Advent 2 – “Baptism for Repentance” (Mark 1:1-8)

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.

Christmas preparations are in full swing. Decorations are hung. The music is playing. The stores are bustling with people looking to buy presents. By the time Christmas arrives, many people are ready for Christmas to be over. The world observes Christmas in the days leading up to it. It’s as if the birth of Christ takes a back seat to the business of Christmas. Who would celebrate a baby’s birth before the child is even born? It’s an easy answer for those in the Church, for we long for the Christ Child to come, and we keep on celebrating after Jesus arrives, for Jesus is at the very center of Christmas.

What type of preparation is necessary for an event like this, for the arrival of God in the flesh? How should one prepare to meet the Lord? Our text for today tells us how John prepared the way of the Lord for this grand event.

Mark begins his Gospel account about thirty years after the birth of Jesus. While Marks begins by saying, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” he in fact doesn’t begin with Jesus but rather with words from the prophet Isaiah: “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet….” Didn’t Mark say that this was the gospel of Jesus Christ? If that’s true, then why begin all the way back in Isaiah? Mark isn’t wrong with his layout of the gospel of Jesus, because it begins all the way back in the Old Testament.

Isaiah had prophesied of the coming Messiah time and time again. He told the people where the Messiah would come from. He told the people about the purpose of the Messiah. He even prophesied of one would come before Jesus to be His herald, John the Baptist. John has a singular purpose to his being: preparing the people to receive Jesus. Isaiah says of John, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

What does John do that is so important for the coming of Jesus? People sensed that John was indeed a prophet, if not the Messiah himself. John denies the latter while affirming the former. He declares to those that think of him as the Messiah as one who is unworthy to until the sandals of the One to come. This is not about John, not even in the least. It’s all about Jesus. It’s all about preparing the people to receive the long-promised Messiah when He comes. John prepared for Jesus by pointing away from himself and instead to Christ.

That same style of John should be ours as well. John prepares us for Jesus by turning us from our sins to Christ. Sin is a turning in on itself. And we all like to turn inward to ourselves, don’t we? We emphasize how great we are. We downplay all of the sins, I’m sorry, “bad choices,” that we’ve made. We think of ourselves as much better than what we are. We are nothing but a walking pile of sin. John knows that because he too is a walking pile of sin. But “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

One cannot properly prepare themselves to meet Jesus. It is the Lord who graciously calls and comes to us. No sinner can stand in the Lord’s presence in his own strength and character, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. We do all of our good works as if it will earn us merit with God. But none of our works prepare us to stand before the almighty God at His judgement.

John knows that he is not worthy of the Messiah and what He comes to bring and to do. He proclaims a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John’s baptism is unique in its purpose. It is to prepare people to meet the coming Lord. First, one must be washed, that is baptized, to be able to repent and be forgiven. The baptized are washed and covered with the robe of righteousness that comes from Jesus. Being baptized is preparation for the coming One, but it is not our work.

As we see, people from all of Judea and Jerusalem were coming to John to be baptized. They were baptized in the Jordan, confessing their sins. That meant turning from those sins to the One whom John was proclaiming. Though they didn’t know His identity yet, they were trusting that their sins were being forgiven by the Christ, the Messiah. And they were. And ours are. Yours are.

John the Baptist calls on you to trust the Messiah and repent! Get your sins out in the open. Confess them to almighty God. Rely on His mercy. Look to the forgiveness of sins you received through baptism. John comes telling the people that if you have not yet received baptism, then be baptized for the forgiveness of sins!

John exhorted the people to believe in the Messiah who was to come, in fact, who was already there, and who is here for you. This mighty Savior is no one other than Jesus Christ. He is the one whom the prophets proclaimed and He is the one in whom they believed. This mighty Savior is the solution to our problem of sin. He is the one who earned forgiveness for our sins and offers that forgiveness to us for free. He is the one who makes us holy in God’s sight.

How did He do this? As mighty as Jesus is, He demonstrated His might in weakness. Even though we are not worthy to touch His feet, He allowed mere men to nail Him to a cross. It was from the apparent weakness of that cross that Jesus demonstrated His greatest might. In the apparent defeat of death, Christ conquered death. He became the solution for sin by taking our sin onto Himself and paying the price for it. It is only through Him that we receive the forgiveness of sins.

This is the task of John the Baptist, preparing the way. If people are going to rejoice in the Lord’s mercy, they must first understand how much they need it. With physical sickness, it is easy – the leper looks at the decay in his body and earnestly desires a cure. With sin it’s more difficult, because people naturally believe they are good enough. They must hear differently. This is why John the Baptist must preach to them a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. He must tell them of their sin, how they deserve God’s wrath and punishment. When they understand that they do not deserve grace and life, they will be ready to hear that their sins are pardoned. They will be ready to receive what they don’t deserve. They will be ready for the Lord’s mercy.

The Lord comes and John prepares the way. Through the Word of God, we hear His Law and confess our sin; we repent and trust in His Word of grace. Therefore, we are confident that when the Lord comes to be present among us, He comes to be merciful. We cast our cares upon Him, trusting in His mercy, for we hear Him declare these merciful words: “Your iniquity is pardoned, your warfare is over, and 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.

Advent 1 – “Here Comes Jesus” (Mark 11:1-10)

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.

Jesus is soon to come. In fact, it’s 22 days until Christmas for those keeping track. But we are expecting to receive a newborn baby lying in a manger. Instead, we see an adult Jesus making His way to Jerusalem. That doesn’t sound Christmassy, does it? Of course it doesn’t because that’s what we hear during Holy Week. But this isn’t Christmas, it’s Advent. Advent means “coming into” and that’s what we are doing. The story of Jesus in Advent is the story of hope coming into the world. When the time was just right, God sent His Son, Jesus into the world. We learn how to prepare to receive Jesus, the hope of the world.

And that’s where we find ourselves. We find the people preparing to receive Jesus when He goes to Jerusalem. This isn’t going to be a social visit for Jesus; He has an appointment to keep. His appointment is with the cross.

Jesus sends two of His disciples ahead as the advance preparation team. They are to go into the village ahead. They will find a colt tied, they are to untie it and bring it back with them to Jesus.

This seems to be out of character for Jesus. For three years, Jesus has been teaching and preaching, healing and performing miracles. On more than one occasion, He has been called a King. But this doesn’t seem kingly by any means. When we see royalty of Jesus’ day, they are riding on horseback or chariot, not a donkey. There is great fanfare and pomp and circumstance. Here, there is no fanfare. There is no pomp and circumstance. Rather, there is Jesus riding on a donkey.

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, Jerusalem was poised for the celebration of the Passover. This annual remembrance of God’s act of deliverance of His children from Egypt would have swelled the streets of Jerusalem with holiday crowds. The day of the slaughter of the Passover lambs was fast approaching. People were anticipating the delight of being with family for the Passover feast. But when King Jesus comes into Jerusalem, it interrupts the sort of celebration people are expecting. He comes into Jerusalem, the city of the temple – the place of sacrifice – to suffer and to die as God’s ultimate Passover Lamb. His sacrifice interrupts the monotonous routines of sin and death. Here is a King like no other, for this King comes not in royal splendor or with military might, but in the humility of the Servant who embraces the cross for you.

Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem was at best a local news piece. His handlers could have done a much more impressive job of staging the event. The colt takes Jesus along the road at a casual pace. People have gathered along the way. They’re excited to see Jesus, but these aren’t a celebrity audience. Instead, these are mostly plain folks. People from Bethany and the surrounding area were anxious to see Jesus, who raised Lazarus from the dead. He was coming to the Holy City, Jerusalem, where they expected Him to be enthroned and overthrow the despised Romans. The crowd eagerly put their cloaks on the road along with palm branches. Something special was going to take place and they wanted to be a part of it.

We see much the same with Christ at this time of year. We begin celebrating the “real” reason for Christmas: gift giving, parties, but most importantly, gift receiving. We are doing our own thing, enjoying what Christmas is all about, then Christ comes to ruin everything. For all who think like that, just remember one thing: you can’t have Christmas without Christ, no matter how hard you try.

Today, we begin preparing ourselves for Christ’s entry into this world, coming into this world by being born in a stable in the small town of Bethlehem. We prepare our hearts for what Christmas brings: it brings the Savior of the Nations, the Virgin Son who makes His home amongst the chosen people of God, as sinful as we are. God came to His people and lived among them as one of them. As God came to us in flesh and blood, He experienced all the things we experience – gestation and birth, childhood, weeping and laughter, pleasure and pain, and all the other things that make up the human experience. He even experienced temptation, but He never gave in to it.

We wait for Jesus’ coming by observing another season of Advent. We look back at Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem and give thanks. We see the climax of that first coming with His enthronement upon the cross. We celebrate, yet ponder this awe-filled mystery. Jesus came to live and Jesus came to die. He came to give His life as a ransom for all. Gentleness, humility, and meekness marked His first coming, even as He journeyed to Jerusalem to the cross. A crucifixion is the last place one would look for an enthronement, but here is Jesus, crucified for you. All your sins were laid upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. He fulfilled God’s Law completely. His death and resurrection ushered in His coming Kingdom.

All of this, He did for you. He is the Blessed One, for in His saving death, He brings all the blessings of heaven – forgiveness of sins and peace with God – down to earth, down to you. It is no wonder that during the season of Advent, we especially hear that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, God with us. Even as God lives with us, He still comes to us. He comes to us as we read and hear His Word. He also continues to come to us in His flesh and blood as we eat and drink the bread and the wine of His Table.

As He comes to us in His flesh and blood, we eat the very flesh that He sacrificed for us on the cross and the very blood that He shed for us on the cross. However, this flesh and blood are not dead things. For the Son of God did not remain dead and buried in the tomb, but He came to life. He rose from the dead. The flesh and blood He gives to us are not just the flesh and blood of crucifixion, but they are also the flesh and blood of resurrection. In this sacrament, He comes to us with the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

Consider God and His coming during this Advent. Consider His coming at Christmas, but don’t limit your consideration just to Christmas. Consider the love that God shows in His coming in that even while sin causes terror and hatred, He continues to come with His love. Consider how He came to save us with His suffering, death, and resurrection. Consider how He now comes in Word and Sacrament. Consider how He will come to take His people home with Him. Consider the blessings that He once gave, that He now gives, and that He will give when He comes again. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Sermon for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation

500 years. 500 years since Martin Luther discovered or re-discovered the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And it is just that, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not the Gospel of Martin Luther. While we indeed give thanks for Martin Luther and his work of the Reformation, the Reformation is not about Martin Luther, contrary to popular thought. The Reformation was, is, and always will be about Jesus Christ.

What is that Gospel of Jesus Christ that Luther stumbled upon that made such a world-wide influence, continuing for the last 500 years and, God-willing, many years to come? “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Free. Set free. Acquitted. Absolved. Forgiven. Baptized. Worded. Bodied and Blooded. Saved. Freed by the Son of God.

What a Gospel nugget to find! That verse captures the saving work of mankind. It properly lists the subject of the verb as Jesus and the direct object as mankind. That’s the way that the verse has to be, because anything other than that is not salvation by Jesus.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Let that verse resonate again. It’s all about Jesus for you. Jesus does everything and you do nothing. Jesus’ holiness becomes your holiness. Jesus’ righteousness becomes your righteousness. Jesus dies and you live. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!

Sadly, that was not the message one would have heard 500 years ago. You would have heard Jesus plus – Jesus plus your works, Jesus plus your actions, Jesus plus something else. But it can’t be Jesus plus because of what Scripture says. Paul, in addressing the Romans writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Works of the law means something that man does. Jesus tells us, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Here’s the problem. We were perfect once but we aren’t perfect any longer. We lost that perfection in sin. So how are we expected to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect? We’re perfect through Jesus and nothing else.

You might be thinking that I’ve gone too far, that I can’t say that you are free in Jesus. But I did and I must and I will again – “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” That’s not Martin Luther’s words or my words. Those are Jesus’ words. If Jesus said it, then who can argue that?

When you read Scripture the way that Scripture is meant to be read, that is, to believe every word contained, from cover to cover and in between, is the very word of God. And if God said it, then it is true, no ifs, ands or buts. This is the very Word of God, a Word that promises salvation to all who believe. But what should you believe? We believe that Jesus, the very Word of God incarnate, took on human flesh like you and I, lived and died, in order to set us free from the death and damnation brought about by man’s fall into sin. It means that Jesus declares you to be forgiven of all of your sins. It means that Jesus has declared you to be justified, that is, made right before God, our Father.

If we are free, then what about our sin? Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Are we a slave to our sin or are we free? We are slaves to sin because we sin. That’s what Jesus says. We are slaves to sin and we die because of sin. But Jesus dies for you. He hangs upon the cross for you so that you are not a slave but you are free. He takes the sin of the world upon Himself. He becomes sin so that you may have life and have it abundantly in Jesus, the one who has lived and died for you.

Luther found this Jesus, the Jesus of the Holy Scriptures, 500 years ago. He needed this Jesus because he found that his works only drove him further away from the righteousness that God requires. He found that his works were insufficient for salvation because at his very nature, Luther was a sinner and Scripture told him that his good works, his righteous acts are nothing but filthy rags. And so if his good works saved him and they are filthy rags, then how could he be saved? After praying and praying and praying for God’s grace, Luther found the answer in God’s Word – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For Luther, it wasn’t a matter of boasting about what he did to be saved – he just wanted to be saved! All he wanted was God’s grace and he couldn’t find it the way that the Church had told him. Rather, he needed to find it the way that God said it could be found – in Jesus.

Now it might sound like I’ve said Jesus a lot this morning, and that’s because I have. In fact, I’ve said “Jesus” 37 times and counting. And why is that? Why spend so much time on Jesus? It’s because Jesus is at the heart of the Reformation. It’s Jesus who does the work of salvation and not man. It’s Jesus’ words of promise that declare you free from sin and justified before God, not man’s words.

That’s what Paul tells the Romans: “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” By Jesus’ crucifixion and death, by the blood that poured out of Jesus that washes over you, that’s what saves you. Can you be sure of that? Absolutely, because, once again, God’s Word declares it. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Your slavery to having to sin is over in the three magical words — “I forgive you.” The chains of sin break in the water, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The death and hell that you have coming for what you deserve has a remedy — “Take eat, take drink, the Body and Blood of Christ.”

So now you are free. You are forgiven free, freed by the Son. You are free to live a life that reflects who you are – a blood-bought and forgiven child of God. It is because of Jesus, the sun-darkened, hanging on the cross, beaten and bloodied, risen and living Jesus that has redeemed you. It is because of Jesus that the slavery of the Law has been removed from you and now rests upon Jesus. His death took the eternal punishment for your slavery to sin and in exchange has declared you forgiven by His grace and mercy shown to you.

You are free. You have been acquitted and absolved. You have been forgiven. You have been declared sinless in the eyes of God. Does it mean that you have stopped sinning? If it were only that easy. Rather, it means that God does not see your sin. Instead, He sees you as He sees Jesus – holy, pure and righteous. He sees you for who you are on account of Jesus: freed from your sin. So if Jesus, the very Son of God has set you free, you are free indeed! 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.

Pentecost 12 – “Confession of All Confessions” (Matthew 16:13-20)

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.

Jesus asks two questions to the disciples in our text, each one very important. The first question asked to the disciples is this: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Obviously that question is subjective because depending on who you asked, you would receive a very different answer. And the answer that the disciples give, the answer of the people, is just that, different. 

The people respond with the following answer: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Is Jesus someone of importance? Yes. Do the people know how important? No. Their answers range from a generic prophet or Jeremiah, one of the great prophets of old. Some place greater importance on Jesus and say that He is Elijah, one of the most notable prophets of the Old Testament. To be counted amongst the prophets of old does indeed show importance on Jesus’ character. The prophets were tasked with preaching the Word of God to the people, good words and bad. They were tasked with declaring the prophecies that pointed to God’s long-awaited Messiah, a promise made countless generations before in the Garden. Surely Jesus could not be any of these since they were all long dead

All of these showed how highly the people thought of Jesus, but there were some who were willing to upscale Jesus’ importance. Some declared Him to be John the Baptist. John the Baptist was important in his own right. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was charged to be the forerunner of Jesus. John had done just that. He had instructed the people that Jesus was coming, but not only was He coming, He was here now among them. But like most of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptists’ life did not end well, as he was beheaded by Herod. So, who could the Son of Man really be if He wasn’t one of the prophets of old?

The opinions of the people showed that they regarded Jesus very highly as a man of God, but they did not regard Him highly enough. They did not know Him as the one and only Son of God, Himself true God with the Father and the Holy Spirit from eternity. They were not much different from many people of our own day who praise Jesus as a great teacher but don’t know Him as their Savior and the only Savior of the world.

 Have you ever wondered why Jesus asks the question? Does Jesus care what people think of Him? Yes and no. The greater question is does Jesus care who people think He is? The answer is an absolute yes, and with great reason. If you do not know who Jesus truly is and what He has come to do, then He will not know you. Jesus says earlier in Matthew: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

That is why Jesus asks the next question, the all-important question that must be asked to all: “But who do you say that I am?” That is the question of the day, not just for the disciples, but for everyone. As far as the disciples were concerned, this was Jesus, their Lord and Master. What more of a response was Jesus looking for from them?

There is plenty more of a response that Jesus was looking from the disciples, and there is plenty more of a response that Jesus is looking from you. You can say, “I know who You are; You’re Jesus!” but what does that mean? Many people can look at a picture and say that the man in the picture is Jesus. But what does that mean? People from outside of Christianity can say who Jesus is, albeit wrongly, but what does that mean? There is a very specific answer that Jesus is looking for, one that will determine your eternal future. And since this is your eternal future, you had better make sure you have the right answer.

Peter, acting as spokesman for the disciples responds to Jesus by saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That’s the answer that Jesus is looking for. That’s the only response that Jesus is looking for. What better answer could there be but that? Thomas, on the evening of Christ’s resurrection gives a response that I believe is just as good: “Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

For the here and now, Peter recognized Jesus for who He was. That meant that Peter recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah foretold of so long ago. He understood Jesus to be the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Not only was Jesus a teacher, a healer, a miracle worker, He would do something that no one else has ever done or would be able to do: give His life so that we would have life. St John writes, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” That is exactly what Jesus has done. He has given His life so that you would have life and have it abundantly. He gave His life so that all of your sins would be forgiven. He gave His life so that you would be able to stand before the Holy God, not as a person condemned by their sins to hell, but rather as one who has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and now has the holiness and righteousness of Christ.

That same question has been posed to you. What matters is how that question is answered. That same confession of faith Peter made is the same one that you and I made when we confirmed our baptismal confession of faith. That same confession of faith that Peter made is the same one that you and I make today. Christ empowers us in our confession of Him today to assault the very gates of hell. He hears the promises made in Baptism and confirmation and in every confession, and He empowers us through the gift of His Spirit to assault hell itself and win. On the rock of the confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Christ has built His Church and not even hell’s gates can withstand its onslaught.

A lot of people in our day don’t understand the true meaning of the Christ. Some say Jesus was a great moral teacher, but nothing more. Others see Him as a life coach. Still others see Him as an example. Jesus is more than just a moral teacher, life coach or an example. Jesus is the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God who gave Himself as a sacrifice so that you and I might have everlasting life.

 Today, we confess alongside Peter and all the disciples, the whole Christian Church, the saints of old and the saints yet to be – “[Jesus is] the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession – “A Solid Confession” (1 Peter 1:13-25)

Note: This sermon was preached at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Indianapolis, Indiana on June 25, 2017 on the occasion of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession and in conjunction with the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, as well as the congregation’s 175th anniversary in November 2017.

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 from 1 Peter 1.13-25

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

Dear brothers and sisters of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, what a momentous occasion that we are gathered for today. We gather to celebrate a wonderful anniversary, actually, two anniversaries. On October 31, 1517, Luther posted his 95 Theses, beginning what we know as the Lutheran Church. 13 years later on June 25, 1530, the Augsburg Confession was presented to Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. In presenting this document of faith, the Augsburg Confession was intentionally crafted to present a gentle and peaceful response to the emperor. It was intended only to speak for Saxony. However, as various German leaders read it they indicated that they, too, wanted to sign their names and make it their Confession. So on June 25, 1530, courageous Lutheran laymen confessed their faith and told the emperor and the Roman Church what they believed, taught, and confessed. They relied on the promise of God’s Word, as contained in Psalm 119:46, “I will also speak of Your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame.” The Augsburg Confession was presented as a statement of biblical truth and a proposal for true unity in the Christian faith. It has never been withdrawn, remaining the great confession of faith for us Lutherans today.

Today, we celebrate the 487th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession and the clear statement of faith it declared then and that it still declares today. Rarely does such a confession last the test of time as the Augsburg Confession has.

Today, we also celebrate another important anniversary, one that is equally as important as the first to us: 1842. That was the year that St. Paul’s was founded. And 175 years later, she continues to go strong, preaching the Word of God each and every Sunday just as she has from the beginning. Despite the man that stands in this pulpit, God’s Word has been fulfilled just as God declares through the words of His servant Isaiah: “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.”

As we hear from the words of the apostle Peter, we, the Church, are called to be something. We are called to be holy. I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly feel holy everyday. In fact, there are some days where I just feel downright unholy. But being made holy is not something that I do; rather, it is something that is done for me by someone else. That someone else is who our faith is founded upon. It’s not Martin Luther, though some erroneously make that claim. It’s not John the Steadfast or the German princes of old who made such a confession. Our faith is founded upon Jesus Christ and no one else.
St. Peter was not the perfect disciple as we all know. There were many a time where he lacked holiness, where he fell short of full trust and reliance in Christ. If you, at times, feel just like St. Peter, then you are in good company. We are not holy. We never can be holy…by ourselves, at least. Our holiness comes from Jesus.

Lo all those years ago when the German princes signed their name to the Augsburg Confession, for them, it wasn’t a matter of being holy either. Rather, it was a matter of confessing the Bible as the sole teaching of Jesus Christ. This was not a popular move on their part, as this meant a death sentence for going against the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Though it was not popular, it was proper, for the Roman Catholic Church had confused the teachings of Jesus with that of man.

It is stated in the Augsburg Confession: “The churches among us do not dissent from the catholic church in any article of faith.” The reason why they could say that then, the reason why we can say that now, is because we confess Jesus Christ. It is so easy today to confess anything other than Jesus Christ. Some would even call Christianity absurd. But you and I know that to be false. We know that Jesus is our sole means of salvation. 483 years ago, those German electors were willing to die for the faith taught by the disciples, received from Jesus Christ. 175 years later, St. Paul’s continues that proud tradition of the teaching of Jesus. For the last 175 years, the theme of believe, teach, and confess Sola Christus, Jesus Christ alone, has been preached from the pulpit. Though not always popular, we preach what the Church confesses, or should confess.

As we look at our text today, we are reminded of who we are: blood-bought and redeemed children of God. St. Peter writes, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” A teaching such as that cannot be found among the teaching of man. This wasn’t some epiphany of Martin Luther or Phillip Melanchthon. This is revealed by Jesus for the Church to revel in. This is something that we should want to shout from the rooftops because this declares our salvation and the salvation of all who believe.

The theme of St. Peter’s epistle, the theme of the Augsburg Confession, the constant theme of St. Paul’s for the last 175 years is this: Christ is risen from the dead! The price has been paid for your sins: “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of lamb without spot or blemish.” The eternal Son of God, foreknown before the foundation of the world, came into this world and paid the price for your sin. He redeemed you at the cost of His own blood. And having paid that price to redeem you, He will not leave you or forsake you. That is His promise, His Word: and the Word of the Lord remains forever. You’re no longer fading, falling grass. You’re a redeemed child of God, born again by His Word to live forever.

Many things in this world come and go, things that are here today and gone tomorrow. But when it comes to the things of God and His holy Word, we know that the Word of the Lord remains forever. Today, Christ our Savior comes to you. He speaks His Word to you. He is the Host of the meal, giving you His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. He has died and He is risen, so that He might wash you clean, purify you with His own blood. He lives forever; and because He lives forever, so will you. You’re not grass anymore: in Christ, eternal life is yours. This is the Good News that is preached to you, the Word of the Lord that endures forever: Christ has lived, Christ has died, and Christ has risen for you. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Holy Trinity – “Trinity” (Matthew 28:16-20)

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

Have you ever played the board game Life before? You get a car, spin the dial, and move spaces around the board. You get married, have kids, buy a house, and get regular paydays. The winner is the one with the most money at the end, and you retire to millionaire acres. But one of the first decisions you have to make in that game is whether to go into debt by going to college or just to head out into the world and get started right away. If you go to college, you typically have much better paydays and more opportunities to make money throughout the game. If you don’t go, you save a bunch of money at the beginning and get a head start on the rest of the players.

How you start the game of Life makes a huge difference in how the game goes. That’s true in real life as well. How you start makes a huge difference in what happens to your life.

That was certainly true for Jesus’ life. How He began as a human being made a huge difference in what happened in His life. He didn’t begin on His own, but with the unity of the whole Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the Son right from conception. He is conceived by the Holy Spirit and the Father sends His Son to us.

That same triune God who was working together at His incarnation continues to do so throughout His life. Jesus begins His public ministry at His Baptism. There, the Holy Trinity is present. The Holy Spirit comes down as a dove and rests upon Jesus. The Father declares that Jesus is His beloved Son and that He is well pleased with Jesus. Jesus began His mission of salvation together with the Father and Holy Spirit, and all are active in completing our salvation. We see Him regularly in prayer with His Father, and the Holy Spirit is with Him every step of the way.

Then come the final days of His life. Now on the cross, Jesus is alone. Even His Father has abandoned Him as He goes through hell for us. But you can see the Father even in that loneliness and suffering – Jesus is carrying out His Father’s will by going to cross. On Easter morning, the Father raises Him from the dead. Later, when Jesus ascends into heaven, He sends His Holy Spirit into the Church.

Today, in our Gospel reading, Jesus gives to His disciples what is called the Great Commission. Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Most of the time when you hear this passage of Scripture, you think of one of two things: evangelism or Baptism. But this passage also teaches us something else: it teaches us the Holy Trinity.

In this text, the Lord Jesus Himself declares the identity of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and you can’t find a better source for this than the Son Himself.

So, on this day, we celebrate who God is: the Holy Trinity, one God composed of three persons. We do not worship three gods, but one. We do not worship one God who puts on three different masks to deal with us; we worship three distinct persons of the one God: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Today we celebrate what we cannot comprehend – the persons and identity of God. We know He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for He tells us. But beyond that, His being defies our logic.

How Jesus began His earthly life made a huge difference in what happened in His life. From beginning to end, the Trinity was wonderfully united in action for us. The same is true for our lives. How we start makes a huge difference. And for us in the Church, the triune God is our starting place. We begin by being baptized into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

This does something for us. It marks us as God’s beloved child. It gives to us His name, and connected to His name are a host of things. We have forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, granted to us by the work of the Son. We have the gift of faith, given to us by the Holy Spirit. This is work that is done on our behalf by a loving God who has created us. He desires to have the relationship with us that we had in the Garden. In order for that relationship to happen, Jesus had to come to be our Redeemer. Through His life, death, and resurrection, that relationship was restored.

Through all of history, the Trinity has been at work serving. Jesus, the Son of God, submits Himself to the authority of the Father. God the Father give His Son all authority in heaven and on earth. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son to fulfill their will. What do the Father, Son and Holy Spirit do as almighty God? They serve one another. But the Father, Son and Holy Spirit don’t just serve each other: They serve you.

For you, God the Father provides all good things for this body and life, as well as for eternity. Especially, He has sacrificed His Son for your sins, and continues to shower all sorts of blessings upon you. For you, God the Son has gone to the cross and died for your salvation, and continues to give you forgiveness by His means of grace, through His Word and Sacraments. For you, God the Holy Spirit continues to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify you with the forgiveness of sins, that you might remain a member of the one, holy Christian Church.

This is your cause for rejoicing: the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present Father, Son and Holy Spirit have made you their disciple. They have washed away your sins and declare your salvation. The works of man cannot save you, but the work of the Holy Trinity can; and what is this work of the Holy Trinity: to forgive all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Pentecost – “Come, Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:1-21)

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 Second Reading from Acts, which was read earlier.

We all know who makes up the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We ascribe to God the Father the act of creation. To God the Son, we ascribe the act of redemption. Finally, to God the Holy Spirit, we ascribe the act of sanctification, that is, making us holy. Not only that, the Holy Spirit gives to us the great gift of faith, that without it, nothing that Jesus does works for us. But with all that the Trinity does, the Holy Spirit tends to get the raw end of things, almost forgotten by some. However, the work of the Holy Spirit is just as important as that of the Father or the Son.

As we look at the readings appointed for the Day of Pentecost, all have the Spirit at work in the life of God’s people. Looking at the account of Moses and the elders, God sends forth His Spirit to the seventy elders, “and as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied.” In response to Moses’ prayer, the Lord addressed the needs of Moses first and provided help in the form of seventy elders. Their responsibility would be to help Moses in the administration of the Israelite nation. On them, the Lord would put His Spirit. As promised, the Spirit was put upon the elders, an extension of the work of the Spirit among God’s people. When the men received the Spirit, they began to prophesy, to proclaim the Word of the Lord.

For some unknown reason, Eldad and Medad, two of the men selected, had not presented themselves at the Tabernacle. They, however, began prophesying in the camp. Some, including Joshua, felt that these two men should be stopped from proclaiming God’s Word. Moses sees no harm in their prophesying and proclaiming of the Word of the Lord. In fact, he responds by saying, Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

Turning to the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, we see “they were all together in one place.” Who is “they” that Luke speaks of? Is it just the 11 apostles of Jesus or would this include more? Likely, this would include the 11 but also the brothers that Peter addressed, numbering 120, since Jesus’ apostles had already received the Holy Spirit. Luke records for us that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit….”

What is so important regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit? It has been said that “from that moment the Holy Spirit became the dominant reality in the life of the early Church.”  Jesus prepared His disciples for the coming of the Spirit with the promise of Pentecost. He promised that His followers would be “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” But Acts emphasizes especially one aspect of the Spirit’s work, namely, inspiring believers to speak God’s message.  Every reference to the coming of the Spirit and the work He is sent to do connects Him to the Word of Christ.

The Spirit works through God’s saving Word. It is a Word intended for all people, not just a select and gifted few. Every person in the house was filled with the Holy Spirit. The list of nations represented in Jerusalem signifies that the gift of God’s Word is to all nations and all peoples. It was a message that was understood in every language.

That is the purpose of the Word. It is the message of the saving work of Jesus Christ for all peoples. The day of Pentecost was the giving of that message to the ends of the earth. The Holy Spirit came to spread the Word of God to the apostles, allowing them to spread that Word as pastors to the churches around them: Paul was sent to Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, Thessalonica. Timothy was sent to the church at Ephesus to preach and teach. These were faithful pastors who received the gift of the Holy Spirit, though not necessarily on the day of Pentecost.

The miracle of Pentecost is when the Word suddenly reaches us. When we speak of the miracle of the Holy Spirit, we are confessing that something has come to us which we didn’t comprehend before. God gives us His Spirit so that we may have fellowship with Him and be led to do His will, that is, to be children of God.

So what do we have today from the day of Pentecost? We have the Word of God – we have the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Good News that He has died to take away our sins.  We don’t have any living apostles, but we do have their apostolic teachings in the New Testament. It was this same message that St. Peter proclaimed to the crowds that day; the same message that saved 3,000 that day is the one that is proclaimed here at Trinity and throughout Christendom today.

That same Holy Spirit rests even on us very ordinary people. While we are not all apostles or pastors, we are disciples of Jesus, that is, His followers. The Holy Spirit was given to us at our Baptism. It was in that moment that the Holy Spirit worked in us saving faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is given to all believers, not on account of what we do, but what was done for us.

There is much that the Holy Spirit gives to us, though we do not recognize it. Through the Holy Spirit, we are given the opportunity to confess the faith of the Christian Church. It is not a testimony of the believer, but of the works of God and all that He does on behalf of His children. The Holy Spirit allows us believers to speak God’s saving Word in ordinary ways that people understand. The Holy Spirit causes God’s Word of salvation to be understood when it is confessed by believers. The message of salvation doesn’t have to be complex. The message of salvation is simple: Jesus Christ came into the world on behalf of your sins. Because of that, all believers will have everlasting life.

The Holy Spirit still works through the Word of God. It has always been that way and it will always be that way. The true sign of the Holy Spirit at work is the proclamation of God’s Word. The Holy Spirit points to Jesus who is the God-Man who saved us from our sin with His suffering and death on the cross and promises us life everlasting with His resurrection. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word when we hear it with our ears, when we read it with our eyes, when we experience that Word in the water of Holy Baptism, and when we receive it with the true body and blood of Jesus in the Bread and Wine of the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit is at work when we confess our faith before each other and when we confess our faith before those who do not know Jesus.

Today is a joyous day, for today we give thanks for Christ Jesus who sent to us His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was given to each of you as you were baptized into Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit works faith in you, fights for you, intercedes for you, strengthens you, and carries you home to Christ. No matter what the problems of this world might bring –  sickness, disease, persecution, heartache, or any kind of misery – these shall come to pass and you dear child of God who call upon Jesus who died on the cross and rose for you: will be saved. That is why we have joy. That is our comfort. That is what we should joyously proclaim in the streets for all to hear: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” In Jesus name, amen.  Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 

Easter 7 – “Jesus Prays” (John 17:1-11)

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.

There are many a thing you can buy from your local big box store or online store. Depending on how soon you want it, you can get it with free shipping or pay a little extra and get it the next day. Being a very consumer-driven society, we like to have things in our hands as soon as we want them. You can find just about everything you want online, that is, with one exception – eternal life.

In our Gospel account today, Jesus addressed the Father and made a statement that only He could make: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all, whom you have given him.” You want eternal life? You’re not going to find it via any physical or online store. To find eternal life, you must be connected to Jesus, for it is Jesus alone who gives eternal life. And the only way to be connected to Jesus isn’t because of you, as hard as that is to admit. Unfortunately, we are told that we get to choose Jesus. We’re asked when we made the decision to accept Jesus into our hearts. However, that is not scriptural. In fact, Jesus tells us, “You did not choose me, but I chose you….”

If you want eternal life, you need to be connected to Jesus. But what exactly does that mean? Is there something you have to do, something you have to believe? As far as something to do, the answer is nothing, for Christ has already done what is necessary to redeem you, a poor, miserable sinner. He has gone from heaven to earth and hell for you. And after His resurrection, after appearing to countless souls in order for them to believe that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, He ascended back to heaven where He judges the living and the dead. He has done all that you could not do, all that you could never do. He has kept God’s Law perfectly, making full atonement for the sins of the world. The only thing left to do then is to believe, and even that is something you cannot do.

Do not forget Jesus’ words that you did not choose Him, and so writes Luther, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him….” We don’t get to choose Jesus, nor could we. Through the work of the Holy Spirit are we able to believe in Jesus. But what do we believe about Jesus? Do you believe that Jesus is God or do you believe that Jesus is man? Do you believe that Jesus is real or just a figment of the church’s making? What you believe about Jesus is indeed important when it comes to faith, for you can believe in Jesus and believe wrongly.

When it comes to Jesus, one must believe certain things. One must believe that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man. One must believe that Jesus Christ is the sole means of salvation and that only by what He has done do we inherit eternal life. Jesus also tells us, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” There is only a singular God that saves. It is not a god of our choosing. It is not any god that we want. It is the God of creation. It is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

As for Jesus, it is not the chalk-sized Jesus in your heart. It is not the Jesus that gives you approval of everything you do, regardless of whether or not your actions are sinful. It is the Jesus who laid down His life, only to take it up again on behalf of the Father’s will.

This is the glory of the Son: To serve all, according to His Father’s bidding. His service is not just beginning, and He clearly prays, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” He has lived that life of work – He has fulfilled the prophecies by His teaching, His miracles and wonders. He’s been the righteous servant, upheld by God as He has mercifully exercised justice. He has lived His perfect life for the world, to credit all who believe in Him with His righteousness. Now, the ultimate glory: He is going to die for the world.

Jesus’ glory, then, is to fulfill the work that His Father has given Him. It will not be glorious in the world’s terms. In exchange for beauty, the Lord takes a beating. In exchange for strength, He accepts weakness. Instead of putting His foes in their place, He allows their mockery on the cross. It is not glorious in the world’s eyes, but it is the Father’s will. We behold His glory at the cross, full of grace and truth.

In order for this to all take place, you need an intercessor; you need Christ. It is Christ who always makes appeals for you on high. You can be certain that the heavenly Father hears the intercession of His Son and answers in your favor. The intercession that Jesus prays for is “Holy Father, keep them in your name,” the name of protection against an evil world.

You need the Lord’s intercession, for the world resolves war against you and your unity with Him. You are contending against lethal powers that intend to destroy your unity with the Father and the Son, namely, the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh, in order to lead you to abandon His name, Word, and work. There is nothing more that the devil wants than for you to doubt, to question God. If you do that, then the devil wins.

Christ our Lord gave to His disciples His Word, but not just to them; He has given that Word to you. There in His Word are the promises that He has made for you. There in His Word is the promise of forgiveness for you. There in His Word is the promise of salvation for you. There in His Word is the promise of everlasting life for you. These are promises that are not made lightly. These are promises that came at great cost, all for you. It cost the Father His own beloved Son. It cost the Son His very life. Given the costs, we would say they were high, maybe even too high. Could we really justify the life of our only-begotten son for someone else? I think we would be hard-pressed to justify that, yet God did not think twice about it. He did not question the price because you are His creation and when He created you in His image, that is how He meant for you to be: holy, perfect, without sin. The only way for creation to be restored is by the death of Christ; but not just by His death but by His resurrection also.

This is why Jesus prays in the text today: That you would thankfully receive His Word and gladly hear and learn it. That you would call upon His Name in time of trouble, pray, praise and give thanks. That you would hear Him and call upon His Name, rejoicing in the forgiveness He has won for you, giving thanks that He has united you with the rest of the Church. Until then, listen to the Lord Jesus pray, for He prays for you and all of creation. Because of Christ and what He has done, for all that He prays, you may be certain you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Easter 6A – “Our Apology for Jesus” (1 Peter 3:13-22)

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

In Luther’s Morning Prayer, we pray the following: “I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger….”  We pray that for a reason: as Christians, we will be harmed and there will be danger.  Peter recognized that in our text.  Although the followers of Jesus could not be accused of wrongdoing by the unbelieving community, their faith in Jesus of Nazareth and the kindness and love which they strove to show everyone set them apart from most other people, but also set them up for ridicule and abuse from the community.  How were the Christians to act toward those who falsely accused them of doing evil?  How should they react in the face of questions and objections?  Ask yourself how are you, as a Christian, to act toward those who falsely accuse you of doing evil?  How should you react?

Jesus tells us how we are to react: “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.  But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well….”  Instead of trying to get even for evil done to us, instead of plotting on how to make the person pay for evil done to us, Jesus says that we are to turn the other cheek; we are not to seek vengeance for wrongs done to us.

Peter has said that on most occasions no one will insult, threaten or harm us if we do what is good.  But even if we should experience suffering for doing the good things we do in Christ, there is no reason for us to be afraid of such threats.  The unstated question is: “How can we be unafraid of those who threaten us even when we have done nothing wrong?”  The answer is clearly given by Peter: “In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” 

Peter’s answer may or may not make sense.  Therefore, we must ask the good Lutheran question: What does this mean?

First and foremost, we are to “regard Christ the Lord as holy.”  To regard Christ as Lord is to give the Savior first place in our hearts, that is, keep the First Commandment.  Just as every sin of thought, word or action can be traced to the sinful desires of the heart, so the effective rule of Christ in our lives must begin with His reign in our hearts.  Christ rules in the hearts of all who trust in Him for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life and who rely on Him for providential care and protection.

All too often, we put many things before Christ: our families, our jobs, our hobbies, our problems and many other things.  If there is time left in our busy schedules or our hectic lives, then we will make that time for Jesus; however, that is not the way that it should be.  Jesus is not someone that we can put on a shelf, pull Him out when we need Him, then put Him back on the shelf until the next time.  Christ does not place anything above His bride, the Church.  He came to give His life for the Church.  He died so that His bride, the Church, could live.  He died so that YOU could live.  Nothing in this world is greater than each and every one of God’s children.

The second half of Peter’s answer is just as difficult, if not more than the first half: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” 

The situation in which a Christian may find himself could prove personally embarrassing, potentially threatening or even life-endangering, but he is to be ready to give an answer.  He is to be ready to make an “apology,” that is, a defense of his faith.

Making an apology of the faith is nothing new to Lutherans.  We even have a document in our Lutheran Confessions entitled “The Apology of the Augsburg Confession.”  The princes of the German provinces gave their statement of faith to Emperor Charles V in the Augsburg Confession.  When the Roman Catholic Church refused to accept that statement of faith, Philip Melanchthon issued the Apology, an even greater defense of the faith which the Lutherans held.  Both documents were essentially a death sentence, insofar as they were confessions which were contrary to that of the Roman Catholic Church, yet both were presented and the Lutherans refused to back down on their confession and defense of the faith.

Times have changed since 1530.  A defense of the faith is not as quick to come by as it was then.  We don’t want to make a confession of faith because our non-Christian friends may look at us differently if we start with the “God-talk.”  Our defense of the faith may not be good for our career.  It may not be good for our reputation.  It may not be good for any number of things.  However, that doesn’t mean that we are not to give a defense of the faith, especially when the opportunity presents itself to us.

The simple message which we proclaim is again given to us by Peter: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”  In one sentence Peter summarizes the scope and effect of Christ’s work.  He tells us what Jesus did and how effective His work was while reminding us that Jesus is the sinless Son of God who died for sinners.  Jesus is not our Savior because He gave himself as an example for us to follow so that we might save ourselves.  Jesus is our Savior because He is the perfect Son of God who gave His life in our place in order that we might be brought to God.  This faith and hope is not a misplaced faith or an unsure hope.  Jesus is the perfect substitute who has fully completed His atoning work on our behalf and has brought us, without sin, to God.  All of this was done for us through His life, death and resurrection.  This gift of everlasting life is given to us in our Baptism.  Baptism is more than a rite of initiation, more than a church ceremony or christening.  Baptism saves you.  How does Baptism save you?  Baptism saves you “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  Without Jesus’ resurrection, there would be no baptism, no salvation; in fact, there would be no righteousness at all.

Challenges will indeed come in your life.  As the baptized children of God, those made to be His disciples through Baptism and the teaching of God’s Word, you are continually being made ready to make a confident defense of the eternal hope that is in you through the life, death, descent into hell, resurrection, and reign at the right hand of the Father of your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 

Easter 5 – “One Way” (John 14:1-14)

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.

God’s Word says that there are two paths in life: the way of life and the way of death. The way of life is traveled only by faith in one individual, Jesus Christ, our Savior. To believe in any other God that the one triune God, to trust in any other Savior than the only Son of God, Jesus Christ, is to travel the wrong way in life. So today we hear Jesus’ words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is very clear and explicit in His words: He is the one and only way to the Father.

If Jesus is truly the only way to the Father, what does that mean? It means that Jesus’ way to the Father is the way of God’s will, that is, the way of grace, not the way of our human will, the way of works. There is a huge difference between the two ways once we look at what each way gets us.

Our sinful nature wants to get us to the Father our way, not God’s way. Our will is to think that we can earn our way to God because we’re “pretty good.” But when you are “pretty good,” it means that you’re not what God desires and that is perfect. That is what Jesus says to do: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. But being perfect isn’t possible for us, so we will settle for “pretty good.” We use our merits as some sort of bargaining chip with God to gain our entry into heaven. But there is one point we fail to take into consideration – there is no bargaining with God.

To understand the one, singular way of salvation, we need to understand God the Father’s will. The will of God the Father is that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Jesus came to do the Father’s will, not His own. The Father’s will is the way of salvation by grace through faith in Christ – the only way of redemption.

For you and I, there is indeed hope. Our hope lies not in this world, but it lies in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and what He has done for us. Jesus tells the disciples, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

            Our hope lies in the promises that God has made to us through His Son Jesus Christ. Instead of reasons for despair, the disciples realize the good news that the cross of Jesus Christ overcomes troubled hearts with the promises, assurances, and benefits of our great God.

There is no need for troubled hearts, as they are overcome by the Lord’s amazing promise of what God has in store for us. We look at this world and we see how much it has suffered because of sin. We have wars. We have disease. We have death. We all have seen the effects of sin on this world and we ask ourselves, “Is this it? Is there more to this thing called life?” There is more to this thing called life, or at least life as we know it. There is salvation. There is forgiveness. There is everlasting life. No matter how good or how bad your life may be on this earth, there is more waiting for you. There is a room in heaven that your Savior has prepared for you. If that isn’t good enough, Jesus also tells us, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Jesus will personally take us to our eternal rooms, rooms prepared by Jesus when He said from the cross, “It is finished” because there at the cross, Jesus paid for your sin, giving to you that key to your room in heaven.

Then Jesus speaks the all-familiar words to Thomas and the other disciples. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If you want words of assurance and comfort, then these are the words for you. Jesus comforts the disciples with what they had previously learned and experienced.  With these words, He reminds us that He is the world’s one Lord and Savior.

These words, Jesus also speaks to you. He spoke these words to you on the cross. He spoke these words to you at your baptism. He speaks these words to you this morning. He speaks these words when you feast upon His body and blood. He speaks these words to you each and every day of your life, and He will speak these words to you as you draw your final breath.

Christ is the one and only source of blessed existence and life for us. In our sin is death, the separation from God. Left to ourselves, we should remain in this separation forever, dead beyond hope. In the person of Jesus, God sent us “the life.” Take away Jesus, and the way, truth, and the life are gone. All hope of God and heaven outside of Jesus is vanity and worse. “Except through me” is absolute and final. Despair would be the order of the day for this world, except for this wonderful news that our Lord declares. Despite the sin and evil of the world, there is a Way. The way is not what we would expect. The way is not a route or a set of directions. Instead, it is a person – Jesus Himself. We cannot travel this route. Instead Jesus must take us. In fact, that is exactly what He promised when He said, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

This sentiment of Jesus, this truth of His Easter victory, is brought to light in the words of the hymn sung earlier: Mighty Victim from the sky, Hell’s fierce powr’s beneath You lie; You have conquered in the fight, You have brought us life and light. Alleluia! Now no more can death appall, Now no more the grave enthrall; You have opened paradise, And Your saints in You shall rise. Alleluia! The hymnist writes in the only way he knows how, the only way that is true. It has nothing to do with our posturing to God. It has nothing to do with whatever accomplishments we can show off to God. Our salvation, our victory over sin and death, has been accomplished for us by Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

Through the blood that flowed from His body on the cross, Jesus is the way. Through the Scriptures which testify He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, Jesus is the truth. Through His taking our sin and our curse upon Himself, Jesus is the life. What comfort this is to our troubled hearts! In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.