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Baptism of Our Lord A

Text: Matthew 3:13-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel which was read earlier.

Looking at the timeline of Jesus from His birth to now, there are quite a few gaps. We begin in Luke’s Gospel with Jesus’ conception at the word of the angel to Mary. Jesus is born and the shepherds find Him in the manger. Shortly after, Jesus is presented at the Temple per the Law, with Simeon and Anna making appearances. The next time you see Jesus is in Matthew’s Gospel with the appearance of the wise men and then the flight to Egypt of the Holy Family. They return to Nazareth and we later see Jesus as a boy of twelve in the Temple. Now, fast forward another eighteen years and we see Jesus at His baptism.

It’s strange to think that Jesus needs to be baptized. If that’s what you’re thinking, you’d be right because that was the same thinking that John the Baptist had when it came to Jesus’ baptism. That’s exactly what Matthew records for us: “John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”” John sees the problem with Jesus being baptized: there is no reason for Jesus to be baptized. When John enters the scene baptizing people, the purpose was a baptism for repentance. What was it that Jesus did that He needed to repent? That was John’s point. This was Jesus. He didn’t do anything wrong. Even more than that, He had committed no sin. No sin, no need to repent. So again, why baptize?

Jesus tells John, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Fulfill all righteousness? What righteousness could Jesus be talking about? It was to forgive the sins of the people. All of this begged the question – is it safe? Safe for whom?

Imagine Jesus going down into that water after so many people had their sins washed into it. Is it safe? No, it is not safe. Not for Jesus. What had been washed into those waters would cling to Jesus when He climbed that riverbank; all of it would remain on Him for the rest of His ministry.

Do you know what the means? It means that He would have to suffer the consequences, our consequences, our death. That water would kill Him as it once did the whole world. Why? Because if it did not, if He didn’t do this, then all righteousness would not be fulfilled. God would not be pleased. There would no longer be peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Imagine how many sins are, were, and will be washed into water until the end of time. Now imagine all of that placed upon Jesus. But you don’t need to imagine it because it this isn’t a case of “what if” but “what did,” as in, this is exactly what Jesus did. He took upon Himself the sins of all of creation. He did this to fulfill all righteousness, to make you righteous before God.

When Jesus told John that this was to fulfill all righteousness, Matthew says that John consented. He baptized Jesus, knowing exactly who He was – the Son of God. He knew that standing before him was the sinless one. He knew that there would be one coming after him who is mightier than he was. And what exactly would this mighty one do? “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Here Jesus begins the work of salvation by taking the place of sinners. Here Jesus takes John’s place – your place – my place. Here Jesus takes up the sin of the world and offers us the gift of His holiness.  He becomes the greatest sinner of all; not with His own sin, but with our sin.  Here He takes up our burden for us.  As John performed the simple act of pouring water on Jesus, God poured on Him the iniquity of us all.

St. Paul expanded on this in today’s Epistle: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Here Paul tells us that our baptism joins us to Christ and His baptism. Our sin becomes His and His perfection becomes ours. His innocent suffering and death are credited to our account. The eternal life and salvation that He earned are already ours. We will rise from death to live in eternal joy just as He rose from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. Through His Son, Jesus, God has done everything needed to secure our salvation for us.

Jesus does just what His name means, “the Lord saves.” When talking about the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Luther asks this question: What benefits does Baptism give? The answer: “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” This is the work done for us through Jesus Christ, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

We know that this isn’t safe for Jesus. So, is it safe for us? Is Jesus getting baptized safe for us? What does it mean for us? It is safe for us. It’s safe for you because you die. But how is it safe if you die? You die to your sin and are made alive in Christ. You die to this world and are granted eternal life. So, even as we go down, we will be pulled out; we will be raised, because Christ is risen! And even though you do—you need to, yes—drown and die in your baptismal waters. And making the sign of the cross, we are to drown and die daily in this life. Yet, we, too, arise, because he is risen, is risen to newness of life!

All righteousness has been fulfilled, even ours. The sins are left behind—for Him—in the water to take to the cross. That washed away so much filth, so much disease, so many contaminants, so much fear and death, so much sin. It is safe now because the water has been cleansed. It is safe now to go back into the water—and remain there! Remain in your baptismal grace, safe and secure in Jesus. Take heart in the words of our heavenly Father, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The Father is indeed well pleased. And looking down, with us in Christ, in water, in death, but now in new life—his life—the Father is well pleased with us. We in Him and He in us, dead and raised to life everlasting.  Since Jesus stands in our place, the Father’s pleasure with His Son is also His pleasure with you and me. Because the Father is pleased with His Son, Jesus, He is pleased with us. We are now the Lord’s beloved child because of the work of Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2020 in Baptism, Epiphany, Sermons

 

Christmas 2A

Text: Luke 2:40-52

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel which was read earlier.

There was a movie that came out when I was a kid called Home Alone. The premise was a huge family going on Christmas vacation. In the hustle and bustle of getting everyone ready before the airport vans showed up, they neglected one of the kids in an upstairs bedroom. It’s not until they arrive to their destination that they realize they left their son Kevin at home. His parents became frantic and immediately began looking for ways to get back home to find him. In our Gospel reading for today, a similar situation happens, or at least it appears to happen.

During the Feast of the Passover, everyone would return to Jerusalem in order to celebrate this Jewish feast. It meant that the city had a greater population than usual. The streets were more crowded, with people moving throughout the city and the marketplace, buying all the things necessary to celebrate the Passover. After the hustle and bustle, people began to leave Jerusalem in droves, including Joseph and Mary, but not Jesus. Luke records, “And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.”

Why did Jesus stay behind? Was He left behind on purpose or was this a “Home Alone” accident? Luke doesn’t give us any indication as to why Jesus was still in Jerusalem upon His parents leaving. Jerusalem is the place of Jesus’ destiny. But would that destiny be fulfilled by Jesus at twelve years old? Luke sets up Jerusalem as the city of destiny here at the end of the infancy narrative. Having reached the age of twelve, it was the time when a Jewish boy became “a son of the law,” that it, obliged to learn and to observe its provisions. It was quite possible that Jesus was left to study the Torah and become proficient in the Word of God found in the Old Testament.

After a day’s journey without Jesus, “supposing him to be in the group,” it was clear that Jesus was not traveling with the group. They returned to Jerusalem, searching for Jesus for three days. What could have been going through the minds of Mary and Joseph? Luther, when preaching on this text, contemplates on Mary’s thoughts during this time: “Behold this child is only mine, this I know very well, and I know that God has entrusted him to me and commanded me to take care of him; why is it then that he is taken from me? It is my fault, for I have not sufficiently taken care of him and guarded him. Perhaps God does not deem me worthy to watch over this child and will take him from me again.”

We can easily get a feeling of Joseph and Mary. They are the earthly guardians of Jesus and have lost Him. Is that what was God expecting of them? Where would they even begin to look for Him? It took them three days to scour Jerusalem and find Jesus. And when they find Him, it was in the least likely of places, or was it? Luke says, “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” To some extent, it would be proper to find Jesus in the temple. Remember, He is twelve years old and so it would be proper for Him to be in the temple and learning from the teachers of the Law. However, Luke says that not only was He listening to the teachers, He was asking them questions. That was not proper at this age – listen, but keep quiet. Not only was He speaking, they were amazed at what He said.

Mary and Joseph didn’t think about where they found Jesus, just that they found Him, and it is apparent in Mary’s statement to Him: “Son, why you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” Mary and Joseph are shocked at Jesus, shocked at how quietly Jesus had acted up to this time, never opening His mouth in the synagogue, to now sit in the temple with prominent rabbis all about Him, with all eyes and ears fixed upon Him.

Jesus knows who He is and what He was about, even at the age of twelve. He responds by saying, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Unbeknownst to Mary and Joseph, this wasn’t a “Home Alone” situation but rather, a “right where I needed to be” situation. Jesus is in the temple, the house of His Father. He is speaking with the teachers of the Law, but not learning from them. Instead, He is teaching them of God and they “were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Everything you ever wanted to know about God, well, here God is in the flesh. Here is the Son of God, the one promised from long again, here to fulfill the Father’s plan of salvation. Though only twelve years old, a mere boy, He was the full embodiment of God sent to save creation.

It would appear as if we see a different side of Jesus, one of disrespect towards His earthly parents. He did not leave the Passover Feast with them. He stayed behind. He did His own thing. Was this an almost-teen rebellion? Of course not. He instructs the teachers of the Law, hopefully clearing up any questions the teachers had about God. He prepares them so that they can rightly teach the people of God. And when Mary and Joseph arrive at the temple, Jesus keeps the Fourth Commandment and leaves with them, submitting to the authority of His earthly parents.

There is no “Home Alone” here, but rather Jesus doing His work of teaching, setting the tone for His teaching when He begins His public ministry. All this, the Son’s perfect keeping of the Law, He did for us, being obedient to God’s Word, setting us up for our obedience to God. The only problem with that is we can’t be obedient to God and His Word. We saw how obedient we were in the Garden. It is by Christ’s active obedience that our disobedience is forgiven. St. Paul says in our Epistle, “In him we have redemption of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace….” In Him, by Him, from Him, that’s where we have our forgiveness. It’s by Jesus’ work for us that we are obedient to the Law of God. Because we cannot keep it, God sends forth Jesus to keep it for us. Because of our disobedience, which we inherited from Adam, we were under God’s condemnation and judgment. But through Christ’s active obedience for us and His carrying out faithfully the will of His Father for us, we are counted as righteous and obedient before God through faith in Him.

In today’s Gospel, we might be tempted to say that Jesus was lost. In fact, Jesus was exactly where He was supposed to be; it was really Mary and Joseph who were lost. In a similar way, we are also lost – lost in our trespasses and sins. It is God who finds us and places us among the things of the Father. There the Holy Spirit works faith and makes us people of the Father. Since Jesus said, that He must be in His Father’s house, doing the work of the Father, that means we are with Jesus. That is exactly where we are supposed to be, in our heavenly Father’s house, brought in by Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2020 in Christmas, Luther quotes, Sermons

 

Christmas 1A

Text: Matthew 2:13-23

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel which was read earlier.

While the joy of Christmas Day and the birth of Jesus has passed, the celebration of Christmas continues. The wise men have since followed the star, arrived, and have seen the blessed child and the Holy Family. They have gazed upon Jesus and have returned to where they have come from. But the scene is not a joyous scene. Yesterday, the Church remembered the Holy Innocents. King Herod, in order to remove what he considered a threat to his rule, had his soldiers go into Bethlehem and kill every male child they found there, two years old and under. These are the Holy Innocents, killed in an attempt to kill Jesus. We would be mindful to remember the words from our Christmas Gospel from John 1: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”

With startling abruptness St. Matthew turns our attention from the wise men who came to worship Jesus to the mad man in Jerusalem who sent soldiers to murder him. Herod had heard from the Magi of “he who has been born king of the Jews.” King Herod was disturbed because the Jews, of course, had a king. But not one who was born king. Herod had usurped the throne of David, and was not even a Jew. The Magi revealed that God had now brought about the birth of the rightful heir to David’s throne.

Clearly this did not sit well with Herod, thus the reasoning behind the killing of all the young male children. God was not going to send the Savior of the world into the world, only to die in short order. And so, an angel of the Lord was sent to Joseph: “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Long before this, Herod had feared for his position, growing increasingly paranoid toward the end of his life. He put many people to death in order to secure his power, and he certainly wasn’t going to let a baby usurp the power which he himself had usurped.

Our Gospel today isn’t as much about Herod as it is about Jesus. God has sent forth Jesus, just as promised. He has come into creation, becoming one alongside creation, the creation which He had made. St. Matthew tells us that the flight to Egypt fulfills Hosea 11. This is a fulfillment not in the sense that Hosea was directly predicting Christ’s flight into Egypt, but in the sense that Israel’s sojourn in Egypt serves as a type of this event. Just as God preserved His Son in Egypt in the face of Herod’s plot, so also He had preserved Israel in Egypt and kept His covenant with Abraham in spite of Pharaoh’s opposition. God’s plans cannot be canceled by earthly kings. All is under the control of an all-gracious, all-powerful God. And not even Herod, as powerful as he thought he was, would be able to thwart the work and promise of God.

In the midst of the commercialization of Christmas, it’s easy for us to forget that the child Jesus came to establish peace between God and man, but He also said that His Word and Sacraments would create divisions among people and that many would stumble because of Him. In the very region where Old Testament Rachel had died giving birth to Benjamin, other children of the promise lost their lives to wicked King Herod’s sword, and their mothers wept and could not be consoled. But we cannot blame God for the death of these “innocents”; it was the wicked king who caused the anguish and death. God was there, He saw what happened, and even in the midst of Herod’s wickedness He was working to bring about his plan of salvation for the world. God is not the author of evil—man is—but He is always working to turn what is meant for evil into good.

Once Herod heard the words “King of the Jews” from the Wise Men’s lips and realized that his reign might be threatened, he knew that this baby Jesus had to die. The irony is that Herod was right. Jesus did have to die, but not because Herod willed it. He had to die, but not on Herod’s schedule, not until the fullness of God’s time, just the right time. He had to die for Herod’s sins; He had to die because of our sins. He had to die because of our doubt and our fear and our unbelief and all of our daily sins. He had to die because God knew we could never turn back to Him, keep His commands, and love Him on our own. As St. Paul says, we “were dead in the trespasses and sins” and enemies of God by our very nature!

Since it was not yet His time, the baby Jesus was protected from Herod by God’s divine intervention. Following the angel’s word, Joseph led his family to safety in Egypt. God was accomplishing His plan of salvation in Jesus Christ in spite of King Herod’s wickedness, and in so doing He has paid the price for Herod’s sins, for our sins, and for the sins of the whole world.

He did not die in Bethlehem at the command of Herod.  Instead, He died when He finished His mission here on this earth.  He died after He had led a perfect life and after He had taken our sins to the cross.  He died as God’s sacrifice for our sins.  He died at the time God established and not at the time Herod established.  He died only after Jesus Himself said, “It is finished.”

Jesus not only died according to God’s timetable, but He also rose according to it and ascended into heaven. His resurrection and ascension mean that all who have faith in Him, men, women, and even infants, will spend eternity in His presence. In spite of the pile of sin that you and I have produced, God is with us. It means that when we die, God is with us. It means that God is with us for all eternity.

From an earthly point of view, Herod the Great appeared more powerful than Jesus. Herod was the absolute monarch of Judea with the authority of the Roman Empire to back him up. Jesus was this child of poverty. He had few earthly resources. Never the less, Herod could not touch Him. God’s plan overrules all other plans. God has a definite timetable for His Son. No one can change that, not even Herod.

Know that death is not for you – life is. Remember what the angel said to the shepherds: unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Christ is born in Bethlehem to be your Savior, too. Even as a baby, He’s at work in our Gospel lesson to save you, and all of Herod’s wrath and soldiers can’t stop the infant Messiah. The sin of Herod is always nearby, but Christ the King is as near to you as His Word and Sacraments. He is born to deliver from sin, death and devil—deliver you with the Word that you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2020 in Christmas, Sermons

 

Christmas Day

Text: John 1:1-14

On this most blessed day of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, there is no reading of His birth, no baby lying sweetly in a manger. Today, there is no mention of presents under the tree or family Christmas traditions. Instead, it’s all about the Word, the Logos, Jesus.

Instead, you hear who Jesus is: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” You have no mention of Jesus by name, but you hear what He has done: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” He is the Creator of all things, because He is God. With God from the beginning, He made everything. What was the purpose of the Word? “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” The Word came into creation, a creation He had made, with a singular purpose – to redeem it.

God has pitched His tent with you so that you behold His grace. Today we rejoice, for the Word has become flesh so that He dwells among us. It is just the thing to hear today. The Word—that is, the eternal, divine Son of God—has become flesh. He has taken on a human nature, flesh and blood, in the womb of Mary and has been born in the flesh. That is why we celebrate today. But there is more to this verse, more reason to celebrate, that is revealed by a more precise translation. “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.”

In the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, God tabernacles among us. The tabernacle was a tent designed by God Himself so that He would have a place to dwell among His people. That design was given to Moses shortly after the exodus from Egypt. The tabernacle would serve for nearly five hundred years before it would be replaced by the temple, which had the exact same design but was a permanent structure rather than a tent.

The tabernacle was a place of awe. It was apparent that God was present in the tabernacle, because there you beheld His glory. And now that awe is bound up in Jesus. He is born and appears as any other child. There is nothing in His appearance to make Him more glorious than any other fellow. Yet you can still marvel at Him. In this man, the eternal God dwells. This child lying in His mother’s arms is the one who created the whole universe and even the motherly arms in which He lies. Marvel at the majesty of that. How great is your God that He can humble Himself to be born of Mary yet remain the source of all things.

For the same reason that the tabernacle inspired awe, it also produced fear. That same fear ought to be ours as the Word tabernacles among us. It is no small thing to be in the presence of God. Don’t be fooled by Christ’s humility as He comes as a baby. He is the holy God. He is the Creator of all things. An honest assessment of my sin leaves me shuddering in fear when I think of approaching the One in whom we behold of the glory of God.

God desires to dwell with His people. But He also knows that they are sinners who cannot live to tell the tale if they behold His unfettered holiness. So He puts on a mask that He might truly be present with His people, and they would yet live. That is grace. That is the tabernacle.

And it is all bound up in Jesus. Here in the child born of Mary is God dwelling among His people with grace. He will not be apart from you, so He puts on human flesh as a mask. That is grace. All of that grace is in Jesus, and it explains why He took a human nature. Grace comes at a price, one that you and I cannot pay. So Jesus pays the price in His flesh. The glory of God will be revealed in its fullness at the cross. The night that He is betrayed, Jesus prays, “The hour has come; glorify Your Son.” At other times, Jesus says it is not yet His time. His time is at the cross; that is the time of glory, glory that abounds in grace.

Jesus became flesh. In doing so, He dignified your flesh. Should you suffer from sickness or chronic pain, you might well begin to view your body as a prison from which you desire release, a source of sadness as you feel deterioration. But it is not so. God does not consider your body a throwaway: just like your soul and mind, it is a part of you in need of redemption—and a part of you redeemed. Christ has taken on flesh to redeem your flesh: His victory over sin, death and devil is complete. He surrenders nothing to them. Healing and deliverance are coming for you, because Jesus became flesh like yours to make it so.

Today we rejoice, for the Savior, which is Christ the Lord, is born. He is the Savior, which is Christ the Lord every day of the year and not just on Christmas Day. He was born for our sin and takes away our sin ever day of the year. Because you and I were born in sin, He is born to save us from sin. Because you and I are made of mortal flesh and blood, He becomes flesh and blood to raise us up to immortality. Because you and I face death, He is born to di and rise again to give us new life. He is our Savior, Christ the Lord, and He is born for you and has forgiven us all of our sins. Let this be our focus at Christmas: the Word made flesh in the form of an infant, so that one day, He may die for our sins and open the gates of heaven for us sinners. Let us rejoice in the Gift of all gifts which has been given to us, Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us, amen.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2020 in Christmas, Sermons

 

Candlelight

Text: Luke 2:1-14

To quote Charlie Brown, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” The answer, unfortunately, becomes obscure. The impetus of Christmas is parties and cards, carols and the like. But the real meaning of Christmas as anyone knows is presents. That’s what we’re all excited for on Christmas morning. That feeling of rushing down the stairs, to find a tree filled to the brim with presents underneath it. But Christmas isn’t about all the presents, it’s really about just one present – the gift of a baby lying in a manger.

How did all of this come about? The angel Gabriel appears to Mary, informs her that she will conceive and bear a son to be named Jesus. The angel appears to Joseph, informing him of what has transpired and what he will do following this announcement. They make their grand journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, only to find nowhere for them to lay their heads following their journey. Oh, and Mary is ready to give birth. Once Joseph and Mary get settled in the rear of the house with the animals, Mary gives birth to Jesus: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

Talk about a surreal birth! An unprecedented birth, never before and never to happen again in this way. A journey to a somewhat distant land, with no final destination, culminating in a birth in the least of ideal circumstances. That’s where Luke ends his account of the birth of Jesus, at least the story of Jesus. Luke then turns his attention to a different setting, different people, different responses.

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Normal, unsuspecting shepherds, doing what shepherds do. It’s evening time, possibly late. Minding their own business, they are interrupted by a heavenly visitor with a simple message: “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 Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” That’s Christmas. It’s presents time!

All the company of heaven rejoices at this announcement, with a multitude of angels appearing in the sky, with God’s glory shining over the place and the angelic chorus shouting back and forth to one another, “Glory to God in the highest…”

You can feel the electricity in the atmosphere; something has changed, something wonderful, yet mysterious. Angels don’t just appear out of nowhere, and yet you had not just one, but a multitude of the heavenly host. Angels don’t just appear unless the message is of great importance, and yet the angel appears to unsuspecting shepherds, minding their own business, delivering to them a message of great importance, for them and for all people.

This unsuspecting baby, your Savior, is born to you, for you; He is yours. He comes for all humanity, embracing humanity in His holy incarnation. God has given you a present. But is it the present you are wanting? It’s surely not the present you were expecting, because God’s people weren’t expecting God to fulfill this promise right now. They had been waiting generations for this promise to be fulfilled and yet, God never made good on His promise, not until the time was right according to God. And now, the time was right, Jesus born for you in lowly estate, lying peacefully in a wooden box.

Nothing God does is left to chance, and that applies to the birth of Jesus as well. Jesus is born and placed into a box of wood, a lowly manger. Of course, the manger would be made of wood, but what a great visual representation of the life of Jesus. He is the tree of life, and now the tree of life comes and is laid in a box of wood. But this tree of life would later go to another tree, the tree of the cross.

You want a present at Christmas, and you got one. Was it the present that you wanted from your Christmas list? Maybe not. Was it the present that you needed? Absolutely. God gave you the greatest present that could ever be given – the gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation. All of that wrapped up in a little baby. You see, when the Son of God took on our human nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, He did not just become a man. He became man. He took all of humanity into Himself in His incarnation. For He came to bear the sins of all humanity in His body. That includes every nation and race and people and language. His birth reveals the truth that there is in fact only one human race, the fallen children of Adam. And in this newborn baby in the manger, every sinner is redeemed and restored to God.

This alone is the basis for the peace on earth of which the angels sang. In Christ, God and sinners are reconciled. We sinners are no longer under God’s wrath; we are at peace with Him again through His self-giving mercy. The warfare between heaven and earth is now ended. The case of God against the human race is set aside, and His love for the world is revealed. Our flesh has been joined to God. Heaven and earth are at peace. God and man are brought back together in Jesus, for Jesus is God and man together in one person. Baptized into Christ, we are put right with God. And living in Christ, we are put right with one another too. The only peace on earth that lasts is the peace of Christ, forgiven sinners united as one in His holy body.

In truth, this Christmas narrative foreshadows the reason why Jesus came into this world. Even as He was born outside the inn with the animals, so He would be crucified outside the city with common beastly criminals. Even as He was wrapped in strips of linen and laid in a manger, so later He would be wrapped in cloths and laid in a tomb. Even as the shepherds came to worship Him, so it is that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The wood of the manger would later be traded for the wood of the cross. We must never forget on this Christmas night that our Lord took on flesh and blood so that He might sacrifice His flesh and shed His blood to cleanse us and make us holy, His own special people. He was born to die for us that we might be reborn to live in Him eternally.

To you, know this: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. In Him, you are forgiven, you are put right with God. All is well. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Amen.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2020 in Christmas, Sermons

 

Christmas Eve

Text: Matthew 1:18-25

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” Matthew has a very simple telling of the story of Christ’s birth. And why shouldn’t it be simple? All you need are the basic facts to tell the story. In this case, two people, a man named Joseph and a young girl named Mary. Here is a couple betrothed to be married, although not married yet. Mary is pregnant and the baby isn’t Joseph’s child. Joseph has to decide: remain betrothed to her and accept this child or divorce her.

Now Matthew could have said that Joseph and Mary lived happily ever after and left the story at that. But that’s not what Matthew does. He records an angel of the Lord coming to Joseph in a dream: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” The dynamics of everything has changed. The story has changed from two lowly people having a child to the coming of God.

What wonderful news this is, though very unexpected. It’s doubtful that when Mary and Joseph woke that morning, their lives would have changed so dramatically. We’re no longer talking about giving birth to just another, ordinary, everyday child. Instead, we have God coming into the flesh. But the question remains – why. Why would God do this? Why would God in Jesus descend from heaven just to take up residence in mortal man? Again, Matthew gives us the information we need: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Apparently, Matthew has set up the problem and solution in a single verse. The problem that we face is sin. The solution to that problem would be in the form of a little baby. But one has to wonder how this baby would be creation’s answer to sin, it’s greatest problem.

The answer comes in the baby’s name, Jesus. Jesus is the English translation of the Greek name, IhsouV, a translation of the Hebrew name Joshua. Joshua is a combination of the Hebrew word for salvation with Yahweh, the name of God. Thus, Jesus means “The Lord is salvation.” The angel told Joseph the reason Mary’s child was to be given this name: “for he will save his people from their sins.” God’s Son has this name because of what He came to do. It shows His purpose is to be the Savior, to be our Savior.

But why do we need to be saved? If we are God’s creation, why does God need to do what He does? It’s because of sin that He needs to do this. We have rebelled against God, breaking His commandments, His statutes, His Law, over and over again. Our sin has caused God to destroy creation and start over again. But because sin had already entered into creation, even a redo of creation still had sin in it. There would only be one way to purge sin from creation, once and for all. It would come at the expense of God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

Just what would this little baby born do? He would grow in the stature of a man and perform many miracles. He healed diseases, cleansed lepers, cast out demons, raised the dead, gave sight to blind. He forgave sins and called sinners to repentance and new life. Ultimately, He was killed by those who rejected Him, but in this He gave His life as a ransom.

Jesus lives up to His name. He comes to save all people from their sins. He receives a name which describes His role in man’s salvation. He is the one doing the work of salvation. He is the one who redeems creation from its death.

Looking back through the centuries, we’ve seen the truth that God’s plans often seem to catch us off guard. He surprises us again and again. Who could have been expected to think that his pregnant fiancée was a virgin? It was unprecedented. Who would have imagined that God, the Creator of the universe, would choose to become part of His creation? Who would have dreamt that He would come as a helpless baby?

When that child grew to manhood, who would have anticipated what happened? Who would have thought that God would sacrifice His only begotten Son to redeem the people responsible for His death? And who would have thought that He would triumph over death and rise again?

Who would have thought? Those who know Him should have thought it. Those who hear His Word and trust should have anticipated it all. We should have known it from His own clear promises. But still we are surprised. And who would anticipate that this God would choose us and make us His own, that He would forgive us and renew us, and call us His children? God constantly surprises us with His gracious gifts.

What greater gift than to have the name of Jesus placed upon you. In your Baptism you were brought into a name. In Baptism you were chosen, wanted,  somebody’s. You are the Lord’s. Do you remember who you were? Before you were baptized, you were a slave to sin. Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” But Jesus didn’t stop there. “Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus has set you free from the guilt of your sin—not just as a freed slave, but freed with the freedom of sonship. You belong to God forever, not as a slave, but as a beloved son. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

Jesus—this is the name of God’s Son and Messiah, our Savior. Like other names, the name of Jesus indicates what this man has done and does: He saves His people from sin and gives them new life. But unlike other names, Jesus’ name continues to point to Him as Savior, because He continues to carry out His saving work through His Gospel. And because this is the most blessed work, for us Jesus remains the most blessed name. As the people He has delivered and made His own, we can confess with the apostle Peter, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” For you, God has sent forth Jesus, sending forth His Son, Immanuel, God with us. Amen.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2020 in Christmas, Sermons

 

Advent 4A

Text: Isaiah 7:10-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Old Testament which was read earlier.

We are big on signs. They tell us important information. They tell us where to go or where not to go. They tell us what to do or what not to do. We like signs. And what better place to have a sign than from God, a big flashy, neon sign, telling us whether or not I should choose A or B, to do this or do that. All would be well with the world if God would just give us some sort of sign. And believe it or not, God does give us a sign, one we would do well not to miss.

As we hear from our text for today, the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” Here, God is speaking to Ahaz. Faced with the silent rejection of Ahaz, God did not remain silent. Through His prophet, the Lord offered the king one more opportunity to repent and trust in Him. God commanded Ahaz to ask for anything; He invited the king to ask for a sign, a miracle. The king could prove the reliability of God’s Word by requesting anything at all.

This is a very decisive moment for Ahaz. Ahaz remained in unbelief and said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” Clearly, Ahaz had no regard for the Lord, His prophet, or for the promises of protection that God would grant. This would not go well for Ahaz. When God offered such a sign, it was an insult to refuse. Worse than an insult, it was arrogant for this king of Judah to tell the Lord that he did not need or want God’s promises. This act of unbelief of Ahaz and ultimately, throughout the land of Judah, could have only one outcome – the judgment of the Lord.

By the time Isaiah is recorded, God’s people had seen their fair share of belief and unbelief towards God. God’s people had seen their fair share of times of prosper and plenty and of need and lacking. God’s people had seen their fair share of blessings and cursing from God. God had graciously promised deliverance to Ahaz and his people from the threat of the two northern kings. The deliverance would come; God would not void this or any of His promises. And even with God’s promises of deliverance, Ahaz responded negatively to the Lord’s gracious offer of a miracle. God was going to give Ahaz a sign, whether he wanted it or not: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

That’s the kind of sign we want to hear, right? That’s the sign of God keeping His promise to Adam and Eve. Ahaz should be rejoicing; we should be rejoicing. But Ahaz isn’t really rejoicing. And sadly, we’re not rejoicing either. We’re left wondering what kind of sign this will be for us. Unfortunately for Ahaz, this was bad news because he didn’t believe God and worse trouble would befall him. The sign of Immanuel was a sign of judgment for him because he saw the sign as an inconvenience. Ultimately, what a sign means depends on how you see it.

Ahaz failed to see Isaiah’s prophecy as a good sign. What should have been a good sign turned out to be one of inconvenience and annoyance. The true meaning of the sign was lost, at least for Ahaz. Fast forward to two of the most insignificant people you could find and this sign of Immanuel was good news, great news, for Joseph and Mary. They lived in a time of fear and doubt. They lived in an occupied country, a people oppressed by Roman rule. But while this was good news, times were still uncertain for both of them. Mary was pregnant but not yet married, only engaged. Joseph assumed Mary had been unfaithful to him. Joseph was considering divorce, breaking off the engagement. But God had different plans.

God brought the prophecy of old to fruition in Jesus. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This was as much for Mary as it was for every person in creation. Mary was going to be the mother of God. This child that was conceived in her would be as much for her salvation as it would be for anyone. To conceive a child was nothing, but to bear the Son of God was indeed something, something that would turn all of creation upside-down.

God’s promise, made hundreds of years ago was now coming to fruition. The promise of a Savior, one who would undo the damages of sin, was soon to make His grand entrance, but it wouldn’t be grand. He would be born to lowly parents, in a barn, surrounded by animals. But none of that mattered. What mattered was the promise was being fulfilled. What mattered was this Child would be Immanuel, God with us. He would be God with us as He became one of us, lived among us, ultimately to die, not just among us but for us. For Joseph and Mary, the sign of Immanuel was a gift of forgiveness and promise, because what the sign means depends on how you see it.

What does the sign of Immanuel mean for you? We live in a time of fear and doubt. Our lives are full of uncertainty. Wars, famine, economic woes, lost jobs. Many people have anxiety and fear, because they cling to false gods and idols of this world instead of fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things. But more than that, there is an even greater problem. Despite all of the world problems, our greatest problem is sin, the reason God gives us the sign of Immanuel.

Jesus is God in human flesh, Immanuel, “God with us.” And by coming in the flesh, God took our fears, our conflicts, our sins on Himself. Then that flesh, God with us in the flesh, was killed to take them all away. Still, Jesus is present with us. He is present with us in His Word and Sacraments. He is present with the forgiveness He brings to us. The sign of Immanuel is good news, great news for us. What the sign means depends on how you see it. For you, the message of Immanuel brings you great joy, as it did for Joseph and Mary. God is with you, with His forgiveness and His mercy. Rejoice, for God’s promise has been fulfilled for you. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2019 in Advent, Sermons

 

Advent 3A

Text: Matthew 11:2-15

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel which was read earlier.

There’s one burning question that is being asked today in our Gospel text for today: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” That was the question that had been asked for generations, from the moment the promise was given to Adam and Eve. Isaiah had foretold of the coming Messiah, but He was nowhere to be found. When the promised Messiah arrived in the presence of Jesus, He wasn’t the one believed to be the Messiah. He didn’t fit the preconceived notion of what the Messiah would look like. He wasn’t strong and mighty. He wasn’t royalty. He wasn’t commander in chief of a large army that would kick out the Romans. Let’s face it, He was the son of a carpenter and so there had to be someone else who was the Messiah.

Who could the mysterious Messiah be? Some thought that John the Baptist might have been the promised Messiah, but from last week’s Gospel reading, we know that to be false. John comes as the herald to the Messiah, to prepare for His arrival. So, we’re back to square one as to who the Messiah is or isn’t. Turning to Matthew’s Gospel, we hear the following: “When John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”” Why would John the Baptist, the herald of the Messiah, be asking such a question? If there is anyone who knows who the Messiah is, it would be John. He knew the Messiah while in Elizabeth’s womb, so it would seem out of place for him to be asking such a question of Jesus… unless He’s not asking for himself, but for someone else; in this case, for his disciples.

When these disciples came to Jesus, they found Him in the midst of performing miracles and preaching. And having not yet been convinced, they asked him their assigned question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” This is a yes or no question. Yet this is not how Jesus answers. Rather, He told them to go back and report to John what they are seeing with their own eyes—blind people receiving their sight and the lame walking; leprous people being cleansed and deaf people beginning to hear. They even saw Jesus raise some from the dead, and He preached the Gospel to the poor. He said to them, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

So, the disciples left Him and returned to report to John and those with him about the works of God that Jesus had done—the compassion He showed and the sweet Gospel He proclaimed, as well as His stern warning not to stumble over His lowliness, when one would expect such a person to be residing in a king’s palace.

Sadly, that question is still asked today, though in slightly different forms. Is Jesus necessarily the promised Messiah or can we find the same thing in the world? Does Jesus have to be the Messiah or can I just rely on myself and my good works? Is Jesus the only Messiah or can there be other things as a substitution for Jesus? Does Jesus really do everything as the Messiah or do I need to do something to help Him out?

The question that was asked of Jesus so long ago is still asked today. Well, it’s not really asked so much as an answer is given to Jesus: “We’ll look for another.” We can thank the world for that answer. The world has perfected that answer to the point that Jesus need not even be considered for salvation. The world won’t go so far as to say Jesus is the Messiah because that would assert that there is a single means of salvation and the world doesn’t want that to happen, lest we offend someone.

For all those times when God’s people wonder whether or not God will keep His Word regarding the Messiah, the time is soon to be fulfilled. When we have our doubts, we return to Jesus’ Word. We return to Jesus’ life. From birth to death, there was a singular mission that He was focused on: the redemption of God’s creation. Everything that was done was done with you in mind. He sends people to proclaim the wonders He has done so that we can hear about them. By this proclamation of His deeds, He sends the Holy Spirit to bear us up and strengthen us as we travel through this sinful world, especially as we travel through those darker times of doubt.

Jesus was the coming one, He is the coming one, He will be the coming one, and we shall be expecting no other. He came to His people through the Old Testament Scriptures, as the one who would crush the head of the serpent. He would be called Immanuel—God with us. He would be named Jesus, for He would save His people from their sins. And when the fullness of time had come, He came in the flesh, born of Mary at Bethlehem. He walked the earth as one of us, He performed miracles to fulfill what had been foretold, and He went to the cross to die for the sins of the world.

When there is forgiveness, then God is comfort and assurance. When there is forgiveness, God’s holiness is for us. When there is forgiveness, God’s power protects us. With forgiveness, God is the ultimate comfort. He is the ultimate re-assurance.

One thing that we must remember is that forgiveness does not come cheap. The one who earns forgiveness must satisfy God’s justice and God’s justice requires the punishment of sin. That is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus took your sin into Himself. Then, when God punished your sin, the punishment fell on Jesus and not on you. When Jesus hung on the cross, He took your place as the target of God’s just punishment of sin. This is nothing other than God’s perfect love enduring God’s perfect justice for you. This is Jesus earning forgiveness for you.

We celebrate the coming of our Savior in the manger at Bethlehem because it is through Him that our sins are forgiven and the gates of heaven are opened. Through His atoning death He conquered your death, and raises you to a new life. By faith granted through the Holy Spirit, we now have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He came to His people, He now comes to you, who are His people by faith, and He will come again, that you would need and expect no other. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2019 in Advent, Sermons

 

Advent 2A

Text: Matthew 3:1-12

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel which was read earlier.

With this being the Second Sunday in Advent, we hear one of the nasty little words that we don’t like to hear, one we hate to do even more – repent. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.””

Repent doesn’t sound like a dirty word, as long as it applies to someone other than you. But that’s not what John the Baptist had in mind when he said what he did. The cry to repent was intended for all people, not for those people who knew of other people that needed to repent. There was a need for repentance on the part of all people whether they thought it applied to them or not, whether they wanted to do it or not. Repentance is what is needed for those who have sinned, and that applies to everyone. Now, more than ever, was repentance necessary because as John said, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Something was going to take place that would change the world forever.

Just what was it that John was talking about? What was his purpose in all of this? Did John have a purpose? John goes on to quote from the prophet Isaiah, words that every Jew should be familiar with: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” All of this centered upon the Lord. If you had to prepare the way of the Lord, then it meant that the Lord’s coming was soon to occur. But these words of Isaiah had been spoken nearly 700 years before John. Shouldn’t the Lord have come by then? What was the holdup, especially if these words are hundreds of years old? While Isaiah spoke these words hundreds of years before, God never set a time when the promised Messiah would come into creation. God had only made the promise, never the time. That’s how God works, according to His own divine timetable, not that of man.

Now, hundreds of years later, John the Baptist sees the words of Isaiah drawing ever closer. The Messiah had been revealed to his mother Elizabeth, and in turn, to John while in his mother’s womb. The time for the Messiah to enter the scene was almost here. And because His arrival was so close, “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

Repentance was something the people were familiar with, or should have been familiar with. Repentance was something God’s people had practiced for generations. The scene was commonplace for them: sin, repent, be forgiven, repeat. God had promised to be their God even when the people did not want God as their God. God had promised to forgive them their sins when they came to Him in repentance and sorrow for their sins. They knew how to repent, even if they didn’t want to repent. But as we see from Matthew’s account, there were plenty of people who saw their sinfulness and had an earnest desire to repent of their sin.

What sort of message would draw the people from all over Jerusalem and Judea to come to John? Certainly, it wasn’t his attire, or was it? This was the normal dress of a prophet, one who spoke God’s Word to the people. It wasn’t John’s personality that drew the crowds, but rather the message he spoke, the message was simple – Jesus was coming.

That is the same thing that drew you here today. It wasn’t my beaming personality or the blue stole I’m wearing. What brought you here was the Word of God, a word that promised forgiveness of your sins, a word that promised salvation to you by Jesus.

John called the people to repent and invited them to be baptized so that their sin might be washed away. Many responded to the call. They confessed that they were sinners and received baptism. They came to receive forgiveness, something they saw that they needed.

But Matthew records something else about this encounter, something which angered John: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!”” Why were they coming? Was it because they saw a need for repentance? Were they contrite? Many of the leaders went out to hear John and to be baptized by him. They felt that they had a responsibility to review what he was teaching. They also believed that they were entitled to receive the rite of baptism. They apparently wanted to assure the people that they were still in charge.

But why revile the Pharisees and Sadducees, threatening them with the fiery judgment of the Last Day? Why make such a big deal of their coming to be baptized? The key lies in his statement, “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abrahams as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” John has called the people out to a new exodus through the waters of the Jordan – in short, to conversion and faith again in the God who is about to manifest His reign on the earth in His Son. Physical descent from Abraham is not a substitute for a lack of confession of sin. These men were at the root of the problem. They were called to lead the people in the way of righteousness. Instead, they were leading men down a path of self-righteousness which could only lead to destruction. They will not be saved just because of their ancestry, but rather because of the coming Messiah that John is preaching about to the people.

John’s baptism was a means of grace. It was a means whereby people were led to repent of their sins and receive forgiveness. The Holy Spirit moves the hearts of people to confess their sins and find forgiveness in baptism. The guilt of sin is washed away. With his reference to “one who is more powerful,” John was not taking anything away from his baptism, but rather pointing to the source of its power: Jesus.

Just as Jesus was coming into the world, He was coming with purpose. John says, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” In other words, those who are not repentant have no place in the kingdom of God.

That same message applies to us today. If we insist on going our own way or trying to get into heaven on our own terms, God will reject us and find plenty of other people to populate heaven. We must not imagine that God needs us, but we would be wise to remember that He wants us and that Jesus has done everything necessary for our eternal salvation. The only thing that is necessary on our part is repentance.

Instead of leaving us with judgment, doom and gloom, John the Baptist also promises something beyond our wildest imaginations: the coming of the Savior. John the Baptist is the one crying in the wilderness of the coming Messiah. He is making the paths straight by preaching a message of repentance to the people, to prepare them for Christ’s arrival. John the Baptist comes to lead people to repentance, to baptize with water. When Jesus arrives, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” He is coming to do something far greater than John the Baptist, the Pharisees, Sadducees or we could ever do: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

The message that John preaches is one of repentance for us. He preaches the message of Jesus. He comes with grace – to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, to prepare you for everlasting life. Jesus declares to you even now, “Repent, because I am at hand; and because I am here, you are forgiven for all of your sins.” In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2019 in Advent, Sermons

 

Advent 1A

Text: Matthew 21:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel which was read earlier.

Listen to these words: “The day is surely drawing near/ When Jesus, God’s anointed,/ In all His power shall appear/ As judge whom God appointed.” Well, we see that today with Jesus entering Jerusalem. This is Advent, not Lent, and yet we don’t hear about a coming baby Jesus, but rather an adult Jesus beginning His journey to the cross. So here in Advent we’re not just getting ready to celebrate Christmas. At Advent, we’re preparing for the Coming of the Kingdom of God.

Here comes Jesus, into Jerusalem, with a purpose. Jesus is coming from Jericho on his final journey. As a person approaches Jerusalem from the east, the city is not visible, since it is hidden behind the Mount of Olives. Upon reaching the crest of the mount, however, the traveler suddenly finds the whole city spread out before him. It is not hard to imagine bands of weary pilgrims joining in a psalm of joyful thanksgiving at this point.

As Jesus nears Jerusalem, He is in need of something to make His journey complete – a donkey. While a donkey sounds strange, it is in keeping with Scripture: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” This is what is needed because it is in line with the prophecies of the coming Savior.

As the season of Advent begins, we must remember who it is that is coming. A baby is coming, but not just a baby. The baby is the long-promised Savior. This is their King, whether they know it or not, whether they want it to be true or not.

Notice the many double-sided issues in these few verses. Jerusalem is at once the holy city and “the city that kills the prophets.” Jesus sends two disciples to get two animals when He can clearly ride only one. Do events happen by previous planning or divine knowledge? In all of these, Matthew is seeking to convey the two natures of Christ—fully human and fully divine. Both aspects must be held in mind together if Jesus is to be comprehended in full. Jesus is “the Crucified Messiah, the Modest King, the Lowly Lord, the Human God.”

Once the animals are secured, the two disciples put their cloaks on both donkey and colt and Jesus sits on the garments. Some of those coming to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration join the procession as Jesus descends from the Mount of Olives. Though He rides on a donkey rather than a warhorse, thereby symbolizing peace rather than militarism, the crowd seems to catch the royal symbolism of the act and carpets His path with their cloaks and branches cut from trees. The donkey Jesus rides is a beast of the people, a working beast that identifies Jesus as being in solidarity with those familiar with the animal. It is humble and stubborn in the burden it is bearing, even as the one who rides it this day is humble and determined to fulfill His calling.

They people are seeing something occur that they don’t fully understand, but yet recognize as important. The people shout out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” This underscores Jesus’ identity as being in accord with the great king whose city He is entering. The “Hosanna” can be understood as both a prayer and as an acclamation of praise. The shouts are nothing more than “save us” from the people. But save us from what? Do they have any idea why Jesus has come? Do they even care?

Is that not what you and I cry out on a daily basis – Hosanna, save us? That should be our daily cry because we need saving, but we don’t want to cry out because we don’t think we need saving? We don’t think we’re as bad as what people want to say we are or what the Church wants to say about us. But the fact of the matter is we are as bad as what people and the Church wants to say about us. That’s why God sends Jesus to us, because we do need God to save us, and save us He does.

He comes in Advent in order to be the sacrifice that is needed on Palm Sunday to be the answer to the people’s cries on Good Friday. But it wasn’t as simple as that. Matthew records, “the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”” The “whole city” in its ignorance stands in contrast to “the crowds” who knew Jesus to be at least a prophet “from Nazareth in Galilee.” Both groups will be presented with the opportunity to learn that Jesus is more than a human prophet or human king in days to come. They will quickly find out on Good Friday, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

The people looked for a deliverer based on their trust in God’s promises borne to them by their prophetic sacred writings. But the given Messiah does not, as is often noted, fulfill popular expectations. Not only was that true then, it is true now. “Who is the Christ?” is the question behind this text, and the answer is of the both/and variety: both human and divine, both militant and nonviolent, both crucified and resurrected, both obedient and triumphant, both royal and humble, both empowering and not overpowering.

“Behold, your king is coming to you…” The humble King who rode into Jerusalem in humility comes to us. In a manner of true repentance, we meet our Savior. He comes into Jerusalem, the city of the temple – the place of sacrifice – to suffer and to die as God’s ultimate Passover Lamb. His sacrifice interrupts the monotonous routines of sin and death. Here is a King like no other, for this King comes not in royal splendor or with military might, but in the humility of the Servant who embraces the cross for you.

All of this, He did for you. He is the Blessed One, for in His saving death, He brings all the blessings of heaven – forgiveness of sins and peace with God – down to earth, down to you. It is no wonder that during the season of Advent, we especially hear that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, God with us. Even as God lives with us, He still comes to us. He comes to us as we read and hear His Word. He also continues to come to us in His flesh and blood as we eat and drink the bread and the wine of His Table.

There’s never been anything especially impressive about the ways that Jesus comes to His people, at least not by our worldly standards. But He never had our impressions in mind. He came to His people under the most humble circumstances and in the most humble ways to save them. He comes to you through His humble, chosen means. And He promises to be with you according to His humble grace and mercy until He comes again, only then it will be in power and might.

And we keep faith with the people of God throughout the ages and wait and watch for the advent of our King, a coming promised so long ago. But we wait with true faith, for we know who is coming, and what He has done, and we know what He has promised to do when He comes to bring us to eternal life, and destroy sin and death forever. And so, we watch and pray and wait faithfully, observing the promise of Advent all the year long: “Behold, your king is coming to you.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2019 in Advent, Sermons

 
 
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