Easter 4 – “Shepherds” (John 10:1-10)

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

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

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

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

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

For anyone listening to Jesus, it should be easy to make the distinction between one who is a true shepherd and one who is not. Unfortunately, the people did not understand Jesus and what He was telling them. There are those who proclaim to be a shepherd who instead are wolves in shepherd’s clothing. Thieves and robbers don’t care about the people they steal from. There is no connection to them other than what they take from you. Once they’ve gotten what they can from you, you are of no use to them anymore and they move on to the next target. What we so desperately need is a shepherd, someone who will care for us.

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

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

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

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

The final words of Jesus in our text speak to what Jesus does: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” He’s gone before you into the grave — the shepherd has laid down His life for the sheep. But here’s the thing: He’s come back out. He’s risen from the dead. So He says to you, “Yea, though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fear no evil, for I am with you. I will comfort you — and I will raise you up.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter says, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” From our forefathers, from our first parents, we inherited a disease, one that cannot be cured by conventional means. We inherited the curse of sin and there is nothing that you or I could do about it. Sadly, there are many that think they can do something to purge their sinfulness. They will use such things as silver or gold and they will find themselves unable to ultimately do anything for their sins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, the same Savior comes to you. He speaks His Word to you. He is the Host of the meal, giving you His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. He has died and He is risen, so that He might wash you clean, purify you with His own blood. He lives forever; and because He lives forever, so will you. You’re not grass anymore: in Christ, eternal life is yours. This is the Good News that is preached to you, the Word of the Lord that endures forever: you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Easter 2 – “Doubting Belief” (John 20:19-31)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Office of Holy Ministry

This week, men from Concordia Theological Seminary and Concordia Seminary will receive their vicarage assignments and first call into the Office of the Holy Ministry. C.F.W. Walther, first President of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod has these words to say regarding the Office:

C.F.W. Walther

O, glorious office! [the office of ministry] No matter how sick a person may be in his soul, the Gospel can heal him. No matter how deeply a person has fallen into the corruption of sin, the Gospel can pull him out. No matter how troubled, frightened, and afflicted a person may be, the Gospel can comfort him. Whatever the condition in which a person finds himself, even if he is convinced that he must perish because of it, the preachers can confidently oppose him, saying: “No, as certainly as God lives, He does not want the death of any sinner. You shall not perish; instead, you shall be saved. Turn to Jesus, who can evermore save all who come to God through Him.” And if one who lies near death calls out: “God, what have I done? Woe to me! Now it is too late! I am lost!” the preachers should call to him: “No, no, it is not too late! Commit your departing soul to Jesus. You too shall still be with Him in paradise today.” O, glorious, high office, too high for the angels! May we always hold it in high regard, not looking at the person who bears it and despising his weakness, but looking instead at the Institutor of this office and His exuberant goodness. Let us turn to Him in faith so we can experience the blessings of which the preachers have spoken, and through them, be gathered together one day into the barns of heaven as a completely ripe sheaf.

Needless to say, those are indeed words of great wisdom when it comes to the Office of Holy Ministry. The Office is not about who serves in that Office, how great of a people-person the pastor is, how funny or smart he is. The great importance of the Office is what said Office does: it brings the Word of God to a hurting people in need of hearing God’s forgiveness pronounced to them. It is all about Jesus living and dying and rising for them because of their sin. It is all about the gifts that God brings to His Church through the Office of Holy Ministry, the gifts of Word and Sacrament.

As Sem IV students receive their calls, they are given this charge (at least at CTS):

Go, then, take heed unto thyself and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghose hath made thee an overseer, to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.  Feed the flock of Christ, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lord over God’s heritage, but being an example to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, thou shalt receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.  The Lord bless thee from on high and make thee a blessing unto many, that thou mayest bring forth fruit, and that thy fruit may remain unto eternal life.  Amen.  (The Lutheran Agenda, p. 109)

These words are indeed a tall order to any man, especially one whom God has called to shepherd His people. If you don’t feel a heavy weight placed upon your shoulders after hearing that charge, then you had better check to make sure that you are still alive, for this is a very important Office in which men undertake. To be sure, there is no way that any man could function in this Office without God behind him, for this is God’s Church, and He will see to it that His church is well cared for and that the gifts which He has given to the Church are properly administered, namely the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and the administration of the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

To those men who are engaged in pastoral studies or will soon find themselves donning a red stole, may God continue to bless and be with you.

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.

Funeral for + Earl Terry Eckard +

The text I have chosen for Terry’s funeral is John 14:1-6.
1“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Here ends our text.
Cheryl, Terry, Tamara, Pat, and Larry, family and friends of Terry, if I asked you three months ago where did you think you were going to be today, I’m sure this is the last place you would have guessed. This is the last place I thought I would be today. This is the last place that Terry thought he would be today, but alas, here we are. There is only one thing that would bring us all here today, and that is death.

None of us would have thought that when Terry entered the hospital last week, he would not see the outside of the hospital. I take that back; there was one person who knew how things would work out, and that was his heavenly Father. According to Job, the number of our days have been determined by God. Despite our best efforts, there is nothing that we can do to add to that number. For Terry, last Monday was his last day on this earth. While it was his last day on earth, it was not his last day, for on March 27, he received the crown of eternal life.

None of this was expected, especially by Terry. But despite what happened in this earthly life, none of that really matters, because the important fact is what happens in the eternal life. As Christ our Lord tells His disciples, “In my Father’s house are many rooms…. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” A long time ago, God made a promise to a pair of individuals, a couple named Adam and Eve. That promise was about salvation, salvation that was made possible by Jesus Christ.

St. Paul tells us, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” To be baptized in the name of Christ means to die with Him. To die with Christ means something, something the world cannot understand. To die with Christ means to inherit all that Christ has and all that Christ is. To die with Christ means to inherit His holiness and righteousness. It means to receive the forgiveness He seeks to give freely.

That is what Terry received all those years ago when he was welcomed into the family of God through the waters of Holy Baptism. When the pastor spoke those words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” Terry received all that Christ had to give him. He received the forgiveness of all of his sins. That fact is what drove Terry to this place, to hear the words of absolution pronounced over him, to receive the body and blood of Jesus.

One has to wonder what might have been going through Terry’s mind while he was in hospital last week. While I may not know, I do know this about Terry: he believed wholeheartedly in these words of Jesus. Hear these words again: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” If there was anything Terry had, it was not a troubled heart. Terry knew who he was. He knew that he was a sinner, inside and out. And even though he was a sinner, he knew that he was forgiven. He knew that one day, he would die. Did he think it would have been last Monday? I doubt it. Was he afraid that he was going to die? I doubt it, because he knew what would happen when he died. He knew that the moment he breathed his last, he would be with Christ.

He knew that in order to accomplish salvation, God the Father sent His Son into this world to take our place by enduring the penalty for our sinfulness and for all our sins, each and every one of them. That is what happened on the cross when Jesus died. He endured the pain that should have been yours. Jesus paid the debt that was yours. Taking your place, the Incarnate Son of God was abandoned by the Father when Jesus suffered on the cross in your place. God prepared your redemption when He died on the cross. His Words “It is finished!” indicate a complete payment and accomplished salvation for you.

Jesus invites when He says, “You believe in God, believe also in Me.” The eternal blessings of God because of His Son’s life, death and resurrection are yours by faith in Christ. Salvation is by God’s gift of faith and not by man’s good deeds. Faith itself is God’s work that the Holy Spirit gives through the Word. The Lord worked faith in Terry when he heard the proclamation of the Good News. God granted him faith to believe in Him.

Unfortunately, there are many who do not believe, many who do receive what our Lord offers. Tragically, we see that with one of Jesus’ own disciples, Thomas. It is Thomas who speaks for many when He says to God, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Does that sound like the voice that you often hear in your own head or from your own heart? Listen to Jesus’ answer to every Thomas in this world and especially in this room: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Those are the words we so desperately need to hear, not just today but always. We need to hear how Christ our Lord has come into this world full of sinners, of how He lived among us and was one of us in order to die for us. But the story would be cut short if He did not rise again for us, and He did. He rose victorious over sin and death in order to Terry everlasting life. He rose victorious over sin and death in order to give us everlasting life. Jesus is the Way because He is the only one who could make the preparations for your entry into Paradise. He is the Truth that has prepared a mansion for you that awaits you. He is the Life that extends beyond the day of your death and never, ever ends.

For as difficult time as this now is for us, we know that this sadness is temporary. While we grieve Terry’s death, that is not what we dwell on. Rather, we REJOICE that he has received the crown of everlasting life, that he now rests from his labors and enjoys the full salvation won for him and for all who believe. 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.