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We are Children of God April 19, 2015

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1 John 3:1-7

Third Sunday of Easter

April 19, 2015

 

Focus:  God is giving us new birth in the blood and image of His Son.

Function:  That the hearers purify themselves through water and the Word.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

We are Children of God

 

It’s a question that’s always nagging at us.  It’s always there.  Sure, it may sound a little different for each of us, and it might change a little as we move through different points in our lives, but it’s always there.  Who am I and who do I want to be?

When we’re really little, that’s as simple as what would you like to do this summer?  What do you want to be when you grow up?  And as we start growing up, the question changes just a little.  What do you want to study?  What do you want to do with your life?  What job do you see yourself in when you graduate?  Those are some of the very questions that our 10th graders wrestled with this week at their milestone.

And then it just continues.  Do you want to have a family?  Where would you like to live?  How do you see yourself in retirement?  And on and on it goes.  We all have these questions.  We’re constantly looking forward to the person we want to become and to the things we want to achieve.

Our text actually provides the answer, God’s answer to our question.  John begins “see what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

It’s so important, he emphasizes it three times in these two verses.  “That we should be called children of God; and so we are…Beloved, we are God’s children now.”  There’s something here, there’s something important and exciting here.  There’s something familial here.  The words “Father” and “children” connect us together.

There’s something to this because of how it happened.  You and I weren’t born this way.  You and I didn’t simply arrive as part of God’s family.  It’s really quite the opposite.  We were born in darkness.  We were born in sin.  There’s nothing good here, nothing but brokenness.  So that’s what makes this idea that we’re children of God so remarkable.  It came at a cost.

It’s certainly worth noting that John doesn’t call us sons of God.  Nowhere in his gospel, his letters, or Revelation.  That word, that relationship for John is reserved for only One, the Son of God.  We like to think of family resemblances, that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, or we might look at a child and say they have their mother’s eyes.  This is why John reserves the word Son for Jesus and only Jesus.

It’s because in Him, we have the living, dying and rising again image of God.  Perfect.  The very things that make the Father God are the things we see in Christ.  No darkness, only light.  No sin, only righteousness.  No hatred, only love.  From beginning to end and then some.  He is the spitting image of His Father.

So this is what makes John’s statement so different, so exciting, so worthy of repeating over and over again.  That we might be called children of God doesn’t just happen.  We don’t deserve it and it certainly didn’t come easy.

We were broken.  We were walking in the darkness and had to be rescued, to be brought into the light.  We were living a lie, and had to be redeemed to know the truth.  We were deceiving ourselves by saying that we have no sin, and had to be brought to repentance.  We weren’t born this way, we had to be reborn.

And that is where we come to the promise, the promise that God made to us that where there is water and the Word, there is new life.  Nicodemus might’ve been really confused when Jesus told him that he must be reborn.  He thought it meant he had to crawl back into his mother’s womb.  But it’s the water and the Word that grants rebirth.

It’s because of these promises, promises given to us by God Himself, it’s because of these that we baptize Joseph and Harrison today.  It’s because of these that you came to the font to be baptized.  For it’s right here, it’s right here that God has promised you new life.  It’s right here that He looked at you and said, “You are My child, whom I love.”

The things that we’ve been talking about the last couple of weeks really matter.  It’s the Son’s sacrifice on Good Friday that makes that possible.  It’s the Son’s blood that enables your sins to be washed away in your baptism.  It’s the Son’s rising again on Easter morning that enables you to be reborn.  That was the cost.  The Son laid down His life so that you could be part of the family.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”  We’ve been adopted.  We’ve been made part of the family.

And in the end, when Christ returns, when we see Him face to face, we will live it in the fullest.  When we see Jesus, when we look at the very image of God, that, John says, that’s when we’ll fully be children of God.  That’s when we will fully live in His image, no more darkness, only light.  No more sin, only righteousness.  No more hatred, only love.

And at that point, each and every one of you, even the most difficult of you, will be a joy and a privilege to live with forever, even me.  We are children of God now, and we will be like the Son.

But until then, until then we have to fight.  We have work to do.  John calls on us to purify ourselves, to practice righteousness.  If you’re tempted, purify yourself.  If you’re struggling with substance abuse, purify yourself.  If you’re struggling with rage or deceit, purify yourself.  If you’re wrestling with apathy and just not caring anymore, purify yourself.  If you’re drowning in your own ego and self-centeredness, purify yourself.

Take these struggles, these temptations, these sins and hand them over to the cleansing blood of the Son, the Son who willingly died for you so that you could be part of the family.  Turn away from the darkness, and turn to the light.  That’s the very definition of repentance.

Do not make a practice of sinning.  Stop, cease, desist.  Interrupt it, get in the way of Satan’s plan.  You are not his.  You are a child of God.  That makes us a family, a community, together.  And so we love one another, we respect one another, we honor one another.  We give to one another, we hold one another accountable and responsible.

That goes back to the idea of purifying ourselves. We’re a community, we’re a family, we’re in this together.  It’s in the act of being a community of being a family that we hold each other accountable.  Think about your own family, holding your brother accountable for something or holding your child accountable for something; we are that way as a church, as a family, as God’s family.

And I truly pray that if I were ever stuck in some kind of sin and you called me out for it, I pray that you would call me out for it, but I also pray I would be enough to be able to stand in your presence and say “You’re right, Father, forgive me for I have sinned.”  We are accountable to one another.

In that way, we can be a community of light, not of darkness.  Now, we are the children of God.  And someday, we will be like Jesus, when we have seen Him face to face.  Who am I?  What will I become?  I am a child of God, and what that fully looks like, we will soon find out.

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Crippling Fear April 12, 2015

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John 20:19-31

Second Sunday of Easter

April 12, 2015

 

Focus:  God took a risk in sending us His Son.

Function:  That the hearers step outside their comfort zone for the sake of the gospel.

Structure:  This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel.

 

Crippling Fear

 

All of us, at some point, wrestle with doubt.  We doubt while we sit at the bed of our dying spouse.  We doubt when we come home from work with a pink slip in hand.  We doubt when the to-do list and the calendar start piling up to the point where we just can’t possibly do it all.  We doubt when things are going so well in our lives because we believe we’ve achieved it on our own.

On the Sunday of the year that’s probably better known as Doubting Thomas Sunday, that’s often our main focus.  We focus on the emotion of doubt and we look at how he struggled to believe and how we still struggle to believe.

But we often leave out the other emotion in the text, an emotion that’s caused by doubt, and is even more crippling.  We tend to leave out fear.  Think about those doubts from before.  We fear death.  We fear losing out on the ability to provide for ourselves and our loved ones.  We fear failure and that that would mean letting someone down, even if it’s ourself.  We fear being dependent on someone else for our livelihood.

Crippling fear.  Fear is crippling.  It stops us from doing the things we want to do and it leads us to doing the things we don’t want to do.  We see it in the disciples.  Here they are, the good news of a resurrected Jesus has reached their ears.  And yet, they’re doubting.  They’re doubting that Christ, despite defeating death, can help them overcome their enemies.

It’s a fear, a fear of the unknown, a fear of what life will be like now that Christ is no longer walking among them.  A fear that they will be persecuted by the Jewish leaders and perhaps, even put to death as Jesus was.

The fear was so great, they had gathered together in a house and sealed themselves in.  Crippling fear.

Now, I can’t honestly stand up here and tell you that I have it all figured out.  I can’t honestly stand up here and tell you that I have mastered fear.  But I can share with you my struggle.

It didn’t seem to matter where I went this week, fear was everywhere.  In preparing one of our milestones, the speaker was talking about how parents tend to react as their children grow up.  As a baby, we can control everything.  What they eat, what germs they come into contact with, who gets to touch them.  But as they grow, so does their world, and we can’t control it all anymore.  And so the mind of parent can quickly come up with the worst-case possible scenario, and we drive ourselves nuts.  Parents go crazy and do really weird things.  And while the speaker says it as a joke to break the ice, there’s a lot of truth in what he says.  Crippling fear.

Another struggle this week was the ongoing news stories reminding me of the explosive atmosphere in my hometown right now.  Growing up in St. Louis, you simply knew there were neighborhoods you don’t go.  To this day, there are parts of that city I’ve never seen.  It’s engrained.  And the racial tension right now is only a reminder of how bad things can be.

The other day on Facebook, a friend posted another thing that reminded me of fear.  It was a picture of some words on the side of a building near the corner.  It said, “There’s no way in the world you’d take a young, homeless person in for the night.  Because let’s face it, anything might happen.  You could be robbed, beaten up or even worse.  The thought of it makes you shiver.  They’re having a tough time, but it’s not really your problem.”

Fear of the unknown.  If I were to invite a stranger in need into my house, will they steal from me?  Will they bring drugs or alcohol into my home and the life of my child?  Will they hurt my child?  Will they hurt my wife? Crippling fear.

And then Pastor Fritsch and I had our circuit meeting this week.  And our guest speaker was Pastor Mark Moss, a retired military chaplain who showed us some of the incredible pictures of his time working overseas in Africa, Germany, and elsewhere.  Pictures of terribly poor neighborhoods, but also pictures of some of the damage that was done while he was there, and some of the mortar shells he found nearby.

And before Pastor Moss left us, he shared a story of a navy vessel named the Dorchester, and how after suffering severe damage, it was lost at sea.  You can only imagine what it would feel like to be in the midst of that kind of situation.  Whether it’s in the combat zone or on a sinking ship, crippling fear.

And yet, just after writing about the disciples’ fear, John shares with us these words: “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”  While that may sound safe, hiding behind a quill and parchment, like we do a keyboard, it was anything but.

Many of the writers of Scripture were killed for what they believed.  John, being one of the twelve disciples, saw his friends killed for preaching Christ.  In fact, all eleven of them.  We can’t say he was there, but he saw the persecution, he knew the risks.  Had John allowed fear to cripple him, he would’ve lived a quiet life in hiding for the rest of his days.  And our Bibles would be short five books.

But he didn’t.  “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”  John took the risk, he stepped outside his comfort zone so that you would know about Jesus’ life and about His death and resurrection.

And he wasn’t alone.  The apostles eventually overcame their fear, at least enough to open the door and step outside.  Over the course of the next three hundred years, the Christian faith was illegal.  By sharing it, even just by believing it, you were risking your life.  And yet, it flourished.  We see Peter preach, and baptize three thousand in one day.  We see a court official from Ethiopia believe and take the good news to his queen, to another continent.

And it seems, even today, that where Christianity is persecuted, it continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  We have more Lutheran brothers and sisters in Africa, where they’re being slaughtered by Islamic forces, there are more Lutheran brothers and sisters in Africa than right here in the Unites States.

Parents often step outside their comfort zones and take risks for their children.  Those men and women on the streets of St. Louis need a Savior just as much as we do.  And there are Christians who are taking that step and sharing that good news through acts of service and starting urban churches.

That box from Facebook, when turned just 45 degrees, tells a very different story: “There’s no way in the world you’d turn someone in need away.  Take a young homeless person for example.  You could bring them in for the night, because let’s face it, out on the street absolutely anything might happen.  You could be helping to stop someone being robbed, beaten up or even worse, abused.  It’s cold and lonely out there.  The thought of it makes you shiver.  Young people need a helping hand.  They’re having a tough time, but a safe, secure place would help.  It’s not really your problem, but you could still make a difference.”

Pastor Moss’ photos were full of men and women in uniform taking risks for our safety.  His message to us was full of chaplains, missionaries, being there for them, standing side by side.  And he told us of some of the opportunities and doors that were opened, of Atheists who would come and talk with him because he shared the uniform.  And now, he’s going back overseas.

And the story of the sinking ship, of the Dorchester, is true as well.  As it went down, the four chaplains posted on the crew made sure to safely escort everyone they could and passed out life jackets along the way.  As the ship ran out of life jackets, they handed their own to others.  And when the ship finally began to sink, these four men were seen locking arms together, singing hymns, aboard the Dorchester.

I can’t honestly stand up here and promise you that if you take a risk, God will keep you perfectly safe, that would be too prosperity gospel and simply not true.  I can’t honestly stand up here and tell you I have figured out the perfect balance between comfort and risk.

But I can share with you my Savior.  The Son of God and Son of Man.  Jesus Christ, who, despite being God, came to help us anyway.  He went out of His way, He stepped out of His comfort zone, He took a risk.  Instead of using His powers to crush Rome, He did what was best for everyone else.  In the Garden of Gethsemane that Thursday night, He made the choice I don’t think any of us could, to die for the sins of the world.

And in that blood shed upon the cross, your sins are forgiven.  Those times when you are weak, when you doubt in the Lord, those doubts are forgiven.  In those moments where fear seems to have you overwhelmed to the point of being frozen, Jesus forgives us for being afraid.

But it’s even greater than that.  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ cripples fear!  He conquers our doubts and resting in His promises, we have nothing to fear.  He has promised us many things.  He has promised us a Savior.  He has promised us that He will always be with us.  He has promised us that He will provide for our daily needs.  And in the power of the resurrection, He has promised us victory over death.  Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia!

 

Children’s Message:

What are some things you’re afraid of?

Even grownups are afraid.  Your parents.  Me.

But God tells us in the Bible to fear only one thing: God Himself.

Some things require being cautious and safe, but other times, maybe we need to take the risk, do something that feels embarrassing or maybe even scary.  You guys tell me (Safe/Risk):

 

  • Talking to an adult who’s a stranger.
  • Talking to the kid everyone else makes fun of. Making a new friend.  Loving them like Jesus does.
  • Giving our friend our extra sweater when it’s cold outside and they forgot their coat.
  • Running out into the street to pick up the ball someone kicked.
  • Delivering toys to a home you’ve never been to before.
  • Giving a stray cat a home…
  • Buying lunch for a homeless person.

 

Good job!  Sometimes in life, we’ll have tough choices to make.  And sometimes, we’ll choose not to help someone who really needed it because we were afraid.

 

Thankfully, God forgives us!

He Has Risen; He is Not Here April 5, 2015

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Mark 16:1-8

Easter Sunday

April 5, 2015

 

Focus:  God did as He said…He is Risen.

Function:  That the hearers share the good news…He is Risen indeed, alleluia!

Structure:  This is the historical situation in the text…these are the meanings for us now.

 

He Has Risen; He is Not Here

 

Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!  How do you know that?  Were you there that morning?  Did you get to see the risen Lord?  Did you get to speak with Him, or touch the marks in His hands and His feet?  Were you there to witness the tomb burst open and the crucified Christ raised from the dead?  How can we say with any certainty that it happened at all?

In a sense, that’s precisely how Mark decided to end his gospel.  Right where our gospel reading stops.  No resurrection appearance, no visions of the risen Lord, no accounts of anyone seeing Jesus at all.

But it’s style, it’s a technique.  Think about it.  You’re watching your favorite TV show.  They’ve already announced that tonight is the season finale.  You’re interested, you’re hooked.  You like the show and you want more.

And so tonight’s episode begins.  And the plot twists and turns.  The guy you thought was the good guy, suddenly reveals that he’s been evil the whole time.  And then, at 7:58pm, right before the credits, your favorite character on the show gets put into a terrible spot, and that now evil guy pushes him off a cliff.  Cue the credits.

You’re hooked, you’re interested, and by dangling your favorite part of the show off the edge of a cliff, the producers have you ready for the next season of the show.  You have to know what happens!  It’s the cliffhanger ending and it’s been around for a long time.

As Mark was writing his gospel, his audience wasn’t the same as the other three gospel writers.  He’s writing to the Roman population.  He’s creating an action packed account of Jesus’ ministry in Roman territory.  He sets it up with the preaching, the teaching, the authority, the miracles Christ did in His life.

It’s also the shortest of the gospel accounts, because Mark knows that his hearers aren’t giving him the benefit of the doubt.  This isn’t the fourth Transformers movie where you’re simply going to watch it because of how you really liked the first three.  The Spirit is working through Mark to share the gospel, to work faith in the hearts of the Roman people, but it has to be powerful and concise.

And so we’ve reached 7:58pm.  The end of the gospel is coming up.  Christ has been crucified.  And it’s no coincidence the importance placed on the centurion at the foot of the cross.  Who gets to call Jesus the Son of God?  A Roman.  Not the disciples, not one of the many different Mary’s, but one of the Roman soldiers who crucified Him.

And we get the account of Jesus’ burial.  And then we’re told about one last event.  On the morning after the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome go out to the tomb.  They went with spices in hand, thinking they could put them on Jesus to help mask the smell of decay for a few more days.

As they walked along the road, they remembered just how large the stone was that sealed the entrance to His tomb.  And they started to discuss together how they could possibly move it, or who might be able to move it for them.

And then they arrive and the stone’s already out of the way.  And instead of finding Jesus inside the tomb, they find a young man, dressed in white, and they were alarmed.  Now if you’ve been following along, or know more about the Scriptures, you’ll know this isn’t a man at all.  Because who appears to men, dressed in white, and always has to start by saying something along the lines of “Do not be afraid?”

Interestingly enough, fun little nuggets like that in the entertainment world are called Easter eggs.  A little bonus, something a little extra for someone who really knows the story inside and out.  Or, something you can pick up by reading or watching it again.

So this young man, whom they’ve never met, speaks to them and says, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; He is not here.  See the place where they laid Him.  But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

Unlike today, non-Christian writings of that day don’t try to deny the empty tomb.  They admit it happened, they have no problem saying that Jesus’ body really was gone.  It was a fact.  So instead, if you were to read the writings of Jews or Greeks in that time, you’d find them going out of their way to come up with other ways it could have happened.  His disciples stole His body and it just ended up buried somewhere else.  It was a political move trying to scare the leaders of the day.  Or even some that said it was a work of sorcery.

But the tomb is empty, and the three women don’t know what to do.  And so trembling from fear of what this could possibly mean, but also astonished because someone just told them that Jesus is alive, they left.  Cue the credits.

That’s how Mark ends his gospel.  No resurrection appearances, no denial of conspiracy theories, it just ends.  Knowing that God always has a plan, and that He works through His people, this was an intentional cliffhanger.  Some Romans were hooked.  They were interested, they wanted to know more.  And so they’re going to find out.  They’re going to go to the empty tomb.  They’re going to speak to the soldiers.  They’re going to seek out Christ’s disciples.  They’re going to ask questions, they’re going to hear testimony.  They’re going to be witnessed to about the resurrected Lord.

In many ways, Mark’s gospel ends the same way we live our lives.  We haven’t seen the resurrected Christ.  We’re in the same boat as the three women, the testimony of one man, or angel.  And then we’re told to go and share this good news with the world.  Go and tell.

And we often find ourselves fearing as well.  Fearing how people will respond to us if we try to say that Jesus is Lord of all the earth.  Fearing what our friends and family might think of us if we live the life we’ve been called to, loving our neighbors and sacrificing, giving of ourselves for them.

And we sometimes tremble, worrying about the future.  Wondering deep down if our faith is really true.  Do we believe in the true God, or is this just another story?  We’re uncertain about what the future holds, about heaven, hell, a new earth.  What will life be like?  And sometimes we wonder if we’ll see our loved ones again, or if there even is something after this life.

This is where I think we benefit from Mark’s gospel and even his cliffhanger ending.  You see, there’s so much more here.  Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus was telling His disciples what would happen.  He told them where they’d find a donkey, and how they’d be asked what they were doing when they were untying it.  He told them, that when they entered the city, they would be greeted by a man with a watering jar.

He told them that that man would already have a room prepared for the Passover.  He told them one of the twelve would betray Him.  He told them He’d be arrested, and ultimately killed.  And with all of these things, Mark says it was “just as He told you.”

And that’s the power of what the angel says to the women at the tomb.  This isn’t my testimony, Jesus Himself told you that on the third day, He would rise again.  And He has, just as said He would.  Go, find Him.

And then we know from the other accounts of Scripture, we know from Matthew, Luke, John, and Acts that many of Jesus’ disciples had the honor of seeing the resurrected Lord.  Paul even tells us in 1 Corinthians that “He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive” (1 Cor. 15:6).  That matters, for the Romans, and for us.  They could ask, they could hear, they could see the witness of many.

And it has only grown with time.  We shouldn’t discount the great men and women of the faith these past two thousand years.  Men like Paul, Timothy, and John.  Women like Priscilla, Lydia, and Candice.  Early church fathers like Augustine, Origen, and Tertullian.  Others like Martin Luther, Philip Melanchton, and C.F.W Walther.  Even many of the Popes.

We truly have a wealth of witnesses.  Your parents, and their parents, and their parents before them.  Billions of men and women over two millennia who have witnessed and testified to a living Christ.

But it’s more than people, it’s more than the church, it’s the gospels and the Scriptures themselves.  We have the Word, and that alone would be enough.  And that’s why Mark’s gospel ended with a witness simply saying, “He has risen…just as He told you.”

That’s why we don’t need to fear, because the Lord’s Word is certain.  That’s why we don’t need to worry about the future, because He has told us.  Just because Mark used a common technique, this isn’t entertainment.  This isn’t just some story.  This is life.

That one statement, “He has risen,” is filled with so much beauty and certainty.  In those three little words, we receive the hope of salvation, that God would intervene and rescue us from the powers of sin, death, and the devil.  In those three little words, we receive victory over our sins, Christ has forgiven us.  In those three little words, we don’t have to wait for the last day, because we already have these gifts.  This hope of salvation isn’t some far off future thing.  It’s already happened.  It’s already now.  Forgiveness, salvation, and life are ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Christ is risen!  He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!!

 

The Blessing of Passover April 2, 2015

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Mark 14:12-26

Maundy Thursday

April 2, 2015

 

Focus:  God does the work.

Function:  That the hearers live as forgiven children of God.

Structure:  Bridging the Old and the New.

 

The Blessing of Passover

 

The week is proceeding according to plan.  We have celebrated the arrival of Christ on Palm Sunday as He entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  He then cleansed the temple and cursed a fig tree on Monday, spent His Tuesday teaching in the temple courts, and on Wednesday, Judas hatched a scheme to betray Jesus for what amounted to 30 pieces of silver, or about 1/3 of a year’s pay.

So today, we find ourselves gathered together for worship on Maundy Thursday.  Maundy is from the Latin words mandatum novum, which are actually the first two words of John 13:34 in Latin, “A new commandment I give to you.”  But even though that’s not our text for today (you’ll just have wait until next year to hear about the new commandment), we can look at something else new that happened on Maundy Thursday.

In fact, over the course of our Scripture readings today, we actually get several new things.  And there’s a common thread, there’s something binding all of them together.  And that’s what we want to look at today.

Mark chapter 14 begins with the words, “And on the first day of Unleavened Bread.”  So before we can even start to look at the events of Maundy Thursday somewhere roughly around the year 30 AD, we have to rewind, we have to return to the year 1446 BC, to the year that Moses returned to Egypt under God’s command, “Set My people free!”

Moses recorded these events for us in Exodus chapter 12.  We learn that God spoke to him and told him about the 10th plague, the plague of the firstborn.  That every firstborn son in the land of Egypt would be killed.  But at the Lord’s command, the firstborn children in the homes of the Israelites would be spared.

So the Lord speaks to Moses and says, “This shall be the first month of the year.”  That’s one that we don’t really ever talk about.  As God is preparing to deliver His people from their slavery in Egypt, He actually tells them that they’re starting a new calendar.  Right now, this moment, is day one of a new year.

And it’s totally unlike our New Year.  We celebrate a New Year and we come up with some kind of a resolution.  And within the first week, we’ve failed.  A New Year means new things to do.  More work to be done.  But not here.  See, this new year begins with God.  It begins with what God has done for them.

Every time you think about the calendar, every time you celebrate a new year, you can remember how God delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians.  You’re free!  It’s not what you do: it’s what God’s done for you.

God continues, and He instructs Moses to tell all the people of Israel that on the 10th day of the month, they are to go out and find a lamb without blemish and bring it into their homes.  And then on the 14th day, at twilight, they are to slaughter the lamb, take its blood, and paint it on their doorposts.  When the angel of death comes that night, he will pass over their homes.  Their sons will be spared.

Then they are to roast the lamb.  There’s dinner to be had and a good one at that.  Roast the lamb, all of it, and eat it together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.  This meal is about haste.  There’s no time to let the dough rise, that’s why it’s unleavened.  There’s no coming back for leftovers tomorrow, because you won’t be here.  So finish the meal, leave nothing for the morning.  “In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste.  It is Yahweh’s Passover.” (Ex. 12:11)

The Lord then told Moses that this was to be a memorial, a regular celebration among the people.  At this time every year from this point forward, celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, celebrate the Passover.  Remember that God has delivered you and your families from Egypt.  He has saved you.

Begin the week, on the 14th day of the first month of the year, begin with a holy assembly.  You shall do no work that day.  All week long, there shall be no leaven within your homes.  And on the last day of the week, again, have a holy assembly, and do no work.  It’s all to remind God’s people that He has saved them.  He has done the work.

In one of his other writings, Numbers chapter 29, Moses actually tells us that even though it starts on the 14th, there’s also a big feast on the 15th.  You can only imagine, that on the day after the Passover, after Israel had fled Egypt, they celebrated with a feast.  A new year with a new feast.

And in our Old Testament reading today from the book of Exodus, we see Moses come down from the mountain of God with the law in hand, with God’s instructions for how His people were to live.  And they gladly received them and pledged to do them.  It’s the Ten Commandments, a new law, a new word from God to live by. And yet, this is something we struggle with today.

My favorite way to number the commandments is actually different than what we find in our Small Catechisms.  Back in the days of Jesus, the synagogue actually began the numbering of the commandments not with “You shall have no other gods before Me.”  Not at all.  Instead, they began with the verse before it: “And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Ex. 20:1)

The synagogue, known for its rule-abiding religious leaders, like the Pharisees, actually based the commandments on what God has already done for us.  They rooted it in the power of the gospel, that God has saved us.  That’s irony; it’s beautiful, but it’s irony.  A new year with a new feast and a new set of commandments, but it all starts with God.

And so we jump back to Mark chapter 14, to roughly 30 AD.  It’s the Thursday after Jesus rode on the donkey into Jerusalem.  Unbeknownst to eleven of His disciples, He’s already been betrayed.  It’s the 14th day of the first month of the year.  It’s the day that the Passover lambs are to be slaughtered at twilight and then roasted and eaten for dinner.  It’s the day for the feast of haste, for the first day of the Passover of Unleavened Bread.

And Christ sits down with His disciples to eat this meal together, to celebrate salvation together.  They were just doing what they always did.  It was a Passover just like any other, their typical celebration of a fun holiday…until they did a double take.  Until Christ changed the script and said something completely different.

And then in their very midst, He changed the celebration altogether.  We get another new thing.  “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”  This is roughly when the night shifts.  This is roughly the time when Judas departs to go and find the soldiers to lead them to the garden.  This is roughly the time when things start to click, and the disciples start to realize that things really are happening here in Jerusalem.  This is it!

But, they still didn’t fully get it.  Jesus even gave them a pretty clear hint: “Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  But Jesus, tomorrow’s the 15th, what about our even bigger feast than tonight?  You couldn’t possibly not have wine tomorrow!  But He didn’t…a little vinegar, but no wine.

A new covenant in the blood of Christ.  It’s not something we do, it’s something He did for us.  That He willing went to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives.  That He allowed Himself to be betrayed, arrested, beaten, tried, and then finally crucified, died and was buried.

And out of this new covenant, we receive the forgiveness of sins.  It’s nothing we do, it’s what He’s done for us.  As we come today to His table in His presence, we take of that blood, we partake in the new covenant which He so willingly gave for us.

In our sinfulness, this is a struggle for us.  We want to do the work.  The Israelites wanted to be out of slavery, but they couldn’t free themselves.  The people at the foot of Mount Sinai so gladly and so willingly received the commandments and said, “All the words that Yahweh has spoken we will do.”  And yet, they failed.  They couldn’t follow through.  And neither do we.  We fall short, we fail to keep the commandments that we so willingly pledged ourselves to, whether in our baptisms or in confirming our baptisms.  We can’t do this alone.

Whether it was the Passover, the Commandments, or the New Covenant, it all starts here (pointing to the cross).  It’s not about what we do.  It’s about what God has done for us and how that transforms who we are.

Through the Passover, they were no longer slaves, but a new nation, God’s nation.  Through the 10 Commandments and the giving of the law, they were no longer people with no leader and no direction, but they knew and trusted that they were headed to the Promised Land.  And through the blood of the New Covenant, we are no longer failed sinners destined for the fiery pits of hell, but we are children of God, blessed, redeemed, and forgiven by the blood of the Lamb.  We are no longer destined for death, but for life, and it all starts right here (again, pointing to the cross).