Funeral for + John E. Lavrenz +

LSB Icon_040The text that was chosen for John’s funeral was Psalm 139.

1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me! 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. 3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. 5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. 

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! 20 They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain. 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? 22 I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Here ends our text.

To the untrained eye, the scene today looks disturbing. Instead of gathering together for a joyful occasion, we gather today to mourn. Death has won again and taken a husband, father, brother, and friend. Or at least, that’s what the untrained eye sees. For the trained eye, we see something completely different.

Some of the facts remain the same: we gather today not just to mourn, but to also rejoice. Death has indeed taken a husband, father, brother and friend, but death has not won. As the hymn says, “Jesus lives! The vict’ry’s won! Death no longer can appall me; Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done! From the grave will Christ recall me. Brighter scenes will then commence; This shall be my confidence.”

I can’t take credit for selecting our text today; John did that, along with everything else. I can see why this psalm was such a favorite of his. This psalm is a psalm of thanks that praises God that He has provided for David so wonderfully and still reigns in all of His works, words, and thought. Whether David stands, walks, sleeps, or wakes – yes, even in his mother’s womb, before he was made – God has been with him as he was being formed and will be with him as long as he lives. John did as any of us should be able to do – substitute our name in the place of David, for God indeed watches over and provides for us from before we are born to our death and after. That fact held true for John as well. From the moment of his conception, God was watching over him. When he was brought to the waters of Holy Baptism, God was there. Throughout all the days of John’s life, God was there with him. And Friday, when John breathed his last breath, there stood God with open arms to receive His beloved child. The words John heard are words that all believers will hear on the day that God calls us home: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

If John were here right now, he would make the point himself that he wasn’t good. He might have been a good person to know, he might have done good things throughout his earthly life, but none of that mattered. All the good that John did in this life didn’t score him any brownie points with God. He never did anything “good” for personal gain, but rather to benefit his neighbor, whether he knew who his neighbor was or not. He knew that nothing he could ever do would get him brownie points with God. He knew that none of his good works would earn him an ounce of salvation and he would be the first to tell you that. In order for John to receive salvation, in order for any of us to receive salvation, it doesn’t depend a single bit on what we do. It depends solely on what Jesus Christ has done for us.

How fitting it is for John to have fallen asleep in Christ when he did. Right now, the Church observes the season of Lent, a penitential time where we reflect and prepare for what Christ does for us. In just a couple of weeks, we will see Jesus ride triumphantly into Jerusalem, with the people shouting praises as He enters. We will see Jesus give to His disciples, and in turn the entire Church, His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. And in just hours after that, we will see Jesus go to the cross. And while we cringe when we hear of His Passion and what Christ endured before His death, we look forward to what happened just three days later, when Christ burst from death’s tomb as the Victor over sin and death. With His death, He took with Him John’s sins, and there were many, as he would recount week after week in the Church’s confession. But he knew that he had forgiveness, not because of what he did, but because Christ had washed those sins away in Baptism, because Christ had taken any and all sins of John to the cross and gave to him the crown of eternal life.

David writes in his psalm, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your work; my soul knows it very well.” Those are words which meant something to John, words that were wonderful to hear, because by Jesus’ work was what saved John. He could be content in knowing that God sent His Son Jesus to save him from all his sins.

From some of the stories John told me and from the years that I knew John, he had a way of getting himself into trouble. Sometimes it meant receiving some sort of punishment from his father or running to his mother to avoid said punishment. He knew when he got in trouble and though he tried to avoid the punishment, it often caught up to him. So it was with his death. Death is inevitable for each and every one of us. St. Paul makes that clear when he says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” John knew that when he got in trouble with his sin, which was everyday of his life, he knew whom he needed to run to. He would run to Jesus, for he knew that only in the arms of Jesus would he be able to get out of his sinful trouble. He knew that the only thing he could do was sin and sin and sin some more. But through the blood of Jesus Christ that washed his sins away, He could emerge the victor.

Reflecting on St. Paul’s words, they ring ever true for John. He writes, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” Though John has died an earthly death, he enjoys a new life in Christ Jesus, one free from sin, one free from cancer. He has been transferred to the Church Triumphant, where he rests from his labors.

During the last few days of John’s life, he was plagued with worry, even doubt at times. He asked on more than one occasion why God hated him because he was still here. I told John that God did not hate him, but I didn’t know why he was still here, other than the fact that it was not time for God to call John home to heaven yet. David answers John’s question. He says, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” John’s days were numbered, just as are each of ours. While God created us to live with Him forever in the Garden, through sin we now have death, cutting short those days of forever. But though we live a certain number of days on earth, through Christ will live with God forever in heaven.

David has a perfect ending for his psalm, an ending that asks for something from God. David could have asked for anything from God, and yet he doesn’t; he asks for something not of this life. He writes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” For David, just as for John, and just as for you and me, there is a grievous way in us. That grievous way is called sin. Sin, as we see this morning, leads to death. But God did not leave David in that state, nor did He leave John in that state, nor does He leave us in that state. He leads us in the way of everlasting life.

For you, Lee and family, while you mourn today, there is cause for rejoicing, for John now rests in eternal glory, waiting for us all to join him and all who die in the faith. Amen.

Lent 3 – Commandments Broken, Commandments Kept (Exodus 20:1-17)

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 Old Testament, which was read earlier.

Many times, it appears that God is silent, that He doesn’t have much to say, or least that He doesn’t have much to say to an individual personally. We want to hear God speak to us, but often times He remains silent. Or what is even worse, when God does speak to us, it isn’t how we want Him to speak. However, when God does speak, He has a lot to say. His words carry great importance, but we often fail to heed what He has to say. That changes in our Old Testament reading today, for God speaks words that cut deep to the individual.

We are all familiar to our text. We know it to be the Ten Commandments. God had called Abraham, promising to make out of him a people set apart. God gave him no rules, no guidance; He just asked Abraham to follow. What that people, now nearly one million in number, found itself delivered from Egyptian bondage, God made His radical will known.

What God sets forth is an excellent summary of His will for His people. They were intended not as threatening commands, but rather ten easy steps to follow for the smooth running of God’s people. At least, that’s what it seems like on the surface.

As God’s chosen people, they were often seen departing from God. They had turned to their own ways, they had turned to other gods time and time again, only to return to God when they realized that they were too far gone and they could not do anything to save themselves. And so God issues to them His First Commandment, one that would set the stage for the remaining Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me.” God then goes on to expand just what that means: not having any idols or graven images, not bowing down to created things and worshipping only Him. Luther, in his Large Catechism writes this about the First Commandment: “A god is that to which one should look for all good things and to which one should take refuge in all needs.” It didn’t take long for the Israelites to break this commandment. In fact, before Moses had even descended the mountain, there were the Israelites at the foot of the mountain worshipping a golden calf.

As God continued to give His Commandments, it became clearer and clearer that Israel would not be able to keep them. Misusing the name of God? Broken. Sabbath day violations? Check. Honoring father and mother? Broken in the Garden, as Adam and Eve failed to honor their Father. Murder? Check. As God continued to give Moses His Law, it didn’t take long to see that the Israelites had already broken most, if not all, of these Commandments. And if they hadn’t, it wouldn’t take them long to do so.

What you have laid out before you is pure Law, God’s perfect and all-demanding Law. Its purpose was to make God’s people holy, keeping them faithful to God. God had continued to give to Moses instructions for worship and building of the Tabernacle, further laws for the governing of His people, and finally ending with details for the Sabbath. But once Moses made his way to the foot of the mountain, there was God’s people, worshipping an idol. They had erected for themselves a god, one they had fashioned out of gold. Aaron had declared to the people, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” And then, ironically, he declared, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” Even before receiving God’s Commandments, they had broken the very first. God sent Moses back to the people, threatening to consume them with His burning wrath.

So here’s a question: why make these Ten Commandments for the people of Israel to follow if they’re only going to break them? This was God’s people. He had seen them through thick and thin and promised that He would remain their God. In return, He asked that they would remain His people. God had asked the same thing to Adam and Eve. He created them; He was their loving Father. All they had to do was keep a single command of God – eat from all trees in the Garden except one. That single command of God proved to be too much for them and they were forever cast out of the Garden. Obviously if Adam and Eve couldn’t keep a single command of God, then there would be no hope for all of Israel to keep the Ten Commandments, let alone the total of 613 commandments every Jew should follow and keep. If you can’t keep one, you surely can’t keep ten and definitely you won’t be able to keep 613.

So with the Ten Commandments given to the people of Israel and their failure to keep the very First Commandment, let alone the remaining nine, all is doom and gloom for Israel. They will be forever lost to their failure of keeping God’s Law; they will be forever lost to their sin. It would easily appear that way, and at times for Israel, it seems as if God had completely abandoned them. If God had forsaken Israel, then that means there is no hope for you and I. And if that’s what you think, then you would be wrong. There is indeed hope for you and I; there is salvation for us. God did not completely abandon Israel to their sin. God has not abandoned you to your sin. He has sent to Israel and to the entirety of His creation a Deliverer, One that would keep the First Commandment in its entirety. And not only the First Commandment but also the other nine. And not only the Ten Commandments, but also the 613 commandments. And not only those, but One who has kept the entirety of God’s Word and His Law. There is for Israel and for you a Savior, one who goes to the extreme to atone for your sins, for each and every one of them, for every single time that you have broken God’s Law, for every time that you have not done as His Word has declared.

This Savior, this Jesus, is the One who has done for you all that you could never do yourself. In keeping every iota of God’s Law, He has done all that the Father desired of His creation. He has achieved for all those who trust and believe in Him full salvation. For all who have faith and call upon the name of the Lord, all those sins that would make you stand before God as a condemned sinner have been removed and God only sees that the holiness and righteousness that has been achieved by Jesus’ all-atoning sacrifice on the cross. God has promised salvation and that salvation comes through Jesus Christ, the One promised of long ago. As Jesus says in our Gospel for today, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Through His bodily temple, the Son of God lays down His life, only to take it up again three days later. In doing so, He proclaims eternal victory over sin and death for the sinner.

All of this is in keeping with what God speaks to Moses, “I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” We know these words as the Close of the Commandments. In short, for all who fail to call upon the name of the Lord, God will condemn. For those who believe, for those whom God has made His beloved child, God will show His steadfast love. And what greater steadfast love is there than granting to a person the forgiveness of sins, whereby eternal life is awarded to them?

With the giving of the Ten Commandments, it was not meant to punish or tie the hands of Israel. They were given as a response to whom God was, their creator, provider and protector. He had promised to be with them all the days of their life. In line with man’s breaking of God’s Word and commandments, One is sent for us who keeps these Commandments in order to grant to us everlasting life. We have failed time and time to keep these Commandments. Fortunately for us, there is One who has kept them, One who would give His life so that we would live. Christ has come, keeping these Commandments and more, to grant to you life and salvation. Steadfast love from God has been shown to you, all because Christ has kept these Commandments in your place. 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 2 – “Justified by Faith” (Romans 5:1-11)

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 Epistle, which was read earlier.

Say the word enemy and what image comes to mind? Secret agents, robbers, master criminals? We all know what an enemy is, but I’m sure there is one person whom we have not considered adding to that list. That person is… you! That person is… me. That person is all of creation, because we are enemies, enemies of God.

None of us would be considered an evil mastermind. None of us would be considered being put on the wanted posters that used to hang in post offices in the days of yesteryear. But for us to be considered God’s enemies, maybe that is a point that you would argue. However, arguing the point will not change the fact that we are indeed God’s enemies.

In today’s Epistle, Paul’s words follow on the previous chapters, where he laid the case that we were among the dead – the dead in our trespasses and sins. Twice, Paul states that apart from Jesus, we have no hope and can expect only death. In chapter 2, Paul announces: “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” And again, Paul teaches us that “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The result of both of these verses is the same: death.

Now here in our text, Paul continues to describe how desperate we were: weak. There is never a good time to be weak. Weak in sin, weak in moral fortitude, weak in faith. In other words, an apt description of you and me. Paul goes on to say that “we were still sinners.” We know this to be true, don’t we? We know this to still be true, that we still sin daily. Turn on the news, read the newspaper, what will you find? You will find stories of man’s sin, over and over and over again. Yes, we know we are still weak, we know that we are still sinners.

But for us, it gets even worse, for we are called enemies of God. Surely that doesn’t mean all of us, especially not me. Surely there has to be someone who is good, right? Not according to Paul, for he writes, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Paul is very clear, that no one is righteous, not even a single soul, that is, aside from Jesus. And so if we do not stand before God as righteous, then we stand before him as enemies.

The entirety of creation has been turned into enemies of God because of sin and there isn’t a single thing that we can do about it except keep on sinning, keep on being enemies of God. But fortunately for us, it isn’t up to us to do something about it. It is up to God to do something about it, and He does. He sends the only One who is righteous. He sends the only One who is not His enemy. He sends His Son, Jesus Christ. His sole purpose is to restore what was destroyed due to sin. The only way to do that is to live a life that is perfect, that conforms to God’s Word and upholds every single iota of it. But that isn’t enough. After He has led a perfect life, then He has to die so that His blood may be poured out on creation in order to redeem it, to buy it back from Satan. And even then, that isn’t enough. After He has died, He needs to be raised from the dead, for by His life, death, and resurrection do we have life. Because of the actions of Jesus Christ do we go from being declared enemies of God to being righteous, for everything is done just as Paul declares: For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

Christ died for the ungodly, for all people of all times. Jesus shed His holy Blood on the cross to pay the price for the sins of everyone from Adam to the last man standing at the end of the Day. Eternal freedom is not free. This is the Sacrifice and this Sacrifice is Love Incarnate. His eternal Life takes away our eternal death. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us and rose again for us. Those who have been given the gift of faith through this Good News of God are now recipients of the reconciliation.

Look at what the Incarnate Son of God accomplished. He saved not only for a day, but for all eternity. In order that no one might have to endure the wrath of God against sin in eternity, Jesus sacrificed Himself in time when He put Himself in harm’s way, placed Himself in the breech and mounted mankind’s leafless, lifeless, cursed cross. His Easter Resurrection is unto all eternity and His Ascension is for all time. Those who are His, that is, those who believe, teach and confess that He has died for them will be with Him both at the end of the Day and forever.

Listen again to what St. Paul says: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” You’ve been justified by faith. Rather than declare you guilty and punish you for your sin, God has declared Jesus guilty and punished Him on the cross for your sin. Because the judgment has already been carried out, God will not judge you for your sin. His wrath is gone, and all He has left for you is peace for Jesus’ sake. All He has left for you is forgiveness and comfort and help. Being justified by Jesus means the Law has been completely fulfilled by Him for you. Peace with God means the Lord Jesus Christ has taken away the discord of our sin.

God demonstrates His own love toward you in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God didn’t wait for us to make an effort before He gave His Son to redeem us. In your case, He gave His Son to die for you long before you were born, long before you even existed. He gave His Son to die for you long before you became His child through Holy Baptism—while you were still His enemy. And if God loved you so much then, how will He not love you now? Or, as the text goes on to say: if God loved you so much that He would save you by His only Son’s death, how much more will He love you now that His only Son lives again and intercedes for you?

The season of Lent presses on toward the cross of Jesus, where we see His death take place. There, His reconciliation of the world, of you and me, between the Father and you, takes place through the Son, with the result of justification, rejoicing, suffering, endurance, character, and hope. Through Jesus’ rest in a borrowed grace, you can find comfort in knowing that Jesus rested in perfect peace for you. As we confess, there is “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” These words are an ever gentle reminder of what Jesus has done for us. You have been justified by the blood of Christ. You are no longer an enemy, but His beloved child. You’re no longer unholy and impure, but cleansed and holy in His sight for Jesus’ sake. The cross is your assurance that your hope will not fail: for if you have been redeemed at the price of the Son’s blood, the Father will not forsake you now. 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 – “Defeating Temptation” (Mark 1:9-15)

B-30 Lent 1 (Mk 1.9-15)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.

The season of Lent is designated in the church as a season of preparation. How better to begin the journey on which we now embark than by pondering the beginning of the ministry of our Lord on earth. Mark leads us by the hand from scene to scene as Jesus heals people, casts out demons, forgives sins, and raises the dead. For Mark, things are done “immediately.” That word “immediately” is at the forefront of our text today, as He begins with the Baptism of Jesus. We hear the Father’s Words, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” As soon as His Baptism is concluded, we hear from Mark, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” Why did the Spirit do this? What is the point? Jesus was driven into the wilderness to be tempted, and for good reason – because we are tempted. Jesus, who Himself was tempted, helps us when we are tempted.

Immediately, Jesus goes from water to wilderness. The Holy Spirit, who descended upon Jesus in His Baptism, now drives Him into the desert with the same urgency with which God took the children of Israel from the Egypt side of the Red Sea to the wilderness side of the Sinai Peninsula.

As we look at Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, Mark gives very few details, other than Jesus was tempted all forty days of His time there. The writer of Hebrews gives us this insight: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Just what kinds of temptations did Jesus face during those forty days? Mark doesn’t give us any details of the temptations, while Matthew and Luke give us three temptations that Jesus faced: turn stones into bread, bow down and worship Satan, and throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple. Aside from those three, we don’t have a list of temptations that Jesus faced on each day in the wilderness. Suffice to say, the fact still stands that Jesus was tempted in every respect during the forty days and throughout His ministry.

The temptations that Jesus faced did not end in the wilderness. As I said, our Lord faced temptations throughout His life, all the way up to and including His crucifixion. For all the traps and snares the Pharisees put into place for Jesus, one couldn’t blame Jesus if He had a cursing thought towards them. Some would say that they deserved it. And while they might have deserved it, Jesus does nothing that would constitute revenge towards them. He has no cursing thought or word directed towards them, He doesn’t do anything that would be considered vengeful on His part. No, Jesus took every trap and snare placed before Him and sidestepped them with great ease. He prayed to His Father; He prayed for His enemies; He gave comfort to the repentant thief while the other tempted Jesus to remove Himself from the cross. By His complete and full temptation, without sin, without giving in a single time, Jesus has credited you righteous.

What good news it is for us that Christ has triumphed over temptation! We know that because Christ has triumphed over temptation, we too will triumph, for we have Christ with us, alongside us as we face each and every temptation to sin. Jesus has been and will continue to be by your tempted side until you are finally at peace and rest eternally with Him. Because of Christ’s victory over the devil, you have won. Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil is your victory over sin, death, and the devil. God sent His Son into the world to deal with all three of these. In the luscious, fruitful Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted the first man; in the bleak, barren wilderness he tried the same with the stronger Man. Jesus, the second Adam, would dispatch the devil, defeating Satan who had caused the fall of the first Adam. As a result of the first man’s sin, Adam could only lead his wife out from Paradise and into this land of disease, decay and death. As a result of Jesus’ victory over Satan in the desert, the Lord journeyed out from the desert in order to lead His bride, the Church, from this world and into Paradise. Jesus overcame all of Satan’s temptations so that He could pronounce you righteous and holy before His Father.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who carries away the sin of the world. Even though He carried the sin of the entire world into the desert, He Himself never sinned. He endured and triumphed over every temptation of the devil. Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus endured the temptations of the devil and triumphed. He not only endured the temptation in the wilderness, but He also endured all the other temptations that the devil threw at Him as He journeyed to the cross.

You see, if the devil could have gotten Jesus to sin just once, He would no longer be able to carry our sins. He would have sins of His own to carry. Never the less, Jesus did not sin. He continued to carry our sin. He carried it all the way to the cross.

It is important for us to know that Jesus endured all the hardships that we endure. He is our substitute. He doesn’t just know our lives academically, but He has experienced life as we know it. He was tempted just as we are tempted. He also experienced our pain, our sorrow, and our frustrations. He experienced it all except that He never sinned.

In spite of the fact that He never sinned, He was full of sin. St. Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Just as the High Priest placed the sin of Israel on the scapegoat, God has placed the sin of the world on Jesus. He became full of our sin – your sin, my sin, the sin of the entire world. Jesus has carried that sin to the cross. As we remember the cross, we will remember that our sin filled Him as He suffered and died to pay the penalty that God’s justice demanded – a payment that freed us from our slavery to sin.

For us during this Lententide, our focus is this: Christ has defeated Satan, once and for all, and because of that, salvation has been won for you and for me, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 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 5 – “God Seeks” (Isaiah 40:21-31)

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.

You get it, don’t you? You see the big picture, right? It should be obvious to everyone, and yet it is not. Isaiah doesn’t mince words in our text for today. He begins by saying, “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” Imagine what that would sound like today: “Have you not heard from the beginning? Have you not understood even though it has been sufficiently shown to you? Now you should know it. How are you going to excuse yourselves for your errors?” Plain preaching and teaching has been set forward for God’s people, and it’s God’s people who have missed the boat. These are things they obviously should know. Not only could God’s “eternal power and divine nature” be clearly perceived, but He also revealed Himself by His holy prophets.

Everything that Isaiah says is rhetorical. It should be answered with a resounding “yes,” and yet it is not. The people know God. They are His creation. They bear His name. And yet, they don’t understand. Isaiah seems to be beating his head against a brick wall, for if these people are indeed God’s people, then they wouldn’t be doing the things that they have done up to this point in their history. They would have followed God’s Law perfectly. They would not have had other gods and idols. They would not have turned their backs to God and His Word. But looking at Israel’s history, that is exactly what they had done, time and time again.

If you want to know who God is, Isaiah gives the perfect description of Him. He is the Creator. He is the Sustainer. He is the Supreme Ruler over all. Nothing exists that God did not create. Israel has tried to put God in a box, define Him according to human standards, but God does not and cannot fit in a human-defined box. Luther, in his lectures on Isaiah 40 says, “Why do you want to make God? Read what was said to you above. God already is, He sits in the dome above the earth. This God already exists, and He is incomprehensible, sitting at the same time in heaven and on earth. And you, ungodly one, will not hear. You try to confine Him to a little statue and to reconcile His immeasurable mercy and grace with a little piece of workmanship.”

Israel didn’t fully understand who God was; if they had, they would not have strayed so far from Him and His Word. One would think that given enough time and poor choices, God’s people would learn. However, that was not the case. They would repent when things got beyond their control, pray to God to rescue them and God would rescue. Once things got better, Israel went back doing their own thing.

It has been said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That is indeed true, for we continue today to turn away from God, thinking that we can do whatever we want, whether it conforms to God’s Word or if it contradicts God’s Word.

Try as we might, regardless of what we think or say or do, God is the ultimate authority. His Word is the ultimate authority. God is what we are not, the Holy One. The fact that God is the Holy One separates Him from all His creatures. He is what we are not – perfect. Yet, that is what desires to share with us – perfection. When man was created, man was created in the image of God, to be holy and without sin. After the Fall, that is no longer the case. And so God sends forth His Son to restore what was destroyed by sin. Christ comes, not to destroy but to restore. We have already been destroyed through the work of sin. What is needed now is restoration, making whole again the relationship between God and man.

The reason God’s people of old exist and we continue to do so is only because of God’s great strength and mighty power. It is through that strength and mighty power that we see God sacrifice His only Son in order to make right what had been wronged through Satan’s temptation of man. All that was necessary for salvation would be accomplished through the giving of God’s Son. Through His life, death, and resurrection, all sin that separates us from God has been cleansed and purged. God no longer sees the utter depravity of man’s sin, but now sees the forgiveness won for us by Jesus Christ.

This was the promise made so long ago to God’s people and yet they had forgotten it, chose to ignore or whatever sinful man does that takes them away from God. When we are separated from God, when we want nothing to do with God, God does not share the same sentiment. God seeks us out, continuing to seek us out until we return to Him, for the will of God is that all men would be saved.

As Isaiah records his words, Israel had two burning questions that kept coming back to the forefront. The first question: Could God help them? The second question was a follow-up to the first: Would God help them? Yes, God could definitely help Israel. Would God help them? Absolutely, for they are His people, regardless of all the times they fell away from Him.

Those questions that Israel continued to ask are the same questions that we ask today. When we get in over our heads due to sin, we wonder if God could and would help us. We have God’s assurance that the answer is indeed yes, for we are God’s creation and He has promised to be our God through thick and thin. He promises to be our God when we fail to be His people. He promises to be our God even when we do not want Him.

That promise of God is assured in the words of Isaiah: “He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength…. But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” We have God’s promise that He will always be with us, to care and provide for us, not out of a sense of obligation, but from a loving nature of Father to child.

As Isaiah asked at the beginning of our text, “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” We need not wonder or question, for we have been told. We have God’s Word of assurance for us. We know that we do not have a God that is aloof, one that is distant from His people. Rather, we have a God who is as personal to us as He can be, for He has sent His Son into our flesh, to live and die for us, so that all would be restored. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 4 – “Christ’s Authority” (Mark 1:21-28)

B-21 Epiphany 4 (Mk 1.21-28)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.

Authority. The dictionary has multiple definitions of the word. Some define authority as: the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; the right to control, command, or determine; an accepted source of information, advice, etc.; or an expert on a subject. Authority commands something, is due something. Authority is often taken at face value and is declared to be true. The question today is this: who has true authority – Jesus or someone else?

As Mark begins our Gospel account today, Mark identifies who has authority and who does not. He writes, “They went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath [Jesus] entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” Here was Jesus, the newcomer on the scene and He marches into the synagogue and starts teaching. By all rights, Jesus had no authority to teach. He was just another guy as far as outward appearances went. He wasn’t a member of the Pharisees or scribes. He wasn’t a teacher of the Law. He was just your average guy. But the manner in which Jesus taught sets Him apart from those who had the authority to teach, namely the scribes.

It wasn’t a far-fetched notion that we would find the man Jesus in synagogue. Even at the age of 30 or so, it would be quite common to find Jesus in the synagogue and temple, for it was there that the Word of God was taught to the people. Jesus’ role was merely to listen and to learn, just like every other Jewish male in attendance. But sitting and listening wasn’t Jesus’ style, especially when He had all the answers.

And so Mark records that Jesus began to teach “as one who had authority….” It meant that people sat up and listened to what He had to say. People took the words that Jesus spoke to be true, even truer than the words spoken by the scribes. His authority was different than the scribes. It demanded more than the scribes, and so Mark contrasts the authority of Jesus with that of the scribes. The people were amazed at His teaching, for there was a marked difference between what Jesus said and what the rabbis of the day said, for Jesus is the Son of God. What He delivered He received from the Father. John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He could speak as someone with authority because all authority had been given to Him, and so a noticeable difference between Jesus and the scribes could be expected. He knew the whole will of God from eternity. He knew how the promises of the Old Testament would be fulfilled in Him.

When you looked at what Jesus preached and taught throughout His ministry, what makes up His content? He wasn’t preaching about endless circumstances for choosing the right behavior, but rather sin and grace. His message wasn’t “What should I do?” but rather “What has God done for me?” This wasn’t a new teaching in Capernaum, but a timeless teaching of Scripture that had been replaced by man’s teaching. It was a teaching that says that man is not capable of keeping God’s Law. It was a teaching that through the coming and the work of the Messiah, forgiveness would be won for helpless man.

Authority for us equals God’s Word. This is God’s Word. What you see and hear and receive here today all comes to you in the stead, by the command, and with the authority of Christ Jesus Himself. Believe it or not, but there’s nothing new here. Just because you may not have heard it before doesn’t mean that it’s brand-new. It’s not brand new. Maybe you were never taught it. Maybe you never listened. The teaching—the doctrine of repentance and salvation by faith alone in God’s grace alone because of Christ Jesus alone is not new. In fact, this authoritative Law and Gospel message of the Word is eternal. It’s just brand-new to our sinful ears.

And that’s worth noting. Notice what the people say after Jesus heals the demon-possessed man: “A new teaching with authority.” Did you catch that? Not a new teacher, but a new teaching. The divine, healing authority wasn’t in the messenger, but in the message! At first glance, we see Jesus and think, “of course the demons responded to Jesus; He’s almighty God!” Guess what? This sort of thinking has a real sad way of working itself into today’s ministry. “That was then. That was with Jesus, in the flesh. Today is different. Jesus isn’t here. What makes you right and me wrong? What gives you the right or say-so over me?”

It is Christ’s authority—the authority of the Word of God Himself made flesh—that confronts you in your sin, calls you to repentance, and proclaims the joy and peace of complete forgiveness to you. Notice: We’re not called to teach anything other than what Christ has commanded and taught. “Repent! You are that man! You are in sin. What you are doing is sinful in the eyes of the Lord.” That’s not my opinion. That’s God’s authoritative Word. “Baptism now saves you.” That’s Christ’s authoritative Word. “This is My body. This is My blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin.” That’s not my opinion or my take on a particular passage; rather, that’s Christ’s authoritative Word and promise. Let the Word do the talking. Let the Word work. It is this Word, and this Word alone, that has the authority to bring about repentance and salvation. This Word—this doctrine; this teaching—has the authority to kill and to make alive. God keeps His promises. His Word does not return to Him void and empty. It accomplishes that which He purposes.

Jesus still comes with the authority of His teaching even as His word shows up in churches all over the world. Even though the church is made up of people who are sinners, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us and makes us saints. While we still struggle as saints and sinners, Jesus has given His authority to His church on earth to proclaim and give His wonderful forgiveness to all nations in His Name. We have this authority because Jesus carried the uncleanness and captivity of all nations to the cross.

So, the authority of Jesus Christ comes to us even today as we hear the audible Word of God in our readings and preaching, as we feel the wet word of God in baptism, as we hear the forgiving word of God in the absolution, as we taste the forgiveness of sins as Jesus gives us His very body and blood in the bread and wine. This is the full power and authority of the cross applied to you. Here lies true authority: authority of Jesus Christ to forgive and to make holy. 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 3 – “Man’s No and God’s Yes” (Jonah 3:1-5, 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 Old Testament, which was read earlier.

One of the first words a child learns is one that will stick with them throughout all of their life, a word more important than “mama” or “dada.” That word is “no.” And once they learn that word, they love to use it at every opportunity they can. As we get older, that word becomes ingrained in our everyday vocabulary, because we too like to use that word as much as we can. For the prophet Jonah, saying no was no different.

We all know the account of Jonah. To refresh your memory, God calls upon Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and deliver a message of repentance to them. Jonah felt that they were not worthy of God’s graciousness and so he refused. In order to get away from God, Jonah jumped into a boat that was heading the opposite direction, as if Jonah could really escape God. God sends a storm that threatens to destroy the boat he is on and so Jonah requests that the crew throw him overboard. The crew refuses to throw him overboard, knowing full well that he will drown. As the storm grew worse, the crew relented and threw Jonah overboard, but instead of drowning, he is swallowed by a big fish and kept alive in the fish’s belly for three days until he is spat out onto the shore. And that brings us to our Old Testament reading for today.

“Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.” This time, Jonah was not about to take any chances. Even if he doesn’t feel that the people of Nineveh are worthy of God’s graciousness, he is going to go to Nineveh regardless of his personal feelings. He still doesn’t like the idea of going, he still doesn’t like the people, but he goes anyways because this is what God has commanded of him.

After everything that had happened to Jonah, it would be hard for him to say no a second time, and yet he still doesn’t have anything good to say about the Ninevites. He goes to Nineveh and declares God’s message: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” This time, Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh, to be God’s mouth in that city. This same word was used when God promised to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and God followed through with His threat of punishment for the unrepentant. That’s the same thing that Jonah wanted for Nineveh, for God to wipe them out as He had done earlier.

The Lord was calling Nineveh to repent. God is a serious God, with serious love and mercy for the repentant. But what do you think? Do you God is being too gracious, or are the billions of unbelievers out there today, or those of us gathered here, really worth His effort?

For as stern as God’s warning is to Nineveh, there’s reason for hope. For if God had decided to destroy the city, just for the fun of it, just because He’s a mean, angry, hateful God just looking for people and cities to destroy, if that’s who God really is, then there would be no real purpose for Him to ever send a preacher with His message. There would be no need for Jonah, no need for me. God detests sin because it kills those whom He loves, His creation. His earnest desire, what He wants most and has moved the ends of the world for, is salvation, salvation for Nineveh, salvation for you.

We are quick to say “no” to God, to think that we don’t need what He has to offer, to think that someone is beyond God’s salvation because of how bad they are. How great it must be, to be so good, to be someone who is so righteous of their own accord that they don’t need what God offers through Jesus Christ! How sad for everyone else who isn’t such a righteous person as this.

Fortunately for us, when we say “no,” God says “yes.” God says yes to us from the very beginning of man’s fall into sin. God says yes to us sinful human beings who don’t deserve His forgiveness. God says yes to us when our self-righteousness says that we don’t need God. Man’s “no” is God’s “yes,” and I am glad that’s the way it is.

Nineveh was spared because the Ninevites repented of their sins. God saw no reason to destroy them any more. When we repent, God sees no need to destroy us any more. We shout from the rooftops, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them.” And God joyfully shouts back to us, “I forgive you all of your sins.” What a wonderful thing to hear! We have God’s promise that all of our sins have been forgiven on account of Jesus Christ. We don’t have to guess and wonder if our sins have really been forgiven or not. We don’t have to guess and wonder if God will follow through with His threat of destroying us or if He will forgive us, for we already know the answer to that question.

God desired to save the wicked people of Nineveh, so He sent His preacher there and He saved. He had compassion and did not bring down the destruction that they deserved. God desires to save you, as well, sending forth preachers still today, preaching a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. With that forgiveness, God spares you from eternal destruction, from hell and it’s torment, it’s absence from God.

As certainly as Jonah was swallowed up into the belly of the fish three days and was delivered, so Jesus was swallowed up by death and in the tomb for three days. His being raised on the third day has brought the kingdom of God now to you. Christ’s great death and resurrection have become the door to life for you through Christ and this He has given to you by His Word, Holy Baptism, and His Supper. Through these gifts, He has had compassion on you, drawing you near unto Him. Here, in His Means of Grace, does He pour out on you comfort and forgiveness in His blood instead of the Father’s wrath and anger. All is made well again, all has been forgiven you because your hearts have been turned and have repented. Death passes over you as you receive 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.

Epiphany 3 – “God Calls” (1 Samuel 3:1-10; John 1:43-51)

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 and Gospel, which were read earlier.

When Martin Luther was a student at the University of Erfurt, he found a copy of the Bible in the school library. As he paged through Scripture, he happened upon the words in verse 10 and read them with great interest: “And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”” He wished he could be like Samuel and hear God’s voice! The great discovery of Luther’s life was that on the pages of the Bible, God does speak to us as He once spoke to Samuel.

In Samuel’s day, as in Luther’s, “the word of the LORD was rare.” People had little interest in hearing what God had to say. The five books of Moses were kept in the tabernacle, but even the priests neglected them. Not since the death of Moses had there been a great prophet in Israel.

No greater judgment can fall upon a nation than when it suffers the loss of God’s Word. When people do not appreciate the Gospel, God often takes it from them. Israel suffered this time and time again. Eventually, they would repent and God’s Word would be proclaimed to them again, though it didn’t take long for them to neglect God’s Word as they had previously done.

Wouldn’t it be nice if God were to call us the same way as He did Samuel? How would He call us? What will He call us to do? Fortunately for us, God does call us, just as He did Samuel. He doesn’t call us in the way that He did Samuel, but He calls us through another voice, that of His Son, Jesus Christ. He calls us to come to Him, just as He did Samuel.

As God called His people of old, He used the prophets to do so. But that is no longer the case today. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son….” What we sometimes forget is that God did not stop calling His people, He merely changed the messenger who was calling. Before, it was the prophets calling the people of Israel to believe in the promised Messiah of God. Later, it was John the Baptist who was the final voice of the people, preparing them to receive the Messiah who was closer than what the people thought. In the end, God sent His long-promised Son to be the ultimate voice, calling the people to repent and believe. But His calling went even further than that. He called 12 lowly men to be His disciples, to be His mouthpieces and to proclaim who He was and what He had come to do. They had three years to learn just what to say and how to say it. When it was time, they continued the same preaching and teaching as their Teacher.

All throughout His ministry, we see our Lord calling people. He calls the sinner to Him to repent. He calls the child to Him, to be the example of faith. He calls for the non-believer to come to Him and believe. He calls the believer to Himself so they may be strengthened. He calls the entire world to Himself in order to be baptized. He calls you each and every time you enter this place, His Father’s house, to confess your sins and receive His absolution. He calls you to feast upon His body and His blood for the forgiveness of your sins, a forgiveness that is certainly needed by all.

As we look at Jesus calling Philip and Nathanael, the calling is reminiscent of that of Samuel. Samuel is called by God to be His servant and to do His work. Philip is first called by Jesus and he declares to Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael asks the all-important question: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The question is one that is meant to establish who Jesus was. Everyone knew that Nazareth did not produce anything. But in this instance, Nathanael was wrong. Nazareth did produce something good: it produced the Savior of creation.

When God calls us, the message that He calls us with is not one that is fluff, not one that can be ignored. However, throughout Israel’s history, they viewed God’s message as fluff and it was ignored, time and time again. Apparently, God’s people knew better than God Himself did. They knew exactly how to get themselves into trouble – ignore God and His Word. Eventually they would realize that they were not capable of getting themselves out of trouble and so they would turn to God, sometimes rather reluctantly.

When God sends forth His Son, unfortunately, the world had the same problem as they did with God – the world knew better. They didn’t need to listen to Him, just like they didn’t need to listen to God. But the message of Jesus was the exact same as that of God. Both call the people of God to repentance. Both call the people of God to believe. Both call the people of God unto themselves, for there is found everlasting life.

Try as we might, we can never cease depending on God. God created us. Jesus redeems us. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us and makes us holy. We are called by God to come to Him, to receive from Him, to worship Him, to serve Him as we serve our neighbor. God calls us, not for His benefit, but for ours. Even though God is calling, we seek to flee. Why is that? Why do we flee the gracious hand of our creator?  We flee because deep down inside we know who we are. While we are with others who are like us, we draw comfort from the fact that we are more or less about as good as the people who are around us. We go into denial about our sin. We can deceive ourselves into thinking we are not so bad after all. But that’s where we are wrong. We are so bad. In fact, we’re even worse!

Despite the fact that we are sinners, God calls us unto Him. He calls us to be forgiven. He calls us to receive. He calls us to be His beloved children. Just as God called Samuel, just as Jesus called Philip and Nathanael, so are we called. We are called in our Baptism to be made forgiven children of God. We are called to serve our neighbor, to spread the Gospel to those who have not heard.

God calls men of every culture to proclaim His message … the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The message of repentance is always similar to the message that God gave to Samuel that terrifies us of our sin. The message of forgiveness is always similar to the message that God gave to Philip that always points to Jesus.

Like Samuel the first and second and third time, maybe we do not recognize that the Lord is calling to us. Yet He does call. He calls to us gathered here in His home. He calls through His living Word. He calls us unto Himself and we respond, “Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Baptism of our Lord – “Baptism” (Mark 1:4-11)

B-18 Epiphany 1 (Mk 1.4-11)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.

As we look at the major events of the Church Year, we immediately think of the big two: Christmas and Easter. Christmas, as we just celebrated, is when God takes on human flesh in the form of Jesus Christ. Easter, which we will celebrate in just a few months, marks the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ and His defeat of sin, death, and the devil. We would most certainly say that those two events rate very high in the life of the Church. But as we look at our Gospel for today, another event is highlighted, one that is indeed very important to the life of the Church: the Baptism of Jesus.

In our text, we see two sets of Baptism taking place. First, John the Baptist “appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Repentance was the purpose or result of John’s baptism. One way to view this is that one could not be said to have repented unless and until one had been baptized. This was so because baptism was not one way to achieve repentance for John – it was the way to attain it, indeed, the only way. John’s baptism enacted the plea and vision of the Old Testament concerning preparation for the coming personal presence of God in the promised Messiah. Through the baptism of John, God made for himself a cleansed and repentant people, prepared for His visitation.

The people acknowledged who John was, the last of the Old Testament prophets, and went to him in order to be baptized and to confess their sins. Everything that John did was not for his benefit or for his own desires, but rather it was for the benefit of those who came to him. The baptism that John offered, a baptism of repentance, said something of the individual coming to be baptized. They desired to repent, to turn from their sinful ways.

To keep from drawing attention to himself, John never took credit for anything. He always sought to get the focus off of himself and onto the One to whom the focus was deserved: the coming Messiah. John says, “After me comes he who is mightier than I….” That brings us to the second Baptism that takes place in our text. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”

In an interesting turn of events, Jesus comes to be baptized by John. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; He had no sins to confess! Why did Jesus need to be baptized for the remission of His sins that didn’t exist? St. Matthew records for us Jesus’ simple reply to John when John questions the Baptism: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John baptized Jesus with no further discussion.

We need to make sure we fully understand what took place in the Baptism of Jesus by John. The view that by being baptized by John, Jesus only showed His willing obedience and though He didn’t need to be baptized and yet submitted to it, makes the baptism nothing but a formality and misconstrues what John’s Baptism really was. It wasn’t law, but gospel. It wasn’t a demand to obey but a gift of grace to accept and retain. Jesus was baptized by John because He regarded this as the right way in which to enter upon His great office. Jesus, the sinless one, the very Son of God, chose to put Himself by the side of all the sinful ones, for whom this sacrament was ordained. He signifies that He is now ready to take upon Himself the load of these sinners, that is, to assume His redemptive office. As Luther points out, Jesus was here rightly beginning to be the Christ, the Anointed One, and “was thus inaugurated into His entire Messianic office as our Prophet, High Priest, and King.”

Here, in the Jordan River, Jesus became one of us. He took on all that has gone wrong with us, every sin. By taking our sin onto Himself, He becomes the greatest sinner. He becomes the greatest sinner so that He could become our only Savior. He takes His place under our sin, so that He could lift it from us and carry it away. He carried our sin away from us so that the punishment for that sin will not fall on us, but on Him. That is how God has decided that His judgment and His righteousness should go. Jesus should take our sin to Himself with all its condemnation, guilt, and punishment. God turns His friendly face to us because Jesus became one of us and took our sin on Himself.

So it is that Jesus submits to the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He repents of your sin. He undergoes the sinner’s baptism for sinners. Jesus stands with us in the waters of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The Baptism of Jesus reveals the plan of God to restore this love – to heal our relationship with Him – to open heaven to us once again. Here we see the Son of God in the flesh in order to take our place under the law. Here stands the sinless Son of God who carries in Him the sin of the entire world. Here is Jesus standing with us in the waters of baptism in order that we might be joined to Him in eternity.

From the moment that Jesus came to be in the womb of the Virgin, the Son of God has carried the sins of the world. Up until this moment of baptism, He carried our sins in silent anonymity. Now, at His baptism, His role as sin bearer becomes public. The heavens were torn open. The Spirit descended on him like a dove. A voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The time has come for Jesus to publicize His journey, a journey that will pass through the cross where He will take away the sin of the world, a journey that will also pass through the empty tomb of Christ’s resurrection that demonstrates His power over death.

God the Father is pleased with His Son as He continues this journey of salvation. This is God the Father expressing delight in God the Son. This is God the Father expressing delight in us as well. For Jesus’ journey through the cross and the open tomb earned salvation for us. Through baptism, the Holy Spirit joined us to Christ Jesus. All that is ours belongs to Him, and all that is His belongs to us. So God delights in us just as He delights in Jesus. In a world that has long ago surrendered to sin, death, and the devil, there is one place where we receive the delight of God. That is where we are in solidarity with Jesus who heard the Father say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Christmas 2 – “Home” (Luke 2:42-5

B-15 Christmas 2 (LHP) (Lu 2.40-52)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.

Tomorrow morning, school is back in session for our kids. We send them off to school in order to learn, to become educated so that they may become contributors to society. As our children grow older, we send them off to the best colleges and universities to sit at the feet of well-respected professors, hoping that some of their wisdom will rub off onto our children. And one day, our children will become the teachers to others, teaching them all they have learned in their lives. That’s the way thing are supposed to work. When we look at our Gospel reading for today, we see the makings for the young boy Jesus to sit at the feet of the teachers of the Law.

Everything for Jesus begins just after our Gospel reading from last week where Joseph and Mary take an eight-day old Jesus to the temple as is the custom. Simeon holds the long-promised Messiah in his arms and then Luke ends with these words: “the child [Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” That’s where the story ends until today. Continuing right from where he left off, Luke now shows us Jesus, but He is no longer an infant. Rather, He is a twelve-year old boy who has journeyed with His parents to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. This was one of the major feasts for the Jews. Every Jew who was able would journey to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, marking the yearly remembrance of how God spared His people from the devastating plagues while they were slaves in Egypt.

When the feast had ended, the Holy Family did what everyone else did: pack up and head home. They were traveling in a large caravan with other family and friends on the multiple day journey and after a days worth of travel, Joseph and Mary noticed that Jesus was not with them. Was this something to be alarmed about? No. Traveling in a caravan like this, if Jesus wasn’t with His parents, then He was surely with other family members in another part of the caravan. It was likely that they didn’t see other members of their extended family very often so why not let Jesus play with His other family members? Eventually it was determined that Jesus was nowhere in the caravan and so Joseph and Mary returned to Jerusalem in search for Jesus.

Even after the Passover busyness had ended, Jerusalem was still full of people and that meant because of the crowds, it would take a while to find Jesus. After the first day of searching, there was no sign of Jesus. After the second day of searching, still no Jesus. Surely their luck was going to improve on the third day. Luke doesn’t record when on the third day they found Jesus, other than the fact He was found. Where He was found might have seemed like an unlikely place for some, but the obvious place for others. He was found in the temple.

While Jesus was in the temple, just what was He doing? According to Luke, Jesus was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Now, the first part of what Luke says wasn’t surprising. Jesus was 12 years old. That meant He would have been of the age of study so listening to the teachers of the law and asking questions would not have been out place. However, it’s the second part of Luke’s account that is out of place. Everyone who heard Jesus was amazed at His understanding and answers. Jesus was nothing more than a mere child. He had no right to be doing anything other than listening and definitely not doing anything resembling teaching.

Jesus had no authority to be teaching anything, especially teaching the teachers of the Law. Not only was He teaching them, they were amazed at what He said. One can imagine the teachers hanging on every word that Jesus spoke. Out of the mouth of a twelve-year old boy came such great wisdom. In one sense, you wouldn’t expect much to come out of Jesus because of His age. He was nothing more than a boy who is at the right age to study in the synagogue. Yet on the other hand, He was the Son of God who had all the answers because He knew all the questions. Everything that the teachers and those gathered could ask, Jesus had an answer for them. Jesus has come of age. He has found His voice and taken His place. And that voice and place, we learn, are “in my Father’s house.”

When Mary makes a fuss of looking for Jesus and how they were treated, He responds, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” In these short utterances of Jesus we see the beginning of His break away from familial attachments in order to identify more intimately with God the Father. He is doing so in the immediate presence of His parents, presumably for the first time. His commitment to the Father now transcends His love for the family. Jesus knows that He is here for a purpose – to do the Father’s will.

Jesus’ words not only convict Mary and Joseph, but they also convict us. We too try to search for Jesus and can’t find Him. We find ourselves with Mary and Joseph in that we too are looking in the wrong places. Jesus said, “I must be in my Father’s house.” Never the less, we look among the things of this world. We look to earthly security, wealth, power, popularity, and so forth. We look for Jesus everywhere He is not.

Today, we must be our Father’s house looking for Jesus. We need to look for Him in worship, where His Word is proclaimed, and His gifts are given – in the absolution, in the waters of Baptism, and in the Holy Supper, which He lays before us every Sunday for our refreshment, and for our forgiveness, and for our blessing, and our strengthening. Here, in His holy Word. Here, in His body and blood is where you need to look. Here in the fellowship of His people – His holy body – is where He is to be found, and nowhere else.

All the work that Christ does for the Father culminates on the cross. That’s where the true intersection takes place between God and man. It takes place in Christ on the cross. Holy, perfect, and almighty God Himself gave up all of heaven in order to come down to this fallen and sinful world and take on our fallen and sinful flesh. However, Christ—in the flesh—did what fallen and sinful man can never do, no matter how hard we try. Christ Jesus lived the perfect life. He kept every one of God’s laws perfectly. He did this for us, in our place, precisely because we cannot do this. Christ Jesus took every single sin of the entire world upon Himself, taking every single one of those sins to the cross so that they would be put to death, once and for all.

Today, we are where we need to be. We are where Jesus is, where God the Father invites us to be. There truly is nowhere better to be than “in my Father’s house.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.