Sermons, Uncategorized

This Is the Lord’s Doing

“Entry of the Christ in Jerusalem” by Jean-Leon Gerome

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Due to attempts to curb COVID-19 with social distancing, the chances are that most of you who are hearing this sermon are not here in the same building as me, but are listening livestream or recorded on Facebook or our parish website from your own home. Sadly, there will be few palm branches waving today, and the pews will probably still be empty on Easter. Many of you have expressed thanks for having this opportunity to hear God’s Word, but you hope that it doesn’t go on for long. And that’s an understandable, even laudable sentiment, for worship is meant to be a physical, corporate activity.

Throughout history there have been other times when God’s people found it difficult to gather for worship for a season. Because of their idolatry and failure to repent, many of the people of Judah were hauled away to Babylon. For 70 years, they longed to return to Jerusalem to worship and offer sacrifices at the temple. In the meanwhile, the faithful continued to hear the Word of God and sing the songs of the faith. Though some returned and rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple, many remained scattered across foreign lands. In this Diaspora, the people developed worship practices that could take place in the home and smaller local assemblies.

Though certainly a sad turn of events for those who longed to gather for worship back at home, God used the Diaspora to spread His Word to most corners of the known world. The synagogue worship that we see Jesus and His disciples participate in the New Testament developed because of the necessity and desire to worship even though far from home. Much of our modern liturgical practices are drawn from traditions that go back to this synagogue worship.

After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the early church remained headquartered in Jerusalem for the first few years. The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And day by day, they attended the temple together and broke bread in their homes, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Then there arose a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and everyone except the apostle were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, and those who were scattered went about preaching the Word.

God indeed is able and does work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He did in the Babylonian captivity and the Diaspora, and He will continue do so during our own “social distancing” as well. If nothing else, our recent “Lenten fast from worship” provides us with an opportunity to consider the place and importance of worship in our lives.

The word worship literally means to ascribe worth to someone or something. And this is certainly what we do when we worship God. We ascribe to Him worth. We confess that He alone is worthy to be praised. But true Christian worship does not come from us giving things to God, rather it comes from God giving to us forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. This is why God came in the flesh—to give His life as a ransom for all. So Christian worship is God’s gift to us. He is the one who gives us our worship. He does this by giving us faith through His Word. So to worship God means to trust in His mercy, receiving from Him what He gives.

This is why we often call worship “Divine Service.” It is God serving us. We cannot properly worship God unless He first serves us. Therefore, we gather for worship. We gather around the Word of God, which reveals Christ our Savior and strengthens our faith in Him by His Holy Spirit. Even our hymns, psalms, and songs of praise speak of what Christ has done for us. They aren’t just us telling God how much we love Him. They are filled with the teaching of our Lord Jesus that comforts us with the forgiveness of sins bought by His very blood. To worship God means to receive from God salvation from our sins.

This has always been the nature of true worship. God’s people have always worshiped in this way. The psalms were the songs of the church, penned by David, Moses, Solomon, and certain priests in the temple as they were led by the Holy Spirit. They were written for worship and prayer. And they speak of the salvation that God reveals, delivers, and promises for the sake of Christ.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, the crowds worshiped Him. Their praises were comprised of the Word of God. In fact, the words that served as their songs of worship and praise came from Psalm 118. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” These words would have been familiar to any Israelite on his way up to Jerusalem for one of the annual feasts. Psalm 118 was one of the songs of ascent the people of Israel would sing as they ascended to Jerusalem, up to Zion, up to the temple, the house of the Lord.

Psalm 118 was the last of the so-called Hallel psalms. Hallel is Hebrew for “praise.” It is where we get the word, Halleluiah, which means “Praise the Lord.” These psalms were sung in the temple while the Passover lambs were being slain and also sung in the homes as the people ate the Passover dinner: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!” This is how they worshiped—by trusting in God’s mercy that He reveals in His Word.

So when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, the crowds would have had this psalm pretty-well stuck in their heads. As they waved their palm branches and laid their cloaks on the ground, they sang “Hosanna!” the Hebrew word meaning, “Save us!” This comes from this psalm, too: “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!” They saw Jesus as the Lord, the Son of David, who came to be their King. As the Prophet Zechariah foretold, they beheld their King who brings salvation. And so they sang, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” They worshiped Jesus by receiving the salvation that He was bringing.

And how would He bring this salvation? He would bring it with humility, mounted on a donkey. He would ride in as a humble King, not with force and armies, but with peace. The Prince of Peace comes into Jerusalem to bring salvation. Salvation from what? From political unrest? From bondage to the Roman Empire? No, these things were only outward struggles. Jesus came to bring salvation from our real enemy, which proceeds from our own hearts. He came to save us from our sins.

Jesus, the Son of David, came to lead us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. And this path didn’t lead to the king’s palace. It doesn’t lead to Capitol Hill or to the White House. It led to the cross—to the altar of God—where Jesus would give Himself as the sacrifice for sins. So, as the people confessed this from the Word of God spoken by the psalmist, they worshiped Him. So this is how we worship—the same way the crowd in Jerusalem worshiped—by receiving from Christ, our King, salvation from our sins.

The people also shouted these words from Psalm 118: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” These were words that the priests in the temple would sing to the people who brought their sacrifices. He who comes in the name of the Lord is the one who brings the lamb for the sacrifice. So the people, trusting in their King, called Jesus the one who comes in the name of the Lord. In other words, they called Him the one who brings the Sacrifice. He was bringing Himself as the Lamb for the burnt offering. This is how He would be our King. This is how He would become our righteousness. This is how He would become our salvation, just as the psalm goes: “I thank You that You have answered me and have become my salvation.”

Jesus would become our King by being rejected by His own people, just as the psalm sings: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” He would reveal His salvation as our righteous King by giving Himself up to death, rescuing us from the wrath of God that comes against our sins. By this sacrifice He would bear the darkness of our sins in order to give us light through His Word.

Just as the psalm also sings, “The Lord is God, and He has made His light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!” Our Lord—our King—gave Himself to be bound and brought as a Lamb to the altar of His cross. He is, as we just sang in our preceding hymn, “Paschal Lamb, by God appointed, All our sins on Thee were laid; By almighty love anointed, Thou hast full atonement made. All Thy people are forgiven Through the virtue of Thy blood; Opened is the gate of heaven, Reconciled are we with God.” To worship is to receive this through faith, to cling to the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, which pours from the side of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

This is why we sing the words from Isaiah 6: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.” We acknowledge Jesus as the Lord of the heavenly hosts. Heaven and earth are full of His glory, yet He deigns to meet us sinners on this altar in His very body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. So, we also sing, “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He, blessed is He, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.”

Many people argue that how we worship really doesn’t matter, as long as it’s done to God’s glory. They will say that it isn’t necessary for us to hold to the way our fathers in the faith have worshiped, because the style is not what matters. But they miss the point. We retain the historic liturgy of our church not simply because we like the style or that it is “our way” of giving glory to God. No, we retain the liturgy because it clearly confesses the Gospel and it connects us to Christians all around the world, throughout the centuries. This song has been sung by Christians during the Service of the Sacrament for over 1500 years. When Martin Luther reformed the liturgy, he only removed the parts that obscured or attacked the purity of the gospel. But he kept this part in because it so beautifully confesses the Gospel, and until maybe a generation ago, all Lutherans everywhere sang this song for that very reason. So to remove this song from the Service of the Sacrament is to remove the comfort that generations of Christians have received as they belted out, “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest!”

But we don’t remove it. We don’t get bored by it. We keep this song in our worship, because this is how we worship: We welcome our Lord who came in the name of the Lord to give Himself up as a sacrifice for our sins, and He now invites us to eat and drink the body and blood that won for us salvation. This is a part of the liturgy that has always been sung by Lutherans, because it expresses what we receive through faith and hold on to in confidence. Our Holy Lord and God, who has come to take away our sins, comes to save us.

So remember what you are praying when you sing, “Hosanna!” You are praying, “Save us!” You are asking for His salvation right now. The sin that haunts your conscience today is the sin that Christ bore on the cross 2,000 years ago, and He comes this very hour to blot it out from your heart. Your sins against God. Your sins against your neighbor. Your neighbor’s sins against you. This is the salvation that your King comes to bring you in this Sacrament.

And for those times, like today, when you can’t gather with your brothers and sisters to receive His body and blood? The King still comes to you in His Word. Remember His promises: “I am with you always to the end of the age.” “Where two or three are gathered in My Name, there I am in the midst of you.” Your King comes to you in His Word. And by His great goodness and grace, He provides many ways to bring that Word to you.

Once again, the Church finds herself in Diaspora, scattered, this time by disease. As those early Christians did when they fled to the corners of the earth to escape persecution, let us carry our faith with us so that, even though, for a time, we may not gather in our church buildings made with hands, we may still meet with Christ, God’s dwelling place among His people. Be constant in prayer. Be constantly in your Bible, hymnal, and Catechism. Be constant in sharing the love of Christ with your neighbors, especially those who are in need. Let the Word sustain you, and through you let the Word shine upon all those you meet.

We pray that we will soon be able gather together with the Lord and His salvation. While we wait, we trust in the Lord’s timing and His good and gracious will. We therefore also pray and sing: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Jesus Is the Resurrection and the Life Even Now

“The Resurrection of Lazarus” by James Tissot

Click here to listen to this sermon.

Martha said to Jesus, ‘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.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the Resurrection on the Last Day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘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’” (John 11:21-26).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Due to “social distancing” a lot of people have been binge watching shows on streaming services like Netflix, Disney +, and Amazon Prime. One of the video features of Amazon Prime that I’ve found useful is X-ray. X-ray allows you to pause a film and find out more information. When you press pause, a menu pops up that allow you to move deeper into what is happening. X-ray helps you find out more about the actors, identify the soundtrack, or get background information on the scene. It is a way of entering more deeply into a movie.

I would like to do that with our Gospel for today. Pause it for a moment and enter more deeply into what is happening.

Our text is the account of the raising of Lazarus. That’s what we call it: The raising of Lazarus. No spoiler alert needed here! Indeed, this is the climax of the story: Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. And that is a very significant part of the story. But if you pause the story… let’s say at the moment when Martha first speaks with Jesus… then you find it is not just about Jesus raising Lazarus or the fallout with the Jewish religious establishment that hastens Jesus’ crucifixion.

Now, the story is about Jesus comforting Martha. If you were to title this scene, it might be, “Jesus comforts Martha on the long road to the Resurrection.” And that has much to say to you and me, now, at this point in time. You see, while the Resurrection on the Last Day is our greatest comfort and hope, we spend most of our lives, here and now, on the long road to the Resurrection; and so what Jesus does for Martha, how He comforts her in her sorrow and mourning and distress, can be encouraging for us today as well.

When her brother Lazarus became ill, Martha sent word to Jesus. She asked for Jesus to come. Unfortunately, it took a while for Him to appear. Now, when Jesus finally does arrive, her brother is dead, and her life is filled with sorrow.

If you were to freeze this scene, you would see Martha standing there on the road with Jesus, looking to the past and looking to the future, wanting to be anywhere but in here and now. Martha knows what could have been: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” And Martha knows what will be: “I know that he will rise again in the Resurrection on the Last Day.” But what could have been and what will be do not change what is right now. Her brother is dead. Her Lord is late. And her life is filled with sorrow.

This moment for Martha is familiar to us. It is where we spend most of our lives… on the road to the Resurrection. When we look at the past, we know what could have been. When we look to the future, we know what will be for us in Jesus. But right now, we stand in the middle of doubt and despair. What could have been and what will be do not change the present moment in our lives.

Then Jesus speaks. He says to Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Notice the use of the present tense. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus does not point to the past—I was the Resurrection and the Life—nor to the future—I will be the Resurrection and the Life. No, Jesus speaks about the present. I am the Resurrection and the Life.

Jesus takes the power of Resurrection and the promise of Life and buries it in His own flesh. This Jesus, the One who is speaking to you right now, He is the Resurrection and the Life for you even now.

What this means is that before Lazarus walks out of the tomb, before Jesus is raised from the dead, right now, as Martha stands there in the middle of that long road to the Resurrection, Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life for her. He has come to be the Resurrection and the Life for her even in sorrow.

In this moment, before Lazarus is raised from the dead, what does it mean for Jesus to be the Resurrection and the Life? It means the Resurrection is a hand that can be touched, a voice that can be heard, a tear that is shed, and a holy conversation that happens with Jesus in the middle of sorrow.

What Jesus teaches us is we do not have to wait until the body comes out of the tomb to participate in the Resurrection. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now. We do not need to silence the suffering, to mask the mourning, to placate the pain. Instead, we can receive them as holy. And, that is what He gives us: Moments of holy conversation. He chooses to bring the wonder of His Life to us now, as we walk the long road to the Resurrection.

So, today, let us pause for a moment in the story—our story, your own story. Let us enter more deeply into what is happening, here and now. Whenever you are on that long journey to the Resurrection, Jesus has come to be with you. He is the Resurrection and the Life, even now, filling your present days with His love. And what Good News is that for times like these!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even as you consider your own mortality or mourn those who have died in the faith. Those who died in the faith are not dead, because the Lord is not the Lord of the dead but of the living. Their bodies rest in the grave for now, but they live even now with Christ. You have His promise: “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.” It is true for the saints who have gone before us, and it is true for you.

Be on guard, then, against the devil’s temptations which would steal this life away. Be aware of the error of Martha, who thought that Jesus’ power was great but limited, really only good for working wonders where life remained. In doing so, she thought Jesus weaker than life rather than actually being Life. You will constantly be tempted to believe that Jesus is good for helping out in this life, but nothing more than that.

The danger here is twofold. On the one hand, you’ll have no hope for eternity, because you’ll think that Jesus is only good for improving this life for as long as it lasts. On the other hand, you’ll be terribly disappointed in Jesus because life tends only to get harder and more difficult as times goes along, and you’ll think that Jesus’ power to improve things is very low indeed.

It is not Jesus’ power that is low, but your expectations. He has not come to make life a little sweeter on your way to eternal death and grave. He has come to deliver you from eternal death and grave. In His will and wisdom, that may not mean an easy life here at all. But it does mean that He will raise you up from this world of sin and death to life everlasting. Commit all things to the Lord, of course, including your needs of daily bread for this life; but know and rejoice most of all that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even in the midst of loneliness and isolation. Jesus promises: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:16–19).

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even in the midst of anxiety and fear. Hear His comforting, reassuring words: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33).

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even in the midst of sickness and disease. Illness and disease are the consequences of sin, but Jesus “Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

If disease should seek to harm you, Jesus’ words from our text are ultimately true for you as well, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” Jesus has overcome sin, sickness, and death. Even if illness should seem to have its way for a time, Jesus has the last Word. He will bring healing, if not in this life, then in the Resurrection.

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even in the midst of your burdens and cares. Hear His invitation and promise: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now! Offering Himself to you through His means of grace.

In the water and Word of Holy Baptism, He works the forgiveness of sins, rescues you from death and devil, and gives salvation to all who believe this as the words and promises of God declare. Hear His promise: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).

 Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

Hear His promise: “Take, eat; this is My body… Drink of it, all of you, for this [cup] is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26–28). In the bread and the wine of His Supper, Jesus offers you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and to strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting.

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

Hear His promise: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:22-23). Through His holy Word, He shows you your sins, calls you to repentance, and speaks to you His absolution through the voice of His called and ordained servant: You are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotions & Essays, Sermons

Jesus Sees a Man

“Christ Heals the Blind” by El Greco

Click here to listen to this sermon:

“As [Jesus] passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Have you ever noticed how John, in his Gospel, takes us into small personal encounters with Jesus? Rather than give us an overview of Jesus’ ministry, listing regions and various kinds of healing, John takes us into the heart of Jesus’ work, asking us to meditate on how He interacts with people. The last couple of weeks we’ve had Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Today, it is Jesus and the man born blind. In these moments, John offers us an intimate view of how God works, personally, individually, then and now in the world.

The story begins simply. “As He went along, He saw a man blind from birth.” Jesus sees a man. I would like you to stop and think about how profound this is. Jesus sees a man. Sometimes, it is so hard for us to see a person. We see things not people. We see the big house but fail to see the broken marriage. We see the nose ring but completely miss the lifetime of childhood abuse. We see fashionable clothes and perfectly applied makeup but fail to see the insecure girl looking for affirmation. We see things but do we really see people?

It is hard for us to see a person. When the disciples see this man, what do they see? They see a problem, not a person. Listen to what they say to Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Why? Why is he blind? Why was he born this way?” For the disciples, he is a teaching moment, an educational instance which has reduced this human being to a theological dilemma.

The disciples think they are practicing theology, meditating on great theological questions. Yet, their theology takes them away from the man. So, they stand at a distance, observing the man, but not seeing him. Talking about him but not with him. They don’t see him. They don’t touch him. They don’t put shoes on his feet or a piece of bread in his lap. They don’t grasp his hand and lead him to Jesus. They stand apart from the man and talk theology with their teacher.

For the disciples, this is a case study they can approach from an impersonal theoretical perspective. It is an attempt to answer the age-old question: Why? Why is there suffering? Particularly, why is this man suffering? Whose fault is it?

Notice how they are looking for a Law answer. They’re asking who did what sin to make this man born blind? Remember, the Law is all about what we do, and the Law is given to show us our sin. The disciples are asking a Law question and looking for a Law answer, which isn’t completely wrong. It’s just that Jesus isn’t going to give them a Law answer. He gives them a Gospel answer.

Jesus does something different. Jesus sees the man. And Jesus sees this man as part of a greater story. Jesus’ theology is practical, hands on, personal.

The disciples had written a story which was too small. It was a story of sin and punishment from God. This man was blind, so someone had sinned. Either he did or his parents did, and God punished the sin with blindness. I don’t know if you have ever encountered people who tell the Christian story this way. It is just a story about sin and an angry God. We become the morality police in the world. We are there to discipline rather than disciple. To root out the sin rather than save.

Jesus, however, sees this man as part of a much greater story. It does not begin with sin but with creation. It does not end with punishment but with restoration in Him. When the story begins in creation and ends in restoration, all the moments in between are filled with the works of God. God who comes to take His broken creation and fashion it into a new creation.

So, Jesus looks at this man and sees him as part of a greater story. Jesus says to the disciples, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in his life.” In other words, neither this man nor his parents did something sinful that specifically earned the curse of blindness. It’s just one way that the curse of sin shows itself in a sinful world. Bad things happen, and bad things will happen to you also from time to time.

But that’s only the beginning of the story. Christ has come to redeem the world, to reverse the curse of sin; and so, He is going to display His work and saving power by what He does for this man born blind. He goes on to say, “We must do the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am  the light of the world.” Jesus has come into this world to defeat sin, to bring light to dark places, to restore what has been broken by sin and its consequences.

Then Jesus stops talking theology and starts living it. It’s a bit of déjà vu. Jesus kneels on the ground and begins to create again. He spits and makes mud from the dust of the earth. Forming it. Putting in on the man’s eyes. And then He speaks to him and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. Jesus is obviously unaware of modern germ theory or the benefits of social distancing.

The One who recently said to the consternation of the religious elite, “Before Abraham was, I Am,” now shows just how far back He goes. He was there at the first creation, separating the land from the water, forming a world that was beautiful and fashioning beautiful creatures to live in the world. He was there forming the first man out of the dust of the earth and breathing life into him. The One, who was there at the original creation, has come into creation again and is going to work to restore His broken world. He will give sight to this man. On a cosmic scale, it’s just one small step toward making all things new; but for the man born blind it makes all difference in the world.

Jesus comes to make a difference. For that one man, for all people, for all of creation. That is His work. And He is willing to die to do such work. In fact, by dying He will do even greater things than these. Jesus did not come to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. He will capture our sin and condense it into His death and then He will rise to create new life. Life for this man. Life for you. A new heaven and new earth in which the former things have passed away, where there will be no more mourning, nor crying, nor pain, nor death, where God will wipe away every tear from every eye.

What a blessing for Jesus to reveal Himself like this today. How easy it is to reduce God’s story to sin and punishment; to see problems, not people. To take a colorful world and reduce it to black and white until the only thing people hear from the Church is sin and punishment, rules and regulations.

But Jesus comes today and gives us a glimpse of a much greater story. Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, you are dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ. You are not slaves to sin but children of God, servants of His righteousness. Jesus opens the door of His Father’s kingdom and gives us a glimpse of His greater work. He teaches us to live, not by the littleness of our minds (talking about people) but by the greatness of HHis kingdom, working with people “that the works of God might be displayed.”

Jesus sees the man. Jesus sees the man who is not able to go to work because he is considered “non-essential personnel.” Jesus sees the woman who waits on tables, who is now without an income for a yet undetermined time. Jesus sees the man who is anxious and upset about the future. Jesus sees the woman who is trying to figure out how to provide care for her young children while the schools and daycares are closed, and she needs to get back to work at the nursing home. Jesus sees the child who is overwhelmed by all sorts of frightening, mixed messages of doom and despair. Jesus sees the man who is grappling for the first time with poor health and with the realization of his own mortality. Jesus sees the woman who is worried what is going to happen to her vulnerable mother, father, or grandparents during a pandemic. Jesus sees the man or woman who must wrestle with difficult decisions that may affect the health and safety of his community. Jesus sees the woman feeling the loneliness of being shut-in and separated from her loved ones. Jesus sees the person and not just the problem.

Each of these people with each of their problems is an opportunity for the works of God to be displayed. It may or may not be God’s will to provide instant, miraculous healing. But it is always His will to give faith and life and salvation for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Though a diverse group, all these people share something in common. They all need Jesus. Like you and me, they are all sinners and suffer from the consequences of sin—directly or indirectly. They all need to hear of the God who loved the world so much that He sent His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. They all need to hear of the Messiah, who brings living water. They all need to hear of Jesus, who gives sight to the blind and light to a world swallowed up in the darkness of sin, death, and the devil. They all need to hear of the One who brings restoration and renewal and resurrection.

But you can’t help them without personally interacting with them. Loving someone includes praying for them and encouraging them with God’s Word, yes, but that is not the extent of our involvement. St. James urges: “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:22–24).

Later, he reminds us: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14–18).

One of the ways, the works of God are displayed in this world is through our acts of love. And do we ever have opportunities for this now! The man or woman not able to go to work for a while might appreciate a chance to put some of his or her talents and abilities to work. If you have a need and the ability to pay, offer them a job or project. The waitress who depends on tips for her income might need your financial help to get through the next few weeks. The woman who must still go to work might need help caring for her children. The man dealing with his own mortality for the first time needs a mature Christian to lead him through God’s Word for comfort and assurance. The civic or business leader who needs to make some important, difficult decisions can use your advice, support, and prayers. These are just a few examples of the many opportunities that God provides that His work might be displayed in us even in the midst of brokenness and confusion. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to see the people you may be able to help.

God’s work is always centered in Christ. We have gathered as the Body of Christ. We have received the Body of Christ. Now in our scattering, let us be the Body of Christ and seek Christ in our neighbor to serve Him. Go in the peace of Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. Christ has come and reversed the curse of sin. For His sake, you are forgiven all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

They’re Not All the Same

“Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well” by Guercino

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The text for today is our John 4:5-26, which has already been read.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Men. They’re all the same. That’s what life has taught the woman who makes her way to the well. She’s been married five times, and there’s no hint that she’s been widowed even once. That’s a tough run even by 21st-century American standards, and it must be nearly the record for the ancient Middle East. Now, she’s with a sixth, though they haven’t gotten married. Why bother?

We don’t know if she’s been picked up by a string of losers who’ve treated her badly, or if she’s proven so intolerable that she’s been kicked out for her own failings. Almost certainly, the truth is somewhere in between and the blame rests on both sides. In any event, marriage has not proven to be the way it’s supposed to, where husband and wife are working hard and serving one another.

“The way it’s supposed to be” is probably worth only a bitter laugh by now, because “the way it really is” has doubtlessly done great damage to this woman. Men. They’re all the same. They use you and they throw you away. Each failure leaving her a little less human in the eyes of others. She comes to the well wanting water but what she really needs is a word that gives life. What she needs is someone to restore her soul.

How does one restore a soul? A body can be healed. A surgeon’s hands can cut your flesh, open your chest, and reach in and actually touch your beating heart. But your soul… your soul is a different matter. It can’t be seen. It can’t be touched by human hands or examined. Yet, it feels the touch of life. Abuse that ends childhood too early. A miscarriage that abruptly ends one’s parenting. Divorce that rips a marriage apart. These things cut deeper than any surgeon’s knife. Touching your soul. Making it restless. Longing for life as God meant it to be.

The woman goes to the well at the sixth hour—a good time to go, I’m told, if you don’t want to meet anybody else. But as she draws near the well, there’s a tired man sitting there—just who she doesn’t want to meet. Another man. What does this one want from her? Perhaps He’s another predatory male, looking to use her. Or maybe He’s a moralist, who’s going to tell her how terrible she is. Of course, there’s a good chance that He’s going to ignore her. He’s clearly a Jew while she’s a Samaritan, and the two peoples don’t exactly get along.

But there He is, and as she comes close, He opens His mouth to speak. What does He want? A drink of water. He wants a drink of water. He’s sitting next to the well, but He doesn’t have a way to reach deep down and get any. Some man this is—weak, dehydrated, and unprepared. At this rate, He could die of thirst while He sits by the well, so close to water and unable to reach it.

She retorts, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” He must be pretty thirsty to be engaging her in conversation—if He’s like those Pharisees at all, it’s a blow to His pride and a violation of their code of conduct.

His response is a puzzler, though: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

“If only you knew who I am.” Uh-huh. Now, what kind of line is that? He’s thirsty and unable to get a drink for Himself, but He’s still got water to give away? Living water? What does this mean?

She challenges, “Sir, You have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock?” In other words. “Put up or shut up, Mr. Whoever-you-are.”

His response sounds even stranger than the previous one: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Now it’s not just living water but living water that quenches and enlivens forever. This sounds worse than the usual pickup line…except that she’s sort of beginning to believe it: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

But it’s then that He drops the bomb: “Go, call your husband, and come here.” She chooses her words carefully, shielding herself as she can. “I have no husband.” But He knows. The Man says, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” He’s caught her, exposed her greatest shame. In fact, He’s known all along—and He’s still offering her this living water. What does He want?

Here’s what He doesn’t want: He doesn’t want to take from her or take advantage of her. For once in her life, this woman finally meets a man who gives rather than takes. They’re not all the same. This man doesn’t want to force her into a corner to make her do His bidding. He doesn’t want to beat her down some more. He wants to give… oh, and what He gives makes her a child of God.

So let’s back up for a second. Why is Jesus sitting at the well, exhausted and thirsty? He’s sitting, exhausted, and thirsty, because He’s become flesh. He needs a drink of water because He’s become fully human with all of those biological frailties and weaknesses. It didn’t have to be this way. He could have stayed in heaven, where He would never tire or thirst. But He hasn’t. He’s become flesh and been born of Mary. That’s why He’s tired and thirsty.

He’s going to be more exhausted and thirstier soon. He’s going to be stripped, scourged, and nailed up on a cross. There, as one of His last seven words, He will say, “I thirst.” He’s going to suffer for six counts of failed relationships along with the rest of her sins and the sins of the rest of the world. That’s why He’s become flesh—to go to that cross and to die that death.

On the way to Calvary, He’s gotten thirsty and stopped by the well. He needs, and asks for, a drink of water because He’s taken on vulnerable flesh and blood in order to redeem this woman. But while His body requires hydration, He’s there to give her the greater gift. He engages her in conversation, speaking His life-giving Word in order give her faith and forgiveness. He restores her soul, not with a touch, but with His life-giving Word. The honor she finds in Jesus frees her to dare hope for salvation and a better day. “I know that Messiah is coming,” she says. “When He comes He will tell us all things.”

Jesus says to her, “I who speak to you am He.” Jesus is the Messiah, the long-awaited Savior! He’s come to give her living water—forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He gently warns her of her sins of immorality, because those sins will rob her of the forgiveness He gives. Rather than leave her in sin and death, He’s come to give. He’s come to give her and all who gather forgiveness, life, and salvation. This Man is unlike any other. He’s the Son of God in human flesh, come to save this woman, come to redeem the world.

Saviors. They’re all the same. At least, that’s how society looks at it. Truly, the popular view of religion is that all roads lead to God, so just pick the one feels like the best fit. Even within the Church, many Christians see all denominations as equally true, despite different doctrines, as if God runs a theological ice cream parlor where all the flavors are good. And it’s a sad fact that congregations often grow not by adding unbelievers, but by adding sheep from other Christian congregations who are looking for a change. It’s okay. Saviors are all the same.

This view is almost correct—almost, but not quite and therefore tragically wrong. Every savior in every religion—except one—comes to take something from you. Every savior of every religion, except one, demands that you give; and if you give enough, then you can be saved. Do good. Be sincere. Don’t violate the moral code. Tolerate. Don’t tolerate. Have lots of kids. Prevent overpopulation by not having kids. Serve a lot at church. Demonstrate in your community. Support holy war. Make sacrifices. Pray five times a day. Meditate until you achieve perfect nothingness. Put your knees on the prayer rug and then mail it back. Whatever.

That’s what saviors do: they show you what you need to do in order to please God. No wonder religions get lumped together these days, because they’re all religions of Law: do this, do that, and God will love you.

Except one. They’re not all the same. Christianity is different. Yours is not a Savior who gathers you at this well in order to tell you what to do or take from you. He’s the Savior who has become flesh to live for you, die for you, rise for you. He’s the Savior who gathers you here, to give you living water—to give you forgiveness and life and salvation. As He did for the Samaritan woman, He offers you the living water of His grace, requiring nothing from you.

Many are misled for one reason or another, because they don’t see Jesus as a decent Savior: they see Him nailed on a cross, wounded, and dying, and they want a more powerful Messiah than that. But that crucifixion is your salvation. It is the greatest testimony of God’s love for you that His Son would take on such fragile flesh and blood for the very purpose of sacrificing Himself in your place.

There are those who will object to the notion that Jesus requires nothing. “After all, He makes me give up sin!” some will say, but this is simply a misunderstanding. When a doctor saves a patient, we sometimes say that he’s given that patient life. No one would say that the patient has had to give up death. The doctor will tell the patient things to avoid which will cause death again; but he’s not requiring something from him. At that point, though, life has already been given to the patient, and the doctor simply wants to see it’s not thrown away.

Likewise, when the Lord gives us forgiveness and eternal life, it is not that He has made us give up death—He has removed that curse from us. Does He bid us to go and sin no more? Of course, because He wants us to remain alive! But He has already given us, and still gives, forgiveness and life as a free gift. Sin seeks to throw that gift away, and so the Lord warns against it. The living water remains a free gift of God.

And, of course, some will object because the teaching of Jesus as the only Savior is so narrow-minded. Why is Jesus so exclusive? Because He is the only Savior who gives instead of taking. He’s the only one who has given His life, shed His blood, died, and risen for you. No other savior has done all the work, so they require you to do it.

If you really think about it, it’s a bad sign when a god needs you to do the work. And if it’s up to you, what do you need a god for, anyway? Besides, don’t forget: you can never do enough to raise yourself from the dead. Jesus Christ can raise you from the dead, for He Himself has risen from the dead. Furthermore, He gives this life to you freely, no matter who you are.

What comfort this is, because no one gathers here unscarred, unscathed. There will be those who have been used or terribly manipulated by others. There will be those who sacrificed virginity for “true love,” only to find it over the next day. There will be those who tried to do everything to save a relationship, only to see another selfishly destroy their efforts.

There will be those who suffered for doing the right thing, or those who suffer regret for the wrong thing. There will be those who have been rejected, rightly or wrongly; and those who are haunted by past mistakes, weaknesses, and failings—not to mention ongoing mistakes, weaknesses, and failings.

The devil, the world and your own sinful flesh have a way of beating you down until you’ve got nothing left to give. They sap your strength and suck your soul dry. In reality, that is true of all of us; it’s just that those who have undergone such trouble, however, recognize it much more clearly than the rest. We all have nothing left to give.

So rejoice. That’s precisely who Jesus came to save—those who have nothing to give, nothing to offer. As He required nothing from the Samaritan woman at the well, He requires nothing from you to be His child. He knows the temptations that you have undergone, for He Himself was tempted—yet He remained without sin to be your Savior. He understands the frailty of your mind and body, because He was subjected to the cruelest of tortures. He has not become flesh to turn you away, but to live for you, die for you, rise for you.

And now, in His means of grace, He visits you, as present with you in Word and Sacrament as fully as He was present with that woman. He doesn’t come with demands, but with gifts. Jesus declares, “I have living water for you, because I thirsted in your place on the cross. I have life for you because I have died your death. I have innocence restored for you, because I have suffered your guilt. I do not demand that you give before I bless you with these things. The price is paid, and the sacrifice is over, and I come only to give this precious gift: you are forgiven for all of your sins.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Devotions & Essays, Uncategorized

A Strange Way to Save: A Devotion for LWML Pipestone Zone Board Meeting

“Moses and the Brazen Serpent” by Luca Giordano

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“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. One of the best known verses in the Bible. But not so many know the sentence that precedes it. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

This short, somewhat obscure reference takes us back to an event in the life of God’s people, the Israelites, as they journeyed in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt. Understanding that story will help us better understand who Jesus is and what He has come to do for us.

So what happened? Throughout the 40 years of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness God took care of them. He gave them bread from heaven to eat and water to drink. God had graciously provided for their every need, yet they became impatient. And the people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food” (Numbers 21:5).

The charge was untrue, of course. God made sure they had food and water. They were just discontent with what they had been given. They were ungrateful, forgetting that they had been rescued from slavery. God had provided for them every step of the way. But His provisions weren’t enough; they wanted something more.

To jar the people to their senses, the Lord sent fiery serpents among them. Those serpents bit the people, and many died. The people soon recognized that their sin had caused this disaster. They came to Moses and confessed and asked for relief, “We have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that He take away the serpents from us” (Numbers 21:7).

Moses once again acted as mediator between the people and the Lord. God had mercy on the people. He told Moses to make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole. He promised that anyone who looked toward it would live. So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he or she would look at the bronze serpent and live.

It’s a strange way to save somebody—set a serpent on a stick. Logically, that doesn’t even make sense. Looking at a bronze serpent on a pole cannot remove deadly venom coursing through your veins. It’s scientifically impossible. But if God says it can, it can. His Word has the power to bring about what He says. God spoke. He attached His promise to that bronze serpent and the Israelites looked to it in faith—believing that God would save them through the way He provided. Healing did not magically emanate from the coiled piece of metal but depended on faith in the power of God’s Word.

That brings us back to John 3:14-15: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”  

Jesus came to this world because deadly venom courses through our veins, too. It’s called sin. Adam and Eve, our first parents, were “snake-bitten.” Like the Israelites in the wilderness, God graciously provided for their every need, yet they turned against Him in the desire for something more than what He had given them. The ancient serpent, Satan, tempted them and they gave in, bringing sin into their lives and into creation itself.

The venom of sin has passed from generation to generation. You and I have it. It’s why our hearts are fill with so much hatred, pride, selfishness, jealousy, greed, and lust. It’s why we journey through the wilderness of this life often craving something more than God has graciously provided. We have a sin problem. We’ve inherited it and we commit it. This venom is deadly and it’s killing us.

But God has mercy on us. Immediately, after Adam and Eve sinned, God promised a Savior who would crush the head of the serpent, undoing the deadly consequences of sin, while He Himself would be bitten. This Savior, Jesus, the Son of Man, was lifted up to death on the pole of the cross. Just as the Israelites were saved from the venom of the serpents when they looked in faith toward the bronze serpent, so believers of all ages can look to Christ in faith and be saved from the spiritual venom of sin.

It’s a strange way to save somebody, but it’s true! On the cross, Christ exchanged His perfect righteous and obedience for our sin and disobedience. He redeemed us, lost and condemned persons, purchased and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with silver or gold, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, that we 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 is most certainly true!

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

That promise is for everyone! That promise is for you!

Sermons, Uncategorized

Behold the Man! A God Beaten

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This sermon is based upon a series written by Jeffrey Hemmer and published by Concordia Publishing House.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Behold the Man! A God Who Prays

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This sermon is based upon a series written by Jeffrey Hemmer and published by Concordia Publishing House.

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