Epiphany 3 – “Fulfilled in Your Hearing” (Luke 4:16-30)

C-22 Epiphany 3 (Lu 4.14-21)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.

Imagine for a moment that I said that instead of me preaching this morning, we would have guest preacher. What would your thoughts be? You might be happy or you might be saddened by the fact of a guest preacher. But what if I told you that the guest preacher would be none other than Jesus Christ Himself. Wouldn’t that be marvelous, to hear a message straight from God in the person of Jesus Christ?

That is precisely what we see happen in our Gospel reading for today. Jesus enters His hometown of Nazareth and goes to the synagogue, as was His custom. Instead of merely being a participant of the worship service, Jesus becomes the leader and reads from the scroll of Isaiah the following words: “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.” This in and of itself is not the issue. The Jewish Scriptures of the day were the Old Testament. Focusing on the words of the prophet Isaiah regarding what the coming Messiah would do would be seen as a good thing, keeping before the Jewish people who the Messiah is and what His work would be.

After He reads it, rolls up the scroll, returns it to the attendant and sits down, but now all eyes are on Jesus, almost as if He is expected to do something, and He is, for you cannot have Scripture read without explanation of what the Scripture means. And so Jesus interprets the prophecy He just read: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What a statement to make. He just said that the prophecy speaks of Him, that He is the one who fulfills it. And the people’s response was one of marveling at what He said. Jesus just hit the sermon out of the ballpark! But before we start celebrating, the tone of the people in the synagogue change. They say, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Jesus must be out of His mind to say that Scripture has been fulfilled in Him because He is nothing more than a carpenter’s Son. That’s who they know Him to be, and so it must be that way.

Here’s the problem that the people have: they cannot accept Jesus as Messiah because He doesn’t fit their ideal vision of the Messiah. It is just too hard for the people to believe that this ordinary hometown Jewish man is infact, God’s own Son. Regardless of what the people think or don’t think about Jesus, He is the long-awaited Messiah that Isaiah had foretold of long ago, the Messiah that Isaiah speaks of and the Messiah that Jesus fulfills.

Jesus speaks an omen of sorts with regards to prophets, Himself included: “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” What does Jesus mean here? Has He gone from claiming Himself the Messiah to being just a prophet? Not at all, for Christ as Messiah is indeed Prophet, Priest and King. Rather, it is that ominous declaration that He will not be taken seriously by His own people – not just in His hometown, but speaking of the Jewish people in general.

Jesus is on the losing side here. No matter what He says about Himself, He’s going to lose. They don’t recognize Him as the Messiah. They don’t regard Him as possibly being the Messiah. He is no more a prophet than what the regular person in the synagogue was. At the end of the day, Jesus was just the Son of Joseph, nothing more than a carpenter like His father.

Times have not changed that much from the time of Jesus in the synagogue until now. People still hold Jesus up as anything BUT the Messiah! Some religions speak of Him as being a prophet, but not the Son of God. Some will attribute good deeds, good sayings and the like to Him, but at the end of the day, Jesus died and He stayed dead. Even those within Christianity do not want to go so far as to say that Jesus is the sole means of salvation or ascribe Him as less than true God.

You can call Jesus whatever you want to call Him. You can call Him the Messiah, or you can call Him a man. You can call Him the Savior or a savior. You can call Him the Son of God or you can call Him the son of the carpenter, Joseph. You can call Him whatever you want to call Him. Just remember one thing before you call Jesus anything: there is only one appropriate response for salvation that you can call Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Alas, for the people of Jesus’ day, Jesus’ claim fell on deaf ears. In fact, Luke records that the people were filled with wrath, rose up and drove Jesus out of the synagogue, but that wasn’t enough for them. They “drove Him out of 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.” They don’t like what Jesus said so much that they wanted to throw Him off of a cliff. If they got so worked up over saying that He has fulfilled prophecy, I can only imagine what the response would be if He told them point blank that He came into this world to live a sinless life for them, die on the cross for them and then three days later rise from the dead, all so that they would have eternal life.

It is fortunate for us that Jesus was not thrown from the cliff and that He continues to preach and teach what He has come to do, that is, be our sacrificial Lamb to take away our sins. Jesus wants to give us the gifts that He purchased for us with His holy life, His suffering, and His death. He wants to give the gifts that He won with His resurrection from the dead. He wants to tell us how His death on the cross has freed us from our captivity, opened our eyes to His salvation, and liberated us from sin’s oppression.

He comes to us as He came to the people of Nazareth in their synagogue. He has given us His teachings in the words of the Bible. He has promised that when we hear His words, the Holy Spirit will work in us to establish and strengthen our belief in Him. He has promised to put the very name of God on us in Holy Baptism. He has promised to come to us in His very body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Jesus truly is the fulfillment of God’s promises. He is the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah. He has preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God. He has shown us the light of His salvation. With His life, suffering, and death on the cross, He has freed those oppressed by sin. With His resurrection, He offers the Lord’s favor to us. He gives these things to us through the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith, promising 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.

Epiphany 2 – “Miracles” (John 2:1-11)

C-21 Epiphany 2 (Jn 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.

At weddings, wine is more than just a festive beverage – it’s a sign. In the Old Testament, wine was a sign, a symbol, of God’s grace – of joy and abundant blessings and even hope for the future. Wine is an invitation to make merry, with appropriate moderation, of course. Wine is sometimes seen as a sign or symbol of the couple’s joyous future life together; for wine takes time, loving care, patience, and the payoff is down the line, something to enjoy to the fullest extent a little later than right now.

Turning to our text for today, John records for us Jesus at a wedding feast. 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 ran 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 house 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.

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.

The Holy Spirit inspired John to make the point that all of Jesus’ signs point to Jesus as the Anointed One, the Son of God. He is the Anointed One who takes away the sin of the world. He is the Anointed One who takes our sin to the cross and endures the punishment our sins deserve. He is the Anointed One who will give us the greatest sign – the sign of the empty tomb of our risen Savior.

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.

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.

Baptism of Our Lord – “Baptized into Death and Life” (Romans 6:1-11)

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 Epistle, which was read earlier.

We gather here today to rejoice. We rejoice because you have died. And we are truly glad that you have died, for you have died in Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism. And because you have died, you have been born again. And that fact makes us even happier than the fact that you have died, for you have been united in Christ.

As St. Paul writes to the Romans, a lot has been going on in that community. Rome was a large territory with everything under the sun at your disposal. That also included every type of religious teaching you could think of. He writes his letter to the Romans as a precursor to his visit there. The Church had been in existence there in Rome for quite some time and Paul makes mention of many acquaintances there in Rome, some 26 names mentioned in the greetings to the Roman Church. But alas, things are not perfect in Rome. Pagan teaching, false teaching and the like have crept into the teaching of the Church. But what Paul focuses on in our text for today is one of great importance to the Romans, and for the entire Christian Church, for it is a doctrine of the work of Christ in Baptism.

Paul begins with a problem that many in Christianity have, and that is sin. The problem isn’t that we are sinners, but the problem is we keep on sinning. Paul asks the question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” You see, the popular thought of the time was that the more you sinned, the more forgiveness you could get from God. So, if you sin a little, then you get a little forgiveness. But if you sin a lot, then you get a lot of forgiveness. But there’s just one problem with that thinking: IT’S WRONG! God does not forgive in measure of degrees. You are either forgiven or you are not forgiven. You can’t be forgiven any more or any less than another forgiven saint of God.

But when you look at our text, that’s not where Paul places the majority of his emphasis. Instead, he places it on Baptism, and rightly so. Paul speaks so much of Baptism in just a few verses, namely, what Baptism does and what Baptism means for the one who is baptized.

He begins by saying, “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.” These words of Paul are spoken in our funeral liturgy to remind us that we have been baptized into the death of Christ. In that death dies all of our sin; past, present, and future. Because Christ has died, He has defeated death once and for all. And because Christ has died to death and defeated it, He rises from the dead in triumphant victory over sin and death. That means you and I rise from the dead and walk in a newness of life, a life that is forgiven of our sins, a life that is founded in and centered in Jesus Christ and His all-atoning work of salvation for us.

We know that to be true in what Paul tells the Romans: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” That is not a statement to be taken lightly. That is not a statement to be overlooked. And unfortunately, that was what was happening in Rome. The victory of Christ over sin and death was losing to the popular erroneous teaching of the day. The life of a Christian does not end when they die. The death that we experience is a death of the body, but not of the soul, for we already experienced the death of the soul in our Baptism where our sins were washed away by the blood of the Lamb upon Calvary’s cross.

Listen again to what Paul says: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him…. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Death for the Christian only leads to life, life that is Jesus Christ. When we were baptized in Christ, we die to sin. Our old, sinful natures inherited from our Old Adam are drowned. Though the Old Adam rears his ugly head, we have the assurance that our sins have been forgiven and those sins sink to the bottom of the font and are washed away and the new life that is Christ Jesus rises anew in us.

As baptized children of God, you and I are sealed with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. We are marked as ones ransomed by Christ. It is by Christ’s perfect life, death and resurrection that we are ransomed by Christ. It is by Christ’s shed blood on the cross that you and I received redemption of our sins. It is by Christ and Christ alone that we are made children and heirs of the Father. It is the baptized children of God that are promised full redemption, to be perfectly renewed at the Last Day and raised incorruptible to live with Christ forever.

What the Roman Church forgot and what we tend to forget is that we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Here’s what that looks like. Are we sinners after our Baptism? Yes. Will we keep on sinning after our Baptism? Yes. Should we revel in our sin? Absolutely not! It goes back to Paul’s earlier statement: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!”

Mankind is satisfied to live and function in this perverse thinking and doing. But Paul reminds the Roman Church and us that this kind of perverse thinking has no power over us. Our sin has been drowned. We have been set free from all these sins, not because they don’t matter, but because Jesus died for them. We are forgiven because Jesus took all these sins to the cross. When we repent, when we turn away from those sins, we no longer bear the punishment we’ve earned. We’re delivered from hell to heaven, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Baptism into Christ offers to us this new life, a life that is different because God’s name has been placed upon us. Does that mean we won’t sin any more? No, but it does mean that those sins we commit have been forgiven on account of Jesus Christ.

As we see the sinful crowds along the banks of the Jordan in our Gospel lesson, Jesus does not shun sinners, but comes to be numbered among them. In your Baptism, Jesus has come to you, to number you with Him. He has declared that He does not shun you for your sin, but rather He has died to take your sin away and has risen again. He has joined you to His death and resurrection, and so you have eternal life. This is the joy that we have received because of the Baptism that Christ received, the Baptism that we have been Baptized into. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 5 – “God Seeks” (Isaiah 40:21-31)

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

You get it, don’t you? You see the big picture, right? It should be obvious to everyone, and yet it is not. Isaiah doesn’t mince words in our text for today. He begins by saying, “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” Imagine what that would sound like today: “Have you not heard from the beginning? Have you not understood even though it has been sufficiently shown to you? Now you should know it. How are you going to excuse yourselves for your errors?” Plain preaching and teaching has been set forward for God’s people, and it’s God’s people who have missed the boat. These are things they obviously should know. Not only could God’s “eternal power and divine nature” be clearly perceived, but He also revealed Himself by His holy prophets.

Everything that Isaiah says is rhetorical. It should be answered with a resounding “yes,” and yet it is not. The people know God. They are His creation. They bear His name. And yet, they don’t understand. Isaiah seems to be beating his head against a brick wall, for if these people are indeed God’s people, then they wouldn’t be doing the things that they have done up to this point in their history. They would have followed God’s Law perfectly. They would not have had other gods and idols. They would not have turned their backs to God and His Word. But looking at Israel’s history, that is exactly what they had done, time and time again.

If you want to know who God is, Isaiah gives the perfect description of Him. He is the Creator. He is the Sustainer. He is the Supreme Ruler over all. Nothing exists that God did not create. Israel has tried to put God in a box, define Him according to human standards, but God does not and cannot fit in a human-defined box. Luther, in his lectures on Isaiah 40 says, “Why do you want to make God? Read what was said to you above. God already is, He sits in the dome above the earth. This God already exists, and He is incomprehensible, sitting at the same time in heaven and on earth. And you, ungodly one, will not hear. You try to confine Him to a little statue and to reconcile His immeasurable mercy and grace with a little piece of workmanship.”

Israel didn’t fully understand who God was; if they had, they would not have strayed so far from Him and His Word. One would think that given enough time and poor choices, God’s people would learn. However, that was not the case. They would repent when things got beyond their control, pray to God to rescue them and God would rescue. Once things got better, Israel went back doing their own thing.

It has been said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That is indeed true, for we continue today to turn away from God, thinking that we can do whatever we want, whether it conforms to God’s Word or if it contradicts God’s Word.

Try as we might, regardless of what we think or say or do, God is the ultimate authority. His Word is the ultimate authority. God is what we are not, the Holy One. The fact that God is the Holy One separates Him from all His creatures. He is what we are not – perfect. Yet, that is what desires to share with us – perfection. When man was created, man was created in the image of God, to be holy and without sin. After the Fall, that is no longer the case. And so God sends forth His Son to restore what was destroyed by sin. Christ comes, not to destroy but to restore. We have already been destroyed through the work of sin. What is needed now is restoration, making whole again the relationship between God and man.

The reason God’s people of old exist and we continue to do so is only because of God’s great strength and mighty power. It is through that strength and mighty power that we see God sacrifice His only Son in order to make right what had been wronged through Satan’s temptation of man. All that was necessary for salvation would be accomplished through the giving of God’s Son. Through His life, death, and resurrection, all sin that separates us from God has been cleansed and purged. God no longer sees the utter depravity of man’s sin, but now sees the forgiveness won for us by Jesus Christ.

This was the promise made so long ago to God’s people and yet they had forgotten it, chose to ignore or whatever sinful man does that takes them away from God. When we are separated from God, when we want nothing to do with God, God does not share the same sentiment. God seeks us out, continuing to seek us out until we return to Him, for the will of God is that all men would be saved.

As Isaiah records his words, Israel had two burning questions that kept coming back to the forefront. The first question: Could God help them? The second question was a follow-up to the first: Would God help them? Yes, God could definitely help Israel. Would God help them? Absolutely, for they are His people, regardless of all the times they fell away from Him.

Those questions that Israel continued to ask are the same questions that we ask today. When we get in over our heads due to sin, we wonder if God could and would help us. We have God’s assurance that the answer is indeed yes, for we are God’s creation and He has promised to be our God through thick and thin. He promises to be our God when we fail to be His people. He promises to be our God even when we do not want Him.

That promise of God is assured in the words of Isaiah: “He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength…. But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” We have God’s promise that He will always be with us, to care and provide for us, not out of a sense of obligation, but from a loving nature of Father to child.

As Isaiah asked at the beginning of our text, “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” We need not wonder or question, for we have been told. We have God’s Word of assurance for us. We know that we do not have a God that is aloof, one that is distant from His people. Rather, we have a God who is as personal to us as He can be, for He has sent His Son into our flesh, to live and die for us, so that all would be restored. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 4 – “Christ’s Authority” (Mark 1:21-28)

B-21 Epiphany 4 (Mk 1.21-28)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.

Authority. The dictionary has multiple definitions of the word. Some define authority as: the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; the right to control, command, or determine; an accepted source of information, advice, etc.; or an expert on a subject. Authority commands something, is due something. Authority is often taken at face value and is declared to be true. The question today is this: who has true authority – Jesus or someone else?

As Mark begins our Gospel account today, Mark identifies who has authority and who does not. He writes, “They went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath [Jesus] entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” Here was Jesus, the newcomer on the scene and He marches into the synagogue and starts teaching. By all rights, Jesus had no authority to teach. He was just another guy as far as outward appearances went. He wasn’t a member of the Pharisees or scribes. He wasn’t a teacher of the Law. He was just your average guy. But the manner in which Jesus taught sets Him apart from those who had the authority to teach, namely the scribes.

It wasn’t a far-fetched notion that we would find the man Jesus in synagogue. Even at the age of 30 or so, it would be quite common to find Jesus in the synagogue and temple, for it was there that the Word of God was taught to the people. Jesus’ role was merely to listen and to learn, just like every other Jewish male in attendance. But sitting and listening wasn’t Jesus’ style, especially when He had all the answers.

And so Mark records that Jesus began to teach “as one who had authority….” It meant that people sat up and listened to what He had to say. People took the words that Jesus spoke to be true, even truer than the words spoken by the scribes. His authority was different than the scribes. It demanded more than the scribes, and so Mark contrasts the authority of Jesus with that of the scribes. The people were amazed at His teaching, for there was a marked difference between what Jesus said and what the rabbis of the day said, for Jesus is the Son of God. What He delivered He received from the Father. John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He could speak as someone with authority because all authority had been given to Him, and so a noticeable difference between Jesus and the scribes could be expected. He knew the whole will of God from eternity. He knew how the promises of the Old Testament would be fulfilled in Him.

When you looked at what Jesus preached and taught throughout His ministry, what makes up His content? He wasn’t preaching about endless circumstances for choosing the right behavior, but rather sin and grace. His message wasn’t “What should I do?” but rather “What has God done for me?” This wasn’t a new teaching in Capernaum, but a timeless teaching of Scripture that had been replaced by man’s teaching. It was a teaching that says that man is not capable of keeping God’s Law. It was a teaching that through the coming and the work of the Messiah, forgiveness would be won for helpless man.

Authority for us equals God’s Word. This is God’s Word. What you see and hear and receive here today all comes to you in the stead, by the command, and with the authority of Christ Jesus Himself. Believe it or not, but there’s nothing new here. Just because you may not have heard it before doesn’t mean that it’s brand-new. It’s not brand new. Maybe you were never taught it. Maybe you never listened. The teaching—the doctrine of repentance and salvation by faith alone in God’s grace alone because of Christ Jesus alone is not new. In fact, this authoritative Law and Gospel message of the Word is eternal. It’s just brand-new to our sinful ears.

And that’s worth noting. Notice what the people say after Jesus heals the demon-possessed man: “A new teaching with authority.” Did you catch that? Not a new teacher, but a new teaching. The divine, healing authority wasn’t in the messenger, but in the message! At first glance, we see Jesus and think, “of course the demons responded to Jesus; He’s almighty God!” Guess what? This sort of thinking has a real sad way of working itself into today’s ministry. “That was then. That was with Jesus, in the flesh. Today is different. Jesus isn’t here. What makes you right and me wrong? What gives you the right or say-so over me?”

It is Christ’s authority—the authority of the Word of God Himself made flesh—that confronts you in your sin, calls you to repentance, and proclaims the joy and peace of complete forgiveness to you. Notice: We’re not called to teach anything other than what Christ has commanded and taught. “Repent! You are that man! You are in sin. What you are doing is sinful in the eyes of the Lord.” That’s not my opinion. That’s God’s authoritative Word. “Baptism now saves you.” That’s Christ’s authoritative Word. “This is My body. This is My blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin.” That’s not my opinion or my take on a particular passage; rather, that’s Christ’s authoritative Word and promise. Let the Word do the talking. Let the Word work. It is this Word, and this Word alone, that has the authority to bring about repentance and salvation. This Word—this doctrine; this teaching—has the authority to kill and to make alive. God keeps His promises. His Word does not return to Him void and empty. It accomplishes that which He purposes.

Jesus still comes with the authority of His teaching even as His word shows up in churches all over the world. Even though the church is made up of people who are sinners, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us and makes us saints. While we still struggle as saints and sinners, Jesus has given His authority to His church on earth to proclaim and give His wonderful forgiveness to all nations in His Name. We have this authority because Jesus carried the uncleanness and captivity of all nations to the cross.

So, the authority of Jesus Christ comes to us even today as we hear the audible Word of God in our readings and preaching, as we feel the wet word of God in baptism, as we hear the forgiving word of God in the absolution, as we taste the forgiveness of sins as Jesus gives us His very body and blood in the bread and wine. This is the full power and authority of the cross applied to you. Here lies true authority: authority of Jesus Christ to forgive and to make holy. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 3 – “Man’s No and God’s Yes” (Jonah 3:1-5, 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 Old Testament, which was read earlier.

One of the first words a child learns is one that will stick with them throughout all of their life, a word more important than “mama” or “dada.” That word is “no.” And once they learn that word, they love to use it at every opportunity they can. As we get older, that word becomes ingrained in our everyday vocabulary, because we too like to use that word as much as we can. For the prophet Jonah, saying no was no different.

We all know the account of Jonah. To refresh your memory, God calls upon Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and deliver a message of repentance to them. Jonah felt that they were not worthy of God’s graciousness and so he refused. In order to get away from God, Jonah jumped into a boat that was heading the opposite direction, as if Jonah could really escape God. God sends a storm that threatens to destroy the boat he is on and so Jonah requests that the crew throw him overboard. The crew refuses to throw him overboard, knowing full well that he will drown. As the storm grew worse, the crew relented and threw Jonah overboard, but instead of drowning, he is swallowed by a big fish and kept alive in the fish’s belly for three days until he is spat out onto the shore. And that brings us to our Old Testament reading for today.

“Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.” This time, Jonah was not about to take any chances. Even if he doesn’t feel that the people of Nineveh are worthy of God’s graciousness, he is going to go to Nineveh regardless of his personal feelings. He still doesn’t like the idea of going, he still doesn’t like the people, but he goes anyways because this is what God has commanded of him.

After everything that had happened to Jonah, it would be hard for him to say no a second time, and yet he still doesn’t have anything good to say about the Ninevites. He goes to Nineveh and declares God’s message: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” This time, Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh, to be God’s mouth in that city. This same word was used when God promised to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and God followed through with His threat of punishment for the unrepentant. That’s the same thing that Jonah wanted for Nineveh, for God to wipe them out as He had done earlier.

The Lord was calling Nineveh to repent. God is a serious God, with serious love and mercy for the repentant. But what do you think? Do you God is being too gracious, or are the billions of unbelievers out there today, or those of us gathered here, really worth His effort?

For as stern as God’s warning is to Nineveh, there’s reason for hope. For if God had decided to destroy the city, just for the fun of it, just because He’s a mean, angry, hateful God just looking for people and cities to destroy, if that’s who God really is, then there would be no real purpose for Him to ever send a preacher with His message. There would be no need for Jonah, no need for me. God detests sin because it kills those whom He loves, His creation. His earnest desire, what He wants most and has moved the ends of the world for, is salvation, salvation for Nineveh, salvation for you.

We are quick to say “no” to God, to think that we don’t need what He has to offer, to think that someone is beyond God’s salvation because of how bad they are. How great it must be, to be so good, to be someone who is so righteous of their own accord that they don’t need what God offers through Jesus Christ! How sad for everyone else who isn’t such a righteous person as this.

Fortunately for us, when we say “no,” God says “yes.” God says yes to us from the very beginning of man’s fall into sin. God says yes to us sinful human beings who don’t deserve His forgiveness. God says yes to us when our self-righteousness says that we don’t need God. Man’s “no” is God’s “yes,” and I am glad that’s the way it is.

Nineveh was spared because the Ninevites repented of their sins. God saw no reason to destroy them any more. When we repent, God sees no need to destroy us any more. We shout from the rooftops, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them.” And God joyfully shouts back to us, “I forgive you all of your sins.” What a wonderful thing to hear! We have God’s promise that all of our sins have been forgiven on account of Jesus Christ. We don’t have to guess and wonder if our sins have really been forgiven or not. We don’t have to guess and wonder if God will follow through with His threat of destroying us or if He will forgive us, for we already know the answer to that question.

God desired to save the wicked people of Nineveh, so He sent His preacher there and He saved. He had compassion and did not bring down the destruction that they deserved. God desires to save you, as well, sending forth preachers still today, preaching a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. With that forgiveness, God spares you from eternal destruction, from hell and it’s torment, it’s absence from God.

As certainly as Jonah was swallowed up into the belly of the fish three days and was delivered, so Jesus was swallowed up by death and in the tomb for three days. His being raised on the third day has brought the kingdom of God now to you. Christ’s great death and resurrection have become the door to life for you through Christ and this He has given to you by His Word, Holy Baptism, and His Supper. Through these gifts, He has had compassion on you, drawing you near unto Him. Here, in His Means of Grace, does He pour out on you comfort and forgiveness in His blood instead of the Father’s wrath and anger. All is made well again, all has been forgiven you because your hearts have been turned and have repented. Death passes over you as you receive 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.

Epiphany 3 – “God Calls” (1 Samuel 3:1-10; John 1:43-51)

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

When Martin Luther was a student at the University of Erfurt, he found a copy of the Bible in the school library. As he paged through Scripture, he happened upon the words in verse 10 and read them with great interest: “And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”” He wished he could be like Samuel and hear God’s voice! The great discovery of Luther’s life was that on the pages of the Bible, God does speak to us as He once spoke to Samuel.

In Samuel’s day, as in Luther’s, “the word of the LORD was rare.” People had little interest in hearing what God had to say. The five books of Moses were kept in the tabernacle, but even the priests neglected them. Not since the death of Moses had there been a great prophet in Israel.

No greater judgment can fall upon a nation than when it suffers the loss of God’s Word. When people do not appreciate the Gospel, God often takes it from them. Israel suffered this time and time again. Eventually, they would repent and God’s Word would be proclaimed to them again, though it didn’t take long for them to neglect God’s Word as they had previously done.

Wouldn’t it be nice if God were to call us the same way as He did Samuel? How would He call us? What will He call us to do? Fortunately for us, God does call us, just as He did Samuel. He doesn’t call us in the way that He did Samuel, but He calls us through another voice, that of His Son, Jesus Christ. He calls us to come to Him, just as He did Samuel.

As God called His people of old, He used the prophets to do so. But that is no longer the case today. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son….” What we sometimes forget is that God did not stop calling His people, He merely changed the messenger who was calling. Before, it was the prophets calling the people of Israel to believe in the promised Messiah of God. Later, it was John the Baptist who was the final voice of the people, preparing them to receive the Messiah who was closer than what the people thought. In the end, God sent His long-promised Son to be the ultimate voice, calling the people to repent and believe. But His calling went even further than that. He called 12 lowly men to be His disciples, to be His mouthpieces and to proclaim who He was and what He had come to do. They had three years to learn just what to say and how to say it. When it was time, they continued the same preaching and teaching as their Teacher.

All throughout His ministry, we see our Lord calling people. He calls the sinner to Him to repent. He calls the child to Him, to be the example of faith. He calls for the non-believer to come to Him and believe. He calls the believer to Himself so they may be strengthened. He calls the entire world to Himself in order to be baptized. He calls you each and every time you enter this place, His Father’s house, to confess your sins and receive His absolution. He calls you to feast upon His body and His blood for the forgiveness of your sins, a forgiveness that is certainly needed by all.

As we look at Jesus calling Philip and Nathanael, the calling is reminiscent of that of Samuel. Samuel is called by God to be His servant and to do His work. Philip is first called by Jesus and he declares to Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael asks the all-important question: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The question is one that is meant to establish who Jesus was. Everyone knew that Nazareth did not produce anything. But in this instance, Nathanael was wrong. Nazareth did produce something good: it produced the Savior of creation.

When God calls us, the message that He calls us with is not one that is fluff, not one that can be ignored. However, throughout Israel’s history, they viewed God’s message as fluff and it was ignored, time and time again. Apparently, God’s people knew better than God Himself did. They knew exactly how to get themselves into trouble – ignore God and His Word. Eventually they would realize that they were not capable of getting themselves out of trouble and so they would turn to God, sometimes rather reluctantly.

When God sends forth His Son, unfortunately, the world had the same problem as they did with God – the world knew better. They didn’t need to listen to Him, just like they didn’t need to listen to God. But the message of Jesus was the exact same as that of God. Both call the people of God to repentance. Both call the people of God to believe. Both call the people of God unto themselves, for there is found everlasting life.

Try as we might, we can never cease depending on God. God created us. Jesus redeems us. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us and makes us holy. We are called by God to come to Him, to receive from Him, to worship Him, to serve Him as we serve our neighbor. God calls us, not for His benefit, but for ours. Even though God is calling, we seek to flee. Why is that? Why do we flee the gracious hand of our creator?  We flee because deep down inside we know who we are. While we are with others who are like us, we draw comfort from the fact that we are more or less about as good as the people who are around us. We go into denial about our sin. We can deceive ourselves into thinking we are not so bad after all. But that’s where we are wrong. We are so bad. In fact, we’re even worse!

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

God calls men of every culture to proclaim His message … the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The message of repentance is always similar to the message that God gave to Samuel that terrifies us of our sin. The message of forgiveness is always similar to the message that God gave to Philip that always points to Jesus.

Like Samuel the first and second and third time, maybe we do not recognize that the Lord is calling to us. Yet He does call. He calls to us gathered here in His home. He calls through His living Word. He calls us unto Himself and we respond, “Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Baptism of our Lord – “Baptism” (Mark 1:4-11)

B-18 Epiphany 1 (Mk 1.4-11)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

As we look at the major events of the Church Year, we immediately think of the big two: Christmas and Easter. Christmas, as we just celebrated, is when God takes on human flesh in the form of Jesus Christ. Easter, which we will celebrate in just a few months, marks the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ and His defeat of sin, death, and the devil. We would most certainly say that those two events rate very high in the life of the Church. But as we look at our Gospel for today, another event is highlighted, one that is indeed very important to the life of the Church: the Baptism of Jesus.

In our text, we see two sets of Baptism taking place. First, John the Baptist “appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Repentance was the purpose or result of John’s baptism. One way to view this is that one could not be said to have repented unless and until one had been baptized. This was so because baptism was not one way to achieve repentance for John – it was the way to attain it, indeed, the only way. John’s baptism enacted the plea and vision of the Old Testament concerning preparation for the coming personal presence of God in the promised Messiah. Through the baptism of John, God made for himself a cleansed and repentant people, prepared for His visitation.

The people acknowledged who John was, the last of the Old Testament prophets, and went to him in order to be baptized and to confess their sins. Everything that John did was not for his benefit or for his own desires, but rather it was for the benefit of those who came to him. The baptism that John offered, a baptism of repentance, said something of the individual coming to be baptized. They desired to repent, to turn from their sinful ways.

To keep from drawing attention to himself, John never took credit for anything. He always sought to get the focus off of himself and onto the One to whom the focus was deserved: the coming Messiah. John says, “After me comes he who is mightier than I….” That brings us to the second Baptism that takes place in our text. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”

In an interesting turn of events, Jesus comes to be baptized by John. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; He had no sins to confess! Why did Jesus need to be baptized for the remission of His sins that didn’t exist? St. Matthew records for us Jesus’ simple reply to John when John questions the Baptism: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John baptized Jesus with no further discussion.

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

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

So it is that Jesus submits to the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He repents of your sin. He undergoes the sinner’s baptism for sinners. Jesus stands with us in the waters of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

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

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

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

Transfiguration of Our Lord – “Mountain Experiences” (Matthew 17:1-9)

A-26 Transfiguration (Mt 17.1-9)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.

Mountains are a beautiful expression of God’s creation. They are great in size but can also be small in size. They can be snow covered year round or green year round. When it comes to the Bible, God uses mountains time and time again to convey His Word of Law and Gospel to His people. Today, as we end the season of Epiphany, we find Jesus on a mountain and things will never be the same again for three of His disciples.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John received a preview of heavenly glory. They were privileged to see a display of Jesus’ divine glory, the glory that was His as the Son of God, although it was only occasionally and partially revealed during His time on earth.

There must have been something special about these three disciples of Jesus, for on a number of special occasions did these three and none of the other disciples accompany Jesus. Today would indeed prove to be a very special occasion, as they would serve as witnesses, who in due time, could tell the world what they saw and heard there on the mountain.

There on the mountain, Jesus was transfigured before the disciples. The word would be one that you would recognize, metamorphosis. But this was more than just passing through various stages of evolving like a caterpillar to a butterfly. This was a complete change of Jesus, in that His full divinity became apparent. Matthew says, “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” This reminds us of the brightness of Moses’ face when he came down from Mount Sinai, but there Moses was only reflecting the glory of God. It reminds us of the glory of the Lord that shone around the shepherds at Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth and of the bright shining angel at the tomb of Jesus on Easter morning. Here we see the full glory of God reflected in Jesus Christ.

This was a spectacle to see if there was ever a spectacle. We see the human nature of Christ and even His clothing was completely immersed with the brilliance of the divine nature. For most of the 33 years Jesus lived visibly in our world, He emptied Himself of the use of that divine glory. He masked His divine nature behind His human nature. On this occasion the Father permitted His Son’s divine nature to shine through the human shell.

Things start to happen, things that should seem impossible. Following the full glory of God being revealed in Jesus, Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain and begin talking to Jesus as if it’s just another day. Moses, the great representative of the Law, was God’s messenger for the Israelites. He led them to the Promised Land, though he himself was not permitted to enter. Moses died at Moab and was buried by the LORD Himself. Elijah, the great representative of prophecy, also appeared. Elijah was taken up to heaven bodily without experiencing death. Now they both stood before the three disciples talking with Jesus.

As far as Peter was concerned, the sight was remarkable, and it truly was. He wanted to freeze the scene as it was. He wished to put everyday life on hold. He wanted to preserve this glorious moment. Peter wanted to keep everything as it was, so that these famous guests could remain where they were and so that Jesus could remain as He was. Who could really fault Peter for wanting this? When you have Moses, the great lawgiver and face of God’s people, would you want to give him up? When you have Elijah, the great prophet of old, who would want to send him away?

It was “good” for those three disciples to be there, and it is good for us to witness this amazing display of the Savior’s glory. In a short time, Jesus would endure the brutal agony and indignity of the cross. This glimpse of Jesus’ glory was meant to remind the three disciples—and it reminds us—that Jesus was and ever is the eternal Son of God.

If things could not have been extraordinary enough, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”” Here you are on a mountain with Jesus, minding your own business. Suddenly, you see the full glory of God reflected in Jesus. Next,  Moses and Elijah appear out of nowhere and begin having a conversion with Jesus. That alone is a sight to behold. But then you hear the voice of God speak. But there would be more to this story, more to this mountain.

The Mount of Transfiguration points us to an even more important mountain, this time, Mount Calvary. Here we see the full glory of God revealed, there on Calvary we see the full love of God displayed. St. Paul says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Here on the Mount of Transfiguration we see Moses and Elijah. There on Calvary we see Jesus as fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. There on Calvary we see the how far God would go to forgive us our sins — all the way to the cross.

Jesus is shown to be the only one who can deal with our sin. Only Jesus fulfills the Law, has all power, and lives the glory of God. It is only Jesus who can save us from our sin. Jesus worked our salvation for the glory of God. By Jesus’ holy life, death on Calvary, and resurrection is God’s plan of salvation fulfilled. Through faith in Him, you are forgiven and have eternal life.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter sought to stay on the mountain forever with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. He was focused on the here and now. What he failed to realize was that Jesus was not destined for this mountain, but He was destined for another mountain, one that would bring about salvation for all of mankind.

The voice of God speaks and tells us to listen to Jesus. That means we do not add or subtract from salvation through Jesus Christ. All of Scripture points to Him, including that of Moses and Elijah.

Jesus showed us who He truly is with His transfiguration. His ordinary appearance showed that He is true man. His transfigured appearance showed that He is true God. This will help the disciples survive the events of Jesus’ Passion. This will remind all Christians that their sins are truly paid in full.

So what does this mean for us? It means that the work of Christ is complete. It means that God the Father is pleased with the atoning sacrifice of Christ and that salvation is assured for the believer. It means that salvation is assured for you. From the Mount of Transfiguration to Mount Calvary, we see His glory in the salvation He has won for us. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 6 – “Christ’s Church” (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)

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.

Have you ever paid close attention to the progression of eating food from birth to adulthood? Following birth, a baby is on a solely milk-based diet, giving to them the basic nutrients that are necessary for growth. As they age, they begin supplementing their milk diet with baby food, starting out with Stage 1 and increasing to Stage 3 foods. Eventually, they reach something that resembles real food. Children need help cutting their food and tricks to help them eat because they are fearful of foods, especially weird things called vegetables. Once we reach adulthood, we are capable of eating a plethora of foods, but to get to this point, it was a progression. For the Church at Corinth, Paul feeds them much the same way that we feed children – starting with the basic and the simple and moving to the complex.

As Paul presents the Gospel to the Corinthians, he could not address them as spiritual “but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” These Corinthians, so fascinated by man’s wisdom, so bent on acquiring it, so vain about the worldly wisdom they possessed, were insisting that Paul also give them God’s deepest wisdom when he preached to them. That sounds wonderful, with great potential to the Corinthians, doesn’t it? Aside from their fascination with worldly wisdom, which, who could blame them since that’s what sinful man tries to attain, they want the fullness of the Gospel preached to them. But there was a problem with their desire – they weren’t ready for it. They were not capable of drinking from the firehose; they needed to drink from the faucet in little bursts.

Paul was faced with a question: how much of God’s wisdom can you feed an infant? The Corinthians were only babes in Christ, too immature spiritually to absorb much heavenly wisdom. They were too worldly; their flesh was too weak to understand more than the basics of Christianity. Paul gives to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ but in a way that they were able to digest. He says, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.” It wasn’t a slight to the Corinthians but an honest evaluation of where they were in their Christian faith. No mother gives her infant solid food when they cannot chew or digest it; so Paul could give the Corinthians only the simplest of spiritual food, that is, spiritual milk. They thought they were ready for the spiritual big leagues when they were yet still a farm team.

What was at the root of their spiritual problems? They faced many a division, from within and without. They had spiritual divisions as to who to follow, what message to listen to, what god they should confess and the like. They were squabbling like children, each wanting to first. They were behaving like children rather than the men who they were.

As if that weren’t bad enough, they started bragging about which teacher they followed. There were those that followed Apollos and thought they were getting some extra blessing that those who followed Paul were not getting and vice versa. For them, it wasn’t so much about the message as to who was preaching the message. Paul seeks to put an end to their egotistical ways. He said with regard to himself and Apollos, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” It wasn’t about the man, it was about the message. That was Paul’s point from our Epistle reading. It was vital for the Corinthians to understand that Paul was a mouth, a speaker of the Gospel. He didn’t add anything to it. What could Paul add? Remember, Paul was the former persecutor of the Church: it’s not like he had years and years of good works and merit saved up that he could hand out to others. Apollos was a former Greek heathen who’d lived as an enemy of God for years too. He had no salvation to contribute to what Jesus had won, either. Had both been saints their entire lives, they’d still have nothing to add to Christ! Both teachers were Christians by the grace of God, chosen by God to speak His Word. Whether it was Paul or Apollos speaking it, what mattered was that it was the Gospel.

It was a simple truth, but such an important one for the Corinthians to believe. Why? Because as long as they thought Paul was something they needed, they would think that Christ was less than sufficient to save them. But once they realized that Paul and Apollos were simply the messengers of the King, they were ready to rejoice in Christ and Him crucified, that Jesus had done everything necessary for their salvation.

For the Church today, it’s not about the pastor, though there are have been the fair share of churches that have been centered upon the pastor. What happens to those congregations often turns out to be detrimental. This fact is important: the preacher is just the instrument. He can easily be removed or replaced, though by God and not the sinful desires of man. The pastor is God’s tool, not theirs. The pastor doesn’t really matter for salvation; what matters is the Gospel that is preached.

The preacher is just the mouth and that is the comfort for the Church. Preachers come and go, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. As Paul concludes our text, “For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” Owned by God, given one’s duty by God, empowered to one’s service by God, and ultimately held accountable by God, the servant is a conscripted slave laborer by the ultimate of lords—the sole God of everything that is. Everything that the pastor says and does is for the work of the Church and not for himself. Paul’s desire is to retrain the Corinthian’s focus from their human leaders and refocus it to God. Who is the one who gives growth to God’s Word? It is not the pastor but it is God. The Church remains God’s Church and not the pastor’s Church. It is not about personalities but the Word.

The Lord gives the growth, and the Lord is faithful. By His Word which endures forever, He has made you His field, His building, His holy people. By that eternal Word, you are forgiven all of your sins. 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.