Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
January 30, 2011
Text: Matt. 5:1-12

The beatitudes are not if/then conditional statements. It is critical that we understand this if we are to have any clue what Jesus is saying here. He is not saying, “If you are poor in spirit, then you will be blessed and receive the kingdom of heaven.” Rather, He makes a declaration: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3; ESV; emphasis added). And this distinction between conditional and declarative statements makes all the difference for whether the beatitudes are Law (do this, and then you will be blessed), or Gospel (you are blessed, because Jesus says so). To be blessed is to share in the joy of the salvation of your blessed Lord Jesus Christ. That means this is justification language. That means that this is grace alone language. You are blessed, not because you do certain prescribed works of the Law, like being merciful and making peace, but because Jesus says so. The beatitudes are a description, not of who you should strive to be, but of who you already are in Christ. Actually, the reality is that the beatitudes are not first and foremost a description of you, but of Christ. And as a result of your Baptism into Christ, they now also describe your blessed reality.

You see, Christ is the Man who is poor in spirit, emptying Himself of His divine majesty for our sakes in His state of humiliation, becoming one of us, one with us, taking into Himself our sin, suffering our punishment, dying our death. And as a result, He has won the kingdom of heaven for us. Jesus is the mourner, suffering unjustly, arrested, mocked, beaten, crucified. But His comfort is in the salvation of His people and His victorious resurrection from the dead. Jesus is the meek One, bearing His cross with patient humility. He hungers and thirsts for righteousness, our righteousness, our justification, which He graciously pronounces upon us and gives us. He alone is merciful. He alone is pure in heart. He alone makes peace for us with God, gives us the peace that passes all understanding, and breaks down the dividing wall of hostility that stands between us and our fellow man. He is the Son of God. And He is persecuted. He was persecuted throughout His earthly ministry, in His arrest and His crucifixion, and even now as He reigns triumphantly at the right hand of His heavenly Father, He is persecuted in the sufferings of His body, the Church. But His is the kingdom of heaven. Therefore ours is the kingdom of heaven. For what is His is ours, since He took what is ours into Himself. The Bridegroom shares all things with His Bride, and vice versa. You are His sin and death. He is your righteousness and life. You are blessed, because you are in Him. So let us not misunderstand the beatitudes. They are not a prescription for us, but a description of Christ, and so a description of us in Christ.

Psalm 1 is often misunderstood in the same way. We chanted it this morning as the Introit. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (Ps. 1:1). What other man can this be but our Lord Jesus Christ? It can’t be you. It can’t be me. We are continually in the company of sinners, walking, standing, sitting. We are sinners. The Lord Jesus alone is without sin. His delight is in the law, the Torah, the Word, of YHWH, and on His Torah He meditates day and night (v. 2). We often think of Psalm 1 as the model we should live up to, and of course, we should, but we can’t. It is impossible. We cannot fulfill the Law of God. That’s the problem. We cannot live up to the Law’s righteous demands. Jesus must do it for us, as our substitute. He must do it in our place. He alone can. And because we are in Christ, united to Christ by faith, baptized into Christ, even though we have walked in the counsel of the wicked, stood in the way of sinners, and sat in the seat of mockers, nonetheless we are blessed. We are blessed not on the basis of anything within us, but because we are in Christ, and Christ is the blessed One! Blessed is the man. That’s you. That’s you, because that’s Christ, and you are in Christ.

And so the beatitudes. These must not be understood as the model we should live up to. Of course, we should, but we can’t. And so on our own we are anything but blessed. On our own, we are anything but poor in spirit. To be poor in spirit means to empty yourself of your own glory, to come to the table before God with absolutely nothing, no thought of merit or worthiness, only sin and death. But we consider ourselves pretty good people, at least in comparison with others. I’m a model citizen, a faithful Christian, and decent guy. So much for poor in spirit. God should reward me, I think. I don’t want to mourn. I want to live for pleasure. I don’t want to be meek. I want to grab the bull by the horns and take the earth by my own initiative now. I don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness, but my own gratification. And there’s no room for mercy. I have to look out first and foremost for myself and my own interests. Purity of heart? Everyone has an agenda, including me. Peacemaker? Only because conflict makes me uncomfortable. Persecution? I can avoid it if I’m a friend to the world. Beloved in the Lord, this is a description of your old sinful nature, the old Adam, the you outside of Christ. Repent. You cannot live up to the model of the beatitudes. If these are Law, you are sunk. You are damned. But if the beatitudes are a description of Christ, then they describe you in Christ. And then you are blessed. Then this is the Lord’s proclamation that you are included in the New Testament in His blood. You share the joy of the salvation of your Lord Jesus Christ.

The fact is, the beatitudes are a comforting description of the Christian life under the cross. The Christian life is shaped by the cross of Christ. That means that your life in Christ in this world is full of crosses. You suffer as your sinful nature is daily crucified. As a Christian, you don’t strive to be poor in spirit. You are poor in spirit. You bring nothing to the table before God but your sin and death, and He takes them into Himself, into the flesh of Jesus, and gives you righteousness and life in exchange. And so yours is the Kingdom of heaven. You have the very blessedness of Jesus. In this life you will mourn, because death is all around us, and you yourself face death. But you are blessed, for you are comforted with the resurrection victory of Jesus Christ, and the sure and certain hope of heaven and your own bodily resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. As a Christian you are meek, which is to say, you await the Lord’s coming again with humble patience, enduring the assaults of the devil and the world, and you are blessed, because you know that when Christ comes again, you will inherit a new earth. You hunger and thirst for righteousness now, in a world that has no concept of righteousness, but you are blessed, because you are satisfied with Christ’s righteousness, justified with His justification, and you eat it and drink it every time you come to this altar. So Christ’s mercy, Christ’s purity of heart, Christ’s peacemaking counts for you, is credited to your account, and miracle of miracles, you begin to be merciful yourself, by the Holy Spirit’s work in you. You cleanse your heart with repentance, by confessing your sin and clinging to the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. You reconcile with one another, because God, in Christ, is reconciled to you. You have received mercy, and continue to receive mercy, God’s undeserved kindness. You will see God with your own eyes. You are even now called sons of God by virtue of your Baptism into the Son of God, the Son of Mary, Jesus Christ. You are blessed. And yes, you are persecuted. Here it is not so bad. You have not yet been arrested for your faith. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. But others have. Others are arrested and tortured and executed on account of Jesus, even now, throughout the world. And it could happen here. If the world lasts long enough, it will happen here. It may happen to you. There are already more subtle forms of persecution that you do suffer, including the world’s mockery and intolerance. So be it. Rejoice and be glad. So they persecuted the prophets who were before you. The Lord knows. The Lord knows the way of the righteous (Ps. 1:6). He knows that you live in the midst of so many dangers that in your frailty you cannot stand upright (collect). The Lord knows and He cares. He will deliver you. He will grant strength and protection to support you in all dangers and carry you through all temptations. This persecution will come to nothing. The end is near. Even now, you are blessed. Because Jesus says so. You have the joy of the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The beatitudes are a description of the blessed and holy cross. We could sum up the beatitudes by saying, “Blessed are those who are nothing, because they are filled to overflowing with the things of God.” This is the word of the cross. You are saved by the death of God on an instrument of torturous execution. God’s death is His glory. It just doesn’t make sense to ears of flesh. The beatitudes, likewise, sound as foolishness in the ears of the world. St. Paul says something of this in our epistle lesson: “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). It is the power of God for our salvation. Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice this day. Your Lord has pronounced you blessed. Lift high the cross. Look to the bleeding and dying Son of God. He fills you with Himself. You are blessed in Him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
January 23, 2011
Text: Matt. 4:12-25

“Follow me” (Matt. 4:19; ESV). That is all Jesus says, and sinful men leave everything and follow Him. That is what it means to be a disciple. A disciple is one who follows. The disciple follows his teacher. The disciple walks in the discipline, the training, of his teacher. Andrew, Peter, James, and John are doing what they do for a living. They are fishing. We learned last week that at least Andrew was previously a disciple of St. John the Baptist. Maybe they all were. They had heard of Jesus. At least Andrew, perhaps all of them, saw John point to Jesus and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Now Jesus walks up to the men as they cast their nets into the sea. “Follow me,” says Jesus, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). And what do they do? Immediately, they leave their nets, leave their boat, James and John even leave their father, and they follow Jesus. Jesus calls. They follow. Now they are disciples, walking in the discipline, the training, the teaching of their Savior and Master, Jesus Christ.

The order here is important. These men don’t just decide one day to follow Jesus. There is no decision theology here. We may be impressed that the disciples leave everything to follow the Lord. And, indeed, it is impressive. Would we do the same? The Lord may call us to do so someday, especially if there is a persecution. But we have to understand, the faith that leaves everything to follow Jesus is itself a gift of the Lord. The men don’t come to a decision on their own that they should leave the family business and believe in Jesus and follow Him. The Lord calls. The Lord calls, and He directs His call to them. “Follow me.” This is important. Because if the Lord had not called, the men would have continued as they were before. And of course, the problem isn’t that they were engaged in the earthly vocation of fishing. The world needs fishermen. God feeds His people through the vocations of fishermen. The problem isn’t the fishing. It’s the darkness of sin and unbelief and death. The people were dwelling in darkness (v. 16). Andrew, Peter, James, and John were dwelling in darkness. We are all born into darkness. We are born spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. That means that we are born as unbelievers. We remain in unbelief until the light of God’s Word shines upon us whereby the Spirit brings us to faith in Jesus. And because until that time we are in darkness, we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him. The Holy Spirit must do it. He calls us. He calls us by the Gospel. He enlightens us with His gifts. He sanctifies and keeps us in the one true faith by the same. First comes the call of God. Then we believe in Jesus. Then we become His disciples. The work is all God’s. God works in us by His Word and Spirit. St. Paul makes a big deal of this order and the fact that this is all the work of God in us: “those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). We are justified by faith in Christ Jesus. We come to faith by His call. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). “Follow me.”

Andrew, Peter, James, and John follow Jesus, and in following Him, they hear and learn His teaching. They hear Him preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. The Gospel is for them. They hear and believe. They witness Him healing every disease and every affliction among the people. Here we learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It is to attend to His teaching and preaching and receive His healing. Jesus has called you to discipleship by His Spirit in the Gospel. How do you follow Him? You come here to this place where the people of God are gathered, to hear His preaching and to be immersed in His teaching. You follow His discipline, His training. You hear the Word of Life, and receive His healing bath and the medicine of immortality in His Supper. Yes, He heals you. He heals you spiritually by forgiving your sins and giving you eternal life. And this is the greatest miracle. But He does not leave it at that. Just as He healed all those brought to Him who were sick and afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics and paralytics, so He heals you, in your body. What? Are you sure, Pastor? Yes, I’m sure. Because you just don’t recognize it. We all take it for granted. Every healing, from the miraculous healing of cancer to the miraculous healing of the sniffles is the healing hand of the Lord Jesus. Don’t be deceived. The sniffles are just as much a sign of your impending death as is cancer. Jesus brings eternal life to His disciples. Jesus brings eternal life to you. If you’ve ever been sick or injured and recovered, this is the healing of Jesus Christ. Insofar as Jesus grants healing to unbelievers, it is a sign of His grace, that He loves them, that He does not want them to perish. And insofar as Jesus grants healing to His disciples, it is a sign of His promise that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. But what about those disciples who die from their sickness? They have received the greater healing. They have been removed from all affliction. And on the Last Day their bodies will be given back to them healed of every disease and affliction, made perfect, in the image of the risen Christ.

“Follow me,” Jesus says to you this morning. “Come out of the darkness. Walk in my light, for I am the Light of the world.” Jesus is calling you to come to church, and come faithfully. What else could this call be? Because this is the place where Jesus teaches you and preaches His Gospel and heals you in body and soul. And then He sends you out to love and serve your neighbor. Andrew, Peter, James, and John were told that now they would be fishers of men. Now Jesus is speaking to these men specifically. And there is no doubt that later Jesus will call these men, along with eight others to be apostles, sent ones, the first Christian clergy and the foundation of the Holy Ministry and the Holy Christian Church. They have an office you do not have. Their office continues among us today in their writings, the Scriptures of the New Testament. And it is also true that Christian pastors, though they are not apostles, continue the apostolic ministry, and you are not pastors. But you are disciples. And that means that you are called to confess Jesus Christ and His Gospel to all people. You do this by living your Christian life in the world and in your daily vocations. Speak of Jesus to others. Give them Christian literature. Invite them to Church. Love them and serve them and ask them for forgiveness when you sin against them. And recognize that you are God’s instrument. God is doing the work. Only God can convert. Leave it to the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus is calling them through your confession of the Gospel. He calls to them, “Follow me.” It is the same call you have received. It is a call to out of the deep darkness of the shadow of death into the great light of Jesus Christ our Savior.

There is, however, one thing you should know about coming out of the darkness and into the light of Christ. When the light shines, you see not only the beauty of Jesus Christ and His salvation, but you also see the ugliness of the sin and death that was covered by the darkness. You see the flaming darts of the devil as he attacks you. You suffer in the world. You are persecuted. And you realize that outside of Christ, in yourself, there is only sin and death. You see that outside of Christ you are only evil all the time. Out of your heart proceed evil thoughts: murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matt. 15:19). As a result, being a Christian and following Jesus is not easy. It is a life of repentance that can only be lived by faith in a world that appears forsaken by God, a world that is hostile to God. But the beauty is this. God has not forsaken the world. God has not forsaken you. Jesus takes all of the ugliness of this fallen creation and our fallen selves into Himself. He bears your sin and your death on His most precious cross. He is crucified for you. There in that ugly scene on Golgotha, is the beauty of the redemption of the whole world and the forgiveness of all your sins. In Baptism and absolution and preaching and Supper a glorious exchange takes place. The Lord Jesus takes away all your sin and sickness and pain and death to be dealt with there, on the cross. And He gives you His forgiveness and healing and consolation and life. He gives you His Spirit. He continues to call you and to keep you in the one true faith. He unites you with His Father, who loves you and calls you His dear child. Being a Christian is not easy. Andrew, Peter, James, and John were called to leave everything to follow Jesus. John the Baptist lost his head for it. I don’t know what crosses you are called to bear. But I know that you are called to bear crosses, to suffer. Because a disciple follows the teacher, and our Teacher, Jesus, goes the way of the cross. We follow Him there. That is the ugliness being exposed to the light. But in the midst of the ugliness, look to Christ crucified. Look to Him in His teaching and Gospel. Through these means the light shines, and you receive His perfect healing. All your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
January 16, 2011
Text: John 1:29-42a

My daughter sometimes mixes up her senses. When something smells delicious, she will often say, “Something sounds good!” When she hears something remarkable, be it a strange sound or beautiful music, she will comment on what that thing looks like. Such is life for a two year old who is still learning about her senses. But theologically, she might be on to something. For this morning St. John the Baptist says “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29; ESV). He would have us behold, see, Jesus as the sacrifice to God for our sins. But of course we cannot see Him with our eyes. We can only see Him with our ears. For the ears are the eyes of faith. We see Him when we hear His voice in His Word and preaching.

The same was actually true for those who heard John in the wilderness that day. Unlike us, they could see Jesus with their own eyes, to be sure. But as the Prophet Isaiah says of Him, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is. 53:2). In His state of humiliation, our Lord looked like any other man. You wouldn’t know by looking at Him that you were beholding the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Prophet of God must speak it into your ears. John speaks, and thus the people in the wilderness, and we in the wilderness of this world, behold the spotless sacrificial Lamb, our Savior. We see Him with our ears. We behold Him by hearing. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The prophet proclaims the Word of the Lord. We hear. The Spirit works faith through our hearing. And faith sees Jesus for who He is for us.

But what about John? What makes him so sure that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? Does he know it just by looking at Jesus? No indeed. John says, “I myself did not know him” (John 1:31). John, the cousin of Jesus, who leapt in his mother Elizabeth’s womb upon hearing the pregnant Mary’s voice, confesses that he did not realize Jesus was the Messiah. Not by looking at Him. Not by knowing Him as His cousin. John came to believe Jesus was the Son of God and promised Savior when God told him so. He heard. He saw with his ears. For God told him, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (v. 33). And that very thing happened at the Baptism of Jesus, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as a dove, and again John heard the voice of the Father: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). John heard the Word of God, and his eyes of faith were opened. Now, in his office as prophet, John speaks, that others might hear. And this is how others come to faith, through the Word. Faith comes by hearing. The Holy Spirit graciously binds Himself to the Word, so that we will always know whether it is Him speaking to us. So when John wants to direct his own disciples to Jesus, what does he do? He speaks the Word. He preaches. He points to the very ordinary looking Jesus of Nazareth and preaches a one-sentence sermon: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36). The two disciples who hear this immediately follow Jesus. “What are you seeking?” Jesus asks them (v. 38). They respond with a question: “‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’” It’s their subtle way of inviting themselves to remain with Jesus. They want to abide with Him. They want to abide with Him so that they can continue to hear the Teacher’s teaching. For just as faith comes by hearing, so faith is nourished and strengthened and preserved by hearing. And not just any hearing, but hearing the Word of Christ.

By the way, one of the two disciples here is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Andrew teaches us how to do evangelism. It’s really very simple. We don’t need costly programs or weeklong seminars on witnessing techniques. Andrew finds his brother and tells him that he’s found the Messiah. The Christ has arrived! And then he brings him to Jesus. He brings Peter to Jesus so that Peter can hear for himself. It’s the only way. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ. Do you want to do evangelism? It’s very simple. Bring people to the place where Jesus is. Bring them here, to the Church, where they can hear Jesus for themselves. The results aren’t up to you. There’s absolutely no pressure on you. The Spirit does all the work of converting through the Word of Christ. He works faith where and when He pleases in those who hear the Gospel (AC V). Leave that in His hands. Just invite people to church, and then sit back and see what the Holy Spirit will do with it. The person may come to believe in Jesus. Or they may not. And even though that is sad, it’s not in your hands. Let God be God. You just be His servant. Bring them here. Make them comfortable. Pray for them. Answer their questions to the best of your ability. But then recognize that God alone can convert a person, God alone can give the gift of faith.

And remember, one thing is certain: the only way the "unchurced" will ever come to faith is by hearing. The only way unbelievers will ever come to behold Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, their own sin, in His innocent suffering and bloody death on the cross, is by beholding Him with their ears. And the only way to hear God is by God coming to us in His Word. The prophets were special. They received direct revelations in a mysterious way that we don’t fully understand. We don’t get direct revelations. In His wisdom, God has tied Himself to Scripture and preaching and Sacraments. It is not that He couldn’t work otherwise. But He doesn’t. He chooses not to. Because there are many other voices to be heard, and we, in our fallen and sinful flesh, have a difficult time discerning the voices. The question is, how do you know who is speaking to you? I’ve heard many people say, “God said to me…” What they mean is that they have a gut feeling, or have had a vision, or perhaps have heard a still small voice, or a voice in their head. But how do you know it is God, and not a bad can of chili (Ernie Lassman)? How do you know it is God, and not a delusion? How do you know it isn’t wishful thinking, or the voice of the world calling you away from God’s will and away from the faith of Christ? How do you know it is God speaking to you, and not the devil? There is only one way to know. Listen to God where God has promised to speak. Behold Him with your ears. Behold Him in His Word. He has tied Himself to His Word. It is happening to you now. The preacher is preaching, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Indeed, behold the sacrificial Lamb who takes away your sin. You are beholding Him with your ears.

And even in the Sacraments, you behold Him with your ears. For Baptism appears to the eyes to be only simple water. It’s from the tap. There’s nothing special about it. That is, until the Word of God is spoken. When the Word of God is added, the Name of the blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a lavish washing away of sin. You regard it as such not because of what you see, but because of the Word you hear. You behold it with your ears. So also, the Lord’s Supper appears to the eyes to be only bread and wine. When you take it into your mouth, it feels and tastes like only bread and wine. If you put it under a microscope and dissect it, you will only find bread and wine. And it is only bread and wine, until the Word of God is spoken, the Word of our Lord Jesus Christ on the night when He was betrayed. There, at the Passover celebration, our Passover Lamb, before He was sacrificed, took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to His disciples. And He said of that bread, “This is my body.” So also He took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and gave it to them. And He said of that wine, “This is my blood.” And He meant it. Jesus cannot lie. He is the Truth. He is God. And the Word of God always does what it says. To look at the Sacrament, you only see bread and wine. But Jesus still speaks. And when He speaks His Word over the bread and the wine, the ears behold a new reality. This bread and wine is now also Christ’s true body and blood, the body that was pierced for our transgressions, the blood shed for our iniquities, the risen Christ here distributing Himself to us, to be received in our mouths, for our forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. You believe, not because you see, but because you hear the Word of Christ. Faith comes by hearing. The ears are the eyes of faith.

It is often said that seeing is believing. But for the Christian, hearing is seeing. It is not that faith is blind. It is most certainly not blind. Blindness is the opposite of faith. Faith is seeing with the ears, and trusting the Word spoken by the Lord. Faith is the ability to see what cannot be perceived by the eyes. Faith is the ability to behold Jesus as Lord, as Savior, as the Passover Lamb whose blood is painted on the doorposts and lintels of your heart. Faith comes by hearing. Faith is the free gift of God bestowed through the Word. It is not your work. It is not your decision. It is all by grace. Behold the Lamb. Behold Jesus. You do not see Him now. Not with your eyes. But you see Him in His Word and in His Baptism and in His Supper. He comes to you to take away your sin. And because of this, on the Day of Resurrection, you will behold the Lamb on His throne with your very own eyes. Come, Lord Jesus. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Our Lord (A)
January 9, 2011
Text: Matt. 3:13-17

St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, was baptizing in the Jordan River for repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4). There is nothing more necessary for our sinful flesh than repentance and the forgiveness of sins, a sorrow over our sinful condition, a turning away from sin in faith toward the one true God, a forgiveness bestowed on us by God by grace alone, a free gift conveyed to us in the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, Baptism. There is not a person in this congregation who doesn’t need Baptism, who doesn’t need repentance and the forgiveness of sins. There is not a person on this earth who is not in need of this grace. There is not a sinless person in the history of the whole world, nor will there ever be such a person, who is not in need of John’s preaching, who does not need to repent, who does not need to be forgiven. Except for One. Jesus, God in the flesh, the sinless One, the Messiah, the one coming after John who is before him, the strap of whose sandal John is unworthy to loose, the One coming to baptize with fire and with the Holy Spirit. Jesus does not need Baptism, not for Himself. Jesus does not need to repent and be forgiven. He is sinless. He has nothing of which to repent, nothing of which to be forgiven. Still, He comes. He splashes toward John through the waters of the Jordan. He comes to be baptized. “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:14-15; ESV).

Why must Jesus be baptized? To fulfill all righteousness. This is a great mystery to us. It is difficult for us to understand, because our fleshly mind gets in the way. But Jesus is not baptized for Himself. He is baptized for us. Jesus must be baptized so that He can take our place, become our stand-in, fulfill the holy Law of God for us, suffer our punishment, die our death, atone for our sins, be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus comes to the place where sinners are wading in the Jordan to have their sins washed away by God’s Word of forgiveness. The people come repenting, confessing their sins, and they are baptized and forgiven. Their sins are cast into the water. Jesus comes into that same water, and like a sponge, He soaks up all the sins of all the people. He soaks up even your sin and mine. He takes it all into Himself. He is baptized into us. He becomes the sinner. And He leaves there, in the water, His righteousness, His perfection, His life, His salvation. Our Lord thus sanctifies and institutes all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin. Now wherever water is joined to God’s Word, God’s Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there is a Baptism, “that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.”[1] For God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6). Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness for you and for me. Jesus was baptized, so that Baptism may now save you.

This is why you are baptized, that Jesus may be your righteousness. Righteousness, justification, it’s the same word in Greek. You are justified, pronounced righteous, on account of Christ and His righteousness. And this justification, this righteousness, is given to you in Baptism. You see justification, righteousness, comes from outside of you. It must. God pronounces you righteous for Christ’s sake, with the righteousness of Christ. You have no righteousness of your own. Even your greatest good works are as filthy rags before God. Even the good works you do before men are sins before God. Because you are sinful sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. You are not sinful because you sin, rather, you sin because you are sinful. That is your condition, your disease. A bad tree bears bad fruit. What is needed here is a cure from outside of you. That cure is Christ. Jesus is baptized to fulfill all righteousness for you. You are baptized, that Jesus may be your righteousness, so that His perfect life, His holy, precious blood, His innocent suffering and death as a sacrifice for your sin, may count for you, be pleasing to God the Father, reconcile you with God. And this is precisely what happens. The proof is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

In fact, in your Baptism into Christ, you become a partaker with Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection. In Baptism, you die with Christ. The sinful flesh is crucified. The Old Adam in you, the old sinful nature, is drowned in Baptism and dies with all sins and evil desires. And in Baptism, you are raised to new life with Christ. It is the sure and certain seal of your own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. But it is also a new life that begins now as a new man, a new creation, emerges and arises in you to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. This is a daily occurrence, by the way. For repentance is nothing less than a daily return to Baptism. You repent daily of your sins. You daily drown the Old Adam in you. You daily put sin to death within you by resisting temptation and disciplining your body by meditation on the Scriptures and prayer and even fasting. And daily the new man rises in you, the new man given to you by the Spirit of God in Baptism, so that you desire to do the commandments of God, and love and serve your neighbor.

So you see, your whole Christian life flows from your Baptism into Christ. In Baptism, the Name of God is placed upon you, the Christian family Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are God’s own child. United to the Son of God, you are now a son of God. In Baptism, God gives you His Holy Spirit to call you to faith in Jesus Christ by the Gospel, to lead you into all truth by His Word, to enlighten you with His gifts in Word and Sacrament, to sanctify you, which is to say, make you holy, and to preserve you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ unto life everlasting. In Baptism, all your sins are washed away. You are forgiven, set free, given eternal life. For as St. Peter writes, “Baptism… now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). Don’t ever let anybody tell you that Baptism is just a symbol, that it can’t save you. That is utter rubbish. It’s right here in the Holy Scriptures. Baptism saves you, not because it is some good work that you do in obedience to God that somehow gains His favor, but because in Baptism, God Himself acts upon you. It is all God’s action. He does the baptizing. Even the pastor is just His hands in the operation. It is all God’s work. You are purely passive. In Baptism, God makes you His own. It is all by grace.

This is why infant Baptism is not only good, right, and proper, but the best illustration of how God works in Baptism. The baby does nothing in Baptism. At best, the baby just lays there in the pastor’s arms, or sleeps through it. More often than not, the baby screams his or her head off. Just as birth is physically traumatic for the baby, the new birth of Baptism is spiritually traumatic. But it is all God’s work. By grace. That precious little baby is transferred in Baptism from the kingdom of the devil to the Kingdom of God. That precious little damned sinner is washed clean by the blood of Christ, and made God’s own child. There is no such thing as an innocent child, unless we’re talking about the Christ-child. But the Christ-child’s innocence is given to the baby, and even to the adult, in Baptism. And so also, in Baptism, the baby comes to faith in Jesus Christ. Reason may object that a baby is incapable of believing. But you know very well that right out of the womb, the baby already has faith in Mom, trusts Mom, knows Mom, relies on Mom for every good, for help in every need, even though Baby doesn’t even know her name. In Baptism, that baby comes to trust in Jesus Christ in the same way. Babies have no problem with faith. It is we adults who have all sorts of objections. And that is why Jesus even says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15). It is not that infants must become adults before they can believe. It is the other way around. We adults must become infants before God if we are to believe in Him.

We must be infants, because faith simply receives from God. Faith passively receives the gifts of Baptism. Only then can it become active in love for the neighbor. And notice that in our Baptism, the same Trinitarian act takes place as that which happened in Jesus’ Baptism. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him as a dove, and the Father spoke from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). So in our Baptism into Christ, we are anointed with the Holy Spirit, and the Father says of us: “You are my beloved son… With you I am well pleased.” Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. In Baptism, all of Jesus’ righteousness has been given to you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Epiphany Eve

The Epiphany of Our Lord
January 5, 2011
Text: Matt. 2:1-12

We’ll never find Jesus unless God Himself leads us. Without the bright beams that our God casts upon us, His blood-bought people, by His Word, we wander aimlessly as blind fools. But now, dear children of God, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” (Is. 60:1; ESV). You were once a people covered in thick darkness (v. 2), the darkness of sin, the darkness of unbelief, the darkness of death. You were born into this darkness, born spiritually blind, dead, an enemy of God. But now the LORD has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, the light of His Son, Jesus Christ, who is in Himself the Light coming into the world, the Light no darkness can overcome (John 1:5). It is grace alone by which we come to believe in this Light. It is by grace alone that the Holy Spirit calls us out of this darkness by the Gospel and enlightens us with His gifts, so that we walk in the Light of Christ. Without this grace, without the Light, without the leading of God, we remain in the darkness. We cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him. God must do it. And He does.

The wise men, Gentiles, come seeking the One born King of the Jews. But they do not come of their own initiative. They are drawn by the Light. God leads them by the Light. There is, of course, the light of the star, a heavenly anomaly, the celestial sign of this Light. God leads the wise men to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, by the light of that star. But more than this, the wise men have the Light of the Word. They study the Scriptures. These wise men, the Magi, as they are called, are possibly, even probably, from the same school of Persian Magi as the Prophet Daniel. They know that a star will indicate the birth of the Messiah, for that scoundrel Balaam’s prophecy was recorded by Moses in the book of Numbers: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num. 24:17). Thus the question: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matt. 2:2). The Word of God is a lamp for the wise men’s feet, and a light to their path (Ps. 119:105). The Word leads the wise men to Jesus Christ, their Savior and King, their true Wisdom, their only Light, their eternal and abundant Life. They drop to their knees before the toddler, God Almighty, and offer Him their gifts: Gold, befitting of a King, frankincense, the incense offering to YHWH, confessing that this boy is God, and myrrh, the perfume for anointing Jesus’ body, after He dies for the sin of the whole world. And then they go home, to their own country, bearing with them the Epiphany Light that lightens the Gentiles, trusting in that Light, and speaking of Wisdom incarnate to everyone they meet.

Beloved in the Lord, you have been drawn here tonight by that same Light. Not the light of a star, but the Light of the Word. You have been drawn by the Spirit in His Word to the place where Jesus is. God has led you here. You have come to behold the Christ on this Twelfth Day of Christmas, the Eve of the Epiphany of Our Lord. You have come to behold your Savior and King, your true Wisdom, your only Light, your abundant and eternal Life. You have come to hear Him and to dine with Him. You could not have come by your own reason or strength. He draws you. He enlightens you. He enlivens you. He forgives you all your sins. Beloved, bask in His Light. Follow Him. Let His Word be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. Flee the works of darkness, the passions of the flesh, the allurements of the world, the seductive speech of the devil. Walk in the Light, for you are children of the Light. Walk in true Wisdom, the Wisdom that is Christ. Bring and offering, and come into His courts with praise. Love and serve your neighbor. Live not for yourself, but for your neighbor. Live in humility, as He humbled Himself for your sake, to become one with you, to live for you, to die for you. Live in the peace and joy of the Gospel, and the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. Bear this Gospel to others as you confess Christ in your daily life. In so doing, you bow the knee before Him and worship along with the wise men. For by grace alone, you are no longer foolish, but wise, for you are filled with the Wisdom of God. There has been a great Epiphany. The Holy Spirit has revealed Christ to you, as your Savior, and given you faith in Him as a free gift. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Law & Gospel

Pastor’s Window for January 2011
Law and Gospel

Beloved in the Lord,

In the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, God actually speaks two Words: He speaks Law and He speaks Gospel. Both testaments of Holy Scripture, the Old and the New, contain both Law and Gospel. And understanding the difference between the two, and how they apply to each one of us, is vital for “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15; KJV), namely, discerning Law and Gospel. Discerning Law and Gospel is an art. It may be easy to do theoretically, but it is difficult to practice in the school of experience. Martin Luther said that whoever is able rightly to divide Law and Gospel should be placed “at the head of the list” and called “a Doctor of Holy Scripture, for without the Holy Spirit the attainment of this differentiating is impossible” (What Luther Says [St. Louis: Concordia, 1959] p. 732). Nonetheless, every Christian should exercise him/herself in this art. So it is good for us to review the difference between the two, Law and Gospel.

In Catechism class, we learn the acronym S.O.S. as one way of remembering the basic difference between Law and Gospel. The Law Shows Our Sin, while the Gospel Shows Our Savior. The Law tells us what to do and what not to do. It keeps our sinful flesh in check by providing penalties and punishments for breaking it. The Law holds a mirror before us to show us our sin, our inability to keep the Commandments, the corruption of our sinful flesh right down to our very core. The Law renders us helpless, unable to live up to God’s righteous demands, unable to save ourselves or to in any way earn merit before God. The Law always accuses. The Law kills. The Law damns. Every death is a testimony to the truth of God’s Law, for the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). All are sinners, therefore all die. And all would rightly go to hell, were it not for Jesus Christ and the precious Gospel of the forgiveness of sins.

The Gospel, over against the Law, tells us not what we must or must not do, but what God has done for us in Christ. The Gospel takes us who are corrupt and dead and raises us to new life in Christ. The Gospel does not excuse our sin, but forgives it. The Gospel gives us Christ and His forgiveness, the full and free forgiveness of all our sins that He won for us on the cross. The Gospel applies Jesus’ perfect keeping of the Law to us, credits Jesus’ righteousness to our account. The Gospel gives us eternal life and salvation and every good gift of God without any merit or worthiness in us, but solely on account of Christ and His merit and worthiness. The Gospel makes alive. The Gospel gives new life now, creating in us to will and to do God’s good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). The Gospel lifts us to heaven. The Gospel is the sure and certain promise of our own bodily resurrection on the Last Day. The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Rom. 6:23).

Law and Gospel are different, and yet they are both God’s inspired Word. The Law is good. The Gospel is good. Through this means of His Word, God would bring us to the knowledge of our sin and helplessness and death (Law), and to faith in His Son Jesus Christ for forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life (Gospel). We must keep Law and Gospel distinct. Yet there is a place where they finally meet. The intersection of Law and Gospel is the cross of Christ, where our Lord Jesus takes the full wrath of God’s Law upon Himself, and pours out His life for our deliverance from sin and death. Jesus, who in His life fulfilled the whole Law for us, takes the punishment of the Law into Himself, and bestows upon us the blessed Gospel. “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21; ESV).

And this is why it matters. We get all confused if we mix up Law and Gospel. We may be led to think we can earn our salvation by keeping God’s Law (self-righteousness), or that there is no way we can be saved because we have not kept God’s Law (despair). Or we may think that since we are saved by grace apart from works (which is true), we can do all the sinning we want to, with no regard for God’s Law (which is not true). These errors lead to death. You see, if we keep Law and Gospel straight, we keep our theology straight. And so we have ever before our eyes our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered for us and lives for us, and is our only salvation.

Blessed and Happy New Year!
Pastor Krenz

For a deeper reflection on Law and Gospel, I recommend two books: C. F. W. Walther’s Law & Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, and Prof. John T. Pless’ Handling the Word of Truth: Law and Gospel in the Church Today. The first is a little longer, the second (based on the first) a little shorter, both thorough, and both very readable. You can order them from Concordia Publishing House.