Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan
- Name: Pastor Krenz
- Location: Dorr, Michigan
Sunday, March 09, 2014
First Sunday in Lent (A)
March 9, 2014
Text: Matt. 4:1-11
It was, after all, a small thing, wasn’t it? Just a tiny morsel, a bite of fruit. Eve really did think it would make her life better. As the serpent had pointed out, it would open her eyes so that she would know good and evil, determine what is good and what is evil for herself, and so become like God. And who wouldn’t want to be like God? Adam… well, if he could become like God AND please his wife in the process, why not? Just a little bite of fruit that is pleasing to the eye and good for food. God couldn’t be against that, could He? And the serpent had made another good point: “Did God actually say…” (Gen. 3:1; ESV)? Where does the letter of the Law meet the spirit of the Law? If God had all the information we have, what would He actually want us to do? And if He would withhold this thing from us, this object of our desire, then is His Law really good, anyway? Is God really good? Who is to say? And that is the war that rages in your heart, dear Christian, every time the tempter and his minions come knocking, whispering their seductive words of doubt and unbelief into your all-too-willing ears and minds and souls. Did God really say…? Does God really mean…? Who does God think He is, anyway?
It worked on our first parents, and now it’s in our genes, so to speak, a defect, a corruption so deep it infects every one of us to our very core: original sin we call it in theology, rebellion against God. It is a disposition, a disease with which are born, the mortal illness of unbelief, spiritual blindness, spiritual death, and hatred of God. Because we’d rather be our own gods. We worship ourselves. We serve ourselves. It is even a commonly accepted cultural proverb taught to every school child: Believe in yourself! Be true to yourself! Follow your heart! You know what that is? Idolatry. But we’re blind to it. The devil has us bamboozled. We’ve totally bought into the lie. And the serpent has sold us a false set of goods. For now we call evil good, and good evil. We call sin virtue, and virtue sin. We call false doctrine tolerance, and are intolerant of the truth. We’ve been deceived and we don’t even know it. We’re in slavery and we think we are free. We look upon freedom from sin as slavery. It is not simply that we cannot free ourselves from the cold grasp of the evil one, from death, from sin… It’s that we don’t want to! For so deeply has the corruption taken hold of our nature, our will is bound in spiritual matters. That’s what it means to be spiritually dead. You can do nothing about it. Like a corpse laying on the floor, you can do nothing to make yourself come alive.
Jesus has to do it. That’s the only way. Jesus has to come and undo all that Adam has done and all that you and I have done. Jesus has to come into our human nature, into our flesh, and undo the corruption, the sin, the death, the rebellion against God. So that’s what He does. The Son of God becomes a man, flesh of our flesh, born of the Virgin Mary. He comes to St. John in the River Jordan and is baptized into us, into our sin, becoming our stand in. And then immediately the Spirit drives Him out into the wilderness to do battle with the old evil foe. The devil uses the same tactics with Jesus that he used with Adam and Eve, that he uses with us. “Did God really say…? Jesus, did God really say of you, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’ (Matt. 3:17)? Well, then, let’s prove it. ‘If you are the Son of God…’ (4:3; emphasis added), wouldn’t Your Father want You to eat and be satisfied? Really, Jesus, 40 days and 40 nights of fasting? What kind of a God would want You to undergo such misery? What kind of a God would withhold from You the basic necessities of life? ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’ (v. 3). It’s just a small thing, after all. Just a tiny morsel to relieve Your hunger…” Do you see how this is the Garden of Eden all over again? Do you see how this is you every time you are tempted to sin? Jesus is fighting your battle for you, in your place, taking on your enemy where the enemy has home field advantage. And, by the way, remember, Jesus is true man. This is a real temptation. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us of this. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus doesn’t get a pass just because He’s God. This isn’t easy for Jesus. Temptation is just as difficult for Him as it is for us. But the advantage He has is that He isn’t infected with original sin. He has no human father. God is His Father. And so His will is not bound. He’s able to do battle, to resist the devil, to stand firm in the time of temptation.
And what does He do, our Savior, in His battle against serpent? Where the devil speaks his blasphemous question, “Did God really say…?” Jesus responds with a “Thus saith the LORD!” He quotes the Scriptures! “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:4). He doesn’t interpret His way around God’s Word. He speaks it faithfully to the devil. And that Word is powerful. It thwarts the devil’s onslaughts and rescues the one suffering temptation. It is no accident that St. Paul calls God’s Word “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17). Along with prayer, it is our only offensive weapon against the spiritual powers of darkness. We do have to be careful with this, though. Quotation of Holy Scripture is not some magic formula. In our weakness, we can quote Scripture and still fall into sin. And the devil, of course, knows the Holy Scriptures better than we do. He can quote Scripture chapter and verse and put a spin on it that will lead you to sin and think you’re doing God a favor in the process. There we are back to calling evil good and good evil. It happens to us insofar as the corruption of the sinful nature still clings to us, even though it has ultimately been put to death in Baptism. That’s why we need Jesus to fight this battle for us. He recognizes the devil’s lies for what they are. He is not led astray.
When Satan does quote Scripture to Jesus, urging Him to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple, he leaves out a very important part of the passage. He quotes most of Psalm 91:11-12: “He will command his angels concerning you… On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Matt. 4:6). But he leaves out the middle section. Psalm 91:11 in its fullness says, “he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways” (emphasis added). What ways? The ways God has commanded. The ways of faithfulness. The ways of our Lord’s saving mission of death and resurrection for sinners. If Jesus deviates from that by falling for this or any other temptation of the devil, that’s the end of it. And here we gain an insight into how the devil uses Scripture. He’s very happy to quote the Bible, but he leaves things out. He adds other things. It all sounds good and right to our fallen and easily deceived ears. But it’s deadly. You’ve undoubtedly heard the old adage that you can quote the Scriptures in support of anything. And it’s true, as long as you add and subtract and take things out of context. Oh, the devil is a master at this art. So be on your guard. Know the Holy Scriptures. And rejoice that even when you do get tripped up by the deceiver, Jesus didn’t. He was faithful. For you. And His faithfulness counts for you.
Well, the last temptation recorded in our Holy Gospel puts the whole thing in perspective. The devil shows Jesus the glory of all the kingdoms of the world, from all times and places in one single glance, and he promises Jesus that if he just does one little thing, he can have it all. “Just fall down and worship me,” he says (Matt. 4:9). “Just one time. Just this one tiny little thing. And you won’t have to undergo the cross and suffering. You won’t have to die. There is an easier way than the Father’s plan.” And here the devil betrays himself. This is the very nature of his original rebellion against God. He thinks he should be god. And so the root of all rebellion against God, all sin, is idolatry. It is a First Commandment issue. You and I, Adam and Eve, the devil himself, we all have other gods before the one true God. Ourselves! And the people and things that we put before God. We reject Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in favor of ourselves and our pleasure and the stuff we think we deserve. Repent.
Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus is faithful. He will not fall before the devil. He will not bow the knee. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (v. 10). The devil will not be Jesus’ god, for Jesus is the God of the devil. And He has come in the flesh to crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). He has come to be faithful in our place, to resist temptation, to be our righteousness in fulfilling God’s holy Law, to suffer for our sin on the cross, and to be raised on the third day for our justification and eternal life. And now He rules all things in a way the devil could never give Him. He sits at the right hand of the Father and He reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit for all eternity. He reigns for us, as our King, to bring us to Himself in heaven. And now even the devil can’t touch us. Well, sure he can tempt us. But he cannot harm us. Not in any lasting way. Because we belong to Jesus who has triumphed over the devil in His fasting and temptation, in His agony and bloody sweat, in His crucifixion and death, and in His bodily resurrection from the dead. And so “Thus saith the LORD!”: “On account of Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins. In Baptism, you are my son with whom I am well pleased. The Kingdom is yours and you have eternal life. For you, dear Christian, belong to me. And you will never be a slave to that serpentine tyrant again. My Son has set you free, and if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36).” God has spoken. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
February 23, 2014
Text: Matthew 5:38-48
Do not resist the one who is evil. Turn the other cheek. Give the one who sues you more than he’s asking of the court. Give to beggars. Lend generously. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. It’s a tall order Jesus gives us this morning. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48; ESV). We’ve learned a thing or two about holiness and righteousness in the past couple of weeks, though, as we’ve heard and meditated upon our Lord’s sermon on the mount. And we know that our holiness and righteousness does not come as a result of our doing God’s commandments. Our holiness and righteousness come in Jesus. He is holy. He is righteous. And He gives this holiness and righteousness to us freely, as a gift, in His Word and in His Sacraments, to be received by the empty hands of faith. So also our perfection. We are to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect. Well, that’s impossible for us in and of ourselves. But Christ Jesus is perfect, as His heavenly Father is perfect. He is sinless. He loves God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength. He loves His neighbor as Himself, in fact, more than Himself. And He imparts His perfection to us poor sinners just as He imparts His holiness and righteousness, by grace, through faith, by means of His holy Word and Sacraments. That’s a joyful and freeing thing to know. You don’t become holy, righteous, or perfect by doing, but simply by being in Christ who died for your sins and who is risen from the dead to give you new life.
But you have not been freed to become a slave again to sin and death. Things change now that you are in Christ. There are things that Christians do and don’t do because you are a Christian; not to be saved, but because you have been saved; not to become holy, righteous, and perfect, but because in Christ God has declared you to be holy, righteous, and perfect. You’re a new person. And as such you are no longer enslaved to the desire for vengeance against your enemies. You are no longer enslaved to the desire to protect your life and property at all costs. You are no longer enslaved to living for yourself. For you have been made a son of God in THE Son of God, Christ Jesus (v. 45). You are a son of God in your Baptism into Christ. And the son is not a slave. The son is free. You are free to sacrifice yourself for your neighbor. You are free to give yourself up for your neighbor, as Christ gave Himself up for you. For after all, as a son of God, what can possibly be taken from you that will not be repaid in overflowing abundance? What can you possibly lack? As St. Paul says, all things are yours in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 3:21-23). And what do you have that you did not receive (4:7)? God has given you your life and breath and all that you have that it may be given to and for your neighbor in love. And you will never be expended. For God is an unfailing fountain of good who continuously fills you with Himself and with all that you need, so that the more you give, the more you receive, here in this life, perhaps, but if not, most certainly in heaven.
So you are free NOT to exact an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth (Matt. 5:38). You are free to suffer at the hands of one who is evil (v. 39), to rejoice and be glad when you are persecuted and slandered for righteousness’ sake, for your reward is great in heaven (vv. 10-12). You are free to turn the other cheek toward one who has slapped you on the right (v. 39). You are free to give the shirt off your back to one who sues you (v. 40), to labor diligently for one who forces you, doing more than is expected, to give, to lend liberally with no expectation of repayment (v. 41). For all things are yours in Christ Jesus, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Cor. 3:23). You do not do the things you do to gain an advantage. That is what the pagans do. Unbelievers understand that they must treat others as they wish to be treated if society is to work and if they are to gain the goodwill and favor of their neighbors. But you do what you do as an emissary of the King, as a son of the Father. After all, if all things are yours in Christ, what possible advantage can you gain that you do not already have? You do the things you do out of love, because Christ has loved you unto His death on the cross. You do the things you do because the love of Christ flows through you to your neighbor. “We love because he first loved us,” as St. John writes (1 John 4:19). Beloved, you are the hands and feet of Christ in the world as you love and serve and sacrifice in your daily vocations, your relationships, your place in life. And like your Lord, you are crucified, you die for the sake of the other. You are free to do this very thing. For Christ has died, and He is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever, and you are baptized into Christ, and so His reality is your reality. He will raise you, too. Death has no power over you when you are in Christ.
Remember, His righteousness is your righteousness. His fulfilling of the Law is your fulfilling of the Law. For what He has done counts for you. And so where you have not loved your enemies and prayed for those who persecuted you, where you have not forgiven as God has forgiven you, where you have not turned the other cheek, given the shirt off your back, served, given, loved with everything in you and with everything that is you… He has. For you. He did not resist the one who was evil, but gave Himself into the hands of the Jewish guards, though at any moment He could have appealed to His Father, who would have at once sent twelve legions of angels to defend Him (Matt. 26:53). He gave Himself into the hands of the Sanhedrin, King Herod, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. As the Prophet Isaiah writes, He gave His back to those who strike, His cheeks to those who pull out the beard; He hid not His face from disgrace and spitting (Is. 50:6). The soldiers forced Him to walk and bear their load, His own cross, to Golgotha, where they stripped Him naked, nailed Him to the cross, and cast lots for His clothing. Freely He gave His all, His everything, for you who could not repay. So greatly did He love you, His enemies, that He gave Himself into death on the cross, praying for His persecutors, praying for you, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). So all of these things Jesus commands you today in the Holy Gospel He did for you, in your place, to your credit, and for your benefit, “that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:45).
When, in our Old Testament reading (Lev. 19:1-2, 9-18), God commands His people: “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (v. 2), this is not an admonition to do the things that He commands and thus become holy by your own effort. We know that would never work. No, this is a promise grounded in the very identity of your God. You shall be holy. Really, you will. And you are. How? Because I, the LORD your God, am holy, and I have placed my Name upon you and made you my own by the blood of Jesus Christ, God in human flesh. So I give you my holiness. It is a gift in Christ. And now here is how you are to act, now that you’ve received my Name and my own holiness. You are to love your neighbor. You are to leave the gleanings for the poor. You are not to steal or deal falsely or lie. You are not to oppress or rob your neighbor, withhold wages, curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind. You are not to do injustice in court, nor are you to hate your neighbor in your heart, take vengeance or bear a grudge against him. Why? Again and again in our Old Testament, God gives you the reason. “I am the LORD” (vv. 10, 12, 14, 16, 18). You belong to me. I have given you my holiness. So do not do those things. Instead, love, serve, give, sacrifice. Have mercy, for you have been shown mercy.
And what about those times that you haven’t lived according to the holiness the Lord has given you? What about all those grudges you’ve harbored, goods you’ve hoarded, lies you’ve told, and vengeances you’ve taken? Repent. And rejoice in the gracious Good News that Jesus has done it for you, and He’s taken all your not doing it and paid the penalty for your sin on the cross. You are forgiven. You are free. You are God’s dear child. All things are yours in Christ Jesus. And so you are perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. For Christ is your perfection. You are Christ’s. And Christ is God’s. Which means you belong to God. Do not fear. Rejoice. You are baptized into Christ. Therefore yours is the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 16, 2014
Text: Matt. 5:21-37
“You have heard… But I say to you…” We sinners are very good at hearing God’s Law differently than He speaks it. The Pharisees and the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day heard the Law as something that could be kept, with great effort to be sure, but it was possible for those of superior character and religiosity… you know, like they were. But for them the Law was strictly an outward matter, as we heard last week. They were only concerned with outward behavior. They were not concerned with the disposition of the heart. The Pharisees were also very good at changing God’s Law. Jesus illustrates this point with regard to the 4th Commandment: “Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and ‘whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God) – then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down” (Mark 7:10-13; ESV). So you see there is a difference between what the Pharisees heard and what God actually said. The Word of God is changed as a matter of interpretation. If giving money to provide for older parents is good, giving it to God is even better, or so the thinking goes. So we’ve improved upon God’s Commandment. And while it is easy for us to sit here in the pew and condemn the Pharisees, the truth of the matter is that we do the same thing. God said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24), but who are we to judge the actions of two (or nowadays, more) consenting adults, be they men and women, or men and men, or women and women? Who are we to judge the way another treats his or her own body? Who are we to judge a husband and wife for whom the flame of love has died if they tear asunder what God has joined together? It is more loving to live and let live, to be, not just tolerant, but affirming. After all, God is love (1 John 8). Which He is, but of course, what that really means is that in love God has given us His Commandments for our good. But we interpret our way out of them. We rationalize or emotionalize God’s Commandments in such a way that any and all outward behavior is excused and even justified. And so there are two ways that we hear God’s Law wrong. There is the way of the Pharisees, legalism, which is concerned only with outward behavior and cares not about the disposition of the heart. Or there is the way which is much more prevalent in our culture, moral relativism, the way that says anything goes in terms of outward behavior, because all that matters is warm fuzzies in the heart, all that matters is that you are fulfilled, happy, and true to yourself. At the end of the day, both approaches are the same. Pharisees and libertines, legalists and moral relativists, both attempt to manage the Law in such a way as to declare themselves righteous. Both seek self-justification, either by moralism, or by lawlessness.
But that’s not Christianity. That is why Jesus ups the ante in our Holy Gospel. You have heard the Law preached in many and various ways, but Jesus preaches it in all its unyielding truth. Jesus gives it to you straight. The Ten Commandments leave no breathing room. God expects you not to murder. There are no exceptions here for unwanted pregnancies, vigilante justice, or excruciating terminal illnesses. But even if you have kept this Commandment outwardly, you haven’t yet kept it. For when you have been filled with unrighteous anger toward your neighbor, when you have insulted him or called him names, when you’ve refused to forgive his trespasses against you, you have broken the 5th Commandment. St. John writes that “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). If you do not love your brother as yourself, you have murdered him in your heart. If you can help your brother in physical need but don’t, if you embitter your neighbor’s life by your words and actions, if you injure your neighbor physically or emotionally, you have murdered him. No one walks away free from this Commandment. And the Sixth Commandment is the same. God expects you not to commit adultery. To be sure, this means that you shall not physically cheat on your spouse. He also expects husbands and wives to remain faithful to their marriage vows until death parts them, and so He forbids divorce, with only very narrow exceptions to that rule. But here God also expects sexual purity in thought, word, desire, and deed. This prohibits all forms of unchastity, fornication, sex before marriage, living together outside of marriage, prostitution, pornography, homosexuality. It should go without saying, and yet it cannot go without saying: Christians do not engage in such behaviors. If you do, repent. Confess and be absolved. Let’s talk, you and I, about how to make the situation right. But even if you have not offended against this Commandment outwardly, you still aren’t free. For Jesus says that even to look at another person with lust is to commit adultery with him or her in your heart (v. 28). And we’re all nailed to the wall. We’ve all broken this Commandment, too. Jesus also gives instruction on the 8th Commandment, that a Christian’s yes ought to be yes, and your no, no. There are times when you must take an oath before God, such as in court or when you get married, whenever your neighbor’s welfare demands it, but this should only be in very serious circumstances. A Christian’s words should always be truthful even without an oath. How many empty promises do we make? Sure, I’ll do this or that. Sure, I’ll be there at this time. And we have no intention of following through, or we lose that intention somewhere along the way. And so you see, once again we’re all nailed. We’ve all sinned. Repent.
But dealing with this sin is going to take a whole lot more than a simple outward reformation of life. For your outward behavior is symptomatic of the condition of your heart. Jesus is interested in your heart. That’s where the disease is. Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, etc. (Matt. 15:19). Defeating sin is not as simple as gouging out your eye or cutting off your hand. Amputate all your limbs and appendages and you’ll still be a sinner. Because what you really need is a new heart. “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps. 51:10). What you really need is a heart transplant, a bona fide death and resurrection. And that is what you get with Jesus, His death and His resurrection for you, and your death and resurrection in His. A great exchange takes place for you in Christ. Jesus takes your murderous, unforgiving, adulterous, dishonest, and unfaithful heart into Himself. And He gives you His sacrificial life, His faithfulness, His truthfulness, His love, so that these are credited to your account. He takes all your sins to the cross to be crucified and die with Him. And now they can never count against you. He gives all of His sinless body parts to redeem all of your sinful body parts. He gives His eye, His hand, His whole Body into death and hell for you, that you might have life and heaven. He who knew no sin became sin for you, that you might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
And though you have been unfaithful, your Bridegroom, Jesus, does not divorce you. He gives Himself up for you to make you holy, cleansing you by the washing of water and the Word, to present you to Himself in splendor, as a Bride adorned for her Husband, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27). The risen Lord Jesus bestows His righteousness and His resurrection life upon His Bride, the Church, you. And so in spite of what you have heard from the world, from society, from the culture, even from false Christian teachers, you listen only to the voice of your Beloved Savior. You do not try to justify yourself. You do not try to earn your righteousness by your outward keeping of the Law. You do not excuse your sinful behavior, or seek Jesus’ tolerance and acceptance of your sin. Instead, you confess it. You confess the hidden wickedness of your heart to the One who alone can make you clean and new. You confess it into His tomb where it is buried forever, forgiven, never to be resurrected. You say “Amen” to your Lord’s killing and condemning Law, because you know that He slays you only to raise you to new life, that you may say “Amen” to His life-giving Gospel. You have heard many and various things from many and various voices in the world. But you also know the one and only voice of truth, the voice of Jesus Christ. Let all that is not of Him be put to silence. For He is your God. His Word is your life. His Word bespeaks you righteous. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, February 09, 2014
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
February 9, 2014
Text: Matt. 5:13-20
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20; ESV). Well, on the face of it, it seems like we might as well just give up and resign ourselves to eternal condemnation. The Scribes and the Pharisees, these were the guys who knew every jot and tittle, every iota and dot of the Law, and meticulously kept every detail. So how on earth is my righteousness, your righteousness, to be greater than theirs? After all, you and I know our sins. And Jesus knows them even better than we do. There are times when we may regard our neighbor with pharisaical pride. In fact, we love to do this. We love to revel in another person’s sins and faults and weaknesses. We love to gossip about them. We smirk with delight in the knowledge that we are better than they are. And then the unforgiving mirror of God’s Law shows us the hideous truth of our condition. Our gossip betrays us. We are not better than our neighbor. We are not holier. For every finger we point at another, ten thousand fingers of the Law are pointing back. Righteousness exceeding that of the Scribes and Pharisees? Hardly. We are not righteous at all. We are, as we confess, by nature sinful and unclean, constantly sinning against God and our neighbor in thought, word, and deed.
Jesus knows that, and thanks be to God our righteousness is not determined by our conduct or our disposition or our piety. Our righteousness is in no way determined by our keeping of the Law. Christ Jesus is our righteousness. And it is in that way, and that way only, that our righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees. The Scribes and the Pharisees put on a pretty good show. They were really good at outwardly keeping the Law. Humanly speaking, these were the upstanding citizens, good Christian folk, morally blameless, advocates of traditional values. They talked a good talk. They walked a good walk. All of which is fine and good. But it does not count as righteousness before God. For as St. James reminds us, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). There is no breathing room when it comes to God’s Law. No matter how bright and shiny your life may be, the fact remains that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), all, including Scribes and Pharisees and good Christian folk. Because as good as you may be at keeping the Law outwardly, you know the thoughts in your mind and the desires in your heart. You know that you are not pure. You know that you are full of rebellion against God, selfishness, greed, lust, pride. So you are a sinner. And a sinner is, by definition, not righteous. So here is the dirty little secret about the Scribes and Pharisees: They have bright and shiny, religious lives, but they are not righteous. Because they do not have Christ. They are sinners. And instead of receiving God’s salvation for their sins, they reject Him, and by their own efforts work to make themselves righteous.
You are a sinner, to be sure. Your life is not even as bright and shiny as the Scribes and Pharisees. And yet, your righteousness exceeds theirs. Because your righteousness has nothing to do with who you are in and of yourself, or anything that you have done or left undone. Your righteousness is Jesus Christ. You are in Christ. You are baptized. His righteousness counts for you. His blood washes away all your sin. And so, while the Scribes and Pharisees find themselves shut outside the doors where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, you are entering into the kingdom of heaven, into the joy of your Master.
And this is great Good News to us who are beset by vexing sins, whose consciences are troubled, fightings and fears within and without, whose hearts are weighed down with grief and hopelessness, broken lives, broken relationships, a broken faith. Whatever you are going through right now, whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been, all of that is baptized in the blood of Jesus Christ, your crucified Lord. All your sins are forgiven. And Christ is your righteousness. That is what St. Paul means when he says you’re justified. Justified simply means righteous. Righteous on account of Christ. Justified on account of Christ. Here’s what he says: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:21-25). How are you made righteous before God? Christ died for your sins and God raised Him from the dead. And now on His account God bespeaks you righteous, declares you righteousness, pronounces you righteous. It’s a courtroom decree. And Christ’s righteousness is given to you as God’s free gift. It is received by faith. Believe it and it is yours. It’s as simple as that. There’s nothing to add. There’s nothing said here about your works. There’s nothing said here about your worthiness or whether you deserve it, because you don’t. It’s pure grace. It’s pure gift. For you. In Christ alone. And in this way your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, who, in reality, are not righteous at all.
But aren’t Christians supposed to do good things? Shouldn’t we do good works? Shouldn’t we be upstanding citizens, good Christian folk, moral, advocates of traditional values and the like? Shouldn’t we serve our neighbor, love our neighbor, provide for our neighbor’s needs? Shouldn’t we flee from sin and godlessness? Yes, yes, and yes. Absolutely. But that doesn’t make you righteous. And thank God for that, because in your fallen flesh you will fail. Your fallen flesh still needs to be crucified daily in repentance. But you should do these things, not in order to be righteous, but because you are righteous in Christ. So He sends you out to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. What does salt do? It preserves and it seasons. Back in the days before refrigeration, how did you keep the meat from spoiling? Salt! And my wife doesn’t always believe me, but even when something tastes great, sometimes the experience can be enhanced all the more with just a little bit of salt. Christians are salt. God preserves the world on account of Christians who pray and love and serve in it, and on account of people who are not yet Christians but will be as they hear God’s Word and receive Baptism. And God seasons the world with His Christians, with your faithful confession, with your works done in Jesus’ Name, with your various vocations to which God has called you to be His hands in the world. He sends you to be light in this dark world, to shine the light of Christ in the darkness and expel it. You do this as you speak of Christ, as you speak God’s Word, which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). And by example as you live according to God’s Word in the world, confessing your sins, and hearing and living by the Absolution of the Lord that you receive freely here in His Church.
It is an amazing thing what Jesus once said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matt. 21:31). Or, as He said of the tax collector over against the Pharisee: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other” (Luke 18:14). How can Jesus say such things? It is not that Jesus has suddenly become tolerant of sin and affirming of materialistic lifestyles or sexual transgressions. He has not come to relax the Law, much less abolish it. In fact, as He says, not one iota or dot will pass away from the Law until it is accomplished. Jesus does not abolish the Law. He fulfills it. He accomplishes it. By His righteous life in our stead. By His death on the cross for our forgiveness. And He is risen and gives new life to us who were dead in our trespasses and sins, new life now in Baptism so that we can be His salt and His light in the world, life hidden under this weak flesh, but real life, a life that will be made manifest on the Last Day in the resurrection of the dead.
It is no secret that you are a sinner. If you try to keep it a secret, you are a Pharisee and not a Christian. Christians confess their sins. Christians confess that they are sinners. Because you know that your righteousness does not consist in a polished outward life that, like a whitewashed tomb, hides the stench of deadly sins inside. Your life is Christ. Your righteousness is Christ. Your everything is Christ. And in Christ, to you belongs the very kingdom of heaven. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, February 02, 2014
The Purification of Mary and The Presentation of Our Lord
February 2, 2014
Text: Luke 2:22-40
The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord. Two things are going on here in our commemoration on this feast day. The first is that Mary is offering the sacrifice of her purification. Giving birth made a Jewish woman ceremonially unclean, which meant that she could not participate in the regular life of the community, and particularly in the religious rituals of the Jews. Blood and other bodily discharges were unclean things in the Old Testament, not sinful in and of themselves, but pictures of our sinful uncleanness. And so when a woman gave birth, she would bring the prescribed sacrifice to the Temple 40 days later in the case of a son, or twice that in the case of a daughter. If she had the means, she was to bring a year old lamb for a burnt offering and a turtledove or a pigeon for a sin offering (Lev. 12:6). If she could not afford a lamb, she was to bring two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and one for a sin offering, to make atonement for her uncleanness (v. 8). After this, she would be pronounced clean by the priest.
The second thing that we are commemorating today, which happens simultaneously, is the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. Forty days into His young life, our Lord Jesus comes into His House for the first time. Here, at the Temple, He is redeemed, bought back by His parents. That is the second, and perhaps more important significance of the sacrifices. For the firstborn of all flesh are holy to the LORD. The firstborn belong to Him. This was His commandment to the people of Israel, and it all stems from that first Passover in Egypt, when the angel of death killed all the Egyptian firstborn of man and beast from the slave in the field to the son of Pharaoh, but passed over the blood spattered dwellings of the Hebrews. The firstborn of Israel were spared, by God’s mercy, on account of the blood of the Lamb painted over the doorposts and lintels of their homes. And so now the firstborn are the LORD’s possession. The firstborn of beasts were to be redeemed by offering another animal as a substitute, or their necks were to be broken. The firstborn sons were to be redeemed by their parents with the sacrifices of the mother’s purification (Ex. 13:12-13; Num. 18:15). They were redeemed and their mothers were made pure by the blood of sacrifice.
What is peculiar, of course, about this particular purification and redemption is that this birth is not unclean. This is the birth of the sinless Son of God, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. Mary needs no purification, for her purification comes from her sinless Son, Jesus. Jesus needs no redemption, for He has come Himself to be the Lamb offered upon the altar of the cross for the redemption of every firstborn, of every child, of every mother including His own, of every unclean sinner, including you. And yet, here is the Holy Family, offering the prescribed sacrifices. Here our Lord is willingly placing Himself under the Law of God for us. He is fulfilling it for us, in order that the Law become powerless over us. He is taking our place. He is making the final payment for those Israelites who were spared in Egypt so long ago, and for every one of us who have been spared by God’s mercy. The firstborn Son of God is redeeming us to be God’s sons, as well. St. Paul puts it this way: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5; ESV).
You are God’s son! Even you daughters, by the way. The son receives the inheritance, and so this is the great Good News of this text for all of you, men and women. In submitting Himself to the Law, our Lord Jesus redeems you from the Law, from its threats and demands, from its condemnation, so that you may receive the adoption as God’s son, and so receive the whole inheritance, all that is His, the very Kingdom of heaven. Simeon declares it as he takes the Baby Jesus in his arms. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ, the Savior, and now in this Baby, he knows that the Lord has made good on His promise. Now, this is not due to the little Lord Jesus’ appearance. The Temple is a crowded place, and no one else is making such a big deal out of this particular Baby. But the Holy Spirit has revealed this to Simeon. And so Simeon, taking the Baby from His mother’s arms, holds Him up and sings to Him a song you all know, the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32): “Lord” – and he’s praying to the Baby, by the way – “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word,” now I can die with confidence and joy, why? “(F)or my eyes have seen your salvation,” your Christ, my Savior, and the Savior of the world, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel,” indeed, the Savior of Jews and Gentiles alike, of all people… even you. Yes, he’s prophesying about you, how you would come to faith in this same little Baby he now holds in his arms. And you even sing his song when you come back from Holy Communion where you have held that same Body in your hands or received it in your mouth, your Light, your Glory, your Salvation, in the flesh. And now you can depart in peace, die with confidence and joy, for this salvation has become your own. In Him you have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Simeon tells us how it will happen. He says that Jesus is appointed by God for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed. That is to say, you can’t be neutral about Jesus. You either believe in Him or you don’t. If you don’t, you fall, you’re condemned. If you do, you rise, you have eternal life. And He is a scandal. For His sign is His naked, bruised, and bloody Body raised up on the tree of the cross as the sacrifice for your redemption. That’s the sword that will pierce Mary’s soul. There at the foot of that cross we see His mother in maternal agony over her Son’s suffering and death. But don’t be scandalized. Don’t be deceived by the appearance of things. This is nothing less than the redemption of Israel and of the whole world. This is your salvation. Simeon proclaims it, and so does another faithful Israelite at the Temple that day, the prophetess Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She, too, had been waiting for this Baby to come and deliver her. From the day she was widowed as a young bride, she had continued in the Temple, worshiping, fasting, praying night and day, waiting upon the Lord. And now He had come. Upon seeing the Lord Jesus, she could not contain herself, but giving thanks to God, she spoke of the Savior to everyone who would listen, “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38), to all who were waiting for God to make good on His promise to send Messiah to crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15).
What makes this day momentous for you, dear Christian, is that here the Lord Jesus, the firstborn Son of God, redeems you to be God’s son. The sacrifice He makes here is the fulfillment of the Law which you could not fulfill. Sacrifice all the sheep and turtledoves and pigeons you like, you can never make yourself clean from sin. But He can. And He does. For this sacrifice is but a foreshadowing of His once for all sacrifice on the cross, the sacrifice of redemption for the whole world and the sacrifice of purification for your sin. And Jesus still comes into His Temple. He still makes His dwelling with men. He still comes in His flesh to His House to be with His people. Here He is, the risen and living Lord Jesus, offering us the fruits of His cross on His altar, His true Body and Blood. Here He is, the fulfillment of the prophets’ proclamation, the Baby held up with joy and praise by Simeon, the redemption of Jerusalem confessed by Anna. He is right here in the preaching of His Word. For you. To forgive your sins. To make you clean. To declare, as your High Priest, that you are pure with His purity, that you are holy with His holiness, that you are God’s own child, baptized into Christ, that you are the Father’s beloved son. With Simeon you see your salvation in the Lord Jesus. With Anna you confess Him to all who will listen. And you know without a doubt that you can die in peace and joy, for this One who has redeemed you will also raise you from the dead. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Saturday, February 01, 2014
In Memoriam +Margaret Elaine Carroll+
In Memoriam +Margaret Elaine Carroll+
Feb. 1, 2014
Text: John 11:17-27, 38-44
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die’” (John 11:25-26; ESV). Like an oasis of cool water in the desert is our Lord’s promise here to us in the face of death. All we have to sustain us now, to strengthen us to go on living with joy, to comfort us in our grief, is the Word of Christ, this sure promise of the Savior. There is a life beyond this frail earthly existence, a life that is eternal and abundant. It is life in Another, life in Christ. Whoever believes in Christ, trusts in Him for the forgiveness of sins and salvation from death and condemnation, though he die, yet shall he live. In fact, he shall never die. And what was and is true for Lazarus and for Martha and Mary is also true for Peg. She believed in Christ. She trusted in Christ. And as a result, though she has died, she lives. In fact, she never really died. Really, she didn’t. Not there in the hospital anyway. You see, she got her death over with as a baby at the font, when her Lord Jesus washed her with water and His Word, at St. John Lutheran Church in Allegan. There the death of Christ became her death. She was joined to Christ in His crucifixion. There her old Adam, her sinful flesh was drowned. And there Christ’s new resurrection life was given to her as a gift. It was and is with Peg as we confessed with St. Paul a few moments ago: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Our Lord Jesus gave Peg eternal life already as a baby in Holy Baptism, a life hidden to be sure under weakness and sin and cancer and death, but a life nonetheless. A life still hidden to us, but now made manifest to Peg as she sees the Lord Jesus for herself in heaven. What we saw in the hospital on January 12th was only the temporary expiration of her body, the separation of her body and her soul. But she is not dead. She lives. Because she is in Christ who is risen and lives and reigns and who will raise Peg from the dead, body and soul reunited, on the Last Day.
You do not know this from experience. All that is available to our five senses is the evidence that a death has occurred. That Peg has not died, but lives, well, this is beyond our senses. It is beyond our reason. It is even beyond our emotion. We may feel in our hearts that Peg lives, but how can you trust in that? For most of us here today, the dominant feeling may be sadness. And that’s okay. Death is sad. Jesus wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, even knowing full well what He was about to do. Strange things, emotions. They change. They are limited. They can deceive. They can be manipulated. You just can’t trust them. But you can trust Jesus. The only way we know this to be true, that Peg is not dead, but lives, is Jesus’ Promise: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” And then Jesus puts His money, or better, His blood, where His mouth is. He dies, on the cross, for Peg, for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. He dies, but He is not dead. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. And He lives. And Peg’s life, and your life, these are now hidden in Him, who is Himself the resurrection and the life.
We don’t deal very well as a culture with death, do we? We do our best to deny it, delay it, prevent it. We don’t think about it if we can help it, but there it is, a slap in the face of life when a loved one dies or when we have to face our own mortality. When the inevitable does occur, we don’t want to face the reality. We dress it up in euphemisms and fairy tale explanations, because in the face of death, we just can’t bring ourselves to speak plainly. In the end, death is our greatest fear. But here in the Church we face death head on. We don’t dress it up. We speak plainly. We give it our careful thought and attention, not because we’re morbid, but because in Christ, we can, because we know the whole story, because we know that speaking of death, we speak of a deeper truth. Death was never meant to be. Humanity was created for life, life forever with God. But our first parents fell into sin. And through sin came death. St. Paul writes all about it in Romans 5. You can read about it for yourself. As children of Adam and Eve, this sin infects us all. And we’re not speaking here just about the bad things we do or the good things we don’t do. Those are just the symptoms of a deeper problem. We’re speaking here of a corruption deep within our nature, a corruption that separates us from God, and finally from life. Beloved, we’re all dying. I know you don’t want to hear that. Do you see what I mean? You don’t want to speak plainly about death. But denying it doesn’t change the reality. When you are faced with a reality this severe, you must face it head on, and the treatment for it must be radical. Furthermore, you must trust yourself entirely into the capable and pierced hands of your Great Physician, Jesus Christ. He has done something about your death. He has done something about Peg’s death. He died. And now He is risen. And He has a radical treatment that will save your life. It is His death and resurrection for you. That is the medicine that takes away your sin and gives you eternal life. It restores you to God as His own child. It is given to you here in Christ’s holy Church by means of His Word preached, the washing of Holy Baptism, and the Supper of His Body and Blood. It is the medicine that was given to Peg in her Baptism as a baby at St. John in Allegan, and which she received ever after from her gracious Lord Jesus as He spoke His Word of life into her and nourished her at His altar. So though she has died, she lives. And in fact, she shall never die, for baptized into Christ and into His death and resurrection, she has eternal life.
And now here are some other things that she has as she lives before God in heaven and awaits the resurrection. We heard about these things in our second reading (Rev. 7:9-17). She is before the throne of God and serves Him day and night in His temple. She is sheltered by His presence. She hungers no more, neither thirsts anymore. The sun does not strike her nor any scorching heat. The Lamb in the midst of the throne, Jesus Himself, her Good Shepherd, leads her to springs of living water. And God wipes away every tear from her eyes. And then, before Peg even realizes that any time has passed, the Lord Jesus will speak to her. He will cry out with a loud voice, just as He did at the tomb of Lazarus. And He will say, “Peg, come out.” And Peg will come out. She will come out of her grave. Her body will be good as new, better than new, her very body but made perfect, a resurrection body, fashioned after Jesus’ resurrection body. And so will all people be raised, and all believers in Christ, all who have life in Him by faith, will live eternally in their resurrection bodies with Christ. They will always be with the Lord. It sounds too wonderful to be true, doesn’t it? But don’t take my word for it. Take Jesus’ Word for it. For Jesus does not lie. And this is what He says: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Jesus died. Jesus lives. Jesus shall never die again. He is the resurrection and the life. And because of that Peg lives, and Peg shall never die. Jesus will raise her from the dead. This reality is now hidden with Christ in God. But you will see it for yourself on that Day. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 26, 2014
Text: Matt. 4:12-25
What the Prophet Isaiah writes of the world of his time is just as true of the world in our time: “behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples” (Is. 60:2; ESV). It is the darkness of unbelief. It is the darkness of sin and death. It is the darkness of demonic deception. The whole world was plunged head-long into that darkness when our first parents, Adam and Eve, took that first forbidden taste. And you know that darkness. For it is not just out there, in the world, in the terror and tragedies reported on the evening news. It is in you. It is in your heart and soul. It is in your mind and body. It is in your thoughts and desires, your words and your deeds. It is the siren song of the unbelieving world. It is your own sinful flesh. It leads you by the hand down its dark paths. It turns you inward. It turns you away from others. It wreaks havoc on your relationships. It hurts others. It destroys you. And worst of all, it separates you from God. And so you hate that darkness with every fiber of the new creation that is you in Baptism. But you cannot free yourself from its enveloping grip. There is no light within you that can dispel it. The light must come from outside of you. The only Light that can dispel this darkness is Jesus Christ, the Light of the world.
And He comes. That is the great Good News proclaimed by the Prophet Isaiah, and fulfilled by Jesus in our Holy Gospel: “the people dwelling in darkness,” that’s you and me, “have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,” again, you and me, “on them a light has dawned” (Matt. 4:16). The Light is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, coming into the world, in the flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, coming right into our darkness and bearing it, bearing our sin, bearing our death, bearing our brokenness, and taking it to the cross to nail it there, killing it, and burying it in His tomb forever. Jesus Christ is the only Light that can dispel the darkness once and for all. As St. John writes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). So victorious is our Lord Jesus over the darkness that He marches freely and willingly right into the darkness of death for you and for me, and that darkness cannot contain Him. Even there the Light dispels the darkness, for Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. And He will raise you, too, on the Last Day, in your body, and in the meantime, He gives you eternal life now, in your Baptism into Him.
It’s not just that the Light came into the darkness long ago, when Christ was born, when He was visibly present in His earthly ministry. That is certainly true, and it is true on a cosmic level. That is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. But so also Jesus Christ, your Light, comes to you right here and now, today, in the very midst of your darkness. He does it in His Word preached. In fact, that is how He spread His Light in His earthly ministry, as recorded in our Holy Gospel. What did Jesus do in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy? He began to preach. That is what St. Matthew tells us: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 4:17). Repent, which is to say, confess that you are in darkness and unable to do anything about it. Confess your sin. Confess your doubt. Confess your dying and death. And then know for certain this glorious Good News that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Not just near, as some English translations have it. That gives the impression that it isn’t quite here yet. No, the Kingdom is at hand, the Kingdom has arrived, it is upon you, it is right here, right now, in the flesh, in the person of the Savior who preaches and is preached. So for you in your darkness, the cure for your darkness is right here where Jesus is preached for the forgiveness of your sins.
So often when we feel the pervasive and engulfing darkness all around us, the devil deceives us so that we think the last place we should be is at Church. Maybe he has convinced us that we aren’t worthy to be here, as if the Church were anything other than a hospital for sinners, as if it is only the healthy who need a physician and not the sick, as if the Savior came only to call the righteous (whoever they are) and not sinners. Or perhaps the devil has convinced us that being at Church won’t really help anyway, as if the Church is some dispensary of advice that may or may not apply instead of the House of God where the living Lord Jesus Christ is really present for us with His Word and with His Body and Blood, to forgive our sins, to heal our very real maladies, and to give us life eternal and abundant. Maybe we are afraid that Church will make us feel bad about ourselves, because we know that the Word of God has this way of exposing our sin, dragging it out of the darkness, shining the Light of Christ upon it, so that it must be dealt with in repentance and the blood-soaked forgiveness of our crucified Savior. The devil twists this in our minds into bad news instead of good. Because it is a painful experience. Like life-saving surgery, it is always good news when it can be performed, but it isn’t a pleasant experience. The plain fact is that, though we loathe the darkness, we are, by nature, more comfortable in the dark than in the light, as St. John puts it in his Gospel: “this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
But this is the radical thing that Jesus does when He is in our midst. He takes the darkness and makes it light. And that is to create something out of nothing. What is darkness? It is not a substance. It is rather an absence, an absence of light. Light is something. Light is made of particles. Light is made of rays. And where there is light, there is no darkness. The two do not go together. You cannot have nothing where there is something. Darkness only exists where light is deficient or not present. So when the perfect Light that is Jesus Christ comes into your darkness, the darkness cannot abide. It’s gone. Where there was nothing, there is now something. Where there was sin, there is now righteousness. Where there was Judgment, there is now forgiveness. Where there was death, there is now life. Where the devil once reigned, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand in the person of Jesus, who has snatched you from the devil and made you His own to live under Him in His Kingdom. And this has far reaching consequences for all the places the darkness has wreaked havoc and destruction in your life. This Light now claims your heart and soul, your mind and body for Himself. As He called Andrew and Simon, James and John, to be His disciples, to follow Him, so He calls you to be His disciples, to follow Him, to hear and believe His preaching and teaching, and to confess His Name as fishers of men. He reconciles you to God. As Jesus went about healing diseases and afflictions and casting out demons, so He brings health and healing to you, spiritually now, and maybe even physically, although that is not the promise… The promise is complete spiritual and Physical restoration and healing in the Resurrection of the dead. And, of course, where Jesus is, the demons must flee. If you acknowledge that the devil and his demons are real, and if you know that they delight to bring you into this darkness, then I’ll tell you this: You must come to Church when they are oppressing you. You must flee to the Word of Christ and His Sacrament when the darkness envelops you. There is no other place to be than where Christ is for you! For there the demons and the darkness cannot abide.
For this Light brings you out of the darkness, out of yourself, and turns you (repents you!) toward God in faith in His mercy, and toward your neighbor in love. That means it will even help you in your relationships. The Light of Christ turns a husband toward his wife in such a way that he gives himself up for her, as Christ gave Himself up into death for the Church in love. It turns a wife toward her husband in such a way that she willingly submits to him in love and humility, as the Church submits to Christ. It turns the hearts of parents toward their children, and children toward their parents. It turns your heart to forgive as you have been forgiven. It turns your heart to mercy, as you have been shown mercy. Because where all these things did not exist in the nothingness that is the darkness, they now exist in the very real something that is the Light of Christ, which is His gift to you.
So, beloved, Good News this morning: “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light [Christ!], and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light [Christ!] has dawned.” It is happening right now in the preaching, and it will happen in a few moments in the Holy Supper. Christ, your Light, now rises upon you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Second Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
January 19, 2014
Text: John 1:29-42a
“The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29; ESV). It is the culmination of John’s ministry, the pinnacle, the goal of all his preaching and teaching and baptizing in his prophetic ministry. It is revealed to him by God: “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (v. 33), the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God. And in our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan River, that is precisely what happened, as we heard last week. The heavens were opened, the Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father spoke: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Jesus is it, the One promised by God, the One prophesied in all the Scriptures. The Old Testament has come to an end. The New Testament has come in the flesh to make His dwelling among us (John 1:14). He has come to be the sacrifice for our sin. John points his bony finger at Jesus and preaches: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
What does John mean when he calls Jesus the “Lamb of God”? This is to say that Jesus is the culmination and fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices. Jesus is the once for all sacrifice for sin. Whereas those Old Testament sacrifices of bulls and goats and pigeons and sheep had to be offered again and again, the once for all sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross has made atonement for all our sins. The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way: “every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (Heb. 10:11-13). All the other sacrifices pointed to this once for all sacrifice of Jesus. It was not the sacrifice of animals that actually made atonement to God for sin. Rather, in those sacrifices, the people of God received the once for all sacrifice of Christ sacramentally. That is to say, the blood of those sacrifices on the altar connected God’s people to the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the altar of the cross.
There were many types of sacrifice in the Old Testament. There were the peace offerings: thank offerings, votive offerings, free-will offerings. There were atonement offerings, called guilt offerings and sin offerings. There was the scapegoat, over which the sins of the people were confessed on the Day of Atonement, and the goat was sent away from the camp bearing those sins, out into the wilderness. And, of course, there was the Passover Lamb. You remember how it happened. The children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, but God sent His servant Moses to preach to Pharaoh: “Let my people go” (Ex. 5:1)! But Pharaoh hardened his heart. God sent ten plagues, the tenth the most terrifying, the death of every first born of man and beast in all Egypt, from the firstborn slave to the firstborn of Pharaoh. But Israel was commanded that each family take a sheep and slaughter it and paint its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their dwellings. And as they were safe in their blood-spattered dwellings, eating the lamb with unleavened bread and wine and bitter herbs, the angel of death passed over. Covered by the blood of the lamb, the children of Israel did not die, but lived. And the next day they marched out of Egypt, out of slavery, on their way to the Promised Land.
John proclaims that Jesus is our Passover Lamb and our Scapegoat. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The people came to John in the Jordan, confessing their sins, and receiving a Baptism of repentance and forgiveness. So you are baptized, and you confess your sins. Jesus, as our Scapegoat, takes all of that sin into Himself in His Baptism and bears it. He takes it away. And where does He take it? Outside the city, outside Jerusalem, to Calvary, to the cross, where, on the day the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed, He was sacrificed on the cross to make atonement. For you. For me. For the whole world (yes, this is the universal atonement!). For the forgiveness of sins. And now His blood marks the doorposts and lintels of our hearts. Safe inside the blood spattered Church, we eat the Lamb of God, His true Body and Blood, under unleavened bread and wine, and yes, the bitter herbs of the suffering our Lord lays upon us in this life. This meal strengthens us to endure that bitterness. And the angel of death passes over. Covered by the Blood of the Lamb, the new Israel, the children of God here in the holy Church, do not die, but live. And we march out of our slavery to sin, death, and the devil, through the wilderness earthly life in this fallen flesh and this fallen world, on into the Promised Land of heaven and the resurrection on the Last Day.
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The Blood of Jesus brings about the covenant, the New Testament in His Blood, the forgiveness of sins. The Blood of Jesus cleanses us. The Blood of Jesus purifies. The Blood of Jesus is the payment price to purchase us for God. The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way: “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). St. Peter writes: “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). And St. Paul writes that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,” a baptismal bath in His blood, “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
But why is it necessary, this bloody sacrifice of the Lamb of God to make all of this our reality? Sin is not just some minor offense, a little bump in the road of our relationship to God, an insignificant impediment on our way to living a good life. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Sin is not just the bad things you do or the good things you fail to do, what we call in theology “actual sins.” It is a corruption buried deep in your very nature, what we call in theology “original sin.” It is a condition, the cause of all actual sins, a terminal disease, separating you from God, separating you from one another, leading to death and finally to hell. So you can’t just commit yourself to a reformation of life. You can’t just try really hard not to sin and make it all better. You don’t just have a headache, you have a brain tumor, and you can’t cure it with Tylenol. Something radical must take place. Sin demands a death. Sin demands blood. And so the Son of God takes on flesh and blood that He might give it up into death for you. Nothing less than the Blood of God is required to save you from sin and its wages. And that is what your Lord Jesus gives for you on the cross, and to you here in His Word and Sacrament.
St. John points his disciples and us to the only One who can save us, to Christ, to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And now that is the whole duty of the Church and of every Christian preacher, of every Christian, in fact, to point people to the Lamb of God who takes away their sin. John points Andrew and another disciples, probably John the Evangelist, our author, to Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36). Andrew finds his brother Simon Peter, and what does he do? He points Simon to Jesus. “We have found the Messiah” (v. 41). And so these who have been pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away their sins become Jesus’ disciples. Here we have our whole evangelism program. We don’t need slick campaigns, clever gimmicks, or special effects. Our solemn duty is to point to Jesus and declare, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away your sin. The results are up to God. We have one message. There is really only one sermon. It is Christ crucified for sinners. It is Christ crucified for you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Baptism of Our Lord
January 12, 2014
Text: Matt. 3:13-17
As our Lord steps into the Jordan River to be baptized, like a divine sponge, He soaks up all of our sin and wretchedness, our disease and death, our pain and sorrow. He takes it all into Himself, into His flesh, into His soul, to be borne to Calvary. And in exchange, He has given us His righteousness, His healing, His life, His joy, His heaven. He has left it to be found in the water joined to His Word. By His Baptism in the Jordan River, He has sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin (Luther’s Flood Prayer). So you see, here in Baptism a great exchange takes place. In His Baptism, Jesus takes upon Himself all that belongs to you and makes it His own. In your Baptism, Jesus gives you all that belongs to Him and makes it your own. Luther called this the “happy exchange.” Jesus stands in your place and takes all that is yours, that you may stand in His place and take all that is His.
This is what it means that Jesus is your substitute. He takes your place. He stands under the Law for you. He fulfills it for you. Where you have failed, He succeeds, and you get the credit. Where you have not feared, loved, or trusted in God above all things, He has, for you. Where you have misused God’s Name and failed to call upon His Name in every trouble, to pray, praise, and give thanks, He has kept God’s Name holy, for you. Where you have despised God’s Word and preaching, He sat among the teachers in the Temple as we heard last week, joyfully soaking it all in. For you. He honored Mary and Joseph where you have despised your parents and other authorities. He did this for you. Where you have hated your neighbor, murdering him in your heart, He gave His life for your neighbor, and for you, to give you both life. Where you have been unfaithful, full of lust and greed, envy and covetousness, where your tongue has come unbridled and done damage to your neighbor’s reputation, He has been faithful, generous, self-giving, self-sacrificing. And as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth to speak evil (Is. 53:7). He did this for you. And what He has done counts for you. When God looks at you, He does not see the evil you have done, or the good you have failed to do. He sees the perfect righteousness of Jesus. He sees the sin atoning death of Jesus. He sees you covered in the holy, precious blood of Jesus. Because you are baptized into that. You are baptized into Him. And your sin? It has not simply been ignored or swept under the rug. Jesus took it all from you in His Baptism in the Jordan. He took it and He stood in your place, was nailed in your place on the cross, suffered your hell in your place, was your substitute in death. All of God’s wrath for your sin was poured out there, on the cross, on Jesus. He was baptized into your sin, that you may be baptized into His righteousness.So now you stand in the place of Christ. That means that all that God gave Jesus in His human nature at His Baptism, He now gives you in your Baptism. As the heavens were opened to Jesus in His Baptism, so now heaven is open to you in your Baptism. You will not die, but live. You will be in heaven with Jesus when you die, and on the Last Day, Jesus will raise you in your body from the dead. Baptism marks you for resurrection. As the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove in His Baptism, so you are anointed with the Holy Spirit in your Baptism, who brings you to faith in Jesus, your Savior. The Holy Spirit comes upon you to dwell with you and in you. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit. He brings you to His Church and makes you a member thereof. He opens your ears to the Word of God. He gives you trust in Christ as a gift. He fans into flame within you a love for God and your neighbor. He moves in you to pray for yourself and others, to praise God, and to give thanks. He strengthens you for life in this fallen world. He grants you repentance, that you daily put to death your fallen flesh. And as the Lord and Giver of Life, He raises you daily to new life in Christ as God’s own new creation, so that your love flows forth in good works of service and sacrifice. And as the Father declared of Jesus at His Baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” (Matt. 3:17; ESV), so He says of you in your Baptism: “You are my own child, and I am well pleased with you, not because of anything you have done or left undone, but because of Christ, my Son, who now covers you in Baptism. I love you. I have claimed you for myself, purchased you with the blood of Christ. My Name is written upon you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as one chosen and precious. You are mine.”
Well, that makes all the difference in the struggles of this earthly life, and even in the face of death. Because the worst that can happen to you is that you die. But see, Christ has made His death your own in Baptism. And that means that you got your death over with already at the font. Sure, you’ll have to physically expire one day, physically die, experience the separation of your soul from your body, which is the theological definition of physical death. But though you die, you live. Because you’ve already been given new life in Baptism, Christ’s life. How do you know you’ll go to heaven when you die? Which is just another way of asking, why do you believe you’ll go on living after you take your last breath? Because you’re baptized into Christ! And that means His death is your death. You died on the cross, with Christ. And if you died with Christ in that way, what does St. Paul say as a result in our Epistle? “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). That means that you already have eternal life. You have it right now. It’s just hidden. Your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). It will be hidden to us when you physically die. But not to you. You will see. You will live. In Christ, the risen Lord. And what is true spiritually already now, will be true physically then, on the Last Day. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:5).
Now, imagine that you are on your deathbed. It is not a pleasant thought. In addition to whatever physical ailment you may be suffering, there is a certain sadness at the thought that you are leaving your loved ones behind. So also, all the pleasures of this earthly life are at an end. You may be anticipating a certain relief from your suffering. But you were created to hold tenaciously to God’s gift of life. And so, even though you know and believe you have a merciful God who has forgiven all your sins and given you eternal life in Christ, you also have a certain apprehension about how it all will happen, what you will experience, what you will see, what it will be like to stand before the judgment throne of your Maker, and what exactly the rest of eternity holds for you. Now imagine that I as your pastor come and visit you on your deathbed, and I pull out the Holy Scriptures, and imagine that I could prove to you from the Holy Scriptures that, even though you will have to experience death, in one hour, the Lord Jesus will call you back to life, free from pain and sickness, free from sin, your body made into a perfect resurrection body. Well, that wouldn’t be so bad, now, would it? Unfortunately, I can’t promise you that you will come back to life after only one hour. But except for that one little detail, all the rest of the promises are absolutely true. Whatever the amount of time, the Lord Jesus will call you back to life in your body, a perfect, resurrection body, free from sin and pain and sickness, to live forever with Him. “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power” (1 Cor. 15:42-43). Christ “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). “(A)nd so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17). How do you know? Because Scripture says it here. Because your own ears have heard the living voice of Christ say so in preaching. Because you have died with Christ in your Baptism, and so have been raised to new life in Him, and how can that new life have any other result than your own resurrection from the dead? Because you have held and tasted the risen and living body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Supper, which forgives all your sins and nourishes you for eternal life.
You see? In Baptism, all that is Christ’s is yours. And all that is yours, all that is evil and dying and dead, has been taken by Christ in His Baptism and borne in His flesh to Calvary. He is risen, and you are His, for you are baptized into Him. That makes the difference in absolutely everything. When despair used to grip Luther in the midst of the Reformation, he would recall the Gospel reality, “But I am baptized,” and so he would be comforted. So you sing: “Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ!… Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!… Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!... Though my flesh awaits its raising, Still my soul continues praising: I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise” (LSB 594). And it’s true. It’s all true. Christ was baptized into you. You are baptized into Christ. And nothing can separate you from the love of God for you in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.