Pentecost 5 – “The Accomplishing Word” (Isaiah 55:10-13 & Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23)

A-67 Proper 10 (Mt 13.1-9)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Old Testament and Gospel, which were read earlier.

Do you ever have one of those “ah-ha” moments? It’s one of those times where everything seems to just make sense. In looking at our text for this morning in Isaiah, this is one of those “ah-ha” moments. Listen to the words of Isaiah again: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 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.” It sounds very simple, but is it really?

Take Isaiah for example. Isaiah stands midway between Moses and Christ. His ministry spanned the reign of the Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. In chapter 53, Isaiah revealed the vicarious atonement accomplished by the Messiah: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” In chapter 54 Isaiah assured the Church of God’s careful guidance and bountiful grace. Despite the attacks of Satan and the sinful world, the Church will endure. All believers are to find comfort and strength in the Lord. As Isaiah says, “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” What Isaiah says is much easier said than done.

Jesus tells us in both Matthew and Mark, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” It’s not always easy to proclaim the Word of God. There are Christians around the world that are persecuted for even mentioning the name of Jesus. We have people who are like the types of seed in our Gospel lesson for this morning. First, we have those who are like the seed that fell along the path and was devoured up by the birds. Jesus later explains what He means: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.” It’s a shame that we have people who hear the Gospel but through the powers of Satan, a stumbling block is put up so that they cannot hear the saving message that while we are sinners, Christ died for us and has made us clean by His shed blood. Unfortunately, not all who hear will believe.

The second type is the seed that fell on rocky ground, had no soil and was scorched away. Christ tells us, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” Unfortunately, this type is seen all too often. People attend a gathering or a conference, read an inspirational book that really gets them fired up for Christ and with direction, they could probably do great things. But their new-found spirituality quickly dims because no one is there to help guide them and give them direction, to answer questions that they have, to share the real Gospel message behind the gathering or conference or inspirational book. No one is there to nurture them in the Christian faith and they lose all interest.

This is all too apparent with pop evangelical Christianity today. Look at some megachurches and the large non-denominational churches. Their goal is to bring people into the building. Once that’s done, you become a number of the many thousands they have on the book. They may offer certain programs at the church but are they truly nurturing your soul? What tends to be important is your involvement in the church, in the small groups and programs that the church has to offer. However, what is often missing is the Gospel itself. What you tend to be left with is nothing more than fluff, things that make you feel good but in the long run, do nothing for nurturing of the faith of the individual.

The third example that Jesus speaks of is that which fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. How Christ describes it is unnerving: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” This is the kind that places the riches of the world above that of the spiritual riches that we have received through our baptism into Christ, the nourishment that we receive when we come to the Lord’s Table, placed above the Word that we hear.

There is a saying that very appropriately describes this kind of seed: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” While that may be true among the rich and wealthy, someone will come along after you’re dead and surpass your riches and wealth. When that happens, you lose. The more appropriate statement to make is this: “He who dies with the most toys still dies!

What riches can you take with you when you die? Show me someone who has bought their way into heaven. That’s not how it works. Christ has purchased our sinned-filled lives and has cleansed them by His blood. Listen to what St. Peter writes: “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.” That is our only way into heaven.

Finally, Christ speaks of seed falling on good soil. “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” That is true Christianity. That is the Word accomplishing what it has set out to do. Hear again the words of 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.”

The Gospel is God’s declaration of universal grace and pardon. It offers and conveys the Lord’s grace to men—God’s absolution of our sins and His promise of grace and forgiveness without any strings attached. Christ said, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” The Gospel not only has the power to convert people to faith but also to motivate believers to be fruitful Christians. Isaiah tells us that God’s Word is never proclaimed in vain. It is not a waste of time to declare the mercy and grace of God in Christ. The possibility is always there for those who hear it to come to faith and be saved. And when it is rejected through the hardness of the human heart, the Gospel has a purpose to be preached as a testimony against unbelief.

The Word is power. To those who believe in Jesus Christ and the Word, God gives the power to become the children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit. The Word never returns empty. It always accomplishes what it was sent out to do, though we may not be able to see it. The Word of God is still the powerful force it has always been. Therefore, let us not lose confidence in its effectiveness, since the Lord stands behind it with the promise So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. The world around us declares that there is no good use for the Gospel anymore, that it doesn’t have any power or might. So many suggest that we get rid of it. Sometimes in our weakness we might think it isn’t accomplishing anything. However, let us have confidence that God is behind His Word and will use it according to His will. Let us keep on proclaiming the Gospel, the power of God to do all things. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Pentecost 4 – “Easy Yoke” (Matthew 11:25-30

A-66 Proper 9 (Mt 11.25-30)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.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus makes some outrageous claims about His person and His ability to get people right with God the Father, and goes on to make a fantastic offer to all who feel beat, bushed, and burdened. In fact, Christ’s claims about Himself are so extravagant and His offer so unbelievable, one must wonder if perhaps this is nothing more than a ruse of some sorts because it sounds too good to be true.

Of the outrageous claims that Jesus makes in His ministry, there is one today that sticks out like a sore thumb: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” To say something this ludicrous is beyond that which even the prophets of old could not say. In fact, no one dared to say something as outrageous as this because if they did, they would be put to death as a heretic. With death charges possible, Jesus makes such a statement as this and more with what He does throughout His ministry.

After making such an outrageous claim as this, Jesus makes a fantastic offer, one that no one before or after has been able to make and keep. Sure, there have been those who have made such an offer before, but in the end, they were unable to fulfill such an offer. Just what is the offer that Jesus comes and makes? Our Lord simply says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

“Come to Me,” says Jesus, but He doesn’t mean “If you work hard enough to make your way to Me, I’ll reward you.” No, think instead of the parent who scoops up a little child while at the same time saying, “You come here!”, and you have a better idea of the Savior. He has rest for all those who are weary and heavy laden, and that would be you. There are two types of people in this world: those who are weary and heavy laden with sin and weakness and know it, and those who are weary and heavy laden with sin and weakness and don’t know it. The former understand that the salvation isn’t about the rules of daily living; if it is, they’ll never get the work done. Thus, they’re happy to be rested by the Savior. The latter don’t think that the burden is heavy, so they see no need for the Savior. Instead, they’ll seek out salvation by their own rules. And they’ll never make it.

Note carefully again the words of Jesus. Not “take My yoke upon you and pull with Me,” but “take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.” Hear from His Word that He has paid the price for your sins. Hear from His Word that He gives you grace and faith and salvation and all good things. He does not come like the ox-driver, whip in hand and demanding a good performance before He rewards you. No, He is gentle and lowly and humble in heart, so much so that He gently rode into Jerusalem, suffered most lowly, and humbly went to the cross in your place. Because He’s suffered God’s wrath for you, you have rest for your souls with God forever. His yoke is easy and His burden is light, because the price for your salvation is already paid.

The Christian life is not about being a better person and it never has been. We get to be real, true, honest sinners with a real true, powerful Savior. When we fall short and fail, we’re not surprised. We’re not home in heaven yet. We don’t invest a ton of time and energy in trying harder for salvation, because anything that starts with us is doomed to failure.

The burden, the yoke, that we bear and carry has all been carried and done for us by Jesus Christ. It is Christ that carried the burden of our every shortfall, every time we failed to keep God’s Law perfectly. It is Christ who wore the yoke of obedience that feels to us like being trapped in a vicious cycle: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” There is no way for us to be perfect as God demands and as Jesus tells us. Instead, it is Christ’s perfect obedience, His perfect keeping of every law of God, that is given to us, that is credited to us.

The reason that Jesus can say this is that He is the Son of God who entered history in order to save us from our own sin. While we can do nothing to please God, everything that Jesus does is pleasing to God. While we cannot endure the punishment that will satisfies God’s justice, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross totally satisfied God’s justice for you. Jesus is the one who takes our hard yoke on Himself and gives us the easy yoke of forgiveness in its place. He is the one who took up our heavy burden of sin and replaced it with the light burden of His righteousness. He has taken the labor and burden of false belief and replaced it with the rest of true faith.

Jesus has done all the work that makes us right with God. The blessings of that work become available to us when the Holy Spirit works faith in us. The Holy Spirit establishes the faith that receives the gifts of God – forgiveness, life, salvation. At the same time, the Holy Spirit creates a new being in us — a holy child of God. We now have the easy yoke of Christ’s forgiveness and the light burden of His righteousness.

Yoked to Christ we find peace; not toil and burden and work. How are you saved and redeemed? Is it because of anything you do to work or earn forgiveness? Do you have to toil and labor to get your little slice of heaven? Does your salvation consist of Christ does His share and you do yours? Of course not! We are saved because of God’s grace alone, which is ours because of the redemptive work of Christ alone. In terms of salvation, it really is easy, just like Christ says. We are yoked to Christ through faith alone. How much easier can it get? Trust in God above all things. Trust; that is, have faith in the fact that Christ has done it all, and it is finished. Trust in the fact that He is with you always, even when it feels like you’re being crushed under the crosses and burdens of life in this fallen and sinful world, for it is precisely here, under the burdens and loads and aches and pains and despairs and crosses of this life that we find Christ’s Word and Promise to be true: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Life is a rat race, a struggle. You get out of it what you put into it if you’re lucky; and sooner or later, you can’t put enough into it to sustain. That’s how life works in this sinful fallen world. But that isn’t how salvation works with your sinless Savior. The Lord Jesus declares that He gives it to you freely as a parent gives to a little child. While your struggles and setbacks dictate that you labor wearily and bear heavy loads in this life, it is not so for eternal life. Your Savior bids you, “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” That rest and salvation are yours, because you are forgiven for all of your sins on account of Jesus Christ and the easy yoke that He gives to 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.

Pentecost 3 – “Law to Gospel” (Romans 7:1-13

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

Have you ever wondered why we have laws? Why is there a law that says the speed limit is 75 on I-90? Why is there a law that says no shoplifting? Why is there a law that says you must stop at a stop sign or red light? Laws are put into place in order to protect people. They often come about as a result of injury or death. While it might be fun to drive down I-90 at 100+ miles an hour, it isn’t safe and speeds like that cause death. Therefore, the Wyoming Department of Transportation deemed fit that 75 miles an hour is an appropriate speed limit.

As Paul addresses the church in this part of his letter, he is speaking to those who know and are under the law. The legal principle that Paul sets forth is fairly simple and straightforward. A law, any law, has authority over a person so long as that person is alive. The law obligates living people; it has no claim on the deceased. The latter are both literally and figuratively “dead to the law.” They take no orders, they make no response. The point Paul would have us notice is that death changes a person’s relationship to the law.

The apostle now proceeds to illustrate this truth with an example from everyday life. He draws from the marriage laws that regularly are in force in an orderly society. The death of a spouse allows the surviving partner to remarry. In both cases, the point is the same – a death changes things; it breaks the power of the law. Paul now moves on to show that this general legal principle in everyday life has its counterpart in the spiritual realm. There too death changes things. It loosens the Law’s grip.

We have to remember to whom Paul is writing his letter. He is writing to the Church, to the fellow believers in Jesus Christ. They are the ones who have been convicted by God’s Law. And because he is speaking to fellow believers, he can boldly say, Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”

In just a single verse, Paul says so much to this Church. First, he acknowledges the fact that they are brothers in Christ. What a joy and privilege it is to know that you are one counted amongst those who are called by God. Secondly, these are those who have died to the law. Because of Christ, they have been made a new creation because the blood of the Lamb has atoned for their sins. The Christian has “died to the law.” A death has happened, in this case, that of the sinner, so that the Law’s hold on the Christian has been broken, making the Christian alive in Christ who has bore their sins. The fact that Paul must remind them of this fact is sad because it means that they have forgotten or ignored this truth of the Gospel. Regardless of whether or not they have forgotten or ignored it, it doesn’t make it any less true.

A third fact to remember is that because they died to the law, they belong to another, that is, they belong to Christ. The marvel of God’s plan of salvation is that it provided a way that did not require the sinner to die. Rather, God provided a substitute, His sacrificial Lamb, to die in the sinner’s place. This substitutes’ death was credited to the sinner. Sinners themselves do not actually die, as they rightly deserve for their sins, but instead die “through the body of Christ” on Calvary.

What great news for the Church at Rome to hear! It is especially great news if some heard it for the very first time! It is always important for news like that to be put front and center of the Church. That same message is still at the forefront of the Church. And why shouldn’t it be at the forefront? Isn’t that the central focus of the Gospel, of how on account of Jesus Christ we have been made a new creation, with sins forgiven and everlasting life granted to us and to all who believe?

As great as that news is, there is the unfortunate side of it. There are those when presented with the Gospel reject it. There are those when presented with the Gospel forget it. There are those when presented with the Gospel feel as if it doesn’t apply to them. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that news which we all need to hear as the blood-bought and redeemed children of God. Left to our own devices, we are slaves to the Law.

Using Paul’s illustration, we are married to the Law. You lived under its direction and you sought your life and meaning from it. This isn’t all bad: the one who abides with the Law generally leads a Law-abiding life. But there are a couple of big problems with the Law as your partner. For one thing, the Law of God always accuses. It’s always telling you what you should be doing and aren’t, as well as what you shouldn’t be doing and are. It’s always pointing out your sins, both the bad you commit and the good you omit. This has an effect on you, perhaps worse than you imagine. When the Law shows you your sin, it does more than just point out your imperfections: it actually makes you sin more.

But there is good news, news that we heard before: the death of somebody else has set you free: “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead….”

You’ve died to the Law. You died to the Law through the body of Christ. In other words, He died for you. He bore all of your sins to the cross—every last thing that the Law could accuse you of. He died for them all: and because He forgives you for all of your sins, the Law looks at you and says, “I don’t see anything left to condemn you with.” But Christ hasn’t just died for you: He is also risen for you. That’s why Paul says, “You also died to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another.” You’re no longer bound to the Law. Who do you belong to? Paul says you belong to, “Him who has been raised from the dead.” You’re not partnered to the Law anymore: you belong to Christ. You’re part of His Church, His bride; and He’s the Bridegroom who has laid down His life to make you His own, and then taken up His life again.

You’ve died to the Law, says Paul; but does this mean that you live a lawless life? Does this mean that you go ahead and do whatever you want to do? That now you get to show that you’re the boss? No. You’re joined to Christ, and He is your Lord and King. You’re no longer bound to the Law, but you obey it because it’s Christ’s Law; and by following it, you bear fruit to God. By obeying the Law, you do the good works God has created you to do.

You’ve died to the Law, because Christ died for you and He’s joined you to His death. You live—not as a slave to the Law, but as member of the Church, the bride of Christ. By His death, you are released from the Law. By His resurrection, you have life with Him forevermore. By His work of redemption, 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.

Pentecost 2 – “Nothing to Fear” (Matthew 10:5a, 21-33)

A-64 Proper 7 (Mt 10.24-39)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

It was Franklin Roosevelt who said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He described that fear as a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Of course, the fact is there would have been no reason for the president of our country to assert his firm belief that there was nothing to fear unless there actually was something to fear. The country was in the throes of a staggering economic crisis, the Great Depression, sparking fears that were not nameless or unjustified. Later in his speech, Roosevelt himself admitted: “Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment” – dark realities that gave substance to people’s real and understandable fears.

In today’s text, Jesus repeatedly tells His disciples to “have no fear” as He sends them out to proclaim the coming of His kingdom to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Yet Jesus knows and acknowledges that He is sending them out not just to sheep but “as sheep in the midst of wolves.” His very words of admonition and encouragement, “Have no fear,” show that He knows that there is much to fear, at least from a human point of view.

Jesus is sending His disciples out into the world to preach a specific message. They will proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is near; and as they do so, they will work miracles and wonders. This is the good part, but the Lord pulls no punches: They will face heavy opposition. They will be rejected sometimes by households, sometimes by whole towns. Sometimes by family members, sometimes by close friends; and sometimes by the heads of state and church. “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves,” He has just declared. He tells them as our text begins, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” As things turn out, it is no less than the Pharisees and Scribes who call Jesus “Beelzebul,” the “lord of the flies.” And if those church leaders, who can do no wrong in the eyes of the people, call Jesus such, they will consider His followers gnats to be swatted. The disciples will face some terrible intimidation for telling the Good News about Jesus.

But the intimidation is no excuse. The disciples are not to remain silent. “Do not fear them,” Jesus commands.

For one thing, they are not to fear because “nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” Those enemies of Jesus may look to have the strong hand; after all, what is a teacher and twelve men against the world? However, the disciples know the end of the story because Jesus tells it to them: He will be the Victor, and He will return in glory to judge all nations and condemn those who reject Him. Therefore, the disciples should not be intimidated: In this battle of good vs. evil, evil will appear to have the upper hand for some time to come. But the disciples know the end of the story, and it would be foolish to side with those who will lose in the end.

If they are intimidated, it is no excuse. They are not to remain silent, and they have no right to change the message that is given to them. They are to preach that the kingdom of heaven is near. “Do not fear,” the Lord says again, and this time He is even more specific. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” The disciples will suffer at the hands of sinners, this is certain; but those evildoers can only kill the body. God, the Father almighty, wields a much bigger sword: He can send body and soul to hell for eternity. Who is more to be feared?

For the Church today, it is the same proposition. The Lord calls His people to proclaim what He tells them: His Law in all of its severity, and His Gospel in all of its sweetness. As an individual Christian, you will face such intimidation: When confronted with a crisis where the righteous decision means suffering, will you do what is right or take the easy way out? When a family member or close friend chooses a sinful way of life, will you lovingly speak the truth and risk hostility, or keep silent to maintain the family peace? In the school locker room and the business office alike, there will be constant attempts to turn you from what is good and pure and holy to what is wrong and impure and most unholy.

If Jesus had not given us the words of today’s Gospel, sharing the Good News of salvation would be a very confusing activity. It would be easy to think that we were doing something wrong when people did not eagerly desire to receive this gift when we told them about it. It would be easy to think that we were doing something wrong when people actually fought against us and tried to destroy us when all we want to do is tell them about a gift that is more valuable than all the riches contained in the world. You would think that people would fill this building and line up around the block and down the street in order to get this gift, but they don’t. They persecute it instead. Why?

Well, there is something fundamentally different about the proclamation of salvation in Jesus Christ. There is a spiritual war going on all around us. While we are proclaiming the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, sin, death, and the devil are fighting a war of lies against that proclamation. They are doing everything within their power to make truth look like a lie and to make lies look like the truth. Although sin, death, and the devil want to enslave us, they present themselves as a way to freedom. Although true freedom is in Christ Jesus, the forces of evil proclaim Christ as restrictive and domineering. The forces of sin, death, and the devil are the ultimate con artists. They pose as friends, but are really deadly enemies.

Today’s Gospel is a great comfort for persecuted Christians around the world. It tells us that the opposition of the world is no surprise to God. God knows all about our situation. He understands that the world makes it hard to be a Christian. He understands that His faithful confessors will undergo hard times. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” Today’s Gospel is one of many places that tell us to expect opposition from the world. Today’s Gospel tells us that we are not doing something wrong when the world or even our own family hates us for making a faithful confession of Jesus Christ.

That is the reason that the Gospel is so sweet to those who believe. The Gospel proclaims that Jesus is the only one who never compromised God’s Word. He is the only one who remained faithful to His calling. He remained faithful to His calling even when His calling led to the cross. He is the one who paid for our sins with his death on the cross. He faced not only the persecution of this world, but He also faced the combined guilt of all the sin of this world. Even then He remained faithful. With the victory He won with His death on the cross, He has purchased the forgiveness of sins for all people.

In spite of our many shortcomings – in spite of our fear – in spite of our desire to get along with the world at the expense of Christ’s teachings, the Holy Spirit will continue to keep us in the faith. Just as the Apostles endured to the end by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit will one day bring us to a blessed end here on this earth – only to take us to a blessed eternity there in heaven. There we shall wait with all the other believers in Christ until the Last Day when Jesus will return and raise all the dead, and all who believe in Him will live forever with Jesus on a new earth where there is no sin, no sorrow, and no persecution. 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 – “Disciple Making” (Matthew 28:16-20)

A-59 Holy Trinity (Mt 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 is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

As the Church makes her transition from the festive season into the season of Pentecost, the “Time of the Church,” it is fitting that we begin by focusing our attention not on the Church itself but on the Creator and Sustainer of the Church’s life, the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we spoke in the Introit earlier, “Blessèd be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us.”

All three persons of the Trinity were present and active at the creation of the world, as we saw in our Old Testament reading from Genesis. Life cannot and does not exist apart from the divine life and cooperative work of the Holy Trinity. The Father clearly and decisively revealed His love for us and for all people by sending His Son Jesus, to live, die, rise, and ascend into heaven for us by sending His Spirit to bring us to faith in Jesus Christ, as we see recorded for us in the Book of Acts. Finally, as the Father sent the Son and the Spirit, so the triune God now sends us into the world to be His witnesses, assuring us that, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Our Gospel reading for today tells us that the disciples went to Galilee because Jesus told them to go and wait for Him. He told the women to have His brothers go to Galilee, that there they will see Him. When the disciples saw Him, they fell on their hands and knees, worshiping the Lord. This worship is the recognition of His deity, the adoration of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Only after the resurrection did the disciples engage in this form of adoration, for Jesus had died and risen again. He was no longer their Rabbi and friend, but He was now the Christ, the exalted Son of God, their risen Lord and Savior.

Jesus approached the disciples, some still worshiping and some doubting. He begins with a simple twelve-word sentence that sets up the rest of what He has to say to the disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Where does Jesus get such an authority? Satan tells Jesus in the Gospel of Luke when He is tempted that, “I will give You all their authority and splendor,” talking about the kingdoms of the world, “for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Unfortunately for Satan, he has no authority to exercise. The true authority came when Christ spread out His hands and feet on the cross, said His last words, “Father, into your hand I commit my Spirit,” and then breathed His last.

This authority is like no earthly authority. Jesus Himself shows His disciples the kingdoms of this world after the cross had been borne and points out the conquest His sacrifice and love shall achieve through the Gospel. This authority reduced demons to beggars and caused fearful citizens to plead for Jesus’ departure. This was done to demonstrate the Son’s authority on earth to forgive sins.

But what authority does Jesus receive? We know that it is all authority in heaven and on earth, but what does that constitute? It is the authority over heaven, all that lives and has its being, authority over the angels and archangels, and the powers, principalities, might, dominion, thrones and the saints in glory. This is authority that no one but God could give and it was given at the price of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Our Gospel text for today provide the main reason of the disciples’ journey to Galilee: there is a job that is to be done and the disciples are the first that are tasked to do it. The job is nothing more than going out and making disciples of all nations. They are the make all nations followers of Jesus Christ. This was not an easy task to do. As the disciples traveled, they would come into contact with the various ethnic groups of the world. Some would be eager to hear their message of Jesus Christ, while others would be very hostile in their response. Regardless, the cure for sin was to be made known to each and every nation; for all nations are sinners, all have souls in need of redemption, and all are in need of and are capable of salvation through the grace of God that comes through Jesus Christ.

As we are given to call today’s text the “Great Commission,” we must remember that all things stem from the Father. Mission begins in the heart of God the Father and expresses His great love for the world. This heart of mission has been with God from the very beginning. In looking at the Old Testament reading for today, we see how God, along with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, create all things. In the next chapter of Genesis, we see how God’s creation revolts against God’s command and the length that the Father goes to in order to restore creation unto Himself. He makes a promise to creation that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, as He comes to lay down His life in order to redeem this sinful and fallen world.

God’s mission centers in God the Son, Jesus Christ. He is the promised Messiah sent by the Father to reconcile the world to Himself by His life, death, and resurrection. By His life, He perfectly satisfied all the demands of God’s Law. By His suffering and death on the cross, Jesus atoned for the sin of the world, suffered the wrath of God for all people, crushed the head of the devil, and opened wide the gates of heaven.

Through the work of the Holy Spirit, faith is granted to the individual so that he may believe. He enables God’s people throughout the history of the Church to confess that “Jesus is Lord!” And so our Lord commands the disciples to make disciples from the people by baptizing and teaching. We baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We teach of all that our God has done for us: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When you are baptized in the name of the Trinity, it conveys certain things. We inherit the Father’s love, the Son’s redemption, and the Holy Spirit’s gift of fruitful faith. We continue to spread the Gospel to others as we have heard it spread to us. We are privileged to go out and make disciples of all nations, of sharing the Gospel message that we ourselves have heard: Christ crucified for me and Christ crucified for you. Christ died for my sins and Christ dies for your sins.

As Christ prepares the disciples for this great task of making more disciples, He tells them, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus assures His followers that He will be with us every single day until the completion of time. He assures the Church that she will never be alone in her work of spreading the Gospel.

As the baptized believers of Jesus Christ, we have been made His disciples. We continue in the long line of the saints gone before us of making disciples and adding to the ranks of the Church, that all would hear of the saving message of Jesus Christ, that they too would receive the gift of everlasting life that comes through what Jesus has done for us. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Pentecost – “Holy Spirit Alive” (Acts 2:1-21)

A-58 Pentecost (Ac 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 reading from Acts read earlier.

God is a God of communication. He speaks to us plainly through the words of Holy Scripture. It is because of this that the Bible and other materials are translated into the most obscure languages of our world. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than at that first Pentecost, which we mark as the birth of the Christian Church. This is now the ongoing work of Christ, to which Luke alludes in his introduction to the Book of Acts: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” The work of Christ continues now through the Church. And that work would require the ability to communicate Christ to the world in a manner that is clear and direct.

This sets the scene for our text today. Fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, the followers of Christ in Jerusalem, around 120 in number, gathered together in a house. Our text doesn’t tell us why they gathered, but it’s much of a leap to suggest that this was the Divine Service. Otherwise, why would the whole Christian community have gathered? This corresponds to what Luke records later in Acts 2: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

During this gathering, a special manifestation of the Holy Spirit was poured out on those gathered. Tongues of fire rested on their heads. The sound of a great rushing wind drew the people of Jerusalem to that place. The followers of Jesus, or perhaps just the apostles, were there, praising God in loud voices. They were praising God by speaking of all that God had done in Christ. And miraculously, everyone in the crowd heard them speaking in his or her own language. What is important here is that they had perfect understanding. They were hearing about what God had done through Christ, and they were understanding it perfectly.

The believers were now equipped and prepared to begin carrying out the assignments that the Lord had given to His Church. The dramatic signs – the sound, the fire, the ability to speak in other tongues – were all signs of that. Such signs did not always accompany the preaching of the apostles or the testimony of other believers. However, the Spirit sent by Jesus is always present and active when the Gospel is spoken. He gives the Word its power, and He gives believers the power to speak the Word. Our Lord had 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.

Luke records that the people heard the telling of the mighty works of God in their own tongues. Just what were those mighty works of God? It was the story of creation’s fall into sin. The people heard the words of conviction, for God’s Word convicts sinners who continue to look for extraordinary works of God rather than the ordinary ways He works through the Word and Sacraments. His Word convicts sinners who have continued to fail time and time again of keeping God’s Word perfectly.

But the Holy Spirit brings another message which the people heard. They heard a message of forgiveness to convicted sinners. God’s works through the sweet sound of the Gospel to save “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord.” God works mightily through the preaching of the Word of the cross, that there in Christ’s death and resurrection, you and I have life. God works mightily through the Word and water of Baptism. God works mightily through the Word that proclaims mere bread and wine to be His body and blood.

In short, on that Pentecost day, all those gathered there heard the good news of salvation for them that comes through Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection. That is the importance of Pentecost. Why is it so important? Because faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Believers do not exist apart from hearing the Word.

What is that Word that we hear today? We hear God’s Word for us that our debt has been paid in full in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son. Wherever that Word is proclaimed, there is the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus promised, convicting the world according to sin, righteousness, and judgment. Wherever that Word is proclaimed, there is the Holy Spirit, cutting hearers to the heart with stern and unrelenting Law, showing sin and calling it what it is, a falling short of the mark of perfection the heavenly Father expects. The Law preaches repentance.

When repentance comes, then comes the Gospel that declares you free from sin and death for Jesus’ sake. Three-thousand people that day repented, believed in Jesus Christ, and were baptized for the forgiveness of sins. They became partakers of God’s righteousness in Jesus, just as you became a partaker of His divine righteousness. Sins are washed away. New life is yours, as it was theirs.

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.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, the prophets of the Old Testament and the Apostles of the New Testament provide us with the message of God. The first part of the message is terrifying, for from it we learn of our helpless sinful status before God and the eternal punishment that we deserve because of that sin. The second part of the message is the ultimate comfort, for it tells us that God did not leave us to suffer but sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die in our place so that whoever believes in Him will not be condemned, but will have life eternal. This is the message that the Holy Spirit certifies with the wondrous signs of Pentecost. 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 7 – “Christian Suffering” (1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11)

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.

On July 1, 1523, two Augustinian monks were burned to death in Brussels, Belgium by the Inquisition. Their names were Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch. What was their crime you might ask? They were teaching the doctrines taught by one of their Augustinian brothers – a man named Martin Luther. These were the first men ever killed for teaching Lutheranism, for teaching what is revealed to us in Holy Scripture. For us, it seems a little strange in our country today to think about persecution, doesn’t it? We in this country aren’t likely to be burned at the stake or thrown to the lions or beheaded for being Christian. And for that fact, it makes it a little tougher for us to get our heads around our text for today, and yet Peter begins by saying, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

The fact is that persecution of Christians has been the norm of the Church from the beginning. In looking at Peter’s first three chapters of his epistle, he puts the question of suffering in the context of a kind of sermon on themes from Christian baptism. Now, in chapter 4, the focus narrows from suffering in general to the specific trials of this specific group of believers. And they are suffering, apparently, for no other reason except that they are believers.

It’s pretty much of a certainty, then, that this letter is addressed to Christians who are being actively persecuted because of their faith. Under the Roman emperors of the time, the infant community of Christian believers began to assume a kind of Passion in imitation of Christ’s own suffering – believers were burned at the stake, fed to the lions, hounded out of their homes and cities. In short, it cost something in those days to believe in Christ.

There is a sense that it will always cost something to believe. It’s doubtful that any of us are fed to the lions or burned at the stake, but don’t we suffer for being Christian? There is that unspoken indifference to your faith by friends and coworkers, maybe even your family. There is the mindless inattention by the rest of the world, to those things of the Spirit which you take to be passionately important. There is suffering there, and accusation, and trial. And to those of you who feel that pain, for the sake of your faith, Peter has a job for you to do: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

It seems like a strange thing to do when you are suffering for Christ, for remaining faithful to the faith that has been granted to you. But God has a purpose in allowing such persecutions. These trials, as Peter says, are “to test you.” There is the sense here that sufferings purify the Christian. Because we are always sinners and saints, we are never pure enough. Christ is always striving to purify our hearts and minds. The Christian, in standing firm, shares in Christ’s life and death. He suffers and dies with Christ. That is the joy we have in our Baptism, that we die to sin and are made alive in Christ Jesus. On the other hand, that can be our curse as well, for the world is hostile to the saving faith that comes through Jesus Christ; therefore, the world is hostile to the Christian as well.

But there is great comfort for you, the suffering Christian. Peter says, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” Fellowship with Christ does not end with the earthly death of a Christian but continues on to eternity. That is because we are connected with Jesus Christ and He with us. He strengthens us when we are persecuted. He is there with us when we suffer.

As you go about your life as a Christian, you should expect trial and suffering along the way. It may be society’s generic accusation that you are a bigot and a racist for holding fast to the Word of God, or that you’re intolerant for proclaiming that Jesus is the way to heaven. It may be the awkward conversations with family or friends who have different beliefs, who are less than pleased with the confession of faith on which you stand. It may be Old Adam’s whispers of doubt that you must endure as your sinful flesh persuades you to question God’s promises; or it may be battling teachings that were deeply ingrained in your youth. It may be the accusation of some that, if you care about doctrine, you must not love people. It may be the silly, man-centered notion that numbers are proof of the life of the Church. But if you are one who, by the grace of God, follows Jesus, you can expect to be misunderstood, falsely accused, mocked and rejected. As the world treated Jesus, so it will also treat you.

And how should you respond? Peter tells you not to be surprised, but be prepared. Furthermore, rejoice in the trials you suffer for being a Christian. This is, strange but true, a confirmation that you are the Lord’s, and that the Lord counts you worthy to suffer for His name. Therefore, declares the Lord, do not be ashamed if you suffer for being a Christian. Rather, humble yourself before the Lord. Suffering and fiery trial hurt; and during such times, peace is hard to find. Therefore, humble yourself and submit to the Lord. Confess to Him your sins and doubts, and give thanks that He considers you worthy to suffer for His name. And, adds St. Peter, be on guard and resist the devil, because he prowls like a lion to devour you; and he wants to devour you by making you suffer until you reject your Savior.

For this is your salvation: for your sin in which you were born, you faced only the prospect of suffering God’s eternal wrath and judgment. But so that you might be saved, Jesus Christ took on flesh and blood just like you, to go to the cross and die for your sins. He suffered rejection by the world, as man had him arrested, beaten and crucified. But even more, He suffered God’s rejection on the cross, as His Father condemned Him for all the sins of all the world-for all of your sins, too. Now He is risen from the dead, risen to give you forgiveness and life. For all the times that you sin and thus deserve God’s fiery trial, Jesus declares that He has suffered and died to deliver you. For all the times that you resent suffering, He declares that He has died for that, too.

Do not think it strange that you suffer for being a Christian in this world: for if you are delivered from eternal suffering, the devil, the world and your own sinful flesh will do their best to torment you while they still have time. No, do not think it strange, and remember the words of St. Paul: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” That glory is yours for the sake of

Jesus, who suffered, died and rose again for you. No, even as you are given to suffer, you do not suffer without the hope of God’s favor and everlasting life: because you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Easter 6 – “Suffering for Righteousness” (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 is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Jesus once said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In this fallen world when people try to promote peace, or champion righteousness, or live a life of gentleness and meekness, they find opposition. One would think that such a life would attract people to the kingdom of God. But the fact that it does not naturally do that tells us clearly that creation is not only alienated from God, but in rebellion to God. John the Baptist called for righteousness and went to an early death. Jesus proclaimed all the right virtues but found opposition to His message because it called for them to enter His kingdom. And if they persecuted these, will they not also oppose the disciples?

This beatitude is for followers of Christ, those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness. And as the next verse clarifies to the disciples, that means suffering for Christ’s sake. They have been identified by faith with the King, they carry His name, and they proclaim the good news that there is a kingdom of righteousness and peace that is spiritual and eternal. But they will find opposition. Nevertheless, they should rejoice, for their reward in heaven will be great.

As Peter writes his epistle, he could hear the protests: “People will take advantage of us.” “Be kind to these people when they’re trying to kill us?” You can just imagine the protests the people were making, probably the same protests that you and I have made as well. But the words of Peter echo that of Jesus: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled…” Jesus had taught Peter well. Even in times of persecution, Peter wanted the believers of Jesus to hang on to and trust that God would take care of His Church.

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 ask you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

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. 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, and 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 that the Lutherans held. Both documents were essentially a death sentence, insofar as they were confessions that 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.

To bring the message of love and forgiveness that Jesus brings, Peter sums up the work of Jesus for us: “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. The first part of the sentence tells us what Jesus did and how effective His work was while the second part of the sentence reminds 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 in 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.

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 – “No Troubled Hearts” (John 14:1-14)

A-54 Easter 5 (Jn 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.

Would you like some good news this morning, news that can make even the faintest of heart rejoice and sing for joy? Our Lord speaks some wonderful words to His disciples gathered around the wonderful gift of food that He gives: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”Why would your hearts be troubled when you hear the voice of your Good Shepherd speak to you with words of great comfort? The disciples needed to hear words of great comfort because they were distressed. It’s hard to watch Jesus go about His preaching and teaching and get the treatment that He did from the Pharisees. Anything the Pharisees could do to disprove Him, to show He was a heretic, they would do it because the message that Jesus preached was condemning and threatening to their teaching.

When you look at the teaching of Jesus, what was so threatening? Clearly Jesus preaches something threatening here in our text when He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Clearly the Pharisees and I are on two different pages because what they hear as threatening, I hear as comforting. I would imagine that when you hear these words of Jesus, you do not hear them as threatening but comforting as well.

If you’re a Pharisee, it’s very easy to see how that declarative statement of grace can be threatening to their doctrine. It wasn’t Jesus who was going to save. It wasn’t the Messiah who was going to save. Rather, it would be your adherence to the Law of God. The only problem with that is that you would not be able to keep the Law of God because you were a sinner and could not do all that God had demanded. But if you were a Pharisee, you were the one who was able to because you were able to keep the Law perfectly or change it so that they could keep it.

For you and I, we don’t have to worry about whether or not we kept the Law because the reality of it is that we cannot keep the Law. There is hope for us, a hope that lies not in this world, but a hope that likes in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and what He has done for us. He tells His disciples and all of us, “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 likes in the promise 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?” And the answer is no, this isn’t it. 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.”

Through the blood that flowed from His body on the cross, Jesus is the way. Through the Scriptures that 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.

 

Easter 4 – “Shepherd of the Sheep” (John 10:1-10)

A-53 Easter 4 (Jn 10.1-10)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.

Which would you prefer: a thief and a robber or a shepherd? Think long and hard about your choices. Obviously, we’re all going to choose the thief and robber, right? Because of our sinful nature, that’s who we are and what we deserve, and sadly, that which we choose. Thieves and robbers don’t care about the people they steal from. There is no connection to them other than what they take from you. Once they’ve gotten what they can from you, you are of no use to them anymore and they move on to the next target. What we so desperately need is a shepherd, someone who will care for us.

Fortunately for us, we do have a Shepherd, one who cares for the sheep, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s great to have a shepherd, but what will the shepherd do? The shepherd is one who will lay down his life for the sake of the flock. He will be the one who will tend to the needs of the flock, great or small, because they are his flock. He will be the one who will provide for all of their wants and needs, keep them safe and do all that is within his power to make sure that nothing harmful happens to the flock.

Isn’t that the description of our Shepherd? We just celebrated Easter a few weeks ago and what is the purpose of Easter? It is the celebration of our Shepherd who laid down His very life for us, only to take it up again and defeat sin, death, and the devil for us. Jesus tended to the needs of the people, healing them of their earthly diseases but more importantly, healing us of our eternal disease of sin. Nothing that you and I could do would ever be enough to cure the disease of sin and death and so Jesus comes and says, “I will rid sin and death from my Father’s creation. I will die so creation will never die again.” Jesus is the one who went to the utter depths of hell so that we would not suffer. A thief and robber would never do such a thing, but a true shepherd would.

While Jesus gives an excellent description of who a true shepherd is, John throws in a verse of bad news: “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”As Jesus spoke, we might expect the Jews to have understood at least some of His figurative language. The sheep were God’s chosen people. The strangers and thieves were those who would endanger and harm them. The shepherd was Jesus, sent by God to take care of the flock. But the Jews did not understand His extended figure of speech. Maybe they really didn’t catch on, or maybe they wouldn’t follow it because they didn’t believe in Jesus and were not ready to conclude that they themselves were among the strangers.

The language was filled with great imagery. But Jesus is pretty clear when He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep…. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” Jesus is the door. Through the door of His holy life and bloody sacrifice, we have eternal life. Through Him and Him alone, we have heaven. He’s a door that is dripping with water and blood through whom we find good pasture.

Outside of Jesus Christ is the way thieves and robbers play. That’s how the devil and other false teachers of this world tempt us to believe that our salvation and life and success are all really based on us picking ourselves up and improving our lives on our own. After all, Jesus has done His part and now it’s up to us to do our part.

But that’s not how things work for salvation. It’s not Jesus plus me, Jesus plus you, Jesus plus something else. It is Jesus alone. The final words of Jesus in our text speak to what Jesus does: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” He’s gone before you into the grave — the shepherd has laid down His life for the sheep. But here’s the thing: He’s come back out. He’s risen from the dead. So He says to you, “Yea, though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fear no evil, for I am with you. I will comfort you — and I will raise you up.”

That’s what the Good Shepherd does: He’s gone before you in life and death and resurrection. He’s been to hell and back for you, then ascended into heaven. Now He calls you by His Word, feeds you with His Supper: and He says to you, “I came so that you might have life—and have it abundantly.” He gives you grace abundantly—He forgives you more sins than you could ever commit.

My dear friends, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we know that the Good Shepherd laid down His life for sinful, faithless, wandering sheep like you and me, of His own free will and His own divine authority. It is this same divine authority by which He takes up His life again. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, does not shed His blood and leave His sheep alone, abandoned, and unprotected from the evil that seeks to devour and destroy us. He has taken His life up again in the resurrection on Easter morning. Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need fear no evil, for the Good Shepherd, who has already been through death and the grave, leads us through this life, to everlasting life in heaven.

For remember what the Good Shepherd says to you: He calls you by name and leads you out of darkness. He’s led you by the still waters of the font and washed you clean in your baptism. As long as the enemies of sin, death and devil hang around, He prepares a table for you, gives you His own body and blood to send those enemies scurrying away. He continues to speak His Word to you in the Scriptures so that you hear His voice, grow strong in faith and follow Him. He comes and gives you life, abundant life; and He promises that you will hear His voice as He raises you from the dead.

Your Good Shepherd has given up His life for you. He took upon Himself all the times that you live for yourself and not others. He died for all the times you try to make yourself the door to everlasting life. He rose again on the third day. You have life in His name, in His Baptism. You are His own sheep. He goes before you, protects and guides you. He meets your enemies head-on and defeats them for you. You follow Him, for you know His voice. You are His sheep. He isn’t just any shepherd, but your Good Shepherd, the one who lays down His life for you on the cross, the righteous sacrifice that makes you acceptable to God.

It is He who loves God perfectly for you. It is He who loves His neighbor perfectly for you. It is He who died for you. It is He who rose from the dead for you. It is He who ascended for you. He is the one whose body is the door to salvation. It is He who calls you by name. He has done all that you need. And He has done it so that you can live with Him forever. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.