Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday[1]
February 25, 2009
Text: Joel 2:12-19

Rend your hearts, beloved in the Lord. Rend your hearts and not your garments. Rend your hearts, for your Lord Jesus Christ has rent His heart, His whole body, for you and for your salvation. Your Lord Jesus has come to take away your sin and death, to take it into Himself, into His body and soul, all the way to the tree of the cross. Therefore repent, turn to Him, turn away from your sin and death, turn to Jesus Christ in faith and behold His great love for you, love crucified. Rend your hearts and return to the Lord with fasting, weeping, and mourning over all that sin has wrought. “Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13; ESV).

Repentance begins with God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, that God was in Christ reconciling the world, reconciling you and me to Himself, not counting our trespasses against us (2 Cor. 5:19). Christ has made the full payment for our sins. He has cancelled our debt to God. He has restored us to the Father. His sacred head, His sacred body, was wounded for us, His wounded people, that His blood might cover our iniquity. That is what it means that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. He shows this on the cross of Christ, the sacrifice of His own dear Son into death for our forgiveness and life. And so it is that we now turn to the Lord in repentance. Repentance means a turning, or returning. It means turning from the sin to which we are once enslaved, turning to God who alone can grant salvation. It means a forsaking of ourselves and our selfish, sinful desires, a dying to self. And we can only do this because of what Christ has done for us. We can only deny ourselves for Christ’s sake because Christ first denied Himself for our sake. Repentance is an act of faith in the One crucified for our sins. For only if we believe in Him, only if we believe and trust that He did all this for our salvation, only if we know He loves us, will we be sorry for our great transgressions. Only when we realize that our sins nailed Him to the tree, that the depth of His suffering is a result of our sin, that His love for fallen humanity, for you, for me, caused God to take on our flesh, suffer, and die… only when we realize this and believe it and trust it will we be repentant.

Therefore rend your hearts. Let your repentance be marked, as the LORD says through the prophet, with fasting, weeping, and mourning (Joel 2:12). It is good that we have gathered together this evening to be marked with ashes and reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. It is good to gather together and confess our sins before God. Again, as the LORD says through the pen of the prophet Joel, “consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber” (vv. 15-16). We not only repent as individuals, but as the congregated people of God, the holy Christian Church. And no one is excluded. Even the children and nursing infants are to be marked with the ashes of repentance, for they too are sinful and need salvation in Christ. Even the bridegroom and bride are called forth from their chamber for this sacred, penitential assembly. That is why there are no weddings during Lent, incidentally. Lent is a time set apart for just this fasting and consecration the prophet speaks of here. It is a time for sober reflection, for brutal honesty about our sinful condition, and for confession. It is a time to recognize that we are sinners, each one of us, you and me, and that the wages of sin is death. Thus the ashes. Remember, o man, remember, o woman, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

But don’t forget that you are marked with ashes in the sign of the cross. That is to say, this is not fasting and weeping and mourning just for the sake of it. It is fasting and weeping and mourning that recognizes that we have a Deliverer from sin, a Deliverer from death, our Lord Jesus Christ. It recognizes that we were marked with His cross first in our Baptism, upon our forehead and upon our heart; that we have ever since received the benefits of His cross in His blessed Word and the Sacrament of His body and blood; that there will be an end to this fasting and weeping and mourning. It recognizes that Good Friday will give way to Easter, that this body of dust destined to be returned to the dust will also be raised again. We fast now, we weep now, we mourn now, because we long for this final deliverance from sin and death. And it is coming. It is already ours in Christ Jesus. But it has not yet been fully revealed. We still struggle with sin. Unless Jesus returns first, each of us has to die. And so the ashes. But always in the sign of the cross, always in the sign of our deliverance.

There are forty days of Lent, not counting Sundays, starting today. This is a time set aside for the solemn assembling of God’s people for repentance and forgiveness. It is a time in which “God’s baptized people cleanse their hearts through the discipline of Lent: repentance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is a time in which God’s people prepare with joy for the Paschal Feast (Easter). It is a time in which God renews His people’s zeal in faith and life. It is a time in which we pray that we may be given the fullness of grace that belongs to the children of God.”[2] Therefore rend your hearts, beloved. Rend your hearts knowing that God will put them back together again, good as new, better than new in fact, made perfect in Christ Jesus. Rend your hearts knowing that the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, that a broken and a contrite heart He will not despise. Rend your hearts knowing that the sacred head of our Lord Jesus Christ was wounded, pierced, beaten, for His wounded people, for you, for your healing, forgiveness, life, and salvation. Rend your hearts, receiving the sign of the holy cross, marking you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] This year’s Lenten series is based on the book, Sacred Head, Now Wounded (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009). While the theme and many of the concepts of the series are drawn from the book, the sermons are my own.
[2] Treasury of Daily Prayer (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008) p. 26.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

The Transfiguration of Our Lord (B)
February 22, 2009
Text: Mark 9:2-9

The Transfiguration of our Lord is one last assurance before we enter the solemn season of Lent that our journey to the cross, suffering, and death of Jesus has a goal. It is one last glimpse of who Jesus really is, one last manifestation of His divine nature, one last epiphany that this is God in the flesh come to save us from our sins. And it is a visual promise of the glory that Jesus always has in His divine nature, and will take up again in His human nature when the Father raises Him from the dead. In other words, it is a promise of the resurrection to come. It shows us that after Lent, after Good Friday, we will once again sing our alleluias, that Easter is coming, that in dying our Lord will conquer death, that in atoning for our sins He will bring healing and forgiveness to all, that in suffering all hell for us and for our salvation, He has crushed the serpent’s head. And it is a promise of our own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. Because Christ is risen, we, too, will be raised. Thus the Transfiguration is a vital testimony for those who daily live under the cross in this life, a testimony of the life that we have even now in Christ Jesus, and of the glory that is to come. It is a testimony for you. You can willingly and boldly go the way of the cross with your Lord Jesus this Lententide knowing that Easter awaits. And you can willingly and boldly bear the cross and suffering in this earthly life knowing that your own resurrection from the dead is sure and certain.

The disciples themselves needed this testimony. They would, after all, have front row seats for the heartbreaking drama of Holy Week. Not all of the disciples get this wonderful glimpse of Jesus’ divinity however. Not all are present for the Transfiguration. Not even all the Twelve. Only the inner-circle, Peter, James, and John, are given to see this marvelous sight. And marvelous, indeed, it is. Jesus leads them up onto a high mountain and as He is praying, communing with His heavenly Father, He is transfigured before them. The Greek word is μετεμορφώθη. We could translate it, “He was metamorphed before them.” He was transfigured, or metamorphed, in this way: “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3; ESV). His divine glory shows so brightly that even his clothes become radiant. And though Jesus clearly tempers the display of His divine glory, for the disciples do not die, they do fall down before Him and hide their faces. And as if all this is not enough for the disciples, Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. What a sight! Heaven has come to earth. The disciples don’t want to leave, even though they are terrified. Peter even wants to build three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. He doesn’t want the mountaintop experience to end. But if Jesus even acknowledges Peter’s misguided suggestion, we are not told, for immediately the whole company is enveloped by a cloud, just like in the Old Testament when the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle (Ex. 40:34). And a voice comes from the cloud, the same voice that came from heaven at Jesus’ Baptism, the first epiphany (Mark 1:11), saying virtually the same thing: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (9:7). Just as at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry the Father verbally testified that Jesus is the very Son of God, God in the flesh, so now before Jesus goes to the cross to fulfill His ministry, we have the verbal assurance of the Father that Jesus is who He says He is, the very Son of God, and the command to listen to Jesus, the Word made flesh.

St. Peter and St. John both would later write of this experience. St. Peter writes, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18). So also St. John writes, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14; emphasis added). The Transfiguration was a great assurance to these three disciples who were about to travel with Jesus the road to the cross and Good Friday, and who, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, would suffer much for Jesus and for His Gospel.

As I said, the other disciples are not given to see this great sight, nor are Peter, James, and John to talk about what happened on the mountain until after Jesus’ resurrection. Why? Because Jesus doesn’t want His Transfiguration to be misinterpreted. The Transfiguration is a glimpse of the great glory of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But that glory would ultimately be displayed on the cross, when Jesus empties Himself of that glory to die for us for the forgiveness of our sins. He doesn’t want the disciples to think He will save them with a great display of power. Instead, He will save them by His power made perfect in weakness, in suffering, in death. His grace will be sufficient for the disciples. So why does He even take the three? Because on the testimony of two or three witnesses a thing shall be established (Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16). Peter, James, and John are the witnesses, and even though they don’t understand the Transfiguration right away, they would, after Jesus’ resurrection, after they received the Holy Spirit, and then they would confess the significance of the Transfiguration before the whole world: Jesus is God in the flesh. They are eyewitnesses. They have seen His glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Jesus, God in the flesh, has come to save all humanity through His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death.

That is why Moses and Elijah are present on the mount of Transfiguration. They are the two witnesses from the Old Testament, and they represent the Law (or the Torah) and the Prophets. Moses wrote the Torah, the Law, the first five books of the Bible. And Elijah is representative of the Prophets. Thus the whole Old Testament, the only Scriptures in existence at the time of the Transfiguration, these testify of Jesus. The whole Old Testament is about Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. In fact, that is what Moses and Elijah are discussing with Jesus. Luke tells us that they are discussing Jesus’ exodus, which He is about to accomplish in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31), in other words, the completion of His saving mission through His suffering and death and finally His resurrection from the dead. Again, on the testimony of two or three witnesses, a thing is established. Moses and Elijah come from heaven to testify on Jesus’ behalf.

They also serve as a visual testimony of the glory that awaits all of us who are untied to Christ Jesus by faith. These two bask in Jesus’ glory. They do not hide their faces. They talk with Jesus even as he shines. They are heavenly beings. Moses, as you’ll recall, after seeing the Promised Land from a distance, died and was buried by God in an unknown place (Deut. 34:5-6). Yet here he is, with Jesus Christ, alive in heavenly splendor. Elijah, as we heard in our Old Testament lesson this morning, did not die, but was carried into heaven by chariots of fire (2 Kings 2:1-12). And here he is, as well, talking with Jesus. And so we see that the Transfiguration is a foretaste of the resurrection to come, the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day. Just as the goal of Good Friday is Easter Sunday, so the goal of our lives under the cross is the Day of Resurrection when Jesus returns to raise us from the dead. We will be glorified like Moses and Elijah. We’ll live together forever with the Lord, basking in His glory and communing with Him. We’ll know each other, too. Notice that even the earth-bound disciples need no introduction to Moses and Elijah. They’ve never seen them before. They just know who they are. So it will be in the resurrection. We’ll know each other. We’ll know those we never met. We’ll know Moses and Elijah. We’ll know Peter, James, and John. And we’ll all be focused on Jesus.

This gives us great strength and comfort as we bear the cross and tribulation in this life. Remember that this all has a goal. The goal is the resurrection. But to get to the resurrection, we must go the way of the cross and Good Friday. There is no Easter without Good Friday. There is no resurrection without death. Like Peter, we are often tempted to seek the Lord in glory and power. We want to stay on the mountaintop and bask in His glory. We don’t want the cross. But the cross is necessary. On the cross, Jesus wins our salvation. Through the crosses we have to bear, Jesus conforms us to His own image. He makes us into the people He would have us be. But as we suffer, we always have the resurrection in view. It is coming. It is just not yet. The victory is won. Jesus won it for us. Our rest and reward will be given soon.

In the meantime, listen to the Father’s beloved Son. It is the Father’s command to you today. Listen as He speaks of His Passion for you this Lententide. Listen to His Word. For St. Peter says that in this way you receive the same assurance he received in witnessing the Transfiguration, in fact, an even greater assurance: For “we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). So be here in church. Come every Sunday. Come to the midweek services. Hear the voice of Jesus in Absolution and Scripture reading and Preaching. Receive the Supper of His Passion, His very body and blood given and shed for you. Read the little devotion book you have in your mailboxes. Meditate this season and each day of your life on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on your behalf, the blood He shed for you, the great love He has for you. Hide yourself in His wounds. For you are wrapped in the robes of His righteousness. You are baptized into Christ, into His death, into His resurrection. Put away your alleluias for a season this Lententide, but know that you will take them up again. For death is not the end of the story. The Transfiguration assures you of this. The end of the story is that there is no end. Only resurrection and life eternal for all who believe in Jesus Christ. That is to say that this resurrection and life eternal is for you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Baier/Iciek Wedding

Wedding of Jason Craig Baier and Heather Marie Iciek
February 21, 2009

I.N.I.

Text: Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; 9:9-10

Jason, Heather, Beloved in the Lord: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Two are better than one,” declares Solomon in the Old Testament reading you picked (Ecc. 4:9; ESV). No doubt. There is strength in union. That is one of the reasons God instituted marriage. “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18). Thus God created Eve for Adam out of Adam’s rib. “‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, for she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (vv. 23-24). Thus God instituted Holy Matrimony, and He did so for three purposes, first for companionship, second for the procreation and nurture of children, and third that this union of man and woman, the two becoming one, would find its only proper fleshly expression in the context of marriage. This is to say that marriage is God’s gift to you. Jason, Heather is God’s gift to you this day. And Heather, Jason is God’s gift to you. The two become one, because God says so. You two become one flesh and hold one another fast, cling to one another, for you are God’s gift to each other, to have and to hold, from this day forward, until death parts you.

Solomon talks about the advantages of such union. When one person falls, the other lifts him up (Ecc. 4:10). When the two lie together, they keep warm (v. 11). Two are stronger than one when it comes to facing attack (v. 12). Understand that though marriage is God’s gift, there will be no shortage of falling, no shortage of cold, and no shortage of attacks. I’m talking about each one of you falling because you are sinners. You inherited that from the first married couple, Adam and Eve. You were born sinners. You’ve had a lot of practice at sinning, and you will sin against one another. That is why when one of you falls, the other has to lift the fallen one up. You do this by mutual forgiveness. Forgiveness lifts up. Marriage above all other estates is the place to practice confession and forgiveness. Confess your sin when you fall. Forgive the other for falling. Don’t leave each other in the cold. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Always face the attacks and assaults of the devil together.

And this is why the three-fold cord Solomon talks about is so important (v. 12). There are not only two in this union, Jason and Heather. There are three. The third, and most important, is Christ, who binds you together this day. He gives you the ability and resolve to live with one another in mutual forgiveness and love because He has forgiven you. He has lifted you up from your fall into sin, death, and hell. His blood has covered your sin. He has declared you righteous and made peace for you with God. You live together as those who have been redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ. He has never forsaken you and never will. He has never left you out in the cold, and never will. Therefore you don’t have to forsake one another. You have the God-given ability to stick with one another through thick and thin, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, because Christ sticks with you. You can stand firm against the devil and all his works and all his ways knowing that Christ Jesus fights for you. Thus your marriage will take the shape of the cross. You will sacrifice for one another, because Christ sacrifices for you. You will suffer for one another, because Christ suffered for you. You will suffer with one another, because Christ bears you in your suffering. You can do this because Christ is risen, and His resurrection victory is your own.

Therefore Jason, enjoy your life with the wife whom you love (Ecc. 9:9). Heather, enjoy your life with the husband whom you love. Do so in the knowledge that your life has been redeemed by Jesus Christ. He has given you to one another until death parts you. And know that this blessed institution of marriage is but a picture of Christ’s holy love for His Bride, the Church, His self-giving love for you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)
February 15, 2009
Text: 2 Kings 5:1-14; Mark 1:40-45

In order to understand both our Old Testament lesson and our Gospel lesson this morning, we need to understand that in the Scriptures, leprosy and its accompanying uncleanness is a picture of the disease of sin, original sin, our sin, and so our state of being unclean. So also the healing miracles that Jesus performs, the physical healing He brings with Him, are signs that He has the authority on earth to forgive sin, that He has the authority to heal us of our most dreaded disease, really the only deadly disease there is, sin. This is true in the Old Testament as much as in the New, for in the prophet Elisha’s healing of Naaman, we see a foreshadowing of the healing that Jesus brings. And of course we must confess all healing comes from Jesus, even healing in the Old Testament, so that in his office as prophet, Elisha speaks not his own word, but the very Word of God, which is the effective agent in the healing. In both of these cases, Elisha’s healing of Naaman and Jesus’ healing of the leper, the physical healing that is accomplished is a sign of the ultimate healing that Jesus brings, that He is always willing to bestow, the healing of sinners of the disease of sin.

Again, the Word of God is the operative agent in the healing, physical and spiritual. In the case of Naaman, the prophet Elisha doesn’t even come out to greet him at the door, but sends a messenger to speak a Word, God’s Word, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean” (2 Kings 5:10; ESV). This makes Naaman angry, for he expects the prophet to come out and perform the miracle himself, making a great show, calling upon the Name of the Lord and waving his hands over the infected area. In other words, Naaman’s faith is in the prophet and the spectacle, not in the Word of God. Naaman believes he knows a better way to be healed. “Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” especially this tiny, muddy, stinky Jordan River? “Could I not wash in them and be clean?” (v. 12). But his servant convinces him. If Elisha had commanded Naaman to do something great, something spectacular, he surely would have done it in a heartbeat. So surely if the prophet has asked only a small thing, wash seven times in the Jordan River and you will be clean, Naaman would do it. Reluctantly, Naaman goes down to the River Jordan. It cannot be any other river. The Word of God specifies the Jordan. He dips himself not once, not twice, not three times, but seven times. There is no result the first six times. The Word of God specifies seven times. And what happens? On the seventh dip, behold, “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (v. 14). Not only does Naaman come out of the water without leprosy, he comes out of the water without wrinkles, without blemishes, smooth as the skin of a baby. It is the original fountain of youth. But only because the Word of God says so. The Word of God always does so much more than we ask or expect. The Word of God heals thoroughly. The healing power is not in the prophet Elisha, not even in the faith of Naaman who only reluctantly does what Elisha says, but in the Word of God.

And so it is that in the Gospel lesson, the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, comes on the scene with His Word and His healing. He comes to fulfill what the healing of Naaman foreshadows, namely, the healing of sin. Jesus' miracles of physical healing are also signs of that ultimate healing from sin that He accomplishes on the cross. And so also we have in the Gospel lesson another leper, an outcast of society, one who according to the Law should have been standing far off from the crowd crying out, “Unclean! Unclean!” For leprosy made one ceremonially unclean, untouchable, because again, this disease was a picture of our inborn infection of sin. Leprosy, physically speaking, is a bacterial disease that manifests itself on the skin with lesions and sores that greatly disfigure a person’s appearance. In biblical times, and in some places even today, lepers had to live together in colonies segregated from the rest of society. And so this leper should have been warding Jesus off, “Unclean! Unclean!” But he does not do so. Instead he does something quite amazing. He comes up to Jesus and falls on his knees before the Master, entreating Him, “If you will, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40). And Jesus, moved with compassion for this child of God whom He had come to save, stretches out His hand and touches him. Don’t miss the import of this. Jesus touches the untouchable leper. And in touching him, the uncleanness of the leper is transferred to Jesus, and the cleanness of Jesus is transferred to the leper. Is this not a beautiful picture of what Jesus does for us in ultimately healing us of sin? “I will; be clean,” Jesus says (v. 41). It is a physical picture of holy absolution, “I forgive you all your sins.” All our sins are placed upon Jesus to be nailed to the cross. All of His righteousness is given to us in exchange.

This is, after all, the point of Jesus’ miracles. If Jesus can cure leprosy, cast out demons, heal diseases, and raise the dead, then He is God, and He has the authority on earth to forgive sins. This is the ultimate healing. And this healing, dear brothers and sisters, is for you today. Jesus is here today to pronounce His healing to you, “I will; be clean.” He has come to cleanse you of the leprosy of your sin. He does this through means, the Word and the Sacraments. He does it through Baptism, water connected with the Word of God. How can water do such great things? Don’t be offended, like Naaman was, that God would use ordinary water, the ordinary act of washing, and ordinary words, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” to cleanse you. Perhaps you would prefer something more spectacular, like faith healings, for example. Perhaps you’d rather come up one by one and have me wave my hands over you, calling on the Name of the Lord, so that every earthly malady of which you suffer can be healed. But God doesn’t promise to work that way. He promises to work through water and the Word. Again, how can water do such great things? It is not the water indeed that does them, but the Word of God in and with the water. That is where God has promised to work. That is the truth to which Naaman’s cleansing in the Jordan points. Water and the Word combine to give you Christ’s righteousness. Jesus, too, would be dipped in the Jordan, baptized into Naaman’s uncleanness and your sin, sanctifying all baptismal waters that you might be baptized into His righteousness. You are washed clean in Baptism, with all the cleanness of Jesus Christ. It is no wonder Peter declares that Baptism now saves you (1 Peter 3:21).

So also, you are cleansed in preaching. For all preaching is absolution, or at least it should be. All preaching ought to forgive your sins. That is why preaching is both Law and Gospel. Christian preaching is the voice of Jesus calling you to repentance for your sin and uncleanness, and applying His blood and righteousness for your cure. A sermon is not a lecture, contrary to popular belief. It’s not the boring middle part of the church service, in spite of what the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh may lead you to believe. The sermon is Christ in action. Something is happening to you even now as you sit in the pew struggling to pay attention. Jesus is speaking His healing Word to you through the mouth of His unworthy servant. Jesus is speaking His Holy Spirit into you. Jesus is forgiving your sin. This in spite of the sinful, bumbling preacher. This in spite of your impatience and wandering mind. Jesus is here! God in the flesh is speaking! His Word is the operative element in your healing.

And so again, we have the Supper of our Lord. Don’t be put off by the simplicity of it all. No, it’s not a physically satisfying meal. You’ll still want to go to fellowship hour for a snack after the service, and lunch after that. But don’t be fooled. That little wafer of bread, that little sip of wine, is Jesus’ body and blood, for your forgiveness, for your cleansing. Marvelous! “The body of God’s Lamb we eat, A priestly food and priestly meat; On sin-parched lips the chalice pours His quenching blood that life restores” (LSB 624:6). Again, it’s the Word of God that brings Jesus’ body and blood to the meal for our forgiveness, life, and salvation, for your cleansing. The Supper is the visible, tangible, healing touch of Jesus. So simple, yet so profound. It is our ultimate healing from sin and death.

Beloved, we are so tempted to seek more spectacular healing than that which Jesus gives. A boring sermon can’t be the life-giving Word of God, we think. Water, bread, wine, what have these things to do with our healing? We need impressive displays, if not miracles, then at least the glow of having had a spiritual experience. We need dynamic worship that gives us goose bumps or makes us warm and fuzzy inside. We need practical messages about how to live our best life now. Then the people will come in droves and we won’t have to suffer through another stuffy, boring liturgical service…

But that is not the Gospel, dear friends! This is exactly why Jesus was so stern with the leper, warning him not to tell anybody about the healing, but simply to go to the priest for a clean bill of health and offer the prescribed sacrifices of thanksgiving. It’s not that Jesus is against evangelism. No one wants to evangelize more than Jesus, who gave His life for the salvation of the world. It is rather that Jesus wants people to come to Him for the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins, their ultimate healing, and not for a show, not for the miracles, not for the mountaintop spiritual experience. We see this when the leper can’t keep his mouth shut in the Gospel lesson. Now the crowds surround Jesus wherever He goes. That sounds like it should be a good thing. But they don’t want the Gospel. They want the show and they want the easy cure. They don’t want the preaching. They don’t want the forgiveness of sins. They want what makes them feel good. This is a picture of you and me whenever we doubt the Word’s effectiveness, whenever we’re bored with it, whenever we think we’ve had enough of it, whenever we grow weary with church and sermons and sacraments. We forget that every encounter with the Word is a healing encounter with Jesus Christ. Repent.

Repent and know that Jesus is here with His cleansing for you. Here in the boring old church service with the poor excuse for a preacher and the water and the bread and the wine, promising to do more for you through these things than you could ever ask or imagine. He says to you this morning, “I will; be clean.” And you are restored. Go tell others, by all means. But don’t tell them to come because we’re friendly or we have really good fellowship hours or they’ll feel all warm and fuzzy after the sermon. That’s not the Gospel. Tell them to come because Jesus will cleanse them here. He will cleanse them from the leprosy of sin, even as He has cleansed you. Jesus touches untouchable sinners, you and me. He takes our sin and uncleanness into Himself on the cross. He gives us His righteousness. Depart in peace. You are clean. Jesus forgives you all your sins. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Absolution = Resurrection

"The absolution is the present form of the resurrection of the dead."

--James A. Nestingen, "Handing Over the Goods," Logia XVII, no. 2 (Eastertide 2008): 5.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)
February 8, 2009
Text: Mark 1:29-39

Jesus is always going about reversing the effects and curse of the fall into sin. He heals diseases. He casts out demons. He raises the dead. He even lifts Peter’s feverous mother-in-law out of her bed. The simple touch of the Great Physician is enough to fully restore her. She immediately gets up and serves Jesus and His disciples. A fever, the flu, a cold, even just a little temperature is a sign that this creation is fallen, cursed, because of sin. Jesus has come to undo what sin has wrought in our world. Thus the healing. Thus His great compassion for those suffering from all manner of sickness and disease, injury and ailment, and the crafts and assaults of the devil and his demons. Thus His great compassion for those who are under the sentence of death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23; ESV). Jesus Christ has come to bring life, real, eternal life, to a dead and dying world, to dead and dying people, to you and to me.

But the miracles Jesus does in His earthly ministry are not an end in themselves. Jesus could have had a brilliant career in medicine, but that is not why He came. The miraculous healings in our text are not the main event in Jesus’ ministry. This is difficult for the multitudes to understand. They see in Jesus an easy cure for what ails them, One who can take away their diseases and cast out their demons. The multitudes are crushed under the weight of suffering in a fallen world, and they rightly see in Jesus One who can deliver them and grant them relief. But they miss the big picture. As wonderful as it is that Jesus heals them from their diseases, it is more important that Jesus heals them from their sin. And He does that through His Word. In His Word, Jesus delivers the healing balm of His blood and righteousness. In His Word, He delivers the cross. And this is the real healing. And so when the disciples find Jesus at prayer in a desolate place, and Simon tells Him, “Everyone is looking for you” (Mark 1:37), Jesus says to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (v. 38). Jesus came to preach. And it is in preaching, in speaking His Word, which bespeaks us righteous, that Jesus heals us from our most serious ailment, our most dreaded disease, that with which every human being descended from Adam and Eve save Jesus Himself is infected, sin.

It is common among Christians when we are sick that we pray to Jesus, the Great Physician, for healing. And that is a good thing. Our Lord wants us to pray. James, the brother of our Lord, writes, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church,” that means pastors in the Bible, “and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:13-15). When we are sick, we are to pray. When we know someone who is sick, we are to pray for that person. Pastors, in particular, are to pray for and with sick people, but really this is the duty of all Christians. And here is the promise according to St. James: The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick. The Lord will raise him up. We can all think of many examples where the Lord has answered our prayers by healing us and our loved ones, sometimes even miraculously. Her cancer disappears for no apparent reason. The doctors said he’d never walk again after the accident, and now he’s running. Several of you in this congregation have had the experience of having your family called to your bedside because your death was imminent, and yet you are among us today, healthy and full of life. Thanks be to God! To Him alone be all the glory!

But what about when you pray, and your Christian brothers and sisters pray for and with you, but you are not healed? Where is the promise from James then? Where is your Great Physician, Jesus, when you need Him to heal you? Beloved, don’t be confused like the multitudes were who sought from Jesus only physical healing. It is true that Jesus can and does heal from physical ailment. But remember that the healing you need most is healing from your sin. For sin is a disease. Original sin, that condition of sinfulness and guilt that we inherit from our first parents, Adam and Eve, is the deadly disease with which all of us are infected. And it comes with horrendous symptoms, actual sins we call them, the actual bad things that we do and the actual good things that we leave undone. This is the cause of all that is wrong in the world. This is what we’re talking about when we say this creation is fallen. Sickness, injury, and heartache are all the consequences of the disease of original sin and its dreaded symptoms. So for true healing, your Great Physician, Jesus, needs to get right at the heart of the problem. He needs to treat the disease itself, not just the symptoms and not just the consequences. If you’ve had any experience with doctors, you know that often their treatments are quite painful. Surgeons inflict gaping wounds on the bodies of their patients. But they do this for the greater good of healing their patients. Doctors routinely use knives and needles and all sorts of sharp and barbaric instruments in their practice of medicine. And these instruments cause no small amount of pain and anxiety. But this is all for the good of the patient, to restore the patient to health. The point, beloved, is this: As contrary as it is to our logic, Jesus uses our sicknesses, injuries, and heartaches, and all of our sufferings, for our good, for our spiritual health. He uses them to lead us to despair of ourselves and all human help, and to drive us to Him alone for healing and mercy. He uses them to drive us to His Word and His Sacrament where He has promised to be for us, for our help. He uses them to drive us to prayer. He uses what is evil: sickness, pain, suffering, to accomplish what is for our ultimate good, driving us to take our medicine, wherein Christ Jesus delivers to us all the benefits of His cross.

Jesus drives us to His Word and to His Sacraments. That’s the medicine. There we receive the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation that Christ won for us on the cross. That’s the cure for original sin, that dreaded, deadly disease. And once the disease is gone, the symptoms and all their consequences begin to subside. The guilt of all sin, original and actual, is wiped out on the cross of Christ. We are healed. And this is the point of Jesus’ preaching. Remember, He says in our text, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:38). The miracles Jesus does are meant to confirm the preaching. Jesus came to preach. He came to preach repentance and forgiveness. That is true healing. The miracles testify to this true healing, the forgiveness of sins. James, incidentally, makes this point all along. They are the last words I read from his epistle a moment ago. After saying that the one who is sick will be saved and the Lord will raise him up as a result of prayer, James says, “And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:15). In other words, that is the ultimate healing. Once you have that healing, all the rest will fall into place.

Now it’s true, however, that in this earthly life we still have to suffer many ailments of body and soul. We have to suffer the afflictions and temptations of the devil. And we suffer in our bodies. Again, every fever, flu, cold, and sniffle is a sign that this creation is fallen. So also cancer and heart disease and car wrecks and old age. Even though we have the forgiveness of sins now, we still sin and we still have to suffer in this earthly life. The reality remains that unless Jesus returns first, we will all have to die. But, beloved, do not despair, for the truth is that Jesus will heal your every ailment. The truth is that every healing is from Jesus. We just don’t see it as miraculous because we’re so used to it. Every cold from which we recover, every broken bone mended, every migraine relieved is a sign that Jesus is reversing the curse.[1] And for believers in Christ Jesus, finally, in the end, at the resurrection of all flesh, all your prayers for healing will be answered with God’s “Yes!” There will be no more sickness, or disease, or injury, or heartache. No more sin. No more tears. The old order of things has passed away. The new has come. Our bodies and souls will be made perfect in our risen Lord Jesus. Then we will see how Jesus, as a skilled Physician, injured us to make us well… supremely well in fact.

But that is the resurrection. In the meantime, take your medicine. When Jesus was physically, spiritually, and emotionally worn out from all of the miraculous healings and exorcisms He had been performing late into the night, He sought rest and restoration in communion with His heavenly Father. Mark tells us that “rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). When you need healing and restoration for your weary bodies and souls, you will always find it in communion with your heavenly Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. It starts with receiving our Lord’s gifts here in church every week, His Word, His forgiveness, His body and blood. It continues throughout the week in your daily devotions as you meditate on His precious Word. And you respond to these gifts with your prayers, petitions, thanksgivings, and praise. Even in the midst of great physical illness, this medicine is the most important medicine you can take. Because in this medicine Christ applies to you all the benefits of His cross and suffering. He forgives your sins, wipes out the disease of sin. He gives you His righteousness. He gives you life everlasting. Even for you, Jesus is always reversing the effects and curse of the fall into sin. He does it now this morning as He lifts you up out of your illness and speaks His Word, “I forgive you all your sins.” Now, like Peter’s mother-in-law, you can go and serve Him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The Rev. William Cwirla makes this point, http://blog.higherthings.org/wcwirla/The%20Sermonator/SeriesB/5epiphanyb.html.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Wisdom of Shut-ins

I have always said that when I visit my shut-in members, I am strengthened as much as, if not more than, they are. Today is a case in point. Two shut-in visits to two very dear ladies, both strong Christians. Both ladies have borne heavy crosses and suffered great tragedies in their lives, some very recent. Yet both reminded me today, as they remind me every time I visit, that there is no need to worry, that it is senseless to complain, senseless to get angry or upset, for no matter how bad things get in our lives, the Lord takes care of us. It is a confession of faith, born of the school of experience, that all God's promises in Scripture are, in fact, true. These women are content. And as far as they are concerned, how could they be otherwise? All good comes from God. He always gives us what He, in His divine wisdom, knows we need. He never gives us more than we can bear. He is ever faithful. What a joy to ponder our Lord's Word and receive the Lord's Supper with these women today. May God grant us all a faith like theirs. This faith itself is His gift. All thanks and praise be to Him.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Syllogism to Remember

"In the eighteenth century Lutheran theologians argued about the propriety of using syllogisms in theology. Well, here is one Pauline syllogism which you can and ought to use often: Christ came to save sinners; I am a sinner; therefore, Christ came to save me. To be a recipient of Christ's salvation you need only qualify as a sinner."

--Robert Preus, Preaching to Young Theologians, Klemet Preus, ed. (St. Louis: The Luther Academy, 1999) p. 47.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Lifeline of Ministry

"Paul encourages Timothy, in his daily devotions, to draw on the power of the Holy Spirit for his ongoing work as preacher, the power that was made available to him at his ordination. Daily ministry requires daily reception of the Holy Spirit."

-- John W. Kleinig, "Maintaining the Lifeline of the Church," Concordia Theological Quarterly 73, no. 1 (January 2009): 5 (emphasis added).

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)
February 1, 2009
Text: Mark 1:21-28

When the devil speaks, it is always for the purpose of deceiving and misleading into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. When the devil speaks it is always for the purpose of confusing and twisting the Word of God in our minds and hearts so that our faith in Jesus Christ is damaged or destroyed. This is the case even when the devil speaks the truth. He only speaks the truth for the sake of the lie. When Satan tempted Jesus, he took Him to the Holy City and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’” (Matt. 4:6; ESV). True enough. Yet God did not send His Son Jesus Christ into the world, in the flesh, to prove God’s ability to protect Him. The truth, the real truth, the whole truth, is that God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world, in the flesh, to save sinners, to die on the cross for the sins of the whole world. God would give His angels charge to protect Jesus and preserve Him for that very moment when He would be tortured and killed in payment for our sins. That is the real truth, the truth Satan was trying to distort, even, as if it were possible, in the mind of Jesus, by twisting the Word of God. Of course, Jesus puts the matter to rest by speaking the truth of God’s Word without the twisting and distortion, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (v. 7). But notice what we learn about the devil’s tactics here. The devil is capable of making a statement that is quite true, even quoting a Bible verse, and yet he uses that truth to propagate a lie, the lie of unbelief. You see, the truth does not belong in the mouth of the devil, for he is the father of lies (John 8:44).

So it is that Jesus silences the demon in the synagogue. He silences him and exorcises him, casts him out of the man, “Be silent, and come out of him!” (Mark 1:25). Even the unclean spirits must obey Jesus, for He is the Son of God, God in the flesh, the second person of the Holy Trinity. And God is God even of the devil and his evil angels. But why does Jesus silence this demon so abruptly when the demon has spoken the truth, the ultimate truth in fact, a truth that even Jesus’ disciples don’t quite get, and a truth that the people in the synagogue certainly don’t understand? The demon declares, “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (v. 24). True. Very true. The demon recognizes what is hidden from human eyes. Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world, and He has come to destroy the works of the devil and his demons, and finally to destroy the devil and his demons eternally in hell. But remember that when a demon speaks, even when he speaks the truth… in fact, even when he speaks the ultimate truth, confessing that Jesus is the Holy One of God, he is speaking the truth only for the sake of twisting it and distorting it in the minds of the people. How so in this case? Well, to answer that question, we need back up a bit and set the context.

As was the custom in the synagogue, Jesus, the visiting Rabbi, was invited to speak on the appointed biblical text. He was asked to give the lesson, to preach the sermon, so to speak. But what amazed the people is that He did not speak like their scribes, who never taught with their own authority, but droned on and on about what their teacher’s teacher’s teacher said so as to prove the authority of the point they were making. Now, a little of this isn’t so bad I suppose. We do this when we quote Martin Luther or the Lutheran Confessions or one of the Church fathers. But the whole sermon of the scribes was really not about the living and dynamic Word of God. It was about the traditions of the fathers. Not so with Jesus. Jesus cuts right to the heart of what the text is saying. We don’t know precisely what He preached that day in the synagogue, but we certainly know what the underlying message was. It is the same as it is in every Christian sermon today. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (v. 14). That is really the sum and substance of all Christian preaching, the kerygma it is called in theology, the Greek Word for proclamation. Jesus brings His own authority to His preaching, and it is all the authority of God Himself. When the people hear Jesus preach, they have an encounter with the living God. And in that encounter the living God speaks into the hearts and minds of His hearers repentance and faith, sorrow over sin and belief in Jesus Christ. Jesus doesn’t have to establish the authority of His preaching based on what the fathers of old once said. Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is the authority. And the people are amazed.

Jesus’ preaching is a full frontal assault on the devil and his work. The devil must fight back, must at all costs try to preserve the lie, the lie of unbelief, the lie that God does not love sinners, that sinners do not need God, that sinners can be their own gods. And so the devil sends one of his minions to co-opt a poor man of whom he takes possession in a sort of sick and twisted imitation of the incarnation, and that poor demon-possessed man bursts in on the synagogue service to challenge Jesus face to face. He’s trying to confuse and bring into doubt the authoritative teaching of Jesus. The devil is sly. He knows that the best setting for the Word of God is one of order and peace. St. Paul says as much: “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace… But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:33, 40), thus the liturgy, an orderly setting for the Word of God. Now imagine that someone should burst through the doors of this church this morning in the middle of my sermon and challenge my preaching. What would be the result? Chaos! Disruption! And if that man said something that was, of itself, quite true, but used that truth to twist and distort the Word of God, someone here today might be led to doubt. This is precisely what the demon is aiming for in our text. He cannot leave the authoritative Word of Jesus unchallenged. At the very least he must disrupt that preaching, so that somehow he can keep it from giving life to someone in the synagogue. At most he would like to use the truth that Jesus is the Holy One of God to lead the people astray. For the demon knew that if he let the cat out of the bag that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the people would try to make Him into a political Savior. They did not yet understand that the Messiah was come to save them, not from the Romans, but from the kingdom of the devil and sin. The demon was trying to preempt the earthly ministry of Jesus. He was trying to disrupt, confuse, and lead into doubt. And Jesus has none of it. God speaks with a mouth of flesh, “Be silent, and come out of him!” (Mark 1:25). The demon must obey. “And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him” (v. 26). What the demon said was quite true. Jesus had come to destroy the devil and his demons and all their works and ways. Thus by the power of His Word He drives the demon away. Again, the people are amazed, and so they question among themselves, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (v. 27).

Jesus speaks His authoritative Word to you today, and mark my words, the devil will not leave that unchallenged. He will seek to twist and distort the Word of God in your hearts and minds. He will even quote Bible verses through the mouths and writings of false teachers who claim to be Christian, but are not. He will use some well-meaning, sincere people to do it. He will speak enough truth to catch your ears. You cannot trust everything that claims to be Christian. Wolves come in sheep’s clothing and Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (Matt. 7:15; 2 Cor. 11:14). And so it is not enough, beloved… it may even be dangerous, in fact, to go pick up the latest best seller at the Christian bookstore and think that you have received from it the true, living Word of God just because it quotes Bible verses. But, dear Christians, when you come here, to the Church of Christ, you hear the very voice of Jesus in His living and active Word. You receive His gifts in the Supper. Here, in the Church, is where you come for a saving encounter with the living God. Here He commands every demon to be silent. Here He casts away every demon that would prey upon your soul. He who died for you, He who lives for you, He who forgives all your sins will not suffer you to be lost. He loves you. And so His authoritative Word speaks to you and implants in you the kerygma, repentance and belief in the Gospel that Jesus came to save sinners, that Jesus came to save you. What is this?! Amazing! The unclean spirits still obey Jesus. And His Word even brings died-in-the-wool sinners to faith, life, and salvation.

When Jesus spoke His authoritative Word to the people in the synagogue and sent the demon packing, they didn’t keep it a secret. Mark writes that “at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee” (v. 28). Jesus has today spoken His Word of life into you and driven away the devil and all his demons. Don’t keep this a secret. Go and tell it to your neighbors in Dorr and Wayland and Hopkins and Allegan and Caledonia and Kentwood and Jenison and Hudsonville and everywhere you live and bring them here, where they can hear the voice of Jesus, have the demons cast away from them, and come to living faith in their Savior. And you come, too, every chance you get. Because here you are given the truth, pure and unadulterated. Here you hear the voice of Jesus Christ Himself and feast on His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Here, in the arms of Jesus, the devil cannot harm you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.