Faith Lutheran Church Desboro
Love For The Unlovely
St. John 15:9-17. ESV
The Sixth Sunday Of Easter
09 May 2021.
A two-month-old baby kept crying all night. Father and mother were wide awake. The baby’s father went into his room, and reaching into his crib tried to calm his son, make him comfortable and settle him down, but to no avail. The baby just cried louder. Frustrated, and at his wits’ end, dad went back to bed and lay down. Mom went into the nursery, picked up her son, and as she tenderly cradled him simply said, “Aw, that’s alright. I’m sorry you don’t feel better.” In love, she stayed with him through the night.
What the world needs now is love sweet love.
Jesus agrees. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (v. 12).
Where Is The Love?
Sadly, the world is not very loving. Sadly, we are not very loving. Our sin is showing.
Sin shows in frustration, anger, and impatience with others. Harsh words blurted out when someone gets close to you—closer than two meters. Impatient on the road: speeding, pulling out ahead of oncoming traffic. Speed bumps and 30 km limit in school zones? These days, love is often missing from the way we treat others. Humanity, compassion and common decency are hidden. To His disciples in the Upper Room, Jesus warns, “Because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (v. 19). As a sign that the world is drawing to a close, Jesus also gives this caution, “the love of many will grow cold” (St. Matthew 24:12). Unlovely.
So, what can we do? “Love one another,” Jesus says. Fine. I’ll try harder to get along with my neighbour. But he just argues all the time. I’ll think happy thoughts while I’m driving down the road. It works for a while, but then, some jerk cuts me off! I’ve tried my best. The whole thing’s ruined. How can I love others in such an unloving world? My love for others has failed.
His Love Conquers All
We love others in Christ. In the Bible, love is action, more than feeling. So sometimes, love is messy, mixed up, even painful. This is how Jesus loved us: He laid down His life to save the world. That’s love. By His loving sacrifice on the cross in our place, Jesus forgives our lack of love. “God shows His loves for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Consider the twelve disciples who listened to Jesus speak these words. The disciples love because Christ first loved them. They did not choose Him, but in love, Jesus chose them (v. 16). Who does Jesus love? This rag-tag, patchwork group of followers, chosen by the Lord, gathered together in the Upper Room for the Last Supper on the night when He was betrayed: there was Judas, who would betray Him; Peter, who would deny Him; Thomas, who would not believe His resurrection; Matthew, a former tax-collector; Simon the zealot, linked to an extreme political movement. Who were these men? Unlovely. Sinners. Yet, Jesus loved them. For these men, Jesus laid down His life. As He loves us and all the world.
See His love that went even to the agony of the cross to earn our forgiveness. See His love that rose to life again from the grave to give us eternal life. Jesus looks at us now with love. ‘I love you as the Father has loved Me (v. 9). I love you without conditions, without limits. I love you with an everlasting love; with love that is stronger than death (Song of Solomon 8:6); with love that many waters cannot quench, neither can floods drown it (Song of Solomon 8:7). Christ’s “love covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8; Ap. V:117)—the bleeding love (LSB 431:5) of the Lord Jesus that covers all our loveless sins—the love of God through His only-begotten Son that covers the sins of the world.
That’s love that goes beyond feeling—active, self-giving love that saves us. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (v. 13). Dearly beloved, Jesus loves us like that: He died so that we live.
Christ Loves Others Through Us
So, we are more than servants, slaves to follow instructions blindly. Christ has made us friends; He chose us to live in love and to show His love to the world.
“Love one another” (ἀγαπτε ἀλλήλους v. 12, 17). Friends of a friend should be friends. Think of the spokes on a wheel. From the outside rim of the wheel, the spokes get closer together as they reach the hub. The same with us. The closer we get to Jesus, the closer we will be to one another. Love works that way.
In a letter to Christians in first century Corinth, Clement of Rome writes, “Let the one who has love in Christ fulfill the commandments of Christ. Who can describe the bond of God’s love? Who is able to explain the majesty of its beauty? The height to which love leads is indescribable. Love unites us with God; love covers a multitude of sins; love endures all things, is patient in all things. There is nothing coarse, nothing arrogant in love. Love knows nothing of schisms, love leads no rebellions, love does everything in harmony. In love all the elect of God were made perfect; without love nothing is pleasing to God. In love the Master received us. Because of the love that He had for us, Jesus Christ our Lord, in accordance with God’s will, gave His blood for us, and His flesh for our flesh, and His life for our lives” (I Clement 49:1-6).
A mother gave birth to twins: a boy and a girl. The children were born a bit before their due date. The girl was healthy. But the boy did not seem to be breathing at all. The boy’s mother held him to her chest, caressed him and spoke softly to him. Every now and then, the boy seemed to move or make a noise. The doctors said that these were just random spasms. They believed that the child was dead. Finally, the mother put a drop of breast milk on the tip of her finger and touched her son’s tongue. Almost immediately, he started breathing visibly and moving around. The child was alive after all!
Out of love for us, with His Word and Sacraments, the Lord brings us to life. For Christ loves the unlovely.
St. John 15:1-8. ESV
The Fifth Sunday Of Easter
02 April 2021
Things were quiet two weeks ago. For most of the day on April 19th, thousands of Rogers customers had no wireless service. A software update was blamed. How frustrating, especially during these days, when we rely on cellular communication to connect to the world. Your phone, tablet or other device may be working fine. But apart from this connection, you can do nothing.
“I am the vine; you are the branches,” Jesus says, “apart from Me, you can do nothing” (v. 5). That sounds harsh.
But, as in the vineyard, so it is in the kingdom of God.
Branches don’t live on their own: they are connected to the vine, alive only in the vine. Moisture and nutrients are drawn up from the soil, pass through the vine and feed the branches. Living branches connected to the vine produce fruit: clusters of grapes.
Jesus is the Vine. We are the branches connected to Him in His Word, the Bible. We are the branches connected to Him in the Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Apart from Him, disconnected from Jesus, the Vine, as He is working through these means of grace, we can do nothing: there’s no life, no good works, no faith, nor any fruit of faith. Nothing. On our own, we are dead. The branches cannot live without a vital connection to the Vine: we cannot have faith in Christ, nor can we produce the good works, the fruit of faith apart from, outside of, disconnected from the fellowship of the Church. In church, we are connected to Jesus and His life. Disconnected branches are dead.
To maximize production in the fruit-bearing branches, the vinedresser takes away every branch “that does not bear fruit” (v. 2). Fruitless branches are cut off, “thrown into the fire and burned” (v. 6). Martin Luther warns, “If you would give up the doctrine of faith or subvert it and, leaving Christ, depend upon your own sanctity, or publicly live in sin and shame, and yet glory in the Gospel and in the Christian name; then you will know that you are a false branch and have no part in the Vine, but, cast out and condemned with wood and fruits, belong to eternal hell-fire” (AE 8:516).
Almighty God, the Master of the Vineyard, the Holy Christian Church, does not want this to happen to anyone. The Father is glorified when we bear much fruit and so prove to be disciples of the Christ, the true Vine. In order to connect us to Jesus, the Lord Himself was cut off for us. Even though He is perfect: the true Vine of the branches, who is the very Source of life, of faith, of good works, and of fruitful living. Jesus became the exact opposite for us and for all the sinful world. Like a grapevine weighed down with heavy grape clusters, Jesus was burdened with the world’s sins. Like a dead branch, He was severed, cut off, and disconnected from the land of the living (Isaiah 53:8). Like a worthless, lifeless, fruitless branch cast out of the vineyard to be burned, Jesus was cast out of the city, Jerusalem, heaped together with criminals to be crucified near the urban garbage dump (Hinnom valley: Mt 5:22 et al.), the place of burning. For us and for our salvation, Christ suffered the flames of hell itself, disconnected even from the Heavenly Father: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (St. Matthew 27:46). Why? “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21). Jesus was cut off to graft us in. He suffered and died that we might live, believe, and bear fruit. Connected to Christ.
What does it mean to bear fruit? Listen again to Luther: “So long as the branch remains rooted in the stem or stock and its sap and power remains in him, his fruits must be and remain good, though they may be attacked by caterpillars or some other vermin. Thus also, if a man abides in Christ and receives and keeps energy and power from Him by faith, that Jesus works in him with His power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, then the remaining weakness, which is incited by the devil and this sinful nature, will do no harm, only that he oppose such weakness with the continual battle of faith and sweep out such vermin” (AE 8:516).
As we are connected to Christ, He produces the fruit of good works in our hearts and lives: that is, the life of service to our neighbours that provides for their needs of body and soul. St. John writes: “This is [God’s] commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another” (I John 3:23). By our Christian witness, we “hold out of the word of life” (Philippians 2:16 NIV) in our daily work and words to others. Visiting, clothing, and feeding those who are needy (I John 3:23; St. Matthew 25:31-46). The world sees these fruits produced by branches connected to the true Vine, Jesus.
The Lord of the vineyard also produces the fruit of faith in us in a hidden way. The Holy Spirit changes us, restores our souls and creates new hearts in us: turning us from selfish, self-centred and dead branches to living branches connected to Christ. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23a).
All of these fruits are still growing in us. As we are in Christ; in fellowship with Him. Connected to the Vine.
One Shepherd—One Flock
St. John 10:11-18. ESV
The Fourth Sunday Of Easter
25 April 2021
Windy weather last week broke branches off trees. Gathering the sticks together into bundles keeps the yard tidy and ready for the mower to cut the grass.
Gathering the fallen branches together is a picture of the Holy Spirit’s work of gathering Christians into the Church. By the preaching of the Gospel, He “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith” (SC II:6). Together in Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, we have a place to belong. He makes us strong. We know who we are. Under one Shepherd, there is one flock.
Once you have gathered sticks into a bundle, they are hard, maybe impossible to break. Yet, the bundle can easily be broken: one stick at a time. Jesus is the one Shepherd who joins us together in one flock, the holy Christian Church. Like a hungry wolf, Satan tries to separate us from the Church, to isolate us, driving sheep and lambs out of the flock. Alone, the infernal wolf can easily destroy us.
Satan Delights in Dividing The Flock
The devil drools as he gazes at the dear Christians who hold fast to Christ in saving faith: like a wolf who wants to eat the sheep. Unlike the Good Shepherd who came to give abundant life to the sheep, the wolf wants the sheep to die. Satan works like a ravenous and sneaky wolf: snatching and scattering sheep.
Like a hired hand who doesn’t own the sheep. Unlike the Good Shepherd who loves the sheep and lays His life down for the sheep, the hired hands runs at the first sign of danger, abandoning the sheep. Satan works like the hired hand: he doesn’t care about the sheep.
How? By spreading doubt and false teaching in the minds and hearts of the flock. Is the Bible really true? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Does faith in Christ alone apart from the good deeds we do really save us and bring us to heaven? With such deadly doubts, the satanic wolf wraps his claws around straying sheep. With false teachings, the ancient enemy sinks his fangs into helpless lambs. Apart from Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we are lost.
One In Christ
The Shepherd seeks us, His lost sheep, from wherever we have strayed. Jesus loves us. He laid down His life to save us. The Shepherd forgives our sins. He binds up our wounds. He gathers us into one flock.
Since there is one Lord Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, there is one flock gathered together under Him as our Head.
Since Jesus is one, He has one Word for us and for all the world. Hear the Shepherd’s voice proclaim one unchanging, divine message: full and free forgiveness of all our sins earned by His death on the cross. Unending, eternal life in Christ. The Shepherd Jesus, who rose again from the dead and ascended to heaven, leads His sheep to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Since Jesus is one, He gathers His sheep together under the sign of the cross: in the water and Word of Holy Baptism. The straying sheep of our sinful nature is drowned here. In Baptism, the Good Shepherd gathers the sheep and lambs of His flock and carries them home.
Since Jesus is one, the flock in fellowship with Him is fed by the Lord’s Supper. Under this bread, His body is truly present: the same body that hung on the cross, that rose again from the tomb, that was handled by Thomas, the same body that ate and drank with the disciples, that bodily ascended to heaven and now lives and reigns from the Father’s right hand. Under this wine, His blood is truly present: the same blood that poured forth at the cross, that was shed for us as the full and final ransom to forgive our sins, the same blood that now intercedes for us before the Father’s throne. Here, the Good Shepherd feeds and cares for His sheep. In Jesus, we are one. For there is one Shepherd, one flock.
All of this was foretold long ago. Old Testament prophet, Ezekiel, pictured the unified kingdom, the holy Christian Church, that God would bring about through the Good Shepherd, Christ. At that time, the chosen people lived under a divided kingdom and longed for unity. God told Ezekiel to take sticks—two sticks for this divided kingdom—one for Judah, one for Joseph. The Lord told Ezekiel, ‘Hold them in your hand to form one stick.’ “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph... and the tribes associated with him. And I will join with it the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, that they may be one in My hand” (Ezekiel 37:19). How can a fractured and divided people be brought together again and made into one? Only by the hand of the Lord: only in the nail-pierced, but living hand of the Lord, the great Shepherd of the sheep. “And I will make them one nation in the land... and one king shall be king over them all” (Ezekiel 37:22). In Christ Jesus, there is oneness. One Shepherd. One flock.
The Lord is our Shepherd. With the rod and staff of His Law and His Gospel, He shepherds us, gathering us into His flock as one people. Jesus alone leads us safely through the valley of the shadow of death to the green pastures and still waters of eternal life.
Following in faith the voice of Jesus Christ, the one Shepherd makes us one flock. Amen
St. Luke 24:36-49. ESV
The Third Sunday Of Easter
18 April 2021
They thought they had seen a ghost!
News that Jesus Christ had returned from the dead was reported to the disciples by two men who had met Him at a village called Emmaus. Then suddenly, Jesus was standing right there. They jumped. Scared. How was Jesus here? Their thoughts were of death.
Death occupies our thoughts. Nothing frightens us quite like the realization that our life here will end one day. As it was for the disciples, our fear of death comes from sin. As if death were the end. Without Christ, there is only fear in death: judgement and hell.
But, the Lord Jesus is not a spirit, a ghost, an apparition. Jesus is alive!
The living Jesus speaks to our hearts, calming the stormy seas of doubt and fear with His living presence. ‘Look at Me,’ says Jesus to His troubled followers. Through their eyes, we see Him risen. “Touch Me and see” (v. 39) invites Christ the Lord. With their hands, we discover that Jesus is not a bodiless phantom. The disciples touch and feel His flesh and bones: the same body that Jesus had before the cross—a human body of skin and muscle; of sinew and bone—only now, wondrously transformed to live forever (Philippians 3:21). With joyful amazement, their hands take hold of the flesh that was pierced by nails for our transgressions. With wonder and awe, they embrace the One whose bones were suspended from the cross to save the world. He was dead. Now, He lives!
Further interaction fills us with wonder. “Have you anything to eat?” (v. 41) the Lord asks the disciples. Not that He’s hungry. No. Jesus hungers for the disciples to know that He has risen. How precious and honoured that piece of broiled fish that Christ consumed before their eyes. The mighty Lord who had multiplied bread and fish to feed the thousands now presides over the joyous, heavenly banquet—the unending feast of heaven.
Before awestruck disciples, wide-eyed with wonder, Jesus not only appeared, and ate this tiny morsel of fish. The Lord also taught them. ‘Do not be entirely surprised by My resurrection. The Bible said it would happen.’ Yes, Sacred Scripture clearly teaches a message of Law: the Ten Commandments rightly accuse us as sinners in need of a Saviour. By our own efforts, we cannot earn forgiveness for our sins, save ourselves, nor reverse death’s terrible and final sentence. That’s why God the Father promised to send His Son: to undo sin’s curse upon the entire world. “The Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (v. 46). The whole Bible points to Jesus. Scripture’s main message is not morality. Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms were written about Jesus. These sacred writings were also fulfilled by Him. Christ stood alive before the disciples to teach them this message.
And then, sent them out. “Mission” is derived from the Latin word (missio) that means “sending.” God the Father sent His Son into the world to save us (St. John 20:21). Now, Jesus was sending the disciples to all nations to preach salvation in Jesus alone: “repentance and forgiveness of sins... proclaimed in His name” (v. 47). These witnesses of His resurrection would have the honour to tell another generation (Psalm 145:4), making disciples of the living Jesus by baptizing and teaching in all the world (St. Matthew 28:19-20). We, who listen with believing ears and hearts are among those who have been brought into fellowship with the living Jesus through His mission. Were these disciples superheros in this great work of carrying out Christ’s mission in the world? Not on their own. They were simple, ordinary men: fishermen, farmers and tax-collectors. But the living Jesus gave them this all-important gift: the Holy Spirit. His was a gift they could wear like armour (Ephesians 6:10-20). Cloaked with the Holy Spirit’s presence and power, these bold men faced danger, rejection and every one gave their lives as witnesses for Christ.
Yet, with joy and amazement, the apostles of the risen Lord Jesus fulfilled their mission, proclaiming His saving message and eagerly awaited the unending feast of heaven.
In these days when we cannot be with those we love outside our household, Jesus is with us. He eats with us in His sacramental meal. He speaks His unchanging word of forgiveness in Bible and pulpit. He leads us to Himself in heaven. Since Christ is risen, He will always be with us.
He Seeks The Lost
St. John 20:19-31. ESV
The Second Sunday Of Easter
11 April 2021
Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
The risen Christ lives to seek the lost.
Like a shepherd seeking His lost sheep.
At Easter, God the heavenly Father has wakened from death the great Shepherd of the sheep. Jesus is alive to search for, bind up, and strengthen His sheep and lambs lost in unbelief, doubt and error wherever they have strayed in this vast world of His.
Jesus starts by seeking His disciples on Easter evening. How are Christ’s closest followers celebrating Easter? In lockdown: behind locked doors, quivering in fear (v. 19), not believing, afraid of suffering arrest, trial and death like their Master Jesus. They were not blessed with believing hearts (v. 31). Fear eclipsed faith. The living Shepherd, Jesus, sought out these lost sheep of His.
Like Thomas. His fear and unbelief ran so deep, he needed to see the evidence: marks of nails in the hands and feet of Jesus; the scar from the spear left in His side—the marks from Christ’s terrible suffering and death on the cross that would prove this really was Jesus—that’s what this lost sheep needed to take the doubts away from his heart and mind. To doubting Thomas, Jesus came.
To the world gone astray, the risen Lord Jesus comes. To His dear sheep, lost in doubt, unbelief and error, the Lord Jesus stands, once wounded, dead, and buried, but now alive and calling all people to repent of sin, to turn from unbelief, and believe in the One who died for the world, and now lives forever. The Shepherd seeks His lost sheep.
Just as He seeks us. When fears and worries rob us of faith in the living and resurrected Christ, Jesus seeks us. Where error leaves our hearts troubled and disturbed, harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, then Jesus comes to us. The resurrected Lord binds our wounded consciences with the precious gift of His free forgiveness. On every hill and valley where our sins have scattered us, the Lord seeks us, calling His sheep to Himself.
Who is this Good Shepherd? You know Him by the scars that He bears on His body, even as the disciples rejoiced and were glad when He showed them His hands and His side (v. 20), just as Thomas saw and believed in Christ, the Lord and true God (v. 28). By the nails that pierced His hands and His feet, the Lord Jesus Christ has taken away the guilt of our sins. At the cost of His holy precious blood that poured from His spear-punctured side, Jesus has purchased our forgiveness. Even while fixed to the cross, the divine Son of God was seeking every lost sheep of this world. With His heart breaking as the world rejected Him in unbelief and rebellion, every one of us like sheep have turned to his own way, yet in love, Jesus died so that His sheep would live.
Now, Christ is risen—resurrected to seek and to save the lost. Sadly, those who cling stubbornly to unbelief and reject the Lord’s free forgiveness have their sin and guilt bound to them: stuck in their souls, judgment truly locked down, forgiveness withheld (v. 23). Yet, even by this binding discipline, the Shepherd seeks His lost, impenitent sheep, calling them to repent and come back.
The Shepherd’s true delight is to seek out His straying sheep, binding their wounds and strengthening them with His declaration of forgiveness, absolving and freeing them by the voice of His called servants. “[We] believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.” Behind closed doors, on Easter evening, risen from the dead, but still bearing on His body the marks from the cross, Jesus gave the command to His disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” (v. 23a). Nervous, jumpy, sin-troubled sheep calm right down when the Shepherd speaks His forgiving word: “Peace be with you” (v. 19, 21, 26).
With His Word, and by that gracious Word joined to His Sacraments, as His rod and staff, Jesus takes care of us. The Shepherd seeks and saves His sheep. Believing in the risen Christ, who takes all our sins away, we have life in His name (v. 31).
The risen Lord promises: “I Myself will be the shepherd of My sheep, and I Myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak” (Ezekiel 34:15-16a).
Today, Sunday, is not just the first day of the week: it is also the eighth day. We, who gather together here on the eighth day, like the disciples with Thomas are not privileged to see Jesus and handle the wounds on His body like Thomas did. But here, under this bread and this wine, the Lord seeks us out, coming to us with His true body and true blood. The Holy Spirit teaches us to trust that His Word to us is true. For, Jesus is risen!
Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed! Amen
The Tale Of The Spice Girls
St. Mark 16:1-8. ESV
The Resurrection Of Our Lord
04 April 2021
By Easter morning, we were really upset. We had seen the Lord Jesus die: there, on the cross, outside of Jerusalem, on Friday. We hoped that perhaps He would be saved before it came to that, but no. We were there when He breathed His last and died. Disciples who loved Him took Him down from the cross. A rich man, Joseph, placed the lifeless body of Jesus in his own tomb. That was so kind of him.
Because the Sabbath of the Passover was almost here, they buried the Lord quickly: wrapping His motionless body in a fine linen cloth, and laying Him out on a stone shelf inside the sepulchre. There was no time to include the spices: frankincense, myrrh, aloes, and other sweet-smelling ointments (ἀρώματα καὶ μὺρα) that we use to anoint the body at burial. We observed the site where He lay, and went home to prepare those spices. We hurried to the Jerusalem bazaar to buy what we needed from the local merchants before they closed up shop for the day of rest (v. 1, St. Luke 23:56). Our hearts were so heavy and sad.
On the third day, we brought the spices for embalming. We started early on Sunday morning, before the sun rose. We wanted to make sure we had time to do things right.
As we walked on the way, we talked about how we would get in—a huge stone door sealed the entrance. At least two men were needed to roll that massive stone into the groove that was chiselled into the surrounding rock to close it tight. Would someone be there so early on the first day of the week to let us in? The stone was too heavy for our group to handle.
We were so sad. Embalming the body of the Lord, opening the door to His tomb—these sad duties had become a part of our lives because of sin. Death was in the world because of sin. Now, we must face it again. We had hoped that the Lord Jesus would free us from all this: from sin’s curse, from death and the grave. Yet, here we are again. Easter morning, we are going to the cemetery, preparing to give Jesus a proper burial. How sad!
Boy, were we surprised—shocked, really—when we arrived at the tomb: that massive stone had been rolled back! The door was open! Why shouldn’t we go in? Once inside, where was the body of Jesus? It was gone! We started to feel afraid. And, we were not alone! A young man in a white robe was sitting in the tomb. He could tell we were upset, so he said, “Do not be alarmed.” His voice was different from any voice we had ever heard—like it came from out of this world. “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified,” the angel said. “He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him” (v. 6) said the angelic being, pointing to the empty burial bed, the white linen shroud all neatly folded. We ladies gazed around the tomb with a 1000 mile stare. Sure enough, the tomb was empty, except for this heavenly messenger. He told us to leave the tomb the tomb in Jerusalem, tell this news to the disciples and then, we would see Jesus again in Galilee.
Let me assure you, the angel didn’t have to tell us twice. We ladies tore out of there like a shot. The shock of the empty tomb was the last thing we thought we would see. We didn’t say a word to a soul. Nothing.
Not until later. Then, we began to think back on that morning. We remembered the words of Jesus. We believed what He said. As for the spices we bought—we didn’t need them. For Jesus is alive: we saw Him. We touched Him. We talked with Him. Because He lives, He promises that all who believe in Him and are baptized into Him will also rise from the grave to live again. Not just us, who were there that first Easter—everyone who is in Christ Jesus has new life from Him. Jesus is alive! His resurrection proves that when He died on the cross, He took our sins away. In Him, we are forgiven. Best of all, Easter is God’s gift of life after this life. We don’t need to be afraid, even of dying. For, Jesus has defeated death and the grave. In Him, we have eternal life in heaven.
Now, make no mistake. This is no idle tale told to us by these women (St. Luke 24:11). The resurrection of Jesus is fact: sure and certain. The living Jesus changes everything for us. How we live. How we die.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
St. Matthew 27:25. ESV
02 April 2021.
And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
The weather turned warm all of a sudden. The snow covering the earth melted quickly. Leaving standing water in the fields. Then came spring rains. Rivers ran. His basement flooded. What a mess! Good thing he had insurance. But, when he called the adjustor, he was told the bad news: “You’re not covered.”
Later on, when the days warmed up, the kids asked to play outside. They had been cooped up all winter. Once outdoors, they didn’t want to come back inside. However, the ground was still soft; the grass had not begun to grow. When they came in for supper, the kids were muddy. And, not just a bit dirty. They were covered.
Sometimes, it’s a good thing to be covered. Sometimes, not.
The crowds who stood before Pilate on the first Good Friday shouted out to be covered: that is, covered with the blood of Jesus; both them and their children! What was going on?
Betrayed by His disciple Judas, handed over by the chief priests and elders of the people on trumped-up charges, Jesus stood before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, condemned by the crowd who called for His death by crucifixion. Pilate the politician swayed back and forth in his verdict: conscious of his duty to Rome under Caesar; conflicted by news from his wife, who had a dream that Jesus was innocent; making this grand gesture by giving the crowd the choice to release either Jesus or Barabbas; trying every means he could think of to sway the murderous cries of the crowd who called for Christ to be crucified. So, in one final, symbolic gesture, Pontius Pilate called for water, literally washing his hands of this whole affair: “I am innocent of this man’s blood” (St. Matthew 27:24), the governor proclaimed, holding his wet hands dripping before the mob. To which the people responded, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
Shocking! With this shout, the crowd claims they are responsible for the death of Jesus. “The blood is the life” (Leviticus 17:14).
His blood, that His life, is taken by those shouting from this crowd, even as Roman soldiers hammer Roman nails through His hands and feet to hang Jesus from a Roman cross to be executed in cruel, public, and shameful Roman justice. They did it. This faceless mass of people. His blood covers the crowd. And, not just those present on that fateful Friday. This shouting mass also passes the guilt on to their children: to the third and fourth generations, and beyond. What parent would pass the guilt of condemning an innocent man on to their children? This crowd.
How true were those words! The blood of Jesus in on us, too! Not just Judas, the Jews, Pilate, and the holy week crowds were guilty of Christ’s death. By our sins of thought, word and deed; by disobeying God’s holy Ten Commandments; by our original and actual sins, we were there among the crowds, calling for His death, guilty of the blood of God’s Son who died on the cross for our sins. Like all people who have ever lived, we fall under that guilt. Covered.
However, as you leave the service today, hold in your heart with a confident trust this sure and certain truth: all that Jesus suffered was for you. The blood He shed on the cross into death; this holy, precious blood is upon us and upon our children: washing us clean in Holy Baptism, marking us as His own dear people in Holy Communion. He has us covered. The blood of Jesus Christ purifies us from all sins (I John 1:7b). Like the blood of the Passover lambs, painted on the doorposts at the Exodus, His blood is on us, marks us and covers us to protect us from eternal death. His blood is on us so that we can live each day with a clear conscience, our heads held high, free from guilt. Marked with His saving blood, we prepare to celebrate the feast of His resurrection with holy joy.
Just Do It
St. Luke 22:19-20. ESV
01 April 2021
Just Do It.
Nike brand uses that slogan to market their fitness wear.
“Just do it” is the response you can give to every excuse you might have for not being active, not exercising, not getting up off the couch. What excuses? I’m too busy. I don’t have the time. I don’t own the right clothes, shoes, equipment. I don’t know how to get started. I just don’t feel like it. Just do it.
That’s an echo of Christ’s words to His disciples in the Upper Room the night in which He was betrayed. With unleavened bread and the Passover cup in hand: “This is My body... This... is My blood. Do this in remembrance of Me.” Just do it.
“Do this (ποιετε)” that’s an imperative verb: a command. At the sound of that kind of direction, the sinful nature in us gets its back up. After all, nobody likes to be told what to do. Recognize the sin in us. Repent.
For this is the Lord’s voice. “Do this” is word of Jesus to His dear baptized believers, communicants in fellowship with Him. This command brings benefit, works eternal salvation and is meant by our Lord for the good of our souls. At His Word, the Lord Christ banishes our fears, our excuses and misgivings. “Do this,” He tells us. Go for it!
Even though our communion practices here have been modified to ensure that we are safe and carry the Lord’s own word that He will not harm us by this Sacrament, these are fearful times.
Like the surgeries that have been scheduled during COVID. Anxiety surrounding such medical procedures are heightened now. For these are not like normal times. Increased cleaning, personal protective equipment, restrictions on visitors and shorter stays in the hospital are in place to keep us safe. But what if you need surgery? Just do it!
Or a whole host of other activities that are complicated, difficult or logistically challenging because we are in a global pandemic. Like moving to a new house, a new province, or a new country. Just do it. Like getting married. Just do it. Like starting a business. All these activities are so much more difficult now - but just do it.
On Maundy Thursday evening, Jesus, Child of Mary and very Son of God faced the Passion ahead: trial, scourging, cross and grave. He knew full well the path ahead would be difficult. Yet, the Lord Jesus embraced the cross out of love for us. This was necessary. For us and for our salvation, the path to the cross and the tomb lay ahead for our Lord. By His death, we live. Was this road easy for Jesus? Not at all. “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me” (St. Luke 22:42) Jesus prayed later that evening in the garden. Yet, Christ’s resolve was clear. Out of love for us, He would do all that was needed to purchase our salvation with His holy precious blood. He just did it.
Is life for us as Christians easy? Not at all. It’s not unusual for others to make fun of you for believing in Jesus. We are Christians in an unChristian world. Praying and having daily devotions with your family. Hard. Coming to services at God’s house. Challenging under normal circumstances. Much harder now. Drawing near to the altar to eat and drink the body and blood of the Lord. Like running a gauntlet. King David knew that well: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps 23:5-6).
Bringing Life To The Crowd
St. John 12:12-19. ESV
28 March 2021
Flashmob. A sudden gathering of people can be considered a flashmob. Typically organized by invitation through social media, the sudden arrival and quick dispersal of a large group of people is a newsworthy event.
Jesus was mobbed entering Jerusalem. John calls it a “large crowd.” This group of pilgrims in the Holy City for Passover were not summoned by Facebook nor Instagram. Yet, news of an amazing event caused them to gather en masse: the resurrection of Lazarus. The crowd came to see Jesus who had brought a man back from the dead after lying in the tomb for four days.
A Lively Crowd
And crowd around Him, they did! Palm Sunday was filled with a festive atmosphere. Crowds cut branches from palm trees and greeted Jesus as He rode into the Holy City on a donkey. This gesture was full of meaning: palms had a long tradition as a symbol of victory. Kings returning triumphant from battle were greeted on their homecoming with waving palms. The other Gospels tell us that along with palms the people spread their garments on the road as sign to welcome Jesus as the Bringer of life.
Along with all these colourful sights, there were beautiful sounds: cries of victory from the crowd: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the king of Israel” (v. 13). Can you imagine being in that lively crowd as over and over they chanted that verse from Psalm 118. “Hosanna” is another triumphant acclamation. This Hebrew words means, “Lord save us.” How fitting that the crowd should welcome their Saviour that way. Greater than Israel’s beloved Shepherd King, David, Jesus appeared in their midst as the true King promised to Israel. This One who had raised Lazarus from the dead came to bring life to the crowd. It seemed they were already pretty lively.
Death Concealed In the Crowd
Yet, death was lurking in the crowd. Earlier, John writes that the chief priests had a plan: to put Lazarus to death (St. John 12:10). The Pharisees did not appear to share the crowd’s enthusiasm. They were disgusted at Christ’s popularity (v. 19). Jesus came to bring life to his crowd: to the chief priests plotting to murder Lazarus, to the Pharisees who resented His popularity, to the crowds in whose hearts death lurked, even as they cheered Him on, to us who have that same sinful nature, Christ came to bring life. Jesus came to bring life to us whose sin cannot be cured by vaccine, but only by His holy precious blood. Christ rode into that Palm Sunday crowd to bring life beyond the life He restored to Lazarus. Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full (St. John 10:10 NIV).
Life Via The Cross
The way to that eternal life was death for Him. The path followed by the donkey on Palm Sunday led to the cross. From one crowd to another: Jesus heard the excited cries, “ Hosanna” on Palm Sunday; then “Crucify Him” on Good Friday. Yet, this was the way mapped out by the Sacred Scriptures. As St. Paul writes in our Epistle, the Christ of God took on the form of a servant, as true man becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Through His death, He gives us eternal life. “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved” (St. Mark 16:16).
Crowds of baptized believers through the ages and around the world today life as a free gift through faith in Jesus who died and rose to take the world’s sin away.
Jesus comes here today to bring life to this crowd. He rides into our midst, not on a lowly donkey, but in the vehicle of His Word and Sacraments. As it happened on the first Palm Sunday, Jesus pumps you up: from guilt to grace; from earth to heaven; from death to eternal life.
“Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Why Should Cross And Trial Grieve Me?
I Peter 1:6-9. ESV
The Sixth Wednesday Of Lent
24 March 2021.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Catechism. Three students are now busy memorizing, studying and applying Luther’s Small Catechism to their lives. What is a catechism? Answer: a catechism is a method of teaching using questions and answers. Like the hymn we consider today. “Why Should Cross And Trial Grieve Me?” Rev. Paul Gerhardt asks the question in order to give us the answer from God’s Word, the Bible.
Exactly one month ago, during our lenten service, we considered another hymn composed by gifted Lutheran writer, Rev. Paul Gerhardt. At that time, we learned of the woes he faced living during a decades-long war, ordained and placed in his first call at the height of the bubonic plague.
As if war and plague weren’t bad enough, Gerhardt also wrestled with financial woes and heretical teachings in the church. An imperial edict from the Calvinist ruler banned the Lutheran teaching of the Formula of Concord. Gerhardt refused to deny his faith, and was removed as Pastor despite his gifted preaching, hymn-writing and conscientious pastoral care of his members. Just before this, four of his five children had died. While unemployed and living in Berlin, sadly his dear wife Anna Maria died. Pastor Gerhardt had ample reason to ask, “Why?”
So do we. “Why me, Lord?” Sometimes, this question comes from the sinful heart within us. “Why?” we complain, figuring we should be treated better by the Almighty, we Christians should make out better in life than those who don’t believe. Why do you treat me this way? Such complaining against God’s goodness is sin. He treats everyone of us better than we deserve. Repent.
Other times, we ask “Why me, Lord?” (e.g., 42:11; 74:1) echoing the Psalmists and other believers in Scripture through the ages. We pour out our grief and sorrow, our struggles and crosses before the Lord who alone can bring relief to us. Why? God answers.
The original German version of the hymn we just sang was written in 12 verses. Embedded in the hymn are five questions, springing from the heart of the Christian struggling under the weight of the cross. Sacred Scripture gives the answers. A catechism for us living under the cross.
“Why should cross and trial grieve me?” Answer: Christ is near. He promises He will never leave us. In Him, we have all we need. There’s no need to grieve.
“Who can rob me of the heaven that God’s Son for me won when His life was given?” Answer: That question answers itself. No one can take heaven away. Jesus died on the cross to win heaven for us.
“Though a heavy cross I’m bearing and my heart feels the smart, shall I be despairing (TLH 523:2)?” Answer: No! When we are tempted to feel defeat and fall into despair, faith trusts that our Saviour has sent the cross into our lives for good. He knows when all our woes start; at the right time, He will also bring them to an end.
“God oft gives me days of gladness; shall I grieve if He give seasons, too, of sadness (TLH 523:3)?” Answer: both good and bad come from God’s almighty hand. He who created us in body and soul will also guide and protect our steps in this world by His fatherly divine goodness and mercy.
“What is all this life possesses (TLH 523:6)?” Answer: “a hand full of sand that the heart distresses.” We, who are made holy saints through faith in Jesus Christ enjoy the passing riches of this created world with our eyes focussed on the eternal, imperishable treasures in God’s presence in the life to come.
For all his devotion to God and care for his people, yet Gerhardt’s life ended sadly. After a year of idleness, he was called to serve the Lutheran congregation at Lübben. During his seven years of service there, he suffered rude and unkind treatment. A portrait of Paul Gerhardt placed in the Church after his death reads “A theologian sifted in Satan’s sieve.”
In his dying moments, Gerhardt recited the final verse of this hymn to draw strength from Christ’s victory over death for him:
Now in Christ, death cannot slay me,
Though it might,
Day and night,
Trouble and dismay me.
Christ has made my death a portal
From the strife
Of this life
To His joy immortal!
The Best Seats In The House
St. Mark 10:35-45. ESV
The Fifth Sunday In Lent
21 March 2021
In the excitement of his new involvement in church, a man invited his wife and family to feel his enthusiasm. As they entered the nave, he beckoned them, “C’mon, I’ve just found some great seats!” He led his family to the front row. The man just couldn’t understand why everyone was sitting at the back of the church.
Back in the days when you could attend concerts, the closer your seats were to the stage, the more money they cost. Arena seats for hockey games also cost more when you could get closer to the ice. Cheap seats didn’t cost as much, but put you farther away from the action.
Peter wanted to see what was going to happen to Jesus after He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. From our mid-week readings of the Passion of our Lord, Peter followed “at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside, he sat with the guards to see the end” (St. Matthew 26:58). As an eyewitness of our Lord’s Passion, Peter had a great seat in the house.
Seeking To Be Served
That what James and John wanted: “Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in Your glory” (v. 37). They wanted to be set up in the kingdom of Jesus: in the first and second positions of power. Right next to Jesus, they could talk to Him, give Him advice, help Him run His kingdom. Think of the perks that come when you’ve got the best seats in the house.
The other disciples were ticked. Why didn’t we think of that! “What then will we have? (St. Matthew 19:27b).
The Church Is Not The World
Jesus stifles their ambitious plans. The kingdom of God does not run by dominance, by tyranny nor by exercising power over others. We know that system all too well: that’s how the world works. “... rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you” (v. 42-43). Christ corrects His disciples: the Church is not about where you sit, but how you serve. The way of the world is to get others to do what you want. The way of God’s kingdom is to give to others. Those who are great are those who serve people in need.
A Cup & A Baptism
Jesus serves. That’s His mission: “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many” (v. 45). The Son of God had the best seat in all of creation: at the right hand of the Father. Yet, Christ left heaven to come to earth because He loves us. The very God of very God became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, born the Son of Man to serve us. How? Jesus has a cup to drink and a baptism to undergo.
The cup that Christ would drink was not a cool beer while sitting in a lawn chair on a summer afternoon. This was the cup of suffering, the cup of God’s wrath, full on account of the world’s sin, including yours and mine. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed until the blood ran from His pores not to have to drink this cup (St. Luke 22:44). Drinking this cup meant serving the world: taking away the punishment for every person by a baptism of blood. There’s no greater service: the Son of Man, Jesus Christ gave His life as the ransom for many.
Christ’s Right & Left Hand Men
You know where all this happened. Not from a kingly throne. Not from a lazy boy recliner. Not from a chair in a hospital waiting room. Not from a stool in the barn. Christ served us by suffering and dying on the cross. There on the hill of Golgotha, as the Lord was coming into His kingdom through the gates of death and hell, two men hung there: one at His right hand and one at His left. (Exactly where James and John were asking to sit)!
These are the places appointed by the Father. To the criminal who got it, that Christ came into the world to serve is by saving us, he made a request of His own: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” In response to that faith-filled plea, Jesus reserved this poor, penitent criminal’s seat in the kingdom. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (St. Luke 23:42-43).
The other criminal did not have a seat in heaven. Mocking Christ to the end, he departed into eternal fire.
That’s how it will be when Christ Jesus returns again visibly on the clouds of heaven in glory to bring in the kingdom. On His left hand, unbelievers will depart from Him to eternal fire. On His right hand, believers will be welcomed into the heavenly places prepared by God the Father: the best seats in the house (St. Matthew 25:31-46).
A Baptism & Cup Of Service
For us and for all the world, Christ took the cup of suffering for sin. In His suffering and death, He drank that cup down to its dregs—to the very bottom of the cup. For us and for all the world, Jesus was baptized—not in water by John, but by the Romans, immersed in the blood that spilled from the nail-wounds they inflicted. Jesus did this to pay the ransom for our sins. With His cup and baptism, He serves us with salvation.
By His Baptism and Cup, He makes us servants, too. Our Baptism joins us to Jesus (Romans 6:3-4). With His cup (and bread), Christ is truly present to serve us with salvation. Baptized into Him and in communion with Him, Jesus gives us all that we need to serve others. That’s how it is here in His kingdom of grace.
Until we take our place in the kingdom of glory: in the seats prepared by God the Father for His servants. You know we have the best seats in the house when the Lord Himself invites us from earth to heaven, from this life to the next:
“Friend, move up higher” (St. Luke 14:10).
Wake, Awake, For Night Is Flying
St. Matthew 25:1-13. ESV
The Fifth Wednesday Of Lent
17 March 2021
The time of the end. A year of living under a global pandemic calls forth thoughts of the end of the world for believers and unbelievers alike. Christians anticipate the end of this world with a certain holy joy, looking forward to the return of Christ when He will bring His dear people to heaven. Our hymn in focus today bursts with the joy of that blessed day as Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom, is united eternally with His Church, the Bride of Christ.
Like the hymn that we looked at two weeks ago (O Morning Star, How Fair And Bright), Rev. Philipp Nicolai composed “Wake, Awake, For Night Is Flying” during the height of the epidemic that killed more than half of the city of Unna’s inhabitants (1 400 out of 2 500). Along with the physical ravages from the bubonic plague, spiritual threats also attacked the survivors in the form of false teaching of the Bible. Nicolai boldly defended his people against the lie that Jesus is not really present for us in the Lord’s Supper. The Bible’s teaching of the Sacrament of the Altar is carefully explained in the Formula of Concord, written in 1577 to respond to these concerns.
Like the plague and controversy that Rev. Nicolai faced, sin also attacks us in both body and soul. Disease and false teaching threaten to leave us like the foolish virgins in the parable of Jesus. When the oil of our faith drops to a low level in our lives, we are left unprepared. So, we look to Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom to fill us, to forgive us, and to make us ready for His glorious return.
Christ emptied Himself of the divine powers that are His by right to take all our sins on Himself. On the cross, the lamp of His life was snuffed out under the wrath of God for the world’s sins. Jesus descended to hell to keep us from going there. Our Lord ascended to heaven so that we might look forward to being forever with Him. Like a bride united with her husband.
Rev. Philipp Nicolai brought consolation to Himself and his people during epidemic and division by looking to Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom. The hymn we sang today was included in his massive book, Mirror of the Joys of Eternal Life, based on verse 18 of Romans 8, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present life are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us,”
Nicolai filled more than four hundred pages to say what Paul said in one sentence. Germans who were weary of war, sickness, and death loved this great volume. One man from Hamburg read it each day for his devotions. His family sang the hymns every day from memory.
About this hymn, Nicolai himself wrote,
This life of paradise is called a wedding to which Christ, with His chosen children of the light (who have died a blessed death in the Lord), looks forward; and to this place He will also call back from this vale of tears all who await His coming with believing hearts, as though with burning lamps. For He compares Himself to a bridegroom who knocks at midnight and whom His devout Christians, like wise virgins, come to meet Him with burning lamps, going with Him into the wedding; and He exhorts us to constant readiness and expectation of His arrival.
Rev. Philipp Nicolai looked back on his life, reflecting on the grace of God shown through plague and church controversy, summing up the Lord’s gracious care with these words:
Day by day I wrote out my meditations, found myself, thank God, wonderfully well, comforted in heart, joyful in spirit, and truly content... thus composed, to leave behind (if God should call me from this world) as a token of my peaceful, joyful Christian departure, or (if God should spare me in health) to comfort other sufferers whom He should also visit with this pestilence.
May our gracious God use us also, in death and in life, to bring His comfort to others. Amen
Love In The Land Of Serpents
St. John 3:14-21. ESV
The Fourth Sunday In Lent
14 March 2021
Dont Tread On Me A coiled rattlesnake on a yellow field. This was an early flag of the United States before the stars and stripes. Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere suggested the serpent as a symbol for the American spirit. Gadsden’s flag got its name from Colonel Christopher Gadsden who served in the navy under General George Washington. He created the flag to fly from their ships. The snake baring its fangs, ready to strike was the symbol of independence of the thirteen colonies from Old World England. Dont Tread On Me
We’ve had bad experiences with serpents from the beginning.
Satan tempted Adam and Eve. From their sin, all the world was corrupted: disease, death, and hell.
As the serpent was cursed, God preached the first Gospel to them: Eve’s Child, Jesus, would suffer a deadly wound when He died on the cross. He would crush the serpent, destroying Satan’s power (Genesis 3:15).
Satan tempted ancient Israel. This nation of God’s chosen people complained and sinned against God as they turned away from the borders of the Promised Land of Canaan to hike off into the wilderness for 40 years. The sin that poisoned their souls was mirrored by the fiery serpents that poisoned their veins. The Gospel was preached by Moses this time as he lifted up the bronze serpent—a sign pointing ahead to the cross of Christ—that saved all who looked in faith to this God-given remedy.
How Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth
One thing Israel had in common in the wilderness of Paran: serpents. Snake venom got into them or someone they knew. A burning fever was the symptom. Many became gravely ill. Many died.
The serpents were sent by God because the Israelites had this in common: sin. Complaining against God, hating their heaven-sent food, manna, and griping as their desert wandering went on for years—this heart-felt grumbling was the symptom that showed the sin in them. Never mind the serpents and their poison. Sin made them sick. Their sin was why they died.
One thing we have in common with everyone else in the world: this pandemic virus. Like the ever-present serpents afflicted Israel, this plague dominates our lives. Like Israel’s serpents, many have become sick. Many have died. Why? The world we live in is corrupted by sin. We also sin in our thoughts, words and deeds. You can’t escape it anymore than you can this virus.
Satan tempts us to sin. In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther warns us not to trust in our own strength which only makes room for that ancient serpent: “If you try to help yourself by your own thoughts and counsel, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil more space. For he has a serpent’s head [Revelation 12:9]. If he can find an opening into which he can slip, the whole body will follow without stopping” (LC III:111).
God deals with serpents. God deals with sin. Moses lifted up the bronze serpent. Israelites who looked upon this God-given sign were saved: no more fever; no more burning; no more death—at this sign they recovered; they were raised up; they lived.
Christ Jesus was lifted up on the cross. All who look upon the crucified Son of God, trusting in His death for the sins of the world, are saved. God knows that without Him, we are lost. The Father loves the world that much: to give His dear Son into the deceitful betrayal of men and Satan’s schemes, his serpentine fangs piercing Christ’s hands and feet to draw the poison of our sins out of our souls and lives. God in His love gave His only-begotten Son into the serpent’s jaws to be swallowed up in death to save us from perishing forever in hell. Christ, in His perfect love for us, split the devil’s maw wide open, crushing his head, demolishing his power over us. God loves us so—we have eternal life through faith in Christ.
“No man left behind.” That’s a slogan in the American military. In a combat situation, where casualties fall on the battlefield, soldiers risk their lives, heading back into danger to bring back the wounded. That’s love. The love that Father has for you, me, and all the world. Into this dangerous land, crawling with the serpent’s deadly temptations, God send His only Son. He died so that we have life: eternal life. That’s how much He loves us. Believe it.
Now Thank We All Our God
Psalm 107:1-2. ESV
The Fourth Wednesday Of Lent
Oh give thanks to the Lord , for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble...
Corn, gourds, wheat, and pumpkins. “Now Thank We All Our God” is a hymn we often sing at Thanksgiving. The words and melody overflow with that theme: a thankful heart that acknowledges God’s rich blessings.
Rev. Martin Rinckart wrote this hymn during hard times: when faced with war, plague and famine. He voices the confidence expressed in Psalm 107, trusting in the steadfast love of God, who redeems His people from every trouble.
After serving the Lord and His Church as Cantor and Deacon in various places, Martin Rinckart was ordained as Pastor in Eilenburg, the town where he was born. These were hard times indeed: thirty years in the ministry and thirty years of war. Eilenburg was surrounded by walls: an ideal refuge for survivors of the war searching for safety. As a result, the city was overcrowded. The plague spread quickly through the population. There was tremendous loss of life. One Pastor left his call to flee from the plague; two other Pastors died from it, leaving Rinckart alone to provide pastoral care for all of Eilenburg. In 1637, Rev. Rinckart provided burial services for up to 50 people a day: 4 500 died in that year alone. Sadly, his wife Christine also died. Rinckart himself also fell ill during the plague, but survived. Once the plague had run its course, some 8 000 residents of Eilenburg had died.
After the plague, the overcrowded city suffered an extreme famine. Fights broke out over who would eat wild animals and strays roaming in the streets. As he struggled to provide for his own family, Martin Rinckart generously provided for the hungry people of his town. Every week, he would bake bread made from two bushels of corn and distribute it to the hungry crowds that came to his house seeking food. Through these lean days, God continued to provide the Rinckart family with their daily bread.
Thanksgiving during plague, war, or other hardship is counter-intuitive. Giving may be the last thing on our minds when disease and conflict are everywhere taking away what belongs to us. Our nature is to take care of “me first.” Selfishness shows our sin, whether it’s during a pandemic or a time of prosperity. “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (I John 3:17).
Thanksgiving, like that shown in the life of Rev. Martin Rinckart and sung in this hymn is a gift given by God. Such heart-felt thanks flows from the riches of Christ freely given to us. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (II Corinthians 8:9) . Although possessing all the wealth of heaven and earth, and the Source of every good and perfect gift, Jesus humbled Himself to serve us in His deep poverty and extreme suffering. By His death on the cross and His resurrection, Christ gives us all the wealth of heaven, opening eternal life to all baptized believers.
“Now Thank We All Our God” has been sung at momentous occasions in history, including as a celebration of peace at the end of the Thirty Years’ War in Germany. Yet, in fact, Martin Rinckart wrote this hymn as a simple grace before meals. He taught this hymn to his children, Samuel, Salome and Anna Sophia that each day they would thank God for His many blessings.
As we also say grace at our meals, “Now Thank We All Our God.”
St. John 2:13-22. ESV
The Third Sunday In Lent
07 March 2021
Spring cleaning. Pious Jews, the day before Passover, would purge the leaven out of their houses. The Feast of Unleavened Bread began with all the yeast carefully gathered up and removed (Exodus 12:14). Spring cleaning.
At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus shakes things up in the temple: whipping merchants and money-changers, sheep and oxen; spilling their coins on the ground and turning the tables upside down. Christ is not trying to win friends and make peace with the establishment! These are some of the most violent acts of our Lord recorded in the Bible. Why? Jesus is cleaning house.
We are not strangers to cleaning. Especially since this pandemic began, the message to practice good cleaning techniques has been everywhere: wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; use hand sanitizer; wipe down frequently touched surfaces with antiseptic. Even today in church, you will be asked to wipe down the areas where you are sitting. Cleaning kills the virus.
Today, we hear how Christ cleanses the temple. This is a different kind of cleaning. Not the removal of germs that threaten our health (I Peter 3:21). Christ comes to remove the sins that threaten our souls.
So, in today’s Gospel, Jesus single-handedly puts a stop to the livestock market that had set up shop within the temple courts. It all sounded so practical, so convenient. Pilgrims who travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover festival brought money instead of their livestock. It made the trip so much easier. Then, right inside the temple was a make-shift market where they could buy the animals prescribed by the Lord to be offered as sacrifices. Done!
Only, the sellers were gouging them; the money-changers were ripping them off. The trip to the temple was no religious experience, no prayerful encounter with the living God. It was all about money. The temple traders were eager for gain. Visitors for worship were ripped off. Hearts of the people were not prepared in repentance and faith. The temple became a shopping mall. In need of deep cleaning. Jesus did that.
We need this, too: cleansing in our souls. The Christ, who began His earthly ministry preaching, “Repent and believe in the gospel” (St. Mark 1:15), now comes to us, leading us to repent of our sins, and to believe in Him. The same Jesus who cleansed the temple cleans up our thoughts and lives, our hearts and souls. What clutters up our days and keeps us from seeing God’s loving presence with us? Is it love of money, like the temple merchants? “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (St. Luke 12:15). Is it fear of disease and dying? “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (St. Matthew 10:28). Is it the busy flow of the pace of life that hides the loving face of the heavenly Father? “The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (St. Matthew 13:22). With the scourge of the Law, Jesus drives away every distraction that keeps us from hearing that gracious and loving word of Gospel from the heavenly Father. Repent. Christ is cleansing the courtyard of your heart to be a holy temple for God the Father.
Christ cleans house. Specifically, the house of God: the temple built according to God’s own specifications; the place where He promised to meet with His people, to hear their prayers, and to forgive their sins. No wonder pious and faithful Israelites would travel great distances to worship God in this place. No wonder the Jews were so upset when Christ caused such a ruckus in this place. No wonder God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, would go to such extremes to cleanse this holy place of every distraction that would prevent God’s name from being hallowed or to keep His kingdom from coming.
And then, Jesus says the temple will be destroyed (v. 19). How that must have riled up the Jews who watched Jesus drive the money-changers out of that holy place! Destroy the temple?! Yes! Forty-five years later, the Romans would level the temple, flattening it to the ground. How then, would God’s people approach the Lord, pray to Him and receive His forgiving gifts? “One greater than the temple is here” (St. Matthew 12:6 NIV), declared the Lord Jesus.
Jesus cleaned house that day to prepare for His own death. “The temple of His body” (v. 21) would be destroyed on the cross. Zeal for His Father’s house would eat Him up (Ps. 69:9). The body of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (St. John 1:29), put an end to all the sacrifices offered at the temple. After three days, Jesus raised up the temple of His body. Now, He lives and gives life to us. Where Jesus is, there are His people. This place is God’s house because Jesus is here. His Word, the Bible, tells us so. “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them” (St. Matthew 18:20). His real presence in the Sacrament makes this the place where the Lord meets with us. “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17).
Yet, even this place, the house of God that is Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church is temporary. Like the Jerusalem temple, once an imposing landmark and testament to God’s presence, now no longer stands, so also, this building one day will be gone. Still, the holy Christian Church, the body of Christ, will continue: not even hell’s gates can touch His dear believers. For the Church is where Jesus is. From this house, Christ prepares “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (II Corinthians 5:1). Jesus purifies us, this place, and our lives so that He will take us from here to our true home (Hebrews 11:13-16). The Father’s house has many mansions (St. John 14:2).
There’s a place for you.
O Morning Star, How Fair And Bright
Revelation 22:16. ESV
The Third Wednesday Of Lent
03 March 2021
I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star.
University students looking to pick up a science credit may choose to take Astronomy. The study of the stars is a fascinating look into the wonders of God’s creation. In former ages, the science of Astronomy went together with the superstition of Astrology: that the appearance and movement of the stars influences your character and future. People still believe this. The only star that matters is featured in today’s hymn: Jesus Christ, the bright morning star.
It is a little strange going into the third week of Lent singing a hymn from the Epiphany section of the hymnal. Although I’ve just taken down the epiphany star off the front lawn, that season is behind us, in our rearview mirror. While singing about the star in Epiphany may make us think of the miraculous star of the east, placed in the sky for the Magi, signalling the birth of Jesus, the hymn writer actually had a different star in mind. “O morning star, how fair and bright,” is Jesus, as He identifies Himself at the end of Revelation. The morning star rises after the dark night. Jesus, the morning star, will appear in the sky on the last and glorious day to save His people from this dark world. The appearance of the morning star is hope.
Brilliant and gifted, Pastor Philipp Nicolai longed for the light of Christ to end his dark night of suffering. His early years of pastoral training and ordination began with relative peace. After fourteen years in the ministry, Nicolai accepted the call to serve at Unna in Westphalia at the age of 41. In 1597, plague hit the town with such severity that fourteen hundred of his parishioners died in seven months. Pastor Nicolai conducted over 300 funerals just in July. During a single week in August, 170 members died. The darkness of grief that settled on Philipp Nicolai goes beyond what we can imagine. The terrible reality of sin in our world.
What darkness envelopes you? Grief for loved ones who have died. Chronic sickness that makes daily life hard. Guilt over hard words that separate you from neighbours and from others. Sin brings darkness into our lives. Repent and turn from it. Banish the darkness in the light of Christ, the bright morning star.
Where was Pastor’s Nicolai’s attention focussed during this time of sadness and loss? On Christ. By January, 1597, once the plague had subsided, he wrote:
The plague has ceased its raging, and by God’s grace I am quite well. During the entire time of the plague I put all disputes in the back of my mind with prayer and with the praiseworthy reflection upon eternal life and the condition of precious souls in heavenly paradise prior to the day of resurrection. [Nothing was more precious]... than the contemplation of this noble and elevated article concerning eternal life, purchased by Christ’s blood.
It would be fair to say that Philipp Nicolai could not deal with this horrendous death toll of his dear members by himself. Seeking to comfort the sheep of his flock who had lost loved ones would have soon left him depleted and burnt out. Christ Jesus was his bright morning star. The Lord Himself supported him with the comfort of His gracious love, forgiving his sins and strengthening Him with the Sacrament. Nicolai wrote “O Morning Star, How Fair And Bright” during this deadly plague, drawing strength from the Saviour who died on the cross for Philipp and for all, and who rose again from the dead to give eternal life to all who are in Him by faith. This hymn was included in a devotional book published after the plague relented, called: “Mirror of the joys of eternal life.”
“Lent” comes from the Latin word which means “to lengthen.” The changing tilt of the earth means that the days are getting longer, the nights are also shorter, and there’s more light each day. How fitting as we draw closer to Easter and to Christ’s victory over sin, death and the grave for us. The One who defeated the darkness of plague, guilt and hell shines the victory of eternal life into our lives. The bright morning star will come to take us to the eternal splendour of heaven.
St. Mark 8:27-38. ESV
The Second Sunday In Lent
28 February 2021
A new reporter fresh out of school was assigned to cover the ceremonies to celebrate the opening of a new bridge. He came back empty-handed. The young guy explained to his editor that he couldn’t get the story. When he arrived, the bridge had collapsed. The reporter had neglected his real work: reporting the news.
Who? What? When? Where? Why? Reporters sent to cover a news story look for the answers to these five questions. The story is incomplete without these facts.
Even though Jesus placed a “gag order” on His disciples, since the time was not right to tell others about Him (v. 30), St. Mark records his Gospel by supplying us with this info on Jesus.
Who? There is some confusion about this Man’s identity. Popular opinion about Jesus was mixed. Here was no ordinary man. In the chapters since last Sunday’s reading, Mark reported that Jesus worked miracles: He healed a paralysed man (2:1-12); He healed a man on the Sabbath (3:1-6); He calmed a storm on the sea of Galilee (4:35-41); He cast many demons out of a man into a herd of pigs (5:1-20); He cured a woman with a flow of blood and raised the daughter of Jairus back to life (5:21-43); He fed 5000 people with 5 loaves and two fish (6:30-44); He walked on water (6:45-52); He cast a demon out of girl (7:31-37); He fed 4000 with 7 loaves (8:1-10); and right before this, Jesus healed a blind man (8:22-26). Who is He? John the Baptist back from the dead? Elijah? Another one of the prophets? No! Peter had it right. He is the Christ (v. 29): that means, true God and true man, the Messiah. Jesus is the coming One predicted by prophets, longed for from the beginning. He is the Saviour.
What? What did this Jesus, the Christ, come to do? Save the world by His suffering, death and resurrection. This, Jesus taught His disciples, speaking plainly (v. 31-32). Peter didn’t like it. This disciple didn’t like what he heard, all this suffering, rejection and death talk from Jesus the Christ. So, Peter rebuked Jesus (v. 32). He tried to talk the Christ out of the cross. Just like Satan in the desert. “Get behind me, Satan” (v. 33), Jesus rebuked Peter.
For this is the “what” the subject, the main point of this all-important good news: Jesus the Christ, gave His life to save the world. Jesus did this because we cannot save our souls. Even if you had the whole world as your own personal possession, the entire world cannot save your soul. Jesus gave His perfect life in exchange for our sinful souls. By dying and rising again, Jesus gains the world.
When did all this happen? Around 32 A. D., 1 989 years ago.
Where? Caesarea Philippi (v. 27), a city in northern Galilee, bordering on Syria. From this remote location, the Christ spoke of His suffering that would happen to the south, first, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, then, in the city of Jerusalem, before Caiaphus and Pontius Pilate. Christ’s suffering would ultimately lead outside the city, to the place of the cross; His body laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. From that place, He would rise again.
Why? Love. God loves us. That’s the motivation behind this earth-shaking news item. He loves us freely. Without conditions. Even in our sins (Romans 5:6). The Christ suffered, died, and rose again to gain our souls. The reason He did all this was to open up the way for us to live with Him in heaven.
All well and good. This reporting of the facts has all five w’s covered. But, so what? What does this mean for us? Everything. Who Jesus is and what He has done defines who we are. Christ answers the five w’s about each one of us.
Who are we? Baptized believers in Jesus. We are children of God. In His name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we were baptized. That makes us part of the family of God, the holy Christian Church. And, no matter what our last name, or given names, we all have a new name: “Christian.” Faith worked by the Holy Spirit in this water and word of God make us like Christ.
What does this mean? We are saved by believing in Jesus. All the wealth in the world cannot save us. Salvation from eternal death in hell is God’s gift to us: a gift that was earned by Christ’s death and resurrection (v. 31). Freely given to us in His Word, the Bible, and in His Sacraments, Baptism and Communion. Salvation is free. So, we take up our cross and follow Him. We are not ashamed of Jesus. Instead, we confess Him before others.
When? This is true today and for all time. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). “now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10).
Where? Here and all over the world. We pray for God’s kingdom to come among us as it has across the globe. And, there’s more: the Christian church exists both here on earth and on heaven.
Why? So that we would come after Christ, follow the Lord. We forgive as God in Christ has forgiven us. We lose our lives, renouncing the world, wealth, happiness, pleasure, popularity, fame, approval from others, all for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel (v. 35). Jesus fortifies us with His true body and blood in the Sacrament so that we have strength to carry our crosses and to follow Him (v. 34). We are not ashamed of the Lord Jesus. He is not ashamed of us.
Welcome to the end of this sermon. We know that you have a choice of many media sources when you want to know what’s happening. Thankfully, we are hearing from the Bible today, which is the Word of God. You can always trust His Word to steer you straight: straight to heaven, that is. God’s Word is truth (St. John 17:17).
Entrust Your Days And Burdens
I Peter 5:6-7. ESV
St. Matthias, Apostle
24 February 2021
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.
Burdens have been with the human race from the time that sin entered the world. Some burdens are inconvenient irritants. Some burdens crush and destroy us. King David in Psalm 38 prays, “For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me” (Ps. 38:4).
Pastor and hymn writer Paul Gerhardt directs us to where help can be found: “Entrust your days and burdens; To God’s most loving hand.” Gerhardt echoes the inspired words of St. Peter in our text: “casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” And Christ’s own invitation: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (St. Matthew 11:28 niv). For us who wrestle under our particular burdens, the first four lines of this hymn begin with an imperative, that is, a verb telling us to do something:
Entrust your days and burdens...
Rely on God your Saviour...
Take heart, have hope, my spirit...
Leave it all to His direction...
When we are burdened with sickness, sorrow or sin, relief comes when we unburden ourselves on God: “because He cares for you.”
Paul Gerhardt knew what it meant to be burdened. His father died when he was young. During the Thirty Years’ war (1618-1648), he grew up and was ordained as a Lutheran Pastor. In the midst of the appalling bloodshed and suffering from war, in 1626, Germany also fell under the second wave of the bubonic plague. Yet, it was during these years burdened with great sorrow and loss of life that Paul Gerhardt wrote many of his comforting hymns.
While Paul Gerhardt urges the Christian soul to entrust all burdens to the loving hand of God, he doesn’t describe what those burdens might be. What burdens are you carrying right now? What weighs down your body, mind, soul, and spirit? The season of Lent is intended for you and me to examine our hearts and lives, to see where sin has made its home in our way of speaking and the habits we have fallen into, to repent and be free of those burdens. We can help others with the burdens they carry, just as we can find relief from our dear friends in the Church. That’s what St. Paul means when he writes, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). A listening ear can lighten someone’s load. A kind act can brighten someone’s day. The law of Christ is love. We, as members of the Church, Christ’s body should excel in loving others.
But there are burdens we cannot bear. That’s why Christ, God in the flesh, was born into our world. Entrust your days and burdens to Him. Load up all your anxieties on the shoulders of Jesus. He cares for you. His grace is sufficient for you, even while you are burdened with guilt. His power is made perfect in your weakness (II Corinthians 12:9). Pile your problems on Christ. Put them all on Him. Because He has already carried their weight for you. The full weight of the world’s sin Jesus carried to the cross. The burden of the world’s condemnation was heaped up on Christ in His suffering and death. Don’t carry your burdens one more step. He already has. He frees you from that accursed load. You are forgiven in Jesus.
Leave all to His direction;
His wisdom rules for you
In ways to rouse your wonder
At all His love can do.
Soon He, His promise keeping,
With wonder-working pow’rs
Will banish from your spirit
What gave you troubled hours (LSB 754:4)
This hymn offers practical direction for the Christian to go through life, whether our burdens are many or few, easy or crippling:
Rely on God your Saviour
And find your life secure.
Make His work your foundation
That your work may endure... (LSB 754:2a)
Such is King David’s bold confidence in Psalm 55:
Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you (Psalm 55:22a) .
First Person Gospel
St. Mark 1:9-15. ESV
The First Sunday In Lent
21 February 2021
You Are There In Bible Times were a series of lessons I taught at Jackfish Camp in Roblin, Manitoba while on Vicarage. The kids at camp used the lessons and crafts to picture themselves as part of the great events of the Bible. It was a lot of fun.
Baptism. Temptation. Preaching. As we hear these great events in the Gospel, we are tempted to watch from the sidelines; to cheer Jesus on to victory from the stands. And, all the more, now that we can watch the service on computer, tablet or phone. Instead of watchers, bystanders or spectators, we are part of the action. You are there in Bible times. In the water of the Jordan river. Walking the burning sands of the Palestinian desert. Pushing through the crowds of Galilee to hear Jesus preach. You are there. How? Baptism.
The Holy Gospel begins with Christ’s Baptism at the hand of John. That’s our point of contact. Our Baptism joins us to Jesus (Romans 6:3-4). Now, we experience the Gospel as in a first person video game. You watch events unfolding ahead of you in real time before your eyes: Baptism; Temptation; Gospel preaching. You are there.
Christ’s Baptism is a beautiful scene. We were there before, earlier this year on January 10. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: the one God, the blessed Holy Trinity all are clearly present. “You are My beloved Son,” we hear the Father say. We see the Holy Spirit fly down from an open heaven to rest on Jesus.
Then, we see the scene change. The dove of peace becomes a raptor of war. “The Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness” (v. 12). Still wet behind the ears, Almighty God wasted no time in sending His Son out to attack His greatest enemy... and ours. For this is our war, too.
His Victory Is Ours
Jesus stepped out onto the battlefield where others who had come before Him had failed. Adam first found the ancient serpent in a very different venue: in the Garden of earthly delights, the Eden created perfect in the beginning. Tempted to eat what was forbidden, Adam took what he saw, rejecting what God said. In Adam, all sinned (Romans 5:12). You were there.
Israel, God’s chosen people, gave in to Satan’s tempting, rejecting heaven-sent manna as their food in the desert, despising God’s Word and leading by Moses. Forty years of desert wandering was God’s way of calling them to repent. You were there.
Now here, in the wilderness, Jesus fought the devil’s every temptation, obedient to the Word of the Father where Adam, Israel, and all others were not. For us, Christ trusted God’s Word, “You are My beloved Son,” instead of turning stones into bread to end his starvation. Victory! For Jesus and for us. For us, Christ refused to force the hand of God to send angels to save Him from leaping off the temple. Jesus was confident that God would protect Him, even while He was suffering. Victory! For Jesus and for us. For us, Christ refused to cut a deal with the devil: flatly refusing to gain the world and all its glory by worshipping Satan. This final assault from the devil left the Lord with only one way to save the world: the death of Jesus on the cross. This is the Gospel: good news for us. That “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (St. John 3:17). Trusting in God’s Word of promise and protection, Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world. His cross and empty tomb: Victory! For Jesus and for us.
Between Animals & Angels
We need this. For we are tempted, too. Listen to the Lord as He preaches, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel” (v. 15). In the wilderness of this world, we find ourselves with Jesus: between wild animals and ministering angels (v. 13). Between the threat of global pandemic and the protecting promises of God. Yet, the perils to us are even worse: our eternal destiny hangs between heaven and hell. Satan’s deadliest temptations urge us to stand on our own. “God loves you only when things are good” he lies. “Trust yourself,” says the devil.
In the midst of it all, Jesus is with us. For we are in Him. He quenches every flaming dart of Satan’s temptations in the water of Baptism. He feeds our sin-starved souls with His true body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. What a blessing God gives us here! [The devil] is a murderer, who cannot bear to see you live one single hour. If you could see how many knives, darts, and arrows are every moment aimed at you, you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as possible” (LC V:82), writes Martin Luther.
He Comes To Us
For, we can’t turn back the clock. We cannot go back in time to be there. So, the living Lord Jesus comes to us: in this time, in this place, in His Word, in His Sacraments. Christ comes to help us, to strengthen our faith through temptations. He comes to make us live.
With His Word. By His Sacraments.
We are in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17).
Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Psalm 46:1. ESV
17 February 2021
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
When a plague hits, how do Christians respond? Praise. When the news is bad, we bless the One who is good. God provides a shelter in the storm, strength for the day, and a way out of the pandemic.
Throughout the season of Lent, as this pandemic has been with us for nearly a year, we will consider hymns that were written in praise of God during times of great illness, hardship and death. Today, we look at Martin Luther’s great anthem, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
We can’t but think of the Reformation when we sing “A Mighty Fortress.” Yet, Martin Luther wrote his powerful hymn more than 100 years before the first Reformation service was held, during a very different time: as a hymn of comfort during plague and distress.
Luther composed “A Mighty Fortress” in 1527 and 1528: a time of great personal tragedy, social suffering and trying times in the Church.
Early in 1527, Martin Luther’s health took a sharp dive as he suffered sharp abdominal attacks. In August 1527, Rev. Leonard Kaiser, a close friend of Luther and a Pastor in the Lutheran church was martyred: burned at the stake in Bavaria for the Christian faith. In the fall of 1527, a plague broke out in Wittenberg. To care for the sick, Martin and Katy converted their home into a hospital. On December 10 1527, Martin Luther’s daughter, Elizabeth was born. Possibly because her mother, Katharina, had been exposed to the plague, the black death, Elizabeth was weak and sick from birth. Elizabeth died on August 3, 1528.
Martin Luther’s struggles in the Church ramped up during these years. From 1517 until 1525, he had opposed the false teachings of the Roman church that good deeds can earn forgiveness and buy us a place in heaven. Luther and the other reformers clearly taught that God’s favour, forgiveness and admission into heaven comes solely by God’s grace through Christ crucified and risen for us. This grace is freely given to us in His Word, the Bible, and in the Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That the body and blood of Jesus are in the Sacrament was never questioned until 1525. At that time, new teachers refused to believe the Bible and took the presence of Jesus out of the Sacrament. These false teachers claimed that when Jesus says “This is My body,” that “is” actually means symbolizes, or represents.
Martin Luther truly believed that he was living in the last days. On the one hand, the preaching of the Gospel: free forgiveness in Jesus was being clearly taught from pulpit and distributed to the people from the altar in Christ’s sacramental gift. Yet, the world was plagued with controversy after controversy, denying the power of the Word of God, contradicting its clear message and despising His gifts. “Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us” he wrote in verse three. ‘Surely Jesus will come soon to put an end to all this,’ Luther concluded.
All of this affected Martin Luther very deeply. On December 31 1527, he wrote to a colleague, Jacob Propst, “We are all in good health except for Luther himself, who is physically well, but outwardly the whole world and inwardly the devil and all his angels are making him suffer.” Anfechtung. That’s the German word Luther used to describe his suffering: it can mean “temptation” or “trial” but covers all the things that cause anxiety, doubt, fear, suffering or terror. Anfechtung.
Physically, I’m okay. That describes most of us through this pandemic. But, like Luther, we must admit there’s more going on. Loneliness. Isolation. Necessary to keep us safe during this global illness. But leaving us craving human contact and interaction that cannot happen by a computer screen nor telephone receiver. Satan uses this alone time as an opportunity to tempt us, just as he tempted our Lord Jesus when alone in the desert. So we also feel anfectung: the stress and testing of the evil one. Will God provide for you?’ he challenges. ‘Will your faith in God stay strong through this pandemic?’ he dares. ‘Will God actually preserve your life and save you?’ questions the devil. He throws it all on our little shoulders. Plague brings real temptations: trials in our souls.
A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon. Don’t worry. He’s got this. Like a strong tower that will withstand all attacks from the devil, the sinful world and our own sinful flesh, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Jesus repelled every satanic attack using God’s Word. “It is written,” said the Lord three times. The Bible made the devil flee (St. Matthew 4:1-11). The Lord has a word for you and me. To those who repent, His Word declares, “your sins are forgiven” (St. Mark 2:5; St. Luke 7:48). Believe you are saved by grace. From the cross, His Word declares, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (St. Luke 23:43). At His Word, we are saved and brought to heaven. A mighty fortress is our God.
Martin Luther held fast in faith to the word of God through plague and controversy. The result was praise. In response to the new voices that denied the real presence of Jesus in the Sacrament, Luther listened to the plain speech of Jesus. With one little word “is” all the false teachings fall away. The devil will rage and fume to try and steal this treasure from you and me. “One little word can fell him.” Jesus stops him simply by saying “is.” Here, He is. Amen.
Love From Above
St. Mark 9:2-9. ESV
The Transfiguration Of Our Lord
14 February 2021
“I want to know what love is...”
“What’s love got to do with it?”
“All you need is love...”
Choruses of popular songs struggle to figure love out. Valentines day gives us an opportunity to show those who are dear to us how we feel about them. A day for love.
Jesus came down from heaven to us to reveal God’s love for us. In Jesus, we see the answer to the question, “What is love?” Christ the Lord is love from above.
The Look Of Love
On the mount of Transfiguration, we see the Lord Jesus as He truly is in all His heavenly glory: the face and clothing of the very Son of God changed to glow with a heavenly brightness. Because He loves us, we see Him as He truly is.
Along with Jesus are Moses and Elijah: the two greatest figures of the Old Testament. Both had close encounters with heaven. Elijah whisked away in a whirlwind by a fiery chariot into heaven. Moses entered God’s presence on Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments. In short, these two men stood for the whole Law and the Prophets, the entire Old Testament. Yet, they don’t stand alone. They are with Jesus. He is love from above.
The Law is not. Not to us, poor miserable sinners. The two tablets of stone containing the 10 Commandments were given in love into the hands of Moses to show us God’s holy and perfect will. Yet, we cannot keep that holy Law as we should, work our way into God’s love, nor get to heaven by obeying. Instead, the law nags and accuses, condemns and fills our hearts with fear, like Peter, James, and John terrified by their sins in the holy presence of Christ. Where’s the love in that? “There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment” (I John 4:18).”
A man was walking past a used book store. In the window, he noticed the title on one of the books: “How to Hug.” He was so intrigued. ‘What could this be about?’ he wondered. The man turned into the store to buy it. How disappointed he was! This was not a romantic book, but the seventh volume of a set of encyclopaedias. The subjects in this book started with “How” and ended with “Hug.”
The man went into the bookstore with his heart set on hugging those who are dear to him. He was denied, crushed even. That’s a picture of what the law of God does to us. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbour as yourself” (St. Luke 10:27 NIV). “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:17 NIV). Love lost in the law.
The Gift Of Love
“This is My beloved Son” says the voice of God. Listen to the love for Jesus in the heavenly Father’s words. The Father proudly displays His Son as the One who loves us. God loves you and me and all people living on the world down here by giving His Son from heaven above. In love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit give the gift that alone can save the world. The spotless, perfect, radiant, and holy Son of God, obeying the demands of the law given to Moses on Sinai, and dying on the cross as foretold by Elijah and the prophets. This one gift of love saves us all. The Father wrapped up His love for us in the linen grave wrappings that held the lifeless body of His beloved Son. God’s love for us reached its fulness and completion when “the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (v. 9). “This is love, not that we love God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (I John 4:10 NIV).
When you love someone, you want to show how you feel by giving gifts. Cards, roses, chocolates... are the traditional gifts to give your loved one on Valentines day. Peter surprised the Lord with a gift suggestion of his own: “Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (v. 5). Mark tells us that he did not know what to say. Tents must have seemed like a good idea to Peter. Love makes you do strange things.
Love To Be With Jesus
Despite the fear and confusion, transfiguration was a spiritual high, a real mountain top experience for the disciples. Peter said it, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here” (v. 5). Why was it good? Not the heavenly spectacle. Not the unearthly white glow of Jesus’ face and clothing. Not the strange Old Testament heroes, Moses and Elijah. Not the celestial cloud that overshadowed them. Not the booming voice of God the Father resounding from the cloud. No. None of these sights and sounds from the great beyond of heaven made it good for Peter, James and John to be there. No “They were terrified” by these things. “Jesus only” (v. 8) made it a good place to be. In their dear Lord Jesus, they saw “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6).
Love from above. Amen
You’ve Been Served
St. Mark 1:29-39. ESV
The Fifth Sunday After The Epiphany
07 February 2021
When was the last time you pulled up to the pump, waited in the driver’s seat while the attendant filled your car with gas? Most gas stations are now self-serve: you fill your tank, pay, and go. Not that long ago, gas stations were “service stations.” The employee would pump the gas, wash your windshield, check your oil, and perhaps even more, all while you wait. Service stations that provide full service are still around today. Yet, that kind of service is rare.
It’s Your Serve
Peter’s mother-in-law is at death’s door: “lying ill with a fever” (v. 36). Next thing you know, she’s on her feet bringing food to the men: to Simon and Andrew; to James and John; and to Jesus. What’s going on? She serves (διακονέω) them. Since Jesus served her. The Lord brought her back to life. She brings them food. It’s gratitude. Serving, she says “thanks.”
How do we serve others? Serving often means food. Martha was busy prepping the dinner table for Jesus ̢without the help of sister Martha̡ (St. Luke 10:40). In the early days of the Church, the seven deacons were chosen to make sure that food was distributed to the needy without any disputes (Acts 6). In the desert, angels fed Jesus after He fasted forty days without food (St. Mark 1:13). Serving can also mean to take care of various kinds of physical needs. A group of well-to-do women looked after the needs of Jesus and His disciples (St. Mark 15:41; St. Luke 8:2-3). Giving money through the gifts of our tithes and offerings serves various needs in our church and world, both physical and spiritual, like the offerings that were gathered in the early church (Acts 11:29; II Corinthians 8-9) . Right now, God serves believers in body and soul as He sends His holy angels to protect us (St. Matthew 18:10; Hebrews 1:14). We can easily spend our whole lives serving others.
Serves You Right
Serving others does not come naturally, however. Our (sinful) nature is to serve ourselves. Like the nine lepers who were healed by our Lord. Jesus served them in their time of desperate need. He healed them on their way to see the priests, the health unit of the first century. Then, they were gone: self-absorbed in their pursuit of happiness. We want to serve ourselves.
Or, when we must serve others, we do it reluctantly. Our heart’s not in it. We complain and begrudge our service to others. “God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7). But often, we’re not feeling it. Our hearts convict us (I John 3:20).
We serve because Christ first served us. We serve others as an echo of His loving service to us. As the moon reflects the light of the sun, so our love for others is, at best, a pale reflection of God’s love for us in Christ.
Our service to others can only begin with our Lord’s service to us, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (St. Matthew 20:28). How does Jesus serve us? He takes care of our greatest need: forgiveness. Jesus knows that our best attempts to serve others, our most honest love for those around us; our kind words and actions for those in need in our community, are tainted—infected with sin; poisoned with self-centred motives. With a heart filled with love for you and me and all the world, Christ acted from a pure and holy heart, caring only for our best interests. With unconditional love, Jesus served us by giving His life in exchange for ours. In His cross and empty tomb, Jesus serves us with salvation.
Although we don’t see Him, still Jesus is serving our souls in a hidden way. Christ serves us in our Baptism to drown our sins and to join us to Himself. Christ serves us with His Word as He is doing right now in this worship service. And, Christ serves us with His real presence under bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar.
General & Specific Service
See how the Lord put the needs of others first in every part of today’s Gospel: healing the sick, casting out demons, and preaching the good news of free salvation through faith in Him, and not just where He was, but also in the next towns, and “throughout all Galilee” (v. 39). The love and service of Christ Jesus is worldwide, global, universal. He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:40).
And, at the same time, we have a beautiful picture of His compassionate care for each one of us in the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. Before Jesus came, the prognosis looked bad: a fever in first century Palestine would most certainly be deadly. But when Christ comes, He serves her. Restoring her to life. Listen to how it happened: “And He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her” (v. 31).
Here’s a beautiful picture of the resurrection of our bodies to eternal life on the last day. When Mark writes, “He lifted her up (ἤγειρεν),” that’s the same word that means “resurrected.” In this rich detail of Sacred Scripture, we have the promise of our own resurrection to life after this life. Jesus will find us in our final earthly resting places, He will gently take us by the hand, and He will raise us up to the life that will never end. Christ’s last and greatest service to us will be to restore us to life in the world without end.
Lord make us instruments of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, unity;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be comforted as to comfort;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in forgiving that we are forgiven;
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
To Destroy & To Create
St. Mark 1:21-28. ESV
The Fourth Sunday After The Epiphany
31 January 2021
His parents watched him with pride. Mom and Dad noticed that more than an hour had passed since their son started playing in the sandbox in the backyard. He was totally wrapped up. At one time a handful of sand went flying. Another time, his hands moulded a wall, then paved a road. A sand building was levelled so another could go up in its place. Mom whispered to Dad, “He’s creating worlds out there!”
In the synagogue in Capernaum, one man suddenly had a whole lot to say about Jesus. He blurted out His identity: “the Holy One of God.” And asked, “Have You come to destroy us?” (v. 24).
Now, even without the presence of an unclean spirit within us, our sinful nature feels threatened by the presence and power of Christ and His Word. The Lord’s Commandments call on us to change: to stop speaking hurtful words against my neighbour; to stop complaining about everything that is wrong in my life; to stop nursing grudges against those who have hurt me; to be content with what God has given me and to be thankful in my heart. When Jesus comes, we must change. Sin in us comes to an end and is destroyed. But, our sinful nature likes all those old ways. Jesus threatens our old nature. ‘Have You come to destroy us?’ the Old Adam asks. Yes, He has!
Has Jesus come to destroy Satan, his unclean spirits and the whole kingdom of darkness? Yes! “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8b). But the demolition doesn’t stop there.
Has Jesus come to destroy death? Yes! The outcome of sin that takes our loved ones away from us will come to an end in Christ. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (I Corinthians 15:26).
Has Jesus come to destroy the curse of the law’s demands? Yes! We can never fulfill the righteous demands of God’s commandments by our obedience. But Jesus obeyed for us. So, He destroyed that persistent guilt we feel from God’s law. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).
This is why Christ came to our world: His epiphany, the revealing of Jesus to mankind was not to improve, to rehabilitate, nor to teach our old sinful nature how to behave. Jesus came to destroy our sin.
Out With The Old
That’s Gospel! The destruction of the devil and all his works and all his ways is good news for us. “[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning” (St. John 8:44). Jesus destroys him to protect us. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
For not only does Jesus destroy. He comes to create. “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5), promises the Lord Almighty, enthroned in glory.
The Lord’s new creation begins with the destruction—of Himself! Whipped, beaten, crucified, died and buried. In His body, Jesus destroyed our sin, put death to death and saved the world from eternal death in hell. At the cross and empty tomb, Christ crushed the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). At the cross and empty tomb, Jesus destroyed the devil and all his works and all his ways.
In With The New
To begin a new creation.
At the word of Jesus, the unclean spirit was expelled from the man in the synagogue. A new life began for the man now free from this evil influence.
Each of us who are baptized has also made a complete break from evil and the kingdom of darkness. We came to this Sacrament three times renouncing the devil and all his works and all his ways. At the word of Jesus, the Old Adam in us was drowned. At the word of Jesus, a new creation began in us. Here in Baptism, He destroys to create.
So we continue to trust in His creative word: the word of absolution spoken by the Pastor that destroys our guilt and creates renewed faith and life in us. All created by these simple words: “I forgive you all your sins.” Where sin destroys, He creates.
As we trust in the Lord’s creative word when joined to bread and wine. “This is My body” He says. And Jesus is with us. “This is My blood” He says. And Jesus is with us: to forgive, strengthen and create new life in us.
The word of the Lord has authority (v. 27). The crowds in the synagogue in Capernaum were amazed by what His word could do, even commanding evil spirits. The truth is, we exist by the creative word of the Lord. In the beginning, He spoke. “Let there be...” and “all things were created in heaven and on earth” (Genesis 1:3; Colossians 1:16).
The beauty of this world is silent witness to God (Psalm 19:1). One day, earth and sky will be gone. Yet, even after this creation is destroyed, the Lord will create “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (II Peter 3:13b). Amen
Feeding The Next Generation
St. Matthew 24:42-47. ESV
St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor
24 January 2021
“You beggar!” Perhaps 30 or 40 years since I heard that phrase. Mom and Dad, or better, Grandma and Grandpa would let you know that you messed up, or just tease you by saying it. Left the light on all night? Put the milk jug back in the fridge empty? Laid down your last card when no one saw you were about to go out and win the game? You beggar!
While begging carries a stigma, a negative association, and is often despised by the world, to be a Christian really means to be a beggar. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights...” (James 1:17). “What do you have that you did not receive?” (I Corinthians 4:7). Christianity is nothing more than one beggar telling another beggar where to find food. Martin Luther had written on a scrap of paper which was in his pocket as he lay on his deathbed, these words, “We are beggars. This is true.”
We are all beggars because God must give us everything: from daily bread to feed our bodies, our families and all the necessities of life, to the forgiveness of our sins, which is bread for our souls. We look to the Lord to supply all our needs and He does. “For He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (St. Matthew 5:45). “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray... that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving” (SC III:13). Our daily bread often comes through our work, or from others who work on our behalf. The favour of God, mercy, grace and eternal life are given to us by God through His Word and Sacraments: preaching, Baptism and Communion. By these means, God feeds our souls.
Here, in Bible and pulpit, the very Son of God speaks His eternal Word to us. We beggars dare not “despise preaching and His Word.” Here, God’s Son serves us by washing away our sins and making us children of God’s household. We beggars dare not treat our Baptism as if it did nothing. Here, the beloved Son of the Father spreads a table before us in the presence of our enemies. Our cup overflows (Psalm 23:5). We poor beggars dare not trample the Son of God underfoot (Hebrews 10:29). God has provided no other way to feed our souls.
Without the nourishment of God’s Word and Sacraments, we hurt. Our faith in Christ grows weak. During the restrictions that are necessary in these times, we beggars feel a leanness in our souls. Deprived of these gifts for long enough, we no longer hold to God in faith. Without saving faith in Jesus, we are not ready for His return in judgment. The Lord will come without warning: like a thief in the night (vv. 42-44).
Yet, Jesus did not come “into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (St. John 3:17). Jesus is the Master of the household, the Christian Church. Yet, Jesus humbled Himself to become our servant. “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (St. Matthew 20:28). The Master served us by dying on the cross, taking away from us the fear of death, hell and the judgment to come. Jesus died and rose again to provide the food we need in our souls: forgiveness, life and salvation.
We beggars need to be fed. “So that we might obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted” (AC V:1). Together with the Apostles of the first century, God used the Apostle Paul to spread the good news of Jesus’ death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, and His resurrection from the dead for our eternal life. This Gospel he preached throughout the civilized world. Visiting cities around the Mediterranean Sea over three ambitious missionary journeys, Paul called on his hearers to repent of their sins, to believe in Jesus for salvation, to be baptized, and to eat and to drink Christ’s true body and blood in Holy Communion. A “faithful and wise servant... to give them their food at the proper time” (v. 45). Word and Sacraments. Beggars nourished in the house of the Master.
But Paul was not the end of the line; not the only servant of God to feed His people. He had a young protegé, a pious fellow named Timothy. Born to a Jewish mother and Greek father (Acts 16:1), Timothy learned the faith from his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (II Timothy 1:5). Timothy delivered St. Paul’s massive first Epistle to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 16:10-11) and preached to the Christians in Thessalonica urging them to stand firm in Christ as they suffered persecution for their Lord (I Thessalonians 3:2). After Paul was gone, Timothy would carry on preaching, bringing the Gospel to the world, feeding the next generation.
So, God the Holy Spirit continues to answer the pleas of His faithful people, caring for those who are hungry in their souls and begging to be served with His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Through the laying on of hands (II Timothy 1:6), God the Holy Spirit has supplied the Church with a succession of Pastors going back to the days when Christ walked the earth: an unbroken set of servants to feed the generations.
Twenty years ago, on July 1, one of the sons of this congregation was ordained into the office of the holy ministry. On that day, God provided a servant to feed this generation. Who will minister to the next generation? I don’t know. But, God knows. He already knows who that will be. The Master will never fail to feed His dear people. “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?” (v. 45).
You Will See Greater Things
St. John 1:43-51. ESV
The Second Sunday After The Epiphany
17 January 2021
His present was the biggest under the tree. That little boy was so excited to open it and find out what was inside! Boy was he surprised! Inside that huge box packed with newspaper stuffing was one little Nerf dart! Was he put off ? No way! He climbed into the box and used it like his own fort. Now, if he thought the box was the gift; if he stopped there, he would have missed the greater gift. The real surprise was the full set of Nerf darts and launcher to go with it, wrapped up in a separate gift.
Nathanael is impressed with Jesus. At first, in our Gospel reading, he is sceptical. You can almost hear the sneer in Nathanael’s voice: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (v. 46). Prompted by his friend Philip, Nathanael meets the Lord Jesus, who praises his integrity and lack of deceit. ‘This is no sly trickster,’ declares Jesus. “How do you know me?” (v. 48), wonders Nathanael. The Lord Christ reveals His divine capacity to know all things: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (v. 48). Which changes everything. Nathanael is a believer. “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel” (v. 49).
He’s not wrong!
Life Under The Fig Leaves: Not So Great
Jesus saw Nathanael under the fig tree. What does this mean? We’ve heard about fig trees before in the Bible. That’s right: Adam and Eve sew fig leaves together to try and cover their shame (Genesis 3:7). The flimsy, leafy aprons were a poor covering for their sin. And that’s where Jesus saw Nathanael: in his sin. Our own attempts to cover our sins don’t work. Life under the fig leaves is not so great. Christ saw Nathanael while He was still in his sins and called him through Philip. The Holy Spirit worked faith in his heart. Wowed by the divine foreknowledge of Jesus is not the ultimate for Nathanael. “You will see greater things” (v. 50) promises Jesus.
One Life To Live?
The first couple despised God’s gift of life. They ate the fruit that had God’s curse attached to it: “in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Adam and Eve brought death into a world without death; a world created perfect, sinless, deathless. On this Sanctity of Life Sunday, death is constantly in the news, always before our eyes. Daily in Ontario, over 3 000 people test positive for the COVID-19 virus. What’s harder to learn is the number of abortions. On average each in Ontario alone, more than 80 lives are brought to an end in this way. We are right to do all we can not to “hurt or harm our neighbour in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” as God commands: “You shall not murder.” Have we always taken good care of ourselves and others? No. Under the fig leaves of our excuses, we neglect this gift of life by overworking, not getting enough sleep, not eating properly and otherwise abusing our bodies. May God lead us to repent!
But, there are worse things than dying: what could be worse than the second death in hell (Revelation 21:8)? To save us from this terrible torment, Jesus of Nazareth was born, just as “Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (v. 45). It’s great to be alive: life is a gift from God. But Jesus came to give us greater gifts.
The Great One
Jesus came to suffer and die for us. He used the gift of life to give life to us, who by our sins are destined to die. On this Sanctity of Life Sunday, we see the One who is truly and entirely sanctified, holy and blameless, Jesus, the Lamb of God, nailed to the cross as the one who saves us from eternal death. From Christ’s cross and empty tomb, all His gifts flow to us. Holy Baptism is God’s greater gift: here we are born again to the life that has no end. Holy Baptism is greater than life itself. Holy Communion is God’s greater gift: here the living and resurrected Christ is really present to work forgiveness, life and salvation in us. Holy Communion is His greater gift to us. These are among the greater things Nathanael would see. What makes them great is Jesus. In His Word and Sacraments, He comes to give us unending life.
Heaven Is Not In Lockdown
Jesus opens heaven for us. As Nathanael’s mind raced and his heart burned with newborn faith in Jesus, the Lord described the ancient sight that Jacob, his forefather saw in central Canaan: a ladder reaching up to heaven, with angels travelling up and down it (Genesis 28:10-17). Only now, there’s no ladder: Jesus declares that He is the way from earth to heaven. Sin puts that celestial place in lockdown to us sinners. But Christ lifts the lockdown. In Jesus, we have an open heaven. In the Lord, we see greater things.
Just as heaven opened when the Lord Jesus was baptized. The Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove. The voice of the heavenly Father declared Jesus is His beloved Son. Greater things.
Heaven opened at the cross. Even while dying, Jesus promised the criminal beside Him that He would be in paradise with Him that very day. Through faith in God’s Son, who died for our sins, we have an open heaven.
Just as heaven will open on the last day when the Lord Jesus comes with all the angels to take his people home. So He declared to the High Priest while on trial: “From now on, you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (St. Matthew 26:64) .
Last month saw a great sight. After the car rounded the bend on Grey road 40 just north of here, a bad eagle took off from the side of the road. Inspirational music played on the radio and the majestic bird spread his wings to cross ahead of the car. Amazing!
We can never say we’ve seen it all. Life on earth still shows us great beauty. Jesus promises to His dear baptized believers, in heaven, You will see greater things.
St. Matthew 3:13-15. ESV
The Baptism Of Our Lord
10 January 2021
It’s not enough to rent a tux. You have to go for a fitting. Because God made you, me and every person in the world in His own special way, we have unique proportions and shapes that will not allow clothes off the rack to fit properly. Truly, this is the challenge of buying clothes online. Even with standard sizes: how will they fit? So, before a formal occasion, like a wedding, bride and groom, bridesmaids and groomsmen need to try on their clothes for the big day and make the necessary alterations so that everything fits properly. You say that someone who invades your personal space is “all over you like a cheap suit!” That expression comes from that feeling when our clothes don’t fit properly.
In our text from the Gospel of St. Matthew, John the Baptist gets to the heart of today’s festival, the Baptism of our Lord: “I need to be baptized by You, and do you come to me?” (v. 14). True God in human flesh, Jesus Christ, wades into the Jordan river to receive Baptism from John, his relative and forerunner. But John is confused. Jesus is pure, holy, sinless. John is not. John needs Baptism from the hand of Jesus. Not the other way around. Jesus is mightier. John is not worthy to do up His sandals. To John, this does not seem proper.
What is fitting for us? God tailors the words and acts of our lives precisely with His 10 Commandments. His holy law measures the dimensions of our duty of love towards God and that loving duty towards our fellow man. Fear, love, and trust in God the Holy Trinity without any rival, proper, reverent use of His holy name, and sanctifying the holy day of rest by holding His Word sacred and gladly hearing and learning it. Fitting conduct towards others means honouring parents and other authorities, not harming our neighbours, not committing adultery, not stealing, not lying, and not coveting. Proper behaviour, speech, and thoughts in the heart are sewn up in God’s 10 Commandments.
When we sin, things don’t fit; life is wrong-sized; our relationships are askew. Neglecting God’s Word and worship is like a stone in your shoe. More than irritating, our sin puts us under the anger of God. Hurtful, disrespectful, false words are like pants that are too tight: you can’t forget that you’re wearing them! Bad business dealing or cheating others is like a shirt that’s too snug under your arms. Sin squeezes. It just doesn’t fit. Repent.
Like the cross. It doesn’t fit Jesus. I need to be nailed there. For my sins. And You, O Lord Jesus, chose to suffer and die for me? For the only perfect, obedient, righteous Child of God, was fitted for the awful torment of crucifixion, death and hell itself for the sins of the whole world. Christ crucified just does not line up. It is not fitting.
“Let it be so now,” implores the loving Lord Christ, “to fulfill all righteousness.” To carry out the loving purpose of God; to forgive us and all the world; to save us. Let it be. The cross, the tomb, the Baptism in the Jordan. All of our Lord’s saving acts make sense. They are proper and fitting. Because He loves us.
What was Jesus doing down there, in the Jordan? John had it right: Christ had no sin to wash away. If anything, John needed to be baptized by Jesus. But, this was the right thing to do, proper, fitting. Jesus got down in the Jordan river to take His place beside us, where we are, in the trenches, doing the daily grind, bearing our crosses. Christ helps us right we are. Jesus is with us down here on earth so that we will be with Him up there in heaven. Baptism is Christ with us. So fitting.
Holy Baptism is the Lord’s gift to us. Baptism fits us. One size fits all—adults, newborn babies, and folks at the end of their lives. Your Baptism fits you—God designed it that way. Holy Baptism works because Jesus worked for you. In His death, all your sins were put to death and no longer have any power over you. In His resurrection, you were joined to Jesus—resurrected to a new life without end. All this is delivered to you in the water and Word of God here in your Baptism. This is just what you need. This is just what I need. This is just what the the world needs.
Holy Baptism: so fitting!
St. Matthew 2:1-12. ESV
The Epiphany Of Our Lord
03 January 2021
“Why would a baby want gold, frankincense and myrrh?” asked a student at our Catechism class on December 22. The nativity scene set up here ahead of the pulpit got them thinking about Christmas—the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus, and thinking about Epiphany—the visit of the wise men which we observe today. The figures in the nativity scene place both events before our eyes: a mash-up of Christmas and Epiphany. Christmas focuses on the Child born at Bethlehem—God’s love in providing Jesus, true God and true man to be our Saviour. Epiphany proclaims this Child to be the Saviour of all peoples in the world. Epiphany is God’s cosmic Christmas.
God’s love for the world—that’s how Jesus Himself describes His mission in John 3:16: “God so loved the world.” In Greek, “world” is κόσμος. What does that tell you? There’s no limit to God’s love for the people of the world through the gift of His only-begotten Son. Christmas is cosmic.
So, the Lord announces the birth of His Son with a star—a unique heavenly light that attracts the attention of wise men from the far east. These magi observe the star that was not in the sky before, that rose in the east, that moved ahead of them as they travelled and that stopped over the house in Bethlehem where the infant Jesus was living with Mary and Joseph. How joyful they were to be led by this light in the heavens, directed by God to His Son Jesus, born to be the light of the world! A Christmas gift for these Gentiles, up there, in the cosmos.
The light of Christ was not extinguished, His witness to the nations was not put out, not even by the evil plans of King Herod. Herod was threatened when he heard from these strange visitors from the east that a new king was in town: born the king of the Jews. Just so, our sinful nature is threatened by God’s claim on our lives. Like Herod, we want to run the show. But God, through His Child King Jesus will not accept any rivals. God’s Word, the passage from Micah the prophet, directs the wise men to Bethlehem. Jesus has come for all people.
With exotic and costly gifts, these wise men worshiped Jesus, confessing this Infant to be King, God, and Saviour. To fill this unique office and to carry out this triple role, Christ was born for all nations.
The gift of gold acknowledged that this Child was born a king. Yet, a king like no other. As He told Pontius Pilate, the kingdom of the Lord is not of this world, but a heavenly kingdom without end. Christ was not dressed in royal fabrics, nor did He wear a crown of gold. Rather, a cross was His throne; thorns His crown. The suffering this King would endure to ransom a people for His kingdom: to die for the sins of the world.
Frankincense was a gift fit for God Himself—recalling the holy incense sprinkled on the countless sacrifices offered to God on the altar of Israel in the time of the Old Testament. So, Jesus would sacrifice Himself as the one final offering on behalf of all people in the world.
Myrrh is the fragrant oil used for embalming the bodies of those who have died. What an unusual gift to give a small child! Yet, this gift pointed ahead to the death of Jesus for all the peoples of the world. By His death, Jesus would save from eternal death all who believe in Him. For His stay in the tomb would be cut short: limited to three days. By rising to life again, Jesus promises to open the graves of all on the last day to a resurrection to heaven or to hell for all people who have ever lived. In this Jesus, there is salvation for all who trust in Him.
Where are the treasures of the wise men today? The gold—all spent. The frankincense—up in smoke, a sweet-smelling fragrance. The myrrh—used for anointing long ago. By these gifts, the wise men confessed Jesus as God. This Child’s desire was not gold, frankincense and myrrh. This holy Baby came for the world. In His only-begotten Son, God so loved the world. His desire is to have you as His “treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5, Deuteronomy 7:6, I Peter 2:4). And not you and I only. Jesus loves all the people of the world.
Christ’s love is cosmic.
Hindsight Is 20/20
St. Matthew 16:18b. ESV
New Year’s Eve
31 December 2020
I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
One of my Professors from Seminary offered this ever-so-useful advice when I received a divine call to serve another church. “Remember that in effect you have two calls: one to the church that you are serving now, and another to a different church. Both are divine calls from the Lord of the Church. Whether you go or stay, you are doing His will. And once you have made up your mind, never look back at your decision and wonder, what if.”
Ah, but how often we do that: we look back at the past and wonder how would things have been different if we chose a different path, if our decisions went another way, if we stayed instead of going. If only... The end of the year is a natural time for us to pause and take stock of the time that has passed. Such self-examination can lead to regret about opportunities we may have missed. Or, we might imagine some kind of prosperity or happiness that passed us by. Self-centred sin is hard to avoid when you say to yourself with longing about the time gone by: “If only...”
For, as they say, “hindsight is 20/20.” That’s perfect vision: 20/20. How often can you see what you should have done when you look back on the past. How is that true for you and me for the year 2020? What would you have done differently, what preparations would you have made for this year of pandemic, who would you have visited in the early months of this year, what words would you have spoken that you cannot now... ? the list of potential regrets goes on and on with that backward look. That’s sin showing its ugly head in our world, in our relationships and in ourselves. Hindsight is 20/20. And the Law of God always accuses us. It’s time to repent.
But even the way we remember our past is not so clear. “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions (Ecclesiastes 7:10 NIV). The good old days weren’t always as good as we remember.
Now look ahead.
From a world-bound perspective, the future looks bleak for the church: lockdown has not been kind to the life of the church; by what you can measure with empirical metrics, the church is in decline. Satan would like you to believe that’s true.
This global pandemic has had a sifting effect on the church: those who believe, pray, attend, support and continue in worship are moved by the Holy Spirit to remain in this fellowship. Because now, to hold on to Christ in faith is harder, more dangerous and plagued by more opposition from the world than in recent memory. Those who are Christian intentionally hold to this faith.
For, although they say hindsight is 20/20, faith in Christ Jesus as Saviour actually gives us clearest vision. To look back properly on the year now passing and to look ahead clearly into the future is to do so through the lens of the Word of God. The Lord of time: past, present and future teaches us to see things aright. By faith, we confess that all this lies in His powerful hands: “I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” says Jesus. The Lord is at work among us to build, protect, and prosper the dear people of His holy Christian Church.
With this faith, we clearly see what has been. Hindsight is 20/20 when our trust is in Christ. Look back to His sacrificial love for us and all the world. Look back to Bethlehem and see the Son of God enter our world in human flesh, born in humility to save us. Look back to Golgotha, where Mary’s Child offered His spotless life as the Lamb of God slain to take away the sins of the world. Look back to the empty tomb of Jerusalem where the living Christ emerged alive to bring life to us: in our mothers’ wombs where life began; through this life burdened with crosses, pandemic and illness, and eternal life when we must leave this valley of sorrow. Look back and see how much God loves us. Look back and see His almighty, divine, gracious power to save.
With faith in Christ, we clearly see what will be. Not all the details of the future now shrouded to us. But the important stuff. In the future, the Church will endure. Jesus promises. Even through worse times than we have lived through. Even hell’s gates, even threatened by the threshold of the inferno of evil, the church shall stand. Not by our power, planning, wisdom, or might. But by the grace of God in Christ. In Him alone the Church shall endure.
Now look further into the future. God’s Word gives us a peek into eternity. What awaits us in heaven? Abundant, full, unending life in Christ. But also, in the perfect bliss of everlasting life, we will ultimately see the ways that the Lord has used us to help others and to be a blessing in this life, how He has supported us through hard times, and by His gracious might has saved us in Christ.
After all, hindsight is 20/20.
Happy new year!
Held In His Hands
St. Luke 2:22-40. ESV
The First Sunday After Christmas
27 December 2020
He had it in his hands.
On an unplanned visit to a second-hand shop, he spotted it: a tarnished old pocket watch. Sprawled out on the shelf with wristwatches, alarm clocks and household appliances. Perhaps it caught his eye, since it reminded him of the watch his grandfather used to carry, the old railroad pocket watch. He had never seen one for sale before. This must be rare—a one of a kind item. He picked it up and turned it over in his hand. $35 Wow! Despite the rust and grime, the case might even be gold. Some of these could be quite valuable—a limited run of production. His eyes scanned this rare find with amazement.
But then, his practical mind kicked in. He noticed the hands of the pocket watch were not moving. ‘Do I really need this?’ he asked himself. ‘Is it really worth $35? And where will I store it?’ Still admiring the old pocket watch, he set back down on the shelf, left the store and headed for home.
Like visions of sugar plums dancing in his head, the image of that tarnished old watch stayed with him through the night. It was still on his mind when he rose the next morning. To satisfy his curiosity, the man did a quick Internet search. He was floored by what he found. Over a thousand dollars! That’s what this rare, gold, railroad pocket watch was worth—working or not! ‘What was I thinking?” he said to himself. ‘I should have snapped it up when I had the chance.’ The man headed back to the store, but alas! The watch was gone.
He had it in his hands!
Sin is like that. We feel regret about missed opportunities to do good to someone who was right beside us, right at our door, right in our family. We had the chance to help—right in our hands, and, for whatever reason, didn’t. Or the temptation was so close to us: in our hearts, in our minds, in our hands. Sadly, knowing right from wrong did not stop us from giving to hurt others with our words and actions: “hands stained... with guilt (Isaiah 59:3 NIV) . For us, who have held sin in our hearts and in our hands, the Saviour Jesus was born.
Agèd Simeon had the amazing honour to hold Baby Jesus in his hands. Simeon met Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus into the temple to offer the Old Testament sacrifices in God’s Law required for every firstborn Son. Jesus was there to keep the Law of God on our behalf—even when He was only a month-and-a-half old. But then, this day for following rules became a memorable meeting with great joy: a time for the Gospel light to shine forth from this Child. By the direction of the Holy Spirit, Simeon recognized the Child Jesus as God’s promised Messiah, took Jesus in his arms and blessed God with the words of the Nunc Dimittis. Now, he could die in peace. With his own eyes, Simeon saw the Lord’s promised salvation. It was Jesus. He held him in his hands!
The Holy Spirit was giving Simeon the long view. By the Holy Spirit’s direction, Simeon knew that this Child of Mary and Joseph came in fulfilment of scriptural prophecies and promises in God’s Word. As Jesus was in the temple to obey the Law of God concerning sacrifices offered for the firstborn, so He would obey every regulation and commandment in God’s Law perfectly throughout His life. As God in the flesh, Jesus would bring about the falling and rising of many in Israel: those who held fast to Him in faith would be lifted up into God’s presence while those who rejected Him would fall to the eternal torments in hell apart from God. Even Mary, so delighted this day in her newborn Son would be pierced through her soul with a sword of grief as He would offer Himself on the cross for the salvation of the world. At Golgotha, Jesus held the Roman nails that pierced His hands to take our sins away. Christ endured the cross and grave and rose to life again so that He might hold his dear baptized believers in His warm embrace for all eternity. Like Simeon, we, who have be blessed with the living presence of our dear Lord Jesus in the waters of our Baptism and in His true body and blood have the fear of dying taken away from us. “Lord, now you are letting Your servant depart in peace” (v. 29). In time and for eternity, He holds you in His hands.
Simeon held Baby Jesus. He held Christ, our salvation, in his very hands. Jesus is one of a kind. And yet, this Saviour was not for Simeon alone. Just as Jesus is not only for us. The Light of God shone into the whole world in this Child, who was born for all peoples (v. 31). Him we proclaim.
So that all can hold Him in faith.
So that all peoples might hold Him in their hands.
When Worlds Collide
St. Luke 2:1-20. ESV
The Nativity Of Our Lord
25 December 2020
Entire worlds come together.
The birth of God’s Son in human flesh brought clashing contrasts running straight into each other.
A virgin who becomes a mother, giving birth to a Child with no human father.
A carpenter cannot provide lodging and a bed for his expectant wife and her newborn Son, but has to settle for a barn and a manger.
The angel host from the rich courts of God’s holy presence in heaven appear in divine glory to poor shepherds living in open fields in the Bethlehem region. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased” (v. 14) the angel chorus sings. Worlds collide!
The Roman Empire serves God’s purposes—issuing a decree for a census that will set the whole world in motion—all so that Jesus will be born in David’s town, Bethlehem, as biblical prophecy declares.
The birth of a new baby is a private, intimate family time—especially for Mary and Joseph who endured much (scorn from the community, hardship on the road while travelling, and physical danger) to get to Bethlehem so that she could “give birth to her firstborn son” (v. 7). Imagine the visit of the curious shepherds who were strangers to Mary and Joseph, poking their heads in the Bethlehem barn “to see this thing that has happened” (v. 15). Shepherds meet new parents. Worlds collide!
Then, the shepherds leave their sheep. From their solitary lives in the pastures, these witnesses enter the social world, going out to meet the people and to spread the good news that Jesus is born. News of this Baby lying in a manger generated wonder in the hearts of their hearers. When these shepherd-evangelists went out into the world with the Christmas Gospel.
For in this tiny Baby, lying on the hay, worlds collide. Heaven and earth. True God and true man. Jesus Christ is God-with-us. “The Word becomes incarnate and yet remains on high” (LSB 383:2). The great God and Creator of the world and all things now nurses at the breast of His mother. The Christmas miracle is God’s love for us and all people: that Jesus Christ became man to suffer and die on the cross to take away the curse of our sins. God loves the world so much that He gave His only Son, wrapped in swaddling cloths and placed in a manger. All who believe in Him will never perish, but shall have eternal life. World collide in this innocent, holy Child Jesus. Heaven and earth. And, when worlds collide, we are saved.
Still today, worlds collide. Here at the altar. Bread and wine are present. Earthly elements. Then Jesus, the Divine Word speaks: “This is My body. This is My blood.” At His Word, heaven and earth collide. Under this earthly food is His heavenly presence. The same Child born at Christmas comes now to us. His world enters our world. For our forgiveness, life and salvation.
When worlds collide, we are saved in Christ.
He Does It
Titus 3:4-7. ESV
The Nativity Of Our Lord, Christmas Eve
24 December 2020
What a great invention—gift cards! Especially in these times when shopping in crowded stores and shopping malls searching for that perfect gift can bring disastrous risks of infection from others. Sadly, you can come home with more than presents! Even online shopping might not yield the results you are looking for—popular gifts might be crazy expensive or sold right out. How disappointing!
Enter the gift card. You can always find them—where you buy groceries, gas, or even online. Gift cards come from the store you want to support, and allow you to say how much money is on the card. The gift card then allows the recipient to decide what to buy at their leisure—which is especially good if it is a gift that is rare or out-of-stock at Christmas. Put the gift card inside the Christmas card to your friend, pop it in the mail and boom—you’re done!
As good as all that is, it could be said that the gift of a gift card says to the one who receives it—you do it! Where the giver has taken a short cut on shopping to buy a gift card, the getter must then do the shopping. You do it!
Christmas is God’s gift to us—the birth of Jesus brings salvation to the world as a gift.
He does it all.
Now that doesn’t stop us from thinking that salvation is something we do. God’s ten commandments: ‘Do this; don’t do that’ can sound to us like a gift card that we must activate, use, and spend by our own efforts; set in motion by speaking kind words; fulfill by doing good deeds. How do we get to God in heaven after this life? The old nature in us answers, “you had better get busy and be good.” How are we saved? Sin answers, “You do it.”
But no. Tonight, the Bible clearly says salvation is “not because of works done by us in righteousness” (v. 5).
Try your hardest. You don’t do it.
God does it. That’s the miracle of Christmas. In the holy, innocent, pure Child born of Mary at Bethlehem, “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, He saved us” (v. 4). God did it. He does it all. Jesus, true God, come down from heaven to become true man for us. Born among the cattle in the barn, born in purity without any sin, of the Virgin Mary, announced by angels, adored by shepherds, Jesus came to our world to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves: to save us from sin and its effects—sickness, sorrow and death.
The Child in the manger grew to a man and gave His life at the cross in the one act that saves the world. He did it for us. This same Baby Jesus at the age of thirty-three, rose alive from the grave three days after His death and ascended into heaven to open the door for us. “And take us to heaven to live with Thee there” (LSB 365:3) we ask of the Lord. Because Jesus saves us.
He does it all.
The last three words spoken in the movie, Christmas Vacation are “I did it!” Clark Griswold spent the entire vacation doing so much to pull off an old-fashioned, fun, family Christmas. Once all is said and done, Clark declares, “I did it!”
But Christmas is when God has the last word. The true meaning of Christmas is His act of saving us. From the Baby in the manger to the God-man nailed to the cross, to the exalted Lord Christ seated in glory in heaven, our salvation is the work of Jesus, from beginning to end.
The Lord says to the world, “I did it!”
St. Luke 1:26-38. ESV
The Fourth Sunday In Advent
20 December 2020
How can you make Christmas last all year long? Even with the burden of a global pandemic looming over us, still, there is nothing like Christmas—a blessed, happy, joyous time.
Can the spirit of Christmas go on all year?
“Christmas spirit” refers to a feeling, a mood, a collective sense in the community that something great is going on during this season.
In today’s Gospel, we meet a Christmas spirit—not a feeling, but a spiritual being: the angel Gabriel. He truly is a Christmas spirit. For Gabriel brings good news: the Christ of Christmas is coming to us! When Gabriel made this announcement, Mary got into the Christmas spirit. The Word of God, spoken by the angel overcame her virginity—Christ was conceived in her womb. The sinless Son of God took on human flesh to live among us. The ultimate Christmas miracle happened inside of Mary of Nazareth. This Holy Child alive within her would be born the Saviour of the world. How? “Nothing will be impossible with God” (v. 37). So said the Spirit of Christmas.
God sent this Holy Child, the Son of God, because a different spirit runs through the world, a dark spirit also within us. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Even at Christmas, the spirit can be ruined by angry words, by families in conflict, by poverty and worries about money, by a spirit of sadness and despair, or by illnesses and death, as it takes loved ones from us. Sin cuts short the spirit of Christmas, leaving only the gloom of judgment and despair.
The Holy Child born to Mary, Jesus Christ, brings us the true spirit of Christmas. Jesus is born the Prince of Peace to forgive our angry words. Jesus, true God and true man is born to reconcile us with those in conflict. Jesus is born in poverty of a poor maid to give us comfort and contentment when we must do without this world’s treasures. Jesus is born to give joy to our hearts weighed down with sadness, giving hope when our lives seem hopeless. Jesus is born in this world of pain and death to bring us healing and eternal life. The Holy Child of Mary, conceived and born without sin gave His life on the cross in exchange for us and all the world. In Him, God will bring us to life again after we die, just as His Son quickened and came to life in the womb of His mother. The spirit of Christmas is Jesus, the Christ Child.
Mary knew this. His earthly mother believed this. With a heart of faith, Mary embraced the good news announced to her by God’s angelic spirit Gabriel. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38). The Christmas spirit, as we experience it, is received by faith! Not to have all the answers, to supply all the reasons, nor always be able to say “How?” Faith takes our logical deductive powers captive to the Word of God. Faith takes God at His Word. Faith in our hearts. Faith in Jesus lies at the heart of the Christmas spirit.
The Holy Spirit works this faith in us—faith that takes reason captive—faith that takes God at His Word. The Holy Spirit gave the Virgin Mary such faith. We need this.
We need faith in God’s Word of goodness, provision and care, especially when things are going badly. When crosses of sorrow, separation, fear and sickness keep us from feeling the Christmas spirit, faith in Jesus carries the day, The Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, teaches us to trust in Christ, the Holy Child of Mary, our Saviour. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38). The Holy Spirit works this faith through Bible and Communion, through the preaching of God’s Word and in the Sacrament of Christ’s real presence. The Holy Spirit works faith in us—a lively trust in Jesus that fills us with joy.
That’s how the Spirit of Christmas lasts all year!
A Christmas Witness
St. John 1:6-8, 19-28. ESV
The Third Sunday In Advent
13 December 2020
Finding true love.
Reliving childhood memories.
Ending the fiscal year in the black.
Christmas is important to many people since, to them, it means many things.
The name itself: “Christ”mas tells you the real meaning of December 25th: the service of worship to rejoice in the birth of Christ. Jesus is the reason for the season. John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare the world for the coming Christ. “He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him” (v. 7).
You and I are witnesses. We tell the world what we know about this holy season. God’s only begotten Son was sent from heaven, born to be the light of the world. Jesus is the reason for the season. Of this, we are witnesses.
Say What You Know
What is a witness? A witness says what happened. No embellishments. No additions. Nothing uncertain. No conclusions. Just the facts. A witness is summoned to give testimony in a court of law: called to the witness stand to undergo cross examination.
Very much like John in today’s Gospel. Taking on the role of prosecuting attorney, priests and Levites from Jerusalem grilled John with questions: What then? Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet? Who are you? What do you say about yourself? Why are you baptizing? Talk about the third degree! This interview was like twenty questions. The identity and work of John was under the microscope. This witness could have bragged, boasted and made his response to these questions all about how important he was.
Not All About Me
That’s also how we are tempted: to turn our Christian witness around and make it all about me. That breaks the first commandment. You and I are not the light. We are not the Christ. Like John, we witness by pointing away from ourselves and by pointing people to Jesus. “He was not the light” (v. 8). John said, “I am the voice” (v. 23).
Silent And Spoken
John the Baptist called out in the wilderness of this world to make a straight path for the Lord—a witness to Christ. We are part of the Church, the Church that is calling out in the wilderness of this world to make a straight path for the Lord—a Christmas witness. It’s often a silent witness: kind, considerate acts that help others in need, especially in these days when people feel isolated and alone. A simple act of kindness witnesses the love of God for us in Christ, who was born for us at Christmas. Other times, our words are the witness. We say what we know: that God’s Son Jesus was born at Christmas to be our Saviour. He is the One who saves the world. Just like John, we are witnesses.
Witness: Come To Light
John the Baptist’s goal (and ours) is “that all might believe through [us]” (v. 7). A witness is called by the court to sort out what happened, to get to the bottom of things, to hear the truth. Jesus is the truth. Jesus is the One who is greater than John. Jesus is the way to the Father. Jesus was born at Christmas to be the ultimate Witness for God. The Christ Child came in flesh and blood to show the world the love of the heavenly Father for us all. His is the love that knows no limits—unconditional. His is the love that is sacrificial—dying on the cross to forgive us our sins. His is the love that cannot die—resurrected from the Jerusalem grave on the third day to open heaven to us. God’s Christmas witness is Christ. He came down from heaven to earth for us and for our salvation. John rejoiced to be the voice who witnessed to the Light.
The Lord Born A Child
At Christmas, we might look forward to undoing the ribbon on a gift that’s given to us. Today, a different strip of fabric is featured. John says he’s not worthy to undo the strap of Jesus’ sandal (v. 27). Here, John the Baptist anticipates that memorable moment in the Upper Room, Maundy Thursday night; that moment when Jesus got down on His hands and knees to do the work of slave—washing the dirty feet of His disciples. The Lord performed that chore as an object lesson of love and service among Christians: the love that we show to each other for the sake of the Master Jesus who, in love, laid down His life for us. Here, at the beginning of the Gospel, John wants to give this witness to his Lord: John is not even in the same class as Christ. John is not worthy to be His slave, to take off His sandals, carry them, nor wash His feet. ‘I can’t untie His sandals,’ says John. ‘I can’t reach that high.’
“[God] has put everything under His feet” (I Corinthians 15:27 NIV). Jesus is enthroned by God the Father as King of kings and Lord of lords. Christ rests His nail-scarred feet on the footstool of the entire created universe. That’s what we heard in the Scriptures three weeks ago. This is the Christ of Christmas: crucified, resurrected, ascended, reigning over all things. This is the Lord John spoke about; of Jesus, he is witness. John the Baptist could not unlatch His sandal. John could not reach that high.
Of this Christ Jesus, we are all witnesses. This great Lord and Saviour was born for us and for our world.
St. Mark 1:1-8. ESV
The Second Sunday In Advent
06 December 2020
What do you call a three-panel painting? That would be a triptych. Church altars from the time of the renaissance are adorned with beautiful paintings: Gabriel’s visit to Mary, the Lord’s nativity, the visit of the wise men; the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.
The three hinged panels of the triptych wrap around the altar: a feast for the eyes; a continuous object lesson for the congregation in worship. That visual Bible lesson, the triptych, is closed up during the 40 days of Lent to emphasize the penitential fasting of the season. Only the bare wooden backs of the panels face the people. How glorious when Easter dawns and the colours and images of God’s saving acts from Scripture are once again displayed above the altar bearing the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament.
Other artistic presentations are composed of two panels, four panels or more. But it seems that the triptych by design fits Christian altars particularly well: one painting in three panels. The triptych by design illustrates the Holy Trinity: one God in three persons. And, when painted for devotional use at the altar, all three panels focus on our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
John the Baptist is God’s triptych. Hard to think of John as a work of art, what with the crazy hair, camel-hair cloak and leather belt. Not to mention the locusts and wild honey caught in his teeth. Actually, John’s appearance, like the Old Testament prophets was nothing to write home about. John’s aim was to de-escalate himself so that he could magnify the Lord Jesus Christ. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (St. John 3:30). John the Baptist was working himself out of a job. What was his work? Here’s where the triptych comes in: John the Baptist led the people to repent, to confess, to be baptized. “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all... were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (v. 4-5). Repentance. Confession. Baptism. John’s three-fold work was good news, Gospel, leading people to the mightier One, Jesus Christ.
Advent is a time for us to repent. What’s that? Repentance (μετάνοια) means to change, to reverse direction, to stop doing wrong and start doing right. We repent when we feel pain, sorrow, regret because we have hurt others, hurt God, and hurt ourselves by our sins. John the Baptist called people of the world to repent. His simple clothes and plain diet called the rich to repent of their selfishness, urging them to use their money to help the poor. John preached plainly, that his hearers should share their wealth with those who had none; they must not be rough or violent with others, and to be content with what they had. Repent! We too need to repent, to change, to prepare. The Lord is coming.
Tell Me Now
When John the Baptist preached God’s holy law in all its sternness, his hearers not only repented. They confessed their sins to him. Like drought exposes the bottom of a dried up lake-bed, the commandments of God lay bear our hearts, exposing the sad truth of our sins to our eyes as to the Lord. Confession is being honest to God (and ourselves). In general, we confess our sins when we pray the Lord’s prayer and at the beginning of the divine service. But in a private, confidential setting with the Pastor, we can confess “those sins which we know and feel in our hearts” (SC V:2), just as John the Baptist heard confessions from the people gathered at the Jordan. While confession is good for the soul, it’s the absolution or word of forgiveness spoken over our confession that truly heals, comforts and strengthens our faith in Jesus. This word of forgiveness “is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord spoke to us Himself” (SC V:16).
The third and greatest instrument in John’s toolbox was Baptism. He is known as John the Baptist, after all! This Jordan-river-Baptism was no empty symbol. By his hand, God delivered soul-regenerating washing. His candidates were born again, by the grace of God: “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 4). Advent is a good time for us to exercise our baptismal covenant. As we prepare for Christ’s coming, let us drown the Old Adam/Eve, our sinful nature in the waters of our Baptisms and emerge and arise to life again in Christ, renewed, regenerated and blessed to live each day in the name and for the sake of Him who died on the cross to put our sins to death and rose again from the dead to give us eternal life. As these days pass, we find at times we are strong in faith. At other times our faith in Christ is weak, wavering and shattered by doubts. God is faithful. He stands by His covenant made with you and me in our Baptisms. “The ship of Baptism never breaks” (LC IV:82). The Lord is always there for you.
No Other Way
The Canadian Automobile Association as a part of their service to members offers a product they call TripTik: a flip-chart map custom designed for you by CAA that leads you step-by-step to your destination.
John the Baptist’s triptych of repentance, confession and Baptism; all three work for one purpose: that people would trust in Jesus for salvation. John pointed to Jesus Christ: He is the way and the truth and the life” (St. John 14:6). Jesus is the only way for us to reach our final destination: eternal life with God in heaven.
St. Mark 11:1-10. ESV
The First Sunday In Advent
29 November 2020
In western Canada, many homes and families have the tradition of keeping a guest book. Visitors write in the date, their name, and a greeting, Bible passage or other souvenir as a reminder of the visit. It’s fun to look back in the pages of the guest book and see who came to visit.
In these days, visits are restricted, made from a distance, or simply not allowed. Still, Jesus comes. That’s what the word “advent” means: coming. Today, we celebrate the start of a new church year as the Gospel proclaims Jesus coming to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Why does He come? Jesus comes to save the world. Jesus comes to save us.
We are familiar with this scene: it’s a mix of victory and humility. The Lord Christ rides into the holy city welcomed by the crowds shouting praise, spreading their cloaks and leafy palm branches on the road as He approaches. At the centre of this celebration is a figure of muted understatement: the Lord Jesus rides a donkey’s colt, exactly as prophesied by Zechariah (9:9). What a colourful, joyous, happy scene when Jesus comes.
And what is waiting for Him in Jerusalem? A mess. Challenge and criticism. Betrayal and arrest. Crucifixion and burial. Jesus comes into this.
Ready Or Not...
As Jesus comes to us. Right where we are. The last three Sundays, we have heard this consistent message from Scripture: prepare! For, you do not know when Jesus is coming to judge the world. That same message rings in our ears now as Advent begins: repent! For Jesus is coming. Right where we are: into our lives marred with sins against God’s commandments, damaging thoughts, words and actions. Jesus comes to us as we struggle and suffer under sins that have been done against us. Ready or not, Jesus comes. Into our conflicts and crises. Into our guilt and shame. Into the messes we are incapable of fixing ourselves.
The Welcome Visit
Jesus comes to heal and restore us. Jesus comes to forgive and save us. That’s why He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on Sunday of Holy Week. Not to oust the Romans, nor to unseat the Sanhedrin. Not to debate and argue with those who accused Him. Not to punish and destroy. Jesus came to die. On the cross, He died for you and for me. Crucified Christ displayed God’s love for all the world to see. “God so loved the world” in this pierced Man. Jesus came to take our place. Jesus came to give us a seat in the kingdom of heaven.
Still, Jesus comes today. Right now. In His Word, the Bible, He is speaking to you and to me. His Word is powerful. His Word does what it says (Isaiah 55:10-11). We know it when we hear the Lord’s all-powerful word, “I forgive you all your sins.” That’s not the opinion of a human being. His word is valid and certain, even in heaven, before Almighty God, before all His angels. Because Christ says so. In His Word, Jesus comes to us.
And not by His Word alone. Here also in this Sacrament, Jesus comes. He speaks to join His real presence to bread: “This is My body.” He speaks to join His real presence to wine: “This is... My blood.” Like the Palm Sunday crowds, we welcome our Lord, not with coats and palms, but with a simple trust in Him that paves the way for Jesus to come to us. We believe what He says. Not riding on a donkey, but under simple forms of bread and wine, Jesus rides into our mouths to make His home in our hearts. From this altar, Jesus comes to us.
As Jesus came at Christmas. From the lofty heights of heaven itself, the Lord of lords came down to become one of us—our Brother and Immanuel in every way except for our sins. From His royal throne on high, Christ descended to be born of the Virgin Mary in the poverty of the Bethlehem stable. For us and for our salvation, Jesus comes.
As a perfect Baby at Christmas, as our suffering Servant on the cross, and as Lord and Judge of all on the clouds at the end of the world, Jesus comes. In the pages of His Word, the Bible, and under bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar, Jesus comes. When He comes, we are saved.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20).
The Chief Officer Of Life
I Corinthians 15:20-28. ESV
The Last Sunday Of The Church Year
22 Nov 2020
Our nephew, Christopher Wolf serves in the Canadian military. Currently, Chris has been deployed to Latvia, where he is involved in training manoeuvres with NATO. To the untrained eye, you might say he’s simply enjoying blowing things up. But, that’s not right. He is not just doing his own thing. Christopher is a gunner in the army. His rank: private. He follows the orders of his commanding officer. Soldiers are trained to be subject to the one in charge.
Lord Of Life
That will be clear on the day of judgment. Christ Jesus is Lord. All will be subject to Him. The last two verses of our Epistle use that word six times: “be subject to” (ὑποτάσσω). That’s a military word. Rank. Order. Discipline. Not something to fear. No risk of abuse of this power. Just look at who is at the top of this chain of command: the Lord Jesus! The fact that things will unfold on the Last Day according to His “order” (τάγμαv. 23) is good news, Gospel! “In Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ” (v. 22b-23). Christians follow their Lord into life. Who would not gladly be subject to Him?
Our enemy, that’s who. At the bottom of the heap, subjected to Christ, and under His feet (like a footstool) is our last enemy, death. Not our friend. Never a blessing. Death rips our loved ones out of our lives so that we are no longer with them in this world. Home wrecker. Family destroyer. Like the COVID-19 pandemic, death is the one foe we have in common with every other person in the whole world. “In Adam all die” (v. 22a). The first man’s disobedience infected his every descendant born after him, including you and me. Adam (and Eve) refused to be subject to God. They disobeyed a direct order from the Almighty to rise above their rank as creatures to become “like God” (Genesis 3:5). Adam’s refusal to submit brought death: to himself, to his wife, to their children, to the world, and to all people who followed. The last enemy. Death.
Defeated for us. By our Lord and Master Christ. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (v. 22). In a “strange and awesome strife” (LSB 463:3), our Captain and Commander Christ fought and defeated our enemy, death. And that, on his own deadly turf. Suffering gruesome death on the cross for the sins of the world; buried in the tomb to save all people bound for death, Jesus destroyed death. Knocked its teeth out. Removed death’s deadly sting. Cured the deadly poison of death with the antidote of His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. Christ showed death who’s boss. Jesus did death to death.
And, in answer to every doubting protest that this Gospel simply could not be true, defending every insubordinate challenge and refusal to submit, Christ the Lord answers with life. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (v. 20a). The proof of His authority over all things is seen in this: Jesus walked out of the Jerusalem tomb alive on Easter morning. What a great encouragement to us as we wrestle through these days afflicted by aches, pains, weakness and disease. Death keeps trying to run the show. But he must answer to the One who outranks him. “In Christ shall all be made alive” (v. 22b). We, who belong to Christ look forward to His coming on the Last Day. By His authority, Jesus will raise His dear baptized believers of all ages to life again, resurrected in body and soul. Deathless. Immortal. Eternal. Look in faith to the Chief Officer who’s calling the shots. He rules by giving us life everlasting.
All In All
Even Jesus is subject to God the Father. In the mystery of the Holy Trinity, one God in three Persons, although they are on the same level, “the glory equal, the majesty coeternal” (Athanasian Creed 6), still, on the last day, Jesus the Son will deliver the kingdom to God the Father (v. 24). This blessed order will unfold before our very eyes when Jesus returns. God will place all things in heaven, on earth and under the earth under the nail-pierced feet of the Lord Jesus. Then, in love, the Lord will hand all things over to God the King.
Today and forever, Christ the Lord has redeemed me from death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
This is most certainly true.
Clear Head; Life Ahead
I Thessalonians 5:1-11. ESV
The Twenty-fourth Sunday After Pentecost
15 Nov 2020
In the centre of the city of Kraków, Poland stands a large church with two high towers. From the top of the higher tower, every hour of the day and night, on the hour, a trumpeter blows his horn for the city to hear. He begins to play a low, mournful melody. Suddenly, he stops short, in the middle of a note. The trumpeter plays this strange melody in all four directions.
The tradition began in the 1300's. It happened one night, as the watchman was standing guard over Kraków. Suddenly, his eyes spotted enemy soldiers: a whole army about to attack! Immediately, the watchmen blew the warning on his trumpet to alert the sleeping citizens of the approaching danger. The warning call was a low, mournful melody—suddenly cut short. An enemy soldier drew his bow, took aim and shot the watchman with his arrow. He was killed instantly. The warning call was silenced. But the alarm was raised: the people of Kraków woke up and fought to defend themselves.
Ever since that night—and still today—a trumpeter has played the watchman’s mournful melody to remind the people of the city always to watch and be prepared. They never know when the day of destruction might come.
Like us. We never know the day when Christ will return.
When Did You Say?
Our dear Lord Jesus has told us about signs of the end: wars, natural disasters, increased law-breaking and civil disobedience, Christians falling away from the Faith (St. Matthew 24); “times and seasons” (v. 1) that, in general, tell us that the day of judgment is going to be soon. Yet no one knows which day it will be (St. Matthew 24:36). All who have tried to predict that day have been wrong. Christ’s return in judgment will be sudden. Unexpected.
Like a thief in the night. No one ever plans to get robbed. You must be prepared. Put your valuables away. Lock your doors. When is the thief coming? You never know.
Like a pregnant woman. Labour can come upon her with sharp and sudden pain. When the baby’s coming, there’s no turning back; no changing your mind. Prepare before it happens. Pack an overnight bag. Get the car ready to go. Phone a friend to take care of the kids. When is the baby coming? You never know.
Like the COVID-19 lock down. No one saw it coming. By March 22nd, our church services were suspended. Many people did not venture out of their homes for months. The whole country was in lock down. It could happen again. When? You never know.
Like the return of Christ. No one knows that day or hour. But, we do know that Jesus will come back. Judgment of heaven or hell. It’s just a matter of time. So, we must be ready. Many people in the world deny that the day is coming, refusing to believe that Jesus is coming back, doing nothing to prepare. What’s that like? Drunk. Asleep. Carrying on day after day as if everything will stay the same, without a thought for the end, for Christ’s return, for the coming judgment—that’s like going through life asleep, or drunk. Either way, you don’t know what’s going on: dead to the world, as they say. That is, until you finally are dead in the world. Don’t be unprepared.
Christ’s Gift Of Salvation: Lit!
You are not in the dark. You are not inebriated, hung over, impaired. You have a clear head. “You are children of light, children of the day” (v. 5). The Lord has made you and me different. We stand out: lights in this dark world. Jesus is the light (St. John 1:9, 8:12). Faith in Him lights up our hearts, our minds, even shines into the very depths of our souls so that we see clearly. We look forward with joy to the glorious return of Christ, since we have already met Him. Where? Here, in Bible and Baptism, we each encountered the risen and living Jesus. The Lord has enlightened us to trust in Him “who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him” (v. 10). In the washing of our Baptisms, we have put on Christ: we have “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (v. 8). Christ has prepared us, armoured us with saving faith so that we might stand through these pandemic days, so that we might be protected for the days that may follow post-pandemic, and so that we would be shielded by faith in Christ to stand tall and ready on the final day when Jesus comes back to take us home.
“The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever.” (II Timothy 4:18).
When The Lord Calls...
I Thessalonians 4:13-18. ESV
The Twenty-third Sunday After Pentecost
08 Nov 2020
Last Sunday, as the voters meeting began, the Secretary called out the names of the voting members of the church. Those who were present to hear their names answered the call.
At the end of the world, on the last day, the coming of the Lord will not be a secret, hidden from the world, unannounced. The Lord will call. The day of judgment will be marked by “a cry (κέλευσμα) of command” (v. 16). This is the sound of the hunter as he calls to his dogs. This is the Lord calling out to the whole world, both the living and the dead by the voice of an archangel. The trumpet of God sounds its warning blast to all creation: This life has ended! Eternity begins today! “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command” (v. 16). When the Lord calls, where will you be?
Don’t be quaking in your boots, with your knees knocking, so fearful on that day, like you’ve just seen the scariest Halloween movie ever. Fearful of being judged and condemned for sins against God’s commandments. Terrified of spending eternity in hell—“as others do who have no hope” (v. 13). The Lord’s call on judgment day is eternal death for all who would stand alone to answer His call.
Jesus Crosses Out Our Condemnation
But that’s not what we hear in God’s Word today. The Holy Spirit-inspired Apostle wants us to “encourage each other with these words” (v. 18).
How? “We believe that Jesus died and rose again” (v. 14). Christ crucified and risen takes all the fear out of judgment day for us, His baptized believers. For us, on our behalf, and in our place, Jesus answered the Lord’s call to suffer the judgment for our sins, and not only for us, but to be judged and condemned for the sins of the whole world. Because He loves us, even though He is innocent, Christ was declared guilty of all sins and died on the cross. Our judgment day was Good Friday. Jesus rose to life again from the dead so that those who have fallen asleep in death will also rise again with their bodies to the resurrection to eternal life. We are not uninformed, dear sisters and brothers. We have this hope in Christ. Instead of fear, horror and judgment, we will have excitement, thrill and a rush of joy when the Lord calls.
A Look Into The Afterlife
Now, in this world, we have sorrow; we shed tears; we grieve. That’s because Christians who are born again to saving faith in Jesus through baptismal regeneration are no longer with us. They have fallen asleep. We have committed them to the ground of our cemetery “in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life” (Lutheran Service Book - Agenda, p. 130). And yet, we don’t grieve like others, who falsely think that ‘once you die, that’s it—nothing!’ God’s Word comforts us today by telling us the order of things: what will happen on the Last Day.
➀ The Lord will descend from heaven
➁ He will trumpet His coming, calling all the world by His archangel
➂ The dead in Christ will rise from their earthly resting places
➃ We will be caught up together with them in the clouds
➄ We will meet the Lord Jesus in the air
Then, forever begins. How easy to scrutinize these verses with questions, longing to know more details about the final day and of the life to come: ‘How can this be?’ Ah, but then, with all those questions and doubts, we would not be comforted with these words.
Alpha And Omega Be
What makes this part of Sacred Scripture so wonderfully comforting is this: our final redemption on that last and glorious day is all God’s work from beginning to end: He comes down from heaven to earth. He calls. He raises the dead. He gathers His people together. He is with us always. The end of our salvation, like our beginning, does not depend on our work, but on His. The resurrection of the body to eternal life is Christ’s work in us. The blessed reunion we look forward to with our dear loved ones is Christ’s work in us. Today, God promises in His Word, “We will always be with the Lord” (v. 17).
He will make sure of it. When the Lord calls.
We Are Not There Yet
I John 3:2. ESV
All Saints’ Day
01 Nov 2020
“Are we there yet?” Once the kids start asking, “Are we there yet?” the trip stops being fun. Only a litany of “are we there yet” measures the distance before we finally reach the destination.
Heaven is our home—our final destination as Christians who long to be with our dear Lord and Master Jesus. In our first reading from the Revelation to St. John, we see a glorious description of that heavenly place: angels and saints clothed in white, clutching palm branches and shouting praise to God and the Lamb. Free of suffering, pain, hunger, thirst, or tears. Healthy, happy. Eternally blessed. Home.
We’re not there yet. That’s what the Evangelist St John writes in our Epistle reading: “what we will be has not yet appeared” (v. 2). Sin holds us back. Our’s. Other’s. We are not there yet.
Divisions. “... when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you” (I Corinthians 11:18), St. Paul writes to the first century church at Corinth. The sad truth of his words echoes down to an even greater extent in our time. By faith, we confess there is one holy, Christian and apostolic Church. But, the world sees a church fractured, splintered, even divided. Departing from the pure teaching of God’s Word to false teaching and human opinion, selfish ego and pride. Schisms and splits harass the sheep of the Good Shepherd, compromising the church’s witness and preaching in the world. Jesus is praying for His Church: that we may be one (St. John 17:21). Harmony. Support for each other. Unity. We are not there yet.
Disagreements. “the love of many will grow cold” (St. Matthew 24:12), predicts Jesus as He teaches about the end times: these days! Friends that turn into enemies. Lovers who wind up hating each other. The psychological toll of COVID-19 on us is evident: anger, frustration, acting out in surprising and unpredictable measure. “Let us love one another,” John writes later in his letter, “for love is from God” (I John 4:7). We are not there yet.
Death. “... the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). While our world is convinced this is the only life there is and anxiously, frantically tries to turn the earth into paradise, we see constant reminders that this is not heaven and never can be. And, we ourselves are daily reminded of the limits of our bodies—hunger, thirst, weariness, pain, sickness—they all remind us that we can’t do what we used to do. Our flesh and blood yearn for something permanent: “the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). We are not there yet.
In 1975, a unique kind of doll was patented. It looked just like a regular doll, only you could lift up its face. Underneath was a mirror. How would that work? When this doll’s owner looked into the face of her doll, her own face was looking back at her.
What an object lesson for All Saints’ day! When we look at ourselves to see saintly people, we are disappointed. The mirror of the law shows us our sins. Looking at ourselves accuses, convicts and condemns us. “What we will be has not yet appeared” (v. 2).
No wonder “the world does not know us” (v. 1). Our true identity as Christians is hidden. The truth of who we really are in Christ is hidden under our sins. The world does not know God.
But we do. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us” (v. 1). God does not treat us as we deserve. No. For our sins, we deserve punishment. Yet, we are not simply pardoned, forgiven, spared by the heavenly Father (as great as that is). We have this privileged status: to “be called children of God; and so we are” (v. 1). Born again in the womb of the baptismal font—a birth to a second life even greater than our birthday, when we came into this world from the life-giving waters of our mothers. For in Holy Baptism, God the Father makes us His daughters and sons for all time. Even now, while we struggle with our sin and guilt, against divisions, disagreements and finally death, even now, we are the children of God. Even when we don’t feel like it. Even when we don’t deserve it. We are God’s children, holy ones, His dear saints for the sake of His Son, Jesus. Christ’s shed blood on the cross purifies us from all sin, putting us into that great crowd of white-robed martyrs pictured in Revelation. Now. The Christ who died on the cross for us, and rose again from the dead meets us in our own Baptism to make us into a new creation—redesigned, improved and joined to Jesus in His life so that we live forever (II Corinthians 5:17). Starting now.
Since God our dear Father embraces us as His dear children, now, at this very moment, we live each day in hope. “Everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure” (v. 3). Hope looks past all the wrongs we see in ourselves and in our lives now, looking ahead to what God has prepared for us, His dear saints. St. Paul expressed this hope when he wrote, “not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own” (Philippians 3:12). What is that hope? That we will be as Jesus is now. “We await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). We are not there yet. But, by His grace alone, we’ll get there.
“The Goose Girl At The Well” is a Grimm’s Fairy Tale about a maiden who wept pearls instead of tears. Even though she was born into the royal family as a princess, the girl was driven away from the palace and her father’s kingdom when her two older sisters took the throne. The young princess fled into the forest, crying as she went: the path behind her was marked with pearls from her many tears. In the woods, a strange old woman took her into her home and cared for her.
After three years of searching, the king and queen found their long lost daughter, overjoyed that she was safe and sound. The king longed to give her something, but having given the kingdom to her sisters, he owned nothing. “She needs nothing,” the old woman said, “for I give her the countless pearls from all the tears of sadness she has shed these years. They are precious pearls, finer than those that are found in the sea, and worth more than your whole kingdom.”
God sees our tears. He does not miss even one. You “put my tears in Your bottle” (Psalm 56:8). They don’t turn into pearls. Instead, God promises to “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Revelation 7:17). The tears and all sufferings of God’s dear saints are precious to Him. Why? “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
We are not there yet. But, when we get there, in God’s eternal presence in heaven, “we shall see Him as He is.”
Romans 3:28 ESV
25 Oct 20
One man alone against the errors of the Roman church.
That’s how Martin Luther is famously portrayed through the time of the Reformation. Standing before Cardinals, and Princes, even the Holy Roman Emperor to defend the doctrine of salvation by God’s grace alone. Apart from human works. “Here I stand. God help me.” The hero of the Reformation. One man standing alone.
Our sinful nature likes that portrait. The hero alone. Standing against the world. The solitary figure storming heaven’s gates—taking a mad rush into the presence of God to make a stand before His holy seat of judgment, armed with our pride, our accomplishments, our life’s achievements. One solitary figure against all. But we are never alone.
Our good deeds, our merits, our obedience to God, our love for others: these good works of ours are never alone. Quickly, our sins, our guilt, our failings—crowd in on us, press in on our minds, burden our souls. The man alone is never alone. The woman alone is never alone. The past presses in on us, fouling our future. Good deeds alone cannot save us. They are never alone. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v. 20, 23). Our sins outweigh our obedience.
His Present Gift
Just as Martin Luther was never alone. Sure, there were plenty of times when he felt abandoned. Hours spent in restless prayer in his solitary Augustinian cell, plagued by his guilt, his sin, his accusing conscience that could give him no rest while he trusted in his own goodness. In the loneliness of prayer and study of God’s Word, Martin Luther had this stunning revelation: he was not alone! In these words from Romans: “The righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:17). God Himself was present for Luther and for all His dear people. Not as an angry Judge to demand righteousness by human works. God was present as a loving God holding out His righteousness to us as a gift.
Luther served God powerfully from that time on, knowing that the Lord was with him, had accepted him and would certainly bring him into His heavenly kingdom. Why? By Scripture alone, Luther learned to believe this. Not by works of the law, but by Christ alone. A gift of God’s grace, favour, and salvation received through faith alone. Martin Luther served as a powerful confessor of the Christian faith because he was never alone.
So the Lutheran faith proudly upholds Sacred Scripture’s teaching: we are saved through Christ and Him alone. God sent His Son to be born in human flesh at Christmas because our works cannot save us. Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to the Ten Commandments because no matter how good we are, our own works according to these commandments cannot save us. Jesus died on the cross to forgive us because our own works cannot save us. Christ rose from the dead and ascended to heaven to give us the sure and certain hope of heaven that our own works can never give us. We are saved by Christ alone.
Yet, Christ is never alone. He is glorious in the whole company of heaven: all saints and angels. Even through His passion, suffering and death, the Son of God and Second Person of the Holy Trinity remained united together with His Father and the Holy Spirit. Where Jesus is, there are those people who believe in Him. King David’s confidence in Psalm 16: “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8). Even death cannot separate the Good Shepherd from His sheep. What a comfort to know that our loved ones who are no longer with us on this earth are never alone—they are with Jesus. Christ alone saves. But He is never alone.
So we cheerfully maintain that faith alone saves. Not what we do or say, who we hang out with, or what we may boast about. Faith is the hand that takes hold of God’s gifts won for us by Christ. Faith alone saves. Yet, faith in our hearts is never alone.
A true and lively faith produces the fruit of good works in us. “O, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them” (FC SD IV:10-11). Faith alone saves. But faith is never alone.
We know that faith alone saves; that Christ alone saves; we know this from the authority of Scripture alone. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (v. 28). The Bible is our only source and standard of doctrine and practice. Not trends nor tradition. Not Popes nor councils. Not popular opinion. Yet, even the Bible is never alone. God has joined His Word to water in our Baptisms to teach us to believe in Christ alone for salvation. The Lord has joined His Word to bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar to strengthen our faith in Christ alone for salvation.
Today, as we celebrate the Reformation, we rejoice that our salvation is taught by Scripture alone, revealing our Saviour, Christ alone, whom we receive by faith alone.
But... we are never alone.
When The Lord Operates...
St. Luke 10:1-9. ESV
18 Oct 2020
When you play the board game, “Operation,” you need a steady hand. The guy’s stretched out on the table. Critical areas are exposed for you to show your skill. With your tweezers, you try to extract the funny bone, but if you touch the side! It really feels like you’ve just inflicted pain on this poor fellow. The surgeon’s skill requires more than a steady hand. The Lord must guide the hand of those who seek to heal the body. How much more must our gracious God guide the work of those who operate to heal the soul.
Today, we commemorate the writer of the third Gospel, St. Luke. Unlike the other Gospel writers, Luke was a Gentile. His extensive education trained him to serve as a physician (Colossians 4:14).
Incredibly, Luke left the field of medicine to preach, teach and heal in the name of Jesus. Yet, as Pastor, Missionary, and Evangelist, he did not stop working in the healing arts. In the name of Jesus, Dr. Luke began healing people on a whole new plane: in body and soul. Christ bumped up the good doctor’s work to a whole new level: through the healing Gospel and the Sacraments.
In the tenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus sent out seventy-two disciples. They worked to bring people to faith in Jesus. They preached the Word of God. They healed the sick. The Lord was operating through these disciples.
Yet, this is more than just Bible history—a story from the past. We soon realize that what we hear in the Gospel is happening to us. It involves each one of us. You and I are patients, stretched out on the operating table, under the hands of the Surgeon, Jesus Christ.
And, there’s nothing worse than denying it. There’s nothing worse than thinking you are healthy when you are not: saying, “I’m fine,” when you are really sick. Many people have died from cancer, heart attack or stroke, refusing to see a doctor until it’s too late.
The same holds true for our spiritual health. Each one of us has caught a terminal illness. We have acquired original sin from our parents, like the DNA, the genetic code that determines the qualities of our physical bodies. We can try to deny it. But denial only hurts us more. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Jesus said. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (St. Luke 5:31-32 NIV). Those who are sick need the doctor. That’s why in the Book of Concord, Philip Melanchthon wrote, “The magnitude of Christ’s grace cannot be understood unless our diseases are recognized” (Ap II:33). We need Jesus to heal us.
Original sin shows its symptoms in us. Like a tumour or cancer growth, we know that original sin is in us because of actual sins: the sins we actually commit each day. Like fighting with others. As Jesus sent His disciples to operate in the world, He warned they would be like “lambs in the midst of wolves” (v. 3). In our Epistle, St. Paul listed off men he butted heads with: Demas, who deserted him to go off into the world; Alexander the coppersmith who harmed him greatly and opposed the message, and those who deserted him when he stood trial (II Timothy 2:10-16). Perhaps you experienced conflict with family members at Thanksgiving. When people reject God’s Word, sin is the diagnosis and cause. All who mock the salvation that Jesus gives are like armchair doctors, criticizing the surgeon as he works to save the patient. Sadly, we also find ourselves challenging, questioning or ignoring God’s Word, Sacred Scripture. It’s a symptom of our sin.
Original sin not only shows symptoms. Eventually, the disease of original sin claims its host. St. Paul writes, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (II Timothy 2:6). Sin ends in death. Original sin is 100% fatal. This terminal disease must be treated or we will die eternally. We cannot ignore it in the hopes that it will just go away on its own. Surgery is required. And surgery is serious business: a matter of life and death. And we are all on the table.
Thanks be to God, we are all in good hands. Jesus is the perfect Doctor. He works His healing art in the strangest way: by dying for us. He stretched out on the operating table of the cross. Jesus excises our sin from our bodies and souls. The crucified Christ has nailed our sin to put us in remission. This is the good news announced by the seventy-two disciples: forgiveness of sins in Jesus. Because of the Lord, crucified and raised from the dead, they brought the peace of salvation, the peace that passes all understanding. Because Christ heals all, the eternal kingdom of God came with their words. Jesus operated through His disciples.
As He does today. Jesus is the perfect Doctor. As He sent the seventy-two disciples into the world, Christ sends Pastors to us today. They travel light: Word and Sacraments are the only equipment Jesus stows in the Pastor’s little black bag. The scalpel of the Law cuts out the tumour of our sin. Harsh, but healing, the Law lances sin in our lives to draw out the poison. Pastors also pour out the healing salve of the Gospel, soothing our aching souls with Christ’s own comfort. Along with His Word, the medicine of Christ’s living body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar heals our sin-sick souls. This treatment lightens those who are burdened with sin. “no true believer - as long as he has living faith, however weakened he may be - receives the Holy Supper to his judgment. For the Supper was instituted especially for Christians weak in faith, yet repentant. It was instituted for their consolation and to strengthen their weak faith” (FC Ep VII:19). In the wounds of Christ, we find healing for both soul and body. As Luther writes in the Large Catechism, “Where the soul is healed, the body is helped also” (LC V:68). Jesus is the perfect Doctor. He gives us abundant life: life to the full.
Christ heals us to help others. He sends us to operate in all the world. The Lord begins His work here: in Holy Baptism, the preaching and teaching of His Word, the saving dosage of Holy Communion. But from here, we go out into the world: a dangerous, often unhealthy place - as lambs in the midst of wolves. But we do not go alone. Jesus sent the seventy-two to those places “where He Himself was about to go” (v. 1). Christ also goes with us, to operate through us for the good of others. For He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4).
Think A Lot—Thanks A Lot
Philippians 4:8-9. ESV
11 Oct 2020
Sow good seed in your field and—by the grace of God providing seasonal weather and protecting you from disaster—you will have a good crop. Combine good ingredients as you follow the recipe and—by the grace of God working all things together as you would expect—you will have good, delicious food to serve.
But if you start with bad, you can except that bad will come out. GIGO: garbage in; garbage out is an expression from the early days of computer programming. “The eye is the lamp of the body,” Jesus preaches. “So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (St. Matthew 6:23). Looking at bad things on television, the Internet, and the printed page will have an effect on you: not thanksgiving, but darkness.
We reap what we sow. You are what you eat. You are what you think. You are what you see. Focus on good and good will come. Focus on bad and bad will come. Yet, this goes deeper than our eyes, our mouths or our minds. “Out of the heart come evil thoughts...” (St. Matthew 15:19), warns Jesus. We cannot thank God when our heart is not in it.
“Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if anything worthy of praise, think about these things,” urges Paul. How fitting on thanksgiving! We need to be told to do this, especially in a year when we have so much bad to focus on, right now, as the second wave of COVID-19 is building momentum in our province, country and world. How much easier to dwell on and meditate day and night on just the opposite of whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable and excellent. What is that? Lies and falsehood, going against the eighth commandment. Dishonouring parents, teachers, authorities in church and government to break the fourth commandment. Unjust breaking of the laws of the land, flatly denying God’s presence, power and grace, violating the first commandment. Rampant impurity, sexually immoral lives refusing to see anything of God’s holy things in this world, denying both third and sixth commandments. Natural love in our hearts exchanged for anger and hatred, breaking the fifth commandment. Oh my! God’s name is trampled underfoot as nothing, breaking the second commandment, instead of the pleasing sound of His name in prayer, praise and thanksgiving. Sin focusses our hearts on failure, coveting some perfect life lived by others that God has withheld from us, the epitome of going against the ninth and tenth commandments. How easy to get into this rut, locked in a pattern that looks only to sin in the world, in others, in us. Who will deliver us?
Not Paul - Christ!
“Practice (πράσσετε)... what you... have seen in me,” writes St. Paul in answer to all this. Notice what he says. Or better, what he does not say. Paul does not say, ‘Imitate me. Think about me.’ No. “Do what I do,” was the Apostle’s encouragement. ‘Practice the Christian Faith as I handed it down to you.’
What is his direction? “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7). Think on Jesus a lot. Thank Jesus a lot.
Seven Virtues - One Lord
He is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable and excellent. The Lord, Christ Jesus embodies these seven virtues. Think on Him.
Jesus is true—the Source of truth itself, revealed to us in the Bible. “I am the way and the truth and the life” (St. John 14:6).
Jesus is honourable—honouring His earthly mother and heavenly Father and even the earthly authorities as they struggled under their failings and flaws.
Jesus is just—that is, entirely fair, righteous and perfect as He obeyed the commandments—for us who have not.
Jesus is pure. His heart is undivided in love for you and me and for all people. Uncorrupted by the world, or any sin, pure and righteous Jesus died on the cross as the innocent sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Jesus is lovely. Not only does He love us, but we love Him for giving us forgiveness, life and salvation without our works, by His grace. We have faith in Christ who is lovely to us.
Jesus is commendable. We love to hear His voice speaking to us through His Word, the Bible. It is a good sound (εὔφημος), commendable and attractive to tell the good news of salvation into the ears of another person who does not know Him by faith.
Jesus is excellent. “He has done all things well” (St. Mark 7:37). The Lord died and rose again to save us. So, we can count on Him to care for us in the future—to excel in bringing us from earth to heaven. Salvation in Jesus is excellent!
Cross Your Mind
Think on Jesus a lot. Thank Jesus a lot. That’s how Paul can write as he does. Remember, St. Paul wrote this Epistle to the Philippians while he was in prison. He could have dwelt on all the bad things that happened to him, lost hope and gave up. Instead, Paul got through it without losing it. Instead, he could rejoice. He had the peace which passes all understanding. Thanksgiving.
A story from Europe describes a traveller who came upon a barn where the devil had stored various kinds of seed that he planned to sow in the hearts of mankind. The seed bags were marked: Fear, Doubt, Discord, Gossip, Self-righteousness, Despair, and so on. The devil strolled in and struck up a conversation with the traveller, bragging about how easily his seeds sprouted in the hearts of people. “Do you ever have trouble getting your seeds to sprout?” the traveller asked him. The devil’s face fell into a scowl. “These seeds just will not grow in hearts filled with joy and thanksgiving.”
“Think (λογίζεσθε) about these things” Paul says about the excellent, praiseworthy, qualities of our Saviour Jesus. More than just a passing thought popping in to your head, the Apostle urges us to meditate on Jesus, like a song in your head, like a plant growing in the field. Think on Jesus a lot. Thank Jesus a lot.
Things Are Looking Up
Philippians 3:4b-14. ESV
The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
04 Oct 2020.
A Sunday School teacher had the attention of her class: the lesson that day was all about heaven. But some students caused a little stir by disturbing the others in class. As the class was drawing to a close and the young minds and hearts were filled with celestial images of the life to come, the teacher asked the class, “Who wants to go to heaven?” All hands were raised except for one little boy. “Why don’t you want to go to heaven?” the teacher asked him.
“I really do,” the boy answered, “but not with this crowd.”
Well, nobody’s perfect. Apparently, this little guy was thinking about the faults of his classmates and didn’t like the prospect of spending eternity with them. They weren’t perfect. Neither was he.
Paul warned the Christians at Philippi about perfection. Some boasted that they could get to heaven by doing good, keeping God’s law, being perfect. “Dogs. Evildoers” (3:2), the Apostle called them. Trust in yourself meant you were not trusting in Jesus. Looking at yourself means you are not looking up to Christ, who opens heaven to sinners. No one gets to heaven by being good, by doing good. After all, no one’s perfect.
The world teaches us to get ahead by improving yourself, constantly doing better, buying more and more things. Hey, that’s where our sinful nature also looks: we think that God will reward us for good behaviour. We have this idea that the prize of eternal life is awarded to those who do their best and follow God’s rules; by working our way up the ladder of religion just as if we were working our way up the ladder of success in business. That’s how the world works. So, won’t God reward our hard work with the prize of everlasting life?
There was a time Paul thought that way. The Apostle Paul: he had it all together. Just look at his life: eight days after he was born, he was circumcised. He learned to speak ancient Hebrew at home. He followed the strict religion of the Pharisees, blameless in his conduct. He did all the right things. If God should be happy with anyone, and give the prize of eternal life to those who are worthy, certainly it should have been Paul.
But then, the living Jesus met him. “The upward call of God” (v. 14) sounded in his ears the moment that Christ knocked him to the ground. His life was turned around completely. Everything from his past that he had looked at with pride, all his accomplishments, once precious to him, he now called trash—garbage, human excrement! When compared with other people, Paul’s life was spotless. But under the shadow of Christ, his life did not look so good. “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss” (v. 7). Paul confessed his sin under God’s law: I do not have “a righteousness of my own” (v. 9).
Are we better than St. Paul? We are busy, hard-working, clean-living, morally upright, successful people. But all our work falls under the same Christ-shadow that covered Paul’s work. Our work looks to take care of our neighbours in their many needs here on earth. But, we look up from the foot of the cross: we lay hold of the prize of life in heaven only “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (v. 7).
Looking Up To Christ
The Lord knows where we need to look in this life. Out of love for us, so that we can come up to Him in heaven, the Lord came down to us here on earth. Jesus as very God of very God is worthy of all praise and glory. Yet, He humbled Himself, becoming the lowest Servant of all mankind in the womb of Mary. Jesus looked toward Jerusalem, focussing His eyes on the cross. There, the innocent died for the guilty. In the eyes of the world, Christ crucified was a fiasco, a tragedy, a failure. But, look at His cross this way: He died for us, in our place, for every person in the world. Christ crucified takes away the trash of our sins, burying them in His tomb.
Jesus has come down to our level: to meet us where we are. Christ meets us to take all our guilt away. But there’s more. Jesus also rose from the dead. In His resurrection, He opened heaven’s gates for us. Look up to Jesus, at God’s right hand. That’s the goal, the prize of everlasting life. Through faith alone. In Christ alone.
Life Is Looking Up
Only Christ’s work can bring us to God; the best we can do is not even close to Jesus. So, does that mean we just do nothing? Is the life of Christian best described as a spiritual couch potato? No. Try, Olympic runner.
“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14). Athletes in the first century worked hard to train their bodies and minds to compete in massive stadiums. Runners strained their muscles, pushing body and mind to the limit, “straining forward to what lies ahead” (v. 13) to cross the finish line first. The runner that looked back at the track behind would likely lose.
Here, the Apostle describes the everyday life of the Christian: the life that Christ began in us at our Baptism. The baptismal life never stands still. We are always on the move: back to the font and out into the world - from repentance to forgiveness; from death to life; washing away the dirt of our sins so we are clean in Christ. “The Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and... a new man daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (SC IV:12). You can’t stop; you cannot stand still. You must feed the life God gives at Baptism. Without regular worship, without a life that looks up to Christ, you will look somewhere else: down the path that leads out of the Church. “Not that I have already obtained this,” Paul says, “or am already perfect (v. 12).” Like a long-distance runner, the marathon of the Christian faith lasts our whole life long. We take our first steps in Baptism, and run the human race with our eyes on Jesus. Our Lord finally completes our Baptism when we cross the finish line and reach the goal of life in heaven.
How does life look to you? If you put on blue sunglasses, everything you look at is blue. If you put on yellow sunglasses, everything you look at is yellow. If you put on green sunglasses, everything you look at is green. If you put on rose-coloured sunglasses, everything looks rosy. When God looks at those who believe in Jesus and are baptized into him, He sees us through Christ. The all-seeing eye of God the Father looks at us through the lens of His perfection, purity, holiness. In Jesus, all our sins are covered. In Jesus, all His righteousness covers us.
Life in Christ is looking up.
Heavenly Minded—Earthly Good
Philippians 2:1-18. ESV
The Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
27 September 2020
He was feeling kind of low. His mind was in a bad place. Negative. Focussed on all his problems. Clinically depressed. This same man is driving down a country road and has a flat tire. He looks in the trunk for a jack. “Great! No jack!” he grumbles to himself. A farmhouse lies about half a kilometre away with a truck in the front yard. “I’ll go borrow the farmer’s jack,” says the man to himself. As he walks to the house, the stranded motorist is feeling bad—in his mind, he runs over the list of reasons for feeling so low: one, he blew a tire; two, his car doesn’t have a jack; three, it’s dark; four, he has to ask someone for help. With every step nearer to the farmhouse, the man expects that his request for help will be rejected. He grows more and more angry. Past failures and disappointments crowd into his dark thoughts. In his mind, he has already failed. In his mind, he projects all this frustrated anger on the farmer waiting in the house ahead of him. By the time he reaches the door and knocks, the man has made up his mind. The farmer opens the door as the man blurts out, “Fine! You can keep you jack!” and turns away to walk off into the night. The farmer stands in the door, a confused look on his face. “What just happened?” he wonders.
Where is your mind? What fills your thoughts, your attention, your desires, your heart? “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (v. 5). Unlike the stranded motorist, whose self-absorbed mind was locked onto everything bad in his life, Christ Jesus in humility turned His mind to the needs of others, to the suffering of humanity, to the work of saving the world. Humble. Compassionate. Loving. The mind of Christ. Through faith in Jesus, His mind is ours: “complete my joy,” Paul writes in his Epistle, “by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (v. 2). The only way this will happen for us? “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (v. 5).
Looking Out For #1
Our minds are often somewhere else. Every day, our sinful nature crowds into our minds, blocking out the mind of Christ in us.
Instead of the humility that marked every aspect of Christ's life, pride fills our minds. Unlike the love which builds up, pride puffs up (I Corinthians 8:1). God no longer has first place in our minds: pride makes us number one. God’s Word changes our minds. “Repent and turn from your transgressions” (Ezekiel 18:30). “You shall have no others gods” (Exodus 20:3).
In our minds, we know that pride and selfishness are wrong. We do not have the right mind, irrational, like the stranded motorist, refusing help before it was even offered.
Immersed In Christ
So Paul urges us, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (v. 5). The mind of Christ is not just an example to inspire us, not just a virtuous lifestyle to imitate whenever it crosses our minds. As baptized brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are intimately united with Christ.
In the water of Baptism, you and I were plunged into the humiliation of Christ. He left the bright halls of heaven to become a man. Jesus lived as a Servant and died the shameful death of the cross. Paul writes that Baptism for us is death to sin. Who in their right mind would dive to such depths? Yet we plunge our tiny babies into this water, mindful of Christ's command and of His promise.
For not only do we die with Christ. As Jesus was raised to life again on the third day, so we come away from Baptism refreshed, reborn, and with the mind of Christ. As Jesus ascended from the earth and bodily sits at the right hand of God, you and I share in His exaltation. For Jesus gives us, His baptized brothers and sisters, the most privileged status in the world: of those who are forgiven. By this sacrament, Christ Jesus drives the insanity of sin from our hearts and minds. Dying and being reborn with Jesus in Holy Baptism gives us the mind of Christ.
Keep this thought in mind: Baptism is a daily event. Each morning, and as often as we think of it, make the sign of the cross and speak the words, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Remember your Baptism. Plunge into the death of Jesus, who takes away those sins that drive us out of our minds. Wrap yourself in Christ’s loving embrace. His grace renews eternal life in us. Remembering your Baptism, you have the mind of Christ.
Unlike the rest of the world, we Christians have unique values, priorities and passions that are important to us: the mind of Christ. Following Him in faith will bring persecution, discord in the family, mockery in the business and social world, suffering, and everything else included in the act of taking up His cross. In the mind of the unbeliever, this is a silly waste of time. But we, who by Holy Baptism have been given the mind of Christ, see things are truly are. On the Last Day, all things will finally be set in their proper order. At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow in heaven, on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
To God be the glory, now and forever.
Philippians 1:21-24. NIV
The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
20 September 2020
Torn. Like a mother as she sends her child off to University. On the one hand, she’s so proud that her daughter has succeeded, is ready to take this big step into the wide world, and pursue a career. But then, she tears up, sad that her baby is leaving home. Torn.
Like the Parish Pastor wrestling with a divine call to serve another congregation. On the one hand, he is excited to preach the Gospel in a different place, to baptized believers he has never met, and to see God’s grace in action. But then, there’s the dear saints in his present congregation he would bid farewell, leaving them vacant, possibly for a considerable time. Never an easy call. Torn.
Like the child of God whose earthly departure seems near. Illness, age, or accident means he will soon die. On the one hand, he is eager to exit this valley of sorrow, this world gripped by sin, and go to be with his Saviour Jesus in his true home in heaven. But then, he will be leaving his dear family and friends, who will surely miss his presence, his witness, and his words. Even when the final farewell leads to heaven, it is a struggle to go. Torn.
The Apostle St. Paul was torn: depart this life and be with Christ; or stay in this life and continue to preach to the Philippians and other Christians. Both options seemed good. Paul was torn. Good thing he did not have to choose. God would make the decision
Paul wrote this letter, Philippians, while he was under house arrest. Not for any crime. Paul was in a Roman prison for preaching the Gospel. Accused by the Jews, arrested by the Romans, Paul defended his proclamation of salvation through faith in Christ crucified, by appealing to Caesar. The charges against Paul would be heard by a court in Rome (Acts 22:22-26). The saving cross of Christ would have world-wide exposure: extending the Christian faith from the Holy Land of Palestine to the center of the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean. Paul made a bold move: this trial could cost him his life. His opponents hoped that this would be the end of it: that prison would have silenced all this preaching of Christ crucified. No way! Paul’s divine call to spread salvation in Jesus was not torn from him by the chains of captivity. The Holy Spirit used Paul’s incarceration to keep faith alive: “the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ” was Paul’s “deliverance” (v. 19). Boldly, Paul continued to witness that salvation is in Christ Jesus alone, “as a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that [he was] in chains for Christ (v. 13). Even in chains, Paul conducted himself “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (v. 27). This was an encouragement, inspiration, and cause for conversion for the Roman soldiers, the Philippians, and “everyone else” (v. 13).
Saving Love: Torn / Not Torn
Paul’s power was Christ. Jesus sustained Him in prison without shame, while the outcome of his trial was unknown, either life or death, supporting him by His Holy Spirit.
The Lord Jesus Himself was torn. Heartbroken by sin; by the world who had rejected Him, turned their backs on God’s Word and ways and spurned His love. The Lord was torn from heaven to earth; from the womb of Mary to the poor stable, cold and dark of a hostile world. Torn on His knees in Gethsemane, praying for the will of the Father to be done. That holy and saving task would tear the body of the Lord with whips and nails, thorns and spear: the instruments that inflicted the world’s guilt on God’s innocent one. That’s my sin and yours, too. The Holy Son of God was torn for us and for our salvation. He loves us that much!
At the same time, the Lord Jesus was not torn. With singleness of purpose, Christ left heaven to come to earth on a mission: to save the world from sin and death, from the grave and hell itself. Jesus turned His face towards Jerusalem (St. Luke 9:51), His heart prepared to give His whole self, entirely, body and soul, for us. So, the Lord Jesus rose again from the dead to give us life. He is our life.
To Live Is Christ
Not knowing whether he would live or die, even while torn between heaven and earth, St. Paul was blessed with peace in Christ: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (v. 21). We can say the same. To live is Christ: we live each day in this world to do good works that help our neighbour and serve others (FC SD IV:38). In fact, life is all about Christ. We live because of Jesus. He rose from the dead and gives us life each day. And, when our last day comes, and it is time to depart this life, each of us can say, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (v. 21). For in Jesus, we gain eternal life.
We Belong To The Lord
Romans 14:1-12. ESV
The Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
13 September 2020.
In the name of our Master Jesus, dear fellow servants.
Our Epistle reading is where St. Paul calls us “servants,” a word used only four times in the Bible. More often, Scripture uses a general term for servant (δοuλος) which can also mean slave. Here, the Greek word for servant (οἰκέτης) comes from the word for house describing a domestic worker who lives with the Master. This person is a part of the family: a close relationship of love.
We belong to the Lord.
Weak Versus Strong
The Christians in Rome who heard the Apostle Paul’s letter lost sight of that. “Quarrel[s] over opinions”(v. 1) blinded them to the blessings of fellowship with those who were baptized into Christ. They fought. Minor differences made the strong in faith despise the weak, and the weak in faith to pass judgment on the strong.
Here’s what was happening. Jewish Christians continued to follow restrictions on kosher foods: refusing to eat things like pork or shellfish. Gentile Christians never had such restrictions, so they ate everything. Who was right? Who was wrong? Nobody. Jesus declared that all foods are clean (St. Mark 7:19). Eating and drinking is a matter of Christian freedom. What was wrong: for these two groups to despise and pass judgment on each other. For God had welcomed them. We belong to the Lord.
What happened at the dinner table also went on with the calendar. Jewish Christians continued to insist on Saturday, the Sabbath, as the holy day of rest that must be observed, while Gentile Christians acknowledged that every day was created by God and eventually observed Sunday as the holy day, the day that Christ rose from the dead. So, which day is it? Again, the days of worship are a matter of Christian freedom. The Old Testament Sabbath was a shadow pointing ahead to the person of Jesus, who has fulfilled it for us (Colossians 2:17). Despising and passing judgment over days is sin. God had welcomed them. We belong to the Lord.
Pride Of Position
Both weak and strong Christians were gripped by the same sin: pride. They quarrelled over their differences, each insisting they were better than the other. They sat in judgment over others: like God.
We also can be drawn into “quarrels over opinions” (v. 1) in matters of Christian freedom, either despising others or passing judgment on others. See the pride lurking in our hearts. These quarrels are sin. We are not God. We belong to the Lord.
God’s Word pictures us plainly: “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (v. 7-8). Christians are not free agents; not independent operators; not autonomous. We are not the masters of our lives. We serve under a Lord: Christ Jesus. Eating and drinking in honour of the Lord. Observing days of worship and regular days in honour of the Lord. Giving thanks in prayer by saying grace (v. 6).
We serve God by giving to others: contributing to feed those who have no food at all; using our days to serve others. Welcome the one who is weak (v. 1). We honour God by feeding, clothing, visiting and caring for others. In this way, we “love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10). And Jesus promises that as we serve others, we do it all for Him (St. Matthew 25:45). We belong to the Lord.
Servants must serve—not pass judgment on other servants. “For we must all stand before the judgment seat of God” (v. 10). That’s not the place where we will talk about what others did or failed to do. “Each of us will give an account of himself to God” (v. 12).
The Master’s Welcome
No such listing of our life and earthly deeds can ever justify and save us before God’s holy seat of judgment. We are all guilty. As we stand to give that account before the Almighty, one critical fact will carry the day: we belong to the Lord.
How do we know? “God has welcomed [us]” (v. 3). It happened here, in our Baptisms. In this water and God’s Word, He washed away our sins, including the pride that starts quarrels, despises those who are different and passes judgment. All that natural-born sin was washed away in this simple sacrament. Baptism is also where we entered into service of the Master. The Lord placed His mark on us, tracing the cross of our redemption on our foreheads and on our hearts. In life and in death, we belong to the Lord.
Whether our faith in Jesus is strong or weak, God welcomes us into eternity for the sake of Christ. He is “Lord...of the dead and of the living” (v. 9). The life of our Master, Jesus, opens the door of eternal life for us and all baptized believers. For us, He was despised and rejected by men. For us, He was judged and condemned under Pontius Pilate to die on the cross. For us, He conquered death, the grave and hell itself to rise victorious from the dead. Our Master takes care of His dear servants. Even death cannot separate us from Him. Jesus never lets us go.
We belong to the Lord.
The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 6, 2020
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (v. 8). Living debt free should be the goal for each of us. But for many, it is just a dream. The average university student graduates with a $25 000 to $30 000 debt in student loans. According to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada: “on average Canadian household debt represented 177% of disposable income in 2019” (https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/programs/research/canadian-financial-capability-survey-2019.html).That number is rising. The longer that debt hangs around, the more interest you wind up paying. No wonder so many people are tense, grouchy, suffer marriage breakup, alcohol and substance abuse. Quite simply, the Apostle Paul gives the Roman Christians and us this direction: “Owe no one anything.” We Christians can live debt free.
While this sounds like a sermon on money management, St. Paul is talking about what we owe to those in authority over us. Quite simply, we owe honour, respect and also taxes to the government. We might cringe in horror at the thought of mixing religion and politics. But God doesn’t. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (v. 1). In the fourth commandment, God commands us to honour father, mother, and all in authority over us. Why? Parents, government leaders, and others who are over us have their authority from God. Just as if wearing a mask, God Himself exercises His authority towards us through our parents, teachers, police officers, judges, politicians, and even the Queen herself. Rejecting any of these authorities is really rejecting God and His authority over us. Giving what we owe to those in authority: respect, honour, obedience, even paying taxes shows love for God who stands behind those leaders. Obeying those in authority is how our Lord wants us to live: debt free.
But our sinful nature feels no need to pay the debt of honour and obedience to parents and other authorities. We complain about parents. We criticize Pastors. We nit-pick teachers. We jump when we see a police cruiser on the side of the road, easing off on the gas, just in case. It is easy to sling mud at the Prime Minister or at opposition leaders; to dismiss the whole political process by saying everyone is dishonest. Scripture instructs us to submit to the governing authorities. Instead, the Spirit of this age is to question authority, to reject God’s rule among us. Everyone wants to do his own thing. This is sin. God clearly says, “Pay to all what is owed them” (v. 7).
God has instituted the governing authorities. Scripture is clear about that. Even the powerful, pagan, frequently corrupt government of Rome. “There is no authority except from God” (v. 1).
God’s authority moved the world over two thousand years ago. During the reign of Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor issued a decree for a world-wide census. Because of this Roman decree, Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem where their Holy Son was born (St. Luke 2:1-7). Scriptural prophecies foretold it. Caesar had decreed it. God used His Word and government to send His Son, our Saviour.
Thirty-three years later, Jesus stood in the temple. In His hand, He held a silver coin stamped with a profile of the Roman ruler and his name. Were taxes a good thing to pay? “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (St. Mark 12:17). Both God and government are served by paying taxes. Live debt free.
Three days later, religion and politics clashed in Pilate’s judgement hall. The Roman governor did not understand where his authority came from. “Do You not know that I have authority to release You and authority to crucify You?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over Me at all unless it had been given to you from above” (St. John 19:10-11). “There is no authority except from God” (v. 1).
Under Roman authority, despite His innocence, Christ was found guilty, scourged and nailed to the cross. First century politics played their part in the death of our Lord. Pilate was no friend of Caesar if he let this man go. “Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” (St. John 19:12), the crowd reminded Pilate. So the holy and innocent Jesus submitted Himself to the governing authorities. But the cross was no accident. The death of Christ was not merely politics gone bad. Death for Jesus means life for us. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. God used the wicked, corrupt, pagan government of the day for our good, for our salvation.
You see, there’s one debt we can never pay in full: the continuing debt to love one another. God’s commandments demand that we love all people: whether we want to or not; whether they love us back or not. As hard as we try, we cannot love others as we must. This debt of love cannot be stamped “paid in full” for us no matter how much we love, give, sacrifice and care for others. Our love cannot pay this debt.
But Jesus has. His one sacrificial, loving act; His death for us under the government of Pilate releases us from this impossibly endless debt. “It is finished” (St. John 19:30), He declared. The debt of love is paid by Christ; only by Him. Daily, we pray for this debt of love to be forgiven: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
And He does. Christ Himself marks us as having paid in full with the sign of the holy cross in Baptism. His Word of Absolution, spoken by the Pastor is where Jesus says, “I forgive you all your sins.” With His sacramental body and blood, Jesus fills us up. For in Him alone, we live debt free.
Since Jesus has paid the great debt that we owe because of our sins, we are free to love and forgive others. To pay our debts. To our friends, neighbours and relatives, yes. But also to support and pray for and thank God for our government. That’s what the early Church did.
Remember which government the Apostle Paul is here writing about: the Roman Empire! The great irony of these words is that Rome actively persecuted the Church. And yet, St. Paul rightly taught that this governing authority—Rome under Emperor Nero—was instituted by God. As Christians worked to be good citizens, to pay taxes and obedience to Rome, Nero made them suffer. The great fire of Rome in A. D. 64 destroyed much of the city. The historian Tacitus writes:
Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations called Christians...
An immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths...
Even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed (The Annals Of Tacitus, Book XIV:344).
Christians in A. D. 64 gave their lives as martyrs for Christ. Even Paul and Peter, as they submitted to the governing authorities died under the reign of Emperor Nero. But these were men who lived and died debt free. Christ paid for them.
Thanks be to God that we live in a peaceful democracy that allows us to worship in peace, to teach and preach the Gospel freely. Live and die debt free. We can never pay off the debt to love others. But in Christ it is paid in full - now and forever. Amen.
Losing To Win
St. Matthew 16:21-28. ESV
The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
30 August 2020
Bob and Jack make a bet. Bob Prentiss will give Jack Carlyle ten thousand dollars if he can travel around the world in a year without revealing his identity. If he fails, Jack promises to give Bob five thousand dollars. The wager is made and Jack Carlyle sets off on his ocean voyage around the world: on a steamship bound for Liverpool, England.
A few days into his journey, Jack is smitten when he sees Diana Grant. She is travelling on the ship with her wealthy father and her boyfriend, Count Zuroff. Diana is both attractive and wealthy, destined to inherit her father’s riches. Count Zuroff uses the romantic setting onboard the ocean liner as his chance to propose to Diana when Jack stumbles on the scene, knocking over a bucket of water, spoiling the marriage proposal. Before the Count can try his proposal again, Jack and Diana fall madly in love. Diana Grant rejects the Count’s advances. Her father becomes angry and orders her to sail home. Jack Carlyle seems to have won the bet with Bob, but lost the girl.
Hold on! There’s more to the story. Coming back from his trip around the world, Jack manages to meet up with Diana once again. His true identity is still a mystery to her. When they reach New York, Jack convinces Diana to marry him. Then, all is revealed: Diana and her father learn that he has won the bet with Bob!
Today's Gospel reading falls hard on the heels of last Sunday's Gospel, when St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. An amazing turn of events happens in just a few verses. The Apostle Jesus called "blessed" He now rebukes, calling him "Satan." Why this drastic shift?
It began when Jesus spoke of going to Jerusalem to suffer, to be executed, and to rise to life again on the third day. This did not fit Peter's plans at all. Why, the Christ he confessed would march into Jerusalem, and sweep the Romans into the sea. Jesus would purify the temple worship. The true Son of God would reign for one thousand years on earth. That's the kind of Messiah Peter had in mind: a go-getter, a real winner. All this talk about suffering, and being killed - this would never do. "Never, Lord!" Peter said, "This shall never happen to You."
We can hardly blame Peter. We too, want to be winners. Success, happiness, comfort, money, possessions - these are things that attract us, things we go for by nature. Christ's words today go against our grain. For He tells us that disciples are expected to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and lose their lives following Jesus. We don't want that. We want to hold on to everything we have: our money, our possessions, our health, our friends, our loved ones, our life here on earth. Deny myself? Lose my life? Are you kidding? No, Jesus is not kidding. The way of the cross is quite clear. Simply because by losing, we win.
Jesus asks each of us this question: "Suppose you could win the whole world, with all its wealth, power, privilege, and pleasure, but lost your soul in the deal. What good would it be to win everything?" The answer is clear: it would be no good. Winning this world means losing heaven. We cannot hold on to anything in this life for long. You and I cannot keep anything that we possess today: we have to give it all away when we die. Many things, we give away long before that. The world teaches us to live for ourselves, not for others. But what does a selfish life really get us? Even if we could win the whole world, we would lose heaven.
Jesus was tempted by the devil to win the whole world without the pain of the cross. Amidst hunger and heat in the desert, Christ denied Himself, and told Satan to get lost. As the cross drew nearer, and He told the disciples what was coming, that temptation to bypass the cross reared its ugly head once again. Peter became the mouthpiece of Satan, tempting Christ to avoid the agony of the cross. If Jesus were a selfish man, if He wanted to look like a winner, then He would have embraced Peter, and gone off to celebrate. But Jesus knew that losing was winning: losing His friends, His dignity, His every possession, His heavenly Father's presence and finally His life. Jesus needed to lose it all. He must go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed, and on the third day be raised to life again. It had to be like this: not for Jesus, not to make Him look like a winner, but for all the world.
Think about this: Jesus loves us so much that He sacrificed the glory of all the world - its kingdoms, power, and wealth to be our Saviour. We are so precious to Him that He denied Himself, took up His cross and lost His life that we might find ours with Him in eternal life. Christ lost it all not for Himself, but for us and all the world. He lost so that we win.
So, how do we live these words of Jesus we have heard today? Does denying ourselves, does that mean we must give up the things we have: give away our money, our cars and homes? Clearly not. Without these things, we would have to beg from others. Certainly, we must not be obsessed with money or things, since they can become a god to us. We use money and possessions in this world, but we don't get attached to them. We use what we have to help others who are poor. The offerings we give every week are a way of saying we will one day give it all away.
For we Christians have already lost everything, so that in Christ we win. The cross is more than a wall decoration, or piece of jewellery. The cross marks those who have lost their lives in this world to win life in the next. The cross marks those who are baptized into Christ. The cross marks those who, like Him, have died to the world. The cross marks those redeemed by Christ the crucified. We may never be asked to suffer, or die for believing in Jesus. Yet, these words of Christ are no less true for us. We deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Christ until our final breath, or until He returns in glory.
The cross: here we lose our lives for Him in this world; here we win life eternal with Jesus in heaven.
A Beautiful Body
Romans 11:33 - 12:8 ESV
The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
23 Aug 20
You are beautiful.
You are a beautiful body.
God says so. Today, in His Word. You are beautiful because of the mercies of God (12:1). His steadfast love. He has shown grace to you. Undeserved love. Beautiful.
The Body Acting In Harmony
The Church is the body of Christ. In another letter, the Apostle St. Paul writes, “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body... If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12:18b-20; 26-27).
When we were kids, we said this rhyme and used our hands to learn that the Church is the body of Christ. “Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple. Open the doors. And there’s all the people.” A Sunday School teacher was teaching that rhyme to her class of six-year-olds. Halfway through the poem, the teacher was horrified as she remembered one of her students: he had only one arm! Ashamed by her thoughtlessness, she turned to the boy and expected to see him in tears. Instead, she learned the lesson that day. The girl who was sitting next to the boy had reached out her hand and intertwined her fingers with his. Together, they formed the church!
One body. Many members. As with our physical bodies, so in the Church. Members with different gifts. Paul lists seven gifts in the body of Christ; seven, a holy and complete number: preaching, serving, teaching, urging, financing, leading, and caring for the poor. Gifts given according to our station in life. Not the product our own hard work. These are gifts. That means God gave them to us. “Let us use them” (v. 6). We are various and diverse members. In one body. Working in harmony. Men and women. Pastors and people together. Beautiful!
Bad Body Images
But sin makes us ugly. Conflict in the body of Christ robs that body of unity. Envy breaks out among the members of the body like acne, erupting in ugly, sore spots. Discontent and grumbling eat away at the body like cancer: instead of a healthy, beautiful body, the body actually fights against itself when one member thinks of himself more highly than he ought to think; when one member considers itself better than others. Sin spreads like a deadly virus through the whole body. Sin not only makes the body ugly. Sin brings disease to the body. Sin brings us death in the body.
Offer your bodies as spiritual sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, in view of “the mercies of God” (12:1), His steadfast love His grace. Beautiful!
A Very Personal Matter
This is personal. God, in these New Testament times wants my life—in the body. Not just an occasional offering. Not just a sacrificial bull, goat, or lamb, as in the Old Testament. Not just an hour a week on Sundays. He wants all of me—my life, my soul, my all (LSB 425:4). Everything I do in the body. All the time. My spiritual act of worship.
When I think of the ways I fall short everyday, that life in the body is not so beautiful. Sin rears its ugly head in me, in you, in this body, in this world. Lord, have mercy!
Yet, God still calls us beautiful. Because of His mercies toward us (12:1), His steadfast love. His beautiful grace.
In Christ. He took a body for us (Hebrews 10:5). For our salvation. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” (11:33). See the mercies of God in His only-begotten Son. In humility, He, very God of very God, took a human body to be born in poverty of the Virgin Mary. In His grace, the Lord lifted up the lowly at the birth of Jesus. In His body, Christ served others, considering the needs of the body of this sin-sick world before His own bodily needs. Consider the mercies of God, who offered the body of Christ as the ultimate spiritual sacrifice for the world’s guilt at the altar of the cross.
By His death, Jesus gives us life. Christ crucified makes us beautiful. Since God has had mercy on us, in the body of Jesus, crucified and raised for us, our life in the body is pleasing to Him.
Romans 11:16b-24. ESV
The Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
16 August 20
In the spring, the garden centre at Zehr’s had several unique trees for sale. These saplings had various branches growing off a central trunk. One tree had four branches, each bearing a different variety of apple. Another tree produced both apples and pears from its various limbs. How did these fantastic plants do it? Living branches were grafted into the trunk so that all kept on growing together.
By the horticulturalist’s art and skill, trees can have a great number of fruit-bearing limbs cut off their native tree and spliced into one single, living tree trunk. A man from Chile holds the Guinness World Record for the largest number of fruits produced from the same tree: apricot, cherry, nectarine, plum and peach. In the year 2000, he successfully grafted all these varieties of fruit onto a prune tree.
God uses this word picture in the Epistle to the Romans today. His chosen people, Israel, the Old Testament Church, He compares to an olive tree. Those who rejected God’s free gift of salvation in Christ, the Gospel, were removed like branches broken off the tree. Gentile Christians, born outside the nation of Israel were grafted into the tree like new and living branches from wild stock. As the Lord often works, this is just the opposite of how branches are grafted into a tree. You start with a wild, vigorous root. Then the branches from mature, established trees are grafted in. God turns nature upside down: He grafts wild branches onto mature roots. The Lord brings life in a mysterious way to show His miraculous power. We don’t save ourselves by obedience. Gentile or Israelite have no advantage. Life in His Church is by grace (v. 6); a gift in Christ to all who are grafted in.
“Enemies of God” (v. 28). St. Paul uses the strongest language to talk about Israelites who have been cut off, broken off from the living tree of God’s favour. Even though they are descendants of Abraham; despite the fact that God gave them rich promises through their forefathers, they did not continue in the faith of Abraham. Israel rejected God’s rich gifts. Israel rejected salvation freely given through faith in Jesus Christ. Israel rejected the Gospel. They wanted to be saved by their obedience, by following the rules, by keeping the Commandments. No longer under God’s favour, they were enemies of God.
This is bad news. For this applies not only to the nation of Israel, but to all who turn their backs on God’s gifts and seek salvation by their own work. Apart from the Gospel, life under the law is life cut off from the living tree: the Church of God on earth and heaven.
Now here’s the Lord’s word from our Epistle today: “God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all” (v. 32). Even the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel. Even you. Even me.
The Root Of The Matter
All this talk of grafting, trees, and growing in today’s Epistle only works because of the root. Life flows from the root to the branches in this living tree.
Christ is the root. He is the source of life, forgiveness and salvation.
He is holy (v. 16). For this reason, Jesus makes us holy as we are connected to Him.
He is the nourishing root (v. 17), feeding us in body and soul by the living bread of His Word, the Bible, and refreshing us with His Sacraments: Baptism and Communion.
He is the supporting root (v. 18). Without Christ’s continuous care, and the presence of His Holy Spirit in our hearts, we would fall away, disconnect from the life of the Church and die.
He is the root that gives life to new branches that “God has the power to graft” (v. 23) into His Church like a living tree: new converts to faith in Jesus, baptized into the fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Christ is the root, fountain and source of life, health and strength for us because He was cut off for us and for all people at the tree of the cross. God did not spare His own Son, but cut Him off for us and all people. He was severed from life itself to spare us from the judgement to come for our sins. In Jesus, we have life now and forever.
He Does It All
The Lord here provides this wonderfully comforting picture of how we become Christians. The grafted-in branch is especially encouraging to us when we are struggling with doubts or we are under pressure of persecution from others in the world. Here’s what God teaches us from Romans. We don’t chose to become Christians. We don’t decide to become followers of Jesus. This is not a place for pride, arrogance, nor self-congratulation (v. 18-19). No. God does it. He does it all. Just like branches cannot graft themselves into the tree. The farmer has to do it all. “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (St. John 15:16), Jesus tells His disciples. “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser... Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit for apart from Me you can do nothing” (St. John 15:1, 5). Praise God that He draws us to Christ (St. John 6:44) who is our life and keeps us grafted into the living tree of the Church for all eternity!
The Fruit Of The Tree
In eternity, we read in Revelation that a grafted-in tree stands in the holy city in heaven: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2). Now that Christ has taken away our sins at the tree of the cross, He is the way to the tree of life. Adam and Eve could not reach it. Sin cut them off from the tree of life. The unbroken variety of fruit yielding life all year round, and the leaves that cover the illnesses of the nations is open to us. Because we are grafted into Christ.
All In The Family: Family First
Romans 8:28-39 ESV
The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
26 July 20
God loves us. He puts His family first. Like a man who sells all his possessions to buy a field where there is buried treasure. The treasure is worth more to him than everything else. Or, like a merchant who sells all his pearls to buy “one pearl of great value.” That pearl comes first. Or, the fishermen who threw away all the bad fish to store the good fish in containers. The good fish need to be kept, preserved, protected.
In the Church, God’s family, “He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil” (SC II:2). When danger threatens His children, the Heavenly Father steps into action. God loves us. God looks after His own.
God gave this beautiful portion of the Epistle to the Romans to comfort, encourage and strengthen His dear baptized believers especially when they are attacked. The devil, the world, and our sinful nature are powerful foes, fighting against the family of God from outside and from within. Big bullies that threaten to destroy us. Voices that stand against us, bring charges against us, working to condemn us. These enemies of God’s children try to convince us that we are losers; that we have already lost; we are doomed. And, the evidence appears to be against us. We confess that we have sinned, breaking God’s commands in thought, word, and actions.
Great fears threaten us. Powerful bullies plot to destroy us. But God is for us—He puts family first. Who can be against us? God loves us—His dear family of faith. His love for us is stronger than death (Song of Solomon 8:6). His love conquers all (cf. Jn 16:33).
“God is for us” (v. 31). He gave His own dear Son for us all. Because He loves us, Jesus suffered tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, and sword (v. 35). Out of love for us, Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. Such love is stronger even than death. “The One who died... was raised... is at the right hand of God... interceding for us” (v. 34). God the Father did not hold back His only Son for us. That’s how much He loves us (St. John 3:16). By the cross and empty tomb of Christ Jesus, we see His love—a love that puts us first. His love in Christ gives us all things (v. 32).
So, who answers those who accuse us? What defense does God’s people have to give when guilt, shame and slander condemn us? God is the Judge. For the sake of Christ, who died for us, He justifies the guilty. The verdict is in: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.”
But what if something terrible happens? Can a huge shift in the world of man, in the world of nature, or the spiritual world deprive God’s children of His love for them in Christ? We wonder. We worry. Don’t. The greatest heights: Everest, even space travel to the Moon or to Mars; the greatest depths: the Mariana Trench at the bottom of the ocean; no place you go can separate you from God’s love in Christ. The passage of time: unforeseen events in the world today; changes coming up in the future; world powers as they come and go: as time passes, nothing can separate you from God’s love in Christ. The spiritual realm: angels and demons in the invisible part of creation struggling either to destroy or to protect our souls—this great spiritual battle cannot separate you from God’s love in Christ. Life in the body: whether you live or die—breathing or not, nothing can separate you from God’s love in Christ. The sacrificial, undying, agape love of God in Jesus is more powerful than space, time, spirits or even death.
That is why Paul can make this bold promise, inspired by the Holy Spirit: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (v. 28). Even when bad things, crosses and evil enter our lives and afflict God’s family members, He promises that it will all work out, that it will all work together, in the end, for good. We are loved by God, who gave up His Son Jesus to save us. Our love for our Heavenly Father is put in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. By His calling in our Baptisms, we are serving God and others “according to His purpose” (v. 28). We don’t always see it. When we fail. We sin. We suffer. We lose. Still, our dear Father promises that “all things work together for good” (v. 28). Because He puts His family first. Because He loves us in Christ.
So, if it looks like we are defeated; if we are lost; if we are done, God says otherwise. “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (v. 37). In God’s family, the Church, we don’t just win. We overwhelmingly conquer. We are hyper-victorious (ὑπερνικwμεν) We crush it! How? By being the best? No. By being the strongest? No. By following all the rules? No. The victory is not by our own strength, intelligence, ability, stamina, nor integrity of character (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:11). God gives the victory to us. It’s His gift. Pure grace. He puts us first. In Christ. Because He loves us.
All In The Family:
When Groans Turn To Glory
Romans 8:18-27. ESV
The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
19 July 2020
What do you call a tree planted in the yard outside the dentist’s office? A dentistry!
Some of you actually groaned. That’s what they call these kind of jokes—groaners.
There’s a lot of groaning in today’s Epistle reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans. That’s just part of life in the family. When we try to live together in peace, even in the family of faith, the Church, there are times when we make each other groan. The world of nature groans. Inside, in our hearts, we groan. Even the Holy Spirit groans (στεναγμός).
The word “groan” comes from the Old English word for growl: “to utter a low, prolonged sound of pain or disapproval.” But, I’m sure you don’t need a definition for groan.
All of creation, originally good, flawless, perfect, because it has been changed by the effects of sin, creaks and heaves and groans like a man under the influence. Global warming? Creation groans. Tsunamis and earthquakes? Creation groans. Climate change? Thinning ozone layer? Creation groans. As beautiful and majestic as the world is, creation itself is looking forward to a new creation—the universe 2.0: when the sons and daughters of God will be revealed in the world to come.
And, we groan. Inwardly. In our souls, we groan over sins that we keep on doing, no matter how much we try to root them out; the sins that grieve us and those we hurt. Unkind words that just seem to pop out of our mouths and inflict pain and anguish—causing other people to groan. Even our bodies groan. Literally. Creaking and complaining. Joints and muscles hurt that never did before. Our energy level wanes. Eyesight dims. We realize that these bodies are wearing out. We long for something better. We groan.
So we pray. We ask God for help. We lay out our requests before God our Father with groans that arise from deep within our hearts. But, we are weak. Even our prayers are weak. They falter. But, we do not pray alone. The Holy Spirit joins us on our knees as we bow our heads before the heavenly Father. He knows our needs better than we do. Those desires that move us in the depths of our hearts, He knows. Those family conflicts that shred our emotions and tear us apart, filling our eyes with tears, He knows. The Holy Spirit prays with us. The prayers that are deeper than words, He presents on our behalf before the heavenly Father. He groans.
That’s a lot of groaning. Sometimes, it may seem as if it will never end. God’s Word today says different. In the Bible, He tells us that better days are on the way. When groaning turns to glory.
Yet, all of the groaning in the world will not do it. All of our groaning will change nothing. Even the groaning of the Holy Spirit does not bring the glory.
But Jesus does.
When we groan, Christ understands where we are coming from. Picture the Lord outside the tomb of His friend Lazarus. The man behind the stone door had been dead four days. You know that affected Jesus deeply. He groaned (St. John 11:33, 38 KJV) . Jesus wept (v.35).
Christ’s inner turmoil intensified when He was nailed to the cross. There, the Holy Son of God groaned under the weight of the world. Christ helps us in our weakness—since we are totally unable to save ourselves. The Lord’s death puts all our groaning to death. The Lord’s resurrection restores us to the family of God, the Church.
After the groaning and anguish of heart that Jesus experienced at the tomb of Lazarus, then came this moment of glory: the dead man came back to life, walked out of the tomb, and was freed from his grave clothes. Groaning turned to glory.
Our dear Lord has the glory of eternal life prepared for those precious people, the children of God (v. 21), His saints (v. 27) whose faith and hope are fixed on Him. After all the groaning of this life, Jesus will turn us to the glory of unending life with Him. Our bodies will be free of the effects of sin and death that burden us now—redeemed to be like the Lord in His own resurrected and ascended body to live forever without “mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:4). In heaven, Christ turns all groaning into glory.
The Apostle St. Paul pictures a woman right in the middle of giving birth to a baby with all this talk about groaning today. I have no idea what that feels like. My experience is as a Dad standing by my wife, trying to be supportive, and generally feeling pretty useless. “The pains of childbirth” (v. 22) that come upon a mother, that the Apostle describes in us, and even in creation, all bring with them an “eager longing” (v. 19) “as we wait eagerly for” (v. 23) a new beginning, for something great, for the onset of a rich life to be revealed. The pain of pregnancy is never meant to be remembered, as Jesus explains, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (St. John 16:21).
Even in God’s family, we groan—groans that God will turn to glory in Christ.
St.John 10;7-10 NIV
The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost (Memorial Cemetery Service)
12 July 2020
Your pull up to the gate. The tractor s hot The hay wagon is full. But you can't go any farther until the gate is open. You're just about to climb down off the tractor and make the way clear when your friend walks over, opens the latch, and with a friendly wave, swings the gate wide open. You wave back as you drive on through.
Death has now become the gate (θυρα) to everlasting life for those who depart this life in the Christian Faith. How do we know? The Lord's own word in Sacred Scripture. Jesus said, "I am the gate" (St. John 10:7).
For most people, death is frightful, firm and final, like a locked gate. Last week, I rode past a chained up gate with a sign posted on it, "No Trespassing." Further down the road, a second gate was marked "Keep Out." Even if you could force your way in, around, or over the gate, there's no legal reason for you to be behind the gate. Sin posts a "no trespassing" sign on death. By nature, we are like the disciples on Easter evening, trembling in fear behind locked doors (St.John 20:19). Without Jesus, death is a dead end.
But not for those who are in Christ. "I am the gate" says Christ to His dear baptized believers. We are sheep under the protection of the Good Shepherd. Such is the watchful care of the Lord of the Church over His dear members. The shepherd guards his sheep, like Christ guards His Church. The shepherd calls His sheep by name and leads them into the safety of the fold: an enclosure that keeps out both predator and robber. One way leads in or out of the sheep fold - and the shepherd is the gate. The Good Shepherd puts Himself in harm's way - His own body stands in the gap - to protect the sheep from danger coming in, and to keep them from wandering away. The Shepherd alone gives access to the sheep. He is the gate.
As our Good Shepherd, Christ Jesus laid down His life for us (St.John 10:15,17,18). He put His own body in harm's way on the cross to absorb the blow of our sins. Jesus died to keep sin from stealing life from us. The Good Shepherd faced Satan, that fearsome predator of the sheep, on the cross to protect us from eternal death in hell. He is the gate.
Christ, our Good Shepherd does more than defend the sheep. He also leads them out. Sheep follow the voice of the Shepherd. For the One who died for us has also been raised from the dead on Easter morning. Jesus gives life to the sheep. Death is the gate now that Christ has passed through: the gate of the tomb. The stone door that shut him into death and the grave on Good Friday could not hold Him. For Jesus, who is life has risen. He has risen indeed! Alleluia! He who is the life gives us life to the full (v.10).
From what our eyes see, death is cary, sad and final. Don't follow your eyes. Follow the Good Shepherd. He leads us through death; the gate to everlasting life.
All In The Family:
Children of the Heavenly Father
Romans 8:12-17 ESV
The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
12 July 2020
Archie Bunker. Edith. Gloria. Meathead.
All In the Family was a popular show 1971-1979. I never liked it. This family was always bickering, yelling, at each other. Bigotry. Racism. Prejudice. Not much love. So much controversy. So much conflict. How many families are like that?
God and His Church are a family. He is the Father. We are His children. In HIs Word, the Bible, He says so.
God is perfect. Perfection is one of the Lord's attributes, a characteristic of His essence. God is perfect. But, His children are not. We are children of the Heavenly Father. But often, we don't live like it. So, there is conflict in the family. What conflict? "If you live according to the flesh you will die" (v.13), God warns HIs children. Life dictated by the flesh is just the opposite of life led by the Holy Spirit. What does the flesh tell God's children to do? Clearly, that includes "the deeds of the body" (v.13): "sexual immorality, impurity...divisions, envy, drunkenness"
(Galatians 5:20-21). The flesh also tells us that God's children can earn heaven by keeping the commandments. The Holy Spirit responds with God's Word: "For by works of the Law, no human being will be justified in [God's] sight" (Romans 3:20). We, the children of the Heavenly Father, wrestle with this inner conflict: the flesh versus the Spirit; sin versus grace; the Law versus the Gospel; fear versus love. It's a family conflict between slave and son. What's at stake? Life versus death. As God's children, we don't want to disappoint our Father in heaven. We must honour Him, that is, we fear and love God when we honour our parents and other authorities. Sadly, we insist on our own way, assert our independence, and fall back into fear as slaves of sin.
God our Heavenly Father does not give up on His Children. "To those who believed on HIs name," He gives "the right to become children of God...born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (St.John 1:12-13). "You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons" (v.15). That's just how it is in the family. Our spot at the table of the Lord, our favour with the Father, our infinitely rich inheritance is not the work of the children. Honour in the family is received, not achieved.
All because of our Brother, Jesus. Christ is the true Son of the Father in heaven. Jesus loves us as sisters and brothers. He took the pain and punishment we deserve, offering Himself on the cross for us. All this Jesus suffered because of love, not fear, as the obedient Son of the heavenly Father. Therefore, God raised His own dear Son to life again from the grave, seating the Lord Jesus at the right hand of His power to rule over all things in heaven and on earth. The death and resurrection of God's Son means a rich, eternal inheritance has now been prepared for all God's children in heaven. All that the Heavenly Father has richly bestowed on His Son - perfect health, joy, freedom, fellowship and life without end - this heavenly treasure is the inheritance waiting for the children of God. For we are "fellow heirs with Christ" (v.17).
The Holy Spirit teaches us to believe this. When we were baptized, each one of us received "the Spirit of adoption as sons" (v.15). "Your can choose your friends but you can't choose your relatives, "the old saying goes. But God the Father choose us, adopted us as His children, and marked us as His own dear children in this water combined with His Word. True, the Christian life is a struggle. Each day, we return to our baptisms, drowning that Old Adam and arising to life again in Christ. Or as St. Paul puts it, "if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (v.13). Life for the children of God is a struggle prompted by the leading of the Holy Spirit. God made us His children for the sake of Christ. God keeps His children by the work of the Holy Spirit. We pray for His help every day and hour, just as Jesus prayed: "Abba! Father!"
The Church is the family of God. That's us! The visitor, the first time church-goer, might not see it. We look more like strangers: not sitting together, but safely spaced apart; our faces hidden by masks; the organ plays, but we don't sing together. To the eye without faith: we are strangers strangely gathered together.
But that's not the whole story. We are different, 'tis true: we coe from different backgrounds; we have different interests; we work at different occupations; we are all different ages. But, in fact, we are all one family. Christ Jesus is our Brother. God is our Father. the Holy Spirit-worked faith in our Baptisms bring us all into one family: children of the Heavenly Father.
Under His Yoke
St. Matthew 11:25-30 ESV
The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
5 July 2020
"Are you back in the harness again?"
A church member asked me that question at the church door the first Sunday I was back from vacation many years ago. I thought of our Lord's words here in the Gospel, "Take My yoke upon you...My burden is light" (v.29-30).
What is a yoke? A bar or frame of wood over the neck, joining together two animals such as oxen. The yoke allows the livestock to work together to move a load or pull a plow.
"Take My yoke upon you," Jesus invites. That means swapping out the one that's on our necks now. The Lord: His yoke is easy, His burden is light - a yoke of grace. We enter the world fitted with a heavy burden - a yoke of the law.
When Jesus spoke these words, teachers were praising a life of rigid obedience to the aw of God, the holy Ten Commandments. They actually called it the "yoke of the law." Work hard enough, keep all the rules with strict obedience, and you could set yourself free, they taught. Like a cattle beast trying to throw off the yoke on its neck, every effort to be free by what we do only reminds us how that heavy yoke of the law makes us slaves.
The "yoke of the law" is like a harsh teacher. Whenever a student acted up in class, she would draw an angry face and hand it to the guilty party. Sometimes, if the problem persisted or was bad enough, the angry face would be sent home to the parents. But when the student behaved well, listened to the teacher, and did her work, the teacher would never draw a happy face to give her. Instead, the teacher wanted the obedient children to think of her own smiling face. The "yoke of the law" turns an angry , accusing face of judgment toward us.
St. Paul chafes under the yoke of the law as he writes his letter to the Romans: "For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing" (Romans 7:18b-19). Sounds like labour that leaves us heavy laden. "Come to Me..." says Jesus, "and I will give you rest" (v.28).
"Who will deliver [us] from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). Where did that impossibly heavy burden go, that yoke of the law that was on our necks? On Christ! Gentle Jesus, lowly in heart, accepted that yoke of the law, the burden of the world's sin for us and for our salvation. His yoke was the cross. Hitched in with no one else. He bore it alone. For all the world.
We are joined to Jesus, who died on the cross for us and rose again from the dead for us. We repent when we stop labouring to save ourselves by our righteous acts, words, and thoughts under the yoke of the law. We trust that Jesus has taken on that burden and every weight that we carry for our salvation (Ap XIIA:44-45). Repentance and faith. These are the works of the Holy Spirit in us. God the heavenly Father has revealed this to us when we were baptized. Jesus saves me - even a little child knows this (v.26)! One who is joined to Jesus - under His yoke.
"Come to Me..." for rest. Still today, Jesus invites us as we labour under the guilt of our sins; as we are world-weary from our struggles to confess Christ before others to find rest for our souls in Him. By His all-powerful Word, the resurrected and living Lord Jesus has yoked Himself to the physical in the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper. Martin Luther writes in the Large Catechism, "Here He offers to us the entire treasure that He has brought for us from heaven. With the greatest kindness He invites us to receive it...when He says in St. Matthew 11:28, "Come to Me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (LC V:66). Are you worn out? Jesus gives us rest for our souls.
While working with Joseph as a carpenter, did Jesus make yokes? No doubt, He understood how important it was for the yoke to fit properly. A beast burdened with a poorly-made yoke would chafe and burn under its irritation. While we must endure crosses in this life, we know hat our particular cross has been fashioned by our Lord to fit us just right. And who is there, right next to us? Look over and you see Jesus by your side. Under His yoke, in every cross you bear, the Lord is pulling the weight. "For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (v.30).
A Blessed Reunion
John 21:1-14 ESV
The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
28 June 2020
My, how I've missed you. There are lots of things we miss when we are not in church: the sights and smells of the building; stained glass windows; the cheerful organ playing; the smiling faces of our friends and church family. These three plus months have been hard. It's an exciting, joyous day today: a blessed reunion.
Jesus brings us together. Our common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, our one Saviour and Redeemer makes us gather. He gives us joy - for He is our Head, our loving Good Shepherd.
Like the seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberus. They missed Jesus. Their separation was a matter of days, not months. Death separated the Master from His disciples. They stopped following His way. They went out fishing in the boat. Until Christ came. His identity was masked at first. They did not know that it was the Lord. Then, Jesus showed Himself: by His Word and a miracle. At His divine, all-powerful Word, the disciples let down their empty nets, soon to be filled with a great catch of fish. After a night spent catching nothing, they knew this haul of fish was the work of the Lord Jesus: very God of very God. They could not get together fast enough. Peter plunged into the water to get to shore, to get to Jesus. The others followed, bringing the boat and the fish.
On the beach, Jesus had breakfast ready: bread and fish on a charcoal fire (v.9). What joy filled their hearts that morning! Jesus was alive. They were all together again. A blessed reunion!
We have been separated for a while. The doors of the church have been closed to regular Sunday services for our safety. This viral pandemic shows us that all is not right in the world. The first disobedience separated the first people from each other, from God and from Paradise. We long to get back to the Garden, to get back to innocence, to get back to fellowship with each other. But the pathway back is barred: by a flaming sword, by an invisible virus, by our sins of heart and mind, of word and action. In our Gospel reading, Peter could not get to Jesus fast enough - that short boat ride 100 yards to shore was too slow. So, Peter went diving - his coat became a wetsuit - all so that he could get to Jesus right away.
It wasn't always this way. Peter was in a fishing boat on the same sea three years earlier. That day, Jesus also caused them to bring in a huge bunch of fish: the net was filled to breaking capacity! Right then, Peter knew that Jesus was God. Right then, Peter knew that he was a sinner. Convicted! The boat suddenly seemed cramped, too small. Peter longed for physical distance from this Jesus: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (St. Luke 5:8).
Peter experienced what sacred Scripture teaches: the way to be reunited with God and others is not marked by human effort. The way back is marked by this sign: the cross. In His own body, Jesus suffered the punishment for the world's sins. Forsaken by His dear disciples, without the comfort of His heavenly Father, Jesus died alone.
Yet, His holy blood is the cure for our soul's sicknesses. His life gives us life. The vertical beam of the cross reaches toward heaven, showing us that Jesus has repaired our relationship with the heavenly Father. Now, we are His dear children. What a blessed reunion! The horizontal beam of the cross stretches towards our brothers and sisters in Christ, showing that we have fellowship with other Christians because of our Lord. What a blessed reunion!
Sadly, not everyone can be here today. While our first service together after such a long absence really ought to be a huge celebration, we must open slowly, carefully, for the good of all. Yet, this small gathering is actually much bigger than you see. Truly, we are joined together with all who are worshiping at home - and there's still more - the entire fellowship of the Christian Church on earth. Still, the gathering, although unseen, is even bigger - beyond the bounds of this globe, earth's terrestrial sphere - this fellowship of believers stretches up into heaven itself: in Jesus, we are together with "angels, archangels and the whole company of heaven." We don't see it now. But one day, we will. In the life to come, we will look into the faces of the dear saints we have known while living down here - including those we sat beside to worship the Lord in these pews - only there, we will see them fully alive, like the disciples on that beach with the living Lord Jesus Christ.
Together forever with Jesus.
A blessed reunion!
At Your Service
Romans 6:12-23 ESV
The Third Sunday After Pentecost
21 June 2020
"Sometimes things work out just the way you want. Sometimes they don't. But hang in there. Because 90% of being a Dad is just showing up." Jay Pritchett from television's Modern Family offered that advice. So fathers, what happens after you show up? Fathers do more than just take up space at the kitchen table. Good fathers imitate God their heavenly Father. In love, He created us and all things. In love, He takes care of us, watches over us, serves us. Fathers care for their wives and children: At your service!
That's what our text from Romans 6 teaches us today. No longer are we enslaved to serve to the dictates of sin and its tyranny. God serves us with forgiveness and a new life. We are now free to believe in God and to serve our neighbours in love.
I stand before you today ordained to be at your service. "Minister" comes from the Greek word (δουλος) that means servant (slave). But I am not at your service for just any old thing. Paul writes, "what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (II Corinthians 4:5). Specifically, God has called me to serve you with His Word: to speak that word of Law that convicts the sin in us; and to speak the Word of Gospel that frees us from sin's slavery so that we can say to others, "I am at your service." This morning, the delivery method is quite different: a recorded service via the Internet. But, today is no exception. Here I am: at your service.
With even stronger words, Paul writes that all Christians are slaves of God (v.22). Last Sunday in the Epistle, the Apostle pictured the change that happened to us when we were baptized: with Christ, we died to sin, and began a new life joined to His resurrection. Sin is a dead end: we died to sin right here. We are not compelled to follow the orders of our sinful flesh. We are not slaves to our passions, desires, and wants. Sin will always attack, tempt us, and try to rule over us. But it does not succeed as long as Christ is our Master. Faith in Christ makes us willing slaves of righteousness. We don't want to keep on living in sin. We want to do what is right. We try to please God. We look for ways to help other people in need. Husbands love their wives as Christ loves the Church. Wives submit to their husbands out of reverence for Christ. Children obey their parents. We obey the laws of the land. We pray for our political leaders. We choose the be slaves serving the right cause. Not because we can to save ourselves. God in Christ has already done that. He frees us to turn from sin, and want to do better. We are instruments in HIs divine hand. We say to our neighbour in need, Here I am: at your service.
Still, sin keeps trying to enslave us all over again. Loving people, especially those who are hard to love; obeying God's commands, especially when it is unpopular: this is difficult. Without God's Holy Spirit, no one could serve God. It is so much easier to say to sin: "At your service." Sin tempts us exactly because it is fun to do. It is so easy to become a slave to sin because it feels so good to get our own way, to gratify our desires, to gain the upper hand over the other guy. Yes, it feels good, so we like to do it. Sin does not ask, "Is this right? Is this what God wants? Does this actually help the other guy?" Sin does not fear, love nor trust in God. Sin tells you that you are the most important person in the world. And for our efforts, sin also pays its wages. Those enslaved to sin get the payment that they work so hard for: "the wages of sin is death (v.23)."
But Christ Jesus ends the tyranny of sin. Jesus is our Saviour who breaks the chains that bind us as slaves to sin. When He came down from heaven and was born in human flesh, Jesus said to the world, "I am at your service." On His knees washing the dusty feet of His disciples, doing a slave's work, Jesus showed why He had come (St.John 13:1-17). "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve e, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (St. Matthew 20:28). Christ served us by dying on the cross for us. There, He shows us the horror of sin and its terrible consequences. Placing Himself at our service, God's Holy and Perfect Son cashed in the full wages of sin - suffering death and hell for us. Jesus died the death we deserve. He gives us eternal life as a gift. Free from the reign and dominion of sin, we now live under His grace. Slaving against sin with all our might cannot work off the great curse of sin, that is death. Instead, God simply gives us life that never ends: the free gift through Jesus, crucified and raised from the dead for us.
So, week after week, the Lord meets us here in His means of grace. In effect, He says to us: "I am at your service." The Lord serves us with His Word - the Word that breaks the chains of our sins and declares us forgiven and free. The Lord serves us with His gift of Baptism: drowning the evil taskmaster, sin, in its clear water and bringing us to life daily, joined to Christ our Lord. The Lord stoops down from heaven to feed us with the very body and blood of Christ. Here, we have a new Master: kind, gentle, forgiving and loving. Here, we have the life that never ends. Here with His Word and His Sacraments, God tells us, "I am at your service."
This is why we present ourselves as instruments of righteousness in His service (v.13), as willing slaves of God (v.22). Because God serves us here with the gifts that free us from every oppressive master and give us eternal life, we serve the people around us in the world each day: our continual act of worship to our Lord and Master. Serving others, we say to God, "At Your service."
The Type Who Loves
Romans 5:6-15 ESV
The Second Sunday After Pentecost
14 June 2020
What is your type? Who draws you? The bold leader, impulsive, reckless - like Peter the Apostle. The compassionate empath, ever building bridges between people and forging relationships - like St. Barnabas. The shy introvert, quiet and contemplative - like the Old Testament Patriarch Issac. The type of personality God has created in each of us soon shows its stamp in our words and actions.
That's what the word "type" (τυττος) means: the impression that is left on the page by the pattern that strikes it. Typewriters work on this principle: the key strikes the ribbon, leaving a mark on the page: a letter. Gutenberg's printing press used moveable type to make an impression on each printed page.
As with people. The Bible speaks of events and even of people as a type of what is to come (I Corinthians 10:6, 11, I peter 3:21). So, St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans (v.14) that Adam is a type of Christ - the type who loves.
Marked By Narcissism
Adam loved himself. Original love led to original sin. Adam loved himself more than he loved God. Adam loved his own word more than God's Word. Adam loved the idea that he could make himself like God. Adam's love of himself made him not love God, made him disobey God, brought sin into a perfect world, then spread sin to all. "So death spread to all men because all sinned" (v.12). Sadly, because of Adam's sin, we are enemies of God (v.10; FC SD II:5). Because Adam is a type of us - the old nature of original sin that we all carry, death has spread to you and me, too.
Loved By The Lord
Adam is a type of Christ - the type who loves. But, in a profoundly different way. The self-love of Adam led to death for all (v.12). The love of Christ for us and for all the world leads to life. As a type, Adam is the reverse image of Christ. Adam ruins everything. Christ redeems everything. Jesus is the type who loves - His love (αγαττη) puts our lives ahead of His.
All around us these days, we are surrounded by the loving actions of doctors, nurses, health care professionals, first responders and front line workers. They love by putting their lives on the line for others. We are so grateful to them for the love they show day after day. "For one will scarcely die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die" (v.7).
Christ Jesus is the type whose love for us goes even further! He "died for the ungodly" (v.6), for the enemies of God, for allies of Adam, under "the wrath of God" (v.9). Jesus loves us so much that He died for us: giving His life in exchange for ours when He died on the cross. "God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (v.8).
Out of that horrible event: the agonizing death of the innocent Son, God brings us forgiveness and eternal salvation. "We have now been justified by His blood...saved by Him from the wrath of God" (v.9). Even is we could live our whole lives showing love for others, we could not reduce nor remit the guilt of our sins by our good deeds. In scriptural things, we are weak, powerless (v.6). Dead (Ephesians 2:5). Only God can take our sins away - and He has through Jesus. We are forgiven, justified, and made right with God through the blood of God's own Son.
Which changes our status with God. We are born a type of Adam - loveless, selfish, and sinful - enemies of God. But, in the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, who died and rose again for us, we are reconciled to God (v.10) our dear Father in heaven. He loves us. With His "free gift by the grace of that one Man Jesus Christ" (v.15), we are born again as the children of God in Holy Baptism. God the Father gathers His children here at the altar for the family meal of Christ's true and abiding presence in His body and blood. First century Christians called this Sacrament the agape meal: a feast of love (Jude 12; Ignatius to the Smyrnaens 8:2). Here, Jesus draws near to us in love to feed us with Himself.
With His Word and His work, the Lord Christ leaves His imprint on us so that we become like He is: the type of one who loves.
Good Things in Threes
Acts 2:22-36 ESV
The Holy Trinity
7 June 2020
Common wisdom or superstition says bad things come in threes: she lost her job, the dog died, the engine fell out of the car. If you search hard enough, you can string three tragic events, no matter how unrelated. Bad things come in threes they say.
Sacred Scripture tells us just the opposite tale today: good things come in threes. The very best, in fact, God Himself is one God in three Persons. Good things come in threes.
We have just heard three readings from the Bible. Each Sunday, we hear a portion from the Old Testament, an Epistle or other New Testament reading, and the Gospel reading. Today, the Old Testament describes God's work of creating us and all things. Creation is the unique work of God the Father. The reading from Acts continues Peter's sermon to the crowds at Pentecost. Peter proclaims how we are saved in Christ Jesus. Salvation is the unique work of God the Son. The Gospel tells how this salvation spreads to all the world through the Holy Spirit working in God's Word and Sacraments to make us holy. Sanctification is the unique work of God the Holy Spirit. Three readings - three mighty acts of God - creation, salvation, sanctification. Good things come in threes.
While each Person of the Holy Trinity is distinct, still God is one God. All three Persons of the Holy Trinity are at work in each reading. The Bible begins with God's acts of creation. God the Father, who created the heavens and the earth is accompanied by "the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:2). St.Peter preaches Jesus Christ, raised up and "exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit" (v.33), who was poured out on them at Pentecost. At Olivet, the Lord Jesus instructs His Church to make disciples of all nations by teaching and baptizing "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (St. Matthew 28:19). Good things come in threes.
The Holy Trinity, the embodiment of all perfection, wisdom and love, set about creating all things: the unity of one God acting harmoniously as three Persons. The one true God, almighty and triune created all things in heaven and on earth by the power of His Word, out of nothing, in six days. As the crown and pinnacle of His creative work, the Trinity "created man in His own image" (Genesis 1:27), fashioned for fellowship: creature co-existing with Creator. On the sixth day of that creative week, all was right with God and the world, every aspect of the heavens and the earth was flawless and perfect: "it was very good" (Genesis 1:31).
Until the harmony of Eden was broken - fellowship between God and man was ruptured by the disobedience of the first people, then spread throughout the world. Countless rejections of the Holy Trinity, of His love, His gifts, His daily care all led up to the crucifixion of God the Son. Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Peter pointed out to the Pentecost people, "this Jesus...you crucified and killed" (v.23). Yet, we also confess that our sins put Him on the cross. Our guilt made the Holy One die. For our transgressions against the 10 Commandments, the Second Person of the Trinity suffered the pangs of death and descended to Hades (v. 24, 27).
Yet, even this is good news. Jesus suffered all this, even cruel death for us. For, "it was not possible for Him to be held by it" (v.24). God the Father raised His Son again from the dead, giving us the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of our bodies after this life. The resurrected and ascended Jesus pours out His Holy Spirit on us so that we believe this. And believing, have life eternal in His name (St. John 20:31). Jesus has died. Jesus is risen. Jesus will come again. Good things come in threes.
How do we know this? Three things. By three gifts, the Holy Spirit keeps faith in Christ Jesus strong, He leads us to the Father.
The Word. Sacred Scripture. The Bible. In Law and Gospel, the Lord speaks to us, revealing that there is a God: that He exists. And more, that He loves us, that He has created and that He has saved us through Jesus Christ. "The Word of the Lord endures forever" (I Peter 1:25).
Baptism. "Spent and be baptized everyone of you" (Acts 2:38) Peter instructed those who heard and believed God's Word after he preached to them. And the Holy trinity brought three thousand souls into His Church by the water and word of Holy Baptism.
Communion. The early Church "devoted themselves to the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread" (Acts 2:42) just as Christ had commanded His disciples. These blessings remain with us still: God's Word, Baptism, Communion. Gifts to us from the one true God, the Holy Trinity.
Good things come in threes.
Life is...Standing Firm in Suffering
I Peter 4:12-17; 5:6-11 ESV
The Seventh Sunday of Easter
24 May 2020
The popular series Tiger King was released on Netflix in the third week of March. This true crime show traces the rivalry between animal rights activist Carol Baskin and zoo keeper Joe Exotic. While the show swirls about with all kinds of controversies, the central conflict really showcases how much the main characters love tigers: either by displaying them in zoos, or by freeing them from captivity.
St. Peter portrays Satan as a lion in today's Epistle. He has no love for this deadly predator. The devil comes prowling around, looking for someone to devour. We just never know when that ferocious beast might come prowling around our door. "Be sober-minded; be watchful" (5:8), Peter warns. Sometimes the devil tempts us in subtle and hidden ways. But often, we can identify him; we can hear the enemy coming because he is roaring - his stomach is growling and he wants to fill it with our souls.
When St. Peter wrote his first letter, his readers knew only too well that the devil prowled around like a roaring lion. They suffered under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Nero. Dying for the Christian Faith was a daily concern. At any time, Christians could be arrested, forced to deny Christ, and to confess Caesar as god. Those who stood firm in the faith were thrown to the lions and other wild beasts in the arena, where they would be torn apart to entertain the spectators. For these Christians in the mid-sixties, A.D. Peter lays out the choice before them in stark terms: have your body swallowed by lions in the arena, but keep the faith and live forever, or deny the faith and be swallowed by the devil, the prowling lion, and die forever in hell.
In the back of his mind, St. Peter would certainly remember how he rebuked Jesus for talking about dying on the cross. Now he rejoiced in the honour of sharing in the Lord's same sufferings (4:3). Peter would also painfully remember how he had not stood firm in the faith, but denied Jesus three times in the face of suffering. The roar of our enemy, the devil in his ears that night when the rooster crowed to Peter's deep regret.
Youth and adults who are confirmed, pledge to remain faithful to the Lord even when the heat is on, and the cross of suffering makes life tough. So, the confirmation class of 1950, whom we remember with thanksgiving to God in our prayers today, made the same vow as classes still do. Rev. Messerschmidt asked those nine young people, "Do you also, as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, intend to continue steadfast in the confession of this Church, and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?" (The Lutheran Agenda p.24).
Have we always kept that vow? Like Peter, we confess that we have not always stood firm in our faith when tested by suffering. Instead of speaking up for Christ among friends, co-workers and classmates, we have kept silent. What will we do if the roaring lion threatens us and demands that we deny the Lord and His faith? By our own strength and power, we will surely fall and deny Christ, as did St. Peter. But there is a way to stand firm in suffering.
"[Cast] all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you" (5:7). Here, St. Peter pictures the disciples casting (εττιρριπτω) their cloaks over the back of the donkey on Palm Sunday for the Lord Jesus to ride in triumph into the holy city Jerusalem (St. Luke 19:35). The only way to stand firm in the Christian Faith is to cast every anxiety, every care, every burden, every sin, every worry, every distraction, every temptation on Christ. His strong shoulders were meant to bear our weight. Truly He suffered for us at the cross. Christ Jesus was swallowed up by the gaping jaws of the prowling lion, the devil. The Lord sailed straight into the yawing mouth of death for us. Jesus suffered like no other; He suffered all this to forgive us our failures. Christ Himself, now risen from the dead, absolves and frees us with His Word of forgiveness. He stands us up on our own two feet again, just as He restored St. Peter as HIs dear Apostle. Christ feeds us with His body and blood to make us strong to resist the noisy old devil. For no matter what we may be called on to suffer; we are in good company. We are joined to the suffering Christ, who for us has chained up that ragged old lion, the devil. When we suffer for the faith, we can know that other believers around the world are also facing the same kinds of persecutions. And we know hat suffering lasts only a short while. Christ Himself promises to "restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you" (5:11).
Our life as Christians will bring suffering for the name that we bear. Living by faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ means that we can stand firm in the face of suffering. We have His Word on it: "Casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you" (5:7).
He's Got This
Ephesians 1:15-23 ESV
The Ascension of Our Lord
21 May 2020
The whole world changed. For us, it was the third week of March when schools closed, businesses closed, church services stopped. When will things go back to normal? Maybe never. In this present crisis, we have a lot of questions about the future, but not a lot of answers about what lies ahead. Still, on this Ascension day, we hold fast to this truth: Jesus rules! The Lord Christ who died on the cross and rose again is ascended in triumph to God the Father's right hand. As our victorious Saviour, Jeus reigns: true God and man over all creation. Including us. Including this pandemic. Christ the ascended Lord determines the course of events for us and for all. He's got the whole world in His hands. He's got this.
Yet, we might very well be afraid that He does not. In fear, we disbelieve the truth of Scripture from Ephesians today: that the Father has "put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church" (v.22).
Instead of the ascended Lord Christ, we may feel that in these times COVID-19 is running the show. So much hangs on what this virus will do. We watch and wait for numbers of infections to slow. We fear a second wave will break out and spread. Wisely, we do what we can to control the outcome. Now remember: the Lord is in control. The risen and ascended Christ, who gave us life, will also take care of us - as we take care of ourselves and others. The Lord cares for us sometimes even in spite of ourselves. Jesus is seated as Head over all. He's got this!
We know, because the Lord Christ has already tackled a pandemic far worse than COVID-19 that has certainly infected every person. The plague of sin has spread from the first people to infect all the world. The ravages of this disease are worse than the coronavirus: sin produces eternal suffering of body and soul. "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul," the Lord Jesus warns. "Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (St. Matthew 10:28).
"Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). The ascended Lord! Christ delivered the world from this pandemic of sin. The vaccine is HIs very blood, poured out to save the world when He died on the cross. Jesus did what we cannot do for ourselves. His holy death is the cure for the pandemic of eternal death in hell for sin. His resurrection, returning to life again on the third day shows that life, not death is the gift that Jesus gives to His dear believers. Christ has ascended to heaven at the right hand of power to begin His reign over all things. The end of this pandemic is in Christ, who rules over all creation. The end of all our fears is in Christ ascended, who now lives to say to you and to me, "Do not be afraid!" Because He lives; because He reigns now and forever, 'Do not fear.' Calmly trust in the ascended Lord. "So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord" (Romans 14:8 NIV).
How is this all going to turn out? I don't know.
God knows. He's got this.
Life is...From Water
I Peter 3:12-22 ESV
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
17 May 2020
Life comes from water. The first nine months of our life is spent, not on dry land, but swimming around in the water of our mothers' wombs. Every living thing on earth needs water to survive. 97% of our bodies is water. For us, life on earth began when the Lord drew us out of the prenatal water into our mothers' embrace. Then, we were born again through the water of Holy Baptism. Daily, we recall our watery birth in Baptism. We confess: life is from water.
Not only has Holy Baptism given us life: it saves us. The Apostle Peter teaches us about Noah and his family: that they were saved through water. Taking the Loard at His word, Noah built a massive ark. When Noah was finished, God Himself packed the ark with every living thing and the food they would need for over a year. When all were safely inside, God closed the door of the ark.
What did Noah and his family do for forty days and forty nights? What occupied their thoughts for the 10 ½ months that they drifted on endless seas waiting for the water to subside? Truly this was a test of faith. Did Noah think God had forgotten him? The water had covered up and drowned every earthly support that those eight souls could rely on. Swirling around on the world ocean, Noah was saved by faith; relying on God's mercy. His Word. The Lord promised that they would again walk on dry ground. Noah believed God. Through the flood water, Noah's family was saved. Life for them was from water.
How scary also for us as Christians. Part of us sides with the crowds who mocked Noah. We do not always take God at His Word. We have doubts that the water of Baptism really gives us life. Instead, we think God should save us for being good. Because we sin, water is death to us.
That is where Holy Baptism begins. We need to be baptized because "we all are conceived and born sinful...We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death and everlasting condemnation" (LSB p. 268).
In Baptism, we share in the sufferings of Christ; we die with Him. Jesus, even though innocent, suffered more than we will ever know. He died on the cross for us and all people of the world: the just, Holy and righteous One, for us who are unjust, unholy and unrighteous. Joined to Him in Baptism, we have died to sin in our life. Holy Baptism brings us the Saviour who descended to hell, who trumpeted His victory over Satan and his evil forces. United with Jesus in Baptism means that we will never take that infernal trip to the hellish prison.
Emerging from the water, we are joined to the living Lord. He rose alive in the body from the tomb, giving us His Word that we also will rise from the grave as our bodies are resurrected. Now that Christ has ascended to the right hand of God the Father Almighty, we look forward to climbing the heights of heaven to follow where He leads. Our Baptism joins us to Christ: here, our sins die in His death; here, we begin a new life in Christ's own resurrection.
Life is from water.
Every day, we eat and drink to keep our bodies strong. And every day, we remember our Baptism to keep our life in Christ strong. "The Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and...a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever" (SC IV:12). This is what St. Peter means when he tells us , "in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy" (v.15). Recalling our Baptism daily drowns our accusing sins and frees us to live with a clear conscience. What can you do when accused by your own guilt? There's no comfort in telling yourself, "I'm a good person...I am sincere, kind, loving...I am perfect? Our faults quickly come to mind. Our works cannot save us: they only accuse and condemn us. Christ the Lord clears our consciences at Baptism. God gives us life from water.
This is how God makes us ready to give a defence to everyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us. Through this water, we live in Him. Think about Noah. As he built the ark, far away from any lake or ocean, everyone made fun of him. Noah was hurt by their words. He suffered for doing right. But he kept on building. He trusted in God. And as he built that huge boat in the desert, Noah warned people about the coming disaster. He gave a reason for the hope that was in him. How many converts did he win? None. They all perished in the flood. Still, God saved Noah and his family from the water.
Like Noah, God prepares us to give a reason for the hope that is in us. As baptized believers, we have life from water. Our hope rests solidly on the Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered, died, descended to hell, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven to give us life in Holy Baptism. This good news is a rain shower of hope in a world parched with hopelessness, violence, anger, selfishness, loneliness, and repair. The fields, gardens, and lawns around us need water to live. The world around us needs the new life in Christ, given through the water of Baptism to live.
The Lord brought you from death to life in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Right now, He is preparing you to give a reason to the world for the hope that is in you. This is just what the world needs. Life is from water - for here we meet the living Jesus.
Life is...Built On The Rock
I Peter 2:4-10 ESV
The Fifth Sunday of Easter
10 May 2020
Growing out of the rocky crags of the Bruce Peninsula are spectacular trees called white cedar. "What's so amazing about cedars?" you ask. "They grow everywhere around here like weeds." They do. But these white cedars are the oldest trees in eastern North America - some nearly 1,500 years old. Although grizzled and twisted from the harsh winds, cold winters and the weight of snow in the Tobermory region, these ancient white cedars live on. Why? They grow on the rock. Without the supportive limestone foundation of the Bruce Peninsula, these trees would be long gone. Built on the rock, they maintain their proud perches 200 feet above the Georgian Bay coastline.
In the words of his letter, St. Peter describes our Christian life as built on the Rock, Jesus Christ. Yet, the Apostle describes us as more than inanimate, lifeless objects, like cold, hard bricks cemented together. As baptized believers, we are living stones, built on the Rock, the Foundation who is Christ Jesus, our Saviour.
Driving along the roads that traverse the mountains of British Columbia, yellow, diamond-shaped signs on the highway warn: "Watch out for falling rock." In some places, the road has literally been carved out of the mountain. Loose boulders from the dynamiting can let go and fall onto the road, causing collisions, injuries and possibly even death.
St. Peter warns that the Rock, Jesus Christ is dangerous to those who do not believe: "a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense" (v.8). All who reject Christ and His Gospel stumble over Him, fall because of His teaching, and are crushed by the Rock. Who is in danger? Really everyone. The sinful nature in us is proud to be autonomous, independent. Our sin says, 'I don't want to be a living stone, part of a synod, built into a corporate structure called the Church. I just want to do my own thing.' Sin says, 'I want the Church to serve me.' I protest that I don't get anything out of Church. I don't even think of the needs of others. If I reject the Foundation, Jesus Christ, I will fall under the Rock. If I think I am good enough to stand alone outside the Church, I will be crushed by the weight of the Rock. Watch out for falling Rock.
But I don't stand alone. We are "living stones...being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood" (v.5). All baptized believers are cemented to Christ Jesus: our Cornerstone. The cornerstone is the most important piece of the foundation. The cornerstone is the first block laid to ensure that the rest of the building is straight and square. The living, beating heart of our faith is Jesus: the Rock that rolled away from the empty tomb on Easter morning. The stone door, the rock covering the body of the Son os God, sacrificed for our sins, was rolled aside to show that sin, death and hell have been destroyed. The Rock, Jesus Christ: He's the solid foundation for our life. We are living stones because He died on the cross for our sins and rose to life again. If this had never happened; if Christ were not our Cornerstone, then we would still be stone-dead in our sins; there would be no holy Christian Church.
But Christ Jesus has risen from the dead, never to die again. He is the "Living Stone," the Cornerstone of all that we believe and the Rock that unites us as the Holy Christian Church. With our lives built on Him, we know that we will never be put to shame. Let the storms of illness, tragedy and death blow: built on the Rock, we will not be shaken. Let persecution for the Christian Faith rain down on us: we will not fall as long as we stand on the Rock. Not only do we never need to be ashamed when we build our faith on the solid foundation of Christ. We also discover that He is the very Source of life: the One who turns us from stone-dead sinners to living stones in a vibrant temple of the living God. Jesus Himself declares: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (St. John 14:6). Life is built on the Rock.
Again, this does not mean that we are petrified: encrusted saint statues, mute and cold, paralyzed and unfeeling. We are living stones. Unlike the stones that line these walls, we are alive for a purpose. God has called you from your Baptism to be "a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (v.5). The priesthood of old offered animal sacrifices on the altar. You come here to Church to offer sacrifices moved by the Holy Spirit: to sing hymns, to pray, to grow in love for God and trust in Him. Won't that be a glorious day, when we can gather together once again. In the Book of Concord, Philip Melanchthon writes, "These are the sacrifices of the New Testament, as Peter teaches, 'a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices' (I Peter 2:5). Spiritual sacrifices, however, are contrasted not only with those of cattle, but even with human works offered by the outward act, because spiritual refers to the movements of the Holy Spirit in us. Paul teaches the same thing, 'Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God" (Apology XXIV:26). The highest service happens when we grow in faith, love and trust in God. The holy priesthood, that is, the entire Christian Church does this every worship service. But there's more.
God commissions HIs holy Church with these words: "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" (v.9). Your faith in God is built up here in spiritual worship so that you will go out there and spend your week serving your neighbours in love. The prayer after the Lord's Supper asks God to full us with "faith toward [Him] and fervent love toward one another." The excellent thing that you are to proclaim every day is this: Jesus, our Rock has brought us out of darkness into His marvellous light: from death to life, from despair to everlasting hope. Jesus is the Saviour also for your friends, neighbours and relatives. Proclaiming HIs excellencies is not all glory: as Jesus was rejected, so are we, at times. But again listen to Christ our living Saviour as He promises to His royal priesthood, His holy nation, that is, you and me, "On this rock, I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (St. Matthew 16:18).
In the summer of 1516, Martin Luther lectured on Romans, "But I am a baby who needs milk, not solid food. Let him who is a child like me do the same. The wounds of Jesus Christ, 'the clefts of the rock,' are sufficiently safe for us. (AE 25:389)."
What storms are blasting you now? Let the storms blow. We will weather them all because we are built on the Rock, Jesus Christ.
Life is...In The Footprints Of The Good Shepherd
I Peter 2:19-25 ESV
The Fourth Sunday of Easter
3 May 2020
While drinking his morning coffee, a farmer was looking out over the field next to his house, covered with freshly-fallen snow. He watched as two figures entered the field from the far corner. The first was larger than the second/ perhaps they were father and son. The man watched the pair make their way across the far end of his field and disappear into the cedars. Gulping down the last of his coffee, the farmer pulled on his boots, coat and hat, and headed out to investigate. What he found at the other side of his field surprised him: there was only one set of footprints! Surely his eyes had not played a trick on him?! Were there not two people on his land? Upon closer examination, the farmer saw a smaller tread mark inside the large footprints in the snow. The son found his way across the field by following in his father's footprints.
This morning in our Epistle, St. Peter teaches us to live the resurrected life of Jesus Christ by following in the footprints of the Good Shepherd. As long as we follow Jesus by faith, we know that the way is clear. Through this deceitful and perplexing life, the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, will lead us to the life which has no end. When we step out of His footprints, we go astray, we are separated from His flock, the Church, and begin to die. Walking in the Good Shepherd's footprints means following the example and pattern He set in His own life. We cannot settle the score and get even with those who hurt us. As soon as we take steps to get even and to retaliate, we step out of the Good Shepherd's footprints.
The author of our Epistle knew all about leaving the Good Shepherd's footprints to go his own way. When his Master was threatened in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter took matters into his own hands. Swinging his sword in warlike defence, Peter sliced off the right ear of the High Priest's servant. So unlike the meekness of Jesus, Peter impulsively struck out to get even. In so doing, he stepped off the path of faith, out of the footprints of the Good Shepherd. This first step was the beginning of a straying that ended up with the triple denial of the arrested Jesus, and Peter fleeing in fear to weep all alone.
Don't judge Peter too harshly. We have all gone astray. When we were baptized, we died to sin, and were alive in Christ: walking in the footprints of the Good Shepherd. But we are wayward sheep. Our mouths are not free of deceit, as His was clean, but have been tainted with gossip, lies and foul talk. When insulted, we look for hurtful words to settle the score. And if we suffer unjustly, we want to get even. That is the way of the world. But do you know what happens to sheep that are separated from the flock? Without a shepherd, they cannot survive on their own. They perish! When we wander from our Good Shepherd, we no longer have His life within us. Instead of having life to the full, straying sheep die.
How wonderful that Christ Jesus does not abandon His straying sheep! We all, like sheep have gone astray, every one has turned to his own way. Those who confess they have strayed away form the Good Shepherd are brought into the fold. The Good Shepherd gathers HIs flock together in a way like no other earthly shepherd. His flock is made up of the strays, misfits and rejects who know just how far they have strayed from the path. The sheep of this flock were not purchased with worldly currency, but with blood. To make us His own, the Good Shepherd willingly endured the penalty that you and I have earned by our straying ways. For the sheep, the Good Shepherd died. The painful rod, crafted to whack the wayward sheep over the head and keep them with the rest of the flock, that rod fell across the shoulders of the Good Shepherd.
For us, the sheep, Jesus did no wrong. For us, the sheep, no deceit was in His mouth. For us, the sheep, Christ did not return insult for insult. For us, the sheep, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd suffered all, even death on the cross to make us dead to sin in Baptism. By His wounds, inflicted by scourge, nail and spear, we are healed. The Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep is our Good Shepherd. Not only has He carried us when we were too weak to walk on our own, as in that "footprints" poem. In love, He died for you and me. One trail of footprints leads away from the flock, as the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, seeks us out in every wild corner of the world where we have strayed. One set of footprints leads back to His fold, the Church. He has laid down the footprints of suffering and submission that we might follow Him in faith. Carried by the Good Shepherd who died and rose again for us, we have life, and have it to the full.
The language St. Peter uses here, words of suffering and beating, of whips and wounds would have been familiar to the slaves who heard this letter. They would have identified with Jesus as they thought of their own masters beating them, as He also was scourged. But, how do these words apply to us, here and now?
You and I follow in the Good Shepherd's footprints simply when we do our work well wherever God has placed us. Working in our station of life on the job, in the home, e-learning or working remotely by Internet, on the farm, or striving to provide essential services to benefit others: we serve God when we do our work well. This is not always easy. If our boss is cruel, if the work is especially challenging, if our work places our bodies and lives at risk of infection, if we put up with suffering for doing the right thing. In these times, we are following the Good Shepherd. Along that path, we commend ourselves to the One "who judges justly" (v.23). When the Son of Man returns in judgement on the last day. He will sort all things out. The Good Shepherd will separate the faithful sheep from the unbelieving goats.
Life along the path set by the Good Shepherd can take us to surprising places. 'Go into all the world.' the Shepherd beckons His Church, 'and make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching.' But these days, we serve Him best by staying put, staying at home, and in this way, protecting our health, and the lives of our neighbours. We 'shelter in place' under the protective care of the Good Shepherd: you "have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (v.25).
I Peter 1:17-25 ESV
The Third Sunday of Easter
26 April 2020
In The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, the main character, Bilbo Baggins stumbles upon a dark, slimy creature deep in the heart of the Misty Mountains. This creature was the sole resident, living on a rock island in a lake within the mountain. Among the striking features of this odd creature was his habit of repeating the phrase "my precious." Certainly precious to it was the powerful, golden ring that it had possessed for ages: the wondrous, terrible ring that lay at the heart of the famous, epic trilogy which followed. Yes, this ring of power was precious to this creature. But as he conversed with the Hobbit, it became clear exactly who he was calling, "my precious." Himself! This slimy, dark, foul creature was precious to himself, even more precious than the ring of gold.
As we confess today: life is precious. So the Psalmist prays, "Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!" (Ps. 22:20). Throughout this Easter season, we rejoice that Jesus is alive; that He gives life to us that never ends. Life is God's gift to us. It is good to be alive! Life is precious!
St. Peter wrote the words of our text to people who did not see life as precious. "Futile ways" (ματαιος) had been passed down to them from their forefathers (v.18). What vain, empty, false things? For Gentile Christians living in Asia Minor, Greek gods like Zeus and Hercules would have come to mind: false gods pictured like human beings with super powers. They would also think of Greek philosophers, who concluded that life, in the end, ws meaningless. Jewish Christians thought of the slavish obedience to the law that they were taught by the Pharisees. Life under the law either made them proud boasters in their works, or trembling in despair at their own failures. The forefathers of these ancient Christians could not properly explain life's origin, its purpose or its destination. Life for them was not precious: life was empty.
Have we inherited futile ways from our forefathers? You bet! Original sin from our parents: despising the precious gift of life.
The old man complains that his life is full of pain. "Why am I still alive?,' he complains, 'My life is nearly over.' The young man complains that his life is too boring; life moves too slow. Nothing is challenging: he is in no position to change the world for the better. The middle-aged man complains that life has passed him by: there was so much he wanted to do with his life, but he did not. Now, it is too late. His life seems pointless, not precious.
For some, the precious gift of life is ripped away. Unborn babies lose their lives to abortion. Young people cut themselves, burn themselves, starve themselves, or make themselves sick because life is not precious to them. Husbands treat life as nothing by abusing their wives. People of all ages kill themselves by abusing drugs, or alcohol, smoking, eating too much, working too hard or simply despising life by laying on the couch and watching the hours tick away. Sadly, in our own ways, we all sin against the fifth commandment, despising this precious gift: life.
Does life no longer seem precious to you? The Holy Spirit inspired these words for you: ":You are not your own, for you were bought with a price" (I Corinthians 6:19-20). Our lives are not pointless, nor worthless. We are precious. We belong to Another. The Lord calls us His own. He paid the highest price for us.
In our Epistle, St. Peter writes that we were redeemed. Redeemed (λυτροω) means "bought back." When you bring returnable bottles back to the store, they redeem them by buying them back, giving you money in exchange for the bottles. Like that, but at an infinitely higher cost, you and I have been redeemed. From the devil and from slavery to sin, from fear, and from hell itself; from everything that makes life cheap, pointless and without value, we have been redeemed.
At what price? Silver and gold buy the freedom of hostages. Earthly captors often demand cash to redeem their prisoners. But you and I, every sinner have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. In Leviticus, the Lord declares that the blood of a person or an animal is its life (Leviticus 17:11). Jesus Christ, the holy Son of God poured out His precious blood on the cross until He died. He is the very Lamb of God, sacrificed at the cross to buy us back from the eternal penalty of all our sins. In the Large Catechism, Luther explains, "The little word Lord means simply the same as redeemer. It means the One who has brought us from Satan to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and who preserves us in the same" (LC II:31).
Yes, Christ Jesus paid the highest price to redeem us. "After that, He rose again from the dead, swallowed up and devoured death, and finally ascended into heaven" (LC II:31). Jesus is the living Saviour whom God raised from the dead. Life is precious because the flesh and blood Jesus walked out of His tomb and still lives today. Jesus gives us HIs precious life in HIs living body and blood on the altar. Baptized into Christ, we are truly alive. Not just surviving; not just alive in flesh and blood, as biological organisms, but fully alive in the living Christ. This life is precious, for this life will never end.
That makes us bold to confess that Jesus "has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death" (SC II:4). Life is precious. For Christ paid for our lives with His life blood.
Because life is so precious, St. Peter counsels us "conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile" (v.17). During this self-imposed isolation, this time of exile from one another, we face unique, unusual, sometimes fierce temptations. These times try our patience with others, and test out faith that God is with us to protect us from harm and to provide for our lives in the future. "Conduct yourselves with fear," writes Peter. Not the fear that leads to despair. Conduct yourselves with a healthy faith: to fear, love and trust in God above all things. Conduct yourself with the confidence that confesses: Christ redeemed me "that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness" (SCII:4).
This life is precious. You can tell by how fragile it is: "The grass withers, and the flower falls." That's each one of us. For "all flesh is grass" (v.24). Do not treat your life as something cheap. Each year, each day, each hour and each minute is precious. How God uses these times teach us this is true!
But there's more to this precious life: "the word of the Lord remains forever" (v.25). This was the rallying cry of the Reformation. Those who taught, believed and confessed the Gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus alone proudly wore this insignia on their clothing as early as 1522: "The Word of the Lord remains forever." Jesus, the Word made flesh, born of Mary in Bethlehem, crucified for the sins of the world on Calvary's cross and raised to life again, this Word of the Lord will never change, forsake us, or pass away like the rest of the world. The Word of the Lord remains forever. In His Word, the Bible; in His Word joined to the sacraments, Baptism and Communion, Jesus Christ gives life to us. Precious life.
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changes not, abide with me (LSB 878:4).
The Word of the Lord remains forever. The living Word, Jesus Christ, gives life to us, now and forever. Life is precious.
I Peter 1:3-9 ESV
The Second Sunday of Easter
19 April 2020
"What is life?" In grade 13 Biology class, September 1984, Mr. Harvey asked the class, "What is life?" Well, everybody knows what it means to be alive. But, the students looked at each other, all afraid to raise their hands and look foolish ahead of the class. The teacher grinned a slight grin, knowing how difficult that question is to answer. "What is life?"
The Lord of Church, Jesus Christ, is life. Throughout the fifty days of this Easter season, we will hear God's answer to the question, "What is life?" through His Holy-Spirit inspired words in the Epistle of St. Peter. Christ Jesus, who rose again from the dead and ever lives the deathless life in eternity is the Source of life itself. The Lord Jesus freely gives life to all who believe and are baptized into Him. Jesus promises: "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (St. John 10:10 NIV).
Peter, was a down-to-earth kind of guy. He lived the struggles of faith experienced by Christians like us. Peter did not walk around with head in the clouds; he knew the pressures of the world and the temptations of the devil. St. Peter, the rock - that's the name Jesus gave him - was a solid guy as long as his faith rested solely on the merits and work of Jesus.
Amidst doxological words of worship to the Holy Trinity, St. Peter begins his letter by answering the question, "what is life?" For Christians, life is hope.
We all need hope to live. We all need to wake up with a sense that something good is waiting for us. Spring is a time of hope, as we plan gardens and plant crops. Life is hope.
But not everything we hope for turns out. Money, cars, homes, clothes; all of these can be the object of our hopes; but they all will turn to dust in time. Anything we place our hope in is hopeless if it will not stand when we leave this life.
Thank God that we have an eternal inheritance which can never be stolen from us, founded on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have done nothing to earn this priceless treasure. Christ Jesus gives it freely as a gift at Holy Baptism. All who receive this inheritance by faith are bound together closer than brothers and sisters in this life. What inheritance? The kingdom of heaven: life with God together with all His angels and saints.
Peter uses three words to describe this heavenly inheritance: imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.
Unlike the hopes of this world, the inheritance we have from God cannot be harmed by moth, rust, thieves, or anything else. It is imperishable (αφθαρτος).
Our inheritance is undefiled (αμιατος) by sin: no disease weakness, hunger, pain, death or any imperfection will mar the beauty of its holiness.
Unfading (αμαραντς) means that our heavenly inheritance is always fresh. Easter lilies will face; their blooms will fall. But life with God in heaven is ever new. We will never get tired of heaven. The life to come will never disappoint us.
Eternity will not be too long for us to enjoy this life with Christ. This inheritance is the hope we have right now and possess by faith because Jesus truly has risen from the dead in body and soul. Because He lives, we too shall live. For us who live in Him, life is hope.
Peter's letter also includes suffering. At the same time that we live in this hope, still we "have been grieved by various trials" (v.6). The Christian life is not lived under an umbrella that protects us from every bad thing in this world. Job discovered that. We, who through the lenten season have walked the road of suffering beside Jesus, know that the cross is never far away. We can expect suffering this life, just as Christ Jesus suffered the cross for us.
But the grief of various sorts of trials does not snuff out the hope that God has placed in us. God uses the rials we go though to refine our faith: removing false hopes from the one, true, and lasting hope in Christ. Gold is purified in the flames. Impurities are burned off when the heat is turned up. Just like that, our faith in Jesus is more precious than gold. This trust is tested by fire: through the furnace of illness, disappointment, losses, and death. While painful, these trials teach us to hope in God as we live.
Martin Luther encourages us to pray "that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory" (SC III:7).
Once we have passed through trials in this life, we find that: our faith is stronger, our hope has increased, our life in Christ is enriched. By His Grace, our Lord makes our faith grow through times of testing, provided that we do not fall away and deny Him.
Peter learned that relying on his own strength led to failure, dishonour and shame. When the Lord beckoned him to walk on the water, Peter succeeded for a while until he tried to stand on his own. The waves soon swallowed him up. Later, in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter denied his Lord three times. Trusting in his boast to remain true to Jesus, Peter was left weeping bitterly.
Through these trials, Peter learned that he was not strong enough on his own. More precious than gold is the simple trust in the strength of God in Christ at all times. The Lord leads us through similar times of testing, to make our faith strong. When we fail and weep over the bitter pain our sins bring on ourselves, on others and the pain it brings to God, then our Lord gently, but firmly restores us. By His Holy Spirit, Christ renews the faith planted in us at Baptism so that we confess our love for Christ. This faith, more precious than gold gives us hope.
While there is life, there is hope.
Those with no hope after this life, say these frantic words in desperation, grasping for more life, for more time until it runs out.
While there is life, there is hope.
From the mouth of a Christian, these are words of concrete, more solid than Peter, the Lord's rock-man: a confident confession of faith in an inheritance sure and certain, just as real and alive as the resurrected Christ Himself.
While there is life, there is hope.
In the resurrected and living Christ Jesus, life is hope.
Do Not Fear: Jesus Is Alive!
St. Matthew 28:1-10 ESV
The Resurrection Of Our Lord
12 April 2020
You can see it in their faces. Fear. In those casual encounters with other people these days: passing by on the street, down the aisles at the grocery stores, whenever you look into someone's face at one of those places still open, classed as an essential service, the look is there. Oh, mostly people smile, they are friendly; they hunger for human contact, for social discourse, for the company of others. But these are dangerous days: times when we must, for the safety of others and our own health and survival maintain our distance from others, exercise extremely clean hygiene and stay put. If this gets out of hand, you can see the anticipated disaster pictured on the faces around you: fear.
Fear filled the hearts of many on Easter morning. The guards at the tomb of Jesus. Introduced by an earthquake, the angel of the Lord came down from heaven and rolled the stone door away from the tomb and sat on it. The guards were so fearful that they shook and dropped to the ground like dead men (v.2-4).
The women who came to the tomb and saw all this. Already upset from the Lord's death on the cross, these women came to His grave bringing spices to complete the embalming the Lord's body and to give Him a proper burial. The sight of the angel and the yawing darkness of the empty tomb only heightened their emotions. "Do not be afraid" (v.5), the angel commanded them. For they were filled with fear.
Like the disciples. They were not there to see all this. Why? They were self-isolated, quaking in their boots behind locked doors "for fear of the Jews" (St. John 20-19). Not death by a deadly plague, but execution by Roman cross filled the disciples with fear.
What fills you with fear? Maybe you aren't afraid of anything. We can try to be strong and claim to be able to withstand whatever life throws at us. But this present crisis brings home the universal fear that the Bible teaches we all must face: death. The phone rings and we heard the tragic news that a relative or friend has died: then that same fear that hit the guards, the women, and the disciples shoots through our hearts. Because we are all sinners, all of us will die. That's a pandemic that will hit each one of us. A reason to fear.
"Do not be afraid"(v.5). The words of the angel are good news. This Gospel takes away our fear. This good news fills our hearts with Easter joy. "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay" (v.5-6). The ladies, worried about moving the stone door of the tomb, arrived to find it rolled away. And, an even greater truth began to sink in: the greater obstacle of death had now been rolled away. Their Master was alive! The grave could not hold Him! The angel's words took the fear out of their hearts and replaced it with joy. Today, this great glad news that our Saviour is alive takes the fears in our hearts away. Jesus lives! Now, eternal joy is ours.
What does this mean? Because Christ Jesus is risen from the dead, three facts eclipse our fears:
First, we have the forgiveness of sins because Jesus lives. The fact that death and the grave could not hold the very Son of God proves that everything He said is true; everything He did was perfect. He suffered and died on the cross as our Substitute. When He cried out, "it is finished!" (St. John 19:30) He took away the guilt of our sins that cause all our fears. In Baptism, Absolution and Holy Communion, the risen Christ forgives all our sins.
Second, we look forward to the resurrection of the body because Jesus lives. After we die, we will rise to live again with our bodies. We follow Jesus where He leads. Because He has risen from the dead, we can look forward to sharing that same blessed resurrection with our Lord. The life to come is not some wispy, spirit-like existence, but includes the resurrection of these bodies. Like Jesus, we who believe in Him can look forward to being raised from our graves with bodies free of all corruption, weakness, flaws and faults. The resurrection of the body is our sure and certain hope because Christ is risen.
Third, we look forward to the life everlasting because Jesus lives. The daughter of Jairus, Lazarus and others in Sacred Scripture were raised to live again after they died. Where are they now? A second time, they died, were buried, and now are awaiting the resurrection of the body. The life Jesus promises is everlasting life, a life without end. Christ tells us that He came that we might have life: life to the full. The life our Lord begins with the second birth of Holy Baptism is eternal life. By faith in Jesus, you and I already have eternal life here and now. Death is no longer the end for Christians. Death is merely the gateway to eternal life in the presence of our Lord in heaven. Baptized believers have life everlasting because Christ is risen.
After the women saw the angel and the empty tomb with their eyes and heard the words of the angel with their ears, they fled the tomb, "with fear and great joy" (v.8).
Filled with fear, for they had witnessed a pivotal act of the Almighty Father, changing the very course of history. And, they had great joy, for they knew that Jesus, their dear Master was alive.
This Easter is like no other we have seen. Tremendous emotions move us; like the emotions that stirred the women who came to the tomb, both: "fear and great joy" (v.8). Know that the Lord, He is God. He works all things for His good and gracious purpose. Hear and believe the words of the angel: "Do not be afraid" (v.5). Christ Jesus is no longer in the place of death. "He has risen, as He said" (v.6). We have life in Him.
Alleluia! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
We Need Him Now
St. John 11:21-26a ESV
12 April 2020
We need Him now. We need Jesus. We always have.
These times of extraordinary need teach us how much we depend on the Lord who made us to care for our needs everyday. The pandemic spread of this deadly virus has turned life upside down. So, I'm alone in the church for worship on Easter! The spectre of death threatens, looming large.
Without Thy grace we waste away
Like flowers that wither and decay (LSB 344:3).
We nee the Lord of life and death. Now. "Everyone who lives and believe in Me shall never die" (v.26), says the resurrection and the life. Jesus alone will bring us through this. We need Him. Now.
Like the first people, Adam and Eve, needed the Lord. They infected themselves and all their descendants with terminal illness by their disobedience. The Lord delivered them with His promise: the Child ofEve will destroy death and the devil (Genesis 3:15). Jesus is that Child: the resurrection and the life. We need Him.
Like Noah and his family. Isolated in the ark. While the sinful world was being destroyed by the global pandemic of the flood, God in His grace protected the eight souls and all living things in the safety of the ark. Just as the Lord of the Church protects His baptized believers within the safety of the ark of the holy Christian Church. Even hell cannot sink it. Because Jesus is alive. We need Him.
Like the children of Israel. Walking on the dry Red Sea bed. Slavery and death lay behind them in Egypt. Freedom and life lay ahead in the promised land. At the Exodus, the whole world saw God's power to free and to save. Jesus has taken us by the hand through the water of our Baptisms. Hell is in our rearview mirror. Heaven is in our headlights. The living Jesus marked us as His own dear people in Baptism. Www need Him.
Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men were pressured by the sinful world to lose it, to give up, to conform to the order that would make them abandon God and worship a false god. The Lord gave them faith during this terrible time. Their faithfulness found them facing the fire. Right there, the Lord protected them. He is stronger than fire. Jesus defeated the flames of hell. Quenched them on the cross. Now, He is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Jesus is alive now forever.
He gave life to Lazarus, raising him to life again from the grave. Because He lives, we shall live also
We need Jesus now. We always have.
Jesus Was Wounded...So We Could Be Healed
St. John 19:1
10 April 2020
Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him.
Seven words. One sentence:
"Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him."
Shocking brutality on the way to execution on the cross. The flogging, intense whipping dominated the mind of Jesus during His earthly ministry. Repeatedly, He warned His disciples of His impending death, including the scourging He would suffer. Sacred Scripture already pictured this intense torture in the Prophets and the Psalms: "I gave My back to those who strike" (Isaiah 50:6). "My back is filled with searing pain" (Psalm 38:7 NIV).
The tradition in our home on Good Friday is to watch The Passion of the Christ. Now sixteen years since that subtitled movie by Mel Gibson was released, the most difficult scene for me to watch (and there are many) is the depiction of scourging. The agonizing scene attempts to show the brutality of Roman punishment. Like the whip they used: a lash made up of long, leather straps. At the end of each strap was tied a piece of bone or shard of glass. Sometimes, lead balls were sewn into thongs for a greater impact. The law of Moses set a limit to the scourging of any person could receive: "forty lashes less one" (II Corinthians 11:24). Roman law had no such limit. Jewish historian Josephus testifies to the intensity of this treatment: that prisoners were scourged until the flesh hung from their backs. Muscles were severed; ligaments tore, bone chipped. Many did not survive. The Roman soldiers in the Passion are flushed and winded: literally out of breath from the scourging they have dealt upon the Lord Jesus.
Scourging always happened before crucifixion. The intense pain and massive blood loss from these whips could hasten death. How severe was Christ's scourging? Some victims were said to have hung on the cross for up to nine days before dying. Our Lord died after suffering for six hours on the cross.
Picture the Lord under the whips. Jesus is exposed, shackled, alone. The Roman soldier steps forward and brings down the scourge. With a thud, it bites into Christ's skin. The sadistic cheers rise. So does the whip. Again and again. The scourge tears His flesh. The scourge draws blood. The soldiers sneer, laugh, strain to keep this up. The holy blood of the Son of God spills on the ground. The punishment for the sin of the world hammers down with a terrible rhythm. My sins are in there too. Why is this happening? My fault. My own fault. My own most grievous fault. I can't stand to watch this anymore. Yet the scourging keeps going.
It is one thing to say the words: 'Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins.' I say it is some form each and every time I preach. This is the Gospel: Christ crucified (I Corinthians 1:23a). The power of God for salvation (Romans1:16). It is a whole other thing to watch what that means: to witness the awful price Jesus paid to save us, literally with His flesh and blood; to stand among that first century crowd and see brutal men swinging their scourges to inflict such torture with deadly skill. Good Friday invites us to watch, or try to watch that horrible scene, knowing that Jesus submitted to such scourging for us. Christ chose to endure all this for you and for me and for all the people of the world.
All this pain was just the prelude to an even greater outpouring of God's grace, His undeserved favour, His everlasting love. The Passion of our Lord - the scourging and thorns, the nails and spear - all were part of a great and costly exchange. With each blow, Jesus carried away our grief, our guilt and the hell we deserve for our sins. With each blow, Jesus gives us forgiveness, a clear conscience and opens heaven to us. His pain gives us relief. His death gives us life. His burial guarantees our resurrection.
"With His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5), promises the prophet Isaiah. Healing through wounding; wholeness through brokenness; eternal life through bitter death. This is the way of the cross - the way of Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life. His cross makes this Friday good. For the King, crowned with thorns, seated on the throne of the cross, has died for His subjects. And by His death, He gives us the kingdom.
See how much He loves us: "by His wounds, we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5 NIV).
Not Something Harmful
St. Mark 14:12-31 ESV
9 April 2020
"We must never think of the Sacrament as something harmful from which we had better flee, but as a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy that grants salvation and comfort. It will cure you and give you life in both soul and body. For where the soul has recovered, the body also is relieved. Why, then, do we act as if the Sacrament were a poison, the eating of which would bring death?" (LC V:68).
Truly, we are surrounded by dangers in the world today. We wash our hands frequently. We avoid toughing our faces with our hands. We keep a healthy space between us and others, practising physical distancing of at least six feet. An invisible, deadly virus has infected the whole world: a pandemic! People are the carriers. You can't see right away who poses a threat, when the infected person remains without symptoms. We long for the company of the very people around us: neighbours, relatives, co-workers. But they could be harmful.
What about the sacrament?
Martin Luther carefully instructs us that this gift our Lord Jesus Christ gives us should never be considered harmful, like a deadly poison. Jesus would never command us to receive what hurts us. During these days, we are concerned that the food supply chain remain unbroken for our good health and physical well-being. Jesus, the Bread of life, has instituted this food for our eternal good.
But, there are dangers all around us. Now especially. but there always has been. "[The devil] is a murderer, who cannot bear to see you live one single hour. If you could see how many knives, darts, and arrows are every moment aimed at you, you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as possible." (LC V:81-82).
Even the night this Sacrament was instituted, in the bodily presence of the Lord Jesus, the dark powers of the enemy crowded around the Upper Room. Jesus instituted this sacred meal "on the night when He was betrayed" (1Corinthians 11:23). Not a night of quiet and safety. A night of danger, deception and evil: "the hour of the power of darkness" (St. Luke 22:53).
Not just crowding around the table. Danger also lurked in the hearts of the guests. Think of Judas. One of the twelve disciples, close to Christ in His inner circle of students. Yet, this Judas chose to betray his Master in a most sinister and Satanic plot.
Then, Peter. Bold, impulsive, strong Peter. Vowing never to fall away from Jesus in his unflagging devotion. Yet, before the rooster crowed twice, Peter had three times denied all knowledge of Christ (v.29-30), sealing his denial with foul curses.
The rest of the Twelve also vowed to Jesus, "If I must die with You, I will not deny You (v.31). Sadly, once the Good Shepherd, Jesus, was struck down, arrested and crucified, they all, like sheep, scattered (v.27). Like them, the danger of original sin taints our hearts. We have failed our Master Christ. We might expect that Jesus would keep His distance from us, excluding wayward sinners from the fellowship, closeness and embrace of His love.
But Jesus does not walk away from His disciples. The Lord has not abandoned us. Christ knows that we are hurting. Lovingly, Jesus invites His disciples to dine with Him. His Holy Sacrament is a hospital meal served up to sin-sick patients who need their Lord's help and healing.
Who is worthy and well-prepared to eat and to drink from this altar? Not simply those who have fasted by denying themselves some pleasure or need during the season of Lent. Not merely those who have achieved great things by their outward training, as useful and good as that is. "But that person is truly worthy and well-prepared who has faith in these words: 'Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins...' for the words 'for you' require all hearts to believe" (SC VI:10). Trust what Jesus says about this bread and this wine: His body and His blood are given and shed to forgive our sins. This Holy Spirit-worked trust in His real presence makes us worthy and well-prepared. We know this food heals the sickness of sin in our souls. Faith makes us hungry for Jesus. "Christ asks me to eat and drink, so that this treasure may be my own...the very same treasure that is appointed for me against my sins, death, and every disaster" (LC V:22).
We look forward to that day when we will commune here again at the altar: not to be praised for all the good we have done, but to be pardoned for our failures. With the eyes of faith, we see Jesus humbled for us. Christ, our Host, stoops down to become our Servant. Even the servant's work of washing our dirty feet os met beneath Him. For Jesus sacrificed His life on the cross to earn our forgiveness, life and salvation. Fed by Christ, He does good works through us: deeds of love that benefit others.
Here, under this simple bread and wine that is Christ's body and blood, you and I receive a small sample, a little morsel, a tiny foretaste of the feast to come. This is a hospital meal served up to sinners in need of salvation. And, the same sinners who eat and drink here are also the invited guests, the saints, called to eat to drink at the everlasting banquet of the marriage feast of the Lamb of God in the kingdom of heaven (Revelation 3:20, 19:6-9, 22:17). Because Jesus serves us here, we are sure and certain to partake of that unending feast in heaven.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Ps.23:5-6).
Springing Up From The Ashes
St. John 12:20-43 ESV
Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion
5 April 2020
The beans sprouted last week.
For more than a month, I have been trying to get them to grow. An early start means that those bean plants will grow tall by summer: 3-6 feet! First, the hard seed casings must be softened before they will sprout. The seeds needed to be soaked in water for a week or so. That didn't look good. The stagnant water went cloudy and smelled bad: as if the seeds were rotting, not growing. Dead.
An Overnight Sensation
What a difference a day makes! At first, there was no life in the soil. But now, living plants have sprung to life. Three weeks ago, our lives went along as they always have. Then one day, in the middle of March, everything changed: no more hockey; nor more school; no more church. The looming threat of the coronavirus changed everything. Just as our lives change that quickly: the diagnosis is cancer; you lose your job; a parent, sibling or friend dies. Everything changes. In one day. The joyful and triumphant crowds welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday: "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" (v. 13). But then it all changed - in one day, on Friday. On that day, the crowd called for Jesus to die: "Crucify Him!" (St. John 19:15). There's no denying the sad reality that the Bible clearly teaches, and our experience confirms: we are sinners living in a sinful world. The cross of pain, suffering and death comes into our lives, just as it did for the Lord. Everything changes: in one day.
But "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1Timothy 1:15). Jesus was deeply troubled by the suffering and cruel death which lay ahead for Him. Nevertheless Christ embraced the cross: His Passion was His purpose for coming to earth. "Now is the judgement of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out" (v.31). Christ crucified is the power of God for salvation (1Corinthians 1:24; Romans 1:16). He bears the cross for us. At the cross, Jesus died in our place for our sins. But at His cross, we also find new life, remission and forgiveness for all our sins. Like a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, only to spring up and bear many more grains of wheat at the harvest, in the same way, Christ bore the cross so that we might follow Him into a harvest of eternal life. "Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life" (St.John 3:15). Jesus was "lifted up from the earth" (v.32) when He was nailed to the cross. By His holy death in our place, the Lord draws all people to Himself. He bears the cross for us.
The crosses we bear, shape and mould us to be like Him. Like Baptism. St. Paul reminds us that it begins when we were baptized. Daily, we return to Christ through our Baptism. "... all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death... We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4). Death and life. Dying and living. The pandemic that threatens us, our lives, our livelihoods, our future this unseen virus is the cross we bear: the cross laid upon the world collectively. Our crosses draw us closer to Christ and the cross He carried to save us.
One day, this will all be over. Life will return to some semblance of normal. Hockey will be back on. School will be in session. Workers will be back on the job. Businesses will open again. When church services are once again open to all people, will you be here? Will you come out to praise the Lord, like the Palm Sunday crowds who welcomed the Lord with loud hosannas and palms? The Lord promises that He is here with His Word and blessed Sacraments. The Greeks at the feast of the Passover were drawn to Him. The crowd that saw Jesus raise Lazarus to life from the dead followed Him. Rulers believed in Him secretly for fear of the Pharisees. Like all of these groups of people, Jesus promises that by His cross, "I will draw all people to Myself" (v.32). When this is all over, the Lord of the Church will again draw you here to Himself.
The crowds met Jesus as He was coming tinto Jerusalem carrying palm branches - an ancient symbol of victory to welcome kings and armies returning home from battle victorious. The Greek word for palms is phoenix (φοιγιξ), a word that calls to mind the mythical bird that was said to rise to life again from its ashes. Did you know that the ashes for Ash Wednesday are made by burning one of these palm crosses to ash? So, in this symbol of mortality and death, caused by sin, this ash cross reminds us of Christ who died on the cross to save us from death and the grave. He rose to life again - for real, not a myth - like a tender plant sprouting up from the ground.
In Jesus, we will spring to life again.
Jesus Was Alone On Trial...To Be Our Advocate
1 John 2:1
The Sixth Wednesday of Lent
1 April 2020
An Advocate we have before the Father: righteous Jesus Christ.
Once He is arrested, Jesus is dragged ahead of the Sanhedrin: a hastily convened council of the Jewish leaders, presided over by the chief Priest, Caiaphas. The assembly baits the Lord Jesus, badgering Him with questions, lies and accusations, seeking to verify the charge that will condemn Him to death: that He is the Son of God. "I am" declares the Lord Jesus in truth. "What further testimony do we nee?" declare his accusers as the trial wraps up. "We have heard it ourselves from his own lips" (St. Luke 22:71).
The Jews then rush the convicted Jesus to stand before Pontius Pilate. Fear of becoming unclean and excluded from the Passover feast make the Jews practice a social distancing of their time, standing outside, on the steps of the Roman palace. "We found this Man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King" (St. Luke 23:3). 'Huh,' Pilate thinks to himself with disgust. 'How many people in this backwater berg don't want to pay taxes? How many self-appointed kings challenge Rome's rule?' You don't have a case! "I find no guilt in this Man" (St. Luke 23:4). Pilate dismisses the case. And sends Jesus off to Herod.
The third trial before Herod achieves nothing. Oh, it is rigorous, lengthy, demeaning. King Herod grilled the Lord Christ with many questions, dressed Him up as a king, and made fun of Him: a trial of another sort. But Herod's interest in the Christ was his own personal amusement: "he was hoping to see some sign done by Him" (St. Luke 23:8). But Jesus did not perform on cue. So, it was back to Pilate.
The fourth and final stage of Christ's trial was again before Pontius Pilate. If the Gospels were a Hollywood movie and you didn't now how it would end, the spectator might well predict the outcome: "The verdict is going to be 'not guilty.' He's going to be set free, just you wait." After all, the Gospels record the words of Pilate over and over, "I did not find this Man guilty of any of your charges against Him...I will therefore...release Him" (St. Luke 23:14,16). Pilate's wife, Claudia Porcula, moved by a disturbing dream, pleaded with her husband, "Have nothing to do with that righteous Man" (St. Matthew 27:19). Plenty of courtroom drama went down that Friday morning. Pilate trotted out Barabbas, a convicted terrorist, and set him alongside Jesus. Which of the two do you want me to relate for you? Jesus or Barabbas? The mob ruled: Barabbas went free. As the court proceedings degenerated into riotous violence, Pilate washed his hands before the surging mob. "I am innocent of this man's blood" (St. Matthew 27:24). Nice gesture. But empty. Christ died for all: the whole world. Jesus was crucified for your sins and mine. Jesus was sentenced to die for the sins of the Sanhedrin, King Herod and Pilate. This we confess: [He] "was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate."
Any other earthly trial conducted in this way would be a terrible tragedy and miscarriage of justice. But Jesus Christ, Son of God, submitted to all this "for us men and for our salvation." The Lord faced these trials without legal defence, and stood alone before those who accused and condemned Him, so that we might stand as those who are justified in the final judgement before God Almighty. The innocent One who was falsely declared guilty for all the world's sins now pleads our case before the heavenly Father as our Advocate. Jesus, our Mediator presents His holy blood, shed for the sins of the world at the cross as exhibit "A:" the blood "that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel" (Hebrews 12:24). Because He died and rose again for us, "we have One who speaks to the Father in our defence - Jesus Christ, the righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1John 2:1-2).
Advocate (παρακλητος) means lawyer: one who speaks up for you, defends you and explains everything in the kindest way. Christ is our Advocate to plead our case as the children of God and inheritors of heaven. The Lord's case is linked in His blood. He sends His Holy Spirit to stand by our side, to comfort us with this good news of salvation and turn our minds and hearts back to Jesus. "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth," Jesus promised, "He will glorify Me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you" (St.John 16:13,14). Through these difficult times, we are not alone. Through His Word and His Sacraments, God the Holy Spirit keeps saving faith alive in us: "The Spirit Himself intercedes for us groaning too deep for words" (Romans 8:26).
Jesus stood alone to face His accusers. We are never alone. To answer the accusations from the devil, the world and our sinful nature, Jesus stands beside us. We are not innocent. But Christ justifies us, declaring us "not guilty." Because He has already stood on trial for us.
Delivered By The Stronger One
St. Luke 11:20-23 ESV
The Fifth Sunday in Lent
29 March 2020
C.S. Lewis, in his novel Perelandra, pictures a perfect world on the verge of losing that state of perfection and falling into sin, corruption and death. In one scene, a character named Weston, who clearly represents for the devil, is standing on the beach. He doesn't seem to be doing much of anything. But in fact, Weston is maiming the "brightly coloured frogs" of the world. Another character in the book describes what he sees: "he was tearing a frog-quietly and almost surgically inserting his forefinger, with its long sharp nail, under the skin and ripping it open...[he] had such remarkable nails. Then he finished the whole operation, threw the bleeding ruin away" (The Space Trilogy, HarperCollins, 2013, p.241). A random act of cruelty. Dealing death in his spare time. The devil's work. Evil.
"Deliver us from evil," we pray in the Lord's prayer. Deliver us from this plague, this virus and all its evil effects.
Where did it come from? What caused this worldwide pandemic? There must have been a root cause, a source of this virus. Really, at this stage of the game, that's beside the point. Sacred Scripture tells us that Satan, the evil one, is the author of such global woe. With an invisible contagion, the whole world has ground to a halt. Like Weston in the C.S. Lewis novel, Satan delights in causing pain, working havoc in the world and bringing death. "Deliver us from evil," we pray.
The evil one is like "a strong man, fully armed, [who] guards his own palace" (v.21). Turn on the news and you see the works of the evil one destroying order in the world, driving people apart and destroying health and home. Martin Luther's words in the Large Catechism are particularly relevant as he describes the "evil that may happen to us under the devil's kingdom: poverty, shame, death, and in short, all the agonizing misery and heartache of which there is such an unnumbered multitude on the earth. Since the devil is not only a liar, but also a murderer, he constantly seeks our life. He wreaks his vengeance wherever he can afflict our bodies with misfortune and harm. Therefore, it happens that he often breaks men's necks or drives them to insanity, drowns some, and moves many to commit suicide and to many other terrible disasters. So there is nothing for us to do upon earth than to pray against this archenemy without stopping. For unless God preserved us, we would not be safe from this enemy even for an hour" (LC III:115-116).
This pandemic that plagues us is horrible. But the devil's design desires more than the death of our bodies and the ruin of our planet. Even more, Satan is working to "destroy both soul and body in hell" (St. Matthew 10:28). We renounce all his works and all his ways. Alone, we are no match for the devil. He is stronger than we are. But we have an Ally who is stronger than the strong man. He delivers us.
We pray, "Dear Father, grant that we be rid of all these disasters," (LC III:114). "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us," we pray. Like the ten lepers. Like Jairus. Like Mary and Martha. And Christ answers. With life.
"When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his amor in which he trusted and divides his spoil" (v.21-22). Jesus teaches His victory over the devil and all his realm in this one-verse parable. Satan is the strong man. He holds the world captive, like treasures in his palace. So, we confess, "We are all conceived and born sinful and so are in need of forgiveness. We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation." The strong man guards what is his own.
But here's the good news: the strong man has been robbed. An even stronger Man has already broken into the devil's palace. Jesus is stronger than Satan. He broke through Satan's armour to carry us away as His very precious treasure. Christ attacked the enemy's palace at the cross. With every stroke of the hammer that nailed Christ to the cross, the strong man's defences crumbled and fell. With each dying gasp of the Son of God, the strong man grew weaker and weaker. The seal on the stone upon our Lord's grave locked Satan, the strong man, into chains. And when Jesus rose from the dead, the plunder began. Jesus plundered the devil's palace, liberating you and me and every sinner locked away in sin's prison Every baptized believer in Christ has been dragged out of the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of light. The resurrected and living Christ Jesus is the stronger One. By Him, the ten lepers were healed of their leprosy. By Him, the daughter of Jairus came back to life. By Him, Lazarus broke out of the grave: Alive!
Because Jesus died for us and rose to live again eternally, He is here in His house. The resurrected, living Christ rules as the Head of this household, the Church. He has promised to be with us to the end of the age. And He is. In HIs written and preached Word, Jesus continues to plunder the strong man, drawing souls out of the palace of the devil into His house by faith. Jesus is in the house through His Sacraments. Through water, wine and bread, Christ binds the strong man by making us HIs own.
In this present crisis, we are fighting powerful forces, invisible to our eyes, that infect our bodies with deadly result. These forces are beyond our ability to control.
Even before this present crisis, we have been fighting powerful spiritual forces, invisible enemies in the spiritual realm, Satan and his evil angels. These forces are far more powerful than we are.
But we know the One who is even more powerful than all our enemies, both physical and spiritual: Jesus Christ the Lord our great Redeemer. He fights for us. He will win. He already has. In Him, we overwhelmingly conquer. We are super-conquerors (θπερνικων - Romans 8:37).
So, we pray help from the Stronger One:
Deliver us from this pandemic.
Deliver us from this plague.
Deliver us from evil.
Deliver us from the evil one.
And, our prayer ends with a sure and confident, "Amen!"
A hearty and hale: Yes, Yes, it shall be so!
Jesus Was Arrested And Bound...To Free Us From Bondage
St. John 8:36
The Annunciation Of Our Lord
25 March 2020
If the Son should set you free, then truly you will be free.
The garden of Gethsemane is not huge: a tract of land like the backyard of an average house where eight olive trees grow. Into this small space crowd soldiers: six hundred Roman soldiers that St. John in his Gospel calls a "band" (σπειρα - St. John 18:3), or "cohort" of a Roman legion. Serious business!
The Romans have an alliance with the Jews: a group of religious officials crowd in, accompanied by the temple guards carrying swords, clubs and lanterns. Prepared for a fight! This takedown happened at Passover: under the light of a full moon. The soldiers carried lanterns to seek out these rebels if the disciples decided to hightail it into the hills and go into hiding.
Picture the faces of the soldiers: intense expressions forged by discipline. These are the faces of brutality, prejudice, hatred.
How did Jesus look at these men? What did He see in their faces? Fellow Jews who wanted to take Him down. A friend who had betrayed Him. Mercenaries just paid to do a job: focussed on bringing Jesus to justice, swinging the whips that would tear His flesh, driving the spikes that would fix Him to the cross. Jesus even saw the centurion who would look upon His lifeless body to confess, "Truly this Man was the Son of God" (St. Mark 15:39).
Containment. The Romans were trying to put a lid on the controversy surrounding this Jesus fellow, to take extraordinary measures to keep the peace, the Pax Romana, and get life back to normal again, back to business as usual.
But neither the Romans, nor the Jews are calling the shots. That would be Jesus. He is in control of the events of the day, just like Jesus is in control of all things now.
Through this chaos, the Lord steps forward to speak to the mob: "Whom do you seek?" "Jesus of Nazareth," they reply. "I am He", says the Lord.
By this saying, Jesus declares that He is God: "I am who I am" (Exodus 3:14) declares Almighty God, who spoke with the same words to Moses through the burning bush. Even while He is being arrested, the Lord interceded for His own: "let these men go". As prophesied, "All the disciples left Him and fled". (St. Matthew 26:56).
The hour of the powers of darkness is at hand. The soldiers arrested Jesus and bound Him. Six hundred of Rome's finest escort Jesus to captivity, even while more than twelve legions of angels are at HIs command (St. Matthew 26:53) that's more than 72,000 heavenly warriors! The One through whom all things were created, chooses to be led away, His hands tied by ropes.
Peter flailed his sword to defend his Master, cutting off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest. Jesus quickly healed the wounded ear and put a stop to this vain violence, for "how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled?" Even as He is being bound and led away, Christ declared "all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled" (St. Matthew 26:56).
Jesus chose this path: to be arrested and bound, to break our chains and set us free. "The Spirit of the Lord...has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (St. Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61:1). Christ preached this sermon to His hometown of Nazareth, proclaiming HIs mission: to free those in captivity. Not from iron bars and cells primarily, but to set our souls free. Liberation from the oppression of our sins. For this, our Lord was bound, led away, crucified, died and sealed in the cold cell of Joseph's tomb.
After all this, this arrest and binding, this death and burial could not hold the Lord of life. He broke out of the captivity of the grave. "Peace" said the living Lord to the disciples huddled in fear behind locked doors. He set them free from the depths of their souls with His liberating absolution. "receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them" (St. John 20:22). "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (St. John 8:36). With His same freeing word, Jesus liberates us: "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins."
A Rock And A Hard Place
St. Matthew 22:15-21 ESV
The Fourth Sunday In Lent
22 March 2020
"There will be no church service this Sunday." The words caught in my mouth as I tried to say them Wednesday afternoon. I couldn't believe what I was saying even as I said it. Not just force of habit. Not just because it is my job to lead the divine services: a solemn call from the Lord Himself. We come to church to keep the third commandment: "remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." In Word and Sacrament, God strengthens our faith and blesses us with forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation from unending suffering in hell.
Opponents of Jesus tested Him with a trick question: "Is is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" (v.17). Refusing the tax would constitute an act of civil disobedience: rebellion against the Roman Empire. Paying the tax would support the rule of an anti-Christian government. The Pharisees put the Lord between a rock and a hard place.
Our present crisis pits the third and fifth commandments against each other. God commands us to "remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy," that is, to "hold God's Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it." Sacred Scripture warns us not to neglect meeting together, but to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25). The whole purpose of coming here is to receive God's gifts, freely offered in sermon and sacraments. I've never said before, "Don't come to church."
"You shall not murder," is God's fifth commandment. Not just open murder is here forbidden, but also any hurt or harm to our neighbour in his body. To continue to meet together is to sin against our better knowledge. Worship services put us at an increased risk to spread the virus, especially to old, sick or vulnerable people.
This decision not to open our doors to the public for worship services during this pandemic is difficult. It gives me a heavy heart. For even during these conditions, the third commandment still stands. This Law continues to be binding on us. We miss the fellowship. We are a sacramental church: we meet in person, face-face, to hear and study God's Word, to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ. We enjoy coffee and cookies, potlucks, visits and prayers together. I've often seen how our sick, hospitalized and shut-in members miss that fellowship of gathering together with brothers and sisters in Christ here at church. This situation is impossible: we cannot keep both the third and fifth commandments. The Law of God accuses us. The Law condemns us.
Reconciled In Christ
As the Law always does. We cannot justify ourselves. We need Jesus. He justifies us.
Christ was obedient to the Law of God in every way on our behalf. Jesus held the Word of God sacred by being born at Christmas: the very Word of God made flesh (St. John 1:14). Twelve-year-old Jesus stayed behind at the temple for the ultimate Catechism class: asking and answering questions about the Word of God. By doing this, Jesus was occupied with HIs heavenly Father's business (St. Luke 2:46-47). Christ acted on His words: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (v.21) in His own life, suffering, death and resurrection. The Lord honoured His parents and other authorities, submitting to Caesar and the judgement of the government of His day: the unjust verdict of crucifixion. Dying on the cross in our place, Jesus provided the ultimate help and support to us and all the world in our every physical (and spiritual) need. For "by His wounds [we] have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24). Christ perfectly obeyed the will of the Father: "obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). Jesus rose to life to guard and protect our lives forever. Because He lives, we shall live also (St. John 14:19).
We can never keep the Law of God entirely. But Jesus did. Perfectly. The commandments cannot save us. But He does. Jesus saves.
His Way Forward
So, we obey both God and government. We hold God's Word sacred: if not in this place, then in our homes, in our devotions, in our words, as we pray, and ultimately in our hearts.
And, we care for our neighbours in every physical need: careful not to spread this virus, avoiding risky exposure, providing help to others where we can, speaking an encouraging word. Staying in touch.
Between a rock and a hard place: that pictures a situation where there doesn't seem to be any way forward. "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (St. Matthew 19:26). Christ will bring us out of this hard place. Jesus is our Rock.
Jesus Was Betrayed...To Love and Forgive Us
1 Peter 2:24b-25
The Fourth Wednesday of Lent
18 March 2020
"By His stripes, you have been healed.
For like a sheep, you were being led astray,
But you have been turned back now to the Shepherd
And Bishop of your souls".
"Love one another as I have loved you" (St. John 15:12). Jesus taught His disciples as they gathered around the table in the Upper Room for the Last Supper. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another" (St. John 13:35 NIV).
Yet that same night in the garden of Gethsemane, where was that love? The disciples dozed off instead of keeping their Lord company, maintaining no vigil while He struggled in prayer. Peter's resolve to follow no matter what would soon fail. Worst of all was the disciple who left Gethsemane to betray his Friend and Master, sealing that betrayal with a kiss!
Judas knew that Jesus would be in the garden. John writes that "Jesus often met there with His disciples" (St. John 18:2). The night silence is shattered when Judas leads a crowd of soldiers and temple guards carrying blazing torches, swords and clubs: a whole army to take one Man! Judas steps forward to mark the victim with his lips. "Greetings, Rabbi" says the betrayer, embracing the Innocent One with a kiss (St. Matthew 26:49). The early Christian Church expressed the peace of fellowship before coming to Holy Communion with the kiss of peace: not a peck on the cheek, like a European greeting, but a "full-bodied kiss on the lips". Hard to have a falling out or to nurse a grudge with someone who's that close! Yet, the affectionate kiss of disciple to Master is the sign of betrayal. How did that pain inflicted by a simple kiss compare with the whips, thorns and nails to come? "Even My close friend in whom I trusted, who ate My bread, has lifted up his heel against Me" (Psalm 41:9).
Why? What turned Judas against Jesus? Truly a close disciple of the Lord, included among the twelve. Judas even held the office of treasurer: he was entrusted with the money bag! Judas is convicted by His own words: "What will you give me if I deliver Him over to you?" (St. Matthew 26:15). Thirty silver pieces was the price of betrayal. Judas sold out his Master for money.
When he repented, Judas could not repay the debt of his betrayal. His own efforts could not balance the books. The chief priests refused his confession: "I have betrayed innocent blood". Thrown back on himself, Judas was overwhelmed with guilt and ended his own life.
The sad tale of Judas stands as a warning to all who refuse the riches of God's grace at Christ's expense. Even a disciple who lived, ate and listened to Jesus during His three year ministry refused the riches of forgivens, life and salvation in the Lord. Poor Judas only had betrayal and death.
How was peter any different? His repentance was locked on the Lord with a look of faith.
For many of the twelve disciples, Scripture gives us nothing more than a name. But not Peter. He is personality plus. Peter is usually the first to speak, the first to recognize Christ, first to step out of the boat and into the waves. Peter was the one who pulled a sword on the soldiers who arrested Jesus.
But Peter was not perfect. A servant girl took him down. Three times, Peter denied that he knew the Lord. Peter's triple denial was locked up tight with the curse words that spilled out of his mouth.
Just moments before the rooster crowed. Mere seconds before the Lord turned to lock His gaze on Peter, looking him straight in the eye. That look broke his heart.
Jesus saw Peter. Peter saw his sin. And wept bitterly.
Happily, Peter's tale does not end with his swinging from a rope, but jumping ship. After the resurrection, whilethe disciples are fishing, the Lord keeps pace with the boat from shore. Excited Peter jumps from the boat to meet the Lord for breakfast. After breakfast, the Lord restored his wayward disciple. "Do you love Me?" He asked Peter. "Feed my sheep," the Lord commanded him. The third time Jesus repeated this litany of questions and responses, "Peter was grieved." 'Ooooh! I know what this is about.' You can practically hear him thinking to himself. With His triple absolution, the Lord restores His fallen disciple.
That's what Jesus does for us. When we sin, whether by betrayal, by greed, by caving in to peer pressure or any of the other real sins the gripped the disciples, He loves us. He forgives us. That's why He was betrayed. That's why He suffered and died. "By His wounds, you are healed" Peter wrote in his first Epistle. The one forgiven by Christ freely commends us to His forgiving grace. "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (St. John 15:13).
Cause & Effect
Romans 5:3-4 ESV
The Third Sunday in Lent
15 March 2020
You can't catch a cold from being out in the cold. That's what I've heard many times. I'm not so sure. For when I've been out in cold weather for long periods of time, what happens? A cold! That's cause and effect.
Contact with infected people causes the coronavirus to spread to other people. That's cause and effect. In vulnerable individuals, this virus has led to death. That's cause and effect.
The Public Health Agency of Canada gives practical instructions to stop the spread of the virus: "wash your hands often with soap and water...use hand sanitizer...avoid close contact with people who are sick... clean and disinfect surfaces that people touch regularly". All measures that we are doing here at church to stay healthy. Cause and effect.
The present threat of the coronavirus is nothing compared with the devastation caused when the Black Plague struck Wittenberg, Germany in 1527. Eighteen people died in three weeks, including many who were close to Martin Luther. The University was closed and moved to Jena, but Luther stayed behind to minister to the sick. His wife, Katy, was four months pregnant. Despite the dangers, Martin Luther survived. His wife gave birth to Elizabeth. Thanks to the grace of God who protected them. Cause and effect.
A Chain of Effects
Suffering. Endurance. Character. Hope.
St. Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, tracing a flow chart of cause and effect in the hearts, minds, and lives of baptized believers: "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope" (v 3b-4). Everything we suffer: illness, stress, temptation, conflict, doubt and more - those tribulations are not just random, arbitrary, chance events. Affliction, distress is used by our Lord to mould, shape and form us:
(1) For endurance (υπομονη) that means, not to give up when the pressure's on. The race of the Christian life is not a sprint, but a marathon.
(2) For character (δοκμη) the confidence you feel after you have been through a time of trial or testing. "I should not be afraid," Martin Luther wrote in October 1542, "I have now been exposed to three pestilences... I understand the danger very well, but it did not harm me, thank God" (Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, p. 255). Character is like the blade the has been forged in fire, then tested by repeated chopping on hardwood or stone. The blade that endures such an ordeal has proven character.
(3) For hope (ελπις) at the end of this chain of effects, hope is the final reward, the gift of God that leaves behind character, endurance and every suffering. Hope is eternal life. Sure and certain hope in Christ. We all need that.
Because of death. The final earthly outcome effected by our sins is the same for every person: highborn or poor, pious or pagan, weak or strong. "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23a).
Love To Die For
But, that's not the last word, the final outcome, the end effect. "Christ died for the ungodly" (v.6). Jesus broke the cursed chain of sin, the native-born sequence of cause and effect: of sin that leads to eternal death in hell. He broke the chain to save us. The sequence of cause and effect that Paul lays down in the Epistle to describe our lives as Christians fits the earthly life of the Lord Jesus to a tee.
He suffered for us. Humbly born of the Virgin Mary in the dirt of the stable, rejected by the world, criticized in His teaching, abandoned by disciples, whipped, spat on, beaten, nailed to a cross until He died. In His suffering, our Lord Jesus endured, keeping HIs eyes on the mission of saving the world, despite the temptations to tap out. Christ's endurance in suffering showed in His character, drawing others to Himself: the woman at the well, the man born blind, the thief on the cross. The Lord's sufferings, endurance, and character all come together at the cross: the hope of our salvation. "God shows His love for us in the while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (v.8). By His death, Jesus has destroyed death. "Through Him, we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God" (v.2). Jesus has opened heaven to us.
His Cause - Our Effect
"Whoever believes and is baptized will be save" (St. Mark 16:16). If you have been baptized and believe in Jesus Christ as your Saviour, He produces this effect in your heart: "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (v.1). We have it! Peace. Even while we suffer tribulation, affliction, and distress. Even while we carry on, and persist with patience. Even while our character develops and our faith is tested through trials. Even while we live in hope, looking ahead to when hard times in this life will be over. We have peace.
In a letter to his friend, Nicholas von Amsdorf, Martin Luther wrote about his struggles during the plague of 1527: "So there are battles without and terrors within, and really grim ones...It is a comfort that we can confront Satan's fury with the Word of God, which we have and which saves souls even if that one should devour our bodies. Commend us to the brethren and yourself to pray for us that we may endure bravely under the hand of the Lord and overcome the power and cunning of Satan, be it through dying or living. Amen".
We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. This "hope does not put us to shame" (v.5). The effect is sure and certain in Christ: eternal life.