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A Wedding Feast October 15, 2017

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Matthew 22:1-14

Proper 23

October 15, 2017

 

Focus:  God calls the people of this world His own.

Function:  That the hearers share the invitation to the wedding feast.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

A Wedding Feast

 

            Children’s message – reread the parable and explain it’s meaning

 

            I want to dive right into this parable and explore it in depth today.  Let’s read a verse at a time, and then take the time to unpack the various nuances of this masterful analogy.

 

1And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 

            Once again, Jesus is using a parable, a fictional story that relates enough to the lives of the people that they can understand both the story, but also the deeper meaning that Jesus is intending for them to learn.

 

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 

            This is a common phrase for Matthew in his gospel account.  The Kingdom of heaven.  The kingdom of God.  Being part of His family, His community.  His people.  This is what that looks like.  This illustration helps you understand what salvation in Christ looks like.

            The wedding feast is a reference to Paradise.  This is the everlasting feast of God.  That all those who believe in Christ get to spend forever in the new creation with Him.  It’s also picture of Father and Son, of God the Father and God the Son.  The king throwing a feast for His Son Jesus.

 

and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 

            These servants have a both/and meaning.  There’s a past tense and a present tense meaning to who these people are.  In the past tense of this parable, these are all the people of old whom the Lord sent to share the covenant, to share the message of God and a coming Messiah.  These are the people of Israel, and namely then the prophets, the priests, perhaps even the kings.

            Those invited in the past tense are all the people of the land of Israel.  The covenant was made with them.  They were to be God’s chosen people, His holy nation.  Through their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, these were the children of God.

            And so they’re invited.  They’re invited into the covenant of God, into the Kingdom of God.  They’re invited into the family that never ends.  Paradise, the new creation, is promised to them.  But, hard of hearts, the chosen people reject the message.  They reject God.  They reject salvation.

            For now, we’ll stay in the past, and visit the present meaning at the end, all at the same time.

 

Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ 

            Despite their rejection, God continued to send the prophets, God continued to send His good news, and His invitation, even His salvation to the people of Israel.  God made the sacrifice.  He made the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, of the Old Covenant, so that the people of Israel would have a way to forgiveness.  The sacrifices did grant forgiveness.  There was an invitation.

 

But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 

            And yet, most of the people ignored the invitation.  They were too busy, they had work that was more important that God.  They had other things to do.  Idolatry.  Whether in the form of a stone or wood idol, or in the form of family, or friends, or jobs, or hobbies, or anything.  Idolatry.  They rejected God.

 

while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 

            And worse yet, many didn’t stop at simply rejecting God.  They proceeded to obliterate all the good gifts God gave.  Those prophets sent to bring God’s Word to His people, many met gruesome fates, beaten and even killed for bringing the message of a Messiah.

 

The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 

Assyria.  Babylon.  Persia.  The Lord used foreign armies, faithless armies, to bring destruction upon the land.  To wipe out the people of the promise who had rejected the promise.  Israel fell first in 722 BC at the hands of Assyria.  For the Judahites, it was to Babylon in 587 BC.  Assyria fell to Babylon, Babylon fell to Persia.

 

Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 

            Here we see the shift.  There are moments scattered throughout the Old Testament, moments where people not of the nation of Israel get a chance at being part of the promise.  At being a child of God.  Rahab, Ruth, Naaman, Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar. 

 

Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 

            And it wasn’t just the Old Testament.  This becomes a key theme in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  The floodgates are opened.  The Jews rejected the Gospel, and so Jesus sends the disciples to witness the coming of the Kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles.  To everyone.

 

10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

            And that’s when it began.  The kingdom of heaven starts filling up with Gentiles.  With people not of the promise by birth.  It’s a delightful gift, and one that we today cherish, as Gentile people.

 

 

11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 

            There was a usurper.  Someone snuck into the party.  Whether he got in initially by claiming to be good enough, or if he got in by sneaking in of his own will, we don’t hear.  But the foundation is the same.  In either case, this man is attempting salvation on his own.  Like the Pharisees.  To borrow from another parable, they hop the fence to get into the sheep pen where they can then wreak havoc and slaughter sheep. 

            And so it is here.  The Pharisees hear of the promise of God and think they can earn it.  And then, once they have tried to party by their own rules, they begin misleading others.  Tricking and conniving them into thinking they were worthy of getting into the party.

            It could also go back farther in time and simply be Satan himself.

 

12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.

            God the Father asks a simple question.  “Without My gift, my free gift to you, how did you get in here?”  In the Old Testament, this is circumcision.  In the New Testament, it’s baptism.  As the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Galatian peoples, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  Jesus is the wedding garment.  And in your baptism, which you didn’t deserve, God put His Son’s righteousness on you.  You are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.  That’s the wedding garment.  That’s the free gift of the Father for you.

 

13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 

            But for the one who rejects the Lord, they are cast out.  For the one who thinks they can earn their salvation, they are rejected.  The place of weeping and gnashing of teeth in the Scriptures is none other than the place that was prepared for the devil and his angels.  It is hell.  But it was not made for you. 

 

14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

You have an invitation in the form of God’s Holy Word.  You are given the free gift of salvation in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  You are clothed in Christ Himself.  His righteousness, unearned by you, becomes your righteousness. 

The Son for whom we celebrate and feast is also the One we feast upon.  So, God the Father throws an eternal party for Jesus, His righteous Son, and Jesus isn’t only the honored Son, He’s also the meal.  It is His body and blood shed for you upon the cross, given to you freely in the Sacrament of the Altar, it is this gift that gives you forgiveness.  It is this gift that is just a taste of the everlasting wedding feast to come.  When you, the Church, are the bride, and Christ is our groom.

To give you a few more present tense notes on this parable:  you are the servants from v. 3-10.  You are the servants, the people of God, who have the invitations in hand to go and distribute to anyone and everyone you come across.  Sure, they don’t deserve it.  We as servants don’t deserve the master’s feast.  But it’s a gift, and it’s one we give to others.

And yet, even with this delightful free gift, this life that never ends, this message beyond compare, you will be rejected, maybe even beaten or killed over it.  Simply by sharing the invitation with another, you will invite ridicule and scorn and violence upon yourself.  Those who reject God sometimes just turn away, but sometimes they respond in bloodshed.

For these people, one truth remains.  The Judgment day will come.  And this destruction will be permanent.  As all those who reject the Lord, who reject the heavenly feast, will find themselves sharing the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth with the devil.

 

But the wedding hall, nonetheless, will be full!  It may not seem like it.  There will be days where you join your voice to that of the prophet Elijah, wondering why you’re the only Christian on earth.  But it’s a lie of the devil.  You’re not alone.  You are surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ, and Christ Himself, our heavenly Bridegroom will carry you through.

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Power or Authority? October 1, 2017

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Matthew 21:23-27

Proper 21

October 1, 2017

 

Focus:  God has given all authority unto His Son.

Function:  That the hearers lead by serving.

Structure:  .

 

Power or Authority?

 

We had a wonderful discussion at this past month’s elders’ meeting here at St. John’s.  We’re beginning to go through a book from Concordia Publishing House called Pastors and Elders: Caring for the Church and One Another.  The first chapter of the book was identifying that there is a difference between power and authority.

Have you ever thought about that?  Have you ever thought that power and authority were different words?  I think for most of us, we treat them as synonyms, as though they mean the same thing.

But in this book, Pastor Timothy Mech defines the two differently.  Power is when you strive or struggle to be able to exert yourself over someone else.  Authority is when you lead by serving.  When you’re working through power, you are fighting to put yourself above someone else.  When you’re working through authority, you are leading people in the task that’s been assigned to you by someone else already.

This then is the struggle that we see in the text.  As Jesus tries to use His authority, that is to lead the people by serving them the way God the Father has instructed Him to do, as He tries, the chief priests, Pharisees and the elders try to flex their power muscle.

Really, this is all of Jesus’ ministry, and continues even to this day, but to understand it better, we really need to look at all of chapter 21 of Matthew’s account of the gospel.  The chapter begins with Palm Sunday, with Jesus’ triumphal entry as He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Don’t underestimate the weight of that move.  Jesus is fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy of the coming King, the coming Messiah.  If He’s seeking power, this is a bold statement, and one that’s not lost on the religious leaders.  But which is it? Power or authority?

From there, Jesus then enters the temple, and cleanses it.  This is one of those moments of anger for Christ, as the religious leaders had made a power play in turning the temple into a market for their own profits.  We see Jesus overturning tables and rebuking the leaders of the people.  Power or authority?

The next morning we get the account of Jesus cursing the fig tree.  Power or authority?

Then we come to our text for the day.  As Jesus reenters the temple, the religious leaders aren’t pleased.  And they’ve taken their time to come up with a trap for Jesus.  “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  If He answers that God gave Him the authority because as Peter said, He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, then they will have Him for blasphemy.  If He answers anything else, then they will have Him for breaking the law of man and of Judaism.

But Christ is no pushover.  As He freed Himself from their traps before, so He does again.  But this time, He not only frees Himself, He turns the trap back on them.  And not just once, but three times.  ““I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.  The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?”

And the religious leaders already know He’s got them.  They discuss it together, but they know they can’t answer.  If they say from God, then why didn’t they listen?  If they say from man, the people will be angry and turn against them because they’d loved John as a prophet.  And so they pass.  And Jesus could have left the conversation there, because He’s free.  He’s set Himself up to be able to continue to teach.

But He doesn’t.  He proceeds to throw two parables at them.  The first is the Parable of the Two Sons, which goes like this:

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

 

These religious leaders were the ones above all who should be following God and leading by His authority.  But they aren’t.  They’ve rejected God and are leading by their own power.  Jesus has them.  He’s spoken of the good of the people and the failure of the leaders.  But again, Jesus continues:

33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

 

Jesus has now not only called out the religious leaders, He’s condemned them.  He has highlighted their guilt and their corruption and has laid upon them the full weight of God’s law.  And they get it, they know He’s talking about them and their thirst for power.  But even in all their anger, there’s nothing they can do, at least not until a couple of days later when Judas Iscariot sells them Jesus’ resting place for 30 pieces of silver.

We see this tension among ourselves.  This struggle of power and authority exists in all of our communities.  It exists in government, as people lord themselves over their community.  Even the elected officials are often driven by power and will do anything to keep that power as long as they can.

We see it in the racial tensions in this land today.  We see two completely opposite ways of thinking violently clashing against one another as they fight a fight of power.  And if this struggle will ever make any progress, it needs leaders to step up with authority, not power.  That is, people who are brought forward by their own communities, handpicked because they can lead, not because they want to.  And then they lead by serving, by humbly loving their neighbor.

We see it in marriage.  Here we could spend weeks looking at Genesis 1-3 and Ephesians 5, at the ordering of God’s creation, and how in our sin, we’ve broken that order.  But in the shorthand for this sermon, God gave the husband the authority to lead his family by serving.  And in the fall, as part of the woman’s punishment, she will try to steal her husband’s position and use power to do it.  And in return, the husband, instead of leading by serving, by the authority rightly given to him by God, the husband will lead by power.  This is why marriages hurt.  This is why marriages are broken.  Because sin destroys.

But as I had you do before, having you acknowledge that in all Jesus was doing, He wasn’t acting out of power, but out of authority.  Let’s see if you can place this quote: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”  Pause.  It’s the very end of Matthew’s account of the gospel.  ALL AUTHORITY has been given to Jesus, by the Father.  He rightly leads this world as Lord and as Savior by serving His creation.

And He served His creation by loving us so dearly, so overwhelmingly, so emphatically, that He took of Himself, He in His authority, He submitted Himself to the people in power.  He submitted Himself to the religious leaders, He submitted Himself to the Roman leaders, He submitted Himself to the cross and to death.

It is in His authority, it is in His leading by serving, that Jesus saves us.  That He conquers death, He conquers earthly powers.  He conquers the sin that overwhelms our families, our communities, and our nations.  The struggles for power between husband and wife are overcome in humble service.  The struggles between the races of this earth are overcome when we humbly listen to one another and serve one another.  The struggles between government and civilian are overcome when governments humble themselves and lead by serving, and when civilians humble themselves and respect the authority given to those who would lead them.

All of that sin, all of that brokenness is restored in Christ.  And while we will only see shades of it in the here and now, we will be made perfect in His new creation.  Which is why Matthew emphasized the end of this gospel account by quoting our Lord saying:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

Jesus entrusts His authority to us.  He encourages us to lead our neighbor by serving our neighbor.  He encourages pastors to lead His people by serving them with His words of forgiveness and life in the Sacraments.  He even encourages all people in positions of leadership to lead well by serving, as we see spelled out for us in the fourth commandment.  The Explanation of the Small Catechism states it this way:

“Who are parents and other authorities?” Parents are fathers, mothers, and guardians; other authorities are all those whom God has placed over us at home, in government, at school, at the place where we work, and in the church.”

It is in our sinful nature to cling to power.  But it is in the very nature of God to lay down power to love and to serve.  Jesus Christ was and is fully God.  And yet He willingly laid that down, the power that He rightly holds, He lays down to humbly serve us, to use His authority to rebuke and to forgive His people.  On account of His crucifixion and His resurrection, we live.

 

 

When in Doubt, Shout Out! August 13, 2017

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Matthew 14:22-33

Proper 14

August 13, 2017

 

Focus:  God saves His people even in their doubts.

Function:  That the hearers worship the One and only God of heaven and earth.

Structure:  Rev. Dr. Andrew Bartelt’s outline.

 

When in Doubt, Shout Out!

 

This section of Matthew’s gospel account actually begins with an interruption.  We’re trying to focus on the ministry and life of Jesus Christ, but on multiple occasions now, the life and ministry of John the Baptist has broken in to the history of Jesus and His disciples.

It starts in the third chapter, as John the Baptist is doing what God sent him to do.  John is preparing the way for the people to see Christ.  He’s living in the wilderness, preaching about repentance, teaching the people, baptizing anyone he could, and even rebuking the Pharisees.  But at that point, Jesus arrives, and John disappears from Matthew’s account.

We don’t hear about John again until we get another interruption.  Jesus is teaching His disciples a series on the cost of discipleship: that they will be persecuted, that Christ’s gospel will cause divisions, but that the disciples should have no fear, and that the good news of salvation is theirs.

And then messengers come from John.  We learn at this point that John’s been arrested and is likely doubting his faith.  “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  The words Jesus sends back speak to who Jesus is and what He’s come to do.

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

 

Jesus is declaring to John and John’s followers the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 35.  The promise of a new creation is here.  Jesus is bringing it to us.  And at this, John disappears again.

Until we come to our chapter today.  At the beginning of chapter 14, again Matthew interrupts his telling of Jesus Christ by inserting something about John.  And this time, it’s his death.  Jesus and the disciples come to learn that John the Baptist has been beheaded at the command of King Herod.

There were already doubts as to who Jesus was and what He was doing.  And now, one of the most loyal followers of Jesus has been killed by this ruthless, false kingdom.  Where is this kingdom of God?  Where is this new creation?  Who are you Jesus?  And why don’t we see any progress?

The answer that Matthew provides to his reader is three-fold.  Three things that Jesus will immediately say and do that shows His authority, His rule over this creation, that His kingdom is already here.  We see the feeding of the 5,000, the walking on water and calming the storm, and the healing of the sick with just a touch of His garment.

First, our gospel account from last week.  No longer drawing on the prophecies of Isaiah, Jesus connects Himself directly to Yahweh.  He takes the Exodus account of the Israelites and He inserts Himself into it.  Just as God fed the Israelites in the wilderness after they fled Egypt, so now Jesus feeds the crowd of 5,000+ with table scraps.

And in our account today, Jesus proves that He has the authority over creation itself, to even defy the laws of physics, which He created.  Just as He did to save His people in the parting of the Red Sea, now Jesus shows His authority over wind and wave again.  Our text today isn’t about you being able to walk on water or do supernatural things.  Our text today is about who Jesus is, and how He saves us even from our doubts.

Because Peter is, and the other disciples.  They’re doubting.  They were facing a storm, but the text is specific.  The storm was battering the boat, but the disciples weren’t afraid yet.  Sure they were stressed, but they’re trained fisherman, this is what they do. Fear doesn’t enter the account until the disciples see a figure approaching them on the water.  It is their encounter with the God Man Jesus Christ, whom they still don’t fully know or trust.  They call Him a ghost, and they cry out in fear.

Jesus encourages them to have courage and faith.  But they still doubt.  Even Peter’s question is doubt.  He’s asking for a sign, a “prove it” moment.  “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  And then even when Jesus consents and answers Peter’s demand for proof, it still isn’t enough.  Peter steps out on the water and begins walking towards Jesus.  But as soon as he remembers the wind and the storm, he stops trusting in Christ, doubting the Lord again.

But as he plunged into the sea, in a mixture of confusion, fear, doubt, and faith, Peter cries out “Lord, save me.”  Which, happens to be what Jesus’ name means, “He saves.”  And that’s precisely what Jesus does.  To this poor brother of ours, mired in a mess of both faith and doubt, Jesus saves him.

And as they step back onto the boat together, for the second time in Matthew’s gospel account, Jesus calms the storm.  He shows His pure authority as the Creator of creation to control even the waves, as Job recorded, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed.”

When Jesus calmed the storm back in chapter 8, it was amazement on the face of the disciples.  They were wowed by first article of the creed stuff, by God being the author of creation.  “And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him?’”

But now, we see a change.  This time, the disciples respond in light of the third article of the creed.  They confess their faith. “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”  Jesus again identifies Himself as the God of the Old Testament, revealing Himself as Yahweh of the Exodus who parted the Red Sea, showing mastery over the waters of creation in order to save His people.

Our connection to this text isn’t about walking on water or performing miracles.  Our connection to this text is that we also have a mixture of doubts and faith.  We do not trust in the Lord for our daily bread, for good weather and government, or for a roof over our head.

We talked about this in Bible class just last week.  When it comes to your need for protection, where do you turn?  When it comes to your need for someone to provide for you, where do you turn?  When it comes to your need to be loved or to belong, where do you turn?

Every government in human history has tried to set themselves up as the answer to those questions.  They aren’t.  They’ll disappoint you time and time again.  We turn to our spouse or family for these things.  But even they can’t actually meet them.  We trust in other things, like money, or politics, or our own abilities.  But it is truly a struggle to trust in Him alone.

We also have “prove it” moments as Peter did.  If God would just heal me, I would go to church every week.  If only God would get me out of this financial disaster I’m in, I will be generous to others.  If God would just do ______, I will know that He is truly God.

We get where Peter’s coming from because we’re right there with him.  Whether it’s fear, suffering, darkness, despair, or maybe even martyrdom, we find ourselves drowning in our sin and crying out “Lord, save me!”

And, He does!  That’s what Matthew is teaching the Jews as they walk through this entire section. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God Himself.  He’s not just a man, but He is our living Lord.

And by His death on the cross, He’s answered our call of distress.  He reaches down into the pit of your despair, into the treachery of our sins and our doubts, with the gift of forgiveness.  Forgiveness spoken to you in His Word through Absolution.  Forgiveness washing over you in His Word through the waters of your baptism.  Forgiveness welling up inside you as a living water, through His Word in the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross to defeat sin, death, and the devil once and for all.  But even more precisely than that, He then gives that victory, that forgiveness, that life to you through His Word and sacrament.

So when you have doubts, when your faith is twisted in confusion, you can know precisely where to shout, “Lord, save me!”  Right here.  Right here where His promises are proclaimed, and you have His assurance of forgiveness and life.  You can see it, you can hear it, you can touch it, you can even taste it.  Here in this place, we’ve joined with the disciples in seeing Jesus for who He truly is, the Son of God, our Lord and Savior.  And to Him alone we give our worship and praise.

Compassioned Boldness August 6, 2017

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Romans 9:1-5

Proper 13

August 6, 2017

 

Focus:  God gave everything in His love for us.

Function:  That the hearers share Christ’s bold compassion with their neighbors.

Structure:  Parallels.

 

Compassioned Boldness

 

Just how far are you willing to go?  How much are you willing to sacrifice for those people you hold dear?  The loved ones, those closest to you.  Your spouse, your children, your best friend, your parents.  How much would you give of yourself to ensure their wellbeing?

What if we change the person, to say, the person sitting a few pews either behind you or in front of you?  How much would give up of yourself for that person?  Would it be difficult to say that you’d give up just as much?

What if we change the person again, but this time, to the person who lives three doors down from you, whether that’s apartments in a hallway, homes on a block, or for you farmers, about a mile, how much would you be willing to give of yourself to care for that person?  For your neighbor?

And if you’ll allow, let me push this one more time.  How much would you be willing to lay down of yourself for the person you despise the most?  The person who has caused you the most harm, or the most embarrassment?  The person who has literally stolen from you, belittled you?  What would you be willing to give that person?

In America, we have a logical worldview on this subject.  What I mean by that is the way we look at others, the way we treat others, makes sense.  We understand.  We understand if you love a good friend who loves you.  We understand if you are angry with the person who’s been gossiping about you.  We understand if you want revenge when someone has done great harm to you.

But the problem is, this logical, American way of thinking isn’t Christian.  This isn’t what Jesus taught.  It isn’t how He instructed His disciples to live.

Instead we get a fascinating text today from the letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome.  “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Many of you still remember The Titanic movie, but even more of you still remember the story.  This giant vessel crashing into an iceberg and plunging into the depths of the ocean.  The people flooded to the lifeboats, but there weren’t enough.  So what happened?  Well, in that time in our culture, men sacrificed themselves.  The women and children got the first seats.  The men offered their lives to save others.

That’s an extreme example from our history.  But it pales in comparison.  Paul just said that he would willingly trade places.  That if he could, he’d give up not just his life, but his everlasting life if it meant his Jewish brethren would come to know Christ, and receive everlasting life.

Now, you and I, and Paul, we know this isn’t how it works.  It’s not a seat on a boat, it’s not something Paul could trade, or even sacrifice.  But it’s a powerful statement and illustration.  The Apostle Paul was a Jew.  Born a Jew, raised a Jew.  Studied under the best teachers they had.  He was one of them, and he was in a position to be one of their leaders, if he wasn’t already.

And then it all changed.  On the Road to Damascus, when Christ appears to Paul and strikes him blind, and directs him to go on into the city where he will receive further instructions.  Paul, before losing his sight, saw the resurrected Christ.  Or, at the very least, heard His voice.  And upon reaching Damascus, the Lord sends Ananias, who heals Paul and baptizes him.  And Paul is saved.

Now, this didn’t sit well with his old Jewish friends, teachers, and well, any of them.  And Paul began to suffer at their hands.  His own list in 2 Corinthians 11 is astounding:

“with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

 

Beaten, and not just with fists.  The lashings, the stonings, the imprisonments and torture that Paul endured at their hands.  And yet, instead of wanting revenge, instead of wanting to see them get what was coming to them, which would have been a very natural reaction, what did Paul want for them?  He wanted nothing more than to see them know Christ and be forgiven for all the pain and all the wretchedness that they had caused.

There was no grudge to be found.  In fact, just the opposite, compassion.  Paul would give up his spot for them if it worked that way.  Praise be to God that it doesn’t work that way.

Because God’s plan is infinitely better.  God’s plan was that His own Son Jesus Christ would step down into this world, taking on flesh, becoming a man, born of the virgin Mary.  That this Jesus, this Son of God would then at the hands of God’s own people endure beatings, and lashings, and even a death by crucifixion.  And that as He hung there upon the cross, rather than free Himself or call down His Father’s wrath, Jesus called out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

Even in His dying breaths, Jesus was accomplishing what He came to do.  To forgive all people.  To forgive every man of every time and every place.  To forgive every sin committed past, present, and future.  That Christ did not hold a grudge against the wickedness of mankind, but gave His life in our place.  Spilled His blood so that we would not have to.

This is the gospel!  That you and me, in spite of our sins, in spite of our brokenness, in spite of our open and obstinate rebellion against God: you are forgiven, you are saved!  The compassion that Jesus had for His people led Him to be so bold that He would even willingly die for us.

The compassion that the Apostle Paul had for the people around him, even those we would consider his enemies, enabled him to be so bold that he would continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting in His name.  Paul didn’t cower, he didn’t step back and wait for God’s wrath.  He went to the people who needed forgiveness, who needed love, who needed a Savior, and He gave them the good news.

We are forever grateful that this good news has been proclaimed to us.  And to 2 billion other people alive today who have heard the good news and believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  And it’s not just those living, but the countless men and women that heard and shared this same gospel proclamation in the generations from Paul to us.

And so it is that this same good news overflows in us.  We share the love of Christ with our neighbor.  We look upon them, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, with compassion.  And it is this compassion for them, as it did for Paul, that leads us to be bold.  To proclaim the truth, to proclaim forgiveness and life in the name of Christ.  To our spouses and children.  To our best friends and parents.  To the people in the pews around us or the neighbors down the way.  To the very people who have done us harm.  We give of ourselves, we sacrifice of ourselves to give these people the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  To hear of the forgiveness of their sins and our sins.  To hear of the gift of life that is for all people.

A Triumphant Promise July 16, 2017

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Isaiah 55:10-13

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

July 16, 2017

 

Focus:  God’s Word always accomplishes His purpose.

Function:  That the hearers come to the feast.

Structure:  This is true in this way…and in this way…and also in this way, with thanks to Dr. James Voelz.

 

A Triumphant Promise

 

For many of us, faith comes easily when things go well.  When our family is healthy, our economy strong, our jobs secure, these things can be a boon to our faith.  We see God’s hand at work, we see His blessings in our lives and we rejoice.

But along this way of thinking, faith becomes difficult when the work of God is no longer obvious.  When we can’t see His plan of salvation unfolding in our lives or in the lives of those we love, our faith can be challenged.

This was almost always the case for the people of Israel.  While we won’t focus on their wilderness wanderings, you can find a good dozen examples of this challenge there without much effort, today we are focusing later on in their history.  The prophet Isaiah is called to proclaim the Word of the Lord unto His people in the eighth century BC.  He is their prophet, the bearer of God’s Word.

The people no longer saw the work of the Lord in their midst.  And because they couldn’t actively see Him working, many had given up hope, even stopped believing in God altogether.  And paired with their unbelief was a vast display of wickedness, of disobeying the commands of God.

Isaiah’s writings that we have today are written both prior to the exile of the Israelites, and also during their exile.  That on account of their wickedness and their unbelief, God used the Assyrian army to put an end to this faithless nation.  They were captured; their homes were destroyed; men, women, and children led off in slavery and servitude into a foreign and hostile land.  Chapters 40-55 are written to these people to give them back their hope; to call them to look to the Lord, to look to Yahweh for their comfort and their deliverance.

Isaiah in our text today gives us this good news:  “so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

The Word of God does not return empty.  It does its job; it fulfills its purpose.  This Word to the Israelites in captivity was this:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price… Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. – Isaiah 55 verses 1 and 3

 

The exiled Israelites hear an invitation, an invitation to a feast where money is no object.  Whoever is thirsty, whoever is hungry, let him come, let him be gathered to the Lord’s Table.  They are invited to come, to trust in God, and to enjoy His gifts.

And in this same invitation, God gives His Word to them of a brand new covenant.  They had made a covenant with God before, which they broke, which explains their exile.  And yet, here God is in the midst of their time in exile reaching out with His Word offering a new covenant, offering a covenant without end, offering them life.

Part of this promise of life and of a new covenant was the promise of a Messiah, mentioned any number of times in the writings of Isaiah, the promise of a Savior, of one who would deliver His people from their enemies.  Which brings us forward in time again to the time of the 1st century, to a land now controlled by Rome.

Those who carried on in the traditions of their fathers from long ago, those people were still called Israelites.  Despite their struggles to believe, there was restoration to those who put their hope in God.  There was comfort again.

But as we have moved forward many generations, once again that hope is scarcely found.  These people have lost sight of the work of God in their midst, of His saving hand so graciously upon them.  And as they struggled against the tyranny of a Caesar and his men, many set aside the promise of a Messiah.

At least, that is, until One came.  And when the true Messiah came, Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself, taking on flesh to deliver His people, the people saw their hope restored.  The promises of God were grasped again, and they began to long for God’s kingdom to come.

And even though these people got it wrong, even though they thought a deliverance from enemies meant a rescuing from the hands of an imposing, earthly king, the Word of God being fulfilled, the Word of God accomplishing its purpose, didn’t depend on them.

As the true Messiah, the true and ultimate deliverer of His people, Christ came and willingly died.  From a worldly perspective it made no sense.  But His enemy to be defeated was not of this world.  The enemy to be defeated was sin, death, and the devil.  This could be done by no champion of the sword.  This could only be done by the Son of God Himself, laying down His life to fulfill a promise, to succeed in His purpose.

Before His death, Jesus once again spoke of this new covenant.  He entrusted it to His disciples, that we would take and eat of His body, take and drink of His blood, and that in so doing, we would receive the very forgiveness of our sins.  That in that body and in that blood, that Christ so willingly shed the very next day, all the sins of man, all the triumphs of the devil, would be destroyed.

The feast Isaiah foretold long ago broke into this world in the form of Christ’s body and blood.  Of bread and wine where money is no object.  Where forgiveness and deliverance and restoration all take place at the Lord’s Table.

So now as we proceed to jump forward another twenty centuries or so, we find ourselves in similar shape.  We find ourselves like the Israelites in their exile, or the Jews in their Roman occupation, we find ourselves waiting.  We have the very Word of God, a Word that He has promised does not go unfulfilled.

And yet, we find ourselves struggling.  We have an unease among us.  A despair.  We hear of an entire generation of people, the so-called millennials, who’ve lost sight of God’s Word, and of His promises, and so they’ve abandoned His house. Which has led the current leaders of the church to worry and fret over the church’s future.  Who will takeover?  Will the church still exist?  But these doubts fall short.  It isn’t just the millennials.  It’s not unique to any one generation of people.  Not much has really changed since the pre-exiled Israelites.

We, too, live in a time of challenge.  We watch as the leaders of the nation we live in and would seek to honor, seek themselves to dismantle Christendom.  They mock God and pretend He doesn’t exist.  They seek to mislead His people, to cause them to doubt His Word, and to doubt His salvation.

For generations, predictions of the death of the Christian church have rung out over and over again.  And each time, these predictions fail.  Because they are not God’s.  They are not His Word, and so they indeed go out, and they return empty.  Whether the millennials return to God’s house in droves or not, the Church of God cannot be destroyed.  Whether there is only one or billions of people hearing His Word, the Church of God cannot be destroyed.  Because the Word of God goes out and accomplishes it purpose.

And so we wait.  As generations before us, as generations even before them.  We hear the Word of God, these promises given to us, and we wait.  In the history of His Church, we have seen these promises fulfilled.  We have seen the Word of God go out, and we have seen it accomplish its purpose.  The promise of a grand feast that knows no bounds.  The promise of a covenant, of life everlasting that cannot be silenced or cut off.  We have heard the invitation.

Allow me to extend to you the invitation to join me here in this place next week for that same invitation, to partake of a heavenly meal.  For it is not just the restoration of a small nation of people.  It is the restoration of all people. Of all who put their hope and their trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We wait for the Parousia, that is, the second coming of Christ, when all things are restored to the way they were created to be.  We wait for the completion of the promise in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  His Word, His promises to you, have been proclaimed, and they do not return empty.

The feast Isaiah foretold long ago broken into this world in the form of Christ’s body and blood.  Of bread and wine where money is no object.  Where forgiveness and deliverance and restoration all take place at the Lord’s Table.  The invitation is yours, and I’ll see you there.

 

 

While We Were Enemies June 18, 2017

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Romans 5:6-15

Second Sunday after Pentecost

June 18, 2017

 

Focus:  God spilled His own blood to save even His enemies.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in God.

Structure:  Walking through the Scripture.

 

While We Were Enemies

 

That thunderstorm we had right at the beginning of the week was a doozy.  Nearly two inches of rain, the skies colored a dark greenish gray, lots of rumbling thunder.  I know I didn’t want to step out in it, even though it happened at the time that I would normally leave the office!

That storm claimed one of my neighbor’s trees.  Split it in half right down the middle.  And thankfully, even though it fell on his house, the damage was nothing beyond a dent in his gutter.  But just like I didn’t want to go out into the storm while it was still raging, neither did my neighbor.  That tree stayed there for a while until the storm had passed.  Then a couple of neighbors gathered together, cleared the debris, and cut down the rest of the tree.

I bring this up because we know that word “still.”  It didn’t make sense for him to fight while the storm still pounded us.  Just like it doesn’t make any sense to grieve the Twins season being over when they’re still in first place.  Just like it doesn’t make any sense to forgive your neighbor while he’s still actively, intentionally harming you.

This is Paul’s choice of language in our text today.  And he uses it three times.  “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”  Now, we can’t understand this one.  This is part of the hidden will of God.  Why was 1st century Jerusalem the chosen place and time for the appearance of Christ?  Surely, had He come today, how many more people could have had the opportunity to see Him with all of our technological advances?  But it was the right time.  And I’m prone to believe that even if He’d come today, He’d have met the same fate.  Because we were weak.  We didn’t understand the things of God.  We didn’t know God.  And so we killed His Son.

The next verse makes sense in context.  “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—“  Pit those two examples against each other.  The righteous person being the one who has faith in God and is neither afraid nor ashamed to share both the Law and the Gospel with his neighbor.  How many of your neighbors love it when you tell them they’re wrong?  And the so-called good person is the one that the world views as good.  While few people would willingly die for the speaker of truth, there are some who would die for the false heroes of this world.

But that’s just it.  We’re neither.  You and I were, in the next “still,” still sinners.  We weren’t righteous, nor were we good.  And yet, in spite of this, Jesus Christ willingly laid down His life for us.

He poured out His blood, willingly, upon the cross, even asking the Father to forgive those people who nailed Him to it.  And it is now in this blood of Christ that we are justified.  Justification, how are saved?  How are we made right again in the eyes of God?  Paul puts it simply, “we have now been justified by His blood.”

But that’s not the end.  God didn’t sacrifice His Son as some half-baked scheme that gets us partly to heaven.  No, not at all!  God sacrificed His Son as the full plan of our salvation.  That’s the third “still” Paul uses.  “While we were enemies.”  Rebeling against God, slaying His Son, cursing His name.  And in this, He chose to save us, to reconcile us, to restore our relationship to Himself.  In His blood, you not only have the forgiveness of your sins, a marvelous gift indeed, you also have the gift of salvation, of life that knows no end.  Because God didn’t leave His Son in that tomb.  But raised Him to new life, just as He will for you.  That’s a promise that you know He will keep.

In verse 11, Paul states the obvious.  On receipt of this good news, we rejoice.  We rejoice in Christ for all He has done for us.  That while we were still weak, sinners, and enemies of God, He sacrificed everything to show His great love for us.  This means many things.  Rejoicing means we take comfort in knowing that God set us free from sin, death, and the devil.  It means giving thanks to God for all these wondrous gifts that He so richly and overwhelming gives us.  It means trusting in His promises and receiving them regularly as our source of hope in this life.

Another way by which we rejoice is that we share.  For example, let’s say I had twenty tickets to tonight’s Twins game as they clash with the second place Indians.  And, for whatever reason, I hand you all twenty.  You can’t possibly use all twenty tickets, there’s just one of you.  So, what do you do with the other tickets?  Pause.  You spread the gift around.  You invite family, or friends, or anyone off the street who can make the trip to see the game.  You want to share your gift with others.

That’s how God’s love works, too.  He so richly and generously showers us in His love that we love our neighbor.  As new creations in Christ through our baptisms, this is what we do.  We take that gift of forgiveness, and we forgive our spouse when they wrong us.  We forgive our coworker when they fail to complete the task that we were counting on them to do.  We forgive our neighbor when they gossip against us.  And in all of this, we forgive them out of Christ-like love.  Not because they’ve earned it, not because they deserve it, simply because God forgives us, so we forgive one another.

This is one of the most profound ways by which we can tell our neighbors about Christ.  And they are in need of Christ just as much as we are.  That’s the twelfth verse of the text today, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”  Each and every one of us is in need of God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation in His Son.

Sometimes we get tangled up by the next two verses.

13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

 

These verses Paul simply uses to show the power of sin.  Even when the people hadn’t known the law, sin still reigned, and the result, the consequence of sin, that is death, still came upon all people.  Death reigned even before Moses presented the people with the law.

Paul then sets up for us the idea that Adam and Jesus are connected.  And we talk this way.  The first Adam, the former Adam, and then there’s the second Adam.  The sin of the first Adam brought sin and death upon all mankind.  Everyone he was supposed to care for.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

 

As I was leading the new member class this past week, we were looking at the Ten Commandments.  And right at the end, the close of the commandments, Luther includes the words God spoke just after the first commandment:

for I Yahweh your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. – Exodus 20:5b-6

 

So often we get caught trying to figure out why God holds grudges for three generations.  But that’s not the point.  The point of those words is that God’s love and mercy far outweigh His wrath.  Just like we see in 1 Timothy 2:4, “[God] desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”

This is what we see in our closing verse together this morning.  Adam’s trespass, his sin of neglecting his wife before the devil neglects all of creation which was entrusted to his care.  We indeed carry the weight of original sin in this broken world.  But how much more grace in Christ is there?!

The free gift of salvation from Christ given to you by His cross and empty tomb overcomes your sin, your death, your wretchedness.  It doesn’t cancel it out so you have to try to do good.  It conquers it.  Christ’s love and sacrifice for you defeated your enemies.  And this statement is true for all people.  Trust in His promises dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and know that His gifts are yours.  So we rejoice and give thanks.

 

Given that We May Know Him May 28, 2017

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John 17:1-11

Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 28th, 2017

 

Focus:  God gives us His Son that we may know Him.

Function:  That the hearers are one as the Father and Son are one.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

Given that We May Know Him

 

This morning we have a peculiar text.  It doesn’t seem to fit the calendar.  Our gospel reading today from the account according to John is best known as the high priestly prayer.  What do you know about this prayer? Pause for answers

  • Spoken by Jesus
  • Prayed to His Father
  • During Holy Week, moments before the arrest

 

We have a wonderful opportunity to look at how Jesus prayed.  This isn’t about how we are supposed to pray to God.  Jesus already gave us that in the Lord’s Prayer.  No, this is a wonderful opportunity to see what the Holy Trinity was up to the day before the crucifixion.

But that’s just it, isn’t it?  This is Holy Week, Maundy Thursday to be precise.  We would expect this reading before Easter, not after.  Not during our celebration of the resurrection.  Any ideas as to why we’re getting it now?  Pause for answers.

Let’s walkthrough the text and see if it becomes more clear.  Before we begin, though, just the quick note that this prayer lasts from verse 1 until verse 26, but our text only goes through 11.  So you’re not getting the whole high priestly prayer today, but there’s enough here for our benefit, without a doubt.

1When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,

 

Jesus had just finished a section of teaching, teaching about the work of the Holy Spirit, about His own death, about the peace the disciples would have in Christ no matter what the outcome may be.  And so He begins to pray.

We have to stop with this verse and talk about glory, as the words “glory” and “glorify” show up six times in this small section.  When we say something or someone has glory, we mean that they are worthy of honor, respect, praise, adoration, even worship.  And then to glorify something is to lift it up as worthy of having glory.  To point to something or someone and say, “This is worthy of our respect, our praise, our worship.”

And so the hour has come, indeed, the hour has come in which the Son of Man will be lifted up.  “Glorify Your Son.”  That is what happens on the cross.  His suffering, His pain, His bleeding, His sacrifice given for us.  The cross of Christ, Him lifted up, glorifies the Christ.  It is there, in His body and His blood that we know our sins are forgiven.  And so it is there that we know He is worthy of our worship and praise entirely because He is God.

And it is this then, the act of forgiveness of sins, the act of atonement, the act of restoring us to our creator, to God our Father in heaven, this act glorifies the Father.  Because in our newness of life, in being new children of God through the work of Christ, we can see the Father.  We can know the Father.  And in knowing the Father, we adore Him.

since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

 

The Father has given all things into the hands of His Son Jesus.  We see this clearly spelled out in several epistles, but it’s here, too.  The Father entrusts His world, His creation, into the care of His Son.  And Christ is faithful.  In His death and in His resurrection, He does give everlasting life to all who believe in Him.

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

 

Earlier this week, Christian blogger Matt Walsh wrote a challenging piece on this idea.  He was calling out Christians on the lack of respect, the lack of praise and worship that we show to God.  His challenge was essentially this: the Scriptures teach us that we in everlasting life will spend all our time praising God, worshiping Him. So why is it, that now in this life, many, maybe all, Christians, can hardly be bothered to do so?

630 members in this congregation.  How many of them are here today?  How many will I see in the pews all summer?   And an even smaller number are in Bible class each weekend.  And an even smaller number than that devote time to daily devotions at home.  If we can’t get around to spending time with God now, and sometimes even disdain time with God now, you know God forbid this service goes over an hour, maybe we should rethink either how we’re living this life, or our expectations of our everlasting life.

That’s good law.  I would suspect that truly hits all of us.  I know it does me.  We don’t worship God as often as we ought.  We don’t want to do the things He has laid out for us to do.  We would rather rebel, do the things, the sins, we enjoy, rather than enjoy time at His feet as the Word makes Him known to us.

And yet, He still glorified His Son, He still lifted up Christ for us, to make this known to you: your sins are forgiven!  Even this one, even your lack of desire for everlasting worship and praise.  I didn’t read Matt’s full article, only his shorter version, but my guess is, he doesn’t get to this, the forgiveness, the reconciliation of God and man.

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.

 

The work the Father gave the Son to do is precisely what we just talked about.  Sure, it includes the miracles, the teaching, the fulfillment of the law.  But all of that leads Jesus to the cross.  To the work of the sacrifice which makes forgiveness ours.

And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

 

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian church, we have that beautiful section about how Jesus gave up the glory of the throne for a body of human flesh.  Of how He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.  This is God.  Jesus, alongside the Father and the Spirit, created all of this.  And yet, He willingly laid aside His heavenly crown for one made of thorns.

So now, in this prayer, Jesus is praying that that glory be restored to Him.  And while I don’t believe this is the answer to our original question of why we have this text today, it does fit.  “Glorify Me in Your Own presence.”  We think of Christ seated at the right hand of the Father.  And that He is, as we celebrated with the Ascension just this past Thursday.  Jesus reigns over heaven and earth.

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

 

Jesus revealed the Father, Jesus made known the Father to us.  The Father entrusted His creation, His people to Jesus, that Jesus would then point His people back to the Father.  That goes back to the opening of the prayer, “glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You.”  This is the point of the work of Christ, that He makes the Father known to us.

Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.

 

Jesus may be a little ahead of Himself here.  The disciples, the followers that God specifically entrusted to His Son during His earthly ministry often didn’t get it.  They rarely understood His teaching, they often stood in awe and amazement at the miracles He performed.  But even in our inability to fully comprehend God, which simply isn’t possible, they got it.  We get it.  Christ’s authority is the authority of God.  He can heal a blind man, because He has authority over creation and the body.  He can heal the broken sinners of the world because He has authority over sin and death.

For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

 

One of the things that Jesus had just told His disciples prior to this prayer was the saying that you all know full well.  “I am the Way, and the ______(Truth), and the _____(Life).  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  The disciples heard the good news and they believed.  And now, as we do, through Christ and His gifts given to us, we get to know the Father as well.

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

 

Here we remember that Jesus is praying.  He’s not teaching.  But praying.  And specifically praying so that the disciples can overhear Him.  This isn’t a prayer for the chief priest or for Pilate.  This is a prayer for the followers of God.

The very last words Jesus taught before launching into prayer were these:

32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16

 

After the arrest, the disciples do scatter.  After His death, they are overcome by grief, despair, and fear.  Yet they had the opportunity to hear this prayer of Christ, that no matter what may happen, He is God, He has made known to them the Father, and in the Father they then have everlasting life.

This brings peace.  This brings confidence and comfort in any and all troubles.  Even in their persecution that was to come.  Jesus has overcome the world.  For us.  And this means we need not fear the world, or sin, or death, or the devil.  We can live in the peace, confidence, and hope of Christ, because we have forgiveness and the promise of the resurrection.

10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.

 

The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one God.  And so what is the Father’s is the Son’s and what is the Son’s is the Father’s.  And just as the Father gave Jesus work to accomplish that would glorify Him, that would cause us to worship the Father and be reconciled with Him, so also Jesus gives His disciples work to do, work that when we do it, glorifies Him, points others to see Christ and to give praise and worship because of His good and gracious gifts that He gives to us.

This is the sanctified Christian life, that we indeed continue to give God honor, and praise, and worship, but also that we would tell others of Christ’s love, His forgiveness, and the gift of everlasting life, that they too may then give God honor, and praise, and worship.  Doing these things doesn’t save us, Christ does.  Doing these things is simply something we do now that we are one with Christ, through the waters of baptism.

11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

 

It is this verse that puts this prayer in our readings for the Easter season rather than Holy Week.  We were about to see Christ crucified, Peter’s denial, the disciples scattering in fear.  But Christ’s prayer here is that we would be one, just as He is with the Father.  And so we end the season of Easter this week reminded that we are to be one, as we prepare for Pentecost next weekend, where we see the birth of the church, united in Christ alone.  The reading from Acts this morning shows this.  It shows the one accord of the Apostles as they remained in Jerusalem, awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This wasn’t even the half of it.  I encourage you as you eat lunch today, open up to John 17, finish reading Jesus’ high priestly prayer.  And you will see there that He most certainly meant this prayer to include you among the disciples, that the Father would be made known to you as He was to them, and that as they know the love of God in Christ, through the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, you would also know that love.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

Witnesses of the Resurrection April 23, 2017

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Acts 5:29-42

Second Sunday of Easter

April 23, 2017

 

Focus:  God forgives the sins of all people.

Function:  That the hearers obey God by witnessing His resurrection.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

Witnesses of the Resurrection

 

Throughout the Easter season, we will be randomly jumping around through the book of Acts.  So, before we start that today, just a quick refresher on what the book of Acts is.  It’s written by Luke and serves as a sequel book to the Gospel according to Luke.  If we were to say his first book was all about the life and work of Jesus Christ, then this second book would be about the work of the Holy Spirit in building up the bride of Christ, His Church.

Acts begins with the account of the Ascension.  Forty days after His resurrection, Christ was taken up into heaven.  It then covers the day of Pentecost, another ten days later.  And that was a great day indeed in our church’s history.  Three thousand people heard the good news of Christ crucified and their sins forgiven.  And they joined the church and Peter baptized them!  But, that’s our text next weekend.

After Pentecost we see Peter and John heal a crippled beggar in the name of Jesus Christ.  This outraged many of the leaders, and the Sanhedrin had them arrested and brought to trial.  And it’s before this council that Peter can proclaim

11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

 

Peter and John’s proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ left the members of the Sanhedrin baffled.  Luke records a little of their confusion, but ultimately doesn’t tell us whether they believed in what they heard.

After giving them a sound beating and a warning to stop preaching about Jesus, they sent Peter and John away.  But they didn’t listen.  They didn’t stop proclaiming Christ.  And so we come to Acts 5.  But to get the full context, we need to start a few verses earlier.

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported,23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to.25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

 

That’s the context of our reading today.  Peter and John performing miracles in the name of Christ.  Preaching and teaching and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins in Christ alone.  And once again, arrested.  But this time, rather than being released, God sends an angel to set them free and to encourage them to go and preach some more.

And so when the chief priests and the officers finally find them, that’s precisely what they’re doing.  And those last words of the high priest are incredible.  If only he had realized it himself.  “You intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”  Yes!  Exactly!  Because it’s this Man’s blood that forgives you of your sins, even the sin of crucifying Him.

Our text today began with Peter’s response.  And it’s a verse you know well.  “We must obey God rather than men.”  As we talk about our government, the laws that they pass, the things they tell us to do or not do, this verse is a helpful guide.  God has given our government the authority they have, and we are to honor them.  But, if their directives go against the will of God, we must obey God.

It’s sort of like the Venn Diagram, those two overlapping circles you learned about in your school days.  In the one circle we have the things of God, in the other, the things of man, and so long as the things of men overlap the things of God, they’re okay.  But they certainly don’t always.  In fact, we could argue they usually don’t.

Even Christians fall for this trap, though.  How much were the two presidential candidates this past fall painted as saviors?  The promise of Trump’s campaign to Christians was that he would protect their religious freedom and stave off persecution of the church.  Go home and Google Barronelle Stutzman, and you’ll quickly find out that’s not true.  The President can’t save anyone.  It’s not his job.

Another source of men that we often obey rather than God is our peers.  You may have thought peer pressure ended when you graduated from high school.  But peer pressure is alive and well among us adults, perhaps even more powerful than it was when we were growing up.  Think about it for just a moment.  One of the things that God has given you to do is to be a witness of the resurrection, to tell others of the forgiveness of Christ given for them on the cross.  What stops you?

What stops you?  Do you not tell them because you don’t like them?  That’s not usually the case, is it?  It’s usually because we like them that we don’t tell them.  We fear losing a friend, or making the relationship more awkward.  We fear the reprimand of our boss if we actually said “I forgive you” when they’ve done something wrong.  Or we fear the persecution of strangers if our faith becomes known.

And so we don’t.  We don’t witness.  But, we are forgiven.  Even for this.  Even of all those times when we could have shared Christ with another, we’re forgiven.  The very message that we’ve been given to carry and proclaim is the message that’s been proclaimed to us.  And its efficacy, its ability to work, doesn’t depend on you.

Let me say that again a different way.  Your forgiveness isn’t dependent on what you do.  Christ doesn’t withhold forgiveness from you because you failed to tell someone else about Him.  That’s not how any of this works!

In the body and blood of Christ, broken on the cross, your sins are forgiven!  Done, gone.  It’s finished.  In His resurrection from the tomb, your death is conquered.  It has no power over you.  The grave is defeated.  Sin and death are removed.  Even yours. Even mine!

We’re forgiven and alive in Christ.  The very message we are to deliver to others is the very message that delivers us: Christ, and Him crucified and risen again.  This is the message of the Apostles.  Even when speaking to the authorities, this is what they preach: the forgiveness of sins.

pause

Often times the word “evangelism” causes us to pause.  That’s Pastor’s job, not mine.  I don’t have time for that.  I wouldn’t know what to say.  All of these things are false.  A brother pastor, Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller, wrote up a really nice piece on what evangelism actually is.  And listen to just one paragraph from his article:

The Word of God, being the means of the Holy Spirit in creating faith in the heart of sinful man, is effective. It is a false and dangerous tendency to treat the Word of God as mere information that only has benefit when accepted and acted upon (as is the case with American Evangelicalism). The Gospel is the authoritative declaration of sins forgiven (Absolution). In fact, the central act of Evangelism is not asking the unbeliever to come to Jesus, but rather, in the name of Jesus, forgiving their sins. Evangelism is the Church speaking the Absolution to the World.

 

Read the book of Acts, and this is what you’ll see.  When Peter and the others are preaching on Pentecost, the people are crushed in the guilt of their sins.  And how does Peter respond?  Does he chastise them further for crucifying Christ?  Not at all!  He forgives them.  And 3,000 are baptized.  That’s what we pastors call, a good day.  Forgiveness proclaimed to a broken sinner.  That’s a good day, regardless of numbers.

When, in Acts 7, Stephen is being stoned to death, his very last words mirror the last words of Christ.  “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  Even in his dying breath, he’s praying for their forgiveness.

This you can do.  You can announce the forgiveness of sins to a despairing neighbor or coworker.  You can tell them that their failure is not their end.  That their life doesn’t depend on them, but it’s been won for them in Christ.  You can tell this to your beloved spouse or children, as you live together, loving one another as Christ loved His church.

But really, again, the beauty is, it’s not your work.  The Word of God is efficacious, it does stuff.  The Word of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit doesn’t depend on you.  This is why the Apostles could readily die for their faith.  It didn’t depend on them.  The church wouldn’t fail the next day because Peter was crucified.  The church is the work of the Holy Spirit.  The forgiveness of sins is the work of Jesus Christ done to you and for you; not by you.

This is how you live.  You are the despairing neighbor.  You are the crushed and accused.  You are the spouse or the child in need of the love of another.  And you have it.  It’s yours.  It’s been given to you by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Forgiveness and life are yours.  He bought them with His own blood, and He gives them to you.

This led to the wise words of Rabban Gamaliel in verses 38-39, where he said,

So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”

 

Don’t misunderstand that.  Gamaliel isn’t taking the side of Peter and John.  He taught Saul everything he knew about Judaism, and Saul became the greatest persecutor of the church, well, until Christ forgave him.

“If it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.”  The church is the work of God.  We didn’t die on the cross.  Christ did.  He gives to us the forgiveness of sins.  We didn’t rise from the tomb by our own power.  But on the Last Day, we will rise from our graves by the power of Christ Himself.  These things aren’t our doing, but they’ve been done for us.

And so Peter responded that we must obey God rather than men.  The focus of Peter is on obeying God.  And obeying according to this text is to witness to the resurrection.  And that’s a both/and.  We witness the resurrection not just by telling our neighbors, but because Christ rose.  To witness something is to see it.  And while we may not be witnesses directly, by the power of God, our sins are forgiven, and the gift of life is ours.  And it is in Christ and it is in the work of the Spirit alone that we can be witnesses of this truly awesome thing: Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord April 16, 2017

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1 Corinthians 15:1-10

Easter

April 16, 2017

 

Focus: The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an indispensable component of the gospel and an essential basis of our salvation.

Function: The hearer values the impact of Christ’s resurrection upon his/her salvation.

Structure:  An Outline from the Rev. Dr. David Peter.

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord

 

Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  That’s an exciting proclamation.  It’s a fun way to greet one another, it’s a fun way to celebrate Easter together.  But does it matter?  Does it truly matter if Christ has been raised from the dead?  Does it matter if the tomb where Joseph laid His body is empty?

This is the very question the Corinthian Christians were wrestling with.  They had come to a point where they were doubting the resurrection.  That’s not normal.  People who die, well, they stay dead.  And so, they couldn’t understand how Christ rose from the dead, and so they had started to believe that maybe He didn’t.

And through history, they aren’t alone in that belief.  Although Muslims won’t bother claiming to be Christian or to worship the same god as us, they believe Jesus was a man.  But not God, and certainly not resurrected from the grave.  Many people who count solely on their mind and reasoning, like the Corinthians had fallen into, many of these people deny the resurrection.  If science can’t explain it, it must not exist.

And then there are yet others today who deny the resurrection while still trying to claim to be Christians.  Some of the churches that are more liberal in their theology have begun teaching that it doesn’t matter if Christ rose from the dead.  Even more than that, many say He didn’t rise physically, but only spiritually.  Whatever that’s supposed to mean…  We’ll see shortly what the Apostle Paul says about those ideas.

There are also any number of more subtle ways that we ourselves deny the resurrection.  Sometimes we talk about a heavenly life for our spirit or our soul, but without a physical body.  Sometimes we deny the resurrection by our practice, by how we treat someone’s body after they’ve died, or by how we treat people in their bodily needs here in our own community right now.

But Paul rejects all of this.  He goes so far as to say, “16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  Those are strong words, but Paul backs them up.  He proceeds to tell the people of Corinth precisely why the resurrection matters, and more than just mattering, why it is essential to our faith.

Those are his words.  Paul calls the resurrection of Christ “of first importance.”  To him, it’s indispensable.  When Paul starts this response by talking about the gospel, to him, the resurrection is part of the gospel.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is that He died for our sins, was buried, and rose again to give us life.  And each of these things, then, is essential to our faith.

And he’s not making them up.  “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  David spoke of these things.  Isaiah prophesied it.  Jesus Himself talked about it numerous times.  The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the way that God the Father purposed salvation for His people from before He even created this world.

God knew it.  He knew that we would have weaknesses.  He knew we would choose to reject Him.  He knew that we would love our sin instead of loving Him.  And so He orchestrated a plan, a plan He announced to Adam and Eve even in the Garden of Eden.  A plan by which God would redeem sinful men and restore all of creation to Himself.  And that plan was the death and resurrection of the Messiah, or, the Christ.

We learn from elsewhere in Paul’s writings, and indeed from all of Scripture, that the punishment of sin is death.  We die because we sin.  And yet, in His great love for us, a love we can never fully understand this side of Paradise, in His great love for us, God gave us His only Son.

The death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday is the once and for all time sacrifice.  It covers, it forgives every sin.  Original sin, actual sin, sins of omission.  The sinner you are, the sins you do, the sins you commit by failing to act when you should.  Yours, mine, your neighbors, the random person on the other side of the world you’ve never met.  The centurion at the foot of the cross, the child yet unknown to their parents.  Every sin ever.  All of them forgiven in the blood of Jesus Christ, the blood He so willingly gave to save us.  You’re forgiven!

But this isn’t everything.  Because it is the resurrection of Christ that proclaims that victory yours.  We like to say that Christ conquered sin, death, and the devil.  And it’s true, it is so gloriously true.  In His resurrection, rising from the dead, Jesus announces victory over death itself.  The sin, the guilt, the shame, the punishment, all of it, forgiven and defeated by Christ our Savior.

This is the beauty of the gospel that Paul is proclaiming to the Corinthians.  He even takes the time and plays along, he plays their game.  What if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead?  And the answers are devastating.  Our preaching is in vain.  Our faith is in vain. We misrepresent God Himself.  We make Him to be a liar. Our faith is futile.  We’re still in our sins.  Those who have already died before us have truly and fully perished.  Indeed, “if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (v. 19)

But it’s not true.  This is truth, that Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  And if you don’t believe, here’s proof.  The risen Christ appeared.  Not a ghost, not a hallucination.  The real, physical body of Christ, scars and all.  You can ask Peter or the others of the Twelve.  You can ask the more than 500 guys Jesus appeared to after His resurrection.  You can ask James or any of the Apostles.  You can even ask Paul.

Eyewitness testimony.  When you’re looking for proof, even in our justice system today, eyewitness testimony is about as good as it gets.  If you doubt the resurrection, go, talk to one of these brothers, it was only a couple decades ago, most of them are still alive.

pause

Paul saved himself for last in that list.  And as is his usual style, he had nothing good to say about himself.  “Least of the apostles,” “one untimely born,” “chief of sinners.”  Paul is quite clear that he isn’t worthy.  That phrase, untimely born, is another way of saying he shouldn’t have been born.  That’s how bad he was, that the world would’ve been better off without him.  And he’s right.  He persecuted the church of Christ.  He arrested many, sentenced others to death, maybe even cast the stones himself.

But then he gives us reason to rejoice.  It isn’t about us.  In spite of all his wretchedness, all the evil things he’d done, God gave Him His grace.  God loved him, God forgave him, God saved him.  God even worked through him for the good of His kingdom.  Even Paul!

This, then, is us, too.  We aren’t worthy, despite what you might hear otherwise.  We don’t deserve God’s favor, or His love, or His forgiveness.  We deserve death.  But it is purely by God’s grace that death isn’t our end.  It is purely by His grace that God overlooks our unworthiness.  Indeed, by His grace, He forgives us and gives us new life.

This is the basis on which we stand.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are our forgiveness and salvation.  It is precisely these actions of Christ that enable us to stand before a holy God on the Last Day, and to hear Him declare us innocent.  It is precisely these actions of Christ that shout loudly over the earth that Jesus is victorious over sin, death, and the devil.  This is the gospel.  Christ died on the cross to declare your sins forgiven and He rose from the tomb conquering itself death itself to declare you alive forevermore.  Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  This is most certainly true.

Without the Shedding of Blood April 13, 2017

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Exodus 12:1-14

Maundy Thursday

April 13, 2017

 

Focus:  God sheds His blood for us.

Function:  That the hearers come to the Lord’s Table to receive the forgiveness of their sins.

Structure:  Old Testament/New Testament type and antitype.

 

Without the Shedding of Blood

 

One of the things that a good sermon must do is to rightly apply law and gospel from the text.  It’s the job of your pastor to dig into the Word of God, to dig into the text for that day and see where we’ve failed.  What’s in the text that shows me my sin, how we fail to do what God created us to do?  And once that’s established, your pastor then uses the same text to show you the gospel, to literally preach unto you the forgiveness of your sins.  That ends up being perhaps the most beautiful thing about the liturgy.  Your sins are forgiven again, and again, and again, even in the same service.

I admit, this one was a little tricky.  As I read over the text, it was hard to find the Law here.  It was hard to find the Law in this text that applies to you and to me.  It’s easy to get it wrong.  I could tell you that based off of the Exodus Passover festival, you must do these things.  And since you’ve never slain a lamb and painted its blood on your door, you’ve failed. If I preach that, I’ve failed.

The Law in this text is so easy, we miss it.  The Law in this text is simply this: you ARE a sinner.  Actually, that’s the Law in all three of our readings here today.  There’s nothing here that you must do.  You don’t keep the Passover.  That’s been done for you, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit.  But instead, each of these texts plays out the same.  This is us.  This is simply who we are: sinful human beings, fallen creatures who stand apart from God.

Each of these texts says “this is who we are and this is how God responds on our behalf.”  Let’s walk through these texts and unpack that.

In our Old Testament reading today from Exodus, we see the account of the 10th and final plague.  The plague of the firstborn.  Hundreds of years before this text, God had made a covenant with Abraham, that He would be His God, and that Abraham’s people would be God’s people.

But the Israelites, as Abraham’s people come to be known, failed over and over again in being the people of God.  They kept longing for the gods of their neighbors.  They kept insisting on living life on their terms, not on God’s.  They were sinners.  And it’s not much later that they fall into slavery in Egypt.

And over the next 400 years, living as slaves from one generation to the next, the pattern continued.  Like a dog returns to its vomit, they returned to their idolatry, to their distrust.  And they wasted away in their sins.

But it was at this time that God acted.  He sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh demanding the freedom of God’s people.  And as Pharaoh rejected God, the plagues began.  And that cycle would repeat: Plague, rejection, plague, rejection.  Until we come to our text for today.  The tenth, and final plague that God inflicted on the land of Egypt.

You know it as the plague of the firstborn.  God, in His righteous judgment, as punishment for sin and rebellion, is going to strike down the firstborn son in every household, in every family.

But He also provided a means of grace, a way out.  God institutes the Passover.  Each family was to take a young lamb, without blemish, and slaughter it at twilight on the 14th day of the month.  Now this wasn’t just a cast off lamb.  This is a spotless lamb, from among your best.  This is a call to trust in God and to be His people.

So each family slaughtered their lamb.  And they took the blood of that lamb and used it to paint the doorframe of their home.  And then they ate it.  They roasted the lamb, and made a meal of it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.  It was a meal eaten in haste.  There was no telling when the plague would strike, and as soon as it did, the Israelites would be fleeing from the land of Egypt and from the wrath of Pharaoh.

But in this we see the promise of God. He said,

“The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”

 

Salvation, salvation in the blood of the lamb!  The Israelites listened, they slaughtered the lambs at twilight, they painted their doorframes, they ate a speedy meal, and then the plague struck.  And the Egyptians, Pharaoh, cast the Israelites out of Egypt.

Sinners, stuck in their sin, and God comes to them.  He comes to them in the midst of their sins, in the midst of their slavery, in the midst of their suffering.  And He gives them life.  He frees them from their bondage and forgives them of their sins.  God comes to His people where they’re at with His gifts, with His promises.

This event, to the Israelites, this was as a close a thing to Easter as they were going to get.  The Passover feast, or the Festival of Unleavened Bread, is one of the biggest celebrations of their church year.  And, the slain lamb for the forgiveness of sins leads to the rest of Exodus and Leviticus, where you can find the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system through which God gave His people the forgiveness of their sins.

But this event, as significant as it was, this was only the type.  A type is a foreshadowing, an earlier account pointing to some later event.  The antitype is that later thing, that greater thing, the fulfillment of it.  The Passover is merely a type.  It only points to the real deal.

That’s the profoundness of our reading from Hebrews.  We won’t focus on it, except one verse.  In verse 22, we hear the words “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

The Passover lamb, the burnt offerings, the guilt offerings, the sin offerings, the peace offerings, you name it.  All that blood to cover your sins.  The result of a broken covenant, the penalty of death.  Blood must be shed.  But even this is just a type.  It’s a foreshadowing of something greater.  Here’s an example from Leviticus chapter 5:

14 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 15 “If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of Yahweh, he shall bring to Yahweh as his compensation, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued in silver shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. 16 He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss in the holy thing and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.

 

Here’s my question for you: how could you ever know it was enough?  How could you ever know for certain, that your sins were removed from you?  How could you know that you didn’t unintentionally do it again the very next second?  How could you be sure of your salvation?  And how would we not run out of rams?

We are sinners, in need of a Savior.  And that brings us to the gospel.  Jesus and His disciples have been in Jerusalem now for a few days already, and it’s time for the Passover celebration.  It’s time for the regular, annual rejoicing and remembering of God’s gift in the blood of the lamb.

Scholars debate whether this was Christ’s 3rd or 4th Passover spent with His disciples.  But that number doesn’t matter.  As they recline around the table, and celebrate together, it’s familiar.  There are traditions, routines, common food from one year to the next, just like you will be doing at your family gatherings this weekend.

But then Jesus changes it.  Rather than just talking about the Exodus, He changes the script.  Jesus changes the Passover meal and its very meaning.  He takes the bread, blesses it, and then hands it to His disciples saying, “Take, eat; this is My body.”  And then He takes the cup, gives thanks, and passes it around saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

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“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.”  This is the antitype.  Christ shows the disciples that the Passover itself pointed to something greater, it pointed to Him.  And while they didn’t understand it yet, the next couple of days would be devastating and wonderful at the same time.

And this is why you’ve gathered here today.  This is why we celebrate Maundy Thursday, the night Christ is arrested.  The night that His path to the cross is set in stone.  The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world is going to the altar to be slain.  To shed His blood for you, for me, for all people of all time and of all places.

Remember the guilt offering?  How could you ever know it was enough?  Where could your assurance be?  That’s not the case now.  Christ is the final sacrifice, the final blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.

That’s why, spacially, the church is designed this way.  It’s not just for aesthetics.  The cross hangs on the wall above the altar as a reminder to us that Christ’s death is the fulfillment of all sacrifices.  Type (pointing to the altar), antitype (pointing to the cross).  It is finished.

That’s the Law and Gospel, not just of these texts, but indeed, of all Scripture.  You are a sinner.  I am a sinner.  And apart from God, we’re dead.  Bound, slaves to sin.  Dead and without hope.  And, yeah, if the assurance of salvation rests here, the doubts will only consume me.

Simply put, we are sinners.  This is who we are.  But this (pointing to the cross), this is how God responds.  God doesn’t leave you in you there, dead in your sins.  He doesn’t leave you trying to work your way back to Him.  Trying to find, and climb, the stairway to heaven.  He came down to you.

So today, as you come before this altar, as you come together here in this place, to partake of the body and blood of Christ, your sins are forgiven.  They already have been in confession and absolution.  They already are forgiven in the words I’ve proclaimed to you now.  And you will be forgiven again in just a few moments.  And the beauty in all of this is that none of it depends on you.  None of this depends on me.  If someone asks you, “How do you know you’re saved?  Where’s your assurance?” you need only point them to Christ.  God has promised it.  In my baptism, in the spoken words of absolution, in the body and blood of the Lord at His Table, forgiveness and life are mine, they’re yours.