Funeral for + Marlene Gertrude Westre +

Text: Psalm 118:1-21

Bud, Jay, Darrel, Carolyn, family and friends of Marlene, hear again these words from the Psalmist: “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” It’s hard to imagine that on a day like this, we would give thanks to the LORD, and yet, that is why we are here and that is what we are going to do.

But doesn’t that sound a bit out of sorts here, today, given the circumstances? Absolutely not, not when you focus on the words of our text and when you remember why we are gathered today. While we gather to mourn today, we also gather to rejoice, rejoice in what God our heavenly Father has done for Marlene and all believers through Christ our Lord. We certainly give thanks to the LORD today; thank and praise the Lord Christ who was to come for the mercy and spiritual deliverance to be accomplished by Him.

It is goodness when someone does good to the undeserving and unworthy. Marlene wasn’t deserving or worthy of what Christ did for her; in fact, none of us are deserving or worthy of it. From man’s fall into sin, we were excluded from what God had prepared for us – a life in a literal paradise with God. God, however, imparted benefits through the incarnate Christ to the unworthy and undeserving, in fact, to those who deserved much ill. The ill that we deserve is death because of our sin, so says St. Paul, “For the wages of sin is death….”

Death is what ultimately claimed Marlene on Saturday, at least in this earthly life. Around 6:45 Saturday morning, Marlene left this vale of tears and was welcomed into the loving arms of her heavenly Father. That is precisely what our psalmist means when he says, “Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.” In our distress of sin, God saw fit to answer us and to set us free from our captivity to sin. This harkens back to the first verse, since He is not good in that He gives physical things, but because He gives spiritual things and delivers from spiritual evils.

While Marlene may have had physical things, all those First Article gifts, none of that truly mattered to Marlene. What did matter to her was the gift she received in her Baptism – namely, the forgiveness of her sins and the ability to be called a child of God on account of the faith she received.

It is because of that faith that we are able to celebrate, to give thanks. We are able to give thanks because it was God that did all the work, it is God who still does all the work. Our salvation is not dependent upon what you or I do or don’t do. Marlene knew that. That is why I found her sitting in the back of the church week after week, hearing what God has done for her through Jesus Christ, receiving the gifts He freely gives to the believer. Despite knowing this, despite having received that gift of forgiveness, there she would be, sitting, hearing, receiving that which God had won for her.

Turning to the words of Psalm 118 again, we see the cause and strength of Marlene’s faith: “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Marlene knew from whence her strength relied. She knew that God was in her corner, fighting for her, protecting her, all the days of her life. It was God who fought to redeem her. Through Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection, He fought against all that would separate us from God – the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. He fought against evil one who would have kept us forever from God, crushing his head and defeating the devil once and for all.

Through the waters of Holy Baptism that graced her head all those years ago, it was a daily reminder of God’s promise to her that she belonged to Him. It was a daily reminder to her that God had placed His name upon her, washed her clean in the blood of Christ, made her a new creation, forgiven her all of her sins. When the psalmist asks, “What can man do to me?” Marlene knew that answer – absolutely nothing! There was nothing that man could do to her to undo what God had done to her. Regardless of what sinful man could or would do, Marlene would prove to be the victor because of Christ.

For you, Christ has done the same thing. He has laid down His life in order to give you eternal life. He has defeated death, once and for all, so that your earthly death would not be a permanent death. The death you face in this life is merely temporary. It is but the door to eternal life in Christ. When Marlene breathed her last breath Saturday morning, she saw God. The moment she breathed her last breath, she was in the arms of her heavenly Father.

For the believer, we know that our trust is not to be found in earthly things, and so the psalmist says, “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.” What can man do but disappoint? What can man do but fail us over and over again? What can God do but sacrifice His only-begotten Son, so that you would have eternal life? What can God do but turn His back on His own Son, so that His death on the cross would be that all-sufficient sacrifice to redeem creation – to redeem you, to redeem Marlene?

It is because of God and no one else that the psalmist could say, “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” Those are words that Marlene could say and did say. Those are words that you are privileged to say, for our salvation is not found in ourselves but in God.

Hear these words and hear them well, for they are words of great comfort to us: I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD. The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.”  While Marlene may have died in this earthly life, she most certainly lives in Christ. While you will die in this earthly life, because of Christ, we have everlasting life. We have not been given over to death because Christ has died in our place – dying to sin and rising triumphantly so we too may die and rise again. The gates of righteousness have indeed been opened, the path to our salvation secured. What joy and comfort there is, knowing that because of Christ, this has been done for us.

After hearing the psalmist’s words, it is indeed appropriate for us to echo his words: “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” We do give thanks to our God this day – for the earthly life He has granted to His servant Marlene, and the blessings she has been as a daughter, sister, wife and mother. But even more, we give thanks to our God this day, for He has called her to faith in Jesus Christ, won for her the forgiveness of all of her sins, and granted to her the gift of everlasting life. In the name of Jesus, amen.

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Posted by on March 1, 2019 in Funeral, Sermons


Epiphany 7

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:21-26, 30-42

Benjamin Franklin, in a letter written to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, said something that we have most likely all heard before: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Franklin was right on the money with this statement: death is a certainty. One day, each and every single person who has ever lived will die. Death is a certainty and we know why: “For the wages of sin is death….” It is because of sin that we will die. We can try to cheat death, stave off death, do whatever we can to make sure that death won’t happen, but in the end, all that we do will prove to be futile because we will all die.

We know that because of sin, death exits. But from where did sin come from? Turning to our text, we find that answer out: “For as by a man came death….” Through Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, man brought death into creation. Because of that, death is a permanent part of creation. All of creation dies, from the smallest of living things to the greatest.

But St. Paul continues, “by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.” On this text, Luther says, Just as Adam was the beginning, the first man, through whom we must all die as he died, so Christ is the first Man through whom we are all to arise to a new life as He arose first…. namely, as death came, and still comes, over us all through one man, so the resurrection from the dead shall come through one Man.”

Man brought death into creation and Man brought about the resurrection of the dead. The man that brought death was Adam by his disobedience to God and His word: don’t eat from the tree in the middle of the garden. Because man ate from the tree, man died. Death is here and it is here to stay.

But just as man brought death to creation, the Son of Man brought life to creation. In the most ironic of ways, Christ brought life. The only way that creation has life is through death, the death of Christ. By doing what we are unable to do, that is, keep the Law of God perfectly, Christ lived the life that we were meant to live in the Garden of Eden. But not only did Jesus live the life perfectly, He also died the perfect death. When I say perfect, I mean perfect in the eyes of God. Perfect, in that His death made full satisfaction for our sins. Perfect, in that you are now able to stand before God with sins forgiven. Perfect, in that Christ has given to you eternal life in the Father.

Not only do you have life, you have resurrection in Jesus. Understand what that means for you. As one who has been bought and redeemed by the blood of Jesus, you will not stay dead when you die. You will rise again to new life in Jesus, dwelling in the house of God forevermore. This was done for you and not by you. This was done solely by Jesus and no one or nothing else.

This has been earned by Christ, for you. This has all been done to undo what Adam brought into creation through the Fall. St. Paul is able to say, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” All has been defeated. Death is defeated, once and for all. No longer is death a permanent part of creation. No longer does death have any sway on creation.

And so we are left with the question, why? Why would God do this? Why would go to the great lengths that He has for us sinners? Why would God go to such great lengths for you? It is because of the great love that He has for His creation. Since death was not meant to be a part of creation, would God purge death? How would He purge it? He would purge it through the blood of His only-begotten Son, Jesus. The sting of death, its curse and punishment, has been removed through Jesus Christ. Because Jesus shed His holy, innocent blood for us, God has forever canceled our debt of sin and given us a free gift of grace, the forgiveness of all our sins for Christ’s sake. By His resurrection from the dead Christ has defeated sin, the devil, hell, and death. Death has lost its sting! Now, the grave for the Christian becomes the gate to life eternal.

No believer is excluded because of sin or guilt. Christ has forgiven all sin. God does not promise eternal life to our sinful nature. Our guilt and those things that result from our sin will be and are destroyed in death. God did not let our ancestors go back into the Garden of Eden and eat from the tree of life while they were in their sinful condition because He did not want to give that sinful nature eternal life.

What will that resurrection body look like? The resurrection body is the same and yet radically different. The Lord who created our physical bodies will give us spiritual bodies. Our bodies in their present state or condition will be changed in a flash: no longer full of lusts, no longer sinful, no longer limited by hunger, thirst, pain, or mortality. But we will have real bodies free from sin and its debilitating effects! That means that you will have the perfect body, one without any sin.

For all who believe in Christ, they have received what He has won for them. We trust the promise that God began a new life in us when we were baptized. That new life is sustained and strengthened through God’s Word and Holy Communion. There is no alternate way to be included in God’s will other than through faith in Jesus Christ. You and I have a new nature in Christ. He will continue all those great spiritual blessings he has given us on earth. Our relationship with God and with his people will be a part of our eternal life. After the old has been discarded, God will permit us to eat from the tree of life and so our new nature will live forever.

For us, we are asked an interesting question, one that the Corinthians of the day asked as well: how are the dead raised? The answer is different from how they die. They die as the result of man’s Fall. They die because sin has permeated every fiber of creation. They die because that is the effect of sin. They are raised because of Christ. They are raised in the likeness of Christ. They are raised because they have Christ’s blood washed over them.

As for you, heed the words of Paul to the Romans: “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” You are dead – dead to sin, dead to that which separates you from God. But even more important than that, you are alive – alive because Christ has fed you from the tree of life, feeding you with Himself so that you will have life eternal. 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 February 24, 2019 in Epiphany, Sermons


Epiphany 6

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 Epistle, which was read earlier.

What are you willing to stake your life on? If there is anything at all to wager your life on, what would it be? I’m sure we would say our spouse or our children, that we would be willing to die for them. But what about someone else? What about a complete stranger? That is precisely what Christ our Lord has done for you. Not only has Christ our Lord died for you, but He has also risen from the dead for you.

As Paul writes to the Corinthians, there is an issue they are facing – what does Christ’s resurrection mean? There was debate at the time as to whether or not there was truly a resurrection from the dead. For the Church to be debating this is indeed troubling. To presume that the resurrection is false, is as Luther says, a “disgrace and an abomination on the part of those who desire to be called Christians.”

Paul stakes everything on the basic factor with which he began, namely, that Christ rose from the dead. This is the chief article of the Christian doctrine, for if there is no resurrection, then there is no Christianity. No one who at all claims to be a Christian or a preacher of the Gospel may deny that, and yet, this is what was being promoted by some in the Corinthian Church. Luther, in his commentary on our text says this: “With this he wants to confront them and force them to the conclusion that their denial of the resurrection of the dead denies even more definitely that Christ rose from the dead; for if the former is not true, the latter must be fabricated also.”In English, Luther is saying that if you deny the resurrection from the dead, then you mustdeny Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

How could you deny Christ’s resurrection? That’s the million-dollar question to the Corinthians. And so Paul says, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”If Christ is not raised from the dead, then why are you here? Why am I here? This thing called faith that you have, it is nothing more than rubbish and make-believe thoughts. Everything that we believe about Christianity is nothing more than a sham because we are going to die and we are going to stay dead.

Vain preaching. Empty preaching. Damning preaching. Because the Christ whom we preach is only a dead man, and our faith rests upon a dead man instead of upon the Son of the living God, who has the keys of death and hell, then everything we believe in is in vain. You trust, then, in a Savior who cannot deliver Himself, and, therefore, much less save others; and your faith is then vain, for it rests upon an empty delusion. That was the thought of some of the Corinthians, some who professed to be believers in Jesus Christ.

It’s one thing for those outside of the Church to think and speak and believe in this way, but how can the Christian, the blood-bought and redeemed, believe like this? That’s what Paul wants to know. That’s why Paul says what he does. This line of thinking is damning to a person. And this is what some of the Corinthians believed.

Let that soak in for a moment. This wasn’t a group of non-believers who thought like this; this was the thinking by some of the Corinthian Christians. This was something which Paul could not let go unaddressed, and with good reason. The resurrection is central to creation’s salvation. Christ died so that creation would not die. His death was only half of the equation, with the other half being Christ rising again from the dead. They accepted part of the truth of the gospel, Christ’s death, but they were rejecting another part, the resurrection of Jesus and of all the dead.

This is a serious problem. If false theology like this creeps in, what else can creep in? At this point, it doesn’t matter because they have Jesus wrong on the most fundamental level – Christ never rose from the dead. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”There is no salvation because you are still captive to your sin. No forgiveness, no salvation because Christ is still in a tomb. For all those who believe in Paul and the message of the cross, they have a fruitless, empty faith and are still hopelessly lost in the condemning, controlling power of sin. It means that the population of hell has greatly increased. And so Paul contends that trusting in a Messiah who did not conquer death leaves believers no better off spiritually than unbelievers. With a Christ who did not rise, sin wins the victory over everyone, and the defeat of damnation is our sure eternal destiny.

What poor Corinthians! To have the Gospel and then to forsake the Gospel for that which is damning. But when you fast forward the Church 2000 years, we have done the exact same thing. When Scripture is clear that faith in Jesus Christ alone saves, the Church perpetuates a false teaching of Jesus plus, with any number of things being substituted for the plus: good works, a false idea of doing something to earn God’s favor, adherence to the Law which is usually manmade. You can substitute any number of things into the plus category and all will lead you away from the truth of salvation earned by the death andresurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paul points to an implication for this present life in believing in a Christ who has not risen. He asserts that if believing in Christ has value only for this present earthly life, then Christians are fools who have made a tragic mistake and who should be pitied by others. Without the resurrection, Christianity is pointless.

Paul is not content with this false theology in the Church. The resurrection is at the center of everything Christians are asked to believe. Ten times in this short passage he employs one form or another of the Greek verb “to raise.” Six times the verb occurs in the perfect tense, indicating the completed action with a present implication, meaning that the effects of the resurrection are ongoing. Apart from Jesus’ resurrection there is no resurrection of the dead and therefore no hope for the departed, no forgiveness of sins, and therefore only a pitiable shell of a religion.

That is why our Epistle ends with these words: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”Turning away from the tragic implications there would be for people if there were no resurrection, he emphatically states that Christ has risen from the dead, as he had previously declared. By calling Jesus the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,”Paul is declaring that the risen Christ is the pledge and proof of the resurrection of all God’s redeemed people to eternal life.

Without Christ’s resurrection, we face a hopeless end. This was a reality of the Corinthian church, and unfortunately for too many churches today. With Christ’s resurrection, we have an endless hope. More than that, we have the promise of resurrection as well, for Christ has indeed risen from the dead so that we too will rise again. 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 February 17, 2019 in Epiphany, Sermons


Epiphany 5

Text: Luke 5:1-11

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.

As Luke begins this account of Jesus, He has finally left the building, that is, we no longer find Jesus at the synagogue. Today, “he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret.”Though Jesus was no longer in the synagogues with the people gathered for worship, Jesus still finds Himself surrounded by a crowd nonetheless. The reason for their gathering around Jesus: “to hear the word of God.”While Jesus is still the relatively new preacher on the block, the people are flocking to Jesus because His Word had authority. They have heard Him, they have seen Him perform a number of miracles at this point, including casting out a demon and healing various others of their sickness and exorcising more possessed by demons, and yet, they still come to Jesus. Is it because of what He says? Is it because of what He does? Is it because He is not like the other preachers of the day? Likely, it is a combination of all of the above.

While standing on the shore, Jesus saw two boats, one belonging to Simon, whose mother-in-law He recently healed. Jesus got into one of the boats and told Simon “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”At this point, it is probably during the early morning hours and not the prime time for fishing, since it was easiest to catch the fish during the late hours when they were closer to the top of the water. Because of that, Simon responds, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

Notice how Simon, better known as Peter, responds. He calls Jesus “Master.” After seeing what Jesus had recently done with the demon-possessed man and his mother-in-law, he recognizes Jesus as someone special, someone with authority, and rightly so. What Jesus has done commands a sense of awe and respect from Simon Peter and he aptly shows it by how he addresses Jesus.

With what has taken place up until now, one can only imagine if they will catch fish at all. While Simon Peter is doubtful, he does as his Master directs. “And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.”This wasn’t because they decided to throw their nets onto the other side of the boat. Surely if you didn’t catch fish in one location, you would move on. Surely if you didn’t catch fish from one side of the boat, you would try another. They caught the fish at Jesus’ command. Performing a simple miracle such as catching a bursting net full of fish was indeed helpful to these men, for fishing was their vocation. No fish means no money. No money means not being able to support yourself. Now, through this miraculous catch of fish, they had an ample supply of fish that would have likely earned for them a generous amount of money.

That is not what happened. There were no shouts of joy over the catch. The men in the boat didn’t begin to count up their share of the potential money. Rather, Simon Peter “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.””He saw what Jesus had done and had determined that he was not worthy to be in the presence of Jesus, for he was a sinner.

If there is anything that you should be saying right now, it should be the same words that Simon Peter cried out: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”What right do you have to stand in the presence of Jesus? What have you done to earn the privilege of being called a child of God? What makes you worthy for the sinless Son of God to lay down His life in order to give you life? You are not worthy of what Jesus comes to do for you; you never have been and you never will be, and yet, Jesus comes for you anyways. He comes to lay down His life so you may have life. He comes to forgive your sins so that you may be declared sinless before your heavenly Father. The last thing that sinners want is Jesus to be hanging around, because his coming should terrify us. No matter what trouble we’re in, this is our most profound and pressing concern: Jesus should judge us because of our sins.

But He doesn’t. Instead of condemning you because of your sin, Jesus stakes your sin, bears your sin, wears your sin to the cross. And there, instead of condemning you, He is cursed, afflicted, stricken, forsaken in your place. Jesus suffers for us, dies for us, for you.

Jesus looks at Peter in his sin and says, “Do not be afraid.”But what does that mean for Peter? More importantly, what do it mean for me? It means don’t fear. There is nothing to be afraid of. Jesus tells us that He is not angry, that He did not come to judge you, to condemn you, or to destroy you. He says that He’ll take care of your sin, that He’ll make a way for you to be alive and live with Him forever. To Peter and to us, Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid.” This is the absolution, the forgiveness of sins, the purest and sweetest Gospel. When the knowledge of our sin and God’s holiness pushes out every other fear so that we stand terrified of God’s wrath, and only God’s wrath, when we at last say, “God, I fear you.” God says to us, “I am nothing to be afraid of. Look, here is my Son, crucified for you.”

And then He says, “Look, here is my servant Peter, sent to preach you the Good News. Look, here is My servant John, James, Paul, sent to you as witnesses of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Look, here is Moses, Abraham, David, Isaiah, preachers of My name and kindness. And look, here is your pastor, sent in My name to bring the Good News to you, to forgive your sins, to baptize you, to put the body and blood of Jesus into your mouth.”

Dear saints, Jesus is not content to be silent. He wants to be preached to you. He wants His promises to be heard by you. He wants to be believed in by you. He wants His name and kindness to echo in yourears and in yourhearts because He loves you, because He has died for you, because He has risen for you.

Just as Jesus called Peter, James, and John to be fishers of men, so too has God called you – called to be His disciple, called to hear the Word of God and believe by the Holy Spirit, called to share that Word of God with all, that they too may hear and believe.

We rejoice in the calling of St. Peter because we see in this calling how Jesus still loves us. He not only dies for you, but He calls Peter and his apostles and his pastors so that you would know it, believe it, rejoice in it, and have eternal life in His name. 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 February 10, 2019 in Epiphany, Sermons


Epiphany 4

Text: Luke 4:31-44

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.

            Yet again, Luke places Jesus in the synagogue on a Sabbath, this time in Capernaum. Again, Jesus is teaching the people, “and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” Authority. Jesus has it. Luke’s account is similar to one in Matthew’s Gospel, but Luke doesn’t compare Jesus’ teaching to that of the scribes as in Matthew. For Luke, Jesus’ word is with authority. What Jesus says has power and authority. In other words, His Word does something, and why shouldn’t it do something? He is, after all, the Word of God made flesh. He was present at creation, and
according to John, John 1:3, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

            Twice our text tells us that the people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching which was authoritative. Unlike the flowery, empty and vain teaching of the day, Jesus’ teaching was simple, full of grace and truth and carried His Father’s authority. It was likely a change of pace from the preaching and teaching they were used to hearing.

            Present besides the normal crowd one might expect to see at the synagogue “was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon….” The synagogue, much like our churches today, was open
to whoever saw fit to attend. All sorts of people are found in the church. But what about this man? What was he doing in the house of God? Twice in Job we are told that Satan himself came among the sons of God when they came to present themselves before the Lord. Whether this man came by his own will or by the will of the devil that possessed him, we do not know. At any rate, this man cries out to Jesus, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”

            What this demon-possessed man says is indeed true. He is Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Holy One of God, the promised seed of the woman that would bruise the serpent’s head. This demon knew that something good could come, should come, out of Nazareth. Until Peter’s confession in Luke 9, no human participant in the gospel knows who Jesus is, but the demons do. They hold people in bondage, but they recognize that the power of God is with Jesus to destroy their kingdom by releasing those who are bound by it. Jesus has the power to exorcise, to prevail over demons, and the demon knew what was in store for him.

            Before this demon is permitted to speak anything else about Jesus, Jesus exorcises the demon from the man. The reason is two-fold. First, Jesus uses this event as an opportunity to show that He is who He has claimed to be. By teaching them, the people see that He is unlike the synagogue teachers, that His message is different, better, than what has been taught up until this point. But even more
important, Jesus hushed the demon because of what the demon said. While it was indeed true, Jesus allowing the demons to identify Him could cause great damage to His credibility. Later, it would be said of Jesus that He was Beelzebub. For the demon to state who Jesus was would only lend credence to that false idea.

            To go along with His teaching and word having authority, He rebuked the demon and the demon came out of the man. The demon left the man, “having done him no harm.” The devil left very reluctantly but had to do Jesus’ will and not do harm. The devil knows the Lord, and his words were a revelation concerning Him. He knows His name: Jesus; he knows whence He hails: of Nazareth; he knows Him to be the true Son of God, the Holy One of God, of equal majesty and power with the Father. He wants nothing to do with Jesus. He has no choice but to leave the man because of Jesus’ authority. Jesus’ authority is in more than just preaching and teaching. His authority is also seen in actions. Jesus commands the demon to be silent and he is silent. Jesus commands the demon to come out of the man and he comes out. His words lead to actions being done. Once again, the people stood in amazement; not because the demon left the man, but because how the demon left the man: by Jesus telling the demon to leave. The people were so
impressed with His authority that they spread the word of Jesus far and wide.

            Once Jesus leaves the synagogue, He proceeds to Simon’s house, where Simon’s mother-in-law was ill. With a simple request of Jesus, the fever left her and she began to serve those in her house, probably as she normally would.  The people saw what Jesus had done and other people with illnesses began to show up desiring to be healed. Jesus exercised His healing authority to heal those who were infirmed. By His powerful Word, He rebuked the fever and by His personal loving care with His hand of compassion, He healed them.

            The common thread through all of these events is the power and authority of Jesus. He taught with power and authority. He rebuked demons with power and authority. He even rebuked a fever with power and authority. Jesus speaks to nature and nature listens and obeys. Jesus speaks to spiritual powers and they listen and obey. A little word from Jesus has power and authority over all things.

            Jesus brought His power and authority to us in order to undo the damage that sin had done to His creation. Every sickness that He healed, every demon that He cast out, every person that He raised from the dead was a reversal of the curse of sin. Every healing was a sign that pointed forward to the ultimate healing that Jesus worked for us.

            The ultimate, eternal healing that Jesus worked for us happened on a cross. On that cross, Jesus suffered the final, eternal consequence of our sin. He endured the full punishment of sin for us. He endured the full wrath of God in our place. He satisfied the judgment of God against our sin. As Isaiah writes, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him
was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

            The message that needs to be heard—shouted from the rooftops and shared and lived out in all of everyday life—is the message of Christ’s all-redeeming suffering, death, and resurrection. This is not just religious truth, but whole Truth. It’s not just true for Lutherans or Catholics, Baptists, or even Christians. It’s not just true on Sunday mornings. Christ suffered and died for the entire world! This trumps everything, for there’s nothing more important than this: Christ Jesus bore and suffered the sins of everyone for all time, and that even includes the people you don’t like or those you don’t think deserve God’s mercy. Contrary to popular belief, you and I don’t deserve God’s mercy either, and yet He extends that mercy to us. We must remember what Paul writes to the Romans: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

            Christ’s Word is powerful. It has what we need. It does what it says. Christ’s Word has power and authority – the power and authority to rebuke demons – the power and authority to rebuke fevers, but ultimately, the power and authority to forgive your sins and save your soul. 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 February 3, 2019 in Epiphany, Sermons


Epiphany 3

Text: Luke 4:16-30

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.

Beginning His ministry at His Baptism, we find Jesus at Cana where He performs His first miracle. Today, Luke puts Jesus in Nazareth, “where he had been brought up.”So what is Jesus doing here? “And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day…”So it looks like Jesus is going to attend the local divine service. Quite fitting, especially since it is the Sabbath and where else would we expect to find Jesus except in His Father’s house? But what Jesus does there is a bit unexpected: “and he stood up to read.”But what Jesus read from the Scriptures wasn’t just any text. He read from Isaiah, namely, the following: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”These words from Isaiah 61 are good words to hear, as they echo what Isaiah had come to do: deliver the message of God to His people and to proclaim the love and favor of God unto the people. But is there another side to these words that Jesus quotes?

We can’t forget who Jesus is and why He is here, and I don’t mean here in the Synagogue. We can’t forget why Jesus has come. He is the long-promised and long-awaited Messiah. He is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words. The Spirit of the Lord is indeed upon Him, for He is the Lord. He has been anointed to proclaim good news to the poor. And just who are the poor? You are the poor. It doesn’t mean poor with regards to your wealth, but poor with regards to your salvation. You are spiritually poor; even worse, you are spiritually bankrupt. You have no salvation apart from Jesus. You are and have nothing without Jesus. That is why He has come, why He has come for you.

But being spiritually poor is not the only thing you have to deal with. You have to deal with your captivity, and yes, you are captive. You are captive to your sin, held hostage by all the times you have failed to keep God’s Word, held hostage by your lack of confession and repentance for all those sins you committed that you don’t think really are sins. That captivity keeps you from God and all that God desires to give you.

Everything that Isaiah has recorded, everything that Jesus reads, is indeed true. But there is even more to what Jesus has to say: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”It is true, all that Jesus has said has been fulfilled in Him. All seems right with the world according to the people: “And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.”

It’s a miracle! The people get Jesus! They understand what He is trying to tell them! And now, the next three years of Jesus’ ministry will be easy as pie, with no questioning or resistance to His message. You might think that given the people’s response, but Luke records that the people ruin it: ”Is not this Joseph’s son?”

With a simple breath, the people have gone from hearing the words of Jesus and seeing the truth in them and maybe even getting a clue of who Jesus is to seeing Him as nothing more than a carpenter’s son.

What can you expect? These are sinful people that we’re talking about. They can only grasp what they understand, and if they don’t understand it, then it must not be true; hence why Jesus is nothing more than Joseph’s son. But we are no different than the people of Jesus’ day. We too fail to grasp who Jesus truly is. Even though we have the Scriptures in plain view with a plain understanding, we don’t acknowledge Jesus for who He truly is. But then again, they had the Scriptures, the prophecies and God’s promise to inform them of who Jesus was and they failed to do so.

Jesus, the hometown boy returns to church as a guest, and He claims that Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah is now come true – in the person of Jesus. Jesus not only brings good news to the people, He is the Good News of God for every sinner! It’s just a shame that the people then didn’t hear it and a shame that you and I don’t want to hear it.

Just as quickly as the people were enamored by Jesus, they turn against Him. Luke records, “When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.”The people of Nazareth reject the good news that Jesus is the Messiah and with that, everything that comes along with it. The expected response might be for the all to throw up their hands and rejoice in the hometown hero. You can almost see them wringing their hands and licking their chops with greedy anticipation. “Here is the answer to all our problems! Can you believe that this is Joseph’s boy? We really hit the lottery with this one!”Instead, the initial reaction was split. They marveled at the way or manner He spoke of God’s love for them. But then doubt is quickly planted: “Is not this Joseph’s son?”You can almost hear them contradict themselves earlier. Surely Joseph’s son cannot be the Messiah. Eventually, doubt turns into rejection.

Isn’t that just like us? One minute we are in love with Jesus and what He comes bringing and then the next, we’re ready to throw Him out of town and off the cliff. This was the problem with the hometown crowd. This is why Jesus spoke such brutal, attention-getting Law. They were stubborn in their spiritual deafness and blindness. They heard the words of Christ, but they didn’t hear the Word of God. They didn’t listen. That is us to a tee. We hear God’s Word, but we do not listen to it. We hear God’s pronouncement of forgiveness upon us on account of Jesus Christ, but we do not listen to the fact that the forgiveness is by Jesus alone. We want to find that forgiveness in anything but Jesus. But there is no forgiveness in anything or anyone but Jesus.

What does the hometown boy do? Does He leave the people with their desires or something else? He dies. He dies for the people who want to kill Him. The people get what they wanted: Jesus dies. The people should be happy. Everything worked out the way they had wanted it. And you know what? Everything did work out the way it was supposed to. Jesus died. He died for creation. He died to fulfill the Father’s will. And He was successful. He died but did not stay dead. He rose victoriously to again fulfill the Father’s will.

Even after everything that Jesus has done for creation, what is today’s response to the shocking Good News of Jesus Christ? Some reject the Good News to their own damnation. They deny who Jesus is and what He has done. They deny that Jesus is the Messiah, the One who is promised of long ago to bring about salvation for creation. But then you have the other side of the coin as well. God the Holy Spirit creates faith in your heart through the Word of the Good News of Jesus Christ for you. By faith you see Jesus’ mission completed – from Bethlehem to Calvary, from resurrection to ascension for you. By faith you see that all of Scripture points to Jesus for you.

Jesus truly is the fulfillment of God’s promises. He is the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah. All this He gives to us through the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith. God has promised all these things to us and today they are fulfilled in our hearing. 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


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

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