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.


+ Harold “Swede” Dean Heimgartner +

The text that I have chosen for Swede’s funeral comes from Ephesians 2:1-10.

[1] And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] 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—[3] 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. [4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—[6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Here ends our text.

Myrna, Vince, Carley, friends of Swede, to say that the events of the last week have been rough would be an understatement. Death seemed to prove the victor last Friday as death closed in around Swede. At first glance, St. Paul seems to confirm that in our text from 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….” Do you want to know what we were? Dead in the trespasses and sins. But notice that Paul doesn’t say that you ARE dead in the trespasses and sins, but rather he says you WERE dead in the trespasses and sins. Isn’t Paul just arguing semantics? Is there really a big difference between are and were? Lying before us is our beloved brother Swede. The fact that we are gathered here indicates that this isn’t just a matter of semantics, that Swede IS dead. But we would be wrong in saying that, despite what things look like to the naked eye.

Death, unfortunately, is very much a part of who we are, but it wasn’t meant to be like that. When God created all things, His last act of creation was the creation of man, creating him in God’s own image. That means that man was created without sin, and for a brief time, man enjoyed a life without sin. But that time would not last, as Satan would enter creation and causing man to fall into sin, thus severing our union with God. God would not be content with letting creation being separated from her Creator. And so, God would make a promise, a promise to restore things the way they were in the beginning, to restore the union between Creator and creation.

By Jesus Christ, creation has been restored to her Creator. By Jesus Christ, we have the forgiveness of our sins. By Jesus Christ, we have life once again. And so says St. Paul, “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….” New life has been given to those who are dead in trespasses and sins. It means that we are no longer dead but alive. But it doesn’t appear to be the case today, or does it? Are we here to focus on death or to celebrate life? The answer is both.

We focus on death because that is what brings us here. And because we focus on death, we must focus on sin, because it is sin that leads to death, as Paul says in Romans, “For the wages of sin is death.” If we didn’t have sin, we wouldn’t have death. If Swede were not a sinner, then he would not have died. If you were not a sinner, then you would not die, but as we know, we all will die.

But we don’t focus just on the point of death. We focus on life. We focus on life because God has made us alive with Christ. Only by what Christ has done are we made alive. That’s why the words of St. Paul are so important for us: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Why are these words so important? Because they promise us that our salvation does not come from us, but it comes from Jesus.

For all who knew Swede, you knew that he was a simple man. He liked simple because simple was easy. Jesus makes it simple, for it is Jesus who does all the work of salvation. We don’t have to do anything, not that we could. And for Swede, that was his comfort. He took comfort in knowing that Christ did all things necessary for him to enter heaven. He did nothing, and Christ did everything. That is not something that Swede hoped in, it was a promise that God had made to our first parents, Adam and Eve, a promise that is passed down to all generations, a promise fulfilled in Jesus.

Martin Luther, when writing on Genesis 12 writes the following: “Therefore it is proper for us to contrast the blessing in this passage with the curse under which all human beings are because of sin. The curse has been taken away by Christ, and a blessing will be bestowed on all who receive Him and believe in His name. The remarkable blessing is this, that after being freed from sin, from death, and from the tyranny of the devil, we are in the company of the angels of God and have become partakers of eternal life.”

Swede has been freed from sin, death, and the devil. He now rests in the Father’s loving arms, as do all who believe. Swede joins all who have been faithful until God and His promise of salvation, a salvation that comes only through Jesus Christ. All of this is freely given to all who believe.

Of course, nothing is free. There is always a price to be paid, and the price is great to redeem you from sin and death. But while the price is great, it is not yours to pay: that has already been done by your Savior, Jesus. He’s gone to the cross for your sins—He’s suffered God’s judgment for you and died your death; and because God has made Him alive again, God makes you alive again. How much of the cost is passed on to you? None. Hear these words again: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Rejoice in knowing that Christ has done all that is necessary for your salvation, just as we rejoice that Christ has done all for Swede’s salvation and that he now rests in the arms of his loving Father. Amen.

Lent 1 – “Death to Life”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Transfiguration of Our Lord – “Changed” (Matthew 17:1-9)

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

Have you ever found yourself in this situation: you’re going about your business as usual when suddenly you find yourself in the presence of greatness? Suddenly, out of nowhere, you find yourself rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, a celebrity or music artist? Unless you’re privileged to have an all-access or backstage pass, most of the time we do find ourselves interacting with the celebrity crowd. If we are lucky to do so, I’m sure those times are few and far between. As we look at our Gospel account of the Transfiguration, we see briefly of what it is like to have that all-access pass, in this case, to the fullness of God’s glory as seen in Jesus Christ.

I’m sure the day started out as just any other day for Peter, James, and John. I imagine they got up, put on their tunic and sandals, had some breakfast and then followed Jesus as they had every day for the last three years. I would venture to guess that if you were to ask Peter, James, or John if today was going to be any different than the day before or the day after, the answer would most likely be no.

As Jesus takes these three men up on top of the mountain, ideally to pray as Jesus often did with His disciples, the tone changed. In fact, everything about the day had changed. Matthew records for us, “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” Up until this point, Jesus hid His full godliness from the people, the disciples included. He looked like a man, for He was man. The people followed Jesus and believed in His teaching, including believing that He was the Son of God even though He didn’t look like what the Son of God would look like. Now suddenly, Jesus was transfigured before them. But what did that mean?

When our English language translates the Greek word as “transfigured,” do we understand what that means? The Greek word there is “metamorpho,” where we get the word “metamorphosis.” We understand that word as meaning to change form, a word often used to denote the change from say a caterpillar to butterfly, for instance. That same thinking and reasoning is seen here with Jesus.

Christ’s appearance was changed and was resplendent with divine brightness on the Mount of Transfiguration. Christ was changed in that the disciples with Him no longer saw Jesus as just a man – now they saw the fullness of God’s glory revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. This was God removing the veil that covered the divine nature of Jesus. Peter, James, and John were able to witness for themselves the fullness of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

We see a marked difference at what happens on the Mount of Transfiguration and the time of Moses. In Moses’ day, he was told by God, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” At the time of Jesus, things are changed a bit. Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me…. Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

You want to know who God is? The fullness of God is now seen through Jesus at His Transfiguration. Jesus had told His disciples repeatedly that He was God, and He had demonstrated that fact through the performance of miracles. Yet, here He is making a very visible statement about His divinity. There, Peter, James and John stood before Christ in all of His divine glory. If the Three had any doubts before of who Jesus was, this was all the convincing they needed. But it didn’t stop there. Before their eyes stood Moses and Elijah: Moses, the man of God through whom the Law was delivered on stone tablets. And with him was Elijah, representing the prophets who foretold of the coming Savior, and who endured the worst of times among God’s people. And finally, to top it off, they were overshadowed in a cloud and heard the voice of God. Jesus’ disciples were not dreaming. They actually saw two individuals who had died centuries before this time. How Peter, James, and John were able to correctly identify these two people as Moses and Elijah we are not told. But these disciples were experiencing a little glimpse of heaven. Their lives were changing right before their eyes.

With everything going on here, with a transfigured and veil-ripped away Jesus, with Old Testament icons such as Moses and Elijah, who would ever want this to end? Peter obviously didn’t want it to end; hence why he says to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” When you have all of Scripture present here, how can you not want this moment to end! To see the full glory of God, that alone was worth going up on the mountain with Jesus. And then you add great historical figures of the faith with men like Moses and Elijah, it truly is heaven on earth! And with all of that, the day isn’t over yet!

It seems like it’s been forever since we heard the Father’s voice. The last we heard from Him was at Jesus’ Baptism. Now, God the Father makes a reappearance and echoes the same sentiment at Jesus’s Baptism: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The lives for the disciples would be forever changed with the words Jesus would speak. Those words would indeed be life-changing words, for they will declare that their sins would be forgiven by His death upon the cross.

We need the Jesus who came to the disciples and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” We need the Jesus who led these three disciples down from the Mount of Transfiguration. We need the Jesus who made His way to another mountain, Golgotha, the place of the skull. On that mountain, Jesus will express the inner most being of God in sweat and blood, pain and suffering, and, ultimately death and burial. It is through that suffering and death on the cross that Jesus earned our justification. It is through that suffering and death on the cross that Jesus took away our sin and replaced it with His righteousness. It is Jesus working through the cross who offers us forgiveness, life, and salvation. It is Jesus who takes away the burden of our sin and makes it possible for us to stand in the presence of God. It is the glory of Christ on the cross that gives the glory of eternal life to us, glory manifested at His Transfiguration and fully shown to us on the cross where He won for us the forgiveness of our sins. In Jesus name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 7 – “Neighborly Enemies” (Matthew 5:38-48)

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

There is something that we are all guilty of – getting even. It’s something that is all too familiar to us, something that comes too naturally. There is a sense of a twisted joy that comes with getting even. We even say, “I won’t get mad, I’ll just get even!” It’s something that we’ve all done at one point or another in our lives, whether it was getting even with the school bully who took our dessert or the driver that cuts us off on the interstate. We could all give many examples of getting even in our lives, but what would be the point? All of our plotting, our thoughts of how to get even all meet its end in our Lord’s damning statement, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” How do you do that, you ask? Where’s the fairness in that? What about getting justice, getting even? There is no fairness and there is no getting justice or getting even, there is only love.

Jesus in this portion of His Sermon on the Mount makes no mention of getting even or seeking justice. Instead, He advocates the complete opposite of that. He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well…. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

There is no question that Jesus’ words make us stop and take an honest look at ourselves. And what we find is never a pretty picture. Just what was Jesus thinking when He told us to love our enemies? He does know what the definition of enemy is, right? There’s times where we cannot stand our families or friends, that we despise them and on occasion wish harm to them. When we dig deep into our hearts, we find that we are corrupt – not just a little bit but corrupt to the core. We confess that we are, by nature, sinful and unclean. That doesn’t mean just a little sinful or just a little unclean. No, sinful and unclean from head to toe, inside and out. Everything about us sinful. Everything about us screams that we do not desire God and the gift of forgiveness He brings through His Son.

In sharp contrast to the Old Testament Levitical laws and to the Pharisees’ twisting of the same, Jesus speaks out in favor of the law of love. There is no place for vengeance in the heart or the life of the Christian. Here He is condemning the spirit of lovelessness, hatred, and a yearning for revenge.

That my friends, is what we are guilty of – the spirit of lovelessness, hatred and a yearning for revenge. It is our sinful nature shining forth as a beacon of unholy and unchristian light. We are too busy wrapped up in hating our enemies that we forget that they are our neighbor.

When the scribes asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is, He answered them, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Neighbor and enemy, enemy and neighbor. Both are one and the same. That’s what Jesus says. He extends the idea of neighbor to our enemies. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus tells us to love our enemies. What kind of love is Jesus talking about? He is talking about ἀγάπη, that kind of love that sacrifices itself for others. How are you doing with that? Can you truly say that you make sacrifices for your enemies?

If that wasn’t enough, Jesus tells us to compare ourselves to God the Father. God the Father sends His rain on the just and the unjust. As Luther states in the explanation of the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people …” So Jesus asks us to follow the example of God the Father who blesses all people alike with the gifts of His creation. Finally, Jesus puts the final nail in the coffin of our self-righteousness with these words: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Remember what I just said – neighbor and enemy, enemy and neighbor. Are you as perfect as your Father in Heaven? Do you put Jesus first in your life? Do you put others next? Do you put yourself last? The answer is most likely no. And yet despite the fact, Christ views us differently, He treats us differently. St. Paul tells us, For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

You and I are the enemies of God. Our sinful nature causes us to want everything that is opposite of God and all that He is and all that He desires. And yet, despite that fact, He sends His only begotten Son into the flesh in order to redeem us, the ungodly. But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We were sinners and Christ died for us. We are still sinners and Christ still pleads on our behalf, for He is the once-for-all sacrifice that was needed to bring creation back to its Creator.

Paul says, More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” We have the reconciliation between God and man, between Creator and creation. We have been reconciled, forgiven of our sins and made clean by the blood of Christ that washes over us. And just as Christ has forgiven us, so we too forgive our enemy – not because he is our enemy, but because he is our neighbor. We forgive because Christ has forgiven us, reconciled us unto Himself.

Jesus taught us that we are to place God first in all things, then we are to love our neighbor even if our neighbor is our enemy. The reason is very simple, for our enemy is the same as we are, God’s creation. But even more than that, our enemy is one for whom Christ died in order to save. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 6 – “Spiritual Infants” (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)

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

We are all babies! Each and every one of us, regardless of our age, are still babies, that is, spiritual babies. Don’t take my word for it; rather, listen to what St. Paul says: “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” Does it sting a little that Paul refers to us as spiritual infants?  What about those who claim that they’ve been a life-long, card-carrying member of the church from the day of their baptism all those years ago? You’re still an infant. What about those who have just confessed their faith in Jesus Christ? You’re still an infant. We are all spiritual infants, regardless of age, regardless of time spent in the church.

As Paul presents the Gospel to the Corinthians, he could not address them as spiritual “but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” These Corinthians, so fascinated by man’s wisdom, so bent on acquiring it, so vain about the worldly wisdom they possessed, were insisting that Paul also give them God’s deepest wisdom when he preached to them. That sounds wonderful, with great potential to the Corinthians, doesn’t it? Aside from their fascination with worldly wisdom, which, who could blame them since that’s what sinful man tries to attain, they want the fullness of the Gospel preached to them. But there was a problem with their desire – they weren’t ready for it. They were not capable of drinking from the firehose; they needed to drink from the faucet in little bursts.

Paul was faced with a question: how much of God’s wisdom can you feed an infant? The Corinthians were only babes in Christ, too immature spiritually to absorb much heavenly wisdom. They were too worldly; their flesh was too weak to understand more than the basics of Christianity. Paul gives to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ but in a way that they were able to digest. He says, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.” It wasn’t a slight to the Corinthians but an honest evaluation of where they were in their Christian faith. No mother gives her infant solid food when they cannot chew or digest it; so Paul could give the Corinthians only the simplest of spiritual food, that is, spiritual milk. They thought they were ready for the spiritual big leagues when they were yet still a farm team.

It really is no different for us. We think that we are able to absorb all that Scripture has to say. We think that we are great Biblical scholars because we have a Bible or have heard the Word of God preached; that we have the full understanding of all of Christianity. In reality, rarely do we comprehend what God’s Word says to us. Rarely are we able to grasp the tenants of the Christian faith to a point where we are considered a novice, let alone an expert. Truth be told, there’s nothing wrong with that, because we are spiritual infants, ever growing in our understanding of God and His Word, ever growing in our faith.

As if that weren’t bad enough, they started bragging about which teacher they followed. There were those that followed Apollos and thought they were getting some extra blessing that those who followed Paul were not getting and vice versa. For them, it wasn’t so much about the message as to who was preaching the message. Paul seeks to put an end to their egotistical ways. He said with regard to himself and Apollos, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” It wasn’t about the man, it was about the message. That was Paul’s point from our Epistle reading. It was vital for the Corinthians to understand that Paul was a mouth, a speaker of the Gospel. He didn’t add anything to it. What could Paul add? Remember, Paul was the former persecutor of the Church: it’s not like he had years and years of good works and merit saved up that he could hand out to others. Apollos was a former Greek heathen who’d lived as an enemy of God for years too. He had no salvation to contribute to what Jesus had won, either. Had both been saints their entire lives, they’d still have nothing to add to Christ! Both teachers were Christians by the grace of God, chosen by God to speak His Word. Whether it was Paul or Apollos speaking it, what mattered was that it was the Gospel.

We see firsthand here at Corinth what happens when the central focus is on the speaker rather than the Doer. Strip away the speaker and what do you have? You are left with the sweet sound of the Gospel, a saving word for all who believe. Strip away the speaker and you are left with the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ and He alone. It’s not the speaker that matters; rather what matters is what is spoken. And so Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

It was a simple truth, but such an important one for the Corinthians to believe. Why? Because as long as they thought Paul was something they needed, they would think that Christ was less than sufficient to save them. But once they realized that Paul and Apollos were simply the messengers of the King, they were ready to rejoice in Christ and Him crucified, that Jesus had done everything necessary for their salvation.

There is a single, all-important fact that we must be aware of, even if we forget it from time to time: we are a people of the flesh who need to hear that there is One who became flesh for all people. That One is Jesus Christ, the very Word of God made flesh. Christ, the unchanging God, became flesh for all of our fleshly sins, for all jealousy, for all strife, for all who are behaving only in a sinful and human way. The wages of our sins is death, but the wages of Christ’s labor on the cross is full and free forgiveness. The wages of Christ’s labor is new life and a never-ending salvation. These gifts of God come to us in the simplest of means – in the water and Word of Holy Baptism, in the precious body and blood of Jesus in His Supper. This is the food that we need to grow spiritually and it is the food that our gracious God provides for us at the expense of His Son.

The Lord gives the growth, and the Lord is faithful. By His Word which endures forever, He has made you His field, His building, His holy people. He feeds you with what you need, the spiritual milk that comes through His precious Word and Sacraments. By that eternal Word, you are forgiven all of your sins. 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.

Epiphany 4 – “Foolishness Saves” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

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 Epistle, which was read earlier.

Living in the sinful world that we do, we are bound to experience conflict. Conflict can be defined as controversy, quarrel, or discord of action, feeling, or thought. We are going to quarrel, for that is a sin, and we are at heart sinners living in a sinful world. We know that conflict is not what God designed or desires, and yet we engage in conflict as if it comes second-nature to us. When we read the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, we see that Christ has called us out of conflict to be what we could never be on our own.

Conflict arises when we think we are something on our own, when we think we are something that we are not. Conflict is nothing new, for we see that it is as old as our human pride. It was a wounded pride that stirred Cain to murder his brother Abel. The church at Corinth was too focused on boasting about whose leader or teacher was the best rather than focusing on the fact that they are all united in Christ. Each member of the Corinthian church had the same Christ, and that fact should have made them equally something – brothers and sisters in Christ. But instead, by thinking that they were more important than others or that they were more right because of the leader or teacher, they failed to see who they were in Christ.

Our conflicts are no different than that of mankind’s history. We are quick to engage in conflict if for no other reason than to prove that we are right and the other is wrong. We are quick to engage in conflict in order to put our own needs above others, to see great attention and love come our way.

The words that St. Paul writes to the Corinthians are words that should bring the focus and attention back to Christ and off of themselves and the conflict and divisions they have. For as many as confessed in Christ, there were just as many as saw this new teaching of Christ as nothing but rubbish and nonsense. That’s why Paul says, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Those outside of Christ see Christ and all that He says and does as nothing more than folly, utter foolishness. Quoting from the prophets of old, Paul says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” The so-called “wisdom of the wise” would lead them to hell, for they were perishing in their wisdom. They were so sure that they knew what God was like and how to deal with Him. They were so confident that they had the answers to the problems of sin and guilt that they automatically rejected what God had to say about their salvation through the cross of Christ.

If this is how you thought, Paul is saying that you don’t want to be in this camp, for all the wisdom in the world will not save you unless one has Christ. And so we have conflict. We’re left with one of two choices: go it alone and rely on our wisdom or give in to the foolishness of Christ. The reason why Christ was the foolish option was because how can the salvation of mankind rely upon a single human being. But right there you have a problem. Christ is not just your average run of the mill human being. While He is indeed man, He is also God, and by His perfect life, by His actions upon the cross and by His resurrection, He has won salvation for all who believe in Him.

The problem in Corinth was that they proved to be fools because they, along with all their wisdom, rejected the only way of salvation – Jesus of Nazareth dying on the cross for their sins. But this was not only happening to those within the Corinthian church. It was happening all around the church, the push from outside to conform to worldly wisdom and the like. Paul continues by saying, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom….” Signs and wisdom do not communicate the saving work of Jesus Christ. But Paul knows what does communicate the saving work of Jesus. He continues by saying, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

That saving Good News of Jesus would appall the audience. A crucified Savior? It didn’t make sense. For the Greeks with their logic and fairness and wisdom, it didn’t make sense that God would die so that man was pardoned for sin. But there was something worse — that cross again. In the Roman Empire, only two sorts of people were ever crucified —criminals and disobedient slaves. The idea that the Son of God would submit to such a death was intolerable to the Greeks; to the Romans, it was understood that crucifixion was such a hideous death that it simply wasn’t to be talked about.

No doubt, Paul would explain further. He’d explain that Jesus had accepted the cross to die a criminal’s death — to die at God’s hand for all the crimes and all the sins of all the world. He’d declare that Jesus had been sold for thirty pieces of silver—the price of a slave, and then died for all the disobedience of mankind. But again, the idea was too much. Christ’s death on the cross was a stumbling block for Greeks and Romans — it was too repulsive to mention in polite conversation, much less preach as the centerpiece of the faith.

But to those who believed, this foolishness of Christ crucified was indeed their salvation. This was God’s wisdom, granting mercy and grace for the sake of His Son’s suffering and death.

Make no mistake, when Paul preached Christ crucified, it wasn’t a popular message. It sounded foolish and weak, even scandalous. But Paul continued to proclaim it; because no matter how foolish it sounded to unbelievers, Jesus Christ — crucified and risen — was Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

And so, for us and for the world, we preach Christ-crucified, even though it isn’t, never has been and never will be, a popular message. By faith, we acknowledge that what we believe is foolishness apart from faith. But we proclaim it anyway. Why? For all sorts of reasons. We preach Christ-crucified because we can—because the Lord has given us the privilege of declaring His praises. We preach Christ-crucified because, even though it’s foolishness to the unbeliever, it is the power and wisdom of God for salvation to all those who believe. We preach Christ-crucified and risen for our salvation—because He was cursed by God in our place; because He died for our enslavement to sin; and because He suffered the cross for our crimes.

Christ has died for your sins on the cross and Christ is risen again. That is what we proclaim, because that is the power of salvation for all those who believe. The devil, the world and your own sinful flesh will work overtime to convince you that it’s nothing but irrelevant foolishness and weakness, but by the grace of God you know better: it is only because Christ was crucified that 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.

Epiphany 3 – “Divisions” (1 Corinthians 1:10-18)

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.

Wherever you go, you will find divisions. There are divisions among sports teams, there are divisions in politics, there are divisions in gender and color. In the Church, you will even find divisions. There are multiple denominations and even divisions amongst the denominations. Division in the Church is nothing new, as we see in our Epistle for today. St. Paul addresses the Corinthian Church by saying, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

Here’s where we find ourselves. The fact that Paul appeals to the Corinthians to not have divisions means that there are indeed divisions at Corinth. Since Paul is writing to the Christians, they should all be unified under the head of Christ, and yet, it appears that they are not. What is it that could be dividing the Corinthian Church? Aside from the teaching of the Pharisees, you had divisions among who to listen to in the church. According to Chloe’s people, there was quarreling among the people, for some were saying, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Instead of focusing on the message, they were too focused on the messenger. The problem that the Corinthians faced was that they were following others rather than Christ and accepting teachings other than Christ’s teachings. By creating factions in the names of these men and in the name of Christ Himself they were actually undermining the work of Christ’s Church.

Paul’s overarching concern was the division happening over following other’s teachings. It was something so divisive that it could split the Church at Corinth, and if left unchecked, it could split the entire Christian Church. So what choice did Paul have other than to address the issue at hand?

We all know the saying, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” That same saying applies to the Church as well. The message that Paul is giving to the Corinthians is one of unity, not of division. Under the heading of religion these people think there is room for doctrinal variety, as if the Lord allows two diverse understandings to be true at the same time! That may apply to the philosophy and human ethics of some, but not so with our Lord. He is a God of order. There is only one way that is God’s way. There is only one doctrine and that is what is found in the Word of God. We can try to make our own doctrine. We can try to make the Word of God say what we want it to say, but in the end it remains the Word of God. The Word of God doesn’t change. It has been the same Word of God for 2000 years and will continue to remain the Word of God long after us.

We can understand why Paul was so troubled as he wrote to the church at Corinth. Word had come to him that this fragile church, barely on its feet, was torn by dissension. The people were not getting along together. They were dividing into competing groups, based on which apostle had led them to faith. One group identified with Paul, another Apollos, another Peter, and another, as a smack in everyone’s face, claimed they belonged to Christ. Instead of rejoicing in their oneness in Christ, they were splitting off into separate groups, each one uncertain about the integrity of the other.

Paul could see that the future of that congregation, set within the turbulent environment of bustling Corinth, was threatened. Paul was not just offering some sound advice, but was calling upon the authority of Christ Himself to set things right. It was immaterial who baptized them; the overriding truth was that they had come into a new kingdom of love and grace, and this determined that they should live in peace and harmony with each other in the name of Jesus Christ.

When we look at the history of the Christian Church from Paul to present day, nothing has changed all that much. There are many and various Christian denominations. These are largely based on doctrinal issues, though not always. When one takes a hard look at the doctrinal issues, they all go back to the teaching of Christ and the teaching that is found in the Holy Scriptures. What is the sole source of doctrine in the Church? It is the Bible and the Bible alone. God’s Word is the pure fountain and source of God’s truth.

Whenever the Church deviates from the Bible, then that is when the Church will have trouble. The Church at Corinth began to face troubles because they began to deviate from the teaching of Christ. Paul sought to bring them back to what the Church is founded upon: Christ and the Gospel.

Why is it so important that you and all God’s people throughout time continually hear one and the same message from Jesus Christ? Only from Jesus Christ do we receive forgiveness of our sins, accomplished for us by His death on the cross and His triumphant resurrection from the dead. No other teaching can give to us what Christ has given. In the case of Corinth, the teachings of Paul, Apollos, or Cephas could prove to be devastating should those teachings be different than the teachings of Christ. The young Corinthian congregation could have been torn apart by conflicting teachings of doctrine that may or may not have been centered on Christ and His teachings. Unfortunately, that same concern is very much present today. How a church body interprets Scripture; how a church body views Christ; how a church body views teachings of man in relation to the teachings of Christ – all of this can lead to the devastating destruction of the Church of Christ.

The question for Paul and the question for all of us is this: “Is Christ divided?” Paul set out to make sure that the answer to that question was no. So it is today. We as the Church seek out to answer Paul’s question, that no, Christ is not divided; for Christ is still the head of the Church and His teaching still reigns as the only rule and norm of the Christian faith. The Church continues “to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Whenever Christ is not proclaimed, whenever Christ is diminished, then Christ means nothing. But when the Word is God is proclaimed and upheld, then it is the power to save.

For those who are resting securely in Christ’s forgiveness, given to us through His life, death and resurrection, given to us at our baptism, given to us through Word and Sacrament, Christ cannot be divided because it is Christ and Christ alone who saves. 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.

Epiphany 2 – “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:29-42a)

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.

How would someone describe you? You might be described as a father or mother, a son or daughter. You might be described as a husband or wife, a doctor or teacher. Those words describe the role you serve. They define who you are to an extent. As we see in our Gospel for today, John describes who Jesus is and the role He performs with just a single verse: “The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!””

Is there any better description in all of Scripture that defines who Jesus Christ and what His purpose and function is than this verse? If you could understand everything there is to know about this sentence, you would be worthy of the title Doctor of Theology many times over. This sentence from John the Baptist is one of the most powerful expressions of the Gospel in the Bible. John is able to capture all of Jesus with this verse. Within the full meaning of these words are all the sentences of all the Creeds of the Church.

Let’s dissect what John says here. “Behold” The word Behold is an epiphany word. It means look here; I want to show you something. John uses this word so that he can show Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, to his listeners and to us. He had already received an epiphany from God. Last week we learned that after John baptized Jesus, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended like a dove, and the voice declared that this Jesus was God’s beloved Son. Now John is proclaiming this epiphany to his listeners. He is doing the work of a prophet and pointing to Jesus Christ, the Son of God and savior of the world.

“The Lamb of God” Now, although some sacrifices required bulls, goats, or birds, the lamb more than any other animal was the animal required by most of the sacrificial regulations of the ceremonial law. The word Lamb as it is used in this sentence brings to mind the continuous flow of blood from the altar in Jerusalem. This image was so strong that God often referred to the people as His sheep with Himself as their Shepherd. They understood that the sacrificial lamb was taking their place. Now John was saying that this man who was the Shepherd had become a Lamb in order to become the sacrifice for them. The word Lamb reminds us of the sacrifice that was made in our place.

John is saying that this man is God’s Lamb. He is not just close to perfect. He is perfect. He is the culmination of all the sacrifices of all time. He is the sacrifice that fulfills the first sacrifice that God made when He killed some animals to provide the skins that covered Adam and Eve after they sinned. He fulfills the sacrifice that Abel offered and He fulfills the sacrifices that Noah offered after he landed safely in the ark. He fulfills the sacrifices of Abraham including the sacrifice he made after he nearly sacrificed his own son, Isaac. He is the one time for all sacrifice that makes all the other sacrifices meaningful.

“The sin of the world” These words gather the stench of sin into one disgusting mass of evil. It includes all the sinful thoughts, words, and deeds that anyone at any time has ever had. It includes the sinful nature that we were born with. These words mean that the work of God’s Lamb, Jesus Christ is good for the whole world, not just those who believe. The word here for world in this sentence is the root for the word cosmos. This word means everything that God has created, everything that God has brought into being by the command of His Word.

And so Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus lived in the flesh without sin, “a lamb without blemish or spot,” thus fulfilling God’s Law in our stead. How does He do this? He does this through His bloody sacrifice on the cross. There, the Lamb of God, who came from God and who was God, satisfied God’s wrath against the sin of the world, against your sin. This is done to fulfill all righteousness, to fulfill God’s plan of salvation for the sinner.

What insight John had! However, the Pharisees of the day did not have that insight. Many people of the day did not have that insight, comparing Jesus to Moses, Elijah or a prophet. And still many today do not have that insight that John had, looking to Christ as nothing more than a moral example to follow, but definitely not the Son of God.

John goes on to further state whom Jesus is, by recounting what He saw at Jesus’ Baptism. He says, “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” Up until now, no one has made that claim except one person: God the Father at Jesus’ Baptism. Not even Jesus Himself has made that claim. So how is John able to make such a claim? John can make such a claim because he was in the presence of the Trinity at Jesus’ Baptism. He saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus. He heard the voice of the Father declare that Jesus is His beloved Son.

Let us stop and think about what it means that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This means that the Lamb takes the load, the curse, the damnation of the total massive amount of sin onto himself. He lifts the awful burden from us and carries it to the cross. There our sin is crucified with the Lamb. There our sin is put to death. This one act of lifting and carrying away our sin is good for all time.

When John said these words, he considered the taking away to already be a done deal. The forgiveness of sins that comes as a result of the Lamb’s sacrifice was already available to all. All the saints of the Old Testament received salvation because this Lamb’s sacrifice is good for all time and all places and all people. God’s promise is as if John had already heard Jesus declare his victory from the cross with the words, “It is finished.”

Jesus is the Savior, and the Savior is the Lamb of God. The Lamb is destined to suffer and die. Who’s going to follow a Savior like that? By faith, John’s disciples do. Trusting in the Word of the Lord proclaimed by John, they are willing to abandon all and follow Him. They don’t keep it to themselves, either: right away, Andrew is telling Peter. It doesn’t seem to make sense: They follow a Savior who will never amount to much in worldly terms, a King who will never gather an army to fight and conquer. They’ll put their trust in the Son of God who will allow Himself to be arrested, beaten, spat upon and killed. And after He is risen, what will happen to His disciples? They’ll tell others of Jesus, and they too will be arrested, beaten, spat upon and killed. Not real attractive to the world.

But that is how Jesus saves. He doesn’t save through worldly means, but with His shed blood on the cross. The only way to make peace between God and man is for Jesus to sacrifice Himself. And so He does what is required of you and I. He does what is necessary and He goes to do what only He can – He gives Himself as a sacrifice. He is the perfect Lamb who goes to slaughter.

All of this was done for you, with you in mind. We are able to echo the words of Andrew, “We have found the Messiah.” We have found Him doing what he John says He will: taking away the sins of the world. The Son of God is with us to give us life, both now and forever. Behold. The Lamb of God declares to you that 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.

Baptism of Our Lord – “Baptism” (Matthew 3:13-17)

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.

As we go through life, there are certain monumental occasions that we deem to be important: births, graduations, wedding day, deaths, and other days that mark a significant time in our lives. When it comes to Jesus, there are obviously certain events in His life that we could say are monumental, and one such event takes place today – His Baptism.

Why is today such an important day in the life of Jesus? Surely it’s because of what Baptism gives. Luther asks in the Small Catechism, “What benefits does Baptism give?” He answers by saying, “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”

As we look at Luther’s answer, we are quick to identify some problems: Jesus has no sins to forgive! Jesus does not need rescuing from death and devil. Jesus does not need eternal salvation, for He is the Son of God. It seems as if we are left with a conundrum: based on what Luther says Baptism gives, Jesus doesn’t need it, and yet, He insists on being Baptized.

All of this seems out of the norm, for when Jesus comes to John to be baptized, John quickly responds by saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John knows who John is and John knows who Jesus is. John knows that John is a sinner, conceived in sin, born in sin, lives a life of sin, and eventually dies as a sinner. John also knows who Jesus is, that is, the Son of God and therefore, not a sinner. Clearly only one person needs to be baptized, and that person is not Jesus. Does Jesus need to repent? Does Jesus need to be converted from unbelief to faith? Is Jesus among the lost sheep who were no longer members of the true Israel and who needed to be brought back into the family of God? Of course not, and yet Jesus insists upon being baptized by saying, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

What is needed “to fulfill all righteousness” as Jesus tells John? The sinless Son of God receives the baptism meant for sinners because He shall be the sin-bearer. For Jesus, this is what is necessary because it shows perfectly how Jesus will save His people from their sins. Here, Jesus stands in the place of sinful man and is baptized, literally standing in the place of the many. And so here begins the true work and ministry of Jesus Christ.

What takes place after Jesus is baptized identifies for all who are present and for all of creation who Jesus is: “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to reset on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.””

Immediately following Jesus’ baptism, we see the Trinity present. What is the purpose of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus? The Holy Spirit manifests Himself as a dove descending upon the Son. As the symbol of peace, it is a reminder to us that, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. When the voice of God from heaven speaks, He says something very simple, yet very profound: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The Son has been obedient to the Father’s will. Here the Father acknowledges that the Son is indeed living a life of perfection and fulfilling the promises given through the prophets. The Father tells us that Jesus is the cause and target of His good pleasure. He tells us that Jesus is His beloved Son.

Since Jesus stands in our place, the Father’s pleasure with His Son is also His pleasure with you and me. Because the Father is pleased with His Son, Jesus, He is pleased with us. We are now the Lord’s beloved child because of the work of Christ.

Here Jesus begins the work of salvation by taking the place of sinners. Here Jesus takes John’s place – your place – my place. Here Jesus takes up the sin of the world and offers us the gift of His holiness. He becomes the greatest sinner of all; not with His own sin, but with our sin. Here He takes up our burden for us. As John performed the simple act of pouring water on Jesus, God poured on Him the iniquity of us all.

St. Paul expanded on this in today’s Epistle: “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.” Here Paul tells us that our baptism joins us to Christ and His baptism. Our sin becomes His and His perfection becomes ours. His innocent suffering and death are credited to our account. The eternal life and salvation that He earned are already ours. We will rise from death to live in eternal joy just as He rose from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. Through His Son, Jesus, God has done everything needed to secure our salvation for us.

Jesus’ baptism identified Him with the world of sinners. Paul describes Christ’s substitution for sinners by telling us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Even though Jesus never sinned, God made Him to be sin. Paul then takes us back to today’s Gospel. Through baptism, we are joined to Christ. His life is for us. His death is for us. His resurrection is for us. Jesus came to John to be baptized for us.

God’s justice requires punishment for sin. Our sin has earned eternal hell for us many times over. God’s love for us seeks to save us from that eternal punishment. The only solution was for God to take up our human flesh so that He could take up our sin. That is what Jesus did. When John baptized Jesus, he baptized the only one who can carry the sin of the world. Jesus carried those sins to the cross. There on the cross, Jesus satisfied both God’s justice and His love. God’s justice was satisfied by punishing our sin IN Jesus Christ. God’s love was satisfied by punishing Jesus Christ instead of us. In this way, God punished our sin without punishing us.

In solidarity, Jesus in the water is one of us. He suffers with us. He died for us. He shows us that He is the sinner’s friend and savior. In His baptism, He publicly continues the work that makes me His own so that I may live with Him forever.

Every time we celebrate a Baptism, the one being Baptized is made a child of God by the waters of Holy Baptism, and every sin that they will ever commit will be washed away by those waters. That person receives sonship in the kingdom of God. Their sins are forgiven. How is this done? It is done by a man named Jesus, sent from God to be our sacrificial Lamb, baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, forever joining Himself to sinful man in order to redeem us. It is accomplished for us by His death on the cross for us sinners. It is accomplished for us only by Jesus who has atoned for all our sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.