Advent 3 – “The One”

Text: Luke 7:18-28

C-6 Advent 3 (LHP) (Lu 7.18-28)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 an important question that needs to be asked, one question that we might not want to ask because we’re afraid to admit that we aren’t sure: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” John had sent his disciples to ask Jesus that question, to see if He really is who He says He is.

The cause of this question is clear – life is unfair, uneven, unreasonable. The godly suffer and the wicked prosper and there is no good explanation as to why. John knew this well. He was the prophet, the forerunner, the voice sent to prepare the way. His entire life was devoted to the coming of the Lord. Jesus Himself said that no one born of woman was greater! Yet there he was, sitting in prison, waiting for Jesus as they sharpened the sword. It is hard to say which would have been worse—that Jesus didn’t seem to notice, or that Jesus noticed and didn’t act.

This account of Holy Scripture might sound a little, well, wrong. Why would John the Baptist be asking such a question like this? When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, it was told to Zechariah, “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord.” When a pregnant Mary appeared at the doorsteps of a pregnant Elizabeth, “the baby leaped in her womb.” That baby was John. John was out in the wilderness, baptizing people and he says, “But he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” And now, you have doubting John?

Now before you go and say that Scripture contradicts itself, rest assured that it is not John asking the question on behalf of himself, but rather he is asking on behalf of his disciples, that they would truly know that Jesus Christ is the One foretold of long ago, the One whom John was destined to prepare the world to receive.

When John’s disciples get to Jesus and ask Him what they were instructed, Jesus responds with a very clear and pointed response to what He has done: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” While Jesus describes what He has done, He doesn’t exactly answer the question they ask. Is Jesus the One or not?

Without answering “yes” or “no” to John’s disciples, Jesus did indeed answer their question. Jesus points to His miracles, including also the raising of the dead at Nain, as evidence that He is the one promised in the Old Testament. His message to John’s disciples and to all of us: don’t look for any other messiah because the true Messiah is here.

The question that John poses is still a valid question for us today. Many today doubt and question whether or not Jesus is who He says He is, if He can do what He says He can do. You have those that doubt that this baby that is born is anything else than just another baby, nothing more, nothing less. You have those that claim that it is impossible that any one person can die for the sins of all of creation. You have those that want to say that if Jesus is who He claims to be, He is just one of many ways to earn salvation.

That line of thinking is no different than the false thoughts the people of Jesus’ day had about Him. The people of Jesus’ time thought of Him as a great earthly king, one who would kick out the Romans and restore Jerusalem to all of its glory from the days of old. Others thought that the Messiah would be a great prophet. Others thought of Him purely as the son of Mary and Joseph, a carpenter’s son. But what about you? What do you think about Jesus? What do we doubt about His life and His ministry? Is He who He says He is? Can He really forgive me my sins like He claims that He can? Can He really give to me everlasting life because of His death and resurrection?

The answer to all of these questions and more is yes. Yes, He is who He claims to be, the Christ, the Son of God. Yes, He can and does forgive you all of your sins. Yes, He can and does give to you everlasting life on account of His life, death, and resurrection.

There should be no doubt as to whether or not Jesus is the one who is to come. John was right all along. Jesus is a prophet, but not just a prophet. He is the prophet. He is the one to whom Zephaniah speaks of in our Old Testament reading for today: “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save….”

Jesus fulfills all that had been prophesied about Him. He was born of woman, being one with us sinners. He became the least in the Kingdom of God while on the cross so that He could make us sinners the greatest in the Kingdom by faith. Jesus is the One to whom we can look to for assurance with all our doubts for He has reconciled us to God.

That should be enough for us to accept the fact that Jesus is who He claims to be. After all, His benchmark standard is God’s Word, so how could Jesus, the Logos, the Word, contradict Himself? But, alas, it wasn’t enough for the people of the day. Sure, the miracles that Jesus performed during His three-year ministry were cool and all, but what else can He do? If His everyday miracles with the sick, the blind, the lame, and the deaf weren’t enough, you would think His miracles of raising the dead might be enough to convince the people, to win them over to the truth that Jesus is the Christ who was promised of in Holy Scripture. But even raising people from the dead wasn’t enough for some.

What more could convince the doubters that He was who He said He was? What about His own death upon the cross, which then led to His resurrection from the dead, which then led to His appearing to the multitudes following His resurrection, which ultimately led to His ascension in heaven? Wouldn’t that be enough? For some, yes it was enough. For others, all of that is just too incredible to believe.

For us, the baptized believers, called by God through the Holy Spirit, this is not too incredible for us to accept because we accept this by faith. We believe that Jesus is the one who is to come because God’s Word has declared it to be so. We consider our doubts and other sins. As we consider these sins, their consequences and punishment should terrify us. How wonderful it is to learn that in Jesus Christ we have all of the signs of God’s promise. We have the signs of His miracles and His teaching, but especially we have the sign of His crucifixion and resurrection that earn forgiveness for our sins and give us the promise of life everlasting in His gracious presence.

Today, we rejoice that the Son of God came into the world to offer Himself up for us as our substitute and to take away our sins. We rejoice that by His resurrection, He has opened heaven for us. We rejoice that, although our sin is great, our Savior is greater. We rejoice in the way He came to conquer our sin. We rejoice in the way He now comes to offer forgiveness to all people. We rejoice in the way He will come to give eternal life to all who believe in Him. 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.

Funeral for + Jean Rindels +

The text I have chosen for Jean’s funeral is from Mark 13:32-37.

[32] “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. [33] Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. [34] It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. [35] Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—[36] lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. [37] And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

Mark, Brian, Dean, Beth, Chuck, and Jane, family and friends of Jean: it isn’t fair, is it? It’s not fair that we should be gathered here like this twice in a year. February, we mourned the death of Dick but also rejoiced that he earned the crown of life from Jesus, our Savior. Today, we mourn the death of Jean, but we also rejoice that her earthly life with all its pains and suffering has ended and that she too rests in the loving arms of her Savior. But even with that being said, it’s not fair, is it? It’s not fair that we should have to mourn the death of Jean or anyone for that matter. But because of sin, life isn’t fair. Life doesn’t go the way that we think it should go, and today only proves that fact.

When God created all things, life was better than fair, it was perfect. Man had all they needed. Man walked with God. Man was perfect. Life could not be any better than that. Because of what happened in the Garden, because of man’s fall into sin, life is no longer fair. Life now has something that was never meant to be – death. Death is a reality for all people as St. Paul says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….” And with sin, it brings death: “For the wages of sin is death….”

Death is the new reality because of sin and it’s not fair. It’s not what God wanted and it certainly isn’t what any of us want, but it is the reality in which we live in. But thankfully for us, we have a God who is not content with death. He made a promise to Adam and Eve once they sinned that He would send forth One who save them from their sins, One who would undo all that death has brought into creation.

In just a few weeks, we will celebrate Christmas, the birth of our Savior. By His coming into the world through the manger, He prepares for His ultimate journey to the cross. With His journey to the cross comes for us our forgiveness, something that Jean had, something that Jean cherished with all her heart. It meant that in her baptism, God had called her His beloved child and gave to her the gift of faith. It meant that on account of Christ, she received the forgiveness of all her sins without any work or action needed on her part. It meant that one day, she would be able to stand before God and hear Him declare, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

A few weeks ago when visiting Jean, things didn’t look good for her. It had been several days since she had eaten anything. She had an infection that the body was trying to fight off, she was all-around weak. The words from Mark 13 served as my devotion with her. Christ had promised that He would come again in all His glory. The only problem is the people of Jesus’ day did not know when that time would come. Jesus explained that no one in all of creation knows when He will return; not the angels nor Jesus Himself. And so His word of caution for us is “Stay awake.”

It’s hard for us to stay awake as Jesus cautions us. It’s hard for us to do as Jesus tells us because the world tells us just the opposite. We don’t need Jesus when we are able to save ourselves. We don’t need Jesus when we are able to following a multi-step program that will give us all the earthly blessings we could ever imagine, as if this is the most important thing. The world is quick to tell us that Jesus isn’t all that when it comes to our salvation. But teachings like that will do nothing to earn us salvation but earn us damnation.

When we place our trust of salvation in anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ, then there is nothing but damnation. That is what Jesus warns us of during His life. We need to stay awake, to be alert. Know that Jesus is returning and live in His forgiveness and grace. Know that the cross was about making us ready to stand before Jesus. Know that God draws close to keep our hearts ready for that great and awesome day that is coming. Know that God has more at stake in us being ready for the end of time than we have. He sacrificed His one and only Son on the Cross to make us ready!

God has made Jean ready. She was made ready when she was baptized. She was made ready when she heard her sins were forgiven. She was made ready when she received the very body and blood of her Savior. Notice how she was made ready. She was made ready by the work of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. None of this was by her doing and works. She knew that it never could be. That’s why she looked to Christ for her salvation, because she knew that she was a sinner and was incapable of saving herself.

That is the reality we all face. We are all sinners. We are conceived and born in sin. Our sin gets us death, always has and always will. It is only by Jesus that we are forgiven and made ready to stand before God.

You and I do not know when Christ our Lord shall return. Because of that, we are to be ever vigilant – waiting and watching and anticipating our Lord’s return. Jean did not know when her heavenly Father would see fit to call her home unto Him. That’s why the words of Psalm 39 ring all the more true, not just for Jean, but for us all: “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!”

For Jean, she has died, she has left this veil of tears, but that’s not the last we shall hear of Jean. Christ has died for her and now she lives with Christ, her Lord. It is true that one day, all of us who are gathered here today will die as well. And because of Christ, the Babe of Bethlehem, He has come to bring us unto Him. We heed the words of Christ our Lord, just as dear sister Jean did: “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” We stay awake, ready for Christ our Lord to take us unto Himself, giving to us the crown of eternal life. Amen.

Advent 2 – “Prepare & Repent”

Text: Luke 3:1-14

It’s the season of Advent, a time of preparation before the Christ makes His entry into the world by means of His birth. Last week, we heard of Jesus entering Jerusalem. Today, we shift the focus back to preparation as we hear of John, the forerunner of Jesus.

John was the son of Zechariah, a priest. At and old age and with a barren wife, the angel Gabriel had told him that they would conceive and bear a son who would be named John. What made John special, different than other baby boys of the time, is that he had a particular job: prepare for the arrival of Jesus.

To get the people ready to receive Jesus, a transformation needed to take place in them first. “And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The people needed to change themselves. The needed to go from a state of unrepentance to a state of repentance. They needed to confess their sins and be forgiven. This was nothing new. The people had been sinning from the Fall and needed to be in a state of confession and absolution. This was done in the days of old by sacrifices. Now, John is proclaiming something new, a baptism of repentance.

This was what John was called, destined, prophesied to do, as recorded by Isaiah: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

The Promise of Old is coming. John’s role was to prepare the people to receive the Promise. It was time for them to do what they have done all their lives as Christians – repent. This message that John proclaimed was intended for all peoples. He preached this to anyone and everyone. He didn’t tell this to just Jew or Gentile, Christian or non-Christian. This was a message that everyone needed to hear.

He went in and laid it all on the line to all who heard him: “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” The sad truth is that more often than not, you and I don’t produce the good fruit our Lord expects. We simply don’t love God with all our heart and soul and strength, much less love our neighbor as ourselves. Despite our best efforts, there are those we have hurt and those we have failed to help. Our thoughts and desires are soiled with sin. There is nothing good within us, in our sinful nature.

That is where preparing the way of the Lord begins. Through the Law, we hear about our sinful nature and what that means for us. It means death and damnation. It means eternal separation from God. But the message that John is preaching about is the sweet sound of the Gospel which we need to hear; that there is One who is coming to save us from our sins. There is One who is coming to give us everlasting life. There is One coming who is forever bridging the gap between God and man, One who will trade His life so that we can have life. It is in John’s message of the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus that we are lifted up and comforted.

Repentance was necessary then and it necessary today. The need for repentance is now. The need to turn from our sinful ways is now. That is the message that John the Baptist comes preaching. His proclamation of repentance begins by making the people aware that they are sinners. What does John say about those who believe that they are already righteous? He calls them a brood of vipers. This is not without significance. It echoes back to the Garden of Eden and man’s fall into sin brought about the serpent. Instead of being righteous, they are instead offspring of Satan.

The reason why the season of Advent is so important is because it shows us the need of a Savior. Hearing John’s message can cause great fear in us, knowing that we might be a tree that does not bear good fruit. Those to whom John is preaching to begin to ask the simple question, “What then shall we do?” The answer is simple: we look to Christ. We look to the cross where Jesus took judgment upon Himself in our place so that we might be forgiven. In our Baptism, we receive the benefits of Christ’s atonement for us, the forgiveness of our sins.

John’s warning was indeed sharp. When the message of love and grace fails to touch the heart, then the Law’s message of judgment upon sin must be proclaimed. And so, John comes proclaiming a baptism of repentance, that the people would turn from their sinful ways and prepare for the arrival of The Messiah that was quickly approaching. And who heard that message but those troubled by their sins.

That’s the message of our text today. Our sin has separated us from God. That’s not a message we want to hear, and neither did those to whom John was preaching to. They had an answer for everything: “We have Abraham as our father.” What does that mean? Who cares if you have Abraham as your father. The bigger question is do you recognize your sin? Are you repentant of your sin? Will claiming Abraham as your father make your sins go away?

If you are sinful, then you need to hear this message. If you are repentant of your sins, then you need to hear this message. There is nothing you can do about your sins, but there is someone who can, and that someone is on His way. He is on His way to the manger to be born. He is on His way to Jerusalem to stand before Pilate to be judged. He is on His way to Golgotha to lay down His life for your sinful life. He’s going to give you all that He is so you may be declared righteous and holy before God. And in doing so, He is going to take all your sins upon Himself so that He may be judged sinful and die, all that you may live.

Even with all of that, that’s not enough for Jesus. He promises to come to you in His holy Word, a word that declares you forgiven for His sake. He comes to you in water so that God’s name may be placed upon you, marking you as God’s beloved and redeemed child. He comes to you in bread and wine, that you may feast upon His body and blood and receive His forgiveness, that you may be strengthened until life everlasting in heaven is yours.

All of this is at the heart of John the Baptist’s message. The message is not his own, but it is God’s message of a promise made a long time ago. John’s presence is to prepare for Christ’s arrival as the Messiah, the promised Savior of long ago. And with that message of John, we look not to ourselves but to only-begotten Son of God, as He comes in a manger, as He comes in Word and Sacrament…as He comes to forgive us our sins and lead us unto Himself. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 1

Text: Luke 19:28-40

Today brings about a change in the Church Year. We leave behind the season of Pentecost, culminating in the Last Sunday of the Church Year and we start anew with the First Sunday in Advent. What better place to start the beginning of the new Church Year than near the end.

Luke’s Gospel today takes us, not to the story of angels and shepherds and the like, but rather to the beginning of Holy Week, Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. So why would we start Advent, that season before Christmas, with events that happen at the end of our Lord’s life? It’s because the two events share a common thread – the triumphant coming of Jesus the king.

With a king, you inevitably have problems. They demand by their laws, the insist on obedience, they reward the friend and punish the enemy, they are either a blessing or a curse. The power of kings gives shape to the lives of their subjects. With such possibilities for good and evil, we ask ourselves, what kind of king do we want? Or better yet, do we even want a king?

Once upon a time, Israel asked for a king. God had tried to caution them repeatedly that they did not want a king because they would get everything that went along with a king. They wanted a king to judge them “like all the nations.”God cautioned them, sending Samuel to the people to tell them that the king will use their sons to protect himself in batter, take their daughters to be his bakers and cooks, taking their property to enrich his friend and tax them to advance his own wealth. In short, they would be the king’s slaves. And what did they respond: they wanted the king anyways. Their desire for a king was their rejection of God as their king. It didn’t matter that God had saved them from Egypt. Ultimately, they rejected God to be ruled by other gods.

In spite of all that God had done for Israel, God as their king was not good enough. Regardless of Israel’s desires and the king’s actions, God saw fit to send them a new king, a king who would rule them with God’s own mercy and grace. This king was David, a shepherd boy made into a king, exalting the humble. Despite David’s desire to rule in a way that honored God, he would ultimately be a flawed king as the one before him and the ones that would follow.

Through all of this, God was still their God and had promised to provide for them one who would defeat sin and death and, once and for all. Enter Jesus, the antithesis of every king Israel had ever had or would ever see. He was the opposite of Saul. He was not opportunistic, He was not self-serving, He was not grandiose by any means. In fact, He was the epitome of humble. From the humility of divine mercy, God would raise up a humble king.

The humble king would come from a humble town: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.”This humble king would be the true Davidic king: “And he shall stand and shepherd [God’s] flock in the strength of the LORD his God.”The humble king would bring peace, for He would Himself be Israel’s peace: “And [Israel] shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.”All of these definitions of the coming King come from the prophet Micah, something which the people would have been familiar with. And for some, they recognized that King.

When He arrives in Jerusalem, He isn’t seen riding a great white horse with flag-bearers and trumpets before Him. Instead, Jesus rides on a colt on which no one has ridden. Jesus rides in with the people laying their cloaks on the ground. The people shout with exclamations of rejoicing and praise, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Those shouts of joy on Psalm Sunday are just as warranted on the First Sunday in Advent, as they are any time of the Church Year. This King has come to do what no other king could – lay down His life for the sake of the people. This King has come to do what no other king could – forgive our sins. This King has come to do what no other king could – rise triumphant from the dead as the Victor.

The shouts of the people then are the shouts of us today: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”This King comes to judge His temple and week over the city’s rejection; but He is that kind of king who will also be the sacrifice to save it. He is the King who comes to undo the death and destruction man has brought about by sin.

The crowds praised Jesus with these words. Although these words of praise are absolutely true, it is very likely that the crowds had no idea why these words were true. They had no idea what Jesus was about to do that would make these words true. The idea that this man’s death would bring life to all people was not even a thought that entered their minds. Jesus was coming into their lives and they didn’t know why.

During this season of Advent, we prepare ourselves to receive the Newborn King into this world. For the Christian, it is a time to remember that the things of this world are indeed passing away, a time to set our hearts, once more, upon things above – a time to look at the Child who came to be born, to live, to die, and rise again, all for the sake of us mere miserable sinners. We recognize that Christ comes to die for our sins. We remember that we have been baptized and that means that we have been given the name of our heavenly Father.

This King that comes to us in order to give Himself into death as that true sacrifice of our King: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”Into His humble sacrifice, Jesus established a new Jerusalem and a new temple, making us to be His holy people. He comes as a baby to grow into the man who takes all upon Himself. He comes as our King to wash us in His blood.

Through faith, we join the Jerusalem throng of old in their shouts of praise: “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord”as we receive His gift of broken and shed body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.

What kind of king is it that we want? Do we want the king of the Old Testament, with all of their sinful and selfish desires? Do we want a king of our own making, one that grants all our wishes and desires, even if they are not the good that God desires for us? The king we want, no, the king we need, is the King who comes in the name of the Lord, the King who lays down His life for us in order that we may be restored to our Heavenly Father in a state of forgiveness, won for us by a humble King who rides into Jerusalem triumphantly for us. 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.

Last Sunday of the Church Year

Text: Mark 13:24-37

Today on this Last Sunday of the Church Year, we are reminded that Judgment Day is approaching, when we will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. The Bible makes clear that Jesus Christ is coming again to gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. The one who created the world, who redeemed the world and restored the world by His death and resurrection, is coming back, as we confess in the creeds, to judge the living and the dead in perfect justice. So, the question for us is which side are we going to be on.

This second-coming of Christ isn’t something new. In fact, Christ Himself proclaimed it during His earthly life. But where many have gotten the words of Jesus wrong is when He will return. There have been countless second-coming prophecies of Jesus’ return, so-called raptures where Christ will gather all His believers and leave the non-believers behind. All these share one thing in common – they got Jesus’ return date wrong! They all must have failed to read this part of Mark’s letter: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

It’s been 2000 years since Christ first appeared in such lowly estate to lowly parents. As Christ grew in His stature as the God-man, He proclaimed many things about His death and His resurrection, but He didn’t stop there. He also proclaimed that He would come again, though He never put a date or time on it; see His words previously. Our focus is on Christ’s return and not so much when, though it is.

“[Jesus said:] “In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.””

Now when you hear that, it doesn’t sound like Judgment Day that we “know,” that is, the fictional judgment day. The end of the world represents dramatic action and a cataclysmic battle between good and evil that simply must be seen to be believed. It’s been popularized into a series of books and movies, albeit fictional. It is scary for the non-believer, as it should be. But for the believer, Judgment Day and the end of the world are the fulfillment of the promises of God centered in Jesus, the joyful end when we finally fall into the arms of a waiting Savior who won the victory of sin, death, and the devil.

We know the focus on today, the Last Sunday of the Church Year; it’s the same focus as it is every day – be ready for Christ’s return. How do we prepare for Christ’s return? Jesus tells us as much: the short answer is “Stay awake.”Be alert. Know that Jesus is returning and live in His forgiveness and grace. Know that the cross was about making us ready to stand before Jesus. Know that God draws close to keep our hearts ready for that great and awesome day that is coming. Know that God has more at stake in us being ready for the end of time than we have. He sacrificed His one and only Son on the Cross to make us ready!

Jesus wants us to be alert, on guard, to keep watching for Him to come at any time. This is underscored with the illustration of a man who leaves home and places his servants in charge while he’s away. Jesus is the “man,” the Church is the “house” and we believers are the “servants.” The first point Jesus makes with this picture is that we in the Church are to “be on guard,” as He says, for His return is any moment. Those in the first century believed Jesus would return during their lifetime, thus they lived in that hope and expectation, waiting and watching and longing for His return.

The message for us is the same today in twenty-first century as it was in the first. You don’t know when Christ will return, so always keep ready. Jesus tells us to be ready because one day He will return. This time He will not be the humble Savior who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, only to be killed on a cross. He came then to be our Savior, to give up His life on the Cross. When Jesus returns next, He will come to judge. He will come to destroy the present world and to establish the eternal Kingdom where all believers are to live for eternity. You have a place in that Kingdom as God washes you clean through the forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross.

As this Church Year ends and we look to the coming of a new Church Year, we watch expectantly. We keep watch because we do not know when Jesus will come back. Regardless of His return, we do not want Him to find us sleeping. We stay awake and watch vigilantly by coming to church so we hear the Word of God and receive the gifts which He has given to us in His sacraments.

The Day of the Lord is coming. The signs are all around us. We’re living in the last days. It won’t be easy for you as a believer. But don’t be afraid. Christ will soon come again in righteous judgment to take you and all believers in Him to be with Him at His side. Until then, He’s at your side. His coming may be sudden, but its certainty calls us to a life of joyful expectation. Be assured by His coming! Live as believers who long for the day of His appearing. Pray that day will be here sooner rather than later, the day when there will be no more headaches and heartaches, fears and tears, troubles or trials, strife and sorrow, just God’s grace in fullest measure, eternal life. The Lord’s desire for you is that His return would not be a day of terror for you, but triumph in Him.

The One who is coming has come so that we might live. The Babe of Bethlehem became the Good Friday Savior and the Easter hope for the whole world. As Christians, we live in Him now by faith, and on that Last Day we will be with Him forever in His kingdom! That’s good news for us and for all who believe. With faith in Christ, there is forgiveness for all of our sins. There is hope when things seem hopeless. There is life after death. There is eternity. With Jesus, we are more than conquerors. That’s why Jesus lived, died, and rose for you.

It is not important to know the date of the Last Day. In fact, Jesus says that we can’t know that time. It is not important to know anything about the details of our eternal existence. The important thing is the trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins that makes us constantly ready for the day when He will show Himself and raise the dead. Jesus urges us to be awake and on guard so that we will receive Him in joy – the joy that anticipates life forever with Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

All Saints’ Day

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon are the readings for the Feast for All Saints.

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!””That is what St. John saw as he wrote the book of Revelation. Who is it that he saw? He saw the saints, that is, the believers in Christ.

This is a different view from those who say that this is all there is in life, that when you die, you are dead and that’s that. But what a sad view of life that is! Not only is it sad, it is wrong. There is indeed eternal life – eternal life in heaven or eternal life in hell. John sees beyond this earthly life and his focus is not on the now on earth, but rather, the now that is in heaven.

John sees that which is impossible by man, but possible by God. He sees a great cloud of witnesses, those who bear witness to the Lamb who was slain. On earth, they saw the Savior with the eyes of faith, whom having not seen they loved. Now they see Him. The veil of sense and the limitations of earth no longer obstruct their sight. They are forever with their God, in His immediate presence, where they wished and longed to be.

These saints look different, different than what we see them as, for they are seen for who they are, clothed in white robes, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. These are the ones whom Christ has marked as belonging to Him. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, and so they appear before God pure and spotless, arrayed in the garment of Christ’s righteousness.

One of the elders asks John, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come from?”They come from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.”Sin brought about a separation from God, not for some, but for all. That separation is done away with in Christ. Its effects disappear because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. There is no longer any difference between peoples, for they are all one in Christ.

By John’s response, we see exactly who Christ is for – all peoples from all time and all places. No distinction is made on the part of John, for all have been created by God and He seeks to unite all peoples unto His Son. He desires to grant to all the gift of everlasting life, won solely by Christ and His shed blood for them.

It is interesting that the elder askes John from where they came. John responds by saying they have come out of the great tribulation. Throughout all the trials and tribulations, they have faced on earth, they have left all of that behind and are now free from it, for Christ has atoned for them and has sanctified them, washing over their sins with His shed blood.

As saints of God, “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.”In other words, nothing shall be able to detract from the holiness that Christ has earned for them. There, “the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Sainthood sounds absolutely wonderful, perfect even, for those who have died in the faith. But what about you? Too bad you are still alive and unable to receive that sainthood, right? That is where you would be wrong, where a particular Christian denomination would be wrong. You see, sainthood isn’t something that you receive after you have died and have been deemed to have a led a virtuous life. Sainthood is yours, right now.

Turning to our Epistle reading from 1 John, we hear these words of comfort: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”God your heavenly Father has granted this to you already. He has granted it to you through His Son. By His actions of keeping the Father’s Law in your place, by His death and resurrection so that He may wash over you with His crimson blood, you have been made a saint. You have sins forgiven. You have eternal life in His name. The only difference between you and the saints that are spoken of in Revelation is that you are still among the living, the Church Militant. You still face trial and tribulation, but in spite of that, you are a saint, a blood-bought and purchased child of God.

We are not able to see the face of Jesus as the saints see it. However, we see Jesus in a different way as the Church Militant. We see Jesus as He is revealed to us through the Word of God and in the Sacraments. We see “the love the Father has given to us”as it is revealed to us on earth. He calls us to follow Him. His Words gives us the vision of all those saints who have gone on before us. The Lamb, our Savior Jesus, has made us children of the Father. Like the saints before us, we know we live and love only by grace. Every day, we come before the Lord, confessing our many sins, doubts, and failures. We take comfort in the words that we heard earlier: “…in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.”  This has happened only because of the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for you and your sins. We are washed clean “in the blood of Jesus his Son [which] cleanses us from all sin.”That blood of Jesus is what you receive when you come to this altar. That blood of Jesus is what forgave you all your sins in your Baptism. Now, God looks at us in Jesus – forgiven, washed, covered, made alive with His life, wearing the white robe of His goodness covering all our sins.

On this All Saints’ Day, St. John invites his readers to marvel with him the greatness of God the Father’s love. We marvel at the love shown to us before we were born. We marvel at the fact that God has chosen us to be His children. We marvel at the fact that though we deserve death, we have received life. John takes the status believers enjoy, that of children of God, and uses that status to instill an eager expectation for the future glory that will be ours.  Jesus Christ, our Bridegroom, has given His life for us and called us His own. Our sinful name is washed away in the waters of Holy Baptism. Being baptized into Christ, we have received the Father’s family name, given to us by the Holy Spirit. Now our names and the names of all God’s saints are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Because our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, we will continue to come into the holy city of Jerusalem because the gates will never be shut. When we are brought into Christ through baptism, nothing can keep us separated from Him because He has bridged the gap of separation with His own body and blood. Rejoice, for you are a beloved saint of God. 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.

(Texts: Revelation 7:9-17; 1 John 3:1-3)

Reformation

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The texts for the are the appointed readings for the Festival of the Reformation.

Today we celebrate the 501stanniversary of the Reformation of the Church. We can also call today “Happy Gospel Day” because that is what the heart of the Reformation was all about for Martin Luther. The Reformation was centered and is still centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and so should the Church today. Unfortunately, that was not always the case of the Church.

In the 16thCentury, things were not great in the Church. The popular thought and teaching of the Church was salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and in your works. This was the prominent teaching that stemmed from the Papacy to the clergy to the people. This was the official teaching and no one dare argue against it, but throughout the ages, there were those who argued against that teaching for one that was based on Holy Scripture alone.

Going back a century before, in the early 1400s, John Hus had spoken out against the Papacy for some of its teachings, namely, indulgences and the forgiveness which they provide. Hus had come to the conclusion that only God can grant forgiveness, and that to sell what comes only from God was a taking away of God’s power which man could not do. Hus also spoke out against the teachings of salvation and works. On July 6, 1415, Hus was burned at the stake for being a heretic.

Fast forward 100 years and now you had a new voice leading the charge, albeit weary at first. A man by the name of Martin Luther, who at the ripe age of 22, joined the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt. In his early days in the monastery, instead of finding his justification before God through good works and the sacrament of penance, he realized that due to his sinfulness, he could not find that justification that he desperately needed. He sought to obey his monastic vows to the fullest, punishing his body and going to confession as often as possible. Nothing he could do would ease his fear of damnation.

Through his study of the Scriptures, namely Romans 1, things began to change for Luther – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.””  His doctrine of “justification by faith” does not mean that what God demands of us is faith, as if this were something we have to do or achieve, and which God then rewards. It means rather that both faith and justification are the work of God, a free gift to sinners.

This was the Gospel being re-revealed, or in some cases, revealed for the first time. While the Church taught justification by faith, it also taught justification by works, something which Luther could not find in the Scriptures. And so, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church for debate, largely focusing on the practice and selling of indulgences and the forgiveness granted by them. However, the Roman Catholic Church saw no need for debate, but rather for repentance and recanting on the part of Luther for speaking out against the Church’s teaching.

St. Paul, in his writing to the Romans, and our Epistle for the day, writes this: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Good works are a law, something that man must do. St. Paul clearly says that works of the law will not make one justified by God. So, if you strip away good works from the equation of salvation, you are left with one thing – Jesus.

This concept of salvation by Jesus alone was damning to the Church because it took away the Church’s power and authority. This was what Luther sought to restore – a restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone, with nothing else attached to it; in this case, the Law. That is why St. Paul later goes on to say, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….” You see, salvation is not the part of man, but rather of God. Salvation is done apart from man and his actions, leaving the only action-doer Jesus. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

That is the heart of the Reformation. When you strip away all of the man-made laws, all the extra stuff that is crammed into God’s Word, you are left with one thing and one thing only: you’re left with the Gospel, you’re left with Jesus. Jesus does the action of salvation, not you. That’s the way it has been from the very beginning, from man’s fall into sin, it’s been about Jesus. It hasto be about Jesus because it is Jesus Christ alone that saves.

Luther’s mantra for the Reformation is all about the Divine and not about man. It is Sola Scripture – Scripture alone; Sola Fide – Faith alone; Sola Gratia – Grace alone. And for good measure, we can throw one more sola in: Sola Christus – Christ alone. Where are you in that equation? You’re not there because you can’t be there. Your sin keeps you from being there because your sin separates you from God. And so, we hear the words from Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Jesus Himself sets out to teach that salvation is solely through Him and nothing else. However, this thought was unpopular with the Pharisees who taught salvation by adherence to the Law. And so, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” There is one truth when it comes to salvation and that is Jesus. Nothing else will suffice. Freedom in Christ is what we don’t have because of our sin. Our sin keeps us separated from God and there is nothing that we can do to rectify that. And so, Jesus tells the Jews in our Gospel text, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” It is only Jesus that sets you free. It’s not your works. It’s not penance. It’s not indulgences. It’s not Canon Law. It’s only Jesus.

As we celebrate the Reformation, the focus isn’t on Martin Luther, though he was instrumental. The Reformation focus is on the Gospel. The Reformation focus is on Jesus. The Reformation focus is on our salvation by grace, through faith alone in Jesus Christ. By Christ alone, we have been set free from all that separates us from God. To God alone be all glory and honor, through the salvation work of Jesus Christ, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

(Texts: Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36)

Palm Sunday – “Hosanna!” (John 12:12-19

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 Processional Gospel, which was read earlier.

The hustle and bustle is here. The Passover is here and that means a plethora of people in Jerusalem, even more than usual. They are all gathered to celebrate the yearly remembrance of what God had done for His people many years ago when the angel of the Lord passed over the Israelite people. The atmosphere has changed, becoming almost electric. And then John records this: The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” It’s Jesus, the miracle worker. It’s Jesus, the prophet. It’s Jesus, the healer. It’s Jesus…the Son of God?

What exactly is Jesus here to do? Clearly He’s here to celebrate the Passover, but what else is He here to do? Whatever Jesus is going to do, the people flock to see Him. For some, He’s a miracle worker. For others, He’s a prophet. For others, a healer. But for some, Jesus is all of those and more. He is the Son of God. He is the Messiah that the people have been waiting for. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!””

The one who comes in the name of the Lord? King of Israel? Surely that can’t be descriptive of who Jesus is, and yet that’s what the people proclaim. That is indeed who Jesus is if you know your Scriptures. As we heard from Zechariah earlier, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus enters Jerusalem as Zechariah prophesied. Things are beginning to look like Zechariah had proclaimed. Jesus is beginning to look a lot like the promised Messiah of old.

As Jesus made His way from Bethany to Jerusalem, not only did you have the usual traffic of people going there for the Passover Feast, but you also had the crowd following Jesus. As Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, there was a different feeling in the air. The people began to do something that they normally had not done upon entering Jerusalem: they begun to have a palm procession. This wasn’t just any palm procession that they were having; this procession was for Jesus. They cut palm branches and went out to meet Jesus. They received Him as their king, as the Jewish leaders feared they might.

The people had just one simple message they were shouting: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” But what was it exactly were they saying? Hosanna, “save, I pray.” This psalm was one that was sung as part of the Passover feast. Jews sang it when the Passover lambs were sacrificed. Now, they sung it for their Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, on His way to be their sacrifice. But they weren’t thinking of sacrifice. They received Jesus as heavenly royalty, Israel’s King.

As they were preparing to celebrate the Passover feast, they didn’t even know that their own Passover Lamb was coming to be sacrificed for them. Today, you celebrate your Passover Lamb coming to be slaughtered for your sins.

For you, Jesus had set His face toward Jerusalem. He had an appointment that only He could keep: He had an appointment with the cross. He had come from Galilee preaching and teaching with healing as He went, but ultimately, Jerusalem was the goal of His journey. This sets in motion everything that was going to take place during the week: His betrayal, His arrest, His mock trial, His crucifixion, and ultimately, His resurrection. Everything that was going to take place began with this one moment – His triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

Most of the people who were gathered there that day had no idea what was taking place when Jesus entered Jerusalem, what it meant to them personally. Jesus had taught them that the definition of the Christ is to suffer, die, and rise from the dead on the third day, and yet, they still missed what was taking place here.

Do you understand what is going on here or are you missing it as well? This is meant for you. Here comes your Passover Lamb, to make death pass over you and earn for you everlasting life. This Lamb goes forth uncomplaining, doing the task by which He has been sent: to bring about the salvation for God’s creation. Unlike every other lamb that was brought to the slaughter for the Passover, Jesus Christ not only died to purge from you your sins, He also rose for you as well. He rose triumphant for you, to proclaim your victory over sin, death, and the devil, once and for all. He has opened heaven for all mankind by His blood shed on the cross.

As John records for us, His disciples did not understand these things at first….” Truth be told, the disciples weren’t alone in not understanding what was going on as Jesus entered. The people were shouting “Hosanna!” but didn’t know why they were shouting it. Nonetheless, it doesn’t take away the reason why they were shouting it. They needed to shout it, just as we need to shout it even today. This is the very reason that He came, was crucified, died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven to occupy His kingdom. By His blood and Holy Spirit, He has swept us clean of all filth, so that all who believe in Him are righteous and blessed, and will someday pass through temporal death into His heavenly kingdom.

It is interesting to note what the Pharisees say to one another: “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” It might have been true at the moment, but would we agree that it is true today? Does the world really go after Jesus or does the world go after something or someone else? Does the world find its salvation in the cross of Christ or is salvation found somewhere else? Maybe a better question to ask is this: do you go after Jesus or do you go after something or someone else? We might find temporary comfort in what this world has to offer, but the comfort that this world gives is fleeting at best. It is here today but gone tomorrow. What Christ has done for you was here yesterday, it is here today, and it will be here tomorrow. The gift of salvation won for you by Jesus Christ on the cross was here yesterday, here today, and will be here tomorrow. We cannot say the same about the false comfort that we receive from the world.

Jesus would fulfill every sacrifice that God had demanded. He would live a sinless life as the Lamb without blemish. He would die the death that was meant for us; a death filled with suffering and eternal separation from God. Instead, we reap from His death on the cross. He gives to us His righteousness in exchange for our sins. It is no coincidence that in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we recite the words of Palm Sunday, singing, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.” You and I can be thankful that Jesus has gone to Jerusalem to pour out His life, for by this He has forgiven our debt to God and set us free. May we forever sing, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 4 – “Out of Death Comes Life”

Sermon texts: Numbers 21:4-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The basis for the sermon is the appointed readings read earlier.

Death is all around us. Our world is one in which we live and then we die. That is what the people of Moses grumbled about in our Old Testament text: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” Death is all around the Israelites, or so they think. When things start looking bad, they get worse. “Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” If there wasn’t death before, there is death now. So much death and things are only going to get worse. The only way that death could be defeated was from God. As the fiery serpents brought death, God used a serpent to bring about life: “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”

From Adam and Eve, death became a permanent part of creation. Everywhere you turned, there was death and there was no escaping it. Death followed the people of Israel everywhere they went. It followed them as they wandered the wilderness. It followed them because of their lack of faith in God. It followed them to their children and to every generation thereafter. It follows to you and to me as well.

That’s bad news for us. Death is here for us. Death defeats us. But there is One who defeats death. Those who believe in Jesus Christ shall not perish. Yes, they will die a physical death, but they live eternally with Christ. What comfort that is in knowing that because of Christ, on account of what Christ has done for you, you shall receive everlasting life. The best part of all this: you didn’t do anything! You didn’t have to work for it, you didn’t have to earn it; you simply received it.

Here is how that happened. It had to happen at the expense of Jesus. That is what Jesus said: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Salvation lies only in Jesus Christ and in no one or nothing else. The snake was lifted up on a pole; Jesus was to be lifted up on a cross. Everyone who looked in faith at the snake was healed from the bite of deadly snakes. Everyone who would look in faith at Jesus would be saved from the bite of eternal death and have eternal life. This is the life that begins with the new birth by the Spirit. This is the life that comes only through Jesus Christ for your sins.

Paul, in addressing the Ephesians, reminds the people just what it means because of Jesus: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Because of our sin, we were dead. Notice that Paul doesn’t say that you are still dead, but that you were dead. If you were dead but are not now, what does that make you? It makes you alive; alive not because of you but only because of Jesus. It is because Jesus was lifted up upon the cross and only Jesus could be lifted upon the cross.

All of that changes with what Paul says. We see a complete change for us, a change that has been affected by Jesus. Paul says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ….” You and I are dead. We are forsaken for all eternity for our many sins, for even just a single sin. But God does not leave us in that state of death. New life has been granted to you. The best part of that is that you did nothing to earn it. You did nothing to achieve it. We were completely dead in sin. We were spiritual corpses, with absolutely no spark of spiritual life in us.  In love, however, God breathed spiritual life into us. We were made alive in Christ. On the basis of Jesus’ resurrection, through faith in Him, we are spiritually alive.

God’s love lifted His Son on the cross, and by His love, He lifts us from death to life. To lift us up, God lifted up His Son. Lifted up on the cross, the Father gave His Son as the greatest act of love for His creation. Here was a creation, made in the image of God: perfect, holy, and without sin. Creation did not retain that image for long and God was not content watching His creation suffer the effects of sin: death and eternal separation from Him. To restore creation, the Second Person of the Trinity, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, took on human flesh in order to do what we could not: live a sinless life in our place.

There is good reason that all of this was done and Jesus Himself says why: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” It was done in order to save it; it was done for you. Whoever believes in the Son of God is not condemned. Sin loses all power to damn us. Sin loses all power to damn you because Christ has died for you. But not only has He died for you, He also rose again for you. Again, the reason that all of this was done is because of the agape love that God has for His creation.

The key to our salvation comes in the final verses of our text for today: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are saved solely by the grace of God which is given to us as a gift, not something that we have to earn. We have to do enough earning in life: earn our paycheck, earn brownie points with our spouse, earn punches for that free latté. Why should salvation be something that is earned? It is given as a gift.

That is the point of salvation. It’s not something that we can earn. It’s not even something which we deserve. On the contrary, it’s the furthest thing which our sinfulness deserves. We deserve eternal damnation yet receive everlasting life. And while all of this makes perfect sense to God, it makes no sense to us. How can something like this be given to me free of charge? There must be something that I have to do. However, that is not the case.

God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved you, even when you were dead in trespasses, made you alive with Christ and raised you up, for God so loved you that He gave His only-begotten Son, that by believing in Him you would not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son to you to condemn you, but that you through Him would be saved. God has given you the promise of eternal life, for He has declared you righteous—not guilty—on account of the saving work of His Son, your Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross, who gave His body and shed His blood for you and has seated you in the heavenly places with Him and the Son. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 3 – “The Law Is Good” (Exodus 20:1-17)

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.

It’s safe to say that we live in a day where the Word of God is not in favor with many in the world, even amongst Christians. The authority of Scripture has been attacked on many sides, both inside and outside of the Church. It’s not unusual to see a television show belittling the Scriptures that God gave us. It’s not unusual to read in the newspaper that religious freedoms have come under attack by those who have little desire for God and His Word. Nonetheless, we turn to the Word of God for our strength and our comfort.

Our Old Testament account from Exodus begins with the children of Israel gathered around Mount Sinai. God had descended upon the mountain in fire. The mountain trembled and God called Moses to come and meet with Him. God gave him words that we heard in today’s reading: “And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” With these words, it shows us that God cared for His people. He had a deep desire to protect them from that which was hurtful to them, in both a physical and spiritual sense. In order to protect His people, God gave to Moses the Ten Commandments to guide the people in the relationship as God’s people within this covenant. They would live as His people and He would bless them.

Before we hear those words of God, we cannot forget that God had already given His people, Adam and Eve, a singular command: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” There is no fancy and colorful language here; rather, a very simple statement – eat and die. It did not take long for them to break that singular command of God and they died. They would die a physical death, but more importantly, they died a spiritual death. They were no longer like God, that is, perfect and holy. They would never see that spiritual state again.

Now, God sees fit to give to His people a new Law, His Ten Words, or as we call them, the Ten Commandments. And why would God give such a thing to His people when they clearly could not handle one command from God? God gave the Law for the good of His people.

A quick summary of the Ten Commandments is revealed to us by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew – love. In each of the first three commandments, He spoke of the people’s relationship with God. Jesus sums it by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” First and foremost should be the proper respect due to God, the Creator of all that exists. Commandments 4-10 would govern their relationship with their fellow man: “And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In His mercy, God had brought His chosen people out of many years of slavery and was bringing them to a land that was good, a land where they could live and prosper as His own. As they traveled, God established a new relationship with them. The people were gathered at Sinai in His mercy and He came to them and said, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

The Law had a very particular role in their lives. God wanted them to turn away from things that were worshiped by other people they would encounter in their communities. As He gave the Law, God declared that He was a “jealous God.” That may sound strange, but it meant He wanted His people solely for Himself. There are no other gods. Anything else was an invention by man guided by Satan. The Triune God is the sole being who could rescue them from sin.

God established the Law not as a curse, but as a help to His people, then and today. Unfortunately, if we read past our text, we see how the people had already broken the First Commandment before they even got it by the fashioning of the golden calf. They failed to keep the very First Commandment, which opened the door for them to break the remainder. You and I fail to keep the First Commandment each and every day, also opening the door for us to break the remainder. Sadly, we have gotten so good at breaking God’s Law that we don’t even realize we’re doing it, or making excuses or justification of our breaking God’s Law.

So with the Ten Commandments given to the people of Israel and their failure to keep the very First Commandment, let alone the remaining nine, all is doom and gloom for Israel. They will be forever lost to their failure of keeping God’s Law; they will be forever lost to their sin. It would easily appear that way, and at times for Israel, it seems as if God had completely abandoned them. If God had forsaken Israel, then that means there is no hope for you and I. And if that’s what you think, then you would be wrong. There is indeed hope for you and I; there is salvation for us. God did not completely abandon Israel to their sin. God has not abandoned you to your sin. He has sent to Israel and to the entirety of His creation a Deliverer, One that would keep the First Commandment in its entirety. And not only the First Commandment but also the other nine. And not only the Ten Commandments, but also the 613 commandments. And not only those, but One who has kept the entirety of God’s Word and His Law. There is for Israel and for you a Savior, one who goes to the extreme to atone for your sins, for each and every one of them, for every single time that you have broken God’s Law, for every time that you have not done as His Word has declared.

This Savior, this Jesus, is the One who has done for you all that you could never do yourself. In keeping every iota of God’s Law, He has done all that the Father desired of His creation. He has achieved for all those who trust and believe in Him full salvation. For all who have faith and call upon the name of the Lord, all those sins that would make you stand before God as a condemned sinner have been removed and God only sees that the holiness and righteousness that has been achieved by Jesus’ all-atoning sacrifice on the cross. God has promised salvation and that salvation comes through Jesus Christ, the One promised of long ago. As Jesus says in our Gospel for today, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Through His bodily temple, the Son of God lays down His life, only to take it up again three days later. In doing so, He proclaims eternal victory over sin and death for the sinner.

With the giving of the Ten Commandments, it was not meant to punish or tie the hands of Israel. They were given as a response to whom God was, their creator, provider and protector. He had promised to be with them all the days of their life. In line with man’s breaking of God’s Word and commandments, One is sent for us who keeps these Commandments in order to grant to us everlasting life. We have failed time and time to keep these Commandments. Fortunately for us, there is One who has kept them, One who would give His life so that we would live. Christ has come, keeping these Commandments and more, to grant to you life and salvation. Steadfast love from God has been shown to you, all because Christ has kept these Commandments in your place. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.