Palm/Passion Sunday – “Here Comes Jesus”

John 19:12-19
Matthew 26:1-27:66

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 Passover is quickly approaching and Jerusalem is beginning to swell with people, making it even more crowded than normal. People are visiting the marketplace, buying the items necessary for the Passover meal and for their sacrifices at the temple. Everyone is in Jerusalem, that is, everyone except for Jesus and the disciples.

For three years, everything has been leading up to this. Jesus had set His face towards Jerusalem, and there was nothing that anyone could do to set His face towards anything else. Jesus and His disciples make their way into Jerusalem, and the people have heard all about it. They have heard how this man named Jesus, a miracle worker, a prophet, a teacher, the son of a carpenter, maybe even the long-awaited Messiah, has set His eyes on Jerusalem and the people flood the streets in anticipation of Jesus’ arrival. With palm branch in hand, they cry out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

Do the crowds even know what they just said? They cried out “Hosanna!,” literally, “help” or “save, I pray.” Do they need help? Do they need saved? Do they even know what it is that just came from their mouths? This is their plea for divine help or deliverance. This is found frequently in Psalm 113-118, the psalms for morning prayer. Is this a crying out to God or do they know something more about Jesus than what meets the eye?

When Jesus decides to act, things happen. In this case, it is the beginning of the end. John records for us, “And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” Prophecy has been fulfilled. The King is coming, or rather, the King is here and He’s been here for the last 33 years or so; it was just that the people didn’t recognize Him as the King He was or that they didn’t want to recognize Him as King. Whether or not you believe is irrelevant – the King is here and He’s got some work He needs to do.

As the days go by, things begin to escalate. Turning to Matthew’s Gospel for today, it is recorded, “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.””

Things are beginning to fall into place for the chief priests and the elders. Jesus will be brought to justice for His heresy. Once He’s out of the picture, there won’t be anyone to contest their authority and everything will go back the way it was before Jesus showed up on the scene three years earlier. At least, that’s how the chief priests and the elders see things working out.

Everything that happens from this point on is according to plan, Jesus’ plan, that is. The religious leaders are merely spectators at this point, for it is Jesus who is calling all the shots. In fact, it’s been Jesus who has been calling all the shots from the very beginning.

As Jesus enters into the events of Holy Week, there is no shortness of busyness. He is anointed by the woman at the house of Simon the leper. Judas makes plans to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, the equivalent of the price of a slave. He celebrates the Passover with the disciples, institutes His Holy Supper and is betrayed by Judas, one of His own disciples. Peter claims to never fall away from Jesus, as does all the disciples, despite Jesus’ words: “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” All of that happens within a span of a few days, and we’re not even to Friday yet!

When Friday rolls around, Jesus stands trial at the hands of Pontius Pilate, He is charged and found guilty. He is beaten and scourged and hung on the cross, only to be mocked and cursed by the people whom He came to save. And then, as the day progresses, Jesus dies and is buried.

That is what Jesus is all about. That’s what the cross is all about. In service to you, the Savior suffers far more than physical torment and death. He suffers His Father’s judgment for your sins and for the sins of the world. He suffers hell there for you. “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down His life for His friends,” He once told His disciples, and there is no greater love or service than His cross in your place. Do not miss, by the way, that the Father is serving you at the cross, too: for rather than judge you for your sin, He gives His Son in your place, for you.

That is your Savior—the Son of God who makes Himself of no reputation and becomes obedient to death on the cross for you. By His death, you have life. By His grace, you are now set free to serve others—you are set free from sin to serve as God created you to.

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 – “Resurrection & Life” (John 11:1-45)

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.

No one likes to be ill. All the feelings that are surrounded by being ill are rather uncomfortable. Most of the time, with rest and the right medications, we normally bounce back from our illness. However, that does not prove to be the case with Lazarus. Mary and Martha, his sisters, send word to Jesus to inform Him of Lazarus’ illness: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” When one receives word that a loved one is ill, our minds don’t immediately run to death, but Jesus does. “But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

That’s a rather unusual response that Jesus has, one that doesn’t seem right. Obviously Jesus did not know that Lazarus was sick until He received word from Mary and Martha. Once He does receive word, He immediately goes to death. Did Jesus know something about Lazarus’ illness that his sisters did not? Does Jesus know more than what He’s letting on to the disciples?

Upon hearing of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus doesn’t immediately make His way to Bethany; rather, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than Jesus’ work in that region was not yet complete, and so He remained until it was finished. But then He tells the disciples that they are setting out to Judea again. They are quick to respond, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” You can almost hear the emotions in their voices. Why would Jesus willfully go back to a place where the inhabitants sought to put Him to death? Obviously going back to Judea isn’t high on the disciples’ list of places to visit again, and yet Jesus has set His face towards a place where the people want to put Him to death.

While on their way, Jesus tells them that Lazarus has fallen asleep. The disciples did not truly understand what Jesus was saying to them. As far as they were concerned, if he has fallen asleep due to his illness, he will wake up and be well again. But that is not what Jesus meant. Lazarus, dear friend of Jesus, has died. To make things perfectly clear, Jesus says, “Lazarus has died….”

Death is the ultimate result of sin. Sin separated us from God. Sin caused pain and hurt to enter into creation. As a final result, sin gave to us death, the ultimate separation from God.  It separates us from His holiness, His perfection and His Word of truth.

At the loss of a loved one, we seek comfort. Some seek comfort in friends and family.  Some seek comfort in the things of this world. For Martha, she sought comfort in her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She tells him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” She knows that while family and friends can tell her that things will be okay, her brother is still dead. She knows that the world can bring her comfort in many things, but in the end, the world cannot bring back her dead brother. She goes seeking Jesus because she knows that He is the Christ, the Son of God.  He gives her the assurance that she is looking for: “Your brother will rise again.” That is the assurance that Christ gives to each and every one of us: you will rise again.

During this season of Lent, now, more than ever, we hold the cross before us as a constant reminder of why the cross is there. The cross is there because of you. The cross is there because of me. The cross is there because of your sin. The cross is there because of my sin. Paul knew that it was his sins that put Christ on the cross. As he writes to Timothy and his church at Ephesus, he says, The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” He knew of his acts against Christianity, how he murdered Christian after Christian after Christian. He knew, after meeting Jesus on the Damascus Road, that he was indeed a sinner and was in need of forgiveness.  He knew that he was spiritually dead because of sin.

Do you know that you are spiritually dead because of sin? Do you truly and honestly accept that fact? The psalmist David did when he wrote Psalm 51: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We are sinners, each and every one of us.  However, that does not mean that we are left without hope. There is indeed hope for each and every one of us, hope for every man, woman, and child. That hope cannot be found in the teachings of Islam or Buddhism. You can’t go to Wal-Mart and say that you want hope for sinners. That hope can only be found in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

While Martha grieves the death of Lazarus, Jesus gives to her that hope that is only found in him: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” That is the hope which we have to look forward to. That is the hope which the world cannot give. This is hope which can only come from God. It comes to us through Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection. This is hope which we see demonstrated for us on the cross of Calvary.

Where Jesus is, life is. That’s what Jesus is about: and whenever He is present forgiving sins, He is also present giving life. By His forgiveness, He already declares that eternal life is yours, for He has done all to accomplish it by His death and resurrection. At your baptism, Jesus declared, “Come out! Come out of the bondage of sin, for I make you My beloved child this day!” Your resurrection at the font was a greater miracle than the one of Lazarus at the tomb: Jesus gave physical life back to Lazarus’ body, and that life would be lost again—Lazarus’ body would die again. Jesus has given eternal life to you: you already have it. Unless the Lord returns, your body will eventually die. Your soul will not: you are alive forever, and the Lord will raise your body up, too, on the Last Day.

Where Jesus is, life is. And whenever He is present forgiving sins, He is also present giving life. His Word gives life. He spoke to bring Lazarus back from death. He put His words in Ezekiel’s mouth, and those words made dry bones alive. This day, He speaks His forgiveness to you. These are not empty words: they give you life, renew that eternal life in you once again.

And where Jesus is, life is. Do not despair, repentant people of God. Whatever sins you have clung to in the past, He has died for them all; and He promises “everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” This promise is for you. It is for all the penitent people of God who have died in the faith. Those who died in the faith are alive with Christ even as they await the resurrection of their bodies; and on the Last Day, the Lord will bring forth those bodies in the ultimate restoration of life as He calls His people from the grave. For Christ will return in glory; and where Jesus is, life is. That is your hope for you and for all who die in Christ. He is the Resurrection and the Life, and He has given that life to you, 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 4 – “Light of the World” (John 9:1-41)

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.

Everyone likes to play the “blame game.” The rules are easy: take no ownership of your actions and place the blame on anyone and everyone but yourself. Now that the rules have been explained, we see the game being played in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus and His disciples are passing through a region and come across a man blind from birth. The disciples knew of the man’s condition and asked Jesus a simple question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The game has now been set up. Who is to blame for the blindness: the man, his father, or his mother? Clearly the reason why the man is blind is because someone sinned. Now the question is who was it.

The question was difficult. If the man’s own sin caused his blindness, how could he have sinned so bad while in the womb to cause this? If his parents’ sin caused it, that seemed unfair that the effects of their sinful actions should be passed on to their offspring. Still, the disciples thought that one or the other was true. It was a commonly held belief, so they didn’t think of any other possibility.

To the untrained, it appears as if what the disciples are hinting at with regards to the blind man is karma, that idea that what goes around comes around, that there’s a kind of justice that drives the inner workings of the universe. This notion is nothing new, one that has been around for quite a while. In asking this karma question, it’s the kind of question that we’re comfortable with, the kind of question that attempts to make sense of the world. There must surely be a cause and effect relationship. The effect is the man was blind from birth. Now it’s time to pinpoint the cause: his sin or his parent’s sin?

The answer to this question that the disciples ask is, to some extent, already answered in their question. It’s not a matter of who’s sin caused it as much as it is sin caused it. There is a common sin that infects us all. To be sure, there are certain sins which carry with them certain consequences, but sin, at its root, has the same effect – death.

To answer the disciples, one only has to look at in these terms: man sins, sin leads to death, death leads to man, repeat. That’s sin at work in creation. It’s not a matter of who sinned that caused the man’s blindness, but rather it is sin that caused the blindness.

In this new age world in which we live, in a world that is supposed to be politically correct but usually isn’t, the easy answer is something like karma because it’s a nice and neat solution. If you do good, good is done to you. If you do bad, bad is done to you. It takes sin out of the equation completely. But there’s one problem: you CAN’T take sin out of the equation!

The disciples were correct in saying that the man’s blindness was due to sin. Everything about us that is not perfect is the result of sin. Our poor eyesight is due to sin. Our inability to hear is due to sin. The diseases that we face are due to sin. And if that’s not bad enough, the death that you face in this life is due to sin.

Jesus, in talking with His disciples, chooses not to play the blame game. Instead, He reveals the reason the man is blind: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” All of this is done according to God’s divine plan. Now if you are the blind man and you heard this, it would be quite natural to wonder how your blindness might cause the works of God to be made manifest.

It’s hard to see how something negative like this can be used to God’s glory. How can anything negative be used to God’s glory? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? We can understand how good things work to God’s glory, but how do bad things work to God’s glory? Clearly Paul was mistaken when he told the Romans, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Let’s test Paul’s statement. Israel faced all sorts of bad that would lead to God’s glory. When Israel turned to other gods, some sort of evil would befall them and they would repent of their wicked ways and return to the God of Israel. When Israel travelled in the desert for 40 years, it would be to God’s ultimate good, as He would give to them a land that would truly be theirs, a land flowing with milk and honey. Though many if not all of the prophets of old met with an untimely death or sort of persecution, the message of God was proclaimed through them and many were brought to saving faith in God.

The ultimate act of evil turned to good was nothing short of what happened to our Lord. The perfect Son of God took on human flesh and blood, entering into a world of sin and death. Things only get worse from this point on. For three years, He traveled the surrounding area proclaiming that He was the promised Messiah of long ago, that He would lay down His life for the lives of the sinful people that He is living amongst. Few understood, but many were quick to persecute Him, seek to put Him to death. Ultimately, they would succeed. On Good Friday, He would be nailed to a tree of death and laid in a tomb to rot as a heretic in the eyes of many.

If left up to the Pharisees, that’s exactly what they would like to happen. With Jesus out of the picture, there is no one to threaten their sphere of influence, no one to question their teaching as being right or wrong. Everything can go back the way it was three years earlier and everyone can move on with the lives again. However, that is not the way things are going to play out.

As Paul said, All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” With the death of Christ, all things are working for good. Christ would do what He said He would do: He would come, live a sinless life, be crucified and rest in the tomb for three days. After three days, He would be raised from the dead. Very few truly believed He would do what He said that He would do. But the people believing or not believing in what Jesus said doesn’t make it any less true. Christ did all that He said He would do. He defeated sin, death, and the devil. He gave His life so that God’s creation would not die eternally. He died so that you would live.

The Lord does forgive you, and the Lord has not forsaken you. Jesus declares in the text, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Though He has ascended into heaven, Jesus remains in the world, as near to you as the means of grace. He remains the Light of the world, saving you from the darkness of sin and death. Where He added His Word to mud to make the blind man see, He added His Word to water and gave you faith to see in your Baptism. Where He sought out the healed man to speak again His saving Word, He still speaks His saving Word to you, to strengthen your faith so that you might believe in the Son of Man. He feeds you His own body and blood, so that His work of faith might continue to be displayed in you.

He declares that He has come into this world of darkness to shine the light of His grace upon you. He has gone to the cross to die for your sin, and He is risen again to deliver you to everlasting life. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

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.