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.

Christmas Day (John 1:1-14)

“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Today is indeed a joyous day, or at least it should be. We celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That should be enough to put a smile on anyone’s face. But unfortunately, that’s not true. In the hustle and bustle that is the season of Christmas, you know, sometime around Halloween until today, we fail to ask ourselves an all-important question: Could God be left alone for Christmas?

What a silly question to ask, you might think. Of course, God could never be left alone for Christmas, but He was. Some 2000 years ago, the almighty God, in a way, spent the first Christmas alone. He has a Son who had been by His side. That Son was even there in heave with His Father the beginning of time. John says, “The world was made through him.” But the Father was willing to let Him go when it came time for the first Christmas at Bethlehem. He didn’t kick Him out of heaven as some sort of punishment, the He did with Satan and all his demons. Instead, something else happened.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” God our Father spent that first Christmas alone you might say, not because of anger. He spent that first Christmas alone because He wanted His Son to be with us, right here as one of us.

When you look at this world, when you see all the sin that man commits, you have to ask yourself why would God want His Son to be with us, to be one of us. We frequently don’t care much about other people or even about God. We’ve made quite clear time and again that we’re going to live our lives our own way, regardless of the consequences. Human sin has a made a horrible mess of everything. So why would God send Jesus, full of grace and truth, to a place that is full of unkindness and lies? Because of just that.

God knew full well it would take far more than just another prophet or priest, preacher or diplomat, to fix it all. So He sent what was needed: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That cute and cuddly Baby lying in the manger is the eternal God come down to our world to rescue us helpless souls by His living, His dying, and His glorious rising again. He’s as human as human can be, a real Child, not some made-up notion. This Child would grow up and face disappointment of being rejected, the pangs of death when they nailed His body to the cross, when He would pour out real blood in a real, ugly death.

This slumbering infant of Bethlehem’s manger we heard about last night is at the same time the true God who has all authority in heaven and on earth. That includes, as John says, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” You, the poor, miserable sinner, who is good for nothing because of that sin, you are now something of great worth – a child of God. You are a sinner, just as I am. God doesn’t owe either one of us a dime, and yet He gives this right to you. He gives it to you because of who He is and what He has done. Heaven’s Father was willing to be left alone that first Christ, if you know what I mean, so that this Christ, this God-man, could come and take His place here with all of us.

This is indeed the most incredible thing that has ever happened! That’s why we decorate the church, sing hymns of praise and cannot get our fill of this time that we call Christmas. But in the midst of that incredible news, John says something that makes things come to a screeching halt: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”

In a tragic sense, God was left alone that first Christ, for it seems as if the people of Bethlehem didn’t care about His gift to them. They took no notice of Him, they made no room in the inn for His mother. The very people He came to save had other things to worry about than Jesus.

Sadly, that same sentiment is alive and well among us today. What is the purpose of Christmas? Many would say Christmas is all about getting presents. The birth of Jesus? Well, that’s important too, I guess. Just point me to the presents.

You want a present? Your present lies in a manger. That same wood used to fashion the lowly manger in which He lay is what is used to fashion the instrument of His death. Your present, the only present that matters in all the world of presents, is the one delivered by God – delivered in the manger, delivered upon the cross. Despite a world that is hell-bent on rejecting the Savior, the Word made flesh still comes to you. He still comes, with you in mind, to make you part of Him, to graft you unto Him, so that all He has can and will become yours.

Jesus is present with you in His means of grace, freely giving you salvation. The Lord is consistently faithful to His people, as He has been since Adam and Eve. He still draws near to save, despite so much sin and utter rebellion in the world today. He still comes, though so many do not even pretend to receive Him. In His faithfulness, the Lord does not abandon this sinful world. Hear this remarkable statement of salvation: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” You are now His children: Not by blood or genetic heritage; nor by your plans, works or will; but by His work of saving you on the cross.

Here is the joy that you have: That almighty Word became flesh to dwell among His people, to go to the cross for you. From the cross, He descended into hell, rose again, and ascended into heaven. Drawing near, the Word made flesh proclaims His Word that you are forgiven for all of your sins. Amen.

Candlelight (Luke 2:1-14)

“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Imagine for a moment the scene: two, lowly parents walking the streets of Bethlehem after a long trip from Nazareth. Every door knocked on, the response is the same – no vacancy, that is, until they found room in a barn. Nothing is ideal, but this is the way that it is to be. In the end, God is there, recognized by ox and donkey, praised by angelic choirs. The stars adjust themselves to look down upon the scene. It looks like heaven.

Don’t be fooled. Salvation is not in heaven. Salvation is on earth, where the Savior was born for us. Salvation is earned for us by a baby being born, a baby who would go to the cross for our sins: For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

What a joyous announcement from the angel! A Savior is born…to me and to you! The angels break out in a joyous chorus: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” But the Savior is not born to the angels and the archangels in heaven. He doesn’t come to save the angels, but He comes to save you. He comes to the shepherds in the fields and the priests of old; He comes to the doctor, lawyer, police officer and trash collector. He comes to mankind in order to redeem mankind. The angels are secure in their holy bliss – we are not. And so He comes for the good and the bad, for the faithful and the unfaithful, for the person who recognizes their sin and for the one who doesn’t. He is born unto all. He is born unto you.

This is news that should be shouted from the rooftops, and yet it is pushed to the back burner in favor of parties, cards, eggnog and gifts. The importance of our Savior’s birth becomes nothing more than an afterthought at best. But Jesus’ birth is anything but an afterthought. God saw fit to send forth a Savior to our world. This Savior is not for when we want Him but when we need Him.

Right now is when we need Him most. In a time where sin runs rampant and unchecked, in a time when sin is viewed as “bad choices” and nothing more than that. The Savior is born to give you life, to satisfy your soul and forgive you all of your sins. He is put into a manger, not only because He is rejected by men and there is no room for Him in Bethlehem’s inns, but also because He gives Himself to you, as food on earth.

This is the great message the angels sing about. This is the cause of the shepherd’s arrival. They see a Baby lying in a manger. But more than a baby, this is their salvation. This is your salvation.

As miraculous as this event is, we want to know more. We want to know how exactly was this accomplished. We want the inside scoop from Mary about her angelic visit with Gabriel. We want to know what it was like when the shepherds arrived. None of that matters. We don’t need to know how God did what He did. All we need to know is that God did it – not for Himself but for you.

That is the meaning behind this night, that God would be born among us in order to die for us. Luther, in one of his sermons for Christmas, writes the following: “This Gospel is so clear that it requires very little explanation, but it should be well considered and taken deeply to heart; and no one will receive more benefit from it than those who, with a calm, quiet heart, banish everything else from their mind, and diligently look into it.” Just what does Luther mean? Everyone has heard the Christmas Gospel time and time again, and yet it is hard for us to accept this for what it is. It is simply the promise of salvation fulfilled for mankind.

This is the reassurance of the Gospel, that no one has to wonder, “Was He born for me? Did He die for me?” The answer is always yes. For all, He came. For all, He died. On some, God’s chosen elect, He will create faith through His Word. These will receive the gracious gift. They will enjoy eternity, not because of anything they have done, but because God’s favor rests upon them. Again, Luther writes, “He does not simply say, Christ is born, but to you he is born, neither does he say, I bring glad tidings, but to you glad tidings of great joy. Furthermore, this joy was not to remain in Christ, but it shall be to all people.”

This is His will, His promise, and His grace. He is God. His is man. He is born unto you and He is your Savior. He will take up flesh, to be God and man at the same time, without compromising either. You receive a reward that you did not earn.

The manner of His birth was in keeping with His mission: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” There would be no posh palace on earth for this King. His reign on earth would be marked by humility and Luke sets that up for us from the beginning, by focusing on where the Christ Child was born.

This is the Christmas story which Luke tells us. This is the story which we have heard year after year. This is the story which we have seen time and time again in a Charlie Brown Christmas. The Baby is Christ, the Lord, says the angel. He is the Messiah, the anointed One.  He’s the One that God has promised through the ages, the One for whom His people have waited through centuries of darkness and suffering. God the Father has specifically appointed His Son to go about this work, and He will accept Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf. No matter what appearances indicate, no matter how the manger and cross look, this Christ will not fail in what He has come to do.

There is indeed great joy that the angel speaks of to the shepherds. This is the comfort and exceeding goodness of God that, if a man believes this, receives the peace that the angel declares, a peace among those with whom God is pleased. In this case, that is us. We, the chosen ones, have God’s peace. This is a peace beyond understanding, a peace that is always with you. It is the peace that Christ purchased for you, the peace of knowing that your Brother is God’s own Son, and therefore all will be well with you. Christ takes care of His family, so He will take care of you. He has already purchased forgiveness and eternal life for you. He will not forget about you or let you slip through the cracks. You are His own.

For you, God has seen fit to deliver you the greatest Christmas present one could ever ask for – Jesus Christ, the Savior of the nations, come to the world as God has promised, to go from the manger to the cross. The promise of the Messiah in the Old Testament is now fulfilled. The Word was made flesh in the form of an infant, and that Word made flesh died so that the gates of heaven would be opened for us sinners. Here is Jesus, our Savior, the Anointed One and our 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.

Christmas Eve (Matthew 1:18-25)

Joseph showed himself to be a godly and wise man. Even though he had been wrong and had every right, he would not shame Mary. He was set to suffer loss of his betrothed, to put her away quietly and suffer her shame because of her adultery. It was a noble act indeed, given that the law was on his side. In fact, the law stated that Mary should be put to death for her adultery. But Joseph was above that. No good comes from vengeance or making a scene. But something happens, something unexpected. An angel intervened. The Child came by the Holy Spirit, not by a man. Mary’s virginity, her loyalty, and her love to Joseph remained pure. It was not merely lip service; it was real. And things were not quite what they seemed. This child is the Lord who saves His people. He is the Messiah. “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Talk about a turn! No one could have seen this coming. Except, everyone should have seen this coming! The prophets of old have spoken of the coming Messiah. In fact, we heard from Isaiah a few moments ago, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This is what the people should be familiar with. This is from the Scriptures that they have heard and learned from their youth.

Whatever the wagging tongues of Nazareth were saying, Mary had not been unfaithful. But reality rarely stops gossip. Joseph knew then that the gossip wasn’t true, but his shame, even though it was undeserved, remained. Even if the wagging tongues heard the truth, they were unlikely to believe it. And if they did believe it, gossips are always liars. They embellish their tales even when they know it is false.

But none of that matters. Mary’s supposed infidelity doesn’t matter. The tongue-wagging gossip doesn’t matter. What matters is that God has kept His promise. From a time that was known only to God of when this promise would be fulfilled, the people waited in eager expectation, never knowing but always hoping. Now, God has seen fit to send forth the Savior of the nations.

Things have not worked out the way that Joseph and Mary had planned. I’m sure they were looking forward to a nice betrothal, a wedding with family and friends and then a nice, quiet life as husband and wife. But that’s not what has happened. Mary has accepted that things are not as planned, and now, so has Joseph: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”

Joseph was in a sense free – free from all that would now distract him from his mission – to take this God-Child and raise Him to see that He would fulfill His mission: for he will save his people from their sins.”

And so, we have arrived here. We come to gather around Christ, our newborn King. We have this wonderful gift in Jesus Christ that should be our focus but yet we find ourselves focused on things of this world rather than on the gift of salvation that we have received in Jesus Christ. It’s ok; it’s to be expected because of our sinful nature. We turn to the world before we turn to God, thinking that the world will provide what we need the most – forgiveness from our sins and salvation. But the world cannot provide that. The only One who can provide salvation is God our heavenly Father, and He does so by His Son, Jesus Christ.

We have Immanuel, God with us. But on this holiest night of the year, it can be difficult to believe or accept that He is indeed with us. We lose sight of the one thing needful: to hear the Word of the Lord, the Word-become-flesh, and to be still and know He is God, our God-with-us. Stores have been crowded with last-minute shoppers, whether shopping for gifts or for the fixings for Christmas dinner. Travelers come from here and there, from near and far, to be with friends and family. And some families come to terms with an empty chair at the dinner table for the first time because a loved one has died within the past year. It’s hard to think of Jesus in the midst of our busy-ness, in the midst of our grief. It doesn’t help that the devil uses these things to distract us from Him, to not fix our eyes on Jesus. The One whose birth we celebrate tonight is our Rock, our Fortress, and our Might, our God-with-us. Jesus says to you, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” And again, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

God comes to us, despite our being unworthy of His coming. When we had most certainly committed many shameful acts, the Lord could have simply abandoned us. That is what we deserved. We were supposed to be faithful only to Him. Yet we went running after every false idol that could entice our fickle hearts. We deserved the public disgrace of falling under God’s judgment and being cast away forever. He could have simply acted out of His justice, and given us what we deserve. He could have let His anger break forth against us. He would have been perfectly justified in doing so.

But instead God had compassion on us. Out of love, He did not want to treat us as our sins deserve. He made a plan to rescue us from the disgrace of our sins. It was a secret plan, a mystery hidden for long ages until He revealed it in the Virgin’s Son. God became flesh. God became one of us. God became Man for our sake.

You have a God who loves you: God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. His love for you is deep and vast. Jesus says, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved”, and St. John writes, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [payment] for our sins.” The Babe of Bethlehem would go to the cross at Calvary and die for you and for the life of the world. He bled and died for you, and He rose again for you, that you would have eternal life with Him. Even as Jesus came down from heaven into the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, so also does your Lord come down from heaven into your ears by the power of the Holy Spirit working through His Word, the same Word you heard tonight in the story of your Savior’s birth, from the first promise of the Messiah to the announcement of His birth to the revealing of His incarnation and to the proclamation of Jesus being our Immanuel—our God-with-us, this holy night and always. Amen.

Advent 4 – “Annunciation” (Luke 1:26-38)

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.

Today is a bit of a liturgical crisis. Today is December 24, known to us as Christmas Eve. But today is also the Fourth Sunday in Advent. This morning, we will focus on the theme for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the annunciation by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she will conceive and bear a Son. If you want to hear the account of the birth of Christ, then you will need to come to our Christmas Eve services tonight at 5:00 and 10:00.

“Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” “Do you promise to be my best friend, pinky swear?” We live in a world that is full of promises. Some are kept, many are broken. Where there are large amounts of money or property involved, the promises are defined in long and complicated legal documents full of mumbo jumbo to make sure there’s no wiggle room and no loophole by which one can escape the obligations of his or her problems. We can no longer simply depend on another’s word.

Even in the closest of relationships, promises are broken and people are let down, disappointed, and left feeling betrayed. Maybe you’ve been the victim of a broken promise. Maybe you’re the one who’s broken promises. Fortunately for us, there is One who makes a promise and did not fail to keep it – God, our heavenly Father.

God gives us the promises of His Word at our worst moments. At the Fall, there was nowhere for Adam and Eve to go except down. They had sinned against God. Things were not going to go well for them after God had condemned the serpent. But in that condemnation was a promise, both to the serpent and to Eve as well: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” While God pronounced judgment upon sin, He also offered words of hope as He promised to provide a Savior from sin. He established a covenant with Adam and Eve, a relationship built on promises that God had made. That covenant extended to Israel. Even though Israel was so often unfaithful in this covenant relationship with God, God continued to act on their behalf according to the Word that He had spoken. He had made promises and had full divine intent to keep those promises.

Through Old Testament history, the promise of God continued to remain unfulfilled. The people were left waiting and waiting for God to make good on His promise. When would it happen? How would it happen? Would God go back on His promise? As one surveys the Old Testament panorama of God’s Word and promises, it becomes evident that the annunciation to the Virgin Mary is an account of God at work, according to His Word, keeping His promises to redeem fallen mankind.

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.” During the pregnancy of Elizabeth, the angel Gabriel came to a lowly and unsuspecting virgin named Mary to deliver a message that had never been nor will ever be again: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

With these words, one begins to get a sense that God is at work according to His Word. We have facts revealed to us from Gabriel that we should pick up on – house of David, virgin birth, the child is a son. This is what Isaiah had foretold of long ago. All that Gabriel proclaims are incredible words of promise!

What is Mary to do with this new information from an angel? Angelic visitations aren’t an everyday occurrence, and here stands an angel before Mary. It would be easy to doubt, easy to dismiss all that was told her. Instead, Luke says this: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” What faith from a young girl! Faith that would accept all that Gabriel had declared – that by the Holy Spirit, she would conceive and bear a child. But not just any child, a son. And not just any son, but the Son of God!

In a few hours, we will hear the familiar account of the birth of Jesus. But for a brief moment, let’s lay aside all tradition and sentimentality about this event. Let’s focus on the Word of God spoken by His messenger Gabriel to Mary. In the next twenty-four hours, we will hear the wondrous account of the Savior’s birth that God kept His promise to Mary. According to His Word, even though she was a virgin, she did conceive; she did bear a Son. This miraculous event invites us to see that God does indeed not only speak a word of promise but fulfills that promise, according to His time and in His way.

By virtue of His virgin birth, Jesus shared in our humanity, but not our sinfulness. Such a perfect, Holy Savior was necessary. It was this Savior who kept the law perfectly in our place and offered Himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Here we once again see God at work to come to us – to be with us – not in condemnation, but in grace. Here we see that the same grace of God that allowed Mary to be the Mother of God is also available to us so that we can be the children of God. The Son of God who took up His humanity in the womb of the Virgin Mary also comes to us. He is with us.

The Lord Jesus came into this world for you. On Christmas, we will celebrate the fact that God and man come together in one person – Jesus the Christ, the Son of Mary, the Savior of the world. His conception by the Holy Spirit and His birth of the Virgin are the beginning of His journey to save us. During His journey, He will live a life without sin, He will teach and heal, He will suffer, die, and be buried. He will rise and ascend back to His Father in Heaven. He will do all this so that He could come to us without punishing us for our sin. He will do all this so He could be with us and we could be His favored people.

Gabriel uttered God’s message to Mary over two thousand years ago. The promise in those words has come to pass. The baby was born and Mary named Him Jesus just as Gabriel had said. Jesus kept all the promises that God had made. His life was perfect in every way. Never the less, even though His life was perfect, He suffered the cruelty of death on a cross. Because His death conquered sin, death could not hold Him and He rose from the dead just as He had promised.

Just like Mary, you are the recipient of a miracle. You have received the miracle of life and salvation in Jesus’ name, on account of Him and His sacrifice for you. You have received the gift of forgiveness of all of your sins. This miracle God caused to happen for you, for He has created you. It is by the Babe promised to a young woman named Mary that your miracle has happened: your sins are forgiven and you have been granted everlasting life. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 3 – “Good Times Cometh” (John 1:6-8, 19-28)

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.

Nostalgia, resignation, and fear. That pretty much sums up how people generally tend to view their lives. How often, in talking about the past, do we hear people long for “the good old days” or lament that “they don’t make things the way they used to.” When it comes to the present, there’s often a general feeling of resignation. As we look at the world around us and our own situation, many generally respond with the well-worn cliché “it is what it is.” As far as the future goes? Most of us don’t want to think about it. Who knows what is going to happen in the political and economic sphere. Who knows whether another war will happen in our generation. Who is to say what the world will look like for our grandchildren.

As we come to the Third Sunday in Advent, the emphasis is on rejoicing, and so our texts tell us of the work and witness of John the Baptist. If you were paying attention last week, the focus was on John the Baptist. In fact, this is John’s parallel account to that found in Mark. So why focus on John the Baptist again? It is because of the message that John proclaims. In the midst of a people who longed for the glory of their past under rulers like David and Solomon, who resented their present situation of being subdued and ruled by the Romans, and who had grave concerns about their future if things didn’t change, John brings God’s message of greater things to come. His message, as one sent from God, was a message of hope and a promise of greater things to come in the coming Savior, which would be cause for great rejoicing.

Things have not played out well for the people of God. While everything was at first perfect, it didn’t last. Sin entered into the equation and God’s creation was thrown for a loop that would have more twists and turns than a roller coaster. There would be good times and there would be bad times. There would be times where God’s people treasured the Word of God and would follow His commands, while at other times God’s Word was despised and God’s people paid the price for their disobedience. But in all of this, God had a made a promise long ago that would make things right again. In fact, it would set creation in a restored relationship with God. But when would it happen? That was the million-dollar question.

God’s people had waited and waited for the promise to be fulfilled. And now, the time was near. A prophet appeared named John the Baptist. Great, another prophet with a message of how God would fulfill His promise in a time that is unknown, a time that is likely far away. But that’s not quite how things played out. John records, “He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

That sounds like any other prophet, right? The prophet comes with a message about God’s promise, of how it would be fulfilled. But here’s the difference between John and all the other prophets: John has had contact with the Messiah already and that Messiah is around the corner.

In Luke’s Gospel, we hear of Mary visiting her relative Elizabeth, who also happened to be pregnant. When Mary and Elizabeth greet one another, something happened. “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” That baby was John. Elizabeth said, “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” John, meet Jesus, the Savior of the world, the One to whom you will be the herald.

There were those who thought that John the Baptist was the promised Messiah. They went to him to be baptized, seeking something more than he could provide. They expected him to be more than who he was; they expected him to do more than he was capable of doing.  John had one mission: “to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.”

Many times, we often confuse the messenger with the message. If we receive bad news from a doctor, we blame the doctor for our illness, though he has nothing to do with it. John clearly understood that his purpose was not bearing witness to himself and his own greatness, but glorifying the Savior. The spiritual gifts of faith, humility, selflessness, and faithfulness to the great privilege of his calling were expressed in the life of John, for he was true to his conviction: “He must become greater; I must become less.” John’s appearance on the scene, his manner of life, and other features of his ministry were extraordinary. His work had provoked sensational comment and had attracted unusual attention. Curiosity and concern for their own welfare as subjects of Rome prompted the sending of an official fact-finding delegation from Jerusalem.  Their question was simple, “Who do you claim to be, and what place do you aspire to?”

The Messiah was coming, everyone knew that. But for John to appear and speak so intimately about the Messiah, well, that was different. The only way he could speak so intimately about the Messiah was if he was the Messiah. But that’s not John, that’s not what he’s about. He is all about Jesus.

For the Jews, they needed an answer to who this John was. They sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him who he was. John took no pleasure in pretending to be someone whom he was not. He very easily could have said that he was the promised Messiah and no one would have been the wiser, at least for a while. John did what he was called to do: proclaim Christ. He’s not the Christ. He’s not Elijah. He’s not the prophet Moses promised back in Deuteronomy 18, the prophet who would, in fact, be one and the same as the Christ. John was content simply to announce the coming Lamb of God.

In the Church, the talk isn’t about us – it can’t be about us. If it were about us, then there wouldn’t be much to say other than, “I’m a sinner. I deserve death and damnation”; it’s always about another. In the Church, the talk is always about the One who is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” It’s about the One who’s infinitely greater than we, because He was before us all, for we are the work of His hands, even as we are also the creatures of His own redeeming. He came among us as one of us precisely so that He could serve all of us. He shouldered our sins as He carried His cross, and He died our death and shattered our hell, and by overcoming the sharpness of death He opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Truly, the Son of Man did not come among us to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as the ransom for many.

As the season of Advent approaches its midway point, John the Baptist does the Church the service of focusing all the joy of the Church entirely on Christ. John’s words remind us that the joy of the coming days isn’t found in presents, parties, and eggnog, but they are found in the One who came into this world through a manger to meager parents, to be our Immanuel, God with us. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 2 – “Baptism for Repentance” (Mark 1:1-8)

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.

Christmas preparations are in full swing. Decorations are hung. The music is playing. The stores are bustling with people looking to buy presents. By the time Christmas arrives, many people are ready for Christmas to be over. The world observes Christmas in the days leading up to it. It’s as if the birth of Christ takes a back seat to the business of Christmas. Who would celebrate a baby’s birth before the child is even born? It’s an easy answer for those in the Church, for we long for the Christ Child to come, and we keep on celebrating after Jesus arrives, for Jesus is at the very center of Christmas.

What type of preparation is necessary for an event like this, for the arrival of God in the flesh? How should one prepare to meet the Lord? Our text for today tells us how John prepared the way of the Lord for this grand event.

Mark begins his Gospel account about thirty years after the birth of Jesus. While Marks begins by saying, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” he in fact doesn’t begin with Jesus but rather with words from the prophet Isaiah: “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet….” Didn’t Mark say that this was the gospel of Jesus Christ? If that’s true, then why begin all the way back in Isaiah? Mark isn’t wrong with his layout of the gospel of Jesus, because it begins all the way back in the Old Testament.

Isaiah had prophesied of the coming Messiah time and time again. He told the people where the Messiah would come from. He told the people about the purpose of the Messiah. He even prophesied of one would come before Jesus to be His herald, John the Baptist. John has a singular purpose to his being: preparing the people to receive Jesus. Isaiah says of John, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

What does John do that is so important for the coming of Jesus? People sensed that John was indeed a prophet, if not the Messiah himself. John denies the latter while affirming the former. He declares to those that think of him as the Messiah as one who is unworthy to until the sandals of the One to come. This is not about John, not even in the least. It’s all about Jesus. It’s all about preparing the people to receive the long-promised Messiah when He comes. John prepared for Jesus by pointing away from himself and instead to Christ.

That same style of John should be ours as well. John prepares us for Jesus by turning us from our sins to Christ. Sin is a turning in on itself. And we all like to turn inward to ourselves, don’t we? We emphasize how great we are. We downplay all of the sins, I’m sorry, “bad choices,” that we’ve made. We think of ourselves as much better than what we are. We are nothing but a walking pile of sin. John knows that because he too is a walking pile of sin. But “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

One cannot properly prepare themselves to meet Jesus. It is the Lord who graciously calls and comes to us. No sinner can stand in the Lord’s presence in his own strength and character, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. We do all of our good works as if it will earn us merit with God. But none of our works prepare us to stand before the almighty God at His judgement.

John knows that he is not worthy of the Messiah and what He comes to bring and to do. He proclaims a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John’s baptism is unique in its purpose. It is to prepare people to meet the coming Lord. First, one must be washed, that is baptized, to be able to repent and be forgiven. The baptized are washed and covered with the robe of righteousness that comes from Jesus. Being baptized is preparation for the coming One, but it is not our work.

As we see, people from all of Judea and Jerusalem were coming to John to be baptized. They were baptized in the Jordan, confessing their sins. That meant turning from those sins to the One whom John was proclaiming. Though they didn’t know His identity yet, they were trusting that their sins were being forgiven by the Christ, the Messiah. And they were. And ours are. Yours are.

John the Baptist calls on you to trust the Messiah and repent! Get your sins out in the open. Confess them to almighty God. Rely on His mercy. Look to the forgiveness of sins you received through baptism. John comes telling the people that if you have not yet received baptism, then be baptized for the forgiveness of sins!

John exhorted the people to believe in the Messiah who was to come, in fact, who was already there, and who is here for you. This mighty Savior is no one other than Jesus Christ. He is the one whom the prophets proclaimed and He is the one in whom they believed. This mighty Savior is the solution to our problem of sin. He is the one who earned forgiveness for our sins and offers that forgiveness to us for free. He is the one who makes us holy in God’s sight.

How did He do this? As mighty as Jesus is, He demonstrated His might in weakness. Even though we are not worthy to touch His feet, He allowed mere men to nail Him to a cross. It was from the apparent weakness of that cross that Jesus demonstrated His greatest might. In the apparent defeat of death, Christ conquered death. He became the solution for sin by taking our sin onto Himself and paying the price for it. It is only through Him that we receive the forgiveness of sins.

This is the task of John the Baptist, preparing the way. If people are going to rejoice in the Lord’s mercy, they must first understand how much they need it. With physical sickness, it is easy – the leper looks at the decay in his body and earnestly desires a cure. With sin it’s more difficult, because people naturally believe they are good enough. They must hear differently. This is why John the Baptist must preach to them a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. He must tell them of their sin, how they deserve God’s wrath and punishment. When they understand that they do not deserve grace and life, they will be ready to hear that their sins are pardoned. They will be ready to receive what they don’t deserve. They will be ready for the Lord’s mercy.

The Lord comes and John prepares the way. Through the Word of God, we hear His Law and confess our sin; we repent and trust in His Word of grace. Therefore, we are confident that when the Lord comes to be present among us, He comes to be merciful. We cast our cares upon Him, trusting in His mercy, for we hear Him declare these merciful words: “Your iniquity is pardoned, your warfare is over, and you are forgiven for all of your sins.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 1 – “Here Comes Jesus” (Mark 11:1-10)

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.

Jesus is soon to come. In fact, it’s 22 days until Christmas for those keeping track. But we are expecting to receive a newborn baby lying in a manger. Instead, we see an adult Jesus making His way to Jerusalem. That doesn’t sound Christmassy, does it? Of course it doesn’t because that’s what we hear during Holy Week. But this isn’t Christmas, it’s Advent. Advent means “coming into” and that’s what we are doing. The story of Jesus in Advent is the story of hope coming into the world. When the time was just right, God sent His Son, Jesus into the world. We learn how to prepare to receive Jesus, the hope of the world.

And that’s where we find ourselves. We find the people preparing to receive Jesus when He goes to Jerusalem. This isn’t going to be a social visit for Jesus; He has an appointment to keep. His appointment is with the cross.

Jesus sends two of His disciples ahead as the advance preparation team. They are to go into the village ahead. They will find a colt tied, they are to untie it and bring it back with them to Jesus.

This seems to be out of character for Jesus. For three years, Jesus has been teaching and preaching, healing and performing miracles. On more than one occasion, He has been called a King. But this doesn’t seem kingly by any means. When we see royalty of Jesus’ day, they are riding on horseback or chariot, not a donkey. There is great fanfare and pomp and circumstance. Here, there is no fanfare. There is no pomp and circumstance. Rather, there is Jesus riding on a donkey.

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, Jerusalem was poised for the celebration of the Passover. This annual remembrance of God’s act of deliverance of His children from Egypt would have swelled the streets of Jerusalem with holiday crowds. The day of the slaughter of the Passover lambs was fast approaching. People were anticipating the delight of being with family for the Passover feast. But when King Jesus comes into Jerusalem, it interrupts the sort of celebration people are expecting. He comes into Jerusalem, the city of the temple – the place of sacrifice – to suffer and to die as God’s ultimate Passover Lamb. His sacrifice interrupts the monotonous routines of sin and death. Here is a King like no other, for this King comes not in royal splendor or with military might, but in the humility of the Servant who embraces the cross for you.

Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem was at best a local news piece. His handlers could have done a much more impressive job of staging the event. The colt takes Jesus along the road at a casual pace. People have gathered along the way. They’re excited to see Jesus, but these aren’t a celebrity audience. Instead, these are mostly plain folks. People from Bethany and the surrounding area were anxious to see Jesus, who raised Lazarus from the dead. He was coming to the Holy City, Jerusalem, where they expected Him to be enthroned and overthrow the despised Romans. The crowd eagerly put their cloaks on the road along with palm branches. Something special was going to take place and they wanted to be a part of it.

We see much the same with Christ at this time of year. We begin celebrating the “real” reason for Christmas: gift giving, parties, but most importantly, gift receiving. We are doing our own thing, enjoying what Christmas is all about, then Christ comes to ruin everything. For all who think like that, just remember one thing: you can’t have Christmas without Christ, no matter how hard you try.

Today, we begin preparing ourselves for Christ’s entry into this world, coming into this world by being born in a stable in the small town of Bethlehem. We prepare our hearts for what Christmas brings: it brings the Savior of the Nations, the Virgin Son who makes His home amongst the chosen people of God, as sinful as we are. God came to His people and lived among them as one of them. As God came to us in flesh and blood, He experienced all the things we experience – gestation and birth, childhood, weeping and laughter, pleasure and pain, and all the other things that make up the human experience. He even experienced temptation, but He never gave in to it.

We wait for Jesus’ coming by observing another season of Advent. We look back at Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem and give thanks. We see the climax of that first coming with His enthronement upon the cross. We celebrate, yet ponder this awe-filled mystery. Jesus came to live and Jesus came to die. He came to give His life as a ransom for all. Gentleness, humility, and meekness marked His first coming, even as He journeyed to Jerusalem to the cross. A crucifixion is the last place one would look for an enthronement, but here is Jesus, crucified for you. All your sins were laid upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. He fulfilled God’s Law completely. His death and resurrection ushered in His coming Kingdom.

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

As He comes to us in His flesh and blood, we eat the very flesh that He sacrificed for us on the cross and the very blood that He shed for us on the cross. However, this flesh and blood are not dead things. For the Son of God did not remain dead and buried in the tomb, but He came to life. He rose from the dead. The flesh and blood He gives to us are not just the flesh and blood of crucifixion, but they are also the flesh and blood of resurrection. In this sacrament, He comes to us with the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

Consider God and His coming during this Advent. Consider His coming at Christmas, but don’t limit your consideration just to Christmas. Consider the love that God shows in His coming in that even while sin causes terror and hatred, He continues to come with His love. Consider how He came to save us with His suffering, death, and resurrection. Consider how He now comes in Word and Sacrament. Consider how He will come to take His people home with Him. Consider the blessings that He once gave, that He now gives, and that He will give when He comes again. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Sermon for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation

500 years. 500 years since Martin Luther discovered or re-discovered the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And it is just that, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not the Gospel of Martin Luther. While we indeed give thanks for Martin Luther and his work of the Reformation, the Reformation is not about Martin Luther, contrary to popular thought. The Reformation was, is, and always will be about Jesus Christ.

What is that Gospel of Jesus Christ that Luther stumbled upon that made such a world-wide influence, continuing for the last 500 years and, God-willing, many years to come? “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Free. Set free. Acquitted. Absolved. Forgiven. Baptized. Worded. Bodied and Blooded. Saved. Freed by the Son of God.

What a Gospel nugget to find! That verse captures the saving work of mankind. It properly lists the subject of the verb as Jesus and the direct object as mankind. That’s the way that the verse has to be, because anything other than that is not salvation by Jesus.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Let that verse resonate again. It’s all about Jesus for you. Jesus does everything and you do nothing. Jesus’ holiness becomes your holiness. Jesus’ righteousness becomes your righteousness. Jesus dies and you live. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!

Sadly, that was not the message one would have heard 500 years ago. You would have heard Jesus plus – Jesus plus your works, Jesus plus your actions, Jesus plus something else. But it can’t be Jesus plus because of what Scripture says. Paul, in addressing the Romans writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Works of the law means something that man does. Jesus tells us, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Here’s the problem. We were perfect once but we aren’t perfect any longer. We lost that perfection in sin. So how are we expected to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect? We’re perfect through Jesus and nothing else.

You might be thinking that I’ve gone too far, that I can’t say that you are free in Jesus. But I did and I must and I will again – “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” That’s not Martin Luther’s words or my words. Those are Jesus’ words. If Jesus said it, then who can argue that?

When you read Scripture the way that Scripture is meant to be read, that is, to believe every word contained, from cover to cover and in between, is the very word of God. And if God said it, then it is true, no ifs, ands or buts. This is the very Word of God, a Word that promises salvation to all who believe. But what should you believe? We believe that Jesus, the very Word of God incarnate, took on human flesh like you and I, lived and died, in order to set us free from the death and damnation brought about by man’s fall into sin. It means that Jesus declares you to be forgiven of all of your sins. It means that Jesus has declared you to be justified, that is, made right before God, our Father.

If we are free, then what about our sin? Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Are we a slave to our sin or are we free? We are slaves to sin because we sin. That’s what Jesus says. We are slaves to sin and we die because of sin. But Jesus dies for you. He hangs upon the cross for you so that you are not a slave but you are free. He takes the sin of the world upon Himself. He becomes sin so that you may have life and have it abundantly in Jesus, the one who has lived and died for you.

Luther found this Jesus, the Jesus of the Holy Scriptures, 500 years ago. He needed this Jesus because he found that his works only drove him further away from the righteousness that God requires. He found that his works were insufficient for salvation because at his very nature, Luther was a sinner and Scripture told him that his good works, his righteous acts are nothing but filthy rags. And so if his good works saved him and they are filthy rags, then how could he be saved? After praying and praying and praying for God’s grace, Luther found the answer in God’s Word – 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.  For Luther, it wasn’t a matter of boasting about what he did to be saved – he just wanted to be saved! All he wanted was God’s grace and he couldn’t find it the way that the Church had told him. Rather, he needed to find it the way that God said it could be found – in Jesus.

Now it might sound like I’ve said Jesus a lot this morning, and that’s because I have. In fact, I’ve said “Jesus” 37 times and counting. And why is that? Why spend so much time on Jesus? It’s because Jesus is at the heart of the Reformation. It’s Jesus who does the work of salvation and not man. It’s Jesus’ words of promise that declare you free from sin and justified before God, not man’s words.

That’s what Paul tells the Romans: “For there is no distinction: 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, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” By Jesus’ crucifixion and death, by the blood that poured out of Jesus that washes over you, that’s what saves you. Can you be sure of that? Absolutely, because, once again, God’s Word declares it. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Your slavery to having to sin is over in the three magical words — “I forgive you.” The chains of sin break in the water, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The death and hell that you have coming for what you deserve has a remedy — “Take eat, take drink, the Body and Blood of Christ.”

So now you are free. You are forgiven free, freed by the Son. You are free to live a life that reflects who you are – a blood-bought and forgiven child of God. It is because of Jesus, the sun-darkened, hanging on the cross, beaten and bloodied, risen and living Jesus that has redeemed you. It is because of Jesus that the slavery of the Law has been removed from you and now rests upon Jesus. His death took the eternal punishment for your slavery to sin and in exchange has declared you forgiven by His grace and mercy shown to you.

You are free. You have been acquitted and absolved. You have been forgiven. You have been declared sinless in the eyes of God. Does it mean that you have stopped sinning? If it were only that easy. Rather, it means that God does not see your sin. Instead, He sees you as He sees Jesus – holy, pure and righteous. He sees you for who you are on account of Jesus: freed from your sin. So if Jesus, the very Son of God has set you free, you are free indeed! 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.

Pentecost 12 – “Confession of All Confessions” (Matthew 16:13-20)

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.

Jesus asks two questions to the disciples in our text, each one very important. The first question asked to the disciples is this: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Obviously that question is subjective because depending on who you asked, you would receive a very different answer. And the answer that the disciples give, the answer of the people, is just that, different. 

The people respond with the following answer: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Is Jesus someone of importance? Yes. Do the people know how important? No. Their answers range from a generic prophet or Jeremiah, one of the great prophets of old. Some place greater importance on Jesus and say that He is Elijah, one of the most notable prophets of the Old Testament. To be counted amongst the prophets of old does indeed show importance on Jesus’ character. The prophets were tasked with preaching the Word of God to the people, good words and bad. They were tasked with declaring the prophecies that pointed to God’s long-awaited Messiah, a promise made countless generations before in the Garden. Surely Jesus could not be any of these since they were all long dead

All of these showed how highly the people thought of Jesus, but there were some who were willing to upscale Jesus’ importance. Some declared Him to be John the Baptist. John the Baptist was important in his own right. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was charged to be the forerunner of Jesus. John had done just that. He had instructed the people that Jesus was coming, but not only was He coming, He was here now among them. But like most of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptists’ life did not end well, as he was beheaded by Herod. So, who could the Son of Man really be if He wasn’t one of the prophets of old?

The opinions of the people showed that they regarded Jesus very highly as a man of God, but they did not regard Him highly enough. They did not know Him as the one and only Son of God, Himself true God with the Father and the Holy Spirit from eternity. They were not much different from many people of our own day who praise Jesus as a great teacher but don’t know Him as their Savior and the only Savior of the world.

 Have you ever wondered why Jesus asks the question? Does Jesus care what people think of Him? Yes and no. The greater question is does Jesus care who people think He is? The answer is an absolute yes, and with great reason. If you do not know who Jesus truly is and what He has come to do, then He will not know you. Jesus says earlier in Matthew: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

That is why Jesus asks the next question, the all-important question that must be asked to all: “But who do you say that I am?” That is the question of the day, not just for the disciples, but for everyone. As far as the disciples were concerned, this was Jesus, their Lord and Master. What more of a response was Jesus looking for from them?

There is plenty more of a response that Jesus was looking from the disciples, and there is plenty more of a response that Jesus is looking from you. You can say, “I know who You are; You’re Jesus!” but what does that mean? Many people can look at a picture and say that the man in the picture is Jesus. But what does that mean? People from outside of Christianity can say who Jesus is, albeit wrongly, but what does that mean? There is a very specific answer that Jesus is looking for, one that will determine your eternal future. And since this is your eternal future, you had better make sure you have the right answer.

Peter, acting as spokesman for the disciples responds to Jesus by saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That’s the answer that Jesus is looking for. That’s the only response that Jesus is looking for. What better answer could there be but that? Thomas, on the evening of Christ’s resurrection gives a response that I believe is just as good: “Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

For the here and now, Peter recognized Jesus for who He was. That meant that Peter recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah foretold of so long ago. He understood Jesus to be the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Not only was Jesus a teacher, a healer, a miracle worker, He would do something that no one else has ever done or would be able to do: give His life so that we would have life. St John writes, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” That is exactly what Jesus has done. He has given His life so that you would have life and have it abundantly. He gave His life so that all of your sins would be forgiven. He gave His life so that you would be able to stand before the Holy God, not as a person condemned by their sins to hell, but rather as one who has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and now has the holiness and righteousness of Christ.

That same question has been posed to you. What matters is how that question is answered. That same confession of faith Peter made is the same one that you and I made when we confirmed our baptismal confession of faith. That same confession of faith that Peter made is the same one that you and I make today. Christ empowers us in our confession of Him today to assault the very gates of hell. He hears the promises made in Baptism and confirmation and in every confession, and He empowers us through the gift of His Spirit to assault hell itself and win. On the rock of the confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Christ has built His Church and not even hell’s gates can withstand its onslaught.

A lot of people in our day don’t understand the true meaning of the Christ. Some say Jesus was a great moral teacher, but nothing more. Others see Him as a life coach. Still others see Him as an example. Jesus is more than just a moral teacher, life coach or an example. Jesus is the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God who gave Himself as a sacrifice so that you and I might have everlasting life.

 Today, we confess alongside Peter and all the disciples, the whole Christian Church, the saints of old and the saints yet to be – “[Jesus is] the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.