Faith Lutheran Church Desboro
St. John 17:1-11. ESV
The Seventh Sunday Of Easter
Talk about the ultimate advantage! In the Gospel today, Jesus prays to His Father. Picture that: the dear and only Son of the Father is seated at God’s right hand—He has His ear. His prayers are precious to the Father in heaven. When Jesus prays, what does Jesus want?
This scene from John’s Gospel captures Jesus praying before His disciples. It’s in the Upper Room, just after instituting the Lord’s Supper, the night on which He was betrayed. Like the disciples, we are listening in on a close, intimate conversation: the Son speaking with His Father. Prayer reveals what’s in your heart—when you speak to God, then the people and matters closest to your heart come out in your words. Sometimes those prayers run so close to your heart they come out as inarticulate: “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). The simple phrases of Christ’s prayer today are filled with the deep compassion of His holy heart. What does Jesus want?
Four petitions rise up from His prayer. Jesus wants:
➀ to give us eternal life;
➁ to protect us, His people in the world;
➂ to keep us faithful to God’s name; and
➃ to unite us in Him.
This Is The Life
What does Jesus want? You know the familiar verse: “God our Saviour... desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4). Salvation. Eternal life. Uppermost in the heart of Jesus, the Saviour, as He prays. And, by His cross and empty tomb, Jesus earns the right to give us that eternal life as a gift to His dear baptized believers. Like you and me. That’s not only going to heaven after we die. As the Lord says in His prayer, eternal life is to know God and His Son in this life by the Holy Spirit’s work in our heart through the Bible’s teachings; to know the Holy Triune God as our dear Friend for all eternity (v. 3). “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man,” writes St. John in Revelation. “He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more” (Revelation 21:3-4). What does Jesus want? To give His dear Christians eternal life.
In The World
Distinct from the rest of the world, Jesus prays for His own: Christians who are in the world. Of course, Jesus loves the world: all the people of the world. He loves the world so much that He died on the cross to prevent the world from perishing in their sins (St. John 3:16). But here, Jesus prays specifically for His Apostles—those twelve men including Matthias chosen by the Lord to bring the Word of God into the world. The hope and earnest prayer of Jesus is that the world would repent, turn from sin and be saved though faith in Him.
Enfolded In The Fold
As He prays for the Apostles, so Jesus prays for all dear Christians (like you and me), as we live in the world. The Lord asks the Father to keep us in the true faith always. He prays that the world around us would not shape us into its perverse path and pointless manner of living. Jesus prays for us to be faithful to God while we are in this world.
This sermon concentrates on what Jesus wants. But we want things too, don’t we? Even the good things we want can put us in conflict with our Christian sisters and brothers. Even in Church, we can stubbornly insist: “My way or the highway!”
On October 21, 1805, the battle of Trafalgar pitted ships of the British navy against the combined fleets of France and Spain. Britain’s victory at Trafalgar established its place in Europe for the next century. In the heat of this battle, Commanding officer, Admiral Nelson came on deck and found two of his officers fighting with each other. Nelson, separated the two men, turned them away from each other to face the enemy ships bearing down on them. “Gentlemen,” he said, “those are your enemies!”
Where there is heat, friction and conflict between Christians remember this: no matter how you feel about that other person, this is not your enemy. He or she is a dear soul for whom Christ died. Satan, the world without Christ and our own sinful nature—these are your enemies. They are bent on destroying us all. What does Jesus want? An end to conflict between Christians. That we be one.
Christians are united with each other. We confess by faith: not by our works, praying, piety, nor good deeds, but by the Lord. Jesus has claimed us as His own in our Baptisms. He did the work that unites us by taking all of our sinful divisions to the cross where He put them to death in His own body of flesh. We are united in the true Christian faith revealed to us in the Bible. We are united in the proper practice of that faith in here worship and the proper administration of the Sacraments. We believe in one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church. Our oneness flows from the unity of God Himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—one God in three Persons. Jesus wants this. So He prays, “that they may be one, even as we are one” (v. 11).
“I want pizza! I want hot dogs! I want chicken fingers! I want macaroni! I want grilled cheese!” Everybody seated around the dinner table had an appetite for something different. What did mom and dad give the family? Meatloaf. A meal everyone enjoyed.
Our God knows what we need. Trust Him. Pray for His will to be done.
Blessed To Be A Blessing
St. Luke 24:50-51. ESV
The Ascension Of Our Lord
Blessed to be a blessing—that’s what the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ means to us who are in Christ by faith.
Eleven days ago in the service of Holy Baptism, I did something unusual. With my back to the congregation, I put my hands on the heads of the boys: one hand on Peter, one hand on Sawyer while together we prayed the Lord’s Prayer. Unusual. Except that’s the Bible’s picture of blessing. Moments before that scene, we heard the Gospel reading describing how Jesus took little children “up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them” (St. Mark 10:16 NKJV). Through the water and God’s Word in Holy Baptism, Jesus extends His living, risen and ascended hand of blessing upon us, forgiving our sins and bringing us into His Church. Jesus gave these blessings to Peter and to Sawyer when they were baptized. The ascended Lord blessed them—so that they, in turn, will be a blessing in the world.
What does it mean to be blessed? Enriched by God. We might first think of material blessings. The land yields a bumper crop—a rich harvest. Our business does well and we find ourselves financially rich. We are blessed to recover from a serious illness. God surely gives all those kinds of blessings.
But also, spiritual gifts. Forgiveness for our sins. A clear conscience. Fellowship with God and with others. Eternal life in heaven. These gifts come from God to us as signs of His grace—blessings bestowed through Christ who loved us so much that He died on the cross for us. Blessing is the opposite of curse. Freely, richly, through faith in Christ, God blesses us. Forever.
So that we will be a blessing to others. The gifts God gives to us are not meant to stop with us. We are not the end of the line. God blesses us so that we will be a blessing to others. How?
We use our hands to help, not to hurt. We use our hands to hand out food and drink to those in need, not to keep our money and possessions in a death grip. We reach out our hands to hug those who are heartbroken with grief and sorrow, not to push them away with our hands. With our actions and words, with our hearts and hands, we seek the good of others. God in Christ blesses us. So we will be a blessing to others in the world.
The Source of every blessing is Jesus Himself. St. Luke records the Lord’s last earthly moments with His disciples before ascending to heaven: “Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. While He blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (v. 50-51). The Eleven watched Jesus ascend from earth to heaven. His hands were raised over them. Not to keep His balance on His upward path in the sky. No. It was to give them His blessing as He was visibly taken from them.
Upon them and upon us, Jesus gives His blessing. Of forgiveness. Earned by His death for us and for all people in the cross. Given in Absolution, Baptism and Communion. He forgives us our sins so that we can forgive those who sin against us. Jesus blesses us.
With life. The Son of God who died on the cross defeated death and the grave by rising to life again. That’s how He can richly promise: “Because I live, you also will live” (St. John 14:19). The risen and ascended Christ comforts us as we stand at the grave side of our loved ones who have left this life in the Christians faith: in Him, we will see them again; we will be reunited in His ascended glory. In this way, we can bless others who are grieving the loss of loved ones with the resurrection comfort that is in Christ. Jesus blesses us.
With salvation. The guilt of our sins cannot accuse nor condemn those who are in Christ. We are saved from everlasting damnation in hell through Jesus. He descended into hell, proclaiming His victory over Satan, death, and the grave. Now, Jesus is ascended into heaven, seated at the right hand of God the Father and is present with us as true God and man throughout the world in His Word and Sacraments. In Jesus, we are saved. There is no doubt! We bless others by sharing this salvation with them. Jesus blesses us.
This Holy Ascension day, we turn our hearts to focus on the gifts that our Father in heaven richly pours on us from His fatherly hand. God in Christ blesses us. So we will be a blessing to others in the world.
No Longer Orphans
St. John 14:18. ESV
The Sixth Sunday Of Easter
God’s rich blessings to you on this Mothers’ day! Hear how Dr. Martin Luther pictures the honour we owe to mothers and fathers in his Large Catechism: “To the position of fatherhood and motherhood God has given special distinction above all positions that are beneath it: He does not simply command us to love our parents, but to honour them. Regarding our brothers, sisters, and neighbours in general, He commands nothing more than that we love them. In this way He separates and distinguishes father and mother from all other persons upon earth and places them at His side. For it is a far higher thing to honour someone than to love someone, because honour includes not only love, but also modesty, humility, and submission to a majesty hidden in them. Honour requires not only that parents be addressed kindly and with reverence, but also that, both in heart and with the body, we demonstrate that we value them very highly, and that, next to God, we regard them as the very highest” (LC I:105-107).
Born Without Parents
Sadly, the Bible teaches that everyone of us was born an orphan (ὀρφανός cf. Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:1). How? Original sin, passed on to us when we were conceived means our souls had neither father nor mother. Sin makes us orphans. Orphans need to fend for themselves. Orphans have no one to call their own, no one to fuss over them, no one to make sacrifices for them, no one to divide their sorrows, no one to multiply their joys. Orphans have no one to give hope. That was us: every one of us when we were born. Sin does that to us. Makes us orphans.
Chosen By The Lord
Now here’s the good news: we are no longer orphans. Before we could do or say anything, the Lord chose us to be His very own. For most of us, this happened in the waters of Holy Baptism. Through this Sacrament, Almighty God put His mark on us: tracing the sign of His eternal love for us in the shape of a cross upon our foreheads, upon our hearts. In Baptism, God declared us to be His dear children, and He our loving Father. From that moment on, Almighty God made us His very own. Out of love for us, He made the ultimate sacrifice. Born again in our baptismal bath, He drowns all our sorrows and multiplies our joys in the new life we have in Christ. Baptism brings us into the family of God: we have hope that is eternal, an inheritance of life that can never perish, spoil, nor fade. By the grace of God in Christ, we are no longer orphans.
The Lord did this at a great personal expense. Adoption is not free: it costs and costs dearly. When Christ Jesus adopted us as the children of God, it literally cost Him the shirt off His back. To bear His family name, “Christian” Jesus humbled Himself and set aside His divinity to be born the Child of Mary. The One who promises us, “I will never leave you,” (v. 18) was Himself forsaken by the Heavenly Father as He suffered with the burden of our sins on His cross. For us, who were born into the world with nothing, made orphans by our sin, Christ poured out His life blood to purchase our forgiveness. Through faith in Him alone, we have the inheritance of heaven, the New Testament inked in His blood: a permanent place in the Father’s house, a perpetual seat at the table of His divine banquet. All that belongs to Christ is now ours. Jesus is delighted to call us His brothers and sisters; children of the heavenly Father. We are no longer orphans.
The Hand That Rocks The Cradle
Most of us learned this from the time we were small from our mothers. Virtually while we were still dripping wet from the font, they taught us the faith. Mother told us there is one true God in three Persons: the God who created us; the God who loves us with an undying, unconditional love; the God who comforts us with saving faith in Jesus Christ created in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. These truths were vital for mother to pass on to us. No matter what else we experience, and encounter, godly mothers make sure we know the Lord loves us. For we are no longer orphans.
The Waiting Father
Some mothers (and fathers) have done their best to teach their children about the true God, our loving heavenly Father who stands with open arms, eager to embrace us no longer as orphans, but as His true children. Sadly, their children have rejected this teaching, turning their backs on what their parents say and their Christian example of life. What could be more disheartening or tragic? God our Father knows what it means to be rejected by His children. Mothers and fathers, keep on teaching the faith to your children; keep on praying for your children. Remember the example of Monica. Her son had rejected her teaching so he could live an openly immoral life, mocking her every attempt to teach him the love of God in Christ. She kept on praying for her wayward son, knowing that he was no orphan in God’s eyes for the sake of Jesus. By God’s gracious converting power through the Holy Spirit, Monica’s son Augustine came to know the love of God for him in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. St. Augustine became a Christian and a Pastor of Pastors in the early Christian Church. No longer an orphan!
How it saddens our hearts to know that not all mothers will have that experience today. Some mothers will not hear from their children at all. Some mothers will have taught their children to value many gods: the gods of athletics, or music, or the arts, or the god of serving yourself. Like an ever-patient Father, God calls out loudly to those spiritual orphans of the world: “You are no longer an orphan.” In families where other gods have taken priority and pride of position in their lives, the good news is that God continues to love them. He stands waiting with open arms to embrace them, to welcome them into His family. Forgiveness is full and free in the shed blood of His dear Son, Jesus, who declares that they are no longer orphans.
By the grace of God in Christ Jesus, by His sacrificial love by which He gave His all for this lost world, the Father in heaven welcomes us into His family. We are daughters and sons for the sake of Jesus: orphans no more!
St. John 14:1-6. ESV
The Fifth Sunday Of Easter
One of my favourite preachers, St. John Chrysostom proclaimed in an Easter sermon in the year 407 AD, “It is not only earth, but heaven as well which has part in today’s (Paschal) feast. The Angels exult, the Archangels rejoice, the Cherubim and the Seraphim join us in the celebration of today’s feast... What room is there for sadness?”
Come Early For The Best Seats
There is no room for sad faces! Only joy. After all, the church is crowded: with those who are seated in the pews around us and those invisible hosts of God: the heavenly fellowship of angels, archangels and the whole company of heaven: some of those people you know: saints who trusted in Jesus while they lived among us here on earth, and are now alive with Him in heaven. Since the Lord Christ is with us here in Church, they also join us with Him in this place. Church is crowded!
In the fictional universe created by George Lucas, the vessel called the Death Star was a planet-sized weapon of terrible power. Apart from its destructive potential, the Death Star provided extensive accommodations for both passengers and crew. No need to make room for new arrivals: somewhere between one and two million people could be housed in rooms on board.
An actual ship, commissioned by the Lord to be built to save the living creatures of the ancient world was Noah’s ark (Genesis 6-9). God wisely designed a way to make room for the smallest of creatures to live in harmony with the largest predators during an entire year within that ark while the world was flooded. St. Peter points to the flood as a picture of what happens here in Holy Baptism, destroying sin in the world and saving Noah and his family, eight people altogether (I Peter 3:20-21).
Crowds Of Troubles
Peter and the other disciples had troubles. In a matter of minutes, they would see their dear Lord and Master arrested, tortured and nailed to a cross. Peter would crack under pressure, denying he even knew Jesus (St. John 18:25-27). Torment of soul and body. Yes, trouble was coming.
We have troubles. Where should I begin? Money trouble. Marriage trouble. Trouble on the job. Health trouble. The list may be long of those fears, worries, anxieties and cares that weigh down our hearts and age our bodies. If we are not troubled now, Jesus prepares us to face troubles that lie ahead. How?
Clear The Room
Christ Jesus drives them away. ‘Make room!’ says the Lord to those sinful stressors that stir up (ταράσσω) our hearts and minds with trouble. “I forgive you all your sins,” the Lord declares with His powerful, divine Word. The storms of trouble calm in our hearts. Christ’s forgiveness washes over us in our Baptisms. He makes room for faith instead of fear.
Jesus leaves no room for fear. Christ’s forgiveness chases away guilt, anxiety, worry and fear from our hearts. “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (v. 1), Jesus says.
For many people, life over the past three years of pandemic measures has been a roller coaster of trouble. Lockdowns have left many looking for healthy things to do. Now, coming out of pandemic, our lives are full: making up for lost time, busy with all those things we couldn’t do before. In the busyness of life, don’t crowd out the Lord. Make room for Christ and His gifts freely given here in Church. Make room for faith in Christ by casting out fear, trouble and anxious hearts. “Believe in God; believe also in Me” (v. 1), says Jesus.
Truly The Living Way
Make room for Jesus: He is the way. From sin to forgiveness. From earth to heaven. From this life to the next. There’s no other way. Make room for Jesus: He is the truth. His Word, the Bible, is inspired by the Holy Spirit. His Word is entirely trustworthy, and without mistakes. Trust Jesus to be true to you always. Make room for Jesus: He is the life. Jesus died on the cross to take away the guilt of our sins that leads to eternal death in hell. Jesus Christ rose to life again on Easter morning to give us the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of our bodies to eternal life in Him. Live in Jesus.
He makes room for us in heaven. “I go to prepare a place for you” (v. 2), He promises. Will there be room in heaven for everyone who believes in Jesus? God’s Word says, “yes!” “In My Father’s house are many rooms” (v. 2), says Jesus. Sixty years after saying these words, Jesus revealed to the Apostle St. John details of that dwelling place of God with man in heaven—the city of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:16): a massive metropolis in the shape of a cube towers over the horizon of heaven: 1 380 miles or 2 220 kilometres long, wide, and high. In the Father’s house, the Lord Jesus makes room for the saints to stream in to their heavenly habitation: ample room for some billions of glorified believers in Christ to live comfortably forever.
Trusting in the word of Jesus, we know that heaven is big enough for all who believe and are baptized into Him (St. Mark 16:16), including Peter and Sawyer, and all the baptized of every age. In the mansion of the heavenly Father, there “are many rooms” (v. 2).
Jesus has gone ahead of us. He says, “Make room!”
S. D. G.
Saviour, Like A Shepherd Lead Us
St. John 10:1-10. ESV
The Fourth Sunday Of Easter
Savior, like a shepherd lead us;
Much we need Your tender care.
In Your pleasant pastures feed us,
For our use Your fold prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
You have bought us; we are Yours.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
You have bought us; we are Yours.
We want a Saviour like that: one who, like a Shepherd tenderly cares for our needs of body and soul, gently guarding us from the perils of our sinful straying; in loving generosity pouring on the healing salve of His free forgiveness. Jesus Christ is that Saviour. Jesus is our Good Shepherd.
Strangers try to take control of the Good Shepherd’s sheep: thieves and robbers. They don’t tenderly care for the sheep like Jesus. They come “only to steal and kill and destroy” (v. 10).
Pharaoh was a hard taskmaster over God’s ancient people Israel. At first, the Egyptian leader who welcomed Joseph and his extended family to settle there during the great famine, was a kind and generous leader to Israel. But the times, they were a-changing. “Now there arose a new King over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). His leadership style was harsh, demanding and brutal. This Pharaoh made slaves of the Israelites, forced them to make bricks without straw (Exodus 5:10), and forcibly killed the male children born to the Israelites. God sent Moses saying, “Let My people go!” (Exodus 8:2). Pharaoh refused God. No, I will not! (Exodus 11:27). Not a gentle shepherd. A harsh robber.
Two weeks ago in the first reading from the book of Acts, the leaders of Israel harassed the sheep of the Good Shepherd. Fifteen hundred years after wicked Pharaoh refused to free God’s people, the leaders of Israel, the Sanhedrin Council, called Peter and the Apostles into a meeting, beating them and strictly forbidding them to speak in the name of Jesus (Acts 5:40) . No gentle leadership there. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (v. 10).
In these days, false teachers are the strangers who seek to lead the sheep of the Good Shepherd away from His voice, away from His gracious salvation, away from His tender care. Not all churches preach and teach the Word of the Good Shepherd faithfully. Martin Luther, explaining the first article of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that “anyone who teaches or lives contrary to the Word of God profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!” (SC III:5). Straying sheep don’t always follow the voice of the Shepherd, but can easily follow the voice of strangers down the path of destruction. We, the Church, as the sheep of the Good Shepherd not only “believe, teach and confess” (FC Ep I:2) the pure truth of God’s Word. We also “reject and condemn” (FC Ep I:11) the the errors that contradict that biblical teaching; errors that hurt and destroy the Good Shepherd’s sheep.
The “strangers” who threaten the Lord’s dear sheep aren’t just “out there:” the false teachers in media, Internet and casual conversation. Each of us also has a sinful nature within us. That Old Adam is a back door man. He sneaks into our lives in hidden and unexpected ways. Although he is as familiar to us as our own flesh and blood, our sinful nature is a stranger: alien to the good nature that God has created in us here in Baptism. The Old Adam is a thief and a robber: stealing our souls and robbing the Good Shepherd of His own dear sheep. Look at where sin takes hold in your words and actions. That sin is not your friend. That sin comes only to steal peace from your mind, to kill your body, and destroy your soul forever in hell.
The Shepherd Leads
Dear sheep of Jesus, don’t listen to those strangers. Flee from false teachers. Throw off the yoke of slavery from every tyrannical leader. Turn a deaf ear to the accusing voice of your sins. Listen to Jesus. Follow the gentle guiding of the Good Shepherd. You know Him. He’s not a stranger to you. He’s the One who has an intimate connection with every sheep and lamb of His flock. “He calls His own sheep by name” (v. 3). Your name was spoken over you in the waters of Holy Baptism, when the Good Shepherd marked you with His cross as a part of His flock; your name was spoken at your Confirmation, when you joyfully vowed to remain true to the Good Shepherd all your life; your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:27), a part of His flock forever. Like a Shepherd, the Saviour leads you.
By going on before the sheep. Our Good Shepherd doesn’t drive the sheep from behind with whip or goad; He leads the sheep and they follow Him. Through this life. For you, the Good Shepherd Jesus took on human flesh of the Virgin Mary and was born just like you were—yet without sin. The Good Shepherd Jesus went through the joys and sorrows of this earthly life, sharing your experiences as true God, but also true man. The Good Shepherd Jesus also died to lead you through the valley of the shadow of death. That means you are not alone, even there. Like a Shepherd, the Saviour leads you.
With joy, the sheep follow Him. We know where the Good Shepherd leads. The Good Shepherd is the door to unending life. “If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (v. 9). We, the sheep of the Good Shepherd graze on the green pastures of His gracious Word of forgiveness. In both Bible and Communion, the free salvation Jesus provides for His sheep through His death on the cross and His resurrection at Easter feeds our bodies and souls. In Him, we are saved. The Good Shepherd opens the door to heaven for us when this earthly life ends. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (v. 10), we hear the Good Shepherd tell us. The crucified and risen Shepherd provides abundant life here while we live on earth, leading us to life eternal with Him and with the whole flock in heaven.
You have promised to receive us,
Poor and sinful though we be;
You have mercy to relieve us,
Grace to cleanse, and pow’r to free.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Early let us turn to You.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Early let us turn to You.
St. Luke 24:13-35. ESV
The Third Sunday Of Easter
“Preaching the Gospel is like having a fire in your belly that just has to come out,” a Seminary professor once said. “We need more preachers with fire in their bellies.” Young preacher Jeremiah the Prophet had that fire. “There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9; cf. Job 32:19, Psalm 39:3). Do you have fire in your belly?
Not Acid Reflux
Cleopas and his companion said something similar: “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (v. 32). The resurrected Jesus explained the Old Testament Scriptures to these disciples as they walked from Jerusalem to a town called Emmaus. That seven-mile journey just flew by. The Holy Spirit-inspired sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament clearly explained the events of recent days in Jerusalem: the death and resurrection of the Christ to save the world. As He opened the Scriptures to them, their hearts burned—not with an acid reaction of pain and indigestion—but, with the sacred fire of faith.
The Fire’s Out
Before that, the fire was out. Their hearts were cold. Discouraged. Sad (σκυθρωπός v. 17). Cleopas and his travelling companion had their spirits extinguished when they heard that Jesus had died on the cross. So, they left Jerusalem. They left the week-long Passover festival: the feast of Unleavened Bread, before it ended. For them, the party was over. On their way to Emmaus, all the events of the past few days kept swirling around in their heads, dominating the thoughts in their minds: cold; dark.
What puts out your fire? Discouragement. Disappointment. Disease. Death. That’s what sin produces in our lives. The same kinds of discouragement that brought down these disciples on the road to Emmaus. Our sin kills the fire.
The heart of Jesus burns to save the world. At the heart of the Son of God’s deepest desires smolders His great, eternal, everlasting, undying love: for you, for me, and for all people. Jesus sees us down in the dumps, just as He met the Emmaus disciples right where they were: dampened and defeated, exhausted and extinguished. For us, and for all the world, devastated by sin’s death and destruction, Jesus brings the spark of hope. Out of love for us, to rekindle hope in our hearts, to light the fire of everlasting life in our souls, the Lord Christ was “condemned to death and crucified” (v. 20) by the chief priests and rulers of the people. To save us, the innocent life of Jesus was snuffed out like a candle flame, His lifeless body interred in the grave for three days.
But now, He is arisen! Life rekindled in the Lord—in both His body and His soul. With joy, Christ Jesus revealed Himself to the disciples on the Emmaus road. “He was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (v. 35). Life returned as it was before the cross. Only better!
Jesus lives to stoke the fire of faith in us. His life—risen triumphantly from the dead—stokes the twin forges of His Word (Bible), and the Sacrament (Communion). The Lord of the Church speaks to us Sunday after Sunday here in this place as the Word of God is read before the world: “Moses and all the Prophets” (v. 27), the four Gospels and the Epistles. “These are Scriptures that testify about Me” (St. John 5:39 NIV), Jesus tells us. For the Lord Jesus Christ is the Centre, the Main Character, the Key to unlock the meaning of the Bible for us—explained here in the sermon and every Sunday in between services in our Bible study, and also in Sunday School. Oh what joy fires up in our hearts when the Lord Himself speaks and interprets “in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (v. 27)!
The fire of this faith is fortified here in this food. Jesus sat down with Cleopas and his friend to eat a meal at the end of the day. When Jesus took the bread, spoke the blessing of thanksgiving to God over the food, and distributed the bread to them, in that meal, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him (v. 30-31). Then, the fire of faith flared up brightly in their hearts. “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (v. 32).
In the same way, at the altar, Jesus ignites faith in our hearts. The Lord comes to us with His real presence. Directed by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures, we examine ourselves to determine our great need for His gifts, and by those same Scriptures, we discern the Lord’s body (and blood) in this Sacrament (I Corinthians 11:29). So we recognize Jesus and know Him in this breaking of bread.
Normally, fire is a bad thing. Burning your hand on the woodstove, or the everlasting burning of the fires of hell: we must avoid both flames no matter what. Scripture warns us of our sin and shows us our Saviour so we repent of our sins and believe in Jesus for salvation. This faith the Bible calls a sacred fire (St. Luke 12:35).
Jesus lights this fire in our hearts. Do you feel the burn?
Jesus Lives... To Forgive!
St. John 20:19-31.
The Second Sunday Of Easter
Did you find any Easter treats last Sunday morning? Chocolate, Jelly beans, marshmallows, candy... sweets and other surprises left out early Sunday morning after the restrictive discipline and sacrifice of Lent remind us of sweetness of life after the bitterness of death and the grave: that the Lord Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and will never die again!
The living Jesus appears to His disciples on Easter Sunday evening in today’s Gospel reading. What does Jesus make sure He gives to the disciples? The Office of the Keys:
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (v. 23).
The One who died on the cross for our sins and rose to life for our forgiveness makes sure we have the benefit from His great ordeal of dying and rising: the forgiveness of sins. “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (SC VI:6).
We need this: the chief blessing the risen Christ brings to us in the divine service of worship here, Sunday after Sunday, is that we have our sins forgiven. By faith, we take hold of Christ and His gifts in His Word (Bible), and Sacraments (Baptism & Communion). St. John the Evangelist puts it this way: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and... believing you may have life in His name” (v. 31).
Thomas missed it. Where was this Apostle for this first Easter service when the Lord appeared to the other ten disciples? The Bible doesn’t say. But since Thomas wasn’t there, he missed Jesus—alive, in the flesh, risen, as He was before the cross, but now improved. You could say Thomas missed church. He was not gathered with the others when Jesus came to visit. So, Thomas missed out on the blessing of Christ’s forgiving presence. His soul was left in the dark, unconverted, unbelieving. “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe” (v. 25).
Despising the Lord and His blessings given here through the preaching of His Word breaks the Third Commandment. Like Thomas, when we are not with Jesus here in the worship service, we miss His blessing, His presence, His forgiveness. And, every time we break any of God’s commandments, our faith in Jesus suffers; unbelief, doubt and uncertainty grow in us. Forgiveness is withheld (v. 23). Our sins remain unforgiven. The binding key locks down sin and unbelief: the path that leads to damnation.
Unlocked For Life
Jesus lives to forgive. “Peace!” He says to you and me, to the disciples, to the world. Jesus stands and speaks peace because He is now risen from the dead, has beaten death and the grave, and lives and reigns to all eternity. As true God and true man, Jesus fills heaven and earth. The Lord is present here with His forgiveness, as He promises. “I forgive you all your sins,” He says to us here in the absolution in response to us when we confess our sins.
Jesus lives to forgive. With this water and His Word, the Lord of the Church welcomes both children and adults into the kingdom of God, washing His forgiveness over us.
Jesus lives to forgive. And, just as the Lord submitted the wounds of His living body for Thomas to examine, making his doubts to fly away and filling Him with faith, the living Christ is here for you and me with His body and blood at the altar. “Put your finger here, place your hand into My side,’ Jesus told Thomas, proving that His body was risen and alive among them. “Take eat... take drink,” Jesus tells us, proving that He is bodily alive and with us now. Christ is risen and lives to the end of the age.
Jesus lives to forgive.
Can’t Touch This
St. John 20:14-18. ESV
Who wouldn’t want to give Jesus a great big hug?
Can you imagine the kaleidoscope of emotions going through the heart of Mary Magdalene on that first Easter Sunday morning? She arrives early to find the tomb of Jesus empty. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb” (St. John 20:2), she says in alarm to Peter [and John]. Grave robbers! Such horror!
Mary Magdalene bursts into tears. Then, bending low to look inside the tomb, she sees angels! What a surprise! Yet, this heavenly sight does not stop her flow of tears. “They have taken away my Lord” (v. 13), she laments. Even when she turns to see Jesus, Mary Magdalene doesn’t recognize Him through her tears. Thinking He’s the gardener of the graveyard, she asks Jesus for help. Grief. Horror. Surprise. Confusion. Mary Magdalene’s tangle of emotions straightens out when Jesus says her name: “Mary!” Like sunshine breaking through storm clouds, joy floods her heart. Resurrection! Relief! Excitement! Love!
Mary Magdalene embraces the Lord Jesus. Well, it’s not a big bear hug. Her hands grab ahold of His feet (He’s God, after all)—feet that are scarred from the nails—but now they are warm and alive. The reverential joy in her heart overflows in this act of worship and adoration.
“Do not hold Me” (v. 17), Jesus tells her. How those words must have made her heart sink! This Jesus she knew to be dead is alive again! Why in the world would He tell her not to hold Him? Especially now that He is alive again in the body?
Christ’s victory over death and the grave—His Easter triumph is for Mary Magdalene—but, not for her only. Jesus died and rose again for all people. At the cross, He kicked all our enemies in the teeth: sin and death, devil and hell. By His resurrection, Jesus opens heaven for all. We walk out of death and the grave by His grace, freely given to us in His Word and Sacraments. Our good works can’t touch the salvation Jesus brings to us in His body and soul. We hold on to His gifts here on earth because no one gives us joy like Jesus. Still, heaven will outshine every good we have here in this life.
No eye has seen,
No ear has heard,
No mind conceived
What God has prepared for those who love Him (I Corinthians 2:9 NIV).
The resurrection of Christ from the dead opens a life with God beyond anything we have ever known. Jesus is alive and gives us life—you can’t touch this!
St. Matthew 28:1-10. ESV
The Resurrection Of Our Lord
“He has risen!” (v. 6). Jesus is alive!
Explosive news—this resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. The shockwaves of His resurrection are still echoing two thousand years later. One who died and rose again gives hope to those who are in Him. This is the explosive fact: our bodies will rise to live again after they die!
Blasting Death to Life
The explosive working of God restoring life happened for Jesus on Easter morning, the way it did earlier for Lazarus: behind the stone door of a rock tomb. Martha, sister of Lazarus, desperately wanted the stone to stay where it was: to keep the tomb sealed. The odour of death due to sin was encased in the rock. “Take away the stone” (St. John 11:39), commanded Jesus, blasting away the bonds of death to let living Lazarus go free.
Easter Sunday was even more earth-shaking. After Jesus died on the cross, the chief priests and Pharisees, afraid of His words, “After three days I will rise” (St. Matthew 27:63), worked with Pontius Pilate to make His grave secure “by sealing the stone and setting a guard” (St. Matthew 27:66). What a picture of sin: we work very hard to do our own thing—just the opposite of what God in His Word says. But our works, even the good things that we do, cannot bring us life. Neither can our works stop God’s gracious power. That stone door, so carefully rolled into place by Joseph of Arimathea to entomb the body of Jesus (St. Matthew 27:59-60), protected by the seal, and guarded by soldiers—all human attempts to stop the resurrection of Christ failed. Thank God for that! Like a blasting cap unleashing the power of life itself from that tomb, the stone door of the grave was blown away. Bam! The Christ who died to take our sins away was already gone. Pow! The tremors of a great earthquake (v. 2) signalled the visit of an angel from heaven who rolled away that grave stone and sat on it. The tomb was robbed of its precious contents: the living body of Christ was already gone early in the morning. He had places to see and things to do—life is like that. Jesus came back to life: like an explosion.
The aftershocks of the living Christ were felt by the guards on duty: in fear of the angel, they were quaking in their boots like they had shell-shock. Fear made them like dead men.
Like an explosion shaking the ground, fear spread to the women, the two Marys who came early to the tomb. Fear and joy. Unlike the guards, the women were filled with great joy at the word of the angel and the cavern of the vacant tomb: “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said” (v. 6) declared the angel. The resurrection had this explosive effect: “they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples” (v. 8). On the way, they met the Lord Jesus. Of course! He is not dead. He has risen! Alleluia! The living Christ propels the women on their mission: “Do not be afraid; go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me” (v. 10).
The resurrection is an explosion that continues to shake us up today as we celebrate the Lord of death and life in 2023. Sadly, we still face illness, aging, weakness, and finally death because all people sin. But today, the Lord of life, Jesus Christ, comes to us in our own personal valleys of sorrow. Along that dark path, He says, “Do not be afraid” (v. 10). The living Christ blasts away the source of all our fears with His word of grace, “I forgive you all your sins.” The resurrected Christ meets us in the water and word of our Baptisms, giving us new life each day as the children of God. And, as He met the women on Easter morning, so the living Lord Jesus meets us here at the altar, shaking up our lives with the gift of Himself. Forgiveness—salvation—eternal life. Boom! It’s yours in Him who lives now and never dies again.
No Average Joe
St. Mark 15:33-47. ESV
Among the many details of the Passion account in the Gospels emerges a previously unheard-of man: Joseph of Arimathea. He’s no average Joe. Moved by faith in Christ, Joseph of Arimathea boldly takes upon himself this practical matter: the proper burial of the body of Jesus. Risky. Costly. Heroic.
A Reluctant Hero
Yes, I said these funeral arrangements were heroic—it was a courageous act to go to Pontius Pilate: the same Roman ruler who sentenced Jesus to die on a cross, and ask permission to take possession of His body. Bad politics to get involved on the wrong side of a capital case: to side with an executed Man. But Joseph of Arimathea—he’s no average Joe.
See how much he loved Jesus! With loving care and devotion, Joseph pulled the nails from the Lord’s hands and feet, gently lowering Him from the cross to wrap the cold, still body of Jesus in the linen cloth he bought as the grave clothes for the Lord. Then, with a rich generosity, Joseph carefully laid the body of Jesus in the rock tomb—the same one he had bought for his own burial. Jesus would take his place!
Joseph of Arimathea was no weakling. His final act of love for the Lord was to roll the great stone door ahead of the tomb, where it would stay sealed until early Sunday morning. Joseph must have been doing his squats to have the strength to handle that stone door all by himself! Certainly, Joseph of Arimathea was no ordinary guy.
But remember, this is Good Friday. Today is about Jesus, not Joseph. To look at Him, Jesus seemed like just an average Joe. That’s what Isaiah said (Isaiah 53:2). Yet, there’s so much more to this Guy than He appears. Afflicted by Roman whips, dressed in a rough robe of purple, a crown of thorns piercing His head, Jesus stood before the accusing crowd calling for His crucifixion. An innocent Man; true God in the flesh. The suffering Saviour of the world. “Behold the Man,” (St. John 19:5), declared Pontius Pilate.
These Identifying Marks
The crowds cried out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” The masses called on Pilate to destroy Jesus. Crucifixion—death on a cross—invented by the Roman Empire, reserved for the worst criminals. The cross held Jesus up before the world: exposed, humiliated, and in shame. No average man. Yet, this death was foretold by Sacred Scripture: “They will look on Him whom they have pierced” (St. John 19:37; Zechariah 12:10). No one has ever carried such a weight before or since: the full burden of all sins of all the world. Ever. To hasten death for crucified criminals, their legs would be broken. But the body of Christ remained whole and intact, as was also foretold in Sacred Scripture: “Not one of His bones will be broken” (St. John 19:36; Exodus 12:46). When Joseph came to ask for the body of the Lord, Pilate himself was surprised that Jesus had died within the span of six hours.
Was this just another sad statistic? An unfortunate crucified criminal in the first century? Anonymous, unnamed, unremarkable? No. Look again. The Centurion standing watch under His cross had it right: “Truly this Man was the Son of God” (v. 39).
No Saviour Like Him
The spectre of Jesus on the cross ahead of our eyes today, Good Friday would simply be repulsive, sad, or gruesome if He were just an ordinary man. But, He is not! Jesus is the Son of God in human flesh. His death is good for us. For our eternal good—forever. The suffering of God in the flesh paid the penalty and punishment we deserve for breaking God’s holy Ten Commandments. Jesus is innocent. He dies on behalf of the guilty. That means, when He dies, death is killed. Oh, we all still die—that comes from sin. But, in Christ, we live again. Just as Jesus didn’t stay in Joseph’s tomb, so we will rise again from our graves, or wherever our last earthly resting place is, to live again with Jesus in heaven. For Jesus is not just our Bro, not simply our daily companion, an ordinary Joe. He’s all that and so much more. He is God in the flesh. Our Saviour.
One Whom Men Will Follow
Love so amazing, so divine / Demands my life, my soul, my all! (LSB 425:4). That kind of devotion was in the heart and mind of Joseph of Arimathea as he went to claim the body of Jesus for burial. Before Good Friday, Joseph was in the shadows, on the sidelines. Obscure. Unknown. Until faith overcame his fears.
Today, the Lord Jesus calls us out of hiding to follow Him: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself” (St. John 12:32 NRSV). Today, Jesus calls us out of fear into the fellowship of His living body, the holy Christian Church. Jesus is not giving us a job, like Joseph of Arimathea, who was busy making funeral arrangements. We are not asked to test our strength by rolling a boulder, as Joseph did. “Come to Me for rest” (St. Matthew 11:28), invites the Lord Jesus. Rest in the forgiveness He has earned for you, for me, and for all people by His death. “It is finished” (St. John 19:30), proclaims the Lord from the cross. Our salvation is done. We cannot work our way to heaven. Jesus has already done the work for us on the cross. Believe it. He’s no ordinary Man. He is God in the flesh. Trust Him.
For life. Forever.
The First Supper
St. Matthew 26:17-30. ESV
What meal do you associate with Easter?
Ham? Turkey? Lamb? Chocolate? Bright coloured, hard-boiled eggs? Eating and Easter go hand-in-hand. A celebration of the season.
On this night, Jesus gave a meal to His disciples so that they could have His saving presence for all time until the kingdom comes. Maundy Thursday was the first supper of the Lord with His Church of all times and places.
Can you imagine the first meal of Adam and Eve? The first time they ate together? When God brought lovely Eve to lonely Adam, their wedded joy at some point would have included a shared meal: partaking together of the garden of earthly delights in the Eden created by God. The joys of that first couple sharing their first meal have been echoed by husbands, wives, and their families throughout the ages. Food, fellowship, and fun around the dinner table: meal time is when our physical bodies are renewed with God’s gift of daily bread. Often, supper is when families have devotions: renewing the faith in our souls by hearing the Word of God and by praying to Him. Imagine the first supper of the first couple—perfect!
But then, eating also spoiled it all. God gave every tree in the Garden of Eden for food—except one. Biting into the fruit of the forbidden tree, well then, Eve and Adam now had an appetite: to reject God’s command, to doubt that His Word was true, to become their own gods, and run their own lives without God. That first bite—the first and original sin—took a bite out of all the lives of their descendants, including us. The hunger to disobey God and doubt His Word is in every one of us. The effect for us is the same as it was for Adam and Eve: breaking fellowship with God, expulsion from Eden. Death.
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, started a trend by their illicit eating: a cursèd trend that cascaded down throughout the millenia of human history. Their first eating of forbidden fruit brought sin and death, the anger of God and eternal punishment in hell to all people. Here’s the proof: all who have ever lived have died.
On this holy night, Jesus gave the meal that undoes death, forgives our sins, and saves our lives. Here’s a first: on the night when He was betrayed, Jesus gathered with His disciples, took in His hands ordinary bread, and said, “This is My body.” Then, lifting the chalice filled with Passover wine, the Lord said, “This is My blood.” The twelve disciples then ate and drank with Him. By faith, that is, trusting what Jesus said about this sacred meal, they had exactly what He said about it: “forgiveness of sins.” As Dr. Martin Luther is quick to point out: “where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (SC VI:6). Can a meal really do this?
Yes! For this meal is often what is called the Last Supper. Mere hours before His arrest, crucifixion, and death, in the solemn stillness of the Passover meal in the Upper room, Jesus ate and drank this sacred meal. Through the faith that was active in this eating and drinking, the Lord in His Supper gave His disciples the forgiveness of sins He would soon earn by His death. His body nailed to the cross suffered and died for the guilt of all sins: from the first transgression committed by Adam and Eve down to the sin of the last person standing before the judgement. Christ’s holy, precious blood purchases and wins us and all people back from the punishment of death and the grave, from the devil and hell. This sacred blood is the full ransom price for all the world’s sins. Christ gave the disciples this holy meal on the night when He was betrayed. Later, they would all run away as Jesus died for the sins of the world. So in this meal, the Lord gave them that cross-bought forgiveness. In the Last Supper.
Yet, that night was also truly the first Supper. You see, the forgiving grace of this sacred meal, given to the disciples that night was only the beginning. After Christ’s resurrection, faithful Christians would follow their Lord’s command: “Do this,” and eat and drink this Sacrament, time after time. Generations of Christians would approach the altar to eat and drink the very body and blood of Christ, the One who is truly present here in this Sacrament. For Jesus is here, just as He promises. He forgives our sins. He binds us together in the unity of His body: members connected to one another and to Him in the Church, the body of Christ. Here, Jesus gives us renewed life. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26). Jesus gave this meal as a perpetual, ongoing, life-giving gift to His Church of every age and in all places. The first Supper.
Unlike the eating of Adam and Eve that brought death, this Supper of the Lord gives life. In fact, here we eat and drink a foretaste of the great feast that is to come. This Holy Communion is our Lord’s invitation to come to the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom (Revelation 19:9). That’s heaven!
Here at the altar—this is the first Supper.
What Are You Waving For?
St. John 12:12-19. ESV
Did you receive a palm cross like this today? Take it now and raise it up in the air—wave it back and forth a few times like this. Wow! What a sight! Our church looks like that Palm Sunday crowd who greeted Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey.
What are you waving for? Well, you could say it’s because I asked you to. How about the crowd on that first Palm Sunday? When Jesus came, what were they waving for?
Bread And Circuses
Or,... what were they waiting for? A King! “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (v. 13). With palm branches in hand, that is, the symbol of victory when a conquering king rides home triumphant, this Jerusalem crowd welcomed Jesus as their King. Surely good times were ahead. This Jesus could make God’s people great again. This King could bring in some changes around here. Like the Kings of old, Christ could throw off the burden of Roman occupation, give the Promised Land back to Israel, and start a glorious time of peace and prosperity. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (v. 13).
Today, on Confirmation Sunday, we might look to Jesus as a health-and-wealth King: a Leader to bring prosperity and good times to our lives. As these young people pledge to be faithful to the Lord and to His Church, and to suffer all, even death rather than fall away, their vows remind us of the day when we were confirmed. After we made that proclamation of faith, how did our lives go from there? Were there only good times for us as confirmed Lutherans? Honestly, not always. For King Jesus has not come to bring us worldly wealth, popularity and glory. He’s not that kind of King. Following Jesus Christ means following Him down a different path. Where does He lead? What are you waving for?
King George V, Great-grandfather of King Charles, on one occasion made a visit to Leeds, a city in England. During his visit, the King planned to greet the students at a large elementary school. The King approached by train: the tracks ran parallel to the school’s playground. With great excitement, a large crowd of children gathered at the wall overlooking the railway. As the train slowly moved out of a tunnel and past the school, King George emerged from the royal coach and stood on a small platform where all could see him. The King was not dressed in purple robes. No crown was on his head. He wore a plain suit, like an ordinary man. The king pulled a bright handkerchief from his pocket and waved to the girls and boys as he passed by. Once the train was gone and the children quieted down, a teacher noticed one little girl was crying. “What’s the matter?” asked the teacher. “I wanted to see the King,” she sobbed. “but all I saw was a man.”
King Of Our Eternity
The palm-branch-waving crowds on Palm Sunday saw a Man who dressed and looked like an ordinary man. Yet, this Jesus is the King of kings: a heavenly Sovereign who has come to save mankind. The Gospel writer St. John tells us just what was on the minds and hearts of that palm-waving crowd: resurrection! They were at the tomb of Lazarus when Jesus called him and raised him from the dead. These Gospel witnesses told others that Jesus brought Lazarus back to life again. This great crowd of pro-lifers welcomed Jesus by waving palm branches. Waving and waiting for new life from Him.
That same faith; that same joyful hope and expectation makes adults and young people bold to stand here before the Church and the world and confess heartfelt faith in Jesus. With a glad confidence, we confess Him before the world, knowing that Jesus will confess us before the heavenly Father (St. Matthew 10:32-33).
Your King Is Coming
For Jesus rode into Jerusalem to die. The Passion of Holy Week begins today, on Palm Sunday. Although He was greeted with waving palms, His own people, the lost sheep of the House of Israel rejected Him. Roman ruler, Pontius Pilate condemned innocent Christ to be crucified. Thorns were this King’s crown. A cross was this King’s throne. Yet, Jesus suffered all this to take our sins away. Death was defeated by His death. For the One who raised Lazarus to life again would Himself be raised to life after three days. His resurrection is now the source of life for all who acknowledge Jesus as Lord.
For Him, we are waving and waiting. The Lord who began His good work in us when we were baptized promises to bring that work to completion on the glorious day of His return (Philippians 1:6). With joyful expectation, we greet the Lord as He comes to us today under the bread and wine of the Sacrament.
What are we waiting for? Not what—who! Jesus, the King!
“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (v. 13).
In The Flesh
St. John 11:1-41. ESV
The Fifth Sunday In Lent
Have you had enough of Zoom meetings? Remote learning? Virtual classrooms? Video chat? Don’t get me wrong: modern telecommunications are a wonder: so easily we can see and speak with a loved one who’s far away: even on the other side of the world (if everything is working properly). Yet time and again, people recovering from the isolation of lockdowns long to see people face-to-face, to shake hands, and find comfort in a hug from another human being. One lesson the pandemic has taught us: we need each other. That’s how God made us: to be there, and to support one another. Do you remember how good it was to see your friends and relatives in the flesh after weeks or months alone?
Today’s Gospel is a preview of Easter: that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. The flesh of His friend Lazarus had succumbed to an unnamed illness. After Lazarus lay lifeless four days in the tomb, Jesus made the trip to Bethany—in the flesh—to show clearly that He is the Lord of life and death.
Death comes to us all because we all sin: our sins show up in our flesh. We’ve seen this over the past three weeks in the Gospel readings from St. John. In His conversations with Nicodemus, Jesus (twice) told him: “Unless one is born of the water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (St. John 3:3, 5). Original sin comes with the flesh of everyone of us when we were born. Unless we are born again in Baptism, we perish (St. John 3:16). Conversing with the woman at the well, Jesus warned her of the sin of the flesh that led her to take five husbands and a man not married to her. Sin is like a thirst that cannot be satisfied—except in Christ, who is the living water. Last week, the glory of God was displayed in the miraculous healing of a man born blind: cured by the word of Jesus as he smeared mud on his eyes. The sin in the flesh of his unseeing eyes acts like an object lesson of sin that refuses to see Jesus as the Saviour. Sin in our flesh: original sin, bodily lust, and the blindness of unbelief; however your sin and mine show up in our flesh and blood bodies, the end result is the same for us as it was for Lazarus. Body and soul separated: “Lazarus has died” (v. 14).
Know this: the effect of sin on us, in our flesh, affects the Lord Jesus to His very heart. He knows what you are going through. He feels it. At the sight of Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus weeping over their brother, Jesus “was deeply moved in His spirit, and greatly troubled” (v. 33). When death takes His people, “Jesus wept” (v. 35). The Lord does more than shed tears of sorrow. For Lazarus, for Mary and Martha, for you, for me, and for all the world, He takes the sins in our flesh to the cross. To take the sting of sin out of death, Jesus suffered in our place. Like Lazarus, He died and was buried. Only His death destroys death for His dear baptized believers.
“Lazarus, come out” (v. 43) Jesus commands. That same divine Word of God which created the worlds and all life now calls the flesh of Lazarus out from the bonds of death. With the stone door of the tomb removed, the flesh and blood body of Lazarus comes back to life, stumbling out of the tomb against the linen wrappings of his grave clothes. What sin destroys in our flesh, Jesus restores since He is the source of life itself. Although “in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” (I Corinthians 15:22). The raising of Lazarus back to life after four days shows that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life.” He promises “Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” The critical question we all must answer: “Do you believe this?” (v. 26).
Jesus came in the flesh to Nicodemus, to the Samaritan woman, to the man born blind. Looking forward to the Messiah God promised to send for our salvation, Jesus solemnly declared to each of them, “I am He” (St. John 4:26, 9:37). Before His Passion, Jesus clearly reveals Himself as the Messiah to the crowd gathered at the tomb of Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life” (v. 25).
We have life when we look in faith to Christ. For, in a hidden way, our Lord is truly present with us here: speaking to us in His word, the Bible; washing us with new birth in our Baptisms; feeding our trust in Him with His body and blood. In His house, the living Jesus is here in the flesh to keep His powerful parting promise: “I am with you always to the end of the age” (St. Matthew 28:20).
Do you believe this?
Then, Jesus gives you life: in the flesh!
Here’s Mud In Your Eye!
St. John 9:1-41. ESV
The Fourth Sunday In Lent
In this morning’s Gospel, we see how Jesus smeared mud on the eyes of a man born blind. What would normally harm the visual powers of our eyes, becomes healing salve in the hands of the Son of God: mud!
Have you ever had something in your eye? Several years ago, there was a foreign particle lodged under my lower eyelid for a few days. At first, it was just annoying: an itchy irritant that was no big deal. After a day or so, the irritation turned into a painful, swollen red mark on the white of my eye. The pain soared. Vision was blurry in that eye. The doctor wound up doing a thorough examination. You know what he found? An eyelash. One little hair rubbing against my eye caused all that trouble. Never put anything in your eyes.
When I Close My Eyes
Dr. Oliver Sacks, a specialist in brain function writes about the case of Virgil, a man who lost his sight in early childhood. At the age of 50, Virgil underwent surgery to restore his sight. Yet, even though his eyes worked properly, like the man in today’s Gospel, he found that physical sight is not the same as seeing. At first, the impulses Virgil received from His eyes confused him. He could make out colors and motions, but putting them together into a whole picture overwhelmed Virgil. In time he learned to identify various objects. But in his daily life, he still lived like a man who was blind. Looking at his case, Dr. Sacks concluded, “One must die as a blind person to be born again as a seeing person” (An Anthropologist on Mars).
The unseeing eyes of the beggar in today’s Gospel reading actually illustrate what sin does to our hearts. Sin equals blindness. The worst kind of blindness sees nothing wrong with what I do or say. There’s none so blind as those who claim they see.
The unbelieving world around us looks at what we do as Christians and says, “God cannot be present and working here in this building.” It’s spiritual blindness to say that Jesus cannot work through physical, material elements: water, bread and wine in the Sacraments. No doubt, Jesus puts mud in this man’s eye in today’s Gospel to show us that He can and does use everyday elements—even the dirt off the ground—to be vehicles of forgiveness, His means of grace. The Pharisees saw the former blind man healed, yet refused to believe it. They saw this former beggar, but remained blind. There’s none so blind as those who refuse to see.
Jesus called them “blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit” (St. Matthew 15:14). The Pharisees claimed to see, calling others to follow their belief and practice. Sadly, they were blind to the truth of God in Christ who was standing right ahead of them, working the miracle of giving sight to the blind. Sin closes our eyes to the blessings and dangers right ahead of us. There’s none so blind as those who choose not to see.
And that’s us. The beggar healed of his blindness catches our attention, because his condition, his blindness, is our condition as sinners. Our Lord knows that sin blinds us—keeping us from seeing how lost we really are, blinding us to the needs of others. Sin gives us tunnel vision, focused on what we want, need, or don’t have, while blinding us to the acts of love we can do for others. Our sinful blindness is terminal until Jesus makes us see: He smears the mud of His Gospel and Sacraments on us. In Christ alone, the blind see.
A Muddy Cure
“Here’s mud in your eye!” is a toast you may say while raising a glass with others. What a strange thing to say! Here’s the explanation: this toast arose among soldiers fighting in the trenches in the first World War. Where there was lots of mud. Nearly impossible to share a meal, share a drink without getting mud in everything. Even mud in your eye. This strange toast was inspired by today’s Gospel.
Jesus joins us in the trenches of this world. He knows our sin. Christ knows how sin muddies up every good thing we try to do. To free us from sin’s blindness, Jesus went to war. Christ suffered whips, blows and crucifixion so that we might see. Jesus died and rose again. By this act our Saviour cast mud in the eye of the devil for us. Every place where His Law and saving Gospel are preached, the Lord throws mud in the eye of the devil; the Lord gives spiritual sight to those sin-blind. Every time Jesus gives new birth through water and the Spirit, that’s mud in the devil’s eye and sight for the blind. Every time His flesh and blood are eaten and drunk in faith, Jesus makes those who had been blind to see again.
That’s His amazing grace that saved a wretch, like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see.
John Newton wrote the words of our sermon hymn today. Amazing Grace chronicles his fall away from the Christian faith to roam the seas as a wayward sailor, selling slaves from Sierra Leone in Africa. Without faith in Christ, Newton lived a miserable life as a slave to sin, blind to his own wretched poverty of soul. Enlightened by saving faith in Jesus, John Newton left the seafaring slave-trade to preach and teach the Gospel as a priest in the Anglican church. In 1779, he published these words: “Amazing grace!... I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see (LSB 744:1).”
Despite all the bluster, accusation, finger-pointing, guilt, even excommunication from the blind and unbelieving Pharisees, this blind beggar maintains a clear vision that focuses on Christ: “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see” (v. 15). Here’s mud in your eye: there’s nothing better than to focus our hearts and minds, our work and life on Jesus: on His baptismal washing rinses away the blindness of our sins. I was blind, but now I see.
Give Me A Drink
St. John 4:5-26. ESV
The Third Sunday In Lent
You never know who you’re going to meet when you go grocery shopping. Or, in the case of today’s Gospel, who you are going to meet when you go to the well for water. When Jesus goes to the well alone, He meets a woman with a checkered past.
Divine Ice Breakers
“Give Me a drink” (v. 7). With those words, Jesus broke the ice, starting a conversation with this stranger, a woman from Samaria. Strange. For Jesus on His own to strike up a conversation with a woman on her own. Strange. For a Jew to speak with a Samaritan (v. 9). But, there was nothing strange about His request: “Give Me a drink” (v. 7). The journey from Aenon in Judea (St. John 3:23, 26) to Sychar in Samaria (v. 5), a trip of some 30 km, left the Lord hungry, tired and thirsty. Besides all that, the sun was high in the sky at the sixth hour, around noon (v. 6).
How Deep Is Your Thirst?
Naturally, the talk around a well will come back to being thirsty. So, when Jesus offered to give a drink to Samaritan woman, she was eager to know what He meant. “You’ve got no bucket,’ she pointed out. And, the well was deep (v. 11): 105 feet according to one measurement. And, she was thirsty. Yes, I’m sure her throat was dry.
But even more, her soul was dry, deep with desire, longing to be filled. Thirsty. This woman of Samaria had tried to fill the void. Joined in matrimony to five husbands, she sought to fill the emptiness inside. And now, the man she was living with was not her husband. She was still searching for more. So far, no one could take away that thirst.
The Well Is Dry
The Lord condemns living together without marriage as sin: “you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband” (v. 18). Jesus called her out—she was sinning against the sixth commandment. Just as His cousin John the Baptist called out Herod for living in adultery with his brother’s wife—and John lost his head for saying it (St. Matthew 14:10). Even though living together without marriage is common today—you see so many mailboxes with two last names—God still condemns every kind of sexual sin. To the woman at the well, to us and to the world, Jesus says: “Repent!”
Life From The Source
He does this in love. Our Lord does not want anyone to perish, but that all should turn from their sin and live (II Peter 3:9). The same loving Father we heard about in last Sunday’s Gospel: who loves the world by giving His only-begotten Son today speaks with compassion to the Samaritan woman at the well—and wins her soul over in repentance. More important, her thirsty soul is flooded with the faith that saves: faith that looks to Christ as Saviour. “Come see a Man who told me all that I ever did,” this woman said to invite the people of her town to see Jesus. “Can this be the Christ?” (v. 29). Yes!
For Jesus, the Messiah had a deeper thirst than a dry mouth. His thirst was for this Samaritan woman to be saved. His heart yearned with love for her soul to be filled with the gift that He would give: “living water... welling up to eternal life” (v. 10, 14).
Living water is the opposite of standing water, that is water in a pool, stagnant, even septic, polluted water. Living water is fresh, flowing, constantly moving. Living water comes from the source: spring water, pure, fresh and clean. The life Jesus promises is living water.
“I who speak to you am He” (v. 26). Jesus is the Messiah, very God in human flesh, the Saviour sent from the Father, the Spring of everlasting life, the Source of living water that satisfies our souls for all eternity. Before this woman at the well sits the One who wipes away the shame of her past with His holy, precious blood. This Jesus cleanses her life with His forgiveness freely given. The Messiah, who is Christ is none other than this blessed One she has been talking with, whose hunger and thirst is to make us righteous (St. Matthew 5:6). Living water springs from His cross. At His death, when pierced by the Centurion’s spear, water and blood flowed from His side (St. John 19:34). We have been washed in Christ’s living water in our Baptisms. We have been cleansed by His blood in Holy Communion. True worship is not limited to a mountain or city, but where “the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered” (AC VII:1). We worship the Father in spirit and truth by taking Christ Jesus, the Messiah at His word and with His gifts. The living water of faith washes over us, springs up in our souls and overflows into the lives of others.
In the reality television show, Undercover Boss, the head of a company or business wears a disguise to visit the workers on the job to discover the truth about their daily operations. Working side-by-side with the employees, the boss discovers bad work practices—that wind up with the employee fired, and also good work practices—that earn a raise, a vacation, or even a promotion.
In His state of humility—weary, tired, and thirsty—Jesus, who is very God of very God, appears as an ordinary man to the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus goes to her undercover: not to punish her for her sins, but to bless her with a life-changing encounter with the Messiah. With sins forgiven and her empty soul filled, Jesus leads her to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.
Like her, we look to Christ to fill us with His gracious gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation in His Word and Sacraments.
O dear Lord Jesus, in Spirit and in Truth, “Give me a drink.”
Love Like This...
St. John 3:1-17. ESV
The Second Sunday In Lent
“Love is strange.” Not just romantic love of a man for a woman, as sung in that pop song, but also God’s love for the world. Unconventional. Unconditional. Unusual. “Met in strange and awesome strife” we sing in the words of that Easter hymn (LSB 463). “For the sheep the Lamb has bled,” we sing in that same hymn. “You have become a bridegroom of blood,” Zipporah, the wife of Moses blurts out to her husband as she reacts to circumcision (Exodus 4:17). Love makes you do strange things. “Love one another as I have loved you” (St. John 15:12b), Jesus instructed His disciples—words spoken in the Upper Room as He was about to be betrayed, arrested, condemned, nailed to a cross and die for the sins of the world. Strange kind of love. God loves the world like this (οὓτως v. 14, 16).
Strangely, God loves the world: the entire global population of humanity; all people, ever. That includes you and me. Why is it strange that God loves the world? Rejection! The Lord’s beloved has rejected Him. She has exercised her free will again and again. Not really so free! Choosing to disobey God instead of obeying Him in love. Choosing to be independent, rather than loyal, faithful and true. Choosing to perish rather than live. Choosing hell instead of heaven.
Like God’s beloved in olden times, His chosen people, Israel. The bitter poison of their discontent, venomously complaining against Moses and against God led to a plague of poisonous serpents: “they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died” (Numbers 21:6). For them and for us, sin is never neutral, harmless: just a matter of personal choice. Going against God is poison to us: lethal to body and soul. And, we’ve all got it. Unless God intervenes, we all perish (v. 3, 5, 16).
Love Is A Battlefield
But know this: God loves us. He loves us in a strange and awesome way. He loves the world like this: the Father gave His Son. Christ crucified saves the world. On the cross, the Son of Man was lifted up. God loves us. Like this.
Israel saw the image of that saving sign already in their time of dying: stung by their sinful rebellion, snake venom coursing through their veins, bodies burning up with fever under the hot, Palestinian sun, a massive crowd of people strewn across the desert sands. Dying one by one. Dying as a nation. Cut off. Lost. Without hope. Absolutely unable to do anything to save themselves. Upon this sorry bunch, God looked in love. A love that acts. He loved them in this way:
“Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8). And, Moses did as the Lord commanded: “Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness” (v. 14). Bizarre. Unlikely. Ugly, even, this sign of God’s love for His people. The sick and dying were to look at a snake on a pole? The symbol of the very thing that was killing them? How did it work anyway? Not magic. Not science. No, God Himself worked through that sign out of love for His dying people. God made the serpent on a pole the saving sign for Israel. They looked at it in faith, believing what the Lord said about it. And, they lived! The Lord loved them back to life. He loved them like this.
Love In Site
His love is like that. Jesus tells Nicodemus (and us) to think of God’s love for the world like that. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so (οὓτως) must the Son of Man be lifted up...” (v. 14). Not a bronze serpent on a pole, but the only Son of God on the cross: that’s love of the Father for the world. When you see a cross, see God’s love. In the only-begotten Son, crucified for your sins, for mine, and for the sins of the world, see how much God loves us: He loves us to death. To save us from perishing eternally in hell. To open the kingdom of heaven. Jesus on the cross saves. Salvation is through faith in Him and Him alone. God’s love is like this.
Funny thing about being in love. When you feel so strongly for the one you love, then love may move you to show your feelings in strange and awesome ways. (At least, they may seem that way to you at the time). A young man in love hires a sky writer. The pilot writes “Will you marry me?” to pop the question to his girlfriend. She’s always telling him silly jokes. That’s because she loves him. Another hopeful man in love drops an engagement ring into a glass of champagne, proposing to his beloved. Love sometimes shows itself in unusual ways.
God loves us like this: He gives His only-begotten Son to the world on a cross. Through faith in Jesus, He gives us eternal life. This faith in Jesus comes through water and the Holy Spirit in Baptism. Love like this in water and the Word of God gives this gift: second birth into the kingdom of God. By the Lord’s baptismal love, we are born again. Life begins anew: and that life has no end.
God’s love in Christ give us eternal life. It’s like this.
St. Matthew 4:1-11. ESV
The First Sunday In Lent
Ever been stuck with a problem you’re not sure how to fix? Perhaps a repair job you have never tackled before? Slow-running or clogged drain? Plastic lens covers on your headlights turned opaque and fogged up? Perhaps it’s a dirty carburetor? Even if you’ve never tried your hand at these jobs before, there’s a simple solution: just Google it. The Internet quickly provides step-by-step solutions to solve your dilemma—even video! Like an anonymous friend, online resources are quick to offer a hand. Here’s help!
The season of Lent begins like a post-apocalyptic, futuristic feature film. Christ alone in the desert. Starving after forty days of fasting. He is true God, only-begotten of the Father. But also true man. And, He is super hungry. Trembling with weakness. Stomach growling. A gaunt shadow of a man.
Into this desolate wilderness landscape enters a princely figure—a famous fallen angel. Satan arrives to survey the situation. This Man is dying—He needs to eat. But why? Why is He gripped with this dangerous hunger? ‘Use Your divine power,’ says Satan. ‘Turn these stones into bread. Obviously, that’s the answer. I’m here to help.’
‘No,’ responded the Christ, firmly refusing the temptation to trust in bread, rather than in God’s Word of promise to give daily bread. For this poor, starving, fork of man is the very bread of life. He needs no help to be told what to do so that He can sustain Himself. Jesus is the very bread come down from heaven to give life to the world (St. John 6:33, 35). Temptation resisted!
Yet, the Tempter was not put off. ‘You’re here to save the world, right? Well, I’m here to help You. Let’s put You up on a Temple tower. Jump! And an angel from heaven will certainly come and catch You. That will impress the religious crowd below. Think of it: everyone will know Your name!’
‘No,’ the Christ flatly refused. Such a high-altitude stunt would test God, not trust Him. Taunting unbelief, not firm faith. Temptation resisted!
Still a third time, Satan sought to give Jesus a helping hand. ‘Let’s make a deal,’ the devil offered. ‘You love these people? You want the souls the world? Well, I’ve got them,’ hissed Satan to the Lord. ‘All You’ve got to do is worship me and I will just give them to You. Simple! Doesn’t that help You out?’
‘No,’ said Christ to that infernal bargain. “Begone!” He commanded that ancient serpent, the devil. ‘God alone is the One who shall be worshipped and served. You cannot take what belongs to God.’ For a third and final time, temptation resisted.
Leaving the Lord hungry and alone in the desert.
A Solitary Passion
Alone. Unassisted. Without anybody’s help. Forsaken by all (St. Matthew 26:56). Even by His heavenly Father (Psalm 22:1; St. Matthew 27:46). Jesus saved the world. He didn’t need the help of the Tempter, that ancient Archangel. The fix for mankind’s hell-bound destiny was earned by God on the cross—not by some simple shortcut. Christ’s Passion ends on Good Friday much the way that Lent begins—with the Lord suffering and dying alone. Yet both here in the desert, and later on the cross, the Lord trusts in the Father and in His all-sufficient Word, not in smooth-talking Satan and his easy offer of help. While the suffering Christ prays for the cup of suffering to pass from Him, in the end, Jesus accepts the Father’s path: that His Son suffer for our salvation. “Thy will be done” (St. Luke 22:42) prays the Lord. He takes that cup. For us.
His obedience takes away our disobedience. His suffering gives us relief. His hell opens heaven for us. His death means life for us. His burial means our resurrection.
To us, as we struggle with temptations to sin, struggling with guilt, with weakness of our flesh, struggling against the pull of the world to take the easy way out, struggling with temptations of faith and with crises of conscience, Jesus holds out a helping hand.
To us, as we struggle with temptations to lose heart, as our bodies suffer from illness, aging, weakness, or lingering aftereffects of accidents. As we struggle with uncertainty and doubt about the future, feeling compassion for our neighbours and family members, especially those who are not Christian or don’t come to church, as we struggle with temptations to take all our worries into our own hands and try to fix them by our own works, efforts, skill and abilities, rather than turn them over in faith to Almighty God our heavenly Father. To us, Jesus holds out His helping hand. To us and to all the world, Christ extends His nailed-scarred but living hand. Here’s help, He says.
The helping hand of Christ lifts us up, strengthens and upholds us, despite how weak we are through all kinds of temptations to sin. The Lord helps us through His Word, proclaimed and read. “Him who has ears, hear” (St. Matthew 11:15). The Lord helps us as He reaches out to touch us in His watery Word: “Be baptized, everyone of you, for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). The Lord helps us by feeding us with His body and blood, joined to this sacramental meal: “Take, eat... take, drink... given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” (St. Matthew 26:26-28).
In our every time of need, with His Word and His Sacraments, the Lord says to you and me, “Here’s help.”
Transfigured Christ - Transfigured Life
St. Matt 17:1-9. ESV
The Transfiguration Of Our Lord
A mountaintop experience. Some moments change your life forever. The way you see the world, other people, and yourself: transformed from that moment on. For some, their mountaintop experience literally happens on a mountain: a visit to the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia; taking in the breath-taking vista of Georgian Bay, Craigleith, Collingwood and beyond from the crest of the Blue Mountains. Other people have their mountaintop experience at lower altitudes—during profound, life-changing events—the first-time mother as she holds her newborn child in her arms. Everything changes as she gazes into that tiny face of wonder—a life of God’s own creating! A mountaintop experience.
Three privileged disciples were led by Christ up a high mountain. Their eyes saw what no other human being had viewed. The familiar face of their dear Master Jesus began to glow: an unearthly brightness radiating the glory of heaven itself. His clothes also whitened with that celestial glow. Citizens of heaven suddenly appeared with the Lord in glory: Moses and Elijah, heroes of the Old Testament, alive and talking with Jesus. Over these exalted men, a bright, shining cloud hung suspended—a divine canopy glowing with God’s own presence. The ears of Peter, James, and John heard the booming, authoritative voice of God the Father pointing out His dear, only-begotten Son. This shining Figure, standing ahead of the disciples holds the full favour of the Father: “with [Him] I am well-pleased” (v. 5). The transfigured Christ transfigured their lives.
How? For holiness. For obedience. For service.
God is holy. You can’t miss it. Holy is the domain of God: that perfection set apart from the profane in the world. Holiness belongs to His essence, an essential attribute of the one true God, the Trinity. So this holiness shines forth in the face and clothes of Jesus, in the bright cloud, and the unearthly voice of God Himself. At the transfiguration, humanity participates in the holiness of God. Which is good. Sacred Scripture teaches, “... without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 NIV).
The Church is holy. This place is set apart: for a different purpose than any other location in the world. The Church is a holy place, with holy things, and holy people, Here in Church, we hear God’s holy Word, the Bible read and proclaimed. Here, God has joined His Word to holy washing and to a holy meal: that is, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion. By these gifts of God’s loving grace, our Father in heaven makes us holy people—believers in Christ who are set apart from the rest of the world. In Church (and everywhere), we call on God’s holy name in prayer, to intercede for others (SC III:7). The transfigured Christ transfigures our lives. For holiness.
To Listen To Him
And, to listen to Jesus.
While working a summer job in 1986, I was talking with a co-worker about some topic—I forget. But I do remember saying to him, “My mother told me: ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’” My buddy didn’t miss a beat. Right away he said: “You were smart to listen to your mother. I didn’t listen to my mother, and look at how I turned out.”
Listen to your mother, your father, and other authorities. That’s what God tells us in the Fourth Commandment. All His laws are given to us for our good. The Commandments are no child’s play. God threatens to punish all who break them. He also promises grace and every blessing to all who keep them (SC I:21-22).
Listen to Him.
But listen not only to God’s Word of Law, telling us how to live. Even more attentively (intently?), listen to His Word of Gospel that gives us life. The God who made you promises to take care of you, preserve you and protect you. The One who is all-powerful and ever-present promises that He will never leave you nor forsake you. In the depths of your guilt and shame, the Lord promises that He will heal all your iniquities and He will carry all your sorrows (Isaiah 53:4-5). And when you walk through the dark valley of the shadow of death, listen to His promise to provide an eternal home not made with human hands, eternal in the heavens (St. John 14:2; II Corinthians 5:1) .
Listen to Him.
To Serve Others
And, serve the needs of others. “If you wish,” blurted out Peter right there on the mountaintop, “I will make three tents here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (v. 4). Spontaneous offer to serve, springing from a heart of faith in Christ. Like an anointing with perfume. “Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (St. John 12:3). Serving others springs up in sometimes surprising or simple ways. Just a warm cup of soup given to the hungry homeless catches the eye of the Lord in the reckoning of the final judgement (St. Matthew 25:35).
The transfigured Christ transfigures our lives.
The transfigured Christ transfigured the lives of the disciples by an even greater mountaintop experience after the event in today’s Gospel. Not on the mount of transfiguration, but on the mount of Calvary, Christ would forever change their lives and ours. The cross was the turning point: from fear to faith. We don’t always honour, recognize nor revere God’s holy gifts. Peter babbled on about building tents while he stood in the presence of the Holy One. For us, the Holy One of God, Jesus, suffered death to make us holy to Him through the forgiveness of our sins. We don’t always listen to God. Instead, we close our ears to ignore His holy Word of Command and of pardon. For us, Christ obeyed the voice of His Father, taking the cup of suffering for the sins of the world, drinking it to the depths to do God’s will and earn our salvation. Sadly, like the disciples, we put our wants and desires before others instead of taking care of their needs. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (St. Mark 10:45 NIV). The cross of Christ looms large before our eyes during the lenten season beginning this Wednesday. Christ and Him crucified (I Corinthians 2:2) is the mountaintop experience that changes us: for this life and forever. For after the cross follows the glory of the resurrection when “the Son of Man is raised from the dead” (v. 9). Alleluia!
Jesus changes us so that we are never the same. The transfigured Christ makes a transfigured life.
When Jesus Preaches...
He Lays Down The Law
St. Matthew 5:21-37. ESV
The Sixth Sunday After The Epiphany
There’s a lot of law in the Sermon on the Mount. You can’t miss it today.
In their minds, many people picture Jesus as that “nice guy.” He is soft-featured, big-eyed, compassionate, dressed in pink and blue. This Jesus would never boss you around or tell you what to do. He’s the kind of guy you want your daughter to bring home as her boyfriend. Nice guy, this Jesus.
But the Preacher is no pushover. He lays down the law. Even stricter than Moses, the original Old Testament bringer of the Ten Commandments, God’s Law. When Jesus preaches, He will not allow anyone to justify himself using the Commandments. “By works of the law, no human being will be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20).
“You shall not murder” God forbids in the fifth Commandment. Never taken the life of somebody? Hatred, anger directed at another person; insults, damning and damaging words that trigger pain, worry, and anxiety in your neighbour’s heart; even hating your sister in your secret heart—these are equally damning sins, the same as murder. The Preacher lays down the law.
Never violated the marriage vow by committing adultery, joining your body to somebody who is not your spouse? The wandering eye that lusts over that man, that woman as a simple sex object; that heart burning with lust and desire, even when you don’t act on that lust makes you guilty of breaking the sixth Commandment. The Preacher lays down the law.
Those are hard words to hear. But could it be that most painful for us as Christians is the preaching of Jesus on the eighth Commandment? “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.” The words we speak as His Christians have great power to give witness to the faith we have in our Master Christ: especially to tell others that salvation is a free gift in Jesus. Yet how easily false words slip out of our mouths, contradicting our confession of Christ and convicting us as sinners.
That word of the Law lays us low by our very words.
The Law kills us.
Jesus brings us back to life. The Lord Himself was laid low by the Law, suffering for our sins that we might be saved. Picture it. Three short years after preaching this sermon, the Preacher was sentenced—falsely accused by the authorities as they violated the eighth Commandment to guarantee Christ’s conviction, even placing the Lord of truth under oath (St. Matthew 26:63). Not content to harbour jealousy and hatred in their hearts, Christ’s accusers achieved their goal and aim of destroying the Holy One of God: killing the Innocent in the most cruel and agonizing of executions: to be crucified under Roman rule. Jesus did all this for us, to save us. For us and all the world, guilty of breaking the Law of God, Jesus laid down on the wooden beams of the cross. For our spiritual adultery and straying, Jesus placed Himself under the Law’s condemnation. In the most powerful sermon, delivered with very few words, Christ crucified laid down under the punishment we deserve from the Law of God. Jesus suffered and died to release us from the Law’s curse.
Forgiven in Christ, we forgive others. That’s how the Preacher taught us to pray later in this sermon: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (St. Matthew 6:12). That’s counter-intuitive: forgiving those who hurt us, insult us, persecute us, even slap us on the cheek. That’s really not what we want to do. We want to get even, settle the score, make that person know how it feels. Retaliate. “An eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24; St. Matthew 6:38). Let the punishment fit the crime.
But, Jesus lays down the law. His followers, His disciples must follow the Preacher on a higher path: not vengeance, but forgiveness. Such love for our sisters and brothers takes their sins to Jesus and nails those sins to His cross. Forgiving those who hurt us fulfills the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), to love one another as He has loved us (St. John 15:12). Forgiveness is the only way we can be reconciled to those who are separated from us by sin—both theirs and ours. Forgiveness that leads to reconciliation brings the children of God together in Christ. Only reconciled Christians can safely approach the altar to receive the Lord’s gifts of His body and blood. Humanly speaking, this is impossible. Our own will and resolve, strength and power can’t reunite us. But we are reconciled for the sake of Christ, who was laid low by the law for us.
For we Christians are in the forgiveness business.
When Jesus Preaches...
He Shines On/In/Through Us
St. Matthew 5:13-20. ESV
The Fifth Sunday After The Epiphany
We need light. As the years pass, I appreciate all the more being able to see things properly. Not long ago, I bought a portable LED light. This simple, battery-powered flashlight puts out a powerful beam. This tiny light is so useful: uncovering objects hidden in dark corners, concealed in boxes and rooms.
“You are the light of the world” (v. 14), Jesus preaches to His disciples as He continues His Sermon on the Mount. “Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16), urges the Lord. In this world of darkness, we must shine. You in your small corner and I in mine. Epiphany is the season of light. The Magi saw the light of Christ’s star and came to worship Him (St. Matthew 2:2). By the light of His Word and that same light in Baptism and Communion, Jesus, the Light, has shined on us. We trust in Him. We keep on coming here to the Light, Jesus Christ, who comes to us in this service. We shine with reflected light, by the grace of God.
Let your light shine!
Jesus shines on us. His light shines on us as He preaches the Word of God to us. And, we see!
A few weeks ago after many dark and grey days, the sun finally came out. What a glorious sight that was! As I was driving down the road, with the sun streaming through the windows, I was feeling really great. Then, I looked at the dashboard, gauges, and every flat surface and said to myself, “It’s really dirty in here!” The dingy, overcast days hid from my eyes the rich layer of dust in the car. In the light of the sun, it was clear what needed cleaning.
The light of Christ exposes our sins. Jesus preaches the Law in such a way that we can’t cover up, hide, nor deny our sins. Outwardly, we may never have stolen from anybody. But as He preaches, Jesus shines a light on the love of money and the things of this world that holds a place in our hearts. Outwardly, we may be keeping the Sabbath day by attending church. But as He preaches, Jesus shines a light on our distracted hearts that are far away from these pews and people, pushing His Word aside to think about other things. Does our sinful nature picture Jesus as a pushover? You know: easy-going, permissive, turning a blind eye to the wrongs in our lives. Loosey-goosey compared with Moses, the Lawgiver and the Commandments. We may think Jesus just lets things slide. Now listen to Him preach: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them... unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 17, 20). In His sermon, Jesus shines the powerful spotlight of His Law in full force on us. Leaving us with nowhere to hide.
Good thing that’s not all Jesus has to say. The light of God’s Law shines on us so that the light of God’s Gospel will shine in us. The Law exposes our good deeds—that is, the very best we do out of love for God and to serve the needs of our neighbours—His light shows us what those good deeds really are: flawed, incomplete, and unable to save us.
The Gospel, the good news, is this: Jesus has kept the commandments perfectly, for us who have not, to save us. “I have not come to abolish the [Law], but to fulfill [it]” (v. 17). The light of Christ’s obedience shines the light of His love over all the world. Out of love for a world that has lost its taste to live upright and moral lives, Jesus came as the salt of the earth. The coming of Christ in His Word and Sacraments preserves and protects the world. Out of love for a world lost in the darkness of sin and unbelief, of despair and death, Jesus came as the Light of the world. Like a light set on a stand, or a city built on a hill, Jesus was nailed high on a cross, raised up as a beacon and standard of salvation for all the world. His sacrificial death fulfills the Law of God for us. Believing in His good work, this one act of obedience, sacrifice and love for all people, we have the light of faith shining in us for our salvation. With the light of Christ in us, we glorify God our dear Father who is in heaven (v. 16).
Funny thing about light. It shines. It radiates. Hard to keep hidden (under a basket). Why would you? The light comes out.
We shine. With reflected light. Our lives impact the lives of others. It cannot be any other way. Knowing this—that God loves us so much that He gave His dear and only Son into death on the cross, and raised Him to life from the grave for our salvation—the light of this faith in Christ in us shines through us. In our actions—to give to others, as we have been blessed to help the poor; to spend time with people who are lonely; to donate our time and volunteer—the light of Jesus shines through us. In our words—to restrain our lips from cursing, anger, complaining, or indecent jokes; to defend those who cannot speak for themselves; to speak the truth in love—the light of Jesus shines through us. In our thoughts—to love those near to us and those who are far away; to hope in God when hope seems to have disappeared; to trust in the Lord no matter what—the light of Jesus shines through us.
Hear Jesus, the Preacher. His powerful Word brings to life those asleep in the dust of death in the earth:
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14b).
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16).
When Jesus Preaches...
We Are Blessed
St. Matthew 5:1-12. ESV
The Fourth Sunday After The Epiphany
A sermon... based on a sermon? Oh Pastor, now that’s a bit much, don’t you think? Yet, that’s what we have today and the following two Sundays: the Gospel reading for three weeks from Matthew, chapter five: the Sermon on the Mount.
How about we think of it this way? Just as if your called Pastor is away, say on vacation or at a conference, and Jesus is filling in as the guest Preacher over these three weeks.
When Jesus preaches... we are blessed.
So, here we go... Jesus goes up on a mountain and finds a rock pulpit to sit at and deliver this sermon. His disciples come near and hear His voice, clear and confident. Jesus begins to preach: “Blessed are...” Oh, I like that! “Blessed.” That means content, at rest, at peace. Everything is all right. םלש Shalom. God is in His heaven and everything is right in the world. I like this kind of sermon. The one that says we are blessed.
Now, who is that, exactly? These people who are blessed? “Blessed are the poor in spirit...” Jesus says as He continues to preach. Poor in spirit? Well, I don’t know if I like to hear that! Poor in spirit—that means spiritually poor, struggling in my faith. That’s the kind of person who is blessed? What kind of sermon is Jesus preaching? And, He doesn’t stop there. “Blessed are the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who mourn...” All of that sounds like sin: my sin! Jesus even preaches about those who are reviled, insulted by others, persecuted for doing the right thing. Those who cry in mourning for loved ones taken away in death; those whose spirits are humbled by their sins, meek and lowly, with a repentant heart. Even as we find ourselves in our sins, Jesus has the audacity... the boldness even, to preach: “you are blessed!”
The Blessed One
Because of the Preacher. He is ever with us. We are blessed in Jesus. He entered our world in poverty—poor in spirit and in this world’s goods—born in the stable of Bethlehem. Out of all humanity, Christ alone is pure of heart. Jesus came down from heaven to earth in mourning for the devastation that human sin has caused to His dear people: sinners persecuting each other, sorely in need of a Peacemaker, mired in a world uttering all kinds of evil words to hurt and harm our neighbours. Jesus hungered and thirsted to make us righteous, since we sinners have no righteousness of our own. For us and for all the world, Jesus meekly went to the cross so that we would be blessed eternally. His precious blood makes peace between us and God, the high price Jesus paid to earn the forgiveness for our sins. Ransomed and redeemed by the death and resurrection of God’s own Son, Jesus shows mercy to us: releasing us from every guilt and burden that would entrap us. I really like this sermon! We are blessed in Jesus!
“Blessed...” What does that mean? Listen to Jesus as He explains.
In Christ, when we are hungry and thirsty to be righteous, He satisfies our souls. Jesus feeds us with the bread of life in Communion. Jesus gives our souls the water of life in Baptism. When Jesus gives us the meekness of true faith in Him, He blesses us with an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, nor fade. As that faith in Jesus moves us to show kind acts of mercy to those who are in need, Jesus shows mercy to us with His forgiving Word, and with the blessing of His merciful Sacrament. And, when death breaks our hearts wringing them out with the deep sorrow of mourning, Jesus alone comforts our hearts with the sure and certain promise of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Jesus blesses baptized believers with a pure heart. Even when our spirits are made poor though times of persecution, even then, Jesus blesses us with His promise: we are part of the kingdom of heaven!
Man, if this is how Jesus begins to preach, I can’t wait to hear what He says next. I can’t wait until next week!
A Reason To Live
St. Matthew 4:12-25. ESV
The Third Sunday After The Epiphany
Since June 2016, MAID, that is, Medical Assistance In Dying has opened the way for people in Canada legally to seek the help of medical professionals to bring their lives to a premature end. Why? Affliction with a serious illness, disease, or disability. The kind of bodily sufferings that Christ healed in today’s Gospel. Before 2016, assisted suicide was against the law in Canada. Now, it is legal. And, on March 17, 2023, the laws will change. Medical Assistance In Dying will be offered to an even broader group of people: those suffering with mental illness will also be eligible to seek help to end their lives. Our world looks to death as the solution to many problems we face. The law for assisted suicide seems to provide a legal justification: a reason to die.
God condemns this. “You shall not murder,” He commands. The fifth commandment forbids actively seeking to end our own life or the life of someone else. Assisted suicide is a sin. Along with every way we despise, injure, endanger, or harm this body and life. Not taking care of ourselves—bad habits, bad diet, laziness, overwork, worry and anxiety—each and all of these abuses of our life in the body goes against God’s holy will for us in the fifth commandment. The Lord has given us life as a gift—do we despise this gift? Repent!
Life Springs To Life
We have a reason to live. God has given us many reasons, in fact. Life comes from God. He is the Source of life. God spoke and all life was created. By His divine Word, the Lord called every living thing into being in the heavens and on the earth. Yet, when it came to human beings, the Lord gave life in a most intimate, hands-on manner. God crafted the body of Adam from the dirt of Eden, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Then, the Lord literally gave him the breath of life, filling Adam’s lungs with air for the first time: a kind of divine CPR, breathing into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7) . Lonely Adam was given Eve as his dear wife from his own bone and flesh. Out of Adam’s rib, the Lord crafted the one who would be joined to him in one flesh: the marital bond of love for all their lives through. With equal care, the Lord has made each one of us who is present here today, “knit us together in [our] mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13) in body and soul, alive by the gift of God—what a reason to live!
Sadly, Eden’s perfection was soon shattered. Forbidden eating rejected God’s Word of command that He gave to protect His gift of life, earning the consequent punishment: “You shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17; 3:3). The first people, together with all who would live after them, including us face the terminal diagnosis of death in this world due to sin.
Son Shine On Life
So, God sent His Son into this dark valley of the shadow of death. The Light was born in the darkness of Bethlehem’s stable, the Light of the world (v. 16) born of Mary in the dark shadow of bleak midwinter. “And this light was the light of men” (St. John 1:4). For the whole world, born under the curse of the Law and the condemnation of sin, leading to death, Jesus, God’s Son, the Light of the world was born. His whole life one of obedience to God. Christ followed the path of life, perfectly keeping the 10 Commandments where we have not. For us, and for all the world, Jesus went to the cross, suffering and dying for our sins of thought, word and deed. And, because He is God, the death of Jesus takes away our death. His life counts as our life. Even though we still die in this world, the Lord Jesus gives the gift of eternal life in heaven to all who believe and are baptized into Him. Death is not the last word for Christians. A greater life awaits us in heaven—a reason to live!
The Lord cares for this life He has given us—every day. The Holy Spirit teaches us to live holy lives while we live and breathe in this world. Baptism, Bible, and breaking of bread in the Sacrament: these are the ways the Holy Spirit keeps a living faith in Jesus alive in our hearts. The Holy Spirit gives us a reason to live: not just for ourselves—to squeeze all the pleasure out of life while we can—but also to live for others; to pray for those who are having a hard time keeping body and soul together; to help people who have bodily needs; and to speak to the needs of the soul who hasn’t heard that Christ is their Saviour. The Holy Spirit keeps us with Jesus Christ each day of our lives. In faith, we treasure our lives, and care for the lives of others—a reason to live!
God the Father created us.
God the Son redeemed us.
God the Holy Spirit sanctifies us.
The Holy Triune God lives—and gives life to us.
First Things First
St. John 1:29-42. ESV
The Second Sunday After The Epiphany
Here we are in church on the first month of 2023. The beginning of a new calendar year gets us thinking about where in the world we are going. What will the year ahead bring? Making plans and setting priorities gets us thinking about what we value, what is truly important, what we absolutely we don’t want to leave out, or miss out on. Forward facing faith puts first things first.
Down In The Minors
That’s so important. Sin in us, in the world, inspired by Satan urges us to “major in the minors,” to get lost in unimportant details, worrying about small matters. Like finding you have spinach on your tooth after the job interview. You missed that sale on the truck you had your eye on. Spilling spaghetti sauce on your best clothes. Did I remember to charge the cell phone? Dwelling on the little stuff can make you miss what’s most important.
The year was 1956. The circus came to town. Ten-year-old Jimmy had never been to the circus. His dad gave him five dollars and the day off from doing chores so that he could go into town and see it. Jimmy was so excited as he headed down the road. Crowds of people pressed in around the fenced-in area outside the city. Jimmy reached the gate that led to the circus. A clown stepped up and gave him a friendly “Hello.” Jimmy was ecstatic. So this is the circus,” he thought. He gave the clown all his money, turned around and walked home. Jimmy thought that the clown was the circus. Actually, he missed it.
Many little things capture our attention, distract us, deplete our faith in Christ, and rob us of the “one thing necessary” (St. Luke 10:42).
First In Forever
“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (v. 29). First things first: that was John’s job. To point to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is first. For John. For you and me. For all the world. This Man, coming after me, says John in verse 31, is number one my books (ἔμπροσθεν) because He is first (πρτος). Jesus was born of Mary in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. But, He existed with the Father and the Holy Spirit already in eternity, before anything was created. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (St. John 1:1). Among the important things that hold rank in our lives, Jesus comes first. First things first.
Not just in the sequence of time. The Lord Christ’s saving work is first for us and for all the world. “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (v. 29). John points out Jesus for his disciples and for us, not just as a spectacle (θεάομαι), but as the Saviour. He is the Lamb of God: Son of the Father, equal to the Holy Spirit. This Jesus is fully man and fully God. Indeed, He is the Lamb of God: the One perfect sacrifice to end all sacrifices of countless lambs offered on sacrificial altars since the tabernacle services began. Not on the flames of an altar of bronze, but in the agony of a wooden cross, the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world. One perfect, spotless, holy Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, lifts (αἴρω) the curse of sin that leads to eternal death by His self-offering on the cross of Calvary. The Church’s proclamation to the world has always put Christ, the Lamb of God in priority position: St. Paul wraps up his first letter to Corinth: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures...” (I Corinthians 15:3-4). So, Paul also starts that letter: “we preach Christ crucified” (I Corinthians 1:23a).
First things first.
For Christ puts us first. Jesus came down from heaven to be born at Christmas to put our eternal destiny first: the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God in His love for the world, together in fellowship with the Holy Spirit gave His dear Son to put the world first: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (St. John 3:16). Washed in His forgiving Word, combined with this water, our gracious God gives us a new start in Christ. Feeding His worthy communicants with His own living body and blood, behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
First things first.
After cracking out of its shell, the baby bird senses the mother bird is near. From that time on, whenever that mother bird lands on the nest, the chicks turn to her, stretch their necks and make a racket: feed me! In nature, what’s called “imprinting” teaches young animals stay close to the ones who will care for their needs. In the Word of God and water of our Baptisms, we meet our first love: the smiling face of God turned toward us in benediction.
Following Christ as the first love in our hearts moves us to tell others. Andrew was among the first of John’s disciples to turn and follow Christ. What was the first thing he did? “He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus.” (v. 41-42a). By the witness of Andrew, his famous brother Simon Peter was led to Christ. And the Light shines into all the world.
First things first.
When Heaven Opened Again
St. Matthew 3:13-17. ESV
The Baptism Of Our Lord
A silent night. The sheep huddled together for woolly warmth. Stars studded the Bethlehem sky. Sleepy shepherds out in the fields nearby kept a night watch over their flocks through those dark hours. All quiet on the Bethlehem front.
Suddenly, the heavens were opened. The shepherds’ eyes opened wide. The heavy drowsiness that lay upon them quickly vanished. Instantly, they snapped to attention. The sky lit up with an unearthly brightness, a glorious glow that stretched to the horizon. The glory of the Lord made their skin crawl. The air was electric. The hair on the back of their necks stood up. The scene gave them goose bumps. Before them stood an angel from heaven. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (St. Luke 2:10-12). The glory of the Lord overwhelmed the light receptors in the eyes of the shepherds.
Then, the heavens opened wider. This massive choir of heavenly angels sang out: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased” (St. Luke 2:14). From heaven above, God the Father sent His Son to earth below. His birth brings salvation to the world. At Christmas, heaven opens.
Reeds and rushes grew a rich ribbon of green meandering through a dry desert landscape. Through a haze of shimmering heat, piles of penitents made the pilgrimage from the cities to this remote wilderness oasis. A crowd of people stood around a wild man, clad in a camel cloak, bound with leather, preaching “Prepare. Repent. Be Baptized.” Interspersed with His fiery preaching, this rough man was leading repentant candidates to the river water.
One Man from the crowd stepped forward. The two men exchanged a knowing look. “I need to be baptized by You,” said John the Baptist, “and do You come to me? ” (v. 14-15). This Man from the crowd was unique, one-of-a-kind. Jesus is different from every other person. Ever. John knew it. Jesus did not need what Baptism gives. No forgiveness necessary. He alone had no sin. So, why was He there? Jesus was baptized for us. At His Baptism, the Lord took our sins upon Himself. At His Baptism, Jesus took our sins away. From His Baptism, Christ took our sins to the cross. The sin which keeps us out of heaven was washed away in the Baptism of Jesus. The sin which keeps us out of heaven was taken from us, put on Jesus and put to death in His body. Our sin died with Jesus. He opens heaven to us.
Freshly baptized, dripping with Jordan river water, Jesus walked with John up the river bank: God of God, light of Light, very God of very God, Christ Jesus our Saviour who opens heaven. There’s no mistaking it. “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (v. 17), boomed the voice of God. The Father’s approving word spoken over His Son was joined by the Holy Spirit, “descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him” (v. 16). God the Holy Trinity is present for this sacred moment. Heaven opens.
The dimmed lighting in church carries an atmosphere of anticipation. Even the front of the church looks different on this day: the baptismal font is front and centre. A faint wisp of water vapour rises from the bowl in the cool morning air. The flame from the pascal candle burns brightly. People begin to enter and sit in the pews: more visitors than usual. The family gathers with the Pastor and Elder at the baptismal font. Verses of Sacred Scripture followed by the prayers echo in our ears. The sign of the cross is traced on the forehead and heart of the child. Satan is renounced. The Holy, Triune God is confessed. Her name is spoken. Water is poured over her head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. She cries. She wriggles a little. Parents smile. Pastor is proud. And God welcomes a new soul into His kingdom.
Right here, with this simple Sacrament. All the work of Christ in His holy cross and empty tomb for young and old is poured in a rich flood of blessing into our hearts and minds, our bodies and souls.
Here, heaven opens again.
To Save Us
St. Luke 2:21. ESV
The Circumcision and Name of Jesus
“He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb” (v. 21). Jesus means, “the Lord saves.” This eight-day-old was called Jesus because He would save His people from their sins. To save us, Jesus was brought by the Holy Family to the local Rabbi in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph brought the infant Christ to be marked in His own flesh with sign of the covenant God made with Abraham. Christ’s circumcision obligated Him to keep the entire Law handed down to Moses on Sinai: the Law that commands us to love God above all things, and to love our neighbour as our ourselves. Eight days after Christmas, the Baby was laid down, and His foreskin was cut clean with a knife of flint: the foreskin that represents our sin and rebellion against God was cut away. The infant Christ was scarcely in this world and His blood was spilled: the sign of greater bloodshed yet to come.
Together with Christians around the world, we gather today, the first day of a new calendar year to rejoice in the circumcision and naming of the infant Jesus. Throughout the Old Testament, the sign of circumcision was a sign of God’s grace: a sign to God’s people Israel of His faithful promise to Abraham: that one day, a Descendant of Abraham and Sarah would be born; the Messiah who would bless all nations.
The people of God longed for the Saviour to be born because of the burden, indeed, the curse of the Law. The Holy God commanded that His people also be holy: perfect, righteous, without fault. The Ten Commandments, handed down to Moses continue to express this holy will of God for us and all people today. Yet this law brought terror: at Sinai, Israel clapped their hands over their ears and pleaded for God to stop speaking to them. So Moses brought the two stone tablets written with the finger of God to Israel. The people marked with the sign and promise of circumcision were obligated to obey the Ten Commandments. So are we. Our Holy God demands perfect obedience to His will. He threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Even once. The Law of God brings us sinners no comfort. Like God’s ancient people Israel, we long for the Messiah to save us from the Law’s curse.
Severed To Save
“You shall call His name Jesus,” the Angel instructed Joseph, “for He will save His people from their sins” (St. Matthew 1:21). The Rabbi cut this sign upon His infant flesh—the sign of the Law and the promise. Yet, this Child Jesus stands as the last, great and final circumcision: the promised Descendant of Abraham; the One to whom every circumcision in the nation of Israel pointed; the One who brings eternal blessings to all the nations of the earth. But how? In what way does this newly-circumcised Boy bring God’s benediction to the people of the world?
The blessing this heavenly Child brings is to end the curse of the Law for us. Jesus did not need to be circumcised, nor to be baptized, because He had no sin to forgive. Yet, He did it all for us. For us, Jesus was circumcised, placing Himself under God’s Holy Law to obey it perfectly for us. His holy life was an unbroken offering of obedience to God on our behalf. Jesus saves us by His active obedience to the Ten Commandments. His sinless life, holy death, and blessed rising to live again were all for you, for me, for the nations of the world. Beginning with the rite of circumcision, Jesus placed Himself under God’s Holy Law for us who have not kept that Law. Jesus endured the rite of circumcision to bring us the blessing God first promised to Abraham: to save His people.
The Lord still takes little babies and marks them with the sign of His promise: not with a flint knife, but with water. The Apostle Paul calls this the “circumcision made without hands,” (Colossians 2:11) that is, by Christ. This mark stands for us as a sign that God’s Law has been obeyed, and that He has kept His promise to Abraham and to us. The blessings of Jesus are poured out on us freely in the water and Word of Holy Baptism. Here, we receive the forgiveness of our sins, rescue from death and the devil and eternal salvation. Here, we are joined to the One who shed His blood for us at His circumcision and on the cross. Here, we are marked with the cross of Christ and renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways. Here, we are joined to Jesus who rose alive from the grave on the eighth day. Here, the Holy Spirit teaches us to believe in Jesus who saves us. The Holy Spirit delivers all these gifts to us by His grace so that we obey God’s commands and serve our neighbour with acts of love. The blessing promised to Abraham, foretold in the sign of circumcision is delivered to us in Holy Baptism.
When we begin each day of the new year remembering our Baptisms, Luther instructs us to make the sign of the cross and say, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen.” Returning to Baptism with repentant, faith-filled hearts, the Lord gives us a fresh start: new, clean and pure as the eight-day-old Christ Child. He takes away our guilt: cleansing our past in the sea of His baptismal grace.
We don’t know what 2023 will bring. But this we do know: Jesus spilled His blood on the eighth day and on Good Friday to save us from the curse of the Law. He has marked us in Holy Baptism as His own for all eternity. He will never leave us nor forsake us.
Romans 8:31b-39. ESV
New Year’s Eve
Less is more.
Have you heard that phrase before? That expression, “less is more,” captures the truth that sometimes, it is better, more effective, to show some restraint, rather than go full bore and pour it on. Think, for example, of the young girl who is just learning to use makeup. A little applied sparingly to her face has a more pleasing effect than smearing it on with a trowel.
Less is more.
God goes even further in Romans 8: what can get between us and His love for us? Not less, not some things, not just a little. What can stop God’s love? Nothing!
When it comes to our salvation, we are always tempted to believe that we’ve got to do something to earn God’s love, to work our way into His favour, even if it’s just a little to save ourselves. Less is more—our little works of good should count before God to make up for our sins—so we think. Little or a lot, we can’t. Less or more, we don’t. “... for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:21 NIV).
That’s why God gave His Son. The Lord did not do the least for our salvation. God in His love did everything, the very best, the ultimate and greatest act: He “did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all” (v. 32). Did God hold anything back to earn our salvation? No! Christ went to the cross for us. God would stop at nothing to earn our salvation. If we believe in Him, if we have been washed in His cleansing Baptism, if we hold fast to Jesus our Saviour in hearts of faith, what can stop us from being forever with our Lord? Nothing!
Υπερνικμεν from the root word ὑπερνικάω that’s the Greek word God chose to use in Romans 8, verse 37. Notice that it takes five words in English to translate this massive Greek word. Υπερνικάω means “we are more than conquerors.” And, if you say it with a bit of a southern drawl, “hooper nike,” it sounds like an endorsement for basketball gear. The hooper nikes: they come out as winners in the end. And, that’s us: we are the hooper nikes, the “super-conquerors.” But not alone. By our own strength, skill, power, might, and goodness, “we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (v. 36). But, through Christ crucified, through Him who died and rose to justify us, through the Son, given to all the world at Christmas by His dear Father in heaven, through Jesus who loved us to death and back, “we are more than conquerors” (v. 37). As long as we are in Christ, what can stop us? Nothing!
By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St. Paul wrote these verses to encourage the Christians at Rome. They would see their fellow believers go through terrible persecution under the Roman Empire. The Imperial persecutors of the Church did not subscribe to the dictum: “less is more” when they tried to eradicate and stomp out Christianity. Rome did nothing in half-measures. The awful spectre of the cross—that excruciating method of torture and execution—shows what the Empire would do to a person to exert its will over them: they would do everything!
But even when the world has done it’s worst, it cannot harm those who are in Christ. Faith and His gifts lie deeper than worldly circumstances, like time, money, health and even life itself.
Worst case scenario. What’s the worst the world can throw at you? How intense can the devil’s temptations become? How deeply might you be betrayed even by your own sinful nature? As bad as it gets, God’s love is greater, stronger, more powerful than anything that might try and get in His way. Is there anything coming to you in 2023 that will be able to separate you from God’s love in Christ? No! Nothing.
Were they to take our house,
Goods, honor, child, or spouse,
Though life be wrenched away,
They cannot win the day.
The kingdom’s ours forever! (LSB 657:4)
What can separate us from God and His love in Christ?
Good News Spreads
St. Luke 2:1-20. ESV
The Nativity Of Our Lord
“Bad news sells newspapers.” That’s what they used to say. Now that most people follow the news through digital sources, I wonder what the updated expression of that truth is now? That bad news headlines and photos from clickbait platforms and Facebook feed generate the most online traffic?
Christmas is such a welcome relief in our bad-news world! This holy morning, God’s heavenly messenger, the herald angel announces good news: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people” (v. 10). This earth-shaking news—God has come to earth, Jesus born at Christmas—is such good news that it cannot be contained, but spreads like wildfire: a contagious chain reaction from angels to shepherds, to all people. Christmas is good news for everyone!
But, there are moments. Like a dark storm cloud passing ahead of the sun, or the moon in eclipse, the bad news of sin threatens to obscure the good news of God’s rich grace and love for all the world at the birth of Christ. Even at Christmas, sin—our sin—shows its ugly head.
Look at the shepherds. Almighty God, the Eternal Father, reached out to the world in the birth of Jesus, then announced it by angels. And the shepherds were terrified! That’s sin. We feel it. When sinful people meet the holiness of God, there’s fear. St. Peter felt this fear in the presence of the holy Christ on the Sea of Galilee (St. Luke 5:8). The women at the empty tomb on Easter morning felt this fear, and ran away, saying nothing to anyone (St. Mark 16:8). When confronted with the raw power of God at work, we sinners are afraid. Even when we have good news to spread, fear keeps us silent, saying nothing to anyone. Then, all we can do is confess our sin.
God forgives us when we confess. He forgives us for the sake of Jesus. That’s the good news. “Fear not,” says the angel to the women at the Jerusalem tomb; says Jesus to Peter in the boat. “Fear not,” says the angel to the shepherds. This Child, born of Mary, is your Saviour. His holy blood will be spilled on the cross to take away your sins and the sins of the world. This tiny Child, born in the poor stable of Bethlehem has come into this dark world of sin to be “the Light which enlightens everyone” (St. John 1:9). By His cross and empty tomb, He will defeat death and the grave and bring life without end to His dear people. This unique Child from heaven has come down to earth, born in purity and without sin to open heaven to us. This truly is good news.
The angel continued his message to the shepherds. The sign of this good news is the sight that awaits you in Bethlehem: “You will find a Baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12). A newborn in a feeding trough? That’s news! Truly, in every place of that whole little town of Bethlehem, there can be only One!
Excitement at this gracious news moved the shepherds into action. Believing the word of the angel made them want to go and see this good news with their own eyes. Leaving their sheep, “they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the Baby lying in a manger” (v. 16). God in Christ had come to them! They hurried over to Bethlehem to see Him.
From there, this good news spread immediately. This visit to the manger, a true worship service, moved their lips to tell others: “they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this Child” (v. 17). Not the sight in the manger, but the Word of God the angel had spoken: that was the news the shepherds spread, “... on the mountain, Over the hills and everywhere” (LSB 388:1-3). What word? “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (v. 11).
We are here in Church on Christmas morning, retracing the steps of the shepherds. God the Holy Spirit “has called us by the Gospel” (SC II:6) to believe in the Saviour Jesus, born for us at Christmas, gathered us around His Holy Word, the Bible, read and preached in this place, and that same Holy Spirit moves us to hold that Word sacred in hearts of faith. Like the shepherds on that first Christmas morning, we are excited to go over to the altar where the Christmas Saviour is truly present for us with the sign He has given: wrapped in the swaddling cloths of bread and wine. Here, with joy we find the Lord Jesus with His gifts: forgiveness, life and salvation. Good news!
And not just for us. Jesus is born to bring “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (v. 10). Follow the shepherds from the manger of His altar out into the world to make “known the saying concerning this Child” (v. 17), this Jesus, born to be our Saviour.
Christmas is good news—good news that spreads through the whole world.
He Knows My Name
Philippians 2:7-10. ESV
The Nativity Of Our Lord, Christmas Eve
Have you ever been hacked? Had your personal information stolen by unknown digital thieves? In a moment, private, vital information about yourself is leaked, and you don’t know who has access to it. To be hacked is to be violated and vulnerable. When anonymous perpetrators steal your online identity, you feel helpless and betrayed.
Cybercrime is a picture of sin. Satan, the world, and our inborn sin have stolen the identity God gave to the first people at creation: sinless creatures living in happy harmony with their Creator. Selfish tinkering with God’s holy 10 Commandments has hacked into that original identity God gave to His people—corrupting our compatibility with others, cutting off our access to the Almighty.
So, we want to hide, like Adam and Eve, who hoped that God would not see them in the bushes and trees of the Garden of Eden. The guilt of our sins makes us want to go off the grid, concealing user name and password and all that might give us away: anonymous, nameless, invisible. But, we can’t hide who we are. There are no anonymous people. Everyone has a name.
God knows us. We don’t stay invisible to Almighty God. He sees who we are—sin, guilt and all of it. And, He loves us. Despite our faults and failings, He remains our kind and loving God and Father, giving us the best Christmas gift of all: the Lord restores our proper identity, protects our honour, and welcomes us into the warm arms of His loving embrace as His dear children. God knows what we need most of all this Christmas: not more stuff, not more technology, not more entertainment. We need a Person. So God gives us Jesus. The holy, innocent Child born in the poor Bethlehem stable is God’s personalized Gift to you and me and to all people. The Child of Mary named Jesus, praised by angel choirs and worshipped by shepherds working their regular jobs: this Child was born to restore to us the proper dignity of every person here: dignity God created us to have. His name is Jesus, for He was born to carry out this great purpose: to save His people from their sins (St. Matthew 1:21). Jesus lived up to the meaning of His name, taking the guilt of our sins and nailing it to the cross in His own flesh, human flesh that was born this holy night in the manger of Christmas. By taking our place, He clears our names of every sin. And this Jesus, God’s one and only Son rose to life again three days after His burial in Jerusalem’s tomb to bless each one of us. Through faith in Jesus, each one of us can personally look forward to rising from our final earthly resting places to live forever with Jesus in a life without end.
God knows us. He calls the stars by name (Psalm 147:4 NIV) ; God also knows our names. As a good and kind Shepherd leads His sheep, so Jesus calls us each by name (St. John 10:3). God loves us.
Our lives in the modern world can leave us cold and unfeeling: as if just a number in a database; one out of thousands of nameless online “friends;” one digit lost in a vast demographic.
The main character of the television show, “The Prisoner” is exactly that: this former government agent was taken to a beautiful island called the village. Deprived of his name and identity, known only as Number Six. “I am not a number, I am a name,” he protests.
God agrees. The Lord knows us personally. He writes our names in the Book of Life (Revelation 21:27) our names spoken when we were baptized. God in heaven knows your name! New life is given to us personally, for the sake of Jesus. Jesus! Immanuel! God in the flesh! Our Saviour, born for us at Christmas!
St. Matthew 1:18-25. ESV
The Fourth Sunday In Advent
Josephs dream. Dreams sent by God. Jacob’s favoured son Joseph, the one clad in the coat of many colours, mocked by his brothers as the Dreamer (Genesis 37:19) received unique, prophetic dreams from God: dreams of his ascendancy to become the Prince of Egypt, dreams revealing the fate of his fellow prisoners, and dreams of the seven-year-bounty, followed by seven years of famine that would afflict the land. God sent these dreams to Joseph, along with the interpretation of those dreams to bless his family, and nations of believers and unbelievers, “that many people should be kept alive” (Genesis 50:20).
About 1 500 years later, God sends a dream to another Joseph, also the son of another Jacob (St. Matthew 1:16), of the family line of David. Yet Joseph is not just dreaming. God Almighty sends His angel to bring good news to Joseph and to all the world. The Son to be born to his betrothed wife, Mary, will save His people from their sins (v. 21).
But, before this good news, Joseph learned some bad news. Mary, his betrothed wife was with child. Pious and chaste, Joseph knew that this baby wasn’t his: he learned about this pregnancy, “before they came together” (v. 18). Regretfully, Joseph considered what to do: “divorce her quietly,” literally, to set her free secretly (λάθρα v. 19). You see, Joseph wanted to protect Mary from the shame of a public divorce, and do what he could to preserve her honour. But, who can keep such things quiet? The disgrace, both for Mary and for Joseph would be a nightmare!
As it is every time we depart from God and His holy will for us: a nightmare! Sins of “great shame and vice” (SC III:18), as well as small infractions against God’s Commandments—all sin divorces us from God and from other people. And since we all sin, our desire is like Joseph: to keep that separation silent—a “quiet divorce.” Yet, the truth will out.
God set things right. In a dream, His angel revealed the truth about this unborn Child to Joseph: in a Christmas vision.
In the midst of what must have been a fitful night of tossing and turning, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph to calm his troubled soul. ‘Do not be afraid. This Child growing in your dearly beloved is from no man—the Holy Spirit caused the life of this Holy Child to stir within her.’ As prophesied by Isaiah (7:14), with her virginal honour still intact, Mary conceived this divine Son—God Himself in the flesh. Not from shameful beginnings, but from holy origins, this Holy Child of Christmas truly is the Object of our faith in this world and our hope for life in the next world—a Christmas Vision!
Joseph’s dream state continued, revealing to his eyes ever greater visions even than the virginal conception. “You shall call His name Jesus” instructed the angel, “for He will save His people from their sins” (v. 21). Jesus means Saviour. That’s the kind of Child that Mary will bring into the world at Christmas: in the spirit and power of Joshua, who led the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt into the freedom of the promised land of Israel. Jesus is the new Joshua. Not leading Israel, but the Leader of the holy Christian Church. The destination is not Palestine, but the promised land of heaven. Salvation is not a dream, but a reality. The vision of heaven for us sinners, Jesus purchased at the high cost of His innocent suffering and death on the cross. This Child, conceived by Mary, born in Bethlehem, visited by shepherds and adored by Wise Men is God’s Christmas vision: our forgiveness, eternal life and our salvation.
God’s dream is to bring all things together—in Jesus to unite earth and heaven, man and God—binding together what sin has divorced, shattered, and cloven in two. “For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one... [to] reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross” (Ephesians 2:14, 16). The Apostle St. John sees into heaven, a vision of God dwelling with His people: John writes, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3). Jesus, born at Christmas makes this vision reality. “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (v. 23).
It seems that Christmas is a time for unusual, even miraculous visions.
In “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, miser and mean business owner, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited in a night vision by his former partner, Jacob Marley and three spirits. The ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future chill him to his soul with sights and words that call him to repent. What a terrifying vision of Christmas!
In Tchaikovsky's ballet, The Nutcracker, inanimate objects are pictured coming to life. On Christmas Eve, a family gathers for a big meal, and then exchange presents around the Christmas tree. After everyone goes to bed, the visions start: Gingerbread men, tin soldiers and dolls come to life, all fighting against an army of mice. Even the nutcracker springs to life, leading the toys in battle.
In the popular poem, Twas The Night Before Christmas:
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
A Christmas vision dreaming about dessert? Really!
Sacred Scripture is no fiction. We are awed by God’s mighty acts now and always. The Lord moved heaven and earth, sending angels to proclaim to all the world the ultimate vision of Christmas: Jesus is born for us! “He will save His people from their sins” (v. 21).
St. Matthew 11:2-15. ESV
The Third Sunday In Advent
In the 2008 movie, “Yes Man,” Jim Carrey plays Carl Allen, a bank loan officer who is constantly saying “no.” Carl always sees the negative side of everything. That is, until a friend urges him to join a self-help workshop where there is just one simple rule: say “yes” to everything. At first, his whole life changes for the better overnight: Carl is promoted to a new position. Now, he has a girlfriend. Previously, Carl was captain-bring-down, grouchy, pessimistic: a “no” man. Now, he is optimistic, upbeat, positive: it’s “yes” no matter what. But Carl soon discovers that some things are better to refuse. Being a “yes man” can lead to trouble.
Do The Twist
“Yes man” is not a kind way to describe a person. Spineless, indecisive, unfaithful, fickle: these are some qualities we attach to the yes man. Jesus uses the example of “a reed shaken by the wind” (v. 7). Whatever can this mean? Only this: like the reed is pushed one way with the wind, then points in the opposite direction when the wind shifts, so the one who is eager to please others follows the trends of popular opinion, speaking and acting with the majority. Not consistent. No integrity. Not reliable. Like a reed in the wind, the yes man goes with the flow.
John is no yes man.
Not woke, not politically correct, not simply telling the people what they want to hear, John the Baptist tells it like it is. He lets the chips fall where they may. John is no yes man.
Integrity comes with a price. John has been in prison now for a year, locked up by King Herod for preaching the unpopular truth. Yet, on this Sunday where joy is in focus, see the joy in the Baptist’s proclamation. John’s truth-telling is not merely to annoy people, irritate emotions, nor afflict consciences with guilt. With joy, the forerunner prepares the way of the Lord, pointing repentant sinners to the greater One to come. John preaches the hard truth so that Christ will bring the joy of salvation to repentant sinners. In his great love chapter, the Apostle Paul has truth-tellers like John in mind when he writes about the joy of love: “[Love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (I Corinthians 13:6). John rejoices to preach the truth: yes man!
Today in our Gospel reading, John does some fact-checking from prison to be sure of his God-given work. “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (v. 3). Through his delegation of disciples, John asks Jesus, ‘Are You the Messiah? Yes, or no?’ Jesus answers with a resounding, ‘Yes, man!’ For the Messiah is as the Messiah does: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (v. 5). These miracles are the calling card, the identifying marks of the Messiah, the One foretold by Isaiah the prophet in today’s Old Testament reading. Jesus describes His Messianic works in ascending order of power: first, physical healing, then resurrection from the dead, and finally Gospel preaching that gives faith and forgiveness to those poor people whose hearts are cold and dark without saving faith in Christ. The Messiah works to quicken body, life and soul. Yes, man!
Jesus has come to bring joy in the midst of doubts—even as John, the great and last prophet, experienced doubts running through his heart as he sat behind bars in prison. “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me” (v. 6). Christ Jesus came to be more than a healer, life-giver and Gospel preacher. Jesus is our Saviour. Christ was crucified to take away the offense of our sins. Because He died for us, all offenses are gone, washed away in His blood, buried in His tomb. Jesus has come to bring us the joy of renewed faith in Him, right in the middle of all that we might be going through right now. Is He the Messiah? Yes! Is He the Messiah? Yes, man!
For the Word of Jesus does what He says—His powerful words not only identify the Messiah for John. The Word of Christ gives John saving faith to sustain him through the hard times that are certainly coming. That’s what Christ’s Word does for us today—in Scripture and Sacrament, the Messiah comes to give us the joy of faith for the road ahead, strengthening us for what is to come.
Here’s a simple yes or no question. Is Jesus your Messiah? As we live and speak, we answer that question every day.
St. Matthew 3:1-12. ESV
The Second Sunday In Advent
This is the time of year to send Christmas cards. What if we sent out “John the Baptist” cards? Not cheery cards with pictures of winter snow, glorious angels, nor peaceful nativity scenes, but rough trans-Jordan desert dunes. The prominent person pictured: John? Hairy, rough, camel coat clasped together with wide leather belt, biting into a locust dripping with wild honey. The card’s inscription would be the verse on the front of today’s bulletin: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” How many would send John the Baptist cards? Not likely to be sold out any time soon.
God sent John the Baptist. John had one job: to prepare the hearts of the world for coming Lord.
Repent “Repent” (v. 2) preaches John. “To repent” (μετανοέω) means to turn 180º, to change, to stop doing the offense, sinning against God’s Ten Commandments. Repentance is hard work. But it’s not us. Ultimately, this is the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. He leads us to repent, just as the crowds from Jerusalem and its outskirts repented when they went out to John. Like them, we know that we have repented when we confess our sins; when we return to our Baptisms. Baptism and repentance go together (v. 6, 11).
Both John and Jesus preached the same message. As we meet John at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, he proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (3:2). In the next chapter, Jesus begins His earthly ministry calling out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (4:17). Jesus is coming. He brings a heavenly kingdom. We need to be ready. We need to change.
In both digital media and coffee shop conversation, the world says to each person: “You’re the centre. Your opinion is all that matters.” Each individual exalted to the highest place. Repent!
The kingdom of heaven is at hand. We are not god. We have Almighty God to relieve us of the ways we try to be first in our lives. He is our heavenly Father. We can trust in Him to look after our needs. God the Father provides for us so that we can put the needs of others first and care for them.
The world teaches us that time belongs to us. How easy to despise God and His Word, driving right past the services offered here in His house to spend our time playing games, working or just staying home. Repent!
The kingdom of heaven is at hand: here, in the divine services of God’s house, in true Word and precious Sacraments. With these means, the Lord holds out to all people free forgiveness, salvation from the fires of hell and eternal life in Jesus Christ. Here, the Lord Jesus speaks His word of blessing upon us. Here, even with two or three gathered in his name, the Lord is present (St Matt 18:20).
The world is now a place where sexual orientation is a matter of personal choice. Although created to join a man and a women, marriage has been redefined to unite also those of the same sex. Repent!
The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Christ calls Himself our heavenly Bridegroom; the church of baptized believers, His dear bride. Out of love for us and all the world, Jesus laid down His life to forgive, to cleanse and to save His dear bride, the Church. Heaven is pictured in the Bible as the unending wedding feast (Revelation 19:9).
Discontent reigns in the hearts of many in the world today. “I’m not happy with my life” is the restless desire that rules the tiresome pursuit of happiness. Why so much coveting? If only God had made me different, given me a different life. Repent!
The kingdom of heaven is at hand. As a kind and loving Father, God provides for us. Even for the ungrateful and the evil. “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (St. Matthew 5:45b) . To calm our every discontent stirring in our hearts, the Lord promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
To be sure, these are hard words to hear. (John lost his head, in the end). The Law, God’s commandments, always accuse (Ap III:8). We can try to excuse ourselves or try to justify our actions (Romans 2:15). But God’s Word points us in the opposite direction, 180º. Repent!
For the kingdom of heaven is at hand. God the Father welcomes repentant sinners, like you and me, into His open arms for the sake of Christ His dear Son who died and rose again for us.
One of the most cherished memories I have of working on our trail, “the Way in the Woods,” happened one summer afternoon. I suggested to my son that the trail was getting overgrown and needed some attention. The two of us headed out to what turned out to be several hours of work. With saw and pruners, we cut back the branches that grew over the trail, hauling each load of brush out by the wheelbarrow-full. Rocks the size of your head poked up through the wood-chip-lined path. Between the two of us, we dug up several of these rocks and hauled them off the path. The shadows fell across the trees in late afternoon by the time we called it a day. It was hot and sweaty work. But I think of what we accomplished each time I walk that part of the trail—between stations 6 and 7—from the burial of Jesus to His resurrection.
Repentance is hard work: trimming the branches of bad habits from our lives; rooting out the hard stones of unbelief from our life’s path. Repentance prepares the way for the Lord. Christ rose from the dead and now lives and reigns to all eternity.
In Him, the kingdom of heaven is at hand! Amen
Here He Comes
St. Matthew 21:1-11. ESV
The First Sunday In Advent
“Where is Mom?” At first, the kids were just curious. A good chunk of the afternoon had passed. They were having fun in the snow, building things and whipping snowballs at each other. They hadn’t seen her for a while. Fact is, she was busy at the mall buying Christmas presents while they weren’t around. “Hey where is Mom?” one child asked. “I dunno.” shrugged another. Hours passed. Shadows of the trees grew long. Their cheeks were rosy and cold. Tummies started rumbling. “Where is Mom?” they cried in a chorus of urgency. How happy they were to see the truck pull in the laneway. Here she comes!
“Where’s the Doctor?” The family was gathered around Grandpa’s bed. He was doing really well until last week. It all started when he took a fall: tripped over the footstool in the living room. Nothing was broken, but still he couldn’t get up on his own. When the ambulance was called, Grandpa was taken to the hospital for an assessment. For a good part of the afternoon, nurses ran a whole battery of tests. Members of the family came to visit Grandpa at his hospital room, anxious to learn if he was okay. But the time seemed to drag on, as if the clocks were running backwards. Where is the Doctor?” they kept asking until the moment he came walking down the hall. Here he comes!
Advent means “coming.” The Church year begins today: this pre-Christmas season urges us to prepare our hearts and lives for Jesus. Ready or not, He is coming!
We want to be ready, like the Palm Sunday crowds who met the Lord Jesus with joy, spreading their cloaks on the road before Him, and waving palm branches in welcome. Faith in Jesus makes us ready: believing His Word, trusting His sacramental word in Baptism and Communion. Faith rooted in His Word gives us joy in Jesus to welcome Him: here He comes!
Those whose hearts do not hold tight to Jesus are not ready when He comes. Some standing on the sidelines were not ready for God in the flesh to ride in triumph into the holy city Jerusalem. Amidst the joyful cloak-spreading and palm-waving of those who said, “Here He comes,” still others, unprepared asked, “Who is this?” (v. 10). Without faith, we miss Jesus.
A man was in the habit of coming to church just about every Sunday. He sat in the same pew, followed the service until the sermon, when his eyes glazed over and his mind wandered. For many years, He attended church in this way. Then came his diagnosis: pancreatic cancer. At best, he had a few months to live. Before the Pastor came to visit, God the Holy Spirit had been busy preparing this man’s heart with true repentance. “Pastor, you know I have been faithful in coming to church services over the years,” the man began, “and I know your sermons are from the Bible and talk about God’s love. But to be honest, whenever you started preaching, I tuned out, and never really paid attention to what you were saying. It never seemed to matter much to me. But now, Pastor, I want you to preach one more sermon to me. I’m listening.”
So that’s what he did. In a clear and simple manner, the Pastor preached the Gospel to this poor, miserable sinner, whose life in this world was ebbing away. The man, like the Pastor and every other person in the world was a sinner incapable of doing anything to make up for his sins, to save himself from hell, nor work his way to heaven. Jesus Christ came to take sin’s curse from this poor dying man and from all. God’s only Son died on the cross to spare us from eternal dying in hell. Jesus rose to life again to open heaven to all who trust in Him as Saviour. With tears in his eyes, the man was so happy to hear this good news. With open ears and an open heart, he welcomed the Saviour Jesus. Here He comes!
As the Church year begins, think of three ways that Jesus comes to us. First, He comes to us and all the world at Christmas. Born the human Child of Mary in the poverty of the stable at Bethlehem, and at the same time, the Divine Child, begotten of the heavenly Father from eternity, free from sin’s corruption, Advent prepares us for Christ’s coming at Christmas. What’s His purpose? He comes to save us! “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9).
Jesus also comes to us here, in the Sacrament of the Altar. One of the ways our Lord has given us to prepare for His Christmas coming is to draw near to us here in this gracious gift. Human reason and the five senses of our perception only see bread and wine. The Word of the Lord teaches us to believe that so much more crosses our lips and takes up residence in our hearts. Here, Jesus comes to be with us now and always. Here He comes to save us! “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9).
Jesus is coming again. His final advent will be in judgement on the last day of the world. That will be a terrible day of fear and despair for all who rejected the Saviour, Jesus. Yet, for all who welcomed the Christ in faith as He has come to them, that final day will be redemption, vindication and joy: the beginning of heaven. Jesus comes on the clouds of judgement to save us! “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9).
Are you ready? Here He comes!