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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Easter 5 – “One Way” (John 14:1-14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter 4 – “Shepherds” (John 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.

Listening to Jesus talk, He often speaks in parables, metaphors, what some might call flowery language. His parables often times are simple sounding, but rather complex in understanding. On more than one occasion the disciples had to ask Jesus just what exactly He meant in His parable. As we look at our Gospel for today, Jesus describes who He is and what He has come to do. He uses a description that the people should be familiar with already – a shepherd.

Shepherds have a single job – to tend to the sheep. But that job entails quite a bit. It means providing for them. Breaking that down, it means feeding them, protecting them, mending them when they are injured. It means setting their needs above your own. It means fighting off the evil that threatens to harm the sheep. That’s what a good shepherd does.

Jesus makes the distinction in our text between that of a true shepherd and one who is a stranger. For the true shepherd, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” The true shepherd knows the sheep entrusted to him. He calls them by name and leads them. He goes in front of the sheep to keep whatever evil may happen at bay. He defends the sheep from all harm and danger, putting himself between the sheep and danger.

In contrast, Jesus also speaks of a different kind of person, the anti-shepherd, “he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.” This anti-shepherd cares very little, if at all, for the sheep. He does not have their best interests at heart. The sheep know this, for “a stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This anti-shepherd is out for number one, himself. The sheep mean little to him.

For anyone listening to Jesus, it should be easy to make the distinction between one who is a true shepherd and one who is not. Unfortunately, the people did not understand Jesus and what He was telling them. There are those who proclaim to be a shepherd who instead are wolves in shepherd’s clothing. 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.

A true shepherd is what you need and a true Shepherd is what you receive in Jesus Christ. Jesus just a few verses after our text calls Himself the Good Shepherd. He says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” There can be no better description of what Jesus does than that, laying down His life for us.

Jesus is 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.

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.

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.

Easter 3 & Rite of Confirmation – “Ransomed by God” (1 Peter 1:17-25)

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’ resurrection changed everything. When you’ve been rescued from a lethal situation or restored to health, there’s a new sense of life. The psalmist writes, “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.” The psalmist delights in the Lord because “when I was brought low, he saved me.” In today’s Epistle, Peter revels in the kindness of our Father. He rescued us from our dire predicament. Not only did He pour out His Son’s blood to ransom us, but He raised Him from the dead, changing everything for us. Peter proclaims to us that the resurrected Jesus makes you eternally free.

Peter says, “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.” From our forefathers, from our first parents, we inherited a disease, one that cannot be cured by conventional means. We inherited the curse of sin and there is nothing that you or I could do about it. Sadly, there are many that think they can do something to purge their sinfulness. They will use such things as silver or gold and they will find themselves unable to ultimately do anything for their sins.

But silver or gold or things of this world cannot and will not do anything to cure the curse of sin. Peter’s words here serve as part of Luther’s Explanation to the Second Article: “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death….” Things such as silver and gold are here today and gone tomorrow. They are temporal things and will eventually wear out. But Jesus is forever. Jesus is eternal. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the only means of salvation, that through His blood shed upon Calvary’s cross, sin is defeated.

St. Peter is very specific with his words and with good reason. He speaks of God’s people being “ransomed.” It means they were redeemed and delivered from the punishment of sin. When we speak of terms of ransom, it usually means something is paid in order to redeem or buy back. And in the case of our sins, the price paid is none other than the life of Jesus Christ. His blood was shed, “like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” And so we sing that Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, doing so by His blood shed upon Calvary’s cross.

That would be great if everyone thought like that but they don’t. As we see at the time of Christ, salvation did not come through the Messiah but by man’s adherence to the Law of God. This would be fine if it were possible for us to keep God’s Law but we can’t. In order to keep the Law of God, one must be like God, meaning perfect and holy. But man is the furthest from being perfect and holy. Man is the complete opposite of who and what God is, therefore making any attempt by man of keeping the Law impossible. But that’s not what was taught by the religious leaders of the day. It was taught by the Pharisees that you could keep God’s Law, or rather, they could keep God’s Law perfectly.

That thinking is alive and well today. Many think that salvation is based on what they can do. But if that were the case, then Jesus would be pointless. Jesus is what brings about salvation, and if you can earn salvation yourself, then Jesus is nothing more than a figurehead. Luther dealt with that thinking. He was taught by the Church that salvation is achieved by Jesus and your own actions. The more he tried, the more he found that he was further away from salvation by his own works. And so Luther says, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

Apart from Christ, there is no hope. If Christ is not risen from the dead, then the world’s thinking make sense. It can be no other way. But our Epistle does not end there. It says, “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” To put it another way: Christ is risen from the dead.

My dear confirmands, heed these words: the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” You have heard me preach the same thing for more than the last two years: You are a damned sinner, but Christ has come to forgive you your sins. That’s the basis of my sermons week in and week out. You might be tempted to think to yourself that you don’t need to hear that sermon anymore because you already know what will be preached. But I urge you to reconsider. Yes, the message is the same, but it is a message that you and I need to hear, not just every Sunday, but every day of our lives. We need to hear of our sin and what that means for us – death and the wrath of God. We need to hear of Christ and the lengths He goes to forgive us our sins and make restitution with God so that we may stand before Him as forgiven children.

Right now, you are wearing a robe. This robe marks that you have been covered in Christ’s righteousness and that you have been forgiven all of your sins. But for many, when you wear a robe, you think of one thing: graduation. You will wear a robe when you graduate high school. That robe signifies that you will be leaving high school and moving on to other things. When you graduate college, once again you will wear a robe, signifying that all of your hard work has led up to that day called graduation. But in the church, confirmation is not graduation. Looking out into the congregation, I see a congregation full of people who, like you, went through confirmation and probably wore a robe on the day they were confirmed. But here they sit, many, many years following their confirmation. Do not think of confirmation as graduation, for there is only one that a person “graduates” from church – that is, when Christ calls us home to be with Him forever. And even then, you only “graduate” from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant, but you remain part of the Church.

For all of us, young and old, sin reduced you to grass, withering and falling to death. But that is not for you anymore. Jesus Christ became flesh just like you. He was born, He lived and He died: but His body did not see corruption. He rose again three days later. By His life and death and resurrection, He reversed the curse of sin. He restored to you everlasting life. In other words, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us—and now the Word of the Lord remains forever.

Christ is risen from the dead! Therefore, while life in this world is temporary, it is not the end. Death remains the enemy, yes; but it remains the conquered enemy under your Savior’s feet. Hear this news: you have been ransomed. The price has been paid for your sins: “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of lamb without spot or blemish.” Because of sin, your lot was a temporary life in this world, followed by an eternal death far worse than you could imagine. But the eternal Son of God, foreknown before the foundation of the world, came into this world and paid the price for your sin. He redeemed you at the cost of His own blood. And having paid that price to redeem you, He will not leave you or forsake you. That is His promise, His Word: and the Word of the Lord remains forever.

Our holiness comes in the forgiveness of sins, which is nothing other than living our Baptism.  We are to be holy; so God makes us holy. He has set us apart, that we would receive His gifts with thanksgiving.  To this end He has raised His Son Jesus from the dead, so that our faith and our hope are in God.  God gives us this faith and hope as He has given us His Holy Spirit at our Baptism, who creates in us saving faith in Jesus Christ, the faith He strengthens through the preaching of the Gospel and through Holy Absolution, the same faith He feeds and nourishes through the body and blood of the Lord.  By the work of the Holy Spirit, we are holy, made holy through the Word and Sacraments, for in these Means of Grace our risen Lord has attached Himself, to give His gifts to you and for you!

Today, the same Savior comes to you. He speaks His Word to you. He is the Host of the meal, giving you His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. He has died and He is risen, so that He might wash you clean, purify you with His own blood. He lives forever; and because He lives forever, so will you. You’re not grass anymore: in Christ, eternal life is yours. This is the Good News that is preached to you, the Word of the Lord that endures forever: 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 2 – “Doubting Belief” (John 20:19-31)

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 Gospel, which was read earlier.

The Early Church down through the ages has appointed the account of “Doubting” Thomas as the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter. Indeed, it is a very fitting text because the account of Thomas after the resurrection is very much the way that we find ourselves with regards to the resurrection.

There is a good chance that there are many that are still riding that Easter high: the lilies, the music, hearing the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Hard to believe, it’s only been a week and that emotion is still running high. On the other hand, the emotion could be totally different. That Easter high ended as soon as you walked out of the church doors and now everything has returned to the way that it was. One hopes that your emotions are more of the former than of the latter.

As we look at the disciples, their feelings and emotions are the complete opposite of what you and I would expect. Instead of screaming from the rooftops that Jesus is risen from the dead, we don’t find the disciples on the rooftops. Maybe the disciples are busy running door to door to proclaim the resurrection message. We don’t find any disciples going door to door. Surely the disciples are doing something important, something highly related to the resurrection which for them, was earlier that day. John’s Gospel does tell us that the disciples were doing something important, something highly related to the resurrection of Jesus: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews….” The disciples aren’t out being disciples, they’re literally cowering in the corner for fear of their own lives.

You would think they would be out proclaiming the resurrection, but that doesn’t fall in line with Scripture, it doesn’t fall in line with the events from the last several days. We’re expecting something mighty from Jesus’ disciples, His inner circle. But the last we see of them prior to the evening’s events, they’re not doing anything mighty. As Jesus and the disciples are gathered in the Garden of Gethsemane, once Judas betrays and hands Jesus over to the soldiers, Matthew records some disheartening words for us: “Then all the disciples left him and fled.”

Surely the Gospel writers must have made a mistake. Surely the disciples would not have left Jesus in His soon-to-be darkest hours. But this echoes Jesus’ Words earlier that evening: “You will all fall away because of me this night.” Peter and the disciples, one by one, declare their loyalty to Jesus and say they will not fall away. But a short time later, we find their words to be empty and hollow.

All of that leads to where we find the disciples on the evening of our Lord’s resurrection. They’re not joyous, they are not elated to the days’ events. No, they are fearful of their lives, because if they did this to Jesus, they would surely do it to the disciples as well.

We find ourselves much the same way that we find the disciples. The hubbub and to do of Easter is over. We revert to the way things were before Easter. We go back to our lives as if nothing happened. We go back to a world of doubting whether or not Scripture is true or not, if Jesus really died and rose again or not. That’s why Jesus’ words to the disciples are just as import to us: “Peace be with you.” This peace is not worldly peace. It’s not peace that you can manufacture. It’s not peace that you can buy. This is true peace that only Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, can give. This is the peace that the disciples need after such a hellish few days as they see Lord and Master carried off in the late hours of the evening, crucified upon a cross, and placed into a tomb.

Just as the disciples needed to hear those words 2000 years ago, so do you, need to hear those words now: “Peace be with you.” What does this peace stem from? It stems from Jesus’ final word on the cross: tetélstai – “It is finished.” His work for salvation was now complete. The restoration of man as God’s beloved was now complete. The forgiveness of all of your sins was now complete. Everything is now complete, made complete by Jesus.

For the ten who were present that Easter evening when Jesus appeared, that’s what they needed to hear. For the inner circle, for those who left everything behind to follow Jesus, only to desert Him in His hour of need, Jesus proclaims peace to them. This truly was the peace that passes all understanding, and they were grateful for hearing it, all that is except for Thomas. Thomas, for whatever reason, was not gathered that evening with the ten. And when told of Jesus’ appearance to them and the words He spoke, Thomas responds with words that are not unfamiliar to us: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

We all say, “Poor Thomas, why don’t you get it?” I have something different to say. I say, “Poor Christian, why don’t you get it?” You see, we are all a little Thomas. We find a hundred different reasons as to why the resurrection cannot be true, and yet it is, even if we doubt it or don’t understand it, or don’t believe it because we don’t see it. But there is a great truth that Jesus said. It all goes back to Jesus’ final word – tetélstai. When He said, “It is finished.” on Good Friday, everything was done for you. On the day of His resurrection 2000 years ago, everything was still done for you. When He appeared to the 10 and then to Thomas, everything was still done. Today, 2000 years later as we hear that account of Thomas, Jesus’ work is still finished and salvation is still sure and certain for you because Christ died and Christ is risen.

To ease the fears of Thomas, Jesus tells him the same thing that He told all the other disciples: “Peace be with you.” Jesus doesn’t stop there. He tells Thomas, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Immediately, after Thomas put his hands in the wounds of Jesus, Thomas believes.

Jesus tells you the same thing today: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” We understand Thomas, don’t we? We believe Jesus died and rose and even that He’s given us eternal life in heaven. But do we really, always, believe that because my Redeemer lives, we will live also or do our doubts leave us with no peace?

Jesus forgave Thomas’ unbelief. He returned to make Thomas whole, to give him the contentment of faith that is found only in Him. He comes today to us, to forgive us of our unbelief. We doubt. We question. We waver. But Jesus, through what He did for us on the cross, forgives us of our doubt, our questioning and our wavering. Through His gift of His body and blood, He continues to strengthen and keep you in the one true faith until life everlasting.  That one true faith is found in Him.

True peace, as the Bible describes it, is always a product of the restored relationship between God and man, and that is only a result of the forgiveness that Christ earned for us on the cross. The Lord brings His peace to you. He has paid the price for your sin and disobedience.  Peace with God has come at a cost, but Christ has borne that cost for you. And now, He brings that peace to you.

Therefore, do not be troubled. As the risen Lord visited His disciples, so He visits you. As He spoke peace and forgiveness to them, so He speaks it to you. As He came to them with His risen body and blood, so He comes and gives you His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. No matter what your sinful nature or circumstance might argue, you can be certain by God’s grace that you are at peace with God, because you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

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.