Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (B)

January 25, 2015
Text: Mark 1:14-20

            Our Lord Jesus Christ is THE Preacher in Christian Church, and He is the content of all Christian preaching.  THE Preacher, the content of the preaching.  So it is that Jesus came into Galilee, preaching, “proclaiming the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14; ESV).  And the Gospel of God is this: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (v. 15).  The Kingdom of God is none other than Jesus Himself, whom God sent into the world at just the right time to redeem the world by His blood and death.  The Kingdom of God is all those whom the crucified and risen Lord Jesus has drawn to Himself, to be His own, to live under Him… You.  This is good news for a world under the tyranny of Satan.  The word “Gospel” means “good news.”  Jesus proclaims the good news that He has broken into the world to deliver you from the power of Satan, from the slavery of your own sin, and from the destiny of death and eternal condemnation.  And so the message of all Christian preaching is that which Jesus proclaims: Now is the time!  Jesus has come!  “(R)epent and believe in the gospel” (v. 15).  Turn from sin, from Satan, and from all that holds you captive and believe what Jesus says.  Believe what He has come to do.  Believe that He saves you.  Believe it and it is yours.  No conditions.  No caveats or qualifiers.  Believe in Jesus as your Savior and you possess His salvation full and free.
            Now our Lord, 40 days after His resurrection from the dead, ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  It is not that He left us.  After all, He promised, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).  He is present with us, with His Church, ruling over His Kingdom, chiefly by means of His Word and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  But His is a hidden presence.  He is hidden under these means.  But THE Preacher has not left us without His preaching.  He has given us Apostles, even as He gave us the prophets of old.  The word “apostle” means “sent one.”  An apostle is one officially sent to execute a very specific responsibility on behalf of the one sending him.  And in the matter for which he is sent, the apostle has all the authority of the one sending him.  That His message might be proclaimed in all the earth, our Lord Jesus chose Twelve Apostles, among whom are Peter and Andrew, James and John, whom He calls to follow Him in our Holy Gospel this morning.  These Apostles are officially sent to proclaim a message from Jesus, the King.  In this matter they possess all the authority of Christ Himself.  When you hear the Apostles, you hear Jesus.  And their message is nothing new.  It is what Jesus, the Preacher, preached.  They preach the Gospel of God.  They preach the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for you.  They preach: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
            When Jesus called these two sets of brothers in our text, He found them doing the work of fishermen, their family profession.  Simon and Andrew were casting their nets.  James and John were mending theirs.  “Follow me,” Jesus tells them, “and I will make you become fishers of men” (v. 17).  We love this text, and all of us memorized it in Sunday School or VBS.  Usually this verse is held out to us as Jesus’ admonition that we all get busy evangelizing, that He makes us all fishers of men sent out to catch people for the Kingdom.  Now, of course, it is certainly true that we should all speak of Jesus in our daily lives and vocations, to our family members and friends and neighbors and those around us.  It is certainly true that we should confess the faith, invite people to Church, and in general speak and act in such a way that people know the hope that is in us and want to have that hope in themselves.  There are many texts that speak of this.  But that is not really what this Gospel is about.  This is a Holy Ministry text.  The Apostles are called away from their profession into a new vocation as official spokesmen for Jesus.  In other words, pastors, preachers, and in this case, a special office that only exists in the infancy of the New Testament Church: Apostles.  Jesus is giving His Church a gift in this text: The Office of the Holy Ministry, that by the preaching of His Word, including the visible Sacramental Word, you and I come to saving faith in Him.  Our Confessions put it this way: “To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments.  Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.  And the Gospel teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit of Christ, when we believe this” (Tappert, AC V:1-3).
            It is not by accident that our Lord compares the Apostolic work of Gospel ministry to that of fishermen.  Later in His ministry, Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to “a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind” (Matt. 13:47).  That is, by the preaching of the Gospel, believers are gathered to Christ in His Church.  When Simon and Andrew are called to follow Jesus, Mark tells us that “immediately they left their [literal] nets and followed him” (Mark 1:18).  Interesting Greek word here for “left.”  Though that is certainly the intended meaning, it can also mean “forgave.”  If I may be so bold as to translate it imaginatively, “they forgave their nets,” which points us to their new work as Apostles.  If the net is the Kingdom, the Church of Jesus Christ, the Apostles and the ministers who follow in their tradition are to be about the work of forgiving the nets, forgiving the sinners who have been caught by the Gospel proclamation.  So also James and John.  When Jesus calls them, they are in their boat “mending the nets” (v. 19).  The word for “mending” may also be translated “restoring.”  The Apostles and the ministers who follow in their tradition are to be about the work of restoring the nets, restoring sinners to the Father by proclaiming and distributing the saving and reconciling work of Jesus in Word and Sacrament.  Forgiving and restoring.  That is the work of Apostolic ministry.  That is what the Apostles are officially sent by Jesus to do.  That is the goal of the proclamation of the Gospel of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” 
            Now the Apostles are no longer with us in this world.  They all met their martyrdom in one way or another.  They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the Name of Jesus (Cf. Acts 5:41).  They join us now at the altar with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  But they still preach to us.  They preach to us in Holy Scripture.  They are still entrusted with the Apostolic message, the preaching of Jesus Christ.  It is recorded in the inspired and inerrant Word of God, the Bible.  And so also, the Lord Jesus continues to send men to speak for Him.  They are not Apostles, but they are given to speak the Word the Apostles spoke, which is the Word of Jesus.  They are the Christian pastors.  Like the Apostles, their message is nothing new.  It is what Jesus, the Preacher, preached.  And it still has all the authority of Jesus Himself, so that when you hear a preacher preaching the Word of God, you hear Jesus Himself.  When your pastor says, “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit,” that is as sure and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with you Himself… because He has dealt with you Himself, behind the mask of the Office of the Ministry.  When the pastor baptizes, it is Jesus who baptizes.  When the pastor proclaims the Scriptures, it is Jesus calling you to repent and believe in the Gospel.  When the pastor consecrates the bread and wine, it is Jesus giving you His true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  In the Office of the Holy Ministry, Jesus continues to fish for men.  The fish are gathered in the Gospel nets.  They are forgiven and restored. 

            And the great twist in this whole thing is that, as a fish in the net of Jesus’ Kingdom, it is not that you are sold at the fish market, sliced open, roasted, and gobbled up.  Our Lord catches you, not for death, but for life.  To swim in the pristine waters of your Baptism.  To live each of your days in the shadow of His cross, repenting of your sins, and believing that in Christ your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life.  Jesus, THE Preacher, and the content of the preaching, sends His messengers, Apostles and pastors, to speak Him into your ears and place Him on your tongue.  And so hearing and eating and drinking, you believe.  And believing, you have… You have Jesus, and He has you.  And so, the Kingdom of God is at hand.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (B)

January 18, 2015
Text: John 1:43-51

            The Lord Jesus calls you as He called Philip in our Holy Gospel: “Follow me” (John 1:43; ESV).  The Lord calls you in Baptism.  He calls you in His holy Word.  To follow Jesus is to be His disciple, to follow in His discipline.  It is to hear and keep His Word, to receive His teaching, to follow in the way that He goes.  And the way that He goes is the way of the cross.  So to follow Jesus is also to suffer the crosses He lays upon you, and to sacrifice yourself for the good of your neighbor.  That means to give of what you’ve been given, relying on the Lord to provide whatever you lack.  That means to give your life, if necessary, for the sake of your neighbor, as Christ gave His life to save you for life eternal.  Part of what brings on this suffering and sacrifice is your Christian position regarding the culturally contentious issues of the day.  And so this is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, always the Sunday prior to the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, and Christians are unapologetically pro-life.  How could we be anything else, having freely received the Gospel of life in Christ?  Now, this is not the Church taking political sides in terms of party affiliation or elections, though we are often accused of that very thing.  But as the Church of Jesus Christ, entrusted with the proclamation of God’s holy Word, we are to be a prophetic voice in the wilderness of this culture of death.  Let me tell you,  none of the prophets lived a cross-free life, and very few of them died of old age.  The Church has an obligation to the unborn to oppose this holocaust, estimated at over 57 million abortions since Roe v. Wade.  57 million!  This is THE issue of our time.  And don’t think that God will allow this to go on forever.  Those who follow Jesus Christ are charged with calling the culture to repentance, speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, and fostering culture of life and forgiveness and grace in Christ.  So too, the Church ought to be on the front lines of helping unwed mothers and those in crisis pregnancy situations, as well as ministering to women who have had an abortion, and the men involved in those decisions.  There is help, and there is healing in Christ.
            Then there is the marriage issue and the whole host of sexual issues the Church is called to address.  St. Paul addresses these in our Epistle: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body… Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:13, 18).  Your body is sacred, redeemed by our Lord’s bodily death and resurrection for you.  Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and God will raise it again on the Last Day to live forever with Him, pure and holy.  You should treat it that way.  Your body is not your own, to do with as you please.  It was bought at a price, the precious blood of Jesus.  Therefore glorify God with your body (vv. 19-20).  You should not have sex outside of marriage.  You should not have sex before marriage.  You should not live together outside of marriage.  You should not have sexual relations with those of your same gender.  You should live chaste and decent lives in what you say and do, and husbands and wives love and honor each other.   These things should go without saying for the Christian, but they don’t.  So St. Paul has to say them, and so do I, and so do you as the holy Church. We are once again to be a prophetic voice in the wilderness of this world, to hold up marriage as God intends it, the lifelong union of one man and one woman, the basic building block of society, charged with the care and protection of children.  And the Church must be on the front lines of care for those who are trapped in sexual immorality, for homosexuals, for the divorced, for the victimized, for the lonely, always by the clear light of God’s holy Word, always in light of His will for marriage and sexuality as His good gifts.  Such proclamation won’t win you any popularity contests with the culture.  The culture will call you haters, prudes, and hypocrites.  They may even persecute you.  Because these are also sacred issues for the culture.  We’re hitting on the idolatry of our society.  The sexual issues go hand in hand with abortion.  They both have to do with the desire for uninhibited sexual activity, with whomever or whatever you want, completely divorced from the obligations of commitment and procreation.  And there really is nothing new under the sun.  Just as the ancient cults had their temple prostitutes and human sacrifice, we have the hyper-sexualization of the culture and abortion.  Speak against those and you will suffer the cross.  But Jesus, your crucified Lord, says to you: “Follow me.”
            Following Jesus is hard.  You would rather follow other voices.  You would rather go along to get along with the culture, to avoid controversies in your family and among your friends.  And you would rather cater to your own fleshly desires and comfort than have to follow after Jesus and suffer.  Repent.  Our Lord calls you to follow Him on the way of the cross, to suffer and die, and in this way to live with Him.  He will raise you up.  You can suffer now in the confidence of that promise.  Jesus called Philip, and Philip (it is believed) was crucified and stoned to death while hanging on the cross.  Why?  Because he preached the Gospel.  He followed Christ.  Jesus called Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew), and Nathanael (it is believed) was flayed alive and crucified by the pagan priests in Armenia.  Because he preached the Gospel.  He followed Christ.  And Jesus called St. Peter, whose confession of Christ we also commemorate today (Cf. Mark 8:27-35), and Peter (it is believed) was crucified upside down in Rome the same day St. Paul was beheaded in Rome.  Because they preached the Gospel.  They followed Christ.  These men followed Christ, literally, to the cross.  They died, and yet they live.  Because following Jesus on the way of the cross, you also follow Him on the way of the empty tomb.  You follow Him to eternal life.  You follow Him to the resurrection.  “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Cor. 6:14). 
            So you confess the faith.  You speak the truth in love.  And most importantly you proclaim Christ as Savior.  This is actually a lot less difficult than we make it.  Evangelism is really quite simple.  Philip is our model here.  How does he witness to Nathanael?  He simply invites him to come and meet Jesus.  “Come and see,” he says (John 1:46), and that is our whole evangelism program in one simple phrase.  Invite people to come and see.  Invite people to Church.  If they ask you to give an account for the hope that you have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15), give them the basics of the Creed.  And then invite to them to come here and see for themselves.  Understand, whether they believe or not isn’t up to you.  That’s the Holy Spirit’s problem.  You can’t convert anyone.  Only He can.  By the Word.  By Baptism.  He calls others in the same way you were called, by the Means of Grace. 
            For in these Means of Grace, the Word and the Sacraments, you see Christ crucified for sinners, Christ risen for you.  And you invite others to come and see Jesus of Nazareth in the Means of Grace for them.  We often think that for the Church to be relevant to the culture today, we have to make it flashy, exciting, cutting edge.  We have to spice up the message with special effects.  Over against this, Jesus says that Nathanael will see something even greater than His demonstration of miraculous foreknowledge, seeing and knowing Nathanael even while He was under the fig tree.  He says that Nathanael “will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (v. 51).  Nathanael will see Jacob’s ladder (Gen. 28), the bridge between God in heaven and this fallen world.  And so will you, here, in the Means of Grace.  The ladder is the cross.  The bridge by which sinner cross to heaven is the Son of Man lifted up.  The way to God is Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
            “Follow me,” says Jesus.  And you do.  You follow His voice in preaching and Scripture.  You follow Him through the flood of your Baptism into Christ, and to the Table of His Body and Blood.  You follow Him through the cross and suffering, to resurrection and eternal life.  With Him there is forgiveness of all your sins, forgiveness for all those times you’ve failed to speak, failed to act, failed to serve and sacrifice and suffer… failed to follow.  With Him there is righteousness.  With Him there is, in the end, peace.  It isn’t easy to be a disciple of Jesus.  Following Him can be perilous in this body and life.  But His is the way of life eternal.  His is the way of truth.  Following Jesus, you are safe.  Following Jesus, you are always on the right path.  And so, thanks be to God, by His grace and by His Spirit, by His precious work in you, you ever follow the voice of your Good Shepherd as He calls to you: “Follow me.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Our Lord (B)
January 11, 2015

Text: Mark 1:4-11

            “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness” (Mark 1:4; ESV).  The people, all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem, were going out to the wilderness to be baptized by John in the River Jordan (v. 5).  They come to the wilderness, to the wild, to the place of nothingness, to the place of death.  They come to the place where the only water is the dirty, stinking, rancid water of the Jordan.  But they come in their thirst.  Their physical surroundings serve as vivid testimony to their own spiritual reality.  They are parched.  They are dying.  They are dead.  Sin has done this.  Sin has separated them from God, the Lord and Giver of Life.  Sin has turned them into dirty, stinking, rancid corpses.  But John comes to this place of death with a Word from the living God.  John comes into the wilderness “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 4).  It is a Word of life in the midst of death.  It is water in the dessert, water pure and clean, refreshing and life-giving.  The gift brought about by this Word is nothing less than the resurrection of the dead, and everlasting life. 
            With what eagerness the people of Judea and Jerusalem sought this refreshing and revivifying Word, because they knew they were in the wilderness.  What about you?  Do you know that you, too, are in the wilderness, the wild, the place of nothingness, the place of death?  The unbelieving world, the fallenness of creation, the fallen nature of your own sinful flesh, these are the marks of the wilderness.  I think somewhere deep down in the subconscious of every person there is some knowledge of the emptiness and thirst of the human soul.  That is why all of us humans, Christians included, are constantly striving to fill ourselves and slake our thirst with the stuff of this world.  We always want more money, more possessions, more power, more pleasure.  We always seek the approval and accolades of men.  We always seek new experiences of the world.  We have our bucket lists, the things we want to do before we die.  Now, not all of these things are bad in and of themselves.  But we think these things will fulfill us.  We think these things will slake our thirst.  We seek salvation in the stuff of this world.  And this is like slaking your thirst in the wilderness by drinking sand.  But it is even worse than that.  Because in seeking your fulfillment from these things of the world, you reject the living, life-giving water of God.  You reject His Spirit.  You reject Jesus.  And that is like preferring to drink sand when a man is holding out to you a skin of pure, clean, life-giving water.  It’s madness.  But that’s the blindness of our sinful flesh.
            But there is good news.  Your Lord Jesus comes right into this wilderness, this place of nothingness, this place of death, to be baptized by John in the River Jordan (v. 9).  He comes to the place where sin has been repented, confessed, washed away in Baptism, forgiven, absolved.  Now of course Jesus, the sinless Son of God, does not need Baptism.  He does not need to repent.  He has no sin to repent of.  But He wades into the dirty, stinking, rancid waters of the Jordan, and He soaks up all the sins that had been washed away there, sloughed off in Confession, scrubbed away in repentance.  He soaks it all into Himself, the sins of the people baptized by St. John, the sins of the Baptized in all generations, the sin of the world, your sin.  Your death.  Your condemnation.  And He leaves in its place all the benefits of Christian Baptism.  His righteousness.  His life.  His salvation.  By His Baptism in the Jordan, our Lord Jesus, as Luther prays in his Flood Prayer, “sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin” (LSB 269).  He is baptized into you, that you may be baptized into Him.  And what happens to Him at His Baptism becomes your blessed reality in your Baptism.  Heaven is torn open.  You have free access to God and an eternal home with Him in His Kingdom.  The Holy Spirit descends upon you and dwells with you, hovering over the face of the baptismal waters, sanctifying you and preserving you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ.  And the Father says of you at the font what He said of Jesus in the Jordan: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (v. 11).
            Yes, God is well pleased with you.  He calls you “son,” and puts His Name on you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He bids you call on Him as your Father, and He hears, and He answers.  Because you are in Jesus.  You are baptized into Christ.  So you are no longer empty.  You are no longer enslaved to sin and death.  You are no longer condemned.  You are filled with Christ and His righteousness.  You are alive in Christ, who died for you, and is risen from the dead.  He has opened heaven, and no one can shut it.  Not even your sin.  Because you are baptized, a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Your sin is gone. 
            Your Baptism into Christ is life-giving water in the wilderness.  You are still in the wilderness, but you are no longer of it.  You are in the wilderness as long as you live in this fallen world, as long as you live in your fallen flesh.  And because you live in this wilderness, you will still be tempted to slake your thirst, to be filled with all that is not your Baptism, with all that is not Jesus.  You will still be tempted to gulp down the sand.  And because you still have the old sinful flesh plaguing you, often you will take a big swig of wilderness soil.  You still sin.  But when you do, you have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous, who has filled you with Himself.  You are still baptized.  So you return to your Baptism.  You repent.  You confess.  You are absolved, forgiven, refreshed, set free.  You live each day in the wilderness of this world under a new reality.  God sustains you and fills you with the water of life. 
            And you will live, forever.  And you have new life in Christ already, now.  You live in thanksgiving and praise for all that God has accomplished in Jesus’ Baptism, and yours, in the Great Exchange that takes place by Baptism, whereby all that is yours Christ takes upon Himself, and all that is Christ’s He gives to you, freely and graciously.  You live to love and sacrifice for your neighbor, to be a little christ to him.  The old you is dead.  The new you in Christ is risen and living.  For “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, on order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).  That newness of life is the Christian life, the life lived in the wilderness sustained by the baptismal water of life.  It is the new creation in Christ.  It is the life filled with the Holy Spirit, as a child of the Father.

            The Lord sends you out into the wilderness, but He also sends His man there, your pastor, to preach, to proclaim a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, to pour out upon you and into you the water of life.  The world will never fill you and it will never slake your thirst.  But Jesus will, here in His Word and Sacraments.  “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Ps. 42:1).  The Lord hears your prayer, and He answers.  The voice of the Lord is over the waters (Ps. 29:3).  The waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert (Is. 35:6), for God has spoken.  You are baptized.  You are His.  And you are full.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.