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Who Was the Neighbor?

“The Good Samaritan” by Eugene Burnand

Click here to listen to this sermon.

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

Jesus told this story: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’

Jesus asked the young man who wanted to define “neighbor”: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:30-37).

A remarkable act of kindness!—especially from such an unexpected source!  

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

A young couple was at the hospital for the birth of their first baby when tragedy struck. The doctor had terrible news. The baby’s umbilical cord had twisted around her neck, depriving her of oxygen, and leaving her alive but with severe brain damage. “What can we do?” the parents pleaded. “I hate to even suggest this,” the doctor began, “but you could choose to do nothing.” “What do you mean?” they asked. “The damage is irreversible,” he went on. “Your daughter will be profoundly handicapped as long as she lives. If we do nothing now, she’ll die. You have to decide, of course, but that might be better for everyone.”

Not sure what to do, but wisely realizing it was a decision they did not want to make on their own, the young couple called their pastor and asked him to offer them some scriptural guidance in seeking God’s will.

Several hours later, a social worker stopped in. After gently expressing her sympathies, she came to the point. “I admire your decision to save your daughter’s life. Let’s talk now about what comes next. You realize, I’m sure, that she’ll have to be institutionalized. There’s nothing you’ll be able to do with her at home. It will just be too overwhelming.”

The little girl’s parents knew that it might become necessary to find help. But first, they thought, they would try to care for her themselves. “Dear Lord,” they prayed, “be with our Angela. Give her a life that glorifies you and give us the patience and strength to love her and give her whatever she needs.” They knew Angela already belonged to Jesus, for she had been baptized in the hospital the moment the crisis had been discovered. God had adopted Angela as one of His own dear children. Now, her mother and father counted on our Savior to continue to provide for His tiny sister.

It was more difficult than they could’ve imagined. More than once they wished they had taken the social worker’s advice. Special equipment, training, and countless trips to therapists were expensive and exhausting. And Angela was always different from other children. But they got help—their family was behind them, their pastor and congregation supplied spiritual support, and an endless stream of volunteers and fund-raisers.

In answer to their prayers, Angela did live to glorify God. Each day of her life was a precious witness to God’s grace. Oh, she would never be on her own, get a job, or raise a family. But she exuded joy and zest for life. She smiled, sang, chatted endlessly about Jesus… and those close to her knew that someday she’d also enjoy endless health and wholeness in heaven.

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

A young boy was going to school in the United States for the first time. He had been a good student in Mexico, but now his father had come to work in the States, and the boy knew almost no English, leaving him anxious and feeling very much alone. Ruben wondered how he’d know where to go, what to do. Even more, he wondered if anyone would talk to him or invite him to play with them.

The morning was all right. He sat in his desk with all sorts of things happening in front of him. He didn’t really understand most of what was going on, but then no one actually expected him to. Not yet. He’d catch on eventually, his father said before he left the house that morning.

Then came recess. Now everyone was running, playing, laughing, having fun—with their friends. Not Ruben. He wished someone would be playing soccer. He could do that without talking, probably better than most of these kids. These boys played American football, and they didn’t invite him to join them. He realized he didn’t know how to play, but it still would have been nice to be asked.

Lunch was worse. Ruben’s class went through the line together, but as soon as they got to their assigned table, Ruben felt alone again. Nobody seemed to notice as he looked for an empty seat. Someone must have said something funny, because everybody laughed, and one boy’s milk came out his nose—but Ruben couldn’t get the joke. So he sat at the very end of the table and just ate his lunch, wishing he could have had one of his mother’s home-cooked meals instead.

The afternoon dragged on. He spent most of the time daydreaming he was back with his friends in Mexico. Finally, it was three o’clock. A teacher led all the children to the front curb. Students piled into waiting buses and cars. What? There was no bus diez, the one Ruben had ridden to school in the morning! “Diez! Diez!” he shouted. The teacher didn’t understand. In a panic, Ruben wondered how he would ever get home.

“Ruben,” came a voice behind him. “I know where you want to go. You were on my bus this morning.” Ruben didn’t understand, but he went along as Joshua took him by the hand. “Bus 10 doesn’t go in the afternoon for some reason,” he tried to explain. “We take bus 32.” Ruben shrugged, but grinned, and took the seat by Joshua.

They went a few blocks and the bus pulled over to the side of the road. “That’s my stop,” Joshua said as the bus pulled out again. “I’ll stay on with you this time and get off on the way back. He makes a loop.” The bus ride went fast, even though neither one of the boys could catch much the other said. Then Ruben recognized his street. “Gracias!” he said as he got off. “See you tomorrow!” said Joshua. Ruben didn’t understand those words, either, but he understood the smile. Perhaps tomorrow would be a better day.

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

Trudy planned to celebrate her 83rd birthday on Tuesday, but she had nowhere to go. Age had robbed her of her strength and was slowly stripping away her mental capacity too, leaving her helpless in a nursing home. As she sat in her wheelchair, an attendant read a card aloud: “To my Mother: A son can never choose his Mom and perhaps that’s just as well. ‘Cause if each son could choose, I know you’d be one busy gal! Have a great day, Mom! You’re the best! Love, Dean.” “That’s so sweet,” the attendant said as she put down the card. “Be nice if he stopped by once in a while,” she thought to herself. “My Dean travels,” Trudy said. “Travels all around.”

The telephone rang. The attendant picked it up. A voice on the other end said: “Hi, this is Dian Wilson, Trudy’s daughter. Could you wish my Mom a happy birthday for me? We told her we were going to come by tomorrow, but it turns out we can’t. She probably won’t remember anyway, but if you could tell her. Thanks. We’ll send flowers or something. Thanks so much. Bye.”

“Diane just called to wish you a happy birthday, Trudy,” the attendant said. “Diane’s coming over tomorrow. Tomorrow’s my birthday, you know. I’m going to be 83,” Trudy said. Perhaps by the next day Trudy didn’t remember. Maybe she wasn’t disappointed that no one came. But when the noon meal was over and the other residents had all been wheeled back down the hall, she asked to stay in the dining room. The room was empty, quiet. For a long time Trudy sat alone.

Then, bouncing into the room came a pretty girl, about 13 years old, with enough energy for both of them. “Hi!” she said. “I’m Tara. I just started today as a volunteer. Are you Trudy?” Trudy nodded. “I hear it’s your birthday!” Trudy brightened up. “I’m 83.” But suddenly Trudy was 13 again, telling stories about that birthday. And as she spoke, you could almost see candles glowing in her eyes.

“Heh, just a second!” Tara said as she jumped up from the table. In a minute she was back, carrying a little dish of banana pudding topped with one flickering candle. “I think we need to have a party! Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Trudy, happy birthday to you…” Tara didn’t ask what Trudy had wished for when she blew out the candle.

Who was the neighbor? The one who showed mercy.

I was going downhill fast and didn’t even know it. Even before I was born, I’d fallen into the clutches of sin. My enemies—the devil, the world, and my own sinful flesh—beat me down mercilessly, leaving me spiritually dead. I was just lying there, helpless. Nothing I could do could save me. Neither could anybody else, because everyone who passed by me had been beaten by the same enemies. Each one was wrapped in the same selfishness, the same sin, as I was. Unless someone had done something fast, I’d have perished forever in hell. But then along came my Good Samaritan, who took pity on me, picked me up in His arms, and delivered me to safety. He even paid for my care Himself and promised to come back for me. Now, I’m bandaged, healed, and loving life.

Who was the neighbor? The One who showed mercy. Jesus!

The story of the Good Samaritan is actually every person’s story. But the story is not, first of all, about anything we are to do. That’s secondary. It’s really about what Jesus has done to save us in our need.

All of us by nature were dead in our sin and thus helpless to save ourselves. Seeing our great need, Jesus had mercy on us, and came down to us to bind our wounds and touch us with His healing power. Throughout His life, Jesus carried our burden of sin. In His passion, He was spit upon, mocked, stripped, whipped, and beaten mercilessly. Half dead, He was forced to carry His own cross to Calvary. On the cross, He paid the penalty for all of the sin of all the people of the world. Jesus purchased us and redeemed us, not with silver or gold, but with His own holy and precious blood.

In Baptism, Jesus picked us up in His arms and delivered us from death and the devil into eternal life. Then Jesus left us in the care of His Church, promising that one day He would return for all of His own. Until that day, Jesus left us to care for one another, to comfort one another with the oil of joy and wine of gladness. To show mercy to those in need. To love our neighbor as ourselves.

As members of His body, the Church, we look after one another in love. We continue to pick up fellow travelers who have robbed and beaten by sin. And Jesus continues to “come back” in His Word and Sacraments. Through His means of grace, our Good Samaritan lavishes us with forgiveness and daily care until, finally, He will return to take us to heaven.

Who is the Neighbor? Jesus. The One who showed mercy. In Him you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, for His sake, you are forgiven for all your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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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Sermons, Uncategorized

A Pair of Paradoxes

WordItOut-word-cloud-3844764Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load” (Galatians 6:2-5).

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

If you check out this text closely you might notice that it contains some apparent contradictions. Verse 3 says “Bear one another’s burdens,” but at the end of the same paragraph it says, “For each will have to bear his own load.” Then, in verse 4 we read, “Let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone,” but at the beginning of the last paragraph the author asserts, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:14). So which is it? Bear one another’s burdens or bear your own load? Boast in yourself or boast only in the cross of Christ?

We have here not a couple of contradictions, but a pair of paradoxes—seemingly self-contradictory statements that when investigated prove to be well founded or true. Such paradoxes emerge when St. Paul looks, as he sometimes does, at the same situation from two different angles. He looks first from the standpoint of the Law, and later returns from the perspective of the Gospel.

According to the Law, everyone will be judged by their own deeds, on his own work. So, before the judgment of God we only have our own works to boast in and not our neighbor’s. Not exactly comforting, is it? Considering our own righteous deeds are as filthy rags. Even our best works are marred by sin, selfishness, and impure motives.

But the Gospel shows us a wonderful exception. The one Man whose works are worth anything allows us to be judged based on His works, to boast in them, and so Paul happily concludes, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:14). So, under the Law we do bear our own load, an intolerable load, for who could shoulder the burden of their own guilt and carry it on earth, much less to Heaven? But under the Gospel, our Lord Jesus bears our load and frees us to help others with their burdens.

This is the picture of the Christian community we are shown, reaching back to Pentecost and the formation of the New Covenant people of God—burden bearers. The image chosen to describe the moral life of the believer is a graphic one. Each is carrying a burden (Galatians 1:2), and the burden is the obligation of the holy Law of God, or more precisely it is our inability to keep His Law.

One of the criticisms Jesus made of those who interpreted the Law of God for the people of His day was this, “You load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46). So, you imagine people staggering and stumbling under this moral weight.

From the times of the Old Testament stumbling has been an image of peril, especially moral peril (cf. Isaiah 59:10; Proverbs 4:16). Therefore, it is for each of us as we go our way: There is a danger we will crumble under a weight which is too much for us to bear and fall into peril of our souls. Law. Sin. Inability. It is all right there.

Then comes the invitation of Jesus: “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 11:28-29).

As Christians, we find ourselves still staggering under the Law, failing and falling. Then what? This is the next point for Paul. We need someone to help us to our feet. The lesson says we do it for each other. It is extraordinary that the Lord should have arranged it this way, but here it is. When one Christian topples under the weight, and falls into sin, then another believer, tottering in unstable equilibrium under the same burden, should be the one to help them up.

How is it done? We all know enough of the principles of mechanics to see how the one who acts as a crane to hoist up another must be strong. They must stand on solid ground, the moral high ground. Only from there could one venture to lift another. So, our text tells us everyone must find, “his reason to boast in himself alone and not in his neighbor.” Each of us must be up to the task and each of us must test our own work.

But you know this is impossible. Which of us could deem ourselves strong enough to be able to rescue another? We know if we even tried to point out the moral speck in our neighbor’s eye, we would be prevented by the log in our own. Inevitably there is no boast in ourselves. That was “Law talk” reminding us we stand or fall on the merits of our own lives in God’s judgment. Stand or fall? We all fall if we rely on our own virtues under God’s verdict.

We have nothing to boast about, except one thing. Like St. Paul, we can boast only in the cross of Jesus. And that’s good news! If you wanted something to boast of, what could be greater than this? As we look to the cross on which the Son of God gave His life, we know He did it for you and me. We did nothing for Him.

So long as the boast is only in Him and in His cross, God has a use for us. Despite the law of mechanics, God can use us to help one another in our weakness and stumbling. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). When one sinner falls under the burden of temptation, of a law which is too much for their frailty, whom should God appoint to aid them but another sinner. Would you rather not be helped up by a fellow sinner who knows what it is to stumble?

The New Testament letter to the Hebrews makes a telling analogy. “Every high priest chosen from among men,” it says, “is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness” (Hebrews 5:2). And so, St. Paul says, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).

Guess what: You are qualified for the job precisely because you have no qualifications for it—no moral greatness, nothing to boast about, except, of course, the cross of Christ. The point of the Hebrews’ analogy about the high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses is Jesus, our great High Priest. In every way He was tested as we are, only in His case without sinning (Hebrews 4:15).

But the point is not left there. Did you admit earlier, too, how in the case of your own collapse you likewise would desire the helping hand of a fellow sinner? God gives you just that. A righteous and holy Messiah in Heaven who is impervious to our temptations is no use to us in our mire. We need one who will enter it with us and for 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” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

We reach upwards to the helping hand before reaching down to offer one to our fellow Christian. We also look to the fellowship of the Church, to one another, to help us in our weakness even as we help others in their weakness.

Still, when someone stumbles into sin, there is a good chance that your first reaction will be, “I don’t want to get mixed up in that.” True, the Bible warns against busybodies who stick their noses into matters that are none of their business; but there may be times when you are in a position to speak to a friend who has stumbled. It may be the difficult chore of pointing out their sin, calling them to repentance. It may be encouraging one who has repented, standing by them so they know they’re not abandoned. Don’t be deceived, though—both are difficult tasks.

Paul also warns those who do such things, “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Dear friends, heed these words when shocked by sin. The same sinful flesh dwells in you, too, and you are perfectly capable of committing the same sins that shock you now, and church history is full of those who fell prey to the very sins they most denounce.

Paul emphasizes that those led by the Spirit will live connected to a community of fellow believers. A Christian at a distance cannot bear another’s burdens. A believer with no contact with others of the faith cannot restore another in “the spirit of gentleness.” An “isolated Christian” is a contradiction in terms. Pastors are right to admonish those who refuse to attend Christian worship and who refuse to work with their fellow believers. Indeed, pastors and other Christians must admonish those who choose to isolate themselves. Believers need each other!

An unnecessary side effect of the Reformation emphasis on justification before God has been a tendency to stress the individual at the expense of the community that God, by faith, has drawn together. The preaching of God’s Word, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper—the means of grace—are all corporate affairs. Paul explains in his letter to the Romans that Christian faith is not possible apart from the messengers who deliver the Gospel message (Romans 10:14-17).

For it is that Gospel message that is paramount. No wonder Paul says, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”

There is nothing we can do to save ourselves or contribute to our salvation. Nothing we can do improves our status before God. Sinners from birth, we are by nature lost and condemned creatures. We are blind, at enmity with God, dead in transgressions and sins. Such a situation requires a complete change. Or as the apostle puts it, “a new creation.”

And that new creation is what happens when we sinners come to faith in Christ. By faith we exchange our own filthy rags for the robe of Christ’s perfect righteousness. Clothed in Christ’s garments of salvation you are forgiven, at peace with God, assured of an eternity of bliss with God in heaven. Until that time, you spend your days on earth in cheerful service to the God who gave you all this by grace, freely as a gift. That is “faith expressing itself through love.”

All this has come to us through Christ and His cross. Well might we all resolve with Paul: “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” May we never boast in anything else; but always boast in the cross—and boast in it alone. For there we find forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, His sacrificial death on the cross, you are forgiven for all 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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Sermons

Are You Ready for the Journey?

“Jesus Goes Up to Jerusalem” by James Tissot

Click here to listen to this sermon.

As they were going along the road, someone said to [Jesus], “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” To another He said, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow You, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62).

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

A few years ago I read about a place called “Eden by the Sea.” A Lutheran pastor and his wife started a ministry in which they invite pastors and their families to come to Hawaii for a time of rest and relaxation. They have some very fine accommodations near Waikiki beach with canoes, surfboards, and snorkeling gear. They even serve a romantic candlelight dinner.

When I suggested to Aimee that this might be a nice place to go for our 25th anniversary, she said she’d have to think about it and get back to me.

No, that’s not true. She was very receptive. She thought it sounded like a wonderful way to celebrate 25 years of marriage. She’s always wanted to go to Hawaii. So, I contacted Lynda Mueller and made reservations. We had two years to save money and plan. And twelve years ago this July, we headed on a journey to Hawaii for a wonderful second honeymoon!

But what if I would have made this proposal to Aimee? “Aimee, I’ve made up my mind, no matter what you say I’m not going to change it. I’m going on a journey. I want you to come along with me. I can’t give you very many details, so you’re just going to have to trust me.   

“What I can tell you is that the journey’s not going to be easy. You can expect many hardships and sacrifices. We’ll have to walk or hitchhike. I haven’t saved up any money, so we’ll just have to rely on the generosity of the people that we meet along the way. I’m sure that somebody will let us stay with them.

“By the way, you’re going to have to leave everyone else behind—our kids and grandkids, our family, friends and co-workers. You may never see them again. And since we need to get going right now, there really isn’t any time for us to say good-by. You should also know that a lot of people won’t be happy having us around. Some will even threaten us with bodily harm. I won’t fight back, and I know for a fact that they’ll put me to death. But I’m going anyway. You can’t change my mind.” Do you think she would be going with me?

What about you? Are you ready for such a journey? It would have to be a fantastic destination to be worth it all, wouldn’t it?

But that’s very much the kind of proposal that Jesus lays before those who would be His disciples in our text as He sets His face to go to Jerusalem.

The phrase, “He set His face” sounds strange to modern ears, but it alludes to Jesus’ prophetic role. For God to “set His face” against a person, city, or region is for God to show His wrath. The opposite is for God to “make His face shine on you and be gracious to you” (Numbers 6:25). But here Jesus “set His face” to go to Jerusalem, not to show wrath or mercy to Jerusalem, but to face and overcome all temptation and opposition that would turn Him aside from traveling to the cross.

In Ezekiel, we are told that God made the prophet’s forehead as hard as flint so he could endure the hostility of rebellious Israel (3:8-9). In Isaiah, the Suffering Servant says: “I offered my back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting. Because the Lord Yahweh helps Me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set My face like flint, and I know that I will not be put to shame” (50:5-7).

Jesus, the Suffering Servant, “set His face to go to Jerusalem.” He is resolutely determined to go to the cross, fully aware of the torture and humiliation involved. He trusts in eventual vindication by the Father (Isaiah 50:8-9), and He knows that the cross is the only way to obtain salvation for humanity.

To reach Jerusalem, Jesus proposes to journey through Samaria, but the messengers whom He sends ahead of Him get a hostile reception. James and John ask Jesus if they can “tell fire to come down from heaven to consume them.” Clearly, they do not understand Jesus’ mission as the Messiah. He Himself will “be baptized” with the fire of heavenly wrath (Luke 12:49-50). His mission as Messiah is one of mercy and compassion, not of condemnation (John 3:17). Punishment of those who reject the Gospel will come at Judgment Day. Rather than lash out, Jesus simply moves on to a different village.

Along the way Jesus is met by some who wish to join Him. The first comes as a volunteer promising to “follow You wherever You go.” It is a bold promise, but Jesus dampens his zeal by warning him that he doesn’t know what he is asking. That is the meaning of Jesus’ answer: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

Jesus wants this man to count the cost of following Him. The path may look appealing as the crowds sing Jesus’ praises. But like enthusiastic troops marching off to war on a sunny day with bands blaring and crowds cheering, Jesus’ followers will soon find the cheers turning to the big guns of enemy opposition and the sunshine replaced by cold rain and muddy battlefields.

The Son of Man, while destined for glory, must first take the lonely route of suffering and rejection, culminating at the dead end of a despised cross. He calls His disciples to follow Him on the road of service and self-sacrifice. The way of discipleship always means putting the kingdom first, last, and all the time, and letting God attend to the rest.

Did this man follow Jesus? We are not told.

What about you? If you had been in that man’s position, what would you have done? Are you ready for the journey with Jesus?

The second man is asked by Jesus to follow Him. While the first man was over-ready and had to be cautioned, this man wants to delay and join Jesus later. “Lord, let me first go and bury my father,” he says.

Jesus’ answer is puzzling, and purposely so: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.” At Jesus’ time, the Jews considered burial a religious rite which took precedence over everything, even reading God’s Word. But Jesus is saying that the Gospel is so important, it takes precedence over all family ties and worldly cares.

So, do you think this man stayed with Jesus? Would you have stayed if you had been in his shoes? Are you ready for the journey with Jesus?

The third would-be disciple, like the first, thinks that following Christ means that he must make the offer on his own initiative, as if it were a career he had mapped out for himself. There is, however, a difference between the first would-be disciple and the third, for the third is bold enough to stipulate his own terms: “Let me first say farewell to those at my home.”

Jesus’ answer shows the futility of the man’s offer: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” It makes little difference to what part of the worldly life the heart looks back with longing and is unable to tear itself away, the effect is always the same: not fit for the kingdom.

Do you think this man followed Jesus after hearing His Word? What would you have done in his place? Are you ready for the journey with Jesus?

These are hard sayings. They dare not be interpreted in isolation from the rest of Scripture. In these statements Jesus is obviously making a strong statement to get across the point He want to make for all who would follow Him: you will need to be ready to make sacrifices. To be a disciple of Jesus means to be ready to reorder the priorities of this earthly life. The way of new life requires staying on the hard road of pilgrimage that leads to the cross, through death, and finally to resurrection. It calls for an unhesitating departure from ties to the old life, even ties to family. The family that matters, says Jesus, is the family of God.

Luke does not record the responses of the three would-be disciples in this text, suggesting that more important than the question of whether they heeded Jesus’ words is your response. Are you ready for the journey with Jesus?

An honest examination of our own discipleship will show that we often have failed. At various times, we have been just like the three would-be disciples. We have eagerly volunteered for service but have failed to count the cost. We have made excuses for not being able to follow Jesus when and where He wants us.

I personally can relate best to the third man, the one who wanted to be Jesus’ disciple, but only on his terms. It was January 1, 1995. I was planning for the coming year as a Lutheran Brotherhood representative. But I felt the tug to go into the pastoral ministry. On that day, I prayed two prayers: “Lord, I really enjoy my career with Lutheran Brotherhood, but if you want me to go to the seminary, let me know. If you have to, make me miserable enough to know that I should move on.” I also gave God another option: “Lord, if you’ll only come through with $12,000 so we have a little financial cushion, then I’ll go to the seminary.”

Neither one of these is a proper prayer. As disciples of Christ, we are in no position to bargain with the Lord. God is under no obligation to keep such an agreement. I might also add a word of warning here: you should always be careful what you pray for. You might get it!

From that day on, my life got miserable. The business that had been going along well suddenly dried up. We barely had enough money coming in to pay the bills. But God does have a sense of humor. After I finally committed to going to the seminary, He provided for our family very well. Less than a week after we put our house up for sale it was sold. And guess how much money I earned the last month I sold insurance? You’re right! $12,000. I dare say, more than I’ll ever make in one month for the rest of my life.

 It’s a good thing our journey of discipleship doesn’t depend on our faithfulness but on Christ’s. He already completed the trip for us. He “set His face” and went to Jerusalem, never once looking back. He died on the cross in our place, exchanging His perfect obedience and righteousness for our sin and disobedience. He rose again from the dead, and because He rose, we know that while suffering and the grave are still steps in our journey, they are not the end of the journey. In Christ we have been given the gift of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.

We follow Jesus in faith by His grace. Discipleship is not our work; it is Christ’s work in us. He calls us through His Word and Sacrament. In Baptism He makes us His own and baptizes us into His death and resurrection. He makes us His disciples and calls us to journey with Him to the cross.

In Holy Absolution, He grants us remission of all of our sins. By His Holy Spirit, He increases in us true knowledge of Him and of His will and true obedience to His Word, to the end that by His grace we may come to everlasting life. In His Holy Supper, Christ gives us pardon and peace, and strengthens us in service to Him as He feeds us His very body and blood.

Through each of these means of grace, Christ calls you to follow Him on the journey of discipleship. He equips you for the journey and promises you Paradise as your eternal destination.

Are you ready for the journey with Jesus? You most certainly are! Jesus gives you everything you need. For His sake, you are forgiven of 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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Declare How Much God Has Done for You

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The Swine Driven into the Sea
“The Swine Driven into the Sea” by James Tissot

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The King Was Dead; Long Live the King!

“St. Peter Preaching at Pentecost”
by Benjamin West

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

If you read the bulletin carefully, you may have noted the title of this sermon: The King Was Dead; Long Live the King! It is a slight variation on the traditional proclamation made following the accession of a new monarch to the throne: “The king is dead; long live the king!” This seemingly contradictory phrase is used to simultaneously announce the death of the previous monarch and assure the public of continuity and governmental stability by saluting the new monarch who has immediately assumed the throne at the moment of the predecessor’s death.

In this case, I’m using the past tense on the first phrase to emphasize an important point that Peter makes in his Pentecost sermon: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it” (Acts 2:23-24).

The King was dead. God raised Him up. Long live the risen King!

The sermon itself is both short and extraordinary. It proclaims Jesus Christ to people who do not know Him. Oh, they know about Him, but they don’t really know Him. They don’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Peter, standing with the eleven, lifts up his voice and addresses the crowd: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

Peter reminds his fellow Jews of something they already know: God had acted through Jesus and His miraculous signs. Those works, says Peter, were God’s certification that Jesus came from God and did God’s work. Those works bore witness that Jesus’ message was God’s message. They attested to the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah, Israel’s hope, the King of the Jews.

“But you put Jesus to death,” Peter charges. “You handed Him over to the Romans to be crucified, a horrible, cursed death, reserved only for the worst of criminals.” Yet none of this could have happened if it had not been “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” The men who crucified Jesus were responsible for what they did. But their sinful actions served God’s purpose to offer His Son for the sins of the world, an essential part of His plan of salvation.

Peter’s words are a hard saying. God’s people had rejected and killed God’s Anointed One. But “God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for He is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For You will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; You will make me full of gladness with Your presence.’” Filled with joy and hope, David is confident that as one of God’s “holy ones,” the Lord will raise him up on the Last Day and he will enjoy eternal life with His Lord.

But this prophecy will not have its final fulfillment in David. “David rested with his fathers and was buried in the City of David” (1 Kings 2:10). If his tomb had been opened, it would have shown that his body had decayed. But before he died, God had promised David: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish His kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12–13). Every Jew knew that that “offspring” is the promised Messiah, and Peter invites them to conclude that the “Holy One” whose body would not see decay is also the Messiah.

To make sure they do not miss the point, Peter goes on more specifically: “[David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:31-32).

David had prophetic knowledge that His holy descendant would rise from death. Peter and his fellow apostles had firsthand knowledge, historical knowledge. They had seen the risen Christ, spoken with Him, eaten with Him. More than five hundred people had seen the resurrected Lord at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6). “God has raised this Jesus to life.” The King was dead; long live the King!

“God has raised this Jesus to life” was the heart of the message the apostles preached in all of the world and the one they recorded in the New Testament. It is the foundation of our faith. Jesus’ death was the sacrifice for our sins, and God raised Him to life to declare that the sacrifice was accepted. He died to destroy the devil, and God raised Him to life to declare that hell has been defeated.

The King was dead; long live the King!

Jesus’ ministry and reign continues and will go on forever. What the crowd is seeing at that moment is a manifestation of this. “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”

The people put Jesus to death, but God exalted Him to His right hand. That is, Christ exercises the power of God and enjoys the honor of God. What He had from eternity according to His divine nature He now has and uses according to His human nature as well. As such, Christ has the authority to send the Spirit to testify about Him and to equip His apostles to testify about Him (John 15:26-27), to guide them into all truth (John 16:13).

Notice that all three persons of the Trinity are mentioned here, separately and distinctly, a wonderful text for this Sunday of the Holy Trinity.    

Again Peter quotes David, this time from Psalm 110:1. “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.”’

David did not ascend to heaven, so his words must have their ultimate fulfillment in Him who did ascend. Just as Psalm 16:8-11 was a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection, so this verse is a prophecy of His exaltation. The Lord promises to give His Son victory over His enemies. That is the meaning of the picture of the footstool, for it was the custom of victorious kings to place their feet on the necks of those whom they conquered. God has given Jesus power and authority to subdue our greatest enemies—sin and death and Satan. The Son of God hid His power when He came as a servant. Now the work of redemption is completed and God has exalted him to His right hand.” The sending of the Spirit is a sign that this is so. The final manifestation of this victory will occur on the day of judgment.

Peter closes strong: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

The King was dead; long live the King!

The Holy Spirit does His work through Peter’s sermon. He brings the people to realize that they have earned God’s judgment. They don’t say, “We didn’t crucify Him.” They don’t say, “He is not the Christ.” They don’t not say again, “You have had too much wine.” They are cut to the heart and ask: “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Can you imagine what would happen if they asked if they asked that question of anybody else on earth? You could pick any time in history, any place on earth. What would people say if they were asked, “What shall we do?”

What if we asked that question of the great religions of the world? Those to the west of Jerusalem would mostly say one must live the most pure and devoted life possible, so in the final judgment the good deeds might outweigh the bad ones.

Those religions to the east of him might warn that the repercussions of their guilt would take many generations, many lives to purge. But little by little one can strive to redress the evil with acts of love or meditation or simple suffering, and finally there could be escape from it.

We could turn from religion to philosophy. Pose the question to the existentialists of the last century and perhaps they would tell you how killing the Christ is an inevitable part of the human condition, and finally nothing can be done, except in the choices one makes and the person one is becoming.

Ask, if you like, the man in the street, what can be done to compensate for our wrongdoing. Mostly you will hear how one should do one’s best, live the best one can, and try to get over the destructive sense of guilt.

Ask a Muslim and, of course, he’ll say Jesus was never actually crucified.

If the men of Jerusalem had asked their question of anyone else, the answers would all have this in common: they would tell you to look within yourself and to make your very best effort to be the best you can. They would probably never say, “You can do nothing, but something can be done to you.”

This is exactly what Peter says: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Confronted with the truth of God, already the hearers were cut to the heart. They did not reach the conclusion of themselves. The Law of God worked within them, accusing them and condemning them, and bringing them to repentance. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, to illuminate the Law in human hearts and minds and, “to convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

This, however, is no cure. To know the problem is not to solve it. So, Peter goes on, “Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” This is where the answer Peter gives stands apart from what anyone else would be able to offer—the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter’s advice is not to go and do something, but that something must be done to us. Namely, to be baptized. The action here is entirely from the Triune God towards us, and this is what sets it apart from every religion and philosophy as Gospel, good news, as opposed to religious obligation.

St. Peter’s words also apply to us. Not, of course, that we have crucified Christ, save for our sin and our treasonous heart, for which He died. So, crucifying Christ is the crime of humanity, not just of history. I daresay most, if not all, of the people in attendance that Pentecost had no direct part in Jesus’ crucifixion. Yet Peter told them, “You did it.” They were spiritually implicated, and so are we.

But just as the condemnation embraces us even now, so too does the remedy and the promise. There are two aspects of the promise, in particular. The one is forgiveness of sins. The second aspect is tethered to it, as Martin Luther says: “Where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation” (Luther’s Small Catechism). This is what Peter says: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So not only is sin removed, something is also given. In your Baptism you received the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is to say, the gift that is the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, has made you His own and knows you by name. He will return in glory for judgment—to declare you righteous for His own sake and to deliver you to eternal life. In the meantime, by the work of the Holy Spirit, your King returns in His Word and Sacraments to forgive your sins and keep you His.

The King was dead; long live the King! Because of His cross, you are forgiven for all 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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Built on the Rock the Church Shall Stand

Trinity Bulletin Cover

Our theme for the 125th anniversary of Trinity Lutheran Church is “Built on the Rock the Church Shall Stand,” based upon the hymn of the same name. Admittedly, it is not a very original theme—other congregations, including this one, have used it before—but it is hard to think of a more appropriate theme. Trinity Lutheran Church in Jasper, Minnesota is built on rock. The building itself literally rests on the quartzite rock that is so abundant in the area. The foundation of the church building is made of this rock. More importantly, Trinity Lutheran Church in built upon the Rock, Christ Jesus Himself. He is the foundation of His Church of which this congregation is a part, and we are to build upon Him and His Word. Throughout her long history, the faithful pastors and parishioners of this congregation have proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners in this community—in good times and in bad.

As I write this article, news has just come out of a huge fire at the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. While it seems they were able to save most of the structure and contents, the roof made of wood dried by the centuries was completely burned up and destroyed. The steeples and spires crumbled and fell. Regarding this catastrophe, one of my friends, Kelly Klages, reflected:

Preserve and conserve what you can. Don’t assume that what you take for granted will always be there, especially if it is neglected and unvalued. It takes the blink of an eye for a fickle bit of wind to change, and the effects can be devastating and irreversible. Say no to apathy. This is especially true for the things of faith. It is true for your own church and your own congregation.

This advice seems especially fitting on the occasion of Trinity’s 125th anniversary. Early in its history, this congregation experienced a devastating fire that destroyed the entire building. But within months, the people of this congregation had already built and dedicated the structure that we worship in today. It is important to look back and preserve the history and memories of a congregation and its people. We cannot assume that this church—the building or the congregation—will be around forever. But it is even more important is for us to remember why Trinity Lutheran Church was founded, why it was rebuilt, and why it continues to serve God’s people in this community.

Just before He ascended to the Father’s right hand, Jesus gave His disciples a mission and command: “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). The Church of all times and all places is sent out to share the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ with the world, beginning at home. Toward this end the Lord gives us His Word and Sacraments. As you can see from the lists of baptisms, confirmations, Christian marriages, and Christian burials, the pastors and people of Trinity have been diligently at this work throughout the years. Many souls have been brought into the kingdom of God through water and Word. Many men, women, and children have been nurtured in the faith through God’s Word preached and taught in its purity, and many repentant sinners have received Christ’s body and blood given in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion for the forgiveness of their sins.

When you look back at the pictures from the history of Trinity, it might be easy to wistfully desire “the good ol’ days.” You see the pictures from the days when the pews were all full and the Sunday School and choir were bursting at the seams. You see pictures of young men and women who have moved away. I know it’s easy to think of that as Trinity’s loss, but I prefer to think of it as the kingdom’s gain. Many of those young men and women have gone on to be active members and leaders in other congregations across the state, the country, and even in different places in the world. Much like parents raise up their children to be responsible, godly adults so they can one day leave the nest and establish their own home, this congregation has raised up many men and women who serve the Lord and their neighbor in other locations in the ways that were taught and had modeled here at Trinity.

As for the future: How long will Trinity Lutheran Church be here? Nobody, but God knows. That’s true for all of us. But we do have Christ’s promise that as long as He sees fit to have His name proclaimed in this location, He will be with us. “Were we but two His name to tell, Yet He would deign with us to dwell With all His grace and favor” (LSB #645, v 3). We are not called to certain achievements or earthly goals; we are simply called to be faithful. Let this, then, be our prayer:

Grant then, O God, Your will be done,
That, when the church bells are ringing,
Many in saving faith may come
Where Christ His message is bringing:
“I know My own; My own know Me.
You, not the world, My face shall see.
My peace I leave with you always.” (LSB #645, v 5).

In Christ,

Pastor Robert E. Moeller, Jr.

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The Gracious Heart of Jesus

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[Jesus said:] “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (John 17:20-21)

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

According to John, it was the last thing Jesus said in the upper room on Maundy Thursday. After teaching His disciples many things about Himself, the world, and things to come, Jesus concludes His last evening with His disciples in prayer to the Father. And He concludes His prayer with the words in this text. As the saying goes, you can learn a lot about a man by listening in on his prayer. I would submit to you that you can learn so much more listening to the prayer of a man who knows that he will soon die.

And Jesus is headed to meet His death. In the next verse after our Gospel, John tells us that Jesus goes with His disciples across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas, who betrays Him, leads a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees to meet Jesus and to arrest Him.

What can we learn about Jesus through this prayer? It helps to pay close attention to the details. Notice that in these final petitions, Jesus isn’t praying for the world. Neither is He praying for the disciples. No, in our text, Jesus is praying for those who would believe in Him through the apostolic Word. In other words, He is praying for you, me, this congregation, the whole Church.

What does Jesus ask the Father? What does He want for (and from) us who follow Him? We find that in three clauses in verse 21: “That they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in you, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”

Jesus first prays that all believers may be one just as Jesus and the Father are one. That’s really close! But that’s not all. Jesus also prays that these believers would be “in us.” In other words, Jesus doesn’t only desire for His people to be close to each other, but also close to Him and the Father. Indeed, the only real unity is unity around and in the triune God. Those first two clauses beginning with “that” help us understand the content of Jesus’ prayer.

But the third clause, the one that begins “so that” does something else. It is a purpose clause, and it points to the ends of this unity. Jesus desires that, through Christian unity, the world might believe that He was sent by the Father. Note that Jesus doesn’t pray for the world directly. Instead, He prays for the world through the unity of His people. The unity of the Church is a witness to the world. It is fundamental to the Church’s mission.

But an honest reflection would show that Christian unity is lacking these days. There’s the fragmentation of the Church into so many denominations—even so many church bodies that claim Lutheran heritage. There’s the biting and devouring that takes place between members of our own denomination. Closer to home, we may find the temptation to think only of our own congregation’s wants and ignore the need of the larger body of Christ. Or a lack of concern individual members of our congregation have for one another. Each of these hurt our Christian witness to the world. But they also hurt our fellow saints.

In a most perverse way, the devil will use affliction to tempt you away from God. We should know better: it was the afflicted and downtrodden whom Jesus especially sought out, who most joyously heard His Word because they knew this world only breaks you eventually. Sometimes, the hits keep on coming in the form of sickness, injury, financial loss, family troubles, grief, and more. Satan will use them to make you curl up in a ball in the corner, to turn your face to the wall—to separate yourself from sadness. That’s where isolation happens—divided from Christ and His body, the Church. The devil works hard at this one, because he knows how comforting the Gospel will be if you hear it at such a time. Remember that the Lord is your strength, and it is in His means of grace that He delivers grace and life to sustain you—even in the worst of trials.

This is a time when Christians often fail each other: when people are afflicted, the temptation is to leave them alone—because we don’t know what to say, we want to “give them space,” or because being with sad people makes us uncomfortable. The same is true for those who, because of health, can no longer make it to church. It’s a lonely existence. The inaction of others leaves the one who suffers isolated and alone—and the devil will use that to convince them that they are separated from God, too; that they are no longer part of the “one in Christ.” The Lord uses us as His hands and voice: let us not cease in visiting and caring for those who are in deep distress. And let’s not be afraid to let others know our needs.

If Jesus is all about restoring oneness, then the devil is going to be all about fostering division. That is what sin does: it divides. It shatters. It fragments and isolates. Plenty of sins divide and separate. Pride will have you alone on your pedestal, considering others below you and not worth your time. Greed will have you gather possessions to yourself, not friends or family. Lust will have you view others as objects to be used, not as fellow people for whom Christ has died. Many sins entice you to hide in a room with your sin, all alone. They work to destroy friendships, marriages, families, and congregations by division and subtraction.

All of that separation is awful enough, but it distracts us from what is worse: sin separates you, divides you from God. It keeps you unholy, and an unholy you cannot be one with your holy Savior. If you cannot be one with Him, all that is left is the ultimate, eternal separation of death and hell

It’s a problem that’s been going on ever since the Fall in the Garden. The Bible tells us that the first Church was in perfect unity with God and with one another. Adam and Eve were perfect, sinless, and holy. Furthermore, they were created in the image of God. Because God is righteous, they were righteous too. They reflected His glory. Furthermore, they could be in His presence. They could walk with God in the Garden. They could look upon His face. There was no shame, no guilt that would make them run away and hide.

Sin changed all that. As soon as Adam and Eve fell into sin and heard God walking in the Garden, they ran and hid from Him. When He asked what they had done, they blamed Him and each other. They were no longer one with God. They would no longer be as one with each other, because they would always have selfish, ulterior motives in dealing with one another. Because of their sin, God cast them out of the Garden, away from the tree of life—but not before He promised that the Savior would come and deliver them from death and devil. The Savior would come and reverse the curse of sin. He would bring people back to God by removing their unrighteous sin and make them holy once again.

The Savior is Jesus, the One praying in the Gospel. Remember what happens next: Jesus will be arrested and hauled out of the Garden of Gethsemane. He’ll be put on trial and sentenced to death for being guiltless. Then He’ll be taken from the city to the Place of the Skull, and He’ll be crucified.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they were driven from the Garden of Eden because of their sin. When the Passion of our Lord begins, He’s removed from a garden, too—because of His holiness. Where Adam was sentenced to death by God because of His guilt, Jesus is sentenced to death by man because of His innocence. Where God grieved at the sin and separation brought about by Adam, man rejoices to be separated from the Son of God when He dies on Calvary.

Jesus is undoing what Adam did. He’s taking Adam’s place to undergo Adam’s punishment: not just physical death, but far worse. He’s fully forsaken by God on the cross. That’s what it means when He cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The Son of God—one with the Father from eternity—suffers the ultimate separation from oneness with the Father. In other words, He suffers hell on the cross before He is restored to His Father again.

All of this lies less than a day away as Jesus prays this prayer; and listen again to what He prays about you: “That they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (John 17:21). Jesus prays that you would be one with God and one another again, like Adam and Eve before the Fall into sin.

 In His prayer, we get a glimpse into the gracious heart of Jesus. Not only does He desire unity in the Church and unity with God. He does what it takes to make it happen. You see, there’s only one way for that prayer to be answered, and that is for Jesus to suffer the ultimate separation from God in your place. That’s what the cross is about. For Christ, separation and condemnation. For you, redemption. Restoration. Reconciliation. One with God and one another again.

Look around you here, and you will see a miraculous gathering of people. Not many in numbers, certainly; but more than that first two-member congregation. The Lord Himself has gathered you together, and it is He who keeps you together—who keeps you one with one another, His whole Church, and Himself. And He tells you how He does in our Gospel for today.

In His prayer, Jesus calls you “those who believe in Me through [the apostles’] Word.” He’s given you His Word, and His Word makes and keeps you one. Faith comes by hearing His Word, which He gave to us through His prophets and apostles. His Word is the means to gather us together, and His Word is His means to keep us together, one in Him. That is why we gladly repent of our sins of ignoring His Word in favor of our sinful, divisive desires.

Jesus has given you His glory. He prays to His Father, “The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one.” The glory of Jesus is foremost the cross, for that is the ultimate act of love for us, that is where we best see the gracious heart of Jesus.

Jesus has given His cross to you and it didn’t hurt you any more than three quick splashes of water. In Baptism, Jesus joined you to His cross, His death and resurrection. Without that, you’d have to die your own death for sin, isolated from God forever. But because He’s shared the glory of His cross with you, you are now one in Him. That is why we gladly repent of our sins that would separate us from His life and lead us death, for Christ has opened to us the way of salvation.

Furthermore, Jesus prays, “I made known to them Your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus has made His name known to you: He has made known to you that He is the Savior of all nations, forgiving you all of your sins. He’s put His name on you—marked you as His own! You are not left as individuals trying to find your way to an unknown God through any variety of religions. And with His name, the Lord has also made known to you His will. He tells you that He has gathered you in, forgiven your sins, made you one with Him by His sacrifice. That’s why we gladly repent and confess our pursuits of other gods that cannot save, including our own desires and wishes, for salvation is found in Christ.

Jesus has given us His Word, His glory, and His name. It is in these gifts that we best see the gracious heart of Jesus for you and me. It is by these gifts that He has made us one. It is by these gifts that He keeps us one.

I give great thanks this day, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, to be united in Him and with you. This is all the Lord’s doing, and so you can be sure: you are one with His body, the Church, and one with Christ: for His Word, His glory, and His name are all summed up in these words: 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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