Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lenten Midweek I

Lenten Midweek I: “Hiding from God or Hiding in God?”[1]

Feb. 29, 2012

Text: Ps. 32; Catechism: What is the Office of the Keys? Where is this written?

You can either hide from God, or you can hide in God. The reason you hide is your sin. You are guilty. You know it. And worse, God knows it. And the wages of sin is death. So you hide. Adam and Eve knew sins wages. In love, God had told them ahead of time: In the day you eat of the forbidden fruit, you shall surely die. So when they sinned, they hid. Guilt drove them into hiding. They knew they had transgressed God’s commandment. They knew they deserved death. You hide, too. You hide your sinful thoughts deep within your heart. You repress your memories of past transgressions and hide them as skeletons in the closet. You put on your best face for others, because if they really knew your thoughts, the words you had said behind their backs, the things you’ve done and continue to do, or would do if you had the chance, you would fall from honor in their eyes. You wish God didn’t know those things. You pretend He doesn’t. And You do your best convince yourself that they are not true, that you really aren’t so bad, but deep down, you know otherwise. God’s Law spares no one. It exposes you. You stand naked before God, and you are ashamed. You are a sinner.

Hiding from God is futile. It didn’t work for Adam and Eve, and it won’t work for you. King David writes of this in our text, Psalm 32: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me” (Ps. 32:3-4; ESV). When you keep silence and fail to confess your sins, guilt sets in, and it hurts. It’s supposed to. That is God’s Law at work, convicting you, condemning you, killing you. Because God doesn’t just want to apply some sort of snake oil or soothing ointment to the disease that is ravishing you, namely, sin. He wants a resurrection. He wants to raise you from the dead. And of course, you have to be dead for that. God kills you with His holy Law, so that He may raise you up again with His precious Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins in Christ Jesus.

For this reason, God has given His Church the Office of the Keys, the gift of Confession and Absolution. King David writes (and the Church prays with him): “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (v. 5). Our Lenten series this year is about God’s gift of forgiveness in Confession and Absolution. Absolution, remember, is just another word for forgiveness. To confess your sin to God is to no longer hide from God, but in God, which is the only safe place to hide. Hiding in God, you are safe from eternal death and condemnation in hell. You are safe from the just wrath of God. Because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from all sin. That is what is applied to you in Absolution. The blood of Jesus Christ. The benefits of His death and resurrection. Through His called and ordained servant of the Word, Jesus Christ Himself forgives you all your sins. That is what we confess with Dr. Luther in the Small Catechism. Again, I invite you to open your bulletins to the inside front cover and recite this with me: “What is the Office of the Keys? The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent. Where is this written? This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”[2]

Now, there are two ways we make use of this gracious gift, which our Lord Jesus here gives His Church. The first is general Confession and Absolution, what we do at the beginning of the Divine Service. We confess that we are poor miserable sinners, by nature sinful and unclean, having sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and what we have left undone. And then I, as the one called by God through you, His people, to publicly exercise the Office of the Keys among you, turn and speak for God: “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.” It’s really God talking, not me. I’m just the messenger, the mouthpiece. God established the Office of the Holy Ministry for no other reason than the forgiveness of sins, preached and distributed in the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments. And just as we do this in a general way every time we come together for the Divine Service, so also the Church has a great gift in Individual Confession and Absolution, when you come to your pastor privately and name the sins that you know and feel in your heart, and your pastor forgives those sins and any other sins that you may not remember or may not have mentioned in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. If you’re interested, you can look at the rite for yourself on page 292 in your hymnal. The Lutheran Church has historically always practiced individual Confession and Absolution, but sadly, this practice has been all but lost here in America. It’s in the Catechism. It’s in the Lutheran Confessions. It is by no means mandatory. No one is to be compelled or forced to come to individual Confession and Absolution. But it’s a gift, here, for you. Call me any time. Come and make use of this gift. It’s a freeing thing. That’s why we call it the Office of the Keys. It unlocks the chains of guilt that bind us. It unlocks heaven itself to us and we are immersed in the forgiveness of sins that we have by the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

You cannot hide from God, beloved. So hide in God. Hide in Christ. Hide in the cleft of the rock that is Your Savior. Hide in His wounds. You are baptized into Him. You have died with Christ, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). Confess your sins and believe what God says to you: All your sins are forgiven. And you are blessed. For “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Ps. 32:1). No more hiding from God. No more hiding your sin. Bring your sin out before God to be dealt with, to be nailed to the cross of Christ. And God will cover your nakedness. God will cover you with the very righteousness of His dear Son. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the points made in this year’s Lenten series are from God’s Gift of Forgiveness (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).
[2] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

First Sunday in Lent

First Sunday in Lent (B)

February 26, 2012
Text: Mark 1:9-15

Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River, and immediately the Spirit drives Him out into the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by Satan. Something is seemingly wrong with this picture. Jesus is baptized. He is anointed by the Holy Spirit who descends upon Him as a dove. The voice of the Father sounds forth from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; ESV). And then, all at once, that Spirit with which our Lord Jesus is anointed drives Him out in the wilderness to be tempted? To struggle? To hunger and thirst? To be lonely? To battle the very devil Himself? Aren’t things supposed to be easier for One with whom God is well pleased? Isn’t Baptism supposed to make everything better? The very opposite happens with Jesus. Things get hard for the beloved Son of God after Baptism. The Spirit doesn’t just suggest that Jesus go out and do battle with Satan. He drives Him. And this, beloved, teaches us both of our Lord’s mission to save us from sin, death, and the devil, and of our own baptismal life in the spiritual wilderness of this fallen world.

“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan” (vv. 12-13). Mark is not strong on detail in his account of our Lord’s temptation. He describes the whole event in only two short verses. This is not a deficiency. The other Gospels provide the specifics. We have to ask what Mark and the Holy Spirit desire to get across to us in this short account. Our Lord’s Baptism is the beginning of His public ministry. He is anointed with the Holy Spirit for His saving work, which is to suffer for us. He is baptized into our sin and death, so that He may be our substitute, so that we might be baptized into His righteousness and life. When the Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted, our Savior suffers this affliction in our place. It is a redo of the Eden tragedy. Where our forefather, Adam, succumbed to the temptation of the serpent, our New Adam, Christ, is victorious. He successfully suffers the temptations of the old evil foe, and He wins. We know from the other Gospels that He is successful in His battle against Satan by the weapon of God’s Word. He resists. He does not give in. He does what we cannot do because our first parents did not do it, namely, He remains obedient to God in the face of the devil’s lies and twisting of God’s Word. And do not be deceived. This temptation is no picnic for Jesus. It isn’t easy for Him just because He is God. The writer to the Hebrews makes this clear: “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He wins the victory over Satan, and in His victory, we are victorious. Jesus resists temptation for us, in our place. And we are baptized into that reality.

But understand, a disciple is not above his teacher. If our Lord Jesus was tempted, we also will be tempted. If our Lord Jesus suffered, we also will suffer. And this is what we learn about our Christian life in the wilderness of this fallen world. While the victory over the devil and temptation has been ultimately won, the battle still rages as long as we are in this fallen flesh and this fallen world. In His infinite wisdom, our gracious God allows us to undergo trials and temptation. Why? Something is seemingly wrong with this picture. In our Baptism, too, we are anointed with the Holy Spirit. In our Baptism, too, the Father speaks to us, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” And yet, God allows us to suffer trials and temptations? Aren’t things supposed to be easier for one in whom God is well pleased on account of Christ? Isn’t Baptism supposed to make everything better? Why, then, trials? Why, then, temptations?

In some measure, we are not given to know the answer to that question in this earthly life. Job asks this very question in the midst of his trial, and the LORD only answers that as the Creator of heaven and earth, He knows best what to give His people. “You’re just going to have to trust Me, Job!” We need to be careful when we search for the meaning of our own trials and temptations. Often God does not reveal the “why” of our suffering, trials, and temptations. He simply bids that we trust Him, that He knows what is best for us, what will be most beneficial for our salvation, that He will work all things for our good because we are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

But there are some things we can say on the basis of the Holy Scriptures about our trials and temptations. First, as Luther says in the Small Catechism, “God tempts no one.” St. James says the same thing in our Epistle: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). God does not tempt us to sin. God does not tempt us to do evil. The devil tempts us. The world tempts us. Our own sinful desire tempts us. Our three main enemies are the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. But God does allow His people to undergo temptation and other trials. Baptism sanctifies these temptations and trials and makes them holy crosses to borne by the Christian. These are crosses for you to bear, not for your salvation (Christ has taken care of that completely with His suffering and cross), but to mold and shape you into the Christian God wants you to be. These crosses are exercises for your faith. They allow you to crucify your sinful flesh, to deny your perverse desires. They drive you to prayer. They drive you to Scripture. They drive you to Christ alone for help, because you realize in the midst of trial and temptation that you can’t do it alone, that you have no resources within yourself to resist and to stand firm, that you are weak and helpless, and your Savior alone is strong and able to accomplish in you what you cannot do on your own. And when you fall to the temptation, when you give in, when you sin, you know that the blood of Jesus Christ covers all your sin. You are forgiven. And God does not see your failure. He sees the victory of your Lord Jesus Christ. That counts for you. You are baptized into that. You belong to God. No one and nothing can snatch you out of His hands. So you take up your cross once again and follow Him. You go back into the battle with the devil, knowing that Jesus will sustain you, and that He has fought for you and won the victory.

The orthodox Lutheran father Johann Gerhard wrote in his Sacred Meditations[1] that temptation offers three advantages to the Christian: “Temptation tests, purifies, and illuminates the soul.” Temptation tests the soul, he says, “because our faith assailed by storms of adversity strikes its roots more firmly down into the very bed-rock of our salvation; it spreads out its branches more widely in good works, and shoots up higher and higher in its hope of the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Secondly, temptation purifies our souls, in that “Our great Physician, Christ, employs many bitter remedies to expel the malignant spiritual diseases of love of self and love of the world… Worldly honor puffs up many with pride; and so God often sends reproach, and removes that which feeds worldly pride.” Finally, temptation illuminates the soul, in that “Affliction as a severe test of our faith serves to make our spirits humble and contrite, so that the souls of the afflicted may greatly rejoice in their afflictions. Through temptation we come to know God more truly and intimately, for the Lord Himself says, ‘I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him’ (Ps. xci. 15).” And, in fact, we prayed those very words in the Introit. Thus even through great evil God’s purposes for us prevail. God tempts no one. But He allows us to undergo temptation for our good, that He may accomplish His good and perfect will for us and in us.

Trial and temptation is nothing new for Christians. St. John the Baptist was arrested by King Herod for his faithful proclamation of God’s Word, and beheaded in prison, the prophet receiving a prophet’s reward. His death is a foreshadowing of our Lord’s death, and a witness that the Messiah has come to save His people from their sins. Our Lord Jesus is the ultimate example of One who suffers trial and temptation and in this way accomplishes the will of God. By His Baptism in the Jordan, by His temptation in the wilderness, by His perfect life under the Law, His healing and teaching under great persecution, His suffering, His death, our Lord Jesus accomplished the salvation of the whole world, your salvation, and mine. And He is risen from the dead, having destroyed sin, death, and the devil. So we suffer patiently, beloved. We are tempted, but we resist, and we live by the forgiveness of sins that the Savior offers us here in His Word and blessed Sacrament. We crucify the Old Adam in us and cling to Christ in faith. Which is simply to say, we hear and heed the Word of our Lord in our text this morning, which sums up His entire preaching: “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Turn from sin to the Savior. Believe that all your sins are forgiven in Him, and that in Him you have eternal life. You are not alone in the wilderness of this fallen world. God will not forsake you. When you call, He will answer you. He will be with you in trouble. He will rescue you and honor you (Ps. 91:15). Because you are baptized. God’s own child, with whom He is well pleased. And the devil is conquered. One little word can fell him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Johann Gerhard, Sacred Meditations (Malone, TX: Repristination Press, 2000) pp. 229-34.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday: “Save Me Because of Your Unfailing Love”[1]
February 22, 2012
Text: Psalm 6

Psalm 6 is the first of the Penitential Psalms. The Penitential Psalms will be the basis of our meditations this Lenten season as we reflect on God’s gift of forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Penitential, penitence, what does this mean? It is from the same root as the word “penitentiary.” Penitence means to be sorry for your sins. The penitential Psalms are prayers of lament over our sinful condition, the wages of our sin, which is death and condemnation, and our utter inability to free ourselves or make ourselves righteous. At the same time, the penitential Psalms are confessions of faith that God is gracious, that He has done something about our sin, that with Him there is forgiveness and life. There are seven penitential Psalms. Our Psalm this evening was composed by King David. In this Psalm David prays that the LORD not rebuke him in His anger, but be gracious and deliver him from his sin. And the Psalms being the prayer book of the Bible, the Church prays these words earnestly along with David.

A word related to penitence is repentance. Repentance includes penitence, sorrow over sin. Really, it means a turning away from sin and to God for forgiveness in Christ. Repentance is a recognition of wickedness and helplessness on the part of the sinner. But it goes further than that. It is a recognition of God’s gracious willingness to help and deliver, to forgive and restore. Repentance is what Ash Wednesday is all about. This evening we are marked with ashes, the sign of our death, as we are reminded from Holy Scripture that we are dust, and to dust we shall return (Gen. 3:19). Such is the divine sentence upon sinners. But we receive those ashes in the shape of the holy cross, for we believe and know that our Lord Jesus Christ has suffered our death for us, in our place, as our substitute, that we might live and not die. And so it is on that basis that, even as we repent, turning away from sin and to God in faith, we ask God in the words of King David to turn and be gracious to us, to spare us, to deliver us. “Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love” (Ps. 6:4; ESV).

And He does. He does by the death of His Son on the cross. He does by His application of that death of His Son on the cross to us in the Word and the Sacraments. Specifically, in Holy Baptism, all the righteousness of Jesus Christ His Son is applied to us. We are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ so that they become our own. We have died with Christ. Our sins were nailed to His cross. They are buried forever in His tomb, even as we are raised out of the baptismal waters to new life in Him, with the sure and certain promise of the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day.

Repentance means a daily return to Baptism. Martin Luther asks in the Small Catechism: “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”[2] This is death and resurrection language. For such is the pattern of the Christian life, our life in Christ, our crucified and risen Lord. We see this pattern played out again and again: Law and Gospel, repentance and forgiveness, confession and Absolution. Yes, that is a very important part of the Christian life as well. Part of what it means to repent is to confess, to say to God just what it is that you have done. And then you have this marvelous gift of God in His holy Church, that He has given you a pastor for no other reason than to forgive your sins, to absolve you, to speak on behalf of Christ: “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.” It’s a return to Baptism. You confess. You drown that Old Adam of yours. And you are absolved. You are raised to new life in Christ. It’s a daily thing before your God as you confess to Him that you are a poor, miserable sinner, and cling to the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ. It’s a general thing in the Divine Service as we corporately confess our unworthiness and hear and cling to the Word of Absolution, believing that the words the pastor speaks are just as certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself. And it is also a very personal thing as you come before God in private Absolution, naming specifically the sins that trouble you, and hearing from your pastor, as God’s mouthpiece, that all those sins you have named, and any other sins you have committed, are forgiven in the Name of our Triune God. All this is, is to live in your Baptism, to die and rise again, to repent and be forgiven. It is to live the cruciform life, the mark of which you will receive on your forehead this evening.

Do not be afraid, dear Christians. The LORD has not rebuked you in His anger, nor disciplined you in His wrath. He has been gracious to you. He sent His Son. He has turned to you in mercy, to deliver you and save you according to His steadfast love. Flood your bed with tears of repentance. Drench your couch with weeping over your sin. For you have offended the holy God with your iniquity. But believe more boldly still that the LORD has heard your plea and accepted your prayer. The blood of His Son has washed away your sin. You are forgiven. You are restored. And though you weep in dust and ashes now, for a little while, the dawn of your deliverance, the resurrection from the dead, is coming. The Lord bless your Lententide, beloved. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the points made in this year’s Lenten series are from God’s Gift of Forgiveness (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).
[2] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

The Transfiguration of Our Lord (B)

February 19, 2012
Text: Mark 9:2-9

The lesson we learn from the Transfiguration of Our Lord is that Jesus is God. He is a man, to be sure, but not just any man. He is a man who is God, God in human flesh, which is the lesson not only of the Transfiguration, but of the whole season of Epiphany which we conclude this morning. In the Transfiguration, Jesus is epiphanied (revealed) as God in human flesh. Transfiguration is a change in appearance. The Greek word used here is μετεμορφώθη. Jesus underwent a metamorphosis before the eyes of the Apostles, Peter, James, and John. His appearance changed. His divinity shone through His flesh so that even His clothing became intensely white. Now there could be no doubt who this is. This is no mere man. This is God. And just to make sure the Apostles get it, Moses and Elijah appear on the scene, the Law and the Prophets testifying that the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures has arrived. We know from the Gospel according to St. Luke that they were speaking to Jesus about His “exodus” (Luke 9:31), His death and resurrection by which He will accomplish the salvation of the whole world. The LORD has come to save His people. Here stands Messiah, the Anointed One, come to save His people from their sins. A cloud overshadowed them all, a sign of God’s presence, and the Father spoke from the cloud, just as He did at Jesus’ Baptism: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7; ESV). And then, all at once, it’s over. The Apostles no longer see anyone but Jesus only, no longer radiantly shining, but once again hidden in flesh and blood. And that’s the point. If you seek God, your Savior, you are to look to no one else, save Jesus only. You are not to look for glorious visions and mountaintop experiences. Here in flesh and blood is the Lord of heaven and earth, your Redeemer.

Peter did not understand this. In the midst of the grand event, he was missing the very point. “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents” (v. 5). Let us stay on the mountain with Moses and Elijah and bask in Your heavenly glory. Peter did not know what he was saying. He was terrified. But he was also eager to remain with Jesus in His majesty. Nothing particularly wrong about that eagerness. That is what we will experience in heaven. But in the meantime, Peter, there’s work to be done, and it must be done through suffering and the cross. The point of the Transfiguration is not that Peter, James, and John get to have a glorious emotional experience with Jesus. The point of the Transfiguration is to show them just who this is who is about to suffer and die. This should have reassured them about the resurrection. Surely death cannot hold this One who is shining radiantly with the glory of God. The purpose of the Transfiguration is to strengthen the disciples for the road that lay ahead, the road through Holy Week, through Jesus’ suffering and death on Good Friday, through His burial and rest in the tomb on Holy Saturday. Peter, James, and John were the three witnesses required to establish a matter according to God’s Law. They witnessed Jesus’ glory, and the heard the very voice of the Father directing their faith to Jesus, the Son of God, and commanding them, and through them, the whole Church of God, to listen to Jesus, to every word that proceeds from His mouth, and so to live and be saved. “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Listen, as He opens His fleshly lips. Ordinary words made extraordinary because they are not simply the words of a man, but the Word of God. Listen very carefully, believe what He says, do what He says. Trust Him. Believe in Him.

We’re a lot like Peter, you and I. We’re always looking for the glorious emotional experience with Jesus. What we do not want to do is come down from the mountain toward suffering and the cross. And so the Transfiguration of our Lord is for us, as well, to strengthen us for the road that lay ahead, the road upon which we will embark this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, as we receive the ashes of repentance in the sign of the holy cross upon our foreheads, and hear once again that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. It is the Lenten road, which this year will take us through the seven penitential Psalms as we meditate upon God’s gift of forgiveness in Christ. It is the road through Holy Week, the shouts of “Hosanna,” “Save now!” on Palm Sunday, the institution of the Lord’s Supper and the command to love one another on Maundy Thursday, our Lord’s crucifixion for our sins on Good Friday, the Vigil on Holy Saturday, all culminating in the joyous celebration of His bodily resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. Lent is a 40-day journey. It can be taxing, at times. That is why we need this strength Jesus gives us in this glimpse of His glory. Lent is a time for deep reflection on our sin and our inability to save ourselves or make ourselves righteous. It is a time for deep meditation on the gift of our Savior, God in human flesh who became one of us and shed His precious blood for our forgiveness, life, and salvation, who died the death that we deserve on account of our sins so that we could be restored to the Father and have eternal life. It is a time of receiving God’s gifts in His Word and the blessed Sacrament of His body and blood. It is a time to discipline the flesh, to crucify the sinful nature. Some may fast. Some may give up something for Lent. Some may not give up anything, which is perfectly fine. This is a free thing. Some may add a discipline for Lent. Hopefully you will all come to our midweek services as part of your Lenten discipline, and enjoy the devotion books that are in your mailboxes. Lent is a time for coming down the mountain and being immersed in the theology of the cross. The Transfiguration reminds us of the glory Jesus possesses as true God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, but which He gave up for our sakes, taking on the form of a servant and humbling Himself, even to the point of death on the cross. The Transfiguration reminds us that because of His suffering and death, God has highly exalted Jesus in His resurrection and ascension, and bestowed on Him the Name that is above every name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:5-11).

In fact, the great glory of Jesus Christ is this: Though He is very God of very God, which is amply demonstrated in the Transfiguration, He willingly gives Himself into death. For you. For you and for all people. Jesus’ glory is the cross upon which He is lifted up, the King of glory who purchases His people for Himself with His own blood, that they might live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in righteousness and purity forever. The mission of God, the salvation of the world, cannot be accomplished if Jesus stays up on the mountain in His divine radiance. The salvation of the world, your salvation, beloved, can only be accomplished by Jesus descending the mountain and going to Jerusalem where He will accomplish His exodus, being handed over to His enemies by the Apostle Judas to suffer at the hands of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council, and be put to death by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, to be crucified, to die, and be placed in a tomb. And then on the third day to rise again. That’s when the glory will shine again. At His resurrection. At Easter. First must come the cross. First must come suffering. First must come death. That is how God accomplishes His mission, your salvation. This glory is not just a spectacular show. It is the hard-won glory of suffering, death, and resurrection. For you.

So listen to Jesus, the Father’s beloved Son. Because in listening to Him you receive all the benefits of His life, death, and resurrection. In listening to Him, by His precious Word, you have life. And that life is eternal and abundant. Do not listen to other voices. Do not listen to the devil and his temptations. Do not listen to the world and its mockery. Do not listen to your sad sack of flesh as it pines after glorious and emotional mountaintop experiences. Do not look for grandiose visions. Look to Jesus only. Listen to Jesus only. Listen to Him in His inspired and inerrant Word, the Holy Scriptures. Listen to Him in preaching and Absolution. Behold Him in His Sacraments. Here God’s Son, clothed in human flesh, comes to you with salvation. Behold His pierced hands and feet and side, His crown of thorns. These are the wounds of God, by which God has made you His own. You will see Him in glory in heaven. Until then, behold the wounds, take up your cross, and follow Him on His Lenten journey. Listen to Him. His Word will sustain you. In the midst of death, His Word gives you life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)

February 12, 2012
Text: Mark 1:40-45

Cleansing is what the man needed. Leprosy had rendered him ceremonially unclean according to the Law of Moses. That meant that not only was this man grotesquely disfigured by a very painful disease (leprosy is a bacterial disease that severely damages the skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes), he also became a social outcast. He could not be near other people. He could not be in the company of his friends or his family. He was not allowed to attend church services at the local synagogue. When people came to close to him, he had to shout out the warning, “Unclean, unclean.” Many thought that leprosy and other afflictions were punishments from God on account of the sufferer’s sins, and though this is not the case, many today believe likewise. Needless to say, leprosy had rendered this man among the walking dead. He could not work. He could not live in community. He could do nothing but sit and beg. And warn people away. Leprosy was utterly devastating in the fullest sense of the word.

But then Jesus comes on the scene. The man does not warn Jesus away. The man does not call out “unclean, unclean,” as he is supposed to. Instead, he runs to Jesus. He falls down on his knees before the Savior and implores Him: “If you will, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40; ESV). If You will, You can clean up my skin, erase this debilitating disease. If You will, You can make me ceremonially clean according to the Law of Moses. If You will, You can restore me to my family and friends, to the synagogue, to society. The man does not doubt Jesus’ ability to perform the healing. By his pleading, he confesses that Jesus is the very One who can help. But he leaves the manner and timing of the healing in the hands of his gracious Lord. It is the same as if he said, “Thy will be done.” And we learn something of prayer here, from the man with leprosy. When we pray for things that God does not expressly promise to give us in His Word, like temporal healing from disease, we always add, “Thy will be done.” For God knows what is best for us. In His infinite wisdom, He knows how best to accomplish His good and gracious will in our lives, what will be beneficial for our lives in Him, for our very salvation. We know that God ultimately will heal us in body and soul, in the resurrection. But we do not know if He will heal our bodies in this earthly life. And so, when we pray for healing, we leave the timing and that manner of healing up to Him. We simply confess along with the leper: “If you will, you can make me clean.”

Our Lord is compassionate, gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love. Often He does extend His hand of healing. And that is precisely what He did for the leper in our text. “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean’” (v. 41). The first time the leper had been touched since his dread disease had been revealed. This, by the way, made Jesus ceremonially unclean, which makes the most important theological point of our text: Jesus takes our uncleanness into Himself and bears it all the way to the cross. But He doesn’t just take away what is bad in us. He gives us what is good in Him. He makes the man clean by giving him His own cleanness: physical, ceremonial, social, spiritual. With great compassion, Jesus touches the man. And He speaks His healing Word. “I will; be clean.” And the man is clean. Because that is how powerful the Word of our Lord Jesus is.

Uncleanness in the ceremonial Law of the Old Testament is a symbol of our sin. Our real uncleanness, our real leprosy, is sin. In the Old Testament, a leper who had been healed was to go and present himself to the priest for inspection, bathe himself in water, and make several sacrifices, including two lambs, or if the leper is poor, one lamb, to be offered as a guilt offering (Lev. 14). And, of course, the imagery is clear here, and very important. The lamb points to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who touches us with His true body and blood and cleanses us of our uncleanness, and is the sacrifice for our guilt before God. We, too, bathe in the water of Baptism, and we are thus cleansed. Our sins are covered in Baptism with the blood of the sacrificial Lamb, the sinless Son of God, Jesus Christ.

The man in our text was to go and show himself to the priest and offer for his cleansing that which Moses commanded, “for a proof to them,” (v. 44), as a testimony against their hard hearts, as a witness that Jesus had, in fact, cleansed the man of his leprosy, as a witness that Messiah had arrived in the person of Jesus. Interestingly enough, Jesus did not want the man blabbing about the miracle all over town, and the reason becomes clear enough when the man does exactly the opposite of what Jesus commands: He does not go to the priest. Instead, he talks freely about the miracle and spreads the news “so that Jesus could not longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter” (v. 45). This is not a verse against evangelism. But the man didn’t follow Jesus’ evangelism instructions. Note this very carefully, dear Christians: We are to do evangelism according to Jesus’ instructions and not according to our own notions of what might produce the best results. Otherwise, we might get in the way of Jesus’ mission in spite of ourselves. The priest does not receive the evangelism, does not receive the man’s testimony. Rather, Jesus job is made more difficult by a mass of people who want all sorts of things from Him, but the last thing they want is cleansing from sin. Which is to say, they miss the whole point of the miracle in the first place. Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb of God who comes to take away our sin, our uncleanness, and give us His cleanness, His righteousness in exchange.

And it all happens in Baptism. You may think, as Naaman did in our Old Testament lesson (2 Kings 5:1-14), that to be cleansed of leprosy, cleansed of sin, by taking a bath, is the silliest notion any prophet has ever proposed. You may say to yourself, “How can water do such great things?” And, of course, the answer is quite elegantly stated by Dr. Luther in the Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986): “Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things.” For you see, “without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: ‘He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.’ [Titus 3:5-8]”. Naaman thought it was a ridiculous notion that washing seven times in the dirty, stinky Jordan River would cleanse and restore him. And ordinarily he would be right. Water, especially dirty, stinky water like that in the Jordan, cannot do these things. Except when the Word of God is added. The Word is the power in the water. Naaman’s servants convince him to give it a try. He dips himself once. No healing. He dips himself again. No healing. He dips himself six times. No healing. But the seventh time, the full number prescribed by the Word of the LORD, brings about the cleansing and restoration that Naaman so desperately needs. How can water do such a great thing? Certainly not just the water does this, but the Word of God in and with the water. And so it is with Baptism. The Word and Name of God delivers full cleansing from the leprosy of sin, full restoration of the sinner in relationship with God, because God says so. It is not the water that does it, but the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. For our Lord Jesus commanded His Church to make disciples of all nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), and He promises, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).

Cleansing is what you need. Sin has rendered you unclean according to the Law of God. Sin has made you spiritually grotesquely disfigured. It has cut you off from God. It has cut you off from other people. It has made you subject to death and eternal condemnation in hell. But now Jesus has come on the scene. And His whole will is to cleanse you. Beloved, fall before your Lord Jesus in repentance, believing that He can cleanse you, that He is your only help, your only hope. He says to you this morning precisely what He said to the leper in our text: “I will; be clean.” He is the priest to which you are to present yourself. He bathes you in the cleansing waters of Baptism. And He Himself is the sacrificial Lamb of your guilt offering. He offers Himself in your behalf on the altar of the cross. Now you are cleansed. Now you are restored in fellowship to God. Now you are restored in relationship with other people. Now you have life and the eternal joy of heaven and the resurrection. Beloved, you are clean! Beloved, you are free! Which is to say, you are Baptized. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)

February 5, 2012
Text: Mark 1:29-39

Beloved in the Lord, perhaps it could go without saying, but the fact is, you called me here to preach the Gospel. God called me here, through you, His people, to preach, and to administer the holy Sacraments. And so in the words of St. Paul in our Epistle lesson, “necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16; ESV). Paul was sent as an apostle of Jesus Christ to preach. I have been called into the ministry and ordained to preach. And not just any word. I am called to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It is the same message Paul was called to preach. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that by His life, death, and resurrection, all your sins are forgiven, and you have eternal life. In preaching that, St. Paul and all the Apostles and all Christian ministers throughout the history of Christendom do nothing but continue the preaching of Jesus Himself. Jesus says in our Gospel lesson: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:38). Jesus came to preach. “And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (v. 39). It is a powerful preaching, this preaching of Jesus, for it always does what it says. It declares sins forgiven, and they are forgiven. It directs the hearer to trust in Jesus Christ, and faith is created by the Holy Spirit, working in that Word. Jesus preaches, and demons must flee. Jesus came to preach, and blessed are they who hear that Word and receive it with great rejoicing, clinging to that Word for their very eternal lives.

Too often we come to Jesus desiring something other than preaching and His Word. In fact, too often what we desire from Jesus we desire to the exclusion of preaching and His Word. We desire gifts that do not deliver the benefits of His crucifixion and resurrection, that do not deliver the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and restored fellowship with God. What I mean is, too often we come to Jesus, not so that He can take away our guilt, but so that we feel better about ourselves. We come to Him for affirmation, rather than forgiveness. Or we come to Him to be entertained, or to be inspired (in that not-so-biblical way of speaking about inspiration), to enjoy warm feelings, to compare ourselves and our superior morality to others (judging them), or perhaps to get a holy pep-talk for the coming weak. We come to Him for principles that will lead to a successful life, to health, wealth, and prosperity. Maybe we come to Him because hanging out with Him for an hour or so at church gives us status in the community. Perhaps we come to Him simply out of a feeling of duty, as though the mere outward act of coming to church gives one points with God. The fact of the matter is, too often we come to Jesus, come to church, for the wrong reasons, and all of us, without exception, break the Third Commandment by despising God’s Word, not holding it sacred, not gladly hearing and learning it. We come for the wrong reasons, or we don’t come at all. We come expecting Jesus to deliver something He doesn’t. And when He doesn’t, we blame the preacher, or the boring old liturgy, or the annoying family the next pew over. Repent, beloved. Jesus came to preach. And He continues to preach in the Word of His Apostles and Prophets as recorded in Holy Scripture, and in the ministry of His called and ordained servants. That is why you come to church. That is why you come to Jesus. For the Word. For preaching. For Supper. So that the Word can have its way with you, bringing you to repentance and faith, forgiving your sins, and giving you eternal life.

Jesus’ miracles of healing were all about the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The wages of sin is death. Sin is the cause of all sickness and suffering and heartache and disease. None of these things would exist had sin not entered the world by the craftiness of that wily serpent, the devil. Jesus comes, reversing all of this, casting out demons and healing diseases. He is bringing life where there is only death. He comes in compassion, healing by His Word and His touch. With great compassion, Jesus took special care to take Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand… and yes, Peter was married! So much for clerical celibacy… He took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and raised her up (the same Greek word used for Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and our own resurrection from the dead!), and the fever left her (the Greek word translated “left” here being the same word as forgiveness!). Jesus’ healing is all about the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. It’s about death and resurrection. And here’s the point: The people who were coming to Jesus for healing desired something other than preaching and God’s Word. They desired something to the exclusion of preaching and God’s Word. They had missed the forest for the trees. They were all concerned with the miracles and the healing, but they didn’t see that this was all about eternal healing, eternal life, delivered in the forgiveness of sins that could only come from God in the flesh now standing before them.

Of course, it wasn’t wrong for them to come to Jesus for healing. After all, who do you go to in your time of need if not your Savior, Jesus Christ? You come to Him when you are sick or suffering. You come to Him in prayer, believing His promise, “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Ps. 50:15). “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). No, it is not wrong to come to Jesus for healing. What is wrong is to look to Jesus only for physical healing, to see Him only as some sort of magician or witch doctor, to miss, to refuse to see, the purpose of the healings, which is to show that this man is the Son of God, and He brings eternal healing, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

If all Jesus offers is physical healing, and temporary physical healing at that, for all that He healed later died… if that is all Jesus offers, He is a poor Savior, indeed. The fact is, not everyone was healed that day, in our Gospel. Peter’s mother-in-law was healed. Many who had camped out on Peter’s front lawn throughout the evening were healed. Jesus spent the whole night healing, out of compassion for those who were sick and suffering and afflicted by demons. But early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus slipped away. He went out to a desolate place to pray, to lay His heart before His heavenly Father and to receive strength from God. And as a side note here, Jesus, in His human nature, gets tired. But notice what He does when He is tired. One would think He would sleep in after a late night of taxing labor. Instead He rises even earlier for prayer. When Jesus is tired, He makes a special point of making time for prayer and communion with God. We do well to follow His example. At any rate, He leaves the house and goes to a desolate place. Everyone is looking for Him. There are more who need healing. When Peter finds the Lord, he urges Jesus to come back and finish the job. But Jesus has another idea. “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:38). The crowd back at Peter’s house had missed the point of Jesus’ coming. He did not come to be a miracle worker. Jesus came to preach. Now it was time to take that preaching to all the little towns in Galilee, and by the Word of the Gospel, to cast out demons.

Now, dear friends, do not miss the point of what we’re doing here, or rather, what Jesus is doing here among us. He is not here to meet our false expectations or felt needs. That would be a poor Savior, indeed. The Lord Jesus is here among us, true God and true man, in His flesh, to grant us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through His Word. He is here to put us to death with His Law, and raise us up to new life with His Gospel. And understand: This is the healing you really need. Because in forgiving your sins, death no longer has a claim on you. Jesus has claimed you for Himself. And if you belong to Jesus, you have eternal life. Sometimes Jesus does meet your felt needs. Often, Jesus does heal your diseases. Every sickness from which you recovered is a healing from Jesus. Don’t take that for granted. But these healings are not the goal. They are means to an end, and not the end itself. The end, the goal, is eternal life in Christ. And you receive that in the Word. Jesus came to preach. And He sent out preachers to continue that preaching. St. Paul was sent to preach. I was called to preach. A necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel. Because the Gospel is all that matters. The Gospel is the only reason we have pastors. The Gospel is the only reason there is a holy Christian Church. The Gospel delivers Jesus, who by His death has made His healing universal, for all people. The Gospel delivers Jesus, who forgives all your sins, and by whose life, death, and resurrection, you have life forever. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.