Easter 2C & Confirmation

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.

“And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women….” It’s amazing what the Holy Spirit can accomplish, isn’t it? In some respects, the Holy Spirit gets the short end of the stick when it comes to the Trinity: God the Father does the creating and God the Son does the work of redemption. The Holy Spirit makes a few prominent appearances, like at the Baptism of Jesus, but otherwise, the Holy Spirit isn’t mentioned a lot, until you get to books like Acts, where the Holy Spirit is seen to be very active.

If you remember from your days in Confirmation, for some it’s more recent than others, you will remember that the work of the Holy Spirit is to create and sustain faith in an individual. We confess with Martin Luther, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Luther goes on, but suffice to say, the work of the Holy Spirit is important to the life of a Christian, to your life, and to all those who believe.

But the true work of God is not always popular. At the time of Jesus, we see just that with the Pharisees and Sadducees. In fact, we see that today in our reading from Acts – “But the high priest rose up, and all who were him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.” Preaching the true Gospel clearly did not sit well with the religious leaders of the day because it weakened their powerbase and popularity. Nonetheless, the apostles were not interested in popularity, but rather of Jesus’ command – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

The teaching that we have is what gives us eternal life. It is that teaching that makes us children of God, called by the Holy Spirit, and it is that teaching that keeps us in the true faith. But just as we hold that faith near and dear to us, there are those outside these doors that could care less for this faith; even worse, they will do all that they can to debunk the Christian faith because in their eyes, it is nothing more than rubbish.

What we must remember, each and every one of us, from the youngest to the oldest, is the power of the Word of God. Simon Peter reminds us, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” The important part of what he says comes at the beginning: “You have the words of eternal life…” You will not find any other words of eternal life aside from what God has authored, from what Jesus has done for us.

So, Sadie, since today is all about you, let’s pick on you for a moment. I’m sure that since you are mere moments away from being confirmed in the faith, that must mean you have all the right answers to all the right questions. We’ve covered the Small Catechism twice now, so I’m sure you have it all memorized, right? Looking around the sanctuary this morning, I see many others who have been in your shoes: they have gone through Confirmation, they have learned the Small Catechism, though I hope it’s not too rusty. They have even been confirmed, just like you will be. But for many sitting in the pews, their Confirmation Day was many years ago, and yet here they still sit. Why is that?

The life of a Christian does not end with Confirmation Sunday. The life of a Christian continues all the days of your life. From the moment that baptismal water hits your head, you belong to God, and you will belong to God everyday of your life, even after your heavenly Father calls you home. All of these people know that, and yet here they sit, week after week, as they should, as you should. They come because this is where God said to come, to the place where He is to be found, to the place where He promises to deliver His gifts.

The apostles, after the resurrection, needed these gifts but were fearful of their lives because of what had happened to Jesus. They knew that the same could very well happen to them, and so they hid and locked themselves in a room that no one could get into – no one that is, except Jesus. Jesus comes and stands beside them, saying “Peace be with you.” Jesus comes to them, to assure them that He has risen from the dead as He said He would and that there should be no need of fear.

It’s a great little exchange between Jesus and the apostles, except for one thing: Thomas isn’t there to hear it. And so, when he is told what had happened, he refused to believe: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” That’s very much the attitude we can have, but it’s one that we shouldn’t have. You and I have not seen Jesus in the flesh, either before or after His resurrection, but that doesn’t change the fact that Christ has lived, Christ has died, and Christ has risen again.

Martin Luther once wrote that the devil’s greatest and deadliest arrow in his evil quiver is the arrow of doubt, which he fires with deadly sniper precision into the hearts of all believers in Christ. Thomas and the disciples were not immune to this. You and I are not immune to this either. Don’t we doubt that God will do what He says He will? Don’t we doubt the gifts that God gives to us in His Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper?

You and I do not have the luxury of gazing upon the resurrected Jesus and believing as did Thomas. Instead, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit which creates faith in us. It’s one thing to see and believe, but a complete other to believe solely based upon faith and without seeing. That’s us. That’s the Church today. Centuries after Christ’s death, people believed and continue to believe today. They did not have Christ to hold their hands as did the disciples, or to show His wounds to strengthen their weak faith as did Thomas. No, they believed based upon the faith that was granted to them by the Holy Spirit. They were able to confess with Thomas, just as we are: “My Lord and my God!” That is why Sadie, today is a special day for you, but it’s not. While today you will be confirmed in the faith granted to you at your Baptism, it’s just another Sunday for the Christian, another day where we are privileged to come and gather around God’s means of grace for us.

We have been given this wonderful gift of faith, the ability to believe what Christ did for us on Calvary’s cross, and now we see that because of that action, we are given life in His name. To those who believe receive redemption, salvation, and eternal life through Jesus Christ. This comes to us in the gift of Baptism, where we have God’s name placed upon us. This comes to us in the gift of the Lord’s Supper, where we feast upon the body and blood of Jesus and receive His forgiveness. It comes to us each time we hear the words of Absolution pronounced over us. It will come to us again when we leave this world and enter into the heavenly mansion prepared for us.

We have received life and received it abundantly. Given to us so that we may live, one life had to be sacrificed, and that life is Jesus Christ. The peace of Christ is with us. It comes to us when we are forgiven. It comes to us as we believe in Christ and all that He has done for us. New life is given to us, a life that is not deserved, but given to us with nothing done on our part. This new life washes over us and we are made clean by the blood of the Lamb, shed for the sins of the many, including you and me. Dear friends in Christ, “Peace be with you.” Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Resurrection of Our Lord Festival

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.

Early Easter morning, some women remembered the awful things of Friday—the death of Jesus—and that the usual preparation of a body had not been completed. So their action was to make their way, sadly and somewhat fearfully, to the tomb. They were fully expecting to find a body. They were not expecting a resurrection. Luke says, “And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” Jesus is gone. The only thing remaining from Friday were the linen cloths that wrapped His dead and lifeless body. And now, that body is gone – missing, stolen, dare I say it, resurrected. Regardless of what happened to Jesus’ body, the women were perplexed. How did the stone get rolled away? Who rolled the stone away? Who would be vile enough to take Jesus’ body from the tomb?

The women failed to understand what has happened. It took two men in dazzling apparel to convey what has taken place: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” Behold the man who died and who now lives. Behold, the man, Jesus, God and man, lives. He rises triumphantly from the dead and strolls out of the grave into His creation. Christ is no longer dead and lifeless as we remember Him from Friday. Now, He is risen from the dead, full of life, continuing to be who He has always been – the Lord of life.

As good news as it might be, God’s people forgot that Jesus would rise from the dead. The women forgot. The apostles forgot: “but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” How unfortunate that they forgot the resurrection! How unfortunate it is that you forget the resurrection. St. Paul tells the Corinthians,“If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” There were those in the Church that forgot the resurrection, that they were solely focused on the Jesus that lived and walked among them. He says prior to our Epistle reading, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” That’s the worst thing right there, to still be in our sins, separated from God, guilty of judgment, with no hope for eternity and little hope for the present.

But St. Paul goes on to talk about the importance of the resurrection for the future, for eternal life: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The word firstfruits is very important, for it implies that there will be more to follow. As Christ was raised from the dead, so will those who are united with him by faith.

If you came today looking for the dead, then you’re in the wrong place. If you’re here this morning looking for the living, then you’re right where you need to be. Today we come to celebrate the fact that the greatest promise God ever made has come to fruition. The promise is of a Savior. The promise is of a Savior who was born into this world. The promise is of a Savior who lived in this world. The promise is of a Savior who died for this world. The promise is of a Savior who rose again for the sake of this world, for your sake. What was Jesus’ role? “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

There is a reason this is necessary. When you and I die, we die eternally. We do not survive death – we are annihilated by it. When we die, we remain dead. That’s the way it is, unless God chooses to do something to dispute the power of death. And He does just that with Christ. He has conquered death. He has destroyed sin and crushed Satan. With His life, death, and resurrection, He has rescued you from the grave. Although your sins should have made you die, and stay dead, yet Christ broke death’s power, so that you will live and rise to eternal life. Christ has been raised in the flesh so that you will be raised.

Christ is risen from the dead. He is risen before His people know it. He is risen before His people believe it. He is risen to give them faith and life; and so He is risen for you. But this you can know for sure – of this you can be certain: Christ has died and Christ is risen from the dead. You haven’t seen Him face to face yet, but He tells you it is so in His Word. Faith comes by hearing, not by seeing.

This is what makes our celebration today so very different from the many other celebrations taking place today. We don’t just gather to joyously commemorate a past victory, as awesome as it was. We don’t gather to commemorate the fact that once upon a time Jesus came and triumphed and then went back home to heaven where He now resides, far removed from us and our everyday lives. No, we gather today to celebrate the living, triumphant present-tense Immanuel King! We gather today to celebrate the marriage feast of the living and triumphant Bridegroom, who laid down His life for us and who today, in a very real and present-tense way, brings His victories over sin, death, and the devil to us to celebrate with us in our midst!

What we celebrate today is your salvation. You have a written guarantee of the resurrection of your body from your grave. You will not simply die and be gone. Some will wish that it were so, for they have forsaken God and rejected His gifts and chosen death and hell, like the leaders of the Jewish Church in the days of the first Easter. But those who believe the Gospel have a resurrection to life and joy and glory, not pain and sorrow and corruption without end. How are you going to respond? What does it mean that you will rise to eternal life? The question is not about defining terms, but how this truth transforms your life. What difference does it make? Does it mean anything to how you face and approach death? It should. It should change your fears to confidence. It should change your sorrows to comfort. He is risen – and we too shall rise. You shall rise again because Jesus has risen.

Do not be afraid, for the joy of Easter Sunday is not just that Jesus died and Jesus rose, but that Jesus died for you and Jesus rose for you. He has borne your sin to the cross, and He has suffered for it there. He has died your death and been laid in the tomb, but now the tomb is empty. So will yours be, for Christ is risen to raise you, too. He declares that He no longer holds your sins against you, because they are gone. He has taken them away in death, and He has not brought them back with His resurrection. So where your sins would confuse you as to God’s attitude toward you, whether or not He loves you, do not be afraid and have no doubt. If God has paid such a price as to sacrifice His own Son to redeem you, He has nothing but grace and mercy, love and life for you now.

St. Peter calls this the living hope that we have obtained through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As Christ prevailed victoriously, so shall we. As Christ lived, so we live. Because Christ is awakened from the dead and is seated at the right hand of God and intercedes for us, so now nothing can divide us from the love of God: neither death nor life, neither angels nor kingdoms, nor strengths, neither present things nor future things, neither height nor depth, nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God in the crucified and risen Lord.

This is your inheritance, not because of anything you have done. No one is worthy of these awesome, infinite gifts of Christ, for all are sinners, from youngest to oldest. But all is given freely by Christ, the Firstborn from the dead, the Crucified One who lives and can nevermore die. He has given you everything. Christ has risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Resurrection of Our Lord Sunrise

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”” With these simple verses, Easter morning begins. It’s not the start that we would have thought of, not the start that we would prefer. We want to see Jesus, but He is not here. Instead, we have an empty tomb. Do you really want to see Jesus? Of course you don’t! That’s right, you don’t want to see Jesus, at least, not right now. The tomb is empty because Jesus said that it would be empty because after three days time, He would rise from the dead.

Why would we expect to find Jesus in the tomb? Is it because we feel comforted knowing that Christ still lay in the tomb? Is it our unbelief that expects Jesus to be in the tomb? What is that Mary Magdalene expected to find? A stone still lodged in the mouth of the tomb? A dead and hastily wrapped Jesus on the other side of the stone? If that’s what Mary Magdalene is expecting to find, then poor, poor Mary Magdalene. Clearly she didn’t understand. But she wasn’t the only one to not understand. As John continues his account, we hear of Simon Peter and John reaching the tomb. It isn’t until they look into the tomb that they believed; “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”

What are you expecting to find this morning? A sealed tomb? Jesus lying in peaceful repose on the other side of the stone? For your sake, I hope not. We don’t expect to find Jesus lying in the tomb. We expect, we want, we need to find the tomb burst open and Jesus nowhere to be found, for that is what He spent three years teaching. That’s why Jesus is here – not to die and lie in a tomb for all eternity, but to die and burst forth from the tomb in all splendor and honor and glory, with death trampled underfoot. We want to be able to shout, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Death has no victory and the sting of death has been plucked.

But that’s not the realization of all. For some, Jesus is still dead. And why wouldn’t He be dead because He was just a man. And what a sad realization that is because there is no resurrection hope for you; not just in Jesus but for you as well.

The focus for us is the empty tomb, but at the same time, it is not. We gaze upon the empty tomb and we rejoice in the fact that is empty. It means that Christ has done what He said He would do – die and rise again.  He has accomplished for us all that is necessary for our salvation. But just as we acknowledge the empty tomb and give thanks for it, there are those that see the empty tomb and are disappointed. The tomb is empty. Jesus is out of sight, out of mind. The fact that He isn’t there means that the resurrection is a failure.

Jesus is right here, right now. He is present in our lives every day. He is present in the world in which we live in. We know that because as Luther writes regarding the First Article of the Creed, “He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” We know that He is present in our lives because of today! By His death on Good Friday, by His resurrection from the dead today, we know that He is present in our lives because He died for you and He rose from the dead for you.

Satan had done his worst and his worst was a failure. Jesus isn’t still dead. He is risen as He said He would. Throughout all of this, Satan had worked through the religious leaders, Judas, through the events leading up to the crucifixion; it might have appeared that Satan had won. Jesus died. Satan wins. Or so it would seem. Jesus was doing what God said He would do – crushing the head of the serpent, once and for all.

What we don’t see in our Easter Gospel is an all-important event – Christ’s descent into hell. He goes to hell, not in order to suffer, but to proclaim victory over sin, death, and the devil. He declares that He has won and Satan has lost. Christ has proven that Satan’s hold on creation is temporary. Sin and death are not the final result for God’s creation. Life wins; Jesus wins.

On that first Easter morning, out of a tomb walks one who suffered the deadliest of wounds. With several fatal wounds, Jesus should have stayed dead. No man would be able to endure the scourging that He endured. To add to that the carrying of His cross and finally His crucifixion, not just any man, but every man should have died and stayed dead. But Jesus is not just any man. He is both the Son of God and Son of Man; He is true God and true Man. Because He is the very Son of God, He would not stay dead. He came out of the tomb. He came out of the tomb to be back in the world where we need Him most.

Easter is not just a then-and-there event. Easter is not just an event in history that happened 2000 years ago. Easter is an event in which we celebrate each and every day, because this day marks the day in which you and I received the forgiveness of all of our sins. It is the day in which you and I have been made children of God, once for all. No matter what Satan will do, Jesus Christ has proven to be the Victor. Jesus’ resurrection is here for us now.  We look to Him and remember all the wounds He suffered. They cut into His body with nails and scourges and thorns. He was cut off from His closest friends. He was cut off even from God the Father, who forsook Him on the cross. No matter how bad those wounds were, here Jesus is standing outside the tomb amongst His followers again. He has overcome! He came back into the world to be alive with us here and now. Jesus overcame all His wounds so that He may bring forgiveness and life to each and every one of us.

Because Christ has risen from the dead, we are able to echo the words of Job, “For I know that my Redeemer lives…” The tomb is empty. Jesus is not there. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

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.