Palm Sunday – “Hosanna!” (John 12:12-19

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 Processional Gospel, which was read earlier.

The hustle and bustle is here. The Passover is here and that means a plethora of people in Jerusalem, even more than usual. They are all gathered to celebrate the yearly remembrance of what God had done for His people many years ago when the angel of the Lord passed over the Israelite people. The atmosphere has changed, becoming almost electric. And then John records this: The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” It’s Jesus, the miracle worker. It’s Jesus, the prophet. It’s Jesus, the healer. It’s Jesus…the Son of God?

What exactly is Jesus here to do? Clearly He’s here to celebrate the Passover, but what else is He here to do? Whatever Jesus is going to do, the people flock to see Him. For some, He’s a miracle worker. For others, He’s a prophet. For others, a healer. But for some, Jesus is all of those and more. He is the Son of God. He is the Messiah that the people have been waiting for. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!””

The one who comes in the name of the Lord? King of Israel? Surely that can’t be descriptive of who Jesus is, and yet that’s what the people proclaim. That is indeed who Jesus is if you know your Scriptures. As we heard from Zechariah earlier, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus enters Jerusalem as Zechariah prophesied. Things are beginning to look like Zechariah had proclaimed. Jesus is beginning to look a lot like the promised Messiah of old.

As Jesus made His way from Bethany to Jerusalem, not only did you have the usual traffic of people going there for the Passover Feast, but you also had the crowd following Jesus. As Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, there was a different feeling in the air. The people began to do something that they normally had not done upon entering Jerusalem: they begun to have a palm procession. This wasn’t just any palm procession that they were having; this procession was for Jesus. They cut palm branches and went out to meet Jesus. They received Him as their king, as the Jewish leaders feared they might.

The people had just one simple message they were shouting: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” But what was it exactly were they saying? Hosanna, “save, I pray.” This psalm was one that was sung as part of the Passover feast. Jews sang it when the Passover lambs were sacrificed. Now, they sung it for their Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, on His way to be their sacrifice. But they weren’t thinking of sacrifice. They received Jesus as heavenly royalty, Israel’s King.

As they were preparing to celebrate the Passover feast, they didn’t even know that their own Passover Lamb was coming to be sacrificed for them. Today, you celebrate your Passover Lamb coming to be slaughtered for your sins.

For you, Jesus had set His face toward Jerusalem. He had an appointment that only He could keep: He had an appointment with the cross. He had come from Galilee preaching and teaching with healing as He went, but ultimately, Jerusalem was the goal of His journey. This sets in motion everything that was going to take place during the week: His betrayal, His arrest, His mock trial, His crucifixion, and ultimately, His resurrection. Everything that was going to take place began with this one moment – His triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

Most of the people who were gathered there that day had no idea what was taking place when Jesus entered Jerusalem, what it meant to them personally. Jesus had taught them that the definition of the Christ is to suffer, die, and rise from the dead on the third day, and yet, they still missed what was taking place here.

Do you understand what is going on here or are you missing it as well? This is meant for you. Here comes your Passover Lamb, to make death pass over you and earn for you everlasting life. This Lamb goes forth uncomplaining, doing the task by which He has been sent: to bring about the salvation for God’s creation. Unlike every other lamb that was brought to the slaughter for the Passover, Jesus Christ not only died to purge from you your sins, He also rose for you as well. He rose triumphant for you, to proclaim your victory over sin, death, and the devil, once and for all. He has opened heaven for all mankind by His blood shed on the cross.

As John records for us, His disciples did not understand these things at first….” Truth be told, the disciples weren’t alone in not understanding what was going on as Jesus entered. The people were shouting “Hosanna!” but didn’t know why they were shouting it. Nonetheless, it doesn’t take away the reason why they were shouting it. They needed to shout it, just as we need to shout it even today. This is the very reason that He came, was crucified, died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven to occupy His kingdom. By His blood and Holy Spirit, He has swept us clean of all filth, so that all who believe in Him are righteous and blessed, and will someday pass through temporal death into His heavenly kingdom.

It is interesting to note what the Pharisees say to one another: “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” It might have been true at the moment, but would we agree that it is true today? Does the world really go after Jesus or does the world go after something or someone else? Does the world find its salvation in the cross of Christ or is salvation found somewhere else? Maybe a better question to ask is this: do you go after Jesus or do you go after something or someone else? We might find temporary comfort in what this world has to offer, but the comfort that this world gives is fleeting at best. It is here today but gone tomorrow. What Christ has done for you was here yesterday, it is here today, and it will be here tomorrow. The gift of salvation won for you by Jesus Christ on the cross was here yesterday, here today, and will be here tomorrow. We cannot say the same about the false comfort that we receive from the world.

Jesus would fulfill every sacrifice that God had demanded. He would live a sinless life as the Lamb without blemish. He would die the death that was meant for us; a death filled with suffering and eternal separation from God. Instead, we reap from His death on the cross. He gives to us His righteousness in exchange for our sins. It is no coincidence that in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we recite the words of Palm Sunday, singing, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.” You and I can be thankful that Jesus has gone to Jerusalem to pour out His life, for by this He has forgiven our debt to God and set us free. May we forever sing, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” 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 – “Out of Death Comes Life”

Sermon texts: Numbers 21:4-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The basis for the sermon is the appointed readings read earlier.

Death is all around us. Our world is one in which we live and then we die. That is what the people of Moses grumbled about in our Old Testament text: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” Death is all around the Israelites, or so they think. When things start looking bad, they get worse. “Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” If there wasn’t death before, there is death now. So much death and things are only going to get worse. The only way that death could be defeated was from God. As the fiery serpents brought death, God used a serpent to bring about life: “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”

From Adam and Eve, death became a permanent part of creation. Everywhere you turned, there was death and there was no escaping it. Death followed the people of Israel everywhere they went. It followed them as they wandered the wilderness. It followed them because of their lack of faith in God. It followed them to their children and to every generation thereafter. It follows to you and to me as well.

That’s bad news for us. Death is here for us. Death defeats us. But there is One who defeats death. Those who believe in Jesus Christ shall not perish. Yes, they will die a physical death, but they live eternally with Christ. What comfort that is in knowing that because of Christ, on account of what Christ has done for you, you shall receive everlasting life. The best part of all this: you didn’t do anything! You didn’t have to work for it, you didn’t have to earn it; you simply received it.

Here is how that happened. It had to happen at the expense of Jesus. That is what Jesus said: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Salvation lies only in Jesus Christ and in no one or nothing else. The snake was lifted up on a pole; Jesus was to be lifted up on a cross. Everyone who looked in faith at the snake was healed from the bite of deadly snakes. Everyone who would look in faith at Jesus would be saved from the bite of eternal death and have eternal life. This is the life that begins with the new birth by the Spirit. This is the life that comes only through Jesus Christ for your sins.

Paul, in addressing the Ephesians, reminds the people just what it means because of Jesus: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Because of our sin, we were dead. Notice that Paul doesn’t say that you are still dead, but that you were dead. If you were dead but are not now, what does that make you? It makes you alive; alive not because of you but only because of Jesus. It is because Jesus was lifted up upon the cross and only Jesus could be lifted upon the cross.

All of that changes with what Paul says. We see a complete change for us, a change that has been affected by Jesus. Paul says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ….” You and I are dead. We are forsaken for all eternity for our many sins, for even just a single sin. But God does not leave us in that state of death. New life has been granted to you. The best part of that is that you did nothing to earn it. You did nothing to achieve it. We were completely dead in sin. We were spiritual corpses, with absolutely no spark of spiritual life in us.  In love, however, God breathed spiritual life into us. We were made alive in Christ. On the basis of Jesus’ resurrection, through faith in Him, we are spiritually alive.

God’s love lifted His Son on the cross, and by His love, He lifts us from death to life. To lift us up, God lifted up His Son. Lifted up on the cross, the Father gave His Son as the greatest act of love for His creation. Here was a creation, made in the image of God: perfect, holy, and without sin. Creation did not retain that image for long and God was not content watching His creation suffer the effects of sin: death and eternal separation from Him. To restore creation, the Second Person of the Trinity, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, took on human flesh in order to do what we could not: live a sinless life in our place.

There is good reason that all of this was done and Jesus Himself says why: “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.” It was done in order to save it; it was done for you. Whoever believes in the Son of God is not condemned. Sin loses all power to damn us. Sin loses all power to damn you because Christ has died for you. But not only has He died for you, He also rose again for you. Again, the reason that all of this was done is because of the agape love that God has for His creation.

The key to our salvation comes in the final verses of our text for today: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are saved solely by the grace of God which is given to us as a gift, not something that we have to earn. We have to do enough earning in life: earn our paycheck, earn brownie points with our spouse, earn punches for that free latté. Why should salvation be something that is earned? It is given as a gift.

That is the point of salvation. It’s not something that we can earn. It’s not even something which we deserve. On the contrary, it’s the furthest thing which our sinfulness deserves. We deserve eternal damnation yet receive everlasting life. And while all of this makes perfect sense to God, it makes no sense to us. How can something like this be given to me free of charge? There must be something that I have to do. However, that is not the case.

God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved you, even when you were dead in trespasses, made you alive with Christ and raised you up, for God so loved you that He gave His only-begotten Son, that by believing in Him you would not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son to you to condemn you, but that you through Him would be saved. God has given you the promise of eternal life, for He has declared you righteous—not guilty—on account of the saving work of His Son, your Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross, who gave His body and shed His blood for you and has seated you in the heavenly places with Him and the Son. 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 – “The Law Is Good” (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.

It’s safe to say that we live in a day where the Word of God is not in favor with many in the world, even amongst Christians. The authority of Scripture has been attacked on many sides, both inside and outside of the Church. It’s not unusual to see a television show belittling the Scriptures that God gave us. It’s not unusual to read in the newspaper that religious freedoms have come under attack by those who have little desire for God and His Word. Nonetheless, we turn to the Word of God for our strength and our comfort.

Our Old Testament account from Exodus begins with the children of Israel gathered around Mount Sinai. God had descended upon the mountain in fire. The mountain trembled and God called Moses to come and meet with Him. God gave him words that we heard in today’s reading: “And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” With these words, it shows us that God cared for His people. He had a deep desire to protect them from that which was hurtful to them, in both a physical and spiritual sense. In order to protect His people, God gave to Moses the Ten Commandments to guide the people in the relationship as God’s people within this covenant. They would live as His people and He would bless them.

Before we hear those words of God, we cannot forget that God had already given His people, Adam and Eve, a singular command: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” There is no fancy and colorful language here; rather, a very simple statement – eat and die. It did not take long for them to break that singular command of God and they died. They would die a physical death, but more importantly, they died a spiritual death. They were no longer like God, that is, perfect and holy. They would never see that spiritual state again.

Now, God sees fit to give to His people a new Law, His Ten Words, or as we call them, the Ten Commandments. And why would God give such a thing to His people when they clearly could not handle one command from God? God gave the Law for the good of His people.

A quick summary of the Ten Commandments is revealed to us by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew – love. In each of the first three commandments, He spoke of the people’s relationship with God. Jesus sums it by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” First and foremost should be the proper respect due to God, the Creator of all that exists. Commandments 4-10 would govern their relationship with their fellow man: “And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In His mercy, God had brought His chosen people out of many years of slavery and was bringing them to a land that was good, a land where they could live and prosper as His own. As they traveled, God established a new relationship with them. The people were gathered at Sinai in His mercy and He came to them and said, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

The Law had a very particular role in their lives. God wanted them to turn away from things that were worshiped by other people they would encounter in their communities. As He gave the Law, God declared that He was a “jealous God.” That may sound strange, but it meant He wanted His people solely for Himself. There are no other gods. Anything else was an invention by man guided by Satan. The Triune God is the sole being who could rescue them from sin.

God established the Law not as a curse, but as a help to His people, then and today. Unfortunately, if we read past our text, we see how the people had already broken the First Commandment before they even got it by the fashioning of the golden calf. They failed to keep the very First Commandment, which opened the door for them to break the remainder. You and I fail to keep the First Commandment each and every day, also opening the door for us to break the remainder. Sadly, we have gotten so good at breaking God’s Law that we don’t even realize we’re doing it, or making excuses or justification of our breaking God’s Law.

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.

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

Lent 2 – “Who Is Jesus?” (Mark 8:27-38)

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.

What’s in a name? Everyone has one. They tell something about us. Some denote importance while others denote insignificance. You hear the name Henry Ford and you automatically think Ford Motor Company. George Washington and you think President of the United States. John Doe and you could care less because it’s clear that the name is insignificant.

As we hear in our Gospel account from St. Mark, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The fact that Jesus asks the question infers that people know something about Him and they talk about Him. And of course, the people do know of Jesus and they have been talking about Him. They know Him to be a prophet, a teacher, a healer, a miracle worker. Some have attributed Jesus as being more than that: “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”

What do these responses indicate? It shows the people have great esteem for Jesus. He’s not your every-day, run of the mill carpenter’s son. He is more than that, much more than that. To be herald as John the Baptist, Elijah or another of the prophets indicate that Jesus is important. He is someone to be listened to. He is someone to whom the people respect.

All of that is good and proper. But there is an even more important question that Jesus then asks the disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” That seems to be an odd question, wouldn’t you think? Jesus has been baptized and the voice of God the Father spoke, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Granted, this takes place prior to the calling of the disciples. Even if the disciples didn’t know what God had said, John the Baptist did. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after Jesus was baptized that he was arrested by Herod and later beheaded.

Regardless, Jesus has now called His disciples. They have been witness to the miracles and healing work of Jesus. They have heard His teaching and seen first-hand what He is capable of doing. And so the question is asked to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Clearly Jesus is not John the Baptist as he is dead. Clearly Jesus is not Elijah for he has been dead for generations. Clearly Jesus is not just a run of the mill prophet because the prophets could not do what Jesus had done up until this point. And so there is only one, logical response that can be given: “You are the Christ.” That’s Mark’s description of Peter’s answer. Matthew records Peter’s response as being, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Luke’s account records Peter’s response as being, “The Christ of God.” All three accounts have something in common: Jesus is the Christ, a title which means, the Anointed One.

Now, given Peter’s answer, we have to ask the good Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” Peter rightly calls Jesus “the Christ,” what the people of the Old Testament would have called the Messiah. He is the One who had been expected for so long. He is the One who would bring about salvation to mankind. Jesus is more than just mere man. He is the very Son of God in flesh. The Messiah, though truly human, was also God the Son, and His assignment as the Anointed One was clearly stated back in Genesis – He would be the One to bruise the head of Satan; He would be the one to earn salvation for us sinners.

Even though Peter made this confession, there were many of Jesus’ day who could not or rather, would not. Messiah meant something different to the people. Messiah meant an earthly king. Messiah meant the one who would rescue Jerusalem from Roman rule. Messiah for the people meant only earthly terms. Messiah did not mean what the Scriptures had spoken of regarding the Messiah.

This answer of the disciples given by Peter is the very answer that Jesus had hoped for. It is the only answer that can be given. Jesus is the Son of God and Jesus is the Son of Man, our Christ, our Savior, and our Redeemer.

But that is not the popular answer. “God” is whoever we want him or her to be. “God” can be whatever you want it to be for that matter. “God” becomes a generic name for every deity we worship under the sun. Whatever you want to call your god, it’s all the same god in the end. Your god is my god and my god is your god. That is the age in which we live.

Here is the problem with all of that. “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Only one God was able to do that, not many gods. Only one God can fit that description, not many gods.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again because it bears repeating: if you get Jesus wrong, then you get everything wrong. If you get Jesus wrong, then nothing else matters. What exactly do I mean by that? If you do not have the right understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for you, then everything that follows after that is wrong also. If you do not accept that Jesus Christ is both God and man, that your salvation depends solely upon Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection, then everything else you believe about salvation is wrong. Salvation can come from no other source than Jesus Christ. The moment that we start to think, or even worse, believe, that our salvation comes from someone or something other than Jesus, that is the point when everything means nothing.

After chastising Peter, Jesus gathers the disciples and the crowds and tells them that salvation is in Him and Him alone. Listen again to the stern words that Jesus says: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” In this brief moment of Peter’s anti-confession, he shows that he is ashamed of Jesus because of the words that Jesus has spoken. Peter didn’t like Jesus’ words. But just because he didn’t like them didn’t make them any less true.

We may not like Jesus’ words at times either. Though we don’t like them, that doesn’t make them any less true. We may not like hearing that Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation because it takes the focus off of us. We may not like hearing that we must repent and return to God, especially if we’re justified in our actions because I’m not as bad as that person. However, one thing remains the same: it is by Jesus Christ that you have everlasting life. St. Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” I didn’t die for you. You didn’t die for you. Your actions are not what save you. It is by Jesus Christ and Him alone that you have salvation.

By Jesus’ death on the cross, by His blood shed, we have salvation. When the question is asked to us, “Who do you say that I am?,” may we be bold to confess as Peter did: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 1 – “Tempted No More” (Mark 1:9-15)

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

“I don’t like you.” “I hate you.” “I wish you were dead.” Have you ever heard those phrases spoken to you before? There’s probably a good chance that you. And even if you haven’t heard them spoken by a person to you, you have had them spoken to you. Your enemy, the devil, has spoken those words to you, time and time again. He loves to speak those words to you because he doesn’t like you, because he hates you, and because he does wish you were dead. The reason why he speaks those words to you is because you are a child of God and he doesn’t like that. That’s why, for you, God sends forth His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to combat Satan.

Turning to our Gospel reading, it begins with the Baptism of Jesus and God declaring forth, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Here is God’s pronouncement of who Jesus is, the very Son of God. That’s what you and I want to hear. That’s exactly what Satan doesn’t want to hear! Here is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, beginning His ministry of salvation for the people of God. That’s good news for us, or at least, it should be. Here is a God who isn’t aloof, twiddling His thumbs as His creation continues in a life of sin and death. He sends forth the only one capable of putting an end to death, once and for all. That sounds great, until it isn’t.

Mark goes on to say, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.” That’s not good news for us, but it’s great news for Satan! Here is his opportunity to defeat God, once and for all. He tried it once, but failed to realize that he, the creation, was inferior to God, the Creator. He revolted and took with him angels and was cast out of the presence of God. But here is Round 2, a second chance of victory over God. If he can’t defeat God directly, then the next best thing is to defeat God through Jesus. And that’s exactly what he sets out to do.

For forty days, Satan tempted Jesus with a singular desire – get Jesus to give into temptation. Surely it can’t be that hard; it worked on Adam and Eve. Satan knew what he was doing. If he could get Jesus to give into temptation, any temptation, then he wins. It doesn’t matter what the temptation, whether great or small. It doesn’t matter what the temptation is, just get Jesus to give in to temptation. And once Jesus does, God’s means of salvation for His people is done. When Jesus gives in, Satan wins and it’s game over for God.

But that’s where Satan got too cocky. He truly thought that he would be able to tempt Jesus, that sooner or later, He would break and give in to temptation. Satan could wait Him out; it was just the two of them. Eventually, Jesus would give in.

And that’s where Satan loses Round 2.

Jesus would not give in. The stakes were too high. Creation had lost once already. It would never see the Garden of Eden again. There was no more perfection, only imperfection. There was no life, only death. That’s a fact, one that Satan enjoys. When he says, “I wish you were dead,” he meant it. And, he is right. We are dead, dead in our trespasses and sins. But because of Jesus, our death is past tense. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ….”

That’s not what Satan wants you to hear. He wants you to hear that you are still dead, still separated from God, still hopeless. But Jesus comes to make you alive again. Jesus comes to unite you to God once again. Jesus comes as the giver of hope.

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

Because of Christ’s victory over the devil during His 40 days of temptation, you have won as well. Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil is your victory over sin, death, and the devil. God sent His Son into the world to deal with all three of these. In the luscious, fruitful Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted the first man; in the bleak, barren wilderness he tried the same with the stronger Man. Jesus, the second Adam, would dispatch the devil, defeating Satan who had caused the fall of the first Adam. As a result of the first man’s sin, Adam could only lead his wife out from Paradise and into this land of disease, decay and death. As a result of Jesus’ victory over Satan in the desert, the Lord journeyed out from the desert in order to lead His bride, the Church, from this world and into Paradise.

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

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

For us during this Lententide, our focus is this: Christ has defeated Satan, once and for all, and because of that, salvation has been won for you and for me, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

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.