Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)

January 29, 2012
Text: Mark 1:21-28

Authority. Jesus comes into the synagogue and teaches the congregation with authority (Mark 1:22). With authority, Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of a man, and because of the authority Jesus possesses, the spirit obeys (vv. 25-27). And in this way, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, reasserts God’s authority over men and demons. For when you get right down to it, the crisis in the Garden of Eden was a crisis of authority. Out of love, and by His authority as Creator of man and of the heavens and the earth, God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent, the devil, sought to usurp God’s authority by tempting our first parents to doubt God’s Word and disobey His command. And Adam and Eve, in succumbing to the temptation, rebelled against God’s authority. What they really wanted was autonomy, to be a law unto themselves, to be their own authorities. That is the temptation the serpent held out to them: “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5; ESV). You will be able to determine what is good and what is evil for yourself. If you eat this fruit, you will have this authority. But it was a lie. It always is coming from him. What really happened when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit is that they came under another authority. They came under the authority of sin… Now they could do no other. They came under the authority of death… The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). They came under the authority of Satan, who is the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is at work in the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). So much for autonomy. Humanity was now bound in slavery to sin, death, and the devil, and unable to do anything about it. You see, autonomy is a false promise of the father of lies. You cannot be under your own authority. You are either under the authority of God, as you were created to be, or you are under the authority of the devil. When our first parents fell, they sold us, their children, as slaves to the devil. We are in bondage. If we are to be freed, God must accomplish it. He must do something about our slavery. He must deliver us from bondage and lead us in Exodus from our slavery. And that is what He does in Christ Jesus. That is what He does in our Gospel lesson this morning.

Jesus teaches with authority. The Word made flesh proclaims the Word of the Father with all the authority of God Himself, because He is God Himself. In the Garden, God’s teaching, God’s Word, God’s authority were rejected by man. Here Jesus reasserts that authority in His preaching. St. Mark does not record the words of Jesus’ sermon for us, but suffice it to say, it was a call to repent and believe the Gospel, for the Kingdom of God is at hand in the person of the One now teaching you (Mark 1:15). Repent. As we learned last week, that means to recognize how utterly and hopelessly sinful you are, and that you are unable to do anything about it. But there is Good News, the Gospel. Jesus is here to deliver you from your sins. Therefore turn from sin and receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life from your crucified and risen Lord. Jesus comes preaching this Good News, and He has the authority to do so. He has the authority to call you to repentance, and He has the authority to forgive your sins, because He is God! The congregation is amazed at His teaching. They are astonished because He teaches them as one who has authority, and not as their scribes (v. 22). Their scribes always taught them on the basis of other authorities. At their best, they declared, “Thus says the LORD.” At their worst, they would cite two or three differing opinions of the rabbis of time past, and leave the matter open for indecision. Jesus does not have to say, “Thus says the LORD.” He is the LORD. And He doesn’t waffle between opinions. He declares truth. He is the Truth. He preaches with authority, and His Word is powerful. It transforms hearers from unbelieving slaves of Satan to believing, forgiven sinners, freed from bondage to sin, death, and the devil, now servants of the Most High God.

And it is not as though the devil and God are two opposite but equal powers. God is the God of the devil, too. The devil and his demons know this, and shudder (cf. James 2:19). And so the man with the unclean spirit in the congregation cannot contain himself. The demon cries out in fear: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). The demon knows that this preacher is God in the flesh. The demon knows that this is Messiah, the One come to save His people, and all humanity, from demonic power. The demon knows that this One will pronounce judgment over Satan and all the demons, and on the Last Day cast them all into the Lake of Fire for all eternity. Jesus possesses that authority. And He demonstrates it here. “But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him” (vv. 25-26). With the authoritative command of the Lord, the demon must depart. Of course, he makes a perverse show of it. He convulses the man, seeking to do as much damage as he can on his way out. He cries out with a loud voice. Imagine how chilling that voice must have been. And yet, he comes out. He departs. He must. He is no match for the Savior. He has no authority to stay. He must bend to the authority of Jesus, who is God in the flesh. The serpent once usurped God’s authority over man in the Garden. But Jesus has come to undo the devil’s victory, reasserting God’s authority over man, and in that authority of Almighty God, He casts the demon out of the man.

Again, the people are amazed. They “were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him’” (v. 27). We are amazed, too, as Jesus continues to teach us with authority in His Word and drive the devil away from us, as He continues to claim us as His own by His divine authority, to free us from sin, death, and the devil because He has the authority to do so. He does it in Baptism. He does it in His authoritative Word. He does it as He declares your sins forgiven. He does it with His body and blood, given and shed on the cross to free you from bondage, now distributed to you, into your mouth, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. How can He do this? He paid dearly for it. God’s Law, which man had broken, which you and I have broken, had to be answered for. It demanded death. For Jesus to defeat the devil and reclaim us as His own, He had to die. Ultimately, Jesus asserts God’s authority over you and over the devil by switching places with you and all men. In His body, nailed to the cross, Jesus suffers the penalty of man’s sin, the sins of all people, your sins, beloved, that He might free you from the devil’s possession. Jesus submits Himself to the worst that men and the devil can do to Him, and in thus submitting, He wins. He suffers. He is crucified. He dies. But after three days, He is risen from the dead, and He comes to you in His Word and His Sacrament, in His risen body, to claim you as His own.

So you are now under His authority. You are free from sin, for your sins are forgiven. You are free from death, for you have eternal life in Jesus Christ and the sure and certain promise of the resurrection. You are free from the devil, for now you are a servant of Christ. Repent, therefore, and believe the Gospel. Turn away from your sins and cling to Christ, your Savior. Believe His Word. Rejoice in His authority. And receive His gifts. Love one another. Serve one another. Confess Christ to one another. For such is the life of the redeemed in Christ’s Kingdom. Jesus comes with authority, and by that authority, He calls you out of the devil’s kingdom, to be His own. Beloved in the Lord, by His Word of authority, today, your Lord Jesus Christ drives the devil away from you. It is amazing, to be sure. It is also absolutely true. The curse of Eden is reversed. Now God invites you to come and enjoy the fruits of another tree, the Tree of Life, the tree of the cross. And in so eating and drinking of the fruit of this tree, you have eternal life. Come, and eat and drink, therefore, and know that the gates of Paradise are once again open to you. Because you belong to Jesus. You are under His authority. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (B)

January 22, 2012
Text: Mark 1:14-20

Repent, believe the Gospel, and follow Jesus. That is the pattern of the Christian life. The Law exposes our sin to us, exposes us as sinners, kills us, for the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). This causes great sorrow for us, contrition, repentance. The Gospel, however, bestows forgiveness of sins, covers us with the righteousness of Christ, brings us to new life, for the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. This leads us to rejoice and give thanks. The Holy Spirit brings us to faith by the Gospel, so that we believe in Jesus Christ, trusting in Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation. And then we enter upon the crucified life. We take up our cross and follow Jesus, He who was crucified for our sins. That is to say, we lose our lives for Him, for we have found true life in Him. We offer ourselves up as living sacrifices in our daily vocations, confessing Christ, serving the neighbor in love, putting to death the old sinful nature, and suffering if necessary, like John the Baptist who was arrested and beheaded on account of Christ. We take up our cross and follow Jesus, because we know that after Good Friday there is Easter, after death there is resurrection, and in Christ the Crucified, we have eternal life. Repent, believe the Gospel, and follow Jesus. That is the pattern. We have it right here in our Gospel lesson. And this is the content of all Christian preaching. It is the same sermon Jesus preaches to us this morning. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15; ESV). “Follow me” (v. 17).

First… Repent. Repentance in the broad sense includes both contrition, which is to say, sorrow over our sins, and faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is speaking of repentance in the narrow sense, however, and here it simply means contrition, to be sorry for our sins. And that doesn’t just mean crying crocodile tears. Repentance means that in the light of God’s Law you recognize just how wicked you are, and how utterly incapable you are of doing anything about it. Repentance means that you recognize your absolute emptiness, your total lack of resources within yourself to accomplish your own salvation or improve your standing before God. In repentance, you recognize that you are enslaved. You are enslaved to sin. You cannot do otherwise. You are enslaved to unbelief. Yes, you cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ your Lord or come to Him. You are enslaved to the passions of your flesh, to the allurements of the world. You are enslaved to death. You are born spiritually dead already, and dying physically. You will die. And the worst part of it all is this: You are enslaved to the devil. Your first parents sold you to him for a taste of forbidden fruit. And that means that, unless God does something about it, you will die eternally in hell. Repentance does not try to hide the ugly truth. Repentance is to face up to the situation so that you completely despair of yourself. Because as long as you think there is any hope within yourself, any possibility of working yourself out of the situation you’re in, you are not ready for the Gospel. To repent is to weep the bitter tears of Peter after he had denied our Lord. To repent is to say with St. Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). And then there is repentance in the broad sense. To repent is to cast yourself entirely on the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, to commend yourself to Him, as does the Psalmist when he prays: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!... If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Ps. 130:1, 3-4).

That confidence in God’s mercy and forgiveness in Jesus Christ is born of the Gospel. God has done something about your slavery to sin, death, and the devil. He sent His Son to crush the old serpent’s head, defeat death, and atone for your sin in His own sinless suffering and death on the cross. He died for your sins, and He has gained the victory, for He’s risen from the dead and now lives and reigns for all eternity. The Gospel bestows the forgiveness, life, and salvation that our Lord Jesus has won for us, and the faith to believe it, and so receive it. Because the Holy Spirit is active in that Word to call us to faith, to enlighten us with His gifts, and to sanctify and keep us in the one true faith. Repent, and believe the Gospel. That is the pattern. That is what our Lord Jesus preaches to us this morning. It is the same as to say, believe in Jesus. Trust Him. Faith is simply trust in Jesus Christ, the Savior. The Gospel is a freeing Word. Jesus Christ has freed you from slavery to sin. He has freed you from slavery to death. He has freed you from slavery to the devil and to hell. Now you belong to Him. He has purchased you for Himself with His own blood. He bought you for a price, to live under Him in His Kingdom in righteousness and purity forever. This is good news. The Kingdom of God is at hand. It is at hand in Jesus. And now, not only are your sins forgiven so that you are reconciled to God and loved by Him. Now you have eternal life. Believe it. It is yours. Your Lord has made it so. Repent, and believe the Gospel.

And then follow Him. To follow Jesus means to be His disciple, under His discipline. To follow the Crucified means to take up your cross, which is to say, continually live in this pattern of death and resurrection. That is what repentance and faith is. It is death and resurrection. It is putting to death the old sinful nature and being raised with Christ as a new creation in Him. It is living in your Baptism. You died with Christ in Baptism. You were drowned. The Old Adam in you is slain. Then you were raised out of the water, out of death, to new life with Him. Just as He is risen from the dead, so you have a new life. It is a continual present reality, your Baptism, a daily dying to sin and being raised to new life. Repentance and faith, that is what it is. It is confession and Absolution. It is naming the sin and being forgiven by your pastor, which is just as sure and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ your dear Lord dealt with you Himself, because He has dealt with you Himself through the mouth of His called and ordained servant. Repentance and faith, death and resurrection, Law and Gospel, drowning and raising to new life, it is all the same pattern. It is the pattern in which you live your daily Christian life in the world.

You live this pattern in your vocations. A vocation is every calling you have received from God. It’s not just your job. It is every relationship in which God has placed you to serve other people: husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, citizen, church member, butcher, baker, candlestick maker. You can do that, serving your neighbor as though serving God Himself, because in Baptism, you’ve died to yourself and your life is now hidden with Christ in God, and because your Lord came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). The disciples were called to their vocation of being fishers of men, which meant for them that they would be apostles, sent ones, those authorized by Christ to speak for Him to the world in their preaching and writing of Holy Scripture. They were the first Christian pastors. They were called to preach the Gospel and forgive sins in the Name of Jesus. And they were called to suffer. They did not love their lives even unto death (Rev. 12:11). They gave testimony to Jesus and His Gospel even though it meant their suffering, imprisonment, death. Like John the Baptist, they received a prophet’s reward: Persecution and martyrdom. They confidently faced this knowing that death is but the portal to heaven, to life with Jesus, and that though they die in their bodies, their bodies will be raised again on the Last Day. You have this same calling, beloved, not as apostles or pastors, but as Christians, to confess Christ, and to suffer for His Name. You confess Christ whatever the consequences. Maybe you won’t have to suffer to the extent that John and the apostles did. Then again, maybe you will. It could happen, you know. Either way, you will suffer, whether it be the current derisive attitude of the world toward Christianity and the attacks of the devil, or full on persecution and martyrdom. You will suffer, but you can do so in the same confidence of the apostles. For you, also, are baptized into Christ, into His death and resurrection, and you have eternal life. They can kill your body, but they cannot kill your soul. Nor can they keep your body in the grave, because you have the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. Even as you follow Jesus into death, you follow Him into eternal life.

Repent, believe the Gospel, and follow Jesus. That is the pattern of the Christian life. That is what it means to be a Christian. So beloved, confess your sins. Believe the forgiveness that is pronounced over you in the Name of our Triune God. Return to the font each day. Cling to Jesus Christ. And then go out and offer yourself as a living sacrifice to God for the sake of your neighbor. And rejoice. Because this Good News Jesus preaches is for you. The Kingdom of God is at hand. It has arrived in Jesus. Of this Kingdom you are made a citizen and an heir through Baptism. You have eternal life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (B)
January 15, 2012

Text: John 1:43-51

The Lord calls you. Come and see. Come and see Him where He is, and where He promises to be, for you. For it is only in this way, seeing Jesus where He has promised to be for you, that you become a disciple of Jesus Christ. And it is only in this way that others will become disciples of Jesus Christ. Philip has it right in our text this morning as he tells Nathanael about Jesus. He does not argue the merits of Nazareth with Nathanael. He does not seek to convert Nathanael with cleverly concocted arguments. And note this very carefully, he does not ask Nathanael what it will take to get him to believe in Jesus. He does not ask about Nathanael’s felt needs or capitulate to Nathanael’s preconceived notions about who Jesus should be or what He should do. He simply issues an invitation: “Come and see” (John 1:46; ESV). “Come, Nathanael, and have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. For it is only in that way, Nathanael, that you will be convinced, as I am, that this Jesus ‘is he of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote’ (v. 45), the Messiah, the Savior of Israel and the world.” Come and see. Unbeknownst to Nathanael, and probably even to Philip, the invitation is really a call from Jesus Christ Himself through the mouth of one who already believes in Him.

And that’s Jesus’ evangelism program. Those who believe in Jesus Christ are to confess His Name and His Gospel to others with whom they come into contact, those whom God has placed into their lives, and in this way, through their mouths, Jesus calls others to believe in Him. The message is simple: Jesus is your Savior. Come. You’ll see. Come where? Where Jesus has promised to be, of course. And where is that? You Lutherans know the answer. In His Word! In His Sacraments! In other words, in His Church! Nathanael, I have good news for you. God loves you. He sent His Son to die for your sins, to save you from sin, death, and hell. Come and see. I’d like to invite you to church with me on Sunday. That’s evangelism, beloved. It’s really that simple. The opportunities are there if you look for them. You simply confess Jesus to those in your life. Invite them to church. Invite them to come and see. The worst that can happen is they say, “No thanks!” And there’s really no pressure on you. You aren’t responsible for the results of the evangelism. The Holy Spirit is. You leave that up to Him. Just confess Christ and issue the invitation: Come and see!

“But Pastor, it has to be more complicated than that.” No, it’s really not. Think about how you came to faith. If you came to faith as a baby, it is because your parents brought you here to come and see. They brought you to where Jesus is. They brought you to Baptism, to hear the Word, to participate in the liturgy, to Sunday School and then Catechism class, and eventually, to the Lord’s Supper. You parents, this is why it is so very important, absolutely vital, that you have your children in church every Sunday, from their infancy, and that you teach them how to pay attention and how to participate. And for the rest of you, this is why it is so important, absolutely vital, that you put up with a little extra noise from the young ones now and then.

If you came to faith later, as an older child, a teenager, or as an adult, it is because someone else who already believed in Jesus brought you to see Him. Perhaps they brought you to see Jesus by bringing His Word to you in their own confession of Christ. But it is also likely that eventually, they brought you to church where you could see Jesus in action for yourself, forgiving your sins, bringing you to new life, right where He promises to be, in His Word and Sacraments. The fact is, you’re here in church now. And for whatever reason you might think you came, the reality is that you are here because even if no human acquaintance brought you here, the Holy Spirit did. He is doing His work on you here where Jesus promises to be with His Spirit and all of His gifts, in Word and Sacrament, reconciling you to the Father. That is what you’ll see when you come. Jesus forgiving your sins, enlivening you, imparting His Spirit to you, reconciling you with the Father. It is a personal encounter with God in the flesh.

That is the kind of encounter Nathanael has in the Gospel lesson. As Nathanael is coming to see, walking toward Jesus, Jesus declares, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (v. 47). Behold, an Israelite who knows the Scriptures and expects a Messiah who will save him. But this Israelite doesn’t want to be fooled. He’s come to see for himself. I’ll show him, says Jesus. “How do you know me?” asks Nathanael. “Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you’” (v. 48). Now, pause just a minute to ponder the profundity of this statement. Jesus was not with Philip when Philip told Nathanael to come and see. There is no physical way Jesus could have seen Nathanel under the fig tree. And Philip did not have time or opportunity to tell Jesus beforehand where he had found Nathanael. Nor could Jesus, if He were just a man, have known that Philip went to call Nathanael. But Jesus is not just a man. He is a man who is also God. And as God, Jesus is the one who called Nathanel while he was sitting under the fig tree. He called Nathanael through the mouth of His servant Philip. Before Philip even arrived on the scene, Jesus, because He is God, saw Nathanael, and knew Nathanael. And this personal encounter with God in the flesh leads Nathanael to confess, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel” (v. 49). The miracle leads to the confession. It is an epiphany, a revelation of who Jesus is. Only God knows all things. Jesus knows all things. Therefore Jesus is God in the flesh, come to save His people.

That Jesus is God and that Jesus knows all things is a great comfort to you, beloved. Jesus knows you. He knows your sins. He knows all the dark little secrets of your heart. And yet here He is, right where He’s promised to be, for you, to forgive those sins, to absolve you of those dark little secrets. He loves you in spite of them, for He has died for them, died for your forgiveness. So also, Jesus knows all the havoc that sin has wrought in your life. He knows your every pain and sorrow. And because He is God, and because He loves you, He not only knows the medicine that you need for that sin and pain and sorrow, He can and will give it you. He can and will heal you. He can and will save you. He knows you, dear brothers and sisters. He loves you. Just and He knew Nathanael, and in His love, called Nathanael to faith through the mouth of Philip while Nathanael was sitting under the fig tree, so Jesus knows and loves you and calls you to faith, to an encounter and a relationship with Him, wherever you are.

And here we learn something particularly pertinent to our society as next Sunday we mark the 39th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the tragedy of legalized abortion. Our Lord knows us and loves us even when we are in the womb, even from conception as He lovingly knits us together, forming our tiny inward parts. Listen to King David’s description of this in Psalm 139: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them” (vv. 13-16). How beautifully King David here confesses God’s loving creation of each one of us, His intimate knowledge of us from the moment of conception until the moment of death, even into eternity, and His tender involvement and providence for every one of our days, written, every one of them, in His book before any of them came to be. In this way God knows and loves every unborn child. He knows and loves every human being with a terminal illness. He knows and loves every person at every age, in every stage of life. The Lord and Giver of life knows and loves you.

And so He gives you the same promise He gave to Nathanael. You will see greater things than the miracle that Jesus is all knowing and all seeing, present everywhere. “[Y]ou will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). You will see Jacob’s ladder (cf. Gen. 28:10-22). You see it now. For you have come to see Jesus, and that is exactly who you do see here in His Church, in His Word and in His sacraments, for your salvation. Jesus is the Ladder. By His cross, He bridges heaven and earth. His angels descend to serve you, His blood-bought people. They ascend again on the Ladder that is the Crucified to bring your prayers and petitions before the Father, and on that day when you pass through the valley of the shadow of death, they take you up that Ladder into heaven to be with God. Now you see Jesus, not with your physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith. Then you will see Him face to face. And Jesus has promised that because He is risen, He will raise you from the dead, so that the physical eyes that cannot now behold Him, will see Him on that Day in the splendor of His glory. What a marvelous truth the Lord has revealed to you here today. You came. You saw. By God’s grace, you believed. Now go and invite others to come and see. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Our Lord (B)

January 8, 2012
Text: Mark 1:4-11

Beloved in the Lord, Christian Baptism is a declaration of war against the devil and his minions. Christian Baptism enlists the baptized in spiritual warfare, the raging battle against the old sinful flesh, against the temptations and allurements of the unbelieving world, and against the old wily serpent, the devil, and his demons. And it’s dangerous, because it makes the baptized child of God a target of the evil one. Martin Luther wrote in his Baptismal Booklet: “Therefore, you have to realize that it is no joke at all to take action against the devil and not only to drive him away from the little child but also to hang around the child’s neck such a mighty, lifelong enemy. Thus it is extremely necessary to stand by the poor child with all your heart and with a strong faith and to plead with great devotion that God, in accordance with these prayers, would not only free the child from the devil’s power but also strengthen the child, so that the child might resist him valiantly in life and in death. I fear that people turn out so badly after baptism because we have dealt with them in such a cold and casual way and have prayed for them at their baptism without any zeal at all.”[1] Serious business, Baptism. No joke, no trifling tradition. War is what it is. But necessary. A matter of life and death, in fact… eternal life and death. Because in Baptism you become God’s own child. You are snatched from the yawning jaws of death and the tenacious claws of the devil. You are given the Holy Spirit, and all your sins are washed away as you are covered by the blood of Christ. You are Baptized, as we heard in the Epistle (Romans 6:1-11), into the death and resurrection of Christ, so that they become your own. Everything that Christ has done He has done for you. He became a man for you. He was obedient to His parents and grew in wisdom and favor with God and men for you. He learned the Scriptures for you. He fulfilled God’s whole Law for you. He suffered for you. He died for you. He is risen from the dead for you. He ascended into heaven and sits at God’s right hand for you. And He comes to you in His blessed Word and Sacraments, for you, to forgive your sins and to give you eternal life. He has done and does all of this for you and for your salvation. He does it in your place. You are baptized into Him. And this is so powerful, to deliver all these great gifts, because He is first baptized into you, into your sin, into your death, by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan River, where He is anointed by the Holy Spirit to undertake His divine mission (warfare!), where the Father says to Him, and to us who are baptized into Him, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; ESV).

The Good News for us who have been enlisted in the battle by virtue of our Baptism is that the LORD goes before us, the LORD fights for us, Jesus, God in the flesh. And though the battle rages, the victory has been won. It was won on the cross and in the empty tomb. The devil is defeated. So we know the outcome. Our Lord steps into the waters of the Jordan, and as John baptizes Him with a baptism He does not need, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, like a sponge He soaks up all the sins of the whole world. Your sin, all of it, the sinless Son of God took upon Himself, so that He could give you His righteousness in exchange. “For our sake” God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). It is a great exchange. Jesus gets our sin, we get His righteousness. He dies, we live. He takes hell, and heaven itself has been rent open for us. He is baptized into us, that we might be baptized into Him. In the Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan, He “sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.”[2] A great gift, Baptism is. It is not our action. It is God’s action for us and upon us. It is the source of all our confidence and all our joy. But it does mean war. No doubt about it. Baptism makes you a marked man, a marked woman.

How can it be that the battle still rages if the victory has already been won by our Lord Jesus? We encounter here the distinction between the objective justification of all people by our Lord’s sin-atoning work on the one hand, and how that objective justification is applied to each one of us subjectively on the other. The word “justification” means “righteousness,” which is precisely what unrighteous sinners do not have and desperately need. Jesus wins the objective justification of the whole world, of all people, in His life, death, and resurrection. The war is won. The devil is defeated. The sins of all people have been paid in full by the suffering and death of Jesus, and God has declared that payment sufficient by raising Jesus from the dead. But the battle still rages for each one of us in the subjective application of this victory, how this victory is made our own and how we are kept in our Lord’s victory. You see, the victory of our Savior is received by faith. And faith is itself a gift of God. Yet faith can be prevented and faith can be lost, which is the aim of our enemy, the devil. He seeks to rob us of faith in Jesus Christ at every turn. He seeks to kill our faith so that he can claim us once again for his own. In Baptism, God grants faith in Jesus Christ His Son by imparting the Holy Spirit. But the devil never tires in seeking to rob us of that gift. And we are weak. We still have the old sinful flesh hanging around our necks. We easily fall prey to Satan’s lies. Like our first parents in the garden. We listen to the serpent. We see that what he offers is pleasing to the eye, and we think it will be satisfying to our lustful appetites. We’re dead meat on our own. If Adam and Eve, who were created without sin, could fall prey to the devil, we, their sinful progeny, don’t stand a chance. If we are to be kept in the one true faith of Jesus Christ, kept in our Baptism, kept for eternal life, God must do it. God must do it, and God alone. If we are to persevere in the faith, if we are to survive this war, it must be by grace, it must be His work. And it is. We are faithless, but He is faithful. He does it. He brings it to completion.

That is why He’s given us the means of grace: His holy Word, Baptism, Absolution, and the Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood, the Lord’s Supper. Many of these are mentioned right here in our text. John appears baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And the people respond to John’s preaching by confessing their sins, being baptized, and absolved. Well, those are the same means of grace we have here in the New Testament Church. His baptism is the forerunner of our Christian Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. His baptism leads directly to our Baptism, for Jesus receives John’s baptism, in order that we may be baptized into Christ. And our Baptism into Christ, too, is a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We live daily in our Baptism, which means to repent daily and daily receive and rejoice in the forgiveness of the Lord Jesus.

What makes these gifts so powerful – words, water, bread and wine – is not that they are anything spectacular in and of themselves. But it’s this: Jesus comes in these means. He comes to you. He comes for you. He comes to make you one with Him, and so to make you God’s own child. “In those days,” namely, the days when John was baptizing and preaching in wilderness, “Jesus came,” says our text (Mark 1:9). And in Jesus’ coming, John’s baptism receives all its power. For Jesus comes to use John and his baptism and his preaching as His means of saving humanity. So also our Baptism, preaching, Scripture reading, Absolution, Communion… What makes these gifts so powerful is that Jesus comes and uses them as His means to save us, to make what is objectively true for all people on account of Jesus’ saving work, subjectively true for you, for me, for each one of us individually.

And that is what happens when you are baptized into Christ. All that Jesus is and does is made yours. Heaven is torn open for you. The Spirit descends upon you. And the very voice of the Father speaks in the Word that has been joined to the water: “You… You… You… are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Because of Christ, who has won the war, and who will bring you through the battle to the Day of Resurrection. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] SC: Baptismal Booklet, Kolb/Wengert, p. 372.
[2] Luther’s “Flood Prayer,” LSB p. 269.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Circumcision and Name of Jesus

Circumcision and Name of Jesus

January 1, 2012
Text: Luke 2:21

Merry Christmas! Yes, it’s still Christmas. You’ve packed up all the decorations too early. It’s only the 8th Day of Christmas for the Church. The 8th Day. That ought to ring a bell if you attended our Family Vacation Bible School a couple years ago. The 8th Day. That’s the day a newborn baby boy was circumcised in the Old Testament. Circumcision, which was the Old Testament type for Baptism, included the newborn in the covenant God had made with His holy people Israel, the Old Testament Church. The 8th Day. What’s the significance? God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them in 6 days, and on the 7th day, He took a Sabbath, He rested. Then on the 8th day, the first day of the new week, creation got busy and got going. But as we know, things quickly took a turn for the worse when our first parents, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God and fell into sin. So God sent His Son, to be born of a Virgin, the woman’s offspring who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15), the whole reason we celebrate Christmas. Our Lord Jesus was born to undo all the damage Adam did and to bring about a new creation. Holy Week, Jesus sweats drops of blood in the garden. It’s a redo of Eden. He is arrested, tried, beaten, mocked, spat upon, clothed in purple and crowned with thorns, and made to carry His own cross out of the city to the place of crucifixion. He is nailed to the wood, lifted up, and left to die as a criminal, between two wretched criminals, for criminals, for sinners, for you. It is Friday, the 6th day. On the seventh day, He fulfills the Sabbath. He rests in the grave. Ah, but then there is the 8th Day, Sunday, the first day of the new week, the first day of the new creation. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

“And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21; ESV). Merry Christmas. On the Eighth Day of Christmas your True Love, your Lord, gives to you two mighty powerful gifts. He gives you the first drops of His holy, precious blood, fulfilling the Law of circumcision for you, in your place, and in His flesh including you in God’s covenant with His holy people Israel, the holy Christian Church. That’s the first gift. Then there is His Name, Jesus. ̀Ιησους in Greek, יהושע, Joshua in Hebrew, it means YHWH, the LORD, saves. “(Y)ou shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). That is the second gift, His Name, which indicates His divine mission. He is born to save you and all people from your sins, from the fall of Adam and Eve, original sin, from your actual sins, the bad things you do and the good things you should do but don’t. He comes to save you from all of that and from the death, temporal, spiritual, and eternal, that is sin’s wages. This is the best Christmas gift you have ever received. It is the only Christmas gift that matters, wrapped in swaddling cloths and human flesh and blood. God is a man. And He is born to save you.

The two gifts on this 8th Day of Christmas go together. A Jewish boy receives his name when he is circumcised, not unlike the ancient Christian custom of giving a child his or her name at Baptism. We still do this. Yes, yes, we name the child already at the hospital, I understand, but we still talk about your Christian name. In the baptismal rite, the pastor still asks the baptismal candidate, “How are you named?” And the sponsors, or the candidate himself, if he is old enough, respond with his given name, what we now call after Baptism his “Christian name.” So on the 8th Day our Lord receives the Sacrament of circumcision and is named Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.

Circumcision, as I said, is the Old Testament type, foreshadowing, of Christian Baptism. We no longer circumcise as a religious custom, because our Lord has fulfilled circumcision for us in His flesh, and replaced it with Holy Baptism. And as a side note, circumcising baby boys for medical reasons is a matter of Christian freedom. You can do it, or not do it, according to your own judgment. But it has no religious significance either way. The important thing here on this Feast Day of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, this 8th Day of Christmas, is the gift our Lord bestows. His blood, His Name, for you, to save you from your sins. Your name is given in Baptism, but more importantly, our Lord gives you His Name in Baptism. You are named after Christ: Christian. The very Name of God is placed upon you, the Name Jesus bears and reveals, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now you bear that holy Name. It is written all over you, because you are God’s possession now, bought back from sin, death, and the devil, and you’re God’s own child, so you bear the Christian family Name. And you’re baptized into Christ. In Baptism, the circumcision of Jesus becomes your circumcision. You’re now part of the 8th Day, the new creation. The covenant, the New Testament in Jesus’ blood, is given to you. His blood is applied to you. It washes over you. It washes away all your sins. One verse in Luke Chapter 2 serves as our text this morning. One verse, and it includes your whole salvation.

So merry Christmas! It is a merry Christmas, indeed, because Christ, the Savior, is born, and He sheds His precious blood and receives His divine Name to save you from your sins. Put those post-Christmas blues away. They have no place here. While the world boxes up the decorations and stuffs the Christ-Child up in the attic along with them, to be safely stored away for another year, you… you lift another cup of cheer. You continue to wish each other and those outside our fellowship a merry Christmas. And I’ll tell you another thing. While the world wakes up this morning with the hangover of last night’s celebrations and the hangover of last year’s sins and failures, you wake up with the abiding hope of Christ Jesus, your Savior and Lord. You wake up knowing God has been your help in ages past and that He is your hope for years to come, your eternal life and salvation. You know something that world, sadly, doesn’t. And so it is incumbent upon you always to be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is within you, with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). Because they need to know. That peace is for them, too. Another year of God’s grace is upon us. Another year to bask in the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Christ. How fitting that we begin it at the altar, where the holy flesh of Jesus and the blood He shed for us are given us to eat and to drink. It is the Christmas Feast! Rejoice, dear Christians. Be merry, and sing. A blessed 8th Day of Christmas, and a happy New Year. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.