Good Friday – “Scripture Fulfilled” (John 19:17-30)

A-46 Good Friday (Jn 19.23-37)Good Friday and Easter are the climax of our Church Year. As we journeyed through Lent, our eyes looked toward Calvary. Now is the time to stand at the foot of the cross and look up. The mood is somber and so it should be. Yet as we see with eyes of faith, we realize this is a time of victory. Our Lord Jesus experienced death for us that we may share in His triumph over death. Our focus this evening hinges upon words from the prophet Isaiah that point to the cross: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”

On Good Friday, we deal with death up close. We stand not beside a casket of a parent, grandparent, child, or another family member; rather, we stand at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. We experience the reality of death, His death. We realize that death does indeed come close – to each of us. Death is the great enemy. It would be cold and dark and empty, except that Jesus has come close to us and has faced death for us. His death changes our experience of death. Now we stand before His cross and feel the impact of His love for us as He experienced death up close.

We are not immune to death. To live in our world means that we must face it. Death can be frightening. Sometimes it invades our lives with blazing speed. Sometimes it is slow and relentless as it stalks its target. Death comes in many ways, but it comes. It doesn’t always seem fair. It can surprise and shock us. It can pierce like a knife. They sky can be blue, the sunshine bright, the air crisp and clean – and then we receive that phone call of bad news and darkness descends. To be human is to live life that is fragile. Death does indeed come close to us. And death would indeed leave us terrorized and empty except for what took place one Friday, a day that we call Good Friday, a Friday when Jesus experienced death up close for us.

The prophet Isaiah painted a poetic picture of what this Friday would be. He described a Savior, a Suffering Savior, who would stand in our place and experience death up close. For us who are part of fallen humanity, death is justice. It is a verdict that fits the crime. We have disobeyed God and deserve death. But now the Suffering Savior comes near. As Isaiah describes it: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. . . . Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. . . . He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities. . . . The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. . . . He was cut off out of the land of the living. . . . They made His grave with the wicked.” Jesus knew death in a way that we could never know, for He experienced death up close and all that goes with it.

There on the cross, as our Lord hangs for crimes He did not commit, He is mocked and despised. He takes the charge that is put forward by Pilate, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” You have to wonder why He would do something like this. Throughout His Passion, our Lord was mocked by the people regarding His supposedly being the Son of God, that if that fact were true, He could have taken Himself off the cross. The fact of the matter is they were right. As the Son of God, He could have taken Himself off of the cross. But what if He had? Let’s say that Jesus did take Himself off of the cross, what would that mean? It means that you and I would truly be damned. It is because our Lord stayed on the cross that He died. It’s because He stayed on the cross that God’s wrath was poured out upon Him instead of us. It’s because He stayed on the cross that His blood was shed. It’s because He stayed on the cross that His blood washes over you and forgives you all of your sins.

In all His sufferings, He looks so unglorious. Blood pours from every vein. He is kicked and hit and spat upon. He is nailed to wood. Worse than that, He is forsaken in the torture of hell. Divine wrath falls upon Him, greater than the Flood, greater than Sodom and Gomorrah, greater than all the catastrophes of earth put together. All of it, concentrated and foul and heavy, falls on this one Man’s shoulders, crushing Him down as if He was a shameful sinner, deserving of the worst treatment in history. No man seems so abandoned, so lost, so abused, as this Christ upon Golgotha.

But this is not all that is happening. The cross is not only shame. That is the external appearance. The far greater reality is this: the cross is the greatest glory on earth. It is the glory of the Son of God. As He says to Caiaphas, “From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Christ was not speaking of His Second Coming. He said, “from now on.” In other words, the Passion and Death that followed are the very glory of Christ.

For on the cross, Christ sets right all of mankind. On the cross, Christ destroys the power of evil as He crushes the serpent’s head. On the cross, Christ shows us as much of God as we can see in this life, the glory of God’s redemption poured out in bloody streams. His mercy is there, exposed to our eyes as nowhere else. Nowhere in history can you see God so clearly as in the Son of God dying on Calvary.

With His dying breath, our Lord cries out from the cross, “Tetelesti.” “It is finished.” He doesn’t mean that His life is now over and He dies. He means that God’s divine plan of salvation is now complete. That plan of salvation that was set in the motion from the near beginning of time is fulfilled in Christ’s sinless life, death, and resurrection. Everything that is necessary for your sins to be forgiven is made complete by Christ on the cross.

Because of Jesus, we can look into the eyes of death and see not a conquering villain, but an enemy that has been conquered. We can see victory in death. We can find hope in sorrow, for we have a Suffering Savior who experienced death up close and personal and overcame it. Our Lord swallowed death. He tasted it for us, and now we follow Him from death to life. Amen.

Maundy Thursday – “Betrayal and Forgiveness” (Matthew 26:17-30)

A-45 Holy ThursdayGrace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

As we gather this evening, the stench of betrayal is wafting in the air. Just before our text, Matthew records for us Judas’ betrayal: “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.”

An act such as this can be expected from the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees, but to see it come from someone within Jesus’ circle of twelve is inconceivable. These were the men whom Jesus had hand-picked to be His disciples, to go with Him and spread His Gospel of what He was going to do in order to save creation. To be fair to the disciples, they had no theological training except that which they learned on the job for three years. However, they knew enough to know that you don’t betray your Master. Peter goes beyond calling Jesus Master and says that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. That’s an even bolder confession of who Jesus is and yet tonight the stench of betrayal is overwhelming.

Tonight, we reflect on the Passover celebration that our Lord and His disciples engaged in, just as they had done in previous years. Everything about this meal was like any other Passover meal. The Passover was done yearly in remembrance of what God had done for His people Israel all those years ago when the angel of death passed over the house of Israel. In order to celebrate the Passover feast, Jesus needs a room to do so and the disciples ask Jesus, “Where will You have us prepare for You to eat the Passover?”

On this night, our Lord has come to accomplish something. He’s in complete control. He had already arranged for the Upper Room to be ready. As He said, it was His time. Plans were already set in motion for the Passover meal to be celebrated. He celebrates the Passover as in years past, except this time, it’s different. “When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”” As simple as that, the Passover meal has been turned to betrayal. The stench of betrayal is overwhelming. Immediately, they all start asking, “Is it I, Lord?”

Lest we forget, this is Jesus’ time. While Judas sets out to betray, our Lord sets out to redeem. Judas is reclining at table with Jesus and the other disciples. Jesus could have easily had Judas removed from the Passover guestlist, but instead He has His betrayer at table with Him, and for a reason: in order to redeem.

I can’t imagine that you or I would willingly permit our betrayer to dine with us as did Jesus. We would more than likely do what we could to repay evil with evil, do what we could to exact vengeance for such an act. But thanks be to God that Jesus is not like us sinners. He doesn’t choose to seek vengeance but rather extends mercy and forgiveness beyond our wildest measures.

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when had given he gave it to them, 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.””

God doesn’t go after sinners like Judas or you or me. In a plot twist that man could have never thought up, God the Father goes after His own Son, the Messiah, God’s Anointed, the King. He goes after Him until He has the blood that makes payment for your sin. Jesus is not only a good guy, but the perfect guy. He was nothing like evil Pharaoh. His heart was never calloused against God’s Word. He loved the Father’s will and cherished it. But the Father’s will was to save sinners through the blood of His Son. That is what our Lord gave to His disciples that night He was betrayed. He didn’t enact vengeance but gave forgiveness. He gave what Judas didn’t deserve. He gave what none of the disciples deserved. And tonight, our Lord gives to you that which you do not deserve. You do not deserve to be forgiven of your sins for you smell of betrayal, as did Judas and as do I. It is man’s betrayal of God that caused all of this to be necessary. Had Adam and Eve kept a single, simple rule that God gave them, we would all be enjoying life in the Garden. But because of man’s betrayal, the great act of Judas’ betrayal occurs, and Jesus responds in a way that is shock to all who hear it.

For our betrayal, He grants forgiveness. For your sake, God the Father imputed your sin and the sin of the world to this King and plunged Him into a sea of wrath. For your sake, He went after the blood of His innocent Son that you might be spared and that the story of your life might have a happy ending. Take great comfort in this story. For that is what God’s King is all about. That is why He came into the world. That after instituting the royal feast of His Holy Supper, He might shed the blood that causes death to pass over you.

Our Lord leaves that final Passover to offer His body to be struck down, that you might receive His very body and in this Sacrament and be exalted. The words from His lips were never deceitful, never self-serving, but always in the best interest of sinners. Yet those lips are the ones that drink from the cup of God’s wrath, that your lips might sip the cup of blessing, the blood of the covenant, which gives you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

The power of death passes over you because it didn’t pass over Jesus. Death passes over you because the gift of Baptism has marked your bodies with His blood. Damnation passes over you because Jesus is your Crucified King, whose blood makes this meal a royal feast of feasts.

Betrayal was on the lips of Judas that Passover evening. Tonight, betrayal is no longer the only thing on your lips. Tonight, as you feast upon the very body and blood of our Lord, there is something new on your lips and that is the forgiveness that comes through the shed blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name amen.

Palm Sunday – “Palms to Passion” (Philippians 2:5-11)

A-38 Palm Sunday (Jn 12.12-29)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Today is a day filled with mixed emotions. The day begins with Jesus entering Jerusalem just before the Passover feast. St. John records, “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”” The people seem earnestly happy that Jesus is coming and even praise Him as the King of Israel. Finally! After three years of non-stop preaching and teaching, of healing the sick and performing miracles, the people see Jesus for who He is: the King of Israel. But lest we get too excited, we need to figure out what kind of king the people think Jesus is.

The Messiah had been promised for a long time coming, in fact, He had been promised from the near beginning of time. This gave the people plenty of time to make themselves familiar with what the Old Testament Scriptures had to say about the coming Messiah. The Old Testament gave a good start for a description of who the Messiah would be yet it wasn’t complete, it wasn’t enough. There needed to be more. And so through the generations, the description of the Messiah was expanded until the people knew what the Messiah would look like at a single glance, that they would be able to identify Him with no sort of trouble or confusion.

At first glance, it sounds as if the people got it right. But John tells us, “The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.” It seems as if this is a potential letdown. The people come to meet Jesus because He raised Lazarus from the dead. There were some in the crowd who acknowledged Him as the Messiah, but there were plenty who did not have that thinking.

The scribes and Pharisees saw nothing that screamed Messiah about Jesus. He was the Son of a lowly carpenter. He didn’t come from a great line of kings or leaders so it was impossible for Jesus to be a great king who would boot Roman rule from Jerusalem. For those reasons and more, Jesus was dismissed as being the Messiah. But there was more to Jesus than meets the eye.

As we look at our Epistle text this morning, Paul has an important message, a message that was not widely held then and unfortunately is not widely held today either. Paul encourages us to have the same mindset as Jesus, but he knows all too well the mindset of sinful human beings. We are full of selfish ambition and conceit, looking to our own self-interests rather than that of our neighbor. This attitude is nothing new, as it harkens back to our first parents in the Garden. It doesn’t fear, love, and trust in God above all things. It doesn’t love our neighbor as ourselves. Rather, it is all about us and what I get out of it.

While the selfish mindset is what comes natural to us, Paul tells us that we should have another mindset, that of Christ. Listen again to what St. Paul says: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” We are not called to be selfish, but to model our lives as Christ did and serve our neighbor. But our service cannot compare to that service of Christ. He possessed all glory from eternity and yet He laid it aside for a single purpose – to save us.

If you want to see just how much Christ love sinners, one only need to look at the manner in which He died. He humbled Himself to death on a cross. You might wonder the significance of that manner of death, but it is significant. Death on a cross was reserved for criminals, as we see the two criminals who were crucified with Jesus. Death on a cross was reserved for the guilty and yet Christ was innocent of all charges made against Him.

Today as we celebrate Palm Sunday, we also celebrate Passion Sunday, as we see in our Gospel reading. We go from the people celebrating and welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem to the people mocking and despising Jesus. And throughout all of this, what is that our Lord does in return? He remains silent. He takes the mocking and despising. He takes the beating and scourging. He willingly goes to the cross. He dies. The very direction in which His whole life went was toward emptying Himself. He emptied Himself finally of His very life. And yet says Paul, in the very mystery of that life, in the self-giving of the Son of God in the flesh, on the cross, God has turned the whole universe around. He has opened up for man a new way to live.

When He prays in the Garden, He prays for you. He is your High Priest, preparing to offer Himself as the Sacrifice for sin. He doesn’t want that cup of suffering; but for you He prays to His Father, “Not My will, but Thy will be done.” Even today, exalted by His Father, what does He do? He prays for you, intercedes for you: “Father, these are your redeemed, and I have bought them with My blood. Hear their prayers and save them.”

When Jesus stands silently before the High Priest and, later, Pilate, He silently accepts all the accusations and the blame in service to you. The accusations are false, of course: the sins are not His. But the sins are yours: and so He takes them. He takes the blame and does not defend Himself, because He’s taking all of your sins to the cross—to serve you. And so the Son thus declares, “No, Father, do not judge these people for their sins. Judge Me for them instead.”

And that is what the cross is about. In service to you, the Savior suffers far more than physical torment and death. He suffers His Father’s judgment for your sins and for the sins of the world. He suffers hell there for you. “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down His life for His friends,” He once told His disciples, and there is no greater love or service than His cross in your place. Do not miss, by the way, that the Father is serving you at the cross, too: for rather than judge you for your sin, He gives His Son in your place, for you.

That is your Savior—the Son of God who makes Himself of no reputation and becomes obedient to death on the cross for you. By His death, you have life. By His grace, you are now set free to serve others—you are set free from sin to serve as God created you to.

You have the mind of Christ, because Christ joins Himself to you. He speaks His Word of grace, renewing your Baptism and declaring you remain His child. He gives you His body and blood, and so He is with you always. He is with you always to serve. And solely by His service to you, you are sure that you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 4 – “From Blind to Sight” (John 9:1-7, 13-17, 34-39)

A-34 Lent 4 (Jn 9.1-41)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Everyone likes to play the “blame game.” The rules are easy: take no ownership of your actions and place the blame on anyone and everyone but yourself. Now that the rules have been explained, we see the game being played in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus and His disciples are passing through a region and come across a man blind from birth. The disciples knew of the man’s condition and asked Jesus a simple question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The game has now been set up. Who is to blame for the blindness: the man, his father, or his mother? Clearly the reason why the man is blind is because someone sinned. Now the question is who was it.

The question was difficult. If the man’s own sin caused his blindness, how could he have sinned so bad while in the womb to cause this? If his parents’ sin caused it, that seemed unfair that the effects of their sinful actions should be passed on to their offspring. Still, the disciples thought that one or the other was true. It was a commonly held belief, so they didn’t think of any other possibility.

How easy is it for us to play the blame game. When things don’t go our way, we want to blame it on someone else rather than own up to it. The blame game is nothing new. It was first played out in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve sinned. When God asked about their eating from the tree, Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. Neither wanted to confess that they were the ones who ate, regardless if it was due to the serpent’s twisting of God’s Word.

Jesus, in talking with His disciples, chooses not to play the blame game. Instead, He reveals the reason the man is blind: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” All of this is done according to God’s divine plan. Now if you are the blind man and you heard this, it would be quite natural to wonder how your blindness might cause the works of God to be made manifest.

It’s hard to see how something negative like this can be used to God’s glory. How can anything negative be used to God’s glory? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? We can understand how good things work to God’s glory, but how do bad things work to God’s glory? Clearly Paul was mistaken when he told the Romans, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” 

Let’s test Paul’s statement. Israel faced all sorts of bad that would lead to God’s glory. When Israel turned to other gods, some sort of evil would befall them and they would repent of their wicked ways and return to the God of Israel. When Israel travelled in the desert for 40 years, it would be to God’s ultimate good, as He would give to them a land that would truly be theirs, a land flowing with milk and honey. Though many if not all of the prophets of old met with an untimely death or sort of persecution, the message of God was proclaimed through them and many were brought to saving faith in God.

The ultimate act of evil turned to good was nothing short of what happened to our Lord. The perfect Son of God took on human flesh and blood, entering into a world of sin and death. Things only get worse from this point on. For three years, He traveled the surrounding area proclaiming that He was the promised Messiah of long ago, that He would lay down His life for the lives of the sinful people that He is living amongst. Few understood, but many were quick to persecute Him, seek to put Him to death. Ultimately, they would succeed. On Good Friday, He would be nailed to a tree of death and laid in a tomb to rot as a heretic in the eyes of many.

If left up to the Pharisees, that’s exactly what they would like to happen. With Jesus out of the picture, there is no one to threaten their sphere of influence, no one to question their teaching as being right or wrong. Everything can go back the way it was three years earlier and everyone can move on with the lives again. However, that is not the way things are going to play out.

As Paul said, All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” With the death of Christ, all things are working for good. Christ would do what He said He would do: He would come, live a sinless life, be crucified and rest in the tomb for three days. After three days, He would be raised from the dead. Very few truly believed He would do what He said that He would do. But the people believing or not believing in what Jesus said doesn’t make it any less true. Christ did all that He said He would do. He defeated sin, death, and the devil. He gave His life so that God’s creation would not die eternally. He died so that you would live.

Today we see the blind man made to see again to show the glory of God at work. By Christ’s hands, the man went and washed and came back seeing. This is terrific. This is wonderful. This is a cause to rejoice. However, that’s not how the Pharisees see it, for you see, it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. God’s law forbade work on the Sabbath and the Pharisees had a lot of traditions about what constituted work on the Sabbath. The problem was that most of these traditions were based on human opinions and not on the Word of God. According to the man-made tradition of the elders, Jesus had just violated the Sabbath. This caused a severe contradiction. If Jesus violated the Sabbath, then God would not give Him the authority to give sight to the blind. Nevertheless, according to their traditions, Jesus had worked on the Sabbath, but God had given sight to the blind anyway.

This man who had been born blind received much more than sight from the Savior. The Holy Spirit worked faith in his heart. He understood that he was a sinner and could not save himself. He learned that Jesus was not just a prophet, but that he was the Lord of the prophets and even more. He was the fulfillment of all the prophets. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, rose from the dead, and showed Himself to His disciples, this man saw that his sins died with Jesus Christ and remained in the grave when Christ rose.

The Lord does forgive you, and the Lord has not forsaken you. Jesus declares in the text, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Though He has ascended into heaven, Jesus remains in the world, as near to you as the means of grace. He remains the Light of the world, saving you from the darkness of sin and death. Where He added His Word to mud to make the blind man see, He added His Word to water and gave you faith to see in your Baptism. Where He sought out the healed man to speak again His saving Word, He still speaks His saving Word to you, to strengthen your faith so that you might believe in the Son of Man. He feeds you His own body and blood, so that His work of faith might continue to be displayed in you.

Our Lord doesn’t play the blame game when it comes to sin. The Lord makes this answer perfectly clear: He declares that He has come into this world of darkness to shine the light of His grace upon you. He has gone to the cross to die for your sin, and He is risen again to deliver you to everlasting life. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 3 – “Living Waters” (John 4:5-26)

A-32 Lent 3 (Jn 4.5-26)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Things with Jesus are never without controversy. Today’s Gospel account is no different. Jesus had revealed Himself as the Lord by His first miracle in Cana. His disciples had put their faith in Him after seeing His glory. But Christ had not come just to educate a select group of people in the truths of eternal life. He had come for all people. Although He spent a greater share of His ministry seeking the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” He never neglected an opportunity to share His Word with the non-Jewish community.

Our text demonstrates Jesus’ love for all people, a love which finally led Him to Calvary. He had been in Jerusalem where He had cleared the temple. He had discussed the miracle of rebirth with Nicodemus. He then withdrew from Jerusalem, carrying on His work in Judea. When His enemies noticed the crowds of people listening to Him, Jesus withdrew from Judea, the seat of hostility, and returned to Galilee.

“And he had to pass through Samaria,” John records. The most direct route lay through Samaria, but most Jews took the longer route through the Jordan Valley to avoid Samaria. The Samaritans were half-breeds, who accepted Genesis to Deuteronomy as their Scriptures, but also kept many of their heathen ideas. The Jews despised the Samaritans and avoided them at all costs. But Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.” John doesn’t say that Jesus could have gone through Samaria or that He could choose to go through Samaria, but rather that He had to go through Samaria. The Savior went through this countryside on a search and rescue mission.

Christ, in love, singled out a Samaritan woman. Her past was tarnished. She had destroyed her life. Her guilt was overwhelming, but He approached her in love. He patiently led her to see in Him more than a tired, thirsty Jew. She saw in Him the Christ, the one who could cleanse her from her sin. She became a believer, for Jesus’ powerful words drew her to faith.

As we see Jesus interacting with the Samaritan woman, we see Jesus’ human nature at full force, for He arrives wearied and thirsty. John draws our attention to Jesus’ tired condition, for the Son of God truly shares our humanity and understands our needs. When the Samaritan woman first encountered Him, she would have had no reason to suspect He was anyone but a footsore traveler. She would not have spoken to this Jew, but Jesus in His compassion and love drew her to hear His words of life. He began a marvelous conversation that ended with her receiving eternal life. He began it so simply. “Give me a drink.”

For Jesus to converse with her showed how out of character Jesus truly was. She knew the Jews’ racism and discrimination against the Samaritans, and yet this Jew speaks to her. This Jew is unlike any other Jew, that He would be interested in and caring about anyone and everyone, even a Samaritan. God can’t really be like this unless He has an overpowering desire to love us all, down to the last one, even those who are looked down upon such as the Samaritan woman.

It’s a good thing that Jesus is not like all the other Jews. He doesn’t snub His nose at those who are inferior to Him, which would be everyone since He is the Son of God. No, He comes to meet us where we are, in our sinfulness and promises to lift us up out of that sinfulness. He doesn’t do it by means of being a life-coach or motivational speaker to us, telling us how we can do it ourselves. He doesn’t do it by the things of this world. He does it by willingly placing Himself upon the cross. He does so by letting the blood flow from His pierced side into the cup that He gives to you at His Table.

Jesus gives to the Samaritan woman and to all who hear a promise: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” That promise was given to you in your Baptism, that in that blessed water, your sins were drowned and you died, only to be born again into Christ as a new creation, one that is forgiven and made a part of the family of God.

It all comes down to a Savior. But we don’t have a singular Savior, we have saviors, plural. They’re all the same. At least, that’s how society looks at it. Each church has their particular song and dance — each one has its schtick and list of things that true disciples do. Each one presents a list of requirements for the “real” people of God. Truly, the popular view of religion is that all roads lead to God, so just pick the one with the best ride and prettiest view along the way. Even within the Church, many Christians see all denominations as equally true, despite different doctrines, as if God runs a theological smorgasbord and you can just mix and match and get the same result.

But that thinking is where you are wrong. All roads do not lead to God. All roads do not lead to Christ. All roads do not lead to heaven, despite what the world will tell you. Where all other religions are really the same at heart, Christianity is different. Yours is not a Savior who gathers you at this well in order to tell you what to do. He’s the Savior who has become flesh to live for you, die for you, rise for you. He’s the Savior who gathers you here, in this place, to give you living water — to give you forgiveness and life and salvation. As He did for the Samaritan woman, He offers you the living water of His grace, requiring nothing from you.

We must rely solely upon Jesus Christ to give to us true living water. We will often turn to the things of this world to quench our thirst. These things may quench it temporarily but the thirst will return. This living water that our Lord gives to us is given freely, without any requirement on our part, except that we surrender our sins to the One who takes away those sins.

Your Lord Jesus does not give you gifts to reward you for your holiness, but He gives you His gifts to make and keep you holy. If you were already holy without Him, you wouldn’t need Jesus to give you forgiveness. Jesus doesn’t go to the cross to give you bonus points for your own righteousness, but because you didn’t have any righteousness of your own, Christ died in order to save you.

The Samaritan woman listens to Jesus and tells Him that the Messiah is coming will explain everything. Christ is here, present in His means of grace, just as He promised. When you hear His Word proclaimed, when it is joined with water, bread, and wine, you know that it is Christ saying, “I who speak to you am He.” It is no less than Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to speak His saving Word to you, to declare to you that all of your sins are forgiven. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.

Lent 2 – “God’s Kingdom” (John 3:1-17)

A-30 Lent 2 (Jn 3.1-17)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

It must have been hard to be Nicodemus. Probably one of the hardest things of his life was living two lives – his Pharisaical live and then the life that looked to Jesus. He is open to new ideas and possibilities and independent enough to give Jesus a fair hearing. He is skeptical enough to want straight answers before he commits himself to anything. He is willing to take the risk of breaking step with his colleagues in the Sanhedrin and make up his own mind about Jesus and his movement. He is cautious enough to do so alone and at night. He likes a theological discussion and prides himself in his sensibleness and logic, yet keeps the stakes fairly low by being reluctant to put his reputation or career on the line.

Under the cover of the darkness of night, he goes to Jesus, wanting something more, possibly something more than the Pharisees and all the Sanhedrin can give him. Nicodemus, unlike the other Pharisees, came sincerely seeking the truth. Jesus’ teachings and signs had impressed him. He confessed that Jesus had come from God. He knew so because Jesus did miraculous signs no one could do without God.

As with see with this discourse, Nicodemus correctly states that Jesus is from God and Jesus answers him by saying, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus speaks of being “born again.” It’s time to ask the good Lutheran question: What does Jesus mean? Nicodemus clearly didn’t understand because he questioned about being born a second time from the mother’s womb. Nicodemus isn’t the only one to not understand either.

Often in evangelical circles when one speaks of being “born again,” it means that moment in your life when you make that decision to follow Jesus or when you decide to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. However, that is not what Jesus means. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” With these words of Jesus, He speaks about the wonderful gift of Holy Baptism, that sacred act where God chooses to make us His beloved child, where Jesus redeems us and where the Holy Spirit gives to us faith. Notice that it is the Trinity who is doing the work and not the individual. Being born again as Jesus explains is an act that is done completely from the outside, not the inside.

A person can contribute no more to his spiritual birth than he did to his physical birth. The Holy Spirit must give a person the new birth. The Spirit does this in Baptism. Jesus says God’s Spirit works in the water of Baptism to accomplish the new birth. Through your Baptism, you are brought into the kingdom of God and made part of that great heavenly family, a family with God as our Father and Christ as our Brother.

What Jesus said was profound and Nicodemus was left wondering, questioning what Jesus had said. Jesus spoke of glorious things, of divine things, and Nicodemus thought in terms of his own experience, relying on his own knowledge to grasp what Jesus was talking about. And so Jesus asks him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”

Nicodemus isn’t alone in his ignorance of what Jesus says regarding the new birth of water and the Spirit. Many are ignorant of what Jesus means. Holy Baptism does something extraordinary, something that we cannot comprehend; yet we accept it by faith. But for as many as accept Baptism by faith, there are just as many who reject it or see it as nothing more than a human rite that a person does to confess their faith, and that’s where it stops. Jesus makes it clear that even as we don’t choose our physical birth, neither do we choose our new birth in Him either. It is God who does the choosing, not us.

We all have a little bit of Nicodemus in us. We are ignorant of what God promises us. We are ignorant of what we have received on account of Christ. We fail to understand what it means to be a part of the family of God. As a teacher of the Old Testament, Nicodemus should have understood the things about which Jesus spoke. Nicodemus knew quite a lot but still did not understand in his heart because he stressed the how instead of the fact. There are still those, like Nicodemus, who insist on explanations about the mysteries of the Spirit rather than taking them on faith and finding in them their great comfort and joy.

Even though Nicodemus doesn’t understand everything that Jesus is saying, Jesus lays out God’s divine plan of salvation – not just for Nicodemus, but for you and me and for all people: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” This does indeed proclaim salvation: heaven is not yours because you have done enough to earn it, but because Christ has done enough to save you. “Enough” did not come cheap, but by His holy, precious blood, and by His bitter suffering and death.

Christ’s death for your sin is your salvation—completely. It is not by your work, but because you have been born again by water and the Spirit. The price is paid in full, the work is done and salvation is yours. With that being said, Satan will always try to convince you otherwise. He will tell you that you’re not good enough. He will tell you that you haven’t done enough. He will tell you that you are unlovable. He will tell you that your sin is too great to be forgiven. The ironic thing about Satan’s argument is that he’s right on every point. But that is where God trumps every argument that Satan has made or could ever make. Even though you are every argument that Satan makes, God’s love for you is greater. His grace and mercy are greater. He sends His Son to the cross, to be utterly forsaken so that He may atone for your sins, that you may be forgiven, and that you may have everlasting life.

All of this was done so that we would have eternal life. He did all this out of love for us, so that we would have life and have it abundantly in His name. This was done for us because we are sinners in need of salvation. We aren’t born with eternal life. Each and every one of us are born into a sinful world and we die in a sinful world. However, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have that gift of everlasting life.

God has created you. Jesus Christ has redeemed you, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood.” You have been brought to believe in Him by the power of His Holy Spirit, poured out on you at your Baptism. What a mystery all of this is. We will never understand how this all works in this world. Fortunately, God does not ask us to understand it. He only expects us to believe and even supplies the faith that does the believing.

Christ has died and Christ is risen for you. He does not come now to judge you, to condemn you for your sin. Rather, He comes with grace and salvation, to tell you that you are born again by the work of the Spirit, to maintain that new life by His Word and His Supper. He comes to declare that you are entered into the kingdom of God, because you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 1 – “Creation’s Story” (Genesis 3:1-21)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Old Testament, which was read earlier.

Everyone loves a good story. And what makes a good story? Usually, it would start with, “Once upon a time” and end with “And they lived happily ever after.” There is often a situation that needs to be resolved in the story and the main characters are the one who resolve the problem. This morning, we have a story that has all the makings of an epic story, though this story is not a fairytale story, though it will have a fairytale ending.

God’s epic story begins with creation and leads us to the first two people that God created, Adam and Eve. Things couldn’t be better for Adam and Eve. They lived in the Garden of Eden and had everything that they could ever need. They enjoyed intimate walks with God, Creator and creation coming together and enjoying one another’s company. The first chapter of this book is perfect, just as it should be. It’s not until you get to chapter three that things begin taking a turn for the worse.

The opening verse of the chapter sets the tone of how things will be from here on out: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” When you read a verse like that, this sets up for you the problem of the story that will need to be resolved.

When God placed Adam and Eve into the Garden, there was a single, simple rule that must be followed: eat from anything in the Garden except one tree, for when they do, they will surely die. It sounds as if it’s a pretty straight-forward rule with a straight-forward consequence. However, the serpent had something else in mind. With a single question, the problem begins to present itself: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Something enters the equation that wasn’t present before: doubt. Up until now, creation obeyed the Creator, no questions asked, and why shouldn’t they? With a simple question from the serpent, doubt comes racing into creation and leads to the problem of the story – creation disobeys the Creator. Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden tree and things are forever changed.

Now the consequence of their actions is made known by God. Eve will experience pain in childbirth. While childbirth can be painful, that doesn’t sound as bad of a consequence as Eve could have received. However, for Adam, the consequence is much more dire, more so in fact that it reaches to all of creation. The worst part of the consequence is the second half of it: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It’s here that we reach the climax of the problem in our story: the main characters are going to die. It is because of their actions that they will experience a temporal death. That trickles down throughout all of creation to every man, woman, and child. Because of our first parents, we will experience death. That is more than Satan could have ever expected. He wants God’s creation to simply doubt the words of the Creator. For creation to experience death, that truly is the best thing that Satan could have ever hoped for.

It sounds as if this story isn’t going to have a happy ending. But God already wrote the happy ending into the story and if you blinked, you might have missed it. The happy ending actually comes before the consequences. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The happy ending is that you will have life after death! Even though Adam and Eve broke God’s single command, God has the perfect answer to the problem at hand: He is going to send a Redeemer to buy back Adam and Eve. That same Redeemer will buy you back as well, since you are God’s beloved creation.

Listen to what Paul says in our Epistle reading: “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…. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

The happy ending comes through Jesus. The happy ending comes through the main character of the story. While in the beginning it seemed as if the main characters were Adam and Eve, they were only the supporting characters of the story. The main character was from the beginning Jesus, because this story is all about Jesus. It is about the promise of Jesus in the beginning. In the middle of the story, it’s about what Jesus is going to do. Towards the end of the story, we see what it is that Jesus does. We see how Jesus lives the perfect live that God demands and dies the death that you and I deserve. Our death accomplishes nothing while Jesus’ death accomplishes salvation for all who believe in Him.

This story plays itself out exactly as God had planned it. Jesus our great High Priest does all that we cannot. He defeats sin, death, and the devil. He does that by bring tried, convicted, and crucified. On what grounds was He tried? He was tried on the grounds that He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah of long ago come to fulfill the prophecies of old.

While judged as a heretic for making such a claim, it is by the truth of that claim is He able to do for us what He does. As the Son of God, He is able to make atonement to God on behalf of creation. As the Son of God, He is able to clothe us in His righteousness so that we may stand before God as holy and redeemed people. Jesus gives His holy, innocent, precious blood in exchange for creation.

Jesus kept the promise that God made to the serpent. He is the seed of the woman who crushed the serpent’s head. What a glorious victory for Christ and for us. Jesus endured temptation for us and never fell. Although He lived among sinners in a sinful world, He never sinned. He is the Lord our righteousness. With His suffering and death on the cross, He took all our sin to Himself and gave us the righteousness He lived with His perfect life. Because of this incredibly unfair exchange, God examines us and declares us holy and righteous for the sake of Christ.

This story ends with a happy ending. Christ dies, and yet He lives. Creation dies, and yet creation lives. Creation is restored to the Creator, just as it was meant to be from the beginning. We will live with Christ because of His sacrifice for us, so that we may stand before God as His holy and redeemed people. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Transfiguration of Our Lord – “Mountain Experiences” (Matthew 17:1-9)

A-26 Transfiguration (Mt 17.1-9)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Mountains are a beautiful expression of God’s creation. They are great in size but can also be small in size. They can be snow covered year round or green year round. When it comes to the Bible, God uses mountains time and time again to convey His Word of Law and Gospel to His people. Today, as we end the season of Epiphany, we find Jesus on a mountain and things will never be the same again for three of His disciples.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John received a preview of heavenly glory. They were privileged to see a display of Jesus’ divine glory, the glory that was His as the Son of God, although it was only occasionally and partially revealed during His time on earth.

There must have been something special about these three disciples of Jesus, for on a number of special occasions did these three and none of the other disciples accompany Jesus. Today would indeed prove to be a very special occasion, as they would serve as witnesses, who in due time, could tell the world what they saw and heard there on the mountain.

There on the mountain, Jesus was transfigured before the disciples. The word would be one that you would recognize, metamorphosis. But this was more than just passing through various stages of evolving like a caterpillar to a butterfly. This was a complete change of Jesus, in that His full divinity became apparent. Matthew says, “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” This reminds us of the brightness of Moses’ face when he came down from Mount Sinai, but there Moses was only reflecting the glory of God. It reminds us of the glory of the Lord that shone around the shepherds at Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth and of the bright shining angel at the tomb of Jesus on Easter morning. Here we see the full glory of God reflected in Jesus Christ.

This was a spectacle to see if there was ever a spectacle. We see the human nature of Christ and even His clothing was completely immersed with the brilliance of the divine nature. For most of the 33 years Jesus lived visibly in our world, He emptied Himself of the use of that divine glory. He masked His divine nature behind His human nature. On this occasion the Father permitted His Son’s divine nature to shine through the human shell.

Things start to happen, things that should seem impossible. Following the full glory of God being revealed in Jesus, Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain and begin talking to Jesus as if it’s just another day. Moses, the great representative of the Law, was God’s messenger for the Israelites. He led them to the Promised Land, though he himself was not permitted to enter. Moses died at Moab and was buried by the LORD Himself. Elijah, the great representative of prophecy, also appeared. Elijah was taken up to heaven bodily without experiencing death. Now they both stood before the three disciples talking with Jesus.

As far as Peter was concerned, the sight was remarkable, and it truly was. He wanted to freeze the scene as it was. He wished to put everyday life on hold. He wanted to preserve this glorious moment. Peter wanted to keep everything as it was, so that these famous guests could remain where they were and so that Jesus could remain as He was. Who could really fault Peter for wanting this? When you have Moses, the great lawgiver and face of God’s people, would you want to give him up? When you have Elijah, the great prophet of old, who would want to send him away?

It was “good” for those three disciples to be there, and it is good for us to witness this amazing display of the Savior’s glory. In a short time, Jesus would endure the brutal agony and indignity of the cross. This glimpse of Jesus’ glory was meant to remind the three disciples—and it reminds us—that Jesus was and ever is the eternal Son of God.

If things could not have been extraordinary enough, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”” Here you are on a mountain with Jesus, minding your own business. Suddenly, you see the full glory of God reflected in Jesus. Next,  Moses and Elijah appear out of nowhere and begin having a conversion with Jesus. That alone is a sight to behold. But then you hear the voice of God speak. But there would be more to this story, more to this mountain.

The Mount of Transfiguration points us to an even more important mountain, this time, Mount Calvary. Here we see the full glory of God revealed, there on Calvary we see the full love of God displayed. St. Paul says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Here on the Mount of Transfiguration we see Moses and Elijah. There on Calvary we see Jesus as fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. There on Calvary we see the how far God would go to forgive us our sins — all the way to the cross.

Jesus is shown to be the only one who can deal with our sin. Only Jesus fulfills the Law, has all power, and lives the glory of God. It is only Jesus who can save us from our sin. Jesus worked our salvation for the glory of God. By Jesus’ holy life, death on Calvary, and resurrection is God’s plan of salvation fulfilled. Through faith in Him, you are forgiven and have eternal life.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter sought to stay on the mountain forever with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. He was focused on the here and now. What he failed to realize was that Jesus was not destined for this mountain, but He was destined for another mountain, one that would bring about salvation for all of mankind.

The voice of God speaks and tells us to listen to Jesus. That means we do not add or subtract from salvation through Jesus Christ. All of Scripture points to Him, including that of Moses and Elijah.

Jesus showed us who He truly is with His transfiguration. His ordinary appearance showed that He is true man. His transfigured appearance showed that He is true God. This will help the disciples survive the events of Jesus’ Passion. This will remind all Christians that their sins are truly paid in full.

So what does this mean for us? It means that the work of Christ is complete. It means that God the Father is pleased with the atoning sacrifice of Christ and that salvation is assured for the believer. It means that salvation is assured for you. From the Mount of Transfiguration to Mount Calvary, we see His glory in the salvation He has won for us. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 6 – “Christ’s Church” (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Have you ever paid close attention to the progression of eating food from birth to adulthood? Following birth, a baby is on a solely milk-based diet, giving to them the basic nutrients that are necessary for growth. As they age, they begin supplementing their milk diet with baby food, starting out with Stage 1 and increasing to Stage 3 foods. Eventually, they reach something that resembles real food. Children need help cutting their food and tricks to help them eat because they are fearful of foods, especially weird things called vegetables. Once we reach adulthood, we are capable of eating a plethora of foods, but to get to this point, it was a progression. For the Church at Corinth, Paul feeds them much the same way that we feed children – starting with the basic and the simple and moving to the complex.

As Paul presents the Gospel to the Corinthians, he could not address them as spiritual “but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” These Corinthians, so fascinated by man’s wisdom, so bent on acquiring it, so vain about the worldly wisdom they possessed, were insisting that Paul also give them God’s deepest wisdom when he preached to them. That sounds wonderful, with great potential to the Corinthians, doesn’t it? Aside from their fascination with worldly wisdom, which, who could blame them since that’s what sinful man tries to attain, they want the fullness of the Gospel preached to them. But there was a problem with their desire – they weren’t ready for it. They were not capable of drinking from the firehose; they needed to drink from the faucet in little bursts.

Paul was faced with a question: how much of God’s wisdom can you feed an infant? The Corinthians were only babes in Christ, too immature spiritually to absorb much heavenly wisdom. They were too worldly; their flesh was too weak to understand more than the basics of Christianity. Paul gives to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ but in a way that they were able to digest. He says, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.” It wasn’t a slight to the Corinthians but an honest evaluation of where they were in their Christian faith. No mother gives her infant solid food when they cannot chew or digest it; so Paul could give the Corinthians only the simplest of spiritual food, that is, spiritual milk. They thought they were ready for the spiritual big leagues when they were yet still a farm team.

What was at the root of their spiritual problems? They faced many a division, from within and without. They had spiritual divisions as to who to follow, what message to listen to, what god they should confess and the like. They were squabbling like children, each wanting to first. They were behaving like children rather than the men who they were.

As if that weren’t bad enough, they started bragging about which teacher they followed. There were those that followed Apollos and thought they were getting some extra blessing that those who followed Paul were not getting and vice versa. For them, it wasn’t so much about the message as to who was preaching the message. Paul seeks to put an end to their egotistical ways. He said with regard to himself and Apollos, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” It wasn’t about the man, it was about the message. That was Paul’s point from our Epistle reading. It was vital for the Corinthians to understand that Paul was a mouth, a speaker of the Gospel. He didn’t add anything to it. What could Paul add? Remember, Paul was the former persecutor of the Church: it’s not like he had years and years of good works and merit saved up that he could hand out to others. Apollos was a former Greek heathen who’d lived as an enemy of God for years too. He had no salvation to contribute to what Jesus had won, either. Had both been saints their entire lives, they’d still have nothing to add to Christ! Both teachers were Christians by the grace of God, chosen by God to speak His Word. Whether it was Paul or Apollos speaking it, what mattered was that it was the Gospel.

It was a simple truth, but such an important one for the Corinthians to believe. Why? Because as long as they thought Paul was something they needed, they would think that Christ was less than sufficient to save them. But once they realized that Paul and Apollos were simply the messengers of the King, they were ready to rejoice in Christ and Him crucified, that Jesus had done everything necessary for their salvation.

For the Church today, it’s not about the pastor, though there are have been the fair share of churches that have been centered upon the pastor. What happens to those congregations often turns out to be detrimental. This fact is important: the preacher is just the instrument. He can easily be removed or replaced, though by God and not the sinful desires of man. The pastor is God’s tool, not theirs. The pastor doesn’t really matter for salvation; what matters is the Gospel that is preached.

The preacher is just the mouth and that is the comfort for the Church. Preachers come and go, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. As Paul concludes our text, “For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” Owned by God, given one’s duty by God, empowered to one’s service by God, and ultimately held accountable by God, the servant is a conscripted slave laborer by the ultimate of lords—the sole God of everything that is. Everything that the pastor says and does is for the work of the Church and not for himself. Paul’s desire is to retrain the Corinthian’s focus from their human leaders and refocus it to God. Who is the one who gives growth to God’s Word? It is not the pastor but it is God. The Church remains God’s Church and not the pastor’s Church. It is not about personalities but the Word.

The Lord gives the growth, and the Lord is faithful. By His Word which endures forever, He has made you His field, His building, His holy people. By that eternal Word, you are forgiven all of your sins. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.