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Epiphany 2

Text: John 2:1-11

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

Following the baptism of our Lord last week, we see Jesus begin His public ministry. For the next three years, He will gather the Twelve, preach and teach, heal the sick of their various ailments, and all that goes into His preparation to make His appointment on the cross. As Jesus begins His ministry, we see Him appear at a wedding. Also present was Mary, Jesus’ mother. It wouldn’t be an unusual thing to see Jesus at a wedding. He is very much man as you are. That means that He has friends and family just like you do.

And so we find Jesus amidst a wedding celebration. Wedding celebrations in biblical times are quite different from that of today. Usually the wedding takes place in the afternoon and the reception begins after all of the pictures have been taken, with some receptions going into the wee hours of the morning. That wasn’t the case here. Jewish wedding celebrations customarily lasted seven days, and this may explain the shortage of wine described in the text. But all the fun and festivities are soon to come to an end, for the supply of wine has ran out. Obviously things were not well planned, for a wedding feast could last upwards of a week. The last thing you want to do is cancel the wedding feast because you have run out of wine, and that is exactly what has happened. Mary, Jesus’ mother was a guest also at the wedding and finds Jesus to inform Him that the supply of wine has ran out.

One might wonder why does Mary notify Jesus of this problem. What does she want Him to do? She states the problem and she points to the One who can provide the needed wine. But Jesus’ response is one of “eh.” He says, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”In other words, Jesus is saying why is this His problem.

Jesus has an appropriate response. Why is it His responsibility that the host of the wedding feast did not plan accordingly and make sure they had enough wine to last the entire celebration? What is Jesus supposed to do about the problem? Apparently, He is supposed to find another source of wine.

One might deduce that Mary is somehow helping out at the wedding because she tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”She had no idea what Jesus was about to do, but whatever it was, she trusted it to be the right thing. By the way, this is the last direct quotation from Mary in the Bible and they are words that all people should heed, but that’s for another sermon.

Jesus tells the servants to take six stone water jars and fill them up with water. Now each jar could hold between twenty or thirty gallons. That translates into somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons. This was not going to be a short and easy task by any means. Who knows the amount of wine that has been served up until this point, but one hopes that another 120-180 gallons of wine should suffice for the wedding celebration.

Once the water jars are filled, Jesus commands them to “draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”It’s ironic that these water jars once used for the ritual washing is now turned into the new wine for the wedding feast. In a very symbolic way, we see the old faith coming to an end and the new faith being birthed, all centered on and around Jesus.

What we see take place at the wedding at Cana is the first miracle our Lord performs. Changing the water to wine was a sign that the coming Messiah was here. Somewhere in the process of filling the jars and taking a sample of the water to the master of the feast, the water became wine. It wasn’t just any wine either. The master of the feast was surprised that the groom had waited so long to serve the good wine.

In the grand scheme of eternity, why is it important? Scripture interprets Scripture. John himself tells us of the goal of his Gospel at the end of chapter 20: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”Here John reveals the objective of the signs in his account of the Gospel. The signs are there in order to make the case that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. For John knows that faith in Jesus receives eternal life.

John informs us that this was Jesus’ first sign, the first certification that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. These signs point to the spiritual truth of the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One who took on our flesh, lived among us, and experienced everything that we experience. They reveal Jesus, who, while fully human and like us in every way, except without sin, is also fully God. These miracles are signs that reveal Jesus for who He really is, namely, the Word made flesh, who created all things and who upholds all things in Himself. They reveal the glory of the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ.

In the waters of Baptism, Jesus makes us His own. By His suffering and death on the cross, He has earned the forgiveness of sins. Then by His promise and command, He joins that forgiveness to ordinary water. By His promise and command, baptism delivers the forgiveness of sins from the cross to you. For it is written, “Baptism . . . now saves you.”Baptism is a “washing of regeneration,”a re-creation. We were dead in sin, but Baptism re-creates us in newness of life in Christ Jesus.

In the same manner, the Lord’s Supper is a sign of our redemption in Jesus Christ. The miracle of Jesus’ true body and true blood in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine reveals the mystery of our salvation in a blessed and holy sacramental union with Jesus. Jesus gives His body and His blood into our mouths and so grants us the forgiveness of sins.

For you, Jesus has saved the best wine for you, the wine that is His blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. That wine is His blood poured at on Calvary’s hill in order to redeem you.

Jesus has given signs to us. At Cana, at Calvary, at the empty tomb, in the font, and on the altar, Jesus gives us signs of His glory. In the font, and on the altar, our Lord has given us signs of the renewed creation won for us on the cross at Calvary. Here Jesus reveals that His life and death are ours. Jesus reveals that His body was given for us and His blood was shed for us for the remission of our sins. Jesus reveals to us His glory, the glory of His death for our righteousness. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2019 in Epiphany, Sermons

 

Baptism of Our Lord

Text: Luke 3:15-22

C-20 Epiphany 1 (Lu 3.15-22)           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.

Martin Luther, in the Small Catechism, asks the following question about Baptism: “What benefits does Baptism give?” He answers by saying, “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” Those are indeed good words for us to remember about the gift of Holy Baptism that God grants to us, but something seems a bit off today. Today, we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord. When we look at how Luther defines the benefits of Baptism and Jesus, the two don’t make sense. Why would Jesus need forgiveness of sins, rescuing from death and the devil and eternal salvation?

When it comes to the Baptism of Our Lord, Luke has a condensed version of it. It begins with John the Baptist: “As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ….” Once again, the emphasis is on John and whether he is the long-expected Messiah that had been promised from long ago. Naturally, John pushes the emphasis off of himself and onto the true Christ, Jesus: “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

One is coming, one who is mightier than John. John doesn’t try to steal the limelight, he doesn’t try to puff himself up, to make himself more important than what he is. He knows that it’s not all about him. He knows that he isn’t the focus. His job is to prepare the people for when the Messiah comes. And guess what, He’s coming. In fact, He’s already here and the people don’t even know it.

That’s what makes John the perfect forerunner – He knows there is someone who is more important than He is – Jesus, the true Messiah, the Son of God. He is coming with an important task, one that some of the people will like, while others will not like: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” In short, Jesus is coming to gather those who believe in Him unto Himself, while those who reject Him will be damned.

Up until now, there is no mention of Jesus getting baptized in Luke’s account. In fact, Jesus’ Baptism is more of a footnote in his Gospel rather than a main focus. Luke goes on to make mention of John’s preaching to the people and of Herod who had John imprisoned. It’s not until the end of Luke’s account do we even hear of Jesus being baptized: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying….” If you blink, you’ll miss Luke’s account of Jesus’ Baptism. Luke’s account is so short, it misses some of the highlights of Matthew’s account, namely, how Jesus comes to be baptized.

Matthew’s account records one of the problems with Jesus being baptized. Matthew records, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.” Why would Jesus need to be baptized in the first place? John has already gone on record saying that his baptism is a baptism of repentance. John knows who Jesus is. He knows He is the Son of God, and since He is the Son of God, what does Jesus need to repent of? To be the Son of God means that you are without sin. Therefore, Jesus has nothing to repent of because He has committed no sin. Going back to what Luther said, baptism works forgiveness of sins. Again, Jesus has no need of baptism because He has committed no sin. For John to baptize the sinless Son of God makes no sense.

So if Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized, then why is He? That is the million-dollar question, is it not? Baptism is for sinners and Jesus is not a sinner. Baptism rescues from death and the devil. From what death does Jesus need rescuing since He is the Lord of life? Clearly, this is all a mistake and must be an error in the Bible, is it not?

Jesus being baptized is no error. It isn’t something extra, something that’s not needed. Remember who Jesus is – Son of God but also Son of Man. Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized, but Jesus needs to be baptized. He doesn’t need to be baptized for His sake but for yours. He says in Matthew’s account, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” You see, this isn’t done for Jesus’ sake but for yours. Man brought sin into the world and man must take sin out of the world. While you are man, you cannot take sin out because you are a sinner. Regardless of what you do, you will never be able to remove your sin. You are conceived in it, you are born with it, you are a walking sin machine. You need to keep the Law perfectly but you cannot. That’s your problem and that’s where Jesus’ baptism comes into play.

This is “to fulfill all righteousness,” that is, to keep the Law of God. That’s what you are called to do, but because you can’t, Jesus does it in your place. It is not for Christ’s righteousness but it is for your righteousness. In order for sinful man to come to righteousness and receive salvation, Jesus must be baptized. He stands in the place of and for the sake of the sinner to fulfill that which God requires of the sinner – perfect obedience to God’s Law.

Here Jesus begins His ministry. Here He stands in the place of the sinner. He takes the place of John. He takes the place of those gathered. He takes the place of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He takes your place and mine. He takes upon Himself the sin of the entire world, offering us His holiness. He becomes the greatest of sinners, not with His own sin, but with our sin.

St. Paul expands on this in today’s Epistle reading from Romans: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Our baptism joins us to Christ and His baptism. Our sin becomes His and His perfection becomes ours. His innocent suffering and death are credited to us. The eternal life and salvation that He earned becomes ours. It is this great reversal that fulfills all righteousness. It is Christ taking our sin and giving us His perfection. It is Christ taking our death and giving us life.

Jesus’ baptism identified Him with the world of sinners. Paul describes Christ’s substitution for sinners by telling us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Even though Jesus never sinned, God made Him to be sin. Paul then takes us back to today’s Gospel. Through baptism, we are joined to Christ. His life is for us. His death is for us. His resurrection is for us. Jesus came to John to be baptized for us.

Here at His baptism, Jesus took our place under the burden of our sin. As our substitute, He carried out God’s plan perfectly. The mission that Jesus began at His baptism was successful. He opened the way to heaven. He offers to join us to Himself through baptism. The Holy Spirit gives us the faith that receives that offer. God the Father adopts us into His family by that faith. When the time comes for us to leave this world, the heavens will open, the angels will carry us home and we will hear 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.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2019 in Baptism, Epiphany, Sermons

 

Epiphany of Our Lord

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

C-19 Epiphany (Mt 2.1-12)           Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

It has been some time since Christ our Lord was last seen in the manger. Today, Luke records for us the arrival of the wise men. They ask the question to Herod, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” If you’re Herod, the question is one that should not be asked because there is already a king, Herod. And so Luke records, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled….” Of course he was troubled because there was someone who was trying to usurp his authority as king.

Who is this king that the magi speak of? When Gabriel appeared before Mary, he told her, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”” While Gabriel never uses the word “king,” he does speak in kingly language: giving of a throne, reigning, and no end to His kingdom.

Naturally, if you have someone trying to usurp your authority, you’re going to want to know where that threat is coming from. They said that the Christ would come from Bethlehem of Judea. This was already prophesied. This was already foretold. Micah prophesied, “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, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.”

For Herod, things don’t look good. He is the king that will be dethroned. What makes this worse is that it will be a Jew who dethrones a Roman. The absolute worst thing about this is that this so-called king isn’t a contemporary of Herod, but rather a newborn child. But while that is bad news for Herod, it is good news for us. Even better, it’s the greatest news for us, for in it, we see God’s promise. We see God’s promise foretold and with the wise men’s appearance, we see God’s promise kept.

Little does Herod know, this baby that the wise men speak of will be everything and more that Micah spoke of. Jesus will be the ruler in Israel, but not as the people understand or desire. He will rule over Israel, but not in the traditional sense. He will rule over Israel as the Lord of Life, just as He will rule as the Lord of Life over all of creation. He is “from of old, from ancient days,” for He is from before all of time. Jesus “shall stand and shepherd his flock,” for He is the Good Shepherd. And he shall be their peace,” for He is the Prince of Peace as Isaiah foretold.

Again, this should come as good news to Herod but instead it puts him on the offensive. He tells the wise men, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” Herod has no intention of worshiping this new King, for He is the one and only king, regardless of what prophecies and wise men say.

Following the star, it led them to Jesus. God led them to the Christ child. Who looks for a king in such lowly environs? What kind of God-King lives in such a lowly estate in such lowly conditions? And yet, here He was. And this is where the true wisdom of faith is recognized—they come into His lowly presence in this lowly place and they fall down and worship Him. They humble themselves and rejoice.

Was it enough that these wise men from the east travelled all this distance just to gaze upon a child, even if it was foretold? No, because this child was unlike any child that ever had been or ever would be, for this child was God in the flesh. When the Magi entered the house over which the star had stopped, the first thing they saw was the baby for which they had been looking. Now they could do what they had come to do. These men showed that they knew Jesus was much greater than they. He was God’s promised Savior. In that little baby they saw their Lord and Savior.

Yet the Wise Men are also a marvelous example of faith that those who aren’t great may approach Him. The Wise Men were Gentiles, yet they were confident that the God and King of the Jews would accept them. Epiphany is the day God showed that Christ was for Gentiles also. At the time of Christ, that was no foregone conclusion. Many of Jesus’ own people thought the Messiah was just for them. It took a lot of faith for the Gentile Wise Men to travel those hundreds of miles—maybe a thousand miles—to worship and give gifts to the King of the Jews.

But it was always God’s intention that Christ would be a Savior to all nations. The angel said it was good news for all people, not some. Isaiah prophesied that it was too small a thing for Christ to only raise up the Jews. Likewise, as Simeon held the Child in his arms, he said that Christ was a Light to lighten the Gentiles as well as the glory of God’s people Israel.

The Magi were not any different from us, nor did they have anything we do not. They knew the Word of God, and by knowing it, they believed. When they saw the sign, they followed the sign. They did not let distance stop them. They did not let time stand in their way. They did not let the unbelief and hostility of Herod slow them. Nor did they let the poverty and humility of Jesus’ surroundings confuse them. They read the Word, they followed the Word, they believed the Word. And, as a result, they met the Savior.

The Word made flesh that lived among us. As St. John says in his Gospel, this Word was in the beginning with God and the Word was God. Through Him everything was made; for Him everything was made. But for us, He was made flesh, born of the Virgin Mary. He grew up as the son of Mary and Joseph. He was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist and thus began His public ministry, the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins by the blood of the Savior. He made this sacrifice Himself and was resurrected the third day. We are all sinners and cannot justify ourselves before God. We have the promise of eternal life because of Jesus Christ.

As we hear God’s Word, we learn that the only safe way for God’s Kingdom to come to us is through this child that the magi worshipped. It is He who lived a perfect life in our place. It is He who took our sins to the cross. It is He who rose from the dead and opened up the way to eternal life. This child that the magi worshipped is the one and only way for God to come to us without burning us forever for our sins. This child is the one who has purchased forgiveness, life, and salvation and then gives these things to us as a gift.

We can celebrate with the Wise Men of old what God has revealed so clearly in His Word, the Messiah King who would and has died for us. We can rejoice with them in “Immanuel”, God come among us as a man, in human form, for our redemption. We can celebrate more because we have witnessed the cross and the empty tomb, and we know what they each mean for us – both the cross which reminds us of the price paid for us, and the empty tomb which reminds us that we, too, shall rise from the dead unto everlasting life because of Jesus Christ. As the wise men of old rejoiced at the Epiphany of our Lord and His revealing to them, so do we rejoice at His revealing to us and His salvation for us. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2019 in Epiphany, Sermons

 

Advent 4 – “Blessed”

Text: Luke 1:39-45

C-9 Advent 4 (Lu 1.39-45)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.

Things are beginning to get serious with the promise of God’s Messiah. To date, an angel has appeared to Zechariah telling him of the birth of John and his role as the forerunner to the Messiah. Zechariah was struck mute until John was born, thus declaring his name John as directed by Gabriel. During that same time, while Elizabeth was six months pregnant, the angel Gabriel appeared to a young girl named Mary telling her that she will be with child and that the child will be called the Son of the Most High. It would almost seem that what God had promised so long ago was now beginning to come together.

Again, we return to Luke’s Gospel and the next part of the story – Mary travelling to Judah to see Elizabeth. Everything to date has seemed incredible to all parties, to Zechariah and Elizabeth that they would have a child at such old ages, that Mary, a virgin, would have a Son and that Son would be God in the flesh. To say that this was a shock to everyone was an understatement, and yet, with a little coaxing for some, they all came to believe what the angel Gabriel had declared.

As Mary arrives at the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped. Maybe it was just the baby kicking as babies in the womb do. Maybe it was due to something that Elizabeth ate that didn’t set well with the baby. Or maybe, just maybe, it had nothing to do with that. Maybe, just maybe, John recognized that he was in the presence of his Lord. Maybe, just maybe, John recognized that the child that Mary was carrying was the One whom he was to set the stage for.

Again, all this from an outsider’s perspective seems to be too incredible to believe. But for those who believe, we recognize that, yes, this is incredible – incredible that the promise of God was being fulfilled as God had said.

As we read this account, we have to wonder why Luke makes a point to show John leaping in the womb in front of Mary. Why should this be a question? Isaiah records, “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’” Could it be that being in the presence of Jesus, John showed the proper respect he could by leaping in the womb? In talking about Jesus and His act of humility, Paul says, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Elizabeth responds in a way that is fitting with all that has taken place up to this point in God’s fulfillment of the promise: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” The fruit of Mary’s womb could not be more blessed. That fruit is God in the flesh, the promise fulfilled.

What clearly stands out is the presence of Jesus. Everything that happens is a response to the presence of God in the flesh – the baby inside Mary. The presence of the Lord causes a physical response by the child John in Elizabeth’s womb; the praising of Mary by Elizabeth, and Mary’s beautiful hymn that comes just a few verses later. Elizabeth proclaims Jesus in the womb of Mary to be cause of her blessedness, just as Christ in His Church is the source of her every blessing. Blessedness is a condition for which God alone is responsible. Mary’s blessedness is the result of an act of divine grace which God gives to her as a gift. Mary is blessed because of the presence of Christ in her just as the Church is blessed because Christ dwells in her.

What a feeling to be called blessed by God! It should be noted that Mary is blessed not because of what she has done, but rather what God has done for her. She acknowledges that she is indeed blessed moments later in her song, the Magnificat, but she is not blessed, however, because of who she is. In her hymn, she notes the humble estate of God’s servant. She calls God her Savior because she is a sinful human being like everyone else is, and she knows she is in need of saving. She makes it abundantly clear that it is God who has done great things for her, and so she gives all glory to Him.

What we have to understand is that we as the Church are not blessed because of who we are. Who are we? We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We deserve God’s eternal punishment and death. And yet given who we are, we are blessed. Our blessedness consists in the presence of the incarnate Christ who is the ultimate source of every true blessing. Jesus entered the womb of Mary so that He could be born, live a sinless life and ultimately die on the cross for our sins, only to rise again triumphantly three days later. It is through the death of Christ that takes away our sins that separate us from God and now brings us back into God’s presence now and forevermore.

That happens in our Baptism where we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, forever replacing our sinfulness in the Father’s eyes so that all He sees is the perfection of His Son. That same presence is realized also in the true body and blood of Jesus Christ in His Holy Supper where our Lord comes to us with His gifts of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Being blessed by God is received through faith in the promise of the Child whom Mary bears in her womb. Being blessed by God is received through what God does for us in Christ and not through what we do for ourselves. That is the whole theme behind Mary’s song and it is the whole theme for Christianity with regards to our salvation. There is no chance of salvation by ourselves. Adam and Eve failed to keep God’s Word as do we. Only by keeping God’s Word perfectly can we achieve salvation. That is not something that we can do, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we think we can. Our sole means of salvation comes from the Child that Mary carries. Mary understands God’s grace and finds her peace in the promise of Gabriel’s message.

Just as Mary accepted this message of the Savior through faith, so do we in the Church accept this by faith, faith that comes from the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, we understand and respond in faith to the continued proclamation that our Lord Jesus Christ, who took on human flesh and dwelt among us, is our promised redemption and salvation.

And so here we are. Mary will give birth to her first-born Son. He will grow and become a man, a man who had an appointment with a cross. As God stepped down from heaven into the womb of the Virgin, He took His first step to the cross. The cross is the reason He took up human flesh in the first place. He came to be Mary’s Savior, and not only her Savior, but also the Savior of all mankind. For as He took up human flesh He also humbled Himself under the Law in order to fulfill the Law in our place. Then as He suffered on the cross, He took up the wrath of God that we all earned with our sin. This is the way in which He is Mary’s Savior and the Savior of us all.

We are, on account of Christ, exactly what is attributed to Mary: blessed; blessed for Christ’s sake, blessed for we are in Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2018 in Advent, Sermons

 

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.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2018 in Advent, Sermons

 

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.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2018 in Funeral, Sermons

 

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.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2018 in Advent, Sermons

 

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.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2018 in Advent, Sermons

 

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.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2018 in Church Year, Pentecost, Sermons

 

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)

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2018 in All Saints', Sermons

 
 
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