Good Friday

Tonight, you’re going to hear something that you don’t want to hear, something that will make you uncomfortable. And if that is what happens, then I have done my due diligence this evening.

When the soldiers arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, it was all a ruse. He was to stand trial and answer to the crimes of heresy. But this trial was rigged from the very beginning. The verdict was delivered before the trial took place. Jesus was guilty. The trial was just a formality to allow them to execute Jesus.

When you look upon Calvary’s cross, what is you see? You see a man on the cross! You see Jesus. This is His purpose. This is why God is man. This is why the eternal Second Person of the triune God has taken human flesh. This is the reason. Behold the man on the cross, bleeding, gasping, suffering, dying.

Behold His hands, which the night before were washing His disciples’ feet. Now they are pinned with nails to the rough crossbeam of this instrument of torture and execution. Behold the hands that scooped Adam out of the dirt but are now stained with blood and dirt. Behold the fingers with which He touched lepers, stuck into the ears of a deaf man, and picked up bread to declare it to be His body. Now they jerk uncontrollably every time He has to pull Himself up on the nails through His wrists to take a breath.

Behold His feet, nailed to the cross, bearing His weight as He dies. Behold the feet that walked from town to town as He taught His disciples, healed the sick, and preached the good news of man’s release from captivity to sin and death. Behold the feet that Mary anointed with a pound of expensive ointment, washed with her tears, and wiped with her hair. Behold the feet that are now bound in place. Behold the feet that must endure stabbing pain as they push up on the nail pinning them in place. Behold His heel, which in this act of dying is crushing the head of the serpent, destroying the kingdom of Satan, answering for mankind’s sinful rebellion.

It is truly a sight to behold. It’s bloody and gory and downright uncomfortable, and we aren’t even looking at it; we’re just hearing the various accounts of the Evangelists. This was a spectacle to behold, and indeed, that’s what it was. Christ’s hanging upon the cross was the Roman entertainment of the day, and seeing a beaten and bloodied and dying Jesus was exactly what His opponents wanted. And they got exactly what they wanted.

Not only was Christ crucified, but two criminals alongside Him. Luke records for us the railings of one of the criminals: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” What this criminal could not see, what the Pharisees and others could not see is that that was exactly what Christ was doing – saving them. The only way to save them was for Him to die and He was close to death. It was quickly coming. But with His death came life – life for all who believe in Him.

To get to this point, the point of making full atonement for creation came at great cost. We know the cost of Christ – His life. But it also came at cost to the Father. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” God watched as His Son, the Lord of Life, lost His life. He watched as the blood poured out from Him. God watched. He did nothing to intervene. Those that want to say that God is a God of love and it’s not a loving act by letting Christ die, then you don’t understand who God is. God is love so much that He lets Jesus die. God is love so much that He doesn’t do anything except watch because Christ’s death is what redeems creation, it is what redeems you. That is why we sing, “What Thou, my Lord, has suffered/Was all for sinners’ gain….”

It is for your sake, the poor, miserable, wretched sinner that you are, that Christ has died. It is for you that Christ pours out His blood in a lavish washing away of sin. And it’s not just some sins that Jesus forgives. It’s not just the sins of the Jews that Christ forgives. It’s not the sins of the innocent that Christ forgives, for there are none who are innocent of sin. If you think that Good Friday, God’s Friday, isn’t a big deal, then you don’t understand what takes place, who this is for in the first place.

The hymnist right summarizes for us the reality of today’s events: “Ye who think of sin but lightly/Nor suppose the evil great/Here may view its nature rightly,/Here its guilt may estimate./Make the sacrifice appointed,/See who bears the awful load;/’Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed,/Son of Man and Son of God.” There is no sin that we think of lightly, for even the smallest of sins earns for us death. But for you, for you, God makes the ultimate sacrifice. This sacrifice isn’t a “forgiven until the next sin” sacrifice like all the sacrifices of old were. This sacrifice is that one and done, once for all, never needing to be sacrificed again, perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, sacrifice. He cries out from the cross, “It is finished.” All that is needed to forgive you your sins, past, present, and future, is accomplished for you on the cross.

For you and for the all of creation, the blood of Jesus is poured out. Behold His blood, which pours from His lifeless body, staining the wooden beams of the cross, spilling onto the dirt, reddening the soil, watering His creation. Behold the blood that He first shed when He was an eight-day-old boy. Behold the blood for which the crowd thirsted and ironically asked for exactly what they needed, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Behold the blood that was foreshadowed on every Day of Atonement when the blood of the sacrifice was splattered on the mercy seat, on the altar, and on the people. Behold the blood He gave to His disciples in the cup the night before, telling them its function: shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Behold the blood that proves that this God was also truly and fully man, a Brother in blood to us sinners. This is the blood by which this eternal High Priest enters once for all into the Most Holy Place, giving sinful men access to a holy God.

Here is your God. Beaten and blooded, hanging lifelessly upon the cross, with His blood washing over you, giving you life. This is why God is man: not to teach you how to be good, not to show you the right way to live, not to set a perfect example, not to impart His wise teaching. God is man so that He can die for men. He has a life so that He can lay it down in exchange for yours. For you, “It is finished.” Amen.

Maundy Thursday

This evening, it’s all about covenants. We hear in our Old Testament reading that the LORD “will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” That same passage is echoed in our reading from Hebrews. So, since we’re talking about covenants, what exactly is a covenant? The basic dictionary definition of covenant is “an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified.” That definition could most likely work for us, but there is a biblical definition that we will focus on: “the conditional promises made to humanity by God, as revealed in Scripture.” While that definition narrows things down for us, there is one that captures God’s covenant even better: “the agreement between God and the ancient Israelites, in which God promised to protect them if they kept His law and were faithful to Him.”

That’s what we need to focus on – keeping God’s Law. But if you’ve read the Old Testament, you will find in very short order how we cannot keep God’s Law. It all started with a very basic command of God given to Adam and Eve: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” That sounds pretty basic and self-explanatory: eat from any tree except the one tree that God said not to eat from. Oh, and by the way, if you eat from it, you will die. That should have been all the warning Adam and Eve needed. We don’t need caution tape or signs that say “Don’t Eat!” to know not to eat of it. And yet, with a little gentle persuasion, Adam and Eve did just that, they ate from it and they died.

So there you have it. That bond, that covenant, between creation and God destroyed. So what is God to do? Creation has been kicked out, sin a permanent part of creation from here until eternity. God does what God does best – He enacts a new covenant between God and man: the promise of a Savior. But as time goes by, that Savior is nowhere to be found. God’s people come and go and make an even bigger mess of things and God creates a new covenant with the people. Jeremiah records it for the people, but here is the key to this new covenant: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Generations pass and Israel has failed to see the promised Savior. But just because there is no Savior to see doesn’t mean that there is no Savior. All things work according to God’s divine timetable. And so, on a Thursday evening after Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, gathered around the table for the Passover meal, Jesus creates a new covenant, THE covenant for the apostles and for the Church: “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me…. This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

This heavenly food that Christ gives is indeed a new covenant. But what does this covenant mean? This harkens back to the covenant spoken of in Jeremiah. Turning to our Epistle reading from Hebrews, we hear these words: “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”

That is what Christ has done for you. Christ has loved you and given Himself for you in His most holy Supper, and so we hear, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is through his flesh….” Christ’s body and blood, broken and given, shed and poured out for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins. That is the Lord’s Supper.

For this He was born, and for this He died: to have the body and blood that would be offered on our behalf, to give us that body and that blood as food and drink, sweet and satisfying to sinners desperately in need of forgiving food. On that holy night in which He was betrayed, on the very eve of His crucifixion and sacrifice, while yet in His humility, He gave His body and His blood to us which He would give on the next day for us. For this He was born, and for this He died.

The woman has a Seed. That Seed has grown and is fruit. That fruit restores us to the garden’s fellowship and beyond. It undoes death and removes the curse. Here, in His Holy Supper, the Lord gives Himself to us, to eat and to drink, for the forgiveness of sins. This is what it is to be a Christian, not simply to be spared death but to have fellowship with God and to be sundered forever from the devil.

The fruit of the tree is on the paten and in the chalice. The angel of death passes over. He has no claim upon us. We belong to God. We bear His watery name in our Baptism. We eat at His table. We are His people and more. We are not merely guests, sojourners in His house for but an hour a week, but we are members of the royal family. We are not Gentile dogs hoping for crumbs, worshiping what we do not know. We, by the grace of God, are the Lord’s own beloved and immaculate bride. We belong to God. We are baptized. We eat at His table. We are gathered under the protecting shadow of the cross that draws ever closer.

This new covenant that God grants to us comes at great price – the death of Christ. But you are worthy of such a price, for the alternative is a creation forever separated from God. God does what He needs to do to join He and creation together again. On this night, it is by Christ giving to us His body and blood to eat and drink. This isn’t some symbol or representation of what Christ did 2000 years ago. No, this is His very body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This is Christ feeding you with Himself, the greatest food, the most necessary food.

When a person receives the bread and wine in Holy Communion, that person receives Jesus. As He said, “This is My body.” The heart of faith grasps the Word, which puts in the benefit, and then takes out the benefit, namely, all that Christ is according to His Word. The fruits of Jesus’ sacrificial love are in His Holy Supper for you to eat and to drink. Behold the man who gave Himself in the perfect act of love. Behold the man who on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples as His own body. Behold the man who poured His blood into the loveless mouths of His disciples to forgive their sins. Behold the man, veiled in bread and wine, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for life and salvation.

This is the Church of the New Testament. This is the Church of a new covenant. Christ Himself is her mediator. Like the Church of the Old Testament, it is a testament, a covenant, of blood. Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us. His body and blood have been rent asunder in death and joined again in the resurrection. This covenant has been fulfilled for you, fulfilled in the promise of a Savior, fulfilled in the broken and shed body and blood, fulfilled upon the cross and fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ our Lord. Amen.

Palm Sunday

Text: John 12:12-19

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

The time is ever drawing near. Jesus has made the journey from Bethany to Jerusalem, a roughly 2-mile trek. When Jesus arrives, He doesn’t seek rest or refreshment after the journey. He proceeds to enter Jerusalem with great fanfare from the people. The people, here for the Passover, were likely making their preparations to celebrate the Passover in just a few days. But John sets up a scene for us similar to that of Matthew, Mark, and Luke: “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.”

Just who is this “large crowd” that John speaks of? Just verses before, John reveals that there was a large crowd of Jesus who had learned that Jesus was there, and they came, not only because of Jesus, but also because of Lazarus, “whom he had raised from the dead.” This crowd, along with the Passover pilgrims, had heard about Jesus, potentially seen some of His miracles, maybe even been affected by His miracles. They came to see Jesus because they knew that He was different, special. It is echoed by their cries, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

The people’s cries were not short-lived cries. John’s use of the verb implies that they kept shouting from the entrance of Jerusalem, on into the city, through the streets, and to the Temple. And what they shout is the same thing we shout today: Hosanna! It means “grant salvation” or “save, I pray.” Whether the people knew it or not, whether they believed it or not, that is precisely what Jesus had come to do.

Jesus enters Jerusalem and does exactly what Zechariah had prophesied, words that the people would have recognized:“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humbled and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Here, standing before the people, is God’s prophecy fully revealed. Those gathered around shouting Hosanna, save us, are likely fellow believers in Christ and what He has taught about Himself the last three years. This was indeed good news for them, for their King, their Messiah, had arrived and they knew it! Or did they?

John throws in a bit of doubt for us, at least as far as the disciples were concerned: “His disciples did not understand these things at first….” Poor misguided and confused disciples! How could you not see what was taking place and know what this meant? Jesus had been teaching them for three years, preparing them for this very week, and when that week of Jesus’ Passion begins, it is lost on the disciples. But just as easily as it is lost on the disciples, it is lost on us as well. What is today all about? What is this week all about? For those within the Christian Church, we know that this is all about God keeping His promise of salvation for His creation; it’s all about the Son of God undoing sinful Adam’s Fall. It’s all about making right what was made wrong by sin.

You and I, we get that. We understand that. We look forward to that. But there are those that see today, this week, next Sunday, as just another day, another week. It means there’s a deadline on getting all the ingredients for the Easter ham or making dinner reservations for next Sunday, as kids go looking for eggs hidden by the Easter Bunny.

Fortunately for us, fortunately for the disciples, we get this, but not from ourselves. We get this by the Holy Spirit. The disciples fully got this, not when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, but after His resurrection. Despite being taught by Jesus for three years, despite being told by Jesus exactly what would happen, they still did not get it until after His death. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to wait until such time but this has been revealed to us through the Holy Spirit.

As the crowd gathered, they continued to bear witness to what they had seen and heard, not just when Jesus rode into to Jerusalem, but about His teachings and miracles, including the raising of Lazarus. This was indeed an important and powerful testimony to Jesus and who He is and what He came to do. But just as important as this event was, it fell on deaf ears with the Pharisees: “So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.””

Here was a turning point for the Pharisees. They saw their power sipping through their fingers. Jesus had been a nuisance for the last three years, but as Jesus begins His Passion, it has become too much. If Jesus didn’t have to become silent before, He did now. But what they failed to realize is that putting Jesus to death, silencing Him so He could not disrupt things for them, this was going to make the biggest noise since creation itself. As we move closer and closer to the cross, the sound of a resounding victory gets ever louder.

It is interesting to note what the Pharisees say to one another.It might have been true at the moment, but would we agree that it is true today? Does the world really go after Jesus or does the world go after something or someone else? Does the world find its salvation in the cross of Christ or is salvation found somewhere else? Maybe a better question to ask is this: do you go after Jesus or do you go after something or someone else? We might find temporary comfort in what this world has to offer, but the comfort that this world gives is fleeting at best. It is here today but gone tomorrow. What Christ has done for you was here yesterday, it is here today, and it will be here tomorrow. The gift of salvation won for you by Jesus Christ on the cross was here yesterday, here today, and will be here tomorrow. We cannot say the same about the false comfort that we receive from the world.

As Jesus rides into Jerusalem, it is with the people on His mind – the sinner, the tax collector, the prostitute and adulterer, the reprobate, the Pharisee, the Jew and Gentile, the unbeliever – each and every person of creation. That is what Jesus is all about. As Jesus enters Jerusalem, it is for you. As He makes His way to the cross, it’s all about you.In service to you, the Savior suffers far more than physical torment and death. He suffers His Father’s judgment for your sins and for the sins of the world. He suffers hell there for you. “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down His life for His friends,” He once told His disciples, and there is no greater love or service than His cross in your place. Do not miss, by the way, that the Father is serving you at the cross, too: for rather than judge you for your sin, He gives His Son in your place, for you.

Jesus would fulfill every sacrifice that God had demanded. He would live a sinless life as the Lamb without blemish. He would die the death that was meant for us; a death filled with suffering and eternal separation from God. Instead, we reap from His death on the cross. He gives to us His righteousness in exchange for our sins. We continue to sing with the Church, “Hosanna!” in the sure confidence that Christ has indeed come to save 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.

Lent 5C

Text: Luke 20:9-20

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

The time for Jesus’ Passion is quickly approaching, and what better way to prepare for that than to tell parables? That’s what Jesus does here because that’s one of the chief ways of teaching the masses about Himself. But this parable isn’t necessarily a fan-favorite. This parable ends with death, not something that we enjoy hearing, but something that Jesus needed to say, a point He needed to make.

This parable involves a vineyard and a master who charged various tenants to manage it in his absence. One thing we know about the parables of Jesus is that there tends to be a problem or a teaching situation in them, and this one is no different. “When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.” At first glance, it seems that this is a stewardship parable, the master seeking to get some of his fruit which has been entrusted to the tenants. But as Jesus tells the parable, the master of the vineyard doesn’t get what is owed him. Sending a servant, he returns beaten and empty-handed. Sending a second servant, he returns beaten, shamefully treated and empty-handed. Sending a third, he returns wounded and cast out of the vineyard.

What is the master to do when his tenants refuse to give him a portion of the fruit due him? The vineyard does not belong to the tenants but rather to the master and they have treated him with great disservice through their actions to his servants who went on his behalf. The only sensible thing for him to do is to send his son: “I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.”

It seems clear from what the master says that he is not entirely sure the tenants will listen and obey the son, and yet he sends him anyways. It is entirely possible that the tenants will recognize the son and do what is expected of them, but that’s not how Jesus tells the parable: “But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”

Just like that, with no consideration of the master, the tenants become greedy and selfish and devise a plan to get that what they want at the expense of others. It seems as if Jesus might be telling this parable about certain someones, but I wonder who?

Luke tells us who those certain someones are – “The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people.” Jesus addresses the people but His words are aimed especially at the members of the Sanhedrin, the Scribes and Chief Priests, who hear what He says. Jesus addresses the people but is actually warning them about what their leaders will do. Their system, and it truly had become their system rather than God’s, is going to be destroyed.

The temple will be destroyed. Jerusalem will fall. The way that the Jewish leaders had thought everything would work out would fall apart. What they thought would be a comfortable life with them in charge would eventually come to an end. Their response: “Surely not!” Jesus quotes from Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” He continues: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

Jesus deliberately exaggerated the role of the evil tenants in order to show the awful abuses of the religious leaders down through the years. During various times in Israel’s history, they have worshipped false gods – even in the temple area. At times, they even offered human sacrifices. As far as the prophets were concerned, most of them spent the majority of their ministry behind bars and many of them died at the hands of those who should have honored them. Even the last of the great Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, lost his head to a ruler’s sword.

As unusual as the tenants are, the owner is even more so. His first servant returned with severe injuries and no fruit. What landowner would not immediately form a group to go after them and at the very least put the tenants in prison? Instead, this land owner sends servant after servant. Then, when the servants return beat up and bloody, he sent His son? Yet this owner sent his son knowing that he would most certainly die.

This is such a picture of God the Father. He patiently sent, not just three, but thousands of prophets to His people. He has every right to wipe us out for the sin we have committed, but He is patient with us instead, as the Apostle Peter wrote: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

God the Father has even sent His Son to a violent death like the owner in the parable. God, in His love for us, sent His only begotten Son to die for us in order that we might have a new life. Even as the wicked tenants threw the son outside the vineyard and then killed him so also the corrupt Jewish establishment sent Jesus out of town to die on a cross.

The death of Jesus had to be. His death was the payment for the world’s sin. Sinners treat God terribly with disrespect and irreverence. God gives them daily bread and they fail to be thankful. God gives them things to use in service to their neighbor, and they hoard it for themselves and use it to boast of their accomplishments. God gives them bodies and minds to be used for honorable purposes, and they misuse and pollute them both for temporary pleasure in self-destructive ways. That’s how sinners treat God. But that is not how God treats sinners. He gives us Jesus, for this is how God treats sinners: with patience, mercy and grace. He patiently waits. He continues to send His Word and preachers to proclaim it. He patiently showers you with forgiveness in His Word and Sacraments to keep you in the true faith, even as He patiently gives this dying world more time so that more might hear and be saved.

Jesus, who was the rejected stone, conquered sin, death, and the power of the devil with His holy life, His suffering, His death on a cross, and His resurrection from the dead. He is now the living cornerstone for me, for you and for all who believe. We have a Savior who suffered extreme rejection for us and is now alive. Jesus is the cornerstone that establishes the church forever. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 4C

Text: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”

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.

Leave it to Pharisees to be Pharisees. They just can’t handle the idea that Jesus is who He says that He is. Whenever there is a chance to go off on Jesus, to downplay His credibility, to put an end to Jesus’ nuisance, they take it. In today’s Gospel reading, we see just that: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.””

Besides Jesus being Jesus, which is a problem of its own, the problem we see today is that Jesus associates Himself with the low-lifers of tax collectors and sinners. I don’t say that lightly, because that is exactly how they are seen in the eyes of the Pharisees. Anyone who doesn’t live up to the Pharisee’s standards is a third or fourth-class citizen. If there’s anyone who doesn’t live up to those standards, it’s a tax collector and a sinner. Sinner here means anyone who doesn’t keep the Law like the Pharisees do. And the fact that Jesus, or anyone for that matter, would associate themselves with the likes of these people, well, it’s an outrageous abomination!

How easy it is for the Pharisees to snub their noses at everyone because they aren’t a Pharisee. How easy it is for us to snub our noses at someone because they’re not as good as we are. Yes, I just put us in the Pharisee camp because we like to be all judgey to people, comparing them and their behavior to our more clearly better behavior. But to do that seeks to hide the fact that we are a sinner, just like they are, just like everyone else.

To combat this line of Pharisaical thinking, Jesus tells them a series of parables. Here, we hear the parable of the prodigal son. For the sake of time, here’s the synopsis. A man has two sons. One of the sons tells his father that he wants the share of property that belongs to him. The father gives him his share, he goes and wastes it in reckless living. When he is reduced to wanting to eat the slop he feeds the pigs, he decides he’s going to go home and ask his father to make him like on of the servants because they are treated better than the life he has now.

As he is making his way home, the father sees him from a distance and runs and throws his arms around him, welcoming the son home again. And because he has his son back, he throws a huge party with the best of food, including the fattened calf to celebrate. Donning on a robe ring, and shoes, the son is elevated back to the position of being a son again. But the older brother who has stayed at home and done everything gets all jealous and upset at the father because he was the good son and never got a party or any recognition like this. The father ends by saying, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

This is a great parable for a host of reasons. Jesus doesn’t tell this in flowery language to the point that you can’t understand the message behind it. Rather, it is as plain as plain could be, and yet it is a difficult parable for some to understand.

While we might be able to understand this parable, it was beyond the Pharisee’s understanding. The father acts out of character for a man of his age and stature. No one would do for the son like the father did in real life. While it might be a good parable, it just isn’t all that accurate, and quite frankly, it’s a work of fiction.

And if that’s what you’re thinking, well, you’re wrong as wrong could be. This is a beautiful account of how you have treated God and how God treats you. Man has taken the image of God and thrown it away by giving into temptation. We have lived the reckless life of sin, and lived as if God doesn’t matter, because He doesn’t. We have squandered all that He gave us in the Garden and exchanged it for a brutal existence that culminates in death… or does it?

Your God goes seeking after you. Your God is there, waiting for you to wise up to your sinfulness and to confess your sins. He stands, literally with the arms of His Son stretched out, to redeem you, to restore you, to make you as you once were. There is nothing that your heavenly Father won’t do to redeem you, to buy you back, from the devastating effects of sin. He has welcomed you back with loving arms of a Father who has His son or daughter returned.

For you and I, our heavenly Father does nothing short of a grand celebration for us. He gives to us the “best robe” as we are robed in Christ’s righteousness. You and I receive from God the gift of His name in our Baptism, marking us as those who have been redeemed by Christ. We are given that sonship that the young son had given up before his journey. We receive the fattened calf that was killed for the party, but we don’t receive it in the form of a calf. We receive it in the form of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This Lamb of God was slaughtered for us upon Calvary, His blood washing over us to forgive us all of our sins in His sacrifice for us. The words that the father uses in the parable are descriptive of us as well: “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” That’s us. Dead in our trespasses of sin, but made alive in the waters of Baptism. The image of God lost upon us in the Fall, but found and restored again by Christ’s death and resurrection.

What the parable of the prodigal son tells us, what it tells you, is that you can go back home! In fact, when a sinner repents and returns to the Father, it is a happy day, a glorious day, a day to celebrate, a day to rejoice and give thanks. Indeed, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” The sacrifice has been offered and the banquet table has been set because you are home in the house of your father!

Today we celebrate and partake in the foretaste of the heavenly feast to come. Better than any fatted calf, the Lamb of God has been slain, once for all. The Lamb of God, who once was dead, now lives and reigns victorious, and today we feast on this Lamb with the King of Kings Himself as baptized and restored children of His heavenly, royal household! Today our Lord of lords and King of kings deigns to not only feast with us, but to serve us with His very Body and Blood. Here He lavishly welcomes, embraces, kisses, and feeds all His children with His free and undeserved gifts of Fatherly divine goodness, mercy, love, and peace.

God our heavenly Father has the last word in all of this. He is the one who never turns His back on the children who turn their backs on Him. He is the Father who comes running to us after we have run away from Him. There is always hope for the prodigal son and so there is hope for us as well. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 3C

Text: Luke 13:1-9

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.

When you look at the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday in Lent, it first appears a bit grim and gory: “There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” We’ve got murder, but what makes it worse is that the murder of these Galileans was even more shocking because it happened while they were making sacrifices to God. That’s bad news, to be sure. Why would this have happened to them? Did they find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time? Had they committed some grievous sin to cause Pilate to kill them? Or was it something totally different?

In response to the thoughts or words of some in the crowd, Jesus asked if this ugly crime took place because these Galileans were worse sinners than other people. This might be our thought too when we see some great tragedy happen to someone else. It is very easy to suppose that the tragedy is a punishment for some great sin. Jesus answered His own question with a strong negative statement, something along the lines of “absolutely not” in today’s language. These people were not killed because of some great, particular sin which they had committed. None of the Galileans who remained alive were any better than those who were killed. All sinners, Jesus warned, unless they would repent, would meet with a terrible end. The death of every unrepentant sinner Jesus pointed out as the great tragedy.

The answer to their thought wasn’t whether or not they were worse sinners than others; it was the fact that they all were sinners. “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

There’s another of those nasty words, a word that we don’t like to say – repent. You want to know why it’s such a nasty word? Because it requires us to do something that we don’t like to do. The Oxford Dictionary defines repent as a verb which means to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin. For the moment, let’s side aside whether or not you actually regret or you are remorseful of your sins. The great problem comes in that you actually have to admit that you have sinned, even if just once. What’s worse, what if you say that you are a sinner, that you have an ongoing problem with sin? What does that mean? That’s not something that we want to admit to ourselves, let alone anyone else, and certainly not to God. But God already knows that you are a sinner. It’s the whole reason why God sent Jesus in the first place, because you are a sinner, because you are separated from Him, because He wants to restore you to the rightful position He has for you.

Repenting sounds nasty because we don’t want to admit that we are sinners. But it doesn’t matter if we want to admit it or not because God already knows we are sinners. We are “same-saying” what God already has said about us and what He already knows to be true. It’s true we don’t like to admit the fact that we are sinners, but just because we don’t like to do something doesn’t mean that we don’t need to do it. We don’t want to admit that we are sinners because if we do, people might look at us differently, judge us in a way that we don’t want to be judged. But it doesn’t matter what others say about us or how they judge us; it only matters how God judges us. And in our current state, we’re not going to like His verdict.

In our sinful state, the verdict will always be guilty, each and every time. Our sin is what makes us guilty and there is nothing that you or I can do about that. But there is something that God can do about it and something that He does do about it. He sends Jesus for you, for your sin, for that deep and dark secret sin that no one knows about because if they did, they would never see you the same again. But God does know that deep, dark secret sin. And He sends Jesus to die for that deep, dark secret sin, to take that sin and remove it from you so you can stand before a holy God and He can look upon you and see you as you once were so long ago – perfect, holy, blameless. God only sees you perfect and holy and blameless because of Jesus and His doing what you could not do – keep His Word perfectly.

There’s a reason why He does this. He wants you. He wants you to be a part of Him, now and for all eternity. That’s why Jesus tells of two accounts of people dying and what can happen to others: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Remember, God is the one who created you. Do you think that He wants to see His creation perish? Do you think He wants to see what He made in His image fall from perfection and never be restored? Absolutely not. For you, He sends Jesus in order that your death is not a permanent death. Death is one way God calls people to repentance, lest they perish eternally. Some falsely conclude that if nothing really bad happens to them in life, it is a sign that they have been living good lives. Jesus is teaching that not only certain very wicked people need to repent but repentance is necessary for everyone.

What a shocking statement for Jesus to make, that everyone needs to repent or perish. Who does He think He is to make such a bold, sweeping statement like that, the Son of God? Oh wait, that’s exactly who He is. He knows exactly what will happen to the unrepentant sinner and that is why He is here. He comes to urge the people to repent of their sins. He comes as the means of their repentance. He comes as the one who will give His life for the lives of the repentant. He comes and will be our Judge on the last day.

To reinforce His message, he tells a parable of the fig tree. Looking at Jesus’ parable, it’s straight talk. It’s not pleasant. It’s not comforting, and it’s nobody’s favorite. But there it is, straight and to the point. The terms are established by God, not us. Our excusing and rationalizing, our complaining and postponing, our good intentions and sincerity of purpose all evaporate into the air and the voice that speaks inquires about the fruits of our lives.

If you are uncomfortable with that, then that is the way it should be. God is very patient, not willing that any should perish but that all would come to repentance. However, the delay in judgment should not cause people to put off repentance. The time will finally come when the unfruitful tree is cut down. The opportunity for repentance does finally come to an end.

As patient and long suffering as God is, there is a deadline for our repentance. The writer to the Hebrews says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” The tree in the parable has a year to bear fruit. In a similar way, those who refuse to repent in this life will be removed from the Kingdom of God in the next.

Why do we need to repent? Have we really done that bad that we need to repent? If we take stock of ourselves I think we’ll often find that we’ve been careless at some point or other in our lives—that we’ve lived as if God doesn’t matter, or allowed a cynical attitude to develop, or conformed to the mood and mindset of the age in which we live. In short, instead of living our lives according to God’s commandments and His ways, we live our lives in the way which makes us happy, regardless if it’s contrary to the Word of God.

How do we live then? The standard is too high, and we don’t even measure up to the “not good enough” of which Paul and Ezekiel speak of in our other readings for today. But God is on your side and wants you to live! The answer is and has always been and will always be Jesus. Jesus goes to the cross in order to buy you back and to restore you to your rightful place as God’s heir. He gives His life in order that your life will not be taken. He dies so that you will never die that final death.

Maybe the word “repent” isn’t so bad of a word at all. Maybe the parable of the barren fig tree isn’t so bad either, for it reminds us that life is to be lived on God’s terms, it also reminds us that life and can be good and full and productive. Once again, Jesus gives to us the words that are most needed – words that remind us what our heavenly Father desires of us and the gift of forgiveness that comes through repentance. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 2C

Text: Luke 13:31-35

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

There is something seriously wrong in our Gospel reading for today, and you probably didn’t even notice it: “At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus], “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”” This doesn’t sound like any of the Pharisees we know, for they weren’t concerned about Jesus’ wellbeing, but rather of getting Him out of the picture before He does any more damage to their powerbase. So why would they warn Jesus of what Herod wants to do? Were these Pharisees really concerned about Christ’s welfare? Was their warning concerning Herod sincere? Or did they want to get Jesus to go to Jerusalem where it would be easier for them to get rid of Him?

Perhaps there was some danger as far as Herod was concerned. Certain threats against the life of Jesus had been made. The Herodians, the supporters of Herod, were plotting with the Pharisees to kill Jesus. At the same time the Pharisees were using such threats to serve their own evil purposes. They were not friends of Jesus. It was likely they wanted Jesus to go to Jerusalem where they would have more people on their side because He would not be so popular as in Galilee.

Despite whatever their intentions with this warning, it seems very much out of character for them. For a group of people who despised Jesus as much as the Pharisees did, it seems completely illogical for them to warn Public Enemy #1 of the Pharisees of a desire to have Jesus put to death. Regardless of their intent, Jesus doesn’t give them any satisfaction with their warning. Rather, He goes after Herod over the Pharisees: “Go and tell that fox…” The Lord made no reference to the hypocritical show of concern by the Pharisees, but answered them by expressing His contempt for Herod and any danger which that “fox” could present. In fact, by openly referring to Herod as a fox, that is a cunning person, Jesus publicly defied him.

Jesus wanted Herod to know that He would continue His work and miracles “today and tomorrow,” that is for a certain definite time. Then “on the third day,” at an appointed time, Jesus would bring His entire work to completion. His goal, which included death and resurrection, would not be reached while Jesus is in Herod’s territory. Therefore Jesus said He must continue His journey to Jerusalem which has the reputation of killing the prophets sent by God.

You see, nothing would keep Jesus from His date with the cross; not the Pharisees and not Herod. Nothing under creation would keep Jesus from His saving creation. Despite whatever plan the Pharisees might have cooked up with regards to killing Jesus, it would never come to pass. Whatever Herod had in mind would not come to pass because Jesus was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s not in Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is where He must be. That is why He says, “for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”

Thus, as He goes to the cross, no one can keep Him away from Jerusalem-not Herod and all of his soldiers or the Pharisees with all of their plans. This is the Son of God going about His Father’s will, and He will not be diverted from the journey. He is going to Jerusalem. And because He is going to Jerusalem, Herod and the Pharisees will work out the details for His death. If He isn’t going to go away, they will make Him go away.

But bear this in mind: They don’t make Him go away. The Lord is still in charge. He does not die on that cross because of Herod’s strength or the plottings of the Pharisees. Nor is He scourged and crucified because of the power of the Romans. He goes to that cross only because He goes willingly, because this is God’s plan for your salvation. This is the all-powerful Son of God, and He will not be denied your redemption.

This is your comfort and hope: Your Savior is not a weak man who is overpowered by evil men who seek to put Him to death. No matter the hatred of His enemies, He goes to Jerusalem. No matter the plots and plans of man, nothing keeps Him from suffering the full judgment for your sin. Nothing could deter the Son of Godfrom that mission of salvation. No one, not Satan and his seductive attempts to buy Christ from His mission; not even Christ’s own disciples could dissuade Him from going to the cross with the hopes of Him staying with them forever; not even His enemies who threatened Him with suffering and even death; nothing in this world could side-track Him from that for which He came into the world. He came to be a ransom for many. He came to die that we might live. He came as Redeemer and ushered in the full meaning of God’s eternal love.

And so we say again: Jesus goes to the cross and dies only because He wills to. He did it willingly. He submitted to the suffering and the nails and the death because He willed to do so for you, in accordance with the Father’s will.

Jesus’ heart for His people will send Him to Jerusalem, for her and for us. Once more, on Palm Sunday, Jesus would come to Jerusalem and be acclaimed by words of praise, but He will still be rejected and crucified. This is precisely why He would come. This had been Jerusalem’s purpose throughout her favored history: this would be where the Son would God would give His life for the Church. Jerusalem will be saved and so will you, as will all those who repent and are gathered into Christ.

As Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem His ministry focused on those upcoming events. He taught and healed as He usually did on these journeys, but He also spent more time preparing His followers for His upcoming suffering and death in Jerusalem.

After He arrived in Jerusalem, His journey would continue. At the end of that journey, He would carry a cross to Calvary. He would also carry our sins. Jerusalem is the place He would complete His journey. It is the place where He would proclaim, “It is finished,” as He finished His mission to pay the penalty for our sins.

For you, Christ was led like a lamb to the slaughter, not by Herod or the Pharisees, but of His own accord. He was despised and rejected by men because He was seen as a challenge to their authority rather than the means of their salvation. Despite the acts of those who sought to put Him to death, He lays down His life for them and He lays down His life for you in order to redeem you. It is because of Christ that we are able to say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 1

Text: Luke 4:1-13

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.

“And lead us not into temptation.” What does this mean? “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”

Those are Luther’s words in explaining the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Temptation is going to happen; it’s inevitable. It happened to God’s perfect creation – Adam and Eve. Created perfect, holy, without sin, and yet, they succumbed to temptation. You have been tempted and most likely gave into said temptation. You will be tempted and mostly like will give into said temptation. Because of the effects of sin, temptation is very much a part of this creation. As we begin this Lenten season, we see that temptation befalls all of creation, even that of Jesus.

Luke says, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” Just after our Lord’s Baptism, Jesus is tempted. It would seem that that could not happen, not to Jesus. He is God, how can God be tempted? You are correct, Jesus is God. If Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit, how could He be tempted? Jesus, who had the Holy Spirit descend upon Him at His Baptism, could not be tempted. But lest you forget, Jesus is also man, born of woman’s seed as promised to Adam and Eve and to Mary. Jesus is 100% full man and that is what the devil uses to go after Jesus.

One thing that seems a bit off when we read the account of our Lord’s temptation is that in all three accounts of this, the Gospel writes only record three temptations. Does that mean that the devil tempted Jesus, failed to tempt Him, took a break to regroup, and tried to tempt Him again? Absolutely not. The temptations that Jesus faced those forty days were constant, just as the temptations that we face in our lives are constant, probably even more so with Jesus. Tempting Jesus was a big deal, bigger than what you might think. If Jesus could be tempted in the slightest way, then it would mean game over for creation. Giving into the smallest of temptations would negate our Lord’s purpose of entering creation; He no longer could be the sinless sacrifice. To say that this was important to the devil is an understatement.

Looking at these temptations, what is the common thread in them? One deals with hunger, one with worship, and the other testing. At first glance, they don’t seem to have any sort of connection. But look closer at each temptation. The first temptation, hunger, seeks to attack the divinity and the humanity of Christ simultaneously: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Here, the devil challenges the claim that Jesus is the Son of God with the word “if.” Of course Jesus is the Son of God. We see in later accounts in the Gospels of Jesus casting out demons and the demons knowing that Jesus is the Son of God and are fearful of that fact. Do you think that the devil didn’t know who he was dealing with here? Of course he did! But what he said was said with purpose, to do what he does best – instill doubt. It would be absurd that Jesus would doubt His own divinity, but the great temptation was that of His humanity – hunger.

After forty days, Jesus was certainly hungry. To quench His hunger, why not turn the stone to bread, IF Jesus really is the Son of God, because He certainly could do that. And while He could, He doesn’t. To defeat this temptation, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” God’s true Son, in whom He is ever well pleased, will not distrust His Father. He will rest in God’s word, and wait. He will not give into temptation because He knows what is at stake – creation.

The second of the recorded temptations involved authority and worship: “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Showing someone all of creation and offering it to them in return for worship might sound tempting to you or me. But for Jesus, the author of creation, this temptation seems to fall flat, as did all the other temptations thrown at Him in the wilderness. How can the devil give to Jesus that which already belongs to Him? And in return, all He needs to do is bow down and worship one who desires worship but doesn’t deserve it. Truly Jesus had come to gain back creation from the Fall, but not in that way; at dreadful cost indeed, but cost of love and suffering, not of character.

For the final recorded temptation, it was all about putting God to the test. Again, it begins by question who Jesus is: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here….” This was about testing God, to see if God would follow thru with what He has said. But every time the devil quoted God’s Word, he didn’t, at least, not in its entirety. He wanted to get out of it what was not in it. In other words, make it say what he wants it to say. He misuses God’s Word as a proof of God’s promise that He will protect us against all danger by letting His angels guard us. Nowhere does God say that we can test his protecting care by exposing ourselves recklessly to danger. However, this is not the most important feature of this temptation. Here the devil challenges Christ to test whether the Word of God is as reliable as Jesus seems to think. He asks Jesus to put the promise of God in Psalm 91 to a test to see if it is true.

After forty days, the devil could not tempt Jesus in any way, despite his single trick – twisting the Word of God. What worked once on Adam and Eve, what worked great on creation and still works great today, could not work on Jesus, for the stakes were too high. The devil knew this was going to be a lost cause, but he had to try regardless. It had already been told him as much: “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

We often fall to the devil’s lies, but Jesus never did. Jesus withstood the devil’s temptation on our behalf. He is our champion. He never sinned. He stayed on the hard road to the cross. Jesus fulfilled every promise God made. Jesus withstood the devil himself in the wilderness of hunger. He endured temptation even to the cross. Jesus never wavered, and in the end, Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil. He rose from the dead. He bought us back with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, earning for us the forgiveness of all of our sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Palm Sunday – “Hosanna!” (John 12:12-19

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

The hustle and bustle is here. The Passover is here and that means a plethora of people in Jerusalem, even more than usual. They are all gathered to celebrate the yearly remembrance of what God had done for His people many years ago when the angel of the Lord passed over the Israelite people. The atmosphere has changed, becoming almost electric. And then John records this: The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” It’s Jesus, the miracle worker. It’s Jesus, the prophet. It’s Jesus, the healer. It’s Jesus…the Son of God?

What exactly is Jesus here to do? Clearly He’s here to celebrate the Passover, but what else is He here to do? Whatever Jesus is going to do, the people flock to see Him. For some, He’s a miracle worker. For others, He’s a prophet. For others, a healer. But for some, Jesus is all of those and more. He is the Son of God. He is the Messiah that the people have been waiting for. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!””

The one who comes in the name of the Lord? King of Israel? Surely that can’t be descriptive of who Jesus is, and yet that’s what the people proclaim. That is indeed who Jesus is if you know your Scriptures. As we heard from Zechariah earlier, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus enters Jerusalem as Zechariah prophesied. Things are beginning to look like Zechariah had proclaimed. Jesus is beginning to look a lot like the promised Messiah of old.

As Jesus made His way from Bethany to Jerusalem, not only did you have the usual traffic of people going there for the Passover Feast, but you also had the crowd following Jesus. As Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, there was a different feeling in the air. The people began to do something that they normally had not done upon entering Jerusalem: they begun to have a palm procession. This wasn’t just any palm procession that they were having; this procession was for Jesus. They cut palm branches and went out to meet Jesus. They received Him as their king, as the Jewish leaders feared they might.

The people had just one simple message they were shouting: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” But what was it exactly were they saying? Hosanna, “save, I pray.” This psalm was one that was sung as part of the Passover feast. Jews sang it when the Passover lambs were sacrificed. Now, they sung it for their Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, on His way to be their sacrifice. But they weren’t thinking of sacrifice. They received Jesus as heavenly royalty, Israel’s King.

As they were preparing to celebrate the Passover feast, they didn’t even know that their own Passover Lamb was coming to be sacrificed for them. Today, you celebrate your Passover Lamb coming to be slaughtered for your sins.

For you, Jesus had set His face toward Jerusalem. He had an appointment that only He could keep: He had an appointment with the cross. He had come from Galilee preaching and teaching with healing as He went, but ultimately, Jerusalem was the goal of His journey. This sets in motion everything that was going to take place during the week: His betrayal, His arrest, His mock trial, His crucifixion, and ultimately, His resurrection. Everything that was going to take place began with this one moment – His triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

Most of the people who were gathered there that day had no idea what was taking place when Jesus entered Jerusalem, what it meant to them personally. Jesus had taught them that the definition of the Christ is to suffer, die, and rise from the dead on the third day, and yet, they still missed what was taking place here.

Do you understand what is going on here or are you missing it as well? This is meant for you. Here comes your Passover Lamb, to make death pass over you and earn for you everlasting life. This Lamb goes forth uncomplaining, doing the task by which He has been sent: to bring about the salvation for God’s creation. Unlike every other lamb that was brought to the slaughter for the Passover, Jesus Christ not only died to purge from you your sins, He also rose for you as well. He rose triumphant for you, to proclaim your victory over sin, death, and the devil, once and for all. He has opened heaven for all mankind by His blood shed on the cross.

As John records for us, His disciples did not understand these things at first….” Truth be told, the disciples weren’t alone in not understanding what was going on as Jesus entered. The people were shouting “Hosanna!” but didn’t know why they were shouting it. Nonetheless, it doesn’t take away the reason why they were shouting it. They needed to shout it, just as we need to shout it even today. This is the very reason that He came, was crucified, died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven to occupy His kingdom. By His blood and Holy Spirit, He has swept us clean of all filth, so that all who believe in Him are righteous and blessed, and will someday pass through temporal death into His heavenly kingdom.

It is interesting to note what the Pharisees say to one another: “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” It might have been true at the moment, but would we agree that it is true today? Does the world really go after Jesus or does the world go after something or someone else? Does the world find its salvation in the cross of Christ or is salvation found somewhere else? Maybe a better question to ask is this: do you go after Jesus or do you go after something or someone else? We might find temporary comfort in what this world has to offer, but the comfort that this world gives is fleeting at best. It is here today but gone tomorrow. What Christ has done for you was here yesterday, it is here today, and it will be here tomorrow. The gift of salvation won for you by Jesus Christ on the cross was here yesterday, here today, and will be here tomorrow. We cannot say the same about the false comfort that we receive from the world.

Jesus would fulfill every sacrifice that God had demanded. He would live a sinless life as the Lamb without blemish. He would die the death that was meant for us; a death filled with suffering and eternal separation from God. Instead, we reap from His death on the cross. He gives to us His righteousness in exchange for our sins. It is no coincidence that in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we recite the words of Palm Sunday, singing, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.” You and I can be thankful that Jesus has gone to Jerusalem to pour out His life, for by this He has forgiven our debt to God and set us free. May we forever sing, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 4 – “Out of Death Comes Life”

Sermon texts: Numbers 21:4-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The basis for the sermon is the appointed readings read earlier.

Death is all around us. Our world is one in which we live and then we die. That is what the people of Moses grumbled about in our Old Testament text: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” Death is all around the Israelites, or so they think. When things start looking bad, they get worse. “Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” If there wasn’t death before, there is death now. So much death and things are only going to get worse. The only way that death could be defeated was from God. As the fiery serpents brought death, God used a serpent to bring about life: “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”

From Adam and Eve, death became a permanent part of creation. Everywhere you turned, there was death and there was no escaping it. Death followed the people of Israel everywhere they went. It followed them as they wandered the wilderness. It followed them because of their lack of faith in God. It followed them to their children and to every generation thereafter. It follows to you and to me as well.

That’s bad news for us. Death is here for us. Death defeats us. But there is One who defeats death. Those who believe in Jesus Christ shall not perish. Yes, they will die a physical death, but they live eternally with Christ. What comfort that is in knowing that because of Christ, on account of what Christ has done for you, you shall receive everlasting life. The best part of all this: you didn’t do anything! You didn’t have to work for it, you didn’t have to earn it; you simply received it.

Here is how that happened. It had to happen at the expense of Jesus. That is what Jesus said: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Salvation lies only in Jesus Christ and in no one or nothing else. The snake was lifted up on a pole; Jesus was to be lifted up on a cross. Everyone who looked in faith at the snake was healed from the bite of deadly snakes. Everyone who would look in faith at Jesus would be saved from the bite of eternal death and have eternal life. This is the life that begins with the new birth by the Spirit. This is the life that comes only through Jesus Christ for your sins.

Paul, in addressing the Ephesians, reminds the people just what it means because of Jesus: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Because of our sin, we were dead. Notice that Paul doesn’t say that you are still dead, but that you were dead. If you were dead but are not now, what does that make you? It makes you alive; alive not because of you but only because of Jesus. It is because Jesus was lifted up upon the cross and only Jesus could be lifted upon the cross.

All of that changes with what Paul says. We see a complete change for us, a change that has been affected by Jesus. Paul says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ….” You and I are dead. We are forsaken for all eternity for our many sins, for even just a single sin. But God does not leave us in that state of death. New life has been granted to you. The best part of that is that you did nothing to earn it. You did nothing to achieve it. We were completely dead in sin. We were spiritual corpses, with absolutely no spark of spiritual life in us.  In love, however, God breathed spiritual life into us. We were made alive in Christ. On the basis of Jesus’ resurrection, through faith in Him, we are spiritually alive.

God’s love lifted His Son on the cross, and by His love, He lifts us from death to life. To lift us up, God lifted up His Son. Lifted up on the cross, the Father gave His Son as the greatest act of love for His creation. Here was a creation, made in the image of God: perfect, holy, and without sin. Creation did not retain that image for long and God was not content watching His creation suffer the effects of sin: death and eternal separation from Him. To restore creation, the Second Person of the Trinity, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, took on human flesh in order to do what we could not: live a sinless life in our place.

There is good reason that all of this was done and Jesus Himself says why: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” It was done in order to save it; it was done for you. Whoever believes in the Son of God is not condemned. Sin loses all power to damn us. Sin loses all power to damn you because Christ has died for you. But not only has He died for you, He also rose again for you. Again, the reason that all of this was done is because of the agape love that God has for His creation.

The key to our salvation comes in the final verses of our text for today: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are saved solely by the grace of God which is given to us as a gift, not something that we have to earn. We have to do enough earning in life: earn our paycheck, earn brownie points with our spouse, earn punches for that free latté. Why should salvation be something that is earned? It is given as a gift.

That is the point of salvation. It’s not something that we can earn. It’s not even something which we deserve. On the contrary, it’s the furthest thing which our sinfulness deserves. We deserve eternal damnation yet receive everlasting life. And while all of this makes perfect sense to God, it makes no sense to us. How can something like this be given to me free of charge? There must be something that I have to do. However, that is not the case.

God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved you, even when you were dead in trespasses, made you alive with Christ and raised you up, for God so loved you that He gave His only-begotten Son, that by believing in Him you would not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son to you to condemn you, but that you through Him would be saved. God has given you the promise of eternal life, for He has declared you righteous—not guilty—on account of the saving work of His Son, your Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross, who gave His body and shed His blood for you and has seated you in the heavenly places with Him and the Son. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.