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.

Lent 2 – “Who Is Jesus?” (Mark 8:27-38)

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.

What’s in a name? Everyone has one. They tell something about us. Some denote importance while others denote insignificance. You hear the name Henry Ford and you automatically think Ford Motor Company. George Washington and you think President of the United States. John Doe and you could care less because it’s clear that the name is insignificant.

As we hear in our Gospel account from St. Mark, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The fact that Jesus asks the question infers that people know something about Him and they talk about Him. And of course, the people do know of Jesus and they have been talking about Him. They know Him to be a prophet, a teacher, a healer, a miracle worker. Some have attributed Jesus as being more than that: “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”

What do these responses indicate? It shows the people have great esteem for Jesus. He’s not your every-day, run of the mill carpenter’s son. He is more than that, much more than that. To be herald as John the Baptist, Elijah or another of the prophets indicate that Jesus is important. He is someone to be listened to. He is someone to whom the people respect.

All of that is good and proper. But there is an even more important question that Jesus then asks the disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” That seems to be an odd question, wouldn’t you think? Jesus has been baptized and the voice of God the Father spoke, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Granted, this takes place prior to the calling of the disciples. Even if the disciples didn’t know what God had said, John the Baptist did. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after Jesus was baptized that he was arrested by Herod and later beheaded.

Regardless, Jesus has now called His disciples. They have been witness to the miracles and healing work of Jesus. They have heard His teaching and seen first-hand what He is capable of doing. And so the question is asked to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Clearly Jesus is not John the Baptist as he is dead. Clearly Jesus is not Elijah for he has been dead for generations. Clearly Jesus is not just a run of the mill prophet because the prophets could not do what Jesus had done up until this point. And so there is only one, logical response that can be given: “You are the Christ.” That’s Mark’s description of Peter’s answer. Matthew records Peter’s response as being, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Luke’s account records Peter’s response as being, “The Christ of God.” All three accounts have something in common: Jesus is the Christ, a title which means, the Anointed One.

Now, given Peter’s answer, we have to ask the good Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” Peter rightly calls Jesus “the Christ,” what the people of the Old Testament would have called the Messiah. He is the One who had been expected for so long. He is the One who would bring about salvation to mankind. Jesus is more than just mere man. He is the very Son of God in flesh. The Messiah, though truly human, was also God the Son, and His assignment as the Anointed One was clearly stated back in Genesis – He would be the One to bruise the head of Satan; He would be the one to earn salvation for us sinners.

Even though Peter made this confession, there were many of Jesus’ day who could not or rather, would not. Messiah meant something different to the people. Messiah meant an earthly king. Messiah meant the one who would rescue Jerusalem from Roman rule. Messiah for the people meant only earthly terms. Messiah did not mean what the Scriptures had spoken of regarding the Messiah.

This answer of the disciples given by Peter is the very answer that Jesus had hoped for. It is the only answer that can be given. Jesus is the Son of God and Jesus is the Son of Man, our Christ, our Savior, and our Redeemer.

But that is not the popular answer. “God” is whoever we want him or her to be. “God” can be whatever you want it to be for that matter. “God” becomes a generic name for every deity we worship under the sun. Whatever you want to call your god, it’s all the same god in the end. Your god is my god and my god is your god. That is the age in which we live.

Here is the problem with all of that. “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Only one God was able to do that, not many gods. Only one God can fit that description, not many gods.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again because it bears repeating: if you get Jesus wrong, then you get everything wrong. If you get Jesus wrong, then nothing else matters. What exactly do I mean by that? If you do not have the right understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for you, then everything that follows after that is wrong also. If you do not accept that Jesus Christ is both God and man, that your salvation depends solely upon Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection, then everything else you believe about salvation is wrong. Salvation can come from no other source than Jesus Christ. The moment that we start to think, or even worse, believe, that our salvation comes from someone or something other than Jesus, that is the point when everything means nothing.

After chastising Peter, Jesus gathers the disciples and the crowds and tells them that salvation is in Him and Him alone. Listen again to the stern words that Jesus says: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” In this brief moment of Peter’s anti-confession, he shows that he is ashamed of Jesus because of the words that Jesus has spoken. Peter didn’t like Jesus’ words. But just because he didn’t like them didn’t make them any less true.

We may not like Jesus’ words at times either. Though we don’t like them, that doesn’t make them any less true. We may not like hearing that Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation because it takes the focus off of us. We may not like hearing that we must repent and return to God, especially if we’re justified in our actions because I’m not as bad as that person. However, one thing remains the same: it is by Jesus Christ that you have everlasting life. St. Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” I didn’t die for you. You didn’t die for you. Your actions are not what save you. It is by Jesus Christ and Him alone that you have salvation.

By Jesus’ death on the cross, by His blood shed, we have salvation. When the question is asked to us, “Who do you say that I am?,” may we be bold to confess as Peter did: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living 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.

Lent 1 – “Tempted No More” (Mark 1:9-15)

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.

“I don’t like you.” “I hate you.” “I wish you were dead.” Have you ever heard those phrases spoken to you before? There’s probably a good chance that you. And even if you haven’t heard them spoken by a person to you, you have had them spoken to you. Your enemy, the devil, has spoken those words to you, time and time again. He loves to speak those words to you because he doesn’t like you, because he hates you, and because he does wish you were dead. The reason why he speaks those words to you is because you are a child of God and he doesn’t like that. That’s why, for you, God sends forth His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to combat Satan.

Turning to our Gospel reading, it begins with the Baptism of Jesus and God declaring forth, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Here is God’s pronouncement of who Jesus is, the very Son of God. That’s what you and I want to hear. That’s exactly what Satan doesn’t want to hear! Here is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, beginning His ministry of salvation for the people of God. That’s good news for us, or at least, it should be. Here is a God who isn’t aloof, twiddling His thumbs as His creation continues in a life of sin and death. He sends forth the only one capable of putting an end to death, once and for all. That sounds great, until it isn’t.

Mark goes on to say, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.” That’s not good news for us, but it’s great news for Satan! Here is his opportunity to defeat God, once and for all. He tried it once, but failed to realize that he, the creation, was inferior to God, the Creator. He revolted and took with him angels and was cast out of the presence of God. But here is Round 2, a second chance of victory over God. If he can’t defeat God directly, then the next best thing is to defeat God through Jesus. And that’s exactly what he sets out to do.

For forty days, Satan tempted Jesus with a singular desire – get Jesus to give into temptation. Surely it can’t be that hard; it worked on Adam and Eve. Satan knew what he was doing. If he could get Jesus to give into temptation, any temptation, then he wins. It doesn’t matter what the temptation, whether great or small. It doesn’t matter what the temptation is, just get Jesus to give in to temptation. And once Jesus does, God’s means of salvation for His people is done. When Jesus gives in, Satan wins and it’s game over for God.

But that’s where Satan got too cocky. He truly thought that he would be able to tempt Jesus, that sooner or later, He would break and give in to temptation. Satan could wait Him out; it was just the two of them. Eventually, Jesus would give in.

And that’s where Satan loses Round 2.

Jesus would not give in. The stakes were too high. Creation had lost once already. It would never see the Garden of Eden again. There was no more perfection, only imperfection. There was no life, only death. That’s a fact, one that Satan enjoys. When he says, “I wish you were dead,” he meant it. And, he is right. We are dead, dead in our trespasses and sins. But because of Jesus, our death is past tense. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 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….”

That’s not what Satan wants you to hear. He wants you to hear that you are still dead, still separated from God, still hopeless. But Jesus comes to make you alive again. Jesus comes to unite you to God once again. Jesus comes as the giver of hope.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who carries away the sin of the world. Even though He carried the sin of the entire world into the desert, He Himself never sinned. He endured and triumphed over every temptation of the devil. Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus endured the temptations of the devil and triumphed. He not only endured the temptation in the wilderness, but He also endured all the other temptations that the devil threw at Him as He journeyed to the cross.

Because of Christ’s victory over the devil during His 40 days of temptation, you have won as well. Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil is your victory over sin, death, and the devil. God sent His Son into the world to deal with all three of these. In the luscious, fruitful Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted the first man; in the bleak, barren wilderness he tried the same with the stronger Man. Jesus, the second Adam, would dispatch the devil, defeating Satan who had caused the fall of the first Adam. As a result of the first man’s sin, Adam could only lead his wife out from Paradise and into this land of disease, decay and death. As a result of Jesus’ victory over Satan in the desert, the Lord journeyed out from the desert in order to lead His bride, the Church, from this world and into Paradise.

It is important for us to know that Jesus endured all the hardships that we endure. He is our substitute. He doesn’t just know our lives academically, but He has experienced life as we know it. He was tempted just as we are tempted. He also experienced our pain, our sorrow, and our frustrations. He experienced it all except that He never sinned.

In spite of the fact that He never sinned, He was full of sin. St. Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Just as the High Priest placed the sin of Israel on the scapegoat, God has placed the sin of the world on Jesus. He became full of our sin – your sin, my sin, the sin of the entire world. Jesus has carried that sin to the cross. As we remember the cross, we will remember that our sin filled Him as He suffered and died to pay the penalty that God’s justice demanded – a payment that freed us from our slavery to sin.

For us during this Lententide, our focus is this: Christ has defeated Satan, once and for all, and because of that, salvation has been won for you and for me, through our Lord and Savior, 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.

Epiphany 2 – “Good Comes from Nazareth” (John 1:43-51)

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.

“Follow me.” It’s a very simple command. It means to come with me, to do what I do. It’s straightforward and means what it says. In other words, a simple task. That’s the command that Jesus gives to Philip: “Follow me.” And Philip does just that – he follows Jesus. Good for Philip, you might say. He listened to Jesus and did just what He said to do. And for a brief moment, you might be right.

As Philip follows Jesus, doing what Jesus has commanded, going where Jesus says to go, he finds another, Nathanael. Right now, Nathanael doesn’t seem to be doing anything, and so Philip tells Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Unlike Jesus’ command to Philip, Philip doesn’t tell Nathanael to follow him; rather, he states the obvious – Jesus is here.

That’s great news, isn’t it? Jesus is here! Obviously Philip is happy about that news and so should Nathanael. Instead, Nathanael responds by saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Talk about putting a damper on everything. Instead of celebrating the fact that Jesus is here, Nathanael becomes “Debbie Downer,” insinuating that nothing good can come from Nazareth, not even “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Biblically, there may be an answer to Nathanael’s question. Nazareth is never mentioned in the Old Testament. Outside the New Testament, the first mention of the town of Nazareth seems to be in the second century AD. Nathanael’s response may be a piece of flippant sarcasm in view of the insignificance of Nazareth. No messianic prophecy was associated with Nazareth. Hence, Nathanael expresses skepticism that one from Nazareth could be the Messiah, for nowhere in the Law or in the Prophets is Nazareth the origin of the Coming One.

Despite what Nathanael may think about Nazareth or this so-called Jesus, Philip doesn’t bite. He doesn’t give in and say, “Yeah, you’re right Nathanael. What was I thinking!” He doesn’t argue against Nathanael and tell him all the ways that he’s wrong. Instead, he simply tells Nathanael, “Come and see.” Once again, it’s pretty simple for Philip. He doesn’t ask questions, he doesn’t doubt. He just does what Jesus says, and in turn, encourages Nathanael to do the same.

You and I are exactly like Nathanael. We want to come up with every reason not to believe that Jesus is who He says He is. We want to come up with any other explanation of salvation than the fact that Jesus died on a cross to forgive the sins of mankind in order to redeem creation. It’s all so bloody, so disgusting, so revolting. That’s not what we want to hear, and so we seek to find a way to sanitize all of it, to make Jesus’ death more appealing and less bloody. But that’s where our problem lies. We cannot make Jesus’ death any more appealing that what is already not. There is no way to sanitize Jesus. If you want Jesus, then you need Jesus for who He is – the blood pouring out of the side Jesus, the blood rushing over you to forgive your sins Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world by His blood Jesus.

With fire and Holy Spirit power, the Messiah comes, but instead of being a terrible judge, awesome to behold, He’s a lamb. The Messiah, with gentleness, heals and teaches. In lowliness, the Messiah calls disciples and raises the dead to life. Gentiles will follow Him, sinners will adore Him, little children call Him “Son of David.” The Messiah of God loves the lame, the mute, the seeing, and the blind. In humility, this Messiah touches lepers and washes feet. To be the Lamb of God means to be lowly and gentle and humble to the point of death, even death on a cross.

That’s why we are like Philip. We need that Lamb. In this world where death lords over us, we sinners long for that gentle Lamb, who is our Good Shepherd. That’s why Philip immediately leaves all and follows Jesus wherever He may go. Philip doesn’t follow Jesus blindly, but with eyes wide open. Philip doesn’t follow in the hopes that Jesus is the One; rather, Philip follows because he knows that Jesus IS the One. Philip follows Jesus because Jesus is salvation promised and salvation fulfilled.

This Jesus whom you and I come seeking week after week is the prophetic proclamation of God. With the incarnation of God and the revealing Epiphany light, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, invades the world, and the kingdom of the enemy has no chance. The silence of the prophets is broken with Jesus’ infant cries and John’s recognizing Him as the Lamb to be slain. Christ will come to save those who trust in Him, just as Moses and the prophets said. He will save them by dying for them. He will save you by dying for you. He HAS saved you because He has DIED and RISEN for you!

Despite the fact that we are sinners, God calls us unto Him. He calls us to be forgiven. He calls us to receive. He calls us to be His beloved children. Just as God called Samuel, just as Jesus called Philip and Nathanael, so are we called. We are called in our Baptism to be made forgiven children of God. We are called to serve our neighbor, to spread the Gospel to those who have not heard.

At the end of the day, we want, no, we need to be able to make the same confession that Nathanael did: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Such a bold confession for someone who didn’t think anything good could come from Nazareth. But that’s where Nathanael would be wrong, and that’s where we would be wrong as well. Good things do come out of Nazareth, for that is where your Savior is found. It is because of Jesus of Nazareth that you will hear, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” For all who confess that Jesus is Lord will indeed see heaven open and will see the Son of Man. You will see the Key to your salvation, Jesus Christ.

God has drawn you to Himself and found you as well – here at the font and in His holy Christian Church. And here, when Jesus sees you approaching – every time He sees you approaching – He says, here is a true child of God, in whom there is nothing false. That is, He declares you righteous and welcomes you into His presence. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 

Baptism of Our Lord – “Baptized into Jesus” (Mark 1:4-11)

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.

Back to John the Baptist, again. From Advent until now, he has been the focus of the Gospel reading on two separate occasions, all focusing on the same thing – his baptizing of people for the forgiveness of sins. Today, we get the same account – John baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins. It sounds like the same old story we’ve heard before, because we have. In Advent 2, it was from Mark’s Gospel, Advent 3 was from John’s Gospel, and then today, the Baptism of Our Lord, we hear again from Mark’s Gospel, in fact, half of today’s Gospel account is a repeat from Advent 2. Again, what’s the big deal about John the Baptist going out into the desert and baptizing people? As has been established on two previous occasions, this was for the forgiveness of the people’s sins. That is something that is notable, because people definitely need their sins forgiven – just ask me and I’ll tell how much I need MY sins forgiven! But there is something new added to our text today from the previous accounts, there is one more baptism, one that is different than all the others – the baptism of Jesus.

Here is John the Baptist, going about his business as the herald of Jesus, baptizing people from all across Judea and Jerusalem. Again, old news, move on to something else. But Mark writes, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Clearly, that must have been a typo on Mark’s part. John is baptizing for the forgiveness of sins and here comes Jesus to be baptized, the only one in all of creation to have no sins. Clearly this must have been a mistake!

It’s easy to think that way, especially if you read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”” That sounds more like it. That sounds like the way it’s supposed to be. Why baptize the sinless One of God; it just doesn’t make any sense. But that’s where you would be wrong. That’s your limited thinking, just as it was John’s limited thinking. John has already confessed to the people, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” John knows his place and his place is beneath Jesus, hence why it doesn’t make any sense to John to baptize Jesus.

John isn’t the only one who is confused by all of this. We’re confused as well, because Jesus is Jesus and not a sinner. Baptism is for sinners, Jesus is not a sinner, thus, baptism is not needed for Jesus. It’s really simple to connect the dots. But it takes Jesus to reconnect the dots for us: “But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.””

We see in our text just how easy it was for John to question and do what he did. And when Jesus came out of the water, heaven was torn open and the Holy Spirit came to Him and dwelt with Him. Did Jesus have to be baptized? Was it mandatory for that to happen? No. In allowing Himself to be baptized, Jesus was showing His solidarity with sinners. Though Himself sinless, He was identifying Himself with sinners by giving Himself to the work of bearing their sins then and our sins now.

We need to make sure we fully understand what took place in the Baptism of Jesus by John. The view that by being baptized by John, Jesus only showed His willing obedience and that Jesus, though not needing baptism and yet submitted to it, makes the baptism nothing but a formality and misconstrues what John’s Baptism really was. It was not law, but gospel, not a demand to obey but a gift of grace to accept and to retain as such. Jesus was baptized by John because He regarded this as the right way in which to enter upon His great office.  He, the Sinless One, the very Son of God, chose to put Himself by the side of all the sinful ones, for whom this sacrament of John’s was ordained. He signifies that He is now ready to take upon Himself the load of all these sinners, that is, to assume His redemptive office. As Luther points out, Jesus was here rightly beginning to be Christ, the Anointed One, and “was thus inaugurated into His entire Messianic office as our Prophet, High Priest, and King.”

Here, in the Jordan River, Jesus became one of us. He took on all that has gone wrong with us, every sin. By taking our sin onto Himself, He becomes the greatest sinner. He becomes the greatest sinner so that He could become our only Savior. He takes His place under our sin, so that He could lift it from us and carry it away. He carried our sin away from us so that the punishment for that sin will not fall on us, but on Him. That is how God has decided that His judgment and His righteousness should go. Jesus should take our sin to Himself with all its condemnation, guilt, and punishment. God turns His friendly face to us because Jesus became one of us and took our sin on Himself.

The Baptism of Jesus reveals the plan of God to restore this love – to heal our relationship with Him – to open heaven to us once again. Here we see the Son of God in the flesh in order to take our place under the law. Here stands the sinless Son of God who carries in Him the sin of the entire world. Here is Jesus standing with us in the waters of baptism in order that we might be joined to Him in eternity.

From the moment that Jesus came to be in the womb of the Virgin, the Son of God has carried the sins of the world. Up until this moment of baptism, He carried our sins in silent anonymity. Now, at His baptism, His role as sin bearer becomes public. The heavens were torn open. The Spirit descended on him like a dove. A voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The time has come for Jesus to publicize His journey, a journey that will pass through the cross where He will take away the sin of the world, a journey that will also pass through the empty tomb of Christ’s resurrection that demonstrates His power over death.

God the Father is pleased with His Son as He continues this journey of salvation. This is God the Father expressing delight in God the Son. This is God the Father expressing delight in us as well. For Jesus’ journey through the cross and the open tomb earned salvation for us. Through baptism, the Holy Spirit joined us to Christ Jesus. All that is ours belongs to Him, and all that is His belongs to us. So God delights in us just as He delights in Jesus. In a world that has long ago surrendered to sin, death, and the devil, there is one place where we receive the delight of God. That is where we are in solidarity with Jesus who heard the Father say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Christmas 1 – “Ready to Die” (Luke 2:22-40)

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.

Here’s a question I doubt that you’ve asked yourself lately, or possibly ever – are you ready to die? I mean, right now, while sitting in the pew, what if you died? I doubt that many of you would say that you could die right now, but here’s the thing – you should be able to say that! As a Christian, as a believer in Jesus Christ, you should be perfectly fine if you died right here, right now.

Turning to our Gospel reading for today, we see something happen that isn’t out of the ordinary – parents bringing their child to the temple for the rite of purification. Mary, because she had given birth, needed to be made ceremonially clean. The Child that was born also needed to be presented to the Lord and a sacrifice made on His behalf. Like I said, that’s not unusual. In fact, that is according to the Law of Moses and the Law of the Lord. That’s something that happens all the time so seeing that take place is no big deal. But, in fact, it is a big deal because of who the sacrifice is for.

Ironically, a sacrifice was being made on behalf of Jesus. Though this was according to the Law of the Lord, it was out of place. “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.” The fact of the matter was that Jesus was already holy to the Lord, for He is the God incarnate. The sacrifice for such thing required “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. This was an alternative sacrifice, for according to Leviticus 12, the sacrifice is a lamb or two turtledoves or two pigeons. This helps us to understand that Mary and Joseph were indeed of a humble state, given that they were too poor to be able to afford a lamb. Here is a great reversal – no lamb was necessary because already here at forty days old, Jesus is the lamb brought to His temple for sacrifice.

And so we meet a man named Simeon, “and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Luke says he was righteous and devout. That meant he could probably be found at the temple daily, making sacrifices and the like. He wasn’t a religious leader, but rather a religious follower. But Simeon wasn’t a follower of the religious leaders of the day. Instead, he was a follower of God and of His promises. Luke records, “And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

We know that Simeon was old, but that he was not going to die until God had kept His promise. After today, Simeon could do just that, die. Taking Jesus into his arms, he speaks the most wonderful hymn the Church could sing: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” The only thing missing from that hymn is an amen, a yes yes, let it be so.

Now, Simeon could die in peace because he has not only seen the promise of God but has also held the promise. There is no more waiting. Here is the promise, a promise for all people. Because of this promise fulfilled, you can die.

We can all say, along with Simeon, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word….” God made a promise and God kept a promise. Despite the length of time it took for that promise to come to fruition is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that God did indeed keep His promise. It is only because God kept His promise that we are able to die in peace as does Simeon.

This Child named Jesus wasn’t just for Simeon and He’s not just for you either. As much as we like to have Jesus all to ourselves, Simeon doesn’t say that this is our own, private Jesus. Instead, he says that this salvation has been “prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” You see, this Jesus is meant for people that shouldn’t be meant for. This Jesus is for the Gentile, for the one who is not Jewish, not part of God’s chosen people. Despite our wanting to say that Jesus is for me and not for you, that’s just wrong, for Jesus is for all people.

When God made the promise of a Savior, He didn’t make it for Adam and Eve and no one else. He didn’t make it for just Israel or just for the good. God made the promise to all people of all nations. That means that Jesus is for the bad just as much as He is for the good. It means He’s for the wrong as much as He is for the right. It means that He’s for the Gentile as much as He is for the Jew. It means that He’s for you as much as He is for me.

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians says the same thing as Simeon does, just in another way. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” Simeon waited until God saw fit to make good on His promise. He sends Jesus, who is under the Law to fulfill the Law and redeem us. By His death on the cross, we are made sons and heirs of God. It means all that He has, we have. It means that we have His holiness because Christ grants us holiness. It means that we are perfect because Christ has made us perfect. It means we receive everlasting life because Christ is everlasting life.

We don’t know what was in store for Simeon after he left the temple. We don’t know how long Simeon lived or how quickly he died. We don’t need to know because it doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that Simeon saw the promise of God fulfilled and could now depart in peace, knowing that God kept His promise of salvation.

Like Simeon, you behold your Savior today. You don’t see tiny toes and a hairless head; you observe a man preaching and then see bread and wine. But faith tells you this: God keeps His promises. His Son has come, died and risen, as promised. His Son is here, in these means, to forgive, as promised. You know this by faith, not by sight.

So what is in store for you and me? Will it be a long life lived or will God call us home tomorrow? As much as we want that long life lived, it really doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is this: God has made a promise and God has kept His promise. He has sent forth Jesus just as He said. He grants to all who believe forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. You and I are ready to die, for we have seen the salvation of our God made full in Jesus. The only thing left for you and I to do is sing: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word….” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.