd, to strengthen our faith in Him. Together with the crowd who sings salvation in heaven, we “have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v. 14). Jesus, the Lord of the Church, does not rule us harshly. The Good Shepherd is gentle.
Jesus is the Lord of the Church. But, He does not lord it over His people. He has become the Head of the Church by serving her. For the sheep, the Shepherd has bled and died, descended to hell, rose to life again, and is enthroned in heaven at the right hand of God the Father. With gentleness, the Good Shepherd leads His flock. So we, His sheep and lambs, have His protection: “He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence” (v. 15). The Good Shepherd’s gentle voice calls sheep and lambs in Holy Baptism: “He will guide them to springs of living water” (v. 17). The Good Shepherd gently nourishes His sheep and lambs with His own sacramental meal to satisfy our souls: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore” (v. 16). No danger can threaten the sheep of the Good Shepherd in heaven. “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (v. 17).
This week, we have been looking after our son’s cat. “Flower” is a scaredy-cat: she will take off running and hide from most people except her owners. It won’t do to try and force her affection: if you pick her up and hold her tight, she will jump out of your arms the first chance she gets. But, if you talk quietly to her, let her get used to her and approach her slowly, gradually, she will come near you. With “Flower” you must be gentle.
Jesus is our Gentle Shepherd. His soothing voice speaks to us in the Bible, the rod and staff of His Word. We, His sheep, follow where He leads: safe from heat and cold, from hunger and thirst. The Good Shepherd gently dries our tears and leads us where the healing waters flow.
The Lord of the Church: Worthy Is The Lamb
Revelation 5:8-14. ESV
The Third Sunday Of Easter
Jesus rules! Today’s reading from Revelation shows the Lord Christ enthroned as the Lord of the Church. Jesus, the Lamb of God gave His life on the cross. All of heaven was in mourning when the Son of God died. But now, He is arisen! His crown of thorns exchanged for the crown of salvation. All of heaven breaks out in exultation of the Lamb of God, worthy to reign: Lord of the Church.
Revealed to John’s eyes: a worship service! At the center: the Lamb of God. God the Father is seated on His throne, flanked by the Holy Spirit (v. 6). “For the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign. Alleluia” (LSB p. 155). Surrounding Him are four living creatures, figures who stand for the four Gospel writers, then twenty four elders, who represent the Church of the Old and New Testaments, then millions of angels, finally all created beings on the earth, under the earth, on the sea and all that is in it (v. 8, 11, 13). What are they doing in heaven? Bowing before Jesus. With their bodies, they confess that Jesus is God—He is worthy of all glory. These heavenly worshipers “[fall] down before the Lamb” (v. 8).
What else are they doing? Singing. The Apostle John hears the company of heaven singing the words that have inspired our hymn of praise, “This is the Feast.” It’s a canticle they began to chant when Christ ascended in triumph to heaven after His death, burial and resurrection. This music fills heaven right now. This praise to God through Jesus Christ will continue forever.
Here in church, we join in that song. We are in good company when we worship Jesus. Through Christ, we laud and magnify God’s glorious name together “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven” (LSB p. 194). God reveals this here in Revelation. Worship centers on Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. He is worthy.
Is Jesus worthy of your time? Everyone in heaven knows that He is: holding Christ sacred, gladly hearing and learning Him who is the Word of God. Sadly, not so here on earth. Is Christ worthy of our time? Many people simply answer, “no.” Jesus is not worth my time. Consciously, or not, many people value other activities more than worship. They choose to satisfy their wants and desires instead of serving God and others. Whether deliberately or not, despising God and His Word instead of bowing before Him.
Sadly, each of us must confess we have given in to this sin, too. Even while we sit in church, our minds wander, we doze off, we think of other things, then we hustle off to the next Sunday activity. Angels and archangels join us here to elevate the holy Lamb of God, to glorify Christ who is truly worthy. Do we?
Is it worth giving our Lord an hour each week for worship? To sing His praise in hymns and liturgy? Worthy of tackling “a new song” (v. 9) with an unfamiliar tune that glorifies Christ in a new way? Is He worthy of more than this one hour a week spent here? Can you devote your entire life to glorifying Jesus and serving others? Yes!
Why? Jesus considers us worthy. Even though we poor, miserable sinners are unworthy, Jesus loves us—you and me and all the world. Christ considered us worthy of His whole life: to suffer and die for us; to ransom a “people for God” (v. 9) by His blood; to make us “a kingdom and priests to our God (v. 10), from every tribe and language and people and nation” (v. 9). This Jesus died on the cross to remove all guilt and shame from us, to spare us from death and the grave. The love of Christ made Him lower Himself to hell so that we can be forgiven, live and go to heaven. Now, Jesus is risen from the dead, ascended to heaven and at the center of celestial worship. This fifth chapter of Revelation is not simply one scene among many. The triumphant Christ forms the foundation of everything else revealed to St. John and to us. Jesus beat sin and Satan, death and the grave. His victory is our victory. Christ is worthy of our worship. He considers us worthy of eternal life in heaven.
All “power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing” (v. 12) be to Christ Jesus! He is worthy of seven-fold, multi-dimensional worship. Jesus is Lord of the Church!
And yet, in these grey and latter days, the Church may suffer. Persecution may come to Christians. Saul before his conversion, actively hunted down Christians. The Roman Empire shed the blood of Christians while John wrote Revelation. Today, the Church suffers from the world. Members leave. But, this does not mean that the Church has failed.
Jesus is worthy. Worthy is the Lamb of God to rule as the Head of the Church. Jesus holds the scroll of salvation in His right hand (v. 7-8). Jesus rules the Church in heaven. Jesus reigns as Lord of the Church here on earth. Christ Jesus hears our prayers—the prayers of His saints, as those prayers rise to heaven like the smoke of incense swirling up from the golden bowls of our hearts (v. 8). Millions of angels (v. 11) worship Christ and serve us, His people. Even while they enjoy the bliss and perfection of heaven in God’s presence (St. Matthew 18:10), the holy angels sing for joy over every sinner who repents and is saved (St. Luke 15:7, 10).
The vision of the victorious, triumphant and reigning Christ encouraged the Church of the first century when it suffered at the hands of the cruel and unbelieving world. The Lord of the Church has preserved this Revelation to support us in faith during our every struggle in these last days.
Jesus is at the center of this heavenly divine service. All our worship focuses on Jesus, for He gives us everything: life here and eternal life in heaven. Worthy is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
The Lord of the Church: He’s Got This
Revelation 1:4-18. ESV
The Second Sunday Of Easter
Fear. The dominant emotional reaction to Jesus rising from the dead was not joy, ecstasy, nor bliss in the hearts of those who saw Him, met Him, or heard the good news of the Easter miracle. The women who first visited His empty tomb early Sunday morning ran away in fear (St. Mark 16:8). Mary Magdalene cried outside the vacant tomb, afraid that the body of Jesus had been stolen (St. John 20:13). Pontius Pilate feared the resurrection. The guards posted at Christ’s tomb, who could not stop His rising, feared that they would be punished now that Jesus was alive. Early witnesses to the resurrection of Christ felt fear. Still today, fear not faith fills the hearts of many in the face of this Gospel proclamation: Christ is risen!
To speak to fearful hearts, Almighty God has given the Revelation to St. John. Over the next six Sundays, our sermon series from the book of Revelation will speak to calm our fears. The resurrected and living Jesus is God’s answer to our every fear. Christ Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth; the Lord of world history: past, present and future; the Lord of our hearts and minds, of our bodies of souls; the Lord of life and death. The book of Revelation sets before us the Lord of the Church. In answer to our every fear, the living Lord Jesus reveals this critical truth: to you and me, and all in His dear Church, Jesus says, ‘I’ve got this!’
Fears abound in the rollout of events recorded in Sacred Scripture, in the world around us, and in each of our hearts. These fears come from one root cause: sin. We don’t trust God’s Word to be true We believe our sin is more powerful than forgiveness. We see sickness and death in us and others more than we see healing and life. We fail to believe. So, we are afraid. Our hearts condemn us (I John 3:20)
Fear of the resurrection. That’s why the Apostles were arrested as recounted in our first reading from the book of Acts. Jealous fear led to their incarceration. But, the Lord of the Church sent His angel to free them; to free the preaching of this Gospel; to spread the good news of Jesus who saves us by His blood (Acts 5:28, 31).
The Apostle Thomas was afraid. His sceptical response to the resurrection amounted to fear that Jesus was truly alive. ‘I need to see the holes in His hands; the wounds in His side—no, not just see them—I need to put my hands on His resurrected body, so I know that it’s the same Jesus who hung on the cross.’ The Lord of the Church was only too willing and able to oblige Thomas. ‘I’ve got this,’ says the living Jesus. ‘Put your finger here. Place your hand here. Don’t be afraid. Don’t keep on doubting. Believe!’
Fears in the biblical accounts are like the fears in the world today. The unbelieving world masks its fear with anger and frustration, with sensuality and permissiveness. Without faith in Jesus, no Lord over the Church, no hope after this life, the world in fear has only this life to live. So, the world says to us, ‘Do whatever you want.’
We have fears of our own. Like a mirror, we recognize those fears as we hear the Apostle John reacting to the living and exalted Jesus. No longer in His state of humiliation, Christ stood before John as the divine Son of God; the Alpha and the Omega; His hair white with the wisdom of the ages; a golden sash vesting his long robe; eyes like fire; feet shining like bronze; His voice like a waterfall; His words powerful like a sharp soldier’s sword. The shining figure of the Lord of the Church was radiant before John, as earlier He stood in glory at the transfiguration. Peter had this same humbling experience when Jesus led him to take a miraculous catch of fish. “Depart from me.” he prayed as he fell to his knees, “for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (St. Luke 5:8). Like Peter in the boat, John in the Revelation fell at the feet of Jesus like a dead man (v. 17). Like them, we confess before God, “I have sinned against You in thought, word and deed” (LSB p. 151). How else can we, who are sinful, approach God in His holiness?
The Lord of Church answers with love, compassion and forgiveness: “Fear not!” (v. 17).
Although we struggle to believe it, to overcome fear with faith, marvelling with utter joy, the living Christ Jesus lays His right hand upon us to tell us this good news: “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore” (v. 18). ‘You’re afraid? Don’t fear. I’ve got this!’
The risen Lord Jesus Christ stands among the seven golden lampstands (v. 12-13). These lampstands represent the seven churches (v. 20), we learn later in this chapter. What good news this is! The risen Lord Jesus is with us, just as He promises: “Behold I am with you always” (St. Matthew 28:20b). Through “fightings and fears within, without” (LSB 570:3); in prosperity and in poverty; when the Church is popular and in times of persecution, the Lord of the Church is with His people.
Including Pastors. Seven stars are held carefully, but firmly in the right hand of the living Jesus. These messengers (ἄγγελοι v. 20) of the churches are the called servants who preach and teach, who baptize and commune the people of God under the care of the Lord of the Church.
Christ holds “the keys of Death and Hades” (v. 18). Jesus defeated sin and death, the grave and hell by dying on the cross for the sins of the world, and by rising triumphantly on Easter. For us and for all the world, Christ has silenced the very worst of our fears. “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6). Jesus lives! He’s got this.
The risen and exalted Christ is revealed to St. John so that our every fear is taken away. Faith replaces our fears. Look upon the living Christ Jesus, the Lord of the Church.
He’s got this!
Jesus: Our Sure And Certain Hope
I Corinthians 15:19-26. ESV
The Resurrection Of Our Lord
“Only in Canada, you say? Pity!”
Red Rose Tea ended their promotion for their tea (available only in Canadian markets) with that iconic line. You can’t buy Red Rose in Britain? Pity!
Easter is Christ’s victory over death and the grave: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Because He lives, those who belong to Him also live: not even death deprives Christians of life in Christ.
For this is certain: death comes to us all.
In Adam, all die—everyone of us can trace the roots of our family tree back to the first two people on Earth. Adam (and Eve) died after their first disobedience against God our heavenly Father. Adam passed this sin on to us, and to every one of His descendants
And, along with that original sin, death. “In Adam, all die” (v. 22). And... if that’s all there is, what a pity! “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (ἐλεεινότερος v. 19). No hope after this life? What a shame! Regret and despair—more’s the pity!
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (v. 20)!
Three days after dying on the cross to take away the guilt of our sins, Jesus returned to life again. His tomb in Jerusalem where His lifeless body was laid out—that tomb is now empty! Jesus left it when He came back to life, and with His body exited the grave, to show Himself alive to the women and the disciples. Jesus Christ, holy Son of God, our dear Saviour, cannot be bound by this short life flawed with failures and sins. Christ Jesus rose to life again to give us undying, eternal hope beyond this brief, earth-bound life. Christ has been raised from the dead!
Easter changes everything! We, “who belong to Christ” (v. 23)
are not to be pitied. In Jesus, we have life after this life. Jesus is risen and we, who belong to Him, shall rise, too. Because He lives, we shall live also (St. John 14:19). Easter is Christ’s victory for us—His triumph over sin and death, over the grave and even hell itself. The living Jesus by His cross and empty tomb has destroyed “every rule and every authority and power” (v. 24). You and I and everyone who belongs to Christ are made alive in Him (v. 23, 22). In our Baptisms, the living Christ gives us His Easter victory: the sure and certain hope of life after this life in this water and the Word of God. In this washing, Jesus destroys death for us. It doesn’t get more personal than that. Here, in Holy Communion, the living Christ gives us His Easter victory: the sure and certain hope of life after this life with His real presence in, with, and under this bread and this wine. In this meal, Jesus destroys death for us.
We are of all people most blessed: now and for all eternity!
Peggy Lee had a hit with the song, “Is That All There Is?”
You may remember the chorus:
Is that all there is? Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends,
Then let’s keep dancing...
This life is not all there is. Jesus rose from the dead for us. He defeated death for us. He gives us fresh hope in a life that lasts forever. Because Jesus lives, we shall live also.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Trumpet The News
St. Mark 16:7. ESV
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
That joyful news has been kept under wraps all through the forty days of Lent. Now’s the time to trumpet the Good News. Spread the Gospel. Jesus is not dead. He is alive. His life gives eternal life to us who believe and are baptized. Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Trumpet the news. That’s what the Easter lily stands for. Look at these 26 plants surrounding the altar. The long, cone-shaped white flowers look like trumpets. The flower associated with Christ’s resurrection reminds us of our vocation, our privilege, our task as Christians: tell the world that Christ is living!
Pastors and people together trumpet the Gospel—the good news of Christ’s resurrection. He gives life to us after we die. Without Jesus, this life would only be a mournful song, a brief funeral dirge until that moment when we die and then, face the judgment for our sins.
But, the Lord Jesus, who died on the cross to take sin’s punishment away has beaten death, the grave and hell itself for us. He lives. And we shall live also in Him. Trumpet the good news!
“These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17) trumpeted the slave girl who followed Paul and Silas while they were preaching Christ. We are Easter people who trumpet that same Gospel, “the way of salvation,” in both our words and our lives.
The living Christ makes us ready to stand on the day of judgment, joyfully looking forward to hearing that sound that will signal His return, when “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, the voice of an archangel and with the sound of the trumpet call of God” (I Thessalonians 4:16).
Final victory is ours forever in Christ who died, but who now lives forever. Let the news ring out:
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Hang Your Hopes On Him
Hebrews 6:18b-20. ESV
What do you hope for in life?
Do you hope to buy a house?
Do you hope to have children?
Do you hope to make it through this pandemic and not get COVID?
Do you look for that perfect government to rule us fairly?
Do you hope for peace in the world?
God our heavenly Father’s hope is to gather us and all people into His heavenly home for all time. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (St. John 3:16).
Our sins would keep that hope from happening. Disobedience against God leads to death. Sin separates us from God. The eternal, final separation is hell. Our sins—thoughts, acts, and words—leave our hopes disappointed, unfulfilled. Denied.
Our hope is in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. We can’t make up for the guilt of our sins by what we do. Obeying the 10 commandments won’t save us. God’s Son, Jesus, saves us. He cancels our sins. He does it here: on His cross. Behold, the innocent Son of God, nailed to a Roman cross as our substitute. Here, our great high Priest, Jesus the Christ, offered the one spotless sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world: His own life. All our hopes hang on the One who hung on the cross. For us and for all the world.
Israel’s High Priest entered the Holy of Holies on the holiest day of the year: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On behalf of the people, the High Priest entered that sacred place, before the presence of Almighty God to offer the blood of a lamb without blemish as the sacrifice for the sins of the people of Israel. That young sheep without blemish was the lamb of God to take away the sins of the world.
One greater than Israel’s High Priest came to take away the sins of the world. On the cross, behold the Lamb of God, without sin in heart and mind, word and act. On the cross, behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. On the cross, behold the One on whom all your hopes hang!
This Jesus was crucified for you. Hang all your sin and guilt on Him. Like sailors in a storm, God pictures the dangers of our sins to us in today’s sermon text. Like mariners fleeing from a hurricane, we guilty sinners run from the storm of judgement into the safe harbour of Jesus Christ. Hang all your hearts on Him. “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (v. 19). Hope here is not an anchor that is dropped into the depths to grip the sand and rock of the seabed. In Christ, hope is an anchor thrown forward into the future. Hope, sure and steadfast, joins us to Christ who died on the cross to open heaven to us. Hang all your hopes on Him.
Two friends were walking on the beach. They got into a heated argument. One slapped the other in the face. That ended the argument and the two of them walked on in silence. After awhile, they sat down to rest. The man who had been slapped wrote in the sand, “Today, my best friend slapped me.” In time, they got up and walked on.
The two of them reached a section of the beach where people were swimming. They decided to go in. Getting into deep water, the man who had been slapped got a cramp in his leg and cried out for help. Immediately, his friend came to his rescue and helped him back to shore. As they rested, the man who had been slapped scratched on a stone, “Today, my best friend saved my life.”
His friend watched him writing on the stone. “Hey, when I slapped you, you wrote on sand. But now, you are writing on stone. Why?” His friend explained, “When someone hurts me, I write it on sand. Forgiveness, like the wind and waves, takes the hurt away. When I am helped, I want that good to be written on stone and never forgotten.”
Jesus is our true Friend. His holy precious blood, poured out on the cross erases the guilt of our sins. He died to give us the sure and steadfast hope of eternal life, as an anchor for our souls.
Christ died for you. Hang your hopes on Him.
Touch And Go
I Corinthians 11:23-32. ESV
“Touch and go.” Outcome uncertain. Risky. Dangerous. This is what you mean when you say the situation is touch and go. Originally, the phrase described two cars driving so close to each other that the wheel of one car touched the other. But, instead of causing a horrible collision, the brush of wheels was such a light touch that it caused no damage and both vehicles could go on their way. The modern scenario is that of an aeroplane manoeuver where the pilot briefly touches down on the runway, then immediately takes off again. Touch and go.
In the minds of the disciples, gathered around the table in the Upper Room with their Lord Jesus for the Passover feast, the future was up in the air, uncertain. Their hearts were troubled (St. John 14:1). Jesus would be leaving them. That very night, He would be betrayed by His own disciple, arrested. Everything was about to change. Not for the better, they feared. Touch and go.
For their comfort, Jesus instituted this meal, the Lord’s Supper. In this Sacrament, they would be blessed with His abiding presence through all the changes that were surely coming.
For our comfort, Christ included this command in His institution: “Do this” (v. 24, 25). In this way, the Lord made this fact clear: the disciples need this. We need this.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, St. Paul instructs those who would come to Holy Communion: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (v. 28). Following this biblical directive, Dr. Martin Luther prepared his “Christian Questions with their Answers,” in his Small Catechism (1551) to help us examine ourselves before coming to the Lord’s Supper. Luther concludes this self-examination by speaking to those who feel no hunger nor thirst for the Sacrament. “But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?” Dr. Luther supplies this answer: “To such a person, no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then, he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.” Along with the threat of the sinful nature within us, Luther goes on to warn against the sin and trouble in the world around us, and the threat of the devil who seeks to destroy us. Martin Luther touches on this triple threat to our Christian faith: the devil, the world and our sinful nature. These dangers around us stimulate our appetite for the Lord’s Supper.
Touching on our sin moves us to go to the Sacrament of the Altar. Here, we receive the Saviour, who died for us. His suffering on the cross was not touch and go. Here, Christ had no narrow escape. Jesus died, suffering the hell of our sins, so that we would be freed from them. Christ Jesus rose from the dead to live again. He lives to give us forgiveness, life and salvation here in this Sacrament.
We, who are touched by our sin now go to the Sacrament to be delivered from sin’s awful consequences: death and hell. Here, with His real presence, Jesus touches us. And, we go to be with Him—in heaven forever.
You and I, we’ve lived through years of uncertainty: when life, at times, is touch and go. There’s nothing uncertain about this gift of God, prepared by our Lord on the altar tonight. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (v. 26).
Down And Up
Philippians 2:5-11. ESV
Crowds waving palm branches as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. Holy Week—the highpoint of the Christian year—starts today, Palm Sunday. Those people who have travelled to Jerusalem to see this route taken by the Lord Jesus from the Mount of Olives through the Kidron Valley before rising to enter through the gates of the Holy City Jerusalem can appreciate what we, who have not been there, cannot. The road travelled by Jesus followed this elevation: down and up.
The physical topography described by all four Gospel writers as Christ entered into His Passion, St. Paul in today’s Epistle describes in spiritual terms in Philippians chapter two. This divine journey of Christ is just as real and powerful as the landscape of Palestine. Perhaps you have pictured these verses in Confirmation class, like a series of steps going down, before those steps turn and rise up again: the descending and ascending stairways of our Lord’s state of humiliation, followed by His state of exaltation.
Christ Jesus began at the top—the only-begotten Son of the Father, in both form and essence, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit in every way. In eternity, before time itself began, Christ was fully God—no need to grasp for higher in heaven. But, to save us and all the world from perishing in our sins, God the Son stepped down. Setting aside the full use of His divine powers, Jesus stepped down into our human flesh, born of Mary’s body to become the perfect Servant—true God and true man—for us and for all. From heaven above, to earth He has come, down from heaven’s heights to the depths of earth’s depravity and despair, into the world’s sin and shame. While remaining unstained by sin in heart, mind and life, Christ Jesus lowered Himself to the lowest of the low—meeting every sinner in the pit of their own personal hell. Jesus came down to our level because He loves us—obedient to the Father’s loving heart to save us—even to the point of dying in our place.
Why did Christ Jesus take that downward journey? Why did He choose not to use His divinity, but instead to empty Himself to be humiliated on this downward path? Why did Christ Jesus ride down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, into certain death? For us. For all the world. For love. For our salvation. For eternal life. Christ Jesus came down from heaven to meet us where sin has laid us low in the dust. Life under God’s Law lays us low—under the guilt we feel for offending Almighty God and hurting others, by going against His Commandments. Our sins of action, words, and thoughts weigh us down: lower than a snake’s belly. Sin sometimes turns our lives into a crazy up-and-down roller coaster of emotions. As far down as our sins have burdened us, Christ Jesus has humbled Himself to get down there with us.
So that He can lift us up!
At the lowest points of our lives, Christ Jesus took all of our sins off of us, and carried them Himself—“obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (v. 8). The cross marks the bottom of the stairway—the lowest point of the state of humiliation for Christ Jesus—the place where we hit rock bottom and start the upward journey with Christ.
God the Father lifted up His Son. Christ Jesus, whose death on the cross paid the full penalty for our sins; whose rest in the grave is the promise to His baptized believers that we will not stay in our graves; whose bodily resurrection prepares the upward path for our own resurrection to eternal life. God the Father highly exalted Christ Jesus at His ascension—giving His Son the honoured place in heaven that He has deserved from all eternity. The One who came down from heaven to save us has now gone up into heaven, above the earth and every subterranean place under the earth.
For all this, it is my duty to thank and praise Him, serve and obey Him. Even when we feel low, we sing the praise of our Saviour on high. Right now, choirs of angels join with the saints in heaven to worship the precious name of Christ Jesus. So our hymns and prayers join with the whole Christian Church on earth to rise up to heaven. And, it’s not just our lips. The Palm Sunday crowds sang and shouted as they walked with Christ Jesus. And, they worshipped Him by laying down their cloaks and waving leafy branches. Here in the Church service, we sing, stand up for Jesus, even bow our knees before our crucified and living Saviour: Christ Jesus.
Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Hosanna in the highest (heaven)! (St. Matthew 21:9)
Beyond Trash Talk
Philippians 3:4b-14. ESV
The Fifth Sunday In Lent
Tuesday was a glorious day. Glorious sun. Not a cloud in the sky. Sure, it was a little cold. But beautiful. We were so ready for a day like that after so many grey, cloudy, stormy days.
You know what else happened on Tuesday? Garbage day! Here in Desboro. After two weeks of collecting trash and recycling, bagging it up and hauling it to the road, suddenly, just before noon on Tuesday—boom! The garbage man loaded it all on his truck. Just like that, it’s gone!
St. Paul drew on his own experience while writing this letter to the Philippians. With great enthusiasm, Paul worked hard to save himself. He trusted in his Israelite pedigree, his fine training in the Law of God, his life of good works, even the way he persecuted the Church of Christ. But Paul had it wrong. Jesus turned him around on the road to Damascus. You couldn’t find a better man than Paul, a fine, moral, upright human being. But before Christ, Paul didn’t boast. All his accomplishments now looked pale and boring. Compared to the treasure that is the Lord Christ, it was all trash (σκύβαλον). Once Paul converted to Christ, he knew it was time to take out the trash.
Lent is a time for us to take out the trash. Like Spring, the season of Lent gives us the opportunity to do some spring cleaning. Lent invites us to clean house in our souls; to throw out the trash in our hearts and lives that gets in the way. What kind of trash are we talking? St. Paul boasted about his proud works—what was once his treasure, that now was his trash—the human pride that says, ‘I am better than you.’ God's Ten Commandments work like a powerful mirror of our souls, ten sharp surgical scalpel that cut away our excuses, our personal pride and false images of ourselves. God’s Law gets down to brass tacks, showing us the garbage of sin that so easily piles up our lives. God’s commandments are His way for us to examine our lives to round up the trash that gets in the way of our life in Christ. Taking out the trash: that is another way to say “repent.” Each of us has our own trash to take out of our hearts and lives: false worship, swearing, neglecting worship, dishonouring parents, harming ourselves or others, sexual impurity, dishonesty, lying, coveting, and more. Unless we take it out, the trash just keeps piling up. Lent is a good time to do some deep cleaning. Taking out the trash prepares us to celebrate Christ’s resurrection at Easter. Taking out the trash keeps our focus on Christ.
Every other Tuesday is garbage day. I love when all the trash is gone: all the messy, smelly, rotten garbage is out of the house. Repentance is like that. Christ Jesus takes the garbage out of our hearts and lives. Let it all go! In Jesus, we have something better.
What could be better than knowing Christ? He surpasses everything else we can know, have or experience. The brilliance of the Son of God, Jesus Christ outshines all earthly treasures, making them look tired, worn out and trashy by comparison. Knowing this God Man, who suffered and died for us, who rose from the dead and lives forever, turns our lives in a new direction. Knowing Jesus turns us from sinful ambitions, and dead end lives. Now we have a purpose, a direction, a goal. Our lives are no longer just about us, to live for self. Our goal is to know Christ better all time. In communion with Him, we have our part in His suffering: the world persecutes those who press on toward the goal of eternal life. But, from the start, Jesus promises that the goal is ours. In Holy Baptism, we have become like Jesus in His death. The water of Baptism drowns our sins in His death. Daily, we return to our Baptism in repentance to take out the trash. In Holy Baptism, we have become like Jesus in His resurrection. Three days after His death on the cross and His burial in the tomb, Christ rose to live and never die again. Emerging from the water of Baptism, we have been united with Jesus in this resurrected life. We reach the goal of our Baptism at the end of our earthly lives: the resurrection of our bodies to unending life with our dear Lord in heaven.
This dialogue happened between another church member and his Pastor. The Parishioner confessed to his Pastor, “I don’t particularly like Lent. But I love Christmas and Easter.” His Pastor paused, then replied, “I don’t particularly enjoy Lent either. But I need it.”
Does anybody really like taking out the garbage? I doubt it. But we need to do it. Even Lent gives us a kind of muted joy, knowing what is to come. Repentance means getting past the trash of sin. “Press on,” (v. 14) urges St. Paul. Press on through Lent and Holy Week to the joy of Easter. Follow Christ, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
Jesus leads. In Christ, go beyond.
What Brings Brothers And Sisters Together?
II Corinthians 5:16-21. ESV
The Fourth Sunday In Lent
The conflict in Ukraine brings us news reports and images that break our hearts. With Russia and Ukraine at war, we pray for peace: for an end to hostility; for an end to bloodshed; for an end to the destruction of homes and property; for an end to the loss of life. We pray for a cease-fire; for mutual talks that will bring understanding, harmony and accord; for refugees to be able to return home; for reconciliation.
Apart from these two countries at war, there is a lot of anger, frustration and division in the world. People separated from normal social interaction by lockdowns, isolation and fear are suffering deep emotional wounds. Battle lines are drawn over differences of opinion, dividing households, families and former friends. You can see the effect of sin when it’s “us” vs. “them.” Paul in today’s Epistle says that is like looking at other people “according to the flesh” (v. 16). Picture angry Saul before his conversion to Christian Paul. You can find enemies everywhere when you look through the goggles of outward, earthly, judgmental prejudice. And we do. Even within ourselves, our own sinful nature lurks: the enemy that turns sisters and brothers against each other. The heavenly Father brings us together. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself...” (v. 19).
The Lord’s parable in today’s Gospel shows sin dividing brothers. The selfish younger brother wastes his father’s life work, living a wild life in a foreign land. Once the money is gone, this young son has a backup plan: work for his father as a servant. Sneaky! And, his selfish older brother knows it. He’s the opposite of his brother: a hard worker, reliable, productive. But also boastful and proud, refusing to join the welcome-home feast for his brother. Resentful of his father, the older brother’s looking for a payoff from his father for all his hard work. These boys are on the outs. Will they be reconciled to each other? The parable doesn’t say. What brings brothers and sisters together?
The generosity of the father. When sisters and brothers are divided, the father does what is necessary to bring them together again. Sin divides. God the Father reconciles His children through His Son Jesus.
What does reconciliation mean? Bringing together the children who are fighting. Look at the father in the parable Jesus taught to see how God the Father brings His sons and daughters together. When his younger son asks for his inheritance money, even while his father is still living, what does the father do? He gives. The father holds a big estate sale to liquidate his assets. From the proceeds, he turns the money over to his son. Once the money is gone, and the son returns penniless, the father welcomes his lost son with compassion. The father literally runs out to meet him, receiving the poor boy as his son, not as a servant, dressing him, feeding him, honouring him, and celebrating his repentance with a great party. The father richly gives to bring his son home.
And not just his younger son. The father has compassion on his older son—the one who is so angry, jealous, self-righteous and proud that he simply will not enter the feast. The father goes out to his older son with the promise, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (St. Luke 15:31). The father gives his all to bring his children together.
As the heavenly Father has given His all to reconcile us to Himself, to bring His children together. In Christ’s parable, both sons sin against the father: the younger rejects his father and wastes his property; the older rejects his father, taking pride in his obedience, and resenting the way the father has treated him. This dysfunctional family is divided by their sins. It’s a picture of the world in sin. God reconciles the world to Himself through Jesus. He is the obedient Son who loves His Father—perfectly. Here’s the Father’s good and perfect gift (James 1:17) that brings us together: Jesus! “For our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God” (v. 21). God the Father gave His Son to bring daughters and sons together. The blood of Jesus Christ covers our sins—this is the price the Lord paid to work out our reconciliation. Not inheritance, clothes, jewelry, feasts, nor friends. The life of God’s Son, given for us and for all people on the cross makes the old nature of sin pass away and a new creation in Christ come to life in us.
Instead of looking at other people in outward and worldly ways, we see ourselves and others in a new way: “the old has passed away; behold the new has come” (v. 17). Once Paul was baptized, he no longer persecuted the Church, but instead preached Christ crucified. Our Baptisms work reconciliation for us. The old nature is here “drowned and dies with all sins and evil desires, and a new man daily emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (SC IV:12). Through this water and Word, God is making His appeal to us: see your sisters and brothers with the heavenly Father’s compassionate, loving and welcoming eyes. Know the Father’s rich love for you. He welcomes you as His dear child for the sake of His crucified and living Son.
“We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (v. 20).
Escape From Temptation
I Corinthians 10:11-13. ESV
The Third Sunday In Lent
Beware of black ice! When you are driving down the road, black ice looks like regular pavement. But when you hit it: bang! You can be in the ditch or worse before you know it. Terrible automobile accidents, injuries, and death have started with black ice.
“Take heed” (v. 12), ‘Watch out,’ St. Paul urges the Corinthians, a warning that echoes in the ears of Christians like you and me today. Temptation is the devil’s black ice for our souls. Especially those who think they are standing firm in the Christian faith: those who feel they are beyond temptation need to be careful not to fall. Learn from the past, the Apostle tells us. Consider the nation of Israel, the chosen people of God. They enjoyed His grace and favour above every other nation. He delivered them from bondage in Egypt, and gave them the Promised Land as a gift. They thought they were standing firm. Just look how they fell: idolatry, sexual immorality, testing God and grumbling against Him. Israel thought they were standing firm. But they fell. They worshipped a golden calf, with gluttonous eating, and drinking alcohol until they were drunk. Later, they committed adultery with the women of other nations who led them to bow down before idols of wood and stone. Again and again they complained against God, even while He was taking care of their needs in the desert. Israel did not stand firm. Israel gave into temptation. And they fell. The earth opened up to swallow some alive. Poisonous serpents bit others so that they died. St. Paul recalls how 23 000 died in one day. Giving in to temptation, they were destroyed.
These are not just graphic bedtime stories, nor simple histories of an ancient people. “These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction” (v. 11). Learn from the past. Learn from the struggles of God's people, who thought they were standing firm. If you and I think that we are so strong in our Christian faith that we are beyond temptation: we are on dangerous ground. Temptation is black ice to the soul. The word for temptation (πειρασμός) describes a deliberate pressing, bending or crushing to search for weakness. The devil tempts us, twisting, poking, prodding, and stressing us at our weakest points to try and break us. Just when we think we are standing firm and strong in the faith, the devil tempts our weaknesses for food, or alcohol, he tests our vanity and pride, he lures us to admire and adore a person or thing instead of God. Satan works especially hard on Christians, tempting us to trust in our works, our abilities, our strength of conviction, the power of our will. He tempts us by stroking our egos, making us feel good about ourselves. The temptation is so subtle and seductive, we hardly know that we are being tempted. Until we stand alone. Until we find the ground beneath us is slippery. Human pride has only one way to go. Tempted—given in—we fall.
When the devil puts us on the slippery slope, Christ is our means of escape. We cannot resist temptation without Him. Repeatedly, Jesus was tempted by the devil. The Son of God stood firm, and banished Satan by His own powerful Word. Paul writes, “No temptation has overcome you that is not common to man” (v. 13). The same subtle, seductive, powerful temptations that we struggle with were the same temptations Jesus wrestled with—and He overcame. “In every respect [Jesus] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Christ escaped temptation for us. Our dear Lord went to the cross for us. Jesus, the Lamb of God is the sinless and holy sacrifice for us who are tempted; for us who have fallen; for us who do fall. Christ’s perfect life is given to us, who believe and are baptized. Our Lord Jesus helps us when we are tempted. In Holy Communion, our Lord reaches out to us in the spiritual food and drink of His true body and blood. He takes hold of us when we are tempted, and steadies us when our feet are slipping out from under us. The real presence of Christ is God’s way of providing a way of escape for us when we are tempted.
On a hot summer day in Florida, a little boy decided to go swimming in the pond behind his house. He tore out of the back door of the house, jumping into the water. As he swam toward the middle of the lake, an alligator was swimming toward the shore. His mother saw the two of them getting closer and closer as she looked out of the kitchen window. Alarmed with fear, she ran toward the water, yelling to her son at the top of her voice.
Hearing his mother’s warning cry, the boy turned around and swam hard back to shore. It was too late. Just as he reached the dock, the alligator reached him. His mother grabbed the boy by the arms just as the alligator snatched his legs. An amazing life or death tug-of-war began. Even though the alligator was bigger, the mother’s love for her child gave her the strength not to let go. Just then, a farmer drove by, and heard her screams. He raced from his truck with his gun, shooting and killing the alligator.
After weeks in the hospital, the boy recovered. His legs were deeply scarred by the teeth of the alligator. His arms also bore the scars where his mother’s fingernails dug into his flesh to hang on to her dear son.
Jesus will not let go of us. His body now bears the scars of His terrible ordeal on the cross. Christ died to save us from the sharp teeth of the devil, the certain death of our sins, and the gaping jaws of hell. By His Word and Sacraments, He has a firm grip on us in body and soul.
When you are tempted, just say no. Although we sin daily, the Apostle urges us not to make peace with sin in our lives: don’t just roll over to every temptation of the devil, the world and the flesh. Just say no. You cannot escape temptation by your own strength, power, will, or ability. You will fall. Escape temptation in the way that God has provided: in Christ Jesus. “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape” (v. 13).
Christ Jesus delivers us from temptation.
You’re Not From Here
Philippians 3:17 - 4:1. ESV
The Second Sunday In Lent
Mennonite corners. Keady road. The Klondike. The long swamp. Cow street. The mere mention of these names conjures up images in your mind: places associated with these names that aren’t on maps or GPS coordinates. You know what I mean when I say “Dodge city.” If you are from here.
Whether you know those places I named or not, we all have this in common: we are citizens of heaven. Directed by the Holy Spirit, St. Paul says so in today’s Epistle. That means, you’re not from around here. Heaven is your home.
The early Christians at Philippi knew exactly what the Apostle meant when he wrote, “our citizenship is in heaven” (3:20). Philippi was a colony of the Roman Empire. Despite their location, hundreds of miles away from the city of Rome, residents of the city enjoyed all the rights of citizens: the protection of Rome’s armies; exemption from many taxes imposed on non-citizens. Even far from the capitol, these Roman citizens enjoyed all of its rights and privileges.
Here, the Apostle Paul uses this illustration to make this point: you and I and every Christian, we are far from our true homeland. In Christ, we are citizens of the new Jerusalem, the dwelling place of the saints. Our citizenship is in heaven. So while we live here, we are travelling away from home.
Truly we are strangers in a strange land; foreigners living among an alien people. Without faith in Christ, the world around us is as the Apostle describes: “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (3:19). That’s harsh! But without eternal life to look forward to, this life is all there is: earthly things like making money, building a career, grabbing for gain and getting ahead are the focus of the world. Satisfying the appetites of your stomach and other physical lusts and urges is the obsession of the world. Without faith in the life to come, “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (I Corinthians 15:32).
The longer we live here, the more the world pressures us to follow where it leads. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” is the old saying. You and I are not from here. In the world, “but not of the world” (St. John 17:14, 16). The Lord has made us citizens of heaven. But we have the world all around us, urging us to walk according it’s example. We are tempted to blend in, to live as if this life is all there is. We buy into the world’s values and live to please ourselves. The world without Christ will end up here: in destruction.
But, you’re not from here. Jesus has given you and me a new passport: we are citizens of heaven. All the money in the world cannot buy it. Our best deeds can’t move us one step closer to that celestial kingdom. Our heavenly citizenship is God’s gift to us. Our heavenly status was purchased by the holy, precious blood of Christ, poured out for you and me and all people at the cross. By His innocent death and powerful resurrection, Jesus has forgiven us when we have blended in with the world and ignored our heavenly pedigree. In the water and word of God in Baptism, the holy, Triune God changed us from enemies of the cross of Christ to residents of heaven. Don’t let the world convince you otherwise. You are not from here. God in His Word says so.
And, we rejoice in heaven’s other citizens. Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi with fondness and tender compassion. These believers who trusted in Christ, “I love and long for, my joy and crown” (4:1), said the Apostle. How blessed this fellowship between heaven’s citizens, especially those who have come to Christ through our witness. We look forward to spending eternity with them.
Stand firm in Christ. We are passing through this life, on our way to our true home. Keep your eyes on the Lord Jesus, eagerly awaiting the “Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body by the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself” (3:21). Keep on believing in the One who rose from the dead and will change our bodies, weakened by sin, disease and death and make them like His own living body: strong and deathless in contentment, health and joy.
Early Christians chose the symbol of the fish to confess their faith in Christ. The Greek letters of the word for fish (ἰχθύς) stand for the creedal statement “Jesus, Son of God, our Saviour.” In another way, the fish is a curious illustration of the Christian in the world. The fish lives in water, but the fish breathes air through its gills. If that breathing organ is injured, the fish will drown. In the ocean, yet not of the ocean. Like the Christian: in the world, but not of it.
You’re not from here. Thanks to Jesus, heaven is your home.
Faith & Confession
Romans 10:8b-13. ESV
The First Sunday In Lent
Some things just go together. You can’t think of one without the other. What things? Salt and... pepper. Macaroni and... cheese. Needle and... thread. Hide and... seek. Lock and... key. Socks and... shoes. Well, in fact, with all of these pairs, you can have one without the other. But some things absolutely must go together: like body and soul. That’s how God gave us life: bringing body and soul together. To be alive in this world, you can’t have one without the other.
Like faith and confession. The two just belong together. With your heart, you believe in Jesus; with your mouth, you confess Him to be Lord. Salvation brings both together: we believe and confess.
Salvation is the gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul in Romans makes that crystal clear. What is faith? Trust in the heart. Relying on something or someone; depending on them to be there for you and pull you through. The faith that saves depends on Jesus Christ. We believe that we cannot earn salvation by what we do. We believe in the work that Jesus has done for us. Jesus is our Lord because He died on the cross in our place, sacrificing His perfect life as the penalty that pays for our sins. In our hearts, we believe that “God raised Him from the dead” (v. 9). This word is near us (v. 8): that is, in our Bibles, read and preached here in Church: the Word of faith that we treasure in our hearts. The Word is Jesus Himself. When we call on the name of the Lord in faith, we will be saved (v. 13). God promises. We believe it.
Who does God want to save? Everyone. All people. Through the office of the preaching ministry, through the missionary activity of the Church, the Word of salvation is going out into the world. God speaks to all people through “the word of faith that we proclaim” (v. 8). Salvation is for all people. There isn’t a different way of salvation for Muslims and Hindus, for rich and poor. Faith in Jesus Christ alone saves. Jews and Greeks, black or white, English or French, “there is no distinction... the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing His riches on all who call on Him” (v. 12). Without the rich gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation, all people suffer the shame of sin and guilt, the condemnation of death and hell. But through faith in Christ, our sins are covered, our guilt is removed. “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame” (v. 11).
So much depends on faith in Christ: really, everything. But not everyone believes. You will be saved, writes St. Paul: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” (v. 9). If!
True and saving faith in Jesus always leads to confession. What is confession? Confession is what you say about yourself to the world. Confession is what we say with the words that come out of our mouths. We also confess who we are by the way we live. Our confession flows from our convictions. We confess because of what we believe. We speak to say what’s in our hearts. That’s why faith and confession go together. We believe and confess.
Oh sure, because we are sinners, we can also be hypocrites: that is, say one thing, but believe the opposite. We can pretend to be Christian while secretly denying it. But God knows our hearts. He calls us to repent of every pretending hypocrisy. “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:3). Faith and confession go together.
If we believe, we are compelled to confess. Out of the overflow of our hearts, we speak (St. Luke 6:45). Confirmation is where we stand up ahead of the church and ahead of the world to confess that we are Christians. “Whoever confesses Me before men,” Jesus said, “him I will confess before My Father who is in heaven” (St. Matthew 10:32). We confess that Jesus is Lord in so many ways: in our daily devotions, by teaching Sunday School, by volunteering our time to help others, by coming to worship services, by speaking the Apostles’, Nicene or Athanasian creeds together, by kneeling together here to receive the One in whom we trust: Christ in Communion. On the job and at school we confess Christ when we speak well of others, defend them, and explain everything in the kindest way. We confess our faith when we resist temptations from the devil, trusting that Christ will support us and give us the will to say “no” to temptation: for He is the Word who is always near to us. Christians are busy with many opportunities to confess the faith: not to try and save ourselves. We confess because we already have salvation through faith in Jesus. Faith and confession go together.
Some Christians really struggle with that: they feel embarrassed or ashamed to speak to others about their faith. Some Christians carry a heavy burden of shame. Listen to God’s Word today: “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame” (v. 11). Being a Christian is honorable: there’s no shame in that. Believing in Jesus will never let us down: there’s no shame in that. Confessing to others what it means to be a Christian isn’t just our duty. We help others eternally by telling them that salvation is through faith in Jesus alone. There’s no shame in that!
An artesian well is water under pressure. Not the well that supplies water to the church and parsonage which must be pumped out of the ground. Water from an artesian well flows naturally to the surface. Subterranean pressure makes it flow.
That’s a picture of faith and confession. Saving faith in Jesus, given by God the Holy Spirit is hidden in our hearts, like water underground. Confession is that faith coming out of us: in what we say, where we spend our time and money, how we live, what matters to us. Faith flows naturally into confession.
“For with the heart one believes and is justified,
and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (v. 10).
Beneath the Veil
II Corinthians 4:3-6. ESV
The Transfiguration Of Our Lord
A long time ago I heard a very charming story. A young man and a young woman were engaged to be married. Both were in the prime of their lives and very attractive.
One night, the young man was driving home from work. A drunk driver in the oncoming lane swerved into him and smashed into the car. The man was thrown from the car by the impact and landed in the ditch. When the ambulance came to the scene, he was still alive. His body was completely broken up, including the bones of his face. When he arrived at the hospital, doctors were able to reset the bones of his body, but the man was covered with lacerations, particularly on his face from going through the windshield. Once the bleeding was brought under control, it was clear that this man needed reconstructive surgery. A specialist worked on him for many hours and when he was finished, bound up the man's face to allow it to heal.
While this man was recovering in hospital, the date for their wedding was fast approaching. In fact, it worked out that the bandages on his face were scheduled to be removed the date of the wedding. The young couple debated. Should they postpone the wedding? The bride to be wondered what her fiancé looked like. Was he ugly? Would he be so scarred that she would have trouble looking at him? Would she be able to wake up to this face every morning? Would his appearance change her love for him? After a long talk, they decided not to put the wedding off. The couple decided to go with the original date with one particular change. They decided to keep the bandages on until the time of the service.
As the bride walked up the aisle, her heart was racing. Did she do the right thing? What would she find when she removed the bandages? At the altar, they turned to face one another. Lovingly, her fiancé lifted her veil. With trembling hands, she unwound the bandages from her husband. When she saw the look of love on his face, all her fears fled from her heart and she was overcome with a deeper love than she had known before. The veil was lifted.
For the months that led up to that wedding day, a veil of sorts covered up the true face of that woman's husband-to-be. A different kind of veil has blinded the world’s hearts and minds for thousands of years. This veil keeps people from seeing who Jesus Christ is. Ever since He was born, people have regarded Jesus Christ as a man—a great man, a prophet and teacher, but a man all the same. Even the disciples were blinded by this veil of unbelief. At times, they too thought Jesus was just a man and nothing more.
As we enter the season of Lent, there is a real danger that this same veil will cover our eyes and blind our understanding. Our Wednesday worship services during Lent will focus on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. As we see all that He went through, it is tempting to forget that Christ is both God and man. The veil of sin can cover up our hearts only too easily. Instead of realizing how serious our sin is; instead of reckoning the great price that was needed to take our sin away, the veil of sin can direct our attention elsewhere. When we hear and meditate on the suffering and death of our Lord, we can simply pity Him, feeling sorry for all He went through. Sin veils our minds to God's power—to the almighty power of our Lord even during His suffering and death.
Christ appeared as true God to lift that veil from us. On the Mount of Transfiguration, our Lord laid aside the veil of His humility and shone with the brightness of heaven. As Jesus was transfigured before the disciples, a voice from heaven called out, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” God the Father made it clear that Jesus was equal to Him in every way. If they thought Jesus was just a man, this heavenly vision lifted the veil of blindness from their hearts and showed them the truth. Jesus is fully God and fully man.
For this reason, His death on the cross has infinite value for us and for all who believe. Jesus revealed His glory to the disciples shortly before they entered Jerusalem, shortly before He was arrested, beaten, condemned and executed. This vision gave strength to the disciples before this time of suffering, before the time when their faith would be tested as well. But the same Christ who shone with the brilliance of heaven was also the same Christ that was beaten, whipped, spit on, nailed to the cross and died. The same Jesus who is both God and man took our sins away from us. By His death, He has forgiven our sins. By rising to life again, He has lifted the veil of sin from our hearts.
But as St. Paul reminds us, the veil of unbelief lies thick over the eyes of those who do not know the Saviour. The god of this world has blinded the eyes of many to the ways that God continues to come to us today.
But we who know the Saviour by faith can see beneath the veil. We know that the water of Baptism is not just plain water. We know that the bread and wine of Communion convey the real presence of our Lord to us. Here, God speaks, and it is so. In the beginning, God said, “Let light shine out of darkness” (v. 6). With His word, He created the universe. That same powerful word of God changes the water of Baptism from ordinary tap water to the vehicle of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is not simple water only. It is the washing of regeneration and rebirth in the Holy Spirit. Baptism is the beginning of a new life. God the Holy Spirit lifts the veil of unbelief covering our hearts and minds. In Christ, we see His glorious working beneath the veil.
Before heading off to Jerusalem, Jesus gave His disciples a vision of His glory as true God when He was transfigured before them. As we enter this Lenten season, I pray that our times of worship and devotion will bring us closer to God and to each other. Our Lord will open our eyes to His glory as He comes to us beneath the veil in simple, ordinary things: in words, in water, in bread and in wine. As our faith grows, the veil is lifted from us.
What Will Happen To My Body?
I Corinthians 15:21-26, 30-42. ESV
The Seventh Sunday After The Epiphany
Did you know that the molecules that make up our bodies are constantly wearing out and are being replaced with new ones? Scientists estimate that every seven years the cells of our bodies are completely replaced. That means the body you have now is made up of different components than the one you had seven years ago. Every seven years we all get a entirely new body. Maybe you might be wondering if you could get one of the younger versions of your body back again.
The changes that come over our bodies as we grow in years reminds us that we are not as strong or as handsome or as fast as we used to be. The effects of aging start to show up in our bodies. ‘What will happen to my body?’
The ancient Greeks that read these words of St. Paul were body conscious: given to vanity, meticulous about clothing, hair and makeup. Along with appearance, the Greeks were also famous as athletes, initiating the competitions of the Olympic games. Like them, our world is obsessed with looking good, staying fit and living longer. But at the end of our lives, then what? What happens to our bodies?
We answer, together with the whole Christian Church, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” As we confess our faith in those creedal statements, we are saying that the same body we bury in the ground at death will rise again on the final day to new life.
The people of Corinth had trouble with that teaching. There’s that inner skeptic that questions the notion of the resurrection of the body. “How?” How will the resurrection happen? What will happen to this body that is now starting to bag and sag and wrinkle; this body that is weak and sick? Will God raise up this tired old body to live again? Hard to picture.
Easier to think that when we die, our bodies simply stay in the ground. Easier for us to believe that only our spirits live on with God in heaven. But that’s thinking like the first Adam.
The first Adam was a pretty earthy guy. He came to life when God scooped some dirt together and breathed life into him. He rebelled against God, was kicked out of paradise, grew old, died, was buried, and in the grave his body decayed. How natural for us the think that the grave is the end of the story for our bodies. But when we deny the resurrection of the body, we deny that God has the power to give life and raise our bodies again.
But another Adam has come. The last Adam, Jesus Christ was born as a baby, with a human body just as we have. He grew, experienced heat, cold, hunger, thirst, joy, loneliness, pain, aging, and death, just as we do. But the last Adam never sinned. He offered His body on the cross unstained with His own sin, but black with the sins of the world, with your sins and mine. This last Adam succeeded where the first one failed. Christ suffered and died for us; He was buried in the tomb but did not decay. Jesus rose from the dead in the body for us and ascended bodily into heaven. Because this last Adam has come to take our sins away, we know that our bodies will also rise from the dead, holy and free from sin, just as He rose from the dead. Today, our Saviour again offers us His body and blood to make us strong in our faith. He comes to us in His body today to give us a taste of the resurrection of the body that He will give to all who believe in Him on the final day.
Since Jesus has come as the last Adam, we believe that He will raise our bodies to live again. But, that leaves us with questions: “With what kind of body [will the dead rise again?]” (v. 35). What about children who die? Will they be adults in heaven? Will older people be younger? What about those who have had arms or legs amputated? What about those who have died in explosions or fires? What about the bodies? What will they be like?
The Lord in His wisdom has not answered every question that we might have about the resurrection of the body. But He has lifted the veil and graciously allowed us a peek into what we can expect.
Our resurrected bodies will be the same ones that we have now—the same bodies that we commit to the earth will be raised again, only they will be different. Our new bodies will be so much better: imperishable, glorified, powerful and heavenly. None of the sickness, weakness, and pain that comes from sin will trouble our bodies again. Our bodies will be everything that the Lord intended them to be—all disabilities and handicaps will be a thing of the past. Our new bodies will be strong, indestructible and glorious because they will be the image, the icon of our risen Lord. Our bodies will be like our Saviour’s after He rose from the dead—bodies that can travel thousands of miles in an instant; bodies that can pass through walls; bodies that can walk on the ground or fly through the air; bodies that radiate the brilliance of the sun. But like our bodies now, our new bodies will also cast a shadow; we will be able to touch and be touched; we will also be able to eat, just as our Saviour did after He rose again from the dead. Because we believe, the Lord will transform the perishable bodies we have now to be like His own glorious body (Philippians 3:21).
As we look forward to that new life, think of this image that our Lord gives here in His Word. Look at a grain of wheat. We plant it in the ground, it rots and it dies. If that were the end, there would be no farmers. But once that grain dies, a new plant sprouts and grows, much larger and more complex than the seed.
In the same way, we bury our friends and relatives who die as Christians much like that grain of wheat. Their bodies go into the ground weak and frail and they soon decay. But as God grants the miracle of life to the grain of wheat, something even more fantastic happens to our bodies after we die. The Lord will raise those bodies out of the earth to a new and glorious life. If He cares that much about a grain of wheat, He will certainly do much more for His beloved children in Christ.
Whenever we struggle with the effect that sin has on our bodies: with illness, weakness, aging and death, we can take comfort in the resurrection of the body. With confidence, we look forward to that glorious day, trusting in our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
I Believe In The Resurrection Of The Body
I Corinthians 15:1-20. ESV
The Sixth Sunday After The Epiphany
Have you seen the game show on television Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? That’s a fitting name for the show. To win big, you’ve got to want it: want it bad enough to risk your smaller winnings for the big prize. This is how the game works: every new question wins bigger bucks. But if you give the wrong answer, you lose the money you had won before by giving the right answer. Not too many people make it to the end. Most people opt out and fail to become millionaires. They decide not to risk a wrong answer: to stop rather than try one more question.
That’s a good strategy for a game show. Sadly, many Christians are also willing to settle for less in eternity. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, he addressed this shortcoming in their faith. What they believed sounded good: by faith in Jesus, the Corinthians believed that their souls would live forever in heaven. So far, so good. But some did not believe what we confess in our creeds: in the resurrection of the body. Greek philosophers taught that the soul was trapped in the body: like a bird in a cage. When a person died, the soul was set free: like a bird sprung from its cage. That’s how some of the Corinthians Christians thought about the life after this life: eternity as a disembodied spirit; as a ghost floating around the clouds of heaven. Christians today have the same misconception. That’s settling for less than what God has prepared for those He loves, His dear saints who believe in Him.
Bodily resurrection is Christianity. To deny the resurrection of the body is not a trivial thing—like a game show contestant that’s unwilling to take a risky move and win more money. Life in Christ is in the body. St. Paul ends his letter to the Corinthians by hammering home this all-important fact: the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the heart of the Christian faith. Like the hitch pin for a trailer or farm implement, linking it to the tractor. The bodily resurrection of Jesus holds our faith together. Lose that pin, you lose your trailer, plow, or seeder. The Apostle works out the logic of a faith that does not include the body of Jesus risen from the dead.
If the body of Christ has not been raised from the dead... That means the Bible is false. Scripture records again and again that Jesus, with His body, left the tomb in Jerusalem alive. That also makes the preaching of the Apostles wrong when they spread the word that Jesus, who died on the cross, was raised to life again. All Christian preaching and teaching that proclaims “Christ is risen” is also a lie, and every Easter celebration as hollow and meaningless as a chocolate bunny.
If the body of Christ has not been raised from death, then all who die believing in Him will not be raised either. Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus, our bodies will never live again after death. That means that after looking upon the face of your loved one for the last time at their hospital bed, you will never see their face again. Horrible thought! Once the coffin lid is closed, there will never be another time to look at your loved one. Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus, there is no hope, nothing to look forward to after this life. Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus, we Christians are living the worst life, the least desirable and most to be pitied. We are missing out on all the pleasures of this life—to eat, drink, and have fun—live it up here and now. For if there is no resurrection, we have only this life to live.
Worst of all, without the bodily resurrection of Jesus, we are still in our sins. The Bible tells us that God’s righteous anger for sins was satisfied when Jesus died in our place on the cross. But... if He is still dead and buried in the tomb, we have no forgiveness. Our sins—all of them—still cling to our souls.
The good news is this: in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. The same Jesus whose body was nailed to the cross—in His hands and feet—to suffer and die to earn our forgiveness has been raised from the dead. Christ crucified has earned the entire forgiveness for our every sin. This forgiving grace is sealed by this fact: God raised His Son’s human body to life again and seated Jesus at His right hand of power and glory in heaven where the Lord constantly pleads for and prays for us. In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. We are forgiven in Him.
St. Paul calls Jesus “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 20). That’s harvest talk. The first grain, apples, wheat, barley, oats, canola, etc. show the strength and promise of the crops and the yield that is yet to come. Jesus, when His body returned to life on Easter morning is the Firstfruits of those who are joined to Him in faith and follow where He has led. Baptized Christians who have died in this life and whose bodies we have laid to rest in our cemetery are awaiting the great resurrection of the body that will happen on the Last Day. Then, the living Christ will appear visibly for judgement. Like a shepherd dividing sheep from goats, Jesus will gather His true Christians into the green pastures of heaven. Resurrected in soul and in body. Renovated and redesigned for life without end in eternity. In this hope, we live now. Anticipating this hope, we look forward. In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. Those who are in Christ will be resurrected also.
The Bible tells me so. Every word of Sacred Scripture, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 is the Word of God: entirely true, reliable, and unchanging. The Bible records that hundreds of women and men saw the risen Jesus (v. 5-8), talked with Him, ate meals with Him, even hugged His living, resurrected body. God the Holy Spirit directed the Bible’s writers to record a faithful witness of their encounters with the resurrected Jesus so that everyone would know that their eyes were not just playing tricks on them. The risen Christ has continued to use faithful, Bible-based preaching, teaching, and Christian witness in our everyday life to spread the true and saving faith in Jesus Christ throughout the centuries and throughout the world. In this way, the Gospel preached by Paul in Corinth has reached us here in Desboro, and online through the world wide web. For, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.
Ongoing pandemic restrictions limiting human contact leave us longing for fellowship with other people and simple physical touch. Risen from the dead, Jesus now embodies perfect compassion for you, me and all people. Christ loves each of us as we struggle through these days in our physical bodies. Picture Mary swaddling the tiny body of her dear Child Jesus, born to be our Brother, Immanuel, God-with-us. Picture Christ opening His arms to welcome newborn infants and toddlers, placing His hands on them to bless them. Picture Mary Magdalene, her heart overflowing with relief and joy, embracing the feet of Jesus, recently returned to life from the grave. We believe in the resurrection the body. In faith, picture Jesus giving you a great big hug.
God’s Building Project
I Corinthians 14:12b-20. ESV
The Fifth Sunday After The Epiphany
The Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary located in the centre of the city of Léon, Nicaragua, is the largest church in Central America, covering an entire city block. This UNESCO World Heritage site traces its roots back to 1530, the time of Martin Luther and the presentation of the Augsburg Confession. From modest beginnings, the church was rebuilt four times. The cathedral has survived earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and wars. The construction of the massive church as it now stands stretched over 100 years, finally dedicated in 1860. An amazing building project!
The holy Christian Church is God’s building project. Christ is the foundation—Jesus is also the builder. The Lord’s tools are His Word, the Bible, and that Word at work in the Sacraments: Baptism and Communion. God’s Word must be understood to do us any good: if we don’t understand His Word, we are not edified (v. 17), no building takes place—just noise (13:1).
Confusion, failure to understand, words without meaning: all that put a stop to the world’s first big building project. Descendants of Noah gathered on the savanna of what is now modern-day Iraq to build a massive city with a tower stretching up into the heavens. The stated goal of this building project was for the builders to make a name for themselves and to unify the people so they would not be scattered over the earth (Genesis 11:4). God was not included. This was an entirely human building project: a monument to pride in the human spirit. Building stopped in Babel when God confused their language. One guy did not know what the other guy was saying. Each was building in their own way. Work was chaotic, disorganized, disjointed. No one together. From Babel, they scattered.
That’s a picture of sin. Language is given to us by God to understand, to bridge the space that separates us from each other, to unify people with a common way of seeing the world. But sin darkens our understanding, like the veil that covered the face of Moses when he came down from Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:33; II Corinthians 3:13). That unique gift of God: the heavenly tongues spoken by the Corinthians was a useless, random ringing noise in the ears without an interpretation, explanation, translation. Just as all building activity at the Tower of Babel stopped when the workers did not understand each other, the outsider, the visitor (ἰδιώτηϛ) in Corinth who didn’t know the language of tongues stood in church like a deer in the headlights. ‘What’s going on here?’ Without understanding, God’s Word does not edify, “the other person is not being built up” (v. 17).
God builds His Church. The tool He uses is His Word, the Bible. That’s why the Apostle Paul’s stated goal is to use that Word, (even if it’s as few as five words) “to instruct others” (κατηχέω v. 19). “Catechesis” comes from this word used by St .Paul for instruction. God builds His Church through catechesis or instruction from His Word, the Bible. God builds His Church here in the worship service—in the Bible readings and sermon, in the hymns and prayers drawn from the Bible. God also builds His Church in our home devotions, Sunday School, Catechism classes, and Bible studies—explaining and applying His Word to our daily lives. We may not get it right away. As Jesus taught in the parable of the sower, sin may keep us from being built up by that Word of God. That’s why God’s building project is ongoing: Sunday after Sunday, and every day. If we don’t listen to His Word, then we are “not being built up” (v. 12) by it. Then, we experience some of that confusion between the workers at the Tower of Babel.
Yet, God keeps on building...
The Church is built on Christ, the Foundation and Chief Cornerstone. You and I are built up in Him. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (I Corinthians 8:1). We could study for many hours and gather a lot of information on a variety of topics from the Bible. Yet, thine one truth is vital for us: that we know Christ and make Him known. All teaching and catechesis in the Church looks to Jesus, who is the Head of the Church. The Lord Jesus builds us up by humbling Himself. Christ unites us as one body by taking all the sins that separate us into Himself. Our selfishness and pride were hung on Christ crucified. The cross unites us, holding out to us and all the world, God’s free forgiveness, which we cannot produce by our best work. Jesus, who died for all and now lives forever, gathers baptized believers from every corner of the world into God’s house, the holy Christian Church on earth and in heaven. This is God’s building project. The Lord keeps on building His Church until the last day.
The Church is a unique building project. No other construction like it happens in hidden hearts. No other construction works exclusively with the Word of God and that Word joined to the Sacraments. No other construction is the very work of God in Christ. Using clearly understandable words we can trust in our hearts, Jesus promises, “I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (St. Matthew 16:18b).
Love In Christ
I Corinthians 12:31-13:13. ESV
The Fourth Sunday After The Epiphany
Love in Christ is strong and living. The hymn we just sang was written by Dorothy and Ralph Schultz to be sung at the wedding of their daughter Debra, married to Kevin Cook on July 15, 1978. Today, there’s no service of marriage. Still this is a great hymn for us to sing anytime: simply telling the Bible’s teaching about love: God’s love for us moves us to love each other. Love shows in acts of kindness. Charity begins with the Lord.
Today’s Epistle continues our readings from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Already in this letter, Paul wrote about the congregation’s sins that showed their lack of love: splintering into factions, defending sexual sins, suing fellow Christians, disrupting worship and the Lord’s Supper. All the while, the Corinthians were proud of themselves, boasting that they were super-Christians, gifted in prophecy, miracles, and speaking in tongues. What’s it all worth without love? “A noisy gong ... a clanging cymbal” (v. 1), says Paul. Just a bunch of noise.
These things are written to warn us: don’t fall into the sins of the Corinthians in their loveless ways! Don’t despise the unity of the church to form your own faction, like they did. Don’t approve of sexual sins, like they did. Don’t look at your fellow church member as your adversary, as they did. Don’t look in pride at your own abilities, strengths, and gifts as if you have produced all these things yourself, like they did. Love does not look inside ourselves for the answers to all our problems. Love looks to Christ
One day, all spiritual gifts will be gone. One day, faith will be obsolete. One day, hope will no longer be needed. But not love. “Love never ends” (v. 8). Love in Christ will always be with us.
Our dear Lord is patient, not short-tempered, nor moody when He deals with us. Jesus does not have a short fuse. He does not rage nor cry in wild swings of unpredictable emotions. Christ is patient. Our Lord is kind. He cares for the needs of babies, as well as those who are dying: both adults and teenagers. The loving heart of Jesus has no room for envy nor coveting. Even in extreme poverty, see how contented Jesus is! Although He is true God in human flesh, still Christ did not boast, nor was He arrogant. The Lord was never rude, even while the crowds, soldiers and Pilate treated Him shamefully, spitting on Him and making fun of Him under trial. Jesus loves us. He came down from heaven to save mankind. Instead of taking care of Himself, Christ only wanted the best for us. Always patient, Jesus did not become angry, irritated, nor resentful of those who rejected Him. But, love also moved Christ to speak out against sin, condemning those who claimed to be holy without faith in Him. More than just a mirror of the times, Jesus rejoiced in the truth of God’s Word, with a joy that reached to heaven when that Word took hold in believing hearts and minds. In love, Jesus does not keep a record of our sins—those very sins that make us unloveable in God’s eyes. Christ’s deep love for us and all the world moved Him to take our punishment on Himself, to take our place on the cross, to die the death we deserve. Through His loving sacrifice, Jesus erased the record of our sins against us. In love, God bears no grudge against those who trust in Christ as their Saviour. Instead, the Lord forgives us: through His absolution, through our Baptisms, through the Sacrament of the Altar.
Love in Christ is everything to us. God is not an angry Judge when His loving face is turned to us in Jesus. Love in Christ is everything to us. We can love even the most unloveable people around us because of the love we have received. We love, because God in Christ first loved us (I John 4:19). Love in Christ gives us what we need: unity and strength as the body of Christ, faith for each day and hope for eternity.
Two brothers were so excited to be going to Vacation Bible School at a church in the country. This would be the first time they would be away from home for week, away from the big city. Their mother had scraped together all her money, down to the last penny, walked down to Goodwill thrift store and bought everything they would need: two big, old suitcases, play clothes, used shoes, even some bags of candy.
The boys stood in the parking lot with the excited crowd of children when they heard the bad news. The bus had broken down! The bus that was to take them to the church was in the shop. A smaller bus was going that couldn’t fit everybody. So, only one child from each family was allowed to go. One boy, one bag, that’s all.
The little brother burst into tears. “That’s okay,” his older brother said, “you go.”
“No! You go,” he blubbered. “I can’t go without you anyway.”
“Follow me,” said the big brother. They went to the back of the parking lot. First, he threw his brother’s suitcase into the dumpster. Then, he opened his own luggage and emptied out his own treasures into the dumpster. Finally, he laid his suitcase open on the ground and whispered, “Keep quiet! Get in!”
Straining and stumbling, carrying that big bag on his shoulders, the older brother trudged up the steps of the bus with his precious cargo.
In this way, Christ loves us: he carries us all way.
In this way, we love others: with the love of Christ.
I Corinthians 12:12-31a. ESV
The Third Sunday After The Epiphany
Animals can’t talk.
Common sense and your own experience in the natural world teach you that. And yet, you don’t have to look too far to find an animated character from the animal kingdom endowed with speech: a cute, tender deer; a comical mouse; a (purple) dinosaur that has been given only-too-human characteristics. Even your dog may give you a look that makes you think he’s about to tell you something. But, the fact remains: animals don’t talk.
Yet, in one of my favorite parts of the Bible, by a miracle of God, that very thing happened: Balaam’s donkey talked to him.
Blocked by an angel invisible to Balaam, his donkey refused to go where Balaam was driving her, even striking the animal with his staff. Why? “What have I done to you,” the donkey asks, “that you struck me these three times?”
“Because you have made a fool of me,” answers Balaam (apparently he is not surprised that his donkey is now talking to him). “I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.”
“Am I not your donkey,” she answers, as she pleads her case, “on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?”
Balaam considers his donkey’s answer and says, “No.”
Maybe Balaam is so angry, and his foot is throbbing with pain from being crushed against the wall by his donkey that it never occurs to him to wonder, ‘Why is my donkey talking?’ (Numbers 22:22-30)
As if a talking donkey isn’t strange enough, in today’s Epistle reading, St. Paul invites us to picture the parts of our body talking to each other. Now, it’s true that sometimes our bodies can make funny sounds: aging body parts start to creak, groan and squeak, like an old house. But, carry on a conversation? Where’s the Apostle Paul going with this metaphor?
Clearly, St. Paul is comparing the human body to the Church. The various parts of a healthy body all work together, in harmony. That’s how God designed the Church: different parts—one body. But, when the body hurts—even one part—the whole body suffers. Like when you stub your toe, hit your funny bone, or have a hangnail: suddenly the whole body pays attention to the aching, throbbing or bleeding member.
In the Church, the body, that is the body of Christ suffers when one part says to another, “I don’t need you (v. 21).” Just as the gifts given by the Holy Spirit are all important, no matter how varied and diverse, so each of the members of the body of Christ plays a vital role. After all, God arranged the Church with various members, just as He created our bodies with specialized parts. To look down on and despise fellow members of the body of Christ is the body’s way of saying it is not healthy. To say to another Christian, “I don’t need you” shows the sickness of sin that has infected the body. Division and conflict hurt the body of Christ. Where this sin runs its course through the Church unstopped, the body cannot survive.
In His body, Jesus says to the world, ‘I love you.’ In His body, Jesus says to us when we are at odds with each other, ‘I forgive you.’ In His body, Jesus says to you and to me when we don’t feel a part of the body, ‘You are precious in My sight. I have redeemed you.’ The Child of Mary was born a human body like ours so that He might have compassion on us, who struggle through this life in the body. The true human Child of Mary is also true God in our flesh, born into our world that He might save us—in body and soul.
The all-seeing eye of the Lord has looked upon us in our sins—when our eyes look on lustful, pornographic images; when we gaze longingly to covet the things that belong to others. The Lord’s eyes shed tears of sorrow for our sins; His pure eyes focus on the cross—the end, the solution, and absolution for our sins. No words escape the ears of the Lord: He hears the gossip our ears are hungry to hear and to spread. He hears the false teachings against His holy Word spread by print, television and Internet: just what our itching ears want to hear. The Lord hears it all—and keeps on speaking His Word: the unchanging Scriptures into our ears. In His body, the Lord was nailed, hand and foot for us, whose feet have strayed into sinful ways; whose hands have kept busy with iniquity. In response to our sins, hear the Lord’s answer: here at the altar, His very body and blood plead for our forgiveness, our life, our salvation.
In the body, Jesus died and rose to life again to become the Head of the body, His Church. With Him as our Head, we, His members are honoured.
Not only has God created us, body and soul in the wombs of our mothers. The Lord has also graciously recreated us in Holy Baptism, incorporated us into the Church, the body of Christ. The Head of the Church, Jesus, here feeds us with His true body and blood, nourishing the body and honouring us with His gifts: forgiveness, life and salvation.
Streets paved with gold. The river of the water of life. White-robed saints singing praise to God. The new Jerusalem adored with rich jewels, giant pearls for gates. Here, we live by faith. In heaven, we will see what we now believe. Best of all will be to see Jesus. In His living and glorified body, He will great each of His dear members: “Well done, good and faithful servant... Enter into the joy of your Master” (St. Matthew 25:21). Amen
I Corinthians 12:1-11. ESV
The Second Sunday After The Epiphany
“What’s Christmas really about?” Cindy Lou Who asked the Grinch in a modern re-telling of Dr. Seuss’s classic tale. “Presents, I suppose,” replied the Grinch, giving the obligatory answer accepted by most Whos in Whoville.
Presents are certainly a big part of our modern Christmas celebrations. Gift-giving continues into Epiphany as our Epistle describes the free gifts poured out by the Holy Spirit on Christians.
American author, O. Henry in his short story, The Gifts of the Magi tells a sad tale of sacrificial love when a poor married couple decide to surprise each other with gifts at Christmas. Della Young has very little money to buy a present for her husband, Jim. She decides to cut her beautiful long hair, and sells it to buy a platinum chain for her husband’s pocket watch. Meanwhile, Jim, her husband, also short of money, pawns his watch to buy a set of ornamental combs for her beautiful hair. When they exchange their gifts, Della and Jim realize that the gifts they bought were not so important. Their love for each other mattered the most.
How do we exchange gifts? Well, there’s “Secret Santa:” you surprise another person with the gift you have picked out for them. At an office party, each person might be asked to bring a gift suitable for anyone and at the exchange, pass their gift to the person beside them. Gifts don’t have to cost a lot of money: they can be something made by you: a gift from the heart. How sad to feel left out of a gift exchange when you have nothing to unwrap. It’s not right to feel like you need to pay someone back for a costly gift they have given you. A true gift is exchanged to show the kindness, thoughtfulness and the love of the giver. The Holy Spirit gives rich and varied gifts to us. He is the Lord and Giver of life.
The same God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, gives gifts to the Church “for the common good” (v. 7). One God; varieties of gifts (v. 4). But, the congregation at Corinth had problems. They were divided against each other. Groups in the church each followed their favorite Pastor (I Cor. 3). Sexual sin corrupted family members in the congregation (I Cor. 5). Some members sued other members in civil courts (I Cor. 6). Members went to idol temples and ate where false gods were worshipped with sacrifices (I Cor. 8), they stayed away from the Lord’s Supper or ate and drank in an unworthy manner (I Cor. 11). Disorder had crept into the conduct of the worship services, bringing shame upon the congregation in the eyes of the unbelieving world around them (I Cor. 14:40). Large, wealthy, and prosperous, the congregation of the Corinthians had made a real mess of things. They needed to see the gifts of God that were already among them.
St. Paul’s entire letter is a warning against disunity in the church. During these pandemic days, we are tempted to do our own thing: that is, to turn our backs equally on the Law of God, the Ten Commandments, and to ignore His rich gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit; to look after ourselves, and ignore everyone else. My rights, my choice, my life: selfishness is the language of our times. Aborting the life of an unborn child who is unwanted; despising marriage and just living together; homosexual acts; transitioning to another sex; speeding up the death of a person who is ill, aged or depressed: these actions come when God’s gift of life is despised, and each person insists on his or her own way. We walk in darkness, through the valley of world that despises God’s gift of life, instead being enticed by death as the solution to tough times. And, this darkness of sin and death is in each of us, in our fallen and sinful natures. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Real sins disrupted the church in Corinth because they were sinners. Real sins shake up our lives because we are sinners. God alone brings His people together: “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). The one God holds us together with His gifts.
God the Father gives His Son in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Greater than the nine gifts of the Spirit that St. Paul describes in today’s Epistle, is the grace of God in Christ, the one perfect gift for all people. We have this gift through faith in Christ. Jesus gave His life on the cross in exchange for ours. We deserve death and hell for our sins. Jesus alone is holy. But, Christ made this trade for us: exchanging His perfect, spotless, immaculate life into grim death so that we, in exchange, are forgiven all our sins, no matter how dark and shameful. He was bound. We are free. Life—here on earth, and forever in heaven—is precious. For this life has been purchased and won for us at the highest cost: the holy, precious, lifeblood of God’s only and dearest Son. Our greatest gift is Jesus. The Holy Spirit gives us faith to hold on to Him in our hearts. “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except in the Holy Spirit” (v. 3).
To those with saving faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit gives gifts. The Holy Spirit pours out His gifts “to each one individually as He wills” (v. 11), “for the common good” (v. 7). No place for bragging here. The Spirit chooses to give His gifts by grace, that is, undeserved favour. These gifts are rich and varied: wisdom and knowledge, great and heroic faith, skill for healing diseases, preaching, teaching, linguistics, translation, and more. None of these gifts are given to us by the Holy Spirit for our own personal profit, fame, nor advancement. Christians! Use your gifts, whatever they are, to help those in need. Exchange your gifts for the satisfaction of making a difference in a desperate world longing for Christian compassion.
The Holy Spirit blesses us by His gifts—rich and varied—for He is the Lord and Giver of life. Everyday in this grey and lifeless world, we exchange His gifts for the privilege of shining the light of Christ into the lives of others around us. For the common good, the Holy Spirit pours His gifts on the Church, “until we all reach the unity in the faith... grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ... as the whole body builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:13-16).
Wet Behind The Ears Romans 6:1-11. ESV
The Baptism Of Our Lord 09/01/22.
Naïve. Inexperienced. Green. If he’s “wet behind the ears,” he’s new on the job, untested, unaware of the challenges and perks that come with the task ahead. “Wet behind the ears” is a phrase that was coined to refer to a newborn calf or colt: there’s a spot on the back of their ears that is the last place to be dried after they are born. Alternately, this expression describes children who forget to dry behind their ears after washing. Usually, to be “wet behind the ears” is a bad thing. When it comes to faith in Christ Jesus, baptized Christians always need to be.
Satan loves to prey on us when we are weak, naïve, easily-swayed: newbies when it comes to faith in Christ. Like the silly reasoning of the saints in Rome; an argument that the Old Adam still makes today to try and get his way: “Let’s keep on sinning, so God will forgive us more!” A rookie mistake: intentional sins—setting out to break the commandments deliberately, expecting instant forgiveness—that’s turning your back on Jesus. He was joined to you here in your Baptism: while you were still wet behind the ears. “How can we... ?” (v. 2), asks Paul. Deliberate sinning means you go it alone—without forgiveness, without the Saviour, only condemned.
The devil’s other strategy is to come at us from the other way: to convince us that we are strong: seasoned Christians with strong convictions who can tackle whatever may come by our own abilities. Do you see Satan’s lie in that temptation? We are never so strong, mature, experienced, that we no longer need the Saviour. Without Jesus, we remain under the rule, influence and power of the sinful nature in us. Without Jesus, we are under the dominion of death.
You and I can proudly say that we are “wet behind the ears:” not naïve nor foolish, but baptized into Christ Jesus” (v. 3). That’s a part of our identity that we are proud to tell others about. Baptism is part of Christ’s great commission (St. Matthew 28:19). Not only has the Lord commanded that the people of all nations be baptized. Christ has attached great and precious promises to this Sacrament. Here, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, drowns the Old Adam, that sinful nature in us, here, He creates saving faith in Jesus, here, God makes us children of the heavenly Father, here, He writes our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 21:27), here, He brings us into fellowship with all Christians, here, He saves us from eternal death in the fires of hell, here, He opens to us the gates of eternal life in heaven. To young and old, born into this world in the natural way, the Holy Trinity uses Baptism to give us new life: here is where we are born again in this water and Word of God. Faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus makes us wet behind the ears. With the same trust given to us in our Baptisms, we now hear the Word of God read and preached from the Bible, receiving it with joy, trusting in our hearts that what God tells us in Sacred Scripture is true—as if we were still dripping from that moment we were baptized.
Because in Baptism, we are joined to Jesus. This water and Word of God joins us to Christ Jesus who died for us. How is that Gospel, good news? When Jesus died on the cross, He puts all sin in us to death (v. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11). When we are tempted to break the commandments, in Christ, we can resist and say, “no.” When we are tempted to stand strong on our own without Christ, we can resist and put all our trust in Jesus. When we have fallen, and are convicted by our sins, and afraid of the judgment to come, we see all our sins nailed to the cross of Jesus, trust in the Lord and He frees our consciences. Sin, death and hell all died to us when Jesus died. Through our Baptisms, the Lord gives us all that.
Baptism also joins us to the life of Christ. Jesus was raised from the dead for us (v. 4, 5, 8, 11). When we are sick, the Lord heals us because we are joined to Him. When our earthly lives end in death, the Lord raises us from the dead in body and soul. Just as “Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again” (v. 9), so we look forward to living again after this life: in a life that will never end. Through our Baptisms, the Lord gives us life.
While speaking to the Pastors of the Edmonton Circuits, former Lutheran Hour speaker and former St. Louis Seminary President, Dr. Dale Meyer told the assembled group he didn’t like to think about his Baptism in the shower or bath. “Who wants to remember your Baptism as you see your body all wrinkled and paunchy? Let’s face it, the years are not often kind.” Well, maybe that’s exactly why we remember our Baptism: to know that God sees you now as fresh and clean as a newborn baby, “wet behind the ears” since you are joined to Christ. Baptism is not just looking back into the past. Joined to Christ in this watery word, we look ahead to the resurrection: when, with new bodies, we gather in heaven to glorify God forever (Revelation 7:9-12).
In his Large Catechism, Dr. Martin Luther encourages us to remember and treasure our Baptism: “We must think this way about Baptism and make it profitable for ourselves. So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, ‘Nevertheless, I am baptized. And if I am baptized, it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life in both soul and body.’ ... We have, therefore, no greater jewel in body and soul. For by Baptism we are made holy and are saved. No other kind of life, no work upon earth can do this” (LC IV:44, 46).
Hear these rich promises from God for us who have received Christ in this way—through our Baptisms. Our ears keep on hearing these wonderful words of God, as God spoke His love to us on our baptismal day—that day, we were wet behind the ears.
Star-Crossed St. Matthew 2:1-12. ESV
The Epiphany Of Our Lord 02/01/22.
Our fates are not written in the stars. Neither the events of our lives, our futures, nor our personalities are determined by the placement of the stars and planets in the sky on the day when we were born. The influence of the stars on who we are and what we will be is a deeply held belief for many people that goes back for centuries. “What’s your sign?” is not just an out-of-date pick up line used to break the ice with a stranger. Those who believe that the stars direct our future would hold out no hope of success for a couple who were born under the wrong stars. William Shakespeare cast that famous couple, Romeo and Juliet as “star-crossed lovers” (prologue:6) whose downfall was inevitable: written in the stars.
The one true God, who created us, the stars, and all things is not bound to act according to astrological signs. Because God, the Almighty Father created us and all things, and daily takes care of us, we know this: our future is determined by Him, not the stars.
Yet today, as we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord, that is, His manifestation, His revelation, His début in the world, we picture in our mind’s eye a special star shining in the sky. “The star proclaims the King is here” (LSB 399). This Epiphany star does not influence, determine, nor cause things to happen. The star at Epiphany announces to the world this good news: the Saviour Jesus is here.
For the world, including you and me, have fallen under the influence of a deep and ancient force: not the heavenly bodies of the stars and planets, but the hellish rebellion of disobedience against God. Sin is as old as the first people God created. Not transmitted by the constellations in place on our birthdays. No, the curse of original sin has been passed down from father to son—through a mother’s blood to her child without fail throughout the generations. This ancient curse is responsible for our star-crossed, adversarial relationship with God our Maker. The best of us are sinners who cannot come to God by obeying the commandments. Our sins put us light-years away from Almighty God in His holiness, alone and small; cold and forsaken—a speck in the cold, vast universe.
For you and me, God gave His Son. While there are billions of stars in the night sky, there is only one Jesus: God’s only-begotten Son. From shepherding of the stars (LW 71), Christ was born for us to redeem us from the ancient curse of our sins. God shows His love for us in flesh and blood, in the holy Child that Mary bore to save us.
To mark His coming, God put a star in the sky. This plan had been in place for thousands of years, recorded in Sacred Scripture: “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” Balaam declared in the book of Numbers (Numbers 24:17). The Epiphany star was a new light in the sky. This star did not fit in any of the known constellations. This star moved on its own, not bound by the nightly procession of the rising and falling of the stars. The eastern sages saw this star and recognized that it fulfilled God’s ancient prophecy. The star crossed their path and led them to Bethlehem, to the house of Joseph and Mary. The star led them to Jesus.
Where they worshipped Him. The Wise Men were made wise with faith given by God to know Jesus as the promised Messiah, whose birth was announced by a star. To this Child, they gave gold: a fitting gift for the King of kings. To this Child, they gave frankincense: the sweet smell of the prayers of God’s people, acceptable before God when offered in the name of Jesus. To this Child, they gave myrrh: a fitting gift for Jesus, the star-crossed Saviour. For He would grow to sacrifice His life on the cross to atone for the sins of the world. His body would be anointed with myrrh at burial. But not for long. Jesus would rise alive to leave the grave and never to die again. With joy, the Magi believed all this about Jesus the Saviour. With their gifts, they confessed their God (LSB 399:2).
We know that joy, too. Jesus Christ’s coming gives us a star-crossed future. Baptized into Him, we are joined to the One who gives life forever. In his twelfth chapter, Daniel pictures Christians like you and me: “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3b).
Visitors to Bethlehem today can enter the Church of the Nativity to view the traditional place where Jesus was born. You know what marks the spot? A star! The fourteen points of the silver star testify to the fact that God became man and entered our world to save us, whether that is the exact spot or not. Plenty of darkness cloaks the world today. Because the light of Christ has shined upon us in His precious Word and Sacraments, we shine like stars.
125 Years Of Faith Psalm 125 ESV
New Year’s Eve 31/12/21.
125 years of faith. 2021 marked one and a quarter century for the people of God in this place, named Faith Lutheran Church. You’ve got to have faith! Keep the faith with those who have gone before. As we bid goodbye to 2021, we give thanks to God for nurturing us over the past year. We praise the Almighty for keeping the light of faith alive and burning among us for the past 125 years.
The Psalm writer tells us what faith is: “those who trust in the Lord” (v. 1). Christian faith is never blind faith—a vague, aimless, optimism that, in the end, everything will somehow turn out okay. Christian faith always has an object: the one true God. Trust holds firmly to the Lord, like a child holding her father’s hand in the middle of a wild and surging crowd. Faith clings for life to the gracious promises God makes to us in His Word, the Bible. And, this we know: faith in our loving and gracious God never lets us down. “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abide forever” (v. 1). Faith in the holy, triune God is solid, unmoving—a towering rock—a mountain!
Without faith, our lives would take on a different look; the world appears threatening and scary; the year now passing seems tragic and pointless. Without faith, the year past is full of regret: filled with lost opportunities for business and pleasure due to lockdowns and cancellations; fears of what this relentless pandemic will do to family and friends and us; persistent guilt from sins not repented, not confessed, nor forgiven. Yes, the person without faith can be pictured like a hiker, looking behind him to the mountains he has just crossed. It’s a backward look of regret. The joys of the past year have vanished. The burden of last year’s sins remains. Without faith, that retrospective, that look back at 2021 only brings sadness.
Without faith, a look ahead to the coming year appears only dark and gloomy. True, no one knows what the future will bring. Without trust in God as our loving Father, the person without faith expects only bad times to come in 2022. The Psalmist describes the soul without faith as being ruled by an evil staff in the hand of a corrupt king: “For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous” (v. 3). Just as our Lord Jesus in the Gospel warns, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls” (St. Luke 11:17). Without faith, it is impossible to please God.
As this year draws to a close, we celebrate 125 years of faith, that is, faith in Christ Jesus, our Saviour. Despite the ongoing pandemic and other persistent bad news in our lives, this has been a joyous anniversary year because Jesus has forgiven us, protected us, and guided us. The Christ of Christmas is with us as our Saviour. “As the mountains surround Jerusalem,” writes the Psalmist, “so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forevermore” (v.2). Usually, to be surrounded is a bad thing. Faith trusts in the Lord’s surrounding presence as our greatest good. If you have lived in or travelled through the mountains, you know the shelter they provide from high winds, from extreme weather, and from storms. Mountains are imposing sights that fill our eyes, even as they stretch up from the horizon far in the distance. The Lord is a spirit, so He is invisible to our eyes. Yet, faith trusts in His abiding presence, wrapped around us, like the powerful arms of a mountain range, surrounding us for our protection. His Word and His Sacraments inform our faith, teaching us to know and trust in the Lord who loves us and who loves all the world. Faith grabs hold of His gracious and loving work of saving us through Christ Jesus born of Mary. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord Jesus opened His arms wide to embrace the whole world when He died on the cross. Faith trusts that God loves us in this way: by the death of His Son that takes away all our sins. The Lord crowns the year with His faithful word of forgiveness—the freeing absolution that erases an entire year of regret and all past sins, all the while building our confidence in His loving presence. This is the faith that our Lord has created and which He Himself has nurtured here over the past 125 year through His work in our Baptisms, and keeps faith living and vital through His work in the Sacrament of the Altar.
By the faith that the Lord has given us in His Son, we have peace. In Jesus, the future is friendly.
A blessed new year to all!
The Lord Protects His Children
St. Matthew 23:37-39. ESV
St. Stephen, Martyr
Boxing day. One child mistakenly thought that this day, December 26th was the day for lacing up your gloves for fighting in the boxing ring—you know, Boxing day! Perhaps other people think of family disputes and fighting that happens when relatives get together during the Christmas vacation. The Church commemorates St. Stephen today, December 26, who gave his life to confess Jesus Christ as Lord.
The post-Christmas world is a dangerous place. On a holy night, Jesus, the Son of God our Saviour is born. How does the world react? Violence! St. John begins his Gospel: “The true light, which enlightens everyone was coming into the world... He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him” (St. John 1:9, 11).
Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph on the run. That’s another Gospel we sometimes hear today, the first Sunday after Christmas. The holy family must leave by night to flee to Egypt and escape from the murderous plans of Herod. The sad story of those Bethlehem boys who were put to death by the King’s soldiers. And, the death of St. John, Apostle of Jesus and writer of the fourth Gospel in his old age while in exile on the Greek island of Patmos. All of these events are brought before our eyes during the first three days of Christmas. The post-Christmas world is a dangerous place.
Certainly, there’s no need to look at Bible history to see that. A quick scan of the Boxing day news today reminds us of the rising threat of the omicron variant in this world wide plague that doesn’t seem to end. In a perfect world, a danger like this would not exist to threaten us. Sadly, because of sin, we are in this pandemic. We seek protection from this danger with masks, vaccines, isolation, and physical distancing. May God protect us!
Physical dangers go hand-in-hand with spiritual dangers. Martin Luther, in his Christian Questions with Their Answers (#20) urges us to prepare our hearts and find refuge and safety in the Sacrament of the Altar since real dangers threaten the fragile faith we have in the Lord Jesus. What dangers? Our sinful flesh, the world, and the devil. From these dangers to our souls, may God protect us!
Today’s second Bible reading from Acts 6 shows these threats attacking St. Stephen, who was the first martyr to give his life as a witness for the Lord Jesus. The Church in the first century ordained Stephen as a Deacon to help with the fair distribution of food to widows and the needy. However, he did more than feed hungry tummies. Stephen also served the bread of life, faithfully speaking about Jesus Christ as the Saviour for hungry souls. This drew anger from his hearers, the leaders of Israel. Those who confess Christ can expect Satan’s anger in this dangerous, post-Christian world. Even as his life was ending, God protected His child, Stephen. The Lord preserved his faith despite being persecuted. Like Jesus did from the cross, Stephen prayed that God would forgive those who killed him. Like Jesus did on the cross, Stephen commended his spirit into God’s hands.
For Stephen and for us, God’s dear children, the Lord provides His protection in a strange and wonderful way. He does not use military might: “The war horse is a vain hope for victory” (Psalm 33:17a RSV), writes the Psalmist. The Lord does not use medical treatment to secure the safety of our souls. God our heavenly Father protects us with a Baby.
Jesus protects the children of God with His body. “How often would I have gathered your children together” (v. 37), He says. The Son of God and of Mary, born for us at Christmas lays down His life on the cross to gather to Himself the dear children of the heavenly Father. He died so that we might live.
At Christmas, Jesus came down from heaven to be born on earth. All Christians, like Stephen who died here on earth have now begun the new and full life with God in heaven. We have this rich confidence also for our dear loved ones who have departed this life in the Christian faith. They are in a better place, we say. In Christ our Saviour, the Lord protects His children.
In the summer, while going to pick up the mail, we saw a bird putting on quite a show. A killdeer was fluttering its wings close to the ground and giving a shrill cry, as if the poor bird was injured. All the while, it kept on moving away from us, stopping, then moving further away. By this behaviour, the bird protected the eggs laid in the gravel. We never found the nest of eggs.
With His arms spread wide—nailed to the cross, and three days later, raised to life, the Lord Jesus draws our enemies—sin, world, and devil, away from us. The Lord, born of Mary, crucified on Calvary, resurrected and ascended, protects God’s children.
Titus 2:11-14. ESV
The Nativity Of Our Lord
“And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (St. Luke 2:7). Swaddling cloths: also translated “strips of cloth (NLT),” “baby clothes (GWN),” “a blanket (TLB),” “swaddling clothes (KJV),” or “bands of cloth (NRSV)” (σπάργανα cf. Job 38:9; Ezekiel 16:4). Dr. Luke, writing an orderly account of the birth of Christ includes this detail of loving care: the sign of love and compassion from young Mary as she protects her precious Newborn from dirt and cold. Newborn babies were washed, rubbed with salt, or olive oil and then wrapped. Strips of cloth were wrapped tightly around infants to warm and secure them.
Do babies like swaddling bands? No and Yes. You can picture their tiny bodies wriggling, their new lungs giving out a mournful cry as the cloth strips are wrapped around their tiny bodies, little arms and legs constricted, immobilized. To watch a mother swaddle her child, if you didn’t know better, you might very well think that the baby is being hurt by the swaddling bands.
Like a newborn struggling against the swaddling bands, we struggle against the constrictions of God’s Law. The Ten Commandments, although good, holy and beneficial to us, make the Old Adam, that sinful nature in us squirm, looking for a way to be free from the rules that say, “Do this... Don’t do that.” The Apostle Paul wraps the swaddling bands of God’s law around our hearts and lives as he writes to Titus, “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and... live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age” (v. 12). Renounce passions and control myself? God’s law sounds tight, constricting. I can’t breathe. Set me free!
The swaddling bands of God’s law draw in even tighter on us. Since we cannot save ourselves by obeying God’s law, but fall short of keeping it, the demands of the commandments compel us to a path leading to the narrow grave. The swaddling bands of death encircle us all.
But now, the Saviour is born to bring salvation to us and to all people. From the wide halls of heaven, from the throne of God most high, the Heavenly Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ into our world. At His Word, announced by the archangel Gabriel to Mary, Jesus entered our world, conceived without a human father within the confines of His mother’s womb. Nine months later: Christmas! In the little town of Bethlehem, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people” (v. 11). Since the inn at Bethlehem was full, Mary and her betrothed husband Joseph settled in with the livestock. Salvation entered the world in that barn. Christmas is God’s Son, Jesus born of Mary for all the world. The love of our heavenly Father appeared to the world in the holy Child Jesus, born to be our Saviour. Wrapped up in the tender flesh and blood of this perfect Child is God’s gift to the world. Young Mary carefully, but tightly, wrapped her newborn Son in the swaddling bands that would keep Him safe. Mary laid her Child in a manger.
On that silent night, all was calm; all was bright. Imagine the joy filling the hearts of Mary and Joseph! Here before them on the hay lay their Son—the One the angel told them about. Here before them on the hay lay the Saviour—the promised Deliverer, the Messiah long awaited by true believers throughout the ages. They called His name Jesus because He will save His people from their sins (St. Matthew 1:21). There He is—wrapped in swaddling bands.
Jesus “gave Himself to redeem us” (v. 14). God’s gift to save the world was wrapped up in swaddling bands and laid in a manger. The world has unwrapped this gift of a Saviour in a sad and shameful way: rejecting Him, denying His gracious words, falsely accusing Him and nailing the Lord Jesus to the cross of Calvary. “Our great God and saviour Jesus Christ... gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness” (v. 14)by dying for our sins, wrapped in the swaddling bands of the burial shroud, the strips of cloth of His linen grave clothes (St. John 19:40).
But, Jesus is not bound by them now. The swaddling bands of death could not hold the Lord Christ. God’s Christmas gift of salvation—a gift for the whole world—was fully opened when our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ defeated death and the grave, laying aside their swaddling bands in His tomb to rise to life again.
This is the “blessed hope” (v. 13) that we all are waiting for—the Christmas gift of life that has no end. Jesus is born to bring “salvation to all people” (v. 11). His birth, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven gives life to us, too. With His Word and Sacraments, Jesus lives to gather us into the warm arms of His embrace.
Do babies like swaddling bands? When they are nestled in those warm strips of cloth, swaddled babies are the picture of contentment. Faith is our Lord Jesus wrapping us in the swaddling bands of His love forever.
St. Luke 2:7. ESV
The Nativity Of Our Lord, Christmas Eve
Remember buffets? Given the current restrictions to safeguard public health, it seems doubtful that we will return to a form of indoor dining where the guests get up and help themselves any time soon. So, remember with me now what that kind of dining experience was like: as you take your empty plate to follow the delicious aromas of food, both hot and cold, your eyes are overwhelmed with the choices that lie before you: all the breads and salads; meat and potatoes; noodles and cheese; pies, cakes and ice cream. Where to start?
A Christmas buffet. That’s what he Sunday School children have spread before us tonight: a rich feast for our minds and hearts, for our emotions and souls. The message of Christmas is so simple. The holy Son of God was born the Child of Mary to save the sinful world because God loves us. This simple message is so profound that it fills the world with joy tonight. The good news of Christmas fills our lives, changing the way we think and speak, how we live and act. Christ’s coming spreads a rich feast through every aspect of our lives. Like a Christmas buffet.
Christmas is Jesus born to be the Good Shepherd. He seeks out His straying sheep: that is, you and me, when our sins lead us far away from God and His house. The One who was born among the sheep and cattle in the little town of Bethlehem leads His dear sheep and lambs back to the fold. The Good Shepherd, Jesus, was born to lay down His life to earn our forgiveness. What’s more, Jesus also fills our hearts with love and compassion to care about the lost sheep among us: our neighbours and family members. Christ shepherds us so that we reach out to the lost and bring them back to the Good Shepherd.
Christmas is Jesus born to be the light of the world. His birth at Bethlehem scatters the darkness of error, unbelief and doubt, like switching on the light. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8). We shine with the light of Christ when we come into the light: listening to His Word, the Bible, taking part in His Sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion. Jesus makes us lights in this dark world at Christmas and always.
Christmas is Jesus born as our gift from God the heavenly Father. Baby Jesus was born to grow into adult Jesus so that He could tackle our sins: the source of our every problem, sorrow, sadness, pain, worry, and grief in this life. Christ’s birth is not God’s last gift given to us. Jesus gave His life to save ours—suffering and dying on the cross to take the curse of our sins away. With His gift of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life, we have the gift that keeps on giving into eternity.
As God gave to us, so we give to others. The wise men worshipped Jesus by giving their gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. As God has blessed our lives, in turn, we give to others: our time, abilities and money. The Lord uses our giving to help spread the good news about Jesus to others in the world. The Lord uses our giving to help those in need: providing food, medicine, clothing, and other daily needs. We give because God has first given to us.
The Christmas buffet is rich, full and satisfying. With so much spread before us, how easy for us to be overwhelmed! At the centre of it all is Christ. “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.” Christmas brings us Christ: the only-begotten Son of God took on humn flesh to be born into our world in the poor stable of Bethlehem, the holy Child of Mary, who “wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn” (St. Luke 2:7).
This is Jesus the seeking Good Shepherd, the true and only Light of the world, the gift of eternal life to save us from perishing. This Jesus we hear proclaimed in the Bible’s teaching from this pulpit and lectern. This Jesus is born to us in the rebirth we have been given by God in our Baptisms. This Jesus is wrapped in the swaddling cloths of bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar.
Don’t pass by. Delight in His rich Christmas buffet!
St. Luke 1:39-45. ESV
The Fourth Sunday In Advent
We love it when visitors come to church. We do our best to make them feel welcome—without smothering them with kindness, that is. Sure, we are happy to see new faces join with our members here in church. Yet our greatest joy when visitors are with us is this: they hear the Gospel! In the liturgy, in the Bible readings, while singing the hymns, listening to the sermon, and joining in the prayers a good news is proclaimed like no other place in the world: Jesus has come to bring the joy of heaven to us by faith in spite of our sins. Our earnest prayer is that the visitor among us takes this good news with them and makes it their own by faith.
Usually we look forward to visitors. Not every visit is welcome, however. For example: your neighbour comes to visit. He tells you that your cattle got out and trampled his crops. He is not happy. You visit the bank and discover that you owe more than you thought. Your doctor calls to make an appointment with you. At that visit, the diagnosis she gives you is bad. The reality of our sins comes out when we have these kinds of visits. If we refuse to repent and confess our sins, God Himself warns that He will visit us in judgment. “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me” (Exodus 20:5).
Here’s the Gospel, the good news of Christmas. God has already come to visit us. Not to judge us, but to save us. Jesus is the Visitor. His coming fills our hearts with joy.
Just as He had promised through the angel Gabriel, God’s only-begotten Son came into the world born of Mary. By God’s miraculous Word, Mary remained a virgin during her conception, pregnancy and birth. This Christmas miracle: the heavenly Visitor in her womb was none other than God in the flesh, conceived and born without sin. That’s good news for her and for all people. This Visitor would be named Jesus because His work was to save His people from their sins (St. Matthew 1:21).
Mary and Joseph were visitors to Bethlehem. That little town in Judea was crowded with visitors who had come home for the census decreed by Rome. So, the Virgin Mary, together with her betrothed husband Joseph made this long trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem—almost 90 kilometers by foot—during the end stage of her pregnancy.
Six months before, when Mary was in her first trimester, she made a flying trip to the outskirts of Jerusalem. Mary hurried off to visit her relative Elizabeth. Both ladies were expecting. The sons they carried were both children promised by God’s angel Gabriel. What joy filled that meeting! Although the boys were not yet born, John leaped for joy when Jesus came to visit. The Holy Spirit explained the meaning of all this through Elizabeth.
The result was a whole lot of blessing. Elizabeth blessed Mary: she had the honour out of all the women in the world to be the mother of the Messiah! And, she trusted God’s promise, even when it was difficult. A double blessing!
And, Elizabeth blessed “the fruit of [her] womb” (v. 42). That’s Jesus. He is the heavenly Visitor who blesses us wherever we are: in joy or sorrow, in plenty or in poverty, surrounded by friends or lonely. Christ is the Christmas Visitor who brings the joy of sins forgiven by taking their weight off our souls and carrying them in His own body. This Child of Mary, both true God and true man, came into our world at Christmas to do the will of the Father (Hebrews 10:9). His visit brings God’s blessings to you and to me in His own flesh and blood: His tiny, newborn body wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, perfectly obedient to the will of God on our behalf, sacrificed on Calvary’s cross to redeem us from sin. In this divine Visitor, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).
The Holy Spirit visits us so that we believe this. By the Gospel, the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies [us, and] the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith” (SC II:6). Christmas is a true blessing to us who hold fast to our Saviour Jesus by faith alone. While the sinful nature within us joins the world to scoff at the virgin birth, the cross of Christ, and free salvation by faith in Him, the Holy Spirit overcomes this unbelief in us. By the Spirit, we learn to hold fast to Christ and His gifts to us. Like Mary, who trusted what God said to her, we are blessed to believe that the Lord’s Word has been fulfilled in Jesus.
Christ visits us at Christmas. And we are blessed.
One Track Sight
St. Mark 10:46-52. ESV
The Twenty-second Sunday After Pentecost
Do you know someone with a one-track mind? That’s the opposite of a multi-tasker, the guy with lots on the go, one with many irons in the fire. On the other hand, if you have a one-track mind, your focus is on one task alone. Inventors, surgeons, musicians, entrepreneurs, and pro athletes will ignore other tasks that need to be done, neglecting the obvious chores to practice their craft, their skill, their speciality. Eight-time Grand Slam tennis winner Andre Agassi once said, “If I can focus on one shot at a time, I am very difficult to beat.”
Bartimaeus had one-track sight. Even though he was blind, Bartimaeus focussed on his goal: healing from Jesus, He wasn’t deterred from this sight, even when the crowds tried to silence him.
Bartimaeus sat by the road to beg for his living because he was blind. Eyes that are darkened, unresponsive to the light, incapable of seeing—that’s a picture of sin in us. John Newton, a former slave-trader wrote to describe the myopia of sin in his life:
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see! (LSB 744:1)
Blindness—what a fitting picture of how sin, our sin, impairs our vision. Not just our eyes, but especially our hearts! Sin blinds us to the riches of God’s grace as He provides for us in both body and soul: giving us daily bread; forgiving us as often as we repent and are washed clean in His grace. Sin blinds us to the ways we fall short of His will—for we often don’t even know when we are sinning against God and others. “Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12b NIV), the Psalmist King David prays. Sin is a blindness only God can cure.
Even while his eyes were dark and sightless, Bartimaeus saw the way to be healed. When a crowd approached with the disciples and Jesus, this blind beggar perked right up. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v. 48), he shouted. The crowds did not welcome this noise, but told Bartimaeus to be quiet. He was not put off at all. His eyes didn’t work, but his voice was strong. Even more, Bartimaeus cried out for mercy, for help, for healing. The path to regaining his sight stretched out ahead of him. Bartimaeus stayed the course.
How the world tries to silence the church! The crowds don’t want to hear Law and Gospel preaching. The world at large covers its ears to resist the pure teaching of sin and forgiveness from the Bible. The pressure is on for the Church to be silent instead of proclaiming the love of God for His sin-blinded creation in Christ. Don’t fall for the temptation to go the way of the world! Like Bartimaeus, train your eyes on this one, blessèd sight: Jesus, the Master and Saviour.
In response to His pleas for help, Jesus stopped (v. 49). The whole procession of this great crowd came to a screeching halt. All for the sake of one man: this blind beggar, Bartimaeus. Then, Christ called him. The Lord showed how much He cared for this man. Excited, Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, sprang to his feet and ran to Jesus. As he believed, so it was done for him. Christ restored his sight. His faith in Jesus saw its fulfilment.
What a marvel—the One who created us with all our members, including the wonder of eyesight, instantly restored the blind eyes of Bartimaeus. And still, he would see even greater things (St. John 1:50) . Newly healed, Bartimaeus went on to follow Jesus: into Jerusalem, to see his salvation accomplished by the Lord.
Into the holy city, Jesus was welcomed with the same honorary title used by blind Bartimaeus: “Son of David!” Palm Sunday “Hosannas!” quickly turned to Good Friday calls for crucifixion. Yet, with one-track sight of His Passion, Christ Jesus had His eyes firmly fixed on the cross. There, the Lord suffered for the sins of Bartimaeus, for you and me and all the world. The Holy One died for the sins that blind us. The righteous Son of David rose to life again on the third day. He opens our eyes and our hearts with saving faith to see Him clearly as our one and only Saviour. Jesus lives now so that we follow where He leads. We follow Him all the way. Faith gives us one track sight: focussed on Christ.
That’s hard. More distractions call our attention away now than in earlier years. Like this story a man tells about his daughter:
One day my daughter—my only child—and I were playing games together in an activity book designed to bring daddies and daughters closer together. We asked each other the question, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?”
I wish I could tell you my daughter’s answer, but I can’t, because I wasn’t really there.
“Daddy?” she asked.
“Just a second,” I grunted, “I need to respond to one thing.” My eyes were glued to my phone, my fingers tapping away.
By the time I looked up, she was gone. I had just blown a special moment with my daughter. I had allowed something on my phone to distract me.
These days, many distractions clamour for our attention. As he called for Bartimaeus, Jesus calls for you and me. We hear His voice in our Baptisms, in the water and Word of God, the Lord calls you by name. Take heart (v. 49). Be happy. Keep your eyes on the One who cares for you. Jesus leads us to life eternal. Amen
Who Can Thread The Needle?
St. Mark 10:23-31. ESV
The Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost
A square circle
A four-sided triangle
Two mountains without a valley between them
Swimming across the Pacific ocean
Walking on the moon
Swallowing while breathing
Licking your elbow
Keeping your eyes open when you sneeze
Putting toothpaste back into the tube once you’ve squeezed it out.
What do all these things have in common? They are impossible!
Like a rich person getting into heaven. “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (v. 23). Wealth brings with it great boasts: ‘If I win the lottery, I will have it made: I will be happy and never have to deal with any problems.’ Wealth promises to fix everything. Somebody’s not happy? Buy them out. Even God should give special treatment to those with money, says the way of the world. Not true!
Just before our Gospel reading today, a rich young man who met Jesus illustrates for us the Lord’s teaching here. Money and the worry that goes along with it build up accretions on the soul. Wealth can hold us back, holds our hearts, and becomes an idol, as it was for that rich young man. This surprised the disciples: they were “amazed at His words... exceedingly astonished” (v. 24, 26). Shouldn’t a rich person be the first one through the gate? A person with wealth was favoured by God, they figured. That’s why he had money!
But no. Wealth won’t buy your way to heaven. And not only money. Our good deeds, family ties, political pull—nothing else you do, think, or say will get you to heaven. Like money and property, it just gets in the way, blocks the path to God, and shuts the door to paradise.
You know what would be easier?
“Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (v. 25) . How’s that for a visual? The camel is one of the largest beasts living in Palestine; the eye of a sewing needle is one of the smallest gaps you can just barely see. Yet here, Jesus says that passing that animal, complete with his humps, through a needle’s eye is easier than trusting in your wealth or whatever have you to get to heaven. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him” (SC II:6). In a nutshell: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (v. 27).
Jesus specializes in doing the impossible. The Lord knows us very well: He knows how easily we set our hearts on wealth. That’s why Christ set His sights on Calvary, the cross of sacrifice that would strip Him of life itself, making Himself poor for us that we might have eternal riches. He knows that we cannot pass through the gate of heaven by our own merits, or works; our wealth or goodness: “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life” (St. Matthew 7:14 NIV). So, He, the Lord Christ passed that way for us: through death, through the grave, even through hell itself. Jesus was raised to life again, ascended to heaven into the presence of the Father for us. Who can thread the needle? Not us. Only Jesus. Follow Him. Where He leads
“I am the door,” says Jesus, our Good Shepherd. “If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (St. John 10:9). Heaven is not about putting camels through needles. The way to heaven is not to get rich. The way to heaven is not to boast about how you have no money The way to heaven is not to trust in our good deeds. Trust in Jesus alone, His sacrifice on the cross, the wealth of His forgiving grace, life and heaven itself. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” promises Jesus. “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (St. John 14:6).
Only Rich If Detached
So, what about wealth? Faithful believers we read about in Sacred Scripture include rich folks like Abraham, David, Zacchaeus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Matthew the Evangelist, Cornelius, and Lydia. How did they make it through the gate to the kingdom of God? By His grace. They possessed all their wealth, money and earthly goods as if they were not theirs to keep, as stewards to manage them for awhile before giving them up. They were truly rich because they were detached.
Remember that tag on upholstered items like cushions on couches? The tag says, “No good if detached.” The Christian use of money and property is just the opposite: we are only rich if we are detached: to use our goods without setting our hearts on them: to use what God gave us to care for the needy and to spread the Gospel. For a time is coming for each one of us when we will have to pass through the needle’s eye of the grave—that narrow gap will not allow us to take one thing from this life, not even one thin dime into the kingdom of God. But, we are okay with that. We already have everything. In Christ we are rich forever. Amen
Safe And Sound
St. Luke 17:11-19. ESV
All be safely gathered in
Ere the winter storms begin; (LSB 892:1).
I love that line from the opening hymn we sang today for Thanksgiving. I picture fields of rich crops that had sprouted in the spring, grown tall and lush all summer, now brought into barns, silos and granaries The blessing of the Lord upon wheat and barley, upon soybeans and corn, now harvested and stored safely against the threats of snow, wind and rain. Thanks be to God! Safe and sound.
At home, once the wood is brought into the woodroom, every piece thrown in and carefully stacked in rows, as we did a week ago yesterday, there’s a wonderful feeling that comes along with that. A winter’s worth of wood heat to find shelter even during the coldest winter storm. Thanks be to God! Safe and sound.
Think about that phrase. Safe: that is, rescued, delivered from danger, out of harm’s way; sound: that is, of sound body, hale and healthy in mind and spirit, body and soul. Safe and sound.
The ten lepers in the Gospel for today were neither safe nor sound. Outcast, terminally ill, dying while they lived. Leprosy was a death sentence in the first century. Contagious. Incurable. Cutting a person off from the rest of society. Not safe from stormy weather, from hunger, nor from ridicule. Bodies entirely unhealthy. Unsound.
Enter Jesus. In answer to their pleas: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (v. 13), He sends them to the priests—the Chief Medical Officers of the day. On their way, all ten lepers were healed. Their leprous bodies suddenly whole, cleansed, physically sound. And away the nine went to the safety of their lives, their families, their homes—all those people and places they had been missing so badly during the days of their quarantine. Outwardly, on the surface they were safe and sound.
Only one of the former lepers came back to thank God in worship at the feet of Jesus. Only one was healed right through: cleansed of his leprosy and cleansed of his sins. How do we know? Jesus says so: “Your faith has made you well” (σῴζω v. 19). Healed in his body. Forgiven in his soul. Thanks be to God! Safe and sound. For time and eternity.
How easily our hearts can follow those nine lepers—at Thanksgiving, and all our lives through—to chase after what sustains our outward, physical lives, while neglecting the needs of our souls. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (St. Luke 12:15 NIV). The rich man who built bigger barns to hold on to his massive grain harvest was called out of this life once all was safely gathered in. Foolishly, he gathered earthly treasure, but was “not rich toward God” (St. Luke 12:21). The nine lepers were safe and sound—healed by the Lord and right back into the flow of life. But where was faith in Jesus: the saving faith that filled the heart of the thankful Samaritan? Beyond turkey and time off, besides home and family, a blessing greater than dry grain and cordwood is God’s gift of forgiveness that shelters our souls against the judgment for our sins after this life.
Only Christ Jesus makes us safe and sound in body and soul, for time and for eternity. How? The Holy One—God’s sinless Son took on the leprosy of our sins. Out of divine love for a world caught in the pandemic of sins against His holy Ten Commandments, God the Father sent His dear and only Son to bring us back to Himself. Instead of receiving Jesus as a gift with thanksgiving, the world despised and rejected Christ the Saviour. As if sent into a leper colony outside the city, Jesus was condemned to die in isolation with other criminals outside Jerusalem. There, the Holy One of God poured out His pure and innocent blood into death for the sins of the world. By His blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins, we are cleansed. Not by our works, our witness, nor our worthiness. But by the Word and Sacramental working of Jesus, we are restored, healed, and made alive both on the inside and out. Safe and sound.
We cannot expect everyday to be sunny, warm, 22º C and 70% humidity. Storms will come. The same is true with our trust in God. Satan, the world and our sinful nature blow in upon us unexpectedly: like a fierce winter storm. What to do? Take shelter in Christ. Hide in His wounds. Find refuge in His resurrected life. Like hunkering down behind the thick stone walls of a castle fortress. “He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psalm 62:2).
In Jesus alone, we are safe and sound.
What God Has Joined Together...
Genesis 2:18-25. ESV
The Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
The sanctity of marriage.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24, St. Mark 10:7). Both our Old Testament reading from Genesis and our Lord Jesus in today’s Gospel praise highly the blessèd and holy estate of marriage.
So, it might sound as if some glory is being taken away from that God-given estate when a couple talks about “getting hitched.” Maybe not.
“What therefore God has joined together (συζεύγνυμι) ,” says Jesus, “let not man separate” (St. Mark 10:9). God joins a man and woman together as husband and wife in marriage, just as the Lord God brought Eve to Adam in the Garden of Eden (v. 22). “Joined together” is one word in Greek, with the word “yoke - ζεγος” in the middle. So picture this: when the Lord God joins a man and a woman as husband and wife, they are “yoked together.” That’s quite a visual: “two people have agreed to become yoke-fellows, to bow their necks under the same yoke, to draw the wagon of life together to share, under God’s rule and blessing, all joys and sorrows alike” (Kretzmann, NT. Vol 1, p. 219). God hitches them up. The Lord fashions and creates the bond. He designs it for life. That’s a good thing. A holy and sacred bond: marriage.
For God joins a man and a woman in holy wedlock, bound together within this blessèd yoke of marriage. Three distinct purposes, all good things, the Lord brings from this union:
➀ “the mutual companionship, help, and support that each person ought to receive from the other, both in prosperity and adversity”
➁ “that man and woman may find delight in one another;”
➂ “the procreation of children who are to be brought up in the fear and instruction of the Lord” (Lutheran Service Book—Agenda, p. 65) .
Marriage is a good thing. The bond that joins a man and a woman is God’s idea, stretching back to the Paradise of Eden, before sin was in the world. Still now, the yoke of wedlock is a great blessing: to individuals personally, to families of parents with their children, to society as a whole and to the world.
Sadly now, this is also true: many a cross has been laid upon this holy estate (The Lutheran Agenda, p. 36). What God had created good, our sin has often made into something heavy, burdensome, not good. In a sinless state, the first couple could face each other not wearing a stitch of clothing, and yet have no shame (v. 25), in the delight and intimacy of one flesh (v. 24). Together. From that perfect bliss and harmony in Eden enjoyed by the first couple, the Pharisees in the Gospel ask Jesus how easily marriage can be ended in divorce. While children are the hoped-for blessing from God upon married couples, the disciples in the Gospel quickly send the infants and toddlers away from Jesus, depriving them of His loving touch and blessing. What God has joined together in the holy bond of marriage and family life, sinful man is able to separate, divide, destroy. Why? Hard hearts (St. Mark 10:5) says Jesus. The result of tearing up the bonds formed by the Lord is always sadness, heartache and loneliness. A picture of eternal isolation in hell caused by our sin. Not good (v. 18).
No, it is not good for us to be alone: for man, woman, or child to be isolated, forsaken, standing alone under the judgment for our sins. So God the Father brings His Son to us. Not for judgment, in anger and punishment, but in His divine love and compassion, to take away the guilt and shame of our sins. As God brought Eve to Adam, bone of his bones, created from Adam’s rib (v. 21, 23), so God the Father brings His Son to us and to all the world, made like His brothers and sisters in every respect to share in our flesh and blood(Hebrews 2:14, 17), born in Bethlehem as the holy and sinless Child of Mary. Christ’s coming to us at Christmas gives great joy to the world, just as Adam joyously welcomed Eve as his helper, companion and wife. Marriage is a wonderful gift of God to the world, even now, in this sad, fallen and sinful state. For by this union of husband and wife, the Lord points the world to His even greater gift: where He joins Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom to His dear bride, the Church. In love, the Father gave His Son to cleanse and purify us from all sin (Ephesians 5:25-27). Jesus died on the cross to take away the sinful guilt of parents and children. He rose again from the grave to welcome baptized believers into His loving embrace: married and single, divorced and widowed, those very old and newborn children.
In marriage, God joins a man and a woman in one flesh. Earthly marriage is a picture of that blessèd union joining Christ and His bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:32). Earthly marriage ends when death parts us. Where God has joined Christ and His Church, this bond lasts forever. In the Bible, heaven is frequently described as a marriage feast that has no end. In the Formula of Concord , this blessèd union is described like this: “[Christ] is our Brother, and we are flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. He has instituted His Holy Supper for the certain assurance and confirmation of this, so that He will be with us, and dwell, work, and be effective in us also according to that nature from which He has flesh and blood” (FC VIII:79). Here, the Heavenly Groom gives His bride a foretaste of heaven.
True, it is a sad fact that the Lord’s gift of marriage is often despised, and that many crosses have been laid upon those whom God has joined together. Yet, here’s the hitch: He keeps pouring out His blessings on husband and wife as they find delight in each other in the intimacy of the one flesh union, with the help and support they are able to give one another in good times and in bad, and, where the Lord chooses, the blessing of children. Best of all, this earthly estate of marriage shows the world an example of God’s love: that the heavenly Father has joined Christ to His bride, the Church, for all time.
St. Mark 9:38-50. ESV
The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
I’m no doctor. So, as a patient, when you become ill and go to the doctor, treatment for your illness might fall into one of three categories. The doctor might direct you to undertake a change of lifestyle as a cure: proper food, exercise, and rest. Perhaps, your illness may be best treated with medicine, and the doctor prescribes the proper dose. A third line of treatment is surgery. If you suffer from a mass that is identified as cancer and it is possible to operate, the doctor may refer you to a surgeon who will remove it before it can do you any harm. In this most radical of the treatment options, the end goal is simple: cut out the cancer.
Jesus calls Himself the great Physician (St. Matthew 9:12). He is the Doctor for our souls. In today’s Gospel, it sounds like He is proposing radical surgery: when offensive sin (σκανδαλίζω) has infected your hand, your foot, or your eye, Jesus says, “cut it off” (v. 43, 45, 47). Christ has a hard word for us today! But, know this: the Lord here is not urging His followers to practice self-amputation. The spiritual Doctor knows that we would not be better off without an offending hand, foot, or eye. If we lost one, we would still have the other, and our sin would still be with us. Remember, the cause of sin is not in our limbs, but in the heart (St. Mark 7:21). That’s the target of the great Physician’s surgical talk today: a radical repentance that cuts sin out of our hearts and lives, out of our words and actions.
What sin? Today, Jesus denounces this sin: leading another believer in Christ astray. Of course, all sin is bad, damning, cutting us off from fellowship with God and other Christians, rightly condemned by the Lord’s 10 commandments. But, to betray the trust of weak Christians, abusing them, taking advantage of “little ones” so that their faith is destroyed by doubts; such an offense spreads the disease of sin from one person to another. Just as cancer when it spreads, the sin of leading the vulnerable astray is cancer to the body of Christ, the Church of God. Christ commands an abrupt stop to this spread: sink it in the sea; cut off the offending member. Repent! Stop sin in its tracks. Or, like cancer, it will spread. The cancer-like spread of sin doesn’t end with our bodies dying. Worse, Jesus warns that soul and body will suffer in hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. You don’t want to go there.
That kind of radical repentance is beyond us. The Lord Jesus must work this work of faith in our hearts. For us, Christ was cut off from His Father. At the cross, Jesus was left alone to die: forsaken by the world, forsaken by His disciples, and forsaken by His Father who turned His back on the Son. When we look to the suffering Jesus, you and I can see just how serious sin is; at the foot of the cross, we learn how deeply God loves us. The Father sacrificed His Son to cut the sin out of us. The holy hands and feet of Christ were nailed to the cross for the sins we have committed with our hands, and for the trespasses we have chased after with our feet. The precious blood of our Lord flowed down His forehead from a crown of thorns to sting in His eyes. His holy blood atoned for the many sinful sights our eyes see. For you and me and all the world, Jesus bowed His head to have the millstone of our sins hung around His neck. Christ chose to be thrown into the dark depths of the sea of death to save us from dying eternally. Our Lord descended into hell to spare all who trust in Him from ever having to go there. Jesus was cut off from the Father and the world at the cross to save us from perishing forever.
All who repent of sin and have faith in Christ are saved from hell. All who repent of sin and have faith in Christ enter life, the kingdom of God (v. 43, 45, 47). By His cross and empty tomb, our sin and its deadly effects are cut out of us. We are free from the cancer of our sins!
When we confess our sins, God performs radical surgery, removing the cancer of our sins from our hearts. Like David sings, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:3-5). When God forgives us in Christ, at His word of absolution, or forgiveness, we see the cancer of our sins sink down into the depths, never to return to us again. David, sings anew, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12).
How great is that? Like hearing these words from your doctor: “You are cancer free.”
Can You Hear Me Now?
St. Mark 9:30-37. ESV
The Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
“Can you hear me now?”
Have you heard someone say those words? Maybe you’ve said it: “Can you hear me now?” The cellphone signal starts to drop. There’s a bad connection on the landline. Waves of scratchy static cover the voice you are straining to hear. You can make out some of the words, but the message is just not quite getting through. You hold your phone outside the car window, hoping to get better reception; you climb to higher ground; you adjust your handset to speak right into the receiver.
“Can you hear me now?”
How Jesus must have felt like that: as if He were talking on a cellphone that was continually cutting out and losing the signal. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise” (v. 31). Plain words. Simple meaning. The heart of Christ’s mission to the world. The very core of our faith; the foundation for life and for eternity. The death and resurrection of Jesus.
That was His message. The Teacher teaching His disciples. Rabbi instructing His students. But, the signal dropped. Like a missed call. “They did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him” (v. 32). The prophet Isaiah saw that this would happen. He prophesied: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed” (St. Matthew 13:14b-15a). Of all people, you would expect the disciples would hear and understand Jesus. Sadly, no. For already, once before, the Lord had told them that He was going to suffer, die, and rise again (8:31). And after today’s prediction of His Passion, Jesus would again tell them a third time that the cross and empty tomb was about to happen (10:33-34). As if the Lord were saying to His disciples, “Can you hear Me now?”
Well, no. They didn’t. The mission of Jesus wasn’t on their minds. They were holding a different, lively discussion amongst themselves along the way: ‘Who was the greatest?’ On their minds, they were picturing crowns and thrones, not the cross and tomb. Who was the greatest, first after Jesus? Not that they told the Lord. They kept silent when He asked. They felt guilty. The disciples were not paying attention to Jesus.
That’s sin. That Old Adam, sin-in-us, keeps us from hearing the Word of the Lord, His message of Law and Gospel from the Bible. So many distractions close our eyes to the Word of the saving Gospel: from glorious plans for greatness, to our Facebook feed; from the state of the weather, to what’s for dinner. No matter what stops up our ears, hearing is crucial. Salvation is by faith alone: a saving faith in Jesus that comes from hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). If we don’t hear, we cannot be saved.
So, Jesus keeps calling.
Three times, Christ clearly told His disciples about His saving death and resurrection. Sunday after Sunday, from this pulpit, the Lord continues to call out with the saving Gospel of His cross and empty tomb. Let the one who has ears hear!
Here’s the Good news: the Son of Man was delivered into the hands of men and was killed on the cross to open our ears to hear, to take away the guilt of sin in our hearts. He died for us! After three days, Jesus rose to life again to give life to our bodies after we die and are buried. He rose again for us! God Himself came down from heaven to earth, taking the very lowest place by His shameful death and burial to raise us up from the dust of the earth to be resurrected to everlasting life in heaven. Jesus made Himself last to put us first!
So, hear this: baptized believers in Jesus are the children of God. Through that water-bound Word of God, the Holy Spirit gives us heart-felt humility that forgets about getting glory for ourselves, and instead puts the needs of other people ahead of our own. Like the wonder that fills the face of a small child, the Holy Spirit gives us childlike faith that trusts in God our heavenly Father and holds fast to His promises. Today, Jesus speaks His Word of blessing into our ears, and joins His real presence to bread and wine to wrap His loving arms around us.
Look around you. God’s children are seated all around you in these pews. Receive one another in the name of Jesus. And receiving each other, you are receiving the Father in heaven.
Jesus is calling. The Lord speaks salvation into our hearts. To God’s children He calls: “Can you hear Me now?”
Love For The Truth
I John 4:1-11. ESV
The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
“I take out the garbage because I love you.”
He looked deep into his wife’s eyes and said those words before hauling the trash bin and recycling to the end of the lane. Sure, he brought her flowers now and again to show his love for her. He would surprise her with a bracelet or a pair of earrings on a special occasion. But taking out the garbage, week in and week out, this was a labour of love. Not that he delighted in this chore: packing up the stinky, messy trash. No, he did it for her.
“I take out the garbage because I love you.”
St. John says a lot about love. The Apostle tells us that God loves us in Christ. When we trust in God’s love, we will love other people. This Scripture invites us to love the truth. What is truth? Just this: that God sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. That’s how He shows His love for us. Christ crucified and raised from the dead is the truth that saves us. When we ourselves believe this, we love the truth.
Which means that we reject the lies. When St. John urges us to love one another, he does not mean that we should be gullible. Loving others does not mean agreeing with everyone, believing everything that you hear. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit,” he writes, “but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (v. 1). Now more than ever, we need to test the teachings that we hear. Not everyone who claims to speak for God speaks the truth. Like counterfeit money is worthless, there are counterfeit teachers: false prophets who spread a worthless, counterfeit message about God. Already in John’s day the spirit of the antiChrist was in the world. This antiChristian power has only grown over the centuries.
The Pot of Gold box was passed around. “Pick one—but only one, mind you—any chocolate you want.” The boy took the box and read the description of each one carefully: hazelnut, nougat, coffee, strawberry creme, caramel. Which one should he take?
Choosing truth and rejecting lies is not like choosing a chocolate. Candy can leave a bad taste in your mouth. False teachers lead away from Jesus and leave souls in hell.
How can you love the truth and reject the lies? How can you recognize false teaching about God? The Apostle gives us this simple, but critical test: anyone who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God, but antiChrist. To deny the God-Man, Jesus Christ and His saving cross is to rip the beating heart out of the truth, given to us by God. Every one of us has the duty to reject lies when they are taught in the name of God. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask our Father in heaven to protect us from “anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word [and so] profanes the name of God among us” (SC III:5). It may not seem like the loving thing to do. But love for the truth—for the truth of God’s love for us in Christ—will give us courage to condemn error as false and damning.
We, as members of the Lutheran Church, must be ready to defend the truth against error. The Apostle St. John wrote to churches who loved the truth: congregations who fought false teaching and paid a heavy price. People accused them of being unloving. Their faith in the love of God was shaken to the core as former members left the church to join the world. Cherished brothers and sisters left to follow false teachers. Their love began to grow cold. Do you love God? Are you ready to reject the world’s lies and love the truth? With each passing day, it looks like the world is gaining strength; that false teaching is winning out over the truth; that Satan’s lies are more popular than God’s love. Yet consider what is at stake: those who believe the devil’s lies will lose heaven and wind up in hell. Love for others makes us love the truth.
And this is the truth: “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (v. 4). Our eyes tell us that the world is winning: it looks like Satan is the most effective at marketing his product. But turn your eyes to God’s Word. Listen to what He says to us: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them” (v. 4). No matter how fierce the fight against Christ and His people, God is greater. His love is stronger. We confess this before the world at Confirmation. Christ Jesus lives in our hearts by faith; He has poured His rich Holy Spirit into us in the water of Baptism; He gives His body and blood to be a part of us. In Him, we have the victory. “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (v. 4).
We love the truth; for this is the truth: “God is love” (v. 8). We stand on the side of truth, we fight for the truth, we listen and believe the truth because only the truth reveals God’s love to us: the powerful, saving, deathless love of God for us in Christ. False teachers deny Christ, teaching us to trust in ourselves, to save ourselves. God in His Word tells us His unparalleled love for the world in Christ. Out of love, the Son of God, Jesus Christ came into our world in the flesh. His holy life was lived for us. He died on the cross to save us from our sins. He died for the world. Here, we see the love of God in action: He gave up His dearest and only Son to save us from the devil’s lies, from the guilt of our sins, and from an eternity of hell. This makes us love the truth: “God is love” (v. 8).
How do we love others? Doing household chores. Speaking a kind word. Praying for them in time of need. We love because God in Christ first loved us. That’s the truth.
His Salvation Still Shines
Psalm 125 ESV
“What are you doing that other churches are not?” What program are you following to have success at Desboro?” Twenty years ago, a lady asked me that over coffee at a Hanover Circuit function. She was saddened and frustrated to see losses in her own church and across the East District generally. Although we do have our own problems, to her, things looked pretty rosy here in Desboro.
“No special program,” I answered her. “We just preach the Gospel. Anything good that happens here comes from God.”
The answer then, is the same answer today, two decades later. The Church exists and continues, the Church stands or falls by the proclamation of the Gospel.
It’s All About Jesus
And, the Gospel is this: the good news of God’s love for the world—the world on its way to perishing in hell forever because of its disobedience, that is, sins of breaking the Ten Commandments. To save us from perishing, God the Father gave His perfect Son Jesus into the shameful agony and death of the cross to remove our sins’ horrible penalty.
Now here’s the good news: faith in Jesus, who died, but rose to life again, saves us. Trust in the Lord Jesus gives us life forever in heaven. Through faith, Jesus saves both notorious scoundrel and respectable citizen. Christ Jesus gives us this saving gift apart from what we say or do: through the faith worked by His Word, the Bible, delivered to us in our Baptisms, strengthened by Jesus as He comes to us in Holy Communion. This Gospel message was preached, taught and believed by Christians at this church 125 years ago. Like a light shining in a dark place. 125 years later, the same Gospel is now preached, taught and believed by Christians here in 2021. His light still shines.
The light of salvation in Christ Jesus shines on us. His gracious love is like the sun and the rain that makes the crops grow (Isaiah 55:10-11; St. Matthew 5:45b). “I am the light of the world,” (St. John 8:12), Jesus declares in the Gospel of John. The light of His salvation shines us in the grace our Baptisms, poured out on us in water and the Word of God: “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace” (St. Luke 1:79).
The light of salvation in Christ Jesus also shines in us. In His Word, the Bible. The word is preached into the air, enters our ears and finds a home in our believing hearts. St. Paul says it like this: “The word is near to you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:8-9). Jesus also joins His Word to bread and wine so that the light of His salvation is in us, that is in our very bodies. Again, St. Paul writes: “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (I Corinthians 6:19). And, by the very act of receiving the Lord Jesus Christ with all His gifts here at the altar, the light of His salvation shines through us. “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).
After 125 years, the light of salvation in Christ Jesus still shines through us. The Lord has blessed us so richly by His grace, His free and undeserved favour in Christ. We are not just to keep these blessings to ourselves, but to bless others. Like light shining in the darkness, the light of Christ shines through us into the lives of friends, neighbours, coworkers and all the people we meet. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (I Peter 2:9). Through Isaiah, God says, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). His salvation shines through us.
For this great task of shining the light of salvation into the world, the Lord promises that He is with His people. The Psalm writer, approaching Jerusalem for the Passover festival looks at the landscape of Palestine and pictures God’s loving protection. Mountains surround the holy city, Jerusalem, forming a natural barrier. Just as the city of Owen Sound lies nestled between two ridges of the escarpment. Protected. So, God protects His people. The twin guards of His Word and Sacraments surround us: we are shielded from attacks on our faith from the devil, world, and our sinful nature. In the centre of Jerusalem, the temple itself was constructed on the rock: Mount Zion. Storms of life may try to shake us. Those who trust in Lord stand strong. The Lord is the mountain. He cannot move.
The light of salvation in Jesus still shines. Even though there have been so many changes in the church and world over the last 125 years, know this for certain: the future of the Church depends on God, the Lord of the Church, not on us. “Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God in those who hear the good news” (AC V:2). Jesus promises, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (St. Matthew 24:35).
The light of His salvation still shines.