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Look Who’s Talking: Sermon for the Sanctity of Human Life

From conception to birth and beyond, all life is beautiful! This video includes visual imagery of sperm meeting egg, zygote, embryo, fetal development and babies doing amazing things during ultrasound including 2D 3D and 4D ultrasound up to birth. truly, #lifeisbeautiful

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

Last week, Aimee and I stumbled across Look Who’s Talking, the 1989 romantic comedy, starring John Travolta and Kirstie Allie. Allie plays Mollie, a single woman living in New York City who becomes pregnant during a brief affair and decides to raise her baby as a single mother. Travolta is a cab driver who takes the pregnant woman to the hospital, ends up witnessing her son Mikey’s birth, and then becomes increasingly involved in their lives. Bruce Willis provides the voice-over for Mikey, Mollie’s son, who offers humorous commentary on life from his perspective beginning from conception and going through the first year or so of his life. Through special effects, we get a realistic peek (at least for the day) into the developmental stages of a baby in the womb from conception through birth.

In our text, Psalm 139, David gives us a similar perspective of life—though much more poetic and introspective—as he meditates on God’s attributes: His omniscience, His omnipresence, His omnipotence, and His holiness, how God was involved intimately in our creation, how He knew every detail of every one of our days, even before our first one came to be.  

David’s words can be a little frightening because you quickly realize God knows all about you! He knows where you are, what you are doing, what you’re thinking, and what you’re going to say even before you say it (v. 1-4)! You also realize that there is no place you can go to escape this all-knowing God. “Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence?” David asks rhetorically (v. 7). It is almost like Psalm 139 is God’s version of George Orwell’s 1984 poster, “Big Brother Is Watching You”!

But God is not watching you as some “Big Brother in the sky” but as your Creator. God knows you because He made you. “For You formed my inward parts,” David says, “You knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (v. 13). There is a progression here. God created you, your very essence, and then wove or knitted a covering for “you”—your body. You were uniquely “you” at the moment of your conception. Your genetic makeup, your “inmost being” was there.

We know, of course, that God does not have tiny little knitting needles that He uses inside a uterus. However, guided by the Holy Spirit, David poetically paints a picture of God’s intimate and delicate involvement in the formation of life from the moment of conception. It’s not hard for me to imagine the strands of individual DNA being interlaced, the muscles, nerves, and veins being plaited and interwoven within the tiny human body.

Weaving or knitting is delicate work. It takes concentration to make sure the right strands go in the right place to produce the pattern that will lead to a recognizable whole. The scarf that your grandma knit is not only beautiful because of the amazing pattern of the woven threads, it is beautiful and valuable because of the hands that made it. Your life is beautiful and valuable, not only because of the miraculous complexity of your body, but because of the hands of your Creator.

David is awed by the contemplation of this: “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well” (v.14). Do you know very well how amazing and miraculous you are? It doesn’t matter what you look like, or how good you are at math, or whether all your parts still work! You are the work of God’s hands! Don’t ever question your value!

David goes back to God’s intimate knowledge of us. “My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (v.15). The metaphor for the womb, “woven in the depths of the earth,” recalls that God shaped us as He shaped Adam, and that we, too, are dust and to dust we will return (Genesis 2:7; 3:19). David’s point is clear: God knew us even before we were born.

This thought is repeated in verse 16 with an addition: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there none of them.” God not only knew you while you were being formed inside your mother, but God also had a plan and purpose for your life! It just makes you want to say, “Wow!”

That’s how David continues. “How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I could count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and am still with You” (v. 17-18). Just think about it: you are always in the thoughts of God! You have been from before the very beginning of your life. God knows you because He was intimately involved in your formation.

That brings us back to the idea that God is watching over you. Yes, He sees and knows everything you do and that’s not always good! But don’t be afraid! God has provided a means of forgiveness. His Son, Jesus, took our place from the very beginning. He, too, grew and developed in the womb of His mother, Mary. He lived a perfect life in our place. Then He took our sins upon Himself and suffered and died in our place on the cross. He satisfied God’s justice and endured the punishment for sin for all people for all time—including you! Through faith in Jesus, whom God brought back to life from the dead, you are seen by God as holy and pure. No, it’s not frightening to think about God knowing and watching you. In fact, it’s very comforting. As the work of His hands, you are precious to Him!

In addition to describing so amazingly God’s involvement in human life from the very beginning, Psalm 139 also provides a platform upon which to face a terrible reality: Not everyone sees the preciousness of human life in the womb. There are those who favor invading this “knitting room” of God and killing the life God creates there. Abortion has been around so long that many have become desensitized to what it really is and does. Even many Christians ask, “What’s so wrong with the right to choose?”

It all depends upon what is being chosen. Everyone knows that this phrase is not referring to a woman’s right to choose a new dress or new shoes. It refers to choosing an abortion, the intentional taking of an innocent human life. It’s a biological fact that a genetically unique human life begins at conception. The heart begins to beat at around 24 days. Brain waves can be recorded at 43 days. Movement begins at 45 days. By eight weeks every organ is present and functioning. The rest of the time in the womb is spent in further growth and development. It is important to know that it is not something that is killed in an abortion. It is someone, someone God created and redeemed.

But that little one knitted in the womb is not the only victim, here. The “right to choose” deeply affects those who take part in that choice. Abortion has physical, emotional, and spiritual effects on the women and men involved. It is not as harmless and casual an event as many insist. Someone dies in an abortion. Someone else is deeply wounded. This is important for us to remember: The still living victims of an abortion choice who regret their part in such a choice, also need to hear the Good News of forgiveness and life available for penitent sinners in the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even as you champion the value of each human life, make sure you share the Gospel!

David’s pondering words also have applications to sanctity of life issues involving biotechnology. When stem cells are taken from a human embryo, a human being, a little girl or a little boy, dies. This is fundamental biology and yet it must be denied by those favoring embryonic stem cell research.

It is denied in the “size” argument. “The embryo destroyed for its stem cells is smaller than the period at the end of this sentence,” they will argue, as if the value of a human life is determined by his or her size. But every human being, including anyone using that phrase, was once that small. Regardless of size, it is someone not something that is destroyed when embryonic stem cells are taken.

The humanity of the embryo is denied in the “therapeutic” argument as well. “Embryonic stem cells hold the potential to cure devastating diseases,” we are told. This is a true statement although there have been no cures to date, and none are really expected for a decade at least. But even if a cure were found tomorrow, killing human beings to cure human beings is not a moral option.

The humanity of the embryo is also denied in the “good as dead” argument. This is the argument that even some who claim to be “pro-life” have used. “These embryos in fertility clinics are going to die anyway. Why not use them to preserve life in others?” But we don’t talk about harvesting body parts from inmates on death row or little girls and boys with terminal cancer to preserve life in others.

Beware of being led astray by such rhetoric. We are better served and serve better when we are tuned to the poetry of God. “For You created my inmost being; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). Every human life is hand-crafted by God Himself. That gives it priceless value, no matter at what stage, what condition.  

In 1920, two German physicians published a book called The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life. In it, they argued that “death assistance” should be extended to “empty shells of human beings” such as those with brain damage, some psychiatric conditions, and mental retardation. They argued that money spent to care for “meaningless life” could be better used by those socially and physically fit. History demonstrates that such thinking led to brutal Nazi experiments and death camps, forced sterilization programs in some European countries, and radical “eugenics” movements in Britain and the United States.

The value of human life does not depend upon what someone is able to do or not to do. God creates life. God made the first two human beings in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Even though this image was lost when sin came into the world, this original, lofty position still gives value to human life (Genesis 9:6).

First, when God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28), He set in motion a biological process for procreation. But God is still involved in this process. Remember: You are handmade by God! Everyone is. Whether you are an embryo growing in a womb, a young man in his prime, or a grandma in a nursing-home bed—every human life has this God-given value.

Second, God redeemed human life. God loved what He had made with His hands so much that He sent His Son to pay the price to buy all human life back from sin and death. You know what that price was. It was not with “silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Every human being is a human being for whom Jesus Christ died. The embryo in the Petri dish, the child with Down syndrome yet to be born, the young woman who is brain damaged, the man or woman worn down by the guilt and shame of a previous abortion decision, the elderly man with Alzheimer’s disease, have all been bought with a price. That price gives them value regardless of their stage of development or their condition.

Finally, God gives special value to those He calls as His own. God’s grace given in Baptism flows to the infirm as well as to the healthy, the mentally retarded little girl is as much a child of God as the pastor who baptizes her. Value comes from what God can do in and through His children, not from their capabilities. We minimize God’s power when we say He cannot be at work in and give value to the grandma who has lived 95 years but no longer remembers her family.

An elderly pastor living in a nursing home struggled each day to care for his wife, who has lost virtually all physical strength and the ability to communicate. Despite these troubles, her husband visited with her each day, recalling the life of love and commitment they still shared. They little realized that their simple gestures were carefully and thoughtfully observed by a young man working at the nursing home. The couple’s loving interaction moved the young man to consider dedicating himself to the pastoral ministry.

“Why is God keeping me around?” “The quality of Grandma’s life just isn’t what it used to be.” You may have said similar things. Take note: such statements reflect a view of the value of life based on people’s abilities rather than on God’s ability. Assigning value to human life based on mental or physical capacity can lead to the foreboding conclusion that maybe there is life not worthy of life. But this is not so! All life is worthy of life because God makes it so.

This psalm gives a clear answer to today’s controversy about the value of human life and when life begins clearly condemning abortion and other assaults on developing children. And yet, this psalm, above all, proclaims God’s love, which He expresses in His personal care and involvement in all of His creation. God’s knowledge, power, and presence were manifest most fully when He Himself assumed our substance, with a human body knit together in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and grew up to bear in that body God’s wrath for sin at the cross.

David recognizes that without forgiveness he too would fall under the wrath of the holy God. So, he circles back to the beginning of the psalm, closing not with pride but with humility. We would do well to end the same. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (v. 23-24).

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. 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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The Voice of the Lord Is over the Waters

“The Baptism of Christ” by Guido Reni

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“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty” (Psalm 29:3-4).

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

A common theme of our Psalm, Old Testament reading, and Gospel for today, the Baptism of Our Lord, is the mention of the voice of the Lord over the waters. The creation event begins with the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters. In addition to creation, the Psalm speaks of the Flood where the powerful voice of the Lord was over the many waters He used to cleanse and recreate His world. In the Baptism of Jesus, we see the waters of the Jordan and the presence of the Spirit in the form of a dove as the voice of the Lord speaks well of His beloved Son. Together, our readings provide a beautiful picture of what God has done in restoring His creation through His Son. Christ has come to make all things new (including you and me), and water and Word and the Spirit are used for His new creation just as it is was for the original.

Let’s look at this a little closer.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. It’s interesting how the first two verses of Genesis read. God the Father is there, creating everything out of nothing. He’s not alone, either. The Spirit of God is present, too; and we know from John 1 that the Son of God is present, because all things are made through Him. So, the account of creation begins with the presence of the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It’s worth also noting the first created thing that’s specifically mentioned. You’ve got an earth that is without form and void, and then you’ve got water. The Spirit of God is hovering over the face of the waters.

God goes on to create, and He creates by speaking. “Let there be light,” He says, and there’s light. He’ll soon call for dry land and seas, and there they’ll be. Likewise, sun and moon, plants and animals, birds and fish. He’ll take extra care in making man and woman, but He’ll speak all the same to create them. It’s a phenomenal miracle, this way of creating through the voice of the Lord. Our words, at best, are simply informative. They can give information, but they can’t cause anything to happen. But the voice of the Lord is different. When God speaks, His Word is effective or causative. He causes things to happen simply by speaking. He creates things simply by commanding them into existence.

And what He creates is good—and good means “holy” and “perfect.” When God declares something to be good, He means that it couldn’t be better—it is just as He designed it to be.

But then we all know what happened to this good creation. The voice of the serpent slyly asks: “Did God actually say…?” (Genesis 3:1). With a few words, the devil tried to undo everything God did. He tried to destroy Adam and Eve and all the birds and trees and fish and land. But the devil is not God. The Lord is able to call things that did not exist and bring them into creation with His voice. The devil cannot. As hard as the devil tries, he can’t just dissolve us away into nothingness. But the devil was able to mess up all of creation a bit. He was able to twist this perfect creation into something that looked a little more like him—a world wrenched with disobedience, people filled with thoughts of only themselves, men and women whose lives will ultimately end in death.

In Luther’s explanation of the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, he says, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses” (Luther’s Small Catechism, p.15). This is true. Our loving Father has done all these wonderful things for us.

But as fallen creatures in this world, we could almost add a little something about what the devil does. “I believe that the devil has tried to destroy me and all creatures; that he has given me my cancer and my heart attack; he has given my eyes lust for pornography, my ears a love to hear gossip, and all my members he has plagued with wicked actions. My reason has been plagued by madness, and my senses slowly fail as this body of mine sinks closer and closer to death.”

Luther never wrote that creed. But as people who have been made by God, we must also admit that we have been twisted by the devil into things God never intended.

What has happened to God’s creation is so sad. How sad that His beautiful creation, His perfect people have been twisted into what we are. And God aches over this world and what has happened. He really does. God cries over what has happened in creation. God weeps every time we sin. The angels shudder every time we forget God; the saints cry when we forfeit life for death.

And so, Jesus came to be baptized in the Jordan.

The Baptism of Jesus has a lot in common with the creation of the world. God is present there. The Son stands in the river, baptized. The Spirit of God hovers about the waters as He descends upon Jesus like a dove. The voice of the Lord thunders over the waters: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The presence of the triune God there is astounding. Creation is no longer good but corrupted by sin and dying. Rather than kick creation to the curb, though, God tears the heavens open and enters creation to save.

He saves by His own sacrifice, and that’s what the Baptism of Jesus is about. There’s no reason for Jesus to be baptized for Himself. Baptism is for sinners, and Jesus isn’t sinful. But He’s baptized with all those sinners because He’s taking their place. He’s going to bear their sins and their infirmities to the cross, and that journey begins in earnest at His Baptism.

He saves by speaking—speaking His powerful, effective Word that makes things happen. Usually when Jesus heals somebody, He does so merely by speaking. One might say that when Jesus heals, He is creating. He is creating health where sin has corrupted flesh, and He is creating life where death has put people into the grave. Why does Jesus do these miracles? There are a few reasons for the miracles He performs, but perhaps the most important is so that you may know He has the power to forgive sins. See, when Jesus says to someone, “I forgive you,” that’s His powerful, effective Gospel. By His Word, He takes sins away. He creates faith and makes life. The voice of the Lord makes sinners good—perfect, sinless, and holy in the eyes of God.

That is why you rejoice in your Baptism, no matter how long ago it took place. Like Jesus’ Baptism, your Baptism also has a lot in common with Genesis 1.

The triune God—who created the heavens and the earth—was present at your Baptism for you. You were baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit;” and the Lord Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). The Lord was there. But rather than just zap you with His grace, He worked through means as usual—just like He uses the sun to channel light to you, He used water and His Word to baptize you.

The Spirit of God was present at your Baptism to wash away your sins, to give you forgiveness, faith, and life (Titus 3:5, 6). The Son of God was there, joining you to His death and resurrection, saying, “You don’t have to die for your sin because I’ve already died for your sin” (Romans 6:1-11). The Father was there, too; and for the sake of His Son who went to the cross in your place, the voice of the Lord goes out. He says, “You are My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” For the sake of Jesus, you are now a son of God and an heir of eternal life.

In your Baptism, you were born again. You are now a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16), because the same triune God who created all things in the beginning went to the cross to redeem His creation. Then He went to the font to create you anew. He drew that close to forgive you, specifically and personally. Nor has He left to watch from a distance. It is no coincidence that when Jesus instituted Baptism in Matthew 28, He promised, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Having created you anew, He sustains you with His Word and His Supper until He delivers you from this corrupted world to life everlasting.

So today, we celebrate not just Jesus’ Baptism, but we also celebrate that we have been united to Jesus through Baptism. Jesus has placed all of you in the water of Baptism, pulled you out, and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Your bodies are now remade. Your bodies won’t just be filled with cancer; they will be filled with My body, which promises you an Easter resurrection. Your souls do not have to lust anymore; now you can long for a life lived in Me. Your ears are now new; they will be used to hear My Word and to crave hearing the Good News of salvation. And your senses, even though they will slow and fail as death approaches, will tingle on the day of resurrection as all My children are raised from the dust of death to eternal life.”

Through water and the Word God created all things, and now through water and the Word you have been remade. God hasn’t abandoned you. He hasn’t forgotten the pains you have. He has called you to be new people in Him. And you are. You are new. You are forgiven. You are now alive, even though you were dead. In Christ, you will live even though you will die. The devil has tried so hard to destroy God’s creation, but he has failed. He has failed because God has not abandoned you. God has not left you. And God never will.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters. The sound of His voice brings forth creation, shakes the mountains and trees, and unleashes the great flood that destroyed the earth. Left to ourselves, we sinners might be destroyed by the power of the Lord’s holy, powerful voice. Yet “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God came to us in Jesus to speak His love and grace. In Baptism, the voice of the Lord is over the waters, flood and voice combine to cleanse us. Hearing the gracious voice of the Lord, we join heaven and earth in praise.

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness. The Lord sits enthroned as King forever. May the Lord give strength to His people! May the Lord bless His people with peace! Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy! You are forgiven for all your sins. How?

In the name of the triune God who created all things: 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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Have You Found Jesus?

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And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him.

“Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing Him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for Him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for Him. After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. And when His parents saw Him, they were astonished. And His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You treated us so? Behold, Your father and I have been searching for You in great distress.’And He said to them, ‘Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?’ And they did not understand the saying that He spoke to them. And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And His mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:39–52).

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

There’s a cartoon that makes the rounds occasionally. Two clean-cut men in dress pants, short-sleeve white shirts, and ties are standing at the open door. They ask, “Have you found Jesus?” The woman who answers the door replies, “We’re Lutherans. We never lost Him.”

But Mary and Joseph did!

It was the annual feast of the Passover, the feast that celebrated the redemption of the people of Israel from Egypt. It was the most important of the Jewish festivals, and the Law required all males to attend. Mary and Joseph and Jesus went up to Jerusalem as was their custom.

At the conclusion of the Passover feast, Mary and Joseph headed back to Nazareth, evidently thinking that Jesus was among the group of pilgrims traveling together. But at nightfall the boy was nowhere to be found. A frantic search began for their missing son, one which ended three days later when Jesus was discovered in the temple courts. These courtyards surrounded the temple sanctuary and were used as a place for instruction and study of God’s Word.

Jesus was making quite an impression on the crowd that had gathered. Here was no ordinary boy; His questions and answers showed superior knowledge and understanding. Mary and Joseph were also astonished—and a bit perturbed—when they found Him. This is evident from Mary’s words: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.”

Any parent who has suffered the trauma of a missing child can well imagine what Mary and Joseph experienced. How guilty Mary must have felt for failing to keep closer watch over this son entrusted to her care by the Lord.

The words Jesus speaks to His mother here are the first recorded in any of the gospels. Mary had asked Him a question. He responds with a double question: “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” In other words, “I wasn’t lost. I was right here, where I was supposed to be, at My Father’s house. You were just looking for Me in the wrong places.”

And isn’t that true for you and me, as well? The times when it seems we can’t find Jesus, isn’t it always because we’re looking in the wrong places? Places He has not promised to be?

Some look to Mysticism, the belief that direct knowledge of God can be attained through subjective experiences of God or something godlike. Mysticism, then, is nothing more than the worship of your emotions.

You know the problem with that. Emotions are volatile and unreliable. One minute you’re on the top of the mountain; the next, in the bottom of the deepest, darkest valley. Emotions can be manipulated and manufactured with savvy marketing and psychological tricks. Mysticism says you will find Jesus in your heart. But all you ever end up finding if you look there is yourself—your own sinful desires, your own insecurities, your own self-justification.

Emotions are a wonderful gift of the created world. God made them for us. They are part of being human. But there is an enormous difference between believing feelings are a gift from God and believing feelings are God. Feelings can be good, but feelings are never the Gospel. Rules and traditions, methods and disciplines that teach that your emotions are the source of God’s revealing of Himself to you confuse Jesus Christ with you. As exciting as those kinds of promises might sound, ignore them.

Another avenue to which people turn to look for Jesus is Moralism, the belief that access to God can be achieved through self-improvement. The fascinating strategy of Moralism is that he does not tempt you with evil. Instead, he tempts you with good. With your own fondest dreams, with all your best aspirations for a more perfect world, Moralism promises that you hold in the works of your hands the power to make it all come true. No future possibility is too great. There is nothing you cannot achieve.

Eventually, you’ll find yourselves falling into one of Moralism’s two dangerous ditches. Realizing you can never measure up to your own standards (let alone, God’s standards), you may fall into despair, give up trying altogether. Or, perhaps even worse, you may fool yourself into thinking you’re getting along quite well. But even if that were somewhat true, Moralism means you’re trying to clean the outside until it is spic-and-span in the hopes that a shiny exterior will help you  forget that on the inside you are full of curses and bitterness (Romans 3:14).   

Moralism promises you will find Jesus in the works of your hands. But God is never found in what you do. God is found in what Jesus has done for you with His birth, His life, His suffering and death, with His glorious ascension, and with the current preaching of who He is and what He has done for you.  

Another place people mistakenly look for Jesus is Rationalism, the belief that contact with God can be found through the clarity of your observations or the consistency of your logic. Rationalism, then, is nothing more than the worship of reason. It is the belief that the ritual of test and trial will lead to an Enlightenment of all mankind.

We see this today in the elevation of science. “Trust the Science,” we are told. “Don’t be a Science denier.” Now, don’t get me wrong. Science is a good gift from God. The pursuit of knowledge has provided many advancements in quality and length of life. But science is not the answer to all questions. And it makes a poor god, when Science is elevated to the be-all and end-all to all our problems.

Rationalism pushes aside any question of good and evil for pragmatic answers that serve its own purposes. The sad reality is, all science aside, Rationalism will believe anything so long as God did not say it. Postmodern people are willing to believe human life was seeded on earth by aliens billions of years ago. They are willing to say that boy are girls or girls are boys if that’s what they want to be, that life in the womb is only a human baby if it is wanted. They tell stories about how one day man will merge with computer and overcome the grave altogether. Postmodern rationalists will even believe the “secret” that the universe is made up of an energy field holding all things together, which you can manipulate by focusing the thoughts of your mind.

Rationalism, in the end, is anything but reasonable. All these outlandish things are believed, taught, and confessed in the human search for a reasonable explanation for our problems. On this quest, we are no longer merely discoverers but creators. We are the shapers, the makers of our identities, the authors of the future that ought to be, the definers of the image of God. But see. Now, we’re not talking about reason, logic, or science at all. Now, we’re just making stuff up and calling it “true.”

Many seek Jesus in Prosperity. Prosperity is the belief that the way God feels about you is measured by how good your life is right now. Prosperity, then, is nothing more than worship of health, wealth, and success—what was summed up in the New Testament by the name, Mammon (a Greek word for money), a symbol for all forms of idolatry, which is rooted in the coveting of the things of this world.

Given all the bad press of Mammon, we’ve dressed her up and changed her name to Prosperity. And she is more dangerous than ever!

Where Moralism, Mysticism, and Rationalism have certainly wreaked havoc on society, not to mention on authentic Christian spirituality, they were never quite free within the confines of churches. For every Christian scholar whom Rationalism convinced to dismiss biblical inerrancy or the historicity of the Bible, there were five good men who refused to allow such rubbish to be preached from their pulpits. But today, it no longer so. Prosperity has waltzed right into the churches and pastors and laity alike have rushed to embrace her.

Prosperity, is the devil’s same old lie, only packaged more seductively. If she came out and preached, “You can find God in all the many material things of this world,” most people would look at her like she was crazy. “Of course, you can’t find God in stuff. That’s silly and superstitious. My iPhone is metal and plastic. If God exists, He is somewhere else, cheering me on and planning how to help me get the next iPhone as soon as it comes out.”

Outright lies never work as good as half-truths. So, Prosperity doesn’t have to come out on national TV and say something as audacious as “Give Jesus a try for forty days and see if He doesn’t give you health, wealth, and purpose” before you can know she’s taken the lead. You can spot her even when she’s playing it cool and saying nothing more than “Hey! Look at me. Don’t you want to be like me?” It’s always the same enticing tease that, against all odds and contrary to all human history, you can find total, unlimited, safe, health, wealth, and positive energy right here, right now. You can live your dreams. You can make it last.

“That’s right. The Bible says so. You can do all things through God who strengthens you,” her disciples say, twisting Scripture so much out of context that you need to look for a chiropractor.

It should never be a surprise to Christians when we see the world going after such things. What other hope do the children of this age have than to get as much out of this life as possible? But what should surprise us—what should upset us—is to see a vast majority of American “Christian” churches preaching this same utopian quest as if an abundance of wealth and success in this world was the central message of Jesus and His Scriptures. Even the best secular PR agents in the world couldn’t honestly spin that kind of message out of the Man who taught His disciples that friendship with this world is enmity with God (James 4:4).

The lust for Prosperity does funny things to people, and churches are no different. Caught up in the desire to enjoy her company, we imagine that once we get there, once people see us with her, we’ll be even better at winning friends for Jesus. Our congregation will grow like gangbusters!

“It’s all for Jesus and His mission,” we tell ourselves. For even the best of us, this means doing anything we can to hang around with her. If it means selling out an old conviction here or a cherished notion there, then so be it. With a few vague words about “the Spirit’s leading” and “having a heart for Jesus,” an entire congregation—even an entire church body—can willingly jettison their whole history and system of beliefs in hopes of being the one Prosperity smiles at next. Infatuated with dreams of a better experience in this life now, we forget why we are here in the first place. We forget we aren’t here to fit in. We are here precisely because we do not fit in. We’ll never be the popular guys.

We are aliens and strangers (Ephesians 2:19). We will never fit in. If we ever see that we’ve started doing the same things everyone else is doing, and saying the same things everyone else is saying, then we’ve done anything but become all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:22). We’ve become nothing to no one but ourselves, a shadow cast by the image of the world, when we were supposed to be a city of light set high on a hill (Matthew 4:14).

All human attempts to find Jesus on our own, all of our experiences, all of our studies, all of our sociology and strategy, every new or old measure and excitement, every single thing in this world cannot bring an unbeliever to Christ. Only Christ can bring a man to Christ, and Christ has spoken about how He plans to do that.

Do you want to find Jesus now? Then don’t look for Him within yourself or the things of this world. Believe His words: I baptize you (1 Peter 3:21). Take, eat. Take, drink. I am here (1 Corinthians 10:16). I am the Word made flesh (John 6:55). I am the source of living water (John 4:10). I am the Bread from heaven (John 6:51). I am your root, your portal, your rebirth (John 15:1; 10:9; 11:25). I am with you always (Matthew 28:20). Where two or three are gathered in My name, I am among you (Matthew 18:20).  

Have you found Jesus? He’s never been lost, you know. He’s right here where He has promised to be. In His Word, preached and heard. In Holy Baptism, the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. In His Holy Supper, where He gives you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Through these means of grace Jesus comes to you with His gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy! 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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A Lesson in the Art of Dying

“Presentation at the Temple” by Giovanni Bellini

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the Law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel’” (Luke 2:25-32).

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

A man of mystery waits in Jerusalem. We don’t know that much about him. We don’t know his age or occupation or marital status. We do know his name is Simeon. He is righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel. In other words, he is part of a remnant of Israel, faithful men and women, who are still looking for the coming of the promised Messiah, the One who will bring comfort and hope to God’s people.

Simeon is Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. The word Spirit is used three times to accent the revelatory character of Simeon’s words. The Spirit is upon him. The Spirit reveals the promise of seeing the Messiah before he would die. And the Spirit leads him to the temple as Mary and Joseph bring Baby Jesus to present Him to the Lord on His fortieth day (Luke 2:25-27). Since the Holy Spirit was with Mary (Luke 1:35), Elizabeth (Luke 1:41), and Zechariah (Luke 1:67) at moments of great revelation, this places Simeon in the select company of those who early on receive or announce the presence of God’s salvation in Jesus.

Seeing the Child, Simeon takes up the infant in his arms and praises God with the song commonly called the Nunc Dimittis. We continue to sing this song as part of our communion liturgy and in our Vespers service. “Lord, now you are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

Simeon is not really making a request of the Lord—he is making a statement of fact, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace.” Simeon’s service in the temple as a watchman waiting for the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises is at an end. The watch is over; the servant can depart in peace. With the eyes of faith, Simeon sees more than a Babe in arms; he sees salvation for all people. Whatever might happen in his life from now on, no matter how long that may be, he can depart in peace according to the Lord’s Word.  

What would it take for you to depart in peace? I am not talking about exiting the worship service today (although I pray that is the case for you). Neither do have I in mind finally leaving behind 2020. I am talking about dying. Unless the Lord returns first, you and I will depart. Some of us sooner than we may expect. We need to be ready. In this way, we need to become like Simeon. Having seen the Lord, he was ready to depart in peace. His song may be the perfect tune to lodge in your ears and hearts on this first Sunday after Christmas. We will consider it today under the theme, “A Lesson in the Art of Dying.”

In the fifteenth century the Black Death killed up to 60% of Europe’s population. A genre of devotional literature arose called ars moriendi (art of dying). People needed help getting help ready to die. Robert Kolb notes that these works were “…designed as tools for both parish priests and laypeople… that could be used, especially during a plague, to guide the dying to a spiritually satisfactory departure from life.”[i]

The medieval instructions on “the art of dying” before the Reformation presumed believers had to remain uncertain of their salvation to the very end. It was thought to somehow be conceited and arrogant to be sure of your salvation. This is, no doubt, related to the false understanding that man is at least partially responsible for his salvation by good works.[ii]  

Luther’s teaching on the justification of sinners by grace through faith brought about profound changes in death culture. He sought to comfort the dying with the assurance that God’s promise, based on Christ’s work, has restored them to God’s favor. He emphasized that when God promises to be the gracious and forgiving Father of a sinner, He will remain true to His promise.[iii]

To be sure, in line with his distinction between Law and Gospel, Luther proclaimed judgment upon the baptized who were indulging in sin, who were living in impenitence. He afforded them no word of Gospel and grace. But the repentant could without doubt trust in the faithfulness of Christ, who had died and risen to bring them to a life of trust and to the gift of salvation.[iv]

I have (here) an English translation of one of these works. The Holy Art of Dying was written by Martin Möller, a German Lutheran pastor during the late 16th century. Dr. W.H.T. Dau describes it well in his review of this work: “A book of this kind can never outgrow its usefulness in the Christian Church. The sad subject with which it deals is an ever-present reality with mortal men. And Möller is a most excellent companion to the dying Christian. The theology which was able to produce this book three [now four] hundred years ago would obtain scant recognition in our day among ‘theologians.” It is not scientific. Nor is death, nor hell, nor paradise. But this book exhibits the practical habitude of the mind to understand and to apply to men in their sorest needs the correction and comfort of the divine Word, which only God can bestow and which alone constitutes a person a theologian.”[v]

Möller uses a series of questions and answers, Bible passages and simple prayers, to prepare his readers [and us] “to live like a Christian and die [a] blessed [death].”

Let me give you a brief example:

“2. What, then, is a Christian life?

“A Christian life is that a person rightly learns to know God the Lord and himself.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24; Psalm 76:1; Exodus 20).

“First, God the Lord, that He is one God in His essence (Deuteronomy 6:4), and three-fold in persons (Matthew 28:19), namely, God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Psalm 67), and that of these three persons the middle one, the Son, was sent into this world, took human nature to Himself, and became our Savior (John 17:3; 1:14).

“Next, each person must rightly learn to know himself, namely, that we are poor, great sinners in God’s sight, and must be eternally lost (Exodus 20; Ezekiel 18:20ff.) if we are not converted, believe in Christ, become new men, and from the heart serve God and our neighbor unto our end.”

And then he closes with prayer:

“O one, eternal, almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, threefold in person and one in essence! I pray Thee, teach me rightly to know Thee and myself, grow daily in such knowledge, so that I may employ this my brief wretched life in praising Thee, serving my neighbor, and not being eternally lost myself, but live a truly repentant Christian life in Thy sight. Amen.”[vi]   

Möller goes on to say: “To die blessed means to conclude life in the true faith, to commend one’s soul to the Lord Jesus Christ, and with heartfelt longings for eternal salvation gently and joyfully fall asleep and depart hence”[vii] and then he refers to our text for today (Luke 2:29-30).

In the rest of the book, Möller, gives detailed instruction on living “a daily, Christian, repentant life,” including:

  1. recognizing one’s sins and repenting of them;
  2. not despairing your sins, but believing in Jesus Christ who has paid for our sins; and
  3. that he also show his faith with new daily obedience, both toward God and men.[viii]

He then offers six chief parts which belong to a Christian, God-pleasing life.

  1. Hold fast daily to God’s Word, and learn rightly to understand it, rightly to divide it, and rightly to use it;
  2. Remember daily your Holy Baptism;
  3. Partake of the Lord’s Supper often and diligently;
  4. Learn to prepare yourself properly for the cross and suffering;
  5. Remain in your calling;
  6. Pray without ceasing.”[ix]

Möller concludes his little book with “many beautiful sayings from Holy Scripture, as well as some devout prayers and sighs which a person should read to the dying. It also tells how the bystanders should conduct themselves who have waited and prayed with the dying.”[x]

Notice how preparing for death and “the holy art of dying” is focused so much on the means of grace, God’s Word and Sacrament. How do you prepare for death? Read, study, and meditate on God’s Word in daily devotions and Bible study. Live in your Baptism through daily contrition and repentance. Come to worship. Hear the Word of God proclaimed, the absolution pronounced. Receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Pray without ceasing. Be faithful to God and serve your neighbor with joy.

Kolb summarizes: “A life lived within God’s callings in accord with God’s commands prepare the baptized to die well.”[xi]

While it may seem a bit of a downer to focus on death two days after Jesus’ birth, the hallmark of Christian preaching is its brutal honesty. The appointed reading about Simeon presents us with an opportunity. Being honest about death, not only at funerals, is part of my calling to tell the truth.

Kolb shows how Luther faced death head-on.

“Although we do not wish to call the life we have here a death,” said the reformer, “nevertheless, it is surely nothing else than a continuous journey toward death. Just as a person infected with a plague has already started to die when the infection has set in, so also because of sin and because of death, the punishment for sin, this life can no longer properly be called life after it has been infected by sin. Right from our mother’s womb we begin to die.”[xii]

It’s not hard to take seriously the concept of death this year. All jokes of moving past 2020 aside, this year has been a global wake-up call about the fragility of life for all ages. This has led to much fear and angst. This is not helped by that fact that we live in a culture that seeks to insulate us from death and tries to hide death and the process of dying as much as possible. We live in a day and age when many assume that science and medicine and money can take care of any problem. But death is no respecter of political or philosophical opinions. It is relentless, cruel, harsh, and horrible. Now, many people are thinking about death seriously for the first time in their life. People are dealing with their own mortality, the possibility of losing their own friends and family members. Many do not know how to do so. It’s no wonder that there is so much upheaval.

The intrusion of death into the lives of people of all ages highlights the singular and central significance of Jesus’ resurrection. Contrary to so many memes, our hope is not in getting to 2021. Even during Christmas, the good news is founded only on the empty tomb (1 Corinthians 15). This was how Luther,  Pastor Möller, and so many other pastors throughout the centuries have prepared their hearers to die well. They proclaimed the promise of resurrection for all who, by faith and their Baptism, are united to the crucified and risen Christ. It is my job (and joy) to proclaim this promise to you. The One who has overcome death has shared His eternal life with you.

This is a lesson in the art of dying. This is what the Holy Spirit did for Simeon before his encounter with Jesus. “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). As Simeon sang, let us sing a song of defiant and hopeful confidence to close out a year characterized by death and despair. “Lord, now You are letting Your servant[s] depart in peace, according to Your word; for [our] eyes have seen your salvation that You have prepared [for us] in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”

You have seen the Lord’s Christ. You’ve heard His words of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Depart in peace. 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.

[i] Kolb, Robert. Luther and the Stories of God: Biblical Narratives as a Foundation for Christian Living. (Baker Academic, 2012), 169.

[ii] Kolb, Robert. Luther and the Stories of God: Biblical Narratives as a Foundation for Christian Living. (Baker Academic, 2012), 168-9.

[iii] Kolb, Robert. Luther and the Stories of God: Biblical Narratives as a Foundation for Christian Living. (Baker Academic, 2012), 168-9.

[iv] Kolb, Robert. Luther and the Stories of God: Biblical Narratives as a Foundation for Christian Living. (Baker Academic, 2012), 168-9.

[v] Dau, W.H.T. Heilige Sterbekunst (Theological Quarterly). (Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis, 1910) 254-255.

[vi] Möller, Martin. Preparing for Death (An English Translation of Handbuchlein zur Vorbereitung auf den Tod, oder Heilige Sterbekunst), Translated by Pastor Arthur E. Schulz, 6.

[vii] Möller, Martin. Preparing for Death (An English Translation of Handbuchlein zur Vorbereitung auf den Tod, oder Heilige Sterbekunst), Translated by Pastor Arthur E. Schulz, 6.

[viii] Möller, Martin. Preparing for Death (An English Translation of Handbuchlein zur Vorbereitung auf den Tod, oder Heilige Sterbekunst), Translated by Pastor Arthur E. Schulz, 10.

[ix] Möller, Martin. Preparing for Death (An English Translation of Handbuchlein zur Vorbereitung auf den Tod, oder Heilige Sterbekunst), Translated by Pastor Arthur E. Schulz, 17-18.

[x] Möller, Martin. Preparing for Death (An English Translation of Handbuchlein zur Vorbereitung auf den Tod, oder Heilige Sterbekunst), Translated by Pastor Arthur E. Schulz, 57 ff.

[xi] Kolb, Robert. Luther and the Stories of God: Biblical Narratives as a Foundation for Christian Living. (Baker Academic, 2012), 169.

[xii] LW 1:196. Quoted in Kolb, 171.

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The Mystery of the Word Made Flesh

“The Nativity” by John Singleton Copley

Click here to listen to this sermon.

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

A great mystery of the ages. The key sentence of John’s Gospel. Everything before it anticipates this verse and everything that follows grows out of this verse: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The eternal Word who was with God in the beginning and who was very God of very God, “became flesh.” Notice: The Word didn’t stop being who He is, namely, true God. But He also became true man—a real flesh-and-blood human being. Fully God and fully man. The eternal Word by whom all things were created took on flesh and received the name Jesus. He was born in the flesh like every human being, complete with human emotions, human frailties, human needs. In His life, therefore we see Him weep and sleep and eat and hurt and die.

Nevertheless, the Word made flesh was free of one thing every other human being has had—sin. The flesh of all other humans since Adam is inherently corrupted by sin. We are conceived and born in sin. We are, as we just confessed, poor miserable sinners. We sin constantly in thought, word, and deed and cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition. But God had a plan to change  all of that. Through His conception by the Holy Spirit and His miraculous virgin birth, Jesus “became flesh” untainted by sin. He came to live free from sin in our place.

The Word was born in the flesh and “dwelt among us.” He lived on this earth along with other human beings. Significantly, the Greek says that He set up His tabernacle, or tent, among us. This gives even deeper meaning to this passage as we consider the parallel with the tabernacle that God had the people of Israel build in the wilderness. Of that tent the Lord said to Moses, “Let [the Israelites] make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Exodus 25:8).

When the tabernacle was completed, Moses reports, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34-35).

With the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat covering the Law within… with the basin filled with the Word’s cleansing water and the bread of the Presence set at the Lord’s Table… with the promise of God’s Word of Law and Gospel with them, the congregation journeyed and dwelt in the Lord. So the Word remained the Way and tabernacled among them.

Behold, the forgiving Word is the Truth and dwells among His people.

Nearly fourteen hundred years after Israel’s wilderness wandering, the shepherds near Bethlehem received wondrous news from the Christmas angel: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).

So, they went in haste. And what did they find? Dear Christians, they found the Word become flesh dwelling among us! There in the manger, was the Lord Himself, the second person of the Trinity, “veiled in flesh” and swaddled in strips of linen just as the angel had told them.

When Jesus Christ was born, the Lord came to dwell in person among us. He is Immanuel, God with us, and “we have seen His glory.” That doesn’t mean to say that the bright light shone around Jesus and the stable of Bethlehem as it did with God’s presence at the tabernacle. No, the Bible tells us that the glory of God shone from the heavens for the shepherds to see, but at the stable they found a baby whose outward appearance was not different from other babies.

Nevertheless, that baby came to be “the light of men.” That baby came to reveal God’s glory in a way we human beings could look at and not be blinded but believe. He, the incarnate Deity, was “veiled in flesh,” as we just sang. At last God would let us see His glory by giving us His one and only Son Jesus Christ. And Jesus would reveal God’s glory through His work of salvation.

John writes in His Gospel from firsthand experience. “We,” he says, “have seen His glory.” “We” are the apostles and evangelists whom God used to record the New Testament Scriptures. In truth, John with Peter and James saw a unique (for us) manifestation of that glory when Jesus was transfigured (Matthew 17:1-9). But never was that glory seen more than when Jesus submitted to the cross, as John alone out of Twelve witnessed firsthand. Jesus saw His atoning death as the moment of His glory (John 13:31).

Today, we can read John’s testimony and know that we too have seen the glory of the Word made flesh, “glory as of the only Son from the Father.” His coming in the flesh made that possible. All believers in Christ Jesus have seen the glory that came from the Father. We see it in Jesus with the eyes of faith. We see the wondrous and unmatchable love of God in our eternal salvation. We see it in the cross. “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).

The Gospel identifies Jesus as the “only Son from the Father.” The Greek term used is one employed elsewhere to identify not just an “only son” but someone who is “one of a kind” (Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38; Hebrews 11:17). So the Word was uniquely the Father’s from eternity and of the same being as the Father. That becoming, or begetting, of the Son from the Father is a mystery of God shrouded in His eternal preexistence. Here John stresses that the Word made flesh is that only Son.

One way that we behold the glory of the Word in the flesh is by seeing that He is “full of grace and truth.” The Lord Jesus is full of, indeed, is the very embodiment of grace and truth. When you think about grace, ask yourself some questions:

  • What business did the Word have in becoming flesh?
  • Why should the eternal Son of God care about human beings since He knew they would be hostile to Him?
  • What has any human being done to warrant such attention?
  • Why does God care about me when I can’t get through a day without somehow sinning against Him?

Do you begin to get the picture? Love is at work here, love so big it works among those who have no basis to claim any love, yes, those who are loveless and unlovable. That undeserved love is grace. Jesus is full of grace for us.

Jesus also embodies truth. People everywhere think about and search for truth. Philosophers try to get a grasp of reality. Great thinkers try to explain the truth of God. They keep on trying but need search no further. We do not have think deeply and stretch the limits of our intelligence to have truth and know God. We need only believe in Jesus the Word made flesh. He reveals all we need to know about God and His saving truth. Jesus came to show us the truth.

If the creation were to be redeemed, saved, rescued from this darkness of sin and death, then God would have to make Himself known, point Himself out, reveal Himself to us. But how would He do this? God would come to the place where we  are, descend to earth, enter His creation, so that we lost and condemned creatures might know Him and have communion with Him.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

In a world of hurt the Word became flesh in order to suffer the agony and divine wrath for all the sins of the world… thought, word, and deed… past, present, and future… He came to take upon Himself the penalty due to the original sin of the old Adam and his heirs. The incarnate Son of God atoned for the sins of Cain and Abel… Saul and David… Jezebel and Mary… Judas and Peter… and you. In a land of death, the Word became flesh in order to die the death deserved by the world. In doing so, Jesus gave Himself for the life of the world.

But that was not the end. On the third day, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us rose from the dead. For forty days, Jesus tabernacled with His disciples and “spoke about the Kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Then He ascended into heaven and is at the right hand of the Father, where He intercedes for us Christians and reigns over heaven and earth for the good of His Church. Even as He has promised, “I am with you always, to the end of the age”(Matthew 28:20).  

This is the great surprise and wondrous mystery of Christmas. God shows up in a place where we certainly don’t expect to find Him: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God the Word, who was there in the beginning and participated in the creation of all things, took on a human nature like yours. The Uncreated became a creature, the Infinite became limited and bound, the Eternal became subject to time. The Word became flesh, Jesus Christ, true God and true man in one person. What a surprise! Because man can no longer find the Creator, the Creator became man!

The glory of God is seen in Jesus Christ. The one who in the beginning created light with His Word, “Let there be light!” is the light of the world, the light that shines in our darkness, the light no darkness can overcome.

The one who formed man from the dust has come with fingernails and eyebrows and kneecaps to reclaim His creation. He was born of a woman, Mary His mother, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger for a bed. He was before Abraham, even before Adam, and yet He can be found in Bethlehem as a little baby, amazing the teachers in the temple in Jerusalem at age twelve, beginning His ministry in Galilee at about the age of thirty.

The one who made the forests and the mountains has come also with arms outstretched on a wooden cross raised up on Mt. Calvary. There the Creator of heaven and earth suffered and bled and died for His creation. The one in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) was wrapped in linen and spices and rested in a tomb, bursting forth on the third day as the first bloom of a new creation.

The one who separated the waters in the heavens from the waters under the heavens on the second day, who gathered the waters into seas on the third day, who saved Noah and his family through the flood, and who delivered His people Israel through the parting of the Red Sea comes to you at the font with forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life in the water and Word.

The one who made the wheat and the vine comes now in bread and wine to you. His true body and true blood are present on this altar. Eternal life, the light of the world—it’s so near to you that you can touch it and taste it. God is given into your mouth, taken into your body. He makes Himself known to you with forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The mystery is revealed. God the Word who was in the beginning is now and forever incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. That makes Christmas a blessed surprise: the uncreated, eternal, and infinite God comes right here among us as our light and our life.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy! 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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