Lent 3 – “Peace with God” (Romans 5:1-8)

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

If you want to sum up our lives, you can use many words to do so, words like father, mother, son, daughter, etc. You use words like doctor, teacher, lawyer, etc. to define yourself. But there is another word that you can use that sums up your life – work. Work defines us quite well because it sums up the majority of our life. From that first job in high school to your chosen profession and vocation, we work tirelessly for the majority of our lives. Though work is indeed a large part of our lives, there is one place where we do not work, and that is with regards to our salvation.

As St. Paul writes this portion of his letter to the Romans, it would wise for us to take a closer look at the words he uses and the words that he does not use. In these few verses, Paul makes it abundantly clear who the subject of the verb is and who is the object of the verb. The work is done only and always by God and not by us. God does the work and we are the recipients of that work.

The people at Rome proved to be a unique bunch of people. Made up of both Jew and Gentile, they all shared something in common – they were all lost in sin and all were justified by the same declarative act of God. This church had issues like any other early church did following the death and resurrection of Jesus. Though Jesus had died and risen again for the forgiveness of sins, that didn’t stop the Pharisees from preaching and teaching contrary to the resurrection. Here was a group of Christians who needed more instruction in regard to the doctrine of justification. Paul was anxious to visit these Roman Christians in order to instruct them in these important truths, but he was kept busy preaching the Gospel in other areas where no one else was preaching. He promised that he would come to Rome soon, but first he had to go to Jerusalem. Since the misunderstanding of the doctrine of justification was an urgent matter, Paul wrote this letter from Corinth before he went to Jerusalem.

The doctrine of justification, the doctrine of being forgiven and made right with God, was one that was up for grabs in the early church. You could believe that the work is on your part as the Pharisees taught, or you could believe that the work is on God’s part as Jesus taught. Unfortunately, only one of these doctrines could be correct. The question was which one is correct. That is what Paul set out to confirm for the Roman church and for all the churches that he visited or wrote to during his ministry.

For us, the doctrine of justification is up for grabs as it was at the time of Paul. Many a church will preach and teach that man’s salvation is accomplished either solely by man or a combination of Jesus and man’s work. One of the many problems of this teaching is the fact that there is no definitive answer as to how much is needed on man’s part. There is no definitive answer as to how much work Jesus did for man. There is no definitive answer as to how many good works man needs to do. And so we are left wondering how much does man need to do in order to make up for Jesus’ shortcomings.

The notion of man doing something to earn his salvation is not new; it’s the same heresies from yesterday with a new title and a new spin on them. When one tries to determine how much work is necessary on man’s part is when we fail. Supposing that there was an exact number, not a single person would be able to attain that number because of what Holy Scripture says about us. Scripture tells us that we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Scripture tells us that we were conceived in sin. Scripture tells us that the wages of our sin is death. Because of what Scripture tells us, it is made abundantly clear that we cannot do anything to atone for our sin and earn our salvation.

Just as Scripture tells us about who we are and what we can and cannot do, it also tells us what Christ has done for us: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” That’s all that we need to hear. That is indeed a bold statement of what God has done for us. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been made right with God.

Because we are justified we now have peace in the presence of God. No sinner can stand in the presence of God and live. But by faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross, our sins, which would bring our certain death before God, have been removed. We are reminded by Paul that it is something that was done to us by God. That is the only way that it could ever be, God doing the act of salvation for us. Now, washed clean of our sins and wearing Jesus’ robe of righteousness, we have direct and permanent access to God and His grace. This right is given to all who trust in the justifying work of Christ. Of great comfort, assurance, and hope is the truth that God tells us we now currently and permanently stand in His grace.

Because we have been declared innocent and have been set free from our sins, we can boast in the hope of enjoying God’s glory in heaven. People have always been told that it is not good to be boastful. However, Paul is telling us the exact opposite! We joyfully boast. This is not glorying in our own accomplishments. This is a joyful boasting in what God has done and what He promises to all who trust in Jesus.

All of this is done for us because God said so. Listen again to these words from St. Paul: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Because God said so, Christ gave His life to reconcile us back to God. Sin separated us from God and made us enemies of God. When Christ died, those sins were removed by Jesus by taking them upon Himself.

All of this is done for us by God, just because He said so. When we hear the words, “Because I said so,” the end result is usually negative and not in our favor. When God says, “Because I said so,” the end result is always according to God’s will. Sometimes it has a positive result and other times a negative result. But for us, today, when God says “Because I said so,” the result is indeed in our favor. These words of Paul are words of assurance of what God has done for us and what he continues to do for us because of Christ. Heading to Calvary, we see the love of God for us as we see the cross coming closer and closer until that time we see Jesus on the cross. There, when we gaze upon the crucified body of our Savior, we see the love of God that He has for us. How can we be certain of this? Because God said so. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lent 1 – “Death to Life”

Texts: Genesis 3:1-21, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon comes from our readings for the First Sunday in Lent.

It is important for us to establish a couple of basic tenants as we approach our sermon this morning. First, as we ponder what happened in our Old Testament reading from Genesis, we see that man was perfect. However, that did not last for long, as the serpent tempted Eve into eating from the tree of the knowledge of good of evil. This tree looked good. It’s recorded, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

From the moment that Adam and Eve ate from this fruit, everything for them changed. They no longer had the image of God. They no longer were without sin. They started to have feelings and emotions that they had not had before: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” Up until now, being naked did not enter into their thoughts as being wrong. Now, after they have sinned, they have feelings like shame and so they cover themselves up and hide from God, as if that is even possible.

Because we come from Adam and Eve and they are sinful, we must deduce one thing – we are sinful as well. But only if that were everything.

As God deals with Adam and Eve for their sin, they are told something: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We heard those words just a few days ago as we began the season of Lent, reminding us that we will die. Paul tells us what happened with sin in our Epistle: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned….” We are all sinners and the result is death. As sure as there is life in this world, so it is that death will be a constant. It is something that is inescapable. Try whatever you may, you will die. That is a certainty because of our sin.

So there you have it. Two basic tenants that we must accept about ourselves is this: we are sinners and we will die. But fortunately, there is hope that stems out of those two basic tenants of sin and death.

From what God had promised to Satan, Adam, and Eve, there would be hope. There would be salvation from sin and death. God makes a promise, a promise that would be like no other promise that He had made or will make: He promises the means of salvation from sin for Adam and Eve and their offspring. That is what Adam and Eve needed, what their offspring would need. But that wasn’t the only promise made. Because God had promised the means of salvation, it would also mean a promise over death. While there would be physical death, there would be no spiritual death because of the promise of God. That promise is One who would defeat sin and death once and for all. But this One would not defeat sin and death for Himself. Rather, He would defeat sin and death for you. He would come into this sinful and fallen world, endure the full sin of all creation, endure the full wrath of God against sin and He would die. But this wouldn’t be just any death. This would be a death that gives life. When the blood flowed from this One’s pierced side, it would wash over all of creation, cleansing them of their sin and giving them the ability to be reunited with God.

This One is none other than Jesus Christ, the very Son of God. Paul goes on to say to the Romans, “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” Sin was brought in by one man, Adam. Death was brought in by one man, Adam. But death would be defeated, not by man and his works, but by the grace of God shown through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And what must you do to receive this grace of God? Surely there must be some fine print somewhere that says what I have to do in order to receive His grace, something I must do in all of this. But that’s where you would be wrong. Paul says that it is “the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” Two words jump out: free and gift. Free meaning nothing must be paid by me. The cost has already been paid and it exceeds whatever you might be able to pay. Secondly, it is a gift. A gift is something that is freely given, without any terms of repayment.

How could all of this happen because of sin? How could a wrong such as the Fall be made right again? Contrary to many a wrong belief, it has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with Jesus. It has everything to do with what He did. As seen in our Gospel, it is Jesus verses Satan, nonstop for forty days and forty nights, temptation after temptation. As Matthew records, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. If Jesus used His divine power, He would never get hungry. He would never need to eat. As God, Jesus had the divine power to create a full meal out of nothing. As man, He voluntarily decided not to use that power. Despite what Satan tempted Jesus with, each temptation was defeated…by the Word of God.

What was the purpose of this? What would it prove? It would prove the lengths that He would go to in order to redeem creation. In short, this shows the lengths that He would go to redeem YOU! He doesn’t take any shortcuts. He puts His faith not in the false lies and temptations of Satan but solely in the Word of God. With each temptation, He remained faithful to His mission. He followed the path to the cross. He suffered and died. While He hung on the cross, He endured the wrath of God. He did not take the easy way. Instead, He took the way that saved you from your sin.

Jesus resisted the temptations of the devil right up to the end. He resisted until He was dead and buried. In this way, He triumphed over sin, death, and the power of the devil. He triumphed for you so that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

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

Passion Sunday – “Christ’s Passion for Us” (Luke 23:1-56)

C-42 Palm SundayGrace, 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.

You don’t want to hear today’s text. Really, you don’t want to hear what Luke has to say. We would classify it at least PG-13. Some of what Luke has to say could be classified as R. And yet, today’s Gospel reading is one that needs to be heard, read, meditated upon, because it is of great significance to you, whether you know it or not, whether you believe it or not.

Luke records for us the Passion of Jesus Christ. When we speak of the Passion here, we are not talking about strong sensual or sexual desires as the word is commonly used. Rather, we focus on the sufferings of Jesus that He experienced when He set His face toward Jerusalem. What occurred on Palm Sunday was not a glimpse of what the week held in store. Sunday, crowds are shouting out to Jesus, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” Hosanna is translated as “Lord, save us!” The people were shouting out for the Lord to save them on Sunday, and by the end of the week, He was dead. Their shouts of hosanna were indeed heard, but that will come later.

We now find ourselves at the end of the week in Luke’s Passion account. Jesus is brought to Pilate, the chief Roman administrator in Judea at the time. In accord with a ruling imposed only a few years prior, only the Roman prefect could authorize capital punishment. Pilate, who ordinarily resided in Caesarea, had come to Jerusalem to oversee the Passover festival, since this was a time of year that religious and national fervor could easily boil over into open rebellion.

The Sanhedrin had found Jesus guilty of blasphemy. That charge would mean little to Pilate, whose job was to enforce Roman law, not adjudicate Jewish religious squabbles. While most of the charges meant nothing, there was one that Pilate could not ignore: the self-proclamation by Jesus of being Christ, a king. This was a charge that Pilate could not ignore, since if true, it constituted a direct challenge to Roman rule. No charge would be taken more seriously by Rome than this.

As things proceed, Pilate finds no guilt in Jesus, but that isn’t good enough for the people. They want something more out of Pilate. They want the guilty charge. In order to get what they want, Jesus must go before Herod. Unfortunately for the people, Herod also saw no guilt in Jesus and sent Him back to Pilate.

Things get ugly and they demand the release of a murderer. Pilate, against his own wishes, releases Barabbas and sentences Jesus to death, again, reluctantly. From there, Jesus is led to Golgotha where things escalate quite quickly.

There upon Golgotha’s hill, Jesus is mocked, scorned, and ultimately pleads on the behalf of the people. He cries out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” No sooner speaking those words, they cast lots for Jesus’ clothing while more scoffing occurs. “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” Jesus doesn’t come down from the cross because, while He can, He can’t. He can’t get off the cross because of you. If He gets off the cross, you are lost. If He gets off the cross, you are condemned. If He gets off the cross, there will never be forgiveness for you.

Now do you see why you don’t want to hear what Luke has to say? When you listen to what Luke says, you must come to one conclusion: you are the cause of Jesus’ death. You, along with the whole of creation, through your sinful human nature, have condemned Christ to the cross. But Christ doesn’t go to the cross because you have condemned Him. He goes to the cross to fulfill the Father’s will, to restore what once was but is no longer.

As Jesus hung upon the cross, the statement, the demand of the one criminal could not have been truer: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Little did the criminal know, that was precisely what Jesus was doing. St. Paul says, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

One person, a criminal being crucified alongside Jesus, saw Christ for what He was – innocent. His words were plain, but spoke volumes: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” While he may have been speaking strictly because they were criminals, his words apply to creation as a whole. We were receiving what our deeds deserved: death. Death came with Adam and Eve but with death came the promise of a Savior.

Christ was doing exactly what the criminal wanted: saving him, along with everyone there that day at His crucifixion, along with everyone before that day and everyone after that day. Christ was doing for us what we could not do ourselves. He was earning eternal life. Just as Jesus told the repentant criminal, so He tells us: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

All of creation is guilty and thus unable to do anything about it. Christ, the only innocent, took the guilt upon Himself in order to make creation innocent. In the last moments of Christ’s life, the world around Him began to change. The Creator, who took on flesh and was born into creation, is at this moment of death, bringing in new and eternal life, a new creation. With the curtain of the temple torn, it symbolized the completion of Christ’s victory over death, therefore allowing Jesus to commit His spirit into the hands of the Father.

The death of Christ marked the end of creation as we know it. Sin and death no longer have dominion over creation. Satan lost the keys to creation that he wrongfully stole from God through sin. No intercessions by the priests were needed because the greatest intercession was made. No more animals needed to be sacrificed because the sacrificial Lamb was offered. When Christ uttered the words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”, He signified that His work was finished, once and for all. Nothing could undo what had just been done.

Through the life of Christ and His Passion, we have received life – life that came at an expense – the death of Christ. The King of the Jews, who “humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross,” died so that all of creation would be reborn in Him, purged from death and made “good” in the eyes of God. This was the way that creation was meant to be and what took place at our Lord’s Passion was necessary for creation to be restored. Today is not a time to focus on the brutality of Christ’s death or death itself, but to focus on what that death brought about – the dying of death and a restored creation. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 5 – “Cornerstone” (Luke 20:9-20)

C-39 Lent 5 (LHP) (Lu 20.9-20)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.

Dreams. Everyone has them. Dreams of becoming a star athlete. Dreams of winning the lottery. Dreams of becoming a certain vocation. Sometimes those dreams become a reality and sometimes those dreams vanish in a puff of smoke. As we hear of the parable of the vineyard, it reminds us that the dream envisioned is not always the dream that is fulfilled. Fortunately for us, God shatters our dreams and rebuilds them into something that becomes a reality.

Like the tenants in the parable, we may have our own dream. The tenants did not want to give the fruit to the owner. They had a comfortable arrangement: solid employment and a secure future provided to them by an owner who had set everything up. The owner had a right to his share, since it was his land, his crops, his everything. The owner sent three different servants to collect a portion of the fruit from the vineyard. Each time, the servant was sent away empty-handed, with each one beaten and wounded, worse than the one before.

What was the owner to do? What should have rightly been owed to him was kept from him. The owner has a plan to send his son in hopes that the tenants would respect him. Alas, that plan does not end well and his son is killed. “This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.”

What was the owner of the vineyard thinking when He sent His son? Who in their right mind is going to do that? If it were a normal earthly owner, he would send the first agent. When the first agent returned all beat up, the typical landowner would send a hit squad to collect the rent with extreme prejudice. In our day and age, we would call the police and ask them to arrest those criminals and prosecute them to the full extent of the law. The one thing we would not do is send our son to collect the rent after the tenants had put three of our rent collectors into the hospital.

No earthly landowner would send his son in this situation. Never the less that is exactly what God the Father did with His Son. You see, in spite of our tendency to treat His servants like yesterday’s trash, God still loves us. It is in that love that He sent His Son in spite of the fact that He knew He would die, for St. Paul writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

What a dream these tenants have! Does it make any sense? Kill the son and you automatically become the heirs to the owners’ vineyard just because you work there? This truly is a pipedream! It would be great the tenants if this were true, but alas, that is not what happens. The master comes to destroy those servants and to give the vineyards to others.

The tenants aren’t able to have it their way. They are not able to get away with what they had done. In the end, they had to be destroyed. Bringing this parable back to reality, Jesus is declaring how God will shatter the evil dreams of the real tenants, the Jewish religious leaders. Their system, and it truly had become their system rather than God’s, is going to be destroyed.

The temple will be destroyed. Jerusalem will fall. The way that the Jewish leaders had thought everything would work out would fall apart. What they thought would be a comfortable life with them in charge would eventually come to an end. Their response: “Surely not!” Jesus quotes from Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” He continues: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

But what the Jewish leaders did not consider is that the temple would be restored, but it won’t be like it was before. Jesus had promised, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” That is precisely what Jesus does on Easter morning, but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.

This parable of Jesus was one of things that had happened and of things yet to come. The people had rejected Him; not only the locals but the Jewish rulers as well. God our heavenly Father has created this vineyard and sends His Son to redeem it, but instead of listening to Him, we put Him to death instead. Not realizing what our Lord was saying, the people exclaim, “Surely not!” and Jesus tells them, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Instead of listening to Jesus, instead of asking for His forgiveness, Luke records that the scribes and the chief priests sought to put Him to death.

The death of Jesus had to be. His death was the payment for the world’s sin. Sinners treat God terribly with disrespect and irreverence. God gives them daily bread and they fail to be thankful. God gives them things to use in service to their neighbor, and they hoard it for themselves and use it to boast of their accomplishments. God gives them bodies and minds to be used for honorable purposes, and they misuse and pollute them both for temporary pleasure in self-destructive ways. That’s how sinners treat God. But that is not how God treats sinners. He gives us Jesus, for this is how God treats sinners: with patience, mercy and grace. He patiently waits. He continues to send His Word and preachers to proclaim it. He patiently showers you with forgiveness in His Word and Sacraments to keep you in the true faith, even as He patiently gives this dying world more time so that more might hear and be saved.

Jesus, who was the rejected stone, conquered sin, death, and the power of the devil with His holy life, His suffering, His death on a cross, and His resurrection from the dead. He is now the living cornerstone for me, for you and for all who believe. We have a Savior who suffered extreme rejection for us and is now alive. Jesus is the cornerstone that establishes the church 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.

Lent 4C – “Going Home Again” (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)

C-37 Lent 4 (Lu 15.11-32)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 parable of the prodigal son is one of those parables that everyone gets. We all know the story and we all know what it means. This is one of those times that we can easily see ourselves in the words of Christ. We can easily identify with and see ourselves in the prodigal son, both in the bad and the good. Because of this ease of relatability, we tend to gloss over and speed through the story. After all, we know it.  But maybe we don’t know it as well as we think we do.

Let’s start by asking this question: To whom did Jesus speak this parable? Who was the intended audience? Luke records that the “tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus}.” That must be who Jesus was speaking to. If that is your answer, then you are wrong. Luke goes on to say that the “Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” You see, it was the tax collectors and sinners Jesus was addressing. They were the guests of Jesus, the invited ones. The Pharisees and scribes, they were the ones who were not invited. They were the ones who were not welcome. They were the ones who sat in disapproval of who Jesus kept company with; in this case, the tax collectors and sinners.

As Jesus recounts this parable, we see several figures appear: a father and two sons. The younger son wanted what was coming to him, most likely at the death of his father. However, the father is not dead and the son wants what he is promised. It was a gutsy request of the son to ask the father for his share of in the heritance because he was telling his father that he essentially wished that his father was dead so he could get what would be his.

Who is this son? We can easily deduce that we are this son. We act in ways that are all about us, with no regard for our brother. We act as if it’s all about me and that’s all that matters. Yes, we are this son. And what does this son do when he gets what he wants, what he is deserved? He goes off and squanders all that he has until he has nothing.

The good news is that we can say that while we are like this son, at least we are not like the Pharisees and the scribes. What a relief! Did we forget who Jesus was telling this parable to? It was spoken to the Pharisees and the scribes. Whether we want to admit it or not, that’s us. We are the Pharisees and scribes, not concerned with the needs of our neighbor but solely with ourselves and our needs and wants and desires. It was all about them, just like it’s all about us.

If the Pharisees and scribes are identified as the younger son, do we really have to ask who the father in the parable is? Of course the father in the parable is God our heavenly Father. This father does not act like he is supposed to act. We would imagine this father to be cut to the heart at what his son had asked of him. Instead, the father acts in a way that is not proper. He runs to the son. A man of his stature does not run. Running in such a way would have been embarrassing. Secondly, why would he run after his son who more or less told him he wanted him dead and embrace him? It doesn’t make sense what the father did. But it does make sense because this was the father’s son. Even after all that the son has done in his wasteful life, at the end of the day, this is his son. He doesn’t chastise him for squandering all that he gave him. He doesn’t give him the “I told you so” speech. No, he gives to him the royal treatment: jewelry, clothing, food and drink, a great party – the works.

For you and I, our heavenly Father does nothing short of that for us. He gives to us the “best robe” as we are robed in Christ’s righteousness. You and I receive from God the gift of His name in our Baptism, marking us as those who have been redeemed by Christ. We are given that sonship that the young son had given up before his journey. We receive the fattened calf that was killed for the party, but we don’t receive it in the form of a calf. We receive it in the form of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This Lamb of God was slaughtered for us upon Calvary, His blood washing over us to forgive us all of our sins in His sacrifice for us. The words that the father uses in the parable are descriptive of us as well: “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” That’s us. Dead in our trespasses of sin, but made alive in the waters of Baptism. The image of God lost upon us in the Fall, but found and restored again by Christ’s death and resurrection.

The father treated His son as royalty. Everything his son had done was forgiven and forgotten. The Father, you see, doesn’t change. He is always the loving and caring and compassionate Father. And He always receives His dear children through the atoning work of His only-begotten Son, the Son that is of the same substance as He, the Son that is God in the flesh, the Son that takes away the sins of the world!

What the parable of the prodigal son tells us, what it tells you, is that you can go back home! In fact, when a sinner repents and returns to the Father, it is a happy day, a glorious day, a day to celebrate, a day to rejoice and give thanks. Indeed, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” The sacrifice has been offered and the banquet table has been set because you are home in the house of your father!

Today we celebrate and partake in the foretaste of the heavenly feast to come. Better than any fatted calf, the Lamb of God has been slain, once for all. The Lamb of God, who once was dead, now lives and reigns victorious, and today we feast on this Lamb with the King of Kings Himself as baptized and restored children of His heavenly, royal household! Today our Lord of lords and King of kings deigns to not only feast with us, but to serve us with His very Body and Blood. Here He lavishly welcomes, embraces, kisses, and feeds all His children with His free and undeserved gifts of Fatherly divine goodness, mercy, love, and peace.

God our heavenly Father has the last word in all of this. He is the one who never turns His back on the children who turn their backs on Him. He is the Father who comes running to us after we have run away from Him. There is always hope for the prodigal son and so there is hope for us as well. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 3 – “Repent…or Else” (Luke 13:1-9)

C-35 Lent 3 (Lu 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 Gospel, which was read earlier.

We love to turn on the news or read the newspaper and see what the daily outrage is. Right now, it seems to be presidential debates and who said all the wrong things. It might be over what is going on in the world of entertainment, of who got snubbed for this award or that award. We like outrage because it seems to give us a sense of purpose, as if we can take action against the injustices of the world. But in doing so, we fool ourselves into thinking that we might somehow be better than the next person because we would have done things differently and we would have done it right. But looking at our text today, it is not about how we can solve the world’s problems or assert how we are better than the next person. No, our text is about how we need to repent and we need to do it now.

The opening portion of our text today presents us with a unique teaching opportunity. Jesus is present in a setting of people and they report to Jesus how some who had suffered at the hands of Pilate. Their report implies that the ones who had suffered had somehow deserved it because they were more wicked than the crowds themselves.

What kind of asinine logic is that? The reason why they suffered or the reason why they died was because they worse than someone else was? Are they even listening to the words that come out of their mouth? We have that same thinking today. One such televangelist has said on multiple occasions of tragedy, examples like the attacks of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the like, that the reason why these events occurred is because the United States has turned away from God and we are getting are just punishment. Rest assured that such thinking is about as wrong as wrong can be. These events are the effects of sin in our world, not because of the faith a person has or does not have. St. Paul tells us as much: “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

Jesus quickly addresses their unspoken assumption. While they assumed that tragedies happened to people as divine retribution for specific sins, Jesus immediately dispels the theory that these Galilean victims somehow got that they deserved. He reminds His audience that there is such a thing as underserved suffering.

Jesus uses this tragedy to spur His audience into self-examination and an honest assessment of their walk with God. He says, “…unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus does not mince words here. If Jesus spoke these words today, people would demand His resignation. Jesus hurts feelings when He talks and that’s the problems. So often we don’t believe that Jesus is speaking to us. So often we don’t get it. Instead of hearing His call to repent, we rationalize and try to make sense of it, chalking things up to “those people” being bigger sinners who deserved such punishment.

Such thinking should remind us of our own sinfulness and need for salvation. The time for repentance is not tomorrow or next week. The time for repentance is now. Jesus illustrates the seriousness of the situation with a parable.

What a shocking statement for Jesus to make, that everyone needs to repent or perish. Who does He think He is to make such a bold, sweeping statement like that, the Son of God? Oh wait, that’s exactly who He is. He knows exactly what will happen to the unrepentant sinner and that is why He is here. He comes to urge the people to repent of their sins. He comes as the means of their repentance. He comes as the one who will give His life for the lives of the repentant. He comes and will be our Judge on the last day.

To reinforce His message, he tells a parable of the fig tree. Looking at Jesus’ parable, it’s straight talk. It’s not pleasant. It’s not comforting, and it’s nobody’s favorite. But there it is, straight and to the point. The terms are established by God, not us. Our excusing and rationalizing, our complaining and postponing, our good intentions and sincerity of purpose all evaporate into the air and the voice that speaks inquires about the fruits of our lives.

God is patiently calling us to repent. We return to Jesus’ parable about the fig tree. It wouldn’t bear any figs! Year after year it grew, but bore no fruit. The owner wanted to cut it down. But the vinedresser said, “Give me a chance with it. I’ll take care of it, there’s still a chance. If it doesn’t produce fruit for you next year, then cut it down.”

That fig tree is you. There’s so much good fruit that we could be producing, but we aren’t. While God could leave us to our sin, He doesn’t; God isn’t through with us yet. Jesus comes in as our Savior. He gives His life for us on the cross. He comes to us in His Word. He washes us clean in Baptism. He feeds us with heavenly food in the Lord’s Supper. He does all this, waiting for us to produce that fruit that He can use.

Unless you repent; unless you turn away from your sinfulness, you too will perish. And make no mistake: Jesus is not simply referring to end-of-life kind of death, as in the pulse and breathing stop, which all people eventually experience. No, He’s speaking here of eternal death; of hellish death. This is what it means to perish from God’s perspective.

So what shall we do about it? How can we capitalize on the offer God makes? What response can we make? Jesus gives us the answer: repent. We do nothing more and nothing less than that. There’s nothing new to Jesus’ answer; and yet as old and as basic as it is we tend to forget it and act otherwise.

Maybe the word “repent” isn’t so bad of a word at all. Maybe the parable of the barren fig tree isn’t so bad either, for it reminds us that life is to be lived on God’s terms, it also reminds us that life and can be good and full and productive. Once again, Jesus gives to us the words that are most needed – words that remind us what our heavenly Father desires of us and the gift of forgiveness that comes through repentance. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 2 – “Jerusalem or Bust” (Luke 13:31-35)

C-33 Lent 2 (Lu 13.31-35)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.

Question: Do the Pharisees care for Jesus? Answer: No. Jesus poses a problem for the Pharisees, a problem they are desperate to get rid of at all costs. They are the ones who have been calling the shots up until this point with regards to the faith. Now, Jesus comes along and disrupts everything, teaching that He can save a person because He is the Son of God, or so He claims. It would just be better off for Jesus to disappear, and it would be better if it were sooner rather than later.

With that being said, we see a rather strange exchange take place between the Pharisees and Jesus. Luke records, “At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus], “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”” This makes for an interesting change of events. The Pharisees’ motive for warning Jesus is not clear. On the one hand, these men might have acted in good faith. If so, they did not allow their theological differences with Jesus to override their concern for His well-being. On the other hand, this could have been a ruse, a lie concocted to scare Jesus and perhaps silence Him; either way, we cannot know for certain what lay behind this warning. Regardless, this was not a threat to be taken lightly.

While the Pharisees here are likely not concerned with what will happen to Jesus, very real threats of death do indeed face Jesus in Jerusalem. Opposition to Jesus has been building for a long time. His preaching and teaching has been less than well received by the ruling Jews of the day. He was labeled a heretic because He claimed that He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah. Death was coming quickly for Jesus and instead of turning away from it, Jesus marched headfirst into Jerusalem to face His death.

Just a few weeks ago we heard how at the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus, Moses, and Elijah discussed His impending death. Now, what they had discussed on the mountain seems to be getting closer to reality. For the Pharisees, nothing could be better than this. They know that Jesus is going to be killed, one way or another. The Scribes and Pharisees have been plotting this for quite some time. Jesus knows very well what will happen when He makes it to Jerusalem. There won’t be a parade. There won’t be a warm reception for Him. He knows that when He gets there, He will meet His death. But there will be more than that. He knows that when He enters Jerusalem, you will have life.

Death for Jesus means life for you, the believer. He willingly goes to Jerusalem, to fulfill the Father’s will in order that you would have life. Our Lord’s journey becomes the journey of every Christian, for He leads us from death to life. That is what the scribes and Pharisees did not understand or did not care about. They were more concerned about putting a heretic to death instead of what His death would accomplish. The death of Jesus would restore creation to its rightful place as the beloved of God. Jesus is not afraid to go to Jerusalem, but why would He? He goes because of you, regardless of the rejection that He has faced up until now and the rejection that He will face there.

Going to the cross will be easier than you think. The Pharisees are more than willing to help Him get there. It appears that Herod is willing to help Him get there as well. But Jesus doesn’t need any help to get Himself to the cross because He is going willingly. He is going to fulfill the Father’s will for Him. He is going to the cross because of you and your sins, each and every one of them, regardless of how ugly and revolting they are. He is going to the cross in order to buy you back from the hands of Satan and to place you back into the arms of your loving Father.

But bear this in mind: They don’t make Him go away, not the Pharisees, not Herod, not Pilate or anyone else. The Lord is still in charge. He does not die on that cross because of Herod’s strength or the plottings of the Pharisees. Nor is He scourged and crucified because of the power of the Romans. He goes to that cross only because He goes willingly, because this is God’s plan for your salvation. This is the all-powerful Son of God, and He will not be denied your redemption.

This is your comfort and hope: Your Savior is not a weak man who is overpowered by evil men who seek to put Him to death. No matter the hatred of His enemies, He goes to Jerusalem. No matter the plots and plans of man, nothing keeps Him from suffering the full judgment for your sin. Nothing could deter the Son of God from that mission of salvation. No one, not Satan and his seductive attempts to buy Christ from His mission; not even Christ’s own disciples could dissuade Him from going to the cross with the hopes of Him staying with them forever; not even His enemies who threatened Him with suffering and even death; nothing in this world could side-track Him from that for which He came into the world. He came to be a ransom for many. He came to die that we might live. He came as Redeemer and ushered in the full meaning of God’s eternal love.

And so we say again: Jesus goes to the cross and dies only because He wills to. He did it willingly. He submitted to the suffering and the nails and the death because He willed to do so for you, in accordance with the Father’s will.

Fortunately, God loved us even while we hated Him. Jesus is God’s Son sent to rescue us. The events of today’s Gospel happened while Jesus was on His way to complete that rescue. He was taking His farewell tour of Israel before He went to Jerusalem to offer Himself up as a sacrifice for us. That is the reason He said, “It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” That is also the reason He had no fear of Herod. He knew that His death would take place in Jerusalem, not in Galilee.

Jesus’ heart for His people will send Him to Jerusalem, for her and for us. Once more, on Palm Sunday, Jesus would come to Jerusalem and be acclaimed by words of praise, but He will still be rejected and crucified. This is precisely why He would come. This had been Jerusalem’s purpose throughout her favored history: this would be where the Son would God would give His life for the Church. Jerusalem will be saved and so will you, as will all those who repent and are gathered into Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 

Lent 1 – “Tempted” (Luke 4:1-13)

C-31 Lent 1 (Lu 4.1-11)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.

Temptation is everywhere around us. It can be used to motivate someone to perform better. It can be used to bring about negative results. It can bring a person to the pits of despair if used in just the right way. There is not a single place here on earth where a person can go to rid themselves of temptation, and that applies even to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Following our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan, He “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” Luke records for us only three such temptations that Jesus endured, but we know fully well that the devil did not just stop at three temptations for our Lord. The goal was simple: get Jesus to give into temptation and then it’s game over, for Satan wins. If Jesus gives into temptation, then He sins and everything He does after that is pointless and meaningless, because everything He would do would be tainted by sin.

You have to give credit to Satan. What better time to go after the Son of God then when He was only for forty days with nothing to eat. Satan knows how to do it: go after Jesus at His weakest and lowest point. Lest we forget, Jesus is also full man and Satan is going to use that fact against Jesus, with the ultimate goal to wear Him down to the point that He gives into temptation.

The first recorded temptation from Luke comes in the form of food. Jesus has gone without food for forty days and to say that He was hungry was an understatement. He faces this temptation at a point where He was alone, arguable the time that we are weakest, the times we aren’t gathered together as the body of Christ.

He refuses to use His power to secure His own survival. Jesus is famished, and the devil invites Him to turn “this stone” into bread. The devil invites Jesus to use His power to meet His own needs, to insure His own survival. Responding, as He will each time, with a text from Deuteronomy, which was addressed to Israel in the wilderness, Jesus replies, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Like the people in the wilderness who lived on manna, Jesus affirms that dependence on God and obedience to God are more important than securing one’s own survival. People can in fact suffer “death by bread alone,” as is clearly evident in our consumer society. Jesus says no to making His own survival the top priority and to using His power to meet His own needs. And if He had not said no, if He had pursued His own survival, there would have been no cross.

Second, the devil invites Jesus to use His power to establish a political empire grounded in the ways of the world. Jesus can have all worldly power, which has been given over to and belongs to the devil, or so he claims, if He will simply worship the devil. But once again, the devil makes a claim that he cannot back up.

First and foremost, to serve the devil in this way would be idolatry. To take this path would set Jesus on the way of the world rather than of God. Secondly, Jesus already has the authority, for so He declares, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Once again, Jesus returns to God’s Word, namely Deuteronomy when He says, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”

Notice what takes places in this temptation. God gives unconditionally, while Satan gives conditionally. God gives and is then worshiped, while Satan must have the worship first. But Satan’s promises are lies. He promised Adam and Eve that they would become like God and they didn’t. He promised Judas thirty pieces of silver for betraying Jesus, and in the end, Judas threw the money away.

This temptation is still around today. The devil readily tells us that we can be at peace with all people. All we need do is surrender our faithfulness to God’s Word. So what if not everyone agrees with the Bible one hundred percent. The important thing is that we all get along, right? As long as we make this a better world where everyone is happy, we’re all good, right? That’s the important thing, worshipping the true god is not really that important. That is what’s behind Satan’s temptation. Why worship God when you can worship Satan?

The final temptation Luke records sees a different twist. In the final temptation, the devil put on the robes of the preacher. He quoted from the Word of God, but He only quoted the words that suited his purpose. He begins by first questioning whether or not Jesus is truly the Son of God. The devil quoted from the very psalm that we used in the Introit for today, Psalm 91, but he left out words that change the meaning of the passage. In this way, the devil changed the psalm from God’s promise to protect us into God’s permission to do stupid things, like jump from the pinnacle of a very tall building.

By jumping off the temple and having God’s angels protect Him before the eyes of all the people, Jesus could give the people dramatic proof of who He is; He could give them the kind of Messiah they want and avoid misunderstanding and rejection. But again, Jesus says no. He will not test God in this way; he will not try to use God for his own ends. Faithfulness and obedience to God are more important than effectiveness. And again, if Jesus had not said no, if he had used God for his own popularity and success, he would not have been crucified.

We come to the end result of all of the temptations: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” This means that the devil did not depart forever, but only until an opportune time.  The devil tempted Jesus over and over again.  He did not quit until Jesus was dead. Jesus’ resistance to the temptations of Satan, which begins immediately following His Baptism, will lead to His crucifixion. Every temptation was fought with the Word of God. Even as Jesus died, He fought off the temptation with the Word of God, for His last words were a psalm: “Into your hand I commit my spirit.”

We often fall to the devil’s lies, but Jesus never did. Jesus withstood the devil’s temptation on our behalf. He is our champion. He never sinned. He stayed on the hard road to the cross. Jesus fulfilled every promise God made. Jesus withstood the devil himself in the wilderness of hunger. He endured temptation even to the cross. Jesus never wavered, and in the end, Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil. He rose from the dead. He bought us back with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, earning for us the forgiveness of all of our sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the giving of the Ten Commandments, it was not meant to punish or tie the hands of Israel. They were given as a response to whom God was, their creator, provider and protector. He had promised to be with them all the days of their life. In line with man’s breaking of God’s Word and commandments, One is sent for us who keeps these Commandments in order to grant to us everlasting life. We have failed time and time to keep these Commandments. Fortunately for us, there is One who has kept them, One who would give His life so that we would live. Christ has come, keeping these Commandments and more, to grant to you life and salvation. Steadfast love from God has been shown to you, all because Christ has kept these Commandments in your place. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.